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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: We on these Benches view the amendment with a great deal of sympathy. It is extremely difficult for people living near an airport--I take Gatwick as an example--to find the right person to whom to complain, and to remember all the necessary details, such as the exact time the aircraft was overhead and the type of aircraft, in order to make a complaint acceptable and effective. It is difficult for the ordinary citizen to get past first base in this matter. If it is not possible for airport operators who know exactly which aircraft has moved where (because it is all recorded) to fine a company or in some other way to express their displeasure with aircraft that do not keep to the correct corridors, the addition of the new clause would do everyone living around an airport an immense amount of good. People who live in my part of the world, with Gatwick at one end and Heathrow at the other, would be delighted to know that the Government had taken advantage of the passage of the Bill to incorporate this small but valuable reform.
Later in the proceedings on this Bill I shall use the same technique as that adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, to try to persuade the Government to implement their own policies. I am delighted to support the noble Lord in his particular endeavour.
Lord Swinfen: I admire the ability of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, to identify aircraft. I cannot. I have considerable difficulty in identifying even different makes of cars which are much closer to me than aircraft which make noise. I also have a good deal of sympathy with the amendment moved by my noble friend, not so much because I am particularly troubled by noise but because Manston is becoming an increasingly busy airport. Some of the aircraft that land at that airport are extremely large and heavy and occasionally fly over my house. I admit that it makes a change from the quietness.
I wonder whether my noble friend's amendment should have a little more in it. My noble friend seeks to protect the public from excessive aircraft noise. I appreciate that use of the proper air corridors is a matter of safety. However, aircraft should have a get-out clause if they must deviate because of an emergency, for example the need to take avoiding action because a light aircraft flies into their path and creates a danger or because the presence of a drunken passenger means that they must return in a hurry and
Lord Berkeley: I also have a good deal of sympathy for the amendment. I intended to refer to the Government's White Paper in connection with a future amendment, but the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has beaten me to it. The White Paper makes a good effort to change the policy of the previous government, which was to predict and provide for the roads, until they decided that they could not do any more, and predict but not provide for the railways. However, we are still in the business of predicting and providing for airlines because, somehow, it is economically necessary for London, Manchester or wherever. We must move on a little further, and we shall probably do so in a few years.
I agree that perhaps the amendment should be slightly widened to include those aircraft that make too much noise and otherwise produce undesirable effects, including those times when they deviate. It is up to governments to ensure that airports are seen to be on the side of residents as well as their customers. That will not be possible without some legislation. After all, the amendment is all about whether aircraft obey the law and go where they are told to go. If we disobey the law on the road we are penalised if the police catch us. There is no reason why the same rules should not apply to air travel. I believe it is time that airports, NATS, or whoever is to do it, ensure that airlines which take easy short-cuts--obviously, only one or two do so--obey the law. If they do not comply with the law they should be penalised. It may be necessary for government to introduce some legislation to ensure that that happens.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The Government are committed to ensuring that the environmental effects of aviation, in particular noise nuisance, are properly mitigated. There are already powers for airports to modulate their charges to airlines in relation to noise. Section 38(1) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 provides that an airport may fix its charges by reference to the amount of noise an aircraft makes or the inconvenience caused by such noise. The Committee will be gratified to hear that many airports levy differential landing charges according to, for example, the comparative noisiness of aircraft types. Airlines and their pilots rarely wilfully stray from the specified routes. Safety, as well as environmental considerations, mean that at major airports, they should follow the stipulated routes and procedures, and the directions of air traffic controllers.
Let me assure all noble Lords who have spoken that the Government are committed in our White Paper on integrated transport to introducing legislation clarifying and enhancing the powers of aerodromes to enforce noise mitigation measures. That commitment stands. We shall be consulting shortly on the details of that legislation and I think that that would be the appropriate time to look at the issue that the noble Lord's amendment raises. In those circumstances I ask noble Lords opposite to withdraw their amendment.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: I am grateful to all noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, who took part in the debate and supported what the amendment seeks to provide. My noble friend Lord Swinfen thought that there should be some provision in the amendment to take care of emergency situations. That is why I drafted the amendment flexibly so that the Secretary of State can make regulations and could take into account all the factors to which my noble friend referred.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said that predict and provide were still the mode of the aviation world. I do not think that many in the industry will agree with him when one considers the length of time the inquiry into a possible terminal 5 at Heathrow is taking, and the never-ending saga of the possible requirement of a new runway somewhere in the South East. I do not intend to enter into that debate today. I do not think that anyone will agree with the noble Lord that predict and provide still continues in the aviation world.
However, I agree with him that airports need to make themselves as environmentally friendly as they can. The amendment is a modest help to them. The Minister is right that airports can and do have differential charges for different categories of aircraft. But that does not directly answer the point I seek to make through the amendment as regards the deviation from the noise preferential route and the possibility of a fine, penalty or some such thing for those who deviate from that route. Some airlines are particularly bad; some are good. There is no reason why those who are bad should not improve their ways and seek to become as good as the best. It is unacceptable that just over one in five flights deviates when other airlines--presumably they operate the same kind of equipment--do so less than 4 per cent to 5 per cent of the time.
The Minister was kind enough to say that the Government still have the issue very much in their minds and referred to consultation and so on. Before withdrawing the amendment, perhaps the Minister can say whether there is any possibility that such consultation might be complete by the time we finish with the Bill in this House--no doubt some time in the spill-over period.
If legislation of the type I have outlined in my amendment is required, when shall we have an opportunity to deal with it? When will the next Transport Bill come along? I do not want the Government to produce another one just for the sake of it, but this has taken three years to arrive. The White Paper was published two years ago. We need to know from the Minister what kind of legislation is required to bring such a measure into force and whether there is time to do so between now and the end of the passage of this Bill through the House.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: To be frank, while my information is that we shall be consulting soon on the details of the legislation, I cannot offer a timetable to the noble Lord. However, he has our assurance that
Lord Brabazon of Tara: I am disappointed with that reply; it does not get me all that far. I shall not press the amendment tonight but I shall want to return to it at the next stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Viscount Goschen: My intention in opposing the Question, That Clause 73 shall stand part of the Bill is simple. It is to draw further explanation from the Minister as to how the charging regime will work.
Charges are probably the second most important issue for the customers of NATS. Airlines, the predominant customer base, require two things from their service provider. The first is an efficient, high and safe level of service such as that provided by NATS. NATS has an international reputation as being a high service provider. The second is that those services should be provided at a reasonable cost to the airline industry.
Historically, charges have been recovered from airlines on a clearly understood basis; that of full cost recovery. A brief glance at the report and accounts of the CAA and NATS will show that the intention has been to leave a zero at the bottom line after all the charges have been called in.
That has worked relatively uncontentiously with the airline sector, although I am sure that airlines will always clamour for lower charges. However, they will always want high levels of service, too. We know that the air traffic control industry is capital intensive and that it requires a great deal of technology. I suggest that the Government's continuing experience with the bringing into force of the new air traffic control centre bears witness to that, as does the increasing cost of that centre. However, the arrangements will change with the introduction of this important Bill. It has inevitably raised considerable levels of concern from those who are the customer base of NATS.
When my noble friend Lord Caithness spoke to, I believe, Amendment No. 1, he asked the Minister why he had been advised that he would be unable to sell NATS whereas the Minister, with fast shuffling of feet, had been able to achieve that. The Minister gave the reply that the Eurocontrol convention permitted the
None the less, so far as I understand it--and I am open to correction by the Minister--the other signatories still pursue their cost recovery basis. That is not satisfactory under all circumstances because clearly it is up to the service providers themselves to determine what their cost level is, and some would argue that that leads to a degree of inefficiency.
The RPI minus X formulaic approach is of course very well understood. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who is charting up his 78th Bill of the year, clearly is well aware, with his handling of the Utilities Bill, of the intricacies of the utility charging process. However, because this is brand new to the air traffic control industry, I should be interested to hear a full explanation from the Minister as to exactly how it will work.
I also raise the question as to whether there will be benchmarking with other air traffic control authorities within Europe and an assessment of the competitiveness of the new NATS. Therefore, what criteria will be used to establish the charging regime? Will there be a focus on the impact of such charges on national competitiveness? For example, clearly the aviation industry is of considerable importance to the United Kingdom. It is a hub. I believe that the UK handles approximately 40 per cent of trans-Atlantic traffic. Therefore, clearly this is extremely important. It is also probably the case that half of the concerns voiced by the airline industry have been in connection with the charging regime.
Perhaps I may also ask the Minister one or two more specific questions about this clause. Can he give the Committee an assurance that the basis for charging--the understanding of chargeable services--will remain much the same as it is under the existing arrangements?
I turn to Clause 77. I apologise to the Committee and to the Minister for diverging for a moment from Clause 73, but I believe that it is a related point. Clause 77 describes chargeable air services as those services which are not excepted, as in subsection (3). The excepted air services are those which are,
In answering my next question, I am sure that the Minister would be entirely correct to tell me to get lost and oppose Clause 80 standing part of the Bill, because the issue appears in that clause, but given the generosity for which he is known, I would appreciate it if he would accept that these are related points. I do not understand Clause 80(1) and (2). They seem to be wishful thinking, although I am sure that the Minister or his advisers will be able to rustle up a clear explanation in seconds.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The Bill proposes the minimum necessary changes to the existing arrangements post-PPP. In response to that full set of questions from the noble Viscount, I shall outline the guiding considerations. The legal basis on which NATS charges and recovers for en route Eurocontrol and Shanwick air navigation services should continue to be clear and unambiguous. The UK's international obligations should continue to be met. The existing powers of detention and sale, which enable debts to be enforced and recovered, must remain robust. The Government and the CAA will each retain the appropriate functions, but only those that are required to be carried out in the public sector.
The charging, recovery and enforcement mechanisms will be underpinned by a new obligation in primary legislation in Clause 73 for users to pay the relevant charges. Given such an obligation, it is no longer necessary for the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying the charges payable, as is the case under the 1982 Act. In future, it will be the responsibility of the CAA as regulator to specify all charges, subject to their being within the parameters
In response to some of the questions that occurred to the noble Viscount late in his speech, I assure him that the military will be exempt and the Bill will not affect the charging position in respect of general aviation. The Secretary of State will set the initial value of X in the RPI-minus-X formula and the CAA will set it in future. The CAA will also set charges. The formula is about the cost and the weight of return from NATS underlying the setting of charges. It will affect the amount of charges for those who have to pay, not the basis on which they are set, who has to pay or factors such as weight, which are currently used. There are no plans for any current exemptions from charges for general aviation to change. The charging arrangements follow Eurocontrol regulations.
The aim of Clause 80(1) and (2) is to put the Secretary of State under an obligation to pass charge notifications to Eurocontrol. It is a protection for the CAA and NATS so that they can be assured of receiving payment.
I assure those Members of the Committee who are committed leisure flyers that the general aviation community is currently exempt from most air traffic control charges. The Bill does not seek to change that. There will be full consultation with air users and other interested parties if at any time in the future there are proposals to remove those exemptions.
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