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We take your luggage and send it in all directions.
How could the new terminal open with cancelled flights, parking problems, staff shortages and non-functioning escalators on day one? Will the Minister contrast that fiasco with the smooth opening of St. Pancras International, and perhaps conclude that members of the public, when they can, might be better taking the train, particularly given the lower carbon emissions associated with rail?
The Minister mentioned compensation. Is he aware that the CAA has indicated that it believes that British Airways has breached EU legislation on passengers rights by limiting compensation and expenses? What action will he take to ensure that BA provides its passengers with the compensation to which they are entitled as soon as possible?
What guarantee can the Minister give us that when there is a big surge in people wishing to travel by air this weekend, with the school holidays coming up, people will not be subject to cancelled flights, long delays and lost baggage at terminal 5?
On security, how did BAA and the Government get themselves into a position where their plans to implement the fingerprinting of passengers were criticised by the Information Commissioner and had to be withdrawn at short notice? Why were they not checked in advance? Will the Government ensure that we have good security at Heathrow without resorting to the type of police state measures that some of the Ministers colleagues are all too keen on?
Finally, does this not show that the Government are wrong to accept the word of BAA and BA and their assurances when it comes to major infrastructure projects of national importance? Will the Government learn that lesson and commission independent research into the proposals for a third runway rather than relying on BAA to write their consultation paper for them?
Jim Fitzpatrick: In my past few answers I tried to rebut the allegation that BAA wrote our consultation document for us. That is patently not the case; it is a Department for Transport document and we stand by that. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the British Airways website. I am sure the company heard it too and is no doubt correcting the website at the moment. I shall not criticise BA for that being the last thing it is paying attention to, because the company is trying to make sure that the operation at T5 is corrected and improved to serve passengers. That is where the focus ought to be.
I believe I answered the point about compensation; the CAA is monitoring the situation and British Airways is clearly aware of its responsibilities under the EUs denied boarding and cancellation regulations and is endeavouring to comply with them. Obviously, members of the public will be able to check on various websites for advice on how best to proceed.
On the hon. Gentlemans advice that people choose rail rather than air, we see rail as a major success story for the country. The Government are investing £88 million a week in rail travel, as we know. The public make their own decisions, and as rail operation has improved respective percentages for Manchester to London travel via rail or air have been reversed. However, that does not obviate the need for air travel to different parts of the world, or indeed different parts of the country, if necessity arises.
We are disappointed about what is happening at the moment, but we are confident that ultimately terminal 5 will be a massive addition to Heathrow and a matter of national pride. We all acknowledge that it is not there yet, but people are working hard to try to make sure that it is as quickly as possible.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): While I sympathise with Her Majestys Governments efforts to get those two private companies to run their businesses efficiently, is it not true that in fact the United Kingdoms reputation suffers from such a major fiasco? Will the Minister press both BAA and BA to answer some simple questions? How much training was given to baggage handlers? What facilities were available for people to get to work efficiently and on time? What is the real timetable for putting things back into operation after these disasters? If we do not have the answers to those questions soon, not only will the problem continue but it will continue to make Heathrow a disaster area.
Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend, who as we all know chairs the Select Committee on Transport and is held in high regard throughout the whole House, identifies the fact that damage to Heathrow is damage to UK plc. That is the very reason why we support expansion at Heathrow; running at 98.5 to 99 per cent. capacity it does not serve the UK as well as it should. Without expansion the UK will continue to suffer and that will affect our economic ability to compete on the world stage.
My hon. Friend raises absolutely appropriate points in respect of analysis and a post-mortem into what went wrong. As I said in my original remarks, the priority at present is for BA and BAA to continue to work hard to correct what has gone wrong, but we shall want to see the lessons, to know why things went wrong in the first place so that we can be assured for the future. I know that my hon. Friend and her Committee will take a keen interest in these matters, and we will share as much information as possible with her as it arrives.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): The Minister did not answer the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) about security, which, of course, is a Government responsibility. Will he confirm that his officials were able to bypass security at terminal 5 on a number of occasions? What weaknesses did they discover, what has been done about it, and were they tested again?
There have been reports of weaknesses in the security system, which were identified beforehand. I can assure the House, notwithstanding the fact that I am not likely to go into the detail of security arrangements from the Dispatch Box, that TRANSEC and the Department would not have given the green light to T5 to open if we were not satisfied that the security arrangements in place on 27 March were adequate to protect members of the public. We are proud of the security and protection that we afford the travelling public, and those issues that were identified as requiring attention were either addressed or being addressed, but they were not a reason not to proceed with the opening.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that Heathrow is the busiest international airport in the world bar none, and that that project constitutes a £4.2 billion investment. I stand to defend my engineering colleagues involved in the project: they have done an outstanding job, and we draw on the best in the world. I accept the inconvenience that the problem has caused passengers, but does my hon. Friend accept my point, on behalf of the industry that I am proud to represent, that this is a teething problem that will pass? Lessons will be learned, and the technology that we have developed in relation to Heathrow will be sold to other parts of the world, which regard T5 as a major flagship project for avionics.
Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friends professional background and expertise are well known in the House. I fully agree with her enthusiasm and confidence that these are teething problems but, none the less, they are serious for those individuals who have been delayed, whose flights have been cancelled, and who have lost their luggage. Notwithstanding the confidence of BA and BAA that they can sort the matter out given time, those problems ought not to have arisen, so they are trying to address them as quickly as possible.
I certainly hope that what we all believed and expected to be the case will come to pass, and that T5 will be the jewel in Heathrows crown. T3s frontage and reception area have improved beyond recognition while this has been going on, and there is a new Virgin reception area, too. There have already been improvements at Heathrow, and they continue to be made. What happened in the past week is disappointing, but everyone is working hard to make sure that it is corrected as quickly as possible.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May I, too, pay tribute to the front-line BA staff whom I saw at Heathrow terminal 5 on Thursday? They were operating in exceptionally difficult circumstances, with little information and absolutely no sign of any senior management at that stage. Staff demoralisation is nothing newit has been happening for yearsand last weeks shambles was just a consequence of that.
Will the Minister impress on BA the fact that there is tremendous frustration, particularly in Scotland, that every time BA gets it wrong, it is always the domestic services, especially those to Glasgow, Edinburgh and
Aberdeen that are cut first? That is bad for Scotland, it is unfair treatment for Scottish passengers, and it must not be allowed to continue.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman outlines the fact that the situation is unacceptable both generally and to his constituents in particular, and I fully agree I have said repeatedly in the past 27 minutes that we are doing everything we can to assist and ensure that the situation is rectified. I would quibble with him, however, over one small point. Notwithstanding the efforts and endeavours of front-line staff, to whom I paid tribute, both when I replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and in my opening remarks, senior managers are working hard. When I was at Heathrow, I met Colin Matthews, Gareth Kirkwood and Mark Bullock, who had been working extended hours with ordinary staff members. They are responsiblethey are the managementand were expected to be there, but they were working shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues, including volunteers, doing everything they could to put the situation right. I have no reason to doubt that that stretches through all levels and ranks in the organisations.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): I was there last Thursday, and I think we should get a badge saying, I survived T5. Unlike the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), I, luckily, managed to get on a plane and take off. It was delayed by only an hour and a half, and I now realise how lucky we were. Notwithstanding all the problems with the baggage, there were other problems last Thursday, and I hope my hon. Friend will look into them. I must have been the first wheelchair passenger to enter the lift that takes passengers from to the gate down to the side of the plane. I know that I must have been the first, because when I asked the wheelchair services lady who came to pick me up where we had to go, she replied, How would I know? This is the first time Ive ever been here and youre my first job. That lift did not work, so we had to find another. There are obviously problems across the whole terminal that need to be looked into. I hope my hon. Friend will get it sorted. We had great hopes that terminal 5 would sort some of the problems that we have been facing from British Airways. That is why we are so disappointed and upset about what happened last Thursday.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am disappointed to hear of my hon. Friends experience. A great deal of effort has gone in from the Department, BA and BAA to deal with mobility issues and to address the challenges that will be faced by people who have disabilities. To hear that there was a lack of preparedness is extremely disappointing, and I will make sure that I communicate that personally to the appropriate senior management.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con):
Does the Minister accept that the shambles at terminal 5 raises serious questions over the further expansion of Heathrow? The issues that have been raised by Members across the House are ones that can be fixed, but they highlight wholesale problemsnot just with the baggage system, but with lifts, the car parking system and a range of other things. What if BAA has got its calculations
wrong not just about lifts, but about air pollution, public health or congestion? Those cannot be fixed by expanding the airport. Will the Minister assure the House that he will look at the post mortem and pause to consider whether he should plough ahead with the expansion and carry on regardless?
Jim Fitzpatrick: As I said, I am sure that we will look at the issues in depth on Wednesday, although that does not in any way make the hon. Ladys question anything other than appropriate. I assure her that any information that was fed to us was checked by the Department. As I have said on several occasions today and previously, the documentation that was published by the Department for Transport as part of its consultation exercise is our documentation; we stand by the figures that we have published.
We fully recognise that the experience at T5 over the past few days does nothing to inspire confidence in the aviation sector, and we will have to work very hard to repair the credibility and the damage. However, as I have also said, the expansion of Heathrow is of fundamental importance to the economy of the United Kingdom. We believe that we have demonstrated that. It must take place and we have demonstrated how it can take place with the environmental protections that we have laid down in respect of emissions, access and noise. We are confident that, when we analyse the consultationwhich, as the hon. Lady knows, is being undertaken at presentand publish our findings in the summer, our validation will be proved to be correct.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I was one of a number of Scottish colleagues who had the privilege of looking at the interior architecture of terminal 5 last Thursday. Once we had finished doing that, we did it again, because there was plenty of time. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows how terminal 5, when it is fully functioning, is a vital economic asset to the whole of the UKScotland, Wales, Ireland and England, including London?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful that my hon. Friend admired what he saw last week, perhaps at greater length than he had anticipated. I, sadly, missed the official opening over which Her Majesty presided, as I was here, waiting to debate the private Members Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), but we did not get that opportunity. Sunday was the first chance that I had to see T5 open and completed since I went to see it when it was still a bit of a building site some three months ago. My hon. Friend is right; it is a magnificent building. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) and others said earlier, it is a feat of engineering. It ought to be something of which we are extremely proud. I am sure that we will be proud of it in due course, although, sadly, we are not able to express that admiration at present.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP):
Fortunately, I fly to Dundee from London City airport, and I am truly grateful for that. However, I understand that one in six of all air journeys from Scotlandmore than 3 million passenger journeys a yeargo to Heathrow. It is a vital business gateway. I am sure that the Minister has the quotes from the business community
immediately when the chaos happened. The Federation of Small Businesses Scotland said:
It is an open secret that flights to and from Scotland are the first to be scrapped in order to clear the backlog.
It seems once again that services to and from Scotland are suffering disproportionately.
These things happen from time to time, so will the Minister make representations to BA and BAA that, should events such as these occur again, essential business services to Scotland from whatever airport will not be disproportionately affected in favour of other flights?
The question of flights and routes from Scotland to London airports is raised fairly regularly by hon. Members on the Government Benches, as well as by Opposition Members. I know how important those routes are, particularly to the business community in Scotland. Obviously, they are a matter for commercial decision, although there are some protected routes by virtue of criteria that are laid down. We will always listen to representations when concerns are raised, and the hon. Gentleman has stated that of which we are all aware.
Mr. Binley: I see the Minister nodding, and I am grateful that he remembers that occasion. The Prime Minister said that he would take on board all the points that I made. In particular, he said that he would pass on to BAA his
desire for proper staffing at Heathrow to make it easier and more convenient for people to undertake their journeys.[ Official Report, 14 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 686.]
How was the promise kept? Why did it have so little effect? Will the Minister assure me that he will now get involved, on a detailed and regular basis, to stop this immensely harmful incident from doing any more damage to Britains industrial and commercial interests?
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