Examination of Witnesses (Questions 583-599)|
BUCK MP AND
1 FEBRUARY 2006
Q583 Chairman: Minister, we are very
grateful to you for coming this afternoon. and I apologise for
keeping you waiting. Could you both identify yourselves, please?
Ms Buck: I am Karen Buck, Minister
for Aviation. With me is David McMillan, who is Director for Aviation
in the Department.
Q584 Chairman: Is there anything
you want to tell us first, Minister?
Ms Buck: Given the pressure of
time, I am quite happy to go straight to questions. My only statement
would be a rather general one.
Q585 Chairman: That is very kind.
Could you tell us what the Government thinks is the reason for
the continued existence of the CAA?
Ms Buck: The CAA is the bedrock
of regulation for aviation in this country. If you look at the
framework internationally for ensuring that aviation is first
and primarily safe and secondly that whatever necessary regulation
takes place, it is based on states having that key responsibility.
I will not pre-empt questions that the committee might want to
ask in terms of the European agenda because there are major changes
there. That key responsibility remains, even during the period
of change: safety first and foremost; economic regulation issues;
consumer protection issues; and a contribution, of course, to
the development of aviation policy.
Q586 Chairman: Has the Government
considered transferring the economic and commercial activities
to a single transport economic regulator for all modes of transport?
Ms Buck: We do not think that
would be the right way to go. If anything, the trend is in the
other direction with the way the Rail Regulator is going. We believe
that effectively incorporating in a single body that key responsibility
for safety and economic regulation and having those constantly
acting as checks and balances against each other is very important,
and perhaps particularly important in a field like aviation.
Q587 Chairman: What will the CAA
look like in 20 years' time?
Ms Buck: It will look different
because we know that the European agenda particularly has been
moved into the era of the Single European Sky and the framework
of EASA will reduce the number of those responsibilities. I am
sure that as the framework set out in the first year of the Air
Transport White Paper unfolds, there will be potential changes
in that as well. I do not think we have a fixed blueprint for
exactly what it will look like. In fact, we are very much at a
point of flux and very rapid change. It is important to let some
of that settle down first.
Q588 Mr Donaldson: It has been suggested
that the CAA should be given a wider remit in terms of promoting
all aspects of aviation, including innovation, exports and sports,
and that it should report to the Department for Trade and Industry
as well as to your department, Minister. Would you be in favour
of such an expansion?
Ms Buck: I am not terribly familiar
with the specific proposals, to be honest. I think it is very
important that clarity is retained. I would not want to see anything
that muddies those lines of accountability. The CAA is accountable
through the Department for Transport to Parliament and we know
for a fact that there are other departmentsthe Ministry
of Defence is a good examplewhere there are relationships
with the CAA. I would like to see that flourish. It is a very
healthy development. I would not particularly want to see any
muddying of the lines of accountability.
Q589 Mr Donaldson: The CAA sponsorship
statement commits the Department and the CAA to critically reviewing
the Authority from time to time. When did you last undertake such
a review of the organisation's continuing relevance, efficiency
and effectiveness and what was the outcome of that review?
Ms Buck: It is a fairly continuous
process. We have a number of different locks into the system from
the sponsorship statement through to the corporate plan and the
annual report and the constant process that we have of working
with the CAA in seeing how it is fit for purpose as the situation
changes. Mr McMillan may like to flesh out some of the detail
Mr McMillan: I think the Minister
has hit the main points. The CAA has a corporate plan which flows
in some ways from the sponsorship statement, and the corporate
plan is something that should be reviewed on an annual basis.
The CAA reports on the corporate plan in its annual report and
we take account of that. Ministers are able, through the process
of regular engagement which they have with the Chairman and which
I have with the Chairman, to ensure that the organisation remains
fit for purpose.
Q590 Mr Donaldson: There is, surely,
a distinction between an annual review process and a strategic
review of the CAA's role. Is that not something the Government
or the Department would consider undertaking?
Mr McMillan: As the Minister has
just said, that is something which may be necessary in time. At
the moment, we are seeing rapid change in the regulatory framework
which exists in the European Union with the creation of the European
Aviation Safety Agency system and the expansion of the Single
European Sky. In time, and I would not like to predict when, perhaps.
Q591 Mr Donaldson: You mentioned
the corporate plan and the annual review. We have received evidence
that there is poor integration and coordination between the Department
and the CAA in some areas of policy development. What efforts
is the Department making to improve this situation?
Ms Buck: With respect, you might
have heard a representation to that effect. I am not sure I would
accept that as constituting evidence. We think we have an excellent
working relationship with the CAA.
Q592 Chairman: Minister, any evidence
that we receive is evidence.
Ms Buck: I completely concede
the point, Mrs Dunwoody. I was really making the point that from
my point of view it would be subjective.
Q593 Chairman: It may not be something
the Department likes but it does not mean it is not evidence.
Ms Buck: I consider myself chastised.
I take the point entirely. I would very firmly state that I believe
that our integrated policy of working with the CAA is very good.
The CAA obviously played a critical part in the development of
the White Paper on all aspects. We meet ministerially. The Secretary
of State meets with the Chairman of the CAA on a quarterly basis;
Mr McMillan and officials meet on a very regular basis on all
aspects of development and policy. I really would refute that
Q594 Mr Donaldson: If you are not
satisfied with the decision adopted by the CAA on a particular
aspect of that policy, and indeed on their performance generally,
what action can you take as the Department to deal with that issue?
Ms Buck: The answer is that it
varies according to what it is. There are some ways in which we
value the independence of the role of the regulator. We might
not necessarily always agree, as indeed we did not absolutely
agree, despite our great respect, on the issue of financial protection.
In terms of performance, I would re-state our view that there
is a number of objectives set out in the corporate plan and we
require and expect the CAA to fulfil constant self-improvement
and meet those objectives, and the standard of doing so is very
Q595 Clive Efford: Sir Roy McNulty
painted a very colourful picture in expressing his views on EASA.
He said: EASA is experiencing significant difficulties in getting
itself set up and operating in a satisfactory way for a range
of reasons [ . . . ] I think so far we are a bit disappointed
with the way it has got going." Do you share that view?
Ms Buck: Yes, we do. We too are
concerned about the unfolding of EASA and the fact that there
has been a number of problems in governance and funding and so
forth. The Secretary of State wrote in December setting out very
clearly his views to Vice President Barrot. One of the consequences
of that is that a high level official meeting will take place
next week to move that concern forward.
Q596 Chairman: Between whom, Minister?
Mr McMillan, who is going to be there?
Mr McMillan: Sir Roy McNulty and
I will be leading for the UK and we will be seeing our opposite
numbers in the European Commission.
Q597 Chairman: Are we to take it
that that is the United Kingdom Government making representations
to the Commission about the failure of a European institution
to work and not wider than that?
Mr McMillan: I am not sure I quite
understand the question.
Q598 Chairman: It is very simple.
Are you going to whinge at the Commission or are you going to
have a joint meeting of various people who think that this particular
organisation is not working?
Mr McMillan: There is quite a
lot going on. This particular meeting which the Minister has referred
to is a bilateral meeting which we are going to at the behest
of the Secretary of State.
Q599 Chairman: Okay; thank you. You
are going to give us a note of what happens when you get there,
are you not?
Ms Buck: We would be very happy
to keep the Committee informed. I know it has a very legitimate
interest in this issue.
Chairman: Oh, we do, we do. Thank you,