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Air Services (Competition) (Amendment and Revocation) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Volume 799: debated on Monday 7 October 2019

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Regulations laid before the House on 5 September be approved.

Relevant document: 61st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, the Government are working to secure a new deal with the EU. However, if we have to leave with no deal, the Government are committed to preparing for this outcome.

With regards to commercial aviation, we have already conducted intensive work to ensure that there is a functioning legislative framework and an effective regulatory regime for this critical part of the UK economy. This new instrument will ensure that the legislative framework and regulatory regime for this sector remain robust. The Government have given very careful consideration to the appropriate procedure for progressing this instrument. For the reasons I will shortly outline, it is important to have this instrument in place by exit day. That is why we have selected the “made affirmative” procedure which, while allowing for parliamentary scrutiny, should ensure that outcome. These draft regulations will be made under the powers conferred by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and amend EU regulation 2019/712, which sets out an approach to safeguarding competition in air transport.

Fundamentally, this instrument ensures that, w responding to anti-competitive practices, the UK will have the same powers to protect UK airlines as will be available to the EU to protect EU airlines. Previously, regulation 868/2004 provided for redressive measures to be imposed when subsidisation and unfair pricing practices by third-country airlines caused injury to EU airlines. The previous SI on this subject introduced corrections to that regulation to ensure it would apply when the UK left the EU. However, since the extension to the UK’s departure from the EU, regulation 868/2004 was repealed and replaced with regulation 2019/712. The reasons given were that the previous regulation was judged to be ineffective in respect of its underlying general aim of fair competition. For instance, there was a lack of definition around the initiation and conduct of investigations or the criteria for doing so.

The new EU regulation provides the European Commission with the power to conduct an investigation where there is prima facie evidence of anti-competitive practices causing or threating to cause injury to EU air carriers. Areas where discrimination could occur include the allocation of slots, administrative procedures and the arrangement for selling and distribution of air services. If such evidence is found, redressive measures can be taken to offset any injury. Such redressive measures include financial duties.

The withdrawal Act will retain regulation 2019/712 in UK law in its entirety on exit day. The draft instrument being considered today makes the changes necessary so that this EU regulation continues to function correctly after exit day. The policy content of the retained regulation will remain substantially unchanged. The changes that have been made are primarily technical and necessary to ensure the correct application of these measures after the UK leaves the EU.

As part of these changes, the UK Civil Aviation Authority will assume some of the responsibilities previously placed on the European Commission. For instance, the UK Civil Aviation Authority will examine and investigate any complaint of this nature. The UK CAA will report on these findings to the Department for Transport, where the Secretary of State will take a decision whether to adopt any redressive measures. Such measures will be adopted by statutory instrument, using the affirmative procedure.

In the event of no deal, the EU could apply its regulation to the UK or its airlines if they were engaged in the practices described in the regulation. Therefore, the changes being made by this SI also ensure that EU member states and their airlines will be subject to the UK’s measures. This preserves a level playing field from exit day and is why we have selected the “made affirmative” procedure, which ensures this important measure is in place on 1 November, if required. While we would prefer to leave with a deal, this instrument will ensure that, in any scenario, the UK and UK airlines will have equivalent access to the type of measures EU member states and EU airlines can take against anti-competitive actions. I beg to move.

I thank the Minister for her introduction. I am sure she will be delighted to hear that I have only one substantive question. However, I want to comment in passing that this statutory instrument applies a rule to ensure a level playing field, as the Minister said. It ensures that the CAA will examine complaints in future, rather than the European Commission. The CAA comes in at every possible turn, and I question whether it has the expertise and the resources needed for this. It is used by the Government for a wide variety of activities—everything from repatriating air passengers to space travel—and is therefore extremely broadly stretched. My concern is always that it should be given the resources it needs for this.

The Explanatory Memorandum says that, while the CAA will investigate in future if there is no deal,

“it is possible that the Department for Transport will play a supporting role”.

Exactly what supporting role do the Government envisage the Department for Transport playing? It strikes me that this is an unsatisfactory blurring of the edges. The proposal that the CAA does this follows a well-established principle: you have an independent or arm’s- length body that investigates a situation, makes a recommendation to the Minister and the Minister makes the decision. However, if the Government now envisage some kind of blurring of the situation, with the Department for Transport involved in a supportive role with the CAA and the Secretary of State making the final decision, you have a mixing of roles in a way that is not normal and which could lead to discussion, argument and even court action if a company is accused of anti-competitive practices. Could we have a little more detail on that from the Minister? That is my significant concern on this.

Once again, I thank the Minister for her explanation of the content of this SI, its purpose and objectives. As she said, it revokes and replaces an SI already passed by this House and it is necessary because the EU has revoked and replaced its own regulations on this issue. This SI makes the necessary changes to the new version of the EU regulations.

I, likewise, only have a couple of points to raise. The first relates to paragraph 7.8 in the Explanatory Memorandum, which says:

“In Regulation (EU) 2019/712, it is the Commission that both conducts the investigation and then, if appropriate, pursues redressive measures. The effect of the changes in this instrument is that the CAA will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State following its investigation, and the Secretary of State may then decide to adopt redressive measures. Such redressive measures will be adopted by regulations in a Statutory Instrument, subject to the affirmative procedure in Parliament”.

Does the reference to the regulations being adopted in a statutory instrument refer to the form that the redressive measures can take that will be adopted by an SI, or should the redressive measures be imposed in a particular case that will be adopted by the statutory instrument referred to in paragraph 7.8?

Secondly and finally, the “Consultation outcome” paragraph, paragraph 10.1, is not terribly specific about whether the consultation resulted in support from those consulted for this SI or not. For the purpose of clarity, will the Minister say whether any objections or issues were raised about this SI by the aviation industry, the travel industry and consumer representatives, or were they all happy with its content as it stands?

I thank both noble Lords for their contribution to this short debate. I hope I will be able to answer all the questions that have been raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about the CAA. I agree with her—at the moment the CAA can do no wrong in my eyes, quite frankly. It brought our people home without fuss or nonsense and mostly without error—all credit to it for its work on Operation Matterhorn. However, it has the expertise in this area. It is a substantial organisation with a lot of people with expertise in a range of areas and it understands the air services markets particularly well.

The noble Baroness was concerned about resourcing. That is always my concern with the CAA as well. Section 11 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 permits the CAA to make a scheme for determining charges. These charges would be met by those airlines that would be harmed by the anti-competitive practices. In essence, resources for the CAA would be met by those airlines that would be harmed by this action. Officials have worked very closely with the CAA in the development of this instrument and we believe it is content.

The Department for Transport might have a role in the investigatory stage. It will get involved only if it has the relevant expertise and, as importantly, only if its assistance is requested by the CAA. It is not as though the department will get in there and stick its nose in where it is not welcomed. We do not envisage a proactive role in the investigation. There will be a specific request. For example, sometimes the CAA can feel that it is more appropriate for the DfT to request information from third-party Governments. That sort of request comes better from the Government than from the CAA. But as I said, the department would very much be there in a supporting role.

I turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about the SIs that might be tabled in the unlikely event that the CAA recommends that redressive measures should be adopted. I point out to noble Lords that we do not expect that the provisions in this SI will be needed—it is very much a safety net just in case—but if that happens the Secretary of State will put forward regulations in the form of a draft statutory instrument. If there was one airline involved, it clearly would be a single airline instrument that would set out the redressive measures proposed. It would be up to Parliament to decide whether it was appropriate. If there are multiple airlines, they could be within the same SI or they might not be. It would really depend on the circumstances. As I said, it is slightly uncharted territory because these sorts of issues rarely get to the stage where one would use an SI such as this. Usually they would be sorted out in air services agreements much in advance of getting to this stage.

The noble Lord asked about the engagement we have had with industry stakeholders. I reassure him that we meet the aviation industry very frequently. Indeed, I was the Aviation Minister for a while and I had the honour of meeting the industry on many occasions. At each of the groups we had—for example, the round-table meetings we had on 18 February, 10 July and 16 September—we put forward where our future legislative programme might impact the industry to ensure it responds appropriately where it has concerns. I have to be frank: I have found the aviation industry to be extremely responsive. It is represented very well by various trade bodies. For that reason, we believe that there are no concerns, since none was raised with us.

I thank noble Lords for their consideration of these regulations.

Motion agreed.