HL Deb 23 November 1967 vol 286 cc1150-69

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is a straightforward one and I hope it will prove non-controversial. It deals with a number of miscellaneous civil aviation matters where the present law, with the passage of time, has been found to be defective or deficient. It will be of practical assistance not only to the Board of Trade in discharging their responsibilities for civil aviation, but also to Northern Ireland, to local authorities, to private owners who maintain and operate airports in the United Kingdom, and to owners and manufacturers of aircraft. Possibly I might most conveniently explain the Bill by going through the clauses.

Clause 1 deals with the control of road traffic at Board of Trade and local authority aerodromes designated by Order of the Ministry of Transport. The Road Traffic Acts already apply to those aerodrome roads, to which the public have access. The clause enables the ordinary laws applying to road traffic in general to be extended to aerodrome roads to which the public do not have access, but on which there is a substantial traffic problem. It also enables those laws to be modified, so far as necessary, in order to confer on the aerodrome authority at a particular aerodrome the functions of a highway or local authority in relation to roads within their aerodrome.

Clause 2 provides modern by-law-making powers at aerodromes owned or managed by the Board of Trade, in place of the rather antiquated powers which they now have. At present, as a reminder that most of these aerodromes were originally military or joint user aerodromes, the Board of Trade's powers derive from the Military Lands Act 1892.

Clause 3 confers similar by-law-making powers on local authorities. At present, apart from Section 249 of the Local Government Act, 1933, which is of limited application for this purpose, there is no general statutory provision enabling local authorities to make by-laws for their aerodromes, though some have armed themselves with by-law-making powers by means of local Acts—a rather cumbrous and expensive process.

Clause 4 gives similar powers to owners of private aerodromes but only where the Board of Trade is satisfied that there is a substantial amount of commercial passenger traffic. At some privately-owned aerodromes, such as Lydd and Southampton, there is as much traffic as at some local authority or Board of Trade aerodromes, and where this is so it seems desirable that the owners should have the power to make by-laws, subject to confirmation by the Board of Trade, for regulating the orderly use of their aerodromes.

Clause 5 provides maximum penalties for the contravention of by-laws made under the preceding clauses. Clause 6 enables local authorities to provide facilities for civil aviation at aerodromes not established or maintained by them. The kind of arrangement which this is intended to facilitate is the provision of a civil enclave at, for example, an R.A.F. aerodrome where civil traffic can be fitted in without detriment to its military use. This is sometimes the most economical way of securing civil facilities. There is some doubt whether local authorities can properly do this, as distinct from providing a complete new aerodrome under their present powers, which derive from the Civil Aviation Act 1949. This clause will remove these doubts.

Clause 7 enables grants or loans to be made from public funds towards providing, maintaining or extending aerodromes. To avoid raising false hopes. I ought to say that its primary purpose is to give specific authority for grants and loans which clearly fall within the existing functions Of the Board of Trade under Section 1 of the 1949 Act. During the last ten years or so, a number of local authorities have been the recipients of grants towards the provision or development of civil aerodromes, and it is desirable from the angle of Parliamentary control that specific statutory authority should be granted for expenditure continuing beyond a single financial year. The Board of Trade will continue to judge cases strictly on their individual merits, and in particular on the need for any Exchequer assistance. I might mention here that some amendment may be needed to this clause consequent on the proposal to establish a National Loans Fund, to which reference was made in Her Majesty's gracious Speech.

Clause 8 extends the powers of the Northern Ireland Parliament to make laws in respect of aerodromes in Northern Ireland. When the Government of Ireland Act was passed, delimiting the respective functions of the two Parliaments, the Northern Irish Parliament was precluded from dealing with aerial navigation, civil aviation was in its infancy and no one foresaw that the present need would arise. It is no longer appropriate that local authorities in Northern Ireland wishing to establish aerodromes to serve their own local needs should need approval from Whitehall. Nor is it appropriate that ownership and control over the management and future development of the airport serving Belfast, with its important and rapidly growing traffic, should continue to be vested in Whitehall. The primary purpose of Clause 8 is, therefore, to pave the way for the Northern Ireland Government to assume responsibility for Alder-grove under powers which they will seek from their own Parliament as soon as this present Bill becomes law. Safety matters will, however, continue to be controlled by the Board of Trade by means of aerodrome licensing because of the international obligations of the United Kingdom in this respect.

Clause 9 gives airport authorities power to detain and to sell aircraft for non-payment of airport charges. Harbour authorities already have similar powers in regard to ships under Section 44 of the Harbour Docks and Piers Act 1847.

Clause 10 extends the power of the Board of Trade under Section 4 of the Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Act 1962 to make regulations requiring the payment of charges for air navigation services so as to include services rendered by international organisations, or foreign Governments, in pursuance of agreements to which the United Kingdom is a party. It also closes gaps in the existing law and ensures that all operators may be charged for these services, wherever the services are rendered.

I now come to Clauses 11, 12 and 13, which I hope it will be convenient to consider together. At present, movables other than ships cannot be mortgaged in English law except by bills of sale. The procedure is cumbersome, and is unlikely to be recognised by foreign courts. There has long been a need on the part of manufacturers, operators and others concerned with buying and selling aircraft for a system permitting the mortgaging of aircraft and for the international recognition of rights in them. Such arrangements should be in the interests of the expansion of civil aviation in this country and should facilitate the export of aircraft; and I understand that what is now proposed is welcomed by the Society of British Aerospace Constructors, as it is now known.

Clauses 11, 12 and 13 enable provision to be made by Orders in Council, subject to Affirmative Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament, both for the mortgaging of aircraft registered in the United Kingdom, on lines generally similar to the provisions made in the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 for the mortgaging of ships (Clause 11), and for giving effect to the Convention on the International Recognition of Rights in Aircraft (Clause 12).

This Convention was signed in Geneva in 1948 by 20 States, including the United Kingdom. Here, my Lords, I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, at Geneva in the drafting of this Convention. He in fact signed the Convention on behalf of this country in that year. It came into effect on September 17, 1953, and 26 States, including the United States and most of Western Europe, are now parties to it; but the United Kingdom is not. The Convention is intended to ensure the recognition in other contracting States of mortgages and other rights in aircraft recorded in the State of registry of the aircraft, thereby improving the security which airlines and other purchasers can offer to those financing the purchase of aircraft. Ratification of the Convention would of course be of no use to a State which itself had no provisions for registering mortgages and other rights in aircraft.

Your Lordships will observe that the enabling powers set out in these clauses are expressed in general terms. The detailed arrangements will be the subject of consultations with interested parties, and will then appear in full in the Orders which, as I have said, will be subject to debate under the Affirmative Resolution procedure. This is provided for in Clause 13, which makes supplementary provisions to Clauses 11 and 12 and permits these clauses to apply, if required, to aircraft belonging to or employed in the service of Her Majesty.

Clause 14 is concerned with another aspect of international civil aviation. In these days, when the tendency is for aircraft to become larger and more expensive, there is increasing commercial pressure for what is known as the interchange of aircraft; that is to say, for aircraft owned by persons of one nationality to be chartered without crew to operators of another nationality. Normally, it is the responsibility of the State in which the aircraft is registered to regulate the operation of the aircraft so as to ensure safety, and it may not be registered in more than one State at a time. It has, however, become apparent from experience that, particularly where the chartered aircraft is operated outside its State of registry, control can be more effectively exercised by the State of the operator, and the State of registry may wish temporarily to delegate its responsibility to that State. At present, under Section 59 of the Civil Aviation Act 1949 the Air Navigation Order and Regulations cannot extend to foreign-registered aircraft except when they are in United Kingdom airspace. Clause 14 will enable the United Kingdom to exercise extra-territorial control over foreign-registered aircraft operated by a United Kingdom operator, and will fill a gap which at present exists in regulating the safety of interchanged aircraft.

Clause 15 requires the registration, as local land charges in England and Wales, of rights enforceable under Section 23(7) of the 1949 Act, which deals with powers over land in connection with civil aviation. This is necessary because Section 23(7) does not accord with the principles of land registration in England and Wales, in that it does not require certain rights created by agreement, which under Section 23(7) become binding upon the successors in title of the grantor, to be registered as local land charges.

Clause 16 extends the time limit for summary prosecutions under the Air Navigation Order and Regulations arising out of aircraft accidents. Noble Lords will remember that the Cairns Committee on Aircraft Accident Investigation recommended that the time limit of six months for summary prosecutions for offences arising out of aircraft accidents should be extended to twelve months. This period would reduce the risk of a prosecution which has been deferred pending an accident investigation or public inquiry, or the necessity for which is first brought to light by the report of such an investigation or inquiry, being barred by lapse of time.

The purpose of Clause 17 is to remove doubts whether the powers of control over land in the vicinity of aerodromes and other facilities vested in the Board of Trade contained in Section 26(1) of the Act of 1949 extend to aerodromes which are used for the testing of aircraft designed for civil aviation, but not for civil aviation purposes generally. It is reasonable, I should have thought, that such aerodromes should enjoy the same degree of protection as do other civil aerodromes. Clause 18 repeals now inoperative provisions of Part IV of the Civil Aviation Act 1949 relating to damage caused by aircraft to persons or property on land or water. Section 128 of the Companies Act 1967 repealed some of the sections of Part IV of the Civil Aviation Act 1949—those relating to compulsory third-party insurance which had never been brought into force. This clause repeals the remaining provisions of Part IV, which are obsolete particularly because of the low limit of liability which they impose. The remaining clauses are the usual ones dealing with the exercise of the powers of the Board of Trade, financial aspects, citation, interpretation and extent.

As I have said, my Lords, this is a useful and a practical Bill, and I trust that your Lordships will accord it a Second Reading. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

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

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his clear and careful exposition of this Bill. He may be aware that some of us on these Benches are not at present particularly enamoured of the present Government, but let me assure him straight away that I do not propose to extend my unamorous feelings towards this particular Bill. By and large, it seems to me to be a useful one. Of course, it bears all the old familiar hallmarks of a departmental measure. It is the usual "rag-bag", but much of the "rag-bag " seems to me at least useful, and most of it quite unobjectionable. I have certain specific questions—a small number—and reservations which I should like to ventilate in a moment to your Lordships' House, but before I do that I should like to make a few rather more general observations.

I must confess that I was a little disappointed that in his opening remarks the noble Lord was not able, or did not see fit, to relate this particular measure in any way to a coherent policy towards airports in this country. I confess that I am worried about this, since I can see all too many signs that the present Government—and I do not absolve previous Governments from their share of the blame in this respect—are tending to plan our airports in isolation, piecemeal, and with an altogether undue bias towards London and London's particular needs.

I am personally convinced that we need a clear and coherent air transport policy in this country, within it and outside it, and a clear and coherent national airports policy related to that. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens travel by air within our borders and several millions go outside. Executive travel is expanding, and will expand, and air freight is expanding very quickly indeed. I think it is going up by something like 23 per cent. a year; and again we are just on the verge of much larger expansion. Air freight affords an obvious way of exporting quickly and efficiently and also of getting what is just as necessary, the quick back-up, in spares and so forth, to our export effort. With bigger aircraft and aircraft specifically designed for air freight, and with the growing trend in industry towards miniaturisation (and therefore hopes of less bulky engines) I am certain that this tendency will increase. Yet at present I can see but little recognition of this by the Government.

Nor can I see much recognition of the way in which our policy towards airports should impinge upon a great many aspects of regional and indeed national planning: on the choice of sites for major industrial development, on amenity considerations, not least—in fact on a whole host of land use considerations. For example, the Chairman of the new British Airports Authority recently told us that Heathrow, directly or indirectly, employed or supported nearly 300,000 people. This, in itself, shows how cardinal is the proper siting of airports to proper regional and national planning. I would therefore express the hope that wherever the Government are now planning major developments, whether on Humberside, Severn-side or Tayside, the question of appropriate air facilities will be given due and proper consideration.

I must confess that I am not particularly confident that this will be the case, seeing that the South-East Planning Council were not even consulted about Stansted. I would therefore urge the Government to give priority to elaboration of a long-range plan for our airports. I would also urge them, in this connection, to consider the importance of direct air services abroad from all our major regions. And in this connection I would suggest the provision of other forms of service transport, and, in particular, roads. And I would urge upon them a careful sense of choice of priorities. I think we have heard M. Mendes-France's dictum quoted before in your Lordships' House: To govern is to choose. My Lords, given the fact that our resources are not inexhaustible, is it really sensible for us to duplicate our airports as we do in certain regions? Is it sensible, for example, not to make proper provision for a really major airport in the South-West? Therefore I would urge the need for a more regional approach by the Government.

So much for the general considerations, which may perhaps be only partly relevant to this particular Bill—although if I am challenged I think I could justify them by reference to Clause 7. I have felt compelled to make the few remarks I have made because I am worried at the fact that, to say the least, the Government do not appear to be seized of the necessity for a coherent and long-range policy. The French are planning their airports for the 21st century. Contrast this with Mrs. Barbara Castle's White Paper Transport Policy. In that document brief lip service was paid, and only occasionally, to our airports and to our airport needs; but in the summary in that document there is not a single mention of this or of airport policy. That, it seems to me, denotes a rather odd and unimaginative set of Government priorities.

My Lords, that said, I should like to put four specific questions to the noble Lord. Since I have been kind enough to give him notice of these questions, perhaps he will be kind enough to give me satisfactory replies. My first question relates to Clause 7 of the Bill. That clause, as the noble Lord explained, makes it possible for the Government to make grants or loans towards expenses in respect of airports and their development. So far, so good. But in subsection (2) of that clause we find that our major airport authority, The British Airports Authority, is specifically excluded from this beneficial provision. I should like to ask the noble Lord why this is so. He may reply that under the Airports Authority Act 1965 the Airports Authority has adequate powers for borrowing. In the normal course of events I should have been the first to grant that this might well be so. However, I would remind your Lordships that the British Airports Authority is intended to be a commercial undertaking—and its first year's results show that it takes its commercial responsibilities very seriously. But the Airports Authority is subject to ministerial direction and the Government might direct that it should take something on or do something against its considered commercial judgment.

The Authority might, for instance, be be asked to operate aerodromes in the Highlands and Islands, something which might be perfectly sensible on social grounds, but not so sensible on purely commercial grounds. Or it might, to take a hypothetical example, be directed by the Government to change the direction or layout of the runways at one of its existing airports. Such a change might be held to be desirable on planning grounds. However, by the yardstick of economics, such a change might be totally uncommercial and could be very costly—and I think it would be in the case of Stansted. In view of this—and this is the first question which I should like to put to the noble Lord—is it right that the British Airports Authority should be specifically excluded from the provisions of this clause of the Bill? Would it not be wiser for the Government to retain some flexibility here? May I, parenthetically, ask whether the Authority was consulted before it was excluded?

My second question relates to Clause 9 of the Bill. Under this clause the aerodrome authorities are given the power to detain aircraft in the event of the nonpayment of airport dues or charges. There is obviously a good case for this power, but the penalties are pretty stiff. If the outstanding airport charges are not paid within 21 days the airport authorities have power to sell the aircraft. Might it not be considered somewhat disproportionate that an aircraft worth, possibly, a million pounds or two million pounds could be sold to settle an outstanding charge which might amount to only a few hundred pounds? Is not the time allowance of 21 days possibly a little on the short side?

Then there is Clause 11. This deals with the new mortgage provisions and also sets out the United Kingdom mortgage register for aircraft. I personally warmly welcome this. But I notice that the mortgage provisions are related to those of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. This strikes me as a little odd. That particular Act of 1894 is, after all, getting rather long in the tooth, and we know that the Government dentists will possibly examine these particular teeth. I should like to ask the Minister whether it is really sensible to relate the mortgage provisions for aircraft in 1967 to the mortgage provisions for ships in 1894.

My final question is concerned with Clause 12, which gives the Government the right by Order in Council to ratify the Geneva Convention on the international recognition of rights in aircraft; and in this connection I should like to echo the tribute paid to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. This is all very well, but I would remind your Lordships that the Convention was signed 19 years ago and some of us may be pardoned if we do not carry all its provisions fresh in our minds. In view of this, might it not be helpful to have attached it as a Schedule to the Bill, as was done in the case of the amended Warsaw Convention which was attached to the Carriage by Air Act 1961? More important, can the Government tell us why there has been all this delay in ratifying the Convention? Of course the noble Lord may reply that he, or his Government, can be held only six-nineteenths responsible, but I hope that he will not fall back on that line of argument.

That said, I should like to put one specific question in this connection to the noble Lord. I think he said that 26 countries have now ratified or now adhere to this Convention. They are headed alphabetically by Algeria. Your Lordships will recall that last summer the Algerian Government impounded a British aircraft and two British pilots. After a prolonged and humiliating struggle we managed to secure the release of the two pilots. I am afraid I do not know, and I would ask the noble Lord, whether we have yet managed to secure the release of the aircraft. Secondly, I should like to ask him whether our legal rights would have been stronger in attempting to do so had we already been parties to the Geneva Convention; and if we have not yet succeeded, will they be stronger when we become parties to that Convention?

My Lords, I hope that we shall give careful consideration to this Bill in Committee, not least because it is starting in your Lordships' House, and I am glad that it is starting here. But, that said, and with those qualifications, I should from these Beneches like to wish a fair passage to this Bill on Second Reading.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for his careful and lucid explanation of this Bill and to say that we on these Benches welcome the Bill as giving the proper and appropriate powers to the Board of Trade and to municipal authorities to administer the airports and aerodromes under their control. In particular, I am told that the Association of Municipal Authorities is extremely gratified that now, for the first time, they are to have statutory powers, which they are given, I think, under Clauses 3 and 9, to make appropriate bylaws and to have the power to detain aircraft to secure unpaid charges.

I also should like to refer to Clause 7. As the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, explained, this provides for help by the Government in the way of grants in aid, loans, for expanding, establishing and maintaining aerodromes and also for making good operators' losses. But, as the noble Lord pointed out, subsection (2) seems to exclude the British Airports Authority. It also stipulates, quite categorically, that it relates to the four airports transferred to the Authority under the 1965 Act. Those four airports are Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Prestwick. With the mention of Stansted, although it is a little outside the precise discussion on this Bill, may I ask the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government one question of which I have given him previous notice? As I understand it, yesterday, in reply to a Question in another place, the Government said that their choice was the development of Stansted. The question I should like to ask is whether, in view of the immense divergence of opinion, professional and otherwise, which has been publicly expressed, this choice is irrevocable, or will there be an opportunity for reconsideration in the light of further debate and hearing?

I should like now to return to Clause 7. It would be useful to look at paragraph 37 of the recent White Paper Nationalised Industries: A Review of Economic and Financial Objectives, which says categorically: Where there are significant social or wider economic costs and benefits which ought to be taken into account and which mean that the nationalised industry has to act against its own commercial interests a special payment will be made to the industry, or an appropriate adjustment made to its financial target. It looks to me as though Clause 7(2) is in conflict with what is said in the White Paper on the subject. When we come to the Committee stage we may find that this clause has to be amended. If it is not to be amended and the development of Stansted is to go on, involving the realignment of the runways which, I am told credibly, is to cost something like £10 million (and there will be greater expenses in developing this airport to the proper standards as an international airport and the third London airport) and if the whole of this huge cost is saddled on the British Airports Authority, which cannot ask for help because it would receive a statutory refusal, there is little hope that the Authority could be even in sight of viability in the next several years.

My Lords, there is only one other small question which I should like to ask, and it concerns Clause 9(4). This deals with the detention of aircraft and stores and documents on the aircraft. Can this be construed to cover baggage, freight and mails? If so, I foresee that a great many difficulties may be involved. Perhaps it would be wise to try to be more specific in this clause. Having said that, my Lords, I would end by repeating that we on these Benches welcome the Bill.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, may I trouble your Lordships with a very few observations on the clauses in the Bill in which I have a particular interest, namely, Clauses 11, 12 and 13? I would say at once how grateful I am for the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and their references to the work of the United Kingdom delegation at the Geneva Conference, of which I was a member. As your Lordships will see from the Bill in Clause 12(1), and indeed as the noble Lord told us, this matter has a rather long history. It goes back to 1948 when at Geneva the United Kingdom delegation made great efforts to procure a Convention in a form which would be acceptable to interests in this country and would fit in with our law. We succeeded, at any rate to the extent of being authorised by the Government of the day to sign the Convention on behalf of the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately the then Government did not decide to ratify it, and their successors, instead of ratifying it, decided to set up a Committee to investigate the adaptations necessary before the Convention could be brought into force. That Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice McNair, which worked in the early 1950s, put in some two years of very hard work on this Convention with a view to bringing it into English law; and with the assistance of distinguished Parliamentary counsel, Sir John Rowlatt, who was a member of it, actually drew up a draft Bill containing all the necessary clauses to put the Convention into effect and to make the necessary changes in our law. However, it was decided not to bring the Bill in, and there it is reposing in some pigeon-hole. Now, some ten years or so afterwards, we are presented with Clauses 11, 12 and 13. For my part, I am grateful that the present Government have at least decided to take action to bring this Convention into operation. I realise that with the passage of time the original Bill probably will not do because of the amount of water which has flowed under the bridge, particularly by the introduction of Euro control, and that certain changes are necessary, so probably the technique of legislating by Order in Council is the right way to do it now.

But if I may, I would urge the Government, though I am sure I am pushing at a partly open door, to proceed vigorously this time with the necessary instruments so that this Convention can really come into force. It is a matter of considerable practical importance to a number of interests. First, there is the interest of the constructors of aircraft. The Bill enables finance to be provided for foreign firms to buy not only single aircraft, but fleets of aircraft and the spare parts of aircraft, all of which are covered by this Convention, the cost of which runs into many millions of pounds, and which could not be financed without some security arrangement. The constructors have for a long time asked that something of this kind should be provided.

Secondly, our own private airlines are interested in having some means by which they can finance modern fleets which can compete with other airlines. I know that they have asked for a long time for these financing and security arrangements to be made available. Thirdly, the Convention is of interest to bankers and merchant houses who are able and willing to lend money to foreign airlines on the security of their aircraft provided the security system is right. Here is a further source of invisible exports, which I am sure would be greatly helped forward by the enactment and adoption of this Convention.

The noble Lord used one word in announcing the Government's intention which gave me a little disquiet. He said that the necessary Orders in Council would be proceeded with after "consultation". I know that nowadays there is consultation and consultation, but assuming that this is to be genuine consultation, as I am sure the noble Lord meant, I can only hope that it will not be too prolonged consultation, because for a long time a great many of the interests have made their attitudes known. These were carefully investigated by the McNair Committee. No doubt there have been changes and developments since then, but I do not think that a lengthy process of re-examination is necessary. In a friendly way, I would urge the noble Lord and the Government to see whether they cannot this time improve on the record of the five preceding Governments and really get this Convention and the necessary legislation going.

There is one other point I would make on the Bill. It introduces a number of amendments of a detailed kind to the Civil Aviation Act 1949 and to its numerous Schedules, and provides for the issue of a number of regulations and other forms of subsidiary legislation. The legislation on civil aviation, like legislation on other subjects, unfortunately, is rapidly becoming a jungle, and I would ask the noble Lord to consider with his department whether it would not be possible to proceed to a consolidation of this legislation, which I suggest should not be limited merely to the Acts in question—the 1949 Act, including its various amendments, and this Act—but should also incorporate up-to-date regulations. A great many people—owners of aircraft, pilots, and those in the aircraft industry—have to look at civil aviation legislation, and there is a great demand for up-to-date and easily accessible copies of this legislation. I wonder whether the Government could set a precedent by getting out not only a co-ordinated Act, but also a single volume through the Stationery Office, which would contain in a convenient form the subsidiary and delegated legislation as well. At present people have to look up Statutory Instruments, then find the amendments and check subsequent amendments, which all takes a long time, even with the help of lawyers. Perhaps the noble Lord, if not now, then at a later date, may be able to improve our methods of legislation by helping in this way. Otherwise, I am very glad to support the Bill.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earls, Lord Jellicoe and Lord Amherst, and to the noble Lord, Lord Wilberforce, for the general support they have given to this Bill. I understand the need of the noble Earl to be critical in general, because I do not feel that there is much in this particular measure about which he can be critical. I am grateful to the noble Earls, too, for having given me some indication of the points they proposed to put, and I hope that in consequence I can answer some of them, though in other cases, even with longer notice, I could not have been able to give satisfactory answers.

I am all in favour of clarity in aviation policy, and to this extent I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. But I am sorry that he called the Bill a "ragbag". There is some very good cloth in this bag, and some of it could have been woven by Administrations before the present one. But I do not propose to go into all that. In regard to airport policy, I should have thought that the noble Earl would be the first to applaud the fact that we brought in legislation to set up the Airport Authority. It was the first Bill which I introduced in your Lordships' House, and I have a fond recollection of it. I thought that it was improved in your Lordships' House and went out from here a satisfactory measure. It made some progress in airport policy.

In the field of air transport policy, I thought that the noble Earl might have made, at any rate, a passing reference to the Edwards Committee and its remit, which I think has had general welcome throughout the aviation world.


My Lords, it was merely time consideration which prevented me making a reference to the Edwards Committee, and purely that. But since he has raised the point, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is his understanding that their writ will cover net only the question of licensing, but also the siting of airports, which is closely linked to it, at least in my mind.


My Lords, I should not like to answer "off the cuff", but my understanding is that it does not cover that. I agree that there is a need for clarity and reconsideration in our air transport policy, and I think the establishment of the Edwards Committee was a step in the right direction.

The noble Earl asked me about Clause 7(2), in relation to the financing of the Airport Authority. When we considered the Bill in your Lordships' House, it was stated strongly on both sides that it was undesirable for the Authority to be too closely under the control of the central Government. Under the terms of the Act, the four airports concerned are given certain borrowing powers, within the scope of which they will be able to make their own decisions, subject of course to approval by the Board of Trade so far as capital expenditure is concerned. I thought that that was satisfactory. But I take the point made by the noble Earl, about any extension of ownership of airports by the airport authority, and I should have thought that this was covered by the Bill. The fact is that if the Authority wish to acquire new airports, those airports are not excluded by the terms of the Bill. The noble Earl asked me about Clause 9 and the choice of 21 days as the period—


Before the noble Lord continues, may I ask him whether the development of Stansted will be classified as a new airport or not?


My Lords, I was proposing to refer to the noble Earl's contribution later on. The fact is that Stansted is one of four airports which the Aviation Authority took over. To that extent it is excluded by the provisions of this Bill. I will take the opportunity now to reply to the noble Earl, Lord Amherst. I am sorry, but I cannot give him any satisfaction about Stansted. I am prepared on another occasion to debate the merits of the decision. The fact is that, as the Lord President said in another place, the Order will be laid, and the only question now under consideration is that of the alignment of the runways. But when that is decided an Order will be brought before the House, and at that time, if not before, there will be an opportunity to discuss the Order relating to Stansted.

The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, asked me about the choice of 21 days as the period after which a defaulting aircraft may be sold. I agree with him that it seems a somewhat short time, and he may feel that the period is an arbitrary one. The only precedent in legislation is, I understand, the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847, which states a period of seven days. That, it was agreed, was too short, and the period was made 21 days. If the noble Earl, on reflection, still thinks that it is too short a period, I shall be happy to consider it further on the Committee stage.

Then the noble Earl asked me about Clause 12 and the relevance of this to the unfortunate affair of the HS.125, which is, I understand, still in Algeria. The Geneva Convention on the Rights in Aircraft 1948 imposes an obligation on contracting States to recognise various rights in aircraft, including mortgages and rights of property, if those rights are recorded in the register maintained by the State of registry. Assuming that the United Kingdom and Algeria were both parties to the Convention, and that the British owner's property rights had been registered in this country, the Convention would nevertheless not be relevant to the present situation. This is because neither the Algerian authorities nor anyone else is apparently contesting the British firm's ownership; nor, indeed, any other rights which may exist over the aircraft for the benefit of British third parties.

The Algerian authorities, in fact, are only detaining the aircraft, without contesting any such rights, for which detention, so far as I know, they have given no reason at all. The detention is clearly not justifiable under International Law. The answer to the noble Earl, therefore, is that had this Convention been ratified before there would have been no difference in the situation. It is now a matter for representation from this country to try to prevail upon the Algerian authorities to recognise existing law, and it is hoped that as a result of the representations which have been made the aircraft will be released, and released within a short time.

I was particularly grateful for what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, said about the clauses relating to the Geneva Convention. I am not sure whether I can call on him to help to explain the delay that has taken place in the ratification. One of the excuses which has been put forward in the past, I understand, is that the measure would have been so long that it would have required a large slice of Parliamentary time. The present procedure has the merit of not encroaching on Parliamentary time to the same extent. We have not yet gone the whole way. There is still the question of consultation, as the noble Lord mentioned, before Orders are actually laid. I take his point about the danger of consultation. I well remember an occasion in New York in 1946, when the late Mr. La Guardia was calling on the United Nations General Assembly to carry out a certain resolution in relation to the condition of people in the war distressed areas of Europe. Mr. La Guardia said in a speech which I think was the best speech that I have heard: There are as many ways of killing a resolution as of killing a cat. One is by referring it to a committee; another is by having consultations. I can only say that I will see that the point which the noble Lord has made, about the necessity for urgent action, is brought to the notice of those concerned.

I was asked a detailed question by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, as to why the Convention is not attached as a Schedule to the Bill. The fact is, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, said, that it is now out of date in many respects; it would not be helpful, and it might even be misleading, and I do not think that in the present context such a Schedule would be called for.

I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, if equipment in the stores in Clause 9(4) is covered by the powers which it is proposed to obtain. The answer is that baggage, cargo and mail would not be covered.

I think that this covers all the questions I was asked, with the exception of one about consolidation. I should have thought that in the matter of consolidation the record of the present Government would bear comparison with that of any previous Administrations. But I can well understand that there is a need, so far as aviation law is concerned, and what the noble Earl has said will, I am sure, be considered by those responsible. With those explanations, I hope that your Lordships will now give a Second Reading to this Bill.

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