Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these draft regulations will be made under the powers conferred by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and will be needed if the UK leaves the European Union next March without a deal. The regulations amend EU regulation 785/2004, which sets out insurance requirements for air carriers and aircraft operators, and the domestic legislation made to implement this regulation.
EU regulation 785/2004 requires air carriers and aircraft operators to be insured in respect of passengers, baggage, cargo and third parties and against other risks such as acts of war, terrorism, hijacking, acts of sabotage, unlawful seizure of aircraft and civil commotion. It also requires air carriers and aircraft operators to demonstrate their compliance with the minimum insurance requirements set out in the regulation and makes provision for exceptional situations where a failure of the insurance market means that carriers are not able to demonstrate that they are adequately insured in respect of all the risks specified in the regulation.
The withdrawal Act will retain in UK law EU regulation 785/2004 in its entirety on exit day. The draft instrument that we are considering makes the changes necessary so that the EU regulation continues to function correctly after exit day, alongside the domestic Civil Aviation (Insurance) Regulations 2005, which were made to implement the EU regulation. This is essential to ensure that the regulatory regime in place after exit continues to make the UK a safe place for passengers to travel by air.
The changes that the draft legislation makes are technical in nature. Both the risks against which air carriers and aircraft operators must be insured and the levels of insurance required, which are measured in special drawing rights—an international reserve asset created by the International Monetary Fund—remain the same.
To illustrate some of the proposed changes: they ensure that the scope of the retained EU legislation is correct so that it applies to “the United Kingdom” rather than,
“a Member State to which the Treaty Applies”,
and ensure that EU processes set out in the regulation, which will not apply to the UK after exit, are replaced with equivalent domestic processes. The EU regulation also makes provision for certain legislative functions. For instance, Article 7 sets out the minimum insurance cover in special drawing rights per accident for aircraft according to mass, and the EU regulation provides that the values in Article 7 may be amended where this is required as a result of changes to multilateral treaties, such as the 1999 Montreal Convention.
As the EU legislative procedure prescribed in the regulation will not apply to the UK once it has left the EU, this SI makes provision for the Secretary of State to amend these values by regulations if, and only if, required as a consequence of changes to international treaties. To ensure that any use of these powers is subject to appropriate scrutiny, we have provided that any such regulations must follow the affirmative resolution procedure and be approved by both Houses of Parliament.
We remain confident of securing an agreement on aviation with the EU. Across Europe, people benefit from liberal aviation market access, and we are focused on securing the right arrangements for the future so that our aviation industry can continue to thrive and passengers across the UK and the EU can continue to benefit from high levels of connectivity and choice. However, irrespective of the outcome of negotiations, it is crucial that we prepare our regulatory and legislative framework so that it continues to enable the UK’s aviation industry to operate safely and effectively in all scenarios. I commend these regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on moving these regulations. I will take the opportunity to raise a number of personal concerns. I declare an interest in that when I was an MEP, I was Conservative spokesman for aviation in the European Parliament for a number of years, and at the time I met my husband, he was working for Delta Air Lines.
I imagine that the list my noble friend gave is not exhaustive, but there are increasingly incidents of drones—indeed, there has been a near miss. Is this currently covered by the EU legislation, and will that also transfer? Is this an opportunity that my noble friend and the Government may wish to look at in order to increase the cover? As I understand, there was a near miss involving a passenger aeroplane at a London airport, which would have had devastating consequences. I remember once looking at my insurance policy when I lived in a rented flat in Brussels, and one of the exclusions was from a plane falling from the sky. I wondered what the chances were of that happening, until a cargo plane did just that at Amsterdam airport, and the consequences were obviously absolutely devastating, not just for the passengers on the plane but for those in the apartments underneath.
I do not know whether this is the correct time to ask, but can my noble friend confirm that we will continue to have reciprocal cover, so that we will recognise the insurance cover of European carriers and other international carriers who use our airspace, emanating from EU airports? I understand that that is covered at the moment, but reading the specialist press, there seems to be some concern about whether this will carry on.
As my noble friend will be aware, there is deep concern among the airline industry, and no doubt airports as well, that we will continue to enjoy use of European airspace, and that our membership of EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, will continue. Does that fall within the parameters of these regulations or will my noble friend have another opportunity to update those of us who are concerned?
In her latter remarks, my noble friend said that the value of the insurance cover will continue to be reviewed. From memory, these values are set by either the Geneva or the Warsaw convention. Is my noble friend able to tell us when these values were last reviewed and whether in future we will continue to review the values of the insurance cover on a multilateral, reciprocal basis with our existing EU partners and others, such as Norway and Iceland, with which we will have reciprocal arrangements—I imagine that through the EEA they are already members of EASA—or is it the intention of the Government to do that on a bilateral basis? I believe that would be highly regrettable.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s introduction of these regulations. I imagine it is the first of a very large number of statutory instruments—and it just covers insurance. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, there is the whole question of EASA, which we will come to another day.
I have a few questions about the insurance cover itself. The Minister said that it covers the insurance requirements for air travel in the UK. Does that cover airlines registered in the UK? Does it cover airlines registered in the EU which are flying to or from the UK? Does it cover airlines registered in third countries which are coming into the UK and going on somewhere else or stopping here? Is there any requirement under these regulations for an airline registered in the UK to demonstrate that it has insurance outside the borders of the UK, specifically in the EU? I am sure that airlines do not think, “We just want to be insured in this country, we do not care what happens when we cross the frontier”, but it would be nice to have some comfort on that. Does the Minister expect the EU to want to know whether all these insurances that we have just talked about are valid in the UK before it will allow planes to arrive in its own airports from the UK? There is a large number of different scenarios here, leaving aside the fact that London to Dublin is the most traffic-heavy air route into and out of this country and Dublin will still be in the EU and apparently we will not be.
I would be grateful if the Minister could address those questions and give us some idea of what other SIs will be coming to cover all the other things that are required to enable continuity of flying after 29 March. I gather that either the Minister or her Secretary of State was given a bit of a telling-off by Mr Barnier for trying to prejudge the Brexit negotiations by going round every other member state and trying to get quiet deals with each one. I am sure she had a great time going round all those places but I do not know what has happened with this. I look forward to her comments.
My Lords, the airline industry in this country is intensely competitive. It is a commercial environment where there is a real danger that airlines seeking to reduce costs will cut their insurance to the minimum in order to do so. It is obvious from this SI that freeing ourselves from EU standards means that we could allow airlines to have a lower level of insurance. The Minister read out an impressive but rather grim list of the risks that airlines face. Obviously those risks are also faced by their passengers and therefore I would be grateful if she could give some more detail about what restrictions will be put on airlines that are registered in Britain: how low can they go as regards their insurance cover?
It is obvious that the Government are anticipating a reduction because paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum makes it absolutely clear that this legislation will free airlines in the UK to take up lower levels of insurance cover than those required in the EU. It gives the example of “non-commercial operations”. As an aside, I would like to ask the Minister if she could define what the Government mean by that phrase. What sort of operations will need to have or will be allowed to have a lower level of cover? There is no point in freeing yourself up from EU controls if you are not going to allow variations from the standards that the EU has set. Will there be any guarantees of a minimum level of insurance cover or will we have some sort of free-for-all as a result of this? Air passengers will be concerned that there should always be an adequate level of cover.
I reiterate the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley: exactly how will this work? I have been trying to envisage the process. Thank goodness that several of our airlines have decided that they will neutralise some of the risks of Brexit and life after Brexit by registering in other countries. That covers their risks, which is a very good thing for them to have done. However, airlines are often based in more than one country. They may have their headquarters in one country but have most of their aircraft based in another one. Of course they fly between countries, so who will set the level of insurance that is required on each occasion? Will it depend on their country of origin, the flight that day, or will it depend on where the airline’s headquarters are based? If our UK-based planes fly from the UK to an EU country, will they not have the right to demand that those planes have an EU level of cover, not the reduced cover that the Government seem to envisage would be possible?
Finally, I put a rather prosaic point to the Minister. Paragraph 3.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“The territorial application of this instrument includes Scotland and Northern Ireland”.
What has happened to Wales, which has more than one airport? Can I ask for an assurance that the Scottish Government—sadly I cannot ask about Northern Ireland at this moment—have expressed their agreement to the concepts behind this SI and that the Welsh Government have done so as well, particularly since they do not seem to have been mentioned?
I also thank the Minister for explaining the purpose of the regulations before us. Perhaps I may pursue the point that has been made about paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum to clarify what it means—or at least to establish that what I think it means is correct. It states:
“Article 6 sets out levels of insurance in respect of liability for passengers, baggage and cargo. Under Article 6(1), the minimum insurance cover for liability in respect of passengers is set at 250,000 SDRs per passenger”.
Can I take it that, as far as these regulations are concerned, there is no change and that the minimum insurance cover which applies at the moment will continue to be applied in the future and not be reduced? The memorandum continues:
“For non-commercial operations by aircraft with a MTOM of 2,700kg or less, there is an option for Member States to set a lower level of minimum insurance cover”—
I take it that that is the present situation with us being within the EU and that we already have the option because the memorandum says—
“which the United Kingdom has chosen to exercise. To ensure that the flexibility provided for in Article 6(1) is retained, Article 6(1) is amended to include a provision for the Secretary of State, by regulations, to set a lower level of minimum insurance cover in respect of non-commercial operations by aircraft with a MTOM of 2,700kg”.
Does the Secretary of State intend to go to a lower level of minimum insurance requirement than we have already exercised under what I understand is provided for under the existing arrangements? It is clear from looking at it that the Secretary of State could take the first opportunity to reduce it even further. What are the advantages of having the lower level of minimum insurance cover that the Secretary of State may set by regulations? To whose advantage is it? Is it safer to have a lower level of minimum insurance cover? It would be helpful to know what the advantages are and whether the Secretary of State intends to lower the level even further than I presume we have already reached.
Will my noble friend clarify his thinking on non-commercial operations of aircraft with a minimum take-off or landing weight of 2,700 kilograms? That covers small private planes. Does he agree that it would be quite difficult if those private planes had such a small amount of insurance cover that anybody who might be affected by anything they did could be seriously out of pocket?
That would seem to be one issue, but I was posing the question to the Minister with no particular objective in mind other than simply to find out the thinking behind it, given that we have already moved to a lower level of minimum insurance cover than would have applied if we had not exercised the option. At the moment, I genuinely do not know what the thinking behind it is, to whom it is considered advantageous and whether there are any downsides. That is the point of my question and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to it.
The Minister referred to international treaties. Paragraph 7.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“Article 6(5) sets out that the values referred to in Article 6 may be amended if required because of changes to international treaties … Article 7(2) sets out that the values referred to in Article 7(1) may be amended where it is required as a result of changes to international treaties, and this is amended to enable the Secretary of State, by regulations, to amend the values in Article 7”.
I think that the Minister has already said this, but I would like an assurance that those changes will be made only in response to changes in international treaties and that the Secretary of State will not use this instrument to make changes that are not required under international treaties.
Paragraph 7.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum—just to show that I read Explanatory Memorandums—says:
“Article 5(5) contains a provision which allows the Commission to determine the appropriate measures for the application of Article 5(1) in cases of exceptional insurance market failure. When the UK has left the EU, the Commission will no longer be able to perform this role in relation to United Kingdom air carriers and aircraft operators. Instead, these Regulations will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations which enable paragraph 1 to be applied with modifications”.
Has the Commission ever been required or found it necessary to determine the appropriate measures for the application of Article 5(1) in cases of exceptional insurance market failure? If in future this issue is to be covered by regulations made by the Secretary of State to be applied with modifications, what kind of modifications are being contemplated? Would those modifications always be in line with, or at least not inferior to, any that the Commission might determine in the exercise of its powers currently?
Finally, paragraph 10.1 on the consultation outcome says:
“Consultation took the form of regular meetings with representatives of air carriers, airports and others as well as representative trade associations both individually and on a bilateral basis and in group settings at stakeholder workshops”.
Does that mean that no passenger representatives were consulted, bearing in mind that this is about insurance?
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for considering the draft regulations. Many questions have been asked and I will do my best to get through all of them, but if I do not I will follow them up in writing. As I have said, the regulations just make the changes necessary to ensure that the retained EU legislation setting out the insurance requirements continues to function properly. They do not change that legislation.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about the level of insurance. The regulations do not change the prescribed level of insurance in any way. I agree with my noble friend that drones are a real threat and that is why we are taking action. We have brought in height restrictions and flight restrictions close to airports, but there is more to do on that. We will bring forward a draft Bill which will look at police powers, among other things.
Reciprocal cover on insurance is required under international treaties. That will continue to be the case. Our continued membership of EASA is a matter for negotiations, but we have made our position clear that it is in everyone’s interest that the UK should remain part of EASA. We have played a leading role in it and will want to continue to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked whom this insurance will cover. It will apply to all aircraft flying into the UK, including EU carriers, third-country carriers and UK carriers. Everyone who flies into the UK will be required to hold this insurance as a condition for their permit to operate in the UK. The noble Lord is right to point out the number of pieces of secondary legislation coming our way. There will be around 14 aviation SIs to get through.
The noble Baroness mentioned international treaties. Will those need to be redone because we are leaving the EU or are they ones to which the whole world is signed up and so there will be no change? In other words, did we sign up to them or did we sign up to them through the EU?
We signed up to the international treaties as a member state—as the UK—so we will not need to rejoin them. Obviously, EASA is a separate group of which we are a member as part of our membership of the EU, but we have signed up to the Montreal convention, for example.
Regarding the member states negotiations mentioned by noble Lords, sadly I have not been on a Europe-wide trip negotiating bilaterally with member states. We are working closely with the Commission on agreeing a liberal deal, and that kind of multilateral level agreement is our primary objective. We want to be as ready as we can be for when we leave the European Union, and so the noble Lord was quite right to point out that we have approached member states, but our preference would definately be a multilateral deal on that.
Turning to the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, regarding the minimum level required and how low we could go. Just to be clear, it is not about reducing cover in any way. Article 7 sets out the minimum insurance for special drawing rights and that is carried across, so we will still have that same minimum level. I can assure all noble Lords that the amendments to regulations will be made only in response to an international treaty change.
Can I ask for a little more clarification on that because the Minister said in a previous answer that these regulations are not changing the prescribed level of insurance in any way. Yet by freeing ourselves from the EU prescribed level, is it not up to us if we wish to change the level? I am happy to accept the Minister’s assertion that the Government have no plans to do that, but would these regulations enable the Government to change the prescribed level if they wished to in the future?
I think with all the SIs we are doing, we are literally transcribing EU law into UK law and treating it the same way, as the UK, as we would as a member of the EU. I think any change of policy in the future is not going to be part of these SIs, it would be done as a separate policy decision and debated in the normal way in both Houses. All these SIs are specifically correcting deficiencies which will exist after the withdrawal Act to ensure we have the correct regulatory frameworks. They are not changing; any changes to the minimum requirements would be done if and only if there is a change to international treaties. Some of these SIs do have executive functions which are being carried across; that is why we are giving the reassurance that any time an executive function is used, it will be in the affirmative way.
I will say more about the minimum insurance cover as several noble Lords have mentioned it. Article 6.1 gives member states the power to set a level of minimum insurance cover in respect of the liabilities for passengers, baggage and cargo, and that is lower than 250,000 special drawing rights per passenger for non-commercial aircraft with a maximum take-off mass of 2,700 kilograms or less. In answer to the question asked by the noble Baroness, non-commercial just means that no money has changed hands for the flight. That applies primarily to light and experimental aircraft, and cover must be at least 100,000 SDRs per passenger. The UK has exercised that power, as have other member states, and set the lower minimum of 100,000 SDRs within the Civil Aviation (Insurance) Regulations. This SI does not give us an option to set it lower—not that we would want to—it just carries across the minimum level. I hope I have assured noble Lords that this is not an attempt to change that in any way. We have no intention of doing so.
In answer to questions on airspace, this is not dealt with in the same way as an air services agreement; it is an International Air Services Transit Agreement which accompanies the Chicago Convention. Almost all EU member states are separate signatories to an IASTA, meaning they allow overflights and will continue to do so whether or not we are a member of the EU. On the devolved Administrations, obviously aviation is primarily a reserved matter and civil aviation insurance is fully reserved in respect of all three devolved Administrations, but of course we are continuing to engage with them on all aviation matters.
There were a couple of questions from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I think the last exceptional failure of the insurance market was in response to 9/11. We are working closely with passenger representatives throughout the development of our position on EU exit and aviation in preparing these SIs.
I apologise that it did not. I will be looking at what we say in the consultation paragraphs in future to ensure that there is proper information to give assurance to noble Lords. I personally, my officials and indeed the Secretary of State regularly meet with industry and passenger interest groups to ensure that we are getting this right as we leave the European Union.
As I say, I hope I have answered the majority of questions. I apologise if I have missed any but there were quite a few, so I will follow up in writing. As I have said, we remain confident that we will reach an agreement with the EU, but of course it is important that we prepare our legislative framework in case we leave the EU with no deal. That is what this SI is doing. The regulations do not make any changes to the substance of the insurance requirements that air carriers and aircraft operators are expected to meet, but they are essential to ensuring that the retained EU legislation which sets out these requirements continues to work effectively in the UK immediately after exit day. That is what these SIs are designed to do. We need to ensure that we have the right regulatory and legislative framework to provide passengers and industry with choice, connectivity and value for money irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations. I beg to move.