HC Deb 09 April 1986 vol 95 cc307-11
Mr. Michael Spicer

I beg to move amendment No. 33, in page 21, line 37, leave out from 'applies' to ', make' in line 40.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 35.

Mr. Spicer

The Standing Committee decision to accept amendment No. 48 and take it into the body of clause 29 means that the ATM power we seek would be extremely difficult to exercise at any airport, including Stansted. Hon. Members did not appreciate the main thrust of what was involved. What amendment No. 48 did was restrict the operation of ATM limits to that class of airport at which a limit would, in the judgment of the Secretary of State, following consultation with the CAA, result in a significant and perceptible control of aircraft noise nuisance which would be noticed by people living near the airport.

This test would be unlikely to be made at Stansted, at least for the time being, while current usage at the airport is well below the proposed limit. The purpose of the ATM limit is to facilitate the controlled expansion at a developing airport in such a way as to avoid the local infrastructure becoming overused. Certainly it enables Parliament to take a view about that development. Amendment No. 48, which was carried by the Committee, provided for exactly the opposite. In other words, it provided for the uncontrolled expansion of an airport, irrespective of any local impact. Thus, amendment No. 33 is designed to reverse amendment No. 48, and to restore the effectiveness of the clause so that an ATM can be set where appropriate. There has been some confusion in Committee about this situation, and I hope that amendment No. 33 will therefore be accepted.

I now turn to amendment No. 35. The Committee had before it amendment No. 49, which aimed to target the ATM limit powers specifically at those developing areas that had terminal expansion in progress. Hon. Members would have had certain thoughts in mind when they took a view about that amendment. We have some sympathy with the intentions that lay behind the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) clearly had in mind the restriction of clause 29 to those airports where there was the general prospect of development, to the exclusion of those airports already fully utilised, if not congested. I commend amendment No. 35 to the House. It is designed to achieve much the same result as the amendment No. 49 which appeared before the Committee. Amendment No. 35 restricts the application of clause 29 to airports at which the capacity of the existing runway or runways is not fully used for a substantial proportion of the operating day. The power to set an ATM limit will be restricted only to the airports where there is a genuine prospect of development because runway capacity is underused.

Amendments Nos. 36 and 42 would do much the same, but our draftsmen think that amendment No. 35 is the more appropriate method.

2 am

Mr. Bill Walker

I welcome the amendments. They are a big improvement on my amendment which the Committee accepted.

Mr. Steen

The amendments are a step in the right direction, but the Secretary of State still has enormous powers. Amendment No. 35 speaks of runway capacity that is not fully utilised for a "substantial proportion" of time. Does not the House recall the complications in Committee about this? What is a "substantial proportion" of time? Will there be endless appeals to the Secretary of State. Will not the present arrangements break down?

The Secretary of State will be involved in many decisions. Has he considered the manpower implications? How many extra officials will he need to administer the Bill? More and more airlines are to be allowed to ask him for his intervention. Has he estimated how many extra staff will be needed? The Bill gives him ever greater powers in the running of airports, air transport movements and where airlines fly to and from. Can my hon. Friend give some idea of the number of staff who will be required to deal with these matters?

Mr. Michael Spicer

No, because we do not envisage many airports being involved.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 35, in page 22, line 5, leave out from 'to' to end of line 8 and insert 'an airport if it appears to the Secretary of State that the existing runway capacity of the airport is not fully utilised for a substantial proportion of the time during which its runway or runways is or are available for the take-off or landing of aircraft'.—[Mr. Archie Hamilton.]

Mr. Steen

I beg to move amendment No. 37, in page 22, line 40, leave out 'such of'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

  1. Government amendments Nos. 38 and 39.
  2. Amendment No. 41, in page 22, leave out line 44.
  3. Government amendment No. 81.

Mr. Steen

Towards the end of a marathon, one tends to repeat oneself. I hope that I shall be guilty not of tedious repetition, but of just a little repetition.

Amendments Nos. 37 and 41 relate to the power of the Secretary of State in clause 29 to make an order to limit the movements of aircraft at certain airports.

All the amendments deal with the powers of the Secretary of State. Clause 29 specifically deals with his powers to limit movements. The House has heard an outcry from my hon. Friends who believe that the Secretary of State has draconian powers. His powers are so enormous, wide and ill-defined and give him such discretion that they allow him to do anything, anywhere at any time. There are almost no criteria whereby we can judge what he will or will not do. The amendments seek to limit those powers. Amendment No. 41 does that in a specific manner and the other amendments do it in other ways.

Amendment No. 41 requires the Secretary of State to consult operators of aircraft which appear to be likely to be affected by the order as well as the organisations representing operators of aircraft. The Secretary of State would no longer have the discretion that he has under the Bill not to consult operators and organisations of operators on the ground that he did not think it appropriate to consult them. There is no limit to what the Secretary of State can do, and the amendment seeks to provide some criteria for what he should do.

The Secretary of State should consult operators. At present there is no obligation or onus in the Bill on him to do anything at all. This is the cri de coeur that has been heard from Conservative Benches and I hope that in the years to come it will not be so inappropriate that the Government should proceed to give the Secretary of State more powers over the movement of aircraft and the aircraft industry.

Will my right hon. Friend tell us why he will not accept this amendment under which he would at least consult the operators of aircraft? At present there is no reason why he should consult the operators. He should give an undertaking to the House that he will consult operators of aircraft who appear to be likely to be affected. If he is preparing all these sections of the Bill for a situation which will never exist, why is he doing this now? Why does he not wait five or 10 years until the situation arises?

Mr. Ancram

I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) is still labouring under the effects of the previous amendments, and I am sorry that he did not recognise that within the grouping of these amendments there are Government amendments which respond to proposals which were made in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) moved an amendment in Standing Committee which sought to add local authority interests to the list of organisations which must be consulted before an ATM limit order is made. The Government accepted the principle which underlay that amendment and undertook to return to the matter on Report with appropriately drafted amendments. Amendments Nos. 38, 39 and 81 fulfil that commitment.

We see the use of an ATM limit very much as an instrument for controlling the expansion of use of a developing airport. Part of the function of an ATM limit will be to ensure that the increasing use of an airport does not overstretch the capacity of local infrastructure, the planning responsibility for which falls to local authorities. It therefore makes good sense to provide for consultation with local planning authorities which are likely to be affected by operations at the airport on the particular issues raised by the application of an ATM limit.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams will agree that the Government amendments achieve the objectives which my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden mentioned in Committee. My hon. Friend seems to think that there will be no consultation. I stress that the local authorities affected will be included in the consultation procedure that is provided for in clause 29(6).

If the Government amendments are accepted, as I hope they will be, clause 29 will provide for obligatory consultation with the CAA and the airport operator affected, and for discretionary consultation with a variety of aircraft operator interests, including those operators who seem likely to be affected and appropriate organisations representing operators of aircraft. Of course, local authorities would come in that category.

My hon. Friend's amendments seek to create a much more rigid consultation procedure than clause 29 envisages. They would compel consultation, not only with the CAA and the aircraft operator affected, but with operators of aircraft who are likely to be affected and organisations representing operators of aircraft. That would severely restrict the latitude which the Government would have in selecting, for instance, the aircraft operator organisations that should be consulted. There must be some latitude. Some aircraft operator organisations would, inevitably, be closely interested; by the same token, other organisations might have no interest in some cases. But the amendments would compel consultation regardless of whether those organisations had an interest in the matter. Earlier, my hon. Friend expressed concern about the burdens on staff in the Department of Transport, but his amendments would be burdensome, costly and wasteful.

Those are the reasons why I cannot accept my hon. Friend's amendments. I hope that he appreciates the Government's genuine intention to consult. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said earlier, many clauses would require the Government to seek an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, so hon. Members would have a chance to declare their interests in the matter. I hope that the Government amendments will be accepted, and I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw his amendment.

Sir Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)

The speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland showed that, although the Government will be obliged to consult several people and bodies, they will not be obliged to consult the local authorities. Why should that be at the Secretary of State's discretion? I understand my hon. Friend's arguments so far, but why does he wish to relieve the Government of the obligation to consult the local authorities, which are closely involved in such matters and wish to be consulted? The Government amendments would give the Secretary of State discretion to consult the local authorities. Would it not be better if he was obliged to do so?

Mr. Ancram

There must be an element of discretion in this area, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should consult only local authorities that are likely to be affected. The extent to which they are likely to be affected should also be taken into account. The Government amendments, which respond to an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, will mean that the local authorities which are likely to be affected are likely to be consulted. But if the Secretary of State was obliged to consult all local authorities, whether or not they had an interest in the matter, we should create unnecessary burdens and problems.

Clause 29(6)(a) contains a similar provision, in that operators of aircraft who appear to the Secretary of State to be likely to be affected may also be consulted. There is a double discretion because of the precise nature of the consultations and the interests of those organisations which must be taken into account. That is the pattern that we have followed, and I believe that we have fulfilled the undertakings that we gave in Committee.

Mr. Steen

With the leave of the House, may I ask the Minister to help hon. Members in this respect: does he believe that it is most unlikely that the powers contained in clause 29 will be used in the near future? If he can give an undertaking to that effect, of course, I shall seek to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Ancram

In view of what my hon. Friend said in the debate on the previous set of amendments, I cannot give such an undertaking. But it would be unthinkable not to consult the organisations involved. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend's main points and that he will withdraw his amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: No. 38, in page 22, line 42, leave out 'and'.

No. 39, in page 22, line 43, at end insert

'and (c) any local authority or authorities who appear to the Secretary of State to be affected by operations at the airport,'. No. 81, in page 23, line 1, leave out subsection (7) and insert— '(7) In subsection (6) "local authority"—

  1. (a) in relation to England, Wales and Scotland, has the meaning given by section 11(1);
  2. (b) in relation to Northern Ireland, means a district council established under the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972.'.—[Mr. Ridley.]

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