Previous Section Index Home Page

8 May 2006 : Column 39

Points of Order

4.26 pm

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice because of my concern for the reputation of the House. During Question Time the Minister for Pensions Reform mentioned Barlow Clowes, a company that operated in my constituency. I believe that he and the House should know that that company went bump, and that the Government paid out substantial sums of compensation to the investors, which was not the implication of his response to the question. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you feel that it was appropriate to make the position clear, because of the matter relating to my constituency.

Mr. Speaker: That was not a point of order, but the hon. Gentleman has put the matter on the record.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. About an hour ago I approached the Table Office to find out about Deputy Prime Minister’s questions on 17 May, and whether there had been a change. I was told that there had been no change, but one was expected. I seek your guidance on this matter, because I note that when Lord Heseltine was Deputy Prime Minister, without any other responsibilities, between 1995 and 1997, he came to the House to answer questions. The current Deputy Prime Minister will have Government responsibilities. Is it your opinion that he should therefore come to the House to answer to it for those responsibilities?

Mr. Speaker: These matters are about arrangements that have yet to come. As I have said to the hon. Gentleman and the House before, we are best to worry about today, and look after tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received notification of the Foreign Secretary’s intention to make an urgent statement to the House and to answer questions on the extremely good news for the relatively safe and secure Kurdish region of Iraq? The Kurdistan Prime Minister Barzani today presented the region’s new unified Government and Cabinet, who are pledged to protect and respect all citizens of the region with transparency and democratic accountability. With so much bad news, we should be able to make time for good news of such historic importance.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has given us the good news, and we will move on from there.

8 May 2006 : Column 40

Civil Aviation Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6) (Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

8 May 2006 : Column 41

Orders of the Day

Civil Aviation Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Clause 1

Aerodrome charges: noise and emissions

Lords amendment: No. 1.

4.29 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendment No. 2 and the Government motion to disagree thereto, Lords amendment No. 3, and Lords amendment No. 4 and the Government motion to disagree thereto.

Derek Twigg: Lords amendment No. 1 was made by the Lords in the belief that aerodrome operators would not voluntarily make use of the provisions in the Bill to fix their charges by reference to the noise or emissions of aircraft. The Government take a different view. The power to charge by reference to noise has been available to airports since 1982 and many of the larger airports already use it, such as Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The provisions of the Bill have been brought forward to provide clear powers for airports to fix their charges by reference to aircraft emissions as well as aircraft noise. I am confident that airports will, again, make use of these provisions when appropriate, with no need for compulsion from the Government.

The Government’s policy for many years—not solely under the current Administration—has been that the local issue of the environmental impact of an airport should be resolved locally whenever possible. That policy reflects the diverse nature of airports and their operations. There are more than 140 licensed aerodromes in the United Kingdom to which the provisions of clause 1 will apply. They range from the busiest international airport in the world—Heathrow—to airports with only a handful of flights a day.

Lords amendment No. 1, which would place an absolute duty upon airport operators to fix their charges with reference to the noise or emissions of aircraft, would run the risk of placing an undue regulatory burden on some airports, especially small airports. Not all airports are located or used in such a way that nuisance is caused to others. It will not always be appropriate to charge by reference to noise, for instance if the airport is used by only one class of aircraft causing comparable amounts of noise.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early in his speech, but astonished by what he has just said. He talks about an airport that is used by only one class of aircraft, but surely one of the reasons for giving the powers is so
8 May 2006 : Column 42
that airports can encourage operators to use more noise-efficient and emission-efficient aircraft in the longer term.

Derek Twigg: I was trying to make a comparison between larger and smaller airports and different classes of aircraft. Of course, we want airports to encourage the use of quieter aircraft. More modern aircraft are quieter than others.

Clause 1, as it stands, allows the flexibility to account for the cases that I outlined, just as it will allow larger airports, such as Heathrow or Manchester, to reflect in their charging schemes the environmental impact of the aircraft that use them. However, I understand that hon. Members may be worried that some airport operators might not wish to take up the powers, even if local circumstances meant there was a strong case for doing so. Proposed new subsection (4) of section 38 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which is contained in clause 1, gives the Secretary of State the power to direct, by order subject to the negative procedure, specified aerodromes to make use of the powers in the clause. That provision might be used in cases when the voluntary measures prove ineffective.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I note that proposed new subsection (3) of section 38 of the 1982 Act refers to “taking off or landing”. The noise or emissions requirements are thus concerned with aircraft taking off or landing at the aerodrome in question. Will the Minister tell me whether the expressions “taking off” and “landing” are defined anywhere in the Bill? For example, would they cover aeroplanes that were coming in to land, but some miles away from the airport—I am thinking of aircraft flying over my constituents as they come into Nottingham East Midlands airport—or aircraft that take off from Nottingham East Midlands airport and then climb into the skies above my constituents?

Derek Twigg: I do not think that that is the case, but I will confirm the correct position to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

I hope that my explanation of the Government’s thinking behind making the provision a power, rather than a duty, will convince hon. Members to disagree with the Lords in Lords amendment No. 1.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 4 would affect the way in which the charges should be set. Although the Government agree that it is reasonable that airport operators should be expected to set noise charges that are proportionate, we do not agree that that is something that needs to be provided for in the Bill. Airports have been making use of the power to set noise-related charges for more than 20 years and there has been no suggestion that they have not done so in an appropriate or proportionate way. However, if there is a problem with the charging scheme, the Secretary of State will have the power that I mentioned to direct an airport operator regarding the manner in which its charges are to be fixed. The airport should be subject to the control scheme that it sets up to address the effects of its operations on the locality. There areother considerations on airport charging, such as international guidance that noise-related charges
8 May 2006 : Column 43
should be non-discriminatory between users and should not be established at levels that are prohibitively high for the operation of certain aircraft. Again, we did not think it necessary to make those considerations statutory requirements. The existing provisions function well, and they do not need to be altered in any way.

Lords amendment No. 3 is a minor technical amendment to clarify the provisions of clause 1, which inserts a new section 38 into the 1982 Act. New subsection (3) defines noise and emissions requirements. The amendment simply ensures that cross-reference is made to mention of those requirements in both subsections (1)(d) and (2)(d), rather than solely to subsection (1)(d).

Mr. Garnier rose—

Derek Twigg: I am about to conclude, I am afraid. I urge hon. Members to accept Lords amendment No. 3.

Mr. Brazier: May I begin by welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) to the Chamber and, indeed, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron)? I look forward to our exchanges across the Dispatch Box, although I do not know how many there will be, because few people think that the noise of 1,000 soundbites has settled anything for long.

Lords amendment No. 1, which the Government seek to overturn, replaces the word, “shall”, with “may” in the provisions on charging on noise and emissions. As the Minister explained, Lords amendment No. 2 makes those charges proportionate to the noise made. The remaining Lords amendments are relatively minor amendments on noise. There is all the difference in the world between the compulsion expressed in the word, “shall”, and the vague non-committal aspiration in “may”. This is an almost completely empty Bill, and in tabling those amendments the House of Lords sought to tweak the Government’s tail so that they would do something about the problem. The amendments try to tease out an explanation from the Government as to whether the Bill will, in fact, do something or is just another eye-catching initiative.

The Government recently admitted that their domestic target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010 will not be reached. The Conservative Government cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 7 per cent. in their last seven years in office, but CO2 emissions are higher now than they were nine years ago. Aviation on its own explains why they have risen since the Government came to power. [ Interruption. ] My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has pointed to another possible source of rising emissions. The Bill, however, does not include any targets, sliding scales, rewards for airlines and airports for successfully tackling noise and emissions, or measures of success. Indeed, there is not even an obligation to measure, let alone report, progress or success. Above all, there is no compulsion at any point. In Committee, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who then had ministerial responsibility for aviation, said that

8 May 2006 : Column 44

The Bill therefore aims to close a legal gap identified by Manchester airport’s lawyers.

Clause 1, the main clause of the Bill, does not require anyone to do anything, but BAA has already introduced emissions charging schemes which it negotiated with the Civil Aviation Authority two years ago, and the Minister admitted that some airports have operated arrangements relating to noise for 20 years, so what are the Government introducing the measure for? Without an amendment requiring a degree of compulsion, as Lords amendment No. 1 does, the Bill does nothing, except remove the noise gap, which we will debate when we reach the next group of amendments.

The Government should not preach environmental concern, then waste a golden opportunity to do something about it. It is clear that the Government are not sure what the Bill is about. I feel for the hon. Member for Halton, who has had it dumped in his lap towards the end of its course. From the way that he delivered his speech, I suspect that he, too, is not certain what the Bill is for, and that is not an attack on the hon. Gentleman. He did not draft his speech and had nothing to do with the Bill’s origins.

In Committee I said to the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck):

The Minister chose to raise again today the idea that smaller airports will have only one class of aircraft operating from them. Surely the provisions should encourage airports to provide incentives for their operators to use aircraft that are quieter and which produce less NO2 and less CO2 emissions. The Government are uncertain what they are trying to achieve.

In December 2003 the Government produced a White Paper on the future of aviation in the UK. Summarising the purposes of the White Paper, the then Secretary of State said that

by which he meant environmental costs—

In Committee the Minister said:

8 May 2006 : Column 45

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My hon. Friend has been following these matters with previous Ministers. Can he tell me what the Government are doing to try and get emissions and noise down? Most of my constituents would like something to happen on those counts.

Mr. Brazier: I would dearly love to be able to answer my right hon. Friend’s question, but the answer is very little. I hope I have made it clear that clause 1, which the amendment seeks to beef up, offers nothing in its present form. It gives airports powers that they have been using for years.

The Environmental Audit Committee described Ministers as being “superficial and vague” about the environmental damage and the Government’s unwillingness to tackle it. In Committee the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), speaking for the Liberal Democrats, pointed out that

I see no reason why any airport should not operate a scheme, but the priority is obviously the bigger ones. The Minister responded by stating that the proposed new section of the Act in clause 1 gives the Secretary of State power to direct specified aerodromes to use the powers in the clause, yet not once has the Minister said when that will happen. It is not reassuring. For example, what is to stop an airport operator with multiple operators using, under the guise of environmentalism, emissions and noise charges at one airport to provide a hidden subsidy to subsidise another in its portfolio by offering lower charges?

We are opposed to cross-subsidy. For example, we know from extensive meetings within the airline industry that there is great unease about Stansted being the site for the next runway in the south-east.

4.45 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that it is usually the case that the bigger the airport, particularly if it is a designated airport, the lower the costs? Some of us think that it would be a good idea to spread around the United Kingdom some of the flights that currently go into the cheaper, larger, noisier airports. Is that his view, or is he suggesting that we should not undercut the financial viability of airports such as Heathrow?

Next Section Index Home Page