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Dr. Ladyman: I will not rule out anything. I have made it clear that the rules were set out in the existing legislation that I described, that the Bill gives the Secretary of State certain powers in respect of designated airports and also extends those powers to airports that are not designated. That does not change the position on daytime movements, but if appropriate, there could be consultation that could lead to changes in the future.
Civil aviation legislation enables licensed airports to fix their charges by reference to the noise that aircraft make. Additionally, the Secretary of State may direct an airport to do that, although he has not found it necessary to do so to date. However, the legislation concerning local air quality goes back to 1982, when there would have been little or no expectation that airports would want to vary their charges by reference to aircraft emissions.
The Government's air quality strategy has since set out health-based air quality objectives for air pollutants, derived from EU air quality directives. Although, on a national scale, the contribution of air transport to those impacts is smallcertainly compared with road traffic, for exampleits effect can be significant in individual cases. We therefore gave a commitment in the White Paper that the Government would introduce legislation enabling the Secretary of State to require an emissions-related element to be included in landing charges at airports where there are local air quality problems.
In fact, BAA has already incorporated an oxides of nitrogen emissions element in its airport charges at both Heathrow and Gatwick, as part of its conditions of use, and I applaud it for having done so. However, by making explicit the power to do so in statute, the Government wish to send an even clearer message that they support airports that want to incorporate economic incentives to help to tackle local air quality problems. The Secretary of State will retain the discretion to issue a direction in individual cases, should he consider that necessary at some future date.
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab):
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is acting to control local pollution caused by aviation, but he will be aware that the big current debate on pollution from aviation is about the global impact on climate changehence the recent strategy for sustainable aviation. How confident is he that he will be able to bring aviation into the emissions
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trading scheme and, if he is not, is he willing to look for consensus on some of the ideas advanced by other members of the European scheme?
Dr. Ladyman: I can give my right hon. Friend those assurances. We shall use our presidency over the next six months and we hope to take forward some of the negotiations on aviation. In particular, we have made it clear that we are interested in some of the proposals for emissions trading for aviation and we shall do our best to take forward those negotiations over the next six months.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Is the Minister aware of an irony in the potential tax system for general aviation, which, although it is a very small contributor to emissions, may be forced to pay Eurocontrol navigation charges that are now paid primarily by the large commercial airline sector? Is he willing to meet representatives from the general aviation professional bodies, so that they can explain the issue and the counter-productive way in which the new charges could work? Moreover, could he do that in a time frame that would enable amendments to be tabled before the Bill finishes its Committee stage?
Dr. Ladyman: The Government are happy to receive representations. I suggest that the best Minister to make the representations to is the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who is primarily responsible for aviation matters, and will wind up the debate. We all have an open office in the Department for Transport and are always happy to receive new ideas from anyone.
Thus far, I have described the important environmental issues that the Bill deals with, but it also contains two important provisions relating to the financial protection and health of air travellers. Organisers of air package holidays are required, as part of the air travel organisers licensingATOLrequirements, to provide a bond to be used to repatriate and reimburse holiday makers in the event of a company's insolvency. The air travel trust fund is a back-up facility for the financial protection of people who book air package holidays. If a tour organiser becomes insolvent and the bond proves insufficient to pay for the repatriation and reimbursement of those affected, the ATTF is used to make up the difference.
As a result of various calls on the fund, it has become depleted and has been in deficit for some years. There are no statutory powers to impose a levy on travel companies to replenish the fund. A precursor to the fundthe air travel reserve fundwas wound up in the 1980s and the powers to levy could not be revived. The bank overdraft in respect of the deficit of the fund has been guaranteed by the Government, pending a suitable legislative opportunity to secure new powers.
There are therefore clauses in the Bill that will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations permitting the Civil Aviation Authority, following consultation, to impose a levy on travel organisers that will, over time, eliminate the present deficit and establish sufficient
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funds to deal with future travel company insolvencies. The CAA will consult on the nature of the charge and its duration.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that many travellers, because of the way tickets and holidays are purchased nowadays, have no idea that, if any of the companies became bankrupt, they would be stranded with no rights of return and no support. Will he give us a firm assurance that the CAA will be supported in its suggestion that a £1 levy across the board would not only give travellers genuine protection so that Her Majesty's Government would not have to pay for the repatriation of British citizens, but benefit many companies by straightening out many of the current anomalies?
Dr. Ladyman: I understand my hon. Friend's point and we have received a number of representations on this matter, not least the report of the Transport Committee. I have to tell her, though, that we have also received a great many representations putting the other side of the argument. It is by no means a black-and-white issue. There is a balance to be struck and, at this stage, the Government are not prepared to give the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks.
Mrs. Dunwoody: My hon. Friend will also be aware that I was a Minister when the original scheme was introduced and I can assure him that it was introduced because Her Majesty's Government were extraordinarily embarrassed at finding themselves with thousands of British citizens on various holidays who, without protection, were unable to get back to their own country. Let me assure him that the balance of the argument lies with consumers, who do not even know that they are currently not protected, but who would certainly make Her Majesty's Government pay when they suddenly discover that they are not.
Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend makes some good points. Before the general election, the Government began work to make more information available so that people are made aware of their lack of protection when they are not covered by the ATOL scheme. Having said that, I ask her to reflect on some of the opposing arguments. Some larger airlines, for example, have pointed out that one of the reasons for their competitive advantage is that people know that it is unlikely that they will go bankrupt. They feel that their competitive advantage would be taken away from them if a levy were imposed. Others have pointed out that consumers are not protected by an automatic levy in other areas, where they are expected to take reasonable steps to protect themselves. We need to find the right balance in the arguments. That is why the Government want to reflect on those arguments, not least those advanced in the House today and later in Committee, before deciding how best to proceed. We have neither ruled out nor ruled in the measures that my hon. Friend has requested.
Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab):
The Minister may well want to travel to the United States where he may see an airlineone of the larger onesgoing belly up shortly. If that happens, passengers will
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be scattered all over the USA and elsewhere, and many British people will be affected. This is an important matter that needs to be addressed if we are to bring about, as the Minister said, a proper balance. If there is to be balance, surely we should take an onerous task from what used to be known as the charter companies, which have to undertake it in order to operate, and instead create an insurance policy that covers everyone who travels.
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