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Reporting of Banned Airlines

'(1)   Within one month after the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament—

(a)   a list of the airlines which are banned from United Kingdom air space, and

(b)   a list of the airlines which are permitted to fly in United Kingdom air space which are banned in any other country of the European Union and the reasons why the Secretary of State has chosen not to ban these airlines from United Kingdom air space.

(2)   The list produced under subsection (1) shall be updated monthly.'. —[Tom Brake.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Tom Brake: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Hon. Members might be wondering why the new clause has been proposed now and why the subject has not come up in previous debates. A series of crashes made August 2005 one of the worst months in recent years for aviation accidents: on 14 August a Helios Airways flight crashed, killing 121 people; on 16 August a Colombian plane operated by West Caribbean Airways crashed, killing 160 people; and on 23 August, a Boeing 737 crashed on an internal flight in Peru, reportedly killing 40 people. That is why we are moving the new clause today.

I have pulled some information off websites to illustrate the present position on airlines that are banned in the UK and countries whose aircraft are banned from flying to the UK. The countries include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Swaziland and Tajikistan; the airlines include Air Mauritanie, Phoenix Aviation and Thailand's Phuket Airlines. One can discover the state of play in other countries, too. The Swiss have simplified their policy by stating that they will ban from their air space any airline that has already been banned by the European Union or by a European Free Trade Association state. However, they then add a couple of other airlines—Flash Airlines from Egypt and Air Van Airlines from Armenia.

There is quite a long list of airlines banned from flying in Belgian air space. There are some airlines that are common with the Swiss list, including Air Van Airlines, for instance. There are other airlines that are not included, and certainly on the UK list. The list of airlines banned from French air space is not consistent with the list of those airlines that are banned from the UK's air space.

The purpose of the new clause is to introduce some consistency so that those who are wanting to make judgments about which airlines to fly with can do so in the full knowledge of whether those airlines are banned in the UK and whether they are banned in other
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countries. If they are banned from flying to other countries, we should know why the Secretary of State has chosen not to ban them from UK air space.

It may be that the Minister will say that none of the airlines that are on the French list or on the Belgian list fly to the UK. That would be welcome. The Minister will also need to say whether there are any discussions already with those countries to ensure that there is consistency. I am aware that at a European Union level there are plans to introduce a common list, but we need measures to be taken much sooner. There are no guarantees that the EU will come to a swift and satisfactory conclusion on this very important issue.

8.30 pm

When the Minister responds, I hope that he will be able to clarify exactly what the relationship is between the Department of Trade and Industry and its counterparts in relation to banning airlines and whether there is, when the French ban an airline, for example, immediate discussion with the UK about whether it would be appropriate for that airline to be banned in the UK. I hope also that the Minister will be able to set out the time scales for coming to a conclusion at an EU level. If the time scales mean that we will have to wait for months or years before some sort of decision is implemented at an EU level, it would be entirely appropriate for the UK Government to publicise, albeit in a rather discreet way, the airlines that are banned. That information does not hit us when we go to the Department's website to try to find it. It would be entirely appropriate also for our Government to take action now to make it clear why, if other countries are banning airlines from flying into their air space, we have not chosen to do the same thing.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurances on these matters. If not, I will be seeking to push the new clause to a vote.

Mr. Brazier: My party has some sympathy with the thinking behind the new clause but it is not able to support it. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) has set out concerns about a number of airlines that have poor safety records. He has said that a number of them are banned from visiting the UK. He started to lose me when he suggested that his clause could be a half-way step towards ultimately the issuing of EU-wide guidance, if I understood him correctly. He may wish to correct me.

It seems to the Opposition that the issue should be decided by national authorities—the Civil Aviation Authority in our case. We may have a particular reason why we do not think that a particular airline is safe and may disagree with other countries on that. Conversely there are circumstances where a European-wide body might come under pressure to ban a particular airline for a reason that had nothing to do with its safety record.

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman has understood our position correctly. If the time scales for introducing something at an EU level—I think that that is the appropriate way to proceed—are such that we are talking of the long-term future, it would be appropriate for the UK Government to introduce the clause as a half-way house.
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Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming his position. We are firmly opposed to giving up sovereignty in this area. That is not a matter of ideology but it is the straightforward fact that we or the CAA may take a view that a particular airline is dangerous when other equivalents abroad do not. There could be circumstances in which the International Air Transport Association might come under pressure for commercial or political reasons, or whatever, to ban an airline that did not have a poor safety record.

What is the provision which has been described as a halfway house trying to achieve? The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has made it clear that the list is already available. It may not be as prominent on the website as he would like, but we do not need primary legislation to rectify that. If a particular airline has been banned by another EU country but not by the UK, we can ask the CAA why it has taken that view. We can see no reason for adopting the new clause.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I accept the argument that in the European Union undue pressure may be applied to organisations to ban a particular airline for commercial reasons, but why does the hon. Gentleman think that that will not happen at a national level? Precisely such a danger could be present. France, for example, might choose to ban an airline if it found it commercially convenient to do so.

Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman has just made my point for me. It is most unlikely that the Civil Aviation Authority would want to ban an airline for commercial reasons. It has a long history of focusing on aviation safety and its other duties. Its French equivalent is extremely competent and has a comparable level of technical expertise, but it is much more subject to Government pressures than the CAA.

Finally, without wishing to try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we cannot discuss the real danger to aviation safety because the amendment dealing with the transfer of powers from the CAA to European Aviation Safety Agency on certificates of airworthiness—the cornerstone of air safety—was not selected. The fact that the individuals concerned here and in France do not want to transfer along with those powers opens up a frightening gap in the medium term.

To conclude, while we have the greatest sympathy with Liberal Democrat concerns for aviation safety, we do not think that their proposal would improve it.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): It does not happen very often, but when it does, we should acknowledge it—I agreed almost entirely with the contribution of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who marshalled his thoughts on the new clause very well.

I understand why the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) has raised these concerns, and I would have been surprised if someone had not done so. However, the efforts of the Department and the CAA, which we are pursuing through the European Union, are adequate to deal with the matter. Briefly, any airline from outside the EU, Iceland, Norway or
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Switzerland which wishes to pick up or put down passengers or cargo in the UK requires a permit from the Secretary of State for Transport. It is a condition of the permit that the airline should be operated in accordance with international safety standards established by International Civil Aviation Organisation. If we have doubts about whether an aircraft or airline complies with international safety standards, we will arrange for the aircraft to be inspected by the Civil Aviation Authority. Permits may be refused, and existing permits suspended or revoked by the Secretary of State. That can occur where there is a breach of a permit condition, including non-compliance with international safety standards. Permit decisions are reviewed in the light of new information or changed circumstances. While a restriction placed on a foreign airline by another EU member state will be taken into account when considering the issue of a permit, the final decision rests with the Secretary of State.

A list of foreign airlines to which the Secretary of State has refused permission to operate commercial services to the UK is published on the Department's website, as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said. I noted his comment that it is not prominent on the website, and I shall make sure that that is reviewed. I have no reason to believe, however, that it is difficult to find that list if one knows what one is looking for. The list is amended promptly, as and when necessary.

As to airlines refused operating permission by other member states, we currently have access to this information only through the safety assessment of foreign aircraft programme established by the European civil aviation conference. This information is shared in confidence and on the understanding that only the state making the decision should make it public. It would therefore not be appropriate for us to make public reports listing airlines banned by other member states.

I recognise however the need for greater transparency and consistency in dealing with the safety of foreign aircraft within Europe. Hon. Members may be reassured to know that a European directive on the safety of third-country aircraft using Community airports was adopted on 21 April 2004 and will be implemented by 30 April next year. The directive establishes a harmonised procedure for safety inspections of third-country aircraft and for the sharing of information derived from such inspections. In addition, it provides a mechanism for a restriction imposed by one member state to be extended to the whole Community.

In addition, a regulation is being developed by the European Union which would require the European Commission to publish a list of airlines that have been refused permission to operate commercial services to any member states. Latest discussions of the proposal suggest that it may be amended to establish common criteria for the refusal of operating permission to third-country airlines and the establishment of a list of airlines refused permission to operate to any Community airport.

I took the UK chair at Transport Council in Luxembourg last week, where the matter was discussed with a view to progressing it. The French Government
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are particularly anxious for progress to be made, because a number of French citizens lost their lives in accidents over the summer. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is being treated urgently by the Commission and by the Council. In the light of the action already being taken in respect of the safety of foreign airlines, the amendment is unnecessary and I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

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