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Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Bill

Volume 649: debated on Friday 17 November 1961

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Order for Second Reading read.

11.13 am.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This interesting and important Measure arises from an Agreement between the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and the German Federal Republic. The object of the Agreement is to make provision for the future safety of aircraft.

We live in an age when the speed, height and numbers of civil transports are continually on the increase. Twenty-five years ago the normal speed would have been 150 miles an hour at a height of 10,000 feet. Today, that speed would be 550 miles an hour at a height of 40,000 feet, and before we are very much older I suppose that we shall be travelling beyond the sound barrier. We have, therefore, to consider not only the position as it is today, but how it will develop and what it will look like in five, ten or fifteen years from now.

In this country we have been doing quite a lot of work on a national basis. We have a vigorous programme of new radar stations linked to traffic control centres, in which I am hoping to see joint civil and military controllers sitting and working side by side and looking at new methods of display. As techniques improve we will be relying less on the word of the pilot and more on the actual vision of what we see. Indeed, the programme might be called "From Voice to Vision," on a civil and military basis.

The aim of this is twofold: first, greater safety in the air; and, secondly, but also important, the greater use of controlled air space. The Bill provides a further step which is the national counterpart necessary to give effect to the international Agreement. It provides the basis upon which future air traffic control in this country and in Europe will be conducted.

The Bill is, in the main, concerned with the international aspects of these matters. The House will, I am sure, think that this is right in an age in which national frontiers can be crossed by aircraft in the space of a few minutes. It is also concerned with such problems as how one finances complicated and expensive navigational equipment such as is required both nationally and internationally, and how one establishes by evidence events of which the only record is on a tape or within the calculations of a computer.

The Agreement to which I have referred is in the form of a Convention. It is the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, known as Eurocontrol. There are two parts of this organisation as defined in Clause 1 of the Bill. There is a permanent commission for the safety of air navigation—which is called the Commission—and the air traffic services agency—called the Agency—which, so to speak, does the work and its seat is to be in Brussels.

This organisation is still in the process of being born and the object of the Bill is to help this process. It must be created, make its plans and acquire the necessary equipment or arrange for the use of national equipment that is or will be there. A provisional association has already been formed to start the planning and preparatory work. The Organisation itself will probably come into effective operation between, say, 1963 and 1966.

It will, perhaps, be for the convenience of the House if I seek to describe in simple terms the kind of air traffic control system which it will seek to operate. It will be concerned initially with the upper air space, because it is in that space that jets will increasingly travel and will seek to stay for as long as possible. There is no unanimity yet even as to what the upper air space is, but in this country it is over 25,000 ft. The job of the Agency which will be doing this work will be to capture these aircraft on its radar screens, to identify them, to obtain knowledge of their speed, their height and their bearing, and to enable them to proceed on their lawful occasions without danger to eacl other.

I need hardly remind the House that this is a very formidable task which will require increasingly complex and sophisticated machinery—modern forms of secondary radar, automatic data recording, and increasingly powerful computers. This apparatus will need to be directed at convenient blocks of upper air space, which may or may not coincide with national frontiers, and it will need to be located in various parts of the territories concerned. For this difficult task the Bill provides the skeleton on which the body of the organisation can grow.

The first and obvious step is to give the organisation a legal entity and this, in effect, is what Clause 2 does. It enables the organisation to enter into contracts and also, on the other hand, to be liable in contract or tort or otherwise. A legal entity is also given to the Commission and the Agency as essential working parts of the organisation.

Clause 2 (2) deals with the problem of exemptions and reliefs and gives only selective immunities from the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950. It covers the rates and taxes and import duties of the organisation as such, but it excludes giving relief from civil suits or personal taxation to individual members. I think that this course may commend itself to the House, because we do not want to increase the number of these diplomatic immunities.

The House will wish to consider two important matters. What control are we to exercise over this organisation, or, for that matter, what control will it exercise over us? Secondly, how is it to be financed? One cannot read the control from the Bill. One has to read behind the Bill and look at the Convention. This matter is included in Article 6 of the Convention. Decisions about the configuration of the air space or about treaties with other States must be unanimous, that is to say, we shall have a veto. Directives about financial matters, such as tariffs, require a majority weighted in accordance with the gross national product, that is, a sort of qualified majority arrangement. Recommendations on such matters as common policy or navigational equipment require a simple majority of the members.

As to what it will cost, and how the money will be raised, we must first recognise that we are to spend money on air traffic control anyway—in part on airport technical services and in part on en route services. In total, we are now spending about £7 million a year. Clause 3 provides that the Minister of Aviation should pay to the organisation
"such sums on account of its expenses as he may with the consent of the Treasury determine, being sums for the payment of which Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are liable under the Convention."
Subsection (2) enables him to provide the premises, the installations and the equipment.

I should like to make two comments about these provisions. The costs are not easy to estimate. The picture is continually changing. The estimated cost on capital account is £3 million and the present estimated cost on current account is £2 million. The object of the organisation is to use, wherever possible, national technical services. In that way, we can make some payment in kind.

This, therefore, is to be said on the financing of the organisation. We would need to spend the money on this work and it will be greatly to our advantage technically to share these costs on an international basis. How do we raise the capital? At present, by airport charges and rents, we are raising annually £9 million to £10 million, to pay for the non-technical airport services, including depreciation. We have already announced, however, a change in airport policy. International airports, at present owned by the Government, will be set up under an independent authority.

The setting up of an independent authority would require a Bill and, of course, it is not included in the programme for this Session.

The other airports will be increasingly municipalised. That can go on without a Bill, because there is nothing to prevent the selling of an airport to a municipal authority at any time. Special provision may have to be made for subsidy for some other airports in the remoter places. The technical services will be retained under the Government. Thus it will be necessary for us when setting up Eurocontrol to find a new method of financing navigational equipment. For this purpose, Clause 4 enables the Minister to raise money and make regulations, to have effect by Statutory Instrument, requiring payment to the Minister or the organisation of charges for navigational services provided for aircraft, being services provided either by the Minister or the organisation.

There are some people who think that these services ought to be "for free". This has never been my view. The rate at which airlines can be asked to pay the full cost is, I agree, a matter for discussion and argument, but the idea that they are an adolescent industry or should require some permanent subsidy from the general body of taxpayers, in my judgment, cannot be sustained. These charges, when approved, could be made directly on the operators or indirectly through the airports. The present intention is that they should be imposed as a levy on the companies which use these services.

I should like to mention the proposed use of records as evidence. No man should be condemned on the record of a computer accepted as conclusive. Nor is that in any way suggested here. Nevertheless, in this rather complicated field, much evidence will depend on mechanical recording. Clause 5 permits these records to be used, though not, I emphasise, conclusively in evidence. Clause 6 properly provides a swingeing penalty on anyone attempting to make a faked record in these matters.

I have now covered the main provisions of the Bill. The Measure is aimed at dealing with a very fast developing situation. It provides, inevitably, the framework only for what is quite a complicated matter. However, the principles are clear. First, we need to do this on an international basis because of the size and scale of air transport and the speed with which aircraft will be travelling. From the technical point of view, it is more sensible to pool our resources with others who are our neighbours and are facing precisely the same kind of problems.

Secondly, for this purpose the first step is to put ourselves in a position to ratify the convention and carry out our obligations under it. Thirdly, to do a job of this kind inevitably costs money, and we should, therefore, face, and face now, the problems of what money will be required, how the amounts are to be fixed and how that money should be raised.

Those are the main purposes of the Bill, which, I hope, will commend itself to the House.

11.31 a.m.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his very careful and comprehensive introduction of the Bill. My hon. Friends and I welcome anything which is designed to improve air safety. We all recognise that if we are to achieve an ever-increasing growth of air traffic, safety will be of paramount importance, because that will be the determining factor when people make up their minds how they will travel.

The Minister referred to the Bill as something going from voice to vision. I would rather call it "Let us face the future" or perhaps "Air signposts for the sixties and seventies," which seems to me to be a much more appropriate title.

The continued expansion of air transport has obviously brought with it some very serious problems of traffic control. Very soon we shall be reaching more or less saturation point with the present equipment for handling air traffic. I am told that it is expected that by 1975 no fewer than 4,000 aircraft will be airborne over the United States every hour. Taking the new territorial configuration of Eurocontrol, I expect that by that time our figures will be of the same order. That presents an enormous problem for those who are responsible for getting the aircraft up and down and keeping them on their course during flight.

The difficulties of handling this growing volume of traffic may lead to a situation in which the aircraft will be flying ever faster and faster through the air and queuing up in stacks over airports for an ever-increasing length of time, We must watch this aspect. Nothing is more frustrating to the traveller who arrives more quickly over his destination than to find that he is kept hanging around in the air for an inordinate length of time. Such problems must be solved.

We may think that there is plenty of room in the air and wonder how aircraft can ever get in each other's way when we visualise the amount of space that there is. Nevertheless, aerial collisions occur. There have been a number of instances recently where jet aircraft have collided with private biplanes and where fighter aircraft have been in collision, and there was the dreadful accident over New York when a DC8 and a Super Constellation collided. There are also many recorded and, I gather, unrecorded instances of near-misses. I am told that every week perhaps as many as three potential collisions are averted at the last moment.

We must be on our guard against this danger. We should not regard an increase in accidents in the air as inevitable but should do everything we can to improve the situation and make air travel as safe as it is humanly possible to make it. Therefore, we welcome the Bill; there is certainly a need for it.

I think that the most important point made by the Minister was that unified control in the upper air space is essential under modern conditions of flying. After all, when we are flying at the frequency and speed that we are today and a pilot has to pass over perhaps six countries in Europe in a short space of time, it is nonsense for him to have to report every few minutes to a different organisation. Therefore, in creating this body we are building up a unified area where all aircraft flying at more than 25,000 feet will be under a single control. Under modern conditions of air travel, national boundaries have no significance. At the moment, a pilot on a flight across Europe may have to contact six air traffic control authorities. The Bill will mean that there will now be one.

Turning to ordinary landing and takeoff procedures, what steps will be taken to ensure co-ordination of policies? I am reminded of my experience last week when travelling from my constituency to London. When we were two miles from King's Cross an attendant came along announcing to all, with very great and proper pride, that the train was 25 minutes early. I was very hopeful that I should get to the House of Commons in time for questions. But we had to wait outside King's Cross for 20 minutes because there was no platform to take us. That kind of situation must be avoided in air travel. It is like dashing down the M.1 at a tremendous speed and getting more quickly to London but then being held up by roadworks on the outskirts.

There is the serious problem here of ensuring co-ordination between the national units which are in existence. I can say from my experience that they are exceedingly good and competent at our own airports. We must make sure that there is integration between national control and Eurocontrol.

On the ground of economy—a strong point made by the Minister—there is everything to be said for having one organisation. It will, I hope, save money, though that is not the primary purpose. It will certainly avoid duplication of effort, training and equipment. Also, it is bound to be much more efficient than the present piecemeal system.

Eurocontrol will have to bring about—it is stated in the Convention that it will bring it about—standardisation of regulations and equipment for navigation and air traffic control so that we can ensure a much more orderly and rapid flow of air traffic and secure the maximum use of the air space available. As I have said, one would imagine that there was plenty of space and that aircraft could come and go as they please, but we all know that that is not so, and it will be increasingly difficult for aircraft to go about in that way. We must ensure that aircraft can follow one another at closer intervals and that more aircraft can fly along the same horizontal level, so that we may have more aircraft flying at peak periods. If the Bill will help to bring that about, it will be worth while.

At the moment membership of Euro-control is confined to the Common Market countries, with the exception of Italy, and to ourselves. Eurocontrol is being brought about on a functional basis. I suppose there is also an economic basis and perhaps a political basis. It will lead to greater co-ordination and greater integration of our activities. But Italy is left out at the moment, and I wonder why that is. There have been air control difficulties arising from military operations in Italy, and it seems to be very important that Italy should be included so that aircraft flying over Italian air space may be subjected to the same procedures as over the rest of Western Europe. Is it because there is this conflict with the military in Italy that that country has not been able to join? I understand that Italy is interested and will watch what happens. She will, I hope, eventually join.

Switzerland obviously ought to be a member. Much of our traffic over Europe passes over Switzerland, which is a difficult country to overfly. It is also essential that Eire should join. The Atlantic traffic goes that way, and her membership again would produce a safer system. There is also the problem of the Scandinavian countries.

The right hon. Gentleman did not mention that there is provision in the Convention for other countries to join. It would strengthen the organisation if some non-N.A.T.O. countries came in, otherwise it is possible that difficulties may arise out of the organisation being associated in people's minds with N.A.T.O. and, perhaps, the European Economic Community.

We have some indication of the relationship between Eurocontrol and I.C.A.O., which is the parent body. We must try to bring about co-operation and participation of non-N.A.T.O. States. I mention this link with N.A.T.O. as being perhaps a deterrent in some ways, but perhaps it should be made clear that this new organisation does net replace the existing N.A.T.O. committee for European space control. That body is for military control, and the activities of the two organisations should be dovetailed so that there is no clash of policy.

We must also watch the question of the accountability of the Commission. This document is very continental in the way in which it is set out. It is similar to those produced in the Council of Europe, and we are not used to them. The way in which they are set out is alien to our procedure. As far as I can see, there is nothing in the document by which our representatives on the Commission can be made accountable to Parliament. Apparently there is no obligation on the Minister to report to the House, of Commons on the activities of his nominees on this Board. I hope that, as we have done with other Measures, we shall insert a provision that the Minister must lay before the House an annual report from this body, explaining its decisions and the directives he has given to our representatives during the year.

There is the danger, otherwise, of this organisation smacking somewhat of a supra-national body of commissioners, about which we in this country have strong reservations. It should not be difficult to insert such a provision. Perhaps the Minister might even welcome pressure in that direction. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we must treat these people right, but that we do not want to make privileges for them, otherwise there are bound to be bad feeling and complaints.

One of the most important tasks for the future is co-operation between the civil and military. We have argued this matter before when there have been accidents, and steps have been taken. Closer co-operation is possible by having the civil and military side by side. Segregation of the two is becoming more and more difficult and undesirable.

I understand, although I am not clear about this, for it is difficult to understand the technical details, that our civil control operates with different aids from some of the N.A.T.O. controls in Europe. Here again is something which the new organisation should investigate in order to bring about simplification and rationalisation of the different controls of the civil and military systems.

At the moment, it is understood that military personnel will be attached to each control centre to maintain liaison between the military and the civil. Perhaps in certain cases a clear priority must be laid down, giving the civil traffic, if it is heavy, the decisive say over the military. However, defence requirements come into this as well, and it is a matter for careful study.

The question of equipment is exceedingly complex and is virtually impossible for a layman to understand. We know that in an aircraft there is some kind of box with lots of instruments in it, and that all sorts of things can happen as a result. I do not pretend to know what happens, but I do know that we must have more research into this and much more training for skilled operators using this equipment. The purpose of the Convention is to establish research and training centres in different parts of Europe.

There will be tremendous dependence upon mechanical computers, but the natural, built-in computer—the human mind—will still play an essential part in these decisions. Although one might apply automation to almost 99 per cent, of these cases, we will still depend upon individuals at some stage. I want to see the status of the air traffic controller raised to a position commensurate with his responsibilities in the jet age.

When we consider what aid is to be used, we come across matters of prestige. One recalls the sorry story at Montreal, which led to the adoption of the American VOR/DME system instead of the British Decca system. We have had experience of the political and financial pressures which can be brought to bear in order to get a particular method adopted. I hope that this will not happen with the Harco. I hope that the Eurocontrol transitional body will evaluate the Harco and that the device will be treated on its merits. If it is, it will have a considerable chance of being adopted as the recommended aid.

We want a common policy on these things. The organisation producing this new aid consists of British, French and German firms working together, and it is only sensible that they should get proper treatment and that there should be none of the sordid squabbling over navigation aids which has gone on in the past. So much depends upon getting the right aid as quickly as possible. Nothing should stand in the way but technical merits.

The apparatus must enable the pilot to know where he is at any given moment and to inform ground control accordingly so that ground control can have the overall picture and know where every aircraft is, and be able to take speedy action to avert any possibility of a collision.

I am not clear about the cost of all this. I believe the right hon. Gentleman said that the cost would be about £7 million. Does that mean the overall cost of Eurocontrol or merely our share? I understand from the figures in the Bill that it is expected that in the beginning there will be a capital cost of £3 million, followed by an annual recurrent cost of £2 million. From my experience on the Public Accounts Committee in examining the Estimates of the Ministry of Aviation, I think that we must treat these figures with tremendous caution.

In the past, we have all sorts of bills from the Ministry of Aviation. In the beginning their Estimates have been comparatively small, but in the event they have turned out to be astronomical. This is a difficult subject in which to assess costs and I would have thought that the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave were rather on the low side and that we may have to accept something much more in the end if we are to get the kind of equipment which we need.

I do not think that we would quarrel with the Minister's overall policy of reimbursement, so that in the long run airports are self-sufficient, but there will be cases, as he said, when it will be almost impossible and when some subvention will be necessary. However, I ask him to go a little carefully on this. The air operating companies are now going through a fairly thin time and have complained bitterly about the increase in charges at London and other airports. Although it may be said that that is special pleading, because the operators obviously do not like to pay more than they need, if we try too quickly to impose a large sum in respect of navigational aids, that may be the last straw which breaks the camel's back. Bearing that in mind, over a period we want to work up to the position where the aids will be paid for one way or another by the users. It is true that air traffic control is a complex and expensive undertaking, but if it produces more orderly and safer travel, this will be money well worth spending.

I am not sure that I follow this highly complicated arrangement for assessing our contribution. One needs to be a mathematical genius to work out what our share is to be. I hope that we will be given the figure in simple proportions and that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say what on present figures we will have to pay whether a quarter or one-fifth of the total cost. That would be much more satisfactory than having to work out gross national products and so on. Any information which we can be given in that respect will be welcome.

As the Minister has told us, there is an interim commission now sitting in Paris and on which we have representatives. We should like to know what the Commission has been doing and what contributions we have been making, possibly on an ad hoc basis. Five member-nation regions have been set up, based on London, Prestwick, Paris, Luxembourg and Rome, which seems to indicate that at least Rome is working with us in practice, even though Italy is not a member.

I should like to be clear about how the provisions of Eurocontrol will apply to third parties flying over its space, but which are not members of it and not members of I.C.A.O. I am referring especially to the Russians. I gather that Russian planes now flying over this air space accept and obey our normal operating procedures. But how will we arrange for their contributions, or will they fly over for nothing? If this arrangement is to be made to work, everyone flying over the air space must be made to pay his whack. What are the provisions for dealing with countries which are not members of international organisations?

I have spoken to a number of experienced air pilots and navigators about the Bill and have found that they welcome it. I have found it to have the complete support of all those concerned with navigation and landing. The Minister said that it would probably come into full force between 1963 and 1966. Is it intended that in the interim between now and then we are to continue with our own individual systems for upper space, or would it be possible, gradually over that period, to work into the new system so that there is not a great gap between one date and the other?

In all these matters of air safety we have to look ahead, and I wonder how far the interim body is giving attention to the problems of supersonic flight. After all, military aircraft are already capable of supersonic flight and, by the late 1960s, we may have passenger services flying at supersonic speeds. That will revolutionise the whole concept of air traffic control and we want to ensure that the new organisation being set up will have all that in mind, so that technical developments in aircraft are not jeopardised by lack of appropriate aids for landing and taking off.

We support the Bill because it carries interest in air safety beyond the boundaries of national frontiers. If the Minister will consider the question of Parliamentary accountability and control, I think that we will have very little trouble with the Bill in its later stages.

11.56 a.m.

I welcome the Bill on behalf of an aircraft manufacturing constituency. We, the Ulster Unionists, probably use the air channels in Britain more than any other hon. Members. Flying is something which we experience every week and we are considerably concerned to see that planes should be able to fly regularly and fast and that we should be able to get to our destinations as quickly as possible. It may be significant that the Bill is being given a Second Reading the day after the Hammersmith flyover was opened, so that some of the difficulty mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), about the blockage and delays which occur between the airport and cities, has been cleared up within the last day.

The Bill is filled with references to the 1960s and 1970s. In its preparation, what account has been taken of the likelihood of vertical take-off developments being adopted by civil airlines? This is very much a development for the 1970s, and I am proud to say that part of it has taken place in Belfast. Vertical take-off may well be adopted for civil airliners and freighters so that it will no longer be necessary to have large airfields right outside the centres of cities. How will control arrangements be affected by such a development?

The Minister said that he wanted airports in this country to pay for themselves, and we all agree that it is extremely desirable that they should. However, what steps has he taken to ensure that the same precautions are taken abroad? Will the airports in other countries which are signatories to the Eurocontrol system pay for themselves, or will they be State-assisted? If they are to be State-assisted, our independent airlines and our national airways corporations will be at a disadvantage. This is a matter which should receive special attention.

As my right hon. Friend said, the equipment will be very complex and very expensive. He said that two of the questions which had been raised were where and how the money was to be raised. Another question vital to this country is where it is to be spent. In other words, what research and developments are being promoted in the United Kingdom in anticipation of the great development which my right hon. Friend has outlined today? What developments are being promoted for the computers and other vital control equipment of which he spoke? Tremendous development lies ahead and it is right and proper that British manufacturers should play their full part in developing this equipment for the 1970s.

As the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said, it is essential that we have the right aid as quickly as possible, and to some extent it ought to be possible to anticipate the future by promoting research and development into these complex machines for the benefit of our industry as well as that in Europe. With those comments, I join with others in welcoming the Bill.

12.1 p.m.

It seems almost surprising that such a commonsense organisation should be coming into force so soon, actually in time to meet the need for it. There are many large-scale beneficial things which we would like to see come about, but there are always so many difficulties, not least the Parliamentary time-table. I am more than delighted that this highly important matter has succeeded in being brought to the House so soon. It is obviously the epitome of common sense to have such an arrangement.

I have been flying for many years and I have had enough recent experiences to make my hair stand on end; and we have all seen enough reports from various parts of the world of terrible accidents when the control of air traffic has failed. I trust that this Measure, in time, will help in the management of the upper air. This is a vast problem and I endorse the view of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) on the subject of suitable and adequate navigational aids.

Last summer, just before the House rose, I was sitting in the front of a fairly small, twin-engined aeroplane and flying towards the Channel, with a colleague who was formerly an hon. Member, but who has since been called up to another place. I was listening to the patter on the radio and from time to time we were getting our instructions. We were told to proceed at certain heights and as we approached the London control zone, London Airport, we were told to take the height of 7,000 feet.

The interesting thing was that visibility was perfectly good in amongst the thunder-heads, but we were being treated as if there were blind-flying conditions. Thus, though controlled, we could see other aircraft. As we passed one large cumulo-nimbus, we saw a large Air France Constellation which was lurking ahead, and which we had been told we should be approaching to pass 1,000 feet below it. It was not a near-miss and would certainly not be considered so, but it was fascinating to see how close we were to that aeroplane although we were both at our proper heights. Although aeroplanes can be left separated vertically by 1,000 feet they cannot be so separated laterally or horizontally at anything like such a margin, and, as velocities increase enormously, so there will be a much more rigorous need for more exact navigational aids.

I must confess my interest. I have an interest in the Decca navigator firm and its products, and I am very proud to have it, because it is an admirable invention. It is not so much an aid to those on the ground, so that the pilot can inform ground control where he is, but it seems to me that its main advantage is that it allows the pilot to see whether he is wavering in any way off the track. He can see it there before him all the time on the chart, and it is a great help when conditions are murky, or bumpy, or when there are cross-winds. I have used this myself. If one is blown off the centre line of the track, one can correct it very quickly and it is, therefore, possible for controllers on the ground to route aircraft on parallel courses, but much closer together than otherwise.

As we all know, the apparatus which the Americans have foisted on the world means that the aeroplanes are all pinpointed over beacons at intervals, but have divergent courses so that they are miles apart in the middle and then come together again as they converge on the next beacon, which means that the pilots cannot be laterally separated by any constant distance. They are too far apart in the middle of the leg and too close together at the end. This Euro-control will certainly find use over Europe at least for this kind of navigational system which will mean a much more economic use of the air space as it becomes so tremendously overcrowded. This is a point which I feel strongly about.

On the other point, that of charges and outlay, which is of great interest, I imagine that we may hope to supply services to Eurocontrol on very nearly the same scale as the subscription demanded of us. Apart from the central overheads, therefore, I trust that this will not cost very much more in navigational costs. I give the Bill a very warm welcome because it is timely and it will be most precious.

12.6 p.m.

This is a short but complex Bill and the debate on it has, naturally, ranged over a fairly wide number of subjects. I noticed with interest that the Bill, which the hon. Member, for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) described with such a warmth of Socialist welcome as one which might be called air signposts for the 1960s and 1970s, has had more speakers in support of it on this side of the House than on his. I take that as an indication of its non-controversial character.

The fact that it is a Friday also produces the usual result that I have a good deal more time to reply than I would normally expect to have, but I assure the House that I do not intend to repeat the performance that I made last week.

The range of subjects which have been raised in the debate can, I think, be classified under a few simple heads. There have been technical points raised about methods of control, the nature of the equipment that will be used, the services that will be provided, and the integration, and in some cases the separation, of military and civil aircraft. There have been financial questions such as how we shall pay for the organisation, how the cost will be calculated, and alternative ways in which the expenses can be met.

There have been legal questions relating to the rights of the Organisation and its members vis-à-vis the member countries and individuals in the member countries, and constitutional questions concerning the responsibility of the Commission, the supranational character of the organisation, what it involves, its powers over us and our powers over it.

The complexity, I think, is quite simply due to two facts which are brought together in the Bill. One is that this is the first occasion in which this country has joined a purely European institution as a founder member. It therefore involves some adjustment of our habits and, consequently, of our domestic legislation.

The second fact is that this is also a relevant and convenient occasion for taking one step in implementing a policy which Her Majesty's Government have declared more than once before—that of making our own civil aviation industry as far as possible self-supporting rather than dependent on the taxpayer. This involves changes of a character which are parallel and closely related to the changes necessitated by Eurocontrol, which is the reason why they are brought together in one Bill. The Bill, though short, covers a wide field, because, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, in every case we have made the minimum necessary changes to give effect to it.

May I answer, first, the questions which have been asked under the technical heading? My right hon. Friend mentioned that the interim association is already in being under the protocol set out at the back of the Convention. It is already at work on technical matters. It is still at a very early stage of its work, and there are many problems for it to work out, some of which were mentioned earlier. There is, for instance, the problem of the difference in the level at which upper air space begins in this country and on the Continent.

There is the problem of the coordination of military and civil aircraft. There is the problem of movement from upper to lower air space. There is the problem of unidentified foreign aircraft flying over our air space for nothing—a problem which I may say, in parenthesis, I met in another form when I used to be a publisher, and we never found any solution to it there. There is the problem of supersonic and vertical take-off aircraft in future, and the problem of the adherence to the Convention by non-N.A.T.O. countries.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Gentleman opposite to read newspapers during our proceedings?

I take it that the newspapers are connected with the subject matter of the Adjournment debate, otherwise the hon. Member would not be reading them.

Further to that pont of order, Mr. Speaker. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I was not reading a newspaper in order not to follow this debate, but to prepare for the next one. If he does me the kindness of remaining in his place, I will read some of the newspapers to him in due course.

On the last question of the adherence of other countries, particularly non-N.A.T.O. countries, to the Convention, I only say at this point that the Convention is open to them. They will be welcome as members. I think I am right in saying that they will require a unanimous vote of the present members to be admitted. In the case of one N.A.T.O. member to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which is not at present a member, namely, Italy, that is purely a matter for the Italian Government to decide in the light of their national interests. I believe I am right in saying that their decision to drop out—they were in the original negotiations—arose from the problem of relating civil and military aircraft requirements. I hope that these problems will eventually be overcome, but that must be left as a matter for them.

As regards the purely technical questions, it is not possible at the moment to give detailed answers because of the very early stage at which the organisation now stands. It is the function of the organisation to solve precisely these problems, and we believe that this is the only way in which they can be solved.

We can say one or two important things on the technical side. First, the United Kingdom in particular already has a very advanced system of air traffic control and equipment. We have plans for integrating and developing it both for military and civilian control, and this is a particularly timely moment for us to marry up our system with that of neighbouring countries.

The second important thing which we can say in this context is that the United Kingdom undoubtedly has a leading place in the development of all kinds of electronic equipment of the sort which Eurocontrol will need to use. Although I have been in the Ministry for only a short time, I have seen plenty of evidence of this in visits I have paid to firms and installations in different parts of the country.

It follows from those two things that in the initial stages Eurocontrol can be expected to use, and to use against reimbursement, which is an important factor on the financial side, the existing British system over the United Kingdom, though this will be responsible to the international organisation and integrated with the systems of other countries.

Secondly, it follows from what I have said that the British electronics industry will have a quite exceptional chance to play a leading part in supplying not only this country but the whole Euro-control area with equipment throughout Europe in all the countries which now belong, and which will adhere, to the Convention.

Without going into details of particular types of equipment, it seems that our electronics industry is faced with an exciting prospect and a stimulating challenge, that of a new and growing market for its products in which its experience and resources will enable it to make an important and perhaps decisive contribution, and I am convinced that that opportunity will not be missed.

The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees raised a number of financial points, and I think that he was right in drawing attention to the extreme complexity of the financial provisions in the Convention. I will try to simplify them. It can be done, though it has taken a lot of hard work to extract the details.

In all references to gross national product, what it comes to in effect is that the United Kingdom contribution, on present levels of our economy related to European economy, will be almost exactly one-third of the whole. France and West Germany will each contribute 27 per cent., Belgium 6 per cent., the Netherlands 6 per cent., and Luxembourg about ¼ per cent.

The weighting of votes in the Commission, although it is related to gross national product in accordance with this formula, is tapered in favour of the smaller countries. This is reasonable, because, if we do not do that, the Luxembourg representative may as well not vote for all the difference he will make to decisions. Our contribution is 33 per cent., and our voting is equivalent to 10 votes out of a total of 37 for the six countries. In other words, we have more than a quarter of the weighting in the voting.

One hopes that the necessity for voting will not occur very frequently. It would obviously be more sensible to get a general consensus of agreement. I think that on all the important decisions there will have to be unanimity.

That is so. Unanimity is required on important decisions. Moreover, even on decisions taken by weighted voting, in some cases, in addition to the weighted majority, the decision has to carry the support of the actual majority of the contracting parties—in other words, at present four out of six, so our position is very strong in this respect.

I will deal briefly with the raising of finances and break it down into the four stages in which it is being done. First, the provisional association which is now in existence, and to which we made a token contribution in the last financial year. We shall contribute about £50,000 in the current calendar year, which was provided for in the Estimates. Once the organisation comes into existence, for the first three years contributions will be in direct relation to gross national product on the scale I mentioned, averaged out over the last three years, and the figures I gave apply. After the first three years of the Convention, when it comes into full effect the complicated formula laid down in Article 23 of the Statute will apply.

As regards capital contributions, we shall continue to contribute in proportion to gross national product. As regards recurrent contributions, the cost is broken down, into two fractions. The first covers the expense of civil aircraft of non-member-States and military aircraft, and the share of that is based on our gross national product. The other fraction relates to the cost of civil aircraft of the contracting powers, and in that case our contribution is in proportion to the number of British-registered aircraft which have been making use of the service. It is complicated, but I think it is reasonable.

At the fourth stage, in the long run the Convention confers powers on the organisation, though not an obligation, to cover its costs by raising tariffs. The fees are defined in Article 20 of the Convention. These tariffs will be fixed by a weighted majority, representing a majority of the contracting parties, in which we shall have a substantial vote. When that final stage is reached Euro-control's method of financing will be on all-fours with the method that the Minister is introducing in this country in accordance with the terms of the White Paper.

The next group of points raised by the hon. Member concerns questions of sovereignty and the legal status of the organisation. This is, in a certain measure, a supranational institution. It will have powers of a kind that we have not conferred on a similar body before. This is an inevitable consequence of the task which I think we all agree it has to perform. For instance, the organisation will be in a position to give orders, which must be obeyed, under British law, to pilots flying over this country, including British pilots. This does not seem to be a very startling departure from the present situation, under which British pilots flying over foreign countries have to obey foreign control organisations. All that is new is that it could mean foreign centres giving orders to British aircraft flying over the United Kingdom.

The organisation will also have power to bring actions in this country, under our law, for the recovery of fees if they are not paid. Equally, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, under Clause 7 (3) of the Bill it will even be possible for the organisation to be sued by people in this country for negligence committed outside the jurisdiction of our courts, which is a new feature in our law. It is not so much a derogation of our sovereignty as an extension of it.

All this is being done not for the sake of any supranational political theory but because it is the most practical way of controlling air space and preventing accidents. It is a good example of the right way to move into European partnership on practical grounds. It is not a loss of sovereignty but a pooling of sovereignty and a shift of sovereignty at the edges.

At the same time I stress that this organisation is not going to make it impossible for us to act independently, even within the context of air traffic control. Matters are provided for in the Convention on which separate action by the separate States concerned may be taken. For instance, the recommendations which the Commission may pass under Article 8 of the Convention, by a majority vote, are recommendations for action by the separate Governments that compose the organisation, and the representatives of those Governments will go back to their Parliaments, or whatever may be their governmental system, and tell them that these things should be done. If their Parliaments decide that they shall not be done there is nothing whatever that the Commission can do about it. In most cases it would be a foolish and unlikely thing to happen, but it could happen.

Another part of the Convention enables member States to take their own initiative in certain matters, such as entrusting their lower air space to the organisation, if they wish to do so. This touches a question raised by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees about the problem of getting down from the upper to the lower air space. Member States can take their own initiative in these matters, or can entrust them to the organisation, or to other States in the organisation, and they can make bilateral agreements with them or with any country outside the organisation, over which no rules of voting by majority can impose a veto. So, both from the point of view of voting and from the point of view of legal status, there does not arise any serious problem of limiting the sovereignty of this country.

I will not go further into the details of voting, which can be studied in the Convention and which I am satisfied leave our Government and Parliament with a perfectly sufficient range of freedom of action. I conclude by referring briefly to the essential operational advantages of our joining this organisation.

Will the hon. Member deal with the point I raised about accountability in this House at a future stage?

The hon. Member raised the question of an annual report. I have made an emphatic note of that suggestion and will confer with my right hon. Friend before the next stage of the Bill is reached.

The operational advantages of joining Eurocontrol—and they are not really advantages, but necessities—are that they will enable us from the outset to take an active part in influencing the planning of an organisation which is bound to exist in any case. Our aim will be to simplify and standardise air traffic control practices, particularly in respect of fast, high-flying aircraft, which can already cross some of the countries in the organisation in a matter of minutes and, in the supersonic age, will be able to cross this country in a matter of minutes. In addition, during the formative stages—and this is the importance of our being a founder-member—we shall be able to propound our views as to the requirements for new navigation and data-gathering systems and data-processing equipment, and we shall also be able to sell our own products under this head.

Looked at in the broader context of the I.C.A.O., to which the hon. Member referred, the formation of Euro-control will undoubtedly focus and strengthen the European operational approach for subsequent deployment in the international organisation and other international forums. Standing alone, our influence would in many cases be much less, while in other contexts, such as that of air space planning in North Western Europe—which vitally affects the economy of operation of British aircraft—if we were not in this organisation we should have no standing at all.

I think that I have said enough to show two essential features of this new organisation. The first is that, apart from being necessary on practical grounds, it offers the United Kingdom an important new challenge and an opportunity to work in co-operation with Europe, both in respect of our allies and, in the future, we hope, with countries that are not allied with us in a military sense. It gives us an opportunity to do so in the practical field of contributing to the safety of air travel in a new era, which I know is very much the concern of this House and which provides us with a challenge to develop and exploit new openings for one of our most important export industries, and to maintain our leadership in it.

Secondly and finally, the Bill enables us to take these opportunities and to meet this challenge at relatively small cost, both in terms of cash outlay—since much that we would have to spend we would have to spend in any case, even if we were not in the organisation; indeed, we might have to spend more—and also in terms of commitments undertaken involving a partial but minimal pooling of sovereign powers in a spirit of interdependence.

The Bill is drafted to give us the best of both worlds in this sense, and I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Whitelaw.]

Committee upon Monday next.