HC Deb 04 August 1965 vol 717 cc1687-8
30. Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

asked the Minister of Aviation what progress is being made in ratifying the Hague Protocol to the Warsaw Convention; what is delaying British accession to the Protocol; and when the new limits of liability of air carriers towards passengers will come into effect.

Mr. Stonehouse

The Hague Protocol is in force between 43 countries. The United Kingdom is not among them because up to now it has been considered that we should denounce the unamended Warsaw Convention before agreeing the Protocol. To do this would have deprived us of the benefits both of the Convention and of the Protocol in our relations with a number of important countries, including the United States of America who, like ourselves, are parties to the Convention but not yet to the Protocol. The position is being re-examined and I hope that, in consequence, it may prove possible for us to endorse this fairly soon. The Protocol and the new limits of liability for which it provides will come into force 90 days following agreement.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will the hon. Gentleman please press on with this vigorously? Is he aware that when I tabled an Amendment about this when the Measure was going through—an Amendment designed to increase the limits of liability—it received enthusiastic support from hon. Members on both sides of the House? Is he aware that the present position is quite intolerable, because at the moment the dependants of anybody who is killed in an aeroplane will not get more than £5 14s. a week on the basis of £3,000 compensation? Would the hon. Gentleman please get on with this matter as quickly as possible, because the present position is grossly unjust to the dependants of people who are killed in accidents?

Mr. Stonehouse

We are indeed aware of the importance of this matter. The Hague Protocol increases the liability from £3,000 to £6,000 and we have endorsed that increase. However, the problem here is that the United States has not yet agreed to this Amendment and we must try to get that country's agreement in view of the importance of our North Atlantic routes and of securing the advantages of the Warsaw Convention, with which at the moment the United States agrees.

Mr. Maxwell

What objection does the United States Administration see to signing this Protocol? Would my hon. Friend say whether we need necessarily wait upon the pleasure of the United States in this matter?

Mr. Stonehouse

I do not want to go into the details concerning the United States objections, but it is a fact that if we go ahead—as we may have to do if the United States continue not to co-operate in this respect—we may lose some of the advantages which we now have in regard to our relations with the United States under the Warsaw Convention.

Mr. Marten

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the reply which he gave to my hon. Friend was precisely the reply which I gave a year ago when I was standing at the Government Dispatch Box? Is he able to say what steps have been taken in the last 12 months to try to persuade the Americans?

Mr. Stonehouse

We are examining the position and hope to make more progress than was made by the last Administration. As the hon. Gentleman will know—indeed, he is well versed on this question—it is extremely important that in signing the Hague Protocol we do not lose the benefits which we have under the Warsaw Convention in respect of our relations with the United States. We want to get the United States with us in this matter and that is why we are against undue haste.