Motion to Approve
My Lords, these regulations will be made using powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and will be needed if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal. This draft instrument corrects three EU regulations that provide an important consumer protection regime for passengers travelling by air. It also makes some changes to the Civil Aviation (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) Regulations 2012, which were amended recently to implement elements of the package travel directive.
The three EU regulations are: Regulation 261/2004, which establishes the rights of passengers, including their right to compensation and assistance if they are denied boarding against their will, or if their flight is cancelled or delayed; Regulation 1107/2006, which establishes the rights of disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility to access air transport, and establishes their right to receive free-of-charge assistance; and Regulation 2027/97, which harmonises the obligations of Community air carriers regarding their liability for injury to passengers and damage to baggage, in line with provisions in the 1999 Montreal Convention.
The package travel directive provides for consumer protection in relation to package holidays and other linked travel arrangements. The directive is implemented in the UK primarily by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018. Corrections to these regulations so that they continue to work after exit day have already been made through the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018.
Provisions under the directive relating to insolvency protection are implemented in part through the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence—ATOL—scheme. The directive provides for the mutual recognition among EEA member states of insolvency protection regimes. This instrument makes changes to the ATOL scheme to reflect that this mutual recognition will no longer apply to the UK after exit day in a no-deal scenario.
The withdrawal Act will retain the three regulations I have just listed in their entirety in UK law on exit day. The draft instrument we are considering makes corrections to these retained EU regulations as well as the 2012 ATOL regulations to ensure that the statute book continues to function correctly after exit day. This means that air passengers can continue to benefit from the rights and protections set out in EU legislation.
On Regulation 261/2004, the substantive rights of passengers to assistance, rebooking and compensation in the event that they are denied boarding or subject to long delays or cancellations remain the same. The EU regulation sets out that these rights apply to passengers travelling on a flight departing any airport in the EU, and flights departing an airport in a third country to an airport in the EU, if the carrier is an EU carrier. This instrument makes changes to the scope of the retained regulation to reflect that the UK will no longer be part of the EU after exit day. The retained regulation will apply in relation to all flights departing an airport in the UK and flights departing an airport in another country if the carrier is a UK carrier.
To ensure full continuity on the routes in relation to which passengers can benefit from the rights and protections set out in Regulation 261/2004, the retained regulation will also apply in respect of flights into the EU from countries other than the UK, if they are operated by a UK carrier. It will also apply in respect of flights from third countries to the UK if they are operated by an EU carrier. Other changes the instrument makes reflect that the UK will no longer be part of the EU, and include converting compensation amounts set out in euros in the EU regulation to pounds sterling.
Finally, the instrument ensures that the CAA is fully and effectively able to enforce the retained regulation. It sets out that provisions relating to complaints, and domestic legislation containing criminal offences for persistent breach by air carriers of provisions in the retained EU regulation, apply to the same routes—
I will come on to CAA resourcing at a later stage in this speech, if the noble Lord will give me a minute.
Finally, this instrument ensures that the CAA is fully and effectively able to enforce the retained regulation. It sets out that provisions relating to complaints and domestic legislation containing criminal offences for persistent breach by air carriers of provisions in the retained EU regulation apply to the same routes and air carriers as the retained EU regulation itself.
On Regulation 1107/2006, the rights that disabled passengers and persons with reduced mobility are able to benefit from when travelling by air also remain unchanged. These include the right to assistance at airports without additional charge and the right to assistance by air carriers without additional charge. Once again, this instrument ensures full continuity for consumers by making certain that the retained regulation—Regulation 1107/2006—will apply after exit day to passengers using or intending to use commercial passenger air services on departure from, transit through or arrival at UK airports.
Certain provisions will also continue to apply in relation to flights departing from a third-country airport to the UK if the flight is operated by a UK air carrier. Like Regulation 261/2004, these provisions will also apply to flights into the EU from countries other than the UK if the flight is being operated by a UK carrier and flights from third countries to the UK if the flight is being operated by an EU carrier. These provisions set out that: air carriers and tour operators cannot refuse travel to passengers on the grounds of disability or reduced mobility; that if it is not possible for an air carrier, agent or tour operator to accommodate a passenger with a disability or with reduced mobility on the grounds of safety or the size of the aircraft or its doors, the passenger shall be reimbursed or be offered rerouting; and that air carriers are required to provide assistance without additional charge, such as allowing assistance dogs in the cabin of the aircraft and arranging seating suitable to meet the needs of the individual.
The third regulation covered by this instrument is Regulation 2027/97, which sets out provisions relating to the liability of air carriers in relation to the injury or death of passengers, as well as damage to or loss of baggage. Most of the provisions in this regulation implement elements of the 1999 Montreal Convention, and the changes that this instrument makes to the retained regulation are limited to those needed to reflect the fact that the UK will no longer be an EU member state after exit day; for example, substituting references to “Community air carrier” with references to “UK air carrier”.
This instrument also makes a small number of consequential changes to existing domestic legislation to reflect these changes. Further elements of the 1999 Montreal Convention in relation to insurance were implemented by EU Regulation 785/2004, and the SIs making the necessary corrections to those regulations have already been debated and approved by the House.
Finally, this instrument makes changes to the 2012 ATOL regulations because, in a no-deal scenario, the mutual recognition of insolvency protection regimes under the package travel directive will no longer apply to the UK after exit day. One of these changes is to require businesses established in the EU or EEA, and their agents who wish to sell in the UK, to hold an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence. This ensures that consumers who have purchased a package including an element of air travel continue to be protected if mutual recognition of insolvency protection regimes between the UK and EU or EEA member states ceases in the event of a no-deal exit.
The instrument also removes the requirement for UK companies to hold an ATOL in respect of sales in EU or EEA member states. This reflects that without mutual recognition, these companies would already be required to comply with the insolvency protection regime of the member states they are selling in, and would otherwise be required to hold duplicate protection.
My Lords, the Minister is talking about EEA-registered operators that operate in the UK. An issue was raised in the House of Commons about whether there would be full ATOL protection in respect of people purchasing packages in the UK under those EEA-registered operators. The Minister there was not able to give an answer but said that he would write to MPs. I have not seen a copy of that letter—could the Minister tell us the answer to that specific point, which of course will be quite significant if there is no deal?
I hope I can answer the noble Lord’s question. Those EU and EEA companies which sell package holidays in the UK will need to be covered by the ATOL scheme. They will need to apply for an ATOL from the CAA. We believe that there are only about 13 such companies.
Yes, that is what I am saying. As I said, at the moment there are only 13 EEA-established businesses currently selling to the UK that would be affected by the requirement, and the CAA is used to processing around 1,000 cases a year. Therefore, in answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, the CAA is confident that it is fully resourced to achieve this.
My question is not whether the CAA is fully resourced. My question—which I asked in Grand Committee a number of weeks ago, so the Minister has had plenty of notice of it—is how many extra staff is the CAA taking on, and how much extra is it going to cost? She said she was going to answer it later in her speech. Could she please answer it now?
I am afraid I will have to come back to the noble Lord on the exact number of staff who have been taken on. As he will understand, this is a moving feast, and the CAA is taking on extra people to deliver all the requirements that will be placed on it in the event of a no-deal Brexit. But I will endeavour to come back to the noble Lord later in the debate with a specific answer on the latest figure for the number of new staff at the CAA.
I want to explain to my noble friend why this question is important. Every time we discuss one of these statutory instruments, we do not have the figures for the cost. My concern is that in each individual case it is said, “Well, it is not all that much and somebody is doing some arrangement”, and all the rest of it. But if you start to add them up, you possibly have a very significant cost. That is why it is important that we understand precisely what the figures are.
I entirely understand my noble friend’s point of view. Of course it is important that we understand the full costs of this. The CAA is taking on a number of new responsibilities and functions after EU exit. As I said, we have confidence in its preparations. Regarding ATOL—I mentioned the figures before—we think the current level of staff will be able to provide this service, so we do not expect to see a significant increase in workload from this SI. The latest figure for the number of new staff is around 59, most of whom will carry out safety functions. The House will debate another SI on safety, which will have cost implications. I will ensure that I am able to provide actual cost implications for future aviation SIs. In this case, there are none, as we are expecting only a small number.
The best outcome for the UK is to leave the EU with a deal, and delivering a deal negotiated with the EU remains the Government’s top priority. However, as a responsible Government, we must make all reasonable plans to prepare for a no-deal scenario. This instrument ensures that, in the event of a no-deal exit from the EU, passengers travelling by air can continue to benefit from the same rights as they currently do, and that the aviation industry and consumers have clarity about the regulatory framework which would be in place in a no-deal scenario. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have two brief questions on this statutory instrument. My noble friend the Minister has stated that compensation will be paid in pounds, converted from euros. What if the pound to euro ratio changes substantially over, say, the next two years? Is this something that her department and the Government are likely to keep under review?
I tried to follow the Minister’s explanation as closely as I could. If I have understood correctly, there is one category of flight that UK passengers will no longer be compensated for. I dealt with this myself when I was an MEP and, at one stage, rapporteur on civil aviation in the European Union. I would just like her confirmation that this category of flight is covered. These are flights where passengers start with a UK carrier out of London Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted, but change at an airport within the EU, such as Amsterdam, to a connecting international flight operated by, for example, Singapore Airlines or Delta Airlines—both of which my husband worked for at separate times—to a destination such as New York or Singapore. Is my noble friend saying that, under these regulations, or in the event of no deal, a UK passenger who is denied boarding that flight in a third-country airport such as Amsterdam will no longer be compensated?
My Lords, I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and my noble friend Lord Foulkes about the costs associated with Brexit. I recall the debate in this House yesterday about Seaborne Freight. The Minister said, and I am sure she is right, that,
“no taxpayer money has been transferred to the company”.—[Official Report, 11/2/19; col. 1704.]
However, the cost of dredging is probably several million pounds. Apparently it was being done by the Ramsgate harbour authority. I do not know where it will suddenly get the money from; I am sure it was not budgeted for. It was mentioned in another place yesterday that Slaughter and May had been paid £600,000 to advise the Government on how to write these contracts, which turned out to be non-existent. The Minister should commit to giving the House the total cost, rather than hiding behind, “We are not paying it directly because the dredging is being done by somebody else”, or something like that.
I should like to follow up on some of the questions the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, just asked because this SI is very confusing. The first question is: who is a UK carrier? Where will companies such as easyJet and British Airways be registered, and does that matter when defining what is a UK carrier—something that comes into quite a lot of these regulations? Could the Minister tell us not just what is happening today but also how the Government will tell members of the public who is a UK carrier—assuming that it matters? It seems to me that it matters.
On these regulations, there seem to be three different parties: the location of the airport, which may be in this country, the European Union, or a third country—maybe it does not matter; the air service or airline, and whether it is registered in the UK, the EU or a third country, as the noble Baroness mentioned; and who the passenger is. Are they a UK resident, an EU resident, or a third-country resident? There then seem to be different rules for whether you are going out, coming in or getting a return ticket. I do not know whether I am making myself clear—it is probably as unclear as the regulations. The Minister will have to tell us how all these different parts of the regulations I have discussed apply to all those different groups and combinations of groups.
What attracted me to this worry was the phrase,
“if the carrier is a UK carrier”,
in paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum and, in reference to paragraph 7.5, the question of who enforces these regulations. The CAA cannot enforce regulations on airlines from third countries that do not fly into this country at all, but if the CAA does not do it, who will? All these things should affect every traveller who will move by air after 29 March, and I can see some of them getting into real trouble and worrying about this unless there is some clarification. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am sorry to continue this but various people have an interest in this SI. First, there are customers, who I doubt will read this—if they did, I doubt they would get very far with it for the reasons the noble Lord has just adumbrated. Secondly, there are the airlines, and I am very concerned about what our definition will be—not only here but elsewhere—of, for example, a UK-based airline.
I understand that there are airlines such as British Airways which have a direct association—it owns Iberia. British Airways has said that it may well transfer its base of ownership to Spain. I will not make a statement about Brexit—it manifestly gets stupider and stupider as we move on to discuss the matter—but the truth is that this is a real issue. If British Airways decides that that is the decision it has to make because we have been so damaging to our future that that is the best place for it to be, is it any longer a UK-based carrier? We then have a situation in which we are passing an SI that does not actually apply to the largest airline with a single, dedicated terminal at our largest airport. This is a serious issue. I am sure there is a very easy answer to the question, but it is not one that lies to hand in the SI. What happens when or if it changes, and how do we deal with those changes? That also seems important to me.
Then I come to the question that the noble Lord just asked, which is about how things are enforced and interpreted. Is it the CAA that decides whether such an airline is a British-based airline, or somebody else? Who is that someone else and how do they apply the information to the CAA? Does the CAA have to accept what that someone else tells it, or can the CAA say, “We do not agree. Yes, it should be accepted as a nationally based airline”, or, “No, it shouldn’t”? I want to understand what, at the very heart, affects this. If I say I am a nationally based airline, even if most of my shareholders are elsewhere, am I? Or do I have to prove myself in some way? To turn it round the other way, do the Government have to prove that I come under that category or not? I know that these sound rather surprising questions but we have to ask them, because I do not believe that this information is readily available. Without it, I do not see how we can sensibly approve these regulations. We do not really understand who we are talking about, how they get to where they are and what happens if they cease to be where they are and become something else.
The last point I want to make to the Minister concerns the fact that national policies about airlines are, by their very nature, pretty barmy. The whole point about airlines, with very few exceptions, is that they are international; they go from one place to another. So while the document suggests that all this does is to move this into national law, as if that is not very important, it is of course very important, because we are pretending that it is all the same—that if you are not part of the European Union, all you have to do is pretend to be part of the European Union and take these regulations into your own law. That is not what happens. You take the regulations into your law, but nobody else takes them into their law and you have no possible view of whether your regulations will be recognised by anyone else.
Once again, we come back to the fundamental problem. I am very sorry that my noble friend has to argue these cases; it is very unfair to put her in this position, but we have to do it because she is here, putting this forward. Once again, we come to exactly the same issue: this is a pretence. It is to suggest that, if we were to leave the European Union without any agreement, we can simply slip off one pair of shoes and put on another that will be as comfortable and as serviceable as the ones out of which we have slipped. The truth is that they will pinch us at every single point. We will find it extremely difficult to walk and there will be no relief from this. So I say to my noble friend, even if we pass these regulations, I hope we will do so in the very deep understanding that they are hugely damaging to every air passenger, to every company running an airline and to this, the country we all love.
I do not want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and his pedestrian metaphor dealing with an aviation statutory instrument, although it was very good. I share his sympathy with the Minister, who has to deal with it, although he might agree with me that she will deal with it far more competently than the current Secretary of State would be able to. I hope she will take that as a compliment.
In the last debate on this issue, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—probably the most loyal of loyalists on the other side—castigated me, my noble friend Lord Adonis and others for taking up too much time with scrutiny. I challenged him on why no Conservatives are asking questions on any of these statutory instruments—with the one exception of the noble Lord, Lord Deben.
What about the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh?
I apologise. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is also doing so. My argument is falling apart here.
I asked why the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others were not doing it. He said, “Because we accept without question what the Government are putting forward”. To do so under normal legislative circumstances would be bad enough, but when they are rushing through statutory instruments by the hundreds, it is even worse. As I said then, what else are we here for? What is the purpose of the House of Lords? Our only substantive purpose is to scrutinise primary and secondary legislation. If we do not do that, then we all might as well stay at home. I am sure that Mrs May, Mrs Leadsom and others would love that.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, spoke about the customers. Any customer or passenger listening as carefully to the Minister’s introduction as I did—this is the second or third time I have heard this explanation—may be as baffled as I am. There are still questions; my noble friend Lord Berkeley has asked some of them, and my noble friend Lord Adonis intervened with some about a whole range of things concerning UK carriers. They arise in particular with British Airways and Iberia. As I understand it, the headquarters of the latter are already in Madrid. I do not know whether they count. My noble friend Lord Whitty, who is an expert on aviation and vice-president of BALPA, is nodding. Iberia is a Spanish company, not a British company. Any passenger listening to the Minister will find it very difficult to know exactly what their rights are and how they will manage to get flights in the event of no deal. It will be chaotic, there is no doubt about that. We saw in the debate about which I have spoken how there will be chaos in healthcare if we leave with no deal. Our 27 million EHIC cards will no longer be valid throughout the European Union. We could go through area after area of problems.
We are going through all these SIs and Bills. I heard Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, say on Radio 4 this morning that, “There will be no problem getting all the legislation through by the end of March”. She was accused in the other place of lying, and the leader of the SNP had to withdraw. But he was absolutely right.
If my noble friend will forgive me, is he aware that the Prime Minister said two hours ago in the House of Commons that the Government would enact all the consequential legislation on a deal—if a deal is agreed—by means of emergency legislation. Whatever period of time is left at the end of March, which could be as little as two or three days, it will all be rammed through. Does he share my acute concern at the idea that this House might be faced with emergency legislation procedures to carry through some of the most significant legislation in the history of Parliament? Does he agree that some of us might think this unsatisfactory, and will certainly not be party to such an abuse of the constitution?
That is an even better peroration. The whole campaign of the leavers was to take back control—if I remember—to the British Parliament, not the British Government. It is not the Government or even the Cabinet, but one person who seems to be ramming it through with some kind of stubbornness and determination. That was not what it was supposed to be about. It was supposed to bring the power back to this Parliament.
I say to my noble friend Lord Adonis, if they try to push it through by emergency legislation that will be a real test of the mettle of every Member of this House, particularly the Cross-Benchers. Are they going to stand up for Parliament, or be subservient to our autocratic Government? That will be the test.
I think I have gone a little bit wider than the statutory instrument and I am grateful for the fact that the Lord Speaker does not have the same powers as the Speaker in another place; otherwise, I might have been ruled out of order by now. I am sorry to be slightly flippant; it is a very serious matter. Coming back to relevance, this one statutory instrument is illustrative of the kind of thing we face in this Parliament at the moment, and it is quite frightening.
My Lords, I am sorry that I am going to destroy even more the statement from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, by being the third speaker from this side of the House to raise questions. I saw in the paper this morning that apparently, on 1 September 1939, between 6 pm and midnight Parliament passed six pieces of emergency legislation—all three Readings —and rose before midnight, so it is possible to put through emergency legislation. But I wonder whether this is the sort of parallel we would like to draw.
I have heard many justifications for leaving the EU but I have never yet heard job creation as being one of them. However, it seems that virtually every time we come here we are creating more jobs—59 extra jobs, I am told. That must be at least a couple of million pounds on public expenditure. How much of the vast amount of money we were going to save is going to be spent? I suppose that since the Government’s priority is to create jobs, this is a partly a way of doing that.
The Minister talked about 59 jobs in the CAA, but about a third of the staff of the Department for Transport are currently working on Brexit-related issues and about a third are clearing up successive messes of the Secretary of State. That leaves very few members of staff actually doing the job of the Department for Transport at the moment.
The noble Lord makes a true point. One of the things that I find very unsatisfactory at the moment is the huge amount of public service energy going into this. Indeed, we are told that this SI will be unnecessary if there is no deal. We are told by the Government that they want a deal. I feel very sorry for the civil servants spending all their lives working on something that the Government do not want to happen. That is not a very good way of boosting morale.
What happens when the EU updates the regulations? We seem to think that we are looking at a picture that is static for all time. But anyone who knows how the European Commission and Parliament work will know that there is a constant process of review of legislation. Even if this SI is unnecessary, there will come a point, if we leave, where we will have to take over the legislation.
The crucial thing is, what will happen when the legislation diverges from what is in our statutory instrument—when, for instance, the European Union decides to update the compensation arrangements, which it might do just in line with inflation? It might say, “Inflation has been 10% in the three years since this regulation was brought in—we’re going to update it”. This will pose a real question to government: how much power will we have taken back if we say that we will mirror the legislation, and how much will we disadvantage British consumers if we say we will not—in other words, that we will drift apart? This SI is of value only on day one. It will then start to diverge, which will be a major problem. Can the Minister say whether consideration has been given to what will happen as regulations which we have taken into our law are then updated in Community law? That is quite a serious point.
I am sure the noble Lord has noted that the Government have conveniently—from their perspective—translated the euro rate of compensation into pounds using the current exchange rate. The noble Lord makes the good point that that could become distorted if, for example, we have the kind of significant change in exchange rates that the MP David Davies, for example, referred to last week.
I did not raise that point about the translation, but purely because my noble friend Lady McIntosh had already raised it. I was making the point about the change in regulation, which I am concerned about, not the change in internal things within it.
My second point is on the interpretation of regulation. When the European Court of Justice interprets a regulation, if we are following and providing the same rights, and the CJEU makes a judgment which interprets the regulation so that it is no longer in line, to what extent will we accept the judgment of the court? In other words, how real is this alignment when, not on day one but on, say, week six or month six down the line, things have started to diverge? Presumably we will not have an SI every week; what mechanism do the Government see being used to maintain the alignment between our regulation, which they say will follow the EU statute book—that is fine—and changes in the EU statute book? This question will come up, whether it is on this regulation, if we do not leave, but it will also come up if we leave. How dynamism plays its way through the legislative process will be quite a fundamental point for consumer rights, as it will be for trade union rights, which we will come on to in another debate.
My Lords, as this debate has unfolded I have watched the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, looking pensive. I suspect he has probably been thinking, “When I finish this job, I might go into travel consumer law”. When the Minister comes to read Hansard tomorrow, she will probably find that she can check off almost every known troublemaker in this House as having intervened. However, that is what this House is here to do: to make trouble when Ministers bring forward flawed or defective legislation.
Listening to the various queries and questions makes one think very hard about the process that we are going through. The Minister had a baptism of fire over drones a few weeks ago, but that will be as nothing compared to a situation in which this legislation proves defective when it comes to the test and we find that all the sweet and honeyed words about the smoothness of the transfer from EU to domestic legislation throw up faults and weaknesses. There is nothing that makes the British public angrier than being interrupted on their holidays. Woe betide the Minister who is left holding that particular baby if that comes to pass. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is right: we are stronger within the EU, and the protection given to consumers is far stronger when we work and speak from within the EU rather than when the CAA is acting alone.
Has any impact assessment been made on the effect of Brexit on Heathrow as an international hub? We have already heard of the possible British Airways transfer to Spain, but Heathrow is one of our vital assets as a major hub airport of the world. If leaving the EU and operating under CAA rules leaves us open to competition from Schiphol or Paris or others that can give flight operators greater assurances, that is a real downside of what we are doing. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, made the valid point that EU law is not static, but is developing. We must face the fact that in this case, as in so many others, we will not be at the table to speak up for British interests and consumers when that development takes place—so much for sovereignty.
Given the complexities that have been revealed by this, is there any plan for a public information campaign to explain to the public what has happened? They need to be informed about their guarantees and where there are dangers because—make no mistake—good as our travel industry is, we will find scams, additional charges, problems with transfers from the EU, tax put on holiday costs and so on. There will be a need for some concerted consumer protection during this process. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, and I do not really wish to be added to the Minister’s list of troublemakers. However, I want to emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, at the end of his speech. I do this on the basis of someone who always tries to cheer up his Februaries by reading the travel supplements in the Sunday newspapers. This Sunday’s newspapers were glowing about places where, if I hurried, I could actually book the hotel, the flight or even the two flights that I might need to get to the place. These changes might be in separate countries. I scanned through the travel supplements of both the Sunday Times and the Times on Saturday and could see nothing about whether people’s summers might be disrupted in any way whatever.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He probably is not—but he may correct me—a regular listener to Spotify. If he were, he would know that Spotify is now running ads advising people to take precautions in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The precaution that they should take is to log on to the GOV.UK website, where information is available on what arrangements will be made in the event of no deal. In respect of travel, which we are discussing this afternoon, it says that you should check with your carrier. So having gone through the GOV.UK website, you are then expected to go to your carrier. When I logged on to the British Airways website to find out what passengers should do in respect of no deal, it said that you should refer to GOV.UK, on the grounds that the Government are setting up what should happen. I say in response to what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said about a public information campaign that millions are being spent on a public information campaign which tells the public precisely nothing except to be very, very concerned.
My Lords, I am an old-fashioned ex-Minister who usually used the media to project messages if I wanted the public to read them. We might do something in a newspaper or we might do something on a broadcaster. The only streaming I am aware of is from my nose, sometimes, during the winter, so I am not a great Spotify fan. I was trying to make the point that any member of the public who had read the Sunday supplements and was thinking about booking a holiday and had then turned on the parliamentary channel and listened to this debate might have second thoughts about doing so. The Government do not seem to have done anything to give the public any serious pause for thought before they took out their chequebook or electronically transferred their money to reserve their holiday for this year.
Will the few members of the Minister’s department who are left after dealing with the problems that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, spelled out earlier engage in a proper public information campaign using more of the traditional channels, to tell the people who are booking these holidays—who, in many cases, tend to be from the upper age groups with high disposable income—what dangers they may face in the coming months of 2019 if they peak too early in their summer bookings?
My Lords, I think it was Seneca who said that anger is a form of temporary madness, which is an injunction that I usually observe, but it is very difficult when wading through these no-deal regulations not to be genuinely angry at what the British state is about to inflict on the British public if this comes to pass. It is not just the known facts about a no-deal Brexit, which are bad enough; it is, as has come through this debate, all of what Donald Rumsfeld called the known unknowns. We do not know the precise litany of catastrophes and problems that there will be down the line, but we know that they will be there. We know that there will be problems with the exchange rate; there will be problems with dodgy carriers which seek to game the system; there will be problems, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, with changes in regulations over time. It will be no surprise when all this happens; this is what should be expected in the evolution of legislation and behaviour of private and public sector organisations.
We also know, taking the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and my noble friend Lord Foulkes, that the state machine, even before no deal has happened, is overwhelmed by preparations for Brexit. I can tell the House as a former Minister in the best department of state, the Department for Transport—I know this because people tell me—that most of the staff at the Department for Transport are being allocated to special contingency duties and units in the case of no deal. They are the units that will be needed to keep the ports operating and to deal with the fact that the M20 will become the largest car park in Europe. Can noble Lords imagine what the switchboard of the CAA will be like once any of these contingencies comes to pass?
That point is important for these debates because from what the Prime Minister said this afternoon, it is clear that she will take this down to the wire. Her strategy is clear: she will present the next version of her deal, with some tweaks to the Irish backstop, to Parliament after the European Council on 21 March, offering a “take it or leave it” vote on her deal or no deal. I hope that Parliament will be strong-minded and realise that there is a third option: seeking an extension to Article 50 without adopting her deal. That is the situation we will face.
A few weeks ago, with nods and winks from the Government Front Bench, we thought that we would not need to worry about scrutinising all these regulations too much because no deal could not happen. Indeed, I notice that the ministerial script has changed subtly. It used to say “in the unlikely event”, “in the extremely unlikely event” or “the extremely remote prospect”. We no longer hear the same thing. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say—perhaps we will hear the same routine—but the truth of the matter is that no deal is becoming increasingly possible. We have only six weeks—45 days—until all these regulations come to pass.
My criticism is that Parliament has paid not too much but far too little attention in debating these matters. Indeed, I reproach myself for being not nearly diligent enough in my duty to scrutinise these regulations, because their impact on the public, who we are here to protect, is so far-reaching should any of this happen that we will be held deeply culpable for the ensuing catastrophe. In the inevitable public inquiry, which will embrace the Civil Service and Ministers in a significant way, I fear that Parliament’s role will be held to account too.
These issues are very serious; indeed, a lot of them are still largely unresolved. Every day, a new one becomes apparent; for example, what will happen to international driving licences and the right to drive on the continent from 29 March? How will this be handled in the medium term, even with immediate reciprocal rights? The international travel industry is deeply worried about insurance, where many issues remain unresolved. Handling those matters will be extremely difficult. My noble friend Lord Foulkes mentioned the EHIC—a huge issue for British travellers abroad because it deals with a large part of their insurance requirements. Nobody is sure what the arrangements will be in the case of no deal; even if the rollover provisions are immediate, what will happen when they end?
Transport is, by its very nature, international. As a former Secretary of State for Transport, I am highly conscious of the constant crises and difficulties in this area. As many of your Lordships will remember, when I was Secretary of State, I had to deal with the Icelandic volcano with an unpronounceable name that inconveniently chose to go off three weeks before the 2010 general election and left a quarter of a million British travellers stranded abroad. There were no European regulations on acceptable levels of ash in jet engines. We had to make them all up in 10 days through ceaseless meetings—I practically took up residence in Brussels at the time—in the margins of European Council meetings. With all due respect to the noble Baroness, who is an excellent Minister, she will not be present at such meetings so we will not have this forum for seeking to resolve these issues. I can say with near-certainty that if we had not been present at those meetings in 2010, it would have been much harder to resolve the crisis and British passengers would have been inconvenienced even more significantly.
Obviously, we will approve the regulations. We have a duty to see that provisions are in place in case of no deal. A lot of issues have been raised but it is still unclear to me, from what the Minister said, exactly how robust the reciprocal protections for UK and EU operators will be. A lot depends on what the EU and the EEA choose to do, which we cannot control. The point of no deal is that there will be no deal. The arrangements that EEA and EU operators and travel companies choose to put in place are beyond our control. A lot of issues are essentially unresolved in these regulations. All we can do is put protections and continuity arrangements in place for UK companies and EU and EEA companies registered here.
I am reassured by the point the Minister made that EEA businesses registered and operating in the UK will be required to offer full ATOL protection. The question is: what happens to those that are not which British consumers choose to access more widely in Europe? That is going to be an unresolved issue.
On the government website, GOV.UK, it does say that. What a message for the state to send out to the people of this country. What advice is that? Does it mean that you should think very carefully and go about your normal business, or think very carefully and not go about it? This is so unacceptable a way for Her Majesty’s Government to proceed that it beggars belief that we could even be having these debates and conversations.
I make no apology for this, because it is a crucial matter. I want to say a few words about consultation. These are huge issues—just those we have been debating in the past 58 minutes, and there are many others—so it is reasonable to expect that the Government would properly consult the companies, the wider industry and the consumer and passenger groups affected. Yet, again, no such consultation has taken place. Indeed, I have noticed—because I am now a connoisseur of the consultation processes that have been gone through on these statutory instruments—that, whereas most of the early statutory instruments had a heading that said, “Consultation” and then usually said something like, “No formal consultations have been undertaken”, that heading has mysteriously been omitted from more recent statutory instruments, I think for the reason that it is somewhat embarrassing for the Government to publish the fact that no formal consultations have taken place. If he is looking for new plotlines, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, would keep his readers entertained for years on end with the plots and stories that one could write about no deal.
What is happening on consultation is that the Government are now simply omitting to describe the consultation. What we get instead—we have it on this statutory instrument—is simply a heading saying, “Consultation outcome”, which is intended to elide the lack of consultation with the outcome of a lack of consultation. Of course, your Lordships are not fooled by such elision. What is entered under the heading “Consultation outcome” exhibits the fact that there has been no consultation. Paragraph 10.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum to this statutory instrument, “Consultation outcome”, says:
“Department for Transport Ministers and officials have regular engagement with the aviation industry, travel industry and consumer representatives”.
It would be pretty astonishing if that were not the case, though with the current Secretary of State perhaps it does need to be explained that he has some engagement with members of the human race. It goes on:
“Through specific meetings and workshops on EU Exit, and at long-established stakeholder forums, a number of issues related to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU have been addressed”.
Well, what are the meetings, who are the people who have been at these long-established stakeholder forums, and what are the issues relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU that have been addressed? What did the stakeholders say and what is the Government’s response? These are all basic questions about public consultation in the Cabinet Office rules on conducting public consultation.
As I look around the House, about a quarter of us have been Ministers of one kind or another and have gone through these as a matter of form. As a Minister, I was once reprimanded by the Cabinet Office for allowing only a 10-week rather than a 12-week consultation. In the case of all these regulations, there has been no consultation whatever. We are expected to legislate for extreme situations, and to understand the impact on the industries concerned and on consumer groups, on the basis that no public consultation has taken place, with no description of the private consultation that has taken place and with no response from the Government to the points raised in that private consultation.
It is clearly a cut-and-paste exercise—that is what is going on with most of these regulations. I hope that the statutory instrument committees are drawing attention to this. To be frank, in my view this alone is a reason for your Lordships declining to agree the regulations.
The noble Lord has not pointed out that, in this particular SI, there is no discussion as to whether the people consulted were “selected” or “trusted”. In previous SIs, some of them were “trusted” and some of them “selected”, but none appears to be both “trusted” and “selected”.
As the noble Lord is aware, because we debated it at some length in Grand Committee, in one SI the consultees were “selected” and “trusted”, but that has not appeared in others. It is not clear in this case who did the selection and whether they were trusted—perhaps the Minister can tell us.
I want to pose to the Minister the obvious questions. Who has been consulted on these regulations? What were the “long-established stakeholder forums” which were consulted? What issues relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU were raised by the consultees? What was the Government’s response to each of those concerns?
I do not serve on the statutory instrument committees but, when I meet noble Lords leaving those meetings with a haggard expression, they tell me there are hundreds more SIs to come and that apparently they are getting longer—some of them are hundreds of pages. I hope that, in these committees, noble Lords are asking questions of the Government as to what these processes are. It would be very helpful to us if these statutory instruments came to the House with a description of which “trusted” and “selected” groups were privy to the Government’s consultations.
So it is not just Seaborne Freight that had to sign a non-disclosure agreement; it turns out that people who turned up to meetings in the department also had to. Perhaps the Minister would like to clarify whether non-disclosure agreements were involved. Indeed, I am told there was an attempt to try to get your Lordships to sign non-disclosure agreements on the ground that, if we debate these issues openly and start expressing our concerns, people might become alarmed—as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, there are some members of the public who observe our proceedings.
This is worse than deeply unsatisfactory and is no way to make legislation. It is totally unacceptable and should not be happening. There is nothing the noble Baroness can say that will meet the substantial points, but perhaps she can at least give us some basic information on how consultation has been conducted and what the results were.
My Lords, I have a quick question for my noble friend. I echo the remarks of condolence that she is in this position—I am sure she does not wish to be. Can she clarify how these regulations might relate to passengers on flights that have a code share? Many transatlantic and international flights are code shares. Which of the airlines that are part of that codeshare would be considered the principal airline for the purposes of these regulations?
My Lords, I rise wearily to my feet. The first thing I would like to register is my objection to being here. Once again, we are here to discuss a statutory instrument which addresses the issue of what we do if we leave without a deal. It is a deeply depressing pastime, discussing statutory instruments to lead this country into a catastrophic situation.
It is also depressing that the Government, if they wanted to hang on to what might be an intellectually narrow point, that any responsible Government should prepare for the worst scenario, if they had truly believed that, then surely they would have started the process much earlier so that we are not shovelling SIs through this Chamber by the shovelful, for want of a better way of doing it.
One of the problems of the sheer volume is that I certainly am not having enough time to give the level of scrutiny that I think is appropriate. Therefore, one tends to have to use short methods. The first that one is left to have to use is looking at the regulation itself, which is usually impossible. You need a very expensive lawyer to go through the regulations, see what they amend and what the effects are. The only thing a reasonable amateur such as myself can do is to go to the Explanatory Memorandum and see if it makes sense. If one does that, one comes to paragraph 2.3, which is “Why is it being changed?” I will read it because it is so reassuring:
“This instrument makes the changes needed to retained EU legislation on air passenger rights and domestic legislation made to implement the UK’s obligations under the Package Travel Directive. These changes ensure that the legislation continues to function correctly after the UK has left the EU. They also ensure that there is continuity in terms of the passenger rights that apply to air travel and that consumers will continue to be protected if there is no mutual recognition of insolvency protection regimes after exit day”.
Now, I think that says it is going to be all right, but I am required to scrutinise, so I did my best, and I have worked my way through the document. I confess I did not pick up the ownership point, and I look forward to the Minister’s response on that. If that statement is right, one works through the Explanatory Memorandum, and it puts in changes and does things to make that right. If it is right, can the Minister answer this question: in the event of a no-deal situation and this SI then becomes operative, is there any group of passengers or consumers whose rights and protections are diminished or lost after exit day?
The second question I have relates to the optimistic scenario, where there is a deal and this SI will not be required. One constantly looks for a sunset clause in these SIs which would allow that to operate. Could the Minister explain how we will handle this SI and the others that we are going to face today if there is a deal? Experience has taught me that one of the few things you have to go to in these SIs is the commencement provision. That says that Regulations 5(1) and 5(2) will be commenced 22 days after the regulations are made. That, I assume, will be somewhat before exit day. At present, it seems that the decision on whether we have a deal will be very close to exit day, so, if there is a deal, how is this SI going to be stopped from being enacted without a mechanism within it?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their consideration of these draft regulations. I am grateful for the scrutiny provided by noble Lords. These are important pieces of legislation, and it is right that they are properly scrutinised. I would not class the noble Lord, Lord Warner, or indeed any other noble Lord as a trouble-maker. I will attempt to get to all the questions, but if I do not manage to cover them, I will respond in writing.
On the point made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the Explanatory Memorandum sets out the exchange rate used to calculate the amounts. It is the average for the year to 31 December 2017, which has been used across the statutory instruments. There are currently no plans to change that.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, let me say that this regulation will cover all carriers with a UK operating licence. That is issued by the CAA, so that is how we define who will be covered by these regulations in the event of a no-deal exit. The requirements of the operator’s licence are set out in the operation of air services regulations, which we debated last year.
On enforcement, if it is a UK carrier—that is, one with a UK operating licence—the CAA will enforce it. If it is departing from an EU member state, that member state will enforce it, and if it is a UK carrier departing from a third country, the CAA will again enforce it. So the example that my noble friend Lady McIntosh used of a flight departing from the UK will be enforced by the CAA, and the flight which then departs from the EU will be enforced by that relevant member state—I cannot remember which member state she referred to.
My question was about those UK passengers who board the next leg of the flight in Amsterdam or what would be a third country with an international carrier. Does the regulation now exclude them from denied boarding rights and other privileges that they would otherwise be entitled to?
I should first point out that these regulations apply to everyone who travels on a plane regardless of nationality, so actually the nationality is not important. The important part is the carrier that operates the flight. In that example, as I said, the flight leaving the UK would be covered by the CAA and the flight leaving Amsterdam, regardless of the nationality of the passenger, would be covered by the existing EU regulations, so that would not change.
They will remain the same. The flight operating into the UK from a third country will be enforced by the CAA, and a flight operating into the EU would be covered by that EU member state. I understand that this is a little complex, so I will list exactly what will be covered.
But before doing that, on code sharing, asked by my noble friend Lady Altmann, the carrier operating the flight will be liable under the regulation, irrespective of who sold the ticket.
I will attempt to be a little clearer than I was in my opening speech. This regulation will apply to: all flights departing a UK airport; flights to the UK from a country other than the UK if on a UK air carrier; flights to EU airports from a country other than the UK if on a UK air carrier; and flights to UK airports from a country other than the UK if on an EU air carrier. That applies to passengers of any nationality.
So in answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, about who will be disadvantaged by this, in short no one will be adversely affected. The aim of this SI is absolutely to maintain continuity after exit day. In the event of no deal, passengers will retain the same rights as they have today. In the event of a deal, which will obviously get us to an implementation period, this SI along with many others will be amended or revoked.
I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Deben that all things aviation will not stay the same in the event of no deal. That is why we are trying to avoid that. But in the case of this SI, the rights will stay the same—
The Minister says that no one will be adversely affected. I accept that in response to all carriers or travel businesses that are registered in the United Kingdom, but if a UK resident buys a ticket or a package from a company or carrier that is registered only in the EU or EEA, they may well suffer diminution of their rights. Is that correct?
Each member state has its own version of ATOL, and the companies which sell in that member state are obliged to follow it. In the event of no deal, there will not be mutual recognition; that is simply one of the consequences of no deal. Those companies will be covered by the EU regulations. I said that no one is affected, but some of the companies which sell into the UK will need to get an ATOL licence. However, for air carriers, airports and passengers, there is no change to the routes on which the regulations apply. After exit day, in the event of no deal, the combined scope of UK and EU legislation on air passenger rights will be the same as under the current EU regulation. I hope that is a slightly simpler explanation than the one in my opening speech.
My noble friend Lord Balfe is right that, in the event of no deal, this simply takes a snapshot in time. I agree with him and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that what happens in the EU in future will affect the UK, whether that is a change in currency exchange or EU law. However, that is something for the future; it may well depend on a future aviation agreement, if we end up with no deal. I am afraid I cannot predict the future, so I cannot say how we may respond to any future change in EU law. What I can say is that this statutory instrument does not contain any powers to make further SIs, and any future changes are likely to require primary legislation and would therefore have sufficient parliamentary scrutiny. However, I take the noble Baroness’s point that changes in the EU regime will have an effect on us.
On the issue of confidence in booking flights, we are completely focused on ensuring that there is no disruption of aviation, as this would be in nobody’s interest. In our technical notices last summer, we confirmed that we envisage granting permits to EU carriers to operate in the UK, and we have seen the EU take similar steps to avoid disruption. There were Commission communications on the EU’s preparedness in November and it has said it intends to bring forward measures to allow UK air carriers to continue to fly to the EU. Most recently, this includes its no-deal contingency plan, which was published on 19 December. Detailed EU regulations are being discussed in the Parliament and the Council at the moment. We welcome those proposals, which will ensure that flights between the UK and the EU are maintained. There are a number of pieces of clear evidence that both sides in aviation are determined to ensure we maintain air connectivity.
We work very closely with the aviation industry, which shares our confidence that arrangements will be in place to avoid disruption to flights. I take the point from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that many conversations about aviation—those that he has had and those that others will have in future—take place at a European level and, indeed, an international level, at ICAO. We hope to continue our close relationship on aviation with all our European partners, regardless of how we leave the European Union.
On the noble Lord’s point about consultation, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was quite right to say that the same text is used here and in the next SI. As you would expect, I meet people from across the aviation sector very regularly, whether from airlines, airports or industry groups such as the Airport Operators Association and Airlines UK. We have not had meetings specifically about single SIs—there are quite a few of them—but we are discussing our SI programme with the aviation sector and sharing our plans with it. Throughout our SI programme, and certainly in aviation, we are replicating the current situation so that there will be no change. The compensation is perhaps not universally popular among our airlines, but they accept that the important thing is to maintain continuity, so that passengers and airlines understand what will happen. That is what we have been trying to do.
On communications, I agree with the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Warner, that it is really important that we keep consumers informed. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, highlighted one of those adverts on Spotify; there are others. We have a cross-government campaign putting out the information that is available on GOV.UK, and we are also working very closely with airlines and consumer groups to ensure that the right information is available. For example, Thomas Cook has a very good Q&A section around Brexit on its website. We are trying—
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Just to go back to my earlier exchanges with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, the government website seems to be telling people to be careful about making bookings after 30 March. However, in this debate the Minister is spreading balm and harmony about the fact that people would not have any of their rights and protections diminished. If there is no diminution of rights and protections, why does the Government’s website urge people to be careful about making bookings after 30 March?
I am not sure that the Government’s website uses the word “careful”. As I said, we are confident that flights will be maintained. There is an EU regulation going through the EU Parliament and EU Council at the moment to confirm that. In the same way that this statutory instrument has not yet been passed, that regulation has still not been passed. We are confident that flights will continue, but we say that customers should contact their air carrier and check their terms and conditions in order to ensure they are fully aware of all the information that they need.
On the rights and protections, as I have said, this SI continues them; we are confident that, should noble Lords choose to pass it, we will be able in the event of no deal to ensure that consumers still have the same protections.
While we are working to agree a deal with the EU that is supported by Parliament, we think it is responsible to continue to make preparations in the absence of an agreement so that there is a functioning statute book. This SI, and the others that we will debate later and in the coming weeks, are a key part of those preparations. Both the UK and the EU have set out their clear intention to put in place arrangements to ensure that planes can continue to fly to and from the EU in the event of a no-deal exit. Both sides want to avoid any disruption to flights, as that would be in no one’s interests.
Our contingency preparations, of which these regulations are just one element, should provide reassurance to industry and consumers that, even in the event of no deal, passengers will continue to benefit from the same rights as they currently do. They ensure that our legal and regulatory framework for aviation is set up for flights to continue, whatever the outcome of negotiations. I beg to move.