HL Deb 31 July 1968 vol 296 cc371-8

[No. 13]

Leave out Clause 9 and insert the following new clause—

Detention and sale of aircraft for unpaid airport charges

".—(1) Where default is made in the payment of airport charges incurred in respect of any aircraft at an aerodrome to which this section applies, the aerodrome authority may, subject to the provisions of this section

  1. (a) detain, pending payment, either?
    1. (i) the aircraft in respect of which the charges were incurred (whether or not they were incurred by the person who is the operator of the aircraft at the time when the detention begins); or
    2. (ii) any other aircraft of which the person in default is the operator at the time when the detention begins; and
  2. (b) if the charges are not paid within fifty-six days of the date when the detention 372 begins, sell the aircraft in order to satisfy the charges.

(2) An aerodrome authority shall not detain, or continue to detain, an aircraft under this section by reason of any alleged default in the payment of aircraft charges if the operator of the aircraft or any other person claiming an interest therein—

  1. (a) disputes that the charges, or any of them, are due or, if the aircraft is detained under subsection (l)(a)(i) of this section, that the charges in question were incurred in respect of that aircraft; and
  2. (b) gives to the authority, pending the determination of the dispute, sufficient security for the payment of the charges which are alleged to be due.

(3) An aerodrome authority shall not sell an aircraft under this section without the leave of the court; and the court shall not give leave except on proof that a sum is due to the authority for airport charges, that default has been made in the payment thereof and that the aircraft which the authority seek leave to sell is liable to sale under this section by reason of the default.

(4) An aerodrome authority proposing to apply for leave to sell an aircraft under this section shall take such steps as may be prescribed by the Board of Trade by regulations made by statutory instrument—

  1. (a) for bringing the proposed application to the notice of persons whose interests may be affected by the determination of the court thereon; and
  2. (b) for affording to any such person an opportunity of becoming a party to the proceedings on the application;
and, if leave is given, the aerodrome authority shall secure that the aircraft is sold for the best price that can reasonably be obtained; but failure to comply with any requirement of this subsection in respect of any sale, while actionable as against the aerodrome authority concerned at the suit of any person suffering loss in consequence thereof, shall not, after the sale has taken place, be a ground for Impugning its validity.

(5) The proceeds of any sale under this section shall be applied as follows, and in the following order, this is to say—

  1. (a) in payment of any customs duty or purchase tax which is due in consequence of the aircraft having been brought into the United Kingdom;
  2. (b) in payment of the expenses incurred by the aerodrome authority in detaining, keeping and selling the aircraft, including their expenses in connection with the application to the court:
  3. (c) in payment of the airport charges which the court has found to be due;
  4. (d) in payment of any charge in respect of the aircraft which is due by virtue of regulations under section 4 of the Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Act 1962 (charges for air navigation services);
and the surplus, if any, shall be paid to or among the person or persons whose interests in the aircraft have been divested by reason of the sale.

(6) The power of detention and sale conferred by this section in respect of an aircraft extends to the equipment of the aircraft and any stores for use in connection with its operation (being equipment and stores carried in the aircraft) whether or not the property of the person who is its operator, and references to the aircraft in subsections (2) to (5) of this section include, except where the context otherwise requires, references to any such equipment and stores.

(7) The power of detention conferred by this section in respect of an aircraft extends to any aircraft documents carried in it; and any such documents may, if the aircraft is sold under this section, be transferred by the aerodrome authority to the purchaser.

(8) The power conferred by this section to detain an aircraft in respect of which charges have been incurred may be exercised on the occasion on which the charges have been incurred or on any subsequent occasion when the aircraft is on the aerodrome on which those charges were incurred or on any other aerodrome owned or managed by the aerodrome authority concerned.

(9) This section applies to any aerodrome owned or managed by any government department, the British Airports Authority or a local authority and to any other aerodrome designated for the purposes of this section by an order made by the Board of Trade; and in this section— aerodrome authority", in relation to any areodrome, means the person owning or managing it; airport charges" means charges payable to an aerodrome authority for the use of, or for services provided at, an aerodrome but does not include charges payable by virtue of regulations under section 4 of the Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Act 1962; aircraft documents", in relation to any aircraft, means any certificate of registration, maintenance or airworthiness of that aircraft, any log book relating to the use of that aircraft or its equipment and any similar document; the court" means, as respects England and Wales, the High Court; as respects Scotland, the Court of Session; and, as respects Northern Ireland, the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland; operator in relation to any aircraft, means the person for the time being having the management of that aircraft.

(10) The Board of Trade may, after consultation with any local authority which appears to the Board to be concerned, by order repeal any enactment in a local Act which appears to the Board to unnecessary having regard to the provisions of this section or to be inconsistent therewith, and any such order may contain such incidental and transitional provisions as the Board think fit.

(11) Any order under subsection (9) or (10) of this section shall be made by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament, and may be varied or revoked by a subsequent order under that subsection.

(12) Nothing in this section shall prejudice any right of an aerodrome authority to recover any charges, or any part thereof, by action.

(13) The foregoing provisions of this section shall come into force on such day as the Board of Trade may by order made by statutory instrument appoint."


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment. This Amendment, which is considerable in length, deals with the question of the detention and sale of aircraft for unpaid airport charges. Again, a number of points were raised in the other place about safeguards in those cases where the Airports Authority intended to detain aircraft and sell the aircraft in order to meet unpaid airport charges. I think it is correct to say, without going into details, which I could go into if I am asked for them, that in general the changes that have been made in this clause are to meet the various doubts which were voiced in the other place.

In general, they increase the safeguards, with the exception of subsection (5)(d), which does to some extent extend the possibility of detaining aircraft, in this case for the payment of any charge in respect of the navigation services provided by the Board of Trade. There is also the provision in subsection (9) which removes the restriction previously limiting the designation of private aerodromes for the purpose of this clause to aerodromes with a substantial amount of air traffic. It was suggested that the smaller aerodromes—that is, aerodromes with a smaller amount of traffic—may need even more than the larger aerodromes the powers in this Bill, and subsection (9) makes the necessary amendment to the original clause. For the remainder, I think it is fair to say that the changes are all increasing the safeguards about which a good deal was said both in this House and in the other place. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment (No. 13).—(Lord Beswick.)

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining this new clause, which I think is a substitute for the original Clause 9 which was in the Bill when it was previously before this House. I am sure that we all welcome it and realise that aerodrome managers should be given this extra protection against non-payment of fees. Also, I am sure we are grateful to the Government for the trouble they have taken in trying to arrive at the correct and right clause. I understand that there were full consultations with all the interested parties.

I have just a few questions to ask the noble Lord. While one accepts that it is right to have the power of this clause so that airfield managers are given this protection, can the Government say how often to their knowledge nonpayment of fees occurs? It strikes one as very odd nowadays, when aircraft cost perhaps £2 million each—for example, the Boeing 707—that the operator apparently cannot always "stump up" the landing fees. One wonders whether the side effect really is to strengthen the arm of the British Airports Authority so that when they increase the landing fees at Heathrow they can say, "Watch out!" to the airline operators.

The second question deals with subsection (1)(a) which reads: the aircraft in respect of which the charges were incurred (whether or not they were incurred by the person who is the operator of the aircraft at the time when the detention begins) …". The reason why I should like to draw the noble Lord's attention to this paragraph is that one can see a situation arising where a new owner or new operator of an aircraft purchases aircraft and on the point of starting his business suddenly finds that he is being charged with fees that date back perhaps even a couple of years and were owed by the previous owner. I consider that is a very unfair situation. When this point was raised in another place, the Government's reply was that this was the only way to make the operator at the time fully responsible; the only way to prevent the unscrupulous operator from evading payment. Surely, if a proper register of operators were kept, with dates as to when operators operated, it would be easy to work out who was responsible. It would be very easy, I should have thought, to charge the person concerned, whether scrupulous or unscrupulous, with the bill. It is rather an unfair system if a new operator can be charged this liability of which he may not have any knowledge.

The third question which I should like briefly to ask deals with subsection (5)(a), which reads: in payment of any customs duty or purchase tax which is due in consequence of the aircraft having been brought into the United Kingdom ….". The purpose of this subsection is to deal with the proceeds of a compulsory sale of an aircraft. This subsection seems to offer a rather unfair situation where a foreign operator flies in an aircraft and for some reason defaults. The aeroplane is then detained and, under this Bill, eventually sold. That aircraft when it is sold could apparently, under this subsection (5)(a), attract purchase tax. It seems a very unfair situation where a foreign operator may have to suffer purchase tax even if at the time of the sale friends of his come to purchase the aircraft back. I wonder whether the noble Lord could say whether that is really the intention of the Bill.

The last question that I should like to ask the noble Lord concerns the period of time under subsection (1)(b), the time being "within fifty-six days". The noble Lord may recall that when the Bill was previously before this House the time limit originally started at 21 days. Then, with considerable reluctance, I would say, on the part of the noble Lord, it was raised in this House to 28 days. I believe we were told on that occasion that this was more than enough and it was a considerable concession to have wrung out of the Government. It was therefore a little astonishing to find that in another place the period of time was changed to 56 days, without any explanation or reason as to why this change had taken place. Having said all that, I would welcome this new clause. I am sure it is right that airfield managers and operators should have this additional protection, and it is also right that these safeguards should have been written into this clause.


My Lords, the noble Earl has obviously studied this matter with great care and I compliment him on the points which he has picked out. He is quite right that there is retained in this redrafted clause provision that an aircraft may be detained even if the default is incurred by someone other than the operator at the time when the offence begins. I am afraid, however, that I cannot give the noble Earl any better answer than that which he really gave himself when he indicated what was said in another place. It is thought that this provision is absolutely essential; otherwise a person in default would be able to evade detention by handing over the operation of the aircraft to someone else. It would be for persons who assume the operation of, or acquire an interest in, an aircraft to satisfy themselves that all outstanding liabilities for airport charges had been met.

The noble Earl asked me about the position of articles brought into the country: whether there would be any liability for customs duty and purchase tax. The position here is that duty and purchase tax would be payable only where they are payable under the 1952 Customs and Excise Act. There is absolutely nothing in this redrafted clause to change that position either one way or the other. I was asked how often in the past it would have been useful to have had the power now provided in respect of non-payment of fees. Again, I am sorry that I cannot give the noble Earl the answer. It is an interesting point which never seems to have been asked before. If there is any information, I will let him have it. I myself doubt whether there is any question of the Airports Authority's being concerned about their new rate of charge. I think the noble Earl may rest assured that that is not the intention. I myself would think that the matter would arise much more often in the smaller airports. To that extent I am pleased that there has been this amendment to the original Act. I can remember one or two cases where a chartered aircraft brought into this country had not met its proper airport charges, but there have been very few cases in the larger airports.

If there is any more interesting information 1 will let the noble Earl know. He made some point—and I do not blame him at all—about the change in the time allowed; we argued about 21 days and 28 days, and now it is 56 days. I agree that he is entitled to chide me. On the other hand, in this new clause there are many more safeguards, more procedures to go through and therefore it is reasonable to allow more time for them to be properly carried out. I hope with this explanation, inadequate though it may be, the noble Earl will agree that we should adopt the clause.

On Question, Motion agreed to.