HL Deb 07 December 1971 vol 326 cc777-86

7.27 p.m.

LORD TREFGARNE rose to move, That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Civil Aviation (Route Charges for Navigation Services) Regulations 1971 (S.I. 1971/1715) laid before the House under Standing Order No. 63 on the 29th October last, be annulled. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I propose, with your Lordships' permission to speak also to the second Motion standing in my name, dealing with the annulment of the Civil Aviation (Navigation Services Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 1971. Before doing so, I must declare an interest, because I am employed by a company operating aircraft who are in fact directly affected by the matters concerned with the Statutory Instruments. My opening remarks will be addressed to Statutory Instrument No. 1715, the Civil Aviation (Route Charges for Navigation Services) Regulations 1971, and I have three principal criticisms of this measure.

First, we see from the notes at the top of the Instrument that it was made on October 25, laid before Parliament on October 29 and came into operation on November 1—a gap of two days between the time the Statutory Instrument was laid before the House and its coming into force. It is, I submit, inappropriate that the procedure for bringing this sort of measure into force should be abused—and it really is abused—to this extent. During recent months a Select Committee on Procedure, sitting in another place considered the question of delegated legislation and produced a fairly lengthy Report, in which they had some observations to make on this procedure. The Report, which was laid before the other place in July of this year, makes it very clear that the view of the Committee was that the Prayer period for this sort of legislation ought to be allowed to expire before Orders come into force. In the case of this legislation, the Prayer period is 40 days, and I submit that it would not have been totally impossible for this Order to have been laid 40 days before November 1, or, if necessary, for the operation of the Order to be delayed until 40 days after it had been laid. For those of your Lordships who are interested. I would draw your attention to page XXIV of the Report, paragraph 48, and also to page 334 (Appendix 16) where the views of the Committee are clearly set out. I suggest that we should have had a more healthy period before these Orders came into force.

I should like now to consider briefly some specific points arising from the Order. The first is in relation to No. 1715, concerning the level of charges in respect of small aircraft. I am not going into details as to how these charges are calculated, because there is a complicated formula. But there are two exemptions (they are given in Article 8 of the Order) which are, I submit, anomalous; and although it is perhaps too late to reconsider them now I commend them to any future body that has to renew or perpetuate this legislation. In particular, I find that aircraft flying under Visual Flight Rules are exempt from the charge. Although, on the face of it, this is reasonable, I submit that it will create a situation in which aircraft pilots are tempted to continue their flight in visual flight conditions when the weather conditions do not really permit this, and thus jeopardise both their aircraft and their passengers, and possibly also people on the ground, simply to avoid having to pay the charges.

The other exemption, which is conspicuous by its absence, is the one for test flights. Aircraft carrying out test flights for the purposes of testing navigation equipment are exempt, but for some

reason any other piece of equipment on the aircraft is not exempt. This is an anomaly which I find it difficult to understand.


Hear, hear!


Coming now to the second of these Orders, No. 1730, the principal criticism I would make is similar to the one I have made in respect of the previous one; namely, that the Order came into force only two days after it was laid before your Lordships' House. Your Lordships will be aware that the procedure for these Statutory Instruments is that they are laid before the House and continue in force provided that no Resolution to the contrary is passed in either House. I submit that it is an abuse of this system if they come into force so quickly that it is quite impossible, within the time available, for a Resolution to be moved, either in this House or in another place, to annul an Order. Having said that, my Lords, I would add that I do of course appreciate that there are some kinds of legislation, such as that for a variation in petrol tax, which must necessarily come into force immediately. However, I submit that an Order for the imposition of these charges is not one of them. I beg to move.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, if I were to thank my noble friend for praying against these two Statutory Instruments I think I should probably be extending the courtesy of your Lordships' House a little too far. Nevertheless, he is entirely right to pray against them, if only for the fact that he wished to air some points and to ask Her Majesty's Government to give some explanations. I was grateful to him for his courtesy in letting me know in advance the particular points that concerned him.

I think his main complaint was that these two Statutory Instruments—No. 1715 on Eurocontrol charges, which was made on October 25, and No. 1730, which deals with Shamwick charges and was made on October 26—were laid before Parliament on the 29th and came into operation only two days later. My noble friend felt very strongly that this was a wrong thing to do. I should be the first to say that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government that these Instruments, where possible, should be laid within adequate and suitable time. My noble friend quite rightly pointed out that the Commons procedure in another place brought forth some recommendations, and when my noble friend Lord Jellicoe commented upon these on November 9 he said—and I would repeat his words (col. 238): …every effort will be made to ensure that Departments do, whenever posible, observe the suggested 21-day interval…but the Government arc unable to accept that a formal explanation should be provided in every case where it is not possible to observe the interval. I shall endeavour to explain why it was not possible on this occasion to adhere to this interval. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his Department would have wished to lay these Regulations before Parliament some time earlier than was in fact done, but unfortunately this did not prove possible.

Perhaps I may address my remarks first to the Eurocontrol charges system, which is No. 1715. This had been evolved by the other six members of the Eurocontrol Organisation and ourselves over a period of two years. The essence of the system is that in relation to each flight in the airspace of member and participating States, one composite charge is payable by the aircraft operator to the Eurocontrol Organisation. I suggest that what matters to the aircraft operator is the composite charge as billed to him by the Eurocontrol Organisation for each flight. He need not be concerned about the make-up of the composite charge, or about how the partial charges arc evolved, unless he wishes to check the accuracy of Eurocontrol's arithmetic. But, as your Lordships will imagine, a great deal of work and a great deal of co-operative negotiation has had to be done by Member States and the Eurocontrol Organisation itself before these charges could be agreed and implemented. I am sure that my noble friend will appreciate how much work is involved in all this. Throughout there were many consultations and discussions, including those with the International Air Transport Association and with members of the European Civil Aviation Conference. Each State had to take the necessary steps under its national laws to introduce the charging system and of course there are variations in how this needs to be done as between one State and another.

By the late summer of this year nearly all the necessary steps had been completed or were on the brink of completion. So far as we were concerned, the Regulations under the Eurocontrol system could be made to operate from November 1, once the Government were able to form the opinion that the charging system fell into one of two categories. First, it would have to be approved under an international agreement to which the United Kingdom was a party; secondly, in the opinion of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry it would have to be likely to be approved before or within one month after the date when regulations were to come into force under any international agreement to which the United Kingdom was likely to be a party.

My Lords, I am going into some detail over this as it is important that my noble friend should see why the problem occurred. The international agreements concerned, to which we are a party, were the Eurocontrol Convention of 1960, and the Multilateral Agreement relating to the Collection of Route Charges which was signed in September 1970 by all seven member States of Eurocontrol, but which needed ratification by all seven before it entered into force.

Contrary to earlier hopes it became clear in September that action by all seven Governments in relation to the Multilateral Agreement might not be completed before November 1, although this remained the agreed date for introducing the charges system. National requirements for ratification vary of course and, while action was in train everywhere, some delays had arisen. We therefore had to form the opinion whether the necessary steps by all member States to bring the Multilateral Agreement into force were likely to be taken by November 30—that is before or within one month after November 1, the period of "grace permitted.

It was not in fact until after a meeting of representatives of the Governments concerned in Brussels on October 21 that we were satisfied that we could properly take the view that the Multilateral Agreement was likely to be in force, if not by November 1 at least by November 30. Then and only then could our Regulations be made, as they were with all possible speed on October 25 and laid before Parliament on October 29. I have sought to explain why, in the event, our Regulations were not laid as early as we had planned or, indeed, as Parliamentary procedures would have chosen.

The £7 charge imposed under S.I. 1730 for navigation services made available by the National Air Traffic Services in the Shanwick Oceanic Control Area is a purely United Kingdom charge and separate from the Eurocontrol charges system. But we had adopted the same introductory date of November 1 and considered it simpler for those who are to pay both types of charge to maintain a common introductory date. So the making and laying of the Shanwick charge Regulations was delayed until it was clear that the Eurocontrol ones could properly be made.

Despite earlier hopes and endeavours, these two sets of Regulations were not laid as early as the Government would have wished and in keeping with the proposals of the Commons Select Committee on Procedure. But I assure noble Lords that this does not alter our resolve to endeavour to lay any other Statutory Instruments on this subject in good time in the future, although obviously one can never guarantee success on every occasion.

Now I turn to my noble friend's remarks on the subject of general aviation and private flying. Taking the Eurocontrol charges system first, by unanimous agreement of the member States the charging formula applicable to most commercial flights has been scaled down in its application to small aircraft which, in general, means private aircraft. In the first place, aircraft of less than 2 metric tons maximum take off weight are totally exempt from charge. Secondly, flights made entirely in accordance with Visual Flight Rules are exempt. My noble friend queried this point. Thirdly, circular flights—that is, flights taking off from and returning to the same aerodrome without an intermediate stop—and training flights are exempted.

The effect of these exemptions is to relieve a very great deal of private and club flying from any charge under the Eurocontrol system in the United Kingdom and in the other countries applying the system. When we come to flights by aircraft weighing between 2 and 5.7 metric tons, many of them will be exempted by virtue of the general exemptions for V.F.R. flights, for circular and training flights. However, a private or business executive aircraft weighing between 2 and 5.7 metric tons may well incur a charge if its journey involves a flight through controlled airspace with the specialised equipment and expertise which that involves. In such a case the charges are calculated from a special formula which has the effect of almost halving the charge which would otherwise be payable.

We see no reason why general aviation should be completely absolved from making a contribution, however small, towards the cost of en route navigation services. The complete exemption for aircraft under 2 tons was adopted because the costs of collection would be disproportionate to the resulting receipts. The upper limit of 5.7 metric tons for the reduced rate of charge is the dividing line adopted by ICAO between general aviation aircraft and commercial aircraft and it is inevitable that the odd aircraft slightly above that limit may bear the full rate of charge.

The Eurocontrol charges system will of course be reviewed in the light of experience and we shall gladly examine with our partners in the system any serious anomalies which come to light. My noble friend suggested that the V.F.R. exemption might induce some aircraft operators to operate under Visual Flight Rules simply in order to avoid a charge when they should more sensibly operate under Instrument Flight Rules. I speak subject to my noble friend's experience in these matters, but I would question whether a responsible aircraft operator would act so unwisely; but naturally the situation will be watched and remedial action taken if necessary. However, I would have thought that weather conditions in this country and on the Continent are such that any operator who attempted to follow such a policy would find that it could not be reconciled with the need to maintain regularity and an efficient service.

In the case of the Shanwick charges, the Secretary of State has power to dispense with charges in appropriate cases, and the industry has already been told by a Department of Trade and Industry memorandum, and an aeronautical information circular, that all flights by aircraft of less than 5.7 metric tons will be relieved of the Shanwick charge. Most of the 120,000 or so flights in the Shan-wick Oceanic Control Area are relatively long-haul North Atlantic flights which are rarely undertaken by aircraft below this weight. But we thought it right to relieve them of the charge if only because the administrative effort of raising and collecting the charge would be disproportionate to the possible revenue.

Two years ago, in April, 1969, during a debate on aerodrome navigation services charges—also promoted by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne—the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, speaking for the previous Government, gave warning of the likely introduction in 1971 of en route charges. To-day I will sound two notes of warning. First, as regards the en route charges under the Eurocontrol system, we shall strive for agreement with our fellow members of the organisation to secure a significant increase in the rate of recovery of costs from November, 1973, as a further step towards full recovery from the industry of the costs of the National Air Traffic Services which will be necessary to limit the length of time during which the Civil Aviation Authority will need grants from public funds.

Secondly, we are considering ways of reducing even further the deficit of about £1 million still being incurred on the National Air Traffic Services' provision of aerodrome navigation services in this country. The Department of Trade and Industry will embark on consultations with our aircraft operators, and the aerodrome authorities concerned, as soon as we have proposals ready for discussion. I cannot say to-day what the form and extent will be of any increases next year in aerodrome navigation charges because much will depend on the outcome of consultations with the industry. But I think it right to sound a note of warning this evening and to give my noble friend Lord Trefgarne the opportunity to warn us, if he so wishes, of his desire to pray against them, too, when the time comes.

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down I wonder whether he could possibly answer a point which I omitted to make in my opening remarks, but which I think I discussed with him earlier. It concerns the position on November 1 of this year, when the new charges came into force, in relation to the existing navigation service charges that have been raised for some time at airports operated by the Department of Trade and Industry. Is it the case that we now pay both the United Kingdom domestic charges and the Eurocontrol charges, or has the Eurocontrol charge superseded the domestic charge?


My Lords, I would make it perfectly plain that the Eurocontrol charges are totally new and apply to services which previously were provided free of charge. Therefore this charge will be additional to any others that were applied, and will be applied in the future.


My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Earl for

Section 16 Section 17 Section 18
Persons found guilty Heaviest fine Longest sentence of imprisonment Persons found guilty Heaviest fine Longest sentence of imprisonment Persons found guilty Heaviest fine Longest sentence of imprisonment
1968* 13 £10 7 years 20 6 years 14 £25 5 years
1969 20 £50 10 years 26 £35 4 years 26 £75 4 years
1970 32 £4† 7 years 34 £100 10 years 12 5 years

* From August 1, 1968, the date on which the Act came into force.

†Only one person was fined in 1970 under this section; the fine was imposed on a juvenile at a magistrates' court.

his patient and detailed reply to my Motion, which I shall study with great interest when I receive my Hansard shortly. In the light of that reply, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.