HC Deb 29 June 1971 vol 820 cc226-9
Mr. Millan

I beg to move, Amendment No. 9, in page 5, line 19, leave out 'of its disclosure to the prospective recipient' and insert: to the public and the prospective recipient of its disclosure to him'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

With this Amendment it would be for the convenience of the House to discuss Amendment No. 25, in page 25, line 9, leave out: 'of its disclosure to the relevant person' and insert: 'to the public and the relevant person of its disclosure to him'.

Mr. Millan

The Clause deals among other things, with the question of disclosure of information. The Clause is expressed in very wide terms, but we understood from the Minister in Committee that he would be making regulations on such matters as the initial grant of a certificate of air worthiness to a new aircraft, revocation of an air operator's certificate, or the grant or refusal of an air transport licence in a contested case. On the last matter we have rather more detailed provision later in the Bill, but in all these matters there is a question of how much information should be made available not just to an interested party but generally to an interested public.

It has been a recurring complaint about the way in which air transport is regulated in this country that the amount of information made available publicly contrasts rather badly with that made available in other countries, for example, the United States of America. It seems to us, in those circumstances, looking at this Clause and Clause 24, which deals with air transport licensing, that the wording was misconstrued, because it was setting the rights of the person who had given the information to the Authority against the rights of another person, perhaps an objector in the case of an air transport licence, and was asking whether there was greater advantage in letting the information be known to the second person than disadvantage in letting it be known to the first person in so doing.

In Committee we argued that what one was leaving out, if that was the approach —as it seemed to be—was the general public interest. We said that as well as mentioning the person who gave the information and the prospective recipient, there was a need to put in the Bill some mention of the general public interest in having as much information as possible made available by the Civil Aviation Authority. In Committee we moved an Amendment with that kind of object, but not quite in those terms, and the Minister said that he had some sympathy with the points which we had in mind but that he did not consider that the Amendment was the right way of achieving the objective.

The new Amendment is another attempt at rewording this Clause and Clause 24 to bring in the basic point that there is a general public interest in all the information which comes to the Authority and in its disclosure. I understand that the Minister is happy with the wording now contained in the Amendment. This is an important point, and if the Minister is willing to accept the Amendment, it will improve the Bill in an important regard and" will make those interested in the operations of the Authority much happier that a good deal of information will be made available to them and to the general public, so that we can see what the Authority is doing and the kind of information upon which it is basing its very important decisions.

Mr. Noble

The hon. Member for Craigton (Mr. Millan) has again made the points which he made very well in Committee. I told him then that I had a great deal of sympathy with the object which he was trying to achieve. As he suspected, his second go at an Amendment is entirely acceptable to me. The object that he wants to attain is right because it takes into account the public interest. I am grateful to him for putting down the Amendment, which I am glad to accept.

Amendment agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Onslow

I beg to move, Amendment No. 10, in page 5, line 21, leave out paragraph (b).

I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that the obstacles faced by people who wish to make representations are already quite daunting in many fields, and that it is unnecessary, on reflection, for him to increase their task by laying them open to the possibility that if they fail in their representations they may be mulcted very substantially in costs and expenses of the other party, a matter over which they would have no control. To keep these words in the Bill would have a serious deterrent effect on the freedom of the public and the consumer to make representations. I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that the words can be removed without loss to the public interest.

Mr. Noble

Today the proceedings are following rather closely those in Committee, where, if sensible points were made, I did my best to consider them and if possible, to accept them. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting down the Amendment, and to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), who first raised the subject of the Amendment.

There has never been an award of costs under the existing system and there is no policy reason for wishing the Authority to be able to award costs. In any case, a fee could be charged for any application form or to revoke or vary a licence, and this could be sufficient to deter frivolous applications. I am happy to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

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