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Mrs. Dunwoody : British Airways may offer places where it has spaces available, but there is no guarantee that because an airline is large it will not go bankrupt. At least six major airlines are in extremely doubtful financial positions. British Airways does not happen to be one of them at the moment, but there is no guarantee that people could get back if they were abandoned.
Mr. Duncan: Let me map out a fundamental alternative scenario to the position that I outlined earlier. The world has changed fundamentally in the past 30 years. Travelling abroad has become commonplace and it is not as if people are going to the moon. They are far more versed in foreign travel and the choices that they face in doing that, and they are experienced consumers. In addition, the CAA is duty bound to establish that airlines are financially sound. We should therefore ask whether we need such a scheme in the modern world. Why should air travel be singled out as the one aspect of business that merits a special bail-out fund to cover the risk of corporate failure? I sense that the Government themselves are ambivalent about the merits of the fund, and we should use the Committee stage of the Bill to explore whether we should retain it.
This is a pretty messy little Bill with no strategic shape, no clear purpose and no easily predictable consequences. It gives authority to the Secretary of State to do all sorts of things, yet it is not at all clear what he will end up doing. We shall seek to improve it in Committee and reserve the right to amend it on Report, once we have found out quite what the Government intend to do.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I am very pleased to rise to support the Second Reading of this important Bill. As I look round the Chamber, I see a number of Members who have a particular interest in the aviation industry. This debate gives us an opportunity to discuss aviation issuesthey do not come oftenand to get to grips with the industry as it is now and the way in which we wish it to develop in the future. I firmly believe that the Bill offers us a good future.
Most of us, particularly those in the Chamber today, have a longstanding interest in aviation. As a child growing up, I used to listen to very loud aircraft just a couple of miles away from my home. I then became very involved with Gatwick airport, and with ensuring that it was a good neighbour to Crawley. Although the airport is now wholly within the Crawley constituency, we in
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our patch understand that its impact is felt far and wide. We must be clear, however, that not all its impacts are negative. There are many positive ways in which people are able to live their lives around it, because it provides good job opportunities and brings in a full range of business. For most of us, the airport provides a very positive experience.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I am in a parallel position in relation to the so-called Nottingham East Midlands airport in North-West Leicestershire, which, as the provider of 7,000 jobs, is certainly a major economic driver. I wonder whether my hon. Friend's experience is similar to ours, however, in that the greatest proportion of those who work at the airport live nowhere near its periphery or under its flight paths. Does not that have to be taken into account?
Laura Moffatt: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Because of the very different set-up in my constituency, with the new town next to the airport, very many of my constituents work at the airport.
These debates often become polarised between those of us who are very pro-airports and those who appear to have difficulty in accepting their existence at all. It would be most odd if we were to ignore the fact that 36,000 people earn their living on or off the airport at Gatwick. Those people regularly travel into the airport and spend half their lives there; why would they not have an interest in ensuring that it was environmentally sound, that they were not being polluted while working there, and that it was surrounded by a decent environment in which to bring up a family? It is important, therefore, that we should not become polarised. We should look at the industry as a whole.
The Bill, far from containing a hotch-potch of subjects, as the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) suggested, brings together a number of important issues that our constituents wish to see addressed. That is why there is such a broad range of clauses in the Bill.
We already work in partnership with our airports. It has been made clear in earlier interventions that charges can already be levied if aircraft do not take off in the way they should, or do not behave as they should do at the airport. These measures are taken in conjunction with local authorities. When airports have a good relationship with their local authorities and their nearby residents, they can become a force for good and a decent neighbour, but we must tackle the most important issues that face us. That is why the major part of the Bill deals with emissions and allows airports to take action.
I am pleased to say that Gatwick airport already has a legal agreement in place that takes account of the environment, which ensures that airport users behave themselves and are decent neighbours to everyone around them, and that the airport operator can take action against them if they do not do so. The Bill strengthens those powers for airport operators, and there is no question but that they will use them, as what interest does an operator have in being loathed and despised by the community around it? Such a level playing field for designated airports will allow others to play their full and proper part in one of the most successful industries in the United Kingdom, which we should not forget.
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I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) will be raising the important issue of the health of crew and passengers. The approach to that issue will be based on evidence, to make sure that people travel in the safest and most comfortable way possible. That is an important aspect of the Bill.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): No one could challenge what the hon. Lady has said about health, but the Bill says that airlines should pay for that existing and ongoing activity. Why does she think that that is a good thing?
Laura Moffatt: Certainly, I have no difficulty with bringing together expertise and allowing airlines to ensure that they protect the people from whom they draw their wealth. I therefore see enormous benefits in using the working group to influence any such activity, and in making sure that airlines play their full and proper part, which might be a financial one.
John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree not only that it is correct that airlines should have a levy on them to pay for health research and the aviation health unit at CAA Gatwick, but with the reasons for that? Airlines are unique among passenger carriers throughout the world in having no duty of care whatever for the health or well-being of their passengers. The levy is therefore a very small price to pay to protect the health of passengers.
Laura Moffatt: I thank my hon. Friend, and I know how strongly he feels about making sure that passengers' health is dealt with properly. I see the airline industry as involved in a true partnership, not only contributing to making sure that people travel decently and know that they will arrive at their destination safely, but using the best information, and the expertise of the health services, to the greatest benefit.
This is a good Bill, which not only considers aircraft emissions but encourages the use of public transport, which is fundamental. I refer hon. Members again to the work in and around Gatwick airport, which now has one of the most advanced dedicated bus systems around, which has transformed the way in which people travel to it, and which is being extended. Half the money for that came from the Department for Transport, for which we are deeply grateful, and the rest from partners, such as local authorities and the business community, which know that reducing emissions and getting people to an airport efficiently must be the way forward. That system, in its short life, has already seen almost 3 million passenger journeys. Increasing attention will therefore be given not only to reducing the impact of emissions on global warming but to addressing the real problems with emissions that communities face now.
Let me issue a plea to Ministers. Retaining Gatwick Express is a fundamental part of providing good rail access to the airport. It must continue to be a dedicated rail service that meets the needs of air passengers in particular.
I have paid a great deal of attention lately to the duty of the travel industryI believe it should be a dutyto protect travellers if they become stranded or are unable
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to travel. Many speakers have mentioned that today. I think it right and proper for the fund that currently exists to extricate itself from its present difficulties, which is well within the scope of clause 9, and I ask Ministers to consider carefully whether the scheme should be expanded to cover all travellers.
This is a difficult issue. It is understandable when Members, especially those on the Opposition Front Bench, ask whether we really need to protect travellers, but as with the Bill to protect people from religious hatred, either we have a system that protects everyone or we have a system that protects no one. I firmly believe that a £1 levy on each member of the travelling public is the answer. I know that the Civil Aviation Authority is still consulting on the matter, and I fervently hope that a levy will be its preferred option.
I am proud to say that the Gatwick airport area contains many of the travel companies that take people on holiday to have a wonderful time. It is a joy to go through the airport every morning and see everyone preparing to go away. I understand, however, that many of those using tour operators will be protected, while people embarking on an easyJet flight, having booked hotels on the internet, will notalthough, as was pointed out earlier, they have no idea that that is the case. That has been shown by polls conducted by the travel industry. Some 80 per cent. of people say that they would be prepared to pay between 50p and £2 to ensure that they receive such protection.
Obviously we need to protect travellers. This is a very difficult time. There is a competitive market out there, and, sadly, things happen. Major airlines which I support, particularly British Airways, do not favour such a scheme. I pay tribute to Sir Rod Eddington and his work to ensure that we can be proud of that airline again. It caused difficulties at Gatwickwe lost many aeroplanes and workersbut I understood that British Airways was trying to remain viable, and to go on operating well. Sadly, though, when things happen to the airline industry they do not happen just to some airlines. The dreadful events of 11 September did not affect a few airlines; they affected all airlines equally. If all airlines thought in those terms, that would be a much more valuable contribution to the debate than their saying, "Of course, such things will never happen to us. Only certain travel operators will be affected."
The Bill provides us with an opportunity truly to improve aspects of flying and of the aviation industry, such as the environment, emissions, working conditions and ground transport. I fervently hope that, in winding up, the Minister will say when we can return to the question of introducing a levy on passengers, so that we can ensure that they travel with little or no difficulty. We must also ensure that all airlines are treated equally, and that we continue to have an industry that we can be immensely proud of, and which serves our communities well. It must continue to be good a neighbour, and we must ensure that all within it behave in such a way that we are able to support them.
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