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Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, noble Lords on this side of the House welcome the fact that the Minister has put forward such amendments today. When I spoke on the issue in Committee, I said that safety was the raison d'etre--the entire reason--for National Air Traffic Services. Therefore, it is extremely welcome to have measures on the face of the Bill which, as the Minister said, put a duty not only on the Secretary of State but also on the Civil Aviation Authority and the Competition Commission.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am grateful for the supportive words we have received for this amendment. I apologise for having used the word "paramount", which I know some noble Lords wish to see employed here. It is rather arcane. Although it has been used elsewhere--for example, in Section 1 of the Children Act 1989--it was brought to my attention that the context was different. Indeed, the

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parliamentary draftsman says that the word is used in that legislation for the section that describes the single objective that is to guide the court in deciding what to do when making an order relating to the future of a child. Therefore, it would not be appropriate here. However, I am assured that maintaining a high standard of safety in the way phrased in the amendment will achieve all the purposes sought by noble Lords.

I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who raised the point about conditions inside aircraft, that that is, as has been suggested, more a matter for the CAA and perhaps better dealt with at some other time. Noble Lords should be assured that a consultative document dealing with all those issues is due to be issued from my department in the very near future. That will allow noble Lords to address such points at a future date.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page1, line 17, at end insert--

("( ) to prevent or minimise noise, vibration, pollution (including light pollution), disturbance or environmental damage of any nature;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 29 to 33, which deal in general with environmental matters. Clause 1 obliges the Secretary of State to exercise his functions under Chapter 1 in the manner best calculated to promote the purposes set out in Clause 1(1). Those purposes do not include protection of those affected by the adverse environmental consequences of air traffic.

My amendment adds to those purposes the prevention or minimisation of noise, vibration, pollution, disturbance and environmental damage. That is partly recognised by Clause 39 of the Bill, which gives the Secretary of State power to give directions on such environmental matters. But as the Bill now stands, he could not exercise that power if it were to conflict in any way with the duties set out in Clause 1. This will limit unnecessarily the Secretary of State's ability to act on environmental matters. The duties set out in Clause 1(1) should therefore include consideration of such environmental issues to ensure that they can be given proper weight.

When I moved a similar amendment in Committee, the Government's response was to fall back on the provisions in Clause 39. I submit that that is a weak response and one that lacks logic. Clause 39 gives the Secretary of State the power to make directions on environmental matters, but because of Clause 1 that power cannot be exercised unless it promotes the interests set out in subsection (1)(a); namely, those of owners and operators of aircraft and airports, air travellers and transporters, financing by licence holders and their efficiency and economy.

Because environmental factors largely affect people living near airports and under flight paths, rather than owners and operators of aircraft and the other interested parties that I have just mentioned, an

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exercise of the Secretary of State's powers under Clause 39 may conflict with the interests set out in subsection (1)(a). If the Secretary of State attempts to issue directions under Clause 39, he may find himself the victim of judicial review on the basis that he "must", under Clause (1)(a), give priority to owners and operators of aircraft and airports, and so on.

I believe that the Government's refusal to take this simple point on board--and their late insertion of Clause 39 into the Bill--suggests that their commitment to environmental issues is more apparent than real; indeed, it is not as strong as it should be.

I turn now to the other three amendments in this group which all relate to Clause 39. This clause enables the Secretary of State to give directions relating to the environment. The amendments would make such directions subject to approval by Parliament. We welcome the addition of these powers because they recognise the importance of ensuring that damage to the environment is minimised. However, the powers are extremely wide ranging and the best way to exercise them may be disputed or prove controversial. Issues of this importance are matters into which Parliament as a whole should be allowed an input.

The Government argued again in Committee that environmental directions have been used sparingly in the past and that the Secretary of State must have the flexibility to take a wider view on when environmental matters should take priority over financial expediency.

It may become necessary and, indeed, desirable, with the expansion of air traffic, to use environmental directions more in the future. Having to come to Parliament before using directions does not impair the Secretary of State's flexibility; it just makes its proposed exercise subject to proper democratic scrutiny. The balance between environmental considerations and financial benefits is precisely the kind of issue which could be controversial and is worthy of debate.

As regards the final three amendments in the group, the Government said in Committee that general directions will be made, on which there is no need to consult, and that the appropriate time to consult will be when general directions are translated into particular details. Surely this is the wrong way round. If the Government have given general directions which will be binding on all licence holders, why will they need to give particular directions to individual licence holders? Even if particular directions are needed, it is the general directions which are likely to be more far-ranging and relate to points of principle. It is even more important to consult properly on such points of principle as, if directions incorporating points of principle are misconceived, consultation on particular directions implementing the general directions will not provide any remedy. This would make even the limited consultation exercise envisaged in the Bill something of a sham. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, this group of amendments concerns environmental issues. The

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first amendment seeks to add an environmental limb to the Secretary of State's duty under Chapter I, the primary purpose of which is to introduce a system of economic regulation into the provision of air traffic services.

The duties of the Secretary of State, as set out in Clause 1, deal with concepts such as efficiency, economy and the financing of activities, and "en-route" air traffic services will be regulated through an operating licence which is in itself an economic construct. Furthermore, Chapter I, which should be read in its entirety, is totally in line with the Government's sustainable development strategy. The environmental pillar is delivered in Clause 39 which provides for the Secretary of State to give directions in relation to environmental matters not only to the licence holder, or holders, but also to persons authorised by exemptions to provide air traffic services. To exercise properly those powers the Secretary of State has to consider the giving of directions to be necessary or expedient to prevent or deal with issues such as noise. The considerations under Clause 39 are not dissimilar to those proposed by the amendment.

The next five amendments would impose pre-requisites to the exercise of the power to give directions. The first would require the Secretary of State to get the approval of Parliament before giving directions under Clause 39. This is a significant departure from the present position, under Sections 6(2)(f) and 72(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which this clause largely replaces in respect of air traffic service providers. The procedure envisaged here would, I think, be the affirmative resolution procedure involving debates in both Houses.

We see no need or justification for this. The power to give environmental directions is long established. In the past, Parliament has been content to leave these matters for the Secretary of State to deal with, not least because he must have the flexibility to take a wide view. One example would be if the provider wished to remove a navigational aid that had residual environmental monitoring benefits. The provisions of this Bill have not altered that position. I suggest again that it would place an unnecessary burden on Parliament if these matters had to be referred to both Houses of Parliament. I would add that the Secretary of State would simply not be able to act in an unreasonable manner. If he were to act in such a fashion, he would be rightly open to judicial challenge.

The remaining amendments concern the provision requiring the Secretary of State to consult before giving a direction under this clause. As presently drafted, the Bill provides that the Secretary of State must consult a licence holder or authorised person regarding a direction to do or not to do a particular thing. The amendments proposed by noble Lords opposite try to ensure that licence holders or authorised persons in the plural are consulted where they are affected by a proposed direction. The fact of the matter is that we simply do not envisage issuing such a specific direction to more than one licence holder or authorised person. If such a situation did in

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the future arise, we would expect to issue separate directions and therefore any licence holder or authorised person would indeed be consulted. I hope that I have made clear why we regard the amendments as unnecessary. In the circumstances I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

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