HC Deb 06 December 1972 vol 847 cc1507-28

2.1 a.m.

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

One of the side-effects—whether intentional or not—of the Civil Aviation Act has been to make debates on civil aviation even rarer than they previously were. This is unfortunate, and the misfortune is the greater because it coincides with a period of rapid development in the industry both in organisation and in technology, and it coincides also with a time when we are having to face the consequences of the wider use of the aeroplane as a holiday vehicle. These are matters of legitimate public concern, and I believe that expression of public concern about them by public representatives would be of advantage.

That is not to say that I am striking a critical note as regards the Civil Aviation Authority itself. It seems to me to have made a very good start, and it has chosen its priorities with care. In particular, I commend the chairman of the Authority, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who seems to have applied the talents which he displayed in the House to the benefit of civil aviation as a whole. I have found him approachable, and, in particular, I pay a tribute to him for his help in enabling Glamorgan County Council to secure an instrument landing system for Rhoose airport. It is hoped that this will be installed early next year, and it should enable the airport to take its rightful place in civil aviation and afford a better service for the rapidly growing public demand in the area for air transport.

Nevertheless, the work of the authority has been somewhat hampered in two ways by the guidance given by the Minister to it in February, 1972. I refer, first, to paragraph 17 of the guidance—it is Cmnd. 4899—dealing with the ques- tion of British Caledonian. I still do not understand how it is presumed that the Civil Aviation Authority can carry out its duties both under Section 3 of the Act and under paragraph 17, which ties its hands not only at present but for the foreseeable future.

Nothing can take back the guidance which has already been given, and, perhaps, for the initial period the Government felt it necessary to give British Caledonian this favoured treatment in the market. But I should like the Government to set a time limit for the operation of paragraph 17 in its present form, so that the authority may carry out its duty under Section 3 of the Act unprejudiced by any inbuilt bias, which is a negation of the Government's doctrine of free competition—if in these days of change that is now their doctrine.

Secondly, the authority's work is hampered under paragraphs 20 and 21 of the guidance because of the extreme vagueness of the words used with regard to regional air services. The words in the guidance certainly do not measure up to the promise which the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), gave the Committee on the Civil Aviation Bill on 22nd April, 1971—it is col. 59 of the OFFICIAL REPORT—when he agreed that there was a good case for putting some suitable words into the White Paper which gave guidance to the CAA on this question. What appeared did not in any way meet that promise. It provided vague and nebulous guidance.

There is an urgent need for an examination of the rôle which the aviation industry and services can play towards the building up of the regions. There is an urgent need to sift the truth from the myth concerning regional air services. I should like to highlight two instances. I know that the Highlands and Islands Review is now under way. In view of the recent announcement by BEA of the re-equipping of its fleet for services to the Islands I hope that the results of that review will not be too long delayed. The review should take place as speedily as possible.

The second aspect of regional development which I hope the authority will consider is the implications of building the third London airport at Foulness or Maplin Sands. The reality of that decision for most of the country will render the major international airport more inaccessible to many areas. It will be a negation of the speed of air transport if people are able to fly into the third London airport very quickly but are then faced with an interminable land journey to the regions, or vice versa.

I hope that the Authority will consider urgently the rôle of feeder air services from our regional airports to Foulness, so that they can link up with the major international air services. In that way we can achieve speed throughout the entire journey, and not merely on one stage.

I now deal with one subject where the authority has been much less successful. We have heard with considerable disappointment that the projected moves of the staff and the headquarters of the authority from central London to the outskirts have now been abandoned. That is a retrograde step. It is entirely to the good of this country for civil servants and public employees to be dispersed from central London to the maximum extent possible. This is a fine chance for the authority to move out into one of the less favoured regions, where the additional jobs—in particular, those of a clerical type which are all too short in the regions—would help to provide a much-needed boost. We have airports in the regions. The authority would be as accessible as it is at Kingsway.

I hope that the authority will reconsider its decision not to move out of central London, and will take the lead in the dispersal of Government staff.

I should like to concentrate mainly upon the successes of the authority during this period. By far the best job done by the authority has been to crack the crib of high-cost transportation. It gives initiative to secure for the public cheaper transport for holidays without sacrificing reliability. We have been sickened by instances of rule bending by the so-called affinity groups which have been so widely publicised in recent years, particularly during the summer. We have also been aware of the human misery inflicted upon the travelling public by a minority of dishonest or negligent operators. I emphasise that they are in a minority. The bad publicity they have caused is out of all proportion to their place in the industry. Such stories have been all too fre- quent. They have led to a growth in dissatisfaction with the tour operators.

I extend a welcome to the advance-charter and part-charter concepts. They should avoid the scenes, which have been seen in our living rooms on the television screen, of stranded people and passengers being hauled off flights.

I heard the announcement on Monday of the decision by the authority to licence air tour operators, although I realise it is much too early for the Minister to give a final pronouncement upon the value of this scheme. I would therefore like to raise two points in connection with the scheme which are not entirely clear, in the hope that the authority will amplify its directive to the public benefit.

According to The Times air correspondent, reporting on this decision, there will be three types of licence—A, B and C. Type B will be the licence for the inclusive tour operator. In its Press release the authority has said that it does not deal with questions of hotel accommodation, since they are outside its responsibility. I accept this, but, in granting these licences, the authority cannot divorce itself from all the facets of the operator's organisation. It would destroy much of the value of the licensing scheme if the authority were to continue to grant licences to an operator who flew his passengers there and back promptly, but whose holidays otherwise were marred by hotels which did not live up to their description. I hope that the authority will take these factors into account when considering whether a particular operator is a suitable holder of a licence.

The second point that I hope the authority will deal with is the financial criteria for tour operators. The Press release says: In considering a travel organiser's financial resources, the Authority will be unlikely to grant a licence unless the most recent balance sheet shows a surplus of assets over liabilities appropriate to the nature and scale of the applicant's business. I hope that we will have clarification of that. There have been many alarms about travel agencies in recent years. Some famous names have incurred heavy losses. I read in BEA News on 9th November that a survey done by the authority of 56 tour operators revealed that 19 shared losses of £9.6 million and that the other 37, between them, made a profit of only £975,000. This is a very serious financial position. It is an unhappy state of affairs and will demand the closest scrutiny by the authority when granting licences.

I want to raise certain questions on aircraft safety. According to paragraph 8 of the guidance, the authority should aim at a high standard of safety in the operation of aircraft and the use of aerodromes. I fear that public anxiety as to the operational safety of aircraft is growing in the light of recent events. This is a difficult matter to put, and I do not intend to be thought to be supporting any criticism of any authority, but the Minister may have heard on "The World at One" today that a speaker felt free to say that because of staff difficulties in BEA he felt that a safety hazard was being caused to flights.

The second point arising from the current inquiry is that it is now apparent from evidence given that no training to combat stalls of the type which actually occurred was given prior to this fatality, although one previous incident had occurred. That gives rise to a question mark at any rate as to the adequacy of instruction to deal with emergency.

I hope that as a matter of necessity the authority will intervene in this highly sensitive and most important field to investigate and reassure us if that proves to be necessary. I hope that it will also intervene in the ancillary field of the Concorde simulator. The Minister will know that questions have been asked whether it is planned to get one for this country. The only one planned at the moment is to be sited in France. That is not good enough to deal with these matters of national prestige. Clearly, the demands of flight safety necessitate the provision of Concorde simulators in this country, and I hope that the authority will enable that to be done.

By the use of aerodromes we mean the current phenomenon of aircraft terrorism and hijacking. I am not satisfied that all is well here. The position is at its most favourable at the international airports, although the degree of safety varies even at those. But, unfortunately, it is not only the international airports which are at risk in this modern age. Our smaller regional airports are also highly vulnerable to the activities of the hijacker or terrorist.

It is consequently with some alarm that I read of a BEA captain being suspended because he alleged that the safety precautions at Aldergrove Airport, of all places—in Northern Ireland—are not adequate. Surely there is sufficient probability of an incident there to make the security as tight as could possibly be imagined. Yet, in the view of one responsible captain, that is not so. In the summer, we read of the escapade at Liverpool, when two people set out to demonstrate how inadequate the security precautions were at that airport, and were wholly successful.

I hope that the authority will consider this question. It may be regrettable that our small British Isles airports have to be regarded as vulnerable, but we should be lacking in realism if we did not concede at any rate the possibility of this being so in the next few years.

I hope that the authority will also consider the financial implications. I know that the Government are helping the airlines to meet the cost of searching and so on, but the local authorities which run these airports are being put to a great deal of expense in providing antiterrorist measures. They are not the causes of the present situation; they are the innocent victims of international tensions. So I hope that the authority will consider recommending to the Government that they should provide money towards the local authority-run airports, as distinct from the British Airports Authority ones, to help them to introduce and maintain a high standard of security. This matter is far too important to be approached in a penny-pinching manner.

One of the duties laid on the authority is to have regard to the environment. How much progress is being made towards suppressing aircraft noise? The prime need of modern aviation is not necessarily faster travel between centres but the provision of quieter aircraft, which will use less space to take off and which are in all ways more "liveable with" by those on the fringes of airports than are the present generation of aircraft. High priority should be given.

The Minister will know that in Caxton Hall there was a symposium about quiet aircraft in which the Civil Aviation Authority took part and which was mainly sponsored by local authorities in the London area, which are desperately worried and plagued by aircraft noise. This problem is not confined to London, or even Luton; it is something we must all face. We must demand a better environment, and part of that better environment is engines which are efficient without causing the sound and fury which make people's lives a misery.

I have deliberately tried to make this a wide review of the authority's work because I believe that these are questions that we would like answered.

It is a pity that the views of those of us who represent the ordinary people—the ordinary customer of the airlines—cannot be heard more often in this House, raising the needs and problems of our constituents, because their views are as important to the shaping of future policy of the CAA as are the views of experts.

I hope that the next year of the Civil Aviation Authority will be as successful as the last. It commands the good will of the House, and I hope that its determination in tackling the main priorities will be used to maintain the good work which is worthy of the high traditions of this service.

2.20 a.m.

Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) for raising this important subject in a thoughtful and constructive way. I shall try to avoid covering the points that he has raised.

These debates on aviation and aerospace policy occur all too rarely. I recall that I initiated a debate on 15th December last year.

With due respect to the Under-Secretary for Trade and Industry, I regret—as I know my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd will regret—that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), is not here, because the three of us were members of the Standing Committee which dealt with the Civil Aviation Bill, where the Minister—then a back bencher—was critical of some of the policies that the Government were putting forward. We could have had a constructive time reminding him of some of his criticisms. However, I understand that he is in America watching Apollo 17—a project which I was privileged to see a few months ago in the United States. I hope that the Under-Secretary comes back keen on a post-Apollo policy, in which the Government have shown little interest up to now. It is important to this country.

We are considering a policy which was formulated following the report of the Edwards Committee, set up in 1967 to review the needs of British civil aviation in the years ahead. It was presented to Parliament in May 1969 after a wide variety of organisations and people had given their views on the policy of British aviation for the future, including the Air Transport Licensing Board, the Air Registration Board, local authorities and many other organisations, including the Board of Trade.

The new CAA has taken over the functions of some of these and other bodies, and has started work with a considerable degree of zeal. I commend the work of Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the board and staff of the authority, and the way they have tackled their job to give confidence for the future.

I want to raise some points about aspects of Government policy which must concern people in terms of the future work of the authority.

The question remains whether, in this fast-growing industry, in the light of the great technological advances which are taking place, and when other forms of transport are also growing apace, the Edwards Report, produced five years ago, is up to date. We expect that the CAA will have to review the situation as it goes along and take these changes into account.

We want the air transport industry to be kept up to date with current and future needs, but it also needs stability. This is particularly true of the aircraft industry, which is vitally tied up with its future. Yet in all these areas of policy the House and the country lack knowledge of what the Government think—if they think anything about the matters, that I shall raise.

Apart from Concorde and its rôle as a supersonic transport—about which we shall be having a discussion on Monday, in the debate on the Second Reading of the Concorde Aircraft Bill—we know very little about the Government's work or planning with regard to the provision of Q/STOL; very little about the changes in rail transport, which will have to be taken into account by the CAA in deciding aviation policy, and very little about the Channel Tunnel and the effect that it will have on the air transport industry, although I understand from the Minister for Transport Industries that a preliminary agreement was signed some time ago with the French about that. It could make a big difference to our internal air policy.

We have the possible white elephant of the third London Airport at Maplin, which is due to be operative in the 1980s. In the light of Q/STOL developments, and so on, we wonder whether the long runways and other facilities being built there will be necessary. We also wonder about the way in which the Government intend to encourage airlines to go from Heathrow to Maplin. These are matters that the CAA must take into account. We rather suspect that higher landing charges, and so on, will be the penalty for those that want to stay at Heathrow.

When thinking of the Edwards proposals let us also bear in mind that aircraft take a long time to develop and that it is not always easy to estimate the needs of the next decade. Air travel has grown substantially in the past decade. Even greater technical changes can be expected in the future, but the rate of growth of air traffic has been declining. The ICAO figures show that the rate of growth has been declining when there has been an increase in the capacity, and when fare levels have been such that in an inflationary situation they represent a reduction in the cost to the passenger and the cargo operator.

There has been a change in the pattern of trans-Atlantic markets, and charter traffic has been more than doubled in three years, while scheduled services have still been substantial. In 1971, only 30 per cent. of all scheduled traffic was carried at the full fare. Therefore, a large number of passengers have travelled on scheduled routes at less than full fare, and there have not been good enough loadings.

The anomalies of the charter rules need urgent attention. I understand that the CAA has predicted that by April, 1973, the matter will have been sorted out. As my hon. Friend pointed out, there are many abuses, especially with the affinity rules, which need to be sorted out urgently, in view of the arrangements being made by the tour operators for spring and summer traffic next year.

In world air traffic markets there has been very little regulation of fares, tariffs, entry into markets and routes, and there has been a lowering of charter rates, most not through desirable competitiveness but through a lack of proper regulation. The public should be warned that in a market such as air travel the so-called cut prices offered can spell serious trouble, and that regulation within reason is best for all concerned in this kind of competitive situation.

Some may question whether Britain can afford to be in the aircraft industry, both from the point of view of manufacturing and air transport and sometimes, in the absence of any indication from the Government of their thinking on these matters, one wonders whether they themselves believe that Britain has any real rôle to play. This is shown by the lack of confidence among organisations concerned with air travel. The Royal Aeronautical Society, of which I am a member, the Air League, of which I am also a member, and many others, among whom are political friends of the Government, all lack confidence to a serious degree because of the lack of policy statements.

However, there can be no doubt that Britain must be in the business of designing and producing aircraft, because we have the best designers and engineers in the world—and I must declare an interest in this—apart from the fact that the export of aerospace products brings in a good revenue to help our balance of payments. We have shown by the way we run our nationalised airlines that even at times when airlines in other countries are making substantial losses, BOAC, BEA and other publicly-run concerns here can pay their way, even when the Government are hijacking some of the routes to hand over to British Caledonian.

On this point I wonder—and I think the House must wonder—to what extent the Government will make good some of the losses which have been sustained by BOAC in the light of the handing over to British Caledonian of the routes which it pioneered. One wonders whether, even at this late stage, the Government have any plans to provide compensation to BOAC for the hijacking of the routes that has taken place.

Proper regulation is vital, as airlines have to invest enormous sums in providing for the future. Loading factors, seat capacity, peak traffic demands, charter fares, and so on, are not easily estimated, and they can affect viability. These, amongst others, are themes with which the CAA will have to grapple, and they include the provision of a wide range of other services at each end of the journey, and in between, which the travelling customer expects. At the end of the day the CAA has to ensure that flight safety is assured and that there is a return on the capital invested—and between those two tasks there are enormous problems to be overcome.

In assessing the needs of the future we anticipate the prospect of a merger of BOAC and BEA. In recent days they have been drawn much more closely together in their work.

On the rôle of the second force, the Opposition's policy has been clearly stated. We shall carefully watch the way that force makes a complementary contribution to the future of air travel. The public should not forget that the deliberate policy of the Government to guarantee the prospects not only of survival but of growth of the second force is one that could affect the viability of the State airlines. We said in Committee on the Civil Aviation Bill that the only thing that was assured in the measure was the prosperity of private airlines in competition with the public airlines—and these are matters of grave concern.

Finally, I want to raise one or two points on which I think the House would like the views of the Minister. There are several aspects of public importance apart from those raised by my hon. Friend about noise. The Civil Aviation Act lays down detailed requirements about maximum noise levels, and they are rightly enforced. People living in the areas of our airports, especially at Heathrow, have a right to know that the requirements of the Act are being met but at the same time the House would like to be assured that in taking measures to reduce noise by throttling down at take-off and peak periods we are not sacrificing safety to minimise noise.

I think that the real answer to the noise problem is not at take-off but at the drawing board stage, and the Government have a good opportunity of helping, by finance and other ways, to encourage manufacturers to eliminate noise early on. The comparative silence of the RB211 engine in the TriStar has shown the public what can be done, and I hope that these results can be extended to other projects.

Air tour operators have already been involved in the preparation of programmes and tours for the coming spring and summer. They are concerned about the effect of their operations, which have already been announced, of VAT and the current prices freeze. They have asked for guidance from the Government, but so far no announcement has been made. They are anxious to know how they will be affected.

Highlands and islands development was dealt with in the Bill. I understand that the chairman of the CAA has been to Scotland to view the facilities for himself, and that he is having consultations with all interested parties about the services in those areas. The authority has been asked to make a recommendation to the Government on the future of the Scottish Highlands and Islands air services by the end of March, 1974. This matter was raised in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan).

In my area of the East Midlands—Nottinghamshire and Newark, in particular—we have the problem, which arises in many other regions, of getting to and from regional airports to travel to London. There are problems of access, and there is competition from the railways. It is quicker to travel from city centre to city centre by rail on the Manchester electrified service than to travel by air, and the rail fares are more moderate. That is another aspect on which the authority must have guidance from the Government.

The authority has 6,000 employees, located from the Isles of Scilly to Shetland. Is it not possible to move the headquarters from central London into areas which are less congested?

I am concerned, as are others, about the role of women pilots. There are not many of them in the public airlines. There is the strange idea that women marry, have children and leave the service. Men also marry and have children, yet they are not penalised. One wonders whether women go to the trouble of getting trained, at some cost to themselves and to the airlines, and acquiring a good earning capacity as pilots, only to give it all up for a more domestic rôle. These matters are not looked at in the same way for both sexes.

The Labour Party has published a document dealing with discrimination on grounds of sex. A stewardess has to retire at 36 but a steward can continue working until his 50s. The chairman of one airline told me in a letter that a lower retirement age for stewardesses was not uncommon in other airlines and recognises the special style of cabin service which passengers expect. A stewardess of 37—a year over the age limit—might provide the style of cabin service that I and many others would prefer to that provided by a steward of 52, but that is a matter of choice. We should disregard the sex angle and look to the suitability of the person wanting to do the job. There must be many women who, if allowed to remain as stewardesses at the age of 36, could still give good service with all the charm and talent that we have come to expect from our stewardesses. This is a matter of making the best use of our manpower and womanpower and disregarding some of the other factors which too often come into account with regard to discrimination.

Air piracy is a matter of grave concern. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) made a public announcement on this subject recently, in which he said that the airlines of the world must be quaking at the possible outcome of threatened hijacking and air piracy continuing. He said that it had become a matter of urgency for the Government to introduce legislation to ratify the Montreal Convention, which is already a year old.

We all know of the steps being taken to screen baggage and search passengers, and so on. They must be tightened up. I went to Brussels on Sunday and returned on Tuesday, and I went through the barriers at both ends without being searched. The officials had no reason to trust me; they did not know who I was. No one else was subjected to any checks. This is a matter of great concern, which could affect traffic in the future. I appreciate that the Government are giving £1 million or so to the airlines to help combat these problems, but it is a matter of urgency that we make more progress in guaranteeing safety.

With regard to the West London Air Terminal, the change in facilities there—the proposal to book in not there but at Heathrow—has been viewed with some concern by many members of the travelling public. I wonder whether the CAA and the Government would look at this matter again.

Finally, with regard to the duty-free concessions that are now available, which I questioned in the House a week or so ago, one fears that with our entry into the Common Market this concession might be lost. It is greatly valued by many travellers, not only in this country but all over the world. It brings a considerable return to our airlines and helps their profitability by offsetting some losses.

With the benefits that we have had from this brief debate, on the whole we can look forward to the expansion of air travel services and the work of the CAA in this country in the next decade. That work and the importance of the subject justifies an opportunity for the House to debate this matter at a more reasonable time of the day.

2.43 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Peter Emery)

I want immediately to respond to the extremely sensible and reasonable way in which the debate was initiated by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), and to what can only be described as a massive host of questions from the hon. Member and his hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop).

My colleague at the Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), is extremely sorry that he cannot be present today. I am an inadequate substitute for him, although my interest in the aviation industry is fairly well known.

This is the first general discussion that we have had on the activities of the Civil Aviation Authority since it assumed its functions on 1st April this year, and it is sensible that it should have been conducted in such a manner. Hon. Members will remember the debates on the Civil Aviation Act last March and on the policy guidance which the Government, with the approval of the House, have given to the authority. My outstanding impression of those debates, some of which I attended and some of which I read in HANSARD, was the general approval from both sides of the House regarding the creation of the authority as an important and, indeed, a welcome innovation in public authority organisation. Both sides were also well aware of the considerable size of the task that we were giving to the authority.

Therefore, on behalf of the Government, I am pleased to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Pontypridd in welcoming the way in which the authority has come to grips with the problem. I pay tribute to John Boyd-Carpenter, as we know him—although he is now in another place—who is carrying out his duties as chairman with ability and throwing himself into his responsibilities with all the skill and vigour that we have grown to expect of him.

I want to say a few words about the organisation. The authority inherited functions from my Department, the Air Transport Licensing Board and the Air Registration Board. All have had to be welded together. For example, the operational and safety regulations which used to be carried out by my Department and the constructional regulations of the ARB—both important elements of safety—are now controlled by the same member of the authority.

Let me say a word or two about the question of safety, because it is of major concern to many people in the country and it has been raised by both hon. Members in this debate. The authority is deeply conscious of its obligations to further safety in all areas of civil aviation. The United Kingdom's safety record in the public transport and general aviation sectors has shown steady and sustained improvement over a number of years, and it will be the aim of the authority, without complacency, to maintain that trend.

Further improvement to an already good safety record, in spite of the tragic accident which is now being inquired into, must call for persistent effort not only by the authority but by those concerned with safety in the aviation industry. The authority is hopeful that in its safety task it will be well served by the unification within its structure, for the first time, of those elements responsible for standards of air traffic control, operation and airworthiness, safety and operating route licences. All these are an advance in the ability to be able to ensure an increasing degree of safety.

A question has been asked about a staff problem. The staff problems of any airline are subject to the surveillance of the authority. The staff have to obey the safety rules and the operating procedures. I cannot comment—it would be wrong of me to do so—on the Trident inquiry which is in progress, but we have no indication in general that there has been any diminution in air safety standards. Above everything else, the public require to know and to be assured that everything humanly possible is being done to maintain safety at its highest pitch.

The policy aspects of the authority, in some instances, used to be the responsibility of my Department. The licensing functions of the Air Transport Licensing Board have similarly been brought together. These are perhaps obvious examples of the possibilities that the creation of the authority has allowed to be brought about.

In the longer term the changes we shall see may run deeper. The organisation which the authority inherited was basically governmentally geared to meet the needs of Ministers and the Department. The authority will still have responsibilities to both, but it is not subject to detailed parliamentary control. However, it is required to operate with more regard to commercial standards and criteria than is possible or desirable for a Government Department. That change in attitude is a challenge to all members of the authority. It is a compliment to the adaptability of the staff that no one doubts that they will be able to meet it.

Despite these internal preoccupations, the authority has in the eight months in which it has been functioning made a significant impact on both the domestic and the international civil aviation scene. It has finalised its strategy in the development of the country's air traffic control system over the next few years. That will involve the expenditure of some £25 million—about four-fifths of it being spent in this country. It will include a computer system for the new Scottish air traffic control centre, in addition to the extension to the London centre. Although there are no Scottish hon. Members present I am certain that they will be delighted to know that that can be confirmed.

The major public impact of the authority has been in international air services. The authority has developed and brought almost to fruition the work which it inherited from my Department on the advanced booking charter. This is a subject with many international aspects which have remained the responsibility of my Department. Consequently, it is a subject on which the authority and my Department have collaborated closely. The result of that collaboration is that European Governments have agreed with those of the United States and Canada to introduce on 1st April new, simple and liberal charter rules based on the principle that passengers who are prepared to commit themselves at least three months in advance should be able to enjoy the benefits of cheaper air transport. These rules will take effect initially on routes between the United Kingdom and Canada, the United States and the Caribbean area. The authority will monitor closely the working of the new scheme and will not hesitate to propose changes if it is thought that they are desirable. The new scheme should do away with all the distasteful and at times illegal activities to which the present affinity group system has given rise.

The authority is now considering with my Department the possible extension of this sort of arrangement to other intercontinental routes. If they succeed on the North Atlantic I believe that they are bound to spread. I believe that that would be welcomed, and I think that it is important.

Closely connected with the new charter rules is the licensing of air travel organisers, to which the hon. Members for Pontypridd and Newark referred. Hon. Members will recall that Section 26 of the 1971 Act gives the authority power to regulate the provision of accommodation in aircraft. The guidelines on which the authority is expected to use that power are contained in paragraph 24 of the policy guidance. This emphasises that the powers are designed to ensure that only those who act within the rules and who have adequate resources or financial arrangements shall engage in the organising and the wholesaleing of air travel.

I am sure that that is right. I do not believe that there could be any defence of firms which are doubtful financially being licensed, so that the public could be taken in, pay their money and then find their travel or their holiday ruined because the firm has not the financial resources to live up to what is desired, and to its financial promises. This should reduce the risk that some passengers have faced that the company with which they have booked their holiday has gone out of business and left them stranded.

I doubt whether anything can wholly remove such risks absolutely, but I believe that the authority's scheme, details of which it announced recently, will go a good way towards that end. I emphasise that the authority should not use its power to regulate competition and that its concern should be confined to the operation of air services.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd raised a point concerning British Caledonian, and paragraph 17 of the guidance. Continuing preference for the second force airline is still necessary, especially during its formative years, if it is to achieve a sound development. This was made clear in the Secretary of State's statement on 3rd August 1970, and it remains Government policy. But paragraph 17 is carefully worded so as to make it clear that these measures of preference are neither automatic nor complete; nor are they necessarily permanent. On non-scheduled flights, for example, the preference comes in only in those sectors of the market where the number of airlines, or the capacity, needs to be restricted—and only for as long as that continues.

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman will recognise from the guidance and the Act that the Government are committed to the survival of the second force airline. In these circumstances commercial viability is one of the obligations of the Government, even at the expense of other services, such as BEA and BOAC. This means that the second force airline must be kept going whatever the consequences to the other two. This is where there is a great measure of disagreement.

Mr. Emery

It would be absurd of any Government to consider a second force in competition and expect investment to be placed in it without a fair assurance that it will be given the necessary incentives and support to be successful. We would be wasting everyone's time and effort if that were the case. The action that the Government have taken is not only proper but adequate. As I have pointed out, the paragraph 17 support is not necessarily permanent in all its aspects.

I now turn to the question of the grant that the authority receives from the Government, which is designed to meet the authority's deficit on revenue account. The estimate put to the House earlier in the year was £24 million. We recognised at that time that the figure did not include provision for a number of matters then under discussion. An estimate has been placed before the House for a further £4 million.

The main items that the extra provision is designed to cover are varied. The largest is the payment of superannuation contributions for the civil servants seconded to the authority. Because they were civil servants there was at first some doubt whether their superannuation payments would be a charge to their department or to the authority. This has now been settled. A further item is for insurance premiums. The authority, not being a part of the Crown, insures its risks on the market, whereas the Department's risks were, like all Government risks, carried. A further sum is accounted for by pay awards made during 1972.

Turning to the hon. Member for Newark, who spoke particularly about women pilots, I want to tell a story, which illustrates my considerable support for lady pilots, concerning the Air Transport Auxiliary, which existed during the war. There was one famous lady pilot—Mrs. Alder Smith—who was delivering Wellingtons and Spitfires around the airfields. Like all members of the RAF she had to undergo a medical examination every six months. After doing this for two years she went for her normal medical examination and the doctor looked surprised and said: "You are pregnant." Mrs. Smith said to the doctor: "What is wrong with a lady pilot continuing to fly when she is pregnant? Show me any King's Regulation or Air Ministry Order which says that pregnant ladies may not fly." For another four weeks she went on flying successfully, delivering Wellingtons around RAF stations, until finally the daily written orders came up and said that under Regulation 7244 she was grounded. She charged to K.R.'s and found that it said that lady members of Air Transport Auxiliary should not carry passengers.

The ability of women in the air during the war was demonstrated with the greatest courage, and the authority might, for my benefit, look at this to ensure that there is no real discrimination against women who wish to continue flying.

The question of stewardesses retiring at the age of 36 is a matter for the rules of individual airlines. I should think that it applies more than anything else because of the wishes of people who prefer to see a pretty young girl serving rather than somebody older. We have to look at ourselves rather than the airlines when these regulations are made.

On the question of noise, my right hon. Friend referred in the House only a few weeks ago to the development in quiet engines. The RB211 and its successor will mean a substantial reduction in the area of noise disturbance and noise levels. This we welcome.

I am glad that the question of the location of the CAA headquarters was raised. I take the authority's point about that. The headquarters at the Twickenham site turned out to be unsuitable. The CAA has its own operational requirements to meet. It has to maintain efficiency, but I can assure the House that the issue is still under discussion with the CAA. No decision has yet been taken, and the Government's policy is to ensure dispersal of work from the London area. One hopes that there is an opportunity to carry that through.

The West London Air Terminal was mentioned. Hon. Members may have missed a statement by my noble Friend in another place in October to the effect that the closure of the handling facilities at the terminal would not take place during 1973. I cannot go further than that tonight.

I turn finally to aviation security. The whole world condemns and regards with abhorrence the international anarchy that terrorism on aircraft brings about. Security against hijacking and other acts of violence directed against civil aviation is a matter about which the Government maintain the closest liaison with all involved, including the CAA.

Our policy has three main objectives. The first is to ensure that the necessary organisation for the airlines, the airport authorities and the CAA is available and that procedures are developed to combat any possible acts of violence and allow a response to any incident involving the United Kingdom. The second is to ensure that appropriate and effective measures are taken at airports and by the airlines. The third is to support and contribute to the development of an effective and widely acceptable international legal framework to deal with hijacking and other acts of violence against civil aviation.

I have taken part in debates at the Council of Europe when I have tried to push the British Government's view and to get agreement among at least the European nations about more stringent methods. The Government provide advice and guidance—and, in certain circumstances, financial assistance—about measures which may be taken to combat threats to civil aviation. But the implementation of security measures and responsibility for the security of their property are matters for the operators. We cannot take responsibility for the property of airlines, the airport authorities or the CAA.

Mr. John

No one suggests that the Government should do so, but where there is a conflict between airport security and money—as is plainly the case at some local authority airports—the Government should make a grant to the local authority to enable it to meet its security obligations.

Mr. Emery

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's view. I think that he referred especially to Aldergrove. The Government are conscious of the position there, but I must leave it at that.

The CAA has no wider responsibility for aviation security than the United Kingdom, but it has an important role because of its responsibilities for the protection of its own installations, facilities and equipment. There is thus a considerable difficulty about the interlocking of duties.

This has been a worthwhile debate. I shall be delighted to write to the hon. Member if there is any observation of his that I have not answered. I hope that the debate will have been useful to people outside the House as well as to those hon. Members who have taken part.