HC Deb 09 April 1986 vol 95 cc296-9
Mr. Steen

I beg to move, amendment No. 21, in page 19, line 36, leave out from 'security' to end of line 38.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to consider the following: Government amendment No. 22.

Amendment No. 23, in page 20, line 2, leave out 'copy' and insert 'draft'.

Amendment No. 24, in page 20, line 2, after 'direction', insert 'proposed to be'.

Amendment No. 25, in page 20, line 30, at end add— '(8) A direction under this section shall not be given unless a draft of the direction has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

1 am

Mr. Steen

At this time of night I am sure that most hon. Members would like me to make a short but pithy speech on the remaining amendments in my name and in the names of my hon. Friends. However, it would be less than appropriate at this time of night to skirt over important amendments that could affect the history of the aviation industry.

Amendment No. 21 would leave out the proposed power of the Secretary of State to give particular, as distinct from general, directions to an airport operator requiring him to do or not to do a specific thing or to discharge, or facilitate the discharge of, an international obligation of the United Kingdom. The amendment would leave untouched the proposed power for the Secretary of State to give general or particular directions to airport operators in the interests of national security under subsection (1) and (2).

The amendment seeks to limit the Secretary of State's enormous powers under clause 27. If one examines the whole of the Bill, it is evident that there is little that the Secretary of State cannot do in connection with airports or the aviation industry. He has enormous powers and the amendment seeks to ensure that, in connection with matters of national security, the Secretary of State has general and particular powers but where national security is not at issue, he should not have such enormously wide, unfettered powers.

If the Bill had been introduced by the Opposition, one would expect them to be seeking more centralised power for the Secretary of State. It is, therefore, not appropriate for Conservative Members to introduce a Bill that gives such enormous powers to a Secretary of State of this or a future Government. The amendment suggests that the Secretary of State's powers should be clipped and he should not have powers of a particular nature but of a general nature.

The provision that the amendment would remove probably serves no purpose, as the Secretary of State can achieve the same result under existing legislation. He has power under section 6 (2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to give the Civil Aviation Authority a direction to insert in an aerodrome licence a condition that the holder will not perform specified actions in the interests of discharging the international obligations of the United Kingdom. Section 6 (2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 states: The Secretary of State may, after consultation with the CAA, give it directions to do a particular thing which it has power to do or refrain from doing a particular thing, if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to give such directions. It is difficult to know what the Government have in mind. They may be contemplating the abolition of aerodrome licences and perhaps that is what the Secretary of State is intending. Does he intend to do that and restrict matters of safety? [Interruption]. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wonder whether you heard a noise in the Chamber? Perhaps it was simply my faulty hearing.

As I was saying before I was disturbed, I am not sure what the Government intend to do. The Minister must tell us why he is introducing a clause that gives the Secretary of State not only particular powers but general powers in relation to national security and all other matters. The purpose of the amendment is to tease out of the Government information on why they insist on such wide powers. If the Government's true purpose could be extracted from the Under-Secretary of State, the amendment could be treated as a probing amendment.

The related amendments to clause 27 require the Secretary of State to lay a draft of his proposed direction, whether it be general or specific, before each House of Parliament and to obtain approval for the draft by a resolution of each House. The requirement of an affirmative resolution would ensure that the direction could be debated in Parliament. The enthusiasm with which that suggestion has been greeted by my hon. Friends shows that they would wish for an affirmative resolution procedure to ensure that the House debated the matter properly.

I shall not detain the House any further on this complicated, technical point, which I see that my hon. Friends have grasped. There seems to be no point in the Secretary of State having those powers, except in cases of national security. However, national security is already enshrined in the 1982 Act. Why does the Secretary of State want those wide powers? What does he have in mind? I rest my case there.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. James Couchman.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)


Mr. Couchman

I shall take note of the strictures of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) to be brief. I shall be much briefer than my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen).

The Secretary of State is taking considerable powers under clause 22, and Government amendment No. 22 takes him further down that road. The effect of amendment No. 22 is to put beyond doubt the fact that a direction to give effect to an international agreement would override the provision on economic regulation contained in part IV. That makes it even more imperative that the Secretary of State should take a discretionary power, written into statute, to pay compensation if such a direction meant that an airport would sustain a substantial loss.

Under part IV, a comprehensive regulatory structure will be created to control airline charges at the major airports. In making their investment decisions, investors will be substantially influenced by the terms of the permit, especially the terms relating to price. Once they have made their decision, they are at risk that the Government will enter into a new international agreement or obligation or reinterpret an existing obligation in a way that would lead to losses. That causes considerable concern to those who might invest in airports. Such a direction could undermine a regulatory regime and lead to significant losses for investors.

I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to that matter and ask him whether he believes that there should be a discretionary power—no more than that—to pay compensation if such a direction led to such losses.

Mr. Michael Spicer

I am advised that amendment No. 21 would seriously impair the Government's ability to meet their international obligations. A direction to the CAA under section 6 of the 1982 Act might allow the Secretary of State to include a condition in a licence in connection with an international obligation, but I am advised that we could not force the airport operator to comply. We feel that the subsection dealing with international obligations that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) would wish to delete is important. We have little doubt that failure to meet a treaty obligation could result in reciprocal action being taken against United Kingdom interests in the international forum. I am sure that that is not what my hon. Friend intends. I hope, therefore, that he will not press the amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) asked whether there would be any compensation arrangements following a direction. We discussed this matter in Committee. We would not envisage any compensation arrangements being made. The owners of international airports benefit considerably from the internationalism of their airports. That is one of the factors that will have to be taken into account, certainly in the prospectus, when BAA airports are sold.

Amendment No. 22 is purely technical. I believe that it answers the second of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham. Clause 27(2)(b) overrides the terms of part IV, which puts in place a system of economic regulation of airports which have a turnover of more than £1 million a year. It provides for the CAA to administer that system. It has always been our intention that paragraph (b) should override part IV. The amendment, which is purely technical, is designed to make that clear.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams mentioned amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25. He would wish to introduce the affirmative resolution procedure in cases where the Secretary of State considers it necessary to use the powers of direction. We consider that that would be inappropriate, and, in certain limited circumstances involving national security, positively dangerous. If in the long summer recess an emergency arose—such circumstances would be limited—and it became necessary to issue directions for reasons of national security, it might be necessary to act very quickly. Therefore, we feel that it would be inappropriate to require the affirmative resolution procedure to be employed.

Mr. Steen

I think that my hon. Friend may have been briefed wrongly on this issue. It would be possible to act under the Civil Aviation Act 1982 if national security were involved. I am concerned about circumstances in which issues other than national security are involved. Particular and general directions should be brought to the House so that they can be debated. I wish to restrict the power of the Secretary of State to do whatever he likes without submitting the matter to the House, other than when national security is involved.

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend makes his point, but I am advised that the effect of the amendment would be as I have described. On that basis, I hope that he will not pursue his amendment and that the House will accept Government amendment No. 22.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: No. 22, in page 19, line 43, at end insert '; and it is hereby declared that nothing in Part IV of this Act is to be construed as prejudicing the generality of subsection (2)(b).[Mr. Michael Spicer.]

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