HL Deb 08 March 1983 vol 440 cc153-64

7.31 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Bill before your Lordships is to give effect in United Kingdom law to certain requirements of the protocol amending the 1960 convention which created the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation and the Multilateral Agreement on Route Charges, both signed on 12th February 1981, and also to enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the protocol and agreement which were presented to Parliament by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs as long ago as last October. Most of the provisions of the protocol and agreement can be implemented under existing legislation, and in particular under the Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Act 1962, as amended, and now consolidated in the Civil Aviation Act 1982. If enacted, this Bill will amend and add new provisions to the 1982 Act.

In nearly 20 years of its existence the Eurocontrol Organisation has established an experimental centre at Bretigny in France, a training centre in Luxembourg and air traffic control centres at Karlsruhe, Shannon and Maastricht. A central route charges office has been set up in the headquarters building in Brussels which is responsible for billing the airlines and other airspace users for flights, by aircraft over two tonnes all up weight, in the airspace of states which have signed the Multilateral Agreement on Route Charges, and in the Oceanic Flight Information Region for which Portugal is responsible. Most of this work will continue.

The principal change made by the protocol is to transfer back to member states the formal responsibility for the provision of air navigation services above 25,000 feet. The original concept of the split functioning of the control of airspace, with national control at lower levels and Eurocontrol at the upper level, had been out-moded by the rapid development of the operation of jet aircraft in the short time between the convention being signed in 1960 and the organisation commencing its operations in 1963. This was particularly so for some of the members, including the United Kingdom, who were satisfied that with the changing pattern of both military and civil operations, resulting from advances in aircraft design, such a split would have been both uneconomic and inefficient. Furthermore, in the United Kingdom it had become clear that it was no longer possible to reconcile the split level concept with the joint civil and military air traffic control arrangements operated by our national air traffic services.

The arrangements for sharing capital costs, which it was found necessary to introduce once it had been agreed to raise charges for what we call en route air navigation facilities and services, were also very complex. Succeeding United Kingdom Administrations, therefore, pressed for amendments to the convention with the aim of reducing its complexity and removing anomalies. Agreement was finally reached with the other member states and the amending protocol resulted.

The new protocol will enable Eurocontrol to expand and strengthen its role as the focus for co-operation between member states in the future development of air navigation services in addition to continuing with tasks ranging from basic research and development to the training of controllers and engineers. Eurocontrol is still permitted to undertake any tasks which states might entrust to it, including the running of air traffic control centres. The future of the organisation is secure and it will play an important part in the co-ordination of air traffic control in Europe.

The new arrangements have been criticised because some people consider that existing ties are being loosened. However, I consider that we have gained flexibility as well as enabling Eurocontrol to respond to the differing requirements of member states. This should also make it easier for states who have held back until now to join the organisation. This would not have been the case if the alternative of the transfer of responsibility for the whole of national airspace to Eurocontrol had been agreed. The enlarged bureaucracy with supra-national powers which would have resulted would have been costly in manpower and money and have no more expertise than is currently available within the Eurocontrol Organisation and the national administrations of member states.

Responsibility for the Shannon and Karlsruhe Air Traffic Centres will be transferred to the Republic of Ireland and the Federal Republic of Germany respectively. Eurocontrol will continue to operate the Maastricht Centre but as an agent for Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany.

The amending protocol has been signed by the current seven member states: Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and by Portugal who will become a full member when the protocol is ratified.

Associated with the amending protocol is a new Multilateral Agreement on Route Charges which has also been signed by Austria, Spain and Switzerland as well as the eight states who signed the protocol. This replaces the previous agreement which signified the intention to set up a common charging scheme and codifies the system for collecting charges for en route navigation facilities which resulted. It also strengthens the legal procedure whereby the states and Eurocontrol will assist each other in the collection of debts.

The amending protocol and the multilateral agreement were due to come into force on 1st March 1983, but this could only have occurred if all the signatory states had ratified by then. Somewhat naturally delays have occurred in most of the member states, but all expect to be able to ratify in the first half of 1983, with the possible exception of the Federal Republic of Germany where their parliamentary processes have been further delayed by their general election. Failure by the United Kingdom to ratify could lead to embarrassing criticism from our Eurocontrol partners in view of our leading role in the amendment of the convention.

The main effect of the Bill will be to enable the United Kingdom to play its part in the strengthening of the machinery for the enforcement of claims on behalf of Eurocontrol. There are four clauses in the Bill, the first three of which take the form of textual amendments to the Civil Aviation Act 1982. Clause 1 provides for the enforcement and recognition in the United Kingdom of judgments given in foreign courts and determinations by administrative tribunals in respect of route charges and air navigation services in accordance with the multilateral agreement.

Clause 2 makes alterations to the existing immunities and privileges of Eurocontrol. It updates the provision conferring inviolability on the archives and premises of Eurocontrol to correspond with the provisions in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 of the International Organisations Act 1968, and gives effect to new provisions concerning immunities and privileges contained in the Protocol. These cover the requirement of advance notice before entering its premises and inspecting its documents, and the immunity of its property and assets. The clause also removes disputes between Eurocontrol and its personnel from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United Kingdom to that of the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organisation. In fact Eurocontrol has no premises, property or staff based in the United Kingdom and we do not envisage that there would be any in the future.

Clause 3 makes a textual amendment to the definition of the Eurocontrol Convention to make clear that it covers all amendments to the convention made with the agreement of the contracting parties. This is necessary because there is some legal doubt as to whether the wording of the definition in the 1982 Act covers amendments to the convention made prior to the passage of that Act. This is important since the protocol was signed in 1981. All future amendments made with the agreement of the contracting parties, not requiring changes in United Kingdom law, will also apply. The clause also confirms that charges may be imposed on owners of aircraft when operators cannot be traced. Clause 4 gives the title, commencement and extent of the powers of the Bill.

In conclusion, I would suggest to your Lordships that this Bill will enable the United Kingdom to play its full part in making Eurocontrol an efficient organisation to meet the needs of the community of civil aviation. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Lyell.)

7.41 p.m.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I thank the Minister for having taken us through this Bill so clearly. As this is a Second Reading debate, I should like to speak probably more generally than he has, but of course dealing with the terms of the Bill. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State brought the Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Bill before the Second Reading Committee of another place just before the House rose for the Christmas Recess. He said that it became clear almost as soon as the Eurocontrol organisation began its operations in 1963 that the system envisaged was not a satisfactory one from the point of view of some of the members, including the United Kingdom.

Just to take one problem, and without going into too much detail—and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, referred to it—it was soon realised that the split functioning of the control of United Kingdom airspace, with national control at lower levels and Eurocontrol at the upper level would have been uneconomic and inefficient. In addition, Mr. Sproat said that the suggested split functioning would have conflicted with our joint civil and military air traffic control arrangements through national air traffic services.

Going back to 1980 I remember one of the witnesses to the European Communities Committee on European Air Fares telling us that the agreement on Eurocontrol expired in 1983, and that there did not seem to be any firm policy about either the control or what should happen to it. He thought that surely member states must make up their minds as to what they wanted done with the European organisation. This they now seem to have done, and this is what we are discussing tonight.

However, various points are still being raised—and queried. IATA and the airlines believe that only if the air traffic control system were the responsibility of a single central authority would it be possible to claim a reduction in costs on its behalf. It is felt by some that nothing in the Bill prevents a continuing fragmentation of the European system. As I said in our debate in July 1980, I believe that the air traffic control is one area where we in this country lead Europe. I thought then, and think now, that it would be beneficial if we could take the initiative in the co-ordination of air traffic control in Europe.

Since that debate, and particularly during the last year, I have tried to find out more about air traffic control. The director and his colleagues of the National Air Traffic Services have been most helpful in trying to educate me, but I would not wish blame to attach to them for any mistaken statements that I may make. This is not an easy subject for the layman.

The Secretary of State also has been most helpful in an area concerned with this matter, and that is the one known as "dog-legging". This of course is another aspect of air traffic control. I think that the most simple example is to cite the actual distances flown between two points in Europe. This on average is 15 per cent. longer than need be. In the USA, one country with one administration, the tolerance is between 2 per cent. and 3 per cent. In Europe it is 15 per cent.

Governments in Europe have drawn up the air routes which result in such deviation, and here we have two problems. First, there are those countries with national air traffic control organisations not fully co-operating with their opposite numbers. Secondly, there is national sovereignty, with the additional point that Eurocontrol of course is not comprised of members of the European Community. Some members of the European Community are members of Eurocontrol. One state which signed the amending protocol that we are discussing tonight is not a member of the European Community.

So, my Lords, I would submit that it is not really a European Parliamentary matter, and I accept that the Government—that this Government, in fact—are trying to be practical and to bring more practicality to matters of air traffic control. If I may go back to the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, and how he helped on "dog-legging", it was in October last that I asked him whether he could help on the detailed suggestions from IATA concerning 10 routes within the European Economic Community which suffered from considerable deviation in distance flown. On 27th January the Secretary of State told the House that agreement in principle had been reached at the meetings arranged by the European Air Navigation Planning Group on a number of route improvements—including changes to all 10 routes singled out by IATA.

So, although the airlines and, I think, IATA say that they would like a united authority, it is recognised by the Government that the members of Eurocontrol are not prepared, for various military reasons, among others, to hand over their control. For the moment I think that we have to accept this, but I should like to stress that it is "for the moment."

Charges have been complained about. We all know that charges are always a bone of contention, and I think it is recognised by the Government that there could fruitfully be discussions on these and, of course, on those costs to which charges are said to be related. But I consider that we must accept that it is not possible to compare Europe with the USA. On some points such comparison is possible, but not here.

The difference between air traffic control charges levied by the United States and those levied by the members of Eurocontrol could hardly be bigger. As Mr. Sproat said, the United States does not levy any such charges, because it has decided to pay for air traffic control facilities by a different method. The United States pay through a tax on fuel, a tax on departing passengers, and out of general taxation.

One of my knowledgeable friends told me that there was no straightforward way of comparing the cost efficiency of different air traffic control centres in Europe—or in the USA. They all have different airspace structures, different traffic mixes, and different equipment.

I am wondering whether the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, will have something to say about debts still outstanding. This was referred to in debates in another place, and referred to particularly during the Committee stage there on 8th February. Not being an accountant, I felt that I would accept the statement given at column 12 on that date; namely, that the debts were, "Neither longstanding nor high". At the end of the 1981 calendar year the debts outstanding amounted to 1.4 per cent. To quote the Under-Secretary, this, figure was the amount of debt incurred in 1982 that had not been paid, plus debts that had been incurred earlier and had still not been paid". I must comment, before leaving the question of costs, that there are some mistaken statements around. In the Economist of 15th January, I noted the statement that air traffic control amounted to some 14 per cent. of the total cost of air fares. That seemed an unduly large proportion and, on making inquiries, I was informed that in Europe air navigation charges on scheduled services accounted for about 4 per cent.—not 14 per cent.—of total operating cost, which of course is what dictates the price of the ticket. There is a wide difference between 4 per cent. and 14 per cent.

Obviously one cannot go into all the various aspects that have been raised, many of which require attention. But I must say that many times in the past year I received complaints about the cost of Eurocontrol and the salaries paid. I am not competent to pass judgment on those, but it seems to me better to work on bringing the various national organisations into closer co-operation in the first place, rather than trying to weld them into one organisation—against their will—with greatly enhanced costs.

Reverting to a point made at the beginning—that of airspace, to which the Minister referred—the Bill and the protocols transfer back to member states the formal responsibility for the provision of air navigation services above 25,000 feet. I believe, from discussions I have had with various people, that that may well mean that other states will join the organisation, and I think the creation of an enlarged bureaucracy has been avoided, and at this stage that is useful.

Eurocontrol is now pledged to play a key role in the development and operation of a European system of air traffic flow management, in collaboration with the International Civil Aviation Organisation. To take one example, I gather that much progress has been made by the United Kingdom and France working together to improve the route structures and general handling of civil air traffic. As a result, some cross-Channel air routes will benefit and route capacity will be improved. I support the Bill, with as much prodding as possible from our Government, from the National Air Traffic Services and from the Secretary of State for Trade.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, we on this side of the House do not see fit to oppose the Bill, which in effect ratifies the protocols to which the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, referred. However, I have the strongest misgivings concerning the further fragmentation of the whole machinery of air traffic control in Europe. It is a matter which fills me with some dismay, and while my views on the subject will probably evoke no support from members of the Government or from members of my own party—or, for that matter, of any other party—I feel it my duty to present to the House the truth of the matter as I see it.

In March 1979, when I was president of the European Parliament's Committee on Regional and Transport Affairs, I had the honour of presiding at a large conference which took place in Paris to consider the whole question of air traffic control. It was a very long and, some said at the time, important conference. I did not have the advantage of the advice which my noble friend Lady Burton has evidently received from her own sources. But we at that conference had the benefit of the advice not only of the Commission of the EEC but of the Assembly of the Western European Union, representatives of the aircraft industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Civil Airports Association (ICAA), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations, the Italian Military ATC authorities, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation represented by Air Vice-Marshal Tedder, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Union of European Communities.

The reason for the calling of that conference was that there was in the public mind throughout Europe grave anxiety about air safety particularly in the light of the tragedies at Zagreb and Tenerife. Great public alarm was around because of the tragedies that were involved in those, and the system of air traffic control was in both instances called severely into question. The name Eurocontrol carries with it possibly the connotation of being a bureaucratic organisation concerned with some kind of control. It is in fact short for the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation. Air traffic in Europe has been increasing rapidly, and at the conference we had in Paris some hair-raising information was given to us about the very precarious state of air safety generally which would arise from the proliferation of traffic as well as from the system of aircraft control itself.

In this, one makes no reflection at all on air traffic controllers. Anybody who has been to an operations centre where air traffic control functions must realise the terrific strain that is placed on air traffic control personnel because the safety of thousands lies largely in their hands, outside those normal hazards that are within pilot control. One of the conclusions reached by that conference, and notified in due course to the European Parliament, was that the existence of a whole number of separate authorities, largely on national lines, for the handling of traffic across Europe, presented an inconvenience to passengers (in terms of extra time taken), extra strain to pilots and additional responsibility for air traffic controllers. Although I am not a technician in this field, perhaps I should explain that in a little more detail

If one goes by plane from a place in Sweden across to Spain, one may have to cross no fewer than 18 boundaries or sectors independently controlled by separate sets of air traffic controllers, often speaking with a different idiom and not always operating in accordance with standard instructions. It means frequent frequency changes by the pilot himself. It means handing over from one sector to another throughout, and there can always be scope for misunderstanding. That and many other things were proved at the conference to which I refer.

Moreover, the equipment at various airfields, in different air traffic control centres, varies considerably. Some pieces of equipment are much more efficient than others. Where there is a form of computerised control, as there is in one or two countries, the computers are not always compatible with those in other air traffic control centres, and therefore information is very difficult to pass.

IATA itself came to a conclusion which, in view of what the noble Baroness has already said, I should like to read to the House. It is contained in evidence given to the committee in Paris, on 19th March 1979. IATA's representative, Mr. Hammerskjöld, stated: Eurocontrol was, I believe, created directly as a result of the airlines' desire to have unified control of the upper European airspace. Now, 16 years after its creation, Eurocontrol has not been able to perform its basic function (of controlling air traffic) except in a very limited area over Belgium, Luxembourg, and part of the Federal Republic of Germany. This is no way the fault of the present or past Directors-General of Eurocontrol or its staff. The member states simply would not permit Eurocontrol to do its job, in spite of the clear mandate in its Convention". Mr. Hammerskjöld went on to say: We would support and welcome a new Eurocontrol with expanded membership as an effective executive arm in planning and managing the air traffic system in Europe". He continued: Europe does not require a technological breakthrough. The technology, the skills, the dedication are already here. Nor do we need a new organisational structure under the EEC to tackle this problem. What is lacking in Europe as a whole at the moment is the political will to develop and manage a fully co-ordinated air traffic system". The steps that it is proposed to take under the protocol fragment the system even further. There is no case on the alleged difficulties arising from the duality of the civil air traffic controller and the controller of military traffic. If there is one thing the Eurocontrol has proved, particularly in its operation at Maastricht—which I had the opportunity of visiting—it is that so far as West Germany, Holland, and Belgium are concerned, the arrangements work quite satisfactorily. There the military traffic controllers and the civil air traffic controllers sit side by side, and the arrangement has worked perfectly satisfactorily.

Moreover, the technical equipment at Maastricht is probably the most advanced in the world, complete with a back-up duplicated system in the case of breakdown. I saw it in operation. I watched the progress of flights right the way across the screen, from the time when they left the ground traffic control at their own airports, to the time when they landed at their destination. Do not let us underestimate the facilities that are available at Maastricht, for example, under Eurocontrol. There is an automatic operation in which a dangerous situation is indicated on the screens very many minutes before it actually arises. That is due to the feed-in from radar control of any variation in direction and speed, or height, which conflicts with the flight instructions and the flight plan originally communicated. On the screens one can actually see aircraft converging, or getting too near to one another, and the pilots can then be notified.

Eurocontrol has nothing to do with the EEC—nothing to do with it at all. It is for Europe as a whole, and it was warmly supported by the Council of Europe. That is what I had in mind when, about a year ago, possibly in more controversial fashion, I said that we should opt out of the EEC and back into Europe. Is it not ironic that in the one field where the establishment of a completely integrated international control is vitally necessary, not only for the reduction of costs, but above all for the safety of the air travelling public, those who are prepared to support the whole idea of a European Community growing closer and closer together all the time, should, in the one vital field where human safety is involved, decide to go back into their national shells? That may appear even more than ironic; it is almost inexplicable. Perhaps the reason for it is that there is no profit anywhere in air traffic control. It is essentially a service. I must say that when those Members of your Lordships' House who most devoutly support the EEC through thick and thin complain about the salaries paid to Eurocontrol personnel, I am filled with amazement. I say that because, if there is one international organisation which manifestly overpays and undertaxes its officials, it is the EEC itself.

The whole trouble with Eurocontrol is that it has no one, no body, to which it is directly politically reponsible. It has no parliamentary voice anywhere on an international scale. Only those in the various member countries that operate within systems of parliamentary democracy can raise a voice on its behalf. The result is that in some countries—not Germany, which has recently supported the extension of Eurocontrol—civil servants who know that their masters bear no political responsibility whatsoever and do not even understand the political implications, see fit to perpetuate what national Civil Service control remains within their hands. That applies, I regret to say, in the United Kingdom. In terms of the programme "Yes, Minister", with which all your Lordships are quite familiar, I can imagine that the papers relating to Eurocontrol are relegated to the bottom of the fourth box, which a tired Minister probably does not reach until about two in the morning. As indeed IATA has pointed out, the trouble is that there is a lack of political will.

We on this side of the House cannot oppose the Bill. It was not opposed in another place. It received very perfunctory attention there. I sincerely hope that there will never be another air disaster on the lines of Zagreb or Tenerife. But if there is, and if there is very considerable loss of life, neither the families of the bereaved, nor the public will thank those who seek to diminish the effectiveness or to reduce the capacity of probably one of the best air traffic control organisations in the world which, but for the rather queer nationalism of member states supposedly believing in the great European ideal, would have become even more efficient than it now is. They will think, and I am sure that your Lordships will think, that, rather than reverting to narrow nationalistic lines, we ought to have sought with every means in our power to extend both the operational control and the administrative efficiency of one of the best organisations of its type in the world.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be very grateful for the very interesting and in no way perfunctory role which has been carried out by your Lordships in examining this Bill, and indeed, the amount of hard work and study and (as I think the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, would concede) the expertise of the noble Baroness in this particular field. I certainly am very grateful for the tone of the debate on this Bill this evening. I am very grateful for all the encomiums which have rained down, especially from the noble Baroness, upon the Director of the National Air Traffic Services and my honourable friend. I have been asked to stress that my honourable friend the Minister represents the United Kingdom on the Permanent Commission of Eurocontrol; so, clearly, my honourable friend will be grateful for the support that this Bill has gained from your Lordships this evening.

My honourable friend the Minister, I am sure, will once again be pleased to know of the apparent success of the noble Baroness's campaign in eliminating what she and your Lordships will have come to know as air dog legs. This has nothing to do with delightful animals but far more to do with safety and efficiency and, above all, fuel saving in civil aviation.

The noble Baroness drew our attention to the United States. I am sure that she, your Lordships and, indeed, my honourable friend in another place were able to suggest that the entire sea-air space and civil aviation air control in the United States is to certainly a very major extent different from Europe and, above all, from the areas which are covered or which might be dealt with by Eurocontrol. I am sure your Lordships will allow me to stress once again that the role of Eurocontrol and its organisation, as we hope it will be in future, will be to concentrate its efforts on increasing co-operation in such matters as research, development and training, and developing an air traffic flow management system in Europe and reviewing the scope for performing air traffic control tasks on a joint basis. Thus we hope that it will be enabled to devote its resources to the task for which it was originally intended; that is, the co-ordination of air traffic services within all member states.

I think that your Lordships will bear with me if I stress the Government's feelings on Eurocontrol. We believe that the arguments for greater Europeanisation of air traffic management which would be implemented through a single executive authority (and in this case, it would be Eurocontrol) are primarily political and, indeed, sometimes emotive. Such a policy of unifying all air traffic control matters will not of itself solve the practical problems. Above all, I would stress that to the noble Lord who is a practical and indeed intellectual man himself; and I am sure that the noble Baroness would agree, too, that these are very serious practical problems of air traffic control in the air space of Europe which, as all of your Lordships will know, is especially congested.

We believe that there is nothing to support the view that an expensive supra-national authority would give a more effective service than that which is provided by the various national authorities. I am sure that your Lordships would not wish to hand over the sovereignty of this House to the extent of disclaiming responsibility for the allocation of air space to the various interests who make use of it. We could not agree to hand over the responsibility of organising our national air space and, above all, the right to adjudicate between the rival claims on it.

This problem of Eurocontrol brings me to another aspect of the practical outlook of air traffic control; and that is what we would call the vertical fragmentation of air space. This is unavoidable because the alignment of what we call the flight information regions—and I see that in my preliminary remarks I referred to the oceanic flight information region which was administered by Portugal—with national boundaries may be inefficient; but there will always be a requirement for flight information regions and the existing patterns simply cannot be changed overnight even if there was the political will to do so. It might make some operational sense to abolish the Geneva and Zurich flight information regions, but I am sure your Lordships would accept that it would be difficult to persuade our Swiss friends (who are, of course, neutral) to hand over control of their air space to the great nations which surround them, namely, France, Germany and Italy.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, of course, had most interesting views, as he tends to have, and I happen to know that he has worked extremely hard on the Bill and on these particular matters. In the course of his remarks this evening he has shown great expertise and he took us back to the conference in which he was so deeply involved. It was clear that the conference he referred to made a forum for very valuable discussion. I was fascinated and wondered whether the noble Lord had indeed been on the flight deck of some civil aircraft on a holiday journey from Sweden to Spain, as it would clearly be covering all the various flight information regions. But, of course, the points and the difficulties that the noble Lord raised were quite correct and very valid. I would suggest that Eurocontrol has not been entirely successful or as successful as we or others would have wished it to be because of the operational fallacy of splitting air space into upper and lower air space and putting them under different authorities.

The noble Lord mentioned the case of Maastricht. We believe that it does work in the special geographical circumstances. Indeed, we could possibly (if any of your Lordships wished) to take this up afterwards and examine the excellent Times Atlas of the World in the Library. Anybody who consulted the geographical location of Maastricht would see that the geography of the national boundaries forms and interesting jigsaw at that point. We would agree that Maastricht works in its role as far as that is concerned and we believe it is efficient in the role that it performs.

The basic unit of air traffic control is the sector, which is controlled by one or a team of controllers. These will be grouped in centres. It is our opinion that there is no feasible method of co-ordinating traffic other than on this sectoral basis. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, referred to the Zagreb and Tenerife disasters, which were appalling and gained headlines around the world. But I think that even he would agree that these would not and could not be attributed to any basic defect in the air traffic control system. We believe that these were due to human error which unfortunately is not completely eradicable.

I hope that I have covered the points raised. I have been most grateful for the expressions of gratitude and the expressions of approval which have emanated from your Lordships this evening. As your Lordships will have noted, it is a complicated Bill but we hope it will achieve what we intend it to achieve. I hope that without further ado I may move that it be read a second time.

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

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.20 until 8.30 p.m.]

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