|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction of the order. It must be something of an historic order, going back, as the noble Baroness said, 22 years since it was originally drafted. At least the noble Baroness cannot blame the previous government for anything in it because I believe that she was sitting on the Government Front Benches in the House of Commons at that time.
I have one considerable criticism to make of the order. In my opinion the Explanatory Note is indecipherable. When considering such orders, one starts with the Explanatory Note. This note does not give a great deal of assistance. The following regulation with which we shall deal has a good, clear and helpful Explanatory Note. On the other hand it is helpful to have Part B of the order. As the noble Baroness said, it gives the text of the order as it will stand after the amendments have been made.
Perhaps I might draw attention to Article 22 on page 10 of the order which deals with the liability aspect. As the noble Baroness said, it inserts the sum of 8,300 special drawing rights as the liability for each passenger. Eight thousand three hundred special drawing rights is equivalent approximately to £6,900, or just over 11,000 dollars. I am not sure whether that amount was appropriate even in 1975 or 1976. It certainly is very much on the low side now. I suggest
Paragraph (4) of Article 22 has the equivalent amount for those states which are not members of the International Monetary Fund. That amount is fixed at a sum of 125,000 monetary units per passenger. A monetary unit is 65.5 milligrammes of gold. According to my calculations--I am willing to be proved wrong--that amounts to 286.5 ounces of gold. The noble Baroness will be aware--I hope that she has not suffered personally from it--that gold has been a disastrous area over the past few years. It is now trading at approximately 294 dollars an ounce. Therefore the compensation in that section would be the equivalent of about 84,000 dollars. Presumably when this paragraph was first written both sums were meant to be the same. But the sum is now approximately 84,000 dollars. About 15 to 20 years ago, gold reached 850 dollars an ounce. It would have been worth 243,000 dollars as opposed to 11,000 dollars, so there would have been a considerable difference in the amounts.
I suspect that the article was written on the old basis when gold was fixed by the United States Government at 35 dollars an ounce. If one uses that figure, the sum comes out at about 10,000 dollars, which is not far different from the 11,000 dollars special drawing rights. However, what is curious is that I believe the United States went off that standard of 35 dollars an ounce in 1971. That is five years before the article was written. I cannot think what was going on at that time.
However, I do not ask the noble Baroness to be able to answer my questions at this time, nor even to write to me. I have made my points. One does not want to go through another 22-year gap. However, if there is another opportunity to look again at the convention, I hope that something might be done to make the liability figures somewhat more realistic in the modern world. From this side of the House, perhaps I may say that if the noble Baroness has an opportunity in legislation to transfer this type of order from the affirmative to negative resolution, I would support her fully in that.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, on the technical matter to which the Minister referred, we have nothing further to add. However, the instrument also restates provisions on baggage checks. I wonder whether it is possible to ask a couple of questions of the Minister in that regard.
Five years ago the department introduced statutory requirements on airlines to improve baggage screening and handling by two new automated technologies: the baggage reconciliation system (BRS) and the hold baggage system (HBS). The purpose of the first system is largely to ensure that passengers and baggage meet with each other in the same part of the world at the end of the trip. We all have enough experience of travel to be familiar with the old adage, breakfast in London, dinner in Los Angeles, baggage in Lagos. There has been an attempt to try to rectify that by the introduction of the new baggage reconciliation system.
The second system, the hold baggage system, relates to an even more serious problem--the problem of baggage containing items which are a threat to security. HBS was to be introduced to provide 100 per cent. automated baggage screening up to level 3 security, at which point more intensive screening would be necessary. The target was that some 95 per cent. of bags would be screened automatically in that way. The remaining 5 per cent. would be automatically shunted to a new area to have more intensive screening.
It appears that progress on the introduction of BRS and HBS has been rather slow, not least at London Heathrow, where something approaching 60 million passengers a year pass through. While any delays in introducing the baggage reconciliation system are an inconvenience to passengers, the HBS delay prevents higher levels of security being attained. I understand that the DETR has issued a directive to the effect that HBS, dealing with security, should be up and running by the end of May this year. Can the Minister indicate whether she is happy with the progress on both of those systems, in particular the security system? Is the noble Baroness confident that HBS will be in place at Heathrow by the deadline of the end of May? Are her colleagues taking any action with Heathrow Airport or any other airport authorities which do not act as quickly as they might in implementing these matters? Are they ensuring that other security deadlines are also achieved at the time we wish to see them achieved? I shall be grateful if the noble Baroness will answer, in writing if it is not possible to give an answer today.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, in raising points on paragraph (4) of Article 22, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has inadvertently answered some questions that I wanted to ask. I am somewhat pleased. He has clarified my mind. I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify "in round figures" in paragraph (4). How many noughts does that represent in sterling terms?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I shall attempt to reply to the points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, raises important issues about security and baggage handling. If he will accept it, I prefer to write to him about that. They are important points and I do not have the details at my fingertips with which I wish to reply.
I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, about the structure of the Explanatory Note. I understand that it follows well established guidelines laid down for the drafting of explanatory notes. However, it has already been said in your Lordships' House that that is a dangerous phrase for Ministers to use. The note is not as clear as perhaps it might have been and does not elaborate all the points. However, I am assured that the substance is there.
On the point about the order being subject to affirmative resolution, that goes back again to the form of the Warsaw Convention and the way in which it was brought into British law. I am assured that there was no opportunity to do it other than by affirmative resolution.
I turn to the issue of liability limits. I can perhaps help the noble Lord. The draft order implementing Montreal Protocol No. 1 is an amendment to the 1929 Warsaw Convention. It relates only to the unit of account; it does not change the limits of liability. So those limits are indeed, as the noble Lord pointed out, within this text as set in the convention. However, there have separately been several subsequent amendments to the convention which have themselves increased the passenger liability limit. For all airlines registered in the United Kingdom the applicable limit of liability is now 100,000 SDRs per passenger, which is approximately £82,000. From October this year, under the terms of Council Regulation 2027/97 there will be no upper limit for passenger liability for all community airlines. So the sums involved have been uprated separately from this issue of changing the unit of account in which they are to be calculated.
That leads me to the other point made; namely, that references to monetary units in paragraph 4 are not in fact relevant to the UK or to any other state being a member of the IMF. That also answers the point made by my noble friend Lord Simon. The references to round figures do not apply to the United Kingdom since it is a member of the International Monetary Fund. The applicable limits of liability are those that I described previously. They would in this country be converted into the sterling equivalent according to the published rate of exchange against the SDR on the day in question. So the issue of rounding up would not apply in country.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Local Authorities (Transport Charges) Regulations authorise local highway authorities to impose charges for work done to carry out some highways, road traffic regulation and traffic functions. They also widen the scope of services for which a discretionary charging power is available and clarify the ability of local authorities to charge for these functions.
The regulations are being brought under Section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, which provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations providing local authorities with the discretion to charge for certain activities where there is no other clear statutory power to do so.
The regulations have been the subject of consultations with local government and other representative bodies. They cover a range of situations but in general allow authorities to transfer the burden of cost from council
The items for which a charge may be made are listed in the tables in the schedule to the regulations. There are 22 items in all. Perhaps I may expand on the areas which were the focus of debate in another place.
Table 1 lists 10 items of work. Nine of these relate to the effects of building work on the highways. They allow charging for the consideration of applications for putting skips, scaffolding, building materials, rubbish and street hoardings on the highway, together with related matters as detailed in the table. They also allow charging for applications relating to cellars under streets and construction of vehicle crossings.
The last item in Table 1 applies to the local highway authority's duty to attend to clear debris from accident sites, allowing recovery of their reasonable costs in clearing the debris and reinstatement. In another place the question arose as to who would be charged under this item. The authority will be able to send its bill to such parties to the accident as appear to it to be responsible. But this is not the end of the matter. The ultimate responsibility for the debris falls to those who caused the accident, as there would have been no debris if the accident had not occurred. We therefore envisage that the local authorities' costs will form part of the third party claims made on motor insurance. An innocent party will therefore be able to pass this through to the insurance of the other driver.
There could be circumstances, though we think they will be rare, where debris results from a totally external cause. I have in mind very extreme weather--like that recently experienced in Selsey. I want to stress that charging for clearance of accident debris will be limited to cases where it is established that a particular person was responsible. However, this is rather different from the case where the insurers and drivers involved in a traffic accident decide to treat costs between them on a no-fault basis. This is simply a way of defining the basis of the settlement of costs and does not absolve them of responsibilities for the costs of third parties. We have allowed until 1st April 1999 before this item becomes effective to allow time for insurers to assess the impact on their costs.
Table 2 deals with parking, traffic signs and special events. Items in this table allow authorities to charge for considering applications for exemptions from traffic restrictions, temporary or permanent suspension of parking places and related costs of variance orders, including the putting up of traffic signs, cones and street notices. Item 4 allows charging for making temporary orders; for example, where there is a need to restrict traffic on a road because of works.
Item 5 covers charges for anything done in connection with special events orders, and item 9 enables similar charges in connection with special events within a London borough. Special event orders are temporary traffic restriction orders to aid the holding of sporting, social or entertainment events on the highway. Local authorities would be able to recover their costs in making a special events order and other action such as the putting up of signs.
We emphasise that the power to charge for special events will be permissive. It is open to local authorities to waive some or all of their costs in making a special events order, for example for non-profit or charitable events. On the other hand, organisations that arrange commercial events should be prepared to meet the cost which their events impose. In another place it was suggested that that might allow charging in relation to political demonstrations. I can assure this House that the regulations only apply in relation to sporting, social or entertainment events.
Items 7 and 8 allow charges for considering requests to place directional traffic signs and for placing such signs. This clarifies the power of local traffic authorities to charge applicants for considering requests for white and brown tourist signs, even if the application is turned down, as well as to recover the costs of providing signs. Local traffic authorities will also be able to charge for considering requests for temporary signs, such as those directing traffic to housing developments. We envisage that one application will normally cover all the signs requested for a particular destination, although the scale of the charge may reflect extra work involved where many signs are to be erected.
Road user organisations will not be charged for permission to use temporary signs to guide and direct traffic in the vicinity of major public gatherings and events. This is the effect of other regulations, the Temporary Traffic Signs (Prescribed Bodies) England and Wales Regulations 1998, which were laid on 29th January and which provide exemption for temporary directional signing by the AA, RAC and Cyclists' Touring Club. In another place, the Government were asked whether signing which is put up regularly on a seasonal basis by those organisations would also be exempt; I can confirm that that is the case.
dealing with the matters in question. This formulation was also a focus of debate in another place. It is intended to allow some flexibility to authorities in setting their rates for charges. In particular it will allow them to determine a common scale which may apply to regularly received applications. But there is a clear requirement that the charges are related to the costs involved. I also reiterate that the powers are discretionary and authorities can waive or reduce charges, for example, as a gesture of support for local events.
A number of local authorities outside London charge for concessionary travel passes and permits, and Table 3 of these regulations gives a clear basis for what is the present position. The regulations give the London boroughs the same powers as other local authorities to charge for a permit or replacement permit. However it is a requirement of the London concessionary fare scheme that the London boroughs act unanimously when setting the terms of concessions. The regulations reflect this special feature of the London scheme; so any decision which the London boroughs take to use this power to charge can take effect only if they are unanimous both in agreeing to a charge being made and on its level.
The particular worry of the London boroughs is fraudulent claims for replacement permits. These regulations provide them with the appropriate powers to address this issue. I must stress that we are not imposing any duty on the London boroughs and any decisions they take as to whether to use this power will be a matter for their own collective judgment. I beg to move.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing the order with her usual clarity and for the helpful explanatory note to the order, which makes things fairly clear. I wish to raise a couple of points. The noble Baroness has already largely covered one of the points I had intended to raise.
The first is with regard to item 1 of Table 1, which deals with the deposit of skips on highways. Living, as I do, in London within a controlled parking zone area, I was under the impression that local authorities already charged for skip licences, but perhaps I am wrong. If the deposit of a skip also requires the suspension of a parking place under item 2 of Table 2, will the householder or the builder be liable to a double charge?
Similarly, in regard to item 2 of Table 2, suspension of parking places, the Minister in another place (col. 5, 4th March, 3rd Standing Committee on delegated legislation) said that it would allow local authorities to recover the administrative costs of suspending parking places from commercial organisations. If one were moving house, for example, and asked for parking to be suspended, would one be liable, as a private householder, to pay the cost of that? One would obviously not be a commercial organisation. It might be wise for those moving house to make the application themselves rather than allow the removal company to do so.
The noble Baroness dealt at some length with item 10, the charge for removal of debris following an accident. This is possibly the most controversial part of the order and I am glad that it will not come into effect for another year. I believe work still needs to be done between local authorities, the Government and insurance companies in regard to how this charge will be collected and how the blame will be attached. Occasionally one has an accident when the other driver agrees that it was entirely his or her fault. However, some time later one finds, when the insurance companies get together, that they have decided to share the costs. Will the local authority accept the insurance companies' interpretation of what happened and their apportionment of costs in collecting the sum for the removal of debris?
A slightly curious matter, on which the noble Baroness may be able to help me, is that this measure appears to refer only to local highway authorities. The Government's trunk roads are not covered by this order. Is there any proposal to extend this measure to them? Perhaps a power already exists to do that.
The other item which causes me a little concern is paragraph 4 of the order relating to the amount of charge. Some local authorities sometimes complain about their lack of resources. I hope that this will not present an opportunity for them to raise money by charging more than they should do. I appreciate that the order says that they should have regard to the cost to them of dealing with matters of the description in question. I hope that that is strong enough to prevent this kind of practice.