Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): The Bill seems to have one theme running through itto address more seriously the by-products of the large and, for the most part, welcome increase in the volume and capacity of air travel within the UK. In what way can the Government regulate to correct the externalities and market failures not dealt with by the ever-increasing air industry? In the past it may have been easier to ignore problems of noise and air pollution. Now there are simply too many planes in the sky to allow such laxity. In 1991 there were nearly 96 million passengers passing through UK terminals; in 2003 that had more than doubled, to nearly 200 million. It is estimated that by 2020 the figure may have risen to more than 400 million. Meanwhile, the number of aircraft movementsaircraft landing or taking offhas risen from nearly 1.4 million to more than 2 million during the same period.
The increase in air travel has, of course, proved stimulating to the economy. There is some debate about the exact economic effect of air routes to Scotland, but I know from personal experience in Dundee that for many business people, the Dundee to London route is a vital link with the United Kingdom capital, and enables businesses to be based on Tayside. I approach the Bill as one who is in favour of air travel and the increase in air travel that has taken place over the past two decades. The fact that I am in favour of air travel, however, does not mean that I am unaware of its limitations and problems.
Dundee is fortunate in that its airport is fairly secluded in terms of residential areas, its planes are small, its capacity is limited and it is next to the River Tay, where the only offence that it can cause is to
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basking seals on the sandbanks when the tide is low. When I come to London, as I have the privilege of doing most weeks now, the situation is rather different. The idyllic silvery riverside view is gone, and in its place are masses of planes flying in all directions. Coming to this city nearly every week makes me recognise the necessity of renewed and reformed regulation of our rapidly expanding air industry. It is vital for us to take seriously the effect of noise and pollution on people's lives. Of course noise is a by-product of aeroplanes, and we should accept that, but it is important to limit the effect wherever possible. I welcome the clauses allowing the Secretary of State to compel aerodrome owners to install noise-measuring equipment in airports.
The observations of the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) made me think back to my days as a safety representative. I think that decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, which means that if a volume of 80 dB is doubled it becomes 90 dB. I do not know whether the hon. Lady was aware of that, but it may make the figures she gave even more horrific.
The Bill is the first step towards allowing operators to impose realistic limits on the carriers who use their airports. I understand that without it, charges of the type we are discussing, if levied by airport operators, would be open to legal challenge. Clearly a change is necessary. The Bill will encourage carriers to start reducing the levels of noise emissions as a way of both saving money and improving their public profile. It is important for carriers to accept more responsibility, and it is best for the managers of aerodromes to initiate the process. It is they, after all, who must deal with public reaction if there is too much noise at night, or if tiles start falling off roofs owing to unnecessary vibrations.
As always with legislation that seeks to regulate, it is important to set the regulation at the right level. I believe that the Bill strikes that balance. Allowing aerodrome owners to set the levies will allow decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis, and those on the ground will obviously have the right amount of knowledge to do that. There is, of course, a caveat. If the market and aerodrome owners could deal with the problems naturally, there would be little need for legislation. I am glad that the Secretary of State will gain powers to act should that be necessary. There is a fine balance to be struck between over-regulating and letting things get out of control. I trust that the dividing line will be established soon after the Bill takes effect.
As for the regulation itself, I think that it is an attempt to deal with the wider issue of the costs and benefits of air travel. It is crucial for airlines and aerodrome operators to take account of some of the wider externality issues, and to try to address them as the air industry continues to expand. I imagine that some will object to what they see as undue regulation, but I think that the negligible costs incurred will be easily offset once they are divided among the 200 million passengers who pass through our airports each year. At this stage it seems reasonable for everyone to make a small contribution to the common good, and to the quality of life of some of our fellow citizens.
As I have said, the Bill is in general about protecting consumers from externalities and market failures. That is clearly demonstrated by clause 9. Most holidays are
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already protected by ATOL, and it makes sense for there to be at least some regulation of ordinary air travel. It will protect the public, and give carriers an incentive to go on behaving properly. It will help to cement measures in the Bill.
The Bill seeks to address the new problems caused by air travel in the 21st century. By doing that now, it will allow us to enjoy an expanded aeroplane market. However, we will do so in the knowledge that we are not leaving such crucial matters as noise and aircraft emissions in the hands of air operators alone.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak on the Bill. It is a bit of a rag-taga miscellaneous Bill consisting of bits and piecesbut it is very important, because it affects a very important industry. We have heard today about the value of the civil aviation industry to our country. It is worth £10 billion a year. It employs 200,000 people directly, and 600,000 indirectly. According to Government estimates of the industry's possible growth, another 260,000 jobs could well be created.
All that is not God-given. The industry is very competitive. Many other countries would like to be as successful as we are in this respect. We must maintain a strong industry, especially if ours is to remain the fourth largest economy in the world and to make progress as a modern economy. About a third of our exports, by value, now travel by air, and we have seen massive growth. Although I do not necessarily accept some of the higher growth figures, we must plan for quite a high level of further growth over the next few years.
It is true that we have not taken as strategic an approach as other nations. That is a criticism both of past Conservative Governments and of the present Government. This Government have been brave in one respect, however: they have begun to consider potential airport and runway expansion. When terminal 5 was being built and an inquiry was in progress, Schipol and de Gaulle airports added three runways. The Europeans are rather more focused on expanding their aerospace industries than we are. A bargain must be struck. If our industry is to expand and create jobs and wealth, our citizens will expect it to do more about emissions and, in particular, noise. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) spoke eloquently about what her constituents must put up with. We must nail the industry down to achieving much better standards in future.
When I first looked at the Bill, I thought that the Government were tightening noise and emission regulations, but when I listened to the Minister I was not so sure. As he continued, there were more references to balancing and "on the one hand . . . on the other hand". The devil will be in the detail, and the Committee stage will be very important in terms of what eventually emerges. If we get the noise and emission levels right, however, it may well be appropriate to expand the industry and thus create wealth.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney was very eloquent on behalf of her constituents who cannot sleep. People have certain basic rights. We must achieve a proper balance between a successful industry and the
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rights of those who live under the flight path or close to airportsrights that most of us consider normal in this day and age.
The Minister talked a great deal about planning authorities. The planning authority responsible for an airport usually represents only a small proportion of the area affected by aircraft movements. We also heard about airports' consultative committees, which I have never considered to provide the strongest protection for those living in the vicinity. I hope that in Committee we shall hear more about who will be consulted, and the length of the consultation period.
The question has also arisen of the how far around an airport such controls should extend. Should they extend, for example, for 10, 20 or 40 km? That will clearly be very important in terms of the effectiveness of these regulations. Concern has also been expressed about the imposition of financial penalties, and particularly the prospect of using them as a local fund. The problem is not just that it might be the manager of a particular airport who makes that decision; there could also be perverse incentives for an airport or a local authority to impose restrictive limits with large fines, in order just to raise money. A balance has to be struck in the introduction and application of these regulations.
The issue of appeals and route licences was also briefly raised. The Government say that the Civil Aviation Authority has the experience and the professionals to be able to decide these issues, but it is very unusual for someone who loses a route to have no means of appeal. Perhaps the Competition Commission is the appropriate body to deal with any such dispute, which will undoubtedly arise at some point. Indeed, reference has already been made in this debate to judicial review or some form of court action. I am not sure that simply taking the Secretary of State out of the process constitutes a great stripping out of bureaucracy. In fact, it might give rise to more difficulties if we end up going down the legal route.
Reference has been made to the Air Travel Trust fund, and to various schemes such as introducing a £1 levy on individual travellers, as well as having no particular levy. The situation today is significantly different from the early 1970s, when Court Lines went bust. In those days, most people did not have credit cards, there were exchange controls and travel was still a relatively rare undertaking. These days, most people who travel use their credit cards to book a flight, and people who are stranded use their card to get back to the United Kingdom. I do not believe that people are necessarily without options and choices. Whenever I go home, I discover that at least five companies are trying to offer me a credit card with an excessive credit limit. Although it may not always be in the British people's interest, they certainly have sufficient credit to get themselves out of difficulty. I am not sure that the Government should do that job, or that a levy should be imposed on everybody. Stronger companies could end up bailing out weaker ones, which have in fact been undercutting them in the process.