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Mr. Duncan: I do not want to detain the House long except to review our attitude to the Bill, which we have expressed from the very beginning. Where a lot of thought could have been put into devising a coherent policy enshrined in legislation for us to consider, we really have a complete hotchpotch. We have a random and arbitrary piece of legislation that lays down no coherent policy for the future benefit of the world. The Bill gives us no opportunity to distinguish properly between the poacher and the gamekeeper, and no coherent and consistent regime for either emissions or noise. It is apparent from the mood of the House that the Minister has very little enthusiastic support for the Bill from Labour Members.
I am sure that, had we had the opportunity on Report to reach clause 7, hon. Members on both sides would have warmly welcomed the groundbreaking proposal to place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State for Transport to safeguard the
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health of aviation passengers. My understanding is that this is, indeed, a first in the world, and the Government should be congratulated on it. I just regret that that duty of care was not extended to the airlines themselves.
Mr. Duncan: Most of the health issues in the Bill, as well as in the amendments that we might have discussed today, are about the health of people on the ground, not in the air. If the hon. Gentleman has any objection to not being able to reach those clauses, he should take it up with his party, his Chief Whip and his Prime Minister for programming legislation and denying the House on every occasion that we consider a Bill the opportunity properly to scrutinise it. If the hon. Gentleman stands up and complains in the way that he has done, he has only himself to blame.
It is apparent from what we have seen in the House tonight that there is very little support for the Bill on the Labour Benches. We have had a couple of speeches from Members with specific interests in airports in their constituencies, and it is distressing that we have heard no clear arguments for the environmental benefits of the Billbe they about noise or emissions. The Bill is arbitrary and incoherent.
Perhaps the most dismaying comment was made just a second ago when the Minister said that she thought that local problems were best dealt with at local level. Emissions are not a local problem; they are a global problem. She should perhaps have come up with better solutions to that problem than she has tonight.
We are perhaps able on Third Reading to concentrate, as the Minister did, on the travel trust, the insurance against companies going bankrupt. I said on Second Reading that there was a clear argument for saying that the state should not insure anybody at all and that, in the modern world of travel, everyone should insure themselves as they do their house, their life or anything else. We are, of course, compelled to insure our motor cars, largely, as the Minister rightly said, because of the damage that they might do to other people.
We have pointed out that it is the inconsistency and inequity of the current regime of travel insurance that has become a complete and utter nonsense. We have inherited a model that was designed in the 1970s, when most people went abroad on package holidays. If a package tour company went bankrupt, the system potentially covered well over 90 per cent. of people travelling in such a way. The rise of low-cost airlines and increased international travel has shifted the balance dramatically away from such models, so far fewer people are now covered by the insurance that currently exists. We also have an insurance arrangement that leaves the supposedly effective model in deep deficit, so the Government are required to top it up. Many travellers think that they are covered when they are not. The perpetuation of the flawed model is thus the one option that is nonsensical.
There are two options. One is to say, "You all cover yourselves", and the other is to put a quid on everyone's ticket for perhaps four years so that we can get a kitty to cover people. The Government have shied away from
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that option by arguing that the modern world says that people can travel on a low-cost airline, insure themselves and somehow get home if they need to. However, an absurd piece of EU legislation called the package travel directive remains in place and that perpetuates the absurdly limited and fragmented model of cover. I have not heard from the Government about how they will introduce consistency after rejecting the model offered by the Civil Aviation Authority.
I think that I am right in saying that in the entire history of the European Union, no directive has been repealed by this House. We thus have a constitutional structure that is forcing on us a fossilised picture of cover, and this House, in debating this Bill, has neither the power, nor even the will, to overturn a directive that puts in place something that is now clearly nonsensical and absurd. I ask the Minister to her face whether it is now Government policy to persuade the European Unionperhaps we will have more influence now that we have the presidencyto repeal the package travel directive.
Ms Buck: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we intend to enter into discussions with the CAA to examine a reform of the bonding system to ensure that companies that are currently covered by the package travel directive will be able to determine whether the burden on them, which they believe to be disproportionate, can be covered in an alternative way. We intend to do that because we realise that there is an issue for consumers and a possible inequity for different kinds of holiday providers.
Mr. Duncan: Quite clearly the answer is no. The Minister has no intention whatever of trying to repeal the package travel directive. Although we get 150 or so directives and 1,000 or more regulations a year, I believe it is trueI am happy to be disprovedthat none has ever been revised or repealed. We are thus in a constitutional and legislative ratchet. The situation is a perfect example of the Government believing that they are empowered to decide how companies and passengers should be affected, yet declining to make even an effort to address the problem and thus revise the situation. In other words, they accept whatever comes from the European Union and somehow work around it.
We shall be stuck with the ridiculous picture of an insurance that covers an old-fashioned part of the travel market. However, in the Government's own words, as they argue explicitly in a written statement published todaythey at least deserve credit for putting out something detailed in a written statementthey do not accept the arguments for extending cover. They intend to perpetuate an unacceptable position and I am sorry that the Bill does not deal with that.
The Bill has good intentions. We all want to control noise and emissions, but it is a great pity that the opportunity to introduce a sensible and modern regime to control noise and emissions in a crowded and busy world has been lamentably missed.
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Mrs. Dunwoody : This is an extraordinarily incompetent piece of legislation. It misses most of the things that are important. I am concerned in particular about financial protection for air travellers. That should have been debated at great length. The original scheme, which was tailored for a particular set of circumstances, has been overcome by changes in the way in which people travel. It is also nonsense to suggest that people who buy furniture are the same as those who take a holiday abroad on a low-cost airline. By definition, people who use low-cost airlines with their families are not able to buy alternative tickets. If we seriously think that there will always be other seats available and that other airlines, including the two or three very good ones that are opposed to the measure, will always find places for people, we will get a bad shock. The Government will have to take responsibility for the large number of holidaymakers who are unable to return.
After two full years of consultation, a course of masterly inaction will now ensure that nothing is done to halt the erosion of consumer protection. Presumably, the Minister means that she will ask for it to be removed altogether. Nothing will be done to reduce the incentive for tour operators to de-package their existing business, which threatens the viability of the ATOL scheme. Nothing will be done to simplify the system so that consumers can understand it. Nothing will be done to combat the increased risk of airline failures. That is a real risk. It is a pretend industry that hardly owns any assets and is sailing, in literal terms, very close to the wind. We will undoubtedly see a number of crashesif not literal, then certainly economic onesbefore long.
The unlevel playing field between tour operators and airlines will continue unless the Government intend to remove all protection. It is extraordinary for a Government who are trying so hard, under the guise of consumer protection, to wreck the way in which the national health service works to say that they are not interested, for the sake of £1 a ticket, in protecting the people who travel out of this country on holiday with their family.
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