Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend Lord Shore if I said "open sky" when I meant "single sky". However, perhaps the optimist--my noble friend may not be one--would suggest that the two could overlap in terms of their ambitions, if not necessarily in terms of their titles.

As I said in repeating the Statement, so far as concerns the single sky proposal, the aim is to try to reduce the tremendous backlog--I am sure that the noble Lord will be aware of this if he travels by air within Europe--and the delays and cancellations which are caused by the system of having to agree slots across the European Union between national air traffic control systems. The proposal seeks to unblock that, but not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, quite rightly pointed out, at any risk to the safety to that arrangement. It is simply very much an issue of trying to unblock the present "sky traffic jams"--if I may call them that--which occur all across Europe, particularly in the summer. The ambition is to try to improve that arrangement.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, the Minister referred to preparations for a further world trade round. Is it not a fact, however, that at the present time there are a number of trade issues in dispute between the United States and the European Union? Is it not important that those issues be resolved before engaging in a new trade round?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the Stockholm summit hopes that these two processes can work together. Indeed, that is the process being undertaken both at the Commission level and between the various governments concerned. There should not be any kind of isolated position with regard to individual examples of a breakdown in trade relations. Perhaps the noble Lord is thinking of the banana dispute. At the same time, that should be pursued in terms of its resolution while, none the less, continuing the preparation for, it is to be hoped, a more successful WTO round later in the year.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, first, can the Minister be a little more specific in her reply to her noble friend Lord Shore on the subject of the air traffic control issue? Is the noble Baroness aware that the British air traffic control authorities have jurisdiction and control over the Atlantic airspace out to 30 degrees west? Is it the proposal of either the single or open sky policy that was discussed in Brussels that an authority in Brussels should control air traffic to 30 degrees west across the Atlantic?

Secondly, since it has now become the habit of the Prime Minister to discuss his options for general election dates with the president of the Commission,

26 Mar 2001 : Column 26

can she suggest to him that he might discuss those option dates with the British public at large rather than just keeping it secret with fonctionnaires in Brussels?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as to the exact terminology of the single sky proposal, I have to defer, not surprisingly in matters of air traffic control, to the professional expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and say to him that I simply do not know whether the single sky would extend to 30 degrees west. I shall of course write to him on that subject if that information is available. It does not appear in the briefing that I have been given, but I shall pursue the matter and reply to the noble Lord.

On the question of the conversations in which the Prime Minister was supposed to engage that were overheard and eavesdropped on by the media, I understand that he was asked by Commissioner Prodi and responded in a polite fashion on the technicalities of when any decisions on a general election could be taken; certainly not on the question of an announced date.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, first, will my noble friend define for the benefit of the House as a whole what is a "single European sky"? I take a rather different view about Europe from my noble friend Lord Shore and the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, but all of us are bemused by the expression "single European sky". I fear that my noble friend's statement that she is not responsible for that will not suffice. Secondly, I want to know whether, whatever it means, it was the unanimous view of all participants. Thirdly, what implications does that have for the debate that we are to have on Thursday about air traffic control?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will forgive me. I did not say that I was not responsible for the policy. I am obviously not responsible for the policy. What I said was that the detail of the 30 degrees west issue, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, in terms of the extension of air traffic control, was not one on which I had specific briefing. As far as I know, it was not specifically raised.

Perhaps I may repeat to my noble friend the exact terms of what was in the Stockholm understanding; namely, that the United Kingdom fully supported this initiative. If my noble friend does not approve of the overall title, I have already apologised to my noble friend Lord Shore for misspeaking when I said "the open skies". If he is concerned about "open" or "single" skies, that may simply be about the title. But I repeat what I said both to my noble friend Lord Shore and to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. This is seen as a rather mechanistic device that is crucial for improving the use and management of EU air space. That is why it is called for completion by the year 2004. I repeat my rather lay person's analogy that this is an attempt to remove the log-jam in European air traffic control across Europe, particularly that which develops on a seasonal basis.

26 Mar 2001 : Column 27

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement and associate myself and my colleagues on these Benches with the expressions of great sadness at the sudden death of Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. His was a notable life in academic and political terms. He was for 17 years Member of Parliament for Bristol South and for 14 years he made notable, distinctive and robustly independent contributions in your Lordships' House.

The noble Baroness mentioned briefly in passing the liberalisation of rail freight. Perhaps I may press her to say a little more about that highly desirable development in European terms and to explain exactly what was decided at the summit.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his expression of sympathy about the death of Lord Cocks. I am sure that his sympathy will be very welcome to the noble Lord's family. On the issue of rail freight, as I understand it, the proposal that has been agreed is simply a continuation of the earlier proposals to liberalise the arrangements for organising rail freight between the member countries, but no new initiatives or plans have been specifically agreed. As part of the post-Lisbon process of liberalising the arrangements for transport across the European Union, the intention is to attempt to speed up the proposals that are already under consideration.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the Statement seems to be rather long on aspirations that governments should agree to agree at a later date? That seems to apply in particular to the free market in financial services. Can the noble Baroness help the House a little further than perhaps the Statement does? Can she confirm that the principal country holding up the development of such a market is France? If that is so, why does her right honourable friend the Prime Minister think that the French attitude is likely to change from what it is at the moment?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Viscount will be even more aware than I am that in European matters these things sometimes take time to unfold. The position of the UK Government on this and many other features of the post-Lisbon process is to take the lead in influencing and persuading colleagues in the European Union to take advantage of the process set up under Lisbon to revisit these matters, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on a regular basis so that bench-marks can be agreed, goals can be set and specific terms can be set in relation to a desire to move forward. For example, the agreed key priority on the Lamfalussi--the financial services ambition--is to agree the single securities market by 2003. That seems to be a very specific objective and one that can be bench-marked and checked as time goes on. I do not believe that there is any sense in which the French are specifically dragging their feet on this matter. It is really a question, as the noble Baroness,

26 Mar 2001 : Column 28

Lady Williams, said, that might have run foul of some of the concerns of the European Parliament, but even those concerns seem to have been met.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, before raising a point with the noble Baroness, I am sure that all my noble friends on these Benches would want to associate themselves with the shock and regret that have been expressed at the death of Lord Cocks. In the light of press reports today that a European delegation, including Mr Christopher Patten, is to visit North Korea, can the noble Baroness say whether the subject of North Korea and the American decision to suspend negotiations with North Korea were discussed at Stockholm?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his commiserations and sympathy on the death of Lord Cocks. On the question of the visit to the Korean peninsula, the presidency raised the issue of whether or not the Prime Minister of Sweden should undertake a mission to North Korea. The UK Government supported and are supporting such a mission. But in our view and in the view of our European Union colleagues at Stockholm, some conditions or preconditions need to be fulfilled before we can think that such a visit would be useful. Those were set out and have been understood by both the Swedish presidency and the other members of the European Union. They include, for example, that the Democratic Republic of Korea should undertake to have further meetings between itself and the government to the south and that the Swedish Prime Minister, were he to visit North Korea, should raise issues such as human rights and other matters that are relevant and important to the European Union.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page