HL Deb 12 November 1969 vol 305 cc656-63

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I would now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade in another place. May I take the opportunity to apologise to the noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, for delaying her maiden speech, to which I am sure noble Lords are looking forward?

My Lords, the Statement reads:

"I am to-day laying before the House a White Paper setting out the Government's decisions in the light of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Civil Air Transport—the Edwards Report. "Over 90 per cent. of the output of British airlines is on international services. The industry must be strong in that intensely competitive field. In this country domestic services are limited and not very remunerative. There is need for rationalisation. Everywhere in the world civil aviation is highly regulated. We need to improve our regulatory machinery with the aim of strengthening the industry.

"In the public sector the Government will establish an Airways Board charged with the task of securing that the fleets and resources of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. are planned and marketed to the greatest overall advantage.

"The Board will have complete authority and will not, therefore, represent an additional layer of decision-making. The Airways Board will also be responsible for setting up a separate regional airline bringing together certain domestic services of B.E.A. and of the British Air Services group.

"The Government would welcome the emergence through combination of a strong independent airline undertaking scheduled services. They will favour the licensing of such a carrier on routes, notably on the North Atlantic, where the presence of a second British carrier could be expected to increase the British share of business. But they do not accept that the creation of such an airline should be made conditional on the transfer of a significant part of the Air Corporations' routes. They believe that there are continuing opportunities of growth for independent airlines and will pursue pricing policies which should assist them.

"The Government accept that, after other steps have been taken to strengthen regional air services, it may still be necessary to subsidise certain services which can be shown to contribute to the economic or social development of the regions. They will seek powers to grant subsidies where detailed economic studies show them to be justified.

"The Government propose to improve the regulatory machinery by setting up a Civil Aviation Authority which will have comprehensive responsibility for the regulation of the industry in all its aspects—economic, operational and technical. The Board of Trade will lay down the objectives and policies to be pursued by the Authority: these will be published and come before Parliament before being made binding upon the Authority. In addition, the Board of Trade will continue to exercise its present functions in relation to the public sector—the Airways Board and the British Airports Authority. It will also continue to bear the main responsibility for negotiating international agreements affecting civil aviation, for investigating accidents and for the control of aircraft noise.

"I am inviting the chairmen and members of the boards of the Air Corporations, of the Air Transport Licensing Board and of the Civil Aviation Advisory Committee generally to continue to serve for a further year, to allow time for the introduction of legislation.

"With these changes the industry should be able to meet, with confidence, the challenges of the future and increase its contribution to an expanding economy and to the service of the public."


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord for repeating that fairly lengthy Statement made in another place on the long awaited, rather protracted, birth of the Government White Paper on the future of the civil air transport industry. The noble Lord knows as well as any of us that all sections of the industry have been eagerly, in some cases anxiously, awaiting the Government views on the recommendations of the Edwards Committee, and the House will remember that this was forcibly expressed by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye during the debate in July. The conclusions that the Government have arrived at will, I am sure, be examined closely by those of us who are interested, and I hope that in time we shall have the opportunity of debating this White Paper. If there is one conclusion that I am sure will be widely welcomed from all sides, it is that the Minister will retain full responsibility for the control of aircraft noise.

Arising from the Statement, I should like to have clarified a number of small points. Could the noble Lord say whether the White Paper makes it crystal clear that the new Airways Board will be intending to take a financial stake in any of the independent forces, or second force, as recommended by the Edwards Committee? Secondly, when he says that the Government would welcome the emergence … of a strong independent airline … could he explain just how different in practice the new licensing system will be from the old one? Thirdly, could he say whether the Government intend to follow the Edwards Committee recommendation by publishing its future policy as a Statutory Instrument? Fourthly, if I am not going too fast, one assumes from the Statement that it is intended to keep the Civil Aviation Authority separate from the British Airports Authority. Who, in practice, will be responsible for future siting of airports? Lastly, and most important, could the noble Lord confirm that the Government definitely—I repeat "definitely"—intend to introduce legislation implementing this White Paper this Session?


My Lords, we on these Benches should also like to thank the noble Lord for the Statement which has just been made. I should like to have one or two points clarified. First, is this new Airways Board to take the place of the Boards of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.? The Statement says that the Board will have complete authority and will not, therefore, represent an additional layer of decision-making. Are we to assume that the Boards of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. will no longer be charged with making decisions on what is to be their own futures and their own policies? Does it not rather indicate criticism of these two Boards? Surely the noble Lord would agree that both these Boards have rendered tremendously successful service over a period of many years.

We should welcome the decision in the Statement that it is not intended to take away from the State airlines the routes that they have established across the Atlantic; but there is a rather alarming suggestion of the transfer of a significant part of the Air Corporations' routes". What does the word "significant" mean? Is it going to be a small portion of the routes that they have developed? Will it be done in conjunction with them and with their agreement, or will it be done arbitrarily? Another question that I should like to ask concerns the subsidies of certain internal services. Does this refer to what is known as the social services—for instance, the Highlands and Islands services? Lastly, is the Civil Aviation Authority to take the place of the Board of Trade, will it be additional to the Board of Trade or will it be just an additional cog in the machinery?

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I shall try to answer those questions. First, may I thank both noble Lords for their welcome to the Statement. I was asked about the possibility of the new Airways Board having a financial stake in the independent companies. It is not intended that the Board should have this stake. In this respect the White Paper makes it clear that it has a different view from that recommended by the Edwards Committee. I was asked about the difference between the Licensing Board as it now exists and the proposed new Civil Aviation Authority. The directive of the new C.A.B. will be much more purposeful. There will be greater scope and there will be the possibility of having a second operator on a given scheduled route, which was denied by the directive given to the present Board. I was asked whether the policy of the new Aviation Authority would be laid down in a Statutory Instrument. The answer is, yes; in that it will be, in a formal document. Its exact form has not yet been decided.

I was asked whether I would clarify the responsibilities between the C.A.B. and the B.A.A. for aerodrome policy. The responsibility of the British Airports Authority will remain precisely as it is now laid down by Statute, but the responsibility for the licensing of aerodromes will be passed to the new Civil Aviation Authority. The siting of airports, however, with the implication of land usage, will be the responsibility of the Board of Trade. I was asked whether I could give any definite indication as to legislation. The intention of Her Majesty's Government is that the new Authority and the Board will be brought into being before the end of next year. In order to achieve that, there will have to be legislation.

I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, about the definition of "complete authority". I think that if he reads the new White Paper, which is a closely reasoned and fully argued document, he will find that this is made quite clear. Within the defined area there will be a complete authority to the new Board. The noble Earl asked if this was not a criticism of the two Corporations. Again if he reads the White Paper, he will find that there is absolutely no criticism intended. It is not a criticism of the two Boards but a recognition of the development of this industry; the new aircraft and the possibilities of marketing in through-traffic which it is thought—and the argument is made clear—could be more efficiently carried out by centralising this sector of decision making. I was asked about the transfer of routes. There will be no transfer of routes, excepting in so far as the new licensing authority, on the facts before it, might come to a decision in certain cases that a given route could better be operated by one of the independent companies.


My Lords, would that apply to new routes and not existing ones?


My Lords, certain routes are designated to the Corporations, but there will be powers to designate a second carrier. In certain cases, on the facts before them, the new authority may well come to the conclusion. in the interests of the economy generally and of getting a bigger share for Britain of the going traffic, that the licence should be given to an independent rather than to the Corporations.

I was asked about the regional services. Of course, these do refer to the Scottish Highlands and Islands services, but, in addition, the regional services in England too; the North-East and the South-West, for example.


My Lords, I have only two questions to ask the Minister. He used the term "Government decisions". He also told us that there would be some period of time before legislation is introduced. Are these decisions absolutely inflexible, or are they decisions which will be debated? And will the Government be willing to listen to the point of view of representations within both Houses of Parliament and outside? My second question is addressed more to the Leader of the House. Would the Government consider promoting an opportunity at a not-too-distant date for debating the White Paper?


My Lords, the White Paper is now available in the Printed Paper Office. It will be necessary for it to be discussed in the journals and outside; and, of course, a Parliamentary debate would be expected. I shall be very happy to discuss through the usual channels the possibility of a debate here. The noble Lord asked whether it would be possible to change the Government's policy. The Government's decisions, taken in the light of their considerations, are enshrined in the White Paper. Of course, it would be foolish to say that if an absolutely conclusive argument was brought forward it would not be possible to listen to that argument and to make changes; but it is not intended as at present to make any changes to the policy laid down.


My Lords, the noble Lord would agree that it is for Parliament to have the ultimate authority. Therefore, before irrevocable decisions are taken, surely there should be a full debate on these proposals in both Houses of Parliament.


My Lords, I do not think that there is anything inconsistent in what the noble Earl has said with what I said. The irrevocable decision will be when an Act of Parliament is passed, and of course it will be Parliament which will decide whether a Bill should become an Act of Parliament.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could confirm the impression I gained from listening to the Statement. I think it was said that it was the intention that the new Civil Aviation Authority should have comprehensive responsibilities. Am I right, therefore, in taking it that all the functions at present exercised by the A.R.B. will come under the umbrella of the new Authority?


My Lords, the authority of the Civil Aviation Authority, or the responsibiliy of the Civil Aviation Authority, will of course be comprehensive over those areas defined in the White Paper, and they include the A.R.B.