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Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for contacting me to explain his absence from today's debate. It was perhaps uncharitable—although only slightly—of the
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official Opposition spokesman to describe the Bill as an aviation paella: as a trail mix of aviation measures, to be washed down with a night cap of a pint of Special Brew. What is clear is that, as the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) said, aviation Bills do not land very often. So when one does, Members need to take the opportunity to examine it closely, to see whether it delivers on certain key principles. The Government have stated two such key principles: that "predict and provide" in aviation is dead, and that the polluter will pay. I am afraid to say that the Bill fails the first principle and that it partly fails the second, in that it in fact says that the polluter "might" pay.

David Taylor: Is not the reality that, in this context, self-regulation is absurd? It is equivalent to asking breweries to introduce measures restricting the consumption of alcohol, or to asking tobacco companies to restrict smoking. It is highly unlikely that the industry will tackle the problems that it sometimes causes with any great conviction.

Tom Brake: I agree. There is a clear conflict between the need of airport operators to secure business, and their adopting measures to control emissions or noise, which could discourage airlines from flying from the airport in question. Indeed, this point of view is not restricted to the hon. Gentleman and to me: a significant airport operator expressed it to me in a meeting, so it is clear that it is shared by such operators.

As the Minister said in his introduction, it is clear that many jobs—some 200,000—depend on the aviation industry. There has been a fivefold increase in air travel in the past five years, and a further threefold increase is predicted by 2030, with some 500 million passengers travelling by air. The aviation industry is of course key from a commercial point of view. By value, a third of the goods that the UK exports are transported by air.

Equally, however, there are environmental considerations. As a House of Commons Library briefing points out, in the year 2000 aviation emissions accounted for 5.5 per cent. of the UK's total carbon dioxide emissions. When one takes into account radiative forcing, that goes up to 11 per cent. It is predicted that, by 2030, aviation could be contributing about a quarter of the UK's emissions.

It would seem as though the Government have taken the issue on board and are aware of the need to have a sustainable aviation industry. For instance, at a seminar in February 2005, the then Transport Minister, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins), stated that it was crucial that

Clearly that is what the Government believe they are doing, but at the same seminar the then Minister said that the way of achieving sustainable aviation in the south-east was to provide a second runway at Stansted by 2012. I am not sure what definition of sustainable aviation the Minister was working from. Clearly there is environmental sustainability and commercial sustainability. One suspects that the two are not the same.
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Graham Stringer: Before the hon. Gentleman leaves his overview of the Bill, it has been reported that he believes that the aviation industry should be reduced in size. Is that the view of the Liberal Democrats?

Tom Brake: I can confirm that the level of the increase that is projected—a threefold increase by 2030—is environmentally unsustainable and I do not believe that the measures put forward by the industry currently will be sufficient to tackle that matter.

John Smith: Where does the hon. Gentleman get his idea from that the industry will increase threefold by 2030? As far as I am aware, that does not appear in any official figures; double, maybe, but not triple.

Tom Brake: We could debate whether it is twice or three times, but we cannot debate the fact that the aviation industry is a growing and significant contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and to NOx emissions, or that currently there are no proposals on the table in the short term that address that matter.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): It seems to me that hidden away in the Bill is the scope for an airport such as Heathrow to exceed the current movement limits. Is that the hon. Gentleman's interpretation?

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman's interpretation is identical to mine. The Bill creates an opportunity for the number of movements to be increased if that is so wished. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) highlighted, what affects residents is very often the number of flights going overhead and the number of times they are woken up, as opposed to an overall noise quota, to which people do not respond in the same way.

Dr. Ladyman: The main airports in London—Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted—are designated as those where the Secretary of State ultimately sets the rules. It would require the Secretary of State to be complicit in any change for those fears to be realised. The Bill makes it clear that the Secretary of State could only do so anyway after consultation with the local community.

Tom Brake: I will let other Members judge what they feel about the Secretary of State being complicit and whether that is something that may or may not happen in the future.

The Opposition spokesman said that the Bill tackled a number of issues; environmental, commercial and consumer issues, as well as noise, charging for the use of airport facilities according to aircraft emissions, and making noise control systems. On the commercial front, the issues include the removal of restrictions on local authorities so that they can compete with privately owned airports; the removal of the right of appeal in the allocation of route licenses; the matter of requiring the Civil Aviation Authority to provide assistance in relation to the health of both crew and passengers; and the levy on air travel organisers to replenish the fund.

On the environmental issues, and given the points that have been made, it is fair to say that the consensus is that the Bill does not go far enough in relation to the
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environment. The fact that the airport operators and airlines are happy with the environmental provisions suggests that the Bill does not push the boundaries far enough. Members will have seen the representations from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, for instance, which believes that the Bill does not address the big environmental issues and that it is mere tinkering, given the scale of the challenges that aviation poses. The CPRE also suggests that the CAA should publish annual figures showing the climate change impact of all flights departing from the UK. That may be outside the scope of this Bill, but it might be worthy of discussion in Committee at least.

As other hon. Members have pointed out, the CPRE has legitimate concerns about how it will be possible for Coventry airport to enforce noise and emissions controls, given that one of its main operators is Thomsonfly, which also flies from the airport. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Coventry airport operators about how the provisions will operate in practice?

AirportWatch has also provided a submission, and its main concern is that increased powers will be given to local airports. Some of the lobby groups agree that airport operators should not be given further powers, because they do not exercise the powers that they have now for the benefit of the local community, nor are they responsive to the local community's concerns. AirportWatch has also highlighted the point about possible increases in the number of flights as a result of the changes, which the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) mentioned in his intervention. It also picked up on the point about the need for an independent monitoring and regulatory system to assess noise levels.

Other hon. Members have referred to HACAN's concerns. While the CPRE and AirportWatch are of the view that the Bill does not go far enough, HACAN thinks that it goes too far in removing the separate movements limit. HACAN also echoes the concern of others that that is a subterfuge to "reduce" the environmental impact of the third runway so that it becomes justifiable.

The Demand campaign group has also highlighted the issue of Coventry airport and asks how it would be possible for an airport that is partly owned by an airline to impose fines on that airline, so that it would in effect be fining itself. According to Demand, Coventry does not even have a system for keeping track of noise at present.

As for the commercial implications of the Bill, it is true to say that supportive comments have been received from all sides on the proposal to allow local authority airports to compete. The one body that one thought might have opposed that proposal—BAA—is comfortable with the idea and does not see a problem with it.

As for the removal of the right of appeal, again, no objection has been raised. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister when she sums up precisely what she thinks about the regulatory impact assessment's idea that there will be a marginal cost increase, because when people no longer have a right of appeal, they are likely to seek judicial review. Has any figure been attached to that marginal extra cost? Clearly, such an increase would be passed on to air transport users.
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On the aviation health unit, BAA has expressed measured concern, but broadly speaking, I believe that the idea has received support.

Finally, there is the issue of consumer protection and the creation of the air travel trust fund levy. As other Members have said, this has to be all or nothing. The public believe that they are covered by insurance wherever they obtain their flights, and either they must be covered, and everyone who provides flights must contribute to a fund that covers people if their tour operator or airline goes out of business, or the public must be told that they are not guaranteed to be covered by anyone, unless they take out private insurance for themselves.

It is difficult to have an intermediate position, whereby all consumers believe that they are covered but are not, and only one sector of the industry is required to contribute. I certainly support the idea that the fund should be rebuilt, but I also believe that its scope should be extended so that everyone is genuinely covered by it, through the £1 contribution that the Civil Aviation Authority has proposed.

To conclude, I agree with the CPRE that the Bill only tinkers with the scale of the environmental challenges posed by aviation and its associated noise and emissions. The Liberal Democrats will not seek to divide the House tonight, but we will attempt to insert some backbone in the Bill in Committee. Freedom to fly must be balanced by freedom from environmental damage. At present the Bill does not balance those freedoms, and our objective is to ensure that by the time it receives Royal Assent, it does exactly that.

5.52 pm

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