HC Deb 29 June 1971 vol 820 cc218-26
Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 38, leave out 'or of such persons as may be specified in the order'.

Mr. Speaker

With this we are to take the following Amendments; No. 6, in page 3, line 40, leave out 'or authorise another person to give'.

No. 7, in line 42, leave out 'or that person'.

No. 14, in page 17, line 38, leave out from 'Act' to end of line 39.

No. 54, in page 93, line 4, leave out 'in subsection (2)' and insert: 'the words from "or of such persons" onwards shall be omitted. (2) In subsection (2) of that section'.

No. 55, in line 6, at end insert: 'and the words "or under the direction of" shall be omitted'.

No. 58, in page 95, line 26, column 3, at end insert: In section 28, in subsection (1) the words from 'or of such' onwards, and in subsection (2) the words 'or under the direction of'.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. John

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Those Amendments are all consequential on No. 5. Similar Amendments were discussed in Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman promised to have second thoughts about them and to let us have his views on Report.

The Clause deals with the power of the Secretary of State to give directions in time of war, whether actual or imminent, or of great national emergency. It is worth bearing in mind that the phrase "great national emergency" is not defined, and therefore deserves careful scrutiny.

With the establishment of the Civil Aviation Authority, we are setting up an autonomous body of expert opinion and administrative skill. It seems to us that to interpose between the Secretary of State and the authority a person who can give direction to the authority is superfluous. Perhaps I might summarise the argument, because it was dealt with comprehensively in Committee. To give power to an independent person to give the authority such directions as he thinks fit is going wider than the precedent. It is going wider than the Air Corporations Act, 1967 under which directions can be given, but only by, or with the authority of, the Secretary of State.

Second, I believe that the Secretary of State could well give such directions himself, through the normal processes of delegation, and therefore, from that point of view, it is unnecessary to interpose an independent person who can give such directions. Third, if the Secretary of State can give his own directions, there is an overwhelming advantage in securing that he does so, because he is the responsible and answerable person. Even at such times as are envisaged in Clause 4, Parliament would have a say and the Secretary of State should be answerable to the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, having thought the matter over since the Committee stage, will find this acceptable. The excision of these words would strengthen the Bill, while in no way robbing the Secretary of State of worthwhile powers.

Mr. Noble

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this matter, both in Committee and today. There was a problem that I was not clear about in Committee—whether it was necessary for some other person to be involved in this type of problem. The hon. Member was right to say that we should not place the Authority's property at the disposal of any person who is not answerable to Parliament and I promised to think carefully about this matter.

We have looked into the antecedents of these references to another person, and bearing in mind that "the Secretary of State" includes the Secretary of State for Defence, there is no practical need for them there. Therefore, I am grateful to the hon. Member and I am happy to accept the Amendment, as well as the consequential Amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: No. 6, in page 3, line 40 leave out 'or authorise another person to give'.

No. 7, in line 42 leave out 'or that person'.—[Mr. John.]

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 4, line 8, leave out subsection (3).

There are several key points at which the Government can weaken the decisionmaking authority of the Civil Aviation Authority. The crux of the relationship between the Secretary of State and that Authority is Clause 4(3). My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) has given some of the reasons for the Secretary of State over-ruling the Authority, but it goes even further than that. I want to know how the Authority can do its job at all if it can be over-ruled to this extent.

The Authority will not be allowed to take the initiative or to have the final say over traffic rights. How can it regulate British air transport in those circum stances? Similarly, it will have no jurisdiction, will not be able to take the initiative and will have no final say in the matter of foreign carriers. In the United States, the Civil Aeronautics Board both licenses domestic carriers and gives foreign carrier permits to British airlines, particularly independent operators.

American supplemental managements have already been accustomed to going straight to the Department of Trade and Industry, and they will continue to go over the head of the Civil Aviation Authority—and because of this subsection, the Authority will be able to do nothing about it. The Secretary of State also proposes to over-rule the Authority once more on the matter of noise. One by one, the powers of the Authority are being whittled down.

I suppose that this is a probing Amendment, to find out how the Secretary of State thinks that the Authority can do any delegated, independent job when he can over-rule it at every stage, as in subsection (3). If the Authority is to be responsible for regulating tariffs and international transport, at least it should have been able to take the initiative in I.A.T.A. negotiations. But it seems that the right hon. Gentleman has already appropriated these duties to himself.

This applies particularly to this country. We are the gateway to Europe. People from North America, South America or the Caribbean area usually come through London. Every carrier who gets a North Atlantic routing tries to route that flight through London. Anyone who operates a flight from Europe, the Middle East or the Far East to North America also goes through London. So the Authority will be in a key position on these routes, yet the Secretary of State will be able to overrule it on all these important decisions.

I move this Amendment in no political sense. I have profound political disagreements with the Minister, particularly over Clause 3(1)(b). But this is a non-political matter. The Authority should be allowed to take the initiative and to make final decisions. If one thing has bedevilled the Air Transport Licensing Board ever since its inception—it was the right hon. Gentleman's Government who set it up in 1960–it is the fact that it has been over-ruled on every important decision. Only this year, when it forbade a domestic trunk fares increase in this country, the Minister's Department once more over-ruled it. If the Authority is to be over-ruled in this way, I do not see how the Minister can pretend that it will be an independent authority or that this is delegated legislation.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) has put me in a dilemma, because my immediate reaction to his speech is to wish that he had been on the Committee. But I wish no such thing. I am glad that he was not on the Committee: we got on better without him. Perhaps I can resolve my dilemma by saying that, if he had read the reports of the Committee proceedings, he would not have made such a silly speech. This matter was gone through thoroughly. His hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) took a close interest in this Clause and came to a worthwhile conclusion. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) also expressed himself satisfied with the Minister's assurance.

Perhaps, if the hon. Member for Nuneaton had read the reports of the Committee debates, he would not have made that speech. I cannot guarantee that he would not, because I do not know how invincible is his ignorance, but to ignore all the reasons which were then advanced is really to try the patience of the House.

Some of what the hon. Gentleman said might have been relevant to a discussion which may occur later on the subject of appeals, but to overlook the fact that these directions are to be made only after consultation with the Authority—and often they will be requested by the Authority as a necessary means of deciding how it is to discharge its functions—is to waste the time of the House, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make no more speeches of that kind.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)

I want to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said about the speech of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield). On the other hand, I do not want to deter the hon. Gentleman from crossing the Floor of the House after promoting a concept of freedom of operation which I am sure was never in the minds of his hon. Friends in Committee.

If the hon. Gentleman will do what my hon. Friend the Member for Woking suggested and read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings in Committee, he will find that his hon. Friends did not demand a Vote on any subject raised by the Clause, part of which he wishes to delete. He should have been kept informed by his hon. Friends about those proceedings. Indeed, I am sure that they would have welcomed the benefit of his wide experience of aviation. That might have avoided our having to spend all this time at this stage on a subject which was discussed fully in Committee.

The hon. Member for Nuneaton is suggesting, in effect, that there should be a free for all. I would have thought that even in his meekest political mantle he would not have suggested that, especially to people outside this House. We are seeking by the Clause to ensure that the total national interests of the country are covered in every way necessary, something which I am sure his party would wish to have within their control should they ever be elected—that is, within their control after consultation with the C.A.A. Surely we do not wish to limit the C.A.A. in the carrying out of this function.

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that it is not just a matter of the C.A.A. negotiating fares, for on an international scale these matters are discussed with B.O.A.C. and the other airlines in I.A.T.A.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I would hate the hon. Gentleman and anybody else to think that I was ever in favour of a free for all. I was trying to make the point— I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) know this only too well— that if Clause 3 (1)(b) is read in conjunction with Clause 4(3) and in conjunction with Clause 24(2) and Clause 27(6), one sees that the Minister has a fairly free hand.

Mr. Warren

I am delighted to hear that, because my right hon. Friend needs a free hand to carry out these tasks. I am not sure about the cross-references to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I take his word about them, at least for now.

It is the C.AA.'s job to act within the total negotiating problem that the Government have, both through the airlines negotiating their fares, as they are currently doing in Montreal, and through the Foreign Office negotiating traffic rights. I am sure that the Minister is thinking in terms of his ability to facilitate the work of the C.A.A., and the Clause is not intended to hinder that work. This is an important point which the hon. Member for Nuneaton overlooked.

When one considers that Clause 4(3)(f) deals with the prevention of noise, vibration, pollution or other disturbance attributable to aircraft used for the purpose of civil aviation it is surprising that the hon. Gentleman, who has taken a keen interest in air safety, wishes to hinder such preventive work.

The hon. Gentleman used a subtle simile when he said that we did not want to "whittle away" at the work that was going on. He could not have chosen a better simile in terms of noise. I am sure that the House as a whole will not hesitate to endorse the Secretary of State's facility to consult and, if necessary, direct, in this matter.

Mr. Robert Adley (Bristol, North-East)

I support what my hon. Friends have said on this issue and I remind the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) of the phrase "routes subject to Government approval" which he must have seen on many timetables. The Minister may wish to confirm that that in most cases means approval by the Government and not by a board such as the C.A.A.

It would be a dangerous practice if we were to remove from the Minister his ability to take the sort of action envisaged under the Clause, and I am particularly thinking of what is likely to happen when Concorde starts operating.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should go over to the sort of system that exists in the United States, where it is well known that there are "political airlines"? If a particular airline has contributed substantially to a party in America and that party happens to get elected, that airline will be favoured by new routes from the government in power. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should adopt that system?

Mr. Adley

The answer is clearly "No". I was simply suggesting that there may be occasions when the Minister may need to use the power that this provision will confer on him, and I therefore support the retention in the Bill of the provision which the hon. Gentleman is seeking to delete.

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) suggested that Clause 4(3)(f) will give the Minister a free hand in order to prevent or deal with noise, vibration, pollution or other disturbance attributable to aircraft used for the purpose of civil aviation. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that he will have a free hand under this provision?

Mr. Noble

I listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) and, while I do not entirely disagree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said, I appreciate that in the busy lives we lead in Parliament, it is not always easy to read all the reports of all the Committees in which we are interested.

I accept that the hon. Gentleman regards this as a probing Amendment. I hope I will not bore those who took part in the Committee proceedings on the Bill if I make albeit a short speech, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Nuneaton, in the form of a summary of what was said in Committee, where there was a much wider ranging debate on this matter.

I made it clear on Second Reading, as I did in Committee, that the Government must remain directly responsible for national security, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Nuneaton accepts that. There are also two other questions, international relations and the environment. I believe that this is essential because only the Government and Parliament can be responsible for national security or can formally commit the United Kingdom internationally on this and similar issues. It would be wrong, therefore, to allow a body which is primarily concerned with the interests of the industry and its users to be responsible for amenity matters, and especially aircraft noise, which is the point to which the hon. Gentleman wanted me to allude. This means that the Government must have the necessary powers to implement their responsibilities in this sphere.

The Authority will, however, have a most important rôle to play in a very wide range of fields. For example, it will be granting air transport licences in respect of international services. It will be participating in, and, I hope, in many cases, leading, international negotiations. It will, because of its responsibility for technical regulation, play an important part in the aircraft noise certification scheme. In all these and in other cases the Authority and my Department will be working in close collaboration.

The fact remains, nevertheless, that if there was ever a difference of view between the Government and the Authority, the Government's view must prevail. I am sure that this is not likely to occur often. If it were to happen, however, the Authority should be entitled to require a specific direction to which it could point in its annual report.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

As the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) made a somewhat unprovoked personal attack on me, he may care to know that it was at the conclusion of reading an article in Flight International of 17th June last that I persisted in going ahead with my Amendment. In that journal was a report of what had transpired in Committee on this Measure—and who better than the hon. Member for Woking to have written it? After reading the whole thing—I do the hon. Gentleman the justice of bringing it into the Chamber—I am still none the wiser. Had he seen fit to explain some of the changes in the article, perhaps I would not have had to persist with the Amendment this afternoon. However, despite the assurance given by the Minister, I cannot understand why, for instance, some more authority, especially over foreign airlines, cannot be given to the Civil Aviation Authority. If we are to have a situation in which domestic carriers will obtain their licence from the Civil Aviation Authority, yet foreign carriers have to go to the Department of Trade and Industry, it seems that this will be one more encouragement to all airlines to go over the heads of the Authority.

Amendment negatived.

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