Standing Committee D


25th April 1989




Standing Committee D


Tuesday 25 April 1989


CLAUSES 1 and 2 agreed to.

Bill to be reported.

Committee rose at eleven minutes to 11 o'clock



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Michael Shersby

Banks, Mr. Robert (Harrogate)

Bottomley, Mr. Peter (The Minister for Roads and Traffic)

Conway, Mr. Derek (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Cousins, Mr. Jim (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

Cryer, Mr. Bob (Bradford, South)

Dorrell, Mr. Stephen (Loughborough)

Hanley, Mr. Jeremy (Richmond & Barnes)

Hayward, Mr. Robert (Kingswood)

Knapman, Mr. Roger (Stroud)

Knowles, Mr. Michael (Nottingham, East)

Loyden, Mr. Eddie (Liverpool, Garston)

Maples, Mr. John (Lewisham, West)

Marshall, Mr. David (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Rowe, Mr. Andrew (Mid-Kent)

Snape, Mr. Peter (West Bromwich, East)

Stewart, Mr. Andy (Sherwood)

Taylor, Mr. Matthew (Truro)

Turner, Mr. Dennis (Wolverhampton, South-East)

Ms. E. C. Samson, Committee Clerk

3 Standing Committee D Tuesday 25 April 1989

[MR. MICHAEL SHERSBY in the Chair]

Civil Aviation (Air Navigation Charges) Bill [Lords]
Clause 1

10.30 am

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): The Committee will be grateful that the Minister did not speak at length on this admittedly non-controversial measure. I was unable to be present for the debate on Second Reading, in which my immediate superior, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) called for the Minister's resignation at least twice. Why has it taken so long for this measure to come before us? The agreement was signed as long ago as 1970, and was revised in 1981. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) may speak of what he will probably call the undesirable nature of any movement towards currency equality in the EC, it appears less than sensible for European countries to pay each other in United States dollars for the doubtful privilege of flying over each other's countries. We must bear in mind the fluctuations of the dollar against European currencies in the past decade under the somewhat tarnished genius of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—over the past 10 years, the dollar against the pound has gone from parity to 2.20. Given the time lag between bills for Eurocontrol services being sent to each EC member state and being paid, there are many opportunities for wide fluctuations. I do not want to say more about Eurocontrol, although I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South will agree that some European co-operation on safety is necessary. It is a pity that it has taken one summer of chaos with the forecast of another to get the Government to acknowledge that Eurocontrol provisions are essential. We must get away from the somewhat outdated philosophy that, regardless how these bills are paid, air traffic controllers at Heathrow have to queue to telephone their opposite numbers, perhaps at Milan's Malpensa airport. Any greater involvement of Eurocontrol to prevent that should be welcomed. For those reasons, the official Opposition welcome the clause, although I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South will reply on behalf of the unofficial Opposition.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South): Naturally I welcome any co-operation to improve air safety, as we all do. The question with which we are dealing is 4 how the bills for landing charges are paid. I maintain, as I did when we last discussed this measure, that this is not so much a question of the ease of operation as part of the pattern of unification of the states of the Common Market. It is true that Eurocontrol goes wider than the Common Market but it is regarded within the Common Market as a Common Market institution. As I said on Second Reading, it is not well understood here that there is a driving force within the Common Market, typified by Jacques Delors, towards a United States of Western Europe. That is not satisfactory; nations must work together over air traffic control and safety. Clearly, charging has to be done in conjunction with other countries, but within that pattern each nation should retain its own integrity. Therefore, I view the measure with suspicion. Since clause 1 is the meat of the measure, we should dwell on it a little. The Minister spoke eloquently and at length, but he is in difficulty over minibus driver regulations, which are important to many organisations, but a minor matter. I shall not dwell on that, but mention it in passing by way of explanation. We are subject to unnecessary regulations that do not apply to operations that have a significant rate of accidents, but that we have difficulty in opposing because there is a drive towards unification.

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley): I am certain that if I were to reply to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) at length, I should be called out of order, but I remind the Committee that the person who is in difficulties is Commissioner Emeritus Stanley Clinton Davis. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bradford, South could try to get Mr. Clinton Davis to say that he would prefer the European Community to adopt the British system, which would allow not 10 million minibus journeys a year in this country but perhaps 50 million in Europe, and would extend voluntary and community transport to the European Community and beyond. If it were in order to discuss this, Mr. Shersby, I could be more positive.

Mr. Cryer: I share the Minister's concern that there should be a method of agreement that does not impose the unnecessary standards of other countries on a perfectly safe method of operation. Stanley Clinton Davis was a good commissioner within the framework of that system. Interestingly, he boasted to me originally that he was the only anti-market commissioner, but he seems to have been transformed, if not into an enthusiast, into a partial convert. That is one of the dangers of the Common Market. Some find the system acceptable, others do not. I am in the latter category and am opposed to clause 1. It is part of the attempt to increase the use of the ecu. On Second Reading, I cited a report that stated that, to increase the use of the ecu, it should be extended as widely as possible. That was subsequently repeated time and again in various reports to the Common Market Assembly. In an age of rapid electronic communications—more rapid than at any 5 time of our history—and more rapid calculation of exchange rates and any other mathematical or numerical calculation, we do not need to take much note of airlines that claim that they are having difficulty in adjusting charges because of the varying exchange rates against the dollar. I am opposed to the unnecessary implications of the clause, because I see it as the drive towards a United States of Western Europe. I am not opposed to closer co-operation to improve air traffic control and safety.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes): Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm to the Committee, the House and my constituents, that the legislation will not increase the number of flights to and from Heathrow above the inordinate levels that are presently experienced?

Mr. Peter Bottomley: I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) that the Bill will not alter the already noticeable impact of Heathrow traffic on his constituents. If all hon. Members were as rigorous in defending their constituents as my hon. Friend, the job of Ministers in the Department of Transport would be even worse than it is.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent): I do my best.

Mr. Bottomley: My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) recalls his efforts on rail links, the method of public transport that seems the least popular. We are glad that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is here. This is the first Committee sitting in which I have taken part at which my resignation has not been called for, yet. I appreciate the courteous way in which the hon. Gentleman represents the Opposition. I wish I could say the same of his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). Hon. Members: He was courteous.

Mr. Bottomley: The hon. Member may have been courteous, but he has not read the Bill. The Bill makes no reference to ecu, emu, or anything else. It refers to being able to prescribe charges "in units of account defined by reference to more than one currency". The idea that it is part of a Jacques Delors initiative for one currency is wrong. The hon. Member for Bradford, South asked why we have brought the measure forward so fast. It was only at the end of 1986 that the decision was made that the unit of account would be sensible. I accept that for a Bill to go through its Committee stage in less than three years is a fair turn of speed. It is worth recognising that the real reason for the Bill is that there is some legal doubt as to whether, without this legislation, units of account could be used to avoid overcharging and undercharging. In effect, it confirms the law as most people would have thought it to be. However, if it provides the opportunity for the hon. Member for Bradford, South to say that he would like Mr. Clinton Davis to change his mind and support the use of minibuses, the mobility 6 allowance, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, Help the Aged, the ethnic groups, the churches, the scouts, and the students, that would be useful in our debates in the European Community for this purpose.

Mr. Cryer: Do the Government not intend to use this legislation to allow the use of the ecu. or do they intend that the legislation will facilitate its use? The Minister now seems as he did not on Second Reading, somewhat confused about it.

Mr. Bottomley: I am used to accepting insults. I had to accept them from the hon. Gentleman's Friend, Mr. Clinton Davis.

Mr. Hanley: Resign.

Mr. Bottomley: I do not think my hon. Friend should ask the hon. Member for Bradford, South to resign. If the ecu is of value to the Government and the airlines, they as consenting adults should be able to use them as units of account. The Bill makes provision for any agreed units of account to be used, and confirms that it would be legal. The simple point is that at present people have to work out the consequences of currency fluctuations, and have proper recovery or make repayments later. To go for a system that allows for greater efficiency and speed in settling due accounts is sensible. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Bradford, South will agree to the Bill, but if he cannot, and feels that he needs to vote, to demonstrate some macho image that he is developing with his friends in the European Parliament, that is fine. We understand that. The rest of us would say that agreement between consenting adults, or bodies wanting to exchange money in certain units of account, should be up to them, and that we ought to give them the legislative opportunity to do as they wish.

Mr. Snape: I will operate my normal role of pouring oil on troubled waters. In the combination of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East and myself, I play the nice guy. I thought that the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South was valid, and was surprised by the prickly response from the Minister. I shall not call for his resignation, because he will not resign anyway. He would have to be pushed, and sooner or later he will be. I hope that it is later rather than sooner, however, because we need a few moderately sensible people on the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Bottomley: Because there are not many on the Opposition side.

Mr. Snape: We are not being pushed. The Minister was less than frank with my hon. Friend about the question of European currency units and the purpose behind the Bill. I refer him to the Hansard of another place, where the noble Lord Strathclyde moved the Second Reading. I shall not quote from it, because my attention would be drawn to the fact that such a procedure would be out of order. The Minister must accept from me that ecus were widely mentioned in the noble Lord's speech. 7 My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South talked about the clause being part of the passionate desire for unity demonstrated by some quarters of the European Economic Community. As I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge, 12 countries subscribe to Eurocontrol, so it is wider than just the EEC; and some other associate nations find it valuable. With regard to this vexed unit of currency, my hon. Friend says that it is possible in this computerised age to pay bills instantly. As I understand the system, billing is done about four weeks in arrears and payment is made in 30 days, so it is conceivable that one might be paying for services used two months previously, despite the computerised age in which we live. Again without introducing too partisan a note, the pound's fluctuations in two months in the currency hands of the Exchequer have been fairly marked in more years than not.

10.45 am

Mr. Bottomley: It was just that rogue opinion poll which showed the Labour party getting a few more votes. That was what did the damage. We may be able to move on to an even better unit of account than the ecu. The ecu may be used but, as the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said, it is not specified in the Bill, and I was glad to have his confirmation on that as well.

Mr. Snape: I think that we have done the ecu to death. I should say in passing that my hon. Friend's distinguished service in this House is rivalled by his distinguished service in the European Assembly. I understand that over there, some of his well-merited remuneration is paid in this offensive unit. If that is not true, no doubt he will tell me, but if it is, I am sure that there is a very good reason why it is and why he accepts payment in such a way. 8 We have rather done the whole business to death. This is an eminently sensible Bill. If my hon. Friend chooses, for reasons of consistency which I well understand, to vote against it, that is a matter for him. At great personal risk, I can only recommend to him that, although he might be insulted as a traitor and might feel that he is selling out, the sensible nature of the legislation should on this occasion override his consistency, as the clause is worthy of support.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 1.

Bottomley, Mr. Peter Knapman, Mr. Roger
Conway, Mr. Derek Rowe, Mr. Andrew
Dorrell, Mr. Stephen Snape, Mr. Peter
Hanley, Mr. Jeremy Stewart, Mr. Andy
Hayward, Mr. Robert
Cryer, Mr. Bob

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Question put, That the Chairman do report the Bill to the House:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 1.

Bottomley, Mr. Peter Knapman, Mr. Roger
Conway, Mr. Derek Rowe, Mr. Andrew
Dorrell, Mr. Stephen Snape, Mr. Peter
Hanley, Mr. Jeremy Stewart, Mr. Andy
Hayward, Mr. Robert
Cryer, Mr. Bob

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill to be reported.

Committee rose at eleven minutes to Eleven o'clock.


Shersby, Mr. Michael (Chairman)

Bottomley, Mr. Peter

Conway, Mr.

Cryer, Mr.

Dorrell, Mr.

Hanley, Mr.

Hayward, Mr.

Knapman, Mr.

Rowe, Mr.

Snape, Mr.

Stewart, Mr. Andy