Clause 78 - Aviation security directions etc

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 1:45 pm, 8th March 2012

The Minister is nodding, so I look forward to the Committee receiving that information.

I was less convinced by the Minister’s belief that the aviation industry would have fewer costs at the end of the process. As any reading of the regulatory impact assessment will show, that view is at odds with the information in that assessment. At best there is ambiguity, and as we have debated the issue in Committee, the ambiguity on cost has increased. We do not understand how the CAA will approach its regulatory asset base. We do not even know why certain elements, such as hotels in terminals, are included. There is much that we do not know and cannot be sure about. The CAA may have a different approach to the economic regulation of airports, and the Minister’s argument rests on there being less regulation. I hope that she is right, because that would be the right direction to go in. However, she has not offered any reassurance that convinces me that that is definitely the case.

Sir Roger, I am sure that you will not let me get into a debate on European regulation, but we should all be worried about the transfer of functions from the CAA  to the European Aviation Safety Agency; the Transport Committee has been concerned about that for some time. As the Minister will know from her recent visit to the Transport Committee to discuss flight time limitations, the Transport Committee is worried that European regulations will lead to lowest-common-denominator reforms. On that visit, the Minister was able to reassure the Committee—I do not want to pre-empt its report—that that would not be the case with pilot hours. On security and other issues, however, I am worried that the transfer to EASA will lead to lowest-common-denominator policies.

Those points bring me back to costs and what is really happening in the Bill. At the start of the debate, I read from a 2006 Transport Committee report that basically asked why, if many safety functions are transferred from the CAA to EASA, and if the general direction is to have less regulated airports, which I think the Committee would welcome, there will be more staff at the CAA at the end of the process than when it had two major functions. If the Minister looks at the evidence given to the Transport Committee, she will find that the CAA will grow, not diminish, despite the significant losses and the addition of the security service.

I will not repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said about the security services, but my worries are similar. The Transport Committee clearly stated that the proposal was added to the Bill at the last minute. It is not wrong in principle, but sufficient thought has perhaps not been given to it. As the trade unions said, if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it? To put that in a different way, if an awful thing happened because of a security lapse, and there was successful terrorist attack in this country, who would be to blame? Under the regulations, is it easier to know whether the Secretary of State, the chair of the CAA or its chief executive are to blame? There is a balance to be struck between the synergies of putting the security and safety functions together in the CAA, which the Minister has talked about, and the transparency of the line of responsibility up to the Cabinet and the Secretary of State for Transport. I am unconvinced that adding the measure quickly at the end of the process will provide clarification or improvement. That is a different way of saying that if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?

Finally, the only difference between the Minister and me on amendment 34—she accepts the principle—is whether it should be in the Bill. The difference is not, as she said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, about the speed of implementation. The amendment could be implemented at any speed. Rather than leaving the matter to the discretion of the Secretary of State, the amendment states that the principle is of sufficient importance to be in the Bill.

Having said that, this has been a wide-ranging debate, and I am certain that we will return to the subject of security on Report. I hope that the Minister will fair-mindedly reflect on the points raised. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.