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Session 1999-2000
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Air Navigation (Fifth Amendment) Order 1999

Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 1 December 1999

[Mr. Barry Jones in the Chair]

Air Navigation (Fifth Amendment) Order 1999

4.30 pm

Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Air Navigation (Fifth Amendment) Order 1999, (S.I. 1999, No. 2059).

I would like to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Jones, and also to welcome the new Minister responsible for aviation to his first Front-Bench appearance in a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation—certainly his first on aviation matters. His predecessor, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) is now engaged in endeavours to become mayor. I sparred with her several times and wish her well in her attempts to fly solo in other parts of London.

The Minister will be aware of the depth of concern about the order. All sectors of the industry—and even of central executive territory within the Government—are concerned. The measure would impose significant regulatory and financial burdens on flight crew licensing. It is being pushed through as a negative instrument, which was laid before the House and came into effect when the House had risen for the summer recess. What is worse, is that the lack of proper consultation—with the industry and with other Government Departments—before the order was made is staggering. Opposition Members prayed against the order and we are glad for the opportunity to debate it. Judging from appearances, Labour Members are clearly relishing the prospect of having an hour and a half to deal with their constituency correspondence.

I shall outline the Opposition's fundamental objections to the order through a series of outstanding questions that must be answered this afternoon. I do not wish to detain the Committee with a lengthy speech, but it is incumbent on the Minister to answer those questions. It is particularly important for him to take note and respond to them this afternoon on account of the controversy surrounding the order.

First, does the Minister regard the consultation exercise as adequate? The noble Lord MacDonald told my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on 10 September this year:

    ``The regulatory impact assessment prepared by the civil aviation authority covers the amendments to the air navigation order, but does not extend to the associated technical requirements.''

Why does it not extend to those associated technical requirements and which aviation interests were consulted by the Civil Aviation Authority in the production of the regulatory impact assessment? If we are to believe the CAA, it considered consultation to be nugatory. Does the Minister believe that the existence of council regulation 3922/91 is sufficient reason to regard consultation on the technical content of the order nugatory? Yes or no? If yes, will he explain why?

There is more than a little uncertainty surrounding the legal obligations of the United Kingdom Government. Who is right? Does the fact that a Joint Aviation Authorities consultation exercise, known as an NPA process, took place—albeit in 1995—now allow the Civil Aviation Authority to say that it considered consultation to be nugatory? To what extent did the findings of the NPA process feed into the exercise of transposing the joint aviation requirement into British law?

The Minister may or may not be aware of the correspondence between the Cabinet Office and officials in the CAA and I have a copy of a letter that was sent by Geoff Sadler, the policy analyst in the regulatory impact unit, to a Mr. Profit, the director of the CAA's safety regulation group. It is a revealing letter, which the Committee would no doubt benefit from hearing more about. Does the Minister agree with Mr. Sadler that

    ``a disproportionate compliance burden could be imposed on smaller aviation businesses''?

Was a small business litmus test actually carried out in the end? Mr. Sadler also complained to the CAA that such a litmus test had not been carried out. It will be interesting to hear the Minister's justification for that.

Mr. Sadler goes on to state:

    ``Pleasure flying may be less accessible to the public at large'',

as a result of this measure. Does the Minister agree with Mr. Sadler on that, and with his claim that more British pilots will go overseas—particularly to the United States of America—for their training, because UK businesses will not be able to compete? In the light of that letter, what assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the measure in terms of pilots going overseas for their training? That is crucial. Will he agree to publish the exchanges of correspondence between the regulatory impact unit at the Cabinet Office, the CAA and his Department? If not, why not? Did any meetings, as requested by the Cabinet Office, take place? If not, why not; if so, can he tell us what was said at them?

Clearly, in June this year the Cabinet Office did not know—despite the supposedly comprehensive NPA consultation process under JAA auspices—whether the proposal would impose significant regulatory burdens. Mr. Sadler quotes a letter from the Prime Minister stating that when policy proposals could impose

    ``significant regulatory burdens, the Cabinet Office . . . should be consulted in advance.''

I understand that the Prime Minister had underlined the latter phrase. The Cabinet Office asked whether the joint aviation requirements—flight crew licensing proposals fell into the category of ``significant''; did it ever obtain an answer to that? If so, perhaps the Minister would be good enough to share it with the Committee.

Is it correct to say that the CAA did not comply with the Prime Minister's own requirements for regulatory impact assessments? Indeed, in the light of the letter, will the Minister tell us whether Downing Street was involved at any point in the process and, if so, at which points? Ministers have said that the regulatory impact unit was eventually content following its expression of general dissatisfaction with the CAA's approach to the regulatory impact assessment. What does ``content'' mean in this instance? It sounds like half-hearted support. At worst, it could be a grudging acceptance that the proper procedure was not followed, as I have outlined, but that it was too late to do anything about following the proper procedure by the time that individuals caught up with what was happening in the Department. If the RIU, the organisation in the Cabinet Office that is charged with assessing the impact of legislative change, did not know the likely impact of the order, does the Minister now accept that industry was right to complain that it too had not been properly consulted?

The chief executive of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Mr. Martin Robinson, points out that the industry is already experiencing a downturn in the number of private pilot licences being issued. Does the Minister agree with Mr. Robinson that the current 23 per cent. slump in licence issues is likely to get worse, or, as a consequence of the order, is it likely to improve? Does he further agree with Mr. Robinson that the order will lead to the loss of a number of jobs and a contraction of the industry?

General aviation accounts for some 10,000 aircraft operating from 140 licensed aerodromes and some private strips. It is the nursery for future commercial pilots in the UK. Undoubtedly, any adverse impact from the JAR-FCL will have a long-term detrimental effect on commercial as well as general aviation. Will the Minister comment on that and tell us whether it will have an adverse impact and, if not, why not?

The Minister cannot deny that the order will increase medical costs by more than 330 per cent. and course costs by 25–35 per cent., depending on business choices and location. The order therefore has a significant impact on the industry. It is possible to average out likely cost changes over a 10-year period and portray that as a saving. However, most recreational aviators view the changes—as significant increases, as the Minister must know.

The Minister may not agree with Mr. Robinson. In that case, does he agree with the CAA, which says:

    ``there is no doubt that the proposals for the Personnel licensing charges schemes are significant and far-reaching.''

The CAA said in correspondence:

    ``a number of significant assumptions were made in formulating the charges. Regrettably, we had little choice in the matter.''

Finally, the CAA says:

    ``The Authority does appreciate that implementing JAR-FCL will have a major impact on industry.''

Does the Minister agree with the CAA? After all, he and his predecessor, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), referred to the CAA twice before substantive answers could be given to my constituent, Mr. Nick Wilcock, who fears that the order will have a significant deleterious impact on the activities of the RAF Brize Norton flying club.

What benefit will JAR-FCL have for the private pilot? We accept that there are real benefits for professional pilots in terms of cross-border mobility. However, what will private pilots get in return for the increased costs that they are facing? What studies has the Minister commissioned into the likely acceleration of the flow of aspirant private pilots across the Atlantic? Many already learn to fly in the USA and increasing bureaucratic burdens here will surely heighten that trend. One might call that the training drain and it will certainly hit concerns such as Oxford airport in my constituency extremely hard.

Does the Minister accept that the JAR-FCL requirements are significantly more stringent than standards in non-JAA member states, such as Australia or the United States of America. Of course, we are all in favour of the highest safety standards, but it is interesting to note that the accident rate in the USA is on an equal footing with that in the UK.

Does the Minister view flying training as a global business? If so, should he not spend more time trying to create a global level playing field rather than just a European playing field, which will handicap our British industry. It is not as if the European playing field is level. France is refusing to accept the licences of pilots over 60, whether or not they have a JAR licence. As a result, scores of experienced pilots have lost their jobs. So much for harmonisation. The matter led an official in Directorate-General VII of the European Commission to proclaim:

    ``Standards had been set particularly high in order to provide plenty of room to duck beneath them''.

When did the Minister last speak to his French counterpart to try to reverse the French age-limit decision? By telling us that, the Minister may impress us, in contrast with his right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who seems to have difficulties in telephone conversations with the French.

What action is the Minister taking to promote best practice in the European Commission and among member Governments? If the British example of full and speedy implementation of the measure is best practice, it has little return in Britain. Will the Minister confirm that the JAA rules have no legal backing at the moment? By the way, that is the opinion of the House of Commons Library. As the Minister probably knows, EU regulation 3922 compels EU members to be members of the JAA and to implement all its standards. So, as ever, member states are not implementing standards in domestic legislation in the same way that the Minister is doing here.

In what spirit are the Government implementing the regulations? Are they doing so having reached agreement with the JAA, or are they being compelled to push through potentially substandard legislation because a European Union regulation says that we must. As a matter of record, which other European Union countries and which non-EU JAA countries have implemented the regulations in full?

It is, of course, true that the EU has expressed concerns about JAR-FCL in regard to employment law, social and economic law and other costs. How were those representations made and will the Minister publish them? Is it true that the JAA requested funding from member states on two separate occasions so that it might conduct cost-benefit studies but that it was refused? Does an EU fiche d'impact exist for the changes? The Minister will want to tell the Committee whether one does.

Regulation No. 3922/92 provides the means of incorporating the proposals into European law proper. What stage have those aspirations reached? In March this year, the Minister's predecessor told us that the European Commission would introduce proposals to incorporate JAR-FCL proposals into EU legislation. What is the current status of those EU proposals?

Do any provisions in the order go beyond JAR mandatory requirements? Have national amendments been introduced to supplement those requirements on the basis of JAR recommendations or otherwise?

Those are important questions, which have been raised by not only Opposition Members but those in the industry whom the proposals will affect. In the light of the correspondence that I quoted, concerns were also raised in the Cabinet Office. An important process must be gone through and there are concerns that it was not complied with fully or, in some cases, at all.

I do not want to detain the Committee much longer, but we have an hour and a half in which to debate this serious proposal. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Aldershot (Mr. Gerald Howarth) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) among others hope to catch your eye, Mr. Jones. I hope that the Minister will shed some light on our questions. Members of the Committee will realise that the Opposition's questions are not simply searching or probing, but spring from serious objections to the order.

 
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Prepared 1 December 1999