Clause 86 - Enforcement of information notice

Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 13th March 2012.

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Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:45 am, 13th March 2012

I beg to move amendment 77, in clause 86, page 53, line 34, leave out ‘ 50, 00’ and insert ‘£60,000’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 78, in clause 86, page 53, line 35, leave out ‘£5,000’ and insert ‘£6,000’.

Amendment 79, in clause 86, page 53, line 42, leave out ‘replace’ and insert ‘increase’.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am afraid that you, Sir Roger, and the rest of the Committee may be feeling an acute sense of déjà vu reading the amendments. We debated very similar ones last week on clause 51, but I know that the Committee enjoyed them so much that I thought I would table these. I will be relatively brief.

The motive behind amendments 77 and 78 is similar, although the sums involved are significantly smaller. We want to probe the reasoning behind where the Minister has set the penalty levels. Her explanation of the levels when we discussed clause 51 was not wholly comprehensive or convincing. She may have something similar prepared to read out today that sets out that the sums are comparable to those of other regulatory authorities. I want to give her the opportunity today to expand a little on her reasoning.

The financial penalties available to other regulators are a good place to start in setting CAA penalties, but the final decision needs to take into account the nature of the sector that the regulator is tasked with regulating. The levels of fines should reflect the need for them to be a deterrent to the largest or most profitable players in the field. In aviation, we are dealing with a mixture of  very large and very small operators—both on the ground and in the air—and that needs to be reflected in the range of sanctions available. Can the Minister tell us what work she has done to ascertain that the sanctions are at a suitable level to act as deterrents in the aviation sector in particular? She did not do so at any length on amendments to clause 51.

On amendment 79, we want to probe why the Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to undercut the regulatory power of the CAA by cutting the maximum sanctions rather than simply giving it the power to raise them. Again, that was discussed in respect of clause 51. The Minister suggested that an unspecified situation might occur in which the Secretary of State needed to reduce the sanction levels, but she did not elucidate further. Perhaps she might enlighten the Committee by doing so today.

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

The clause gives the CAA powers to impose penalties on a person who fails to comply with a formal request for information about aviation services under this part of the Bill. As we have heard, the maximum fixed penalty amount under the clause is £50,000, while the daily rate that can be imposed is £5,000. The shadow Minister asked me whether I am content that that provides an appropriate deterrent. I respond in the affirmative, and I assure him that in our deliberations on the content of the Bill, including the clause, we have of course taken into account the various consultations that have been had on the matter. Consultations took place under the previous Government in respect of the Bill overall, and we have also conducted an impact assessment. Both those exercises have provided useful input into our decision-making processes.

As we have heard, subsection (9) allows the Secretary of State to replace the maximum penalty, which could be more or less than at the £50,000 level. Amendment 79 would restrict that provision so that the penalty could only be increased. I have not been convinced by the arguments of the shadow Minister that we should move to that less flexible position and adopt the amendment. It would mean that the Secretary of State could not move the maximum penalty in anything other than an upward direction.

As I said in response to similar amendments that we discussed last week, I acknowledge that if that power were to be exercised, it is more likely than not that the change would be in the upward, not downward, direction. However, I see no justification for introducing the inflexibility contained in the amendment. If, for example, the Secretary of State considered that, given changes in the industry, an increase in the maximum penalty set by her predecessor should be reversed, she would not be able to seek the agreement of Parliament to make that change.

I conclude that the amendments are not necessary for the effective operation of the enforcement of the information notice and, if the Opposition wish to press them to a Division, I shall ask my colleagues to oppose them.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have been clear throughout the debate that this was a probing amendment, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 86 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 87 to 90 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 13 agreed to.

Clauses 91 to 93 ordered to stand part of the Bill.