HC Deb 14 February 1968 vol 758 cc1521-48

10.30 a.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)

I beg to move, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Civil Aviation Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

On a point of order, Sir Barnett. Pursuant to Mr. Speaker's Ruling of yesterday—reported in c. 1156 of HANSARD— concerning Measures originating in the House of Lords which necessarily involve a charge upon public funds, may I draw your attention to Clause 7 of this Bill, which gives power to make grants or loans to airports? I respectfully submit that this falls within the provisions of the Ruling by Mr. Speaker, and that this Bill, therefore, ought not to be entertained by the House of Commons or any of its Committees.

The Chairman

I think that the answer to that will be found in Clause 22(7), where there is a provision dealing with the matter.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Further to that point of order. I had noticed that subsection, but it seemed to me that it was incompatible with Clause 7, which specifically gives power to the Board of Trade to make grants or loans. Since these can only come from public funds, nothwith-standing the provision in Clause 22(7), the provision is ultra vires the other place.

The Chairman

I am afraid that I cannot agree. The subsection does cover the position. It was put, in specifically to cover the point raised by the hon. Member.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Further to that point of order, Sir Barnett. This is an important point, and perhaps we need to have our minds cleared on it. In addition to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum certain other Clauses are referred to under which payments of moneys provided by Parliament may arise. Although I am not familiar with the terms of the Bill which gave rise to Mr. Speaker's Ruling yesterday, can you assure the Committee that there was in that Bill no similar subsection which might have qualified it for consideration?

The Chairman

Yes. I understand that there was not a similar provision in the Bill to which the hon. Member refers. It was put in this Bill specifically to meet the point.

Mr. Mallalieu

Sir Barnett, the Bill is one of the miscellaneous Measures which Governments bring forward from time to time, which Oppositions refer to as "rag bags" and which Governments always say are bringing the law and practice up-to-date. It contains a number of provisions all of which are important, though they are not necessarily related to one another.

In sum, the Measure will be of real and practical help not only to the Board of Trade in discharging its responsibilities for civil aviation, but also to Northern Ireland, to local authorities, to the British Airports Authority, to private owners who maintain and operate airports in the United Kingdom, to the air corporations and to other owners and operators of aircraft, as well as those who manufacture aircraft. We believe that each Clause will be a necessary contribution to the continued welfare of British air transport services or necessary for the implementing and development of the Government's plans for a coordinated airport system.

In a number of its Clauses the Bill reflects the change of pattern in aerodrome ownership since 1949, when the Civil Aviation Act came on to the Statute Book. Then, most of the main aerodromes were to be nationally owned and managed. Experience gained here and abroad argued for a move to decentralise ownership and management, and this process is now far advanced, leaving the range of provision in the 1949 Act inadequate to cover present requirements.

Following a recommendation in the Fifth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates published in June, 1961, the Government of the day announced in a White Paper, Cmd. 1457, that an airports authority should be set up to own and manage the main international airports then owned by the State; that is to say, the London group and Prestwick. The Airports Authority Act, 1965, implemented that decision. Under the Act, the ownership and management of Heathrow, Gatwick, Prestwick and Stansted passed from the Ministry of Aviation to the British Airports Authority on 1st April 1966. This marked quite a step forward in the policy of decentralising the management of airports and allowed a more flexible policy towards airport users and a quicker reaction to their rapidly changing needs than was possible under the direct control of the central Government machine.

The policy of transfer to local authorities, singly or in consortia, of the airports in the regions is justifying itself in the event. A recognition of the need to include in the range of municipally provided public services the facilities of this important transport development has stimulated authorities throughout the country to study the requirements of the travelling public and the airline operators and to provide for them as far as they judge reasonable and possible.

There are one or two difficult spots where aerodromes still are inadequate for present-day traffic, and steps are being taken to rectify this position. In general, the picture is of an adequate coverage by well-constructed aerodromes serving all the main centres of population. If anything, there is at present an over-provision, but in view of the very rapid rate at which air traffic is growing, that is not a bad thing, and it is quite clear that in the future the acquisition of new airport land will become more and more difficult, especially as the wartime airfields are given over to other uses.

In general, what inadequacies there are in the air transport pattern are attributable to the problem of establishing viable services from the many aerodromes and, as the traffic increases as time goes on, I hope that this problem, too, will diminish. Broadly speaking, the aerodromes are there for those who wish to use them. The position is being watched steadily and continuously by the regional economic planning councils, and Board of Trade officials are available at any time to give advice on aerodrome matters.

So much by way of introduction. I ought now perhaps to go through the main Clauses of the Bill. Clause I deals with the control of road traffic at Board of Trade and local authority aerodromes. The Road Traffic Acts already apply to those aerodrome roads to which the public have access. This Clause enables the ordinary laws applying to road traffic in general to be extended to aerodrome roads to which the public do not have access but on which there is a substantial traffic problem. I have immediately in mind a private road leading to B.O.A.C. headquarters and which carries substantial traffic. It also enables those laws to be modified where necessary to confer on an airport authority the functions of a highway or local authority in relation to roads on its aerodrome. On aerodromes belonging to the British Airports Authority, these powers are already provided under the Airports Authority Act.

Clauses 2 to 5 give powers to the Board of Trade, to local authorities and to the proprietors of certain private aerodromes to make by-laws and provide penalties. Originally, we had not thought it necessary to bring in privately-owned aerodromes apart from those having a substantial amount of commercial traffic, but, on suggestions from another place, this limitation has now been dropped.

Clause 6 gives local authorities power to provide facilities for civil aviation at aerodromes not established or maintained by them. On occasions, such as at St. Mawgan, there is a civilian enclave on an R.A.F. station. The Clause makes certain that local authorities will have power to set up such enclaves and maintain them. Another example which springs to mind is Leuchars.

Clause 7 enables grants or loans to be made from public funds towards providing, maintaining and extending aerodromes. While noting the point of order raised earlier, this is very largely a matter of form. Already there are implicit powers under Section I of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, to make grants and loans, but it is not absolutely clear that these powers cover continuing payments extending over a period. The Clause simply makes clear what the authority is.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, could he tell the Committee how the Board of Trade could possibly make grants under the Clause without those grants coming from public funds? That is what is so unclear to me.

The Chairman

Perhaps I did not make the position clear. The Lords introduced the subsection I referred to. Later on, the point raised now will be rectified by the subsection being deleted in Committee, the Money Resolution being available then. This is to cover the question of Commons privilege. I hope that that explains the position.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I am most grateful, Sir Barnett. Could the hon. Gentleman tell us, then, whether it is his intention at the subsequent stage to withdraw the Clause? He did not indicate that he intended to abolish the Clause later on. Is that his intention?

Mr. Mallalieu

Not to abolish Clause 7, but to remove the last subsection in the Bill, which is inserted specifically to cover the point raised by the House of Lords.

Clause 8 extends the powers of the Northern Ireland Government, so as to enable them to make laws in respect of aerodromes in Northern Ireland. Oddly enough, when the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, was passed, the Northern Ireland Parliament was precluded from dealing in aerial navigation. In those days, civil aviation was a comparatively small affair, and the tremendous growth of it was not foreseen. Clearly, it is no longer appropriate that local authorities or statutory bodies in Northern Ireland who wish to establish aerodromes to serve local needs should have to seek approval from Whitehall. Nor is it appropriate that ownership and control over the management and future development of the airport serving Belfast, with its very important and rapidly growing traffic, should continue to be managed from Whitehall. The primary purpose of Clause 8 is to pave the way for the Northern Ireland Government to assume responsibility for Aldergrove under powers which they will seek from their own Parliament as soon as this Bill becomes law. Safety matters will still be controlled by the Board of Trade by means of aerodrome licensing because of the international obligations of the United Kingdom in this respect.

Clause 9 gives airport authorities power to detain and, if necessary, sell, after 28 days, aircraft for non-payment of airport charges. I ought here to direct the Committee's attention, if it has not been noticed already, to a misprint in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum which refers to a period of 21 days when the Bill itself refers to 28 days. Harbour authorities already have powers to detain and sell ships for nonpayment of habour dues under Section 44 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act, 1847.

Clause 10 extends the power of the Board of Trade under Section 4 of the Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Act, 1962, to make regulations requiring the payment of charges for air navigation services so as to include services rendered by international organisations, or foreign Governments, in pursuance of agreements to which the United Kingdom is a party. It also closes a number of small gaps in the existing law to ensure that all operators may be charged for those services wherever they are rendered.

Clauses 11, 12 and 13 perhaps hang together. Clause 12 enables provision to be made by Order in Council for giving effect to the Convention on the International Recognition of Rights in Aircraft. The purpose of this Convention, which was drawn up in Geneva as long ago as 1948, is to ensure that mortgages and other rights in aircraft recorded in the State of Registry of the aircraft are recognised in other States which are party to the Convention and thereby to improve the security which airlines and other purchasers can offer to those financing the purchase of aircraft. The Convention contains some features unfamiliar to the law of this country. For example, the protection given by the Convention will override the traditional repairers' lien, but I do not think that these are insuperable obstacles.

After an obviously very slow start the Convention has attracted 27 adherents, including the United States and most of Western Europe, and its potential value to the United Kingdom has been proportionately increased. All in all, therefore, we think that the time has now come when we should take powers to ratify the Convention, a decision which has been welcomed particularly by the Society of British Aerospace Companies.

To obtain the full benefits of the Convention, it is necessary to establish in the United Kingdom an acceptable system for the creation and recording of charges on aircraft. This is something which, apart from the Convention, has become desirable in itself.

At present, as the Committee will know, moveables, other than ships, cannot be mortgaged in English law except by a bill of sale, which is a very cumbersome procedure. I understand that in Scotland there is no system at all for mortgaging a chattel. So Clause 11 gives power to provide by Order in Council for the mortgaging of aircraft registered in the United Kingdom on lines generally similar to the provisions made in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, for the mortgaging of ships. That is a provision which in fact goes back to 1854 and it is one part of the Merchant Shipping Act which is not out of date.

I draw the Committee's attention at this point to Clause 11(2,b and c) which leave it possible to include in the Order in Council whatever provisions seem best for establishing the relative priorities of various rights and charges, including the power to sell an aircraft under Clause 9, and for governing the relationship of the Order to other relevant enactments such as the Companies Act and the Bills of Sale Act. Precisely what provisions will go into the Order will depend upon consultations which we are hoping to have with the industry forthwith.

Finally in this part of the Bill we come to Clause 13 which provides in particular that Orders in Council made under Clauses 11 and 12 shall be subject to the affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, except in the case of Orders applying only to overseas territories, for which separate provision is made.

Clause 14 recognises the situation, which is becoming increasingly common today, when, in order that the maximum use may be made of very expensive modern aircraft, an airline which temporarily has some spare capacity may lease one of its aircraft to another airline which is temporarily short. Such arrangements, which make good economic sense, may take a variety of forms and involve leases for short or long periods. The kind of arrangement with which Clause 14 is particularly concerned is one where an aircraft owned by an operator of one nationality is chartered without crew to an operator of another nationality but remains on the national register of the original operator. Normally, it is the responsibility of the State in which the aircraft is registered to regulate the operation of the aircraft so as to ensure safety, and it may not be registered in more than one country at a time. In the kind of case I have just mentioned, however, particularly where the chartered aircraft is operated outside its State of Registry, it may be that control can be more effectively exercised by the State of the operator, and the State of Registry may, therefore, wish temporarily to delegate its responsibility to that State. At present, under Section 59 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, the Air Navigation Order and the Regulations made under it cannot be extended to foreign-registered aircraft except when they are in United Kingdom airspace.

Clause 14 will enable the United Kingdom to exercise extra-territorial control over foreign-registered aircraft operated by a United Kingdom operator and thereby facilitate the commercially sensible interchange of aircraft between airlines without loss of proper safety supervision. We should not propose to exercise such control over a foreign-registered aircraft except with the consent of the State of Registry.

Clause 15 requires the registration as local land charges in England and Wales of rights enforceable under Section 23(7) of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, which deals with powers over land in connection with civil aviation. This Clause is necessary because we have recently been advised that Section 23(7) does not accord with the principles of land registration in England and Wales, in that it does not require certain rights created by agreement, which, under Section 23(7), becomes binding upon the successors in title of the grantor, to be registered in a public register.

Clause 16 extends the time limit for summary prosecutions under the Air Navigation Order and Regulations arising out of aircraft accidents. The Committee will probably remember that the Cairns Committee on Aircraft Accident Investigation recommended that the time limit of six months for summary prosecutions for offences arising out of aircraft accidents should be extended for 12 months. This is what Clause 16 does.

It also provides that the term "accident" used in the Clause, and in Section 10 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, shall include any fortuitous or unexpected event by which the safety of an aircraft or any person is threatened. This would include, for example, an air-miss, which could be said to be the avoidance, rather than the occurrence, of an accident, and an unexpected malfunction of an aircraft's controls, even though no damage or, in normal language, no accident resulted. "Accident" is not defined in the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, and this Clause ensures that Regulations for the investigation of aircraft accidents made under Section 10 of that Act, as well as the provisions of this Clause, can apply to any such fortuitous or unexpected event.

Clause 17 ensures that the existing powers of control over adjacent land shall apply to areas where the testing of planes take place. At the present moment there is some doubt whether at aerodromes such as Hurn, or, in earlier days, Wisley, where testing has taken place, the powers over buildings on adjacent lands can apply. This Clause makes clear that they can.

Clause 18 makes a number of minor amendments affecting the British Airports Authority, B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. It simplifies the formalities respecting the common seal of these three bodies and defines the word "pension" for the purposes of paragraph 9(1) of Schedule 1 to the Airports Authority Act, 1965. Owing to an oversight, the Airports Authority Act, 1965, included no definition of "pension ". Without the definition, the word might be interpreted as meaning only periodical payments, so that no lump sum payments could be made.

Clause 19 repeals some inoperative provisions of Part IV of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, relating to damage caused by aircraft to persons and property on land or water. Section 128 of the Companies Act, 1967, repealed some of the Sections of Part IV of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, those relating to compulsory third-party insurance, which had never been brought into force. This Clause repeals the remaining provisions of Part IV, which are obsolete particularly because of the low limit of liability which they impose.

The remaining Clauses 20, 21 and 22 are the usual ones dealing with the exercise of the powers of the Board of Trade, financial aspects, citation, interpretation and extent.

I apologise for the length of this opening speech and for some of the complications arising out of references to various other Acts, but I hope that the explanation I have given of these Clauses will be of help to the Committee, and I hope that in due course they will be approved.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

May I raise a point of order? I had no desire to interrupt the Minister when he was making his statement. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says: Clause 9 confers power on aerodrome authorities to detain aircraft to secure the payment of airport charges, and, if the charges are not paid within twenty-one days, to sell the aircraft and apply the proceeds in satisfaction of the charges and incidental expenses. However, Clause 9(1,b) says, … if the charges are not paid within twenty-eight days.… Am I wrong in thinking that there appears to be a contradiction there? In any case, I think we should be enlightened.

The Chairman

I think the Minister might advise on that.

Mr. Mallalieu

My hon. Friend is quite right. Indeed, I dealt with this point in my speech, apologising for a misprint in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum.

The Chairman

I do not think the hon. Member was in his seat when the Minister was explaining it.

Mr. Dan Jones

Yes, I was.

The Chairman

I apologise to the hon. Member.

10.57 a.m.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I think that the Committee generally welcomes this Bill. Even though we on this side may describe it as a rag bag, as the Minister suggested, it is not a bad rag bag, and generally we should be disposed to commend it to the House.

Perhaps I might begin by expressing my own and, I think, the Committee's thanks to another place for the work which has been done in improving the Bill before it reached us. That will, no doubt, considerably shorten our labours this morning, and, I dare say, also in Committee, and indicates the value of another place in the preparatory stages of this and other legislation.

I am led on from that to wonder whether we might not have spared ourselves some duplication by taking as read much of the Minister's introduction of the Bill this morning, for it was a repetition of the introduction which is available in the HANSARD report of the debate on Second Reading in the Lords. If it is thought necessary that such introductions should be re-presented to us, I wonder whether we might in time evolve some system whereby what involves straightforward repetition of what has been said elsewhere might be circulated in written form, rather than put on the Minister the onus of having to read it all out again here. I recognise there are some changes, because the Bill has been amended and improved in another place, but it seems a waste of time that so many of the Clauses have to be re-explained all over again.

Perhaps I may make one or two remarks about the attitude of the Government to aviation in general and the place of air transport in a modern communications system. The Minister suggested that by and large everything was pretty well all right, the aerodromes were there, the services were not always there, but he was keeping an eye on the whole situation. I do not find that a particularly dynamic or stimulating attitude for the development of air transport.

It is not new to find undynamic and unstimulating attitudes. In the National Plan we find that there is practically no mention of air transport in that weighty document. On page 218, in Part II, there is a statement that this is a rapidly expanding industry, and that the operations of airports have been excluded from the considerations of the National Plan. This seems to be an extraordinary omission, because airports are major centres of economic activity. Heathrow generates employment, directly or indirectly, for 300,000 people, and it is distressing to see this kind of negative approach reflected in Government policy. It is again reflected in the Transport White Paper. There has been no sign from the Ministry of Transport that there is any recognition of the need to include air operations in whatever may be defined as an integrated transport policy.

The particular value of air transport in the context of regional development is something to which we ought to pay much greater attention. The South-West is an obvious example. There are cases with particular claim for attention in the North-East and the North-West, and in Scotland. The ability of people to move about quickly from place to place and to conduct business in diverse places, and to move goods quickly, is essential to effective economic activity. We must not regard air transport as a byway, because it is a maintream activity.

We have to be much more air-minded —not just in the context of the flying circuses of pre-war days, but of the present day—if we are to overcome some of the public objections encountered in airport operation. Although it is understandable that there is and will be objections to noise at airports, there is a case for saying that if people understand how important airports are, then some of the objections will be less unreasoning.

I want to stress the value of an effective airport system in the context of the movement of freight. It gives quick, secure facilities for the movement of goods, which enables people to take advantage of economic activity not sited close to the coast.

This obviously gives great opportunities for cost and time saving on imports and exports, as well as the advantages which would accrue from the encouragement of a more diversified airport system in the tourist industry. All this is still unrecognised by the Government, who seem to be living in the diesel age. I find it regrettable that they have no airport policy and are unable to see the need to formulate such a policy.

Dealing with Clause 7, I have no doubt that a detailed reference to the confusion and bungling over Stansted would be out of order, but I may perhaps use this opportunity to ask for some indication of present Government thinking on this subject, and especially on the timing of the Order which, we are told, will be laid before Parliament. May we also know something of the financial outlay involved? Although I recognise that the British Airports Authority is specifically excluded from the terms of Clause 7, in so far as airports which it already owns are concerned, the Committee will be interested to know how the Government propose that the work at Stansted should be financed.

Perhaps it might also be timely if we could know how much longer the Government intend to allow the British Airports Authority to remain in breach of its obligations at Stansted under the Airports Authority Act. I remind the Minister that that Act requires, by Section 2(7) that, In the management and administration of any aerodrome the Authority shall provide for users of the aerodrome, for the local authorities in whose areas the aerodrome or any part thereof is situated …adequate facilities for consultation with respect to matters affecting their interests, and shall, in doing so, give effect to any direction given to it by the Minister. In the latest Report of the British Airports Authority, for the years 1965 to 1967, we find on page 57 the statement, under the heading "Consultative Committee ": In line with its other airports the Authority plans to set up a consultative committee at Stansted as soon as scheduled service transport starts there. I do not see anything in the Airports Authority Act which enables the Airports Authority to decide at what point of time it will open a consultative committee. The obligation laid upon it seems to be defined quite specifically. The Act says … the Authority shall provide … and I would think that the Authority should provide.

The Chairman

I hope the hon. Member will forgive me, but I think that he is getting a little beyond the scope of this Bill. Perhaps he would confine himself more narrowly to it?

Mr. Onslow

I have no doubt that you are right, Sir Barnett, but I have made my point and I will return to the Bill.

I hope that in Committee we can spend a certain amount of time on Clause 9, because this seems in many respects to be the most important Clause in the Bill. It provides quite wide powers for airport operators, but does it give adequate safeguards for the operators of aircraft? It might be helpful if I gave the Minister some idea of the questions to which we would like the answers when we get into Committee.

I understand that the Government plan to take the powers which they seek by Section 44 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act, 1847. I would, therefore, like to ask the Minister, on how many occasions since 1847, perhaps in some more recent period, have harbour authorities exercised their powers to sell under that Act? I do not believe that they have been very frequently exercised, yet here we are in 1968, providing similar powers for air transport.

I would also like to ask whether the Government know of any overseas country in which the owners or managers of an aerodrome have power to sell aircraft for unpaid navigation or landing charges. The Minister will agree that it would be useful if we were to keep ourselves as closely as possible in line with international practice in what is an international field of operations. I understand. too, that powers of sale with 14 days' notice were possessed by the Minister of Aviation in respect of unpaid charges and are already possessed by the British Airports Authority, according to the 1968 United Kingdom Air Pilot.

This leads me to ask, how often has the Ministry of Aviation exercised the power of sale claimed by virtue of the standard conditions under which aircraft may land, depart, or otherwise be dealt with at Government aerodromes? How much debt was involved in each case and how much realised on the sale of aircraft? On how many occasions and with what results has the British Airports Authority exercised the powers of sale claimed under the standard conditions, and how will the powers under Clause 9 replace the powers claimed in the standard conditions so far as the British Airports Authority is concerned?

Generally, I would also ask, why does the Airports Authority need the power of sale, in addition to the right of detention over aircraft and the right to enforce charges by legal action in the courts? The Minister will know that aircraft are expensive items, not lightly left lying around, and people who own and operate them want to use them so that they get a return on the capital invested. To apply, in the context of air transport, powers which may be appropriate in the context of small value and tonnage, seems to be rather extraordinary.

I realise that this is a load of questions to ask on this Clause, and I will not mind if I do not get all the answers this morning, but they are questions to which we want answers before we consider this Clause in Committee.

We also have had a comment on the misprint in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which reflects the fact that in another place the time limit was extended to 28 days and the Clause quite properly amended accordingly. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum appears to have escaped amendment. We may still want to know and be satisfied that this period is long enough. Here again, it would be of value if we were to get some account from the Government of the international precedent which applies.

As to Clause 11, I am bound to ask whether an Act 75 years old is the best available precedent for something which applies to today. This is a provision which will undoubtedly be useful and will enable aircraft operators to have access to certain wider sources of finance than at present. Although it may be argued that such a provision is overdue, are we sure that this is the precise way in which to ensure that the operations are in line with modern needs?

I have had some representations on the wording of the Clause as it stands, and I wonder why the Minister told us that he would have consultations with the industry forthwith. This Bill has been about for a little while, and I would have thought that the Minister would have understood the need to consult the industry when it was first published, even if not in its preparatory stages. It is unfortunate that such consultation, which will be of considerable significance, should have been left to such a relatively late stage.

I agree that it is a very good thing that 20 years after the Geneva Convention was first drawn up, we should be in a position to accede to it. That is dealt with in Clause 12. At the same time, it was admitted in another place that the Convention was outdated in many respects, and this was the argument advanced by Lord Beswick as a reason for not printing the Convention as a Schedule to the Bill. When we get to the Clause, perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to tell us what outdated provisions we shall now empower ourselves to adhere to, and what consideration he has given to taking an international initiative to draw up a better and more up-to-date version of the Convention.

Clause 16 is particularly welcome. This is obviously an area in which the ability to hold inquiries into near accidents has been deficient and I heartily welcome the extended powers given.

Clause 17, as the Minister explained, is apparently related to places where aircraft are tested and the planning powers applying there. I am not sure that we are satisfied that planning powers in relation to aerodrome operation are adequate at present. One or two cases have emerged recently which suggest that there is a need for amendment of the law.

There is a case, I think at Southend, where a tree has now grown at the end of one runway to a point where it endangers approaching aircraft. The airport operator has no power to insist upon the tree being lopped and the owner refuses to allow it to be lopped. It may be a very fine tree, and I am not prejudging the case, but in this and other cases, which I have had drawn to my attention I feel that there is a need—and this is a good opportunity—to take a fresh look at the effectiveness of the existing law. It may be that we shall seek to table a new Clause on this point.

There is another new Clause which I would dearly like to be able to table, and perhaps I may yet find some way of getting it in order, to deal with the extraordinary situation, which must have its root at the airport end, that because of the existing duty-free arrangements and the attitude of the Customs to them, enormous amounts of whisky arc constantly airborne over the Atlantic and the Channel, or wherever it may be—whisky and cigarettes flying to and fro in vast quantities—simply so that airline passengers may be able to buy them on board the aircraft. This is a tremendous waste of aircraft capacity and of cabin crew time.

I have always thought that it is particularly pointless that the cabin crew should be obliged to wheel an enormous trolley up the aircraft aisle and, under considerable difficulty, serve passengers with their duty-free requirements. I do not believe that relatively highly paid and highly skilled personnel should be engaged in this retail operation. I do not believe that it will do air transport any good if, when we get the airbus, we find that it is a flying off-licence.

I do not know whether the Minister of State and I can find a point of agreement on this. It seems that, here again, we are in the steam age, as things stand. If under this Bill, or under any other Bill, we can find a more rational way of catering for this need—for instance, by enabling passengers to buy vouchers and cash them on the ground at their destination, thereby avoiding a most wasteful activity—such a Bill will be additionally worth while.

I repeat my welcome for the Bill. It contains some good stuff. It contains some slightly more doubtful stuff which we shall want to examine more closely in Committee. But I agree that the Bill should be commended to the House. We look forward to seeing it again in Committee.

11.17 a.m.

Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I want to say a few words in support of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), although he covered most of the points which raise some doubts in our minds. My hon. Friend's description of the Bill as a rag bag is a description which will strike anybody who has a genuine interest in the future of civil aviation. Useful rag bag it may be, but what civil aviation needs is not a rag bag but a policy. This is what we are still waiting for from the Government. The evidence points to the fact that the Government have so far dodged it, neglected it, or simply not woken up to the extent of the growth which there is in this industry as a whole, and particularly in civil aviation—growth which, in several important respects, is staggering. The Bill will not cope with the problem, although it will fill in a number of gaps.

There is also the point that several important Clauses are based on legislation dating as far back as 1847 and 1894. We have always been led to believe that the Government regard this as the jet age. Perhaps it would be worth the Government's while to examine those Acts again, with particular reference to a point which I shall make later.

I want to raise some questions on the Clauses. The British Airports Authority is specifically excluded from the operation of Clause 7, which empowers the Treasury to make grants or loans. I have no immediate objection to this, but it is important to point out that, if the Authority is to be excluded, it must never be required to operate airfields anywhere un-commercially and against its commercial judgment, for, if that were so, it would be certainly unfair to exclude it in this way.

I heartily agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Woking said about Clause 9, which deals with charges and penalties. The penalties specified for airline operators are very heavy. It will certainly be the duty of hon. Members on this side to examine the Clause very carefully in Committee, with particular regard to one issue. It must not be forgotten that the charges for airport services in Britain are the highest in the world. On previous Bills it has been argued—I remember so arguing, and there was some evidence for it—that these heavy charges are an important deterrent to the growth of the industry and, in particular, to the growth of international traffic. We should remember this when we consider the swingeing rights of the Authority or of the Board of Trade to sell people's aeroplanes if they fail to pay up within a few days.

I particularly welcome Clause 11, except to express some slight doubt about the relevance of so ancient an Act. Aircraft mortgaging is a highly complicated subject. I am unable to say whether the Clause as drafted is adequate, but I cite to the Minister an example of what can happen. It is an example of which I have, in a sense, personal experience. Would the Clause cover a case in which an aircraft manufacturer in the United States builds and sells aircraft to an airline operating from this country, but not a British airline, if the airline, having sought mortgages in this country for those aircraft, defaults on payments for maintenance or servicing? In my experience, international litigation in such cases, even in European countries where mortgages are in force, is highly complex, and can become extremely difficult to enforce— unfairly difficult to enforce— for aircraft manufacturers. This is an illustration of the need to examine this in great detail. It is surprising that the Minister has not already examined with the industry the whole matter of mortgages.

As to Clauses 12 and 14, it is very desirable that we should accede to the Convention. Will the two Clauses together provide adequate protection against a repetition of the recent disgraceful case in Algeria, where a British aircraft, albeit operating from somewhere else, was impounded and, as far as I know, has not yet been released? It took the Government I do not know how many months to get the pilots released. Britain should not put up with this. I hope and assume that these two Clauses will provide for us at least to be in a better position to enforce what is no more than ordinary law in a case of this kind. I should be glad to hear the Minister's opinion.

I believe that this is a useful Bill, but it does not lead me to suppose that the Government have as yet appreciated the extent of the growth of the industry—23 per cent. in freight alone. The Bill contains very few provisions dealing with planning for that. There is nothing to lead me to suppose that the Government have yet understood it. We still await a civil aviation policy from the Government.

11.24 a.m.

Mr David Lane (Cambridge)

I join in the general welcome which has been accorded to the Bill. I have only a few qualifications. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), I was disappointed, especially after the Minister's initial reference to the Government's plans for a coordinated system of airports, that he failed to take this opportunity to clear up some of the confusion surrounding Stansted which, as he knows, is causing concern to a large number of people all over East Anglia.

My special interest in the Bill is that on the edge of my constituency of Cambridge is Marshall's Airport, a privately-owned concern. Over the years this has grown into an important regional airfield. I am glad that the dramatic growth of air transport has been stressed this morning. This airport is vital to the city of Cambridge, both for communications and for employment. It is a rather special case in one respect, because the employment arises chiefly from Marshall's function not only as a manufacturer but as an aircraft dockyard, in which it has a substantial business of repairs, modifications and fitting out. The airport is important also for passenger, industrial and goods transport of different types, including the transport of horses.

Looking ahead, the population of the whole of East Anglia is expected to grow at a rate twice that of the national average. It is thus clear that the importance of Marshall's is likely to continue to increase. On the whole, the terms of the Bill seem to be reasonable from the point of view of an operator such as this.

I am puzzled by one omission from the Bill. There may be very good reasons for it which the Minister can confirm. There is no provision, as far as I can see, strengthening the powers of aerodrome authorities to ensure that runway approaches are kept clear of constructions above the permitted height. This point was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking. The Government may think that it is satisfactorily covered by Section 26 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, but, after nearly 19 years' experience of that Act I would welcome a further explanation from the Minister. It may be a point that we can pursue in Committee.

I want to make three brief points of detail which, again, we may be able to develop further in Committee. First, I hope that the Government will consider the possibility of spelling out the pro visions of Clause 4, which deals with the making of bylaws at certain private aerodromes, rather more clearly so that they are seen to cover works airfields in addition to ordinary traffic airfields. I should be happier if any private aerodrome of long standing were given the power to make its own regulations without specific designation. We should at least be given an assurance that the Board of Trade's power will not be restrictively used in any way.

Secondly, I hope that we can have an indication from the Minister of the scale of financial assistance which he thinks may have to be provided under Clause 7.

Thirdly, it is a little odd that private aerodromes are apparently set right apart by Clause 9(8), in a Clause which provides for the Detention and sale of aircraft for unpaid airport charges. It would be preferable for these aerodromes, provided that they are licensed by the Board of Trade, to be covered by the main part of subsection (7) with aerodromes owned or managed by any government department, the British Airports Authority or a local authority ". I hope that an explanation will be given on this point, otherwise we can pursue it in Committee.

Subject to these comments, I support the general purposes of the Bill on the rather narrow front it covers, and I hope we shall support the Motion.

11.28 a.m.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

I want to draw some specific points to the attention of the Minister of State in the hope that at a later stage he will table Amendments to deal with them, his drafting facilities being rather more extensive than mine.

First, concerning the bylaws to be authorised under Clauses 2, 3 and 4, it is important, when powers are given to authorities of this type to make bylaws, to ensure that any bylaws made receive real and effective publicity before they come into effect. A tiny advertisement in small print in local newspapers, beginning with "Whereas" and ending with a full stop several paragraphs later, may technically meet a requirement for publicity, but it does not tell local people, who have been used to driving across moorland which happens to have on it a runway which is scarcely ever used, that henceforth they risk criminal penalties if they do what they have done for years. I do not think that it is necessary to elaborate that point, except to ask the Minister of State to write into the Bill as effectively as he can the requirements for publicity in fairness to all parties, for this is something often overlooked.

Clause 9 deals with the right to sell an aircraft to satisfy charges. I am disturbed that there is no obligation on the party conducting the sale to obtain the best price. Apparently, as long as he recovers enough to defray the charges which have been run up to date, he can practically give the aircraft away, according to my reading of the Clause.

Many hon. Members must have had heartrendering cases of constituents who have gone bankrupt and who have genuine grounds for believing that their assets were disposed of casually and at far below the market price they should have obtained. If an airline is in temporary difficulties—perhaps because of a strike of its administrative section—and has not paid its bill within 28 days, then, as I read the Clause, there is nothing to stop the aerodrome operator, as long as he falls within the category of those permitted to sell aircraft to defray charges, to sell, for example, a Concorde, costing £7 million, in order to defray £250 airport charges. Apparently, as long as that sum of £250 is recovered, everyone will be happy—except the airline owning the Concorde and those who have lent it the money to purchase the aircraft.

Of course, that is an extravagant example, but the principle is authentic. I therefore ask the Minister of State to insert in the Clause a requirement that the fair, the best price should be obtained in these circumstances.

I was a little alarmed when the Minister referred to Clause 14. If I understood him correctly, he said that the power over an aircraft registered in another State but operated in the United Kingdom would only be used with the consent of the registering State. Occasions arise when, in the interests of public safety, it is necessary for the powers to be used, and frequently the aircraft involved are registered in foreign countries which are not universally renowned for their technical excellence or the conscientious manner in which they enforce their domestic safety regulations. We all know the flag of convenience system as applied to shipping and the harm which flows from that. I do not think that what the Minister said necessarily prevents the use of powers under this Clause without the consent of the State of registration, but, if my understanding about the restriction of the right of control being inherent in the Clause is correct, then it needs amending, and if what he said was merely an off-the-cuff observation he may want to withdraw or amend it at a later stage.

Clause 17 deals with control over land in the interests of testing civil aircraft. One is always a little anxious about the rights of the other parties affected by what I believe the lawyers call injurious affection. If someone buys a piece of land, and has planning permission to erect a house on it and, just before he starts to erect that house, an aerodrome, or a factory which has a works aerodrome for testing aircraft, decides that it does not want a house to be built there, it is not apparent to me at present that the injured party will have any right of redress.

This, again, is something we want to watch in case we unwittingly create a Frankenstein. This problem may tend to get more rather than less acute. It is possible that, with the increase in the size of aircraft, what is called the balanced field length will increase. This is particularly so as we move towards a generation of very large aircraft which have only two engines, and it is in the interests of safety that there should be a very long clearway for the engine out condition after V 1.

Since this could materially affect the property rights of people, rich and poor, living in an increasingly large area surrounding an airport, I ask the Minister to consider the implications carefully before Committee.

With these observations I welcome the Bill in general because, from my limited knowledge of the international air law, it is obvious that it is desperately short of precedents. Therefore, this is an area in which legislation is actually beneficial to more parties than are immediately apparent. There is so little case law that operators or manufacturers or private individuals who endeavour to get an authoritative legal opinion can generally find as many conflicting opinions as there are practitioners in that branch of the law. That is an additional reason for my welcome of this codification, to some extent, of the existing law, and further definition in an area where the rights of different interested parties conflict.

11.38 a.m.

Mr. John Ryan (Uxbridge)

I, too, ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to address himself to Clause 9 and the powers he is giving to the aerodrome authorities to confiscate assets of airlines using these aerodromes. This is a most backward and retrograde method of dealing with problems of payment. I believe that there is increasing hostility to the concept of Customs officials having the right automatically to seize contraband going in or out of the country and removing from the courts the discretion as to what is the appropriate penalty for people who break the law in these matters. One hopes that common sense will be used in the conduct of these transactions. Of course, the example given by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) of the seizure of a Concorde was grotesque, but nevertheless, in terms of Clause 9, the Bill gives the aerodrome authority the right to do just that. It seems a quite disproportionate possibility. There is a clear difference between the replacement costs of these assets and possibly the market costs at any point of time. This does seem a backward way of raising money. Discretion should be left to the courts as to how any default should be recovered.

11.40 a.m.

Mr. Mallalieu

A number of extremely interesting points—

The Chairman

I am sure that the Minister of State has overlooked the fact, that, in this Committee, we are dealing with the Second Reading of a Bill, so that an hon. Member who wishes to speak a second time must ask leave of the Committee to do so. I assume that that is granted.

Mr. Mallalieu

I apologise, Sir Barnett. Perhaps, by leave of the Committee, I may reply briefly to some of the extremely interesting points which have been raised.

I must say that I see the possibility of real substance in what has been said about Clause 9 by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Ryan) and by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) in relation to a forced sale at a very low price. Clearly, we must look at this again and see whether we can reach a form of words which will cover the point adequately.

I agree also with the hon. Member for Tiverton about the need for publicity of bylaws—do not let these things be written in small print with the result that people find themselves in trouble because they did not know what had happened. We must certainly find a way of ensuring that these bylaws are properly publicised.

I was somewhat alarmed to hear the reference by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) to a tree at Southend which we have not enough powers to lop. We must look at that. However, I think that the powers are adequate to safeguard safety. If they are not, and the hon. Gentleman has any particular suggestions to make, I will consider them. But the danger in this type of power is that it might be used excessively and might do tyrannical harm to individuals on occasions, and this is obviously something we want to avoid. But I think that the balance on the whole is reasonable and right.

Hon. Members have referred to the totally unlawful detention of a British aircraft by the Algerian Government. I regret to say that signing the Convention would not have made any difference in that case, since the Algerian Government have given us no reason for the detention of the plane. It seems to us to be in breach of both national and international law and we shall have to take what steps through legal processes we can to see that the law is obeyed. But I repeat that the Convention would not make any difference.

Mr. Hastings

There seems to be a grave lack in international law if there is no point by which we can bring the Algerian Government to book on this issue. I accept that nothing can be done in the Bill, but it is nevertheless a matter to which the Board of Trade should pay attention in future.

Mr. Mallalieu

I am no lawyer, but I presume that legal processes exist. I also assume that they will be long processes. I imagine that one could bring Algeria before the International Court. I do not know, but I will look at the matter.

Mr. Onslow

I wonder whether, on this point—

The Chairman

I am not sure that this matter comes within the purview of the Bill. If the hon. Member pursues this specific point about Algeria, he will be out of order.

Mr. Mallalieu

I am afraid that, specifically, the matter does not come within the Bill, Sir Barnett.

The Chairman

Perhaps I ought not to have allowed it to be raised before.

Mr. Onslow

It has had a good run.

Mr. Mallalieu

A point was raised in relation to Clause 14 about the consent of the State of registry being asked before we exercise safety controls. That does not apply when the foreign aircraft is in this country. It is only extra-national circumstances in which we could not, without permission, exercise safety control over it, for it would be outside the country.

Various hon. Members have spoken about the antiquity of the laws we are tying these matters to, but the fact that a law is old does not necessarily mean that it is bad. It so happens that the only precedents for doing for aircraft what we are hoping to do are rather ancient and have a relation to shipping, but in the Orders we shall submit to the House we shall ensure that we have all the necessary changes and adaptations of

Janner, Sir B. (Chairman) Mallalieu, Mr. J. P. W.
Atkins, Mr. Humphrey Maxwell-Hyslop, Mr.
Carter-Jones, Mr. Murray, Mr.
Fitch, Mr. Onslow, Mr.
Hastings, Mr. Ridsdale, Mr.
Jackson, Mr. Colin Ryan, Mr.
Jones, Mr. Dan Spriggs, Mr.
Lane, Mr.

these old Measures and that we bring them up to date.

There has also been some complaint about a phrase that we would have consultation with industry. This arose about Clause 11. We have been having prolonged consultations with industry, especially with the S.B.A.C. As soon as the Bill is passed, we shall go into much more detailed consultation in order to get things right in the Orders.

The majority of the points raised are useful, and we shall consider them very carefully before the Committee stage. In the main, however, they are Committee points, and I shall not deal with them now. In general, I think that the feeling of the Committee is that this is a reasonably good Bill, and I am grateful for the reception that it has been given.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Civil Aviation Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

Mr. Mallalieu

Following the custom under the old procedure, and which I hope is still a courtesy which can be extended under the new procedure, I should like to thank you, Sir Barnett, for the way in which you have chaired our deliberations.

Mr. Onslow

May I add the thanks of those on this side of the Committee?

The Chairman

Thank you very much indeed. I am grateful to you for your help.

Committee rose at fourteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.