HL Deb 19 April 1978 vol 390 cc1244-9

7.4 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I beg to move that the Aviation Security Fund Regulations 1978, a draft of which was laid before this House on 23rd March 1978, be approved. These regulations are to be made under Section 2 of the Civil Aviation Act 1978, which we passed just before the Easter Recess, which I am sure is still fresh in the minds of noble Lords. The House will recall that Section 2, empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations for requiring aerodrome authorities to pay him a levy which will go into the Aviation Security Fund, out of which he may make payments reimbursing the cost of the security measures that fall to be made under the Protection of Aircraft Act 1973 and the Policing of Airports Act 1974. These regulations set out the detail as foreshadowed in the debates on the Bill. They require the aerodrome authorities of 28 aerodromes which were owned or managed by the Civil Aviation Authority or licensed by them for public use on 1st March 1978, which had more than 50,000 passengers in 1976, to pay contributions to the Fund. The 28 aerodromes are listed in the explanatory note to the regulations.

The contributions to be made by aerodrome authorities are calculated on the basis of 80 pence for each passenger in excess of 2,000 who arrived at that aerodrome in each month, with certain exceptions which are set out in Regulation 2(2). The figure of 80 pence was announced by my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Companies, Aviation and Shipping as long ago as 27th May last year. The way it was calculated was set out in a reply by my noble friend Lord Oram to my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry on 15th March 1978—Official Report, cols. 1467–68. The House will note that Regulation 3(1) provides that the first month begins on 1st April 1978, although the regulations do not formally come into operation until 29th April 1978, provided they have been approved by both Houses of Parliament.Airport authorities have already taken account of this liability in fixing their landing charges which were increased on the traditional date of 1st April; but the levy does not have to be paid to the Secretary of State until July. I beg to move that these draft regulations be approved.

Moved, That the draft Aviation Security Fund Regulations 1978, laid before the House on 23rd March, be approved.—(Baroness Stedman.)


My Lords, I could not possibly let these regulations go without making comment. As the House knows, I personally very much regret that they have been laid before Parliament. In fact, I would not have believed that any Government could deny the principle that it is the duty and responsibility of the Government, of the State, to protect its citizens from attack by the Queen's enemies. Yet this is what is happening under these regulations. I see it as a retrograde step without limitation. I say "without limitation" because I feel it is so. I would ask the Minister whether it is then the intention of the Government to tax sections of the community which may be at risk. If so, are they going to tax all of them; or is this to be done on a selective basis? Quite honestly, with these regulations and this principle, I do not see where the matter can end.

Neither airlines nor their passengers are responsible for creating the security risk at airports. They are merely the victims of terrorist attack. I should have thought that it was universally accepted that the aim of hijackers and terrorists is to bring pressure on Governments. Passengers do not create the need for this service. I would only say to my noble friend the Minister concerning these regulations that we do not tax workers at airports, we do not tax visitors at airports; and I think that it is quite abnormal for persons living near or passing through problem points to be subject to a special tax. The decision taken by our Government is opposed by the airlines; it is opposed by our partners in the European Community; it is opposed by our own airport authorities throughout the country.

My Lords, had it not been for the imposition of a Whip the Bill would not have passed through this House. We lost by two votes—and, although it is small comfort, many noble Lords have told me since that had they listened to the debate they would have voted differently. I hope that the Government realise that there is very strong feeling about this Bill. I believe—and I think it is quite obvious—that the Government are taxing one section of the community which is at risk from terrorist attacks. I maintain that it is a function of Government and of the State to provide protection against such threats. It is not something that has to be bought by individuals, and I would only say that I greatly regret that a Labour Government have taken such a decision.

7.10 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, has said. I feel that we have gone a bit far with this policing of people going aboard aircraft. For instance, in a small airport like Wick, local passengers who are perfectly well known are frisked by no less than three security people. Practically every passenger who boards and leaves the aircraft in Wick is known to the security people personally, yet they are frisked. If one travels on Loganair, not on British Airways, nobody is frisked.

What I should like to be sure about is that there is to be some control over cost. I met my right honourable friend Mr. Grimond one day in Aberdeen airport and, as we went through with our arms in the air, he said to me: "They will have a career structure in this next". Indeed, there is now going to be a career structure by Statute. What safeguards are the travelling public going to have against Parkinson's Law coming into effect and building up this career structure, so that every person who frisks one has to have a person standing by in case one attacks them, or something of this sort? If we are going to make this an obligation, we must have safeguards. I am not at all happy that we have sufficient safeguards.

Like the noble Baroness, I deplore greatly that we are making a permanent feature of this kind of situation in our airports. I have always thought that it would be much better handled by the police. If we gave the same amount of money to the police force and asked them to look out for terrorists, I feel that the money would be much better spent than as it is being spent.


My Lords, I think that we are all in favour of security being maintained at all costs. But the point is where is this going to stop? What happens if, say, there is a risk in this House? Is every Member going to be taxed so that the risk can be minimised? Where is it going to stop, my Lords?


My Lords, when I saw this regulation on the Order Paper and realised that it fell to me to speak from this Box tonight I must confess to a certain apprehension, recalling the furore which arose during the Committee stage on this Bill. I must also confess that that was probably the most uncomfortable day of my career in your Lordships' House. I am happy to see that most of the noble Lords who took part in the debates on the Committee stage are not here tonight and perhaps I shall be spared any more discomfort. Be that as it may, I think that the regulations we have now before us in draft form, having regard to the fact that the Bill is now an Act, and not wishing to re-open those arguments, are as good as could be expected.

I do not think that I am revealing any confidences when I say that the contents of the regulations reflect in considerable measure the intent of Amendments tabled by my honourable and right honourable friends in another place, and which were subsequently withdrawn at the behest of the Government on the undertaking that the content of the Amendments would be contained in the regulations; and here they are. I am happy to see that, for example, small aircraft are to be exempted, and a most important safeguard is the one where the first 2,000 passengers to pass through an airport are not to he charged—at least, are not to be charged by the Secretary of State—although presumably airlines will raise the standard charge against all passengers. The purpose of this, as my honourable friend Mr. Tebbit explained during the Standing Committee in another place, was to provide some of the smaller airports with a buffer to provide against bad debts and other unforeseen costs—for example, administrative costs—which may fall upon them by virtue of the Act and these regulations.

I do not think that it is appropriate to re-open all the arguments which were deployed at the time of the Second Reading and at the Committee stage. I think that it is sufficient for me to say that we would not wish to oppose these regulations and hope that the implementation of them will be smooth and perhaps will not contain all the disasters and pitfalls which some noble Lords, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, have foreseen for them.

7.16 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, I hope that all the dire things that noble Lords and my noble friend Lady Burton cf Coventry have thought of are not going to happen as the result of these regulations. I have inherited this matter; I did not suffer the same traumatic experience as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in that I did not have to pilot the Bill through this House. The fact remains that the Bill did go through this House. The content of the regulations were discussed at some length in the House of Commons Standing Committee when they were discussing the Civil Aviation Bill. Representatives from the industry, including airlines and the airport authorities, the trade unions, travel agents and all people involved, were in consultation with our officials about the regulations. I would not pretend that we have satisfied them on every point, but certainly the regulations as they now appear before your Lordships in draft form are generally acceptable to the industry as a whole.

I think we have to accept when we get to this stage that the principle has now been accepted by Parliament. We have made in the regulations the exemptions referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. We are carrying on with consultations within the industry. Consultations have been going on with all those people who are concerned with the matter, and even today there has been a further meeting to discuss how these regulations will operate, how we see them operating, and the kind of basis which we think we might have to use in the future.

It is not the intention to chann the basis for the charge at all in 1979 and 1980 and, after much consultation, it will only be reconsidered if it is necessary in the light of experience and in the light of further consultations later this year. I hope that your Lordships will accept the draft regulations as they stand and allow us now to implement this part of the Civil Aviation Act.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended front 7.18 p.m. until 8 p.m.]

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