HC Deb 09 April 1986 vol 95 cc195-222

'(1) At every airport licensed for public use under an Air Navigation Order there shall be a Scheduling Committee consisting of operators of aircraft using that airport for flights for the carriage of passengers or cargo for reward.

(2) Every such operator shall be entitled to be a member of the Scheduling Committee, and shall have one vote in its decisions, which shall be made at a meeting of the Committee by a three-quarters majority of the members present.

(3) Subject to the foregoing, the Scheduling Committee shall determine its own procedure.

(4) Subject to the provisions of section 30 of this Act, the Scheduling Committee shall have the function of allocating the times for the movements of aircraft at the airport, and it shall be the duty of the airport operator to take all necessary measures to give effect to the allocation so made.'.—[Mr. Steen.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 19, in clause 26, page 19, line 14, at end insert

'"Air Navigation Order" means an Order in Council in force under section 60 of the 1982 Act.'. No. 20, in page 19, line 22, at end insert

'"Scheduling Committee", in relation to an airport, means the body at that airport referred to in section (Scheduling Committee) of this Act. '. No. 34, in clause 29, page 21, line 39, at end insert

'and the Scheduling Committee at the airport.'. No. 40, in page 22, line 43, at end insert

'and (c) the Scheduling Committee at the airport'. No. 44, in clause 30, page 23, line 12, at end insert

'and where the Scheduling Committee at the airport has notified the Secretary of State that it is unable to allocate times for movements of aircraft at the airport, either for a period specified by the Scheduling Committee or for the indefinite future'. No. 45, in page 23, line 15, at end insert

'either for the period so specified or for the indefinite future as the case may be'. No. 46, in page 23, line 18, after 'CAA', insert 'and the Scheduling Committee'.

No. 48, in page 24, line 12, after 'and', insert

'the Scheduling Committee at the airport, and'. No. 52, in page 24, line 25, after 'CAA', insert

'after consulting the Scheduling Committee at the airport'. No. 53, in clause 32, page 25, line 20, leave out from 'An' to 'may' in line 21 and insert 'Air Navigation Order'.

Mr. Steen

New clause 6, read with the definition of "scheduling committee" in amendments Nos. 19 and 20, makes statutory provision for the existence and constitution of a scheduling committee at every airport. It has to be at every airport, otherwise the Bill would be a hybrid Bill. According to the chairman of the scheduling committee at Heathrow, who is employed by British Airways, the committee has no ambition to achieve statutory status and would prefer to remain wholly informal and to reach decisions, as at present, by consensus. If, however, part III of the Bill is retained, it will be necessary to confer statutory functions on the committee, in particular the right to allocate slots unless it notifies the Secretary of State that it is unable to do so, in which event the Civil Aviation authority will, under clause 30, act as a backstop by direction of the Secretary of State in drawing up a scheme for his approval. That involves giving the committee a statutory existence with a minimum of provisions as to what it is and how it is to reach decisions.

Those provisions have deliberately been kept sparse. They provide that every commercial operator, British or foreign, which uses the airport shall be entitled to be a member of the committee and to have one vote, which, it is believed, reproduces the informal position in the absence of the legislation that now exists.

I know that the voting arrangements in the clause which my hon. Friends and I are proposing have been criticised. I do not want to deal in detail with the voting arrangements. If the Minister believes this is the right way to proceed, I hope that he will develop some new arrangements. I should make it clear that the required majority for reaching a decision will be three quarters of the members present, whether or not some abstain, and by that method they could decide what voting arrangements to have. That would not mean one-man, one-vote right through; they could decide by a three-quarters majority to change that arrangement.

That should require a substantial consensus, which there is now, whether for allocating slots or for abandoning the process in favour of the Civil Aviation Authority and the Secretary of State. The proprietor of the airport would be obliged by clause 6(4) to take all necessary measures to give effect to a scheme adopted under clause 30 for his airport. It would be interpreted as requiring him to take all reasonable measures within his power.

I have explained the technical side of things. I shall now give the off-the-cuff explanation. We have been fortunate in Britain in having trouble-free airports in terms of who goes where and which slots airlines occupy. The scheduling committee's arrangements have worked very well at Heathrow, Gatwick and other airports. The airlines get together at Heathrow under the chairmanship of a British Airways employee who acts in the fairest and most helpful way. It is a very successful committee. In this way, airlines come into Heathrow—and have done since the war—when they like, according to the availability of slots.

Although Heathrow is said to be near capacity, the House may be interested to know that British Midland Airways, in which I declare an interest, has today been granted a licence by the Civil Aviation Authority to fly to Amsterdam from Heathrow as often as it likes. It managed today to get the slot that it wants out of Heathrow to Amsterdam. It will start in the near future. That is at a time when we are told that Heathrow is reaching full capacity. The scheduling committee has worked very well.

We are concerned that the Bill makes no provision for a scheduling committee. Once the airports are privatised, there will be nothing to stop the new operators from saying, "We will not have a scheduling committee. We will decide when the aeroplanes can fly in and they must pay for it." The bigger the aeroplanes, the more they will like it, because they get more money from more passengers.

The scheduling committee acts impartially, and all of the airlines have a say. It has worked well. There has been very little discussion of this agreement. New clause 6 would enshrine an arrangement which has worked very well at Heathrow and Gatwick.

My hon. Friends may have received letters from the chairman of the scheduling committee saying that it does not want this new clause because scheduling committees are not needed in other airports. As I have explained, this would become a hybrid Bill if the new clause applied only to Heathrow and Gatwick.

I can understand the Government's anxiety about Gatwick and Heathrow reaching capacity. It is said that air traffic movements are near capacity. That is the view, but it is not borne out by the facts. There is a lot of spare capacity at Heathrow and there would be even more spare capacity at Gatwick and Heathrow if the national air traffic control services were not so hidebound by the military. As the House probably knows, an air marshal is chairman of the national air traffic control services. He imposes the military approach on flexibility and the ability to find new slots—50 per cent. for the military, 50 per cent. for the Civil Aviation Authority.

Instead of squeezing more out of the system and finding new ways in which to get more aeroplanes in, the Government are talking about limits. The inspector of the fourth London air terminal inquiry tried to impose a limit. The Government lifted that limit and the Civil Aviation Authority has pushed it even further, saying that it is not enough to have 275,000 movements an hour, but that there can be 325,000. It is now said that there can be up to 400,000 movements.

Mr. Bill Walker

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the chairman of the national air traffic control services is a civil servant and that his deputy is an air vice-marshal. Moreover, the chairman of the National Air Traffic Management and Consultative Committee, is a serving air commodore. Because of that complexity and the fact that the air commodore is in charge of the consultative committee, occasionally there are difficulties, which appear to have been exacerbated recently.

5.45 pm
Mr. Steen

I am always grateful for my hon. Friend's interventions, and this is no exception. He has put the matter and described the problem more clearly than I could. It is well known in the House that I have more air marshals and air vice-marshals in my constituency per square foot than any other hon. Member. However, I am sure that the air vice-marshal that my hon. Friend mentioned is not in my constituency.

There might be a limit at Heathrow or Gatwick, but that time is far off and would be further off if the military did not have such involvement in the present antiquated system. I believe that it was in New York that it was decided that a new way in which to get more aeroplanes into the area had to be found. The system was reviewed and means were found of bringing in more aircraft safely. That is the problem in NATCS. It keeps using the safety argument and fails to find new means, devices and technical developments to bring in more aeroplanes and passengers.

My hon. Friend the Minister has taken the NATCS problem on board. We would all like to hear what he is doing about it. Heathrow and Gatwick have finite capacity, and the limit will probably be reached at Gatwick first. My hon. Friend is anxious that, when capacity is reached, whether at peak times or completely, there should be some mechanism for coping with the scheduling committee which, hitherto friendly, might start to fight because there is no more space.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's approach is that there is a full lifeboat. A chap swims to the lifeboat, but, if he gets in, someone must be displaced or the lifeboat will sink. The Secretary of State says that he will decide which chap to throw out and which to bring in. That is the wrong approach. How will he decide which chap to throw out? That is an impossible job. I do not wish to embarrass my right hon. Friend by saying that he would not make the right decision, but he cannot throw out foreign airlines because of bilateral agreements. He can throw out only British airlines. If he has no statutory scheduling committee, my right hon. Friend is saying that we will have to bring in a foreign airline, clinging on to the edge of the lifeboat, and throw out a British airline.

How will my right hon. Friend throw out a British airline? What will be the result? He must tell us how he will operate a scheduling committee from Whitehall. The only other approach is to say that the scheduling committee will make the final decision. I believe that that happens in Tokyo. The committee might say, "We are full on Mondays and Wednesdays, but you can come in on Tuesday afternoon. There will be no appeal." That is what has happened in Britain thus far. The committee will say that there is no space, or it will push NATCS to find space, but it will not allow an appeal to the Secretary of State.

If we were to allow an appeal to the Secretary of State beyond the scheduling committee, what would he do? He would be placed in control of the lifeboat. The scheduling committee would collapse, because the airlines coming into Heathrow would say, "We have no business with the scheduling committee. We want to come in at 10 o'clock. We will appeal direct to the Secretary of State." To allow that airline in, my right hon. Friend would have to throw out a British carrier, and the British carrier, back in the water, would in turn appeal to the Secretary of State, so he would spend all his time, day and night, coping with Gatwick and Heathrow and the limited capacity that he had created. There would be no problem if the scheduling committee were to decide that the limit had been reached.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

My hon. Friend must be aware that in the past the system that he is advocating has not worked because some British airlines, when told by the scheduling committee that they could arrive or take off at specified times, have flatly refused to abide by that decision and have sent out schedules showing that they would not arrive and take off at other times. Indeed, one airline—my hon. Friend probably knows of the case—pushed itself on to the line and took off at the wrong time.

Mr. Steen

I am sure that my hon. Friend is quoting the exception rather than the rule. The general rule is that the scheduling committee has worked successfully since the war. Everyone accepts that it has worked well. I understand what my hon. Friend says, but his example would not be covered by the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Michael Spicer)

Why should we place more trust in the scheduling committee, which is mostly composed of foreign airlines, not to throw British airlines out of the lifeboat than we would in the Secretary of State?

Mr. Steen

The Minister poses a problem which has not existed and which need not exist. He should accept that the airlines can run their own operations. Conservative Members believe in consensus, not in more centralised control. We prefer decentralisation to the consumer to central Government control. The new clause would enshrine in statute a system which has existed largely without fault for the past 40 years at Gatwick, Heathrow and other airports.

The Minister says that he does not believe that the system will work when the airports are privatised. Why not? Why should the scheduling committee cease to be effective as soon as airports are privatised? The Minister should realise that the airports are under no obligation to set up scheduling committees. They could allow planes to come in when they liked and charge higher sums for slots, which would then be marketable.

Conservative Members are 100 per cent. in favour of privatisation, but we must protect the small airlines which will suddenly be pushed out of the best slots by the big airlines from other countries, which would pay more for the slots or would say, "There are more passengers at 10 o'clock than at 12 o'clock, so we will put the small airlines in at 12 o'clock." We must protect our industry, rather than score goals against our own side. Conservative Members who support the new clause fear that that may happen.

I do not wish to labour the point, which has been well made. I wish to discuss amendments Nos. 44, 45 and 46, which run parallel to what I have just said. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believes that we cannot set up a statutory scheduling committee, he should have regard to those amendments.

Amendment No. 44 goes to the heart of the matter. It would prohibit the making by the Civil Aviation Authority of a scheme to allocate times for the movement of aircraft into airports and its approval by the Secretary of State, unless the scheduling committee at the airport has thrown in its hand and notified the Secretary of State that it is unable to perform its task. That is the flip side of the coin. If there is no statutory scheduling committee, we must work on the basis that, once the airports are privatised, they will set up scheduling committees, because that is the only way in which airports can operate. The Secretary of State should not become involved unless they press the emergency button. Let them continue to run the airports until they say that they have reached capacity and cannot squeeze in another plane at peak times or generally. Once they have pushed the emergency button, the Secretary of State will have to make the decision. That system will not work because all the airlines will follow suit and will want to go to the Secretary of State.

The amendemt would express what is understood to be the Government's intention—to provide the CAA and the Secretary of State as backstops in case the aircraft operators using the airport cannot adopt an allocation of slots by consensus.

I am grateful to the chairman of Brymon Airways, which flies to my constituency, for helping to draft the new clause. He used to work for British Airways. He proposed this as an alternative to a statutory scheduling committee. Not only does this accord with the principles generally accepted in the free world, and strongly supported by British Airways, but it was evidence to the terminal 4 planning inquiry that the scheduling should be done by consensus of users, not by Government or other official bodies. The consequence of this essential amendment is that it becomes necessary to give the scheduling committee, if not a statutory status, some status which, according to information from the scheduling committee for Heathrow, the airlines do not expecially desire. The necessary statutory status will be conferred by new clause 6, which, of course, attempts to do this in a sparing way but leaves each of the scheduling committees to manage their affairs as much as possible.

The proposal is of great concern to nearly all British carriers. They have had differences of opinion about the voting methods and make-up of the operation, but I have not heard a British independent or state airline say that the scheduling committee is not the right way to run the operation. I will not list all the airlines that I have contacted, but they all say that we must have scheduling committees at Heathrow and Gatwick. We cannot allow the Secretary of State to dominate the scene. There would be no problem with this Secretary of State. He would do it extremely efficiently. However, what would happen if we had a new Secretary of State or—heaven forbid—a Labour Secretary of State? That would completely change the picture.

Without making too many nasty jibes—the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) did not make a party political point about this—Opposition Members should agree that it is extremely important that we listen to what the airlines have to say—not only the independent airlines, but the state-run carriers. If they want scheduling committees, what steps will the Minister take to ensure that they are set up? They are not covered by the Bill, and the private airport operators are not obliged to have them. What steps will he take to reduce his power of intervention so that it is not a matter of the Secretary of State versus the airlines, but one of consensus among the airline users? Conservative Members believe strongly that the Minister will get it wrong if he allows the Bill to proceed without amendment or the new clause.

6 pm

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

I shall address the House rather more briefly than my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen)—

Mr. Steen

But not as well.

Mr. McCrindle

That is a matter of opinion. I leave my hon. Friend to form his own opinion.

Speaking as a signatory of the new clause, I hope that the Minister will find it possible to accept it. Perhaps it is the combination of experience in this place and a certain scepticism when I anticipate a ministerial reply that leads me to express to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State the even more fervent hope that if, for some reason, he finds it impossible to accept the clause as it stands—I accept that it is a fairly extensive clause with many implications—he will find it possible to accept the principle which underlies it, which holds out the concept of the scheduling committee as a well-tried instrument embodying voluntary association and self-regulation. I should be surprised if the Minister did not find it possible to go along with the clause that far and accept that the scheduling committee have built up a considerable standing over the years.

The Minister might consider it appropriate to introduce some qualifications which would render it impossible to accept the new clause as it stands. I hope to persuade him that, even if that were to be the direction of his response, he would be able to underpin the scheduling committee as a tried and tested instrument.

It may be said that it would be better by far to leave the creation of the scheduling committees entirely to the airport authorities and the airlines, and in an ideal world I would have to accept that proposition. My hon. Friend the Minister must understand that the shape of the Bill necessarily means that we are creating an entirely new situation which is fraught with difficulties and viewed by the airlines with a considerable degree of apprehension. In an attempt to persuade my hon. Friend to assist my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams and myself in the pursuit of the new clause—he knows that I try always to assist him—I hope that he will be able to say, if he feels that it goes too far, that he approves the principle of scheduling committees but believes that to impose a scheduling committee on every small airport throughout the country would be taking the principle a little too far.

If the Minister were prepared to argue along those lines and were prepared to advance alternative solutions, I suspect that some of my hon. Friends would understand that approach and would feel that in some respects the proposition contained in the new clause would be improved as a result. I took the point of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams when he explained that, if he had taken that line within the clause, he would have created hybridity. If we can persuade the Minister to accept the principle that is contained in the clause and to endorse the concept of scheduling committees, I believe that common sense will dictate when a scheduling committee becomes necessary. If my hon. Friend the Minister prefers his own formula, I doubt whether too many of my hon. Friends would insist that every last word and detail of the new clause should be incorporated in the Bill.

If the new clause is at least acceptable in principle, it may be expecting too much to go along with the proposition that every airport user should have equal voting rights. It would be nonsense if every user—some users might operate an airline service no more than once a week—were to have the same power, influence and voting capacity as international airlines that use a certain airport every day. There would be a strong case, subject to the principle of a scheduling committee being accepted, for having some weighting attached to the voting within the scheduling committee.

That is the nub of the appeal that I want to make to the Minister. He may decide that although the concept of the scheduling committee is acceptable to him and has been tried and tested by long experience, he does not wish to enshrine it in legislation. I ask him to think carefully before he reaches that conclusion, because there is no doubt that there is a vast feeling of apprehension within the airline industry. I believe that it would give a great deal of comfort to those who are broadly in support of the main issues underlying the Bill if there were to be written into it the requirement to create a scheduling committee.

In supporting the broad approach of the Bill, I look forward to the reply of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I anticipate that he will agree with the principle that underlies the new clause and that he may even agree, subject to the qualifications that I have outlined, that it should be incorporated in the Bill rather than proceeding on a voluntary basis.

Mr. Bill Walker

I apologise to the House for not being present when the debate began. I was detained outside the House prior to the debate being initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen).

The new clause, which is linked to many amendments, deals primarily with the need to introduce more competition at our airports. However, I shall deal first with scheduling committees—I hope to do so briefly—before addressing myself to the introduction of greater competition.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams mentioned that the airlines are uneasy about the operation of national air traffic control services, and I have expressed unease as well. It is no secret that that has upset some of my former colleagues in the Royal Air Force, who are unhappy about some of the things that I have said. I must repeat that what I said in earlier debates was factually correct. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is well aware that in my presence the airlines expressed their unhappiness about certain features of national air traffic control services. No one doubts their professionalism and integrity and the efforts that they are making to do the best that they can, but there are doubts about whether adequate consultation is taking place and whether sufficient in-depth consideration is being given to the operation of the modern air transport business. Those feelings lie behind the unhappy atmosphere that exists, which I am confident can be removed.

Amendment No. 69, which I tabled, was intended to deal with that problem. I make no comment on the fact that the amendment has not been selected, save that I believe that it would have dealt positively with the root cause of the problem, which is what the consultative process is not working in the way that Parliament intended. Given the way in which national air navigation orders are dealt with, we cannot pray against them. Amendment No. 69 was intended to make the necessary changes to ensure that in future the House would have the opportunity to pray against navigation orders where there was obviously unease, unhappiness and uncertainty. It was never intended to impinge upon the professionalism of those who make recommendations to the Secretary of State on matters of air safety. The amendment was directed to the introduction of the consultation that Parliament intended.

Mr. Steen

I endorse what my hon. Friend is saying, but I think that his argument goes a little further than he has suggested. If the capacity of the NATCS system expanded, the need for the Minister to have reserve powers to deal with an airport which reached capacity would never materialise, especially with the larger aircraft that are coming on stream.

Mr. Walker

I agree that many bogeys have been created by those who have suggested what may or may not take place. Great concern was expressed that airports would reach maximum capacity with the growth that was expected and that the system would become clogged. That fear was expressed in aviation debates no more than five years ago, or perhaps a little further back than that. In fact, that has not happened.

Anyone who has spoken to the people who run the scheduling committees will know that the airlines have confidence in those committees. The committees do tradeoffs or deals, call it what one will, but among themselves they reach agreement on how the slots can be allocated.

It would be helpful if something could be put into the Bill to guarantee that there will be no possibility of any future interference by airport authorities in the allocation of times for the movement of aircraft at busy airports. It may be possible to do that in the other place. That sums up the problem. All the airlines fear that at some time in the future the airport owners, managers or authorities will interfere in the allocation of slots.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has tried to be helpful on these difficult matters in the past, will realise that it is more sensible to have a provision in the Bill rather than write it in, as the amendments do, that scheduling committees must be a statutory requirement. It would be much better to remove the root cause of the problem, which is the intention of my amendment No. 69.

I shall be speaking later on new clause 9, but I shall not spend much time on it because I hope to deal with most of what will be in that new clause on new clause 6 because the two are related. There is no doubt that the airlines are concerned that once the BAA enters the private sector it will be under no statutory duty to meet demands. New clause 6 is to move the exclusive right of providing operating and/or licensing airport terminals and/or other associated airport activities Am I reading the wrong proposal?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not deal with new clause 9, which is in the next grouping.

Mr. Walker

It is my fault; I came in late. I did not know the point we had reached. I apologise.

I have said as much as I intend to say at this stage on the matter of national air traffic control services. I shall deal with new clause 9 when we get to it.

Mr. Ernie Ross

I intervene briefly, as I have an airport in my constituency which was not dealt with in the Bill because it did not qualify in terms of the traffic generated. I also intervene with some hesitation because the airport is supported by a local authority with which I have political differences on a daily basis. However, the airport serves Dundee and Tayside. Tayside regional council has provided a service which is absolutely necessary if regeneration of Dundee is to take place.

I was not able to be present in Committee, but having listened to the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) speak I can see that there must have been some disagreement in Committee and that there may have been some concern on both sides of the Committee among hon. Members who have small operators at an airport in their constituency.

In Dundee, the present operator, EuroAir, as recently as Monday, introduced a second service for Dundee. The two services are a direct link between Dundee and Heathrow, with a stop at Carlisle. We want to know from the Minister, if he does not accept the new clause, what provision there is within the Bill, what powers he will have and what guarantees and assurances he can give to small operators that once the airports, particularly Heathrow, are privatised they will not find their current slots put out to the highest bidder. Certainly, if EuroAir had to bid for its present slots into Heathrow against TWA or any other international airline it would obviously be unsuccessful.

At present, the service operates using a 748 carrying about 40 passengers. It is vital to the well-being of Dundee and Carlisle. We want to hear from the Minister that small and medium-sized operators can expect some protection to ensure that once the airports are privatised the users committee, the scheduling committee or the airports authority itself does not put the various slots out to the highest bidder so that they will lose out.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, with all the other developments in Tayside, such as the enterprise zone and various other high technology areas and the high technology park, the airport is seen as an essential part of communications and that the new operations by EuroAir are seen by the local people as being essential? Getting into Heathrow is vital for such operations.

6.15 pm
Mr. Ross

Absolutely. When we were trying to attract industry to Dundee, someone coming from abroad would arrive at Heathrow, change planes and go on a shuttle to Edinburgh and there was then either a car or train journey from Edinburgh to Dundee. People were not interested. We now have a twice-daily direct service to Dundee and we find that it is easy to attract prospective industrialists to Dundee. More importantly, we have given the people and the companies currently in Dundee a direct link between Dundee and Heathrow. From Heathrow they are able to take a connecting service to their destination. Therefore, the service benefits Dundee and Tayside and we would wish to protect it.

Companies the size of EuroAir are obviously operating in a competitive market and are finding the costs difficult to meet. If EuroAir lost its Heathrow slot, I think that that might well be the end of the service for Dundee. It could be a serious blow to the Government's intentions because they have spent a considerable amount of money trying to regenerate Dundee and part of that regeneration is the attraction of the direct link between Dundee and Heathrow.

Mr. Dicks

I should like to speak in general support of new clause 6. There are about 70 airlines in Heathrow, in my constituency. The scheduling committee has operated very well, generally speaking, for some considerable time. In an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) I said that on one or two occasions the decisions of the scheduling committee had been bypassed. However, they were exceptions, as was rightly pointed out.

The airlines that use Heathrow generally feel that the scheduling committee should remain intact and that the Secretary of State's powers should be used as a last resort. The airlines have asked me to make the point that, if the 77 or so operators can come together and agree about how the runway should be used and the times the runway should be used, that is how it should be left. I accept that there could be some effect of weighting. I am concerned not about one airline, one vote but about the principle of leaving the operation of the runways to the scheduling committee and those airlines which operate in and out of Heathrow and make it the successful international airport that it is.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I intervene briefly to support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross).

Two weeks ago, the Civil Aviation Authority produced a document called CAP 157—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is 517."] Hon. Members may well correct me. I am no expert in these matters, and I did not serve on the Committee. The document suggested that certain routes should be removed from Heathrow; certain airlines would no longer be able to operate from there, in favour of larger operators, because their interlining activity was not substantial enough.

Over the past few weeks, several smaller operators have objected strongly. I am told that those matters are currently being discussed in the scheduling committee at Heathrow, but the smaller operators are concerned about whether their interests will be fairly represented in those debates. Listening to today's debate, and particularly to the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) in moving his new clause and putting his case to the House, I thought that we might well need the Secretary of State to intervene. The only way in which we can secure the survival of the small regional routes may be by way of political intervention. We may not be able to rely on the arrangements that the hon. Gentleman wishes to set up. Pressure might be exerted, for commercial reasons, for the largest operators willing to pay the highest prices to have the routes, which might not be in the best interests of the smaller operators.

Mr. Steen

The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is valid if the capacity of the airport has reached saturation. However, does he agree that there are two ways of approaching that? First, a scheduling committee might say, "Sorry—Tuesdays afternoons only"—that would be for everybody—or one could destroy the scheduling committee and make the Secretary of State answer every airline's request for a slot. He then becomes the scheduling committee. Alternatively, the Secretary of State can say, "I cannot do this. I shall appoint an agent, as they do in Spain and Portugal." That agent would be British Airways, which would have to decide everything. That might be worse.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

All that I want is an arrangement whereby I know that commercial pressures can be resisted. If it means that the politician is uniquely able to resist those pressures, I must support the right of the politician, indeed the Secretary of State, to do so. If we cannot rely on the scheduling committees to look reasonably at the rights of smaller airlines that cannot pay higher prices, we must resist the new clause. I would have to vote against it if it were forced to a Division.

Mr. Snape

May I assist my hon. Friend before he takes that decision? I am following carefully what he is saying, but is he aware that the present Secretary of State proposed in a previous Civil Aviation Bill, which was defeated in Committee, to auction off slots at airports such as Heathrow to the highest bidder, which in itself would have militated against the interests of smaller airlines, which he and, I think, the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) are seeking to defend? Therefore, with some Secretaries of State I might be able to support my hon. Friend, but I cannot do so with the present one. I think that the hon. Member for South Hams will agree with me on that.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I accept my hon. Friend's point, but everyone, including the Secretary of State for Transport, has to take into account the considerable regional pressures—not only Labour but Conservative—that would be exerted upon any Secretary of State who thought that he could deal with the regional routes in that way. Some hon. Members would vigorously oppose the auctioning off of those routes if it meant that we were to lose the service that is currently available to small local airports.

I have intervened to draw attention to the CAA document 517, which is causing great concern. One problem is that we believe that the material on which the conclusions in that document were based is faulty. It is based on research that was done prior to EuroAir being the carrier, when Air Ecosse was the carrier. EuroAir is most concerned that its future should not be wrapped up in arguments and discussions about the effectiveness of Air Ecosse. We are grateful for the work that Air Ecosse did in the development of that route, but it has not provided, and did not at that stage seek to provide, the level and frequency of service that EuroAir has successfully provided since it took over in November. If any such decisions are to be taken in the future, they must be based on brand new research.

If that research takes place, the Minister will find that much of the traffic being developed by EuroAir is interline traffic, whether passenger or cargo. That traffic is crucial to the development of the route. We cannot afford to lose it. We are looking to the Minister to protect our airline. In the county of Cumbria, we see it as our airline in the same way as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West does in Dundee. The future of that route needs to be secured. I hope that the Minister, if only in a giveaway remark, will show some understanding of the position in which we find ourselves.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) and Conservative co-signatories of his new clause are introducing one of the most important aspects of the debate in terms of the effect of the new clause on the airlines and the potential benefit to the travelling public.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was right to put the debate in the context of the document CAP 517, which was advice to the Secretary of State from the Civil Aviation Authority on air traffic distribution in the London area.

The new clause may have its minor deficiencies. Of course, some airports licensed for passenger traffic will have, for example, only one operator with an air operator's certificate. In those circumstances, I wonder how the three-quarters majority will be achieved. However, those are matters of detail that I am sure, with good will, the Minister can put right in the other place.

Nevertheless, the principles of new clause 6 is exceedingly important—that in the scheduling committees, the voluntary agreements of carriers should have priority and be paramount in the allocation of slots and of movements in the light of the capacity available at particular airports. In past years—several of us will be veterans in these matters, not least my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams—we have seen the attempts by the Government to forecast movements and to match those forecasts with what they believe the capacity of certain airports to be. Ever since the abortive attempt to have a new airport at Maplin, we have seen those forecasts go awry. Even Governments in their wisdom cannot foresee precisely the future level of traffic or demand. Therefore, the best people to allocate slots and to decide how those slots are to be matched to capacity are the airlines themselves. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks)—perhaps I may call him the Member for Heathrow—rightly said, the system has worked exceedingly well, and the intervention of the Secretary of State should be a last resort, a backstop, if voluntary regulation and agreement fail.

It is noteworthy that the CAA, in the press release that it issued on 25 March, when it published CAP 517, clearly stated:

The vast majority of those consulted urged that the present system should be allowed to continue whereby slots at congested airports are allocated on a purely voluntary basis through a Scheduling Committee composed of all airlines operating at the airport. 6.30 pm

The press release goes on to list a number of qualifications, but it also makes it clear that, in tendering this advice, the authority has taken account of the policy objectives of the Government—

in particular the need for air services to be operated where they best meet the needs of the travelling public and the desire to maintain London as a major international centre. The authority suggested a package of measures built round the existing scheduling committee system referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams. The hon. Member for Workington referred to the most alarming of those recommendations—the restriction at Heathrow on new domestic scheduled routes and, especially, a carefully phased removal from Heathrow, should the Scheduling Committee at Heathrow be unable to accommodate all reasonable demands for international scheduled services, of those domestic routes which carry only small numbers of passengers who travel to Heathrow in order to connect with an international flight. These are direct services from Heathrow to Carlisle and Dundee"— the route mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I remember the good old days when Autair started that route and we landed among the sheep at Crosby on Eden and then went on to Leuchars because Dundee Riverside had not been fully opened. The other direct services to be affected would be Inverness; Guernsey; The Isle of Man; Plymouth and Newquay. I am sorry again for my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams, because he will have to travel by car to reach his constituency. The other route to be affected was the route to Jersey.

All these are important routes in their own way. The other major course suggested was a restriction on the number of daily flights which may be operated by domestic routes from Heathrow

other than those with air services operated in an effective competitive environment (namely Heathrow to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast)". There is a problem here. However, over the years operators have been able to get together and make the best use of the slot time available. I am sure that will continue. All the evidence suggests that the improvements in air traffic control, the opening of terminal 4, and, hopefully, the opening of a fifth terminal will overcome the difficulties. Therefore, there will be no need for the Secretary of State's new powers, especially the powers in clause 30(3)(b) for control of movement to be made by charging.

The CAA, in its press release, makes it clear that, in its judgment, that would lead to increased domination by the larger and richer international scheduled airlines. The Authority concludes that a price mechanism, whether through increased landing charges, a direct passenger charge or the compulsory"— I stress "compulsory"— trading of landing and take-off slots among airlines would not be compatible with the Government's objectives and would almost certainly be inconsistent with this country's international obligations. That was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams in his excellent opening speech.

The wisest course would be for the Government to accept this new clause or to amend the Bill in the other place to give effect to its provisions. That is what I recommend to the House.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

This new clause has my support and I shall be interested to see how the Minister responds to the debate. In Committee we attempted to table amendments that would have had the effect of forcing upon the CAA and the Secretary of State the responsibility for promoting the interests of the regional airports and therefore the communities which they serve. Those amendments found no merit with the Government Front Bench and it is in that light that I give my support to this new clause.

There is a need to build in some measures which will protect the interests of the smaller airports precisely because it is the smaller airports which are serving the communities of Dundee, Carlisle and the other smaller areas mentioned by hon. Members. It is important that we have such a control. When the Minister replies I hope he will comment on the Civil Aviation Authority document which has been mentioned by various hon. Members.

That document did not come as a bombshell to some of us because we thought that that was what the CAA had always been up to. It certainly was contrary to the promises and claims that were given by the Secretary of State and by his Ministers. They assured us that the CAA would be objective and fair, and would try to assist the smaller airports. I would welcome a clear comment from the Minister on the CAA document. Will the Minister tell the CAA that he rejects the logic of its present approach? If he does not, his response will be grossly inadequate and will fail to recognise what the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has sought to do in the new clause. It is important to have the Government's position on record.

My preference has been that the regulation, at a political level, should ultimately rest with the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State should take control, as that is the normal way in which state bodies should be regulated. However, the present Secretary of State lectures about himself when he talks about the dangers of central Government control.

Sadly, on previous occasions the Secretary of State has demonstrated that his decisions are perverse and that they do not operate in the interests of the air traffic industry. I regret that it is for that reason that we have to move away from giving the Secretary of State such control. Such control ought to be given to the CAA because that is why it exists. The CAA, however, is operating in such a way as to suggest that it would not do the job which most of us would wish to see it do. Therefore, we have to move towards new self-regulation.

I mirror the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that, in some ways, it is odd that the users of a service should be the operators of this self-regulating system. There are inherent dangers in such a situation because the operators could set up their own neat, cosy arrangements and keep out those who, in the long run, would perform better than those in the existing set-up.

There is no absolute. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that self-regulation has merit because it moves control out of the hands of those who have proven, by their actions, that we cannot trust them.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a danger in deploying arguments about the characteristics of individual Secretaries of State and the way that they may conduct themselves? We should take more of a macro view of these matters, irrespective of the political personalities involved. We should make our judgments on that basis.

Mr. Lloyd

How does my hon. Friend suggest that we take the macro view without examining the possibility that the present Secretary of State is, as Rab Butler said, the best Secretary of State that we have got? In those circumstances our macro view is bound to be conditioned firmly by the incumbent at any given time.

To that extent I am reinforced in my view that there is sufficient to commend this new clause because it moves us into an area where we have no reasons for distrust, whereas we distrust the other options put forward.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

I declare my interest in the hotel and tourist industry but that is the least of my considerations this evening. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said, we have been having these discussions for some years. The real challenge is to decide who takes priority—the regional airports and the small carriers, or the big international airlines with the clout, carrying package tourists from California or Tokyo. My hon. Friend the Minister should always remember that he would be unwise to take action which could disadvantage regional airports and small airlines, which are struggling to build up services which are, and will in future be, a vital part of the industrial and commercial infrastructure of Britain, in favour of a step which may well bring in a few more package tourists. When it coms down to it, there are more people who will vote for him in Dundee and Workington than there are in Tallahassee or Tokyo.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

This is an important matter and it has been well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). We are anxious to preserve the status quo. The scheduling committees have been operating quietly and unobtrusively—few hon. Members were aware of their existence until the debate on airport policy last year—and they have been highly successful.

The scheduling committees meet twice a year to plan the forthcoming season and to arrange the schedules for 80 busy airports around the world, with about 120 carriers involved. It is significant that, at a time when everybody is saying that Heathrow and Gatwick are full, that is not the case. It is not thanks to the BAA, but thanks to the work of the scheduling committees that those airports are able to take the extra capacity demanded of them by the airlines, who, after all, are the immediate customers of the airport.

The scheduling committees can slot in ad hoc charters in off-peak periods. They can slot in freighters and all sorts of extraneous flights which might otherwise be told by the airport operators, "Sorry, old boy, you can't come in. There is no room." Those people have set as their task the maximisation of the airport facility and they are to be congratulated on what they have done.

There is a difficulty in having majority voting and my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) is aware of that. When the committees take about 2,000 decisions each season, or 4,000 decisions a year, it will be difficult for all those decisions to be arrived at by a majority vote. The chairman of the scheduling committee at Gatwick makes the important point: Each airline scheduler faces the same problems as his colleagues. He may require help one day and his colleagues may ask for reciprocal help the next. It is therefore the requirement of the guidelines that co-ordination should be conducted in an atomosphere of mutual trust and cooperation. This leads to the most efficient use of facilities and maximum benefit to the travelling public. That makes the point most forcibly.

It may be that new clause 6 is not the best solution to the problem, but I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to accept that some provision should be made in the Bill to ensure that something which manifestly does work should be continued. We should not put that position in jeopardy when the BAA moves into the private sector. There is a problem because at the moment there is some ministerial control, but when the BAA moves into the private sector, that will not be there.

Mr. Steen

As soon as the BAA is privatised there need be no scheduling committee at all and I am sure that that is the crux of the matter to which my hon. Friend the Minister must direct his mind.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is right. That is why so many of us on both sides of the House have chosen to speak on this matter. There is concern that a privatised BAA may—I say "may" because one should not assume that it will be hostile to the scheduling committees—decide that it wants to make the allocation rather than the scheduling committees. That is why new clause 6 should be in the Bill.

The chairman of the Heathrow scheduling committee, Mr. Gerry Hewson, said: It is appreciated that it would be helpful to have a clause in the Bill which precluded the possibility of any future interference by airport authorities in the allocation of times for the movements of aircraft at a busy airport. That is the essence. The fact that Cardiff, Birmingham or Dundee do not require scheduling committees does not matter. I hope that my hon. Friend has got the message that the scheduling committees have done such a marvellous job in helping the airlines and passengers at Gatwick and Heathrow that we do not want to lose them.

6.45 pm
Mr. Michael Spicer

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) wanted me to accept the principle behind new clause 6, which is that the scheduling committee is a tried and tested organisation which works well and will continue to do so on a voluntary and self-regulating basis. That was the tone of many of the speeches that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I should be happy to give the assurance for which my hon. Friend asks. There is no question but that the Government think that the scheduling committee does a good job in the way that my hon. Friends the Members for South Hams (Mr. Steen), for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) and others have eloquently stressed. There is nothing at all between us on that. The Government have no intention of altering that position or, indeed, of not supporting the present position. Nor does the CAA necessarily have any intention of not doing so.

Paragraph 3.94 of CAP 517 talks about the authority putting great weight on not disturbing existing arrangements prematurely. I do not disagree that there has to be a discussion about what is meant by "prematurely"—

Mr. Steen

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Spicer

It is a bit premature, but yes.

Mr. Steen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way at this early stage. He cites the CAA's document and says that there should not be premature interference. Does he agree that the Government should not interfere prematurely either?

Mr. Spicer

Having said that I can give my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar the assurance that he has sought, let me deal with the nub of the amendments, which are aimed at a statutory provision for the scheduling committees. Subsequent amendments are linked to new clause 6 which, for instance, will provide the scheduling committees with certain voting rules. It is not unfair to say at the beginning that the scheduling committees, certainly those at Gatwick and Heathrow, do not like the concept of a statutory provision for a scheduling committee. I am sure that my hon. Friend has seen a letter of today's date from the Gatwick scheduling committee addressed to myself, and no doubt to others. Indeed, it has been addressed to my hon. Friend. It states: The aviation industry does not need to have Scheduling Committees forced upon it. On reflection, my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams may accept that it is the voluntary nature of the committees that is at least in part their strength.

To enshrine certain specific voting requirements in legislation might itself negate one of the main functions of the committees, which is to carry out—if that is the right word—the IATA rules. One of the functions which the scheduling committees carry out so well is to slot in international requirements. Slotting arrangements at particular airports must relate to the international scene.

One or two specific matters have been raised in our wide-ranging debate. First, I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams told the House about British Midland's plans to fly to Amsterdam. I am sure that many of my hon. Friends and many Opposition Members will join me in welcoming that news. Competition on routes into Europe is essential to the Government's objectives. That announcement shows the working of the superb agreement that we have with the Dutch Government, whereby airlines can mount the frequencies that they wish and have almost complete freedom, subject to the fitness of the airline.

Mr. Snape

Superb for the Dutch.

Mr. Spicer

We have been talking about a third British airline which is apparently about to fly to Holland. What is the hon. Gentleman talking about?

Mr. Snape

The much-trumpeted agreement gives the Dutch the right to fly passengers from Heathrow to Schiphol and on to the far east at the rate that they would pay if they flew from London. In return, we are given Maastricht, which is the Dutch equivalent of Gateshead.

Mr. Spicer

One of the matters under discussion is Amsterdam.—[HON MEMBERS: "What is wrong with Gateshead?"'] We are talking about Amsterdam. The hon. Gentleman is wrong again when he implies that the agreement is not working to the benefit of British airlines. Both British Caledonian and British Airways have had a much greater growth in traffic on that route than the average for the rest of Europe. They are doing extremely well on that route.

The questions raised by the hon. Members for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) and for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) are not as marginal as they might appear. From the point of view of their different airports, they were concerned about the recommendations in CAP 517 for the removal, under certain circumstances, of access to Heathrow from Dundee or Carlisle. First, that is merely a recommendation by the Civil Aviation Authority. It has now been sent out for further consultation before a formal recommendation is made to the Government. The Government will then have to take a view about the formal recommendation. Not even the final round of recommendations from the CAA has been reached. I am sure that all those involved in the consultative process will have heard what the hon. Members said about new factors and frequencies.

Secondly—this may answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley)—the Government have made it clear that one of our prime objectives is to ensure fair access to Heathrow for the regional airlines from regional airports, for precisely the reasons that have been given in the debate. The House should consider whether, if, as the hon. Member for Workington suggested, one enshrined in legislation the absolute rights given to the scheduling committees, that would be more or less likely to preserve the integrity of regional routes and their access. That is a matter for debate.

When my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams made his brilliant analogy with a lifeboat, he kindly allowed me to ask him why he believed that the scheduling committee, on which there is a majority of large foreign airlines, should necessarily guarantee the access and competition that could perhaps be better supplied by the reserve powers given in the Bill to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Dicks

The answer is that the airlines are more likely to make the right decision than is the Secretary of State.

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend, who is proud of his constituency interest, talks about getting it right. However, getting things right is a subjective matter. Right for whom? The smaller airlines may not be so well represented in the scheduling committees, and one may ask whether the answer will be right for them.

Mr. Wilkinson

This matter is of great concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend quoted from the CAP document. The concluding major paragraph is germane to our discussion. It says: The Authority recommends that the measures to restrict access to Heathrow etc. should be brought in only when the Secretary of State is advised by those directly concerned that it is necessary to do so —in other words, by the airlines. The CAA has therefore avoided the need to forecast when these measures need to be taken and has not needed to assess the effects of future events such as the opening of the Channel Tunnel. We are talking in a hypothetical way. All the evidence suggests that the present arrangements work perfectly well and that we should not seek to reinforce reserve powers for the Secretary of State.

Mr. Spicer

Hypothetical debates are always the best. I shall continue to present my hypotheses. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) talked about the powers as backstop powers. I agree with him about that. It may well be, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams said, that the matter is 10 years off. I make no judgment about capacity at airports. I simply say that we believe that giving backstop powers to the Secretary of State under the Bill is the best approach to the matter, and preferable to giving, through legislation, the initiative to the scheduling committee.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams said, new clause 6 is not the main point. One could make some play with new clause 6. Whether or not it is hybrid, one could say that it imposes conditions on airports that are not relevant. I think that my hon. Friend saw the new clause as a way of introducing the subject. He called amendment No. 44 the flip side of the coin, and I sense that that is the amendment that he wishes most to pursue.

I have outlined the basic problems of new clause 6. The scheduling committees—and, indeed, the industry—do not want that sort of compulsion, and its extension to all airports is something which I believe most hon. Members would think inappropriate.

7 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth

My hon. Friend fairly makes the point that the scheduling committees are apprehensive about new clause 6. However, as I have already said, the chairman of the Heathrow scheduling committee feels that it would be helpful to have a provision which precludes the possiblity of future interference by airport authorities in the allocation of times for the movement of aircraft at a busy airport. I am sorry to press my hon. Friend on this matter, but it is not quite as simple as he suggested.

Mr. Spicer

Both my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams raised that point in their speeches. The fear is that the change of ownership of an airport—this is the nub of the matter—will affect the status of the scheduling committees. I can say categorically that there would be no such effect. Indeed, the backstop powers in the Bill might guarantee the preservation of the present system. Nothing in the Bill constitutes a threat to the scheduling committees.

Mr. Robert Hughes

What backstop power in the Bill provides that a private owner must retain a scheduling committee?

Mr. Spicer

The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to make rules and establish schemes for allocating capacity at airports. I am sure we agree that, in present circumstances, scheduling committees provide a good system. If an operator did not want that system, the Secretary of State would have the power to request schemes which reflected the operations of a scheduling committee.

Mr. Adley

The crucial point is that currently the small airlines know that they can raise matters with the Minister through their Member of Parliament. The fear is that the Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to deal with macro matters, but not with matters which, although small in terms of legislation, could be vital to the lifeline of a small airline. I do not wish to be too rude to the BAA, but I do not think that representations to it would be quite the same as representations to the Minister.

Mr. Spicer

In fact, it is the other way around. Clauses 28, 29 and 30 provide backstop powers for the Secretary of State to intervene in the sorts of matters mentioned by my hon. Friend, so the Bill is sound in that way. However, it does not enshrine the rights of scheduling committees—

Mr. Bill Walker

My hon. Friend knows that I believe that there should be a system of appeal to the Secretary of State, and on that he and I are at one. Can he confirm that when the Bill becomes law there will no longer be problems with air navigation orders? As he is well aware, it took me six years to achieve change, and a company could go out of business in that time. It is important that we do not have the same problems with slots and scheduling, especially for flights from Dundee, in which I declare an interest. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that we will not face the same ghastly situation as we faced on air navigation orders when we found ourselves impotent?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend may wish to return to the question of air navigation orders, and especially the question of NATCS. On 26 February I met representatives of independent airlines, when they raised the question of NATCS and air navigation orders. I look forward to hearing in more detail from the independent airlines about the precise nature of the problem. I am sympathetic to the management and accountability problems of NATCS. My hon. Friend has often made the point about dual control, and it is something that we might wish to study. We do not have that sort of duality of control in other matters—

Mr. Steen


Mr. Spicer

I am about to address myself to my hon. Friend's amendment No. 44. I do not wish to delay the House, but I shall give way to him if he wishes to question me once I have made my remarks.

The amendment takes the initiative on slot allocation schemes away from the Secretary of State and gives it to the scheduling committees. It would be wrong to do that, for at least two reasons, and there may be more. First, problems may arise if a scheduling committee is on the verge of breaking down. We have already discussed the operations of the scheduling committees where an airport may have scarce capacity—and even, at peak moments, a complete absence of capacity—but where, taken on a broad basis, it has not reached full capacity. The scheduling committees, in their wisdom and efficiency, have the capability to spread the load and to consult.

We may eventually reach the position—the time is a matter of debate—when an airport reaches full capacity. At that point, the airlines may be incapable of voluntarily reaching an agreement, with the consequence that the mechanism breaks down. If my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams is fair, he will admit the possibility of such a circumstance. Indeed, that is why hon. Members have referred to backstop powers.

A second point which I must make relates to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) about whether a scheduling committee composed of independent airlines might, when capacity was used up, not always act in the public interest. It might be that the Government had policies about competition and about airlines flying in from individual regional points, and it might be that the scheduling committee was unable to cope in those circumstances.

Mr. Dicks

My hon. Friend keeps on confusing questions of definition. He mentions capacity. The problem at Heathrow is that people want to come in at a particular time. In this sense, it has nothing to do with capacity. People want come in at 10 am. A British airline wants to come in at 10 am, when there is a vacant slot at 3 pm, which is precisely the time when it wants to go back. My hon. Friend ought to differentiate clearly between the problem of capacity and the problem of the times at which an aircraft wants to come in and when it is not convenient to do so.

Mr. Spicer

I was not making any judgments about capacity. I take the point made by my hon. Friend, that there may be an opportunity to squeeze capacity into different times of the day and to generate new patterns of activity in the way that is suggested. All I would say is that, if the limit of capacity was ever reached, if there was a demand for certain times of day which were full up, it is at least conceivable that the scheduling committee approach would not be as effective as it is at present.

Mr. Steen

I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would give way before he goes further. The House is most grateful for his courtesy in giving way to his hon. Friends as often as he has done. This is a crucial point in the debate. My hon. Friend said that the time may come when the limit of capacity is reached. That is when the lifeboat picture emerges. What he is saying—is this right?—is that at the point when capacity is reached, either totally or in part, the Secretary of State will throw people out. The only people that he can throw out are British carriers, because of the bilateral agreements. That is what the House wants to know. Will he throw out British carriers?

7.15 pm
Mr. Spicer

No. This is the question that I keep on throwing back at my hon. Friend. He throws these questions at me and I throw them back—perhaps I am not meant to do that. The question that I have been asking him is why that would be the case. He has proposed that we should enshrine the scheduling committee in legislation. Why should the safety and the future of British airlines be left more comfortably to a committee composed of a majority of large foreign airlines than to a British Secretary of State who is answerable to the House of Commons? My hon. Friend says that he has no powers. That is precisely what the debate is about. He will have reserve powers of the kind required by my hon. Friend.

The last three amendments consist of requirements to consult the scheduling committee before any action is taken. My case against these amendments is the same as that which I used against amendment No. 44, in particular. Not only would the arrangement be very cumbersome and give the scheduling committee a consultative role which other civil aviation interests might also wish to have, but there might be a time when the scheduling committee had actually broken down and consultations might be desired about the circumstances which had led to the breakdown of the scheduling committee. In such a case, it would surely not be particularly wise to have enshrined a consultative arrangement with an organisation which had broken down.

The Government accept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar has asked us to, the tremendous efficiency and the tried and tested nature of the scheduling committee. There is no question about that. Nevertheless, I ask that the amendments be withdrawn or, if not, resisted, because we see grave disadvantages in enshrining in statute the role of the scheduling committee.

Mr. Snape

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed understandable fears about the future of the smaller airlines and the existing network, particularly via Heathrow, but also via London's other airports. Despite the length of his reply, the Under-Secretary of State has conspicuously failed to allay those fears. His failure illustrates the central flaw in the Bill. The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) wants public sector protection in what will be a private sector industry, for which he will have voted. Having voted, as have all his hon. Friends, to take the British Airports Authority and the other airports into the private sector, he now seeks safeguards which will have an impact on the profitability of the airports. The problem is that he cannot have those safeguards, because to give them—

Mr. Bill Walker


Mr. Snape

I will give way in a moment. I have not said anything yet. The hon. Gentleman has.

To give those safeguards would be contrary to the whole purpose of the Bill, which is to put those airports into the private sector because it is felt that they will be run more efficiently. If they are run more efficiently, the sufferers will inevitably be the smaller airlines operating smaller aircraft, which will be less attractive commercially to a privatised British Airports Authority.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the aviation industry is the most regulated of all, whether it is run by private or public sector airlines, and that there would be nothing odd in having a clause in the Bill which said that the British Airports Authority should not in future interrupt or prevent the work of the scheduling committee?

Mr. Snape

There might be nothing odd about it in the hon. Gentleman's view, or, for that matter, in mine, but it would be contrary to the spirit of the Bill and to the spirit which is typified by the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Walker


Mr. Snape

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) says no. If so, why has his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State not accepted the perfectly reasonable new clause moved by the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen)? We are being asked by the Minister to put the whole matter into the hands of the Secretary of State, who has indicated his way forward.

The hon. Member for South Hams expressed concern about my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) being a future Secretary of State for Transport. I am sure that it was not me that he meant. It is not a role that I would seek. The fact is that both he and I know, because we voted against the Secretary of State's proposals in the Civil Aviation Bill which failed to get a sittings motion in Committee in December 1984, that that is the way in which the Secretary of State would presumably wish to go forward if the difficulties so amply illustrated by the hon. Member for South Hams were to come about.

I am afraid that the Minister has palpably failed to ease the fears of hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is for the hon. Member for South Hams to say what he is going to do. Again, the Minister grins. I will give one example which, if it does not appeal to the Minister, will appeal to his hon. Friend. Last week I flew to Gatwick from Exeter in a Twin Otter of Brymon Airways. Unlike some Conservative Members, I do not profess to be an aviation expert, but it was apparent that that aircraft, trying to land at Gatwick at about 8.20 in the morning, was causing a problem because of the mix of faster aircraft that were landing.

Mr. Bill Walker

On one runway.

Mr. Snape

Yes, on one runway.

We had to circle for about 10 minutes while faster aircraft landed. If Gatwick was run by a private authority, it might say to Brymon Airways, "It would be operationally easier for us if you postponed your flight for an hour." Brymon Airways is now supported by British Airways, but a few months ago it might have gone bankrupt while three or four such decisions were being examined by the Secretary of State. We all know how slow Governments are. I am not saying that the Secretary of State is slower than anyone else. It might be better if he was, because sometimes he is apt to jump the gun. By the time decisions are taken, smaller airlines may be bankrupt.

It is for the hon. Member for South Hams to decide whether he has received an adequate reply from the Minister. I do not think he has. He made a valid point, although I appreciate the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), that good intentions are not enough to ensure the future of the smaller private companies. The Minister has palpably failed to give the necessary assurance.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not being here at the start of the debate, but I have been in the Select Committee on Transport. Hon. Members may recall that that Committee prepared a report, many of whose recommendations are the basis of this legislation.

I understand the concern of many of my hon. Friends about the possible dangers for civil airlines. Having listened to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), I am not clear whether he is in favour of the Secretary of State having power to make a decision in this case. Perhaps he was delicately drawing a veil over that so that we would not know exactly where he stood on it.

I support the Minister's point of view. When the Select Committee considered the position of airports in the post-privatisation period, we were aware that at the moment the wider public interest is protected by the Secretary of State and by the nationalised airports authority, and that the position created by the privatisation of airports could constitute a danger to the wider public interest. Although we were impressed by the representatives of the scheduling committee who explained its role to us, and although we were also impressed by and were sympathetic to the smaller airlines, the Select Committee felt that someone somewhere had to have responsibility for the public interest post-privatisation. Therefore, we took the view that it was up to the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Authority, to have discussions in the event of an airport being very near to saturation point.

Everyone must answer one simple question. Given that we will be in a new position, whether we like it or not, who should be the custodian of the public interest? I do not see a scheduling committee of airlines as being the appropriate body for that. In the circumstances we are talking about, with an airport rapidly becoming full up, the Secretary of State would not fulfil his proper duty if he did not have a responsibility and was not prepared to act. Therefore, although I have considerable sympathy with the purpose behind the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), I must support the Minister.

Mr. Steen

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to address myself to one or two matters which have come out of this important and interesting debate which has taken some time. It is right that it should have taken so much time because it is of great significance to the future of the airline industry. I have listened to the Minister with interest and the House has the greatest respect for his approach to the Bill, but he has missed one cardinal point. If an airline wants to fly into an airport when capacity is full, it must be told that it cannot or that somebody else will be displaced.

If there is a statutory scheduling committee, its word is final. It may say, "There is no more space. The slot is already taken. You must go elsewhere." The Bill will give the Secretary of State powers to remove someone who is already there. That is different from giving the final power to the scheduling committee, made up of the airlines, which will say, "We are full on Tuesday; come back on Wednesday," or "We are full on Tuesday; go somewhere else." In the Bill the Secretary of State is being given the power to move airlines around. He must use that power, otherwise there would be no point in giving it to him. But the key to the Bill is that the only people he can move around are British carriers. The Minister has said that it may not be foreign carriers because of international agreements.

If the scheduling committee has the final word, and the Secretary of State is not involved, all airlines, whether international or British carriers, will be treated equally. If the Secretary of State has reserve power, he can move only British airlines. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House fear that that is a deficiency in the Bill. It is with the greatest and deepest regret that I must tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that his speech failed to address that problem. For that reason, I must push the new clause to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 126, Noes 292.

Division No. 127] [7.30 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Kirkwood, Archy
Alton, David Leighton, Ronald
Ashdown, Paddy Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Litherland, Robert
Ashton, Joe Livsey, Richard
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Loyden, Edward
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) McCartney, Hugh
Beckett, Mrs Margaret McKelvey, William
Bermingham, Gerald McNamara, Kevin
Bidwell, Sydney McTaggart, Robert
Blair, Anthony McWilliam, John
Boyes, Roland Marek, Dr John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Maxton, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Maynard, Miss Joan
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Meacher, Michael
Bruce, Malcolm Meadowcroft, Michael
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Michie, William
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Campbell, Ian Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Canavan, Dennis Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Cartwright, John Nellist, David
Clarke, Thomas O'Neill, Martin
Clay, Robert Park, George
Clelland, David Gordon Parry, Robert
Cohen, Harry Patchett, Terry
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Penhaligon, David
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Pike, Peter
Corbyn, Jeremy Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Craigen, J. M. Prescott, John
Dalyell, Tam Radice, Giles
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Randall, Stuart
Dewar, Donald Redmond, Martin
Dixon, Donald Richardson, Ms Jo
Dormand, Jack Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Dubs, Alfred Robertson, George
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Rooker, J. W.
Ewing, Harry Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Faulds, Andrew Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Sedgemore, Brian
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Sheerman, Barry
Fisher, Mark Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Flannery, Martin Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Foster, Derek Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Snape, Peter
Godman, Dr Norman Strang, Gavin
Golding, John Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central) Tinn, James
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Torney, Tom
Haynes, Frank Wallace, James
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Wareing, Robert
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) White, James
Home Robertson, John Wigley, Dafydd
Howells, Geraint Wilson, Gordon
Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham) Winnick, David
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
John, Brynmor Tellers for the Ayes:
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Mr. Anthony Steen and
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Mr. Bill Walker.
Abse, Leo Alexander, Richard
Aitken, Jonathan Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Amess, David Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Ancram, Michael Freeman, Roger
Arnold, Tom Fry, Peter
Ashby, David Galley, Roy
Aspinwall, Jack Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Goodlad, Alastair
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gow, Ian
Baldry, Tony Gower, Sir Raymond
Batiste, Spencer Grant, Sir Anthony
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Greenway, Harry
Bellingham, Henry Gregory, Conal
Bendall, Vivian Griffiths, Sir Eldon
Bennett, Rt Hon Sir Frederic Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Benyon, William Grist, Ian
Best, Keith Ground, Patrick
Bevan, David Gilroy Grylls, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Blackburn, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hanley, Jeremy
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hannam, John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hargreaves, Kenneth
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Harris, David
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Brinton, Tim Hawksley, Warren
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Hayes, J.
Brooke, Hon Peter Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney
Browne, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Bruinvels, Peter Heddle, John
Bryan, Sir Paul Henderson, Barry
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Buck, Sir Antony Hickmet, Richard
Budgen, Nick Hicks, Robert
Bulmer, Esmond Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Butcher, John Hill, James
Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam Hind, Kenneth
Butterfill, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Carlisle, John (Luton N) Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Holt, Richard
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Hordern, Sir Peter
Carttiss, Michael Howard, Michael
Cash, William Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Chapman, Sydney Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)
Chope, Christopher Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Churchill, W. S. Hunter, Andrew
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Irving, Charles
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Jackson, Robert
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Cockeram, Eric Jessel, Toby
Colvin, Michael Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Conway, Derek Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Coombs, Simon Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Cope, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Couchman, James King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Cranborne, Viscount King, Rt Hon Tom
Currie, Mrs Edwina Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Dickens, Geoffrey Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dorrell, Stephen Knowles, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Knox, David
Dover, Den Lamont, Norman
du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward Lang, Ian
Dunn, Robert Lawler, Geoffrey
Dykes, Hugh Lee, John (Pendle)
Eyre, Sir Reginald Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Farr, Sir John Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Favell, Anthony Lightbown, David
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lilley, Peter
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fletcher, Alexander Lord, Michael
Fookes, Miss Janet Lyell, Nicholas
Forth, Eric McCurley, Mrs Anna
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Macfarlane, Neil
Fox, Marcus MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Franks, Cecil McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Major, John Shelton, William (Streatham)
Malins, Humfrey Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Malone, Gerald Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Maples, John Shersby, Michael
Marland, Paul Silvester, Fred
Marlow, Antony Sims, Roger
Mather, Carol Skeet, Sir Trevor
Maude, Hon Francis Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Soames, Hon Nicholas
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Speed, Keith
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Spencer, Derek
Mellor, David Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Squire, Robin
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stanbrook, Ivor
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Stanley, Rt Hon John
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Stern, Michael
Moate, Roger Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Monro, Sir Hector Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Moore, Rt Hon John Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Stokes, John
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Moynihan, Hon C. Sumberg, David
Mudd, David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Neale, Gerrard Taylor, John (Solihull)
Nelson, Anthony Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Neubert, Michael Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Newton, Tony Temple-Morris, Peter
Nicholls, Patrick Terlezki, Stefan
Norris, Steven Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Oppenheim, Phillip Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Ottaway, Richard Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Thornton, Malcolm
Parris, Matthew Thurnham, Peter
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Pattie, Geoffrey Trippier, David
Pawsey, James Trotter, Neville
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Twinn, Dr Ian
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Pollock, Alexander Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Portillo, Michael Viggers, Peter
Powell, William (Corby) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Powley, John Waldegrave, Hon William
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Walden, George
Price, Sir David Wall, Sir Patrick
Proctor, K. Harvey Waller, Gary
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Walters, Dennis
Raffan, Keith Ward, John
Rathbone, Tim Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Watts, John
Renton, Tim Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Rhodes James, Robert Wheeler, John
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wiggin, Jerry
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Wolfson, Mark
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Wood, Timothy
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Woodcock, Michael
Roe, Mrs Marion Yeo, Tim
Rossi, Sir Hugh Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rowe, Andrew Younger, Rt Hon George
Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Ryder, Richard Tellers for the Noes:
Sackville, Hon Thomas Mr. Tim Sainsbury and
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Mr. Tony Durant.

Question accordingly negatived.

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