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Clause 1

Secretary of State's general duty

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 10, at beginning insert--
("(A1) The Secretary of State must exercise his functions under this Chapter so as to maintain a high standard of safety in the provision of air traffic services; and that duty is to have priority over the application of subsections (1) to (4).")

Mr. Raynsford: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 10, 26, 40 to 43 and 61 to 65.

Mr. Raynsford: We spent a great deal of time on the previous groups of amendments, so I shall be very brief on this and the subsequent groups that relate to part I, as there is little of great substances in them.

These amendments relate to safety. They will oblige the Secretary of State, the CAA and the Competition Commission, in exercising their functions under the Bill

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to ensure that a high standard of safety is maintained before taking into account any other consideration. Therefore, safety levels cannot be compromised, even if they are above the statutory minimum, as is the case in some areas of NATS operations. The effect will be to give safety priority over all other considerations in part I. I am sure that that will be warmly welcomed by the House.

Mr. Don Foster: The Minister is absolutely right. This group of amendments will be warmly welcomed by the House. The Liberal Democrats raised the issue in Committee, in the House and in another place. As we were rebuffed on numerous occasions and told that our proposal was otiose--a word that the Minister was very keen on at the time--we are absolutely delighted that he and his noble Friends now think that it is not otiose after all. It is necessary. I hope that he will give the same consideration to pensions, as I have said; but the amendments are welcomed by Liberal Democrat Members.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I rise briefly to support these amendments. As some Members will know, I have more than a passing interest in the activities of NATS, having been a pilot for 35 years--albeit, in a private capacity. Having completed my instrument meteorological conditions rating this summer, I am only too well aware of the fantastic job done by our air traffic controllers. I should like to pay them a personal tribute for the service that they provide to military and civilian air traffic and especially to those, such as me, who are involved in general aviation in this country. They enjoy a reputation second to none in the world.

I recently returned from Spain with the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I travelled on an Iberia flight and spent some time on the flight deck. The captain of that Iberia flight had nothing but praise for the sheer professionalism of our air traffic controllers.

Everyone involved in aviation in this country has safety as their No. 1 priority. Nevertheless I feel that if the House decides to accept the Lords amendment, which states that safety will be the No. 1 consideration, that can do no harm whatever in underlining what the priority should be.

Having listened to the arguments adduced in Committee and earlier this evening by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang), I have a great deal of sympathy with what he says. He drew attention to an extremely important fact: our air traffic services combine military and civilian roles. It is absolutely vital for the security and safety of air transport in the United Kingdom that that close liaison between the military and civilian worlds continue. I share his reservations about the risk to safety if air traffic control services were to be run by a private company that was not owned by a company in this country. If it were owned by a foreign company that was perhaps controlled by a foreign Government, there would be serious implications that could impact on air safety.

I am sorry that I was not in the Chamber to hear the Minister respond to the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh. I was detained elsewhere. However, I look forward to reading his reply in Hansard, because the right hon. Gentleman made some very important points about air safety, and I hope that the

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Minister was able to address them. I am delighted to support the amendment, in a sense speaking on behalf of those in the general aviation community in this country. I know that they will welcome it, too.

8.45 pm

Mr. Raynsford: I appreciate the remarks of the hon. Members for Bath (Mr. Foster) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). I shall not be tempted to move into territory that is outside the remit of these amendments, as you would immediately call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I assure the hon. Gentlemen that I fully share their views, especially the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Aldershot to the calibre and commitment of NATS staff. All hon. Members share his admiration for the service that they provide, and we are of course determined to give them the tools to provide an even better service in future. Safety is the No. 1 priority. These amendments are designed to make that clear, and I shall be delighted if the House agrees to them.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 10 agreed to.

Clause 3

Restrictions on providing services

Lords amendment: No. 11, in page 2, line 42, leave out from
("area") to end of line 43

Mr. Raynsford: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 12, 34 to 39, 44 to 60, 66, 67 and 141 to 144.

Mr. Raynsford: These amendments are largely technical, so I hope that hon. Members will not seek an explanation of each amendment individually. I shall make a few general remarks. The amendments deal with the application of relevant provisions of part I to the Crown, and with provisions relating to the disclosure of information and the air navigation and charging regimes.

Amendments Nos. 11, 12, 66 and 67 list the provisions that apply to the Crown and provide that the Crown may not be criminally liable and that the armed forces are not required to hold a licence to provide air traffic services. Provision is made that nothing in those Crown application provisions may affect Her Majesty in her private capacity.

Amendments Nos. 34 to 39 and 44 allow the Secretary of State, in addition to nominating a member of the CAA to perform air navigation functions, to nominate another member of the CAA to consider the relationships between air navigation functions and national security. That may be of interest to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who referred to the dual function of air traffic control providing the service to civilian and military users.

The meaning of the phrase "chargeable air traffic services" as currently drafted in clause 73 would not include all the CAA's services provided in performing its chapter III air navigation functions, nor would that provision allow recovery of the CAA's chapter IV

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costs of specifying, publishing or recovery. Where those services are properly recoverable through Eurocontrol, the CAA should be allowed to do so. That is what amendments Nos. 45 to 57 will achieve. Amendments Nos. 58 to 60 place further duties on the Secretary of State to ensure that, as far as practicable, the licence holder is paid the charges due from Eurocontrol.

Finally, amendments Nos. 141 to 144 are technical improvements, designed to ensure that an inability to disclose information obtained under part I does not frustrate either the functions of the Competition Commission, or those of the Independent Television Commission under specified legislation, or the European Commission in respect of Community competition law.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): I am a little reluctant when we get on to the subject of Eurocontrol, given the many happy hours that we had discussing such issues in Committee.

There is the issue of passing fees on from Eurocontrol via the Secretary of State to, eventually, NATS. In terms of economic regulation, when there is an RPI minus X formula, how does that relate to the charges? We were given assurances in Committee that all the money would be passed to NATS; in which case, do we have a formula to increase efficiency? There has been some debate about the amount of money that the new organisation would have to find in savings and efficiencies. Perhaps the Minister can say a little more about that.

The Minister mentioned national security. Are we still sure about that matter? The argument was advanced that Europe would not impinge on issues of national security and that we are still able to ensure that that is a legitimate issue--when what we understand to be national security is at stake, the Government can get their way.

Mr. Raynsford: I will take the second point first. The key consideration in the provisions relating to security is the Secretary of State's ability to appoint a second member of the CAA, who will have the specific role of overseeing the appropriate arrangements for ensuring satisfactory allocation of air space between military and civilian needs. It is in no way affected by the European provisions.

I turn to the issue of Eurocontrol. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) found it impossible to fail to rise to the bait. That was a cause of much amusement in Committee. If we had had more time tonight, no doubt we could have had a lengthy journey through the more obscure schedules of the Maastricht treaty and other such matters, but lest my remarks tempt anyone to pursue the subject, I will hastily move on.

The RPI minus X framework sets limits. The CAA will be careful to ensure that charges are set within those limits. The specific provision relating to Eurocontrol is an arrangement under which the sums that are paid by individual users and collected through Eurocontrol are disbursed appropriately to all the members. As the hon. Gentleman will recall from our discussion in Committee, that involves quite a complex process: a rough estimate is made of the appropriate apportionment at the beginning of a period and that is subsequently adjusted when further detail has become available, but those procedures will

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continue. There is no intention to change them. I hope that I can set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. There is no secret European plot to prevent the air traffic control system from receiving its necessary dues.

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