HL Deb 31 October 1980 vol 414 cc720-38

11.25 a.m.

Read 3a, with the amendments.

Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE moved the following amendment: After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

"Aviation Security Fund

( . After subsection (3) of section 1 of the Civil Aviation Act 1978 there shall be inserted the following subsection:— (3B) The Secretary of State shall prepare a report before 31st July each year on the control and management of the Fund during the last financial year, and each such annual report shall include a general survey of developments, during the period to which it relates, in respect of matters falling within the scope of his functions, and in particular

  1. (a) information that has been supplied to users' representatives;
  2. (b) a forecast of developments likely to affect future income and expenditure; and
  3. (c) a summary of measures taken to promote efficiency and economy in the protection and policing operations in respect of which expenditure is reimbursed under subsection (2) above;
and a copy of each such report shall be laid before each House of Parliament and shall be published."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment deals with the subject of security expenditure, which I raised in a different form in successive amendments at Committee and Report stages of the Bill. The concern of airlines and other users at this growing expenditure—now some £38 million—was fully outlined at these stages and I will not weary the House with the details of that again. Suffice it to say that neither the Government, we on this Bench, nor the airlines, are satisfied that the present system gives airport authorities adequate incentives to contain expenditure on searching and security operations.

Your Lordships will recall that the cost of these security services has continued to rise at an alarming rate. The charge is now some £1.60 per passenger and the problem is how to introduce incentives to keep this cost down. Much of the criticisms by the users who must pay the charges can be attributed directly to the lack of adequate information about cost allocation, manpower levels, and so forth. Inquiries to the British Airports Authority are constantly referred to the Department of Trade, yet the Secretary of State and his officials are only open to scrutiny for their control and management of the fund when the draft regulations increasing the levy rate are considered by this House and another place. The working group on the fund which the department convenes meets in private. Its papers, which review expenditure in some detail, are marked "restricted". To open up this whole area to public scrutiny would obviously have security implications, and this would be undesirable. But that should not allow Ministers and their officials to operate the system at second-hand as at present, with mounting dissatisfaction among the users.

At Committee stage, I sought to remedy this gap by the establishment of review committees of airline and airport representatives at each airport. The noble Lord opposed these as imposing too bureaucratic a burden; he suggested that the existing machinery was adequate. At Report stage 1 tabled an amendment to write into the 1978 Act a duty on the Secretary of State to satisfy himself as to the propriety of reimbursements from the fund and to secure maximum efficiency and economy from airport authorities. The noble Lord regarded this, too, as unnecessary.

It is partly because of the fact that users' dissatisfaction with the present system remains that I have tabled this amendment today, and partly because the Secretary of State does not appear to be directly accountable for its operation. This amendment would write into the Civil Aviation Act 1978 a requirement on the Secretary of State to make an annual report to Parliament on the performance of its functions relating to the aviation security fund, and would also require him to make available more background information than hitherto.

This should not be thought to be unnecessary or even burdensome. It is necessary because there is simply no other report or summary of this kind. The British Airports Authority produces a long annual report. Despite the fact that 27 per cent. of its personnel are now deployed in searching and security duties, minimal reference is made to these operations in its report. There were three paragraphs in the 1977 to 1978 report; four in the 1978 to 1979 report, and only two in the 1979 to 1980 report. It is true, as the noble Lord reminded the House on Report stage, that the accounts of the fund are prepared by his department and are then examined by the Comptroller and. Auditor-General. But the accounts for the fund's first year, 1978–79, appeared only this summer, 12 months after the end of the financial year, and are in any case a very bald statement of the income and expenditure involved, with an accompanying foreword of a mere 12 sentences.

Nor should this requirement be thought burdensome. Much of the information that would be contained in each report would have been supplied already in papers provided for the working group. Indeed, on occasion some of it has been supplied to Members of this House and of another place during the consideration of draft regulations. The production of an annual report would simply bring all the relevant facts and financial and statistical information together, and allow Parliament and the public to be better informed and to make better-informed judgments about the management of security expenditure and future developments expected. I should have thought that this amendment would not be unduly burdensome. I beg to move.

11.32 a.m.


My Lords, may I intervene before the noble Minister replies, to say that we support this amendment in that it particularly applies to charges for security and search. The airlines are billed with these charges and in turn, generally speaking, they pass them on to the passenger, so that the charges are included in the cost of the ticket. Therefore the cost of these charges impinges on the consumer. As the matter now stands, these charges are given as a lump sum, with no further explanation. I think that consumers have good reason to expect a better explanation of how these charges are assessed, arranged and generally administered. Therefore I think that this amendment goes a long way towards securing a better explanation.


My Lords, I shall support my noble friend on this amendment. I should like to make one or two remarks concerning security charges. I listened to what my noble friend Lord Ponsonby said on Committee stage and again on Report. The amendment we are considering today, I think, is similar to that moved on Report. Also, I looked this morning at what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, had said in reply. I do not know whether he is going to make exactly the same answer again, if he is going to turn down my noble friend's request; but what I think I am entitled to say is that both Front Benches in both Houses are responsible for these security charges. I leave it at that and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, would expect me to come back to that.

However, the House will recall that it was in this House and in this House alone—because the matter was not even discussed on Committee stage in another place—that objection was taken to the security charges, and indeed we lost in that debate by only two votes. I know two votes is a lot, but we did only lose by two votes, and I should like to reiterate once more that it is my view—I certainly think it is the view of the airlines, and I should have thought that it was that of most people, apart from those who sit on the Front Benches on both sides of the House—that security charges are the responsibility of the state and are not the responsibility of individual citizens. At any rate, the airlines are obviously very disturbed not only at the way security charges were imposed, but also at the way they have increased and at, if I may most politely term it, the inadequate accountability in respect of them.

I very much regret that we did not get anywhere on those security charges, and I regret it while paying a tribute to British Airways. I remember saying, when this matter was raised in the House, that on the matter of air policy the United Kingdom and British Airways were reckoned to lead the way in Europe and other countries looked to us in this respect. Unfortunately, we led the way in imposing security charges in this manner. I also remember at that time that none of our colleagues in the EEC had security charges imposed upon them in this way.

I should like to support this amendment. I disagree with the security charges being imposed in this way, but I disagree most vehemently, as I think my noble friend Lord Ponsonby did, with the lack of accountability to the airlines. I therefore have pleasure in supporting the amendment.


My Lords, I should like to support the amendment and to suggest to your Lordships that it is really a challenge to the judgment of those of your Lordships who have bothered to stay here this Friday. The noble Lord moved his amendment in the most constructive terms. It is not one which in any way impeaches the principle of the Bill. It does not endeavour to overturn a policy with which we disagree. It is endeavouring to introduce some responsibility and to have a very proper sense of discipline in an area where it is eminently difficult to get discipline.

There are many here who will know that security services feed upon their own importance, and there are many who will know that it is very difficult to control expenditure when you are dealing with security. I have known, as no doubt others have known, that when something is difficult to explain you have only to mutter that it is something to do with security and you get away with it. I think that here is a case where it would be advisable to have a much more open sense of accountability. The noble Lord has moved his amendment before in similar terms. He now comes along with something which is eminently sensible and eminently constructive, and I should like to think that your Lordships would support his amendment this morning if he presses it to a Division.

11.37 a.m.


My Lords, may I say at the outset that I fully appreciate the concerns which lie behind this amendment. The first is that users should have information on the costs that are being incurred on security and forecasts of developments likely to affect future income and expenditure. May I repeat what I said during Committee stage and again on Report?—that the Department of Trade make a great deal of financial information available to the Working Group on the Aviation Security Fund, which includes user representatives and also a representative of the Air Transport Users' Committee. May I, by way of example, describe a paper which was circulated by the department to the working group about two weeks ago, in order to demonstrate how much information is made available? The paper sets out total income and expenditure under various headings for last year, together with estimates for this year and next. Costs for last year for each individual airport are given. Significant variations in manning levels, compared with a year previously are noted, and all major wage awards over the last year are recorded. Assumptions regarding future wage awards and manning levels are specified, and traffic forecasts are discussed.

The working group will have the opportunity to challenge and seek clarification of all this at a meeting next week. I have also mentioned in an earlier debate that at Heathrow a Search Liaison Sub-Committee has been set up by the BAA to discuss matters such as manning levels and anything else the airlines may wish to raise. There are in addition security committees at every airport, where security operations and their efficiency can be discussed.

The other major concern reflected in the amendment is that security measures should be undertaken efficiently and economically. I again reiterate that the department takes very seriously indeed the need for economy. I would remind your Lordships that the department recently participated in a full-scale review of the security arrangements at Heathrow Terminal 3. It is currently looking at the feasibility of centralising searching at Gatwick and it has been examining closely the BAA's establishment figures for Terminals 1 and 2 at Heathrow.

All this said, I very much doubt that imposing a requirement on the Secretary of State to lay an annual report before Parliament as defined in the amendment will in practice confer any extra advantage on users at all. I would stress, however, that there is no intention to deny Parliament information. The accounts of the Aviation Security Fund are laid before Parliament annually, in accordance with Section 1(3) of the Civil Aviation Act 1978, and the department has adopted the practice in the past, and will continue it in the future, of placing in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament a paper giving the kind of information that I mentioned just now whenever amendment regulations to increase the levy rate are put before Parliament.

I would also mention, in passing, a small imperfection in the amendment, although I confess it is no more than that, in that it would require the annual report to be prepared by 31st July each year. The fund operates several months in arrears and our experience is that some claims for the previous financial year do not arrive until August. It would, therefore, be difficult to present a completely accurate picture of the previous year's finances as early as the end of July.

If I may now touch on one or two points made by various noble Lords and noble Baronesses who spoke earlier, the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, referred to the increase in charges which your Lordships authorised last year. That, if my memory serves me right, was a very substantial increase from 85p to, I think, £1.60. But that large increase was made necessary by a deficit which the fund had acquired, resulting from a significant under-charging in previous years. While I am not in a position to forecast what increase, if any, will be necessary for next year, I cannot think it will be anything like that kind of order.

The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, referred to the merit of the amendment, as he saw it. In particular, he asked me to consider that the principle of the Bill was not breached by the acceptance of this amendment. Indeed not, my Lords, but the noble Lord might wish to consider whether the principle of the earlier Act, which established the security fund in 1978, would be compromised by this amendment.

The department is doing a great deal under the present non-statutory arrangements to meet the concerns of users. It has every intention of continuing and developing these arrangements in the future. I do not think that a requirement to prepare a report, in addition to the annual account which is already laid before Parliament, will, in itself, be of particular benefit to airlines and at this late stage of the Bill I ask your Lordships to reject the amendment.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I have been encouraged by the support which I have received from this side of the House and, although it had not been my original intention to press this amendment to a Division, I now intend to so do.

We are dealing with the question of public information. The Government are seeking to hide behind a cloak of secrecy. The noble Lord said that certain information is made available, but that is inadequate so far as those who are paying into this fund are concerned. Unless they can have satisfaction, we shall not get anywhere on this.

I have tried on two occasions to come forward with constructive suggestions as to how these difficulties might be overcome. On both of those occasions, the noble Lord rejected the suggestions. In all the circumstances, I should have thought—and I hope that your Lordships in all parts of the House will agree—that the suggestions which I have made today were eminently sensible.

11.44 a. m.

On Question, Whether the amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 58; Not-Contents, 61.

Airedale, L. Gladwyn, L. Mishcon, L.
Amherst, E. Gordon-Walker, L. Oram, L.
Ampthill, L. Gosford, E. Peart, L.
Ardwick, L. Granville of Eye, L. Plant, L.
Banks, L. Gregson, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Grey, E. Robbins, L.
Bernstein, L. Hale, L. Roberthall, L.
Beswick, L. Halsbury, E. Saint Brides, L.
Boothby, L. Hanworth, V. St. Davids, V.
Boston of Faversham, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Segal, L.
Brockway, L. Henderson, L. Shinwell, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Simon, V.
Burton of Coventry, B. Jeger, B. Stamp, L.
Collison, L. Leatherland, L. Stedman, B.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Listowel, E. Strabolgi, L.
Crook, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Underhill, L.
Gaitskell, B. Longford, E. Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]
Galpern, L. Meston, L. Winstanley, L.
Wynne-Jones, L.
Ailesbury, M. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Morris, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Gainford, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Gowrie, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Auckland, L. Greenway, L. Newall, L.
Avon, E. Grimston of Westbury, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Bessborough, E. Ironside, L. Nunburnholme, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Kilmarnock, L. O'Neill of the Maine, L.
Caccia, L. Kinloss, Ly. Porritt, L.
Clancarty, E. Kinnaird, L. Renton, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Lauderdale, E. Sandford, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Davidson, V. Long, V. Sempill, Ly.
De Freyne, L. Lovat, L. Soames, L. [L. President.]
Denham, L. [Teller.] Lucas of Chilworth, L. Spens, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lyell, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Duncan-Sandys, L. McFadzean, L. Swansea, L.
Eccles, V. Macleod of Borve, B. Trefgarne, L.
Effingham, E. Mancroft, L. Trumpington, B.
Ellenborough, L. Marley, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Ferrers, E. Monk Bretton, L. Vivian, L.
Westbury, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

11.52 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I believe that in our previous debates we have indeed done proper justice to this important Bill. Although there have been some differences between us, I sense a general sympathy for the view that civil aviation is an industry subject to continual development and change and that our attitudes must change with it.

We have been fortunate in numbering among noble Lords who have spoken some who have had experience of the industry at first hand. While the Government may not have been able to accept all of their arguments, our debates would have been the poorer without their contribution. I think that every aspect of the Bill has been dealt with at the various stages of our proceedings. I will not therefore labour all the details again on this occasion, but perhaps I may recapitulate the Bill's main objectives and explain why the Government believe that those objectives are important.

I spoke just now of change. There may in the past have been arguments to support a nationalised industry structure for British Airways, but we are firmly convinced that this is no longer the case. Unlike the public utilities, British Airways is not a monopoly. It has to compete in a market which is essentially international. It has to compete not only against foreign carriers but also against domestic airlines which have come a long way in recent years and are now substantial businesses. The competition from all sides gets fiercer every day. That is a healthy situation and certainly one from which the consumer has benefited.

Naturally, we expect British Airways to compete effectively in this environment, but to do so we believe that they should be put on precisely the same commercial footing as other British airlines, none of which is subject to the controls currently exercised by the Government over British Airways. Part I of the Bill therefore represents freedom for British Airways to operate without these constraints. Instead, it will be able to operate as a proper private sector company whose fortunes are entirely in its own hands. Although the Government will hold a majority of the shares following the initial flotation, we shall not seek to control or interfere in the company's activities in any way.

It is unfortunate that we shall not be able to grant British Airways this freedom as soon as we should have wished. However, the recent announcement that a flotation will not take place in 1981 is perfectly consistent with the undertakings which have been given on a number of occasions that we shall not sell shares until we consider the time is right, taking into account the interests of all concerned. The Government would have been rightly criticised had we tried to ignore the fact that the airline industry world wide is in a recession and that British Airways' own level of profitability is at present considerably below original forecasts.

We fully accept that you cannot launch a successful sale of shares against that background. We have therefore made provision for the airline's financial stability for the present by increasing the statutory borrowing limit under what now forms Clause 2 of the Bill. I should, however, leave your Lordships in no doubt that it is our intention to proceed with the change of status for the airline and subsequent sale of shares as soon as the air transport market and British Airways' own prospects have improved sufficiently for us to arrange a successful flotation.

I come now to the provisions of Part II of the Bill. We have ranged widely in our debates on Part II and I hope that on most questions which have arisen I have succeeded in explaining the Government's policies. Certainly I do not wish again to go over ground which has already been sufficiently covered. However, I should like to add a few remarks on the most important clauses in this part of the Bill, 12 and 13, in order to remove any doubts as to the Government's intentions.

The central purpose of Clause 12, which sets out the Civil Aviation Authority's objectives in primary legislation, is to ensure that in future one of the authority's major concerns will be to foster the interests of consumers—that is, the users of airline services. This is to be achieved principally by two changes in the Civil Aviation Act 1971. First, Clause 12 will strengthen the authority's existing duty to further the reasonable interests of consumers of transport services by placing that duty on an equal footing with the authority's other general objectives, as amended by Clause 12. The effect of these changes will be to give to the CAA two all-embracing objectives: first, to ensure that British airlines satisfy all substantial categories of demand at the lowest charges, consistent with a high degree of safety, a reasonable return to the operator and the sound development of the domestic industry; and, secondly, to further the interests of airline users. Taken together, I think these broad objectives make plain the importance which the CAA is obliged to attach to meeting the needs of the airline users.

Secondly, the consumers' interests will be advanced by subsection (2) of the new Section 23A which is inserted into the 1971 Act by Clause 12. This subsection is designed to eliminate any doubts as to the CAA's duty to take fully into account the benefits to airline users which may arise from the introduction of competition. It establishes that the authority, when considering air licensing applications, shall have regard in particular to the benefits which may follow from permitting two or more operators to provide services on the same route.

Finally, it is recognised that the removal of the Secretary of State's power to give guidance and the setting out of the CAA's duties and objectives in primary legislation will change in some measure the existing régime with which the CAA, the industry and consumers are familiar. Clause 12 of the Bill will therefore not enter into force until the authority has complied with the requirement in Clause 13, that it shall publish an account of the policies it intends to adopt in the light of the new provisions relating to its air transport licensing duties. This will ensure that the airlines and air travellers have the opportunity to study the interpretation which the CAA intends to place upon its new duties when making air transport licensing decisions.

Clause 13 also requires the CAA to consult with representatives of the industry and users of airline services before it makes a statement of its policies so that both parties will have the opportunity to comment on the authority's proposals at an early stage. These provisions provide an orderly procedure for giving effect to the changes which the Bill will make in existing arrangements. My Lords, I believe that this measure will materially improve the position of the United Kingdom civil aviation industry. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

11.59 a.m.


My Lords, the civil aviation industry is going through a difficult time. During the passage of the Bill I have wondered how relevant this Bill is to the problems of the industry. As a result of the passage of this Bill, British Airways have been faced with a new uncertainty, in that they do not know whether they are within or without the public domain. They know that that uncertainty is going to continue for a considerable period of time because, as the Government have stated, there will be no flotation of British Airways in 1981; indeed, it may not be until 1982, 1983 or beyond that a flotation is finally made. Although the Government have indicated that they intend to retain a 51 per cent. shareholding in British Airways, after the initial directors have been appointed they are not going to appoint any directors themselves; although in contrast to that, when we discussed the new British Aerospace Corporation we learned that there are to be two Government-appointed directors on the board of British Aerospace.

As I have said, it is a time of uncertainty, a difficult situation for the whole commercial world of aviation. Airlines will necessarily examine in detail all the costs which they are being called upon to meet. During the course of this Bill we have examined the question of landing charges imposed by the British Airports Authority, air navigation charges and security charges. We have examined these at some length, but I fear that our examination will have produced no comfort for the airlines. The Government's tight control of the finances of the British Airports Authority, which has forced up landing fees; their failure to grapple with the problems of Eurocontrol; their failure to satisfy the airlines with regard to the security charges which they are being asked to meet, cannot help the aviation industry and cannot help the right decisions to be made in that industry for the benefit of this country.

I have often voiced concern about the premier position which London occupies in the European aviation situation. I have voiced concern that the present policies being pursued by the authorities and by the Government will have the effect of driving airlines to use other airports outside those within the London area. I know it is said that a move to Gatwick is what is being aimed for, but very often it will not be a move to Gatwick; it will be a move to Amsterdam or to Paris or to an intercontinental airport. Therefore I do not see that the aviation industry can have any comfort at all from this Bill.

I should have been very much happier if at least one of our amendments had been accepted. But the Government have maintained a rigid attitude against any amendment of any sort in the Bill. A few minutes ago they almost came a cropper on a very minor amendment about security charges. Having said that, and very much in contrast to that, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for his courtesy and good humour during our consideration of the Bill. I wish it had extended to an element of flexibility.

12.4 p.m.


My Lords, before the Bill leaves us I should like to comment on one particular aspect—that of the consumer and what has come out in this Bill. On Second Reading and in Committee I asked the Government whether they could consider two points. The first was whether they would widen the remit of the Airline Users' Committee to include airports. That is where most of the problems arise concerning travellers. I was very glad at Second Reading to have support on this aspect from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. The Government did consider this suggestion and they wrote to me at considerable length about it. I appreciated the care taken, but they did turn down the suggestion and I venture to think that was a mistake.

The second point I raised was to ask for an assurance that consumers of air travel, or the air travellers, would be included in the review which currently is being undertaken by the Minister, Mrs. Oppenheim, concerning the position of consumers vis-à-vis the nationalised industries. I was glad to receive an assurance the other day from the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that indeed this was to be the case. But I am not entirely happy. It may be that after several years of struggling on this issue I am unduly suspicious, but I am not too happy as to what I think may be the outcome of that.

Leaving that particular issue, when this Bill appeared, I was grateful to see the support given by the Secretary of State, Mr. Nott, to the viewpoint that the interests of consumers should be lifted to a much higher level, if that is the correct term, than they were in 1971. Mr. Nott supported this in the House, and Mr. Norman Tebbit said—I think I am quoting his words correctly—that they should advance the consumers in the pecking order. Obviously the viewpoint of the Secretary of State quite rightly carries much more weight than mine does; but I still think he is wrong on this particular aspect. Some of us have worked on this matter for many years, with the support of this House. It would not have been possible in the Commons to carry matters as far and as persistently as we have done in this House, through question and answer, and I should like to thank the House. It is due to this House, first of all, that we have got the Airline Users' Committee; but I will not go back over that.

What really disturbs me on this particular matter, apart from any merits or demerits, and what I venture to suggest from the background of experience is that we have far too many committees dealing with this problem. Each committee has its own amour propre and if anybody wants to step outside and do something that another committee thinks it should do, we make exactly no progress whatsoever. Airline travellers really are not concerned with this multiplicity of committees; they want their matters dealt with.

I wish to be fair because I think that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, also is fair. He has mentioned today various points where he hopes the cause of the consumer will be helped; I want to study those. But I do not feel we have had any help on this particular matter. I want to assure him that if the matter of the multiplicity of committees and these demarcation problems are not settled we shall make no progress whatsoever. That is why I asked at both stages that there should be one committee—it happened to be the Airline Users' Committee; but, honestly, I do not care which committee it is—charged with the responsibility of looking after passengers at airports. Travellers do not realise that they belong to several committees. They buy their tickets from the airline and they think the airline is responsible for them. Of course it is, in the air. Once one gets out to Heathrow the airline is not responsible for one; it is the British Airports Authority, and that is a totally different kettle of fish. I will leave it at that. It is a totally different proposition.

Even if the noble Lord cannot agree with it, I should like him to bear this in mind because, really and truly, until one committee is given overriding authority for dealing with passengers at airports we shall make no progress whatsoever. Before I sit down, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who is helpful not only in this House but in conversations outside it. I do not wish to embarrass him by saving that I think he may have sympathy with what I have to say; at any rate that is the feeling with which I have been left. I wish he could have gone further. Of course we shall return to this point. I hope I am wrong about the demarcation problems, but I do not think I am. I wish the Bill well.

12.10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for his handling of this Bill. He has combined courtesy with skill in splendid degree and his knowledge of the detail has been most impressive. I recall that he flew in from some foreign mission the day before he had to introduce the Bill, and he could have been forgiven for some unfamiliarity with it. But in fact it sounded for all the world as if he might have written it. I like to think that if he had had that responsibility he would have made a better job of it. It is a bad little Bill and in an overloaded parliament timetable it ought never to have been included. There is only one clause in the whole of the Bill which has any relevance to the problem of the day—that is, the one referring to the borrowing requirements—and that was spatchcocked in halfway through the proceedings.

My Lords, I and others in this House have seen many Governments since the war: they have all been open to criticism, they have all been the victim of inherited problems, but I do not believe there is one Government which has proclaimed its objectives so stridently and yet so conspicuously failed to achieve them. They said they were dedicated to reducing the rate of inflation—and they promptly doubled it; they said that everything depended upon controlling the money supply—it got out of hand; they proclaimed the virtues of hard work—and two million people under their administration are denied the opportunity of working at all; they said that our national flag-carrier, British Airways, would do much better if it was floated on the stock market and yet before the Bill was on the statute book they had to come along here and say, "We are sorry, it is not possible. It cannot be done for two years"—and that virtually means not at all.

Part II of the Bill was supposed to enhance the status of the Civil Aviation Authority. The Government said that under their dispensation the authority was going to be an authority not to be meddled with by a Government department. No sooner had they said that than they began immediately to undermine the position of the authority by overriding the decisions that had been taken.

I have no doubt that the Bill will now go on the statute book unamended in all respects so far as we are concerned—not as a result of the weight of argument but of the dead weight of a predetermined majority. I pay tribute to the noble Lord's capability; I should like to think that in the future it will be put to better purpose.

12.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am obliged to all the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have spoken, but I am sorry that the two noble Lords who sit on the Front Bench and on the Privy Councillors' Bench opposite have not felt able to welcome more warmly the provisions of this Bill. However, I am happy to think that what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, foreshadowed, namely that this Bill will shortly become an Act, will in due course come to pass.

Perhaps I may deal with two of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton. She referred first of all to the question of the interface—if I may call it that—between the Air Transport Users' Committee and the airport consultative committees. Quite properly the noble Baroness is anxious to ensure that the interests of passengers are clearly and properly represented by one or other of these committees. As the noble Baroness knows, consultations are going on about the interface between those two groups of committees. There is of course an airport consultative committee for each of the major airports and there is one Air Transport Users' Committee. We certainly agree that there is some room for improvement in the relationship between those two bodies and we are holding consultations to see what can be done. I confess that I had hoped to be able to say more about that today, but I am sorry to say that the consultations have not gone as quickly as I mistakenly expected they would and therefore I regret that there is nothing further on that subject that I can say today.


My Lords, I should like to ask a question of the noble Lord. I am most grateful to him. As he is aware, I was hopeful that there might be something further that he could say on that matter, but perhaps he can help me in this respect: how would the House know the result of such consultations? In other words, can he give me any guidance, either here or outside, as to whether it would be useful to table a Question at an appropriate moment so that the House might benefit from the result of these discussions?


My Lords, I was just about to undertake to write to the noble Baroness on this issue. If she would prefer me to answer a Written Question, for example, I should be willing to do that and I will arrange for the noble Baroness to be informed when I am ready to give her a substantive reply to any Question she may table.


My Lords, I should prefer an oral Question.


My Lords, I am in the hands of the noble Baroness and I will answer whatever Question she sees fit to table.

In his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, suggested that there was no prospect of British Airways ever being floated. I must tell the noble Lord that he is mistaken in that expectation. As I said in my opening remarks, it is certainly our clear intention that as soon as market circumstances permit British Airways will become essentially a private sector company.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord should not be quite so dogmatic about it. When the Bill was introduced, did the Government not have the clear intention to float this company either this year or next year?


Indeed we did, my Lords, but the market conditions at this time are not appropriate and that is why we were obliged to announce that this flotation will not take place in 1981. But let the noble Lord and your Lordships be in no doubt that it is our determination to see that that happens.

Noble Lords on all sides of the House have treated me with courtesy and respect and I thank them for the remarks they have made about me.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.