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Tom Brake: Clearly, the Bill is beneficial in parts. Clarifying the law on what airport operators can charge for noise and emissions, giving commercial freedom to public airport operators and making the CAA responsible for the health of people on board aircraft are positive developments. There are great concerns, however. The clearest of those is in relation to noise and breaking the link with the number of flights. The Bill does not reflect the House's concern about that.
As hon. Members said, the Bill has a gaping hole. The Minister was decent enough to recognise that by devoting a large part of her speech to the air travel trust fund and the £1 levy. I do not understand why the Government are failing to make moves on that simple issue, especially when the CAA has provided them with a simple solution that has the backing of the Federation of Tour Operators. The introduction of the £1 levy
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would have made things clear to passengers who are confused about where they stand in relation to cover should the airline they are flying with fail. We are not talking about a small number of people. Each year, 84 million people are travelling without that insurance, and a large percentage of them will believe that they are insured.
There are questions that the Minister needs to answer. I asked her about the £100 million of savings in regulatory costs and gave her an opportunity to clarify what cost savings she expected to derive from her proposal, and she was unable to provide those figures. Has the Minister seen the economic analysis by Ernst and Young, commissioned on a brief agreed by the Department for Transport and the CAA, which looked at various options and concluded that a £1 levy on all flights is the most economically rational solution to the issue of providing passenger protection? What does the hon. Lady think of that analysis, and why has it been so readily dismissed by the Government? The Minister of State said on Second Reading that he would listen to Members' views and take them into account. I am sure that he listened, but there is little evidence that he took into account the views on the air travel trust fundquite the contrary.
Other Members have referred to EUjet. Is the hon. Lady aware that only 16 per cent. of the EUjet passengers were able to take advantage of special offers from other airlines to fly them back? What would she say to the 84 per cent. who found themselves stranded and had to make their own financial arrangementsin some cases, I am sure, at great costto get themselves repatriated to the UK?
The Minister has given the House nothing in the way of reassurance about how she will tackle the decline of ATOL protection. That is the biggest weakness in the Bill. There are lots of other valid measures, but the Minister and the Government have missed a huge opportunity to address one of the biggest issues in the industry, and I am sure that this will come back to haunt them the next time a UK airline fails and hundreds of passengers are stranded abroad. They will be wondering why the Government did not take up the CAA's offer of a solution to the problem, but left them stranded.
Mr. Donohoe : Earlier this evening, I made a point of order about an amendment that I had tabled and indicated to you, Mr. Speaker, that I was surprised that it had not been selected. Despite your explanation, I remain extremely disappointed that the matter was not voiced as it should have been in our debates. The time that we had did not allow us to expand our discussion to address the issue properly.
It is not very often, Mr. Speaker, that I have differences with you in our debates, but in this instance I have to say that I am at variance with what the Government are saying about the £1 levy. I cannot believe that they equate the failure of an airline with a store going bankrupt. I find it astounding that anybody would suggest that it is like someone losing money after employing cowboy workmen. There is no common sense whatever in saying that the situation is like that of someone who is unfortunate enough to have losses on the stock market.
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The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) raised the question of Europe. He was right to do so because, at some point, the Government will be forced to make significant alterations to the Bill. It is clear to me, at any rate, that there is an anomaly, and some discrimination, in the situation of the no-frills airlines and that of the chartered airlines. I do not know how the Government can say that, on balance, they have come to these conclusions. I want to know from the Minister what that balance waswas it 60:40, 70:30 or, as I suspect, something like 90:10?
Lembit Öpik: I declare an interest as one of three members of the flying community in this House, together with the hon. Members for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths). I reassure hon. Members that I am not a commercial pilot, so I speak in a private capacity. I shall make two points about the Bill and one observation about general aviation.
Some aspects of the Bill need to be considered a little more, as we have heard. As a pilot, I have been flabbergasted at the increase in costs at many of the large airports, particularly for general aviation pilots. The fact that the authorities have total jurisdiction over what they charge has resulted in a sky-rocketing of some of the costs. As has been made clear on Report, there is considerable concern over the proposed financial penalties, which the authorities will also be able to set at any level without recourse to appeal. That could be damaging to aviation as a whole, because there will be an enormous temptation to use such penalties as a revenue-making scheme. I know that the legislation states that all the money should be passed to those who are perceived to be suffering ill effects, but it is not as simple as that. I hope that if the scheme shows itself to be flawed the Government will be willing to reconsider it.
On the face of it, that sounds perfectly reasonableuntil one realises that pilots always have to land into wind. It is the most basic requirement. So it is disturbing, to say the least, to see in the explanatory notes the implication that the direction of landing may be altered in order to reduce the discomfort of noise for local people. As far as I can see, the Government could achieve that only by introducing a scheme to alter wind direction. Unless the Prime Minister can control the weather, which even he does not pretend, the explanatory note should be modified. If it is used as an opportunity to interpret the legislation, it will make things more rather than less dangerous.
Thirdly and finally, commercial aviation in this country is underpinned by general aviation, which is a multi-billion pound industry that does much to feed commercial aviation with pilots and to transport all manner of people around the country from small aerodromes. In interventions on Report, I sought reassuranceI think that I received itthat the intention of the Bill is not to influence general aviation.
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However, I hope that the Government will return to a couple of things that are very important to the general aviation sector. One is the question of N-registered aircraftthose registered in the United States but used in the UK for general aviation.
The Minister will be aware that general aviation is very concerned about the potential for banning N-registered aircraft from the British register. There have been signs of a change of heart, suggesting that that will not happen in the short term, but I hope that the Minister will be willing to meet representatives of the general aviation sectorI see her nodding, so I will take that as a yesin order to discuss their concerns and the rationale behind allowing N-registered aircraft to continue.
Connected to that there is a concern that, as we consider safety issues, Britain should learn from the experience of the United States, which provides pilots, particularly private pilots, with the opportunity to gain a less stringent instrument-rating qualification. In the United States, 50 per cent. of private pilots have that instrument rating, but in the United Kingdom, where instrument rating is far more complicated and difficult to secure, the qualification is possessed by less than 2 per cent. of the private pilot population. That has a bearing on safety for all carriers, including civil aviation and the commercial sector, because we all share the same airspace. Again, perhaps we can raise that subject in a meeting outside the Chamber.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) has highlighted our concerns. I hope that the explanatory note will be clarified and that the Government will keep a close eye on changes to costs and charges after the Bill is implemented.
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