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Mr. Roger Williams: It has been a great pleasure to be involved with the Bill. We have a duty to preserve and protect the environment, particularly the rural environment that we inherited from our forefathers. Some of us who have had the benefit of holidaying in foreign climes have been impressed by what we saw: we enjoyed the experience, but coming back and driving through England and Wales, as I did last Friday in lovely autumn weather, allows us to appreciate the real jewel that we possess. We have a duty to preserve it and should devote our energies to doing so.
I want to make a point about devolution. The environment is certainly something that cannot be put into separate compartments. My strong aspiration is for devolution, not separation and isolation. People need to devise good solutions that are appropriate to their particular area. They should then be generous in sharing and extending good practice. The environment cannot be separated in any way and we cannot do good work unless we co-operate. Some Government amendments encourage me to believe that the necessary work can take place. Consultation with the devolved assemblies in respect of policy and the appointment of members will help to accomplish that.
I wish that all Ministers were as understanding of devolution issues as the present Minister has proved to be. He needed a little bit of encouragement and prompting from time to time, but he has helped us to produce a Bill that is a lot better than it was initially, and I thank the Minister for that.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not believe that I have much more to add, except to say that I intended to thank my team of officials, who have proved
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invaluable as the Bill proceeded, at the end of the Committee stage. I intended to thank them at the start of Third Reading, but I take the opportunity now to thank them very much for their support. Perhaps some refreshment will follow shortly.
That the Order of 5th July 2005 relating to the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill (Programme) be varied by the substitution in paragraph 2 of "Thursday 27th October" for "Tuesday 25th October".[Mr. Watson.]
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): On the question whether Canvey Island should have its own town council, I take the view that people should have the maximum amount of information about the costs and benefits of a town council and what it could do. That should enable people to take their own decision. With a petition of more than 3,500 signatures and on the basis of my mailbox, it is clear that the people want a town council.
It is not for politicians to dictate to the people how they should be represented. It is for the people to decide and for politicians to deliver. That is democracy and politicians must respect the decisions of the people, whether or not they like them. I trust that the borough council will listen to the voice of Canvey people and deliver to them a council that has decent powers such as the management of halls and toilets, planning, pushing for our third road, and other things that really matter to us.
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That there is considerable public support for a Town Council for Canvey Island as illustrated by the petition calling for this signed by thousands of Canvey residents and presented to Castle Point Borough Council. And that the people of Canvey Island have been made aware of the potential costs and benefits of such a council and that there is widespread popular support for Canvey to have its own dedicated voice.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House shall urge Castle Point Borough Councillors to support a Town Council for Canvey and shall implore the Deputy Prime Minister to look favourably upon this initiative and to do so as quickly as possible so Canvey can have its Town Council by 2007.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I am delighted to have the opportunity to conduct this debate in a slightly less compressed time scale than might have been the case. I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to pay tribute to her hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who ensured that she would have time to get here at this rather earlier hour than we had all anticipated. However, I do not intend to drag out the process, and will still compress my remarks as much as I can.
May I first declare a personal interest? I am a lifelong aviator and currently hold a pilot's licence, so I would be subject to any increased costs proposed by the Civil Aviation Authority. I am also president of the Air Display Association Europe, which represents the interests of those who organise air displays both in the United Kingdom and on the continent.
Aviation is the second most popular outdoor spectator sport in the United Kingdom. Many people will have witnessed magnificent air displays by both vintage and modern aircraft, including the enduringly iconic displays by the Spitfire and the Hurricane to mark the 65th anniversary of the battle of Britain last monthnot to mention the B-17 Flying Fortress, which was grounded by a ridiculous European Union directive that placed it in the same category as a passenger-carrying Boeing 737, thus increasing its insurance costs by a massive £25,000.
I hope that between now and next summer, when the display season starts again, action will have been taken to knock some sense into the EU bureaucrats so that the Sally B can entertain people throughout the country next summer. The chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, Sir Roy McNulty, is very much on side and has done his best to try to knock some sense into the EU people. I know that the Minister is on side too, and I hope that together we can ensure that Elly Sallingboe and her magnificent B-17 Flying Fortress team will be able to entertain the crowds next year.
I am also privileged to represent Farnborough, the birthplace of British aviationthe site from which, on 16 October 1908, the first sustained powered flight in the United Kingdom took place. It is today the home of the internationally renowned Farnborough international air show and the base of BAE Systems, the world's fourth largest defence contractor.
I sought the debate to draw attention to the risk posed to general aviationthe operators of light aircraft and their associated industriesby the CAA's proposed new regulatory charging regime. I recognise that those of us who fly are a minority, and that more time is devoted to airing the grievances of those disturbed by the noise of aeroplanes. However, general aviation makes an important contribution to the life of our country and its voice has seldom been heard in this House.
As the Minister heard during the debate on the Civil Aviation Bill last night, three current Members are licensed aviators. One is the Deputy Leader of the
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House of Commons, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), to whom I pay warm tribute for undertaking helicopter flying training while a Minister. He secured his helicopter licence and is now a fully qualified helicopter pilot. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) flies twin-engined aircraft, and I fly light aircraft and indulge in occasional aerobatics. I would of course be delighted to take the Minister up at some point, should she have the stomach for it.
We three Members represent all three main political parties and we are joined, from the other place, by Lords Goschen, Rotherwick, Trefgarne and Stevens, the latter being the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and who flies vintage jet aircraft. Together we have formed the parliamentary aviators club and intend to give cross-party voice to a community that has lacked such representation in the past.
The proposed new charges arise from a report produced by a joint review team set up at the behest of some airlines, which have been clamouring for the review since the 1990s. It is claimed by the Civil Aviation Authority that the team was made up of a broad spectrum of aviation interestsa claim that I intend to refute. One of the joint review team's principal objectives was the elimination of alleged cross-subsidies from the airlines to general aviation. The broad effect of the proposals is to shift approximately £4 million in costs from the airlines to general aviation. We have several profound objections, which we have submitted to the CAA and with which the Minister is doubtless already familiar. For the purpose of the record, however, I shall set them out tonight.
Although the review was said to be based on a careful analysis of time spent by CAA staff on each area of activity, there is evidence that the metric time sheets did not produce an authoritative basis for the new charges. Although the composition of the joint review team was supposed to reflect the broad spectrum of aviation interests, it failed to do so. General aviation was represented by one person, who has acknowledged that he was in no position to speak for the full range of general aviation interests. It is therefore hardly surprising that the airline-dominated team concluded as it did on the need to shift costs from the airlines to general aviation.
Given the impact of the changes on general aviation, it is extraordinary that no regulatory impact assessment was done prior to the publication of the report, contrary to Cabinet Office guidelines. The review repeatedly states that
However, the imposition of an extra £4 million of charges on general aviation, involving in some cases up to a tenfold increase, is likely to lead to businesses folding or migrating to the United States or to the continent. Presumably, therefore, the cost of running a department with even fewer contributors will demand yet more fees from the remaining, reduced customer base.
As I have said, those driving the review saw their clear principal aim as the elimination of cross-subsidies in the charging of the cost of CAA regulation. However, even assuming the CAA departmental costings are
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reasonably accurate, it is grossly unfair to single out one particular factorthe cost of regulationin the overall costs of aviation. The Library has helpfully provided me with information indicating that UK airlines currently save at least £800 million annually as a result of their exemption from duty and VAT on fuel, but general aviation contributes approximately £12 million to the Exchequer in fuel duty and £3 million in VAT.
The airlines have also received subsidies of nearly £2.5 million to run uneconomic routes. I submit that the review is thus flawed from the outset. If transparency is going to be the name of the game, then let the airlines pay fuel duty and VAT just as we in general aviation do.
I submit that it is as unacceptable as it is unattractive for Sir Rod Eddington and his crew at BA to seek to screw the last penny out of general aviation, when they reap literally billions of pounds in benefit from favourable tax concessions. Whatever their protestations to the contrary, they benefit from being able to recruit from the pool of pilots who have funded their own training.
A report by the respected aviation consultants Helios Technology concludes that the effect of the proposed charging regime will be grossly disproportionate for the small operator, who is likely to find that CAA fees account for as much as 10 per cent. of turnover. Meanwhile, the airlines currently pay less than two hundredths of 1 per cent.I do not know how to express that in decimalsof their turnover to the CAA. In addition, they are demanding to pay less.
The CAA claims that the increased charges will amount only to a few pounds here and there. I have just received the CAA's helpful leaflet on the matter. It was no doubt designed to spike this debate, which is certain to be hugely publicised across the land. The leaflet is headlined "CAA Consults on Charging Proposals", and I am sure that the Minister will have seen it. For example, the leaflet claims that a small helicopter operator who paid £1,000 in 200405 will pay no more than £1,250 in 200506. That ignores the fact that that is in truth an increase of 25 per cent., and that it will followed by other increases in the subsequent two years.
The claim is misleading for other reasons too. As the Helios report shows, the overall increase in general aviation is likely to be 37 per cent. The cost of issuing a permit to fly will rise by getting on for 100 per cent. over the proposed three-year transition period in which the full cost of CAA regulation will be recovered from general aviation. That increase will follow cost increases over the previous two years, which means that general aviation is likely to be hit hard for a total of five years, if the proposals are implemented.
The charges could probably drive some companies out of business and cause others to set up abroad. That would leave a smaller industry that would have to fund the CAA through ever larger increases in charges.
As a result, flying training in the UK could well be rendered unaffordable, except by the wealthy. That would be contrary to the Government's policy of social inclusion, and would result in the loss of a valuable aviation asset in this country. If implemented, the cost
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increases would be unfair and unreasonable; they would thus conflict with the CAA's obligation to regulate general aviation in a manner that allows it to be sustainable.
Britain is one of the world leaders in aviation and aerospace. The company BAE Systems produces world-class military and civil aircraft, invariably powered by state of the art Rolls-Royce engines. The Conservatives liberated BA from state control and it has become one of the world's most successful and profitable airlines. EasyJet and bmi have pioneered low-cost flying for countless numbers of our fellow citizens. The Red Arrows demonstrate the extraordinary skills and professionalism of today's Royal Air Force pilots. The Royal Aeronautical Society and the Air League provide forums for the exchange of unparalleled knowledge in the field of aviation.
In short, Britain is at the top of the tree, and that has not happened by accident, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire knows only too well. It has happened because we have encouraged air-mindedness in our young people. Air shows across Britain have sparked flames of aeronautical excitement in many a young breast. Many young people have begun their aviation careers by learning to fly in light aircraft, often working all hours in supermarkets and elsewhere to save up so that they can afford the costs of flight training, which can easily exceed £120 per flying hour.
Perhaps in passing I might pay tribute also to the role of the Royal Air Force's air cadets, an organisation of some 44,000 young people, who are not actually taught to fly but are given a taste of flying, and often it is that which serves to light that flame to which I referred a moment ago, and which has produced a country where aviation is at the top of the tree.
The Minister will no doubt tell me that all the issues about which I and my colleagues have been complaining are internal matters for a statutory agency, and that she has no power to intervene. I do have to say to her that that is not acceptable. The Civil Aviation Authority is obliged by the Government to produce a 6 per cent. return on capital employed, despite the norm set by the Treasury being 3.5 per cent. for other public sector organisationsincluding, I understand, NHS trusts. So the CAA is obliged to find a 6 per cent. return, which it can recover only by charging its customer base. It is a monopoly supplier of the servicethe customers have nowhere else to goso it is unreasonable that it should have to produce a return double that of other public sector organisations, particularly when its role is in large measure to ensure the safety of air transport across the board in the United Kingdom. Why the regulation, supervision and promotion of air safety in the United Kingdom should be required to return a higher rate on capital employed than other public sector organisations defeats me. In France, the equivalent agency is not required to make any return on capital.
Furthermore, I put it to the Minister that there is no other means of holding this agency accountable except through Parliament. If she cannot influence policy, the agency is literally beyond reach unless one takes into account recourse to the courts, which obviously is an expensive way of proceeding. I suggest to her that, at the very least, she should insist that a regulatory impact
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assessment is undertaken before any change in the charging regime is introduced. As the Helios report states, a regulatory impact assessment is essential because the CAA is changing its policy by seeking to eliminate cross-subsidies, and the increases do not conform to a predetermined formula. She should also instruct the CAA to put its proposals on hold pending the outcome of the strategic review into the relationship between general aviation and the CAA, which is scheduled to report next year. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and I fully support the review, but it has only just started, and it does seem to me bizarre that these new charges are to be introduced before the relationship between the Civil Aviation Authority and general aviation has been properly explored.
I have set out my concerns, which are shared by many people involved in aviation throughout the country. I and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and our hon. Friends and others in the other place have received many representations from those engaged in recreational flying, and in professional flying at the lower end of the spectrum, and it is clear that there is a real anxiety out there. I hope that the Minister will recognise that the hon. Gentleman and I, and indeed her hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South, are but the tip of a very much larger iceberg, representing a community who add an awful lot to this country, and who deserve better treatment.
I shall end on a positive note. The CAA has a good record in working with the light aviation sector. Its chairman, Sir Roy McNulty, is a friend. He is a man of undoubted integrity with a lifetime's commitmenta long and successful oneto aviation.
I hope that the consultation exercise will produce a rethink all round so that the UK can continue to inspire a new generation of air-minded young Britons who will keep us at the forefront of one of the most exciting industries on the planet.
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