HC Deb 30 April 1986 vol 96 cc950-2 4.21 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make Air Navigation Orders subject to negative resolution procedure. Section 60 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 gives the Secretary of State for Transport the power, by statutory instrument, to regulate air navigation through air navigation orders. On 30 October 1985, Air Navigation Order No. 1643 was made. It was laid before Parliament on 7 November 1985, and came into operation on 1 December 1985. That statutory instrument contains 139 pages, 10 parts, 98 sections and 13 schedules. It is a complex and formidable instrument.

At the time it was laid before Parliament it was subject to the negative resolution, and it would have been possible for hon. Members to pray against it. In theory at least, there was a form of parliamentary scrutiny and control. I say "in theory" because the instrument is so long and complex and contains sections which, when examined carefully, disclose that it gives huge powers to the Secretary of State for Transport, powers over which Parliament no longer has any say or control. For example, article 64(1) in part VIII, which concerns the control of air traffic, states: Without prejudice to any other provision of this Order, the Secretary of State may make regulations (referred to in this Order as the Rules of the Air and Air Traffic Control) prescribing— (a) the manner in which aircraft may move or fly including in particular provision for requiring aircraft to give way to military aircraft. Subparagraph (e) states: any other provisions for securing the safety of aircraft in flight and in movement and the safety of persons and property on the surface. Article 69(1) states: Where the Secretary of State deems it necessary in the public interest to restrict or prohibit flying by reason of—… (iii) national defence or any other reason affecting the public interest". That is a sweeping and all-embracing power. Article 69(1) (b) states:

Regulations made under this article may apply either generally or in relation to any class of aircraft. That is another catch-all power vested in the Secretary of State. I submit that those are wide-ranging and sweeping powers. Not surprisingly, air space users have, in different ways, registered their concern.

My right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers at the Department of Transport are aware of the concern. I have attended meetings with Ministers at which representatives of the independent airlines have voiced their concern about Air Navigation Order 1985, No. 1643. I have also attended meetings at which Ministers have been made aware of defects concerning the legal aspects of a number of the articles and schedules on Air Navigation Order No. 1643.

When Parliament gave the Civil Aviation Authority the power to advise Ministers and Ministers the right to introduce rules of the air with no further reference to Parliament, it did so because it believed that those matters should be handled by experts. The first group of experts was the staff of National Air Traffic Services. National Air Traffic Services is a joint body which is responsible to the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Transport. It comprises civil servants experienced in air traffic control and serving Royal Air Force officers also experienced in air traffic control. The present controller of NATS is a civil servant. The previous controller was a serving Royal Air Force air marshal. The present deputy controller is a serving Royal Air Force air vice-marshal. The previous deputy controller was a civil servant.

The experts from National Air Traffic Services were required to consult the experts representing all the interested bodies who use the air space. Recommendations which emerged from the consultations regarding the introduction of regulations affecting air space were to be made to the Secretary of State for Transport. The experts were required to consult a body called NATMAC. The chairman of this body is a serving Royal Air Force air commodore.

If the consultations between the experts had worked effectively and the users of the air space had been confident that discussions were not just ritual or, as some have said, a sham, the fact that Parliament has no say in the introduction of new air space regulations would not have mattered. Sadly, I have to report that new regulated air space has been introduced. Evidence claiming to support the need has, upon examination, in more than one instance, been found to be flawed.

I cite the example of Blue 22, the airway between Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. It took me many years to have the airway moved. It was moved to the position where I suggested it should and could have been when it was first proposed. I thank my hon. Frind the Under-Secretary of State for Transport—the Member for Worcester, North (Mr. Spicer)—and my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State in the other place for making the change possible. We remain deeply indebted to them.

Recently, we have seen the introduction of special air space rules at Royal Air Force Brize Norton and the 200 square mile rule 36a mandatory radiocall air space at the United States Air Force base at Upper Heyford. I know that hon. Members are aware of other reasons for it being reported. I shall make my position quite clear. I fully support the decision on the use of that base, and nothing that I have to say is in condemnation of that act. I would support it a second time.

I understand that hon. Members have been advised that microlight balloonists, hang gliders, parachutists and other recreational flying organisations support the measures that have been taken and are happy with the arrangements concerning Brize Norton and Upper Heyford.

Hon. Members have been advised that local gliding clubs are happy with the arrangements on a trial period basis—an arrangement which was made by a working group which was asked to look into the problems that were claimed to exist. In my view, those claims have not been proven. I believe that the near-miss statistics are flawed.

I have been advised by the air space user bodies that, contrary to what hon. Members have been told, none of the bodies is happy. I shall be writing to my hon. Friend at the Department of Transport and will provide evidence that they are not happy. I shall provide him with all the details.

It was not acceptable for a senior RAF officer to advise the air space users' experts at the NATMAC meetings that they should not lobby hon. Members—however well-intentioned that advice was and however it was given. He was not qualified to do so. That was unwise and probably naive.

No one denies that we must have safe air space. No one denies that some controls are essential. I claim that the system of checks and balances which is required in a democracy has broken down. At present, the system is fundamentally flawed.

Regarding the trial at Upper Heyford, the evidence suggests that the air traffic controllers will be unable to handle the radio traffic. In my view, the trial will not produce any reliable evidence on which decisions can be taken. The airlines are unhappy. Commercial and recreational fliers are unhappy. Aviation legislation is in a confused state. The system used to create the legislation is not adequately scrutinised by Parliament. The body responsible for introducing the legislation is supervised by two Ministers—two bosses—which is a most unhappy situation. That is why urgent action is needed. The present policy has structural defects which will lead to management and operational problems. My Bill will make a small contribution towards rectifying the situation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bill Walker, Mr. Alan Haselhurst, Mr. Jack Aspinwall, Sir Hector Monro, Mr. Albert McQuarrie, Mr. David Lambie, Mr. Ernie Ross and Mr. Dennis Canavan.