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The Air Travel Reserve Fund Agency

Volume 890: debated on Monday 14 April 1975

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11.15 p.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 10, after 'Authority', insert:

'(hereafter in this Act referred to as "the Authority")'.

With this amendment, it will be convenient to consider Government Amendment No. 27.

These are drafting amendments to meet a point raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Christ-church and Lymington (Mr. Adley). The Bill already provides in Clause 7(1) for references to the Authority to have the same meaning as in the Civil Aviation Act 1971, but the amendments make it clear beyond peradventure that such references are to the CAA.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 7, after 'include', insert `(a)'.

With this we may take Government amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5.

These amendments are to give effect to an undertaking given in Committee that a provision for consumer interests to be represented on the agency would be introduced, and we are here honouring that commitment.

Amendment No. 4, to which Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 5 are consequential. provides that the interests of members of the public using travel facilities shall be represented on the agency. The appropriate coverage is of course a matter that will be pursued in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection.

We should not necessarily consider representation in terms of particular organisations, a view that met with the approval of the Standing Committee. The important thing is to achieve the right balance of expertise on a body of this kind having regard to its functions. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned that the interests of the travelling public should be represented on the Committee, and the amendments give effect to the Government's undertaking in this respect.

This matter has a considerable history. It was on Second Reading that my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) interrupted the Secretary of State for Trade to suggest that there should be representation of consumer interests on the Authority and to our surprise the Secretary of State replied:

"That is a good point and I should like to consider that"—[Official Report, 20th February 1975; Vol. 886, c. 1582.]
That was as though the point had never previously occurred to him in the consultations that he had had in the preparation of the Bill. It was a matter that we pursued at some length in Committee and to our surprise, even between Second Reading and Committee stage, the comparatively simple point that we were seeking to make had apparently not been resolved by the Minister concerned, and we had a rather lengthy debate.

The form of words that the Under-Secretary has now produced is not as elegant as our proposal in Committee and I rather doubt whether these words are as good as ours. I prefer our drafting. But it would be churlish not to accept the substance of what the Under-Secretary has proposed and we are grateful to him for these amendments so that the consumer interest may be effectively represented.

We shall watch with care to see how the Secretary of State fulfils this undertaking, which I am happy to say is now in the Bill. From time to time in Committee we were disturbed to see that the Minister seemed to think that his assurances were equivalent to a provision in the Bill. It is right that this provision should be in the Bill and I advise my hon. Friends to accept the amendments.

I should like briefly to welcome the amendment, as it was I who astounded the Secretary of State by suggesting on Second Reading that the consumer should be represented in a consumer protection Bill. When in Committee my hon. Friends and I put down amendments to ensure that there would be consumer representation, the Under-Secretary brushed them aside. Indeed, he said:

"First, I wish to correct the impression, which some hon. Members sought to convey, that the Government overlooked the consumer interest when drafting the Bill. That is untrue." [Official Report, Standing Committee D. 4th March 1975; c. 48.]
It may have been inappropriate, but it now emerges that it is necessary to carry out a redrafting exercise to ensure that they should be represented.

Once again the Under-Secretary of State on an earlier occasion was unwilling to accept an amendment, and indeed brushed it aside. I cannot understand why this provision was not included in the original Bill or why a Government amendment was not tabled in Committee. There was ample time between Second Reading and Committee—and I even managed to give the Minister, despite his protests, a chance of an extra 48 hours between Committee sittings to get the drafting right. Eventually we suggested to him the solution to what he saw as a difficult problem—namely, the definition of who were the "consumers".

I am glad that he took up our suggestion and defined them in just the way suggested. I am still puzzled at why the Government saw fit to vote down our amendment in Committee, but I am delighted that they have had a change of heart.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 3, in page 2, fine 8, after "and'', insert "( b)".

No. 4, in page 2, line 11, leave out "but the" and insert

"and the Secretary of State shall also ensure, through the exercise of his power of appointment in relation to the membership of the Agency, that the interests of members of the public using travel facilities provided by persons so engaged are specially represented on the Agency.
(4A) The".
No. 5, in page 2, line 16, at end insert in subsection (4)(b)".—[Mr. Clinton Davis.]