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10 Jun 2010 : Column 65WH—continued

The right hon. Member for Gordon went on to talk about losses at Aberdeen airport, and I think that I have covered that point. He also emphasised the importance of UK authorities working closely with European ones, and I can assure him that that is under way at the moment. He asked whether the UK needed special considerations and perhaps special rules, and whether we would always be in line with what the rest of Europe was doing. That is a point to note, because our being closer to the volcano than other countries has an impact on the decisions that we can make on airspace, and it perhaps played a part in the slight differences between the timings of the relaxation of restrictions. In response to what has been said by other hon. Members about the timing of that relaxation, it is worth bearing in mind that the work done by the CAA led the debate and formed one of the reasons why airspace across the rest of Europe was reopened. Some of the work done by the
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CAA was, I understand, adopted and used by other European countries in making their decisions to reopen their airspace.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire spoke very eloquently about East Midlands airport and its importance to her constituents, and also about Rolls-Royce's superb manufacturing facilities in her constituency. She told us about some of the difficulties that local residents had in getting home. She asked for leadership on the issue, and we are determined to provide that; I appreciate how important it is for all her constituents who work at East Midlands airport and at Rolls-Royce. We put this debate on the agenda this afternoon precisely to enable Members such as my hon. Friend to make those kinds of points, to listen to Parliament's concerns and to ensure that we provide the leadership needed to take forward the improvement to the regulatory system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) talked with eloquence about the inconvenience suffered by her constituents. I am sorry to hear that her election campaign was disrupted somewhat by the volcanic ash; that happened to a number of people. I had conversations with Conservative party HQ about the fact that Icelandic volcanoes were not included in its list of contingency plans for election tours. Nevertheless, the election efforts carried on undiminished. It was interesting to hear my hon. Friend's comments about the impact on Birmingham airport. She, too, emphasised the importance of further research on the impact of volcanic ash on engines-a point I think I have covered. She paid tribute to Willie Walsh for his work in a test flight, and she welcomed the work done by easyJet, with its AVOID system.

Turning to some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, I, colleagues and the CAA very much welcome easyJet's efforts to contribute to the debate. EasyJet's efforts and the technology that it is trialling are being carefully considered. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East urged us proceed swiftly to deliver safety certification, but I am sure that he would not suggest that we cut corners. Interesting work is being done, and no doubt the CAA will monitor it carefully and go through the appropriate steps to ascertain whether and when it might receive the safety certification that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. That is, however, a matter for the CAA to determine, taking into account all the relevant facts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) spoke with great authority about the impact of the crisis on both passengers and the aviation industry. One of his questions was about the famous Madrid coaches. I have a long, full list of coaches, which I do not propose to read out, but I can send it to him. The total number of passengers transferred from Spain to Calais was more than 1,000, with a significant number of coaches leaving from Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga and Alicante.

My hon. Friend also referred to the difficult issue of waiving night flight restrictions. For his information, night flight restrictions were waived briefly when airspace first reopened after the prolonged restrictions on flying. Making an exception to the night flight rules is always a very difficult decision. I am a strong supporter of the protection that people are given as a result of the restrictions on night flights but, given the scale of the emergency, it was felt that a brief relaxation was justified.

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In the event of a similar emergency in the future, I am sure that airspace authorities would give careful and due consideration to the difficult competing concerns. One wants to make every possible effort to normalise travel as soon as possible, but night flights have a corrosive impact on people's quality of life and one therefore needs to act with extreme care, even when referring to only a very brief lifting of such important protections. My hon. Friend also urged me and my colleagues to work with the airlines, the agency and the industry on technology. We are definitely doing that-it is the only way forward. He also called for common sense to prevail, and I shall certainly try to ensure that that is the case.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North East asked a number of questions, some of which I have addressed already. He asked, in particular, whether the UK is working with ICAO on its work to revise the volcanic ash rules and the programme for Europe. Yes, work is going on with ICAO on precisely that. He also asked whether the Government would impress on the airlines the importance of paying out in line with their obligations under the denied boarding and cancellation rules. As I sought to set out in my opening remarks, we believe that, whatever debate there may be in the future about those rules, it is important that the airlines pay out under their legal obligations in the rules as currently drafted, and that claims are settled as expeditiously as possible. He was right to raise the concerns of those who are awaiting settlement of reasonable claims under the provisions.

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The hon. Gentleman urged me to prevent any dilution of EC regulation 261/2004. We need to look at it in the round to see whether there are ways to make the whole system work in a better and fairer way. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the matter will be discussed by EU Transport Ministers in the near future, at their next meeting.

Lastly, the hon. Gentleman spoke about adapting the allocation of emissions permits under the emissions trading scheme so that the interruption in flying does not have a distortive effect on the allocation of permits when that is decided. That is a fairly technical matter, but I hear the point he is making and shall pass his comments on to those in the Department who are dealing with the mechanics of getting the ETS into operation. We need to see whether we can ensure that the interruption of flying as a result of volcanic ash does not have a perverse or distortive effect on the decisions that will be made in the future on the allocation of emissions permits.

With that, I shall close. I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members for participating in this constructive debate on an issue that is extremely important to our economy, as well as to holidaymakers, as we make progress on improving the robustness of the regulatory framework and its response to volcanic ash.

Question put and agreed to.

4.1 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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