HC Deb 29 June 1971 vol 820 cc238-44
Mr. Noble

I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 18, line 7 after '24(2)' insert 'or section 28(2)'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

I understand that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 18, in page 18, line 16 at end insert: (c) shall include details of all directives by the Secretary of State. standing in the name of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield).

Mr. Noble

The purpose of Clause 20(2)(a) is to ensure that public attention is drawn to any directions which the Secretary of State may give the Authority which might affect the independence of the Authority's regulatory decisions. I therefore accept that it is right and proper that all directions of significance from a policy point of view should be published in its annual report. This will be achieved by adding, by means of this Amendment, the references to the directions under Clause 28(2) which will establish the terms of reference of the National Air Traffic Services.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the question of directions to the Civil Aviation Authority by the Secretary of State is a very important matter, because we are not dealing here with any kind of international situation of perfect or free competition. We are dealing with a situation of highly cartelised competition and highly regulated competition—regulated to most countries' advantage. Consequently, the directions which any Secretary of State gives to the national regulating body are of the utmost importance, because they show the extent to which the regulating body is forced to deviate from the normal competitive mechanism.

I have always felt, however, that the full relationship between the Government and the regulating body should be fully publicised, and this is why I put down Amendment No. 18. Although in the past we have had some intimations of the kind of relationships which have existed between the Secretary of State and British airlines, and between the Secretary of State and the Air Transport Licensing Board, I feel that communications and directions from the Secretary of State to the Civil Aviation Authority should be publicised.

The fact is that the Bill, particularly in Clauses 3, 4, 24 and 27 gives the Secretary of State a tremendous amount of power. I think it can be said that the Authority will be a fine example of delegated legislation, and it will also be said that the Authority will have a tremendous amount of independence and authority. I want to see precisely the extent and the quality of that autonomy and independence which the Authority may be allowed to enjoy.

5.15 p.m.

I feel that the only way in which we can all be allowed to see the precise quality of the Authority's independence is for all directions and communications from the Secretary of State to be openly published. I think we all recognise that Governments reserve the right to regulate their own licensing systems to their own advantage: the Americans, the Canadians and Australians in particular do this. Indeed, many countries do it far more than we do. But if we are to divert the Authority to anything from the normal competitive system, in which ordinary market rules and regulations operate, I should like this to be public knowledge and not just a not-too-well kept secret between the Secretary of State and the Authority.

Mr. Millan

I have a good deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) has said. We argued the point in Committee. It was said there—and I accept this to some extent—that many of the directions which may be given to the Authority will be rather formal in nature and some will be rather lengthy, and that there will be no great amount of enlightenment for any of us if they are all to be written out in detail in the Authority's annual report. It was, therefore, our objective to achieve the situation where the most important directions at least would be publicised in the annual report, even if we could not achieve the object of having all the directions, publicised in it.

One of those to which we attach importance is the one now covered by Amendment No. 15–the arrangement under Clause 28(2) for the organisation of the joint National Air Traffic Services. I think that it was I who suggested in Committee that this was a direction that should go into the annual report, since it is an important one and not something which will happen as a matter of form every year. I suggested that there was no question of burdening the annual report with this matter. I am, therefore, grateful to the Minister for accepting that suggestion and introducing Amendment No. 15. Without necessarily going all the way with my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton on this, there are a number of other directions that I should have preferred, on balance, to have included in the annual report, but if the Minister is not willing to do so, I think that Amendment No. 15 is at least an important step forward and we are grateful for it.

Mr. Noble

By leave of the House, I will reply. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian). What we have tried to do, as a result of the useful discussion in Committee, is to ensure that, in cases where general directions are given which could affect the discretion of the Authority on issues of importance, these should be incorporated in the annual report. As the hon. Gentleman said, there are a number of general directions which are given of the sort which, for example, state the way in which the annual accounts should be be maintained, and so on. Such directions are purely housekeeping, as it were and it would be exceedingly boring for everyone if they all had to be included in the annual report. Between us we have the right balance and I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment. I cannot go all the way with the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) on Amendment No. 18 because this would inevitably clutter up the annual report with a great deal of stuff which would be of no interest to anyone.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 16, in page 18, line 9, after '4', insert 'or 28(2)'.

Mr. Noble

I beg to move, Amendment No. 17, in page 18, line 11 at end insert: (b) shall include particulars of any case in which during that year the Authority has decided not to proceed in accordance with advice given to it in pursuance of section 27(3)(a)(i) of this Act; This Amendment gives effect to an assurance I gave in Committee that we should require any difference of view between the Authority and the Airworthiness Requirements Board as to airworthiness standards and the extent to which new aircraft types satisfied them to be published in the Authority's annual report. This was a point urged on me from both sides of the Committee. I believe that it is right and in accordance with what the Committee wanted and I hope that the House will accept it.

Mr. Millan

As the right hon. Gentleman has said, it was pressed upon the Government in Committee, by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) as well as by my hon. Friends, that a provision of the sort now included in Amendment No. 17 should be written into the Bill. The Amendment is expressed in slightly restrictive terms because it refers to Section 27(3)(a)(i). There is no reference to Section 27(3)(a)(ii), including matters on which the Airworthiness Requirements Board may give advice to the Authority. These are matters which appear to the Board, as distinct from the Authority, to relate to … the standards mentioned in the preceding subsection. that is the standards dealing with airworthiness requirements, the basic function of the new A.R.B.

I would have preferred on the whole that we had just said Section 27(3)(a), thus including (i) and (ii) as being among the matters which would be stated in the Authority's annual report if there were disagreement between the Authority and the Board.

Nevertheless, the Amendment goes most of the way towards meeting what was asked of the Government in Committee. It deals with most of the matters about which the A.R.B. is likely to be advising the Authority, and any really important matters in dispute are likely to be covered. There will be a rather delicate relationship, in a constitutional sense although not in a working sense we hope, between the A.R.B. and the Civil Aviation Authority. This Amendment helps to strengthen the Board in a way that the House as a whole would wish.

If there are disagreements about matters arising under Section 27 (3)(a)(ii), whether or not in the Authority's annual report, the industry being what it is, the relationship of the Board being what it is—and we hope that its members will be drawn from distinguished individuals within the industry—it will become known that these are genuine differences of opinion and that there is no question of the Authority trying to diminish the responsibilities that we are pressing on the Board. I am not entirely happy that this goes far enough, but it goes so far along the road that we wanted the Government to travel that it would be churlish not to thank the right hon. Gentleman for introducing the Amendment.

Mr. Onslow

I too am grateful to my right hon. Friend for virtually accepting the arguments underlying the Amendment which stood in my name in Committee and which received the support of both sides. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied about this? Suppose a query arises about the airworthiness of a type which has already been certificated and which comes up for renewal of certification? Will the formula be sufficient to enable a clash between the two sides to be brought out effectively? The pressure for the renewal of a certification of a type already in service, from the commercial point of view, is likely to be infinitely greater than that relating to any other type, even than for a new type, because the numbers of aircraft involved will be considerable and the number of operators who would stand to find their operations inhibited if the aircraft were uncertificated would be substantial and something with which to be reckoned.

It is conceivable that the Civil Aviation Authority might not be obliged under (3)(a)(i) to consult the Board but the Board nevertheless would feel that it had some important advice which it should put to the Authority. I hope that this is not too fine a point for my right hon. Friend to deal with, although I realise that I have not given him notice of it. I trust that this provision will never be used. Should there be a case of disagreement between the Board and the Authority it would be an unhappy state of affairs, showing that the system we had established was not working as we hoped. It will be by sensible, give-and-take and rational discussions between the experts —adult and level-headed men—that all the provisions embodied in the legislation will work. If we do not have such people to carry out the task it does not matter what is in the legislation. Perhaps it is not reasonable to insist on the print being too fine, but I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for building into the Bill what might be regarded as a deterrent.

Mr. Noble

By leave of the House. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) for his remarks. The only reason we did not go the whole way with the Amendment, which he suggested might be preferable, is that we are hoping that the Airworthiness Requirements Board will be consulted not just about airworthiness but about a number of matters, as it has been regularly consulted by my Department. If any disagreement had to be recorded it might make it more difficult for the Civil Aviation Authority to feel it could go and discuss matters of more general importance. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) that any question of airworthiness would be covered, so that his point is fully met.

Amendment agreed to.

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