Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Garden: My Lords, I seek clarification. The argument seems slightly different from that which we heard in Grand Committee. The Minister is now accepting that we have the powers. Does he still hold to the position that these provisions, since they in some way repeat in a different form powers that he has told us exist, would wreck the Bill if they were included?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have changed my position from Committee—I accept that entirely—but I think that noble Lords recognised that in Committee I was limited by the difficulty of getting information at that stage. We have looked at the Chicago Convention and its implications much more closely and, over the past few months, we have been able to investigate the nature of the allegations and what validity they have.

I am seeking to convince the House, first, that we are determined to be clear exactly where the UK stands on this issue with regard to the United States; and, secondly, that the Bill already has provisions to deal with all the suggestions made in this proposed clause of powers that we should take up. The amendment would not wreck the Bill but it would not add anything to the powers that we have, so it would not be constructive in giving additional help to solve the problem. The bigger issue lies on the international front. The noble Lord will recognise that we never put into Bills anything that is otiose or superfluous, because we want all our legislation to be as perfect as the other place and this House can make them.

Lord Garden: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for clarifying the position. He will recall that in Grand Committee part of the point was that, given the international opprobrium attached to extraordinary rendition, we were in a very fortunate position that the Bill had arrived at the right time for the Government to show to the world how they felt. Since the Minister has now said that the amendment would not wreck the Bill and that the powers that it proposes are not different from powers that are already there, could he finally tell us why he does not think that this is a signal that his Government would like to send?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there are two reasons. First, we do not put into Bills anything that is superfluous just as some kind of gesture or indication of intent. Law is about enforcement and conditioning behaviour. If we already have powers to do something, we do not add to them, otherwise we would have Bills that were simply accruals of additional concepts on all legislation. That is not how we draft legislation.

Secondly, if the noble Lord is suggesting that this is a fortuitous opportunity for the most junior member of the Department for Transport to demonstrate the Government's position and their abhorrence of extraordinary rendition and the possible infringement of international law on torture, all that I can say is that my humble gesture would pale into insignificance compared with the statements made by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other members of
8 Mar 2006 : Column 847
the Government. So it will not do to say, "This Bill is your chance"; much as I might like to seize it, that is not how we construct legislation.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his patience and ingenuity. I wish to pursue a slightly different point. Exactly where are the terms to be found in which we are saying to other countries, including the United States, that we wish them to seek permission before we agree to make facilities available to them? In other words, is there any form of understanding that the Minister could point us to that is publicly known and that has been recently repeated between ourselves and those other countries?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I cannot give the precise reference on that, but I do not stand at this Dispatch Box and make statements on behalf of the Government without due regard to the fact that that is exactly how we are acting. The noble Baroness has asked an entirely appropriate question, but I cannot give the detailed answer, which I believe would be fairly complex. But I shall write to her on that point, as I recognise its importance.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, will at least be able to speak at this stage—and possibly withdraw her amendment.

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I warmly thank noble Lords who have supported the amendment and quickly follow that up by warmly thanking the Minister for his considered response to the speeches put forward to support the amendment. Much of what he said is very encouraging, particularly that he will take into account the recommendations of the Council of Europe when they come, and seek to ensure that UK practice, let alone law, is strictly in conformity with the recommendations that are put forward.

I am also happy to learn of the current negotiations with the United States, in particular centring on the question of asking permission for any future flights that may use UK airfield facilities.

There are, however, unresolved issues surrounding this amendment and the much more important issue of extraordinary rendition. As I understand it, the Minister is saying at the moment that the Government are unaware of the fact of extraordinary rendition because there is no proof. I suggest that there is such a large amount of circumstantial evidence and suspicion, and at the same time so many inquiries taking place, that in the short term one may well be able to come up with a great deal of evidence that would suggest that the UK, among other European countries, as the Minister has said, is inadvertently facilitating a degree of extraordinary rendition.

In view of the fact that there are unresolved issues, and that there is a great deal the Minister has said that I would like to look at in more detail and consult with my colleagues about, I give notice that I might wish to bring this issue up again on Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
8 Mar 2006 : Column 848

9.45 pm

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 24:

(1) The Secretary of State shall introduce a scheme by which the clearance costs of the Pets Passport Scheme for guide dogs and other assistance dogs travelling by air shall be met by airlines.
(2) For the purposes of this section—
(a) a "guide dog" is a dog trained and accredited to provide mobility assistance to a blind or partially sighted person,
(b) an "assistance dog" is one which has been specifically trained and accredited to assist a disabled person.
(3) Regulations shall provide for the recognition of guide and assistance dogs from other states."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am pleased we are getting back to the proper business of this legislation. Amendment No. 24 requires the Secretary of State to introduce a scheme to share the clearance costs of guide and assistance dogs travelling under the pets passport scheme. It proposes that those costs will be shared among airline operators in proportion to the number of passengers carried through the PETS-approved airport by an individual airline.

The pets passport scheme—or PETS, as it is commonly known—is administered by Defra, and has operated since February 2000. Under the terms of the scheme pet dogs, including guide dogs, assistance dogs and other small animals can be brought into the UK and specified countries without having to enter them into quarantine, subject to certain qualifications. That means that people in the UK can take their dog to one of those specified countries and then bring it back to the UK without having to enter it into quarantine. Obviously there are certain costs attached to the scheme, which are payable by the animal's owner—rabies vaccinations and health insurance, to name but a couple. Central to this amendment, however, are those costs necessary to administer the clearance of an animal coming back into the UK under the PETS scheme.

In April 2004, the main British charter and schedule airlines agreed to allow guide dogs and other assistance dogs to be carried into the cabin of an aircraft on PETS-approved routes into the UK. However, certain rules and conditions apply, and at present the only airports with the facilities to accept animals under PETS are Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester. On arrival at one of those airports, a guide dog and owner will be met on disembarkation by an official from the animal reception centre and cleared for entry into the UK under the pets passport scheme.

As a result of recent work by the guide dogs charity and Defra, a number of UK airlines have agreed to waive the costs of clearing guide dogs under the pets passport scheme. Despite this progress, however, some airlines still pass on a proportion of the cost to the customer. At Gatwick and Manchester those costs can exceed £100, while at Heathrow there is no charge. At Question Time recently in this House the point was brought up that a certain number of passengers with visual impairment were refused to fly on Ryanair. There are all sorts of question that need to be answered by this scheme, and
8 Mar 2006 : Column 849
I am pleased to be putting this amendment forward with the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who I am sure will speak to it. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page