HL Deb 14 December 1961 vol 236 cc436-50

3.55 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the necessary changes in the law so that we can ratify the Convention relating to co-operation for the safety of air navigation, known as Eurocontrol, and fulfil our obligations under it. Each year brings more and more rapid advances in the speed and efficiency of aircraft. Twenty-five years ago the average transport aeroplane would have a cruising speed of about 150 miles an hour; now the equivalent speed would be 550 miles an hour. Twenty-five years ago these aircraft would fly at a height of not more than 10,000 feet; now they fly at a height of anything from 30,000 to 40,000 feet. At the same time there has been a very great increase in the volume and density of air traffic. It goes without saying that if air travel is to remain safe and reliable, ground services must keep pace in improving their air traffic control systems, so as to be able to cope with the continual increases in speeds, operating altitudes and rates of ascent and descent of modern aeroplanes.

Her Majesty's Government have had these problems continually in mind. In 1957 the national airways and Air Traffic Control Development plan was announced. This plan, which is going ahead, includes new radar stations which will give complete cover of the United Kingdom airways system. Information from this will be linked into new air traffic control centres with joint control rooms which will bring civil and military air traffic control together. Plotted radar displays will take the place of position reports from pilots. As the system moves towards automation, computers and automatic display will be used more and more. This plan is aimed not only at increasing safety but also at making the fullest possible use of limited air space. Similarly, we have in this country the Air Traffic Control Board, an interdepartmental committee under an independent chairman, to formulate policy and co-ordinate the work of different departments. Also, in Royal Air Force Air Traffic Control Radar Units, joint teams, civil and military, keep watch on something like 90 per cent. of upper air space.

There is one essential limitation to all these plans which Her Majesty's Government have in hand for the future safety of air traffic: they can apply only to the internationally agreed limits of United Kingdom air traffic control regions. Aviation is the most international form of traffic; aircraft cannot stop at frontiers, and it is impractical, with modern speeds and conditions, to control them only within a small area. Collaboration with air traffic control administrations in neighbouring countries has done much to help. More widely, there is the existing International Civil Aviation Organisation machinery for establishing standards, et cetera. But looking ahead, the planners reach the point where, in the limited and busy airspace of Western Europe, the need to move from co-ordination to integration becomes evident. And it does so, in the first place, for the upper airspace.

A group of countries in Western Europe first embarked on common study of this problem. This led them to the desire to collaborate, in the interests of air safety, to formulate an international system of control in the upper airspace. Her Majesty's Government welcomed the opportunity they were given to join in these preparatory studies. It was decided that a joint organisation should be set up to deal primarily with the control of the upper airspace of its members, but with the possibility of extending, by general agreement, to other airspace also. This organisation, now called Eurocontrol, was to undertake the responsibility for providing an efficient system of air navigation for general air traffic—that is to say, civil aircraft and those military, customs and police aircraft which conform to the procedures of the International Civil Aviation Organisation—and to ensure that there is proper co-ordination with the activities of other military aircraft.

The Eurocontrol organisation is to consist of two parts: the Commission, which will be the policy forming body, and the Agency, which will be responsible for the actual administration. Both the Commission and the Committee of management of the Agency will be composed of representatives of the contracting parties to the Convention, and so the member Governments will have a constant voice in all questions of policy and management. The United Kingdom signed the Eurocontrol Convention in Brussels on December 13, 1960, in company with Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the Federal Republic of Germany.

As I have said, this Bill is designed to make the necessary changes in the law so that we can ratify the Convention and fulfil our obligations under it. It is also an appropriate vehicle in which to include provisions to enable the Minister to raise charges for navigation services provided by him. This was foreshadowed in the White Paper on Civil Aerodromes and Air Navigation Services.

Clause 1 of the Bill defines the Convention, and the organisation, which includes the Commission and the Agency. Clause 2 defines the status and privileges of Eurocontrol. Subsection (3) gives inviolability to the archives and premises of the organisation. Under the proviso of this subsection, constables, courts of inquiry, inspectors of accidents, et cetera, are not precluded from access in the circumstances mentioned. Clause 3 enables the Minister to make payments to the organisation, and to provide the organisation with land, premises, installations, equipment or services they may require, for which purpose his powers under the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, are extended in subsection (3).

Clause 4 deals with charges for air navigation services. Subsection (1) empowers the Minister to make regulations by statutory instrument requiring payment for navigational services provided by the Minister or the organisation. The services provided by the Minister are those I have already referred to. Subsection (2) provides that liability for charges may be imposed on the operator of the aircraft or on the aerodrome, or may be shared between the two. Subsection (3) provides that the Minister shall determine the amount of the charges and that the regulations may contain dispensation from such charges. Subsection (4) empowers the Minister to make regulations requiring operators or managers of aerodromes to keep and produce records. Subsection (5) provides that regulations are subject to a Negative Resolution by either House of Parliament.

Clause 5 provides for the admissibility of records as evidence in proceedings for recovery of charges or for failure to obey the directions of Air Traffic Control. Clause 6 deals with offences and maximum penalties under the Bill. Clause 7 (1) applies Part VI of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, to Clauses 4 to 6 of the Bill. The effect of this is, among other things, to give extra-territorial effect to regulations made under Clause 4 so far as United Kingdom registered aircraft are concerned, and to preclude application of Clauses 4 to 6 to Crown aircraft, except as provided by Order-in-Council. Subsection (2) provides for the detention of aircraft for the purpose of securing payment, or ensuring production of records. Subsection (3) confers jurisdiction over claims for charges under Clause 4 if the defendant lives outside the jurisdiction of the Court.

Under a Protocol to the Convention, a provisional Eurocontrol Commission has already been formed to undertake preliminary planning. Much good work has already been done. It is heartening to see the degree of co-operation which has already been achieved between this country and our friends in Europe in the field of aviation. It is no less gratifying to state that already other Western European countries are showing an interest in what we are doing. One can certainly visualise future additions to the Eurocontrol family. The establishment of Eurocontrol will be an historic event in the annals of aviation, and Her Majesty's Government believe that, in co-operation with the efforts and resources of its member countries, it will make an inestimable contribution towards the increased safety and efficiency of flying. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Denham.)

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, while, clearly, we must welcome this Bill, I am a little surprised at the rather cursory explanation that has been given us. The noble Lord went through this, as I think, most complicated matter at extremely high speed. I should have thought that this was a Bill which requires a good deal of attention from some of our legal colleagues in this House. I say this with some hesitation, because the last time I was involved in legal matters, on the Carriage by Air Bill, the weight of legal opinion was such that, by the end of the debate, I had slipped my disc. Therefore I shall be a little more careful on this occasion.

I should like to make one or two quick general remarks, and then to refer to certain matters on which I hope perhaps we may have a little more explanation. It is perfectly clear that there is a tremendous need for this international control organisation, and I should like to congratulate the Government on their initiative and on getting it brought into effect. It is unfortunate that it is still only confined to certain countries. I think it is particularly unfortunate that Italy has, so far, not found it possible to enter into the Convention, for the very reasons for which this European control is being set up—namely, the difficulty in harmonising their requirements with those of other countries against their military aviation requirements.

This is a matter on which I hope the Government, through diplomatic and other channels, will bring pressure, because it is of importance that as many European countries as possible should enter this Convention. In the process of doing this, I hope we shall have regard not only to our main national interests, and to the operation of the Commission and the Agency, but also to some of the smaller interests within this country. In particular, I have in mind the question of the operation of air corridors in relation to an island like Jersey. Whether there is consultation on these interests I do not know, but there is certainly an impression abroad that they are apt to be lost in the deals that are made between the French and British Aviation Ministries and the other interested parties.

Having said that, I should like to ask the Government whether they can give us any idea of the sort of installations which are to be set up. Are they likely to be on our airfields? Are they likely to lead to employment for many people, either from this country or abroad? Is it a subject on which the Government have concern at the extent to which British equipment will be used?

Furthermore, is the expenditure that will arise from this Convention likely to be yet another difficult factor from the standpoint of the balance of payments? And here, I have a serious criticism. It is most difficult to tell from reading the Convention what this is going to cost us. We have been told that it is likely to cost about £3 million at the beginning, and thereafter £2 million a year. Clause 3, which is the money clause, says that: The Minister may from time to time pay to the Organisation such sums … being sums for … which Her Majesty's Government … are liable under the Convention. We are entering into a pretty heavy commitment. I think we should enter into it, but the commitment suffers from the disadvantage that it is almost impossible for any parliamentarian to understand it. If one looks at the Convention, and at the relative clauses, one finds that certain of these payments are calculated as a proportion of the gross national product and certain are not; and in a different way this raises quite serious questions with regard to Parliamentary control over the nation's finances. Clearly, the Government must be able to commit us, but can we be told whether (they are satisfied that calculation in relation to the gross national product is, in fact, the right way of proceeding?

Are other countries which are not members of Eurocontrol going to pay proportionately higher? As I understand the relevant Articles, they will do so. It is perhaps a pity that the Convention is not included as a Schedule to the Bill, as was done in the case of the Carriage by Air Bill All the Bill says, is that the Minister may pay "such sums" as are liable, and I think that we are entering into what is likely to become a very heavy national commitment, indeed. On the other hand, I can see a further advantage in this, in that it is likely to lead to greater equalisation in the different types of support which Governments give to their own aviation. Since we know that our own civil aviation is at a disadvantage compared with others, because of our enormously high airport charges, perhaps this will lead to some measure of equalisation and an equivalent level of subsidisation, at least so far as the control services are concerned.

My Lords, I should like to turn very briefly to some of the legal provisions of this Bill. In a debate in another place the Minister said, in so many words, that no man should be condemned on the record of a computer, and that it should not be regarded as conclusive. This is rather ominous. The day is obviously not very far away when we shall be not only condemned but, in fact, judged by computers. Our learned colleagues may bear a less attractive human aspect than they do at the moment.

My Lords, what does this mean? Presumably all kinds of records are admissible, or are likely to be admissible, as evidence. Does this mean that records will be permanently kept? Or for how long will they be kept? And will records be kept from the computers, which presumably will take over more and more of the operations of Eurocontrol? Then, how far will the individual citizen have access to those records in any action that he may wish to bring? We understand that by process of the court, or some similar legal process (again, my learned colleagues will be better able to deal with this point), they could have access to them. This seems to me to be a matter of some importance; all the more so, since a degree of admittedly limited diplomatic privilege is being granted to the authority in this country.

The final point to which I should like to refer is the public accountability of these particular activities. I am not at this stage complaining about it, but, as I say, there is an unknown liability which in the future may grow very large. I can see no provision under this Bill for a report—although I may have missed it—on the operations of Eurocontrol. It may well be that this will be provided for under the Civil Aviation Acts. But if the Public Accounts Committee, or some other Parliamentary watchdog, wish to look into the operations of this international body, how far will they be enabled to do so? It has always been an important part of our public activity and public expenditure that Parliament should be in a position to investigate, but I am not sure whether it will be able to do so under this Bill. I see no reason, indeed, why all the Parliaments involved should not have similar privileges, to establish that the interests of the taxpayer and the public interests are continually under review.

My Lords, I am sorry if I have sounded a little critical. I am not critical of the Government in general terms on this matter, and I think that they have done a good job of work in advancing it so quickly. But I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that we are right to have some sort of anxiety, both as to the extent of the commitments we are taking on, and as to the extent to which our type of Parliamentary control in this country, and our type of legal process, will be properly protected.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I welcome this Bill, and I would add my congratulations to Her Majesty's Government upon their initiative. To the relief, no doubt, of those of your Lordships who are still with us this afternoon, much of what I was going to say has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, opposite, and I do not propose to repeat the points. However, I should like, if I may, to ram home one particular point.

To me, the great benefit of this Bill is simplification of air control which, as I said in your Lordships' debate on civil aviation, is one of the biggest contributors to air safety. But we still have duplication in the area which this Bill covers, in that it is responsible only for the air space above 25,000 feet. The majority of air traffic in Europe is still below this altitude, and it seems to me that this Bill, although it represents a big step which might fool some of the people some of the time, leaves outside its control more than half the flights in the area it covers. No doubt the Commission will look upon this as one of the problems to be solved. I would only ask Her Majesty's Government to put this point before their members of the Commission, to see that we secure proper unification at the earliest possible moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned that Italy is not a party to this Bill. It is unfortunate that in Italy there have been accidents, due to their lack of control over their military aircraft, and it is for just that reason, as I understand it, that they will not come into this Convention at the moment. It seems to me that it is very urgent, indeed, that Italy should be pressed to solve this problem, so that the danger to civil aircraft flying in Italian air space can be lessened at the earliest possible moment. Finally, my Lords, I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government to give this Bill the highest possible priority, so that the Commission can get down to work at the earliest possible moment.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, there is one point that I have been asked to deal with on Second Reading, and that is the question of the access to documents under Clause 2 of the Bill. Under this clause there is provision for access to documents if there is a dispute between a citizen and the Organisation, but there is a very strong, indeed an overwhelming, limitation against the possibility of access by any individual in the case of a dispute with the Organisation. Indeed, under subsection (3) (a) of Clause 2, access is limited to constables and other persons acting in the execution of a warrant or other legal process. But, as the House will have in mind, it will often be relevant to a person who brings an action against the authority to be able to require them to produce in court documents, records and so on, which will be material in deciding whether or not the authority is liable. Therefore, it is essential that, unless there are overwhelming reasons of security, it should be possible for a person bringing such an action to enforce the production of these documents.

This matter was raised in another place on Second Reading, and also in Committee. In Committee, on December 4 last, the Minister in charge gave an assurance that the point would be considered. He said that the representations made in speeches from all parts of the House would be considered by the Government, and, presumably, that some statement would be made of action taken. It is proposed to put down an Amendment to the Bill on this point when it comes before the Committee here, but I should be grateful if the noble Lord who is dealing with this matter could say whether the Government have in fact considered the matter, and whether they have any statement to make as a result of that consideration.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak on the Second Reading of this Bill, but some remarks fell from my noble friend Lord Gosford about the airspace above 25,000 feet. It may be that we shall have to examine this more closely during the Committee stage. It seems to me that in the defence, not only of this country but of Western Europe, we have a lot of early warning radar stations which are already in being, some of them in this country. There are three joint civil and R.A.F. radar stations working very happily and very well together. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether the whole of the N.A.T.O. Early Defence Warning System will be used, in conjunction with civil aviation, to scan the increased altitude line, the airspace above 25,000 feet, for the purpose of their exercise and to keep them on their toes; and whether they will co-operate with the Civil Air Control.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and also to thank them for the broad, general support that they have given to this Bill. It is a measure which Her Majesty's Government feel strongly is very necessary so that we should have Eurocontrol. First, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for speeding through the provisions of the Bill. I assure him, and the rest of the House, that I intended no discourtesy by this; but, as the noble Lord will appreciate, it is quite a complicated Bill, and if I were to have gone into all the clauses in detail I would have taken a considerable amount of your Lordships' time, and there is other business to go through. I thought it would be better if I went quickly through the provisions in my initial speech, and then tried to answer any questions that your Lordships had as I wound up.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friend Lord Gosford both said that they thought it a very great pity that Italy could not see her way clear to remaining in the countries of Eurocontrol. Her Majesty's Government very much appreciate the fact that the more countries that come into Eurocontrol the better, and they hope that other countries will be joining—and, indeed, Italy, too. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked me about Jersey. There is close consultation between the United Kingdom authorities and the Jersey authorities on air traffic control. I can give the noble Lord that assurance. The next point that the noble Lord raised was whether expenditure under Eurocontrol was likely to affect the balance of payments. My information is that it is not likely to affect the balance of payments significantly so far as can be foreseen now. It might do so more, say, twenty years hence—and, as the noble Lord is aware, Eurocontrol is to last initially for twenty years. Our contribution to Eurocontrol can be in kind as well as in money: that is, the services we provide, the equipment, et cetera, are taken into consideration in our contribution as well as the money payments. There is just one other point about that, and that is that if we did not incur this expense, the expense for supervision of the airspace, via Eurocontrol, we should have to spend it on our own national system for much the same purpose, and, I should imagine, in much the same amounts.

The system of calculating the payment of countries by reference to gross national products will, of course, be under review. Broadly, for the first three years of operation the contributions will be in proportion to the gross national products of member States averaged over the last three years for which details are available. Thereafter, contributions to capital expenditure are based on a gross national product formula, while contributions for recurrent expenditure will be based partly upon gross national product and partly in proportion to the value of services rendered by the organisation to civil aircraft registered in the territory of each member State. The value of the services will be determined by the Commission and revised every five years. Of course, this method of assessing the costs has been looked into very thoroughly, and it is considered to be the best method.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, may I ask whether it is the fact that this country will be bearing about one-third of the cost of the whole of this particular operation?


That is a fact, my Lords, under present G.N.P.; but, of course, there is another aspect of this question. Our voice in Eurocontrol will not be quite as great as one-third, but it will be at least a quarter: that is, our vote in the weighted voting will be the highest.


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord unduly, but I am sure the House would like to know how we can possibly control or get paid for aircraft under our control which overfly us. Most of the big jets to-day are flying from America to various parts of Europe, and we shall have to control them. I should very much like to know, and I am sure the House would like to know, how we can get paid for our facilities when they overfly us.


My Lords, I hope the efficiency of Eurocontrol will be such that tracking systems will enable them to know which aircraft are using the air space, and from where they are coming. If records are kept, they would be paid for aircraft that overfly, just as much as those which actually use our airports, because they will be using the control system.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, also mentioned computers. My right honourable friend in another place pointed out that although this Bill enables computers to be used as evidence, they cannot be taken as absolute evidence. They are not infallible.


My Lords, I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I really do not understand what he means. I do not know whether "absolute evidence" is a legal term, anyway. I should have thought that on these rather tricky points we might have had the help of the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, because these are very difficult points.


My Lords, I will try to go more fully into this point.


My Lords, may I be permitted to explain the point which I think my noble friend has in mind? There may be a great deal of incontrovertible evidence. If the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, looks at the clause he will see that the records are produced from the custody of that authority or person as evidence. That is, they are admissible in evidence, and receivable in evidence; but, of course, the matter can be corrected by evidence on the other side. If the noble Lord has any difficulty, I can send him a note about it or I will be very pleased to deal with it on Committee stage, but I wanted to help him out on this point at once. I hope my noble friend does not mind my intervention.


My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for helping me on that matter. The other point which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned was accountability to Parliament. I think perhaps I could best quote what my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation said on this subject in another place. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 649 (No. 19), col. 1779]: The House will have the Annual Estimates, which can be debated, in which the moneys due to Eurocontrol will figure. Hon. Members will be able to put Parliamentary Questions to my right hon. Friend on the actions of his representatives on the Council, and we are promoting the idea of an annual report being published by the Organisation which could be deposited in the Library for the information of the House, as is the custom with other international organisations".


My Lords, I am very sorry—the noble Lord has been very patient—but the point I made went rather deeper. It was directed to the extent to which the Parliamentary Committee system and Public Accounts Committees were able in fact to make direct investigation, with the powers they have at the moment, with regard to our home operations; and to whether they would be able to investigate, send for papers or persons, and do the sort of investigation they carry out with regard to nationalised bodies or Government services.


My Lords, I think, if the noble Lord will permit me, I will look into that point and let him have that information in fuller detail. Then, my noble friend Lord Gosford spoke about the upper air space, and, as he said, in this country the upper air space starts at 25,000 feet. That is not the same as in some of the other countries of Eurocontrol; in some of the other countries the upper air space starts at 20,000 feet, and exactly where the upper air space starts is one of the subjects which Eurocontrol will have under consideration. There is always the possibility that, at a later stage, Eurocontrol will take over for the same countries, by agreement, control of the lower air space as well.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but is he saying that other countries will take over the lower air space over this country, the United Kingdom?


No, my Lords. Under the Eurocontrol Convention, there is the possibility for one country, by agreement, to have control of its air space, upper or lower, taken over by others; but it would not be possible for that to happen to any country which did not want it so to happen. My noble friend Lord Waleran also asked whether the Early Defence Warning System would be integrated in the Eurocontrol system. So far as is possible, present installations will be integrated and use will be made of existing systems whenever desirable.

The noble Lord, Lord Silk in, raised the question of inviolability of archives and premises of the Eurocontrol organisation. This is another fairly complicated legal subject, I am afraid. The position is this. Her Majesty's Government are of the opinion that it is necessary for Eurocontrol to have this inviolability of archives. In fact, if we did not make provision for that in this Bill, we could not honourably ratify the Convention, because the Convention calls for that from its member countries. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has an Amendment down at a later stage dealing with the point that the noble Lord has in mind, so perhaps it might be for the convenience of the House if further discussion were left to the Committee stage.


My Lords, I have no objection to that, but I do not know how Lord Ogmore can possibly have an Amendment put down to a Bill which has not yet had its Second Reading. I presume he has told the noble Lord informally that he proposes to move one. The reason why I inquire is this. I do not expect the noble Lord to enter into the merits of the question, but will he let the House know whether, as promised, the Government have given further consideration to all the arguments which have been put forward in another place on Second Reading and in Committee? Is the noble Lord now giving us the result of that consideration or is he telling us what induced the Government to put this provision into the Bill originally?


My Lords, I am telling your Lordships both. Her Majesty's Government have made a very full study of all the arguments in another place, and they are still of the opinion that the archives must be given the protection they are given in the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.