§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Edmund Dell)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In my submission, there are two aspects of the Bill which involve a derogation from our existing procedures and therefore, in a sense, amendments to our unwritten constitution, of which you are, par excellence, the guardian. I wish to seek your guidance.
The Bill gives the Secretary of State discretionary powers, among other things, to control noise levels at airports. There is no obligation on any Government to present a White Paper setting out the principles by which a Minister's discretionary powers should be operated, but we have been informed that it is the Government's intention to produce such a White Paper. At page 484, under the heading "Other Bills", "Erskine May" Explains—I shall not weary the House by reading the whole passage—that it used to be the procedure on a Bill of this kind for the Government to move resolutions so that the principles could be discussed in general terms but more recently this has been superseded by the habit of producing a White Paper.
This is the first occasion I can find on which a White Paper is to be presented but the Bill is presented to the House first so that we are to discuss the discretionary powers which should be conferred on the Minister without first knowing the principles on which they will be operated. There is a little here of the Red Queen in "Alice"—sentence first and verdict afterwards.
I submit, Mr. Speaker, that this represents an important change in our procedure and a departure from the procedure laid down in "Erskine May" at page 484.
The second matter is this. By Schedule 1, paragraph 6(4), the Bill amends Section 29 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971. There will be no objection to the Government 65 proposing that; but under the Scotland Bill, to which we shall be returning tomorrow, the powers to be devolved to the Scottish Executive and therefore to the Scottish legislature are to be the same, so that the amendments we propose to make to the 1971 Act today would read across to the Scotland Bill.
I can find no precedent for a Bill's being brought forward to amend another Bill which is before the House at the same time without express provision being made. There are plenty of examples of a Bill to amend an Act, but to have a Bill to amend another Bill without express provision seems to me a completely new departure.
The issue is not unimportant, as is to be seen from Clause 8(4), under which the Scottish Executive and Assembly could be involved in the determination of the United Kingdom's international obligations, something which is wholly contrary to the spirit of the Scotland Bill as it stands and has been explained to us by Ministers.
I raise this matter as a point of order, Mr. Speaker, because you have, as you have accepted in other exchanges in the House, a responsibility as the guardian of our unwritten constitution. It seems to me that we are faced with two amendments to that constitution—the practice of producing a White Paper after the Bill instead of before it, and the dangerous procedure, the consequences of which could be chaotic, of producing a Bill to amend existing legislation which would read across to another Bill on which the House has not yet pronounced.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I seek your guidance. Is it appropriate to go on with this Bill this afternoon? Would not it be better to invite the Government, first, to produce the White Paper on civil aviation before we discuss the Bill, and, secondly, to resolve the powers that are to be devolved to the Scottish Executive and Assembly before we say what should be the powers that might be devolved if the other Bill were passed?
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. It may be for the convenience of the House if I draw to your attention, in relation to Clause 66 of the Scotland Bill, the remarks of Mr. Norman Ashton 66 Hill, chairman of the Air Transport Committee of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, who said in his public letter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade:It would be intolerable for licensing arrangements for civil aviation to be treated in the cavalier fashion Clause 66 lays down.As the Scotland Bill stands at present, a Minister may, by order, make provisions for the apportionment of any assets or liabilities of the British Airports Authority and may alter the financial limits under which the BAA operate.The Bill thus proposes to enable the breakup of the BAA in any manner which this or any successor Government may determine. Parliament is being invited to sign a blank cheque.The association do not believe that the future of the South East airports and the Scottish airports should, in effect, be removed from the supervision of Parliament.This is surely a matter which should be retained by the United Kingdom Government, as it could be used to prevent certain aircraft landing at airports. In any dispute between the Scottish Executive and the Department of Trade this devolution would be a highly effective method of reducing civil aviation to a shambles.There are wide concerns about the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). It is not simply a question of those of us who take any axe to grind to try to do something about the Scotland Bill. In fact, these reservations come from nonpolitical people—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is making out a case, not submitting a point of order.
As the House will understand, I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) for having given me warning of his point of order and indicating what its content would be. I have therefore had an opportunity to consider it. I do not think that either of the right hon. Gentleman's two major points raises issues upon which I need to rule now or that they should stop our proceeding with consideration of the Bill.
With regard to the matter of the White Paper, there is no formal obligation upon Ministers to produce any White Paper in relation to a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman correctly described the change that has taken place in "Erskine May" in this regard, but whether circumstances require that a White Paper should be 67 presented, and, if so, when, is a matter that it is quite in order to discuss in the debate that we are about to begin.
As regards the possible reciprocal effect of the provisions of this Bill and those of the Scotland Bill, it is stated quite clearly in "Erskine May", at page 491:There is no rule or custom which restrains the presentation of two or more bills relating to the same subject".In this case, although there is some interaction, I can see no direct conflict between the provisions of the two Bills. Nevertheless, the problems which could be raised by devolving a matter which concerns international obligations would seem to me to be open to discussion at the appropriate stage in debate on either Bill.
§ Mr. Amery
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said first that you did not feel that you should rule on this matter today. I do not know whether you implied by that that you might like time in which to reflect further on the matter. You did not indicate that, but if that was in your mind I should have thought it inappropriate for the Government to go forward with the Bill as it stands.
It is true that there is no obligation on the Government to produce a White Paper at any time, but what "Erskine May" appears to indicate in the passage to which I referred is that when, in the Government's judgment, a matter was of sufficient importance in the old days to require the introduction of resolutions, and nowadays to require the introduction of a White Paper, it seems that we are breaking new ground—and rather questionable ground—if we are now to be told that we debate the Bill first and have the White Paper afterwards. If we went back to the old concept of resolutions, would not it be rather curious if we had the legislation first and then the resolutions, discussing the principles, in a subsequent debate?
§ Mr. Dalyell
In your reply just now, Mr. Speaker, you said that it would be in order to discuss such matters on either Bill. But part of the trouble is that you and I and the rest of the House know very well that the chances of discussing civil aviation and a host of other matters on the Scotland Bill are virtually nil in prac 68 tice—18 clauses on finance will not be discussed. It looks as if we shall debate for a long time yet the question of the Scotland Bill and abortion on what was thought to be a comparatively minor amendment. Acres of Schedule 10 will not be discussed. Does not this alter the situation slightly?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have given much thought to this matter. I should not have used the word "today" in replying to the right hon. Gentleman's point of order. I do not think that I am called upon to rule on the question any further than I have already. Right hon. and hon. Members may seek their opportunity in debate to make their contributions, if they catch the eye of the Chair.
§ Mr. Amery
I apologise for returning to the subject, Mr. Speaker, but this is not really a matter for discussion on Second Reading. It does not affect the merits of the Bill, but it affects the propriety of introducing a White Paper after the Bill to which that White Paper relates has been discussed. It is a question whether that is appropriate. I may have to concede that the interaction of the two Bills is not overwhelming, but on the first point it still seems to me that we are departing from the procedure laid down in "Erskine May". The matter is not for me or my right hon. and hon. Friends and the Government Front Bench but for you, Mr. Speaker, as the guardian of our unwritten constitution.
§ Mr. Speaker
I accept that it is a matter for me if we are moving away from "Erskine May", but, as I understand it, there is nothing in "Erskine May" to say when a White Paper shall be produced. The timing is up to the Minister, if, indeed, he produces a White Paper at all.
I cannot stop the discussion of a Bill because there is talk of a White Paper. That is the substance of what I am telling the right hon. Gentleman. Like him, I shall reconsider the matter, but I am not promising to make any further statement to the House.
§ Mr. Dell
It is seven years since a Civil Aviation Bill has been debated in Parliament. That might suggest that in the world of civil aviation we have been passing through a period of stability. In fact, 69 this has been a period of rapid change and development. It is the period of the oil price increase in the autumn of 1973, which has changed so many things and which, in particular, had dramatic effects on civil aviation. It is the period in which the Civil Aviation Authority, created as part of the new policies stemming from the Edwards Report, has been establishing itself.
One of the purposes of the Bill is to increase the borrowing powers of the CAA. The CAA now requires grant in aid only for those parts of its business where it is not able to make charges which cover its costs, whether for reasons of social policy, as with the Highlands and Islands aerodromes, or because international agreement has not yet been reached to cover the full cost, as in Euro-control. But stability in real terms in its charges should now have been reached in all the charges schemes or regulations.
However, the CAA needs an increase in its borrowing powers. Most of its investment programme is in the provision of air traffic services, and it has recently started work on a project for replacement of the primary and secondary radar installations in the East and the South-East of England, using new equipment at a reduced number of sites, which will make possible savings in future expenditure on repairs and maintenance.
Moreover, in the current year there has been considerable development at Sum-burgh Airport, Shetland, to accommodate the rapid growth of oil-related traffic. The Authority has had to borrow £11 million in the present financial year and seems likely to reach its borrowing limit of £75 million before the end of next year. So continuing and developing the work of the CAA created by the 1971 Act is one of the purposes of the 1978 Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will my right hon. Friend be returning later in his speech to the question of Sumburgh? Those of us who have recently been there and those of us who have received the CAA's own brief on Sumburgh are extremely concerned about whether more facilities will be built either at Wilsness or on another part of Shetland. Can my right hon. Friend say anything about those matters?
§ Mr. Dell
I do not intend to return to the question of Sumburgh. I have referred to the developments currently going 70 on there, and these are of very great importance. If my hon. Friend wants to make specific points about that matter, he will no doubt seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will deal with them in his reply to the debate.
It would not be possible even within the scope of a Second Reading debate on a Bill as miscellaneous as this one to discuss all the changes of recent years in the civil aviation panorama, but the Bill justifies a reference to many such changes.
One of the notable events of 1977 was the signature of the new United Kingdom-United States Air Services Agreement—Bermuda 2—last July. Within this agreement, Laker started last September the Skytrain service to New York. In October, following the agreement, a new service was opened by British Caledonian to Houston. Later this year British Airways plans a new service to San Francisco. United States airlines will start new services from Atlanta and Dallas, both of them operating to Gatwick and not to Heathrow.
Bermuda 2 provides for single designation with the exception of two routes on which two carriers may be designated. In this new situation the uncertainy surrounding paragraph 7 of the policy guidance is much less significant than it was since the United States was the only country where the designation of more than one airline for a long haul route was a real possibility. In view of this, I have decided not to introduce in the Bill an amendment to Section 3 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971.
This is becoming an era of lower fares, notably on the North Atlantic—a welcome fact of great interest to consumers. The introduction of Skytrain on the New York route has of course been a most significant element in that process. I welcome Mr. Laker's success with Sky-train and I am grateful to him for what is, in the circumstances, his generous acknowledgement of the assistance given by the Department of Trade in establishing the service following the Court of Appeal's judgment. Other types of low-cost scheduled fares are being offered to the public by other airlines and we shall all be watching the effects of these new fares on both the quantity of traffic and the profitability of airlines.
71 British Airways also took an initiative in reducing freight charges to the United States, an initiative which was unfortunately brought to a temporary stop by the United States Authorities. I am glad that that impediment has now been removed and that British Airways is able once more to provide this cheap freight service.
Everyone is going to be looking for lower air fares. Of course, they have to be consistent with safety and with airline economics. But airlines will have to face a mounting demand from travellers for lower fares. This will require from all British airlines the maximum efficiency, and I am glad to see that Mr. Ross Stain-ton, the new chief executive of British Airways, to whom I am sure we all extend our good wishes, referred to this recently. I am sure that civil aviation is going to be a more competitive business and airlines must equip themselves to compete effectively.
There is also the question of charter services. I shall want to look carefully at the balance of scheduled and charter services. We are in negotiation with the United States for a charter air services agreement. I hope that we shall reach agreement with them this year on a new charter regime. The new charter regime will need to maintain a balance with an adequate level of scheduled services. I hope that these developments will bring further benefits to the air traveller and freight shipper in 1978.
It has also been during this period that Concorde has begun to operate scheduled passenger services. I am delighted that the Concorde service to New York has made a good start. There can be no doubt of the market appeal of the aircraft. British Airways is increasing the service to New York to six flights a week from 15th January and its service to Washington will return to three a week from 16th February. The service to Singapore is temporarily halted. But we are in close touch with the Malaysian Government and I am confident we can soon satisfy them about their environmental concerns. British Airways is actively looking at a number of new routes for Concorde after it has built up its present services.
It is in the context of all these developments and challenges that we have taken 72 the opportunity in Clause 5 of the Bill to extend British Airways' borrowing powers. The intention is to provide for the needs of the next five years or so. The existing limit of £700 million should in fact last for another two or three years when the proposed increase to £850 million should be available by order subject to the approval of this House.
A less happy development of recent years has been the growth of terrorism against civil air services. The Government decided in December 1976 as part of the public expenditure cuts that the burden of aviation security expenditure should be transferred from the taxpayer to the industry from 1st April 1978. I did not, of course, expect the decision to be popular with the industry, but I believe that it is right for the aviation industry to bear its own costs without being subsidised by the general taxpayer.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I wonder whether the Minister would deal with one point that has concerned many persons who are intimately connected with this problem—namely, in the consideration of Clause 2(8)(b), the question that there may be a possibility of retrospective contributions being enforced on airport authorities. I wonder whether the Minister would confirm that there is no intention to use that subsection in any retrospective way.
§ Mr. Dell
There may be the possibility of retrospection, as the hon. Member suggests. That, obviously depends on whether the Bill passes through Parliament in time for 1st April 1978. It is the intention to levy these charges from that date, but this will be a matter which obviously the House will have to consider.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain in a little more detail now whether the transfer of expenditure for airport and aircraft protection to the fund will relieve, for example, the Metropolitan Police of that portion of their expenditure now used to provide officers and other support services to protect the airports?
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
Am I to understand that these charges can be levied before the Bill is passed. Is this not another example of unconstitutional behaviour, as is the failure to produce a White Paper?
§ Mr. Dell
This is a matter which the House will undoubtedly want to consider.
It has been suggested that in taking this action the Government are in breach of their international obligations. This is not the case. The United States, Australia, Canada and Japan are among the nations where the airlines already have to bear the whole or part of the costs of security measures.
The cost of aviation security has risen from about £5 million in 1972–73 to an estimated £15 million in 1977–78. Next year we estimate that the likely cost will approach £19 million. The increase in costs has been due to the gradual improvement of security measures over the years as well as to inflation. The security measures are costly but are necessary to meet the current threat, which is as high as it ever was.
We have announced that if the legislation before the House is enacted, the rate of the levy during the next financial year will be 80p per arriving passenger. We have taken full account of the industry's views on methods of administering this charge. But, of course, changes can be made in the light of experience.
I should emphasise that the Government will continue to monitor security standards and to see that the degree of security provided is sufficient to ensure the safety of passengers.
§ Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)
Before we leave the question of the size of the Aviation Security Fund, will the Secretary of State tell the House whether it is the Government's intention to build up financial resources within the fund, and, if so, to what extent? To the degree that sums are being built up within the fund it will be a question of passengers paying now, will it not, to cover possible future bills incurred by other passengers?
§ Mr. Dell
The general intention would be that if there were any surplus in the coming year—perhaps because of the fact that we have overestimated the rate of expenditure—that could be used in relief 74 of the levy in future years. I am certainly not looking for the building up of a very great surplus in this fund, although we have to have current money available to continue the financing of security.
I was saying that the Government will continue to monitor security standards and to see that the degree of security provided is sufficient to ensure the safety of passengers. That is why it has been decided to set up a special fund for security out of which those who incur expense on security measures will be reimbursed.
There is increasing concern about aircraft noise, to which any Secretary of State must be sensitive.
§ Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)
Will the Secretary of State undertake to have another look at the question of retrospection should the Bill not pass into law by 1st April?
Many local authorities are very worried that their ratepayers will have to pay the costs if the authorities tail, because of bad debts, to recover some of the moneys from airlines. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that local authorities will be permitted to have their own costs of collecting this levy allowed, so that their ratepayers will not be put under an unfair burden?
§ Mr. Dell
I have already dealt with the hon. Gentleman's first point. As to his second point, frankly, I do not think that it is a substantial one. Bad debts are a very small factor in this question. But again, this is a matter which the House can consider during the course of discussion of the Bill.
There is increasing concern about aircraft noise, to which any Secretary of State for Trade must be sensitive. The main powers dealing with aircraft noise in the Bill are designed to enhance aerodrome authorities' powers to act to mitigate aircraft noise. The Bill also extends powers enjoyed by certain airports to all licensed aerodromes.
Certain local authorities already have powers similar to those specified in Clause 8 under private legislation, and this provision is intended to ensure that all aerodrome authorities have the same powers.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I understand, on the question of aircraft noise—a subject of 75 concern to those who live around Edinburgh airport—that this is a matter which would be devolved to a Scottish Assembly.
§ Mr. Dell
As my hon. Friend knows, it is proposed under the Scotland Bill that aerodromes should be a devolved subject. It therefore follows that powers given to aerodromes under the Bill would, if the Scotland Bill passes in its existing form, be devolved. That is, I take it, the matter to which my hon. Friend was referring. It is one which will, no doubt, be considered, if time is available, during the proceedings on the Scotland Bill.
Clause 9 is intended to remove any possible doubt about the powers of airport authorities to structure their charges to take account of aircraft noise. The Government have been participating in discussions on noise-related airport charges in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and in the European Civil Aviation Conference. Noise-related charges can take a number of forms and can be designed to achieve various objectives.
Schemes of charges related to noise need not raise additional revenue; indeed, like the experimental scheme that Manchester International Airport has been operating since 1975, they can take the form of rebates for quieter aircraft. We believe that noise-related charges can be structured so as to provide an incentive for manufacturers to design, and airlines to buy, quieter aircraft. We envisage that they would be introduced gradually and would be a supplement to regulations on aircraft noise, providing an incentive for airlines and manufacturers to do better than the regulations. The clause also enables the Secretary of State to direct an airport authority to relate its charges to aircraft noise and to say how they shall do so
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
May I ask a question as one who, in the last Government, was responsible for noise legislation? It is an immensely complex subject. Will the Secretary of State say very simply whether his measures here are designed to achieve "retro-fit" in engines, so that operators will be required to spend a lot of money in putting in new engines retrospectively, or rather to achieve with existing engines certain types 76 of insulation and so on, which are less expensive but also less satisfactory? Above all, will he undertake that whatever he does in this country will be worked out internationally? There is no more international industry than aircraft and aircraft travel, and it is important to get an agreement with those countries which manufacture and those which use airports and airlines.
§ Mr. Dell
There are, of course, wide international implications in any process of this kind which is implementable under Clause 9, and obviously one would therefore consult with other countries. France is already operating a power of this kind. I think it is right to have this sort of power available in this country and generally, rather than just the scheme currently being operated by Manchester airport.
As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I think that he is requiring me to define the specific impact of a power which can only have a general and long-term effect. This power is to encourage the development and use of quieter aircraft, and I do not think that I should attempt to define here the specific means by which that should be achieved. But it clearly must be achieved, because there is an increasing demand for reduction in noise disturbance. It is to help in that process that these clauses are in the Bill.
There are other provisions in the Bill dealing with national security and air transport licensing, and Clause 12 aims to meet the criticism of Section 18 of the British Airways Board Act 1977 by the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. It aims to simplify the law without changing its effect.
I have not attempted to cover all the very different matters which are covered in the Bill, and the discussion of which is more appropriate to the Committee Stage. It is a small Bill but with quite significant effect. I hope the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Cecil Parkinson (Hertfordshire, South)
Before I start on my main remarks, may I say to the Secretary of State that I think his answer on retrospection was not satisfactory. I feel that he must accept—and the Bill recognises this—that unless the Bill becomes law 77 and unless the regulations are produced in reasonable time, it would be most unfair to exact a levy on airports which have not had time to make the arrangements to collect that levy from the people concerned. When the Secretary of State considers what he said, I think that he will regret it. I am sure that lie will agree that neither the Bill nor the regulations should come into effect until people have had a satisfactory length of time in which to make arrangements to collect the money that they are to hand over from their own customers. The alternative is that ratepayers at local authority airports could find themselves landed with a large bill.
This is a small but wide-ranging Bill. I intend to concentrate on four major aspects of it—the Aviation Security Fund; the borrowing powers of British Airways; the borrowing powers of the Civil Aviation Authority; and the clauses dealing with the control of noise and pollution, including those which give airport authorities the power to place financial penalties on aircraft, operators and ban aircraft movements in specified periods.
It is a matter of some regret that although the Tokyo, The Hague and Montreal conventions have now been available for ratification for a considerable time, they have still been ratified by barely 60 per cent. of the members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. There are welcome signs of a stiffening attitude over hijackings among those countries that have not ratified the conventions. The kidnapping of the OPEC Ministers caused a changed attitude in parts of the Middle East, and this was evidenced by the fact that no fewer than seven Arab States refused to accept the Lufthansa jet that was hijacked last October. There are signs, as in Mogadishu, of real international co-operation in dealing with hijacking, for which we should be grateful.
There is growing pressure among those who fly aeroplanes and those who work in aviation for sanctions against those countries that refuse to ratify the conventions, and which harbour hijackers. We all have sympathy with those who are in the business and whose lives are at stake, when we see some countries still refusing to ratify sensible conventions. It is beyond dispute that tighter 78 security measures practised in many countries, including our own, have contributed dramatically to a fall both in the numbers of hijacking attempts and in the successes of hijackers.
Clauses 1 to 4 of the Bill deal with the aviation security fund. We all accept that, like income tax, the security measures which were introduced as a short-term expedient, are here to stay. Therefore the financing of them must be put on a more permanent and sensible basis.
It will come as no surprise to the Secretary of State if I tell him that there are very strong feelings among airline operators, airport authorities and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, to name just a few bodies, who quite naturally prefer the cost to be borne by the general body of taxpayers. They do not look forward to assuming the administrative burden of collecting the levy or imposing the additional cost on their customers.
Most of us will have sympathy with those hard-pressed local authorities which operate qualifying airports and which find themselves asked to assume an additional administrative burden of collecting security charges. These objections have been put very forcefully by the Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities, whose members have strong views on this matter.
One also must have some sympathy for the point of view that the proposed system of collection and administration is very cumbersome and could, in certain circumstances, place not only administrative but financial burdens on local authorities. If the Secretary of State maintains his attitude to retrospection this will guarantee that it does place burdens on local authorities.
Many people argue that it is the responsibility of the State to protect its citizens, and therefore the cost of providing that protection should fall on the general body of taxpayers. It is argued that hijackers are seeking to pressure not individual airlines or airports but Governments, and therefore Governments should assume responsibility for meeting the cost of protection. Such views are very strongly and sincerely held.
It is our considered view that there are even stronger arguments in favour of 79 transferring the cost—some £19 million—from the taxpayers generally to those who benefit from the service provided, namely, those who travel by air. Such a proposal recognises something that many Labour Members are often reluctant to recognise—there no such thing as a free lunch. The truth of the matter is that this service, while being provided free to the airports, has been paid for by the British taxpayer. In future the cost instead of being borne by the British taxpayer, will be borne by those who travel, and 50 per cent. of those who land in this country are not British citizens or taxpayers. Therefore half the cost would be borne by non-British people.
There are many precedents for making the charge on those who use the service. The docks finance their own policing and security activities. British Rail, indirectly by charges to its customers, finances its own security activities. Even football hooligans contribute to the cost of hiring police to protect them from themselves. There is a fairly substantial number of precedents for such a proposal.
§ Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
The hon. Member has used the analogy of the football hooligan. But who pays for the situation between the railway station and the football ground? British Rail provides the police for the station and on the trains. The football club pays part of the cost of hiring police for the ground. What happens between the station and the ground, where most of the damage is done?
§ Mr. Parkinson
The analogy is perfectly appropriate. On the way to the airport the passenger is protected by the police who are paid by the general body of taxpayers. Once he reaches the airport and takes his seat on the plane, he assumes the cost of protecting himself.
§ Mr. Channon
I do not wholly agree with my hon. Friend. Would he at least say that if it is right to remove this cost from the general body of taxpayers, it would be wholly wrong for any cost to fall on the ratepayers? There is the question of bad debts—something that the Minister appeared to write off—which could be very substantial, and which could be very large costs in the administration of this scheme.
§ Mr. Parkinson
If my hon. Friend will only wait, he will see that I shall be dealing with the points that he has raised. The final reason why this cost should be transferred to the traveller is, perhaps, a simplistic one. Nevertheless, I believe it is convincing. Why should the vast majority, who never set foot aboard an aeroplane, contribute to the cost which arises directly and identifiably from those who do? Why should pensioners, who have never travelled by plane in their lives and who never will, pay the costs of people who go on holiday to Majorca and the Caribbean?
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The reason why pensioners should contribute to the security of airports is exactly the same as the reason why they are required to contribute to the education of children. They are members of the generality of the British public. However, I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has attempted to weigh the dilemma which lies at the centre of this Bill and which the Secretary of State totally ignored. What he is saying is, in effect, that the maintenance of law and public order shall be the responsibility of the general public in certain areas but not in others. Airports and aerodromes are to be segregated from large areas of the rest of the country and made a special case. They are to have special responsibility for law and order and the police which, in other areas, would be paid for by the general public.
§ Mr. Parkinson
My hon. Friend and I must agree to disagree. I have already pointed out that there are precedents for making a direct charge to the person who causes that special charge to be incurred. But I accept that there is another point of view that is sincerely and strongly held. I outlined that point of view because I recognise that it is seriously held.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
My hon. Friend is speaking on behalf of the Conservative Party and not for himself. I simply want to record the fact that this is the first time that I have heard, in this House or anywhere else, that the Conservative Party has gone away from the proposition that the general peace and the general responsibilities for law and order are matters of general law and not of particular bits and pieces here and there, whatever the precedents.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I am sorry to have to repeat myself to my hon. Friend, but he has just repeated himself to me. The point I am making is that this is not the first time. I have mentioned a number of precedents, of which my hon. Friend, judging by what he has just said, seems not to have been aware.
I am in favour of the principle of the Bill, but I have substantial reservations about the scheme as proposed, and we must wait to see the regulations before we know exactly how the scheme will work. However, if I may assume the general outline of the scheme, I say at once that I regard the scheme as proposed as cumbersome and administratively expensive.
First, it is proposed that the charge should be levied on the airports and not on the airlines using them. The main argument of the Government for that proposal is that only 28 airports will be affected and that therefore the Department of Trade will have only 28 accounting bodies answerable to it. There is a considerable number of airlines, and the Department argues that if he were to assess the airlines and not the airports, extra administrative expenses would be incurred and extra administration would be involved.
The truth, of course, is that the scheme as proposed will increase the administrative costs, although not for the central Government. If there are 28 qualifying airports, and they are the accounting bodies, each airline which uses each airport will have to account for each one. For example, British Airways must use a substantial number of the 28. Thus, it will be accountable to most of the 28 bodies, which in turn will be accountable to the Department of Trade.
About 140 airlines are involved, although I recognise that some of them only use one airport. Wherever they use more than one airport, one can foresee a huge administrative burden—140 airlines answering to 28 accounting bodies. This scheme may require only two additional people in the Department of Trade, but I think that probably the most optimistic statement about the Bill is that in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum under the headingManpower Effects of the Bill.82 It says:The establishment of an Aviation Security Fund will increase the staff of the Department of Trade by 2. No increase in manpower is expected as a result of any other provision in the Bill.I suggest that the person who wrote it has a highly developed sense of humour and should get in touch with Morecambe and Wise and apply to contribute to their next Christmas show, because it is patently obvious that there will be a substantial increase in administration. The difference is that it will be incurred not by the central Government but by the qualifying airports. That includes many of the local authority airports.
Secondly, the fixed levy per passenger arriving deprives the airports of any incentive to provide services as inexpensively and as efficiently as they can. The charge of an arrival at a cost-conscious airport is to be 80p; at a less careful airport, it will be the same.
I give an example. I understand that at present Luton Airport is able to supply the security services which the Government demand at a cost of about 28p per arrival, or £250,000 a year. The Department is satisfied with Luton's arrangements. Operating the 80p charge means that Luton will contribute £800,000. That will be the amount that Luton will have to find from its customers. Yet Luton knows that it can and does supply the services to the satisfaction of the Department for £250,000. Therefore Luton, an efficient airport which takes pride in giving good service, will be taking a very much more substantial sum and will have no incentive at all not to spend that £800,000. It might be encouraged to waste money because there is no benefit to it from not doing so. I have, therefore, a number of questions to put.
Why cannot the Department of Trade set, as it does at present, standards of security, monitor them and allow local authorities or the operating authorities to recover the costs they incur from their own passengers? Why is not that possible? I appreciate that there are special problems in places like Northern Ireland, but they are special problems and should be recognised as such. There seems to me to be no reason for departing from the present arrangements simply in order 83 to accommodate the fact that in Northern Ireland in particular security arrangements are very substantial and expensive. We all know of the special problems of that Province.
Will the local authorities' administrative costs be deductible from the levy before it is handed over? The Secretary of State referred to this sort of thing as detailed, but such matters are very important. These local authorities, as I have demonstrated, will incur very substantial additional costs. Will value added tax be charged on the levy? Are airport administrators likely to be subject to the full ramifications of the dreaded VAT inspectors? Another important point concerns bad debts. While the Secretary of State was saying that bad debts were a minor problem, the hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) mouthed "Court Line?". The Court Line was not a minor problem for Luton when it went bust.
There are serious questions which need to be thought about. Are the airports to be the agents of the Department in collecting these fees and accounting for them? Will certain types of passenger be excluded from the charge as they are now under the passenger loading supplement—children, for instance? These are all questions to which the local authorities concerned must have answers in making their plans.
Finally—a very important point—how will the Secretary of State ensure that those who operate the fund account to their customers—namely, the airports, the airlines and the travellers? In the Bill, arrangements are made for an account to be given to Parliament, which in this case is not supplying the funds.
One of the most extraordinary features of the present arrangement is that we have bodies which are answerable to Parliament, such as British Steel Corporation, which are very reluctant to hand over the information. Here we have a fund which is to be operated entirely with moneys raised not from Parliament—not a penny of it—but from local authorities and qualifying airports. There are no arrangements made to account to them.
Why not? Surely, there is a case for the local authorities to have a say in the operation of this fund. Somebody 84 once said "No taxation without representation". This Bill proposes just that. We shall have local authorities and qualifying airports being assessed and having absolutely no right to comment on the expenditure or to have any say on how the fund is administered. This does not seem to be correct.
I turn now to Clause 5 which provides for an increase in the borrowing powers of British airports and the Civil Aviation Authority. I would like to discuss the affairs of those two corporations. First of all, one must congratulate the staff and the board of British Airways on the substantially improved results achieved in the year to March 1977 compared with those of the previous year. A loss of £16 million after tax, currency losses and interest was turned into a profit of £35 million. The return on net assets increased from 1.7 per cent. to 16.4 per cent. That is a considerable and very welcome achievement. Sir Frank McFadzean and his colleagues deserve the thanks and the congratulations of the House on that result. May I also take this opportunity of wishing Sir Frank a very speedy recovery from his recent illness? He has been a most excellent chairman of British Airways, and the sooner he is back in the saddle, the better.
It is, therefore, disappointing to find that, because in the main of unofficial industrial action, the results of the first half of the current year show a decline and that British Airways made a shortfall against its projected profits for the six months of £37 million. One welcomes the determination of British Airways to define the size of and deal with its problems of overmanning and low productivity and its recognition of its need to become a higher wage-higher productivity organisation. One also urges the staff to recognise that unless British Airways achieves its target of profits, the programme for re-equiping the fleet may be threatened. This re-equipment is not only desirable if British Airways is to remain competitive, but will be essential as all over the world regulations penalising the operation of the older generation of aeroplanes come into effect, as come into effect they will.
I hope that in following through its re-equipment programme of £2 billion, British Airways will be allowed to take commercial decisions. Naturally, we hope 85 that the British aerospace industry will come forward with aeroplanes which meet British Airways' requirements for the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) has pushed this case strongly. It is most important, however, that the commercial considerations are the principal factor in arriving at the very difficult decisions which shall be taken.
I declare my interest as a chartered accountant, and I shall quote from the report of British Airways. In this report there was a clause of a kind which is likely to excite chartered accountants but cause very little interest anywhere else:The amount of Public Dividend Capital that British Railways may receive from the Government is controlled by the debt/equity ratio. This is the ratio of capital borrowings to the total of Public Dividend Capital and reserves. At the time the agreement was given to a substantial increase in Public Dividend Capital this ratio was agreed as lying between 35/65 and 50/50.As I said, this is not a statement to excite the imagination of many people, nor one to set the Thames on fire, but it is very interesting. The Corporation is very anxious to be treated as a commercial corporation. It wants to have a debt/equity ratio which compares with that of other organisations. It is common ground between both sides of the House that no satisfactory relationship has been evolved between Government, Parliament and the managements of nationalised industries.
One shining example of where Government have control but do not interfere, where they allow management to take commercial decisions, have representatives on the board and receive dividends but let the management get on with it, is British, Petroleum.
Perhaps the time is coming for the Government to examine the possibility of giving the British public a chance to have a real stake in the shareholding of British Airways. Instead of giving British Airways the right to borrow from the Commission of the EEC or the European Investment Bank, perhaps we should be giving British Airways the structure which will enable it to issue shares to the British public, including its employees. Perhaps we should talk in terms of giving British Airways the power to make rights issues and bond issues and not the power to borrow money from the European Investment Bank.
86 Creating an equity capital for British Airways, giving the public the right to buy a stake in our national airline, would strengthen the position of the board in its dealings with Ministers. It would reintroduce a more vigorous commercial approach for the corporation and would give the workers in this very important industry a chance to have a real financial stake in the business to which they are devoting their working lives.
May I turn briefly to the Civil Aviation Authority? When the Civil Aviation Authority was set up in 1972 it was charged with the duty of becoming financially independent within five years. It was set up by a Conservative Government which said that it must obey commercial criteria and must become self-financing. Its mandate was to cover its costs from the user rather than the taxpayer. That, incidentally, is the principle which is embodied in the aviation security fund proposals which I talked about earlier.
The Civil Aviation Authority has made major strides towards this objective in the areas controlled by it. It deserves congratulations. The accounts of the Civil Aviation Authority show that its losses arise from operations for which it is responsible but for which it does not control charges, where rates are fixed by international agreement. I would like to ask the Minister two question. What prospects are there for revising the internationally agreed charges so that they are chargeable at a rate which gives the Civil Aviation Authority a chance to break even financially? At present, as the Minister knows, a loss of over £30 million has been incurred on those particular operations.
Secondly—this returns to a theme on which I touched earlier—what plans has the Minister for making the CAA more accountable to its customers? We have a great deal of dissatisfaction expressed to us by the customers of the CAA. Those customers say that it is in a monopoly position and can simply pass on whatever charges it has incurred regardless of whether it should have incurred them. I know that the officials of CAA are doing a very good job of cost cutting. They are cutting back on the labour force wherever they can, and there has been a reduction of nearly 800 in the labour force in recent years. 87 In the field of company law we are discussing whether an audit committee should be set up to advise shareholders, in consultation with the auditor, on the operation of companies to make sure that shareholders and those who use its services are given more information.
I believe that the customers of the Authority who hold these views again have a right to inspect its books and to satisfy themselves that they are not just being charged what it costs the Authority and that the Authority is not being wasteful. I make this point very seriously. There is a case for more information to be provided to those who have no choice but to use the services of the CAA.
My hon. Friend for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) intends to deal with the remaining clauses, including the very important clauses on noise, on pollution, on controlling noisy aircraft and on restricting the number of flights of noisy aircraft which can take place. If I may say so, there is no hon. Member more qualified to talk about aviation matters than my hon. Friend. Indeed, there are very few hon. Members better qualified to talk about noise. Every time that my hon. Friend rises to his feet, he seems to generate a great deal of noise from Government supporters. I intend to leave the remainder of the Bill to him.
We accept the argument that the Secretary of State made about the need for these powers under Clauses 8 and 9 and Schedule 1(6). However, they are very wide powers. I hope that they are only enabling clauses and that they will be applied with discretion. Certainly they could result in financial chaos if they were enforced in a Draconian way at an early date. I am sure from what the right hon. Gentleman said that that is not his intention. I hope that the Under-Secretary will assure the House that these enabling powers will be used in consultation with the airlines and airport authorities and that they will not be used in an arbitrary way.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
My hon. Friend said that he thought that the powers should not be used in a Draconian way at an early date. However, I hope that he does not suggest going too far to the opposite extreme. The Secre 88 tary of State used the word "gradually" in this connection. I hope that they will not be brought in so gradually that they are of very little benefit reasonably soon to people who suffer acutely from aircraft noise.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I accept fully what my hon. Friend said. I am sorry if I caused him any alarm. I meant to put the emphasis of my last remarks on Clause 9, which gives the power to make charges, and on Schedule 1(6). I accept the need to control noise. We all accept it. In a very moving statement on 7th November last year, which I am sure encouraged my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary said:I have commissioned a three-year research programme on the relationship between aircraft noise and sleep disturbance, to provide a scientific basis for deciding whether quieter aircraft movements at night should also be phased out ".—[Official Report, 7th November 1977; Vol. 938, c. 33.]Three years seems rather a long time to discover whether aircraft noise disturbs people when they are trying to sleep. But I am sure that the hon. Gentleman had his reasons for putting a time limit of three years on that.
This is an important Bill. It creates a new fund with the very substantial sum of £90 million involved. It changes the borrowing powers of two of our major Government corporations. It also gives the Secretary of State very wide powers to control noise and to penalise the airline operators who create it. The Opposition do not intend to oppose the Bill. However, we intend to give it a very good going over in Committee.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
I wish to make it clear from the start that, critical as my comments will be from now on, I am not attacking the Bill as a whole. I am attacking only its first four clauses.
I ought to say also that this is a matter about which Luton Borough Council feels very strongly and that it is right that I should voice the council's feelings and reservations about the Bill. The Secretary of State said that the cost per arriving passenger of security measures would be of the order of 80p. In the case of Luton Airport, as the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) said, we are therefore talking about 89 an annual sum of £800,000 based on the current passenger flows through the airport.
The Government will say that this sum will be paid by the passengers. But will it? For a start, there is nothing specifically in the Bill to that effect. Clause 2(1) says that the aerodrome authorities will be required to pay a sum of money into the fund. It does not even say that they may, let alone that they must, pass on the cost to the passengers. It is probable that airports controlled by the British Airports Authority will pass on the cost to the passengers. However, as I see it, it is possible that they may not. If they do not, where does that leave an airport such as Luton?
Luton is a successful example of municipal enterprise. Even in the aftermath of the Court Line collapse, the airport is again running into profit. However, that profit would be wiped out if the cost were not passed on to the passengers.
If the intention is that the cost should be passed on, why is it not made clear in the Bill? Alternatively, why not have a provision that the airlines should be levied directly, and not the aerodrome authorities themselves? Why make the airport authorities not only the unpaid collectors of this levy but also the guarantors of the amount? What happens if we have another Court Line collapse? The aerodrome authority will be left holding the baby, and it will still have to pay the bill because there is no provision for the recovery of bad debts in this measure.
I want also to return to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) about retrospection. There is no doubt that retrospection is possible, given the Bill as it is drafted in Clause 2(8)(b) which providesthe first of the periods prescribed for the purposes of subsection (2) above may begin on or after the 1st April 1978, but not before that date.I have just received a letter from the chief executive of Luton Borough Council which puts the case very well. It reads:The Bill, as at present drawn, makes it possible for the Secretary of State to demand payments from airport authorities back-dated to the 1st April 1978. Thus, there could be a retrospective effect if and when the Bill becomes law, and the airport authorities will have had no chance to pass on the cost to 90 the passengers as the Government claimed they could. At the very least, therefore, the Bill should be amended to provide that no payment should fall due before the expiration of a reasonable time (say six months) after the Bill becomes law. This reasonable period would be required in any event, because the Bill enables the Secretary of State to make Regulations, and those Regulations will prescribe the payment due. In addition, after the Regulations are made, the airport authorities will have to notify the Airline Operators of any increased charge.I am sorry to quote at such length but that seems to be a reasonable statement of the position and a constructive criticism of the clause. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider what he said about retrospection earlier this afternoon and will give us an assurance that the regulations will not be drawn in a retrospective fashion, or that some amendments will be made to the Bill before it becomes an Act.
I return to the figure of 80p. Luton has proved to the Government's satisfaction—and I am assured on this point by the chief executive of the borough—that perfectly satisfactory security can be provided at a cost of 28p per passenger. There is, incidentally, a further 14p in respect of the purely internal security of the airport which would continue to be paid over and above the 80p. The figure at Luton is 28p for the external security that we are talking about in the Bill.
The question being asked in Luton is where will the other 52p go? Will it pay for the extra administrative burdens which the scheme will impose? If so, it is a strange way of reducing public expenditure, which we are told is one of the purposes of the Bill. Again, being rather cynical and suspicious characters in Luton, we suspect that we may be subsidising security at other airports such as Heathrow. We are a little annoyed about this because we suspect that the problem is centred upon Heathrow much more than upon Luton. If this is primarily an exercise in cutting public expenditure by transferring the cost of security from the national Exchequer to the users of airports and airlines, I make the point that conditions have changed a little since the scheme was first mooted. The climate, we are told, has changed a little and is now more favourable. There might be some case for reconsidering this matter, purely from a financial point of view.
91 I turn now to the philosophy behind the Bill, that passengers should pay the cost of security. It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) but I found myself in agreement with him this afternoon. The point he made seemed perfectly reasonable. If we say that only the users of airports should pay for security, where does the argument end? Should childless parents or single people pay anything into a common education fund? Should those of us who are fit all of the time pay anything into the common kitty for the National Health Service which, thank God, we never use? The argument can be pushed to rather absurd lengths.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
Has my hon. Friend noticed that the intention seems to be to levy this on the basis of passengers arriving in a country whereas, from my experience, the cost of searching passengers and checking on security is incurred at the point of departure? Those who arrive have incurred the expense at Bahrein or Paris or wherever else they started their journey.
§ Mr. Clemitson
I am sure that there is a perfectly simple answer to my hon. Friend's question, but I must confess that it has not yet occurred to me. What we are talking about here is the threat from terrorism. That is a national, if not international, problem. It seems logical that the financial burdens of dealing with terrorism should be met nationally or internationally. If we say that only those who use the services of the airports should pay, where will the argument end?
The target for the terrorist is not even the passenger, although the consequences for the passenger may be tragic. Were those who were recently rescued from Mogadishu presented with the bill for rescuing them when they arrived at Frankfurt Airport? Clearly, they were not. The philosophy of the Bill is somewhat questionable. The necessity to save public expenditure by whatever means is no longer quite as pressing at is was. The effects of this Bill as drafted may well be unfair in their impact upon different airports, especially upon municipally-owned airports such as that at Luton. I hope that the Government will re-think 92 their position on this matter, certainly on the points of detail which I have tried to raise briefly.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
It is a pity that in a Bill which is essentially lightweight in nature the Government seem to have been unable to think through the many problems which arise from such a measure. They are guilty of some rather slipshod thinking and preparation. I intend to deal briefly with two topics which have been included in the Bill and one which has not been included. I refer first to what the Bill describes as aviation security. The Government claim that public expenditure is to be reduced by £19 million by the establishment of this fund and the consequential levies on the various airport authorities.
As several hon. Members have mentioned, the wording is no doubt strictly true and therefore the statement is not literally inaccurate. What it means in practice is that sizeable numbers of personnel who are at present employed by security firms will become State employees on vesting day. They will then enjoy such benefits as index-linked pensions and all the other things that go with being a State employee. That will mean a consequent increase in the number of State employees and a rise in that sub-heading of public expenditure.
Hon. Members have referred to the possibility of the retrospective effect of Clause 2(8). I am concerned about the way in which the Secretary of State dealt with this point when it was raised today. It was plainly a matter of little consequence to him. It is a commentary on the way in which Governments, this one in particular, seem to look at questions of potential retrospection. It is not many years since any possibility of such retrospection would have been thought to be totally out of the question. Nowadays it seems to be all too lightly agreed that there may be a case for a certain degree of retrospection. I add my voice to those who have raised this point, asking the Government to look at it again.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)
It may be convenient if I deal with this point now. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my right hon. Friend and I announced long 93 ago that there would be a security levy? We said that it would apply as from 1st April 1978, subject to the will of the House. Is he further aware that it we had not done that there would be no possibility of ensuring that the cost would be passed to the passengers, as is the underlying philosophy of the Bill, in time to catch the heavy holiday season, with the result that we would be forgoing a substantial part of the benefit which the scheme could offer if it ultimately commended itself to the House?
§ Mr. Clemitson
Before the hon. Gentleman answers that point, does he not agree that the Minister's comment makes the situation much worse? Is the Minister not saying, in effect, that there is every intention that the regulations will be effective as from April 1978? Therefore, has he not confirmed our worst suspicions?
§ Mr. Pattie
I am grateful to the Minister for intervening, because he has enabled us to probe him still further on this point. He said that he is giving notice of retrospective intentions, and that in that sense the matter will not be strictly retrospective. But I should have thought that when Royal Assent has been granted and vesting day arrives it is only from that date that the new power arises. I do not see how the point made by the Minister meets the concern that is felt in the House on this matter.
The point made by the hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) about cash analysis was telling, and we shall look forward to the Minister's reply to it. We should like to know from him where the extra money in respect of Luton Airport will come from. It sounds like another bonanza for the bureaucracy which will be rapidly established.
§ Sir S. McAdden
I think that my hon. Friend meant to ask the Minister where the money was going to, not where it was coming from.
§ Mr. Pattie
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that correction.
The matter of airline security is extremely relevant to me personally since I am a fairly frequent traveller on flights to Belfast—although not as frequent a traveller on that route as the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), the Leader of the United Ulster Unionist 94 Party. I wish to make a few brief comments on security of that route.
Nobody denies that on that route or on others there should be an effective security system, but on most other routes there are body checks and searches of hand baggage. If one flies on E1 A1, understandably top of the list in security terms, the authorities are most conscientious. The traveller is asked whether he has packed his own case—the case which goes in the hold. He is also asked whether he has maintained that piece of luggage in his own possession since that time, the package is checked, it goes into the hold, and the traveller collects it at the other end. On the Belfast route the traveller is given no such inquisition because the baggage that eventually goes into the hold is searched.
I can see no reason for that system—or, if there is a reason, I cannot see why that process is not carried out on all the other routes. It is either totally superfluous on one route, or a number of other routes are indulging in inadequate security clearance. The presumption is that the would-be terrorist will put an explosive device in a suitcase which is to go into the hold on the aircraft in which he is travelling—a pretty unlikely proposition.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I have worried about this problem at various airports throughout the world, and I believe that the authorities at Belfast are right and the rest wrong. It is always possible for a passenger to duck out of travelling on the aircraft after he has put his luggage through the machinery and it has gone to the hold. It is simple for that to happen.
§ Mr. Pattie
I appreciate that, but it would be difficult for anybody on the Belfast route to duck out once he had got that far. I do not know how often the hon. Gentleman travels to Belfast.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
Perhaps I may help by making the point that only two weeks ago a passenger on the Belfast route checked in a package but decided not to fly on that aircraft at that time. What happened was that the person's package was taken off the aircraft and we had to identify our baggage, which added 50 minutes to our 95 journey. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is correct to say that it is impossible for a passenger to duck out.
§ Mr. Pattie
This is perhaps something of a sub-issue and I do not want to spend too much time on it. It may be a matter for further argument, but it amounts to the view that security procedures at Heathrow on international flights are inadequate.
§ Mr. Pattie
If that is so, it will be of some concern to the Minister.
I feel disappointed that the Government have not gone further in dealing with aircraft noise. Clearly it is axiomatic that the monitoring of aircraft noise is an international problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) hopes to intervene in the debate, because he and I are always discussing the aircraft routes over his constituency and mine and we both agree that that is a key question. There should be some regulation by Government, which is a combination of carrot and stick, to encourage airlines and to set a date in the future by which they will be able to operate suitable equipment. I am disappointed that the Government have not taken this opportunity to act on Part 36 of the United States Federal Aviation Authority regulations as a minimum, and indeed to go beyond that and lay down that by the year, say, 1985 aircraft must reach a required standard. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) wishes to mention this matter, and we shall look forward to hearing his contribution from the Front Bench.
There is one matter that is not touched on in the Bill. I refer to the fact that the Government have not taken this opportunity to take action about Section 36 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971. They could have repealed that provision or made it very much clearer.
Before I become too critical of the Civil Aviation Authority, I wish to point out that it has made a considerable achievement recently because it has turned in a small surplus after previously making a loss. That shows how able 96 the CAA can be in trimming the size of its workforce.
Section 36 of the 1971 Act deals with the subject of disclosure of information and enables the CAA to produce economic statistics and data and to assess the efficiency of airlines. It is an important provision. However, the sad fact is that the CAA statistics and data produced as a result of the so-called working of the provision in the Act are late, stale and inadequate. What is happening is that the industry and often the airlines shelter behind Section 36 and say that they cannot disclose information which the public should know.
Furthermore, Section 36 is being used as some kind of mini-Official Secrets Act because information legitimately required by the public is being denied by the CAA which invokes Section 36. The CAA takes the view, "No, we cannot tell you these things". But this matter affects airline safety, and there is nothing more important than that aspect.
Let me give an example. On 14th May 1977 there was a crash involving the Dan-Air airline in which a Boeing aircraft crashed in Africa, the tail plane having become separated from the aircraft. Following that accident, the CAA was asked to mount an investigation to find out how many more aircraft of that type had defective or cracked tail planes. The CAA carried out a survey and found out that some aircraft had such defects. It refused to reveal which operators had been found to have aircraft with cracked tail planes. It said that it was precluded by Section 36 from giving that information to the travelling public. It is a pity that the Government have not taken the opportunity of the Bill to tackle this unsatisfactory situation.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. George Park (Coventry, North-East)
My local authority in Coventry, like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson), is greatly concerned about the proposals in regard to airport security. It is a difficult problem and the difficulties have been transmitted into the question of payment for security. The Government seem to have chosen the most difficult way of approaching the problem.
Interesting possibilities are raised by the suggestion that we should charge 97 passengers on airlines as distinct from passengers on other forms of transport or ratepayers who use other local authority services. Further consideration should be given to this problem. We are making rods for our backs if we depart from the principle that people are entitled to have their security looked after by State provision, whether they are travelling on planes, trains or buses.
I am not sure about the principle behind the security charge of 80p. I do not believe that there has been consultation with, for example, the Department of the Environment, whose Secretary of State assured local authorities that no further burdens would be placed on them unless he provided the money.
There is general agreement in the House that the operation of the scheme will involve heavy administrative charges. There is no mention of how these are to be recouped. I am particularly concerned about local authority airports because it seems that these administrative costs will fall on the ratepayers of the towns concerned.
There has been no indication of how the figure of 80p was arrived at; no reasons have been given for it. One airport already operates a satisfactory security service for considerably less than half that amount. If an 80p charge is to be levied at Coventry Airport, there must be an element of cross-subsidisation involved. The Minister should tell us how the charge was arrived at. Apparently it will be levied whether one is crossing the Channel or crossing the world.
There is doubt and worry about the level of the charge and how it is to be recouped. There is also concern about the possibility of debt charges. Any local authority which runs an airport knows that in and around airports companies are constantly going into liquidation, being revived under different names, and so on. All sorts of problems could arise and there is insufficient explanation of, or reasons for, the scheme. The Government must indicate clearly, if not tonight then subsequently, why they have arrived at the conclusions embodied in the Bill.
No one has yet mentioned the fact that there are people other than passengers at airports. Are we to assume that the 80p charge covers the security of those work 98 ing at airports, or is their security a function of the police, as was suggested in reply to the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths)? How has this split function been worked out?
This is a sloppy Bill which has been brought before us with inadequate thought and preparation. It should be taken away and gone through again.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
I shall deal with Clauses 1 to 4 in a moment, but the Bill has virtues of omission as well as commission and the remarks about it might be different if it contained some of the proposals that were originally intended.
As the Secretary of State half indicated, the Government intended originally to amend Section 3 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971 in the light of the judgments of the courts in the case of Laker Airways—not, of course, to change the effects of those decisions in respect of Laker Airways, but to change them for anyone else who wanted to do a Laker.
The decision of the courts meant that a second British airline should be able to compete on any individual route. The Government did not think that this was the intention of their policy or of the 1971 Act. The Government accepted the decision of the courts in the case of Laker, but decided to amend the 1971 Act in order to ensure that it did not happen again on other routes. As the Secretary of State indicated, it is unlikely to happen again because no country other than the United States would allow a second British carrier on any individual route.
When the suggestion was put to me and I was asked whether it would be acceptable to my colleagues, we took the view that it amounted to a limitation of competition and that it would mean that no new British Laker would be able to innovate or break through the establishment. We told the Government that we would not be able to support it, and on 31st October the Under-Secretary told me that the Bill would not include such an amendment.
The second omission was not referred to by the Secretary of State. There was a proposal to make it an offence to offer airline tickets for sale at less than the approved price. It was a bucket-shop 99 clause. Of course, "bucket-shop" is a derogatory term and one tends to think that they are not a very good idea, but the bucket-shops that advertise on the back page of The Times and other places afford people the facility of low-cost air travel, and I am all for them in this respect. At least they nibble away at the monstrous international monopoly which airlines have managed to establish. In this case, they perform a useful function and my colleagues and I said that we would not support the Government's proposal.
Turning to the provisions in the Bill, I like the suggestion of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) that the public should be allowed to buy shares in the various air authorities. That would be one way of funding any necessary expansion of the borrowing powers.
Plainly money has decreased in value since 1971. I am not sure whether £125 million is the revalorised amount for £75 million—it may just be. I am more concerned about the possibility that some of this money may find its way into paying the air traffic control assistants more than the 10 per cent. guideline for wage increases.
I hope that tonight the Minister will give the House the unequivocal guarantee that he has given me that it will not be so used and that additional public funds will not be necessary for that purpose. When the settlement was reached—the air travelling public had to put up with a great deal of inconvenience in withstanding the strike—it appeared to some of us that the whole matter had been solved. However, at the end of the day the air traffic control assistants will almost certainly end up with more than 10 per cent.
§ Mr. Pardoe
Not in the public sector. It is amazing how many will not end up with more than 10 per cent in that sector. In the private sector one gets away with murder.
I was interested in the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) and by that curiously named body JACOLA—the Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities—but I do not accept them.
100 Who causes the cost to arise? It may well be said that the responsibility lies with the hijackers, the terrorists and the guerrillas. However, the fact is that airline passengers, by choosing to fly in a form of transport that is peculiarly susceptible to such action, incur a cost for the rest of society. Airline passengers are not among the poorest transport passengers in society.
§ Mr. Pardoe
No, because the whole of society benefits enormously from having an educated population, as does the whole of British industry. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me who should bear the cost of policing football crowds, for example, clearly those who pay to go to football matches should bear the cost.
§ Mr. James Lamond
Is that responsibility for crime the same sort of responsibility that lies with those who go about with full wallets and get mugged, or those who buy expensive jewellery and keep it at home? Is the hon. Gentleman talking about the responsibility that they bring upon themselves? Is he saying that they should be asked to pay the extra cost that is involved in police officers investigating the burglary or the mugging?
§ Mr. Pardoe
When the responsibility can be identified, clearly the cost should fall on the person who causes the problem. The insurance business largely ensures that additional cost falls upon those who bear the responsibility. In some cases it is not possible to make that identification, but in the context of the Bill it is possible because it can be said that if there were no airline passengers no cost would arise.
I find it extraordinary that poor people on supplementary benefit should, through VAT, be asked to subsidise my airline fare and the security cost that I incur by taking an airline ride. I see no logic in that, and no justice of any port. It is surely right in principle that the charge should fall on the airline passenger.
These are details that may be discussed in Committee; no doubt that will happen. I am concerned, as are many other hon. 101 Members, about the retrospective effect if, indeed, it is retrospective. However, if we get the Bill through by 1st April, there will be no problem. I hope that the Government will see their way to take account of the various points that have been made on that score.
I return briefly to the question of security. At present the protection of airline passengers from hijacking and other forms of terrorism costs the taxpayer about £19 million per year. It seems entirely just that passengers rather than taxpayers should bear the cost as passengers are, in the main, those who benefit from the present security arrangements.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Park) indicated that the sum of 80p was in the Bill. I cannot find it mentioned and I do not think that it is there. I cannot remember having read it. It is an estimate. No doubt we shall hear from the Minister a little more about how the sum has been calculated. However, 80p per passenger does not seem to be an unreasonable amount to pay for security arrangements at our airports. It is extremely unlikely that the whole of the difference between the amount that the hon. Member for Luton, East mentioned at Luton and the 80p would be incurred in administrative charges.
One of the more remarkable features of the Bill appears in the last section of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which states:The establishment of an Aviation Security Fund … will increase the staff of the Department of Trade by two.That is not bad. If two persons administer £19 million, that, for once, is fairly efficient.
§ Mr. Clemitson
The only other conclusion to which we can come is that the passengers who use Luton Airport will be heavily cross-subsidising passengers who use other airports. If we accept the hon. Gentleman's argument that we should identify where a cost arises and then impose the cost upon the person concerned, is it not rather unfair that passengers who use Luton Airport—in the main they are short-haul flights—should cross-subsidise passengers who 102 use Heathrow and the long-haul flights? That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Park).
§ Mr. Pardoe
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. It is not a point of principle but one of detail which I am sure he will raise in Committee. I suspect that he will get some support.
However, I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he saying that a distinction could easily be made between the security costs of different airports? I think that he will realise that if we said that the cost of making Luton secure per passenger was substantially less than the cost of making Heathrow secure per passenger, we would want to ask some far- reaching questions about security measures at Luton. It would not necessarily be in the public interest to publicise the substantial differences, if, indeed, there were such differences.
There is a second subsidy that the airline passenger receives from the rest of us that is not quite so easy to recognise. People who live near airports suffer from aircraft noise and are not compensated sufficiently for the inconvenience. Airlines can fly noisy aircraft and they are not now penalised for so doing. In other words, residents are paying the environmental cost. In effect, they are subsidising the airlines.
Clause 9 deals with the hidden subsidy. The clause can be described as providing a noise tax whereby the polluter pays for the pollution. I welcome the attempt to reduce the noise nuisance that is suffered by residents near airports. The aim of the clause is twofold: to diminish inconvenience caused by aircraft either by using quieter aircraft and encouraging their use by charging them the full cost of the noise that they make, or to insulate dwellings that are affected by noise. The ideal solution would be to tackle the noise at its source, but that is a pretty unrealistic suggestion in the medium term.
Surely we must consider the second way of diminishing the inconvenience caused by aircraft—to extend the noise insulation grant scheme, which at present applies to houses completed before 31st January 1966. Since that time the noise at Heathrow has become very much worse, as it has at other airports. It seems only fair that part of the surcharge raised under 103 Clause 9 should go to provide sound insulation. The sound insulation regulations should be extended to make them more effective.
The method of calculating the surcharge could be simple. It could be related to the noise footprint of the type of aircraft. One hopes that the critical noise level would be lower than the maximum night time limit at Heathrow, and any house where the peak noise level exceeded the critical noise would benefit from the surcharge.
The cost to the airlines would not be very high. The total cost of the noise insulation grant scheme has been about £3 million to date, so the money could be raised in one year if the surcharge were applied to noisy aircraft at £25 for each landing, which is only about 5 per cent. of the normal average landing charge. This would be a satisfactory and suitable extention to the regulations, and I hope that the Minister will take up this suggestion when he replies to the debate.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
If I raise the question of Sumburgh Airport, it is not simply that it is a little local difficulty in the Shetland Islands. My hon. Friend the Minister knows that this airport is crucial to the whole future of the rate at which we extract oil in the North Sea. The Civil Aviation Authority is proposing to build a completely new terminal for oil-related traffic at Sumburgh Airport, the cost of which is likely to be £10 million. The CAA is also to spend another £500,000 in 1978 on providing more aircraft parking space, additional to the £13 million already spent on airport development over the past three years.
As anyone who has been there knows—and I was there only a month ago—the major problem is that the airport is built on a narrow promontory, with one runway built out into the North Sea at one end, and into the Atlantic at the other, with surrounding inlets and hills, and the consequence is a lack of space to extend the existing terminal area. The CAA takes the view that it is necessary to open up the Wilsness area of the airport for a completely new and additional terminal facility to cater solely for oil-related traffic. Are the Government in favour of such a proposal at Wilsness?
104 Sumburgh is Britain's fastest growing airport. Figures for both passengers and aircraft movement have quadrupled between 1973 and 1977. In 1973, total aircraft movements amounted to 9,114. In 1977 the figure was 38,753, and this tiny airport in the Shetlands had 404,370 passengers. Mr. Donald Kirk, the CAA's Scottish controller says:In 1978 we are likely to be called upon to handle a total of more than 500,000 passengers and 57,000 aircraft movements—29,000 fixed-wing and 28,000 helicopters.The CAA is proposing to increase the landing charge for helicopters at Sum-burgh from 1st April. The additional revenue is to meet additional operating costs and to cover the 1978 £500 million development programme. Do the Government see this as a matter of priority? If so, when do they propose to make an announcement about it?
My second question arises from a document that we have received in discussions with the central staff authority of the CAA. It concerns the future ownership of the whole of the islands' aerodromes. It is the CSA's contention that the ownership of these aerodromes should remain with the CAA, and it seeks the support of the Government to this end. It seems to it that, whoever controls the Highlands and Islands group of airfields, it will be necessary for Government subsidies to be made available, since all parties accept the role of these aerodromes as part of an essential social service, and it asks why there is a need for change. I should be interested to cut things fairly short, because other hon. Members wish to speak, but how do the Government see the future of the ownership of the airfields?
I now turn to deal with another matter. Those of us who use the new Edinburgh Airport are united in agreeing on the excellent service that is provided by the staff. The last thing that I wish to do is to complain about the staff of British Airports Authority, of British Airways, or of British Caledonian. They are extremely helpful people, but I wish to make a complaint, which is rather a generalised one.
My complaint relates to the design of modern expensive airport facilities. To give just one example, we have here an expensive new airport, and yet the shuttle services, which take 70 per cent. or more 105 of the passengers, are squeezed into one part of the airport. Incidentally, they are away from the shops, which is bad for trade. We all must have the usual security checks. We go through and up into a waiting room. I make no complaint about that, but there is often fog, and there are often delays for various operating reasons, which we all understand, and on occasions one is confined to that waiting room for a long time.
In this brand new airport one would have supposed that the designers would have had some idea of what was needed, and some experience of the facilities that were necessary, yet there is no toilet provision. That might be all right for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and for me, but it is not right that hour after hour mothers with young children should have to wait in such conditions.
It is a fair question, in a debate such as this, to inquire what the Government intend to do to ask those responsible for spending millions of pounds of public money to use a little more practical common sense, and, instead of giving us luxury facilities, to cater for the real needs of the travelling public. Among those real needs are such things as elementary toilet facilities when people have to wait for a fairly long time.
I do not want to turn the debate into a kind of personal complaint, but I voice the complaint of many of my constituents who wonder why it is necessary to have expensive shops built into airports and yet have an open car park with no cover. It is that kind of priority that causes the gravest doubt about the practical good sense of those making the decisions.
When the airport was being built, some of us asked our friends who worked there "Have you been across to see the new buildings that are going up? Have you spoken to the designer?" They replied "We have been forbidden by the contractors and the architects to have any discussion with those responsible for building the new airport." A little common sense and a little communication between those who work in the buildings and those who are responsible for building them would have saved a great deal of the chronic inefficiencies of the new Edinburgh Airport. Will my hon. Friend 106 ask the authorities to show a bit more nous in the future?
I turn finally to the matter of the Bill and the doubts that many people have in relation to Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates) looked at me wide eyed and said that this was not the day for a devolution debate. I agree, but one cannot get away from devolution, because I have here a letter from the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers which says:Dear Member of Parliament,
§ I am writing on behalf of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers, and its affiliates, to express our views in relation to Aviation matters. Some of these points will also be the subject of representations by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. We strongly support the excellent case made in the House by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West for the retention in CAA control of the Highlands and Islands Airports.…
§ In connection with devolution, the Chamber confirms its support for the CAA to remain a unified national body in all its aspects."
That was the point made by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and, indeed, it was the matter that I raised on a point of order at the beginning of our debate. The Chamber of Commerce says:
As regards the BAA, we find that it has been to the benefit of Aviation in Scotland that it has taken over and developed the four major airports. We find fault as representing the South-East of Scotland and the capital city with the unreasonable discrimination caused by the policy decision that Inter-Continental charters must land at Prestwick. This has already led to the total cancellation of a number of flights which would have benefited tourism in Scotland, including some proposed for this year.
The future rôle of the BAA in Scotland under devolution is causing us considerable concern, in that we do not consider the proposals to be in the best interests of Scotland. We consider that decentralisation would be adequate and would retain the ability to transfer management and technical expertise in a two-way exchange across the Border. The creation of a Scottish Board by itself will not offset the apparent disadvantages. It is understood that this is also the viewpoint of the consultative committee of the BAA operated airports.
This is the view of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and Manufacture. It is also the view of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce which
has sent a message to Members of Parliament opposing the Scotland Bill saying that it reaffirms
its determined opposition to the Scottish Bill presently before Parliament as damaging to the needs of the British people as a whole. We are particularly concerned at Schedule 10 which is being debated tonight and provides classic examples of the confusion which will be created if the Bill is enacted. The powers proposed for the Scottish Assembly would disrupt industrial and commercial life causing delay and indecision. The proposals further provide many opportunities for dispute between the United Kingdom Parliament and a devolved assembly and constitute a continuing challenge to the unity of the United Kingdom.
In case any of my hon. Friends think that I am grinding axes or using chambers of commerce for my own benefit, I should like to say that I know the ex-Lord Provost of Aberdeen—my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), who is as steadfast as I am in these matters—
§ Mr. Dalyell
—almost as steadfast as I am—will agree that it is a matter not just of the chambers of commerce but of very considerable sections of the Labour Party. Over the weekend an organisation was established under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), including many of the trade unions which are concerned with this Bill and so much of the other industrial legislation that we discuss and including some of their full-time officers, with a view to mounting a Labour "Vote No" campaign in a referendum, if it comes to that.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be the first to call me to order if I stray beyond the rules—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman anticipated what I was about to say. He is mixing up two days of the week. Today is Monday. Tomorrow is Tuesday, when we shall be discussing the Scotland Bill. What he has just been saying would have been more strictly relevant to the Scotland Bill, not to the Civil Aviation Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If we have a chance of reaching it, but, as you know in another 108 guise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we are lucky if we get half a clause out of 19 clauses.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is not the fault of the Chair. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to stick to what we are considering this evening.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I return immediately to what the chairman of the air transport committee of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce said in his letter to my right hon. Friend the Seceretary of State for Trade:It would be intolerable for licensing arrangements for civil aviation to be treated in the cavalier fashion that Clause 66 lays down.As the Scotland Bill stands at present, a Minister may, by order, make provisions for the apportionment of any assets or liabilities of the British Airports Authority and may alter the financial limits under which the BAA operate.The Bill thus proposes to enable the breakup of the BAA in any manner in which this or any successor Government may determine. Parliament is being invited to sign a blank cheque.My question is this—In the opinion of my hon. Friend the Minister, is there any danger under current Government legislation of a break-up of the British Airports Authority—a move that some of us think would be very inefficient? To use Mr. Hill's own words,This is surely a matter which should be retained by the United Kingdom Government as it could be used to prevent certain aircraft landing at airports. In any dispute between the Scottish Executive and the Department of Trade this devolution could be a highly effective method of reducing civil aviation to a shambles.I want to be persuaded—perhaps I am being a little devious in saying that. Let me be persuaded by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that under the proposals currently before Parliament in the Scotland Bill as it affects this Bill civil aviation in the United Kingdom will not end up in a shambles. The idea that it will end up in a shambles is not my idea. It is the idea of the experts speaking on behalf of those who know.
As so often is the case in these matters, the more that people learn about a set of proposals in the Scotland Bill as it affects them, and the closer they come to the reality of having to operate those proposals, the less they like it. That is the way of the Scotland Bill. I just stick to it in relation to civil aviation. In 109 every field—forestry, the dockers, the Law Society—
§ Mr. Dalyell
No, not quite. Because I am concerned about your position, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and mine in relation to civil aviation, I wish to ask my hon. Friend whether he will carry out a study of the difficulties that would be caused for civil aviation if there were to be a system of passports as between Scotland and England. This is no hypothetical matter. Hon. Members who ordinarily sit on the third Bench below the Gangway and who are Members of the Scottish National Party are not present. There are Members who are absolutely committed to a separate State. A separate State means passports. This means passport facilities—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We cannot have that. We are not dealing with passports. If the hon. Gentleman is not aware of what is under discussion, I must ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. Dalyell
We are concerned with the borrowing powers. The borrowing powers provide the wherewithal for facilities at airports. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, facilities include passport control—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We are not talking about passports. Let us get on to the business under consideration.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is exactly the business, and it is of very considerable importance.
Many people do not realise that the whole fanciful juggernaut apparatus of a nationalist case means passports. Passports mean queuing for the shuttle that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, take to come here. It is the task of politicians to foresee what may happen before it happens. Under this Bill it is legitimate to point out that the Government should produce the costing of the facilities for providing passports for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and me and the other 999,000 passengers who left Edinburgh last year—those are the actual figures—for passport control. If we are to have passport control there must be facilities. This is not fanciful—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
But it is irrelevant. I must ask the hon. Gentleman not to pursue that line of argument.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am very obedient to the Chair, so I put it as a question: has consideration been given in the Department to the question of providing passport facilities at Heathrow and Gatwick and to the Scottish airports?
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
You will be glad to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have no intention of going down the disorderly path down which the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has been seeking to lead us. I want to go straight away to the Bill which we are supposed to be discussing. I shall not keep the House for long. I never do.
I am sure that the debate has prompted in the minds of many hon. Members some thoughts which may not have occurred to them before. The Minister has made it clear that he has no intention of producing a White Paper before we have finished our discussions on the Bill. He also gave an assurance that he proposes to make these payments available from April 1978 under regulations which he will then issue but which he cannot issue till the Bill has been passed. It seems an extraordinary way of going about it. What is more, it seems to me to be a contempt of Parliament to have it said that regulations will be made—regulations whose contents we know not, save that they will lay down a charge of about 80p per passenger who lands in this country.
I am all in favour—I am sure that all hon. Members are—of an Aviation Security Fund. However, some interesting and important points should be made about how it is to be levied. I understand that it is proposed to be levied on passengers arriving in this country. I should not have imagined that they created any security risk; they are here. On the other hand—this was argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson)—there is a good case for saying that it should be levied on those who are leaving this country. If we levy it on those arriving here we levy it on people who, probably, have 111 come from foreign countries, so that we shall have foreigners meeting the bill, not ourselves. That sounds a very good argument. The foreigners who come here will not stay. They will go back and become outgoing passengers—
§ Sir S. McAdden
Some of them—perhaps too many—but, on average, most of those who come here go back. Therefore, it does not seem to me to be logical to place the levy upon those who are arriving instead of upon those departing from these shores.
There are other considerations to be borne in mind. We have it from the Government Front Bench that there are only 28 airports that can collect this charge, and it will be a very convenient method of collection to do it in that way, as opposed to using the airlines for collection. I think that the number of airlines was given as 148, which would give 148 collecting points. This, we are told, would be administratively inconvenient, and the Government propose a small number of collecting points irrespective of whether the method of collection is fair and just. It may be administratively inconvenient to levy directly through the airlines, but at least it would be fairer than doing it through the airport authorities and giving them responsibility in the matter, especially when they cannot see any justification for the 80p so far mentioned and, moreover, they can see no reason why the administrative expenses to which they are being subjected should not be met by the Government instead of by themselves.
I gather also that it will be a flat-rate levy whether a passenger is going to Le Touquet or to Hong Kong. As I see it, there cannot be much security risk presented by people going by short-haul aircraft from Southend—if I may mention it—to Le Touquet, to Rotterdam or even to Dusseldorf. I cannot believe that any responsible hijacker would dream of hijacking one of those aircraft. It would be entirely unsuitable for his purpose. Nevertheless, we are being called upon to pay for meeting a great security risk although it is a security risk which does not apply in our case.
Although I can see that, in the interests of uniformity, there should be a charge 112 for all passengers at airports, I cannot see why the charge should not be related to the distance to be travelled and the security risks attached to longer journeys—to say, Hong Kong, Brisbane and such places—as opposed to the short hauls to various parts of Europe.
I hope that the Minister will consider these matters and bear in mind also that any suggestion of retroactive payments under legislation not yet authorised by Parliament will be strenuously resisted by the House, and rightly so.
I could say more, but I realise that many other hon. Members wish to speak and I have no wish to stand between them and the House or to incur the displeasure of the Chair. I give qualified support to the Bill, and I hope that in Committee—on which, may I say, I hope not to serve—other hon. Members will have a view to express.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for not being present to hear him introduce the Bill. At various times in my life I have been concerned to make some small effort to defend the people of this country against the consequences of aircraft attack in one form or another, and most recently that effort has taken the form of seeking to defend my constituents against the consequences of incidental and unintended attack, that is, attack from aircraft noise rather than the earlier forms of attacks perpetrated by the enemy many years ago.
The aircraft is seen as something hostile by many people in my constituency, and the reason is that, although the aircraft is a very convenient thing to fly in, it is not so convenient to be constantly flown over by aircraft, and this is the fate of my constituents and those of many other hon. Members. I see some familiar faces in the Chamber today, and I know that feelings on this subject [...]un high. It is no fanciful objection that we make when we come here to talk about the consequences of aircraft noise for our constituents.
I therefore welcome Clauses 8 and 9 which, I think—I am not quite sure whether they do—are designed to extend the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to protecting the population 113 against the consequences of noise, vibration or atmospheric pollution, as it is called. I do not believe that those clauses in their present form are fully effective, however, and I think it likely that in Committee—I suspect that those of us who speak on the Bill stand in grave danger of serving on it—endeavours will be made, in which I shall take part, to strengthen those clauses which are designed to do something to protect the citizen on the ground against the consequences of the citizen in the air.
I believe that the whole history of civil aviation in this country has been geared towards looking after the interests of the aircraft operator. The operator is concerned with both passenger aircraft and cargo aircraft, and it is his interest, quite properly, to get his aircraft into the air, on its journey and back again as soon as possible. He therefore goes for the best, easiest and quickest way, and the best, easiest and quickest way from his point of view is not necessarily the best from the point of view of the community as a whole.
I am sure that it is generally agreed that if we were now to be deciding where to put our London airport, Heathrow would be the last point which we should select. By the very nature of its geographical situation and the prevailing winds, for most of the time three-quarters of all aircraft seeking to land in London must fly over most of London's residential population. It would be utter madness if, were the decision before us in 1978, we sought to place the main London airport where it now is. I am certain that we should not have decided on that location if, when those decisions were taken many years ago, we had realised the consequences of placing the airport on the spot which it now occupies.
§ Mr. Jessel
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that that decision taken all those years ago was taken in the late 1940s when the Attlee Government, whom, presumably, he supported, were in office.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Indeed, I am aware of that, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has confessed to me that he was personally responsible for that action at the time. He does not seek to escape responsibility for it. But what is equally true, as in 114 the lamentable story of Concorde, is that Government after Government and party after party, faced with a decision taken earlier, has continued to endorse that decision and add to it. The intention, the will or the courage to reverse decisions, to take fresh chances and to alter things has always been lacking in our civil aviation. As a result, each Member and each Minister has carried on from the decisions of his predecessor, endorsing those decisions, with the result that matters have got worse and worse.
The number of aircraft has grown, there has been the invention of the jet aircraft, and still Heathrow has grown, with more and more flights and more facilities. We now have Underground Railway facilities, cargo and passenger facilities and all the rest, until in the end we have built at Heathrow the largest airport in the world!
One of the things which we should not do here is by this little Bill create a state of affairs in which airport authorities may themselves make byelaws to control the operation of aircraft within their boundaries. The balance should be altered. I have said many times that I greatly doubt that the Department of Trade, which by its very nature must be concerned to maximise aircraft movements, can properly fulfil the duty to minimise the consequent noise.
There should be a healthy division of Government responsibility here. Another Minister should have the responsibility for protecting the citizens, not the Minister concerned with making it worse for the citizen on the ground by maximising, if he can, the number of aircraft arriving here at the best possible time and place. However, as the powers are vested in the Secretary of State for Trade, we should try in Committee to see that the responsibility for making those charges and providing those protections in relation to aircraft noise, is firmly vested in him, rather than the airport authorities.
If we are to make more distant airports more attractive to aircraft operators, airports which are inherently because of their geographical position, less attractive, there must be a variation of charge between one airport and another. In clearer words, Heathrow must be made more expensive and Stansted less expensive if aircraft are to be encouraged to land at 115 Stansted rather than at Heathrow. Otherwise, we shall not be able to encourage the growth of Stansted, which is ideally situated from the point of view of the citizen on the ground, if not so attractive from the point of view of the citizen in the air.
Over the whole history of civil aviation there has been a neglect of the interests of citizens on the ground, starting way back with the 1949 Act, under which the citizen is precluded from suing in the courts an aircraft operator who exceeds permitted noise levels. That is an almost unique position. We might explore in Committee an amendment to restore to the citizen his right to sue an aircraft operator who creates an unreasonable amount of noise and thus disturbs the citizen's peace and quiet.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
Did the hon. Gentleman let his hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) know that he would make this renewed plea for Stansted to be London's airport? I am not sure that his hon. Friend would feel that it was the ideal site.
§ Mr. Jenkins
If my hon. Friend sees tomorrow that I have been encouraging the growth of Stansted, he may take a different view from mine. But there are people concerned with Stansted who would argue, I think rightly, that that airport is insufficiently used. We should compare the number suffering nuisance as a result of aircraft flying over the whole of Western London, with its huge residential population with the relatively tiny number who would be incommoded by an increase in the number of aircraft flying into Stansted. That is a matter that I should be happy to argue in any gathering with my hon. Friend. I believe that a tiny increase in inconvenience elsewhere in order to mitigate a little the great deal of inconvenience suffered by my constituents and those of some other Members would not be unreasonable. I shall later hope to suggest some alterations of that sort in the Bill.
The whole history of aircraft legislation has been soft on noise, soft on aircraft, and insufficiently protective of the ordinary population. One example is the special regulations which permit Concorde to make excessive noise, more than other aircraft on landing at Heathrow. 116 In answering Questions on the matter, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary fiddled the figures to try to pretend that Concorde was not as noisy as it is. It is a very noisy aircraft, but all supersonic aircraft are exempted from the normal noise regulations applying at Heathrow. We should make an amendment saving that aircraft must conform to the normal, regulations and that there should be no special dispensation for any aircraft to make an unreasonable noise simply because it happens to be the favourite aircraft son of the Government of the day.
Those are some of the amendments that I and perhaps other hon. Members will hope to suggest in Committee should be made for the improvement of the Bill, seeking for the first time perhaps in a Civil Aviation Bill to do something not only for civil aviation but for the people who, in the end, pay for it.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I fully support what the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) and others have said about retrospective payment, and I add to the pleas already made to the Government to think again on this point. Despite what has been said, the idea that certain categories of citizens should pay for their own security is fairly revolutionary. I am not convinced that the proposal is air or just, because it is surely the responsibility of Governments, first, to protect their own citizens against violence and, secondly, to prevent their own citizens from attacking citizens of other States. It is not the responsibility of selected groups of citizens to pay for such measures. It must be accepted that payment for that job should be made by the State as a whole.
We face this proposal simply because—here I return to a point made by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe)—an aircraft is particularly vulnerable; in fact, the most vulnerable form of transport. After all, security measures are not taken at the request of the travelling public. It is the aircraft crews who insist that we should have stringent security measures. I am a channel for conveying the continual requests from people in Northern Ireland to various Ministers that security measures be 117 relaxed. I find blockage and resistance from representatives of the aircrews.
It is for that very reason that the taxpayers now, and presumably the new fund in the future, face a bill of £500,000 a year to provide a Trident taxi from Belfast to Glasgow and back the next morning simply so that the crew of the Trident may not be asked to share the risks faced by the citizens of Northern Ireland every day of the week. That is ridiculous and intolerable. As one who has had the experience of travelling on an aircraft in which a bomb had been placed, I can say that, given the choice, I would opt for a relaxation in the present security measures, many of which are plainly ridiculous.
The first four clauses of the Bill provide the machinery, probably very cumbrous machinery, for the collection, reimbursement and distribution of moneys required to pay for airline security, but there is no mention of any mechanism to ensure that there will be a degree of uniformity in the level of effectiveness of the measures taken to provide such security and protection. The lack of any such common approach compels me to ask whether there is any guarantee that the very expensive scheme outlined in the Bill will provide for even a limited step towards uniformity.
Perhaps I may here briefly describe the variations which are so obvious at the two airports used most frequently by travellers to and from Northern Ireland. I refer to Gatwick and Heathrow.
I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, for their co-operation in dealing with many of the problems at Heathrow relating to Northern Ireland. Both Ministers have discussed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and myself many intricate details which it would not be in the public interest to mention in this debate. The Under-Secretary has made it possible for us to secure at Heathrow improvements which have removed the necessity for passengers to be herded on to a bus and driven to an obscure point on the airfield, under guard, to be loaded on to the aircraft.
At Gatwick, unfortunately, the authorities seem to have gone in the opposite direction and have taken that course in 118 the very recent past. This puzzles me. Inbound and outbound passengers from Northern Ireland are now herded on to a bus under the eye of policemen and security officers and transported a distance not much greater than from your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the Central Lobby of this building. It does not make sense. If the intention is to imitate a sequence from "Animal Farm" it must be a success, because, in my humble opinion, it provides clear insight into the thought processes of contaminated cattle during an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Do the security forces fear that passengers who have been through a stringent search at Gatwick Airport, if they were permitted to walk that short distance to the aircraft, might possibly run amok and with their bare hands tear to pieces a Jumbo jet? We have to use a bit of common sense. The search at Gatwick, which is presently paid for by the taxpayer, under this legislation would be paid for out of the fund. We are entitled to question this.
We have to ask whether the taxpayer is getting value for money and, what is more, whether he is getting what he is paying for.
I give the example of two recent flights from Gatwick. They were delayed because passengers had to queue for 25 minutes to be searched. Only one male searcher and one female searcher were on duty at the gate. When I raised the question and asked whether the process could be speeded up I was told "We have put in a telephone call requesting additional searchers." I pointed out that this flight on both those days had been on the timetable of British Midland Airways for about nine months. I said that it was not something which had sneaked up on one by surprise like a charter flight. I asked "Why have you got to get people out of the drinking lounge, or wherever they may be, to come and do the job for which they are being paid'?" I would like to know—I do not expect the Minister to answer me tonight—whether the security contractors on that occasion claimed and were paid for the full quota of searchers or whether they reduced it to the two who actually carried out the duty.
I do not suppose that the whole charge for security at the other airport concerned in the United Kingdom, namely, Belfast, 119 would come entirely within the scope of the Bill. Some of it would. The state of affairs at Belfast Airport is a clear example of a waste of manpower and financial resources.
Only this morning on my way to the House, because the vehicle control point was being conducted in an inefficient manner, there was a delay of half an hour. The traffic built up beyond the intersection which carries the North-South traffic in Northern Ireland. The NCO in charge of the checkpoint decided that it had got beyond him and gave the signal to wave through 67 vehicles, the numbers of which were not checked and the drivers of which were not asked to produce any identification. The result was chaos at the setting-down point inside the airport complex.
In the presence of the Minister of State could not accept the usual excuse given by the security authorities. I admit that he is more realistic, but the security authorities often say "We cannot accept your suggestions because we do not have the manpower". At that checkpoint I counted 11 members of the security forces wandering about and doing nothing in particular.
My greatest fear is that by the Bill we shall create what one might call a security industry which will be self-perpetuating and will engage in empire building. It is not possible for the Minister or any successor of his to give assurances that the scope and size of that empire can be limited, because Ministers in the Government, airline operators and airport authorities know perfectly well that the security expert will always in the end have his own way. Because of his training he will always be tempted to go for maximum security, knowing that it takes a very tough layman to defy expert advice, in case the layman is proved wrong.
The steps proposed in the Bill would open up the opportunity to upgrade the entire security industry and all those with vested interests in the industry. They would not be slow to get in on the act. Once the operation acquired a momentum of its own it would be difficult to control, let alone curtail, the growth not just of one body but the extension of the powers and scope of the whole motley collection of bodies who take it upon 120 themselves to decide the scale of their own activities. For those reasons my colleagues and I have great reservations about the Bill as it stands at present.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State for Trade will have to wait in the Chamber for a few moments. No doubt he will read with great interest what I have to say and when he does so he will not be surprised to know that I am taking up the cudgels on behalf of Manchester International Airport Authority. He will recall a number of occasions on which he and I have clashed on matters of this kind, normally in Committees examining Statutory Instruments.
I have pleasant memories of an occasion on which we took a vote at the end of such a discussion when the Government were defeated by 12 votes to two. The two Government votes consisted of the Under-Secretary of State and his faithful Whip, such was the ridiculous nature of the proposals. The Statutory Instrument concerned a flat-rate imposition on passengers arriving at airports—roughly the same idea as this, but it concerned landing fees. We were then concerned with the effect that it would have on the diversion of aircraft, as we were hopping from London Heathrow to the provincial airports.
I believe that if this Bill were to become law it would have the same effect. It would destroy all the activities of the Government in their regional development programmes by which they are trying to encourage much greater use of regional airports. If we impose flat-rate charges—80p is not very much, I admit—these things build up and at the end of the day they destroy any differential that we have tried to correct in the landing costs of these different airports. That is detrimental to the Government's overall regional strategy.
You and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have had considerable experience of local government in Scotland. We know that when we charge rates, for example, they are the same per pound for all ratepayers. There are many ratepayers who do not benefit from certain services. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) mentioned one or two of them. One obvious example which used to be 121 quoted to me in Aberdeen was that of the blind man who is required to pay for lighting the streets. If ever there was an obvious example of somebody who does not benefit, that was it. We say to him "You benefit overall." Therefore, we say that the simplest method is to put this charge on the central authority.
We were told by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) that the people who brought about the need for these security services, and as a result were responsible for the cost, were the passengers. I doubt that very much. I do not think for a moment that the passengers create the need for this service. I appreciate that there are different forms of attack upon aircraft, but, in the main, when we think of aircraft security, we think of attempts to hijack aircraft, to board aircraft with arms and to hold up the passengers.
The object of those who carry out a hijack is not to put pressure on the passengers. They do not have a list of passengers giving them the name of, say, Albert Bloggs of Manchester, whom they want to shoot. They want to bring pressure on the Government. It is, therefore, a Government responsibility to see that the opportunity for placing that pressure upon them is removed.
If we examine this proposition and take it to its basic principles, the Government and the taxpayers as a whole should bear the cost of making sure that the Government are not put under any external pressure when determining policy. That argument destroys the philosophy which says that the consumer must pay at the point of consumption: the consumer is not responsible for this situation. Most travellers would be happy if there were no need for the searches.
I have an interesting document containing the minutes of a meeting between the Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities and the Secretary of State for Trade and one of his advisers, Mr. Gildea. I apologise if Mr. Gildea's name is pronounced differently, but I have a lot of difficulties with the pronunciation of my name in this House. Some of the points which interest me and other hon. Members were raised by the local authorities who are, in some instances, responsible for running local airports. There was, for example, this question which has exercised our minds: why charge those who 122 are arriving when the cost of their security has already been met overseas? Why not charge it on those leaving?
That point was raised at this meeting and in reply Mr. Gildea is reported as having said thatstrictly speaking, it might be argued that the departing passengers should pay, but this would seem to cause an awful lot of administrative work and therefore the decision had been taken to deal with arriving passengers.Certainly this proposal would cause a lot of administrative work, but so would the present proposal. I cannot see much difference between the amount of administrative work which would be involved under either proposal. If the quest is for fairness, with the intention of charging those who, it is believed, cause the expense it would be much more sensible to charge those who are departing, because they are the people who have to be searched.
A question was also raised at this meeting about the figure of 80p. It was asked who would make sure that once the figure was agreed the cost would be kept at a reasonable level. It was asked whether the service would be efficient. The answer to that, I thought, was a good one. The Secretary of State said thatthe 'eagle eyes' of airport authorities, Parliament and others would be upon the Department.We have had some examples recently of the "eagle eyes" of Parliament playing upon the expenses and efficiency of various Government bodies. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee I can say that if this fund is administered as inefficiently as many of the matters that come before the PAC—too late for anything to be done about the expenditure incurred—I have grave doubts about the efficiency of the whole operation.
The local authorities asked what would happen to the fund if there were a lot more money in it than would be needed. Would the amount be reduced to the kind of reasonable sum which Luton manages to charge? Mr. Gildea was reported as saying thatthe Department did not think that the charge was at all on the high side, but if it proved to be, then consideration could be given to its reduction.That was all very reasonable and we cannot take any exception to it. The report went on:The Department would take steps to ensure that this fund was kept separate.123 I do not know whether those present have had the same experience as I have but I find that my constituents have very long memories. They keep raising with me matters such as the Road Fund, for example, which they claim was set up initially to provide new roads and to maintain the existing ones. They say that this aim has long been lost sight of and that there is now no question of the vast amounts of money paid for the Road Fund licence being used to improve roads or to create new ones. This proposed system could turn out in the same way, despite the reassurances given by Mr. Gildea, with the best of intentions, and, I am sure, without his tongue in his cheek. However, my constituents would take that with a pinch of salt.
We hear that this is a matter which affects only the wealthy. I would refer hon. Members to the example of Manchester Airport, which has been run by the local authority for a long time. It operates efficiently, with the result that the airport has been extended. There has been created one of the fastest growing international airports in the world. A great deal of the heavy traffic turnover consists of package holidays. Those who visit Manchester Airport will find it thronged at all hours of the day or night with people leaving for such places as Spain, Italy, and elsewhere. There are incoming flights bringing returning holidaymakers. These are not rich people. I do not suggest that 80p will make them cancel their holidays. However, this is a further imposition—unnecessary and unfair, in my view—on those who go on holiday in this way. They are ordinary working-class people who are now able to enjoy a holiday abroad.
§ Mr. Jessel
Does the hon. Member believe that those travelling by air should make some contribution to the cost of noise abatement so that those who have the misfortune to live underneath the flight paths may install double glazing or enjoy some other form of compensation for the nuisance created by those travelling by air?
§ Mr. Lamond
I would certainly support the pleas I have heard made on a number of occasions on both sides of the House to assist householders who suffer as a result of noise pollution created by 124 aircraft. As to who should bear the cost, I would use the same argument as I have used earlier: the cost should be met from central funds.
I sincerely hope that I do not land as a member of the Standing Committee. like a number of my colleagues. No one seems very anxious to serve on it. If it will help me to keep off it, I assure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that I should do my utmost to make his life unbearable.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)
I am concerned with two clauses in the Bill, Clauses 8 and 9, which deal with aircraft noise, as the House would expect from a Member still representing Gatwick.
The Secretary of State referred to new routes arising from the Bermuda 2 agreement, including the Laker Skytrain. I should like here to offer warmest congratulations to Freddie Laker and all who work with him on their initiative in showing what private enterprise can do, with, initially at any rate, maximum discouragement from the authorities.
Several of the new routes that arose from Bermuda 2 pass through Gatwick. The build-up of Gatwick will be increased by the transfer of airline operations from Heathrow to Gatwick. Indeed, it is the Minister's policy to persuade some of the airlines now using Heathrow to transfer their services partly or wholly to Gatwick. This would result in an overall increase of noise and in growing pressure against the current limitations of night jet flights.
The projected growth of Gatwick is quite astounding. It has been fast enough already, but it now has over 6 million passenger movements. It is expected by the early 1980s to have 16 million and by the 1990s possibly 25 million, equal to the passenger turnround at Heathrow today—a very daunting prospect for any residents living in that area. Now, just for bad measure, the Minister is authorising a new helicopter link between Gatwick and Heathrow. Therefore, the constituents whom I represent have, in aircraft noise, a bleak future to face.
It is this dynamic growth of Gatwick over recent years and the projected growth for the next few years that shows 125 why my constituents have such an intense interest in the control of aircraft noise and, therefore, in the Bill. They have been greatly concerned by the Minister's statement on 7th November of his policy for phasing out nosier aircraft over 10 years. They believe that this is far too slow a process. I should like to quote from what they have represented to me. They say that what the Government proposeamounts to little more than accepting the withdrawal from service of the noisier planes only when they are no longer commercially viable.They have attacked this policy strongly through the agency of the Gatwick Airport consultative committee, a body set up to advise the airport authority and the Government.
My constituents have a special interest in the incentive scheme set out in Clause 9 to persuade airlines to phase out their noisier planes and, to quote the Minister's words,so beat any regulations that might constrain them to do so by a certain date.The levying of noise-related charges has consistently over recent months been pressed on the Minister by the Gatwick area conservation committee, an excellent, independent, hard-working and grass-roots organisation which helps to protect the residents and the environment around Gatwick. This additional measure to reduce aircraft noise will be welcomed by this organisation and all the people it represents. I believe it to be a move in the right direction.
However, what matters is the action that will flow from the new regulations, made possible by Clause 8, and the proposed rights to levy these new charges set out in Clause 9. My constituents have real grounds for unease over the Minister's will—I hope that the Minister is listening to me—to use his powers robustly and promptly to protect them against aircraft noise around Gatwick. Under pressure from residents, the Minister has brought to an end night jet flights taking off from Heathrow. At Gatwick, the number of night jet flight take-offs is still far too high. The forecasts of reductions in the number of such flights are not reassuring. In fact, they are disturbing because of the build-up of air traffic at Gatwick.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
There are two side to most coins, and there are particularly to this one. Does the hon. Member agree that, although it is perfectly true that residents have complained consistently about noise, the other side of the coin is that the aviation interests are very much opposed to the stance that I have taken on this matter, but I have felt that, as a matter of justice, the steps that I have taken are absolutely right?
§ Sir G. Sinclair
The Minister has no doubt at all of the favourable response in my constituency, through the various organisations that I have brought to his Department, to his handling of complaints and the care that he has shown in listening to representations. Nevertheless, in the face of this juggernaut of Gatwick expansion, they really are asking for a more robust limitation on night jet flights and aircraft noise. That is why they are pressing the Minister to produce a strategy for the control of aircraft noise now. We cannot wait for the three years allowed by him for his research project intoaircraft noise in relation to the disturbance of sleep".It is with the Minister's own encouragement that the rapid further development of Gatwick is taking place. In my view, it is for that reason that he owes a special duty to take steps now to curb aircraft noise more sharply than he has done.
What strategy has the Minister in mind for the combined use for existing and new regulations under Clause 8 and the levy of noise-related charges under Clause 9 to bring long-term relief to the Gatwick area? Is the levy to be left entirely to the local airport authority, or will the Minister, in relation to the two great London international airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, decide the level of noise-related charges and, what is more important, the timing of their imposition?
It is important also for the airline operators to know this. They have to make their calculations some time ahead when they are planning what aircraft to buy. Therefore, we ask for the earliest possible announcement of a strategy for the control of aircraft noise.
Is there to be any harmonisation of these new levies throughout the United Kingdom? Is that harmonisation to spread to international airports in other 127 countries? Will the Minister indicate what his strategy is and when he will announce it?
I hope that the Minister will not take refuge behind his projected research into the relationship between aircraft noise and sleep disturbance. We regard this research programme as entirely unsatisfactory. The proposal is that the survey should be carried out by his Department in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Authority's directorate of operational research and analysis. But both have major interests in the development of air transport. Such a one-sided survey cannot be expected by those worst affected by aircraft noise to protect their interests. There is a clear case for an independent survey, or an independent element within that survey.
I hope that the levies which are permitted by Clause 9 will lead to the gathering of resources that will, in the end, be available for helping people by compensating them for the effects of aircraft noise. I am thinking of two groups in particular. The first group is those whose houses need greater compensation for double glazing. The other group is those whose houses, in the flight path or greatly affected by the worst contours of noise, have become intolerable for normal residential habitation. These people are at the moment in a wilderness, but many of them cannot leave their houses because those houses are their only capital. Yet they find it difficult to endure the aircraft noise in the worst affected areas.
Therefore, I hope that, in building up these levies, on airlines and air traffic, the Minister will be considering the creation of sums for compensating residents in these areas, both for double glazing and for buying out houses which should no longer be used for residential purposes.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)
I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) has said, but I wish to concentrate on Part I of the Bill, dealing with the Aviation Security Fund. I shall not go into the reasons of principle, although I have some doubts about the fund itself, because that has been done by others, 128 notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). Rather than engage in detailed discussion about the reasons for the principle adopted, I wish to consider various points of detail which are important.
The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) said that attacks on aircraft are not made by people trying to attack the pasengers themselves, or the owners of the aircraft, or the airports from which those passengers have to leave. They are made probably on the policy of the State, or of some other State. The people making these attacks are not trying to bring pressure on, for example, Southend Borough Council, but rather on the Government.
The principle whether there should be this transfer of payments is doubtful in the first place, but I am particularly worried that it will hurt the small municipal airports. New duties are to be imposed on the local authorities responsible. Will they have the resources to carry out those duties? It will be unreasonable if the ratepayers locally are expected to pay a proportion of this burden.
§ Mr. Channon
I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. There are genuine fears, which perhaps he will be able to allay, that in certain circumstances such a situation might be the result for the ratepayers.
The Secretary of State said that it was proposed to operate the scheme from 1st April. I have no wish to delay the passage of the Bill, but it is anyone's guess whether it will have received the Royal Assent by then. It would be most objectionable if airport authorities were asked to operate this scheme retrospectively from 1st April if the Bill had not received Royal Assent by then. If they were asked to do so, I am not sure what statutory power they would have to get the money from those supposed to pay. There is genuine concern about this matter among the local authorities affected. I hope that the Secretary of State will allow some small delay if Royal Assent is not achieved by 1st April. I do not understand the force of the argument that the operational date must be 1st April in order to catch the build-up of summer traffic. Surely the summer 129 traffic starts to build up some time after that.
The Secretary of State rather brushed aside the question of bad debts. But those who run the airports are worried that there could be bad debts if an airline or a tour operator were to go bankrupt. In such circumstances, whose responsibility would it be to get this money? Would it still rest on the local authorities? The hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) referred to the Court Line. That collapse must have cost Luton Corporation several hundred thousand pounds. In such a situation, if a local authority were unable to recoup the levy due to the security fund, on whom would the burden fall but the ratepayers of that authority?
Could there not also be some exemption for at least the first 25,000 passengers or so a year in order that the local authorities running this scheme could get some revenue to pay administration costs? The case of Manchester Airport has been mentioned. I cannot remember how many passengers use it, but it must be a million or more a year. Manchester will incur an enormous cost. There should be some way whereby the local authority will not be out of pocket.
Again, what is the basis of the sum of 80p? We are told that Luton did it for 28p. I thought that the figure at Luton was 42p and that Luton Corporation was reimbursed for two-thirds of the amount. But I may be wrong. In any case, the cost at Luton was very much less than 80p.
§ Mr. Clemitson
My understanding is that the cost at Luton of the security we are talking about in this Bill is 28p. The other 14p is the cost, which will continue to be paid by the local authority, purely for security in the airport itself and its perimeter. If the Bill goes through, we are talking about a cost of 80p plus 14p, making 94p. The 14p would continue to be paid for the internal airport security.
§ Mr. Channon
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That clears up the point. However, I still think that it leaves open the major question why it is necessary to have so large a passenger level if the security at Luton and other airports is as good as it can be—although, of course, it is impossible to be totally secure.
130 Furthermore, how will the numbers of arriving passengers be determined—by airline manifests? For some journeys there are no airline manifests. I do not know how the number of arriving passengers will be determined. I agree very much with what was said about the unfairness of the proposal. It is to apply not only to people arriving from abroad but also to those who have travelled only a very short distance in this country. They are to be required to pay the same fee as passengers who may have come from as far as Tokyo or Adelaide.
If the idea is based on equity—which surely it must be—and on the principle that those who are causing the problem should pay for the cost of security, surely the cost for someone who flies a very short distance indeed within this country—or from, say, Ostend to Southend—is infinitely less than for someone who flies from Rio de Janeiro to London. Yet they are both to be asked to pay the same amount, and the disincentive on the short haul is very much greater than on some enormous distance where the fare is very much greater.
What we shall have will not be the passenger paying for his security but some sort of cross-subsidisation. One lot of passengers in other words will be paying for the security of another lot, and I do not see that that will be any more equitable than the present arrangement.
Then there is the argument why it should be applied to arriving passengers. The crowning irony would be that someone might well have to pay when returning to this country, having been hijacked after leaving some aerodrome abroad. That would be a ludicrous and farcical situation. It is surely somewhat anomalous that one should have to pay the security tax on arrival, after the security risk has passed. The people who get the benefit of the security measures are those leaving airports in this country.
There are very great worries among those local authorities which have their own small airports. The Under-Secretary will have heard enough from Members on both sides from various parts of the country to know that there are very genuine worries in this respect. I am very reluctant indeed to accept this principle of the Bill, but if it has to be accepted I hope that the Government 131 will try to find ways to make it much more palatable in detail.
I have drawn attention to the sorts of arguments which have been put to me, and I shall be grateful if the Minister will consider them. I feel that if the Bill is to receive the Royal Assent it could be made a great deal more palatable than it is at the present time.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, for addressing the House while incorrectly dressed, and with a hand sticking out from my chest. I had a quarrel with a mountain a week ago and the mountain won. I hope tonight, however, to win one or two arguments in debating the Bill now before the House.
I welcome the fact that the Bill pays some attention to the scourge of aircraft noise which does such terrible damage to the quality of life and communities near to airports. We have heard about this from many hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is no constituency which suffers greater damage to the environment than that which I have the honour to represent, because Twickenham is very close to Heathrow, which now has about 600 flights every day. It must be acknowledged that some people do not much mind aircraft noise, but to many other people it is a major nuisance. To some it causes acute distress, and to some it causes even mental illness. It ruins people's quiet enjoyment of their houses and gardens. It interrupts the work of schools, hospitals, churches and offices, and it amounts to a major evil in the communities which are affected by it.
I am very glad that the Bill seeks for the first time to introduce some financial incentives to airlines to bring in quieter aircraft. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey (Mr. Pattie) and others that the Bill is rather too vague. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) said that he thought it would not very very effective. It is a step in the right direction. It is all right as far as it goes, but in my view it does not go far enough.
In particular, I was very disappointed when the Secretary of State said that the measure would be brought in gradually. 132 When the word "gradually" is used in the context of the implementation of legislation, it is likely to mean many years rather than a matter of months. The Secretary of State has had the courage to bring in the Bill against pressure from aviation interests, and I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies he will be able to reassure Members who, like myself, are concerned about the time factor.
I am particularly concerned in this respect with Clause 9(1), which says thatan aerodrome authority may, for the purpose of encouraging the use of quieter aircraft and diminishing inconvenience from aircraft noise, fix its charges by reference … to—(a) the amount of noise caused by the aircraft",and so on. I feel that the weakness there is in the use of the word "may". I cannot envisage the various aerodrome authorities and the British Airports Authority getting on with the fixing of the charges and the other matters set out in Clause 9. I do not think that this wording will make them do it. Indeed, I do not see why they should do it.
Bodies such as the British Airports Authority are very much part of the aviation world. They are friendly with people in airlines and with the Civil Aviation Authority, and with other people who have related interests. The business of the Authority is to provide for the requirements of air travellers. It does that part of its work very well, on the whole, but it has comparatively little motivation to do anything at all about aircraft noise, and would easily find some excuse to defer action in that respect.
Clause 9(1) is unlikely to have any effect, and it is Clause 9(2) that matters. This gives the Minister power to make the authorities do what is required. I cannot see any point at all in having subsection (1). I think that the Minister will have to use his power if anything is to be done to implement this legislation.
Then there is the question how the revenue should be used. The Secretary of State said that he was not certain that any extra revenue would be raised through the differential noise landing charge, but I very much hope that some extra revenue will be raised and applied to the reduction of the nuisance to people living under the flight paths. I do not 133 see any reason why that should not be done. There should be a noise tax. It is a traditional British practice, embodied in our laws over the centuries, to regard money as a means of compensating and making good the infliction of civil damage of one kind or another. I regard aircraft noise as a form of civil damage, even though it cannot be sued for in the civil courts under the Civil Aviation Act 1949. Money is not a complete answer but it is better than nothing.
The proceeds from a noise tax could be applied to reducing the rates of households in the areas badly affected by aircraft noise, or it could be used for the provision of double glazing for sound insulation. I favour the first of these alternatives, partly because we are hoping for the extension of the existing double glazing scheme when the White Paper on airport policy is published. In any case, I do not believe that double glazing is the complete answer to aircraft noise, because it is not possible to double-glaze a garden, and people do not want their windows to be shut on summer evenings. People tend to be more disturbed by aircraft noise in the summer than in the winter.
I therefore favour the use of a noise tax to reduce the rates, and the arithmetic of this need not be very frightening. According to the annual report of the British Airports Authority, Heathrow handled 24 million passengers last year. The figure is rising by about 10 per cent, each year, so that in 10 years' time we can expect that about 50 million passengers a year will be going through Heathrow, although the number of flights would not increase in proportion because larger aircraft are being introduced.
Let us suppose that there are 50,000 houses around Heathrow badly affected by aircraft noise. If every one of those 50 million passengers were to be charged 50p, which would not be very onerous, it would in 10 years' time produce about £25 million a year. If that were divided amongst 50,000 householders, each would receive a £50 reduction in rates, which would seem to me to be very fair. It would not be onerous. The market could stand it easily and, as I implied in an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, East, (Mr. Lamond) it would be equitable that people who travel by air and cause the nuisance of noise should pay some form of compen 134 sation to people living under flight paths who had to suffer from the noise that is created. Over the years, as aircraft became quieter in greater proportion, so the revenue from the noise tax could diminish, as could the rate subsidy.
If we try the other way—that of double glazing and sound proofing—the costs are easier still. Let us again suppose that we have 50,000 households which are affected. Let us suppose that the cost of double glazing is £600. Let us suppose, further, a grant to householders of £500 and a take-up rate of about 50 per cent. I do not think that it would be much higher than that. The cost would be 25,000 times £500, which is £12.5 million. That could be put on capital account and, with the repayment of capital and the costs of interest, that £12.5 million would cost about £1.5 million a year spread over 10 years. By the time that we reached 40 million or 50 million passengers a year, £1.5 million a year would be only three pence per head for each journey, which air travellers would hardly notice.
I hope that we shall hear from the Minister that he intends to do something like that. Failing that, I hope that we shall be able to amend the Bill in Committee in order to compel the introduction of provisions of this kind.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)
As a travel consultant and someone who has been involved in the travel industry since 1960, I must at the outset declare my interest.
The miscellaneous character of the Bill makes it difficult to deliver anything but a disjointed speech. However, I am especially interested in four aspects of the Bill, which I shall deal with in the sequence in which they occur in this measure.
The first aspect is aviation security. Like other hon. Members, I find the principle embodied in the first four clauses of the Bill to be highly questionable. As the debate proceeds, the principle becomes less and less easy to defend, not that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) did not do his best. According to him, the reason why all are expected to contribute to education is that children are an obvious advantage to the community. Even about that I have 135 some reservations. Was not it W. S. Gilbert who wrote that, for every baby born, one was either a little Liberal or a little Conservative? Although times have changed, I still feel that some children are more advantage to the community than others.
Trying to bolster up what I thought was a very weak argument, the hon. Member for Cornwall, North went on to contend that people who travelled by air brought no benefit to mankind. He mentioned his own concern at airports the world over. Are we to conclude that his journeys were not necessary and that his long-distance travels were solely for his own delectation, or would not he warm to the argument that some people who travel by air bring some benefits to humanity? Certainly that is my view, and I do not think that air passengers should be singled out as an anti-social class of person. That is far from the case.
It is true that hijacking is currently the most cogent form of terrorism. Actively to promote political ends by violent means is very closely akin to guerrilla warfare. Today's terrorist is very sophisticated. It is no longer necessary for two lines of red-coated dragoons on opposing hilltops to have someone shout "Charge!" for violence to ensue. Today's terrorist knows no bounds to his ingenuity in trying to inflict his views on others. He is much more sophisticated than the deviser of the application form for an American visa who included amongst the questions to intending visitors to the United States,Do you intend to overthrow the Government by force?Certainly he has that in his mind very often. Therefore, it is reasonable to put forward the principle that the cost of defending the country against such a threat should fall solely on those who by chance happen to be the most vulnerable to terrorist attack?
Like the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), I believe that it is in the nature of air travel that we have to contend with terrorism. But it does not necessarily follow that that is exclusively the source from which we may expect terrorism to come. Would it be reasonable to ask those who were born and who reside in the bomb-scarred areas of Belfast to pay for their own defence when 136 the threat is to the integrity of the United Kingdom? Should we penalise the operators of lost luggage offices for the risk that there may be explosives deposited with them—or even those who receive correspondence and who may be likely to receive letter bombs? All are forms of terrorism, and they are symptoms of attacks on our society which it would be more reasonable to meet out of the defence budget. It is not too exaggerated a claim to suggest that it might be looked at in that light. However, realising the difficulties that the Government might have in increasing defence expenditure, I imagine that, even, if the thought occurred to them, it was dismissed immediately for reasons to be found in their own political back yard.
So I find the principle not altogether acceptable. I think that it is born of expediency. It is convenient. As more than one hon. Member has said already, air passengers can be identified as a possible source of risk. However, I think that they are not too clearly identified. Where I part company with a number of other hon. Members is in thinking that the risk is divisible in this way.
An air traveller is just as much at risk on a package flight to Palma as he is on a round-the-world tour by Pan American. Terrorists having no compunction in these matters. As they are not moved by human considerations, it is my fear that it will not be long now before we have captured by terrorists a flight full of women and children, complete with sand buckets, and that they will be the victims of the very nasty wave of terrorism that we are experiencing at present. I do not think that we can quantify the costs, and I do not think that the risk can be related to them. But certainly that risk is one and indivisible.
If we have this question of principle, we are entitled to say that it may be rough justice, but that it is necessary for someone to pay the cost. However, when we have an irrational explanation, we have only to look a little deeper to find the reason for it. It is that this proposal came forward at a time when the Government were under an obligation to reduce severely their own profligate expenditure. It is of the same origin and of the same lineage as the proposal to impose a 10 per cent. increase on the captive consumers of gas, which was no 137 more than a tax imposed at the behest of the IMF in order to reduce expenditure. It is not defensible in any other terms than those.
But, having accepted that there is an element of rough justice, ought not we to examine certain details of how that justice is to work out? Is it within our international obligations? The Secretary of State asserted that we were not in breach of any obligations that we might have to the ICAO or the European Civil Aviation Conference. Can he do more than assert that? Can he give any grounds for his belief?
Can the Minister also say whether it is a growing practice for countries to impose the cost of aviation security on air passengers? We had cited to us an impressive list including Japan, Canada and the United States. In reply to a Question last February, the Minister also included South Africa. Is that politically taboo now, or have the South Africans abandoned the practice? Is there a growing number of such countries which are imposing these charges? We have a real commercial interest. British Airways is one of the better airlines, and it stands to gain from the free development of aviation. We would not wish to put any obstacle in the way of that.
Secondly, there is the question of the charge of 80p which has been mentioned. Will it be directly charged to the passenger? I have seen reports of £1 being charged. How will this be applied and will it be standard in every case?
Also, what guarantee does the consumer have, having paid his charge for aviation security, that he will be secure? Some of us have seen the somewhat shabby principle of the air travel reserve fund, requiring that passengers should make good the loss of previous passengers whose travel companies collapsed, and ensuring future passengers. At least in that case there was a guarantee that passengers were insured against the risk. But, in this case, to what extent does the air passenger have the guarantee against risk—the failure to observe the security that is inherent in the charge that is made upon him? These questions are relevant.
I am interested in borrowing powers, particularly those of British Airways. As recently as 1976, its borrowing limit 138 was £560 million. Last year it was increased to £700 million, and now it is being increased again to £850 million. That is a very substantial increase. Although the Secretary of State indicated that the new limit would be applied by order, perhaps not immediately but in a few years' time, it would be very interesting to know what British Airways has in mind in the way of expansion that will require the substantial increase in its borrowing powers.
Presumably this money will be put towards the purchase of new equipment, and that may well increase the capacity of the airline. If there is one thing that has bedevilled the world's airlines recently it has been the fact that most have massively excess capacity. I hope that the increase in borrowing powers will not give further impetus to that trend because it has been disastrous. It has led to much higher fares being paid by passengers.
To give an illustration of the problem and its gravity, in 1960 capacity exceeded demand by half, in terms of passengers actually carried. By 1965 capacity was double demand and has remained so until 1976. In the meantime, capacity since 1965 has increased ninefold. It is easy to imagine the number of empty seats available on all the world's airlines. This is sheer waste. Supposing that there are such things are unidentified flying objects—I know that the Bill does not deal with them—it is worth considering what the Martians would think as they entered the earth's outer atmosphere and saw all these metallic capsules orbiting the earth only half full. It has been estimated that there are each day the equivalent of 23 jumbo jets flying empty across the North Atlantic.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I hope that my hon. Friend understands that British Airways is currently short on capacity to such an extent that it has had to charter from other operators. Now it is faced with the necessity, if it has to combat the problem of noise, of phasing out all its short-haul Tridents and BAC111s over the next few years. This means that it will need 100 aeroplanes in 10 years which, in turn, means a considerable amount of borrowing.
§ Mr. Neubert
I did not speak of not taking on new equipment. I spoke of 139 increasing capacity to such an extent that it was excessive. The profitability of an airline depends on good load factors. British Airways, often through no fault of its own, but through bad decisions forced upon it by Governments, has often over-committed itself and has had more space than it would wish. To guard against that, I raise this issue of the borrowing powers because they are directed towards equipment.
Faced with this excess capacity, which is of staggering proportions among the world's airlines, a large number of seats are off-loaded on to the market. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North thought that this would thwart the monopoly of the IATA airlines where this monopoly exists. Far from it. This practice undermines the profitability of those operators who have kept their ambitions within reasonable limits and operate high load factors. This is the problem of backstreet bucket-shops. Another problem is the offering of holidays at prices that conceal subsidy. Business men are becoming increasingly resentful of the fact that many package holidaymakers are being offered seats on the same flights at much lower rates.
Take, for example, Sovereign and Enterprise, the two package operations of British Airways. They made a profit last year of £400,000 on a turnover in excess of £34 million. In other words, they showed just over 1 per cent. of profit on turnover. At least this was better than less than a quarter of 1 per cent., which was the result the previous year.
Figures made available to me indicate that Enterprise is not so great as British Airways claims. It claims that it is the second largest operator of package holidays. My figures show that it is a poor third behind Thomson and Cosmos and that it is only just ahead of Laker and Horizon-Midland. Too many empty seats are bad for business, and we must guard against that.
On the question of air navigation charges, it is possible for me to welcome the principle of the CAA recovering the full cost from the user of the service. Unfortunately, in this case this has not proved possible because of the agency of Euro-control. Last April, in discussions in Committee upstairs, the Under- 140 Secretary assured me that the Government were doing their utmost to persuade Europe to come round to our point of view. Can he report more progress? The forecast loss on services by the CAA this year was £26 million. Perhaps he could say what the actual figure is. It seems that the CAA should be fully supported in its efforts to recover the full costs on all the services, and this should be translated into a bill to the passenger.
I wish to deal with the subject of aircraft noise and the restriction of movements. I give general support to the proposition that Government policy should be used in this way to implement the desirable objective of quieter aircraft. There must be such an inducement to manufacturers if there is to be any chance of quieter aircraft coming into operation. If we are to regard excessive noise as expended energy, that must be inefficient and something in conservation terms should be done to improve the new jet aircraft.
I also favour reasonable restriction of flights, particularly at night, and this relates to the capacity problem. Often the frequency of the service is extended beyond what the traffic can bear, and there may be unnecessary flights. Therefore, certain restrictions will provide a healthy discipline for airlines operating into this country. However, I hope that the Minister will not go so far as to support any of the members of the anti-aircraft lobby, who go so far as to suggest that it is anti-social to travel by air. I regard air travel as only one form of transport and something that is not reprehensible in itself. I would ask those who advocate taxes on noise whether they also wish to ask those who thunder along the M4 to compensate people past whose houses they travel. That would not be possible, but all these are adverse side effects of modern life and should not be seen in isolation as applied to air travel. Passengers who travel by air should not be subject to such a vicious distinction.
Therefore, although I have offered these criticisms, I welcome the major provisions in the Bill and hope that civil aviation will continue to be allowed to develop and flourish.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)
I begin by declaring an interest 141 as parliamentary consultant to the Guild of Business Travel Agents. The members of the guild have as their principal customers business men who travel across the world, often in pursuit of export orders. If those business men who come into the airports of this country on many occasions in the year are to face the prospect of paying 80p on each occasion when they arrive here, I hope that I shall be allowed to concentrate my brief remarks on the part of the Bill relating to airport security.
Many people are concerned about the major principle embodied in this legislation. I was more inclined to agree with the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) than I was to support the otherwise excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench.
I take the view that an airline's first responsibility is the security of its passengers. The provisions of this Bill seem to take that responsibility out of the hands of individual airlines and to give it to the British airport authorities or to local authority airports. Airlines are concerned with the loss of control over their own security and believe that these provisions are a retrograde step. It has been suggested in the past that many airlines, particularly those operating from London Heathrow, have sub-contracted their security arrangements to companies such as Securicor and that the changes envisaged in the Bill are not major changes. I question whether that is a fair point to make. The issue the House must consider is that of control by the airlines over the security provided for their passengers. It is impossible to escape the feeling that that responsibility is being taken away. There is a fear in the airlines that this is only one among several attempts to remove from those airlines responsibility for other areas of their management control.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
The hon. Gentleman is aware that in many parts of the world an airline does not assume direct responsibility of that kind and search duties are undertaken by the police, the military or airport authorities. Therefore, that is not an unusual situation.
§ Mr. McCrindle
I am not suggesting that it is unusual. The Secretary of State 142 underlined areas in which the provisions of the Bill have been operating, presumably for some time. I shall mention later one or two areas, which the Secretary of State passed over, where that has not been the case.
Even if we accepted that the removal of the control of these functions from the airlines was valid, there is still a fear that, having conceded that much, there will be further areas, at present within the control of the airlines, that will he removed from their control.
Airlines have always accepted that the whole passenger handling process should be within their orbit of responsibility and they have been concerned about the direction in which the Bill will take them. Airlines are judged by their ground handling of passengers as well as by the comfort and safety that they provide in the air. The Bill moves away from the airline's contention that from the time a passenger enters the terminal building, all responsibility for him rests with the individual airline—with the exception, of course, of such matters as customs and immigration. The airlines do not believe that passing that function to the BAA is a happy omen for the possible removal of other aspects of management control.
Let me turn to practical reasons for questioning the basis of the Bill. One is immediately inclined to ask for how long the security charge will remain at 80p per passenger. However, there is a more cogent point. Apart from the fact that local authority airports have provided security for substantially less than 80p per passenger, airlines themselves have provided security—so far with reasonable success—for substantially less than the proposed charge. I am told that the average cost of providing security by airlines using Heathrow will be increased by 300 per cent. if the 80p charge applies and that one leading airline has provided its security at Heathrow for an amount that will have to be increased by more than 500 per cent. to reach the level of 80p per passenger.
The employment of private security firms such as Securicor by airlines has allowed a degree of flexibility in the provision of security. In busy times of the year, more people can be employed on airport security and the number falls at the less busy times. This has contributed to the relatively low cost of security while 143 it has been provided by the airlines. It is clear that the staff employed by the BAA to provide security for passengers will effectively be full time and one is bound to question whether that is the reason that the charge has to be as high as 80p.
Without putting too fine a point on it, the relationship between the airlines and the British Airports Authority has not always been good in the recent past. The comparative failure of the Authority to get on with the alteration and improvement of the terminals has not always meant that the airlines and the Authority have been on the best terms. It seems that the airlines are questioning whether the Authority will undertake the task being placed upon it through this measure as efficiently and cost-effectively as has been done until now.
I raise two other factors, one of which was touched upon by the Minister during his intervention. It is true that countries such as Japan, Canada and the United States have for some long time approached airport security in the way outlined in the Bill. However, it was not mentioned that no other EEC member country deals with its security in such a way. All the airlines in the EEC countries are given responsibility for carrying out security, as has been done in this country until now. As a member of the EEC I think that the Minister will concede that, to say the least, there have been some raised eyebrows at the provisions embodied in the Bill on airport security.
I stress an argument which has been made already but which I do not believe can be stressed often enough as it covers the principle underlying the Bill. It is a principle that I started by questioning, and I end by questioning it again. Terrorism is aimed at Governments and not at airlines or individuals. Surely there is a case for saying that Governments should accept responsibility for providing passenger security out of taxation. The departure from that principle in the Bill is a retrograde step.
It is clear that the Bill was the candidate put forward by the Department of Trade at the time when the International Monetary Fund required Her Majesty's Government, to curb their profligate expenditure. Although I feel that it is a Bill unworthy of opposing, I doubt 144 whether no better candidate could have been found in order to save some money.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I agree with all hon. Members that security is extremely important, but, like others, I am becoming more and more disturbed about that which is becoming a grey area of principle.
I shall talk quickly about Scotland and touch on the argument brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) on the 80p charge on short-haul flights. It is all very well to talk about an 80p charge on a £100 or £500 ticket, but it is a substantial portion of the fare if one is paying, for example, £5 to Campbeltown or £10 to Barra, Oban or Skye. I hope that the Minister will try to justify charging 80p irrespective of where the flight is to or from.
There must be further argument about whether the charge should be placed on the arriving passengers or the departing passengers. We must examine carefully the designated airports issue. If the 80p charge were to be charged only on flights between one designated airport and another, or between a designated airport and an overseas airport, I should see some sense in the proposal, but it is a nonsense to be charging 80p for all short-haul flights when we bear in mind that Loganair, with its Islanders, is operating between Glasgow and the Island of Barra or between Sumburgh and Orkney and Shetland airstrips. That type of operation has to be contrasted with the major overseas jumbo jet flights around the world. Is it not possible to say that flights from a designated airport to an ordinary airstrip that is non-designated might be exempted, and similarly a flight leaving a non-designated airstrip and arriving at a designated airport?
This is important because it will have an impact on the cost of travel in Scotland where air travel is becoming more and more essential. In the same way, if the thought of flexibility does not appeal to the Minister, has he given careful thought to a minimum seat capacity, so that aircraft with fewer than 20 seats might be exempt from the charge if they are using undesignated airports.
Under the financial borrowing powers the CAA is in a significant position. For 145 30 years the Authority and its predecessors have done a good job in Scotland, and those who fly—and I do—very much appreciate the navigational aids and the arrangements for licensing that have always been first class. Indeed, I think that in the main the operations have been carried out economically. But if that is so, why is there so much talk of transferring the Highlands and Islands airports and others in Scotland to the BAA and away from the CAA? I hope that the Minister can say why that is so, or why it might happen as a matter of policy in the future.
I hope, too, that the Minister will look carefully at the charges for general aviation in the United Kingdom, and particularly for Scotland. I am glad that pressure from AOPA has recently brought the BAA charges down significantly, particularly in relation to training flights and of light aircraft operation. We must continue to watch this closely.
The Government should give much more encouragement to executive flying and light aviation, and I hope that they will not persecute light aviation under the clauses covering aircraft noise. If the Minister has in mind any aircraft in relation to light aviation that are considered to be particularly noisy, it would be a good idea if he were to say so tonight.
Over many years, there have been fuel subsidies for ships, trains and buses but there has always been a high duty on aviation fuel. This does nothing to help communications in areas such as Scotland where light aviation is now making such an impact, particularly through the third force airlines, of which Loganair has been a great example.
In The Scotsman of 11th January, only last week, there was this significant comment, that some of the Shetland air strips would have to close on account of the CAA fire regulation. This must be looked at again with flexibility because Scotland, and particularly the Islands, must have these third force airlines. The arrangements and facilities at airports must be of a reasonable calibre, but not of the high standard that seems to be required by the CAA. I hope that the Minister will consider that with a view to Scotland's development in the future.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
I want to raise a matter that has been raised by almost every speaker in the debate and that is the charges that will be made for security. I think the House will agree that sub-regional or local authority airports have been living in a world of uncertainty for far too long. In that sense, I think that there will be a welcome for the steps taken by the Government to end uncertainty. I am not sure, however, that some of the provisions of the Bill will be as acceptable as the idea that someone is at last moving on the question of the present and future position of sub-regional or local authority airports.
I do not totally disagree with the argument of the hon. Member for Cornwall. North (Mr. Pardoe), that if the cause of a cost is identified, a charge to cover that cost should be applied at that point. Many hon. Members could give examples of where the application of such a principle would be correct, but I do not believe that it would be correct if applied to air travel.
Hon. Members will know that many of the passengers who disembark at Liverpool Airport have a close connection with Northern Ireland. For that reason, the security at the airport at Liverpool has been intensified over recent years. The tremendous financial burdens borne by the ratepayers prior to the metropolitan county taking over the airport was one of the reasons for the lack of forward development at the airport.
We are justified in arguing that there should be a clear statement about what the future of these airports will be. It would be the height of the ridiculous to argue that aircraft passengers who have to go through security for the special reason that the flights are from Northern Ireland should bear an extra financial burden. The fact is that people may enter Great Britain at Liverpool and then travel down to London to commit acts of terrorism. It is therefore in the national interest that a high degree of security is enforced at Liverpool Airport. That is why it is obvious that the imposition of any financial burden on this ground in the future would further endanger airports such as Speke.
147 Liverpool is worried about the recovery of debts which have been incurred. There is no provision for the airport to recover any of the costs incurred in collecting the charges or claiming compensation for the payment of those charges which, due to had debts, are not recovered by airport operators. Liverpool airport committee is concerned about the matter, as are other local authority airports committees.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
The House is a frustrating place. There must be a good deal of masochism about all of us who come to serve here. There is nothing more frustrating about a Member's duties than trying to battle with aircraft noise on behalf of his constituent. The Minister knows this, as he knows that we are butting our heads against a brick wall. More and more people want to fly and, even with larger and larger aircraft, still more will want to fly.
I am delighted that the Bill contains some provisions concerning noise. My constituents, particularly those in Red-bourn and Harpenden, suffer mainly from flights from Luton Airport. I believe that in the main the charter companies will get quieter aircraft engines after the main airline companies. Thus we shall suffer from noisy engines longer than many other areas will.
I hope that now that the Bill has been introduced the Minister will ensure that the monitoring of aircraft noise is taken seriously. I have sent him reams of figures from unfortunate constituents who have suffered in this regard. Unfortunately, their monitoring does not agree with the monitoring of those who run the airport. I hope, therefore, that he will be able to assure the House that there will be tough monitoring now that the fines are being raised.
I notice that Clause 8 provides that the fine for contravention of byelaws shall now be £500 instead of £100. Is £500 a heavy enough penalty on a large airline which is raking in hundreds of thousands of pounds daily? I hope that when the Bill reaches Committee hon. Members will look again at whether £500 is a sufficiently large fine.
I agree with those who have said that the benefit of whatever charges are made 148 where quieter aircraft are not used should be passed on to those who suffer to enable them to sound-proof their homes. I suggest also that the word "may" in line 28—an aerodrome authority may, for the purpose of encouraging the use of quieter aircraft"—should be "shall". I put that thought into the Minister's mind in the hope that he will feel able to change the word in Committee.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
In my constituency I have Leeds-Bradford Airport, and the Under-Secretary of State will know that this is one of the airports operated by a local authority. My first point—no doubt, it has been made by others—is to express disappointment that the committee which runs local airports has had no success in its negotiations so far. Those concerned have, I understand, taken strong exception to Clauses 1 to 4, but their representations to the Ministry have been without success. I hope that they will be encouraged still to try, although the Bill is now before us for Second Reading.
I address myself primarily to Clauses 8 and 9. It is incumbent upon a small local airport, as Leeds-Bradford is, to develop sensibly in order to make it a sensible investment giving an adequate return. The Minister will know that proposals for extending the runway at Leeds-Bradford Airport have been submitted by the joint airport management committee to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Much of the airport lies within a densely populated area, and therefore the proposals in Clauses 8 and 9 are of particular importance.
Under the byelaw powers now to be granted, is it possible for airports to start to influence planning regulations so that where, for example, extension of a runway is offered that extension may be conditional upon certain noise factors or other elements written into the planning consent? As the law now stands, an existing runway subject to planning consents at the time of original construction will be deemed to carry those consents throughout its life, and mere extension of the runway will not allow reconsideration of the consents initially applied.
149 If the Goverment are really intent upon reducing noise levels, it is incumbent upon them, in my view, to look at the question of planning consents as well as byelaws for the control of noise within an airport and immediately above it.
Plainly, any Bill which involves retrospective payments will not be readily supported by any hon. Member, but we understand the particular problem which security presents to airport controllers today. No doubt, as is the case with British Transport police or other services of that kind, the cost has generally been debited to the users of the service. However, I think it particularly harsh that airport controllers should be asked to recover the cost retrospectively and that the time within which they will be allowed to enforce it is so short.
I understand that representations have been made to the Minister that a longer period should be allowed to run for the new charges if the Bill becomes law. I hope that he recognises that many of those who operate small airports on behalf of local authorities will require some consideration in the way the Bill is implemented if it receives the approval of the House. Those who run airports, certainly the Leeds-Bradford Airport, will express anxiety that we are discussing the Bill while still awaiting the Department's report on the Civil Aviation Authority's recommendations about the pattern of regional airports. That above all must be disclosed quickly so that longterm planning can be carried out and sensible arrangements made.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I speak as Member for a constituency that is probably more affected than anywhere else by Heathrow. The Minister must agree that I probably have the largest number of constituents under the flight path.
I welcome the Bill, because it means that there is now some sanction against the noisier aircraft. Clause 9 and Schedule 1 reinforce the Minister's power to mitigate noise disturbance and ban aircraft movements. He has my support for the way in which he has restricted night flights. The Bill gives him more powers to do that, and sets them out clearly.
150 It is not clear what the noise levy will be used for, but, if it does nothing else, the Bill will give a clear indication to operators of very noisy aircraft that not only will they have financial sanctions imposed on them but the Minister has power even to ban them or restrict their movements, particularly at night.
I turn to the security charges. It seems to me grossly unfair that long-haul passengers should pay exactly the same as those on short domestic flights. Might not it be better to exempt the ordinary domestic flights and try to arrive at a more equitable charge for the long-distance and short-distance flights? I appreciate that there may be difficult administrative factors, but I believe that the Bill should be amended in Committee to exclude domestic flights.
I hope that the Bill will reduce the severe burden that very noisy aircraft impose on people. I welcome it because it makes the Minister's powers clearer and much stronger.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
It is customary to say that we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. It is certainly true that we have had a wide-ranging debate today.
The debate started somewhat unexpectedly—I was certainly not opposed to this—with the Secretary of State's wide-ranging survey of civil aviation. May I say in passing that we understand the engagements that have taken the right hon. Gentleman away at this stage of the debate? I thought for a moment that the Secretary of State would claim that Sky-train was the Government's creation and that they put Freddie Laker up to it to give the nationalised industries a bit of a runaround. The right hon. Gentleman did not go quite that far, but we are glad that the Government now wish Skytrain well. We are sorry that it took them a little time to get round to that point of view.
I was interested in what the Secretary of State said about the negotiations with Malaysia for the furtherance of the Concorde route to Singapore. We certainly wish the Government well in those negotiations, although we wonder at times whether there was an element of clumsiness in their earlier negotiations with 151 Malaysia over the traffic rights of the Malaysia airline into London. It would seem, to me at any rate, that when we were coming to the agreement under which the Malaysians must pay about £800,000 a year to the British Government for the right to bring their DC10 aircraft into London, which I think hurt them a little, that might have been the right time to conclude the arrangement with the Malaysian authorities to make sure that they would not object to Concorde.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
1 cannot accept that charge. It was impossible in the circumstances to arrive at different timing. I wish that it had been possible, but no doubt we shall be able to explore this. I thought that I ought to have the refutation on record.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I am sure that the Minister would not accept it. He has never accepted any criticism or blame in the past, and I do not see why he should start doing so now.
As the Secretary of State made a wide-ranging speech, I would briefly ask the Minister, now that he is a Laker Skytrain fan, whether the Laker application for the Los Angeles Skytrain route is to be allowed to go forward to the CAA. Have the Government any particular view about the correctness of launching Skytrain on that route? Does the Minister accept that the British Caledonian licence is still valid, and that therefore B/Cal has the prime right to come in as the second British carrier?
There were other speeches which covered a lot of ground. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) thought that this was the debate on the airports White Paper, which has not yet been published. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) rightly detected Scottish passports lurking somewhere in the schedule to this Bill. He was probably right in the points that he made. To have the same matters being discussed in two Bills at the same time in the House is an extraordinary way of running business. Even if there were any merit in the Scotland Bill, it would still be extraordinary to have the Bills running in parallel.
My hon. Friends the Members for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) and 152 Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who are never absent when they can raise the problems of their constituents at Heathrow, were interesting on the subject of aircraft noise.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) was as assiduous as always—I know that he will be back in a moment—in looking after the interests of his constituents at Redbourn and Harpenden. What a pity that we did not hear anything from the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) about these problems. He is a big noise on aircraft noise except that he can never be bothered to come to the House when we are debating the matter, which is regrettable.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is a problem on the Scotland Bill. If the noise regulations dictated by the Edinburgh Assembly are different from those dictated by the British Government, there will be problems for the operators about the use of types of aircraft.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I completely accept what the hon. Gentleman says. This is part of the reason why the Scotland Bill is nonsense. We have got on much better today than we might have done because there has not been a Scottish nationalist present to express a view on behalf of his constituents, about aircraft noise or anything else.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair). Again, as always, he was on the side of his constituents who are affected by noise. But he was wise to follow the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) in pointing out that the industry must know well in advance what the Minister will propose under the noise deterrent parts of the Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) and Southend, West (Mr. Channon), both characteristically to the point, made their speeches on behalf of their municipal airports, as did the hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson). They were protecting their excellent examples of municipal enterprise. It is no disrespect to any of them if I say that their speeches, and that of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), were almost interchangeable. None of them was very keen on what the Minister was doing about these charges.
153 In an interesting speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) put his finger on the origins of the Bill, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle). This Bill is a hangover from the visit of the IMF. The Department of Trade was asked to make some savings or, alternatively, to raise some new charges to reduce the PSBR. Unable to come up with any economies in the operating of the Department, this was how it chose to find £19 million.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) made a courageous speech in which he expressed his fear of the growth of a security industry. That was a courageous speech from an Ulsterman, understanding the situation in Ulster. We appreciate the reservations of any Ulsterman about a special charge for security being made upon those who have the misfortune to be the victims of the attention of terrorists. Many people share those views.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) made some interesting points, as did others, on the possibility of the retrospection which might come into this Bill. I hope that the Minister has taken them on board. I do not see us unduly prolonging the Committee stage, but knowing the ability of the Government Chief Whip and the Leader of the House to snarl up any legislative programme, I believe that the Minister will have to watch it if he is to get Royal Assent to the Bill before 1st April.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton also commented on Section 36 of the Civil Aviation Act dealing with secrecy. He is right to say that secrecy is no friend of safety in aviation matters, not indeed of free competition. It may be that my hon. Friend will want to bring forward some amendments, which I think he could do under this Bill, to improve the right of the public to information.
It was interesting to hear the day-dreamy account of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) of the operation of the Lib-Lab pact and his vigorous defence of bucket shop operators. The bucket shop operators' friend will no doubt dash down to North Cornwall and tell them all about it. I do not 154 think that I would agree that bucket shops are the best friends of the air traveller. It would be much better to have a proper fare structure than to have bucket shops.
§ Mr. Pardoe
Is the hon. Gentleman saying on behalf of the Conservative Party that a Conservative Government would intervene, as the Government wish to do in this Bill, to limit the sale of airline tickets by those who are approved by the proper authority in this country rather than leaving it to the law of supply and demand and free market forces?
§ Mr. Tebbit
If the hon. Member seriously thinks that the airline industry is an example of free competition and market forces, when most of the airlines in the world are subsidised creatures of their Governments, he is living in a particularly day-dreamy world. What I am telling him is that my hon. Friends and I believe that it is right to get a proper fare structure and that institutions such as Laker Skytrain are an important part of that, as are the major IATA airlines, whatever other defects they may have.
In the nicest possible terms, the Bill is a bit of a dog's dinner. It is all bits and pieces, with meaty morsels to delight the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and grisly bits that nobody found it easy to swallow. I particularly liked paragraph 7 of the Schedule. Here we are legislating on the Airports Authority Act 1970, saying that the byelaws shall be amended as follows:
So it goes on—the very stuff of constitutional government. A loss of £550 million by British Steel is nothing to do with Parliament. What a cheeky lot, says the Secretary of State for Industry at lunchtime. But twopence-halfpenny here and there—that is the stuff that we have to debate here. What an extraordinary contrast!
- "(a) paragraph 2(a) (intention to apply for confirmation to be published in London Gazette or Edinburgh Gazette), shall be omitted;
- (b) in paragraph 4, for the words "2½p" (being the maximum price per one hundred words of a copy supplied before confirmation), there shall be substituted the words "5p"; and"
I come to the meat of the dog's dinner. This Bill is the latest application of the 155 principle that the user should pay. It passes into some new areas by moving into the realms of the security of the citizen. The principle was more easily understood when it related to museum charges. None the less, here we are, and the air traveller is regarded by the Government as a soft touch. He has to be rich, the Government think, to pay prices of the sort charged in this country, as opposed to the United States, for internal and European flghts—30-odd to go to Belfast by an uncomfortable shuttle, for a start. I would like to hear a much clearer case than has been put by the Secretary of State for charging air travellers a special fee for protection against the Queen's enemies. After all, the Under-Secretary's constituents in Hackney are more likely to be mugged than are nine in Chingford. I mean mugged in the modern sense of robbery with violence. They have been mugged already at election time. I hope that the Under-Secretary does not want differential police charges, too.
The Opposition accept the "user pays" concept. We accept this as part of reducing public expenditure. Of course, we know that it does not really reduce public expenditure in quite the way we would like, because this money is still being spent. But it reduces the PSBR, so long as the £19 million is not spent on anything else.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The hon. Gentleman says "Subsidising private enterprise." He has a terrible hang-up about this. I only wish that he would get around to the idea that the burden of taxation that is paid by private industry on the wealth that it creates is what keeps the Government in funds in any case.
§ Mr. Tebbit
No. The hon. Member has not been here, except to make silly remarks from a sedentary position.
The question is how the Bill will affect the Government's sense of social justice. Of course, the word "social" qualifying ally noun is dubious only when it is not outrageous. Social justice is usually injustice. Social science is usually any 156 thing but science. It is usually prejudice and blind assertion.
One of the difficulties in the operation of the Bill will be the search for a fair system of charging. Fares will rise on short-haul routes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) mentioned, where the fare charged is small in relation to the per capita charge of 80p or £1. Indeed, Loganair is seeking an increase of about 5 per cent. and other operators are seeking an increase of £1 on all such fares.
That will not worry the typical wealthy long-haul traveller, on business abroad, going to Cuba, for instance, or somewhere like that. Hon. Members will know the sort of person I mean. He is a rich fellow, earning about £7,500 a year basic, with three or four part-time board appointments and directorships which bring in another £3,000 or £4,000. He is a sort of wealthy, powerful establishment-type chap, who is recognised as a Companion of Honour, and things of that sort. I do not have anyone in particular in mind, though for convenience we could use a common enough name, such as Jones. Jack may be well up the ladder, but poor Mrs. Smith on her package tour at a much smaller fare, or the sort of people mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, will have to pay just as much, though they are not nearly either as rich or as much at risk.
It will be very difficult to find a fair system. In Committee we shall try to help the Minister.
It seems curious that this should be a charge on arriving passengers rather than on departing passengers. Once again, it may be better to travel hopefully than to arrive if one has to pay an extra quid when one gets there. It seems curious that one's safe arrival is due to some other airport agency's security procedures, perhaps abroad, and one arrives here and promptly pays £1.
I think that I appreciate the problem better than do some hon. Members. Virtually all charges on air traffic are levied on arrival, and it is more convenient, I fancy, to levy them in that way.
On whom will the costs of collection fall? The Joint Airport Committee on Local Authority Airports, under its chairman, Councillor Baum, has raised very serious doubts about this matter, as have 157 many hon. Members today. There is a loophole in Clause 2(2)(a) which I hope the Minister will tell us he intends to take. That appears at the top of page 3. Honourable Members will see that it is up to the Secretary of State when he makes the regulations not to ask for the charge on the first hundred or thousand, or whatever, of passengers arriving. I think that that would probably be the right way to reimburse airports for the cost of collection. Perhaps the Minister will say whether that is in his mind.
I come to some specific questions. Will air taxi passengers be charged? Most of the companies concerned are small. The number of passengers is small. The number of times they come into these airports is small. It would seem to be administratively burdensome for a very small return.
What about aircraft which land—again, typically, an air taxi—on the way from an airfield such as Stapleford Tawney or Biggin Hill, at Southend, for instance, for customs clearance? Will that incur a charge on its landings for the passengers on board? These questions on the subject of air taxis generally underline some of the difficulties of being fair. Who has hijacked an air taxi? Are air taxis really at risk? Should their passengers be made to pay?
At which airports will the charge be levied? We have been talking about "the 28 airports" as though everyone knew which they were, but Clause 2 leaves it to the Secretary of State. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will make clear what is the Government's intention. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries raised several points on this matter which require answer.
On Clause 5, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South questioned whether British Airways always has to borrow under its borrowing requirement authority in the Bill when it wants more money. Why should it not have more equity capital? Would it not be of benefit if British Airways were to go to the market and raise risk capital? Would there be any harm in that? What great principle would be breached? Would it not be in conformity with ideas of both limiting public expenditure and securing a more mixed economy? I think that the injection of private capital would be healthy for 158 British Airways, and, certainly, if some of it were subscribed by employees, it would be an excellent thing.
As I understand it, Clause 6, which looks as though it is a further restriction on the freedom of action of the Civil Aviation Authority, is only a tidying up of the Civil Aviation Act 1971 and brings the CAA into line with other similar public boards. I would like the hon. Gentleman to confirm that interpretation, and also to tell us exactly what Clause 7 does. I think I understand what it does. I think I understand that it makes it easier for the CAA to make a package charge to airports such as Manchester for the provision of air navigation services, together with other charges, and that at the moment it is precluded from making such a package charge. Presumably, this again is only a tidying-up provision.
Clauses 8 and 9 and part of Schedule 1 relate to aircraft noise. A lot has been said about that. The hon. Member for West Lothian has rightly questioned whether the control of noise will be a function of the Scottish Assembly. I can think of a noise of two that it might have controlled already, but that is too much to hope for that Assembly. Is the Assembly really going to be allowed to have different noise regulations based on different standards from those in England? Is that the Government's policy? It is not exactly in this Bill, but the Bill gives the Minister powers which, I understand, he will hand over to the Scottish Assembly. It is essential that we should know one way or the other what is going to be done.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Someone speaking on behalf of the commercial interests described the situation as a shambles.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I do not think that in a week's search I could find a beter word than "shambles". What is the Government's policy towards the question of noise charges anywhere in England, Wales and Ulster? Are these noise charges going to be effective? Can they possibly be large enough to change people's minds about the type of aircraft they operate? Why do the Government not move towards fleet and aerodrome noise limits, or is that the sort of thing they are moving towards in the powers taken under the schedule in relation to 159 aircraft noise? Will the Minister tell us what extra powers he thinks need to be taken under Clause 10, to give general directions to the CAA in the interests of national security, which he does not now have?
I understand that Clause 11—which refers in that intriguing phrase to the mental element of the offence of contravening a term of an air transport licence—is again a case of bunging up a loophole which has been exploited in relation to the contravention of licences, and has nothing to do with the mental state of those concerned but rather whether they were fully aware of breaches or just chose not to notice those breaches in their conduct of operations under the licences which they hold.
Will the Minister also confirm my understanding that Clause 12, relating to British Airways Board pensions, is a very minor one and only provides certain changes in the pensions of members of the staff who subsequently join the board? Under that heading, I offer my congratulations to Ross Stainton on his appointment as chief executive of British Airway, and wish him well.
What is the purpose of paragraph 1 of Schedule 1? What are these powers over the water that the Secretary of State seeks to take? It is presumably neither to walk upon them nor to divide them, but it seems that suddenly he requires powers, in the interests of national security, over the water which at the moment he has only over the land.
I am sorry to raise so many detailed questions, but all these matters relate to separate and different specific provisions of the Bill. I hope that the Under-Secretary, as he has brought forward this great rag-bag, has had time to find out what is in it, and that none of this is coming as a surprise to him, because he has been looking mildly distressed from time to time about being asked these questions on his own Bill.
I do not think that the Minister will find the House dividing against him on the Bill. For all its defects, as we see them, we would not oppose it. We think that the overriding consideration of controlling public expenditure is right, despite the doubts that many of us have 160 about the principle involved in Clauses 1 to 4.
We have considerable concern about exactly how the Minister is to implement his regulations. I notice that many of them are subject to the positive procedure in the House, and for that we are extremely grateful. We usually have to have a little fight about this. We are glad that we do not have to fight on this occasion, but we want to know, before we give our assent to the Bill, what sort of regulations the Minister has in mind. Particularly we want to know how the airports are to be covered for the cost of raising the levy for this fund, and how they are to be compensated for potential bad debts.
These are points which have affected every municipal airport, and I know that the British Airports Authority is also considerably exercised about them. Subject to these caveats, we wish the Bill reasonably well.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)
When the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) wishes a proposal well, I begin to doubt it, but I noted that he could not resist the temptation, to a lesser extent than is usual, of behaving like the stage villain that he really is not. He alluded to my constituency, but, unlike his own constituents, the constituents of Hackney, Central have never been conned.
As to his remarks about Mr. Laker, the courts, of course, played their part, as one knows. The Government accepted the position and did everything possible thereafter to assist Mr. Laker, and we are glad that his venture is succeeding.
It is a very difficult task to sum up a debate of this character, because it has ranged over a great many different topics. I do not know whether I shall have quite so difficult a task as a former Member of this House who in 1731 presented a Billfor searching drugs and compositions for medicines, for the better encouraging of the making of sail cloth in Great Britain, for the better securing of the lawful trade of His Majesty's subjects to and from the East Indies, for obliging the possessors of lands adjacent to the highways to cut and keep low such hedges as are adjoining to the highways, and for the appointing of scavengers and the repairing of streets.161 The hon. Member for Chingford alluded to a number of specific matters which, with respect, are more appropriate to a Committee stage, although I cannot say that he caught me by surprise. I have to read the Bill as well. Some of the reading is difficult, and I have no doubt that this will become apparent when I respond to the matters raised in Committee by hon. Members. I shall have to do my best.
As for the specific question about air taxi passengers, as with so many other matters, the regulations have not yet been drafted to deal with the security charges. I hope to follow the same sort of pattern as that which exists for landing charges in other areas. The levy will probably be chargeable on passengers in air taxis but not, I think, on landings for Customs clearance. But, in any event, we shall be able to go into those matters in Committee.
In the half hour available to me, I shall try to deal with the various questions raised by hon. Members. The first matter of substance, about retrospection, was raised by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson). It is not novel in this House to have retrospective legislation, especially in financial matters. It is done every year. The provision to pass on this levy to passengers, if the airport authorities wish to do that—and it is a matter for them—made it necessary, because we had this in mind, too, that the announcement should be made well in advance. This was the specific request of the industry in the consultations that we undertook with its representatives. They wanted an early indication of the probable rate and they wanted it to be given in April of the preceding year. We undertook to meet that request. Again, it is not a new situation. It is not a surprising one to the industry. We made this decision. We announced it a year before. Provision has already been made by the industry to take this into account.
I do not seek to prejudice the right of the House to reject this provision if it wishes. Nevertheless, in the light of what was likely to occur, the industry has made its plans accordingly and, if the levy is not introduced, a certain degree of administrative chaos will erupt, with the result that airports, airlines and tour operators who will have already made this provision before 1st April will make an 162 uncovenanted profit of about £1 million a month. So clearly a difficulty will arise in that regard.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I appreciate that the House can authorise the Government to make a charge to the airport authorities retrospectively, but can we authorise the airport authorities to make a charge retrospectively to their customers—the airlines? I hope that the Minister, as a lawyer, can clarify this matter for me.
§ Mr. Davis
Presumably we shall explore this matter in greater depth in Committee. It is an interesting point. In my view, it is permissible, otherwise I would not have sanctioned it. The Committee may wish to disagree and, of course, it will have an opportunity to do so.
We now come to the whole principle of how one can gather security costs. I totally agree with the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South that hijacking and crimes of terrorism at airports are forms of gangsterism against which we must operate as firmly as we can. It is a matter for regret that not every nation has ratified the relevant international conventions. Whenever I go abroad and meet colleagues in those Government that have not ratified the conventions I make this point very strenuously.
We must have effective security at the point of departure and ensure that there is a denial of refuge to those who carry out these ghastly crimes. We must ensure that there is apprehension and proper punishment of such offences. The certainty of punishment would have a deterrent effect but sometimes that certainty is not present. This is a matter of common ground among all hon. Members.
The contentious area is who should pay for this. I would never pretend that these things would not have arisen had we not been obliged to make financial savings. But, having come to that point, the question is posed whether this was an illogical step to take. Obviously, it was not, in our opinion, and it is consistent with practice in other areas. Although the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South does not agree with the principle, he at least agrees on the point of consistency. The docks are susceptible to some form of terrorism as is the Underground system. Indeed, there has already been terrorism on the Underground. Both 163 these bodies are responsible financially for the protection of people within their areas. Also, it is consistent with the law of property in private hands, for example, at football stadiums. It is not a novel proposition, either domestically or internationally. In various other countries a similar situation has applied for some time. Therefore, I cannot accept that our proposal is a breach of international law, as has been argued by certain people inside and outside the House.
When considering the way in which we deal with this matter and the question of arriving passengers, it does seem to be a bit daft. But as the hon. Member for Chingford pointed out, it has always been the practice, in levying charges in this field, to impose them on arrivals rather than departures. I do not want to be inflexible, and this is an issue that can be examined in Committee.
The Bill makes provision for other ways of levying the charges. While I do not wish to assert that this must be the last word, on the basis of precedents, it is not an unreasonable way of proceeding. We did some calculations in April 1977. It seemed then that the likely outturn for this year would be about £15 million and the estimate for 1978–79 is as high as £19 million. Therefore, we divided £19 million by 24 million passengers, which gave us a figure of about 80p. That was how the figure was calculated.
I was asked why we did not go for the alternative which was put forward by the local authorities involving non-reimbursement. My right hon. Friend and I had to consider carefully whether the transport and security costs in the industry could be achieved through this method—which, I accept, is less cumbersome.
There are two main arguments in favour of a levy system. One is an equity argument, and the other relates to security. It is our aim to find a single standard of security against terrorism throughout the country. The security measures which we have recommended are commensurate with the threat and local conditions and are much more expensive at some airports than at others. The traffic at each airport does not necessarily bear any relation to the expense of 164 the measures. It is reasonable that there should be a flat rate of levy per passenger throughout the country regardless of the arbitrary variations in costs per head at different airports.
Under a non-reimbursement method the costs at some airports would be higher than at others. The security argument is more important than that. Our formal advice on security measures is backed by the promise to undertake the cost to pay the bills. Our advice is normally accepted without difficulty. We have seldom had to resort to a formal direction under the present method.
Under the non-reimbursement scheme it is true that airports would have an incentive to economise, but there would also be an incentive to a possible lowering of standards. I feel that there is a risk that standards could gradually be eroded over a period of years, although natural inertia would prevent that becoming apparent in the first year. Claims for reimbursement which have been carefully examined in the Department provide clues to inadequate security and thus provide a method of inspection to supplement routine visits by our advisers. Where we are not satisfied with the situation, we can—and sometimes do—withhold payment.
Under the non-reimbursement scheme our sole method of enforcement would be by visiting inspectors. We should have to recruit several more security officers, which would more than offset any savings in junior staff not needed to reimburse costs or collect levy. We shall have to issue more directions. This may sometime have the effect of stopping flights at short notice and we should probably have to undertake some prosecutions.
I should mention one other matter. The committee connected with the local authorities and various other people have not examined this problem, but we have a body known as the National Aviation Security Committee which is concerned not only with the technique of security, but with the financial aspects. Therefore, there is a way, apart from the Department itself, through that committee which represents the airlines, the Authority and the trades unions, to invigilate the situation. That is a useful safeguard.
§ Mr. Neubert
The Minister's argument would also apply to safety matters. Does 165 he not regard safety and security as matters which are close in concept?
§ Mr. Davis
Different criteria affect both subjects. I do not want to become too involved in that argument, but I regard the situation as different. It is for that reason that we have set up the National Aviation Security Committee. I have addressed that committee from time to time, and I have also taken careful heed of what it said.
§ Mr. Clemitson
Did I understand my hon. Friend to say that the difference in security costs between different airports is due solely to arbitrary reasons? Could it not be that the difference in security costs at different airports is due to other than arbitrary reasons—that is to say, reasons to do with efficiency?
§ Mr. Davis
I heard my hon. Friend make that point earlier. There may be some marginal advantage, but it is not the whole story. I believe that my general conclusion, which my hon. Friend will no doubt want to test at a later stage, is right.
I wish to deal with specific points raised by hon. Members. A number of speakers referred to the flat rate 80p charge as discriminating against short-haul flights. To some extent this is true, but the industry's view during the consultations with us was that a flat rate was preferable to variable rates. If the industry feels subsequently that this is a problem which offends it, it will be able to charge a smaller levy on short-haul flights and compensate with a larger levy on international flights. I know that this will be difficult for some authorities because they do not have the necessary spread of traffic. The Department is ready to consider the matter in the light of experience. Flexibility is the keynote and we shall look again at this matter.
As to administrative costs and bad debts, the levy is a mechanism for financing the fund—no more and no less. We have selected this mechanism. It may not be the best. We expect airport authorities to pass on the charge to airlines through their landing charges. They do not have to do it at the rate that we have announced and are at liberty to choose another pattern if they wish.
Apart from a significant case at Luton Airport with which I had to deal—it was 166 almost a nightmare—there is not a serious incidence of bad debts in civil aviation. Plainly we should have to give careful consideration to dealing with a situation such as the Court Line collapse. I do not wish to give undertakings now, but that is something that we would look at.
The suggestion by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South that shares in British Airways should be sold to the public was virtually the only sinister remark that he made. The Government would be wholly opposed to that policy. It is not our objective to seek to denationalise British Airways by stealth. That is the beginning of what the Conservative Party wishes to see.
We have had a fairly non-contentious debate in political terms, but I thought that I should enter that repudiation on behalf of the Government.
§ Mr. Davis
I do not want to give way to the hon. Gentleman on this particular matter. He made his point and I have repudiated it. Let us leave it there for the time being. We can pursue it later.
On the question of Eurocontrol and the prospects for raising the recovery rate, I have taken every opportunity, as did my predecessor, to try to ensure a 100 per cent. recovery rate. We have not succeeded, but the agreed recovery rate is to go up to 75 per cent. from 1st April 1978 and the permanent commission will decide in June what the rate will be from 1st April 1979.
I was asked about consultation between the CAA and customers. Consultation goes on all the time not only between the CAA and its customers, but with the airline users' committee, with which the Authority is closely involved.
§ Mr. Davis
The hon. Gentleman has not been here for most of the debate. I must move on.
167 My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) made a forceful and eloquent speech, in which he asked why there was a levy of 28p at Luton and a higher levy elsewhere. I have touched on that issue in general terms. I promise that I shall return to it later, but not in this speech.
The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) took issue with me about the phasing out of private security firms. I make no apology for that. There should not be such a diffusion of responsibility. A number of private security firms are acting for airlines at Heathrow. I do not believe that that is the right way to ensure the best possible security cover. For a long time before I became a Minister I campaigned for that change. I believe that I was right in persuading the BAA to follow Manchester's example. I look forward to the conclusion of the negotiations—they are difficult and complex—that will make the change a reality. I make no apology for having undertaken that policy.
The Section 36 argument is complicated and abstruse. If I went into it now, it would take up too much time. In any event, I think that it is the wrong section. However, I do not wish to take up that issue now.
Before turning to the issue of noise, I shall take up some of the points made by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe). The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the air traffic control assistants' dispute was settled within the 10 per cent. Government guidelines and within the 12-month rule. There is no question about that. There is a forward commitment for 1st April, which I need not rehearse again because the House is well aware of it. I stress again that the settlement came within the Government pay code. Although the strike was damaging, we insisted that any settlement should come within the code.
The Sumburgh issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). The Special terminal will require approval under Section 6 of the 1971 Act. The application has not yet been submitted to the Department for approval, so I cannot comment on that proposition at this stage.
168 The Highlands and Islands aerodromes were extensively debated in the House shortly before Christmas, and I refer hon. Members to that debate.
As for the design of modern, expensive and luxurious airport facilities—I wish there were more in some instances—I take note of criticisms that have been made. It is an issue that comes within the role of the airport consultative committee, and I hope that it will take it up with the BAA. That is the right approach for the committee to take.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) will undoubtedly have a field day when the White Paper on airport strategy is published. That will be done within a matter of days. We hope that it will be published before the end of the month.
§ Mr. Davis
No, I cannot give way again.
The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) raised matters that are relative to a debate on the White Paper. I hope that we shall have a debate on the national airport strategy as soon as possible after the White Paper has been published.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) asked about the relaxation of some of the security methods that are found by Ulster to be burdensome. I have met the hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions to discuss the matter and I have encouraged him to meet the authorities that are involved. I have put his points to the National Aviation Security Council, and I must take its advice seriously. I am advised that there can be no basic change in security measures along the lines that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. I ask him to put himself in the position of a Minister. In that circumstance, and having been advised by experts, would he be able to take a different course?
I come to the question of noise. We have taken these powers. It is right that these are enabling powers, and they must be permissive because a whole variety of considerations has to be taken into account. Not all airports are affected by the same situations. They must be enabled to take their decision at the right 169 time, but nobody can ignore the aviation interests. There has to be preparation for the byelaws to take proper effect. We could gravely damage our own aviation industry, but I wonder what good that would do for our economy in overall terms.
I wonder, too, whether, putting constituency interests aside, that is what lion. Members on both sides of the House who are rightly and genuinely concerned about pollution would want. I believe that we should always pay the closest scrutiny to complaints made by people who are bearing what is sometimes an intolerable burden. I am grateful for the tribute that has been paid to me for the way in which I have tried to deal with what is sometimes an intractable problem.
The hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) knows that I have never shielded from him the fact that there will be increased use of Gatwick. This is bound to be the case, otherwise there will be coagulation at Heathrow. We have to make the best use of the London airports that we have, but the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity, as I shall, of deploying this argument later in the debate on the White Paper.
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman over his criticism of the CAA Directorate of operational research and analysis and the Medical Research Council which are carrying out the important inquiries to which he referred. I do not believe that they will lack scientific objectivity. There is no reason in the world to believe that they will take other than an independent line in this aspect of research. It is necessary to investigate these matters fully for three years, because there is a need for major medical inputs to the study which can be far wider ranging than the particular issues of aircraft noise. It might affect other matters, too. It is not a matter for me to dissuade those who feel that they need this sort of time to carry out effective research. I do not think that we should ask them to truncate that research and get a less worthwhile job done.
I have tried also to ensure that there will be a gradual use by airports of quieter aircraft, particularly at night, but it is not an easy judgment to make, and I have been advised by some environ 170 mental interests—and there are many—that they are not in favour of closing Heathrow and Gatwick at night.
The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) asked how a consumer gets redress, and I refer again to the security charge. The question is appropriate to the taxpayer now. It is not so much a question of redress. There is invigilation of what is necessary, of what has to be done, of what is desirable. That is done largely through the National Aviation Security Council.
If I have not covered all the points that have been raised by hon. Members—I never expected that I should—no doubt many of them will have the privilege and pleasure of serving on the Standing Committee, to which we all look forward immensely. But if not, no doubt they will seize the opportunity of writing to me. I think that this has been a valuable debate, and I hope that the Bill will be given reasonable support by the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).