HL Deb 09 March 1978 vol 389 cc975-1005

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Civil Aviation Bill has three major provisions. It provides for the transfer of the burden of aviation security expenditure from the taxpayer to the industry; for the more effective control of aircraft noise and for increases in the borrowing limits of the Civil Aviation Authority and British Airways. The Bill also makes several minor changes to previous civil aviation legislation.

Since Parliament last debated a Civil Aviation Bill in 1971 there have been many important developments, both domestic and foreign, in the aviation field. The Civil Aviation Authority has been successfully established; Concorde has been launched into commercial service; British airlines have widened their air services; a new Air Service Agreement for the sharing of traffic between Britain and the United States of America has been negotiated on more equal terms than the last; and there has been a welcome move towards lower fares in general.

A less happy development in recent years has been the growth of terrorism against civil aviation. The Government decided in November 1976, as part of the public expenditure cuts, that the burden of aviation security expenditure should be transferred from the taxpayer to the industry from 1st April, 1978. This decision was not expected to be popular with the industry but the Government believe that it is right that the aviation industry should bear its own costs without being subsidised by the taxpayer.

The cost of aviation security has risen from about £5 million in 1972–1973 to an estimated £15 million in 1977–1978. Next year, it is estimated that the likely cost will approach £19 million. The increase in costs has been due to the gradual improvement of security measures over the years as well, of course, as to inflation. The security measures are costly, but they are necessary to meet the current threat, which is as high as it ever was.

I know well that it has been suggested that, in taking this action, the Government are in breach of their international obligations, but that is far from the case. Indeed, I venture to suggest that if all countries in the world attended to their obligations on security as the British Government do, the incidence of acts of violence against civil aviation would be very considerably reduced. There have been many suggestions made as to how such incidents could be prevented, including sanctions against countries which harbour terrorists. But it is the Government's view that sanctions are not at present a practicable way to deal with the problem of hijacking and that the most effective way is to take adequate preventive measures, including the searching of all passengers boarding aircraft.

The British Government have been at the forefront of international discussions on acts of violence against civil aviation for many years now. Our security is highly regarded and it is equal to any other country's and better than most. It would thus be wrong of us to run the risk of gradual erosion of the excellent measures which we take simply because of lack of adequate finance. When the legislation before the House is enacted, it is the Government's intention that the rate of the levy during the next financial year should be 80p per arriving passenger. That, I suggest, is a small price to pay for protection. Full account has been taken of the industry's views on methods of administering this charge. Of course changes can be made in the light of experience and my colleagues have given firm undertakings to airlines, aerodrome authorities, the air travel industry and representatives of consumer associations that there will be full consultation before any changes are made.

When this Bill was discussed in another place a number of Amendments were carried against the Government. The effect of these Amendments was to restrict the Secretary of State's flexibility to make regulations. The spirit of these Amendments was accepted by the Government and the Opposition generously agreed that at the Report stage the Bill should be put back into its original form with certain minor changes. They did this because we consulted them about the proposed content of the regulations. The industry itself has been widely consulted on this and, I understand, are reasonably content with the proposals.

The Government have made provisions in the draft regulations for a free allowance of 2,000 passengers each month on which airport authorities will not be required to pay contributions to the Secretary of State. This concession, which is worth £19,200 per annum to each aerodrome will enable them to meet the small additional administration cost of recovering the levy from their users and will also enable them to make some small provision against bad debts. The allowance, together with other concessions such as not charging for children under three or for passengers on small aircraft, will enable some aerodrome authorities to alleviate to an extent the disproportionate effect of the levy on shorthaul fares. One excellent example of this is the Civil Aviation Authority's intention not to charge the levy to its full extent on shorhaul journeys at Inverness, Kirkwall and Sumburgh.

I move now to the second major element of the Bill. The Government are deeply concerned about the problem of aircraft noise and recognise the genuine anxieties that exist about it. We are confident, however, that over the next 15 years there will be a marked decline in the degree and extent of disturbance from aircraft noise at all airports as a result of the growing use of quieter and larger aircraft. The Government are playing a leading role in international discussions on tightening noise standards and in the White Paper on Airports Policy published on 1st February this year, announced their intention of banning the use from 1st January 1986 of all non-noise certificated subsonic jet aircraft on the United Kingdom register. In the meanwhile, until the predicted benefits of the quieter aircraft can be realised in full, the Government, airline operators and airport authorities will continue to implement a wide range of measures such as noise limits, special take-off and landing procedures, and restrictions on night flights to mitigate the disturbance caused by the aircraft now in service. The main noise provisions of this Bill are intended to enhance and clarify the powers of aerodrome authorities to act to mitigate aircraft noise at their aiports.

Clause 8 extends the by-law making powers of airport authorities to enable them to make by—laws to limit or mitigate the effects of noise, vibration or atmospheric pollution caused by aircraft using the aerodrome. Certain local authorities already have similar powers under private legislation and Clause 8 will ensure that all licensed airport authorities have these powers.

Clause 9 removes any possible doubts there may be about airport authorities' abilities to take aircraft noise into account in structuring their airport charges. Such charges can take a number of forms and can be designed to achieve a variety of object yes. They will not necessarily raise any extra revenue and can even, like the experimental scheme in operation at Manchester International Airport since 1975, take the form of rebates for quieter aircraft rather than higher charges for noisier ones. The Government believe that noise-related charges can provide a useful incentive for airlines to operate and manufacturers to design quieter aircraft. It is envisaged that they would be introduced gradually and would be supplementary to regulations on aircraft noise standards, giving an added inducement to airlines and manufacturers to do better than the regulations. The clause also enables the Secretary of State to direct airport authorities to relate their charges to aircraft noise and to say how they should do so. This will complement the Secretary of State's present power, under Section 8(2)(o) of the Civil Aviation Act 1949, to regulate airport charges.

Schedule 1 contains several minor provisions concerned with improving the working of the powers in Section 29 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971 for the control of aircraft noise at designated aerodromes. It also makes clear that the powers in Section 29 to limit aircraft movements at designated airports during certain periods include the power to ban aircraft movements. This power is needed to implement the Government's policy of phasing out noisier aircraft movements at night at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

After the security and noise provisions of the Bill the next most significant measure is the increase of the borrowing limits of the Civil Aviation Authority and British Airways. The CAA has recently started work on a project for replacement of existing radar installations with new equipment at a reduced number of sites in East and South-East England which will eventually produce savings. In addition the Authority has recently expanded facilities at Sumburgh Airport in the Shetlands, which it owns, in order to accommodate oil-related traffic. As a result the Authority is approaching its borrowing limit of £75 million and Clause 5 provides for an increase to £125 million which has, as normal, been set at a level to provide for its needs for the next five years. Similarly the opportunity is being taken to enable the Secretary of State to increase British Airways borrowing limits by order.

The Bill makes a number of other provisions, including that in Clause 10 to enable the Secretary of State to give the Civil Aviation Authority general directions on the performance of its functions in the interests of national security; and that in Clause 11 to amend the 1971 Act by altering the elements of the offence of contravening a term of an air transport licence with a view to ensuring that the licensing system remains enforceable. These, the remaining clauses and the substantial Schedule of minor and consequential Amendments can, I suggest, be more appropriately discussed in Committee. With this explanation, I hope the House can agree to give this measure a Second Reading. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, we on these Benches also wish to thank the Minister for taking us through the Bill and for explaining it so clearly. The Bill seems to be a general tidying up of the Civil Aviation Act 1971 and we support its Second Reading, although there are a few questions I wish to ask for clarification. I wish to refer to four major points of which I have given the Minister prior notice. They concern the security fund, the standing of the security personnel, the noise prevention proposals and the possible inclusion of provisions to extend the powers of the Airports Authority to permit it to participate in the commercial development of airports overseas.

In regard to security, we support the proposal to levy a tax on passengers to meet the cost of providing security, as opposed to making a charge on the general taxpayer, as it is the passengers who are at risk in this matter whereas many of the general taxpayers are never involved in such a risk. I understand the intention of the proposal is to place the provision and implementation of security under the direction and control of the Airports Authority in the interest of standardisation of both technique and performance, which we think is a good idea. I wonder whether it is appropriate for me now to ask what is the status of the security personnel. As the House knows, these security officers can search both baggage and people; do they have the same rights of search as the police or customs officers, both on and off duty?

We note that it is proposed to tax incoming passengers 80p. The estimated total cost of security next year is about £19 million as the Minister said. I gather that the figure of 80p per incoming passenger has been arrived at through a very complicated formula; perhaps the Minister would enlarge on that. However, what puzzles me is why it is to be levied on incoming passengers. Surely the incoming passenger has completed his flight, no incident has taken place and his risk is over. On the other hand, it is the outgoing passenger who is embarking on such risks. I am told that this is but an accounting device and follows established practices. Is that a good reason why it should be followed in this instance? Perhaps the tax should be levied on both incoming and outgoing passengers, which might change the 80p figure.

I should also like to know how the money for this tax is to be collected. Is it to come from the passenger or from the airline by charging it on the air ticket? If it is to be collected from passengers at the airport by some official, what will happen to an incoming passenger, perhaps a foreigner, who arrives with no English money and who, until he has gone through the Customs and immigration checks, cannot get to an exchange bank to obtain some money?

From the point of view of noise, as I understand it, the Bill is to provide a rebate in landing fees for less noisy aircraft as an inducement to both manufacturers and airlines to seek ever quieter aircraft, and this is an excellent thing. The determination of noise levels for each type of aircraft would incur an enormous calculation of a formula or formulae for fixing this particular rebate, so I understand that a list has been, or is about to be, drawn up showing roughly the present aircraft in use with respect to which the noise is now acceptable and those in respect of which the noise is not. I have been told that the TriStars which BA has on order are, luckily, in the acceptable category, so we might congratulate both the manufacturers and British Airways on that score. It might be useful to know by way of comparison whether similar regulations are to be, or have been, implemented by other nations, notably those in the EEC.

I wish to draw attention to the proposal that the Airports Authority be given wider powers to enable it to participate in the profitable business of consultation and supervision of the construction of new airports overseas. Briefly, under Clause 2(5) of the Airport Authority Act 1971 the Authority is restricted generally to airports in Great Britain and so is prevented from participation in airport construction abroad. Specifically, the Authority is precluded from engaging as a full signatory to contract for the development, or for the undertaking of the management under contract, of an airport to be built overseas. This means that it can work only for consulting fees and is unable to participate in any profits that may arise.

I understand that the Authority would not necessarily be acting alone as the main contractor but could lead or be a member of a consortium bidding for such work, rather in the way that the Aeroport de Paris now does. I am told that the Authority is contemplating, in conjunction with International Air Radio, the formation of a company through which it would work to ensure the proper segregation of accounts; I think it is to be called the International Airport Company. I believe that these proposals have the blessing of the Board of Trade and possibly of the Government too, so perhaps the Minister will say whether he is proposing to table a suitable Amendment to be considered by a Committee of the Whole House next Monday. If he does, he will have the support of these Benches. Meanwhile, we support the Second Reading of the Bill.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for missing the first few minutes of his speech; I was listening to the debate in another place and, contrary to what invariably happens, communications failed, though I got here as quickly as I could. My Lords, this is a wide-ranging Bill and I intend to concentrate on one major aspect, the Aviation Security Fund, which is Clauses 1 to 4. As I understand the position, the Government on 27th May last announced in another place that they has decided to introduce aviation security charges, that these would be levied on aerodrome owners at the rate of 80p per arriving passenger, and that it was contemplated that airports would pass the charge on to the airlines and the latter to the travelling public. In fact, of course, it was more than contemplated; even as long ago as 27th May it was decided by the Government before the matter had been referred to Parliament.

Originally I had intended to raise a specific matter at the outset of my remarks, and, although it has already been raised by the noble Earl—I shall call him my noble friend—Lord Amherst, I intend to do so. Apart from the merit or justice of the Bill, it seems extraordinary that the charge is to be levied at the point of arrival; surely any cost for search and security arises at the point of departure. I said I still wished to make this point. I do so because I noted that on Third Reading in another place the Minister said: The Amendments include one that I accepted in principle in Committee, Amendment No. 2, which gives the added flexibility of being able to relate the levy to departing as well as to arriving passengers. But I stress that it is unlikely that this would represent the yardstick applied by airport authorities in the foreseeable future, since landing charges, with which I am informed the levy will be bracketed, have always been related to arriving passengers".—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/78; col. 398.] Can the Minister, when he winds up, hazard a guess as to what is meant by the "foreseeable future", and say whether it means that it will be a very long time before charges can be made on passengers before they arrive here. Perhaps he can answer that.

The gracious Speech of 3rd November last stated that: A Bill will be laid before you to increase the borrowing powers of the Civil Aviation Authority and British Airways, to provide for a levy to finance aviation security and to amend the civil aviation Acts". This is what we are discussing today. I should like to make one obvious remark. Everyone, and certainly every air traveller, would ask for, and expect, the best possible security checks. But similar expectations apply to the community as a whole. They apply to people in Northern Ireland. They apply on our streets, in our trains, on our underground, in our shops. They apply everywhere in these troubled times.

Who should pay for this security? It is always difficult when one can see both sides of a question, and probably many noble Lords were similarly placed to myself when this problem first reared its head. Finding myself in such a position, and without indicating any attitude at all on my part, I took the matter to three organisations connected with air travel and asked for their reactions. The three organisations were the Airline Users' Committee, of which I have been a member since its establishment in July 1973; the Institute of Travel Managers in Industry and Commerce, in which I succeeded the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, as president last May; and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) with which I have had many battles in the past seven years, commencing in February 1971 with the structure of international air fares and the high cost of fares in Europe. I also took issue with IATA on its unanimity rule which I believe produces, always and inevitably and anywhere, the lowest common denominator.

Having implied these criticisms, I should like to put on record a much happier relationship. During the past year I have greatly appreciated the patience and the understanding of the Director-General of IATA, Mr. Knut Hammarskjold. We have discoveredjointly—that there are matters on which we agree, and on which I am glad that we can work together.

All these three organisations were against the proposal that air travellers should be charged for their own security in this way. The Airline Users' Committee considered it unreasonable that one section of the community should be asked to pay extra for their own protection from an external threat. The committee accepted the view put to it by the Air Safety Group (of which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is vice-president) that it is totally wrong, and a potentially dangerous practice, and a potentially dangerous departure, for any Government to select any single group of people and demand that they pay a levy for their own protection against crime.

The Institute of Travel Managers in Industry and Commerce, established in 1956, currently lists the names of 260 United Kingdom-based companies for whom its members carry the responsibility of organising business travel activities. Furthermore, all the major airlines, hotel groups and car hire companies are associated with the institute through a special class of corporate membership. In the context of what we are discussing today, and the possible outcome, I think it relevant to state that during the past five years similar associations have been established in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, and an international co-ordinating body has been created.

During the past few weeks the Government proposal to finance the cost of airport security by levying a charge on incoming airline passengers has been discussed with a cross-section of members and corporate members. The general consensus of opinion made three points. First, airport security is an aspect of national security which is the responsibility of Government, both financially and physically. The cost thereof, which is relatively insignificant when measured against overall Government expenditure, should therefore be a burden on the community in general and not be recovered exclusively from the users of airline services. The proposed levy is accordingly regarded as being discriminatory against air travellers.

Secondly, there is a fear that, if the proposal is instituted, it will trigger a chain reaction of similar measures in other countries, which in the long run will significantly increase the already high cost of air fares. Among other things, this will increase the cost of business travel generally, and have an adverse effect on the export sales drive which is so vital to the economy of the United Kingdom. Thirdly, it is considered that the monies presently expended on airport security would be better used if more sophisticated machinery and fewer people were employed to carry out security checks.

IATA held the view that safe and secure travel by air is as much a human right as safe travel by any other means of transport. What disturbed me particularly about the points made by IATA was its statement that the Government proposal is in conflict with Article 10 of the Montreal Convention 1971, under which contracting States shall, in accordance with international and national law, endeavour to take all practicable measures for the purpose of preventing the offences against civil aviation described in Article 1 of the Convention. Detailed obligations have been accepted by the United Kingdom under Annex 17 to the Chicago Convention.

Furthermore, my information is that the Government proposal is also in conflict with ECAC (the European Civil Aviation Conference) Recommendation No. 15 of 1976 relative to the responsibility of States in security matters. The latter was adamant that States, without exception, bear the entire cost of security measures adopted in accordance with its instructions. The Government's present decision, therefore, constitutes a complete voile face.

I know that the Secretary of State has said that the Government are not in breach of their international obligations, but would the Minister, in his reply, comment on what I have said about the Montreal Convention and the ECAC recommendation of 1976? I gave him adequate notice of both points. They were told in another place about Australia, Japan, Canada, and the United States, but I want to ask the Minister whether it is true that no EEC country deals with its security in such a way. Is it not correct that our partners in the Community were somewhat surprised at this proposed action?

I have here a confidential letter from one of our EEC partners, and obviously do not wish to give a name. It was sent to IATA and I should like to quote two paragraphs: The nature of the security operations taken into account in calculating the amounts to be charged to the users was not indicated; obviously what is involved is not merely the screening and searching of passengers and their baggage, the cost of which is far less expensive. It would appear that the British Government intends to recuperate at least part of the ordinary airport police costs. The levying of such a tax is unacceptable: the States have the obligation of ensuring personal security on their territories and more generally of making certain their laws are observed. Their expenses in doing so are properly included in the overall budget of the nation and/or the local communities, and it is abnormal for persons living in, working in or passing through problem points to be subject to a special tax". If my noble friend could answer this point arising out of that, and I think out of Clause 2, could be tell me whether there will be a breakdown of security costs by category and amount? If so, to whom will these details be made available—to Parliament, to the airlines or to the airline users?

One could continue indefinitely, but I have no wish to weary the House. I see that the time machine is now working again. I informed the Minister that I should be raising these technical points in the hope that I need not inflict lengthy details upon your Lordships. The Minister will know whether or not what I have said is correct, and we shall await his comments with interest. Having started on all this with an open mind way back in May, I have now arrived at a definite conclusion. I believe that the proposal to impose security charges on civil aviation is not only wrong in principle but it is discriminatory against civil aviation interests, unless similar recovery action is to be taken against the other interests that have become targets of terrorist attack.

I believe that it is true to say that the United Kingdom is widely regarded as one of the few States whose aviation policies are trend-setting. That, I think, is a cheering thing to realise. In the past, these policies in the United Kingdom have been largely instrumental in curbing the inclination of some States to impose aviation security charges in breach of their international obligations. Any reversal of United Kingdom policy in this field, such as is now contemplated, is certain to be widely followed. Inevitably, this would result in British Airways, British Caledonian and/or airline passengers of British nationality being subjected to corresponding charges elsewhere. I hope that the Government may feel it is possible to look at this again. Surely it is unanswerable that neither the airlines nor their passengers are responsible for creating the security risk at airports and that they are merely the victims of terrorist attack.

In these circumstances, what special justification exists for discriminating against this particular section of the public by requiring them to pay for their protection to which they are entitled and which is provided without charge to other members of the public, including members of the public working at or visiting airports? The aim of hijackers and terrorists is to bring pressure on Governments. Surely that is undeniable. Passengers do not create the need for this service. The threat is directed against the community at large and against governments in general, shipping, railways, buses, hotels—in addition to those I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. It is a function of government to provide such protection. It is not something that has to be bought by individuals and I do pray, on a matter of principle, that the Government will look at this dangerous procedure again.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, at the commencement of her most interesting speech the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, said that this was a wide-ranging Bill. Indeed, I think it is more than that because every aspect of this Bill ties civil aviation up ever tighter in the straitjacket of ministerial control—control either directly by the Minister or through his statutory agencies over which, in most directions, he can still exercise the final power. We have travelled an awful long way since Bleriot flew the Channel 69 years ago and landed on the cliffs of Dover. Since then the wings of civil aviation have spread with great benefits to human progress. At the same time those wings have lifted ever greater political, social, economic and technical problems, many of which we face in this Bill tonight.

I cannot dispute the need for much of this Bill, but at the same time the Bill centralises in the Secretary of State almost complete power over every field of civil aviation, and if any party or concern feels aggrieved at the exercise of these powers by the Minister that aggrieved party has no redress except to go to the person who himself has made the regulation for reconsideration. It is a case of prosecutor and judge rolled into one. In every direction of civil aviation activity the Secretary of State becomes really like a Great Mogul in Whitehall, for, by a stroke of his pen, he can close down British civil aviation. I use the word "mogul" advisedly. I took the trouble to go to the dictionary to see its definition: Great Mogul: the title by which Europeans know their rulers". Today we are all Europeans and we certainly know who are our rulers. The only concession which this Bill gives to Parliamentary control is what was announced in another place—that the first set of regulations dealing with the levy shall be subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure. That has been promised, but the point I want to ask the Minister is this: As noble Lords know, the Affirmative Resolution procedure means that the powers announced in such regulations cannot be exercised until Parliament has given an Affirmative Resolution. Will that Affirmative Resolution procedure be continued, or is it proposed that once the initial regulations have been laid other regulations, including those affecting noise, will revert to the Negative Resolution procedure, which again your Lordships know means that directly the Minister makes his order it comes into force. As we all know only too well, the Negative Resolution procedure is really a Parliamentary farce.

Look for a moment at the effect of the result of this centralisation of power on to this Great Mogul. I think everyone who travels ought to make a slight obeisance to the Minister, the mogul, before he gets on the aeroplane, because he knows that his fare has been sanctioned by the all-powerful; he knows his route has been approved by the all-powerful; he knows that his timetable has been accepted by the all-powerful; and he knows that his airport fees, including security costs—so far as I can gather, even those of the little toddler who is beside him and whose hand he is holding—must be paid over to the airport authority on a scale which the mogul decides. So much for the passenger.

Look for a moment at the flight deck. As the captain opens up his four jets for take-off, he knows that the engine power he is allowed to use is limited because of noise limitations imposed on the particular airport from which he is operating, which have been sanctioned by the decree of, once more, the Great Mogul. Next, take the airport operator, either the British Airports Authority or a local authority. Under Clause 8, the authority can make by-laws and regulations; but they ought not to be very happy at that, because the Great Mogul has taken powers to revoke or vary those by-laws on noise if they are not consistent either with his ideas on safety or with some international obligation.

So we see that the control of passengers, the control of air crews and the control of airport authorities all comes finally to this all-powerful individual, the Great Mogul. I have cited but some of his powers over the functioning of an essential part of our national life. If this has to be, then, in the interests of freedom of liberty, surely we can ask for some protection from the Great Mogul and his many minions. Parliamentary power can to some extent be retained if the Minister concedes, as I have been asking him to announce tonight, that the Affirmative Resolution procedure will be used, not only for the first set of regulations but for all other regulations of major importance which come forward as a result of this Bill.

Then, finally, I would suggest this thought to the Minister. The Secretary of State might consider setting up an advisory panel of qualified experts to whom the Secretary of State could refer cases in which a party claims damage from the unfair use of these powers or from bias by the Government in their exercise of them. I am not suggesting that it should in any way abrogate the authority of decision of the Secretary of State, where it must finally lie; but, in the exercise of these immense powers it would give some comfort to outside interests, who would feel that there was a voice, other than the voice of the Great Mogul and his minions, which would be listened to, and that notice would possibly be taken of its advice. As I say, my Lords, most of this Bill is necessary, but I object strongly to the untrammelled powers which are given to the Executive—the Great Mogul, as I have called it—under this Bill, and I hope we shall get the concessions which I have outlined.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, not for the first time, has put up a powerful and documented case, and I wish to add something to what she has said. There is a principle involved at this stage of the Bill which I think is of importance, as indeed the noble Baroness developed in her speech. Presumably, a purpose, or the purpose, is national economy. At the moment, the Exchequer pays £19 million for the security at airports to which we are referring. Basically, I suppose, this proposal is to secure this £19 million by charges on the airport authorities; those authorities are expected subsequently to pass those charges on to airlines; and then the airlines—by adding about 20 per cent., I understand—propose to pass it on to individual passengers.

The first question which the noble Baroness raised was: Is that a sound principle, or is it a matter of national responsibility to meet the costs involved in securing in the best way the safety of people travelling in planes when they leave and arrive in this country? I am bound to say that it seems to me that this is an issue of law and order. The noble Baroness referred, I think correctly, to the parallel of Northern Ireland. Surely the action of hijackers, of terrorists in planes, is not against the individual passengers—although, Heaven knows!, they are the potential victims. It is an action against nations. It is an international action. The passengers are the unfortunate go-betweens in this usually politically-inspired action. Surely it falls within the scope of a country's responsibility for law and order, rather than that it should be ued as an occasion for adding to the charges borne by those who use aircraft as passengers.

It seems to me that this principle is of substantial importance. After all, £19 million, it is agreed, is a sum of size; but the principle of the national Government assuming and continuing to assume responsibility for law and order for protecting their citizens remains. It seems to me that this selectiveness, that this type of citizen has to pay for his security, is a movement on a slippery slope, and an unfair and unwise principle to adopt. So I do not believe it makes sense to pass the charge on to airport owners, including local authorities. Incidentally, there is nothing in this Bill which empowers the local authorities to collect the money from the airlines. It may be said that there is a general power so to do. One airport I know well suffered from the bankruptcy of an airline. That is a rare event, no doubt, but if that were to happen after this Bill has been passed I doubt their capacity, or indeed their power, to sue successfully for the money due from the airline.

There will be no real saving, of course, if the cost is switched, as the Bill proposes, to the individual airport authority or to the local authority. In fact, I have no doubt there will be an increase. In the case of Luton, it costs 28p (shortly, it is believed, to rise to 30p or 32p) to provide this service to the satisfaction of the Minister. Now, of course, Luton must collect 80p, and those who arrive at Luton Airport are going to be charged an additional £1. It hardly makes sense, though I can appreciate the point that if you adopt this system there is a case for averaging out the cost of providing the service at all airports.

However, I think there is another aspect to this. The charge is to be a uniform charge: 80p in the first instance but more than 80p—£1—when it arrives at the airline. For the passenger from Rio, the £1 is an insignificant addition to his fare; but for the passenger from Jersey it is an appreciable addition to the fare. One can give examples. It will be £1 whether the plane comes from Sydney or Le Touquet and, what is more, if you travel from London to Newcastle on business, you will pay this £1 on arrival in Newcastle and, if you come back later the same day, you will pay another £1. It does not seem fair. If you come from Ostend to Southend Airport and the fare is £10, it is a 10 per cent. increase in your fare.

I think that this search for uniformity will, in this area as in so many others, result in very considerable inequity between traveller and traveller. So I would add this point. At the moment the Government control what is done, approve the security provisions at individual airports and pay the cost. Under this proposal, the Government will continue to lay down what should be done and continue to approve it; but somebody else will pay the cost. I suggest that that is not a very happy principle to adopt. I think it as well that the responsibility for what is provided should rest with the authority or person who is providing it. Otherwise, I suggest, the danger is that you will slip into extravagance and inefficiency as a result of separating the two functions of approving and of paying.

Undoubtedly, the most important point in this matter is the principle. It has been said, and said tonight, that it does not make sense to tax the passenger on arrival. I can understand that the ease of collection and the ease of charging airlines may be a dominant argument for suggesting that method; but, on the basic question, it is not right for the Government to seek to separate themselves, to choose between one kind of citizen and another, to assume a national responsibility against a great danger and to assume it not as a national obligation but on the basis of an individual charge to those passengers who are not the object of the terrorist but who stand between the terrorist and the nation or the group which the terrorist is seeking to attack. I hope that the principle will be looked at very carefully, for it seems to me to be dangerous and wrong and to result in a great deal of inequity between passenger and passenger.

6.34 p.m.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, may I say a couple of words? I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, for an extremely impressive speech. I believe that the whole House enjoyed the points that she made. Putting it simply, hijacking is directed against governments and we are simply held as elements in blackmail against governments. If governments will not face what is clearly their obligation, hijacking can take place in motorcars, railway trains, conferences—almost anywhere. If governments do not face that, I think they are letting down their people. This is a major issue and I am grateful that it has been brought out so clearly this evening.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Oram, for introducing this Bill this evening and for helping us through its various provisions. I think that I should say at the outset that, as I see it, the Bill is not intended as a general overhaul of the 1971 Act but is to bring up to date certain points with particular reference to the security measures to which almost all noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, have referred tonight. I must confess that the speech of the noble Baroness has caused me to think again on the question of the security payments proposed in the Bill; but I would say that, at the moment my view is—or, at least, it was before I listened to the noble Baroness—that the principle laid down in the 1971 Act that the aviation industry should be self-supporting and should not in any way be a charge on public funds—not in the long term, in any event—is the right principle. The CAA itself, has, throughout its life, been moving towards self-sufficiency and, apart from navigation services, it has now virtually reached that point.

I remember when my noble friend Lord Belstead was sitting here on this side of the House, as he is tonight, dealing with the Air Travel Reserve Fund Act, which was another measure along the same road. I am, for the moment, persuaded that the general principle of arranging for the security costs at airports to be recovered from the users of the services is the right one. However, as I said, I am very impressed by the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, and I for one will certainly think again, although, primarily, that is a matter for the Government, and the arguments and thoughts of the noble Baroness were certainly directed to them.

My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye was complaining about the moguls. I must confess that he strikes a sympathetic note with me; but I should perhaps remind my noble friend that nowadays the great power in the civil aviation world is not the Secretary of State but the Civil Aviation Authority. It is true that they are responsible to the Minister but only in a very general way; and if one has a complaint—and I do not necessarily, and certainly not tonight, have such a complaint—against too much control and too much power being exercised over operators, then it is to the CAA that one should turn and not to the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, was also concerned with the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton. Perhaps it would be right to remind the noble Lord that the charges or the levy which it is proposed to take under this Bill will apply not only to United Kingdom citizens, who are, indeed, entitled to the protection of the Government, but also to foreigners who may not have quite the same entitlement and to foreign airlines which may be using our airports simply for a convenience. I do not think that they themselves should necessarily be exempt from all the costs of providing the services that they use. As the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, reminded us, the cost or levy is to be a standard one, more or less, for all passengers; but at some airports the cost of providing the service is more than the 80p which is to be charged. But the charge will remain the same even at those aerodromes. In any event, there is I think to be a rebate on certain short-haul services so the passengers travelling for example, between London and Newcastle—to which the noble Lord referred—may not be quite so severely hit as he may fear.


My Lords, may I interrupt? This matter should be cleared up. The noble Lord is wrong: for that journey—London to Liverpool—there will be a charge on arrival and a charge on return.


My Lords, I believe the noble Lord is right. I am not querying that; I am querying the rate of the charge. The noble Lord, Lord Oram, reminded us that certain Amendments were carried during the Committee stage in the other place. Although those Amendments were subsequently reversed on the Report stage, I understand that certain undertakings have been given by the Secretary of State that the regulations, when they are introduced, will make provision for these short-haul services; and although it may well be charged in both directions—and this is what the noble Lord is complaining about—it will be at a lower rate than the 80p which the Bill provides.

The other point in relation to the security charges which we ought to consider—and to which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Oram, will reply—is the one made by the noble Earl, Lord Amherst: whether or not it would be more desirable to make this charge on outgoing passengers rather than incoming ones. I recognise the point that, if the money is to be collected from the airline, it is more convenient to do it along with the landing fee when the aircraft arrives. On the other hand, it may be more convenient for the airlines to collect the levy from the passengers on the way out. One recalls that in years past a passenger service charge was levied at London Airport. That was certainly collected on departure.

Clause 5 of this Bill provides for an increase in the borrowing powers of the CAA and British Airways. The noble Lord explained very carefully why this increase was required, particularly with regard to the CAA; but it seems to me that the £50 million increase which they require—which is, he said, to last for only five years—is necessary for all the improvements foreshadowed in air traffic services. I hope that the noble Lord can assure us that it is not proposed that these increased borrowing facilities will be used for current account purposes to meet any deficit which the authority may be incurring now or in the future. In parenthesis, may I ask the noble Lord whether he has any information on the disposal of the fleet of aeroplanes operated by the Civil Aviation Authority which has been foreshadowed? That presumably, if it came to pass, would enable the authority to reduce their borrowing requirements rather than increase them.

British Airways are also to be allowed an increase in their borrowing arrangements of £150 million. I presume that this is for the acquisition of additional aircraft. We know that they are currently looking for a replacement for the Trident I and Trident II aircraft. Perhaps the noble Lord can give us some information on how their search for a replacement is going. The matter has been raised in this House before by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull and others. It will be interesting to know whether the noble Lord has any more information on that.

Clause 6, which I think the noble Lord did not mention, empowers the Civil Aviation Authority to lease certain equipment, if they so desire. It imposes certain restrictions on the way they should do that. It will be interesting to know what they propose to lease and whether it will have any effect on the borrowing requirement increased under a previous clause.

I also draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 7. It provides for the Authority to enter into certain agreements with respect to navigation service charges. Your Lordships may know that, in general, navigation service charges are levied upon airlines at a standard rate laid down in regulations. But now it seems the Authority are to have power to negotiate these fees and will, for example, enter into agreement, perhaps with major airlines like British Airways, to give them a contract rate of some sort at Heathrow or elsewhere. That is fine and desirable and I support that proposal. But I wonder why the requirement is made retrospective. The clause gives power for the Authority to make what appear to be retrospective contracts in this way, and that seems curious.

Clauses 8 and 9 refer to the noise requirements which the Government are proposing to bring in. Your Lordships will recall that, under the White Paper which the Government published a little while ago on airport policy, they announced that noisy aircraft were to be progressively prohibited, starting in October, I think, of this year and the prohibition becoming complete by 1st January 1986. Although I am involved in the aircraft operating industry, I welcome this move. Civil aviation can no longer expect to inconvenience and discomfort the community with impunity. Frankly, they have rather tended to do that over the years. In the 1960s, when the problem reached its peak, the environment for people living near Heathrow and other major airports was becoming intolerable. The progressive improvement that occurred first with the introduction of night curfews and then more recently with the introduction of quieter aircraft is greatly to be welcomed. The Government's line is generally the right one: rather than wholesale restrictions, they are encouraging the use of quieter aircraft. I generally support this.

However, the noble Lord rang a small bell with me when he talked about night restrictions at Stansted. He mentioned Heathrow and Gatwick which we know about. But there are at the moment no restrictions at Stansted. I was not aware that there were any in prospect. The noble Lord may be able to help us on that. One other point in this connection which has been brought to my attention is the problem of small aerodromes operating, for the most part, light aircraft; and, in particular, Ford aerodrome has been brought to my attention. That particular airfield was originally used by the Royal Navy. It was abandoned by them in the late 1940s or early 1950s and has recently come into use once more, without a licence or planning permission—neither of which is required—for small and light aircraft for training and recreational purposes. This is causing something of a discomfort for local residents. It seems they have no protection from it. I am persuaded and convinced that present operations there are entirely lawful, but it seems there is a gap in the regulations if places like that can continue to operate with impunity and without any reference to anyone.

Clause 11 was briefly referred to by the noble Lord and causes me the greatest concern of all in this Bill. There is a long saga attached to that into which I will not go now—it is a matter for the Committee stage. I warn the noble Lord that I intend to raise that in Committee and see exactly what the Government have in mind in their proposals to increase their powers—if that is the right phrase—to police the operation of air transport licences. There are some points of concern which I will take up later in the progress of the Bill.

As I have said, we generally welcome this Bill. We think that there are some points that need careful consideration and all of us have been given considerable food for thought by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry; but, having said that, I hope your Lordships will now give the Bill a Second Reading.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like straight away to thank all noble Lords and my noble friend Lady Burton for their contributions to this debate. Even though some were vigorous and critical of certain aspects of the Bill, I feel we have had a very helpful debate. What has been said by a number of speakers about the well-informed speech of my noble friend certainly finds an echo with me.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, and to my noble friend Lady Burton for having given me notice of a number of points that they intended to raise. Other contributors to the debate, I am sure, will feel it is only right that I should start off by giving a fairly detailed response to those points of which I was given notice. Dealing first with the points raised by the noble Earl, I may say that the contributions of the Aviation Security Fund are to be levied on airport authorities and not on passengers. The amount will be calculated with reference to the number of arriving passengers, though Clause 2(2)(a) now gives a power to the Secretary of State to levy the contributions by reference to departing passengers, if that should ever prove to be more convenient. That was an amendment to which my noble friend Lady Burton called attention, and she also asked me about the foreseeable future. I do not think she would expect me actually to put a term of months or years on that, because when introducing a scheme of this kind we must to a large extent be pragmatic in our approach.

It is traditional for airport authorities to make landing charges by reference to the weight of the aircraft and the number of passengers carried, and not to make taking-off charges. It is therefore administratively convenient for airport authorities, if they wish to finance the contribution which they have to make to the Fund, to make an appropriate increase in the landing charges which relate to the numbers of passengers. Since the number of passengers arriving at each airport is, in practice, approximately equal to the number of passengers departing from that airport, it seemed best to follow the existing administrative practice rather than to set up new machinery relating to departing passengers, in spite of the fact that it is the departing passengers and not the arriving ones who are searched.

However, the security levy covers many other costs of airport security and policing, and not merely the costs of searching. I agree that the costs of searching apply to departing passengers, but there are other costs as well. The levy is to be collected by the Department of Trade from airport authorities by requiring them to notify, within 90 days of the end of each month, a return of the number of passengers, as defined in the regulations, who arrived in that month, together with a remittance calculated in accordance with the regulations.

The Bill is not concerned with how the airport authorities may pass on the charge to the airlines, with how the airlines increase their fares, nor, indeed, with how tour operators fix the price of their package tours. The Bill does not affect the present arrangements for searching passengers and their hand-baggage. The searchers do not have any statutory powers to search—the noble Earl asked about their status—but airlines are advised to require their passengers to be searched and, if a passenger refuses, the pilot is entitled to refuse to carry him.

The noble Earl asked about the foreign reaction to our proposals and my noble friend Lady Burton also commented about that in the European context. There are several countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and, to some extent, Japan, where the Government do not bear the cost of searching. In some European countries the costs of airport security are borne by the airport authorities and are presumably included in the landing charges; but since our change of policy was announced last May no other countries within or outside the European Community have, so far as we are aware, introduced an aviation security levy on these lines. However, it was put to us by the representatives of the international airlines that other countries might well follow our example, and that possibility was taken into account in reaching the decision.

The noble Earl then asked about an official listing of aircraft as regards noise on which the increase in landing fees will rest. Work is still continuing both at home and in international bodies on the best way of building into landing charges an incentive towards quietness. A simple differential between one group of aircraft and another, such as between a noise-certificated aircraft and another aircraft, would only produce a very crude incentive and indeed might have no incentive effect at all. We are studying a variety of possible schemes with sliding charges and rebates according to the noise made by the aircraft, compared with some specified standard. For instance, we are examining the effects of a charging scheme based on the amount by which an aircraft's noise deviates from an absolute noise level, and comparing this with the effects of a scheme based on deviations from the standards of ICAO for the aircraft in question. The economic work involved is complex and it is too early yet to say what its results will be.

I hope I have covered at least most of the points of which the noble Earl gave me notice. He did also raise the question of the possibility, which has been explored, of giving the Airports Authority wider powers to engage in work, other than through consultancy fees, in overseas countries. That has been closely examined. The noble Earl is quite right in saying that there is a strong view in favour of it but, having examined it, we have concluded that this is a comparatively late stage of the Bill and it would not be suitable to move an Amendment to this Bill to achieve that point.

My noble friend Lady Burton, to whom, as I said earlier, I am grateful for having given me notice of the points she was going to raise, started off by recalling—though I am sure your Lordships do not need reminding of it—that she has been particularly diligent over many years in these matters of civil aviation. When she started by saying that someone had exercised great patience in relation to her activities, I wondered whether I was the fortunate person to whom the compliment was directed.


My Lords, may I interrupt to say that I would certainly include my noble friend.


My Lords, I am glad to hear that, because I was getting a little jealous of Mr. Hammarskjold. But she gave us a very well documented critique of the principle behind the security aspect of the Bill, and related it to the Montreal Convention and to a recommendation from ECAC. She referred, in particular, to Article 10.1 of the Montreal Convention and quoted part of it. Perhaps I may quote it more fully. It states: Contracting States shall, in accordance with international and national law, endeavour to take all practicable measures for the purpose of preventing the offences mentioned in Article 1 ", and Article 1 lists as offences acts of violence against a person on board an aircraft, and various actions to damage aircraft or air navigation facilities, which are generally known as sabotage.

There is no doubt at all that Her Majesty's Government are taking all practicable measures, in our whole system of aviation security, for the purpose of preventing hijacking and sabotage. The Protection of Aircraft Act 1973 was, in fact, passed in order to give effect to our obligations under the Montreal Convention. The Convention, however, does not say anything about how these measures should be financed. Article 10.2 requires a contracting State, in whose territory a hijacked aircraft lands, to take the necessary action to facilitate a continuation of its journey and to return the aircraft to its owner. We naturally have a whole range of contingency plans for dealing with such an eventuality. This Bill does not in any way detract from the efficacy of our aviation security arrangements. Indeed, its form is largely motivated by the desire to reinforce them. I hope that that helps my noble friend in relation to the Montreal Convention.

She then referred to Recommendation 15 of the European Civil Aviation Conference. Here, again, may I quote specifically paragraph (c), which I think is the one that she may have particularly in mind. It states: Governments should, in principle, bear the cost of security measures adopted under their control or at their direction; this does not exclude arrangements for contributions from other sources, but the effectiveness of security measures should not be impaired by lack of financial support from any source ". The action which we propose to take under this Bill is fully in accordance with this provision. The Aviation Security Fund, under the control of the Secretary of State, will bear the cost of the security measures. The phrase, This does not exclude … contributions from other sources", covers the contributions from the airport authorities to the Aviation Security Fund, provided for in Clause 2. The proposed system provides greater assurance that the effectiveness of security measures will not be impaired by lack of financial support, since aviation security expenditure will no longer be subject to cash limits or any across-the-board cuts which a Government may have to impose in times of financial stringency.

Then we had a very vigorous contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, on the theme of the Great Mogul, which he used as a characterisation of this, as he saw it, massive increase in governmental power. It was a speech well worth listening to, but I think that he exaggerated a little the extent to which the Great Mogul is being reinforced. I can give him the one assurance for which he asked; that is, that amendments to the regulations—a second set of regulations—would be equally subject to Parliamentary control and to the Affirmative Resolution procedure as would the original set of regulations. But on his more general point, I would ask him to recognise that there has grown up a terrible security problem; and, indeed, that the noise problem of aircraft is one that gives a great deal of anxiety. Although he seeks to criticise us for taking powers to deal with these problems, I believe that we would be subject to even greater criticism, perhaps from the noble Lord himself, if we did not take the necessary powers to deal with these matters.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to make one point clear? I am grateful for his assurance that the Affirmative Resolution procedure will go with any amendments to these regulations. But does that also apply to regulations on noise, as well as to regulations on the levy?


My Lords, I think that it would apply to any regulations which are authorised under this Bill. But I will check on that and, if I am wrong, I will certainly let the noble Lord know. He was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Hill—


My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to intervene, because this question follows on from the Great Mogul approach of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour: I asked my noble friend whether there would be a breakdown of security costs, by category and amount, and, if so, to whom this would be made available—Parliament, the airlines or the airline users. If he cannot answer now, I can return to it on Monday.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for taking that position, because it would not be easy for me to answer this evening and, certainly, waiting until Monday or dealing with it by correspondence would be a better way of covering the question. I was about to reply to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, who made a number of points. He talked about the effect of the 80p on air tariffs, and indicated that some airlines were adding to the 80p. I am not in the least objecting to his raising them here, but these observations would have greater relevance at the hearing of the Civil Aviation Authority on the domestic air tariff.

It is left to the airlines to decide how to recover from passengers the money that they have to pay to the aerodrome authority. They have chosen to ask for £1 on each journey, but they do not have to do so and I am sure that, if we tried to exercise too much authority over them in this matter, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, would think that the Great Mogul was getting greater still. I think that I can, perhaps, summarise the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, in this way; that the industry is being made to bear costs of protection against terrorism, and is being singled out for special treatment.

Then he made the point that the proposed levy would add to the cost of air travel, particularly short haul flights. In dealing with the airport of which he has close knowledge, which I think may be Luton, he made the point, which was made in another place, that the cost of security provision at Luton is only 28p. But, in making that point, I noticed that he recognised the need for a certain uniformity of approach by the Government throughout the country.

Regarding the noble Lord's first point about the aviation industry being singled out, there are indeed precedents. The aviation industry is now being asked to pay for its own protection, just as other industries all along have had to do. Restaurants, shops, railways, et cetera, have to bear this cost. The levy of 80p per arriving passenger is not, I suggest, a significant increase on most journeys. The noble Lord instanced domestic journeys where it is a significant proportion, but it is unlikely that the general fare will be less than £30. I should like to point out that the Government have made special provision to exclude from the levy the small number of cases where it would be a serious burden. Therefore, to some extent the noble Lord's point has been met.

As the noble Lord pointed out, it is true that to some extent the 80p levy has a greater impact on short-haul flights, but it was the view of the industry during the consultations that a flat rate was preferable to variable rates. If the industry subsequently feel that this is a problem, it is open to them to charge a smaller levy on short-haul flights and to compensate with a larger levy on international flights. However, this would be difficult for some authorities which do not have the necessary spread of traffic. Nevertheless, may I assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has promised to reconsider all of these points in the light of experience.

May I turn now to one or two of the points which were made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who took us very reasonably through the Bill clause by clause and made comments upon them. I hope the noble Lord will agree that a number of his points can he taken up on Monday next during the Committee stage of the Bill. Indeed, the noble Lord indicated that this was his wish, particularly in relation to Clause 2. However, the noble Lord made one or two specific points.

With regard to borrowing powers, the noble Lord asked whether the money raised could be used to cover operating deficits, and I have to tell him that this is not so. The operating deficit is met by means of a grant in aid. The noble Lord also asked about the disposal of aircraft. I do not think that the problem he has raised is very large, because I understand that the Civil Aviation Authority have only one aircraft to spare. It is thought that if they get £750,000 for this aircraft, a reasonably good deal will have been made.

As I have said, I will certainly take careful note during the weekend of quite a number of other points which the noble Lord raised and make sure that, so far as possible, I am able to answer them either on Monday or in some other way. That remark naturally applies to all of the speakers in the debate. I will make sure that careful attention is paid to any points which I have been unable satisfactorily to answer this evening and ensure that an answer is received in one form or another.

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