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Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is entirely misquoting me. I went to some lengths to say that co-operation was important. We must co-operate with our European partners, but federal integration of the type that is proposed under some of the new bodies is exactly what we do not want.

Mr. Stevenson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me that he used the word "federal." I do not think that that word is in the report, but it implies that there is some other political motive behind his point. Nevertheless, the point is well taken.

Much can be done through negotiation, but we must never forget that EASA will be subject to qualified majority vote. It will not be a matter of us saying that we will defend our standards when we are outvoted by other people who think that those standards are either not appropriate, or too burdensome. It is an important point.

The negotiation that will go on will be fine in many respects. I have no doubt about that, but we are concerned about the notion that the UK's high safety standards are negotiable. There is a strong argument that, in the public interest, and in the interests of the industry, those high safety standards are, by definition, non-negotiable. Therefore, there is an issue for the Government to consider. If we are entering negotiations, will it be right that our high standards should be subject to such negotiation, with all the potential pitfalls that could ensue?

This is a good and detailed report. It makessome important recommendations. I remain somewhat disappointed about the Government's response, which in some cases is complacent and verges on the sanguine. I hope that, as a result of the debate--I shall listen to the Minister with great interest--we have been able to persuade him and the Government that the report should be taken far more seriously than appears to be the case.

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3.20 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson). A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting his part of the world for the first time, with a Joint Committee on a Special Procedure.

Partly because my husband works for an international airline, and is therefore a frequent traveller, I believe that aviation safety is an extremely important issue. I place great emphasis on his safety, as I do on that of others who work for his company and of everyone who travels by air.

I welcome the Select Committee report. I am also honoured to serve on the Transport Sub-Committee under the able chairmanship of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I joined the Committee two weeks before publication of the report--it therefore constituted my first official involvement with the Committee--and there has been a learning curve.

I join the hon. Lady in regretting the rather disappointing, even poor, Government response to the report, and the four-month delay in drafting that response. I agree with the hon. Lady that we must avoid complacency in the aviation industry. The United Kingdom has one of the safest aviation industries in the world, and successive United Kingdom Governments have ensured that we have made some of the world's greatest investments in the industry, both in airport air traffic control and in airlines.

I pay tribute to those who work in the airlines, in the airports and in related industries--such as the Civil Aviation Authority and National Air Traffic Services--who have worked consistently towards achieving extremely high safety levels in the United Kingdom aviation industry. We have been able to achieve those high safety levels because of the contributions made by our pilots, engineers and air traffic controllers.

Like the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, I was a Member of the European Parliament for 10 years. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that, on returning to the United Kingdom and taking my seat in this place, I would have the pleasure of serving with him. I do not think that, 15 years ago, either of us realised that we would again end up at the same place at the same time.

In playing its current role, the Joint Aviation Authority is handicapped by not having legal authority to impose agreed standards. I therefore view establishment of the European Aviation Safety Authority more positively than some other hon. Members may do.

The problem is one not only of setting European air safety standards, but of implementing agreed standards. As the Government's response notes, the Civil Aviation Authority has always played, and--rightly--will continue to play, a leading role in developing European standards in the Joint Aviation Authority.

Accident rates in Europe are among the world's lowest, and--as the Government's response states categorically--there is no evidence that harmonised safety standards have reduced United Kingdom safety levels.

I should like to make a confession: as a rapporteur of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament, I was involved in the creation of the European Aviation Safety Authority. The fact that any single organisation would lack teeth in implementing safety standards was the precise issue leading to the creation of the pan-European Aviation Safety Authority. Therefore, our objectives in

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establishing the authority do not warrant the suspicions expressed today by some hon. Members. As the Government's response explained--I rarely agree with the Government's memorandums, and am therefore slightly alarmed to agree with their response to this report--the objective is to give EASA legal powers to impose the standards that it adopts.

The Civil Aviation Authority has assiduously imposed the standards set in the United Kingdom, and we must ensure that all our European partners aspire to equally high standards. Third-country carriers seeking to use European Union airports and air space also must match those high standards. Therefore, EASA can only add to the greater collective value of air safety across Europe.

Mr. Gray: Does my hon. Friend agree that the important thing is that all airlines and aircraft that use British air space and British airports should conform to the highest possible standards--which are those established by the Civil Aviation Authority, which is answerable to this place? The standards applying in Paris, Brussels or Hamburg are a matter for the national Governments of those places, not for this place.

Miss McIntosh: I do not disagree with my hon. Friend, but simply say--I realise that it is a radical view to take on either side of the House--that, although we pride ourselves on our high safety standards, we should not accept that passengers travelling on other European carriers, or on international carriers seeking to land in the United Kingdom or elsewhere in Europe, should have lesser safety standards.

An even more radical suggestion was made in the European Parliament: that, to ensure parliamentary accountability, a Member of the European Parliament should be on EASA's board, and that there should be annual reports from EASA to the European Parliament. The Minister, and perhaps other hon. Members, might like to comment on those suggestions.

Mrs. Dunwoody: As the hon. Lady is informed on the aviation industry, she will know that the type of airlines that we are talking about already comply with international standards, and that, almost without exception, those airlines support the International Civil Aviation Organisation, in which there are agreed common standards. Therefore, the issue is not one of not accepting international standards. Unfortunately, the history of our involvement in European institutions shows that, rather than harmonising upwards, we frequently harmonise downwards.

Miss McIntosh: My experience is perhaps more positive than the hon. Lady's. I shall return in a moment to the issue of third-country carriers. As she will remember, the Committee considered that issue--which I hope the Minister will address in his reply.

I welcome the Government's commitment to perform more ramp checks on foreign aircraft; their response commits them to performing 200 ramp checks annually. Although I appreciate that the Government are able to act only in response to specific concerns, I regret that random checks are deemed not to be compatible with our

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obligations under the Chicago convention. I believe that only with random checks and the element of surprise will we be able to impose the highest possible standard of inspections.

I invite the Minister to take this opportunity to update the House on the point just made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, on arrangements to travel into the United Kingdom from certain third countries at the millennium--which is only two weeks away. We should certainly like to send a positive message of safety to all those who use that type of transportation service over the holidays, and this debate might provide the Minister with an opportune moment to update us on the issue. I believe that officials in his Department said that the permits of four countries might be lifted at the millennium, which is fast approaching.

I share the concern expressed by the Select Committee, in its report, and by people outside the House, of a potential pilot shortage. United Kingdom safety standards cannot be compromised, and we should have sufficient pride in our civil aviation industry to attract a steady stream of recruits.

I have similar concerns about the recruitment and training of engineers and air traffic controllers. I hope that the Minister will deal in his reply with those concerns, as expressed in the Select Committee report.

During my time in the European Parliament, as Member of the European Parliament for Essex North and Suffolk South, I had the privilege of representing Stanstead airport. I therefore appreciate that, in many areas surrounding airports--such as, particularly, north Essex and south Suffolk, where air traffic and approach congestion are increasing--local people are increasingly concerned about stacking over airports at peak times. I should like the Government to address that, because it is difficult for busy airports to balance their development with the concerns of those who live nearby.

The cost of smoke hoods and the training of passengers in their use are also important issues. Many passengers do not fly regularly or do not use the same type of aircraft every time. The Government response covered the point adequately. It said:


I do not want to be alarmist, but we have to balance safety against the fact that many domestic and European internal flights last less than 40 or 50 minutes. In many cases, there is not enough time to train passengers--including me; I am not always an ideal passenger--to use the complicated smoke hoods. The cost of fitting smoke hoods for every passenger could put low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet and possibly also Go and Buzz out of operation.

We would all like air rage to be addressed, particularly by discouraging potentially disruptive passengers. There is the growing problem of passengers who refuse to switch off their mobile phones and laptop computers. It is incumbent on the Government to impress on such passengers that those are serious offences that could be life threatening to a plane load of passengers. Those offences must be tackled seriously and stiff penalties must be imposed.

My final point is about military aircraft using uncontrolled airspace. That is of particular concern to me, because my constituency covers RAF Leeming,

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RAF Linton and Dishforth. I note that the Government intend to install a collision warning system for the ground attack Tornado GR4 aircraft. I should like a commitment from the Minister that the same system will be extended to the Eurofighter when it comes into operation in 2002, which will use bases such as RAF Leeming.


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