Clause 58 - Statement of policy on penalties

Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 6th March 2012.

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Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:00 pm, 6th March 2012

I beg to move amendment 55, in clause 58, page 36, line 24, at end add ‘, including—

(a) any person in receipt for the time being of a licence;

(b) such bodies representing airport operators or providers of air transport services as are appropriate;

(c) any person who for the time being may be subject to a penalty; and

(d) any person or body representing those adversely affected by contravention of licence conditions or failure to produce information.’.

Well—[Interruption.]If Committee members were expecting witty repartee and jokes, I am sorry but, as they may have noticed this morning, I left them at the door. I can try to liven things up if they want, but they may regret it.

This probing amendment applies to the clause on the Civil Aviation Authority’s statement of policy on penalties. The Opposition suggest adding significantly more detail into the Bill, including the addition of various people and bodies to the list of people whom the CAA must consult on appropriate levels of penalties. The intention is to ensure that those most likely to be subjected to penalties charged by the CAA, for example, the licence holders or others who may be affected, are given a chance to be consulted on how the penalties would work. I am keen to hear whether the Minister agrees that that ought to happen and, if she does, why it is not in the Bill.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I have listened to what the shadow Minister has to say. Consultation is obviously a core aspect of what we will expect the CAA to do under the new regulatory framework. The amendment would introduce provision for four specific groups into the clause. However, the wording proposed by the Government is reflected in other legislation relating to consultation on requirements that regulators face when adopting such statements of policy. For example, section 116(4) of the Enterprise Act 2002 makes provisions similar to those proposed in the Bill.

I agree with the shadow Minister that the CAA should consult all the three groups set out in (a), (b) and (c) of the amendment, and I am confident that it would do so regardless of whether provisions along the lines of the amendment were inserted into the Bill. I cannot see a convincing reason why express provision must be made specifying their inclusion in the clause. I also have concerns about technical problems with the fourth group, (d).

On the phrasing of the amendment, groups (a) and (c), persons in receipt of a licence and persons subject to a penalty, are effectively included in group (b), bodies representing airport operators and air transport service providers. In other words, those in group (b) are likely to include those in groups (a) and (c). There is a degree of overlap that I am not sure contributes to clarity.

Group (d) is defined in the amendment as

“any person or body representing those adversely affected by contravention of licence conditions or failure to produce information”.

That group potentially includes the representatives of hundreds of millions of passengers, the owners of millions of tonnes of freight, the many businesses serving or in the vicinity of regulated airports and, potentially, those with interests in planning, environmental, employment or regeneration matters. In other words, it is very broad and could cover more or less everyone. The group is so large that it is not really meaningful to provide for it in legislation.

I am also unclear why the Opposition have chosen to table amendments on consultation to this clause but not to other parts of the Bill. There are eight other clauses in the Bill requiring the CAA to consult industry representatives where similar provision could have been made. It is not clear why this clause stands out as needing a different and more specific approach than those other important aspects of the new regulatory regime.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport)

If the Minister and the Committee would like us to table seven similar probing amendments and ask her the same questions so that she can give similar answers, that is her call. This was a probing amendment to tease out the issue.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am grateful for the reminder that this is a probing amendment. However, the Opposition still need to explain why this clause is more important or requires a distinct treatment. Perhaps the best approach I can take is to provide the reassurance that I hope will persuade the shadow Minister to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

We are coming to the end of a series of clauses on penalties. Will the Minister tell the Committee where the money will go if penalties are imposed?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I must confess that I am not entirely sure. I will have to come back to the hon. Gentleman on that. I presume that it would go to the CAA to use in its general functions, but I will have to take advice. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am told that it will go into the Consolidated Fund, under clause 57(4). I hope that that provides the clarification that the hon. Gentleman seeks. I would not want the Treasury to think that I was diverting money from the appropriate place.

Turning back to the points raised by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, it is important for him and the Committee as a whole to be aware of the general duty on the CAA in clause 1, which we have already considered, to carry out its regulatory activities

“in a way which is transparent, accountable, proportionate and consistent”.

These are the better regulation duties in clause 1. To comply with these explicit duties in the Bill, the CAA will be required to consult, in a number of instances in relation to many decisions, in order to demonstrate that it has complied with the duties in clause 1. In many instances, consultation will be an essential part of the compliance with those duties. That is well established in public law. It is likely that the CAA would be open to judicial review if it failed to consult where that was appropriate. Undertaking full and effective consultation will be one way for the CAA to establish that it has complied with the appropriate duties in clause 1.

The Bill, as drafted, will place important and far-reaching obligations on the CAA to consult. There are many other instances in the Bill where there is an express obligation to consult, in addition to the implicit obligation contained in clause 1, as a result of the better regulation duties contained in clauses 15, 16, 22, 31, 34, 36, 41, 53 and 54. I agree that consultation is important, but the amendment is not necessary because the Bill already provides appropriately for consultation with groups affected by the decisions of the CAA. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness will withdraw his probing amendment.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport)

On reflection, I am happy to withdraw the amendment on that basis. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clauses 60 to 63 ordered to stand part of the Bill.