HL Deb 01 April 1965 vol 264 cc1223-50

7.24 p.m.

Report of Amendments received (according to Order).


My Lords, before I call upon the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, with Amendment No. 1, I think I should tell your Lordships that in the Bill as printed the lines on page 5 are not correct. But I expect the noble Earl is aware of that, and that he will call attention to it.

Clause 5:

Borrowing powers


(3) The aggregate amount outstanding in respect of —

  1. (a) the principal of any money borrowed by the Authority under this section, and
  2. (b) the commencing capital debt,
taken together shall not exceed seventy million pounds.


moved, in subsection (3), to leave out "seventy million pounds" and insert "£72,500,000". The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I had noticed this, and perhaps I could explain the position to your Lordships as I move this Amendment. Your Lordships will see on page 5, down the left-hand column, that the mathematical progression is a little uneven. We go from 15 to 30, then 20, and then 25. Although it may not appear so, my Amendment is put down correctly. It is addressed to line 36, although it is opposite line 35. It will no doubt be taken care of later.

I have put this Amendment down for two reasons. The first, surprisingly enough, is because I believe it to be right. The second is that I want to know a little more about this matter from the Government. When the Bill was recommitted to us a week or so ago, we were told that the extra burden that would be laid upon this new Authority by making it responsible for paying the grants to different householders around Heathrow, would amount to some £2½ million, which is no small sum. I do not believe it right that this sum should be placed upon the Authority, nor do I quite understand how this calculation of £2½ million has been arrived at. But we discussed this matter in Committee and on Recommittal so I will let it pass now. Let us accept, at least for the sake of argument, that the Authority will have this burden around its neck.

Your Lordships may remember that, before we even heard of this extra £½ million, I had expressed fairly definite views about the margin of the Authority's financial resources. However, we were told by the Government at Second Reading, on Committee stage, and again on Recommittal, that there was no need for us to worry: that the Government had done their sums very dutifully; that they were quite satisfied with the sum of £70 million commencing capital (if the noble Lord, Lord Reith, will pardon the expression), and that this ceiling of £70 million gave the Authority an adequate margin. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, told us, "We have given it a bit of a margin." That margin was based on a number of calculations of cash flow and so on which, quite frankly, I consider to be optimistic and the margin itself (£5 million, as the noble Lord disclosed the figure to us) seemed to me to be somewhat slim.

What is the position now after this new Clause 15 has been introduced by the Government laying this new burden on the Authority? Let us admit the Government's calculations about the Authority's future revenue. Let us admit that £5 million is an adequate margin. We now find, with this extra £2½ million burden, that that margin has been halved. If it was just adequate on March 2 at our Committee stage, before the new clause was introduced, it would seem to me to be inadequate now. If it is enough now, then it was too much then; but we have been told that the sums have been carefully worked out. There seems to be a circle which has not been squared, and that is the purpose of this Amendment.

At our Recommittal stage the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, argued that this existing margin was designed for contingencies, and that this extra burden was such a contingency. As I understand it, a contingency is something which may happen in the future, something unforeseen against which one guards. We can see this inverted windfall of £2½, million very clearly now, and it may well turn out to be more. That is why I suggest we should provide for it now.

My proposal for increasing the commencing capital by this sum of £2½ million is, of course, based on the assumption that the Authority will have to "cough up" this £2½ million from its own resources and not try to pass it on by way of increased fees to the airlines of other people. I assume this is so, since our charges are already on the high side. Can the noble Lord tell us what is in the Government's mind, or do they believe that, since there will be sound-proof sleepers around Heathrow, it will be possible for the Minister and the Authority to permit more night flying into Heathrow. If so, will there not then be a strong and justified case for an increase in the size of the grant-attracting area? I should have thought that this would be bound to follow.

We need to know a little more about the Government's intentions here and about the basis of their calculations. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, rather invited me to put down an Amendment of this sort, in order to extract more information about the Government's intentions. But failing a clear explanation of those intentions—I have not been satisfied by anything I have yet heard—it seems that the Government are cutting the new Authority's financial margin too thinly. That is why I have submitted this Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Clause 5, page 5, line 36, leave out ("seventy million pounds") and insert ("£72,500,000").—(Earl Jellicoe.)

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, I shall endeavour to give the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, some of the information for which he asks. As the noble Earl rightly said, we have discussed this matter before, and I appreciate the reason for his wanting to explore it a little further. Broadly speaking, in the previous discussions the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has said that we have not provided an adequate margin for the Authority as far as capital provision is concerned. That was his view. On the other hand, the professional people who have looked at this matter over the past months, and indeed years, have come to the conclusion that the estimate which I put before the House was adequate. I confess to the noble Lord that my own personal hunch, which is based upon some past experience with the Corporation—and my noble friend behind me will probably remember this—is that probably the noble Lord will be proven correct. But I am sure he will agree that we cannot base an Act of Parliament upon private hunches of individual Members of either House. We have to take the best professional advice, and this has been done.

In this Amendment the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has narrowed his argument considerably. He is now asking whether, if the original estimate was about right, in placing this other liability upon the Authority we ought not to make an additional financial provision. But, with respect, I think the noble Lord is basing his argument on a misunderstanding of the position. We are not here talking about any fixed capital sum or about any carefully estimated project. The noble Lord may say: how can you claim to have shown proper care in making your estimates? If we were estimating some particular capital project or if we were estimating a fixed capital sum, I would agree with him that there is ground for his fears. But here we are discussing maximum borrowing powers.

Probably I could put it this way. Had we said in the first place that the £70 million was for the purpose of constructing particular hangars, or had we said that £70 million was for the purpose of constructing a ship, and then we had come along and said that we were going to superimpose upon this original plan a completely new weapon system which was going to cost £2½ million, I should have agreed with him that we should have provided an extra £2½ million in our estimate. Or if we had not done that, he would have been quite right in saying that the original estimate was a little on the sloppy side.

But this does not even represent the maximum amount of capital development which the Authority can undertake. Under the present provisions the Authority will be able to finance their activities in a number of ways. There is the initial capital sum—I must say that I prefer "initial capital sum"—there is the estimated balance sheet surplus and there is the provision for borrowing through Exchequer loans. Then, although the noble Earl has referred briefly to it, he does not seem to have given full importance to this question of the cash which will flow through the Authority's accounts, the money which they will earn and from which they will make provision for depreciation, and so on.

I have given a detailed breakdown of these various items—the first three, at any rate: the initial capital sum, the balance sheet surplus and the Exchequer borrowing powers—and I explained to the noble Earl that these added up to £70 million. I also told him that the estimate for the money which they would need amounted, not to £70 million, but £65 million. The £70 million was simply a matter of rounding off the figure; we rounded off the £65 million to £70 million. One may say that this is an easy-going approach to finance, but, as I said, we were talking about maximum borrowing powers. It was not necessarily the case that the Authority would have to go to the limit at all. Probably they would not have wanted £70 million although the provision was made for £70 million, and now with this additional liability upon them it is thought they would reasonably be able to meet it within the £70 million ceiling.

If we were being precise about this matter at all, the figure we ought to put into the Bill now is not the noble Lord's £72.5 million, not the £70 million, but £67.5 million—that is to say, the original estimate of £65 million plus the £2.5 million for this new responsibility. But instead of saying £67.5 million, the rounded sum was £70 million; and within that £70 million we are reasonably confident that the new Authority will be able to meet their commitments. If they cannot meet their commitments within that, all is not lost: they can come to Parliament again and ask for additional borrowing powers and it will be explained to Parliament how the Authority have been getting on and why they require the new power. As I indicated in the first place, I think the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was quite right to probe this matter further. I personally only wish it had been probed further in the other place, but the work was not done there.

There is just one further point which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, would probably take into account. This Amendment would affect the limit of the borrowing power from the Exchequer, which, in turn would involve the privilege of the Commons in these financial matters. The other place would have to waive this privilege, and another Money Resolution would be needed' before this Amendment, even if accepted here, could be considered in the Commons. In these circumstances, therefore, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, will be able to withdraw his Amendment.

7.38 p.m.


My Lords, we are very grateful for the picture we have had from the Minister, but before the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, withdraws his Amendment, I should just like to be clear on the position we have here. Originally it was said that until 1970 £34 million additional capital would be spent. We now have £2½ million more—that is, £36½ million capital of one kind or another until 1970. It appears that we can draw on a further £9 million; and this is all the noble Lord seems to think necessary. Therefore, the Authority will be able to plough nearly £27 million more capital into these three or four aerodromes. This is a very favourable position. We did not know that they now have to pay interest charges, taxation and depreciation, which I do not think they have paid up to now. Am I correct in this: that in the next five years it is hoped that the aerodromes will be so profitable that in fact they will he able to plough a further £26 million or £27 million into the organisation for which they are responsible?


My Lords, in the first place, the provision for interest on the capital was included in the estimates I gave. In the second place, the sum which the noble Earl has given is approximately the amount of money which, one way or the other, will be ploughed into this enterprise, not all in the shape of borrowed money from outside, not all from the surplus which it is hoped will result each year, but also from prudent provision for depreciation and so on. The total amount from all these sources will amount to about the sum the noble Earl has stated. I should have asked leave of the House to speak again, and I apologise.


My Lords, I must say I am still not a great deal clearer; I am only slightly clearer about the position, but not entirely clear. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has told us that £65 million, or £67½ million, is now going to be enough, while his personal hunch, he also told us, was that probably that was not going to be enough. We were told by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, at our Committee or Recommittal stage that the margin was adequate. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, now tells us that probably no margin is required at all. We were told by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on two or three occasions that all these sums had been extremely carefully worked out. Now we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that it has been rounded off, with £5 million or so added or subtracted, and nobody really worrying. But let that pass. The noble Lord has very carefully replied to this Amendment. I am a little wiser, although still a bit puzzled; but in view of what he has said and the fact that we very much support the principle of this legislation, and not least in view of the possible difficulties of the other place which he has pointed out, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.43 p.m.


moved, in subsection (2), to leave out the first "appointed" and to insert "approved". The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am moving this Amendment because in our discussion in the Committee stage the noble Lord in charge said: Frankly, the Government are prepared to consult your Lordships on this point"— [OFFICIAL. REPORT, Vol. 263 (No. 45), col. 1083, March 2, 1965.] And he then went on to say: In the light of the appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, I hope that we shall be able to accept the principle." [Col. 1086.] I said I hoped the Government would be able to initiate an Amendment. I must say I am very sorry the Government have not initiated an Amendment; I fully expected that they would do so.

I want to make it clear why I think this has some importance. We have been trying from the beginning to get here what I think is a principle, which is broad Government direction and clear responsibility to the Authority to exercise commercial and efficient control. We have been trying to prevent it from becoming what I am afraid it is rather near and that is simply an agency for the Department to do what they want to do. If it is merely an agency for the Department I do not believe they will get efficiency. It was suggested that in the case of the commercial world the auditors are normally appointed by the shareholders. I do not think the analogy is really so close as that. It involves the proposition that the Minister of Aviation in fact represents some 51 million shareholders. I think this is a somewhat notional concept of what the position is. It would be fair to say that many of those have never heard the Minister of Aviation's name and I am quite certain the vast majority have never heard of the Airports Authority Bill. What it really is is a measure of bureaucratic control exercised by the Department over the Authority. I am anxious that the Authority, subject only to broad control, should feel themselves as independent as they can be.

The point I would make is the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, that the Authority should have the initial privilege of suggesting suitable auditors. That is what I want. I hope the noble Lord will not just say that the words I am suggesting are unsuitable, because if the House's view is one which the Government are prepared to accept I would expect him to put that deficiency right. I would be happy if the initial proposal was made by the Authority, and, if you like, the appointment made by the Minister; otherwise I suggest an appointment made by the Authority with the approval of the Minister. I think we should make some progress on this after what the Government have said. I believe it is important, particularly with this Authority, that they should be clear that they are a responsible body and not simply under the control of the Department. This is a matter which was raised on Second Reading, and I very much hope the Government will be able to agree to it now. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 21, leave out ("appointed") and insert ("approved").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)


My Lords, I wish could accept this Amendment, but I am afraid it is not possible. My noble friend Lord Shackleton, as the noble Earl said, gave certain undertakings on this question. He said on the Committee stage: I undertake to give him full opportunity to know what the decision of the Government is in this matter." [Col. 1086.] The decision of the Government, after very carefully considering the Amendment, was that they could not accept what the noble Earl proposed. I can certainly say that, after what had been said on Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, as well as the noble Earl and others, no Amendment has been more thoroughly and carefully considered. But the Government have come to the conclusion that it would be wrong in this case to break the principle accepted and followed by many preceding Governments.

The facts are that in all of what might be called the classic cases of large scale public authorities the Minister appoints the auditor, and this, as the noble Earl has admitted, follows the general practice in business life generally. Under the Companies Act the shareholders at their annual general meeting appoint the auditor; there is no doubt about that. If we come to the case of the co-operative societies registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, about which I have some rather close knowledge, the auditor is elected by the members of the society concerned, not by the board of directors or the committee of management. Speaking for the society of which I have most experience, I think it would be quite unthinkable to suggest that the right of the members of the society to elect their own auditors should be taken away from them. And this is not only a matter of the appointment. The question of the report of the auditors comes into this, and of course the report of the auditors goes to the Minister.

I am a little surprised that the issue of the independence of the Authority is focused upon this particular question of the appointment of the auditor. The essence of an auditor is that he should be independent. I cannot see what the noble Earl thinks would happen if the auditor was appointed by the Authority instead of by the Minister. What in fact, does he think would follow? In what way would the action of the auditor be changed? In this country and in other countries—in the United States, for example—it is the independent professional auditor who commands respect and authority just because he is independent. I fail to understand why it should be thought that the issue of the independence of the Authority, as distinct from the Ministry, should hinge upon the actions of this professional auditor. The auditor will have his own professional standards and codes, and I am sure the noble Earl would agree that he should not be deflected from them whether he is appointed by the one or by the other.


My Lords, the point I am concerned with is that I am endeavouring to make it impossible for the Minister to force on to the Authority an auditor whom the Authority do not want. That is a simple proposition which I think should be fully acceptable.


My Lords, I think that it would be quite intolerable if the Minister did force a particular auditor on the Authority.


That is what I am saying.


The practice, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said, is for the Minister to consult with the board or the authority concerned; in other words, the practice is that there should be such consultation. I do not know of any case where there has been trouble. As to whether it should be written into the Act of Parliament is a different proposition. When the "crunch" comes in the case of an auditor, it is the shareholders who have the responsibility; just as when the "crunch" comes in the case of the co-operative society, it is the members of the society who have the supreme power. If there should be some particular trouble, then surely the noble Earl would agree that the authority should rest with the Minister representing the general public whose money is at stake. That should be the position. However, I agree with the noble Earl that consultation would be desirable. I give him an undertaking on behalf of the Government that there shall be consultation.


My Lords, with great respect, can the noble Lord not put it into the Statute?


I cannot give an undertaking that it will be put into the Statute. I will give an undertaking that the request made by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will be carefully considered; and the point will be stressed. If it is at all possible to have the wording inserted, either at a later stage here or in another place, I will undertake to see that that is done.


If the noble Lord will undertake that, I shall expect him to give a full explanation on Third Reading as to why it is not possible to put in the words "after consultation with the Authority Board". If I may venture to say so, if shareholders forced an auditor on to a board of directors against their wishes it would be quite intolerable. I must remind the noble Lord that this is the second time we have had an undertaking from the Government. I do not want to have to divide the House on Third Reading, but that is quite a possible thing to do. I must ask the House to think about this.

The noble Lord has stated specifically that this is the standard practice. This afternoon we have been discussing law reform. The sealed pattern of public corporations should not remain always the same. We should be prepared to progress even with a Socialist Government, if I may say so. We should be learning new things. If this is a step forward and if it has become the practice, let us make it part of our Statute Law on this matter. I ask the noble Lord to think about this to see whether he can do it.


My Lords, if I have the permission of the House to speak again I would say that if this were a step forward I would agree that there is a lot in what the noble Earl has said; but I submit that he has failed to show that this is a step forward. He has not shown us one case where there has been any trouble with the present form of words. The difficulty in which the Government find themselves in accepting the noble Lord's Amendment is that there seems no reason at all why we should make a special case of this Airports Authority as against, say, the B.E.A. or B.O.A.C. Why should we put them in a different position from those other bodies? If there were advantages in this, I should have expected him to State them. All the noble Earl is saying is that he wants the Airports Authority to be independent. But we want B.E.A. to be independent; we want B.O.A.C. to be independent. We want all these public authorities to have this sense of independence, so far as that is possible. But as yet there has been no technical, constructive advantage shown to the House by the noble Earl.

On the other hand, I have told him that the practice is for the boards in these cases to be consulted. It would be quite wrong and intolerable, as I have said, to foist on them an uncongenial auditor. I cannot undertake to come back to the House and give another explanation as to why the Amendment is not accepted, because I have already given all the reasons. The undertaking that I am giving is this. I will put forward again the new proposal now, that the auditor shall be appointed by the Minister after consultation with the Authority. This particular form of words has not been considered. I will undertake to see that it is considered.


My Lords, if the noble Lord undertakes to do that, let me say this. It is not true to say that I have not given reasons for this. If I may say so, we have had two of the most distinguished Chairmen of public Corporations both saying that they think this was a wise course. If there were rows between Ministers and Corporations about auditors nobody would know anything about it, unless I am very much mistaken. These are matters which would never come before the public. But what the House has heard from two distinguished noble Lords who were Chairmen is very considerable ground for consideration. I ask the noble Lord to look at it in that light. But with this undertaking, I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15:

Grants towards cost of sound-proofing dwellings.


(2) A scheme under this section shall specify the area or areas in which dwellings must be situated for the grants to be payable, and the persons to whom, the expenditure in respect of which and the rate at which the grants are to he paid, and may make the payment of any grant dependent upon compliance with such conditions as may be specified in the scheme.

7.58 p.m.

EARL JELLICOE moved to add to subsection (2): Provided that the amount of any such grant shall not he less than half the expenditure in respect of which it is made or £100 whichever is the less.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the point behind this Amendment is a simple one. Your Lordships will recall that on March 10 last, the Minister announced the Government's scheme for grant aid to householders who wished to soundproof their houses, and placed the burden for that grant aid on the new Authority. I do not wish to argue at this stage whether it was right or wrong to place the burden on the Authority—I think that probably it was wrong—but I wish to argue whether or not the enabling clause, Clause 15, is at present drawn in far too wide and general terms.

The Minister, in his statement, gave much interesting information about the proposal as to the amount of the grant: half the cost of the work, up to a maximum of £100; the area which would attract grant, and the rest of it. None of this is to be found in the Bill which is now before us. All of this is to be left to the Statutory Instrument. When we complained about this on Recommittal the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, whilst careful not to commit the Government, said that he would look at the arguments which I and my noble friends had used, and acknowledged that the last word had not been spoken on this matter. We have waited between Recommittal stage and the present time and have heard nothing more from the Government. Hence this Amendment spelling out at least one of the main items, the maximum amount of the grant aid. I do not wish to claim that the precise form of wording I have used is necessarily the right one, but I should like, very shortly, to give the reasons why I feel that something along these lines should, if possible, be written into this Bill.

The first is that there is, in my view, room for honest doubt about the amount needed for this work of sound-proofing houses. Judging by what the Wilson Committee said in one part of their Report, in paragraph 318, it would cost £600 to sound-proof three rooms adequately. Judging by what they said in paragraph 323 the cost would be £300. And we learned from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on Recommittal, that the estimate had now shrunk to £200. If it is accepted that the householder should pay only half of what is spent, then the right figure for grant would be £100 or £150 or £300, according to which estimate one prefers. But since there is some room for doubt here, surely, it would be far better to put the figure in the Bill, and it can then be debated and, if necessary, changed. If it is left to a Statutory Instrument, all that either House can do is to accept or reject it. One cannot amend the particular figure, and if the Instrument is rejected, then the whole cumbersome procedure has to be gone through again.

My second reason is precedent. The proposed grant for sound-proofing these houses is very closely akin, in my view, to house-improvement grants, to standard and discretionary grants, with which your Lordships are familiar. Indeed, it is, in effect, a house-improvement grant. A certain degree of noiselessness is, I should have thought, a standard amenity for any house of any kind. So far as I know (I speak subject to correction) the maximum sums for house-improvement grants of this nature have always been spelt out in the appropriate Statute. As regards the standard grant, the maximum was laid down very carefully in the Housing Act, 1959, in Section 6. It was amended only last year by the 1964 Housing Act, in subsection (3) of Section 46. It is precisely the same with the discretionary grant. The maximum was clearly laid down in the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1958, in Section 32. That being so, I cannot see why we should not do the same in this Bill; and that is precisely what my Amendment is intended to do.

As I have said, I do not claim that my Amendment is perfect. I am sure that it could be better worded. It is certainly imperfect in one respect, because all that I have said about the size of the grant applies with equal force to the grant-attracting areas. These were spelled out, as your Lordships know, in the Minister's Statement. I believe that they should be spelled out also in this Bill. Then those who accept the principle of this Bill and of this clause, as I certainly do, but who perhaps feel that the area should be contracted or extended, could argue the matter. At present, this is impossible, since we are faced with the choice of either accepting something which very possibly we should wish to amend, or of rejecting a Statutory Instrument, with the principle of which we are in full agreement.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that these areas, as well as the maximum sums, should be specified in this Bill, presumably in a Schedule to it. I should be inclined, depending on what the noble Lord may have to say, to press this point, even at the late date of Third Reading. But I gather that one possible snag here is that, if we specify the areas in this Bill, we may be introducing into the Bill an element of hybridity, if that is the correct expression. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could tell us whether or not my fears in this respect are justified.

But to return to the size of the grant, the particular matter to which my Amendment is addressed, I feel that there is a good case for specifying in this Bill the size of the grant, because of the real doubts as to what is the right size, and because of precedent. My Lords, I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 13, line 23, at end insert— ("Provided that the amount of any such grant shall not be less than half the expenditure in respect of which it is made or £100 whichever is the less.")—(Earl Jellicoe.)

8.5 p.m.


My Lords, I think the noble Earl made out this case for flexibility, and I remember that, at an earlier stage of the Bill when I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, whether we had a closed mind about either the area or the amount concerned, I said that we did not have a closed mind. I pointed out to him that all that we were asking for here was an enabling power, and that the details of the schemes would be spelled out in the Statutory Instrument. It is precisely because we feel that there is a need for flexibility that we cannot accept this particular Amendment. I think I may say that the expenditure in respect of which the grants are to be made, and the rate of such grants, will be spelled out in the Statutory Instrument and in the sense which the noble Earl requires, although possibly not in those terms. But if we were to put it in an Act of Parliament, then it would be injecting a degree of rigidity which would be quite undesirable and, indeed, unfair to the people concerned.

The noble Lord asked about the position in relation to the house improvement grants under the Housing Acts. I do not think he was quite right there in the analogy which lie drew. Although Section 32 of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act. 1958, specifies the maximum amount of house improvement grants, it gives the Minister of Housing and Local Government power to vary the maximum by Statutory Instrument. The net effect is, therefore, very little different from that of the proposed clause as it now stands. I was asked whether our accepting this Amendment would mean that we were introducing some hybridity into the Bill. I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Earl a definite reply upon that point. I do not think that this is an objection to it, as I am advised—


My Lords, I wonder whether I could just intervene at this stage. My question was whether, if we were to specify areas—which, by the analogy, I felt we should, if we were specifying sums—that would introduce an element of hybridity into the Bill. I felt that, if my argument was justified as to specifying the sum, then it would also be justified so far as the areas are concerned.


My Lords, it is a detailed question. As the question is now put, my advice is that it almost certainly would introduce this hybridity. But I do not think that this is the argument which we had in mind when we first introduced the clause as it now stands. The basic argument for this clause is that there should be flexibility, as the noble Earl requires, and that flexibility is best obtained by spelling out the details in a Statutory Instrument. If we find that the area detailed is not the correct one, if we find that for some technical reason it ought to be extended, then it will be possible for another Statutory Instrument to be laid before the House. Similarly, with the matter of the grant, if it is found that the £200 figure is an unrealistic one, then, again, I should have thought it would be much more convenient to the House to consider another Statutory Instrument, rather than to have amending legislation. On that basis, I ask the noble Earl if he will withdraw his Amendment, although there is no dispute between us as to either the way in which or the rate at which the grants will be paid out.


My Lords, I certainly do not wish to make heavy weather of this point at this fairly late stage of our proceedings, but I confess I am not altogether satisfied by the noble Lord's reply. He has not made it at all clear to me why, if it was felt correct to write the maximum sums for house improvement grants of the various sorts into the Statute, it is wrong here. He has said, "We wish to remain flexible, and there may be some dispute as to the maximum size of the grant": but we have always wished to remain flexible with house improvement grants, and there precisely the same criteria apply.


My Lords, may I be allowed to interrupt the noble Earl here? So far as the house improvement grant is concerned, the figure was first fixed in the Act after consultation with the local government representatives. In this case, the Bill provides for consultation with the Authority. We cannot consult with the Authority until the Authority is established. That, I should have thought, was an additional reason for leaving the details until after the Authority is established, when the details of the scheme will be drawn up after full consultation with those directly responsible.


Yes, I see that, my Lords, but I am still, I must confess, puzzled, because I am not asking for all the details; I am asking only for the maximum sum to be specified, and that maximum sum was made perfectly clear by the Minister in his Statement on March 10. If the Minister did not mean what he said, that is another matter; but he stated that perfectly clearly in a Statement to another place —a Statement which was repeated in your Lordships' House. I should have thought that what the noble Lord is now saying here is likely to cause only uncertainty and confusion, because what he is saying is that the Minister's Statement may be changed; and I should have thought that neither the nascent Authority nor the householders in the area would be very happy if doubt were cast upon the Minister's intentions. I certainly read his Statement as meaning that the Government were firm in their mind as to the maximum figure; and now the noble Lord is tending to throw doubts upon it.

If there is doubt about the maximum figure, then I should consider that another argument for putting a maximum in the Bill and allowing both your Lordships' House and another place to argue whether it is right. The mere fact that the amount of house improvement grants may be varied by Statutory Instrument does not seem to me to be an argument for not putting the initial maximum in the Statute here. Granted, it could be varied later, and varied, if necessary, by Statutory Instrument. I should have no objection to that. I am suggesting only that the initial figure should be put in, and I have taken for the initial figure the figure which the Minister gave in his own Statement on March 10.

But, my Lords, again, I do not wish to be unduly difficult at this late stage. I am not satisfied with the noble Lord's reply here, because I do not think he has really made the case against the Amendment, if there is a case to be made. Nor am I quite clear what he has told me on the question of hybridity. I feel that both the size and the areas should be specified. I gather that he feels that, while specifying the size of the grants would not make the Bill hybrid, specifying the area would make the Bill hybrid. I wish to reserve the right to return to this particular point at Third Reading, but perhaps the noble Lord may be able to give me some further information on this particular point even now.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I say that I should not like to give a definite ruling on this matter or an interpretation of what would happen here. I should like to take further advice on this point. The case for resisting this Amendment does not rest upon this point, anyhow; it rests upon the case for flexibility and on the need for consultation. I should like just to make the point more clear, if I can, about the amount involved. There is no question but that the maximum amount will be the amount mentioned in the Statement by my noble friend. There is no argument about that, in the first place; but the soundproofing of houses on this scale is something new, and I am suggesting it may well be that, over the years, it will be shown that the figure is not a realistic one. It may well be that, on some future occasion, another Statutory Instrument will be required with another figure, but certainly not over the first five years or so.


My Lords, we can revert to the question of hybridity on Third Reading. I see the noble Lord's point. I am still not persuaded by what he says, because if the maximum is going to be what the Minister stated it was going to be, then I can see no reason at all why it should not be put into the Bill, as my Amendment suggests, and varied, if necessary, thereafter by Statutory Instrument. But I do not wish to press this now, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.17 p.m.

THE EARL OF SELKIRK moved to add to the definition of "navigation services": but does not include the construction and maintenance of runways, taxi ways and airfield lighting.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am moving this Amendment in the hope that the Government will be able to give a fairly clear picture of what the responsibilities of the Authority and of the Ministry of Aviation will be. I have done this because I believe—and when I say, "I believe", I am not worried about what it is so long as they will tell me, because up till now I have failed to understand—that the intention of the Government is that the Authority will be responsible for managing passenger facilities, for providing runways and for providing lighting, but will not be responsible for the movement of aeroplanes or cars. If this is correct, then it involves something which I think is rather unfortunate; it involves that the word "facilities" means one thing in one place in the Bill and an entirely different thing in another place. I feel this is unimpressive drafting, if I may put it no higher than that, and I have sought very much to elucidate the position by trying to make clear to the Authority exactly what they are responsible for.

May I, for a moment, explain this to your Lordships? If one looks at Clause 2(1), one sees that the duty of the Authority is to provide…services and facilities … A runway is not a service: it certainly is a facility. If one looks at the interpretation clause, Clause 23, one finds that "navigation services", which are provided by the Minister, include facilities … in connection with the … movement of aircraft", which certainly includes runways. I have sought to make matters clear by saying that this interpretation will not include—and these are the words I have used here— runways, taxi ways and airfield lighting". I have done this in order to make it clear. The Minister, I understand, takes the view that where the responsibility of one starts and the other ends cannot be entirely defined. That may be true, but let us define it as far as we can.

Furthermore, there is here an element of public safety. From such experience as I have had of aviation, I am certain that there is nothing that is more important than clear, personal responsibility for everything that happens. If anything goes wrong in any of these things and the question arises, "Who was responsible?", and there is vagueness about the answer, I think it will be most unfortunate.

I accept the proposition that there should be a narrow limit about which final agreement may be divided; but on a broad issue I do not think that Parliament should allow a Bill to go through unless the position is clear. The reason why I move this Amendment is so that the noble Lord should be able to explain what are his intentions. I have the impression that the Government have been reluctant to make the position clear; I am suspicious that they do not even know their own minds; they are not sure what it is they want to put in the Statute. It is for this reason I am asking whether they will come a little cleaner and a little clearer as to what their intentions are about this Bill.

Amendment moved— Page 20, line 20, at end insert the said new words.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)


My Lords, in the sense that I sympathise with what the noble Earl seeks to achieve—namely, to get clearly defined the respective responsibilities of the Authority, on the one hand, and of the Ministry, on the other—this is my favourite Amendment; or, at any rate, it jostles for that position with the Amendment which is going to be moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Stuart of Findhorn. But, although I sympathise with the intention of the noble Earl, I can neither sympathise nor agree with the Amendment which he now places before us. Whatever else may be unclear, there is no doubt at all as to who is responsible for the runways, taxi-ways and airfield lighting. The Bill vests the ownership of airports in the new Airports Authority. I am advised by all the lawyers that nowhere, in no form, would there be any interpretation of this Act as meaning that we were handing over the airport without the runways, without the taxi-ways and without the airfield lighting. So the noble Earl would add absolutely nothing to the Bill by this Amendment.

Moreover, not only is the Amendment unnecessary, but I suggest to him that it could be mischievous. If Parliament thought it necessary for the sake of certainty to insert these words in relation to runways, taxi-ways and airfield lighting, then although he was making absolutely clear the responsibility of the Authority for these three items, uncertainty might follow very properly about other items which he has not mentioned. For example, there are the telephone exchanges and the fire and rescue services; these, too, could be included in the reference to "facilities" included in the navigation services. They could well be disputed areas. If we just put down the three items which the noble Earl mentioned, I think it would increase uncertainty about these other matters.

So far as safety is concerned, we agree with the noble Earl that safety must be paramount; but the noble Earl knows very well that no user of airports, no pilot coming into London Airport to-day, is under any misapprehension as to who is in charge at any particular point of time. Whether he is on his approach on the runway or whether he is taxi-ing, he knows clearly who is the person who is in control. This is laid down without doubt in the various instructions and navigation orders, and so on. These are now so handled and will remain so in the future.

I agree with the noble Earl that outside the items he mentioned there is a fringe area within which some doubt may at the moment exist. I have already explained to him that these are very technical and detailed matters, and I believe he agrees that they will be highly unsuitable for inclusion in a Statute and that they would be much better dealt with in some other way. They will be dealt with. I give the noble Earl that assurance on behalf of the Government. Prior to vesting date there will be a written agreement between the Minister and the Authority dealing with these fringe areas in detail and by reference to the circumstances and requirements of each individual airport. On this assurance, I hope the noble Earl will be able to withdraw his Amendment.


My Lords, I must confess that the noble Lord's answer does not really cover these points. He said, first of all, that everybody knows who is in charge at London Airport to-day. I hope they do. But the whole point of this Bill is to change the ownership of London Airport. I want to be certain how the position will stand afterwards. And the noble Lord gave it to me on a silver platter. He said the telephone and fire services could be included under the navigation services. That is the very point I am making. I want to define it, so people know where they stand.


My Lords, what I said, if the noble Earl will allow me to repeat it, was that if we included in the Bill the three items he mentioned then doubt would be raised about the items he did not mention.


The noble Lord proves conclusively the items I have mentioned could be brought under navigation services, but that there is some doubt about it. I think this is a very poor piece of drafting. I believe that if the Government knew what they wanted and were to make their minds up they could do it better. It is a pity to set up an organisation of this sort with really sloppy drafting. I make no objection to a narrow line of demarcation. There is no mention in this Bill of the precise demarcation or under what statutory power the authority is given. There is no mention of it. I have made the point to the noble Lord who is responsible for the Bill that I think it is badly drafted, and it is a great pity that Parliament should allow a Bill to go through without stating very clearly where the responsibilities lie. I am sorry that the noble Lord cannot be more forthcoming. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.28 p.m.

VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN moved, in the Title, to leave out "aerodromes," and substitute "airports". The noble Viscount said: My Lords, as this topic has already been debated on a previous occasion I shall be very brief. I will, if I am permitted to do so, move both my Amendments simultaneously as they are identical. I have two reasons for putting down these Amendments again, both of which I can state with brevity. First, I hope that, having given the Government a little time for thought they may have come round to the view that I was right, as I still believe I am. Secondly, I desire to put on record the fact that my disagreement persists, whether the Government accept or reject my Amendment.

In the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings in this House on March 18 the Minister gives the definition of what I prefer to call an "airport," and what the Bill so often calls an "aerodrome". He said the original definition of "aerodrome" despite what the Oxford Dictionary may say, is: 'any area of land or water designed, equipped, set part or commonly used for affording facilities for the landing and departure of aircraft'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 264 (No. 53) col. 464.] But I maintain that the word "airport" means precisely that; and that "airport" is a better word. As I said before, it is an English word and it is a shorter word. I therefore maintain that the Airports Authority Bill should refer to these fields (call them what you wish) as "airports" and not as "aerodromes".

I was supported, though undoubtedly unintentionally, by one of these new "bright lights" who have been added to the present Government, the noble Lord, Lord Snow. When I was saying that I could not find much about the definition of "aerodrome" in my dictionary and that I thought, perhaps, it must be a "modern foreign importation" (to quote my own words), the noble Lord, Lord Snow, interrupted me to say that it is a very old word, all but obsolete.

Why do we not put "airport" in the Bill and get rid of "aerodrome", which is practically obsolete? It seemed to me that the noble Lord was helping me. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, was kind about my Amendment. I hope that he will be more kind. And perhaps, when the noble Lord, Lord Snow, has tramped up and down the "corridors of power" a bit later on he will learn that it is unwise to interrupt the Minister in charge of a Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Line 3, leave out first ("aerodromes") and insert ("airports").—(Viscount Stuart of Findhorn.)


My Lords, I intervene for three reasons: first, to say to the noble Lord that he cut me to the quick just now when he said he preferred the other Amendments to mine; secondly, to show my noble friends that I am not upset by this preference which the noble Lord opposite has shown; and thirdly, to say that it seems to me that the arguments which my noble friend has advanced are completely clinching. Since the noble Lord rejected my Amendments, I therefore assume that he will be accepting those of my noble friend.


My Lords, I should like to support this Amendment. May I remind the noble Lord of the rest of the argument he advanced in Committee about the Amendment? He referred the House to the Chicago Convention's meaning of the word "airport" as being something narrower than the meaning of "aerodrome". He said. As I have said, the term 'aerodrome' is more comprehensive than 'airport'. In the Chicago Convention, 'airport' is used to describe an aerodrome which handles international traffic and has Customs facilities. It is just possible that this Authority will be required, or will wish, to acquire or to set up an establishment which is not used for international traffic and probably does not have Customs facilities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 264 (No. 53), col. 465, March 18, 1965.] What that argument leads to surely is that the Airports Authority Bill may be used for the purpose of regulating and controlling something which is not an airport. Can we not do one of two things: either legislate for an Airports Authority which talks about airports, or legislate for an Aerodromes Authority which talks about aerodromes? Do not let us have a Bill with "airports" in the title and "aerodromes" in the substance of the Bill.

When the Minister told us that he thought the definition of "aerodrome" was contained in the Act of 1949, he went on to say that in this Bill the definition of the word had been widened. There certainly seems to be sense in having a word meaning the same thing in two different Acts of Parliament and sticking to the same word because it has the same meaning in each. But if we are going to have two different meanings in two different Acts, would it not be better to take the opportunity to change the word, to get away from the old-fashioned word and use the modern word—"airport"?


My Lords, may I first apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, for wounding him? I did not intend to wound him to the quick, and I hope that he will recover fairly rapidly. So far as being kind to the noble Viscount is concerned, I am afraid that I cannot be kind to the point of accepting his Amendment, despite the eloquent arguments that have been made. His plea for a more concise and English word is something with which we shall all agree; but, apart from that argument, I think that the legal argument which I advanced before still stands.

The legal objection is that the term "aerodrome" is more comprehensive and has been used in Statutes and statutory instruments with a much wider meaning than "airport". An "airport" is usually used to describe an international airport where Customs facilities are provided. An "aerodrome" can refer to smaller establishments, such as air strips, and will now also refer to a heliport, as that has been injected into the definition. Despite what my noble friend Lord Snow said, I think that the term "aerodrome" is not quite so archaic as he suggested. For instance, it is still used on the Ordnance Survey maps which are produced from time to time. What I am asking is that the legal term in this Bill should be the same as the legal term which is employed in other Statutes. For practical purposes, I am certain that we shall get the best of both worlds. We shall satisfy the lawyers, on the one hand, and so far as ordinary people and the British Airports Authority are concerned, they will use whatever terms—airport, arerodrome, heliport or air terminus—they consider the more suitable for their everyday commercial purposes.

I would point out to the noble Viscount that if I accepted this Amendment, this would entail many other consequential Amendments, and I do not think that an infinite number of Amendments to other legislation would be worth the trouble. I think that he has laid the bogy by his efforts in this House. In regard to the question of the signposts to London Airport, I do not think that we shall have the kind of sign he objects to, any more than we shall have announcements that, "The flying machine to New York has been delayed for one hour". I hope that the noble Viscount will see fit to withdraw his Amendment.


My Lords, I did not wish to withdraw my Amendment, because I still maintain that airport "is the right word, but I see that it is impossible to convince the Government. However, the hour is late, and I have been told that the draftsmen and the Government cannot go through the labour of amending the Bill about 56 times, so I will ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.