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Clause 4

Employers' contributions towards cost of pensions increase for teachers and persons engaged in the health services etc

Mr. Flynn : I beg to move amendment No. 3 in page 4, line 1, leave out subsection (1).

The amendment seeks to delete subsection (1) which gives powers to make regulations placing the cost of teachers' pension increases on their employers or

"such other persons or classes of persons (apart from teachers) as the Secretary of State may consider appropriate".

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Perhaps the Economic Secretary can explain who those other persons or classes of persons are.

By pressing for the removal of subsection (1), the amendment does not imply that we approve of subsection (2) which applies similar powers to Health Service staff. We want to concentrate on subsection (1) for two reasons, although we have many misgivings about the Health Service. I understand that a couple of telephone calls to health authorities revealed a sublime ignorance about the existence of the Bill.

We seek to remove subsection (1) because the teachers' unions are concerned that the Government are pre-empting the results of negotiations that have been taking place on the funding and other aspects of the teachers' superannuation scheme. Given the present state of local government finance, any threat to impose additional charges on local authorities must be a matter of deep concern. Firm assurances are needed that, if the powers are to be used, an appropriate transfer of resources will take place at the same time. The calculation of the teachers' superannuation fund is weird and wonderful. It works in rather a similar manner to the pools panel that used to meet when we had severe winters, when experts would get together and guess the results of football matches that had not been played. Apparently a committee of experts decides what investments which would have been made, but had not been made, by the teachers' superannuation fund would have yielded. Unfortunately, the possible investments that they consider are only Government funds. No occupational pension scheme would have a portfolio which consisted only of Government funds.

There is much concern that for many years teachers' superannuation payments have been seriously understated, but I understand that the teachers' unions and the appropriate body are negotiating on that. Clause 4 has wider implications. The principle of

inflation-proofing public service pensions may be threatened if it became a matter for negotiation between occupational groups and employers rather than a nationally recognised obligation. We debated that at length on Second Reading. Clause 4 could be the first stage in the dismantling of the Pensions (Increase) Act, of which the Prime Minister strongly disapproves.

If such fundamental changes are to be made to the financing of public service pensions, it should not be done by an enabling provision such as clause 4, followed by regulations that cannot be amended. If and when the Government decide what they want to do, they should incorporate their detailed proposals in a Bill that can be properly debated and amended.

The financial memorandum to the Bill says :

"Regulations made under the amendments to the Superannuation Act 1972 made by this Bill may in future have some financial effect." What does that mean? The Minister may say that he cannot predict what will happen in the future, but the worry is the effect that the Bill is likely to have on health authorities and, in particular, local government. We are aware of the financial problems experienced by both those bodies, but it is a particular threat to local government, because the gearing effect of the poll tax means that for every extra penny of expense shouldered by local authorities they must charge many times as much to local poll tax payers. We should like the Minister at least to tell the House what would be the maximum increased burden

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on employers if the total cost of pension increases were placed on local authorities and local bodies, which clearly is what the Government have in mind.

Labour Members recognise that there is merit in that proposal and that those sums should be paid by those bodies rather than by the Treasury, but the Minister must assure us that it will be fully and appropriately funded. Will he explain how employers will find the money to pay what will be required?

The Department of Education and Science has sent a letter to the National Union of Teachers. Last year, the NUT held a meeting on the root-and-branch reform of the teachers superannuation fund. It intends to reconvene that meeting, but it fears that legislation may pre-empt negotiations. The reply from the Department states that the Bill will not pre-empt future negotiations. We should like the Minister to confirm that that is not the purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Ryder : The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) mentioned the pools panel. I must reveal that I have always wanted to sit on the pools panel on a Saturday morning when matches are snowed off and to deliberate over the fortunes of Newport County, Norwich City or Ipswich Town. Alas, the pools panel has had a pretty thin time over recent seasons. I hope for its own sake that it is not paid according to the number of times that it meets.

I must reject amendment No. 3. The purpose of clause 4 is to allow the Secretaries of State responsible for the National Health Service and teachers' superannuation schemes in England, Wales and Scotland to make regulations, which would be subject to negative resolution, to permit the cost of pensions increase to be taken into account in determining employers' contributions to the schemes. At the moment, those costs are met by the Departments that administer the schemes, rather than by employing authorities.

The teachers' and National Health Service schemes are unfunded. The Government Actuary advises the Secretaries of State on the appropriate levels of employers' contributions on the basis of quinquennial valuations of the schemes' assets and liabilities. For that purpose, he makes various actuarial assumptions and works on the basis that the schemes are funded.

Union interests, particularly in teaching, have in the past argued strongly that some of the assumptions that the Government Actuary uses are unrealistic. They believe, for example, that different assumptions about investment returns would lead to a surplus on the notional funds, which might then permit lower contribution rates or improvements in benefits. I understand that employees' and employers' representatives in the teachers superannuation working party have just agreed on a report endorsing that. It will be impossible to take this further without clause 4.

The Amendment No. 3 would restrict the change made in clause 4 to the National Health Service superannuation schemes and would deny a worthwhile opportunity to take similar powers for the teachers' schemes.

Without wishing to anticipate unduly the outcome of discussions following the teachers superannuation working party report, the Government would feel able to agree to changes in such matters as the investment assumptions, which might be seen as giving greater realism in building

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up the assets of the schemes, only if there were a corresponding realism in treating pensions increase as a liability of the schemes. I understand that employees' and employers' representatives in the teachers' superannuation working party recognise and accept that. Clause 4 provides the necessary power.

I cannot say when regulations will be made under clause 4. There would need to be much careful consultation with all the interests concerned before a change could be made. Indeed, sections 9(5) and 10(4) of the Superannuation Act 1972 would require that, and the statutory instruments containing the regulations would be subject to negative resolution. The Government would also want to be sure, so far as possible, that the net effect of any changes was not likely to add unacceptably to the costs of employing authorities.

I hope that the recognition that I have given to the need to contain the additional costs for employing authorities and the need for full consultation before any changes are made will allay any misgivings that Labour Members, or interests with which they have been in touch, may have had.

The hon. Member for Newport, West asked whether the Government plan to compensate health and education authorities for the higher contributions that they will have to make to finance pension increase. They will not necessarily have to pay increased contributions ; the clause confers a power on Ministers only to make at an appropriate time regulations under which employers' contributions can be set to cover the costs of pensions increase. The effect on health and education authorities' finances will be considered if the need arises.

Mr. Flynn : The Minister trod on private grief when he mentioned Newport County and the pools panel. The only game that Newport County could win was when the pools panel sat, but tragically the football team no longer exists.

We take little comfort from what the Minister said. I noticed how carefully he chose his words when talking about not adding unnecessarily to the costs of local authorities.

In the past, Opposition Members have been cynical about Government legislation, and we remain a little apprehensive. I note the Minister's points. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 4 to 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Order for Third Reading read.

8 pm

Mr. Ryder : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am grateful to hon. Members, particularly the hon. Members for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), for their prompt consideration of this modest, technical and useful Bill. Public service superannuation will never be the most exciting subject that hon. Members debate, but we owe an obligation to the electorate and to approximately 4 million members of public service pension schemes to give a fair hearing to Bills of this kind.

I recognise the strength of feeling on the subject of levelling up against levelling down, which we debated in Committee. I assure the House that the Government looked carefully at the issues and the merits and demerits

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of levelling up and levelling down before concluding that it was right to phase out a benefit which, in practice, has benefited and always will benefit a small number of women pensioners. We must do what is right for public service pensioners, what meets our European Community obligations and what is fair to the taxpayer. I am confident that the Bill strikes the proper balance.

In Committee, hon. Members noted that other measures in the Bill made small and, again, technical changes to the existing law. Opportunities to legislate on public service superannuation will always be rare events, but I am pleased that we have been able to produce a Bill to secure equal treatment in pensions increase to make such changes. I commend the Bill to the House.

8.2 pm

Mr. Flynn : Opposition Members do not wish unnecessarily to delay legislation, but the Bill is proceeding at breakneck pace. It was introduced at an unusual time--a few days before the Christmas recess. The Second Reading debate was shortly before Christmas, and we are now concluding the remaining stages. Further submissions from representatives of many people affected by the Bill may be made when the Bill is in another place and when it returns to the House. A great pensions minefield is ahead for the Government. There are many qualms about the Bill, some of which have been expressed tonight, particularly the implications for the Health Service and local government, and for equality of the sexes legislation. There will be repercussions throughout other Government pensions legislation and policies.

The fascinating history over the centuries of providing the elderly with comfort and security in retirement is continuing. It reached a high point of hope in the 1970s. The years since then have shown the growth of complexity of pension provision, without a growth in pension quality, and a certain guarantee of much future confusion. There is great indecision about the problem of equalising pension provision for men and women in the future. I am certainly not suggesting that pensions should be equalised down, but the implications are that the Government have little hope of equalising them other than by disadvantaging

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women. We will also see a continued undermining of the precious 10-year-old principle that pensioners should share in the country's growing prosperity.

The Bill is a product of yesterday's false, extinct ideas and, sadly, is not a product of the new hope for universal access to prosperous and fulfilling vintage years of retirement for everybody. 8.5 pm

Mr. Kirkwood : The Bill is a useful addition to the body of statute law governing pensions. I almost stand accused of being boring about the need--

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : Not just on pensions.

Mr. Kirkwood : That may be true, but it is for others to judge. I am concerned about the increasing complexity of the language used in pensions legislation. Earlier debates have suffered because of it, but the Minister coped commendably well. He should use his power to make the parliamentary draftsmen to do their best. I understand that it is a complex subject, but we are getting into the realms of the absurd in the language that is used in some statutes. That comment applies to this Bill in particular.

The Government were right on whether to level up or level down. I give the Minister clear notice that the Government must take no precedent from their judgment on the Bill. If they bring forward sex equality measures or any other legislation, they must not use this Bill as a basis on which to level down future provision. The facts and circumstances of each case must be carefully considered. On balance, the Minister was right, but he must not assume that he will have such a easy ride in the future.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Easy Ryder.

Mr. Kirkwood : Yes.

The Government must introduce legislation that takes advantage of the opportunity presented by legislation from Europe to level up social provision across the broad spectrum of social policy. He will be widely opposed if he seeks to use the Bill as a precedent for arguments in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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Civil Aviation Authority (Borrowing Powers) Bill [Money] Queen's Recommendation having been signified--

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Civil Aviation (Borrowing Powers) Bill, it is expedient to authorise any increase in the sums payable out of or into the National Loans Fund or charged on and issued out of or payable into the Consolidated Fund under the Civil Aviation Act 1982 which is attributable to provisions of the new Act--

(a) increasing the Authority's borowing limit to £500 million with power to make further increases up to £750 million by order ; (

(b) enabling the Authority to borrow sums in units of account defined by reference to more than one currency.-- [Mr. Chapman.] 8.8 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : As hon. Members know, I like to exercise some scrutiny of money resolutions, and I am delighted that several hon. Members are intent to do the same. The Bill was dealt with by a Second Reading Committee which sat for just under an hour. No doubt the Minister will be pleased to confirm that the borrowing powers in the resolution are for only £500 million, which is a great deal of money, but that any further sums up to a total of £750 million will be subject to an affirmative order of the House--that is not a great safeguard, but it is something--and that, by virtue of this money resolution, we are not handing the Minister unfettered powers.

The borrowing powers that are authorised by the money resolution are for money that is to be used for improving air traffic control capacity. On 20 December last year the Minister stated :

"Perhaps I could give two examples of major projects in the investment programme, which hon. Members may find of particular interest. One project is the central control function ; it has been called the tunnels in the sky concept. It involves a major restructuring of the airspace over south-east England and will increase capacity in the terminal manoeuvring area over the south-east by at least 30 per cent. when it is fully in place in 1995. The project will cost about £30 million."--[ Official Report, Second Reading Committee, 20 December 1989, c. 3.]

Perhaps the Minister will confirm that the borrowings for that project will not confine the benefits to the south-east and that regional airports, such as the Leeds-Bradford airport which is operated by the Leeds-Bradford airport committee, will obtain the benefits by virtue of the fact that the delays around Heathrow and Gatwick will, I hope, be curtailed.

As the Government are currently considering the application to extend flying hours beyond 10 pm, perhaps the Minister will bear in mind the fact that the investment which is to be authorised by the money resolution might increase the existing capacity of aircraft to enter and leave air space. Therefore, the extended flying hours at Leeds-Bradford, for which some people are pressing--but not, I hasten to add, those people who live close to the flight paths--might not be necessary.

If the money is to be used for such a project, there will be great advantages. However, there is then the question of the other priorities. As was made clear in the debate to which I have referred, there are several other more pressing priorities. I refer, for example, to Bradford and, although this is not the Minister's responsibility, I should like to place it on the record that it would be helpful if more

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money could be allocated for the construction of permanent extensions to schools there, because several schools in my constituency need many millions of pounds spent on them.

We are talking about borrowing powers. Air traffic is a growth area, and since the money that will be lent to the Civil Aviation Authority will be recouped in charges to the air traffic users, we must ask the Minister how long the borrowing period is and how soon the Government will recoup that money so that it is available for other priorities. I am not opposed to improvements in air traffic control and, of course, in safety standards. We all agree with the need and determination to maintain and improve our air safety standards. However, if the money is to be recouped, some of the other pressing priorities for expenditure can also be considered. I should like the Minister to comment on that.

The Civil Aviation (Air Navigation Charges) Act 1989 allowed charges for landing to be made in European currency units. As a consequence, paragraph (b) of the money resolution refers to "enabling the Authority to borrow sums in units of account defined by reference to more than one currency."

I take it that that wording has been chosen to embrace ecus, as they are known, which very few people on the face of our planet have ever seen or used.

I served on the Second Reading Committee of the Civil Aviation (Air Navigation Charges) Act which, as I have said, allowed charges to be rendered in ecu. As the Minister explained in the Second Reading Committee, the extension of the use of other currencies is purely to embrace ecu. However, he could not satisfactorily explain at that stage why that would be of great advantage to the Civil Aviation Authority, except from the point of view of flexibility.

As was pointed out to the Minister, the exchange rate in ecu, like that of any other currency, fluctuates and varies extensively. European currency units are no different. The significant difference is that the European currency unit is a medium by which the federalists inside the Common Market are devoting their attention to producing a standard European currency. The extension into ecu goes directly against the Prime Minister's vaunted wish to oppose federalism and instead merely to retain the European Economic Community as a trading organisation. Paragraph (b) of the money resolution is therefore a sign of the acceptance of and a step towards federalism, not against it.

I hope that the Minister will be able to cite something more than "flexibility" to justify paragraph (b) because he did not provide an adequate explanation when the Bill was considered in Committee. As I have said, I hope that he can give an explanation about the money resolution because a large sum of money is involved. The total is £750 million. The borrowing limit seems to be being provided for a good and useful purpose, but the examples that the Minister gave in Committee totalled only £30 million. Perhaps he could give us a brief outline of what the other £720 million--

The Minister for Aviation and Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : I believe that in Committee I also gave the example of the en route centre, which will cost considerably more than £30 million. In fact, it will cost about £200 million. That £30 million covered just a few examples.

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Mr. Cryer : I am sure that the Minister would like to fill us in with some further details and to give us a sketch of the £750 million that is likely to be involved. In fact, the money resolution covers only £500 million because any increase in the borrowing limit above £500 million will be made by order. Presumably, therefore, that part of the borrowing requirement is not yet needed. Perhaps the Minister could tell us why there is a contingency figure of £250 million, because he will have to do that when he presents the order. I look forward with eager anticipation to the Minister's detailed response. 8.16 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams) : Before commenting on the money resolution, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to ask for clarification. As I understand it, the length of any speech made by any hon. Member is recorded. I am concerned to ensure that any speech that I make tonight will not lead to my being placed on a blacklist. When I asked Mr. Speaker a little earlier about my speeches, I learned that there were two stars against my name, which showed that I had spoken for 20 minutes or longer in the past. However, neither of those speeches was a Second Reading speech. Both were made on Report or at the request of my hon. Friends who had asked me to keep the business going. I want to make quite sure that, in future, I shall not be picked out and discriminated against because of my speech tonight. I should be most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if the Chair could give a ruling.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : These matters are clouded in mystery. However, I can advise the hon. Gentleman and the whole House that in the interests of trying to get a fair balance among those whoe are called to speak in our debates, Mr. Speaker keeps a careful note of those hon. Members who speak, of the subject on which they speak and for how long they speak.

Mr. Steen : As that may put a somewhat different complexion on the fact that this debate can last until 10.45 pm, I hope that the length of an hon. Member's speech will not be held against him or her. Because we now have two and a half hours before the next business needs to be called, I am deliberately making the statement that, if I choose to go on until 10.45 pm or thereabouts--although I have no plans to do so at the moment--I believe that, in view of the position in the House at the moment, no hon. Member, including myself, should be compromised for choosing to speak on a money resolution which is important but which may not be the most significant matter that has come before the House.

I declare an interest at the outset. First, I have been involved with aviation for the best part of 20 years. Before I became a Member of the House, when I practised at the Bar, I was involved in aviation law, and I have been involved in the aviation industry ever since I have been a Member of the House. I deliberately declare that interest because it has been said from the Chair that constituency interests take precedence over consultancy interests. I and many other hon. Members have both constituency and consultancy interests. I have a constituency interest in Plymouth airport, which is surrounded by South Hams. I also have consultancy interests in Airlines of Great Britain, of which British Midland Airways is part, and British Island Airways. As I am interested in aviation I have worked, not

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necessarily in a paid capacity, for several other airlines, such as Brymon Airways, which is my local airline, Britannia and other airlines.

The House is becoming confused about interests. Simply because one is paid to do work connected with a particular interest, one should not be discouraged by one's colleagues or by organisations outside the House from speaking on the subject. It has been said that, if an hon. Member speaks on a subject as a paid consultant, the content of the speech is dismissed.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) : Does my hon. Friend agree that that criticism usually comes from those who would prefer to speak on most subjects from ignorance? Provided that my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member declares that interest, and its extent, the additional knowledge that arises from it is of the greatest importance to industry and to the House.

Mr. Steen : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's timely intervention. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was not called in a recent debate on airport security. I could have given the House inside knowledge from five airlines about the serious problems faced by the industry. As I was deprived of the opportunity to do so, the House was deprived of information direct from operators at Heathrow, Gatwick and Plymouth about the problems of airport security and safety. One reason for not calling me was that I had interests in the aviation industry. I should have thought--this is the point that my hon. Friend made--that because I had interests in aviation I could have been useful to the House and given it the benefit of my 10 years' experience in the industry.

I declare my interests because I believe that they are good, not bad, points. My hon. Friends would prefer to hear from an hon. Member who knows about his subject rather than from one who does not. Many of my hon. Friends believe that, provided that the hon. Member gives good value for his consultancy interests, it adds another facet to debates in the House.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : There are two and a quarter hours to go.

Mr. Steen : As my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) says, I have two and a quarter hours to go. I assure the House that I do not propose to speak for that long. It is important to get on with the money resolutions.

The money resolution will give the Civil Aviation Authority a sizeable sum of money. Probably few hon. Members can comprehend the enormous sum of £750 million. The sum of £500 million went through on the nod, but the extra £250 million will have to be brought back to the House for another debate. It is strange that, the more money that we ask the Government for, the fewer hon. Members attend the debate in the House. For smaller sums, the House is packed. The large sum of money may be going for the best possible purposes. I should like the Minister to comment on the regulation and control of that money, which will go to a public body. It would be most helpful to the House to know what control there will be on the £500 million that will be spent.

Urban development corporations were debated in the House several times and vast sums of money were spent on them. Those sums went through on the nod. When the Labour party was in government between 1974 and 1979, we constantly passed vast sums of money for the

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nationalised industries. Now that so many of them stand on their own feet in the private sector, there is less opportunity to pass vast sums to the public sector. I am afraid to say that the civil aviation authority is still one of those bodies.

The House will be interested to know that 90 per cent. of the Civil Aviation Authority consists of an organisation known as the National Air Traffic Scheme. The NATS service is responsible for all that happens in our skies and 90 per cent. of the staff of the CAA are in NATS. Does the Minister believe that public money could be saved if the CAA were separated from the navigational arm, which forms the majority of it, and was either made into a public utility or privatised?

NATS controls slots at airports. The service that it performs is marketable and could be privatised. Airlines could be charged for its services. Could some of the large sums to be voted for CAA borrowing be saved if NATS became a public utility or was privatised? In 1983, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry referred the running of the CAA to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and it conducted an inquiry. It is strange that, six years later, the Department of Trade and Industry has again referred the CAA to the MMC. Is that because the 1983 report was no good or are the Government running out of public bodies which the MMC can investigate? As we go through the cycle of privatisation, the CAA will probably be referred to the MMC every few months as the MMC runs out of public bodies to examine.

We have a problem about the amount of money that is being asked for and about how NATS is run. If it were run in a slightly different way, it might not cost so much. I do not know whether my hon. Friends know that NATS is run by an air marshal for three years and by civilians for the next three years. It is rather like a biblical story, in which seven years are lean and the next seven years are fat. With NATS, the air marshal takes over the running of the air navigational system every three years and civilians do it every other three years. It is like rotation of crops. Is that the best way to run air traffic control? There is a constant change of seats. It is like musical chairs. After the third year, the air marshal has his chair removed and a civilian moves in. That does not lead to continuity and cannot be the most effective use of money. Conservative and Opposition Members would like more money, provided that it produces more slots in the air. Is the Minister aware that the antiquated system under which NATS is run means not only that more slots will not be produced, but that the amount of money spent will not necessarily result in better working practices?

I wonder whether my hon. Friends are aware that at Heathrow every day at 3 o'clock the runways are changed, rather like the changing of the guard. That results in about a half-hour gap in operations as the CAA changes the runway pattern. No other airport halts all aircraft wanting to take off or land so as to change the runways, and Heathrow is one of the few airports that does not have a mixed-mode runway. Perhaps a few bob from the £500 million could be saved if Heathrow's runway configuration were not changed at the same time each day. Money could also be saved if NATS had better working practices. I know that the Minister will tell me that various

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London boroughs asked for the runways to be changed round because of noise. That request was made many years ago, but since then planes have become much quieter. It should not necessarily be advantageous to spend money on an organisation that has antiquated practices. The money to be loaned to the CAA will not mean that it gets NATS off its back, nor will it give NATS the opportunity to make its operations lean and more efficient. That money will compound what is going on. I accept the good work that NATS does, but I fear that the money will consolidate outdated and ineffectual working practices. When the Minister replies I hope that he will consider whether money could be saved or better value for money given were my suggestions followed.

We are all for safety and security and we all want facilities for more capacity in terminal areas. The only snag about the money to be given to the CAA for NATS is that it may produce many more slots in the air space, but the £500 million may only keep the planes in the sky. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), whose interest in travel is well known, will be pleased to know that. I am sure that he will share my concern, however, that although more planes will be flying around the air, it will not follow that more planes will be taking off or landing. The money will provide slots in the sky, but it will not provide more capacity in the terminal areas.

Mr. Allason : Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem lies not with the number of slots in the sky, but with the experts who decide how many seats will be used in a plane? The problem is not the ever-growing number of people who use air travel, but the number and type of plane. A few years ago, the so-called experts advised that smaller aircraft should be used. Those aircraft have resulted in a greater number of air movements, but there has been no commensurate increase in the ability of those aircraft to carry more passengers. Exactly the same number of passengers are carried now as in the past.

Mr. Steen : Although my hon. Friend's point does not truly relate to the borrowing powers that we are discussing, it would be discourteous if I did not respond to him briefly. The problem with the larger aircraft is that one presumes that all passengers want to travel to the same destination at precisely the same time.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : They cannot get off halfway.

Mr. Steen : No, indeed.

Nowadays, the travelling public want planes that will take them, on a regular basis, to smaller airfields nearer to their eventual destinations rather than larger and larger planes that go to one place. In the 1970s there was a growth in the demand for large planes, but that trend is reversing and smaller planes are being used, which has resulted in more air movements.

More air movements do not present a problem. The trouble is that those planes must land and take off. Extra slots in the sky do not present a problem ; the problem is providing adequate and sufficient controls at each airport to allow planes to take off or land. When my hon. Friend replies, I hope that he will say something about better working practices at airports such as Heathrow which will result in more movements.

At the terminal 4 inquiry, the inspector said that the maximum number of movements that could be allowed

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out of Heathrow was 275,000 a year. Hon. Members are probably unaware that there are now 340,000 movements in and out of Heathrow, discounting night movements. New technology has enabled more planes to land and take off and the provision of more slots in the sky. As a result of the money to be given to the CAA and of planes becoming quieter, does the Minister intend 400,000 air movements at Heathrow? Is it his intention to increase the number of slots out of Gatwick? Unless my hon. Friend makes a statement about how the money will be used, he will find that the British Airports Authority will resist growth at Heathrow and Gatwick and will favour moving planes to Stansted, in which it has invested £300 million.

I hope that my hon. Friend's reply will be robust and I hope that he will tell the House that Heathrow's efficiency will not be reduced because of a conflict between the CAA which, through new technology, will be able to produce more slots and more take-offs and landings, and the BAA, which wants to switch traffic to Stansted. The House is entitled to know whether the CAA will use its enormous loan clout to redirect air traffic in the London area.

Although the sky is the limit for investment in airlines, there is little point in making provision for more air space if sufficient money is not used to provide the necessary infrastructure to deal with arrivals and departures. I touched on that when I mentioned the mixed-mode runway.

Although I could speak for a long time, it would not be right to do so, as I know that other hon. Members want to participate. We should remember, however, that airports such as Heathrow can be competitive only if there are sufficient slots in the air space and opportunities for true competition. The House should be concerned about the new competitive blocks that are emerging at Heathrow--British Airways, Sabena and KLM and Air France and Lufthansa. Between them they could take up 60 per cent. of the slots at Heathrow and allow virtually no room for competition.

It is important for the Minister to ensure that the major airline blocks do not take all the additional slots to be made available as a result of the additional money for the CAA. Those slots must be used for the smaller independent airlines so that they can compete on all fours with the big battalions. I hope that the Minister will tell us the Government's policy on this-- [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) is getting so excited. I cannot believe that it is because of my speech.

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