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That is a major breakthrough, which will have a significant impact on the health of passengers. However, I regret that we were unable to reach the amendments that would have extended that duty to responsibility for those who live in the vicinity of airports.
Research is demonstrating the impact of airports on those who live close to them. Emissions problems lead to increases in respiratory disease and we now have information and research from America on cancer rates in certain areas. In my constituency there is increasing evidence of birth defects resulting from air pollution in the areasome emanating from the airport, but some from the airport-related transport infrastructure, which has an impact on south Hillingdon. I would have liked some responsibility to be placed on the Secretary of State to consider and evaluate that information and to propose solutions to tackle such problems. Perhaps that is an issue for future legislation, which many of us will work to promote.
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Laura Moffatt : There is much to commend the Bill to the House, although it is difficult for me to disguise my disappointment about the £1 levy. I ask the Minister to ensure that those who have long taken a close interest in the matter and who are not members of the Select Committee are able to take part in any continuing debate with the Civil Aviation Authority. I shall be most grateful if we are included, and I take heart from the fact that there will be an opportunity to examine the matter further.
It seems stupid to me to say that a baggage loader at Gatwick airport is less interested in his or her environment than anyone else. I firmly believe that we can work in partnership on airport issues and I accept that people are able to reach voluntary agreements. There is much in the Bill that will improve the atmosphere surrounding airports. There should be no poachers and gamekeepers. We should work in partnership with one of the most successful industries in the UK. We must protect the environment and protect the industry itself.
John Smith : I shall make only a brief speech at the end of this interesting Third Reading debate. I support the Bill: it is generally good, but I am absolutely delighted with the provisions of clause 7. The members of the campaign group VARDAthe Victims of Air Related Deep Vein Thrombosis Associationshare my gratitude to the Government for taking the courageous step of introducing this legislation. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) clearly has not read the Bill, because clause 7 imposes for the first time ever, in any country, a statutory duty to safeguard the health of airline passengers. It creates the aviation health unit, which will be financed through a levy on the airlines and which will carry out research into aviation health concerns and publish advice to passengers. It also extends air navigation orders to include, for the first time, health matters relating to the aviation industry.
In Committee, I tried to introduce a new clause that would have extended the Bill's powers and amended the Carriage by Air Act 1961 to override article 17 of the 1929 Warsaw convention, which limits the liability on injury to airline passengers
Mr. Duncan: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the record, it is important to make a distinction between new clause 7 and the existing clause 7. I think that the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) has misunderstood the position.
We would have liked to see the Bill extended so that airlines had exactly the same duty of care towards their passengers as any other passenger carriers. It is absurd
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in the 21st century, when 1.5 billion people fly every year and when more than 16 million people in this country fly long haul, that they have no protection from risks to their health and the airlines have no responsibility. I hope that the Government will revisit the situation. I am certain that the Bill is a step in the right direction and that it is only a matter of time before airlines come into line with all other passenger carriers. I support the Bill.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to initiate the first Adjournment debate after the summer recess. The main issue that I want to raise is the change that was made during the recess to granting indefinite leave to people who were given refugee status, a change that was mentioned in the five-year plan that the Home Office produced earlier this year, but a change that had never been debated or discussed in the House before it was brought into force at the end of August. When it became evident shortly before the summer recess that the change was likely to take place, several Members expressed concern. In the last few days before the summer recess more than 40 Members added their names to an early-day motion on the subject.
I really do not understand the reasoning behind the change. It reverses a policy that the Labour Government introduced in 1998. It was announced in the White Paper of July 1998. Before 1998, anyone who was given refugee status was given only temporary permission to stay and had to wait four years before they could apply for indefinite leave. In the 1998 White Paper, we said that the immediate granting of indefinite leave would help refugees to integrate more easily and quickly into society, to the benefit of the entire community into which they had been accepted. It then went on to say that this policy was wholly consistent with the Government commitment to a more humanitarian approach to the UK's obligations under the 1951 refugee convention and to faster identification of those in genuine need of protection.
Those arguments were absolutely right in 1998. I do not understand why the same arguments are not regarded as valid now. I know from correspondence that I have had with the Minister over the summer that he may say that things have changed since 1998, that we are now in a different situation and that the number of asylum applications has changed considerably. Indeed, it has dropped a lot in the past year or two. The Minister may well say that the time scale for decision making has changed. It is welcome that the time scale now for initial decisions is so much shorter than it used to be. The arguments that we made in 1998 for indefinite leave were not about numbers or time scales for decision making. They were about principleswhat was the best way to help people whom we recognised as refugees to integrate into society, and how could we best operate our commitments under the 1951 convention? The convention does not explicitly demand that we immediately give indefinite leave to someone to whom we grant refugee status, and until 1998 we did not grant leave in such circumstances. However, doing so is in the spirit of the convention, and that is the argument that we made in the 1998 White Paper.
European countries do not all grant indefinite leave. In the five-year plan published earlier this year it was argued that a number of European countries granted refugees temporary leave initially rather than immediate settlement. That was true before 1998, however, and we did not regard it as a valid argument. If we are going to
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reverse the policy of granting indefinite leavea policy that is only seven years oldit should be possible to point to problems that have arisen from its operation, but I am not aware of any argument that such problems have been created. I am convinced, however, that problems will be created by the reversal of the policy. It is disingenuous to say, as the Home Office has said in correspondence, that the change is not intended to prolong the uncertainty and instability faced by refugees, because that is exactly what it is guaranteed to do.
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