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Clause 51 - Enforcement of information notice

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 6th March 2012.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 12:30 pm, 6th March 2012

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for explaining the rationale behind the amendments and indicating that they, like the others that we have considered this morning, are probing in nature.

The hon. Gentleman’s main question concerned the rationale for selecting the figures. One rationale is that the penalties set out in clause 51 are broadly in line with those of other regulators in other systems of economic regulation. For example, they are in line with the maximum penalty provided for Ofcom in section 139(5) of the Communications Act 2003. The Government and I consider the maximum fine proposed in the clause sufficient to dissuade and have a significant deterrent impact. Indeed, in May 2011, Ofcom increased its maximum  penalty to that level. I do not believe that we have heard a cogent case for a higher level than the Bill currently provides for.

Clause 51(9) gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to vary the amount that we have discussed. In amendment 54, the Opposition seek to change the Secretary of State’s power to vary those amounts so that she would be able only to increase them. The power and the flexibility provided by subsection (9) are an important element of the regulatory framework that we are setting up, ensuring that the maximum amount set in the Bill can be adjusted over time to reflect changes in monetary value. It will also ensure that the amount of the penalty remains dissuasive and a proportionate means of enforcing compliance.

I agree that it is not very likely that the power will be used to decrease the maximum penalty; if a change is made, it is far more likely to be in an upward direction. It is conceivable that there might be circumstances in which a decision is made to decrease the penalty. I do not see that a case has been made to place a further restriction on this power. Inevitably, when one talks about fines and monetary values, there is merit in ensuring that we have flexibility to respond to changing circumstances in the future. Of course, any powers given to the Secretary of State in secondary legislation are subject to the appropriate scrutiny processes in Parliament.