HC Deb 02 July 1986 vol 100 cc1116-20

Lords amendment: No. 15, in page 23, line 41, leave out subsection (5) and insert— (5) Where—

  1. (a) the subject-matter of any particular rules made by the Secretary of State under this section is a matter in relation to which the CAA has given advice to the Secretary of State (whether before or after the passing of this Act), and
  2. (b) those rules are so made not later than five years after the giving of that advice,
the requirements of subsection (4) shall be taken to have been satisfied with respect to those rules.

Mr. Spicer

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The amendment avoids the Secretary of State having unnecessarily to request fresh advice on traffic distribution rules from the Civil Aviation Authority where such advice has been given within five years.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I cannot let the Minister get away quite as easily as that. It looks on the face of it as though amendment No. 15 is a purely technical matter laying down a limit of five years in which the rules have to be changed if the CAA is given advice. But how does that fit in with clause 29, which it amends?

Here we have clearly set out the steps to be taken, first, by the Secretary of State, and, secondly, by the CAA. It makes it clear that where the CAA has been consulted by the Secretary of State, the CAA has to proceed with the consultation process in which it discusses with airport operators likely to be affected by the rules, the operators of aircraft and organisations representing airport operators or operators of aircraft, and so forth.

I have difficulty in seeing how that works and how amendment No. 15 fits in because, in a recent exercise in which the CAA has apparently undertaken a round of consultations, not a blind bit of notice has been taken of them. I wonder whether that will happen with the traffic distribution rules.

There have been discussions — CAP 510 — about feeding into Heathrow airport in particular, although Gatwick is also part of the system of airports serving the same area of the United Kingdom. The CAA has suggested that flights from Inverness should be shifted out of Heathrow and it has also suggested that the same might happen with Dundee and Plymouth, along with a whole range of other things in the first stage. There is also a second stage where various other flights from other British airports might be altered. The consultation process took place but I do not know anyone, apart from the CAA, who said that they agreed with CAP 510. Inverness, Dundee and everyone else are outraged that despite the consultations the CAA has confirmed what it said in the first place.

There is no point putting into legislation a whole set of rules which have to be followed about consultation with operators and everyone else and then at the end of the day simply saying, "That's it. We have had the consultation but we are going ahead anyway." If the changes proposed by the CAA take place all hell will break loose, even more than has happened in the past.

I do not know how amendment No. 15 fits in, but to say that the rules are so made not later than five years after the giving of that advice means five years of uncertainty.

Either the changes will be made or they will not be made, and we must know. The Minister must tell us a bit more about how clause 29 will work. How does it fit in with his general traffic management rules in other parts of the Bill?

This is a serious matter and those of us who represent or have interests in airports outside London will not have them dominated by the needs of Heathrow, the needs of particular operators or the needs as perceived by the CAA in a completely misconceived way.

Mr. Bill Walker

My hon. Friend the Minister knows that we spent a long time on this matter in Committee and on Report and he knows that I have been in consultation with noble Lords in the other place.

I do not wish to spend a lot of time on this, but when the Minister is replying could he tell the House how this amendment relates to the capacity and demand amendments Nos. 58 and 88? There is a demand from airlines to land at Heathrow. Amendment No. 15 (b) says: those rules are so made not later than five years after the giving of that advice". We know about the advice given recently by the CAA on the problems likely to be faced at Heathrow. It suggested that certain services should be removed from Heathrow, but we know that under the regulations the carriers cannot be told where to go. They can be told where they cannot go, to Heathrow. How does that marry up with the problems of capacity and demand? There is an opportunity to develop further at Heathrow and at Gatwick. How does that square with the amendment? If we accept amendments Nos. 15, 58 and 99, which will have priority? Nos. 58 and 88 say that there is a requirement for the capacity to meet the demand. How is that marvellous balancing act to be achieved?

Mr. Steen

Does my hon. Friend agree that this clause and the amendment are important? They give far-reaching powers to the Secretary of State, and while we are well content that the present Secretary of State will exercise his responsibilities in a proper way, we may well be anxious about how that would be done by any future Government. Does my hon. Friend further agree that whereas Heathrow airport is currently under-utilised, Gatwick airport is almost at capacity? There is a great danger that some unwise and badly advised future Secretary of State could get it hopelessly wrong.

Mr. Walker

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has put his finger on the matter of how the official side, whether it is the CAA or the officials advising the Secretary of State, would view these things. In relation to amendment No. 15, the scheduling committee is the body which at the end of the day will determine the allocation of the available slots. That committee, certainly in respect of Heathrow, has clearly said that it is not yet unable to meet the demand.

Mr. Steen

Nowhere near it.

Mr. Walker

It says that on a daily and hourly basis there is still scope for aircraft and aircraft movements—if there is a demand for more. My hon. Friend the Minister will know that we spent a long time in Committee trying to find answers to these difficult and thorny problems. I compliment my hon. Friend the Minister on the way that he and his colleagues responded to the requests made in the House and in another place. We need some clarification from my hon. Friend the Minister on the exact relationship between amendment No. 15—if it is accepted—and amendments Nos. 58 and 88 which we will discuss later. Those two amendments are linked and cannot be separated.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

I assure the House that as soon as the responsibility for transport is in the capable hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) operators, airports and the travelling public will be well served and well looked after. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North, I should like to know what amendment No. 15 adds to the Bill. All it appears to do is extend from 12 months to five years the period of uncertainty. As my hon. Friend said, CAP 522 is merely a restatement of CAP 157. No one agrees with it. It will have a tremendously damaging effect on the development of regional air services in the United Kingdom.

11 pm

On 10 July a deputation from Carlisle will come to see the Minister. They share the Dundee-Carlisle-Heathrow link with my constituents. We are greatly concerned that the Minister has a document in which the information is out-dated. The new operator on this service took over officially only in January 1986 and cannot provide that information from such a short experience of the route. Indeed, it is doubtful whether the CAA could provide it. It is nonsense when one arm of the Government, the Secretary of State for Scotland, is rightly concerned about the economic regeneration of Tayside and pumping a considerable part of his budget into regenerating the area economically and building up its attractiveness, while another arm, the CAA, threatens the viability and economic well being of the area.

The service is vital. Indeed, I travelled to London on it today. The CAA has said that it is concerned that the small companies using the slots into Heathrow should develop the interlining service. Of the 23 passengers on the flight this afternoon, three were travelling on such a service. One was going to Hamburg, one to Dusseldorf and one to Houston. That is not a bad proportion. If the uncertainty over the route were lifted, I am sure that the present operator of Euro-Air could develop the service and make nonsense of CAP 522. At present it is carrying out a passenger survey to find out the final destination of the travelling public when they hit London. Early signs are that those travelling to London, especially British people, would prefer to come to London via Heathrow as they come in to what are termed the business areas in the M4 corridor. Gatwick would not be suitable.

I should certainly like to hear from the Minister that he does not accept CAP 522, but he will not say that tonight. I should like to hear how he thinks that amendment No. 15 will help him to ensure that the advice given to him by the CAA prior to the enactment of the legislation will permit him to make the right decision.

Mr. Steen

It is not just the scheduled services from Aberdeen, important as they are, which are worried about this clause, but all the charter traffic. The hon. Gentleman may know that some Conservative Members are taking a delegation to see the Minister. Every airline involved in charter traffic. Every airline involved in charter traffic is opposed to the powers of the Secretary of State and how they may operate against their interests. Does he agree that it would be a dreadful mistake if we did anything to damage our successful charter traffic?

Mr. Ross

I would not claim to be an expert on charter traffic, but I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Obviously, these points have been made in Committee.

We need to hear from the Minister tonight why he thinks that amendment No. 15 will strengthen clause 29, and more particularly, how he intends to deal with the information he is given by the CAA prior to the clause standing part of the Bill.

Mr. Michael Spicer

I wholly understand this uncertainty point which has been raised by the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). However, it is only one of two schools of thought on the matter. Others, who also represent regional routes in relation to the advice produced by the CAA, say, "Let's wait and see." As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said, it is not fully predictable whether the peak hour period at Heathrow could be extended by the scheduling committee in such a way as to allow in more flights than was the case when the CAA considered the information.

A school of thought which is represented by some of the other routes affected by this decision is that we should wait and see. My right hon. Friend and myself must first decide whether we make a speedy response. However, I also recognise the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee, West about uncertainty. He and my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams have made representations about how uncertainty would affect their own regions. In the case of the hon. Member for Dundee, West it is a route that is thin and developing, and in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams it is a route in respect of which uncertainty causes great worries.

I entirely accept that there are two sets of decisions. I must quickly produce a decision recognising these factors. We are listening intently to what the hon. Member for Dundee, West and others are saying about the routes that have been threatened. However, I cannot give a decision tonight.

This is a simple amendment. Everything stays—there is no problem about that, except that we say that there is no point in going through the elaborate, time-consuming and expensive procedures implied in the clause more than once every five years.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The amendment states: those rules are so made not later than five years after the giving of that advice". If, say, in 18 months' time, the Minister decides not to change the rules, presumably that is the end of the matter and it is not open to the CAA to ask him to change his mind without at least a further examination.

Mr. Spicer

As I understood the question, that is right. It will still be open to the Secretary of State to come up with new rules within that period if the circumstances have changed, but as long as he is within the five-year period he will not necessarily consult the CAA.

It is difficult to give the precise relationships that will exist between the gathering of advice in which the CAA will be involved in relation to traffic distribution rules, the advice it gives to the Secretary of State, and the advice that it will give on capacity. But clearly there is a relationship, and I entirely accept that it will be very much part of any total advice that the CAA gives, particularly on capacity.

Mr. Steen

It would be helpful if the Minister told the House that when looking at the powers under this clause—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not discussing the clause. We are discussing Lords amendments to it. The clause has already been debated and decided upon by the House.

Mr. Steen

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for reminding me of that point. That is what I meant, but I did not put it very clearly. Does the Minister agree that with regard to these Lords amendments it is important for the Secretary of State to consider carefully—each time he looks at them—that private enterprise should be taken into account and that nothing should be done to destroy any airline that is operating in the private sector—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not see how that arises from these amendments.

Mr. Steen

I can explain exactly how it does arise—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Apparently the hon. Gentleman is seeking to intervene in his already overlong intervention, which seems to be totally irrelevant to the amendments.

Mr. Steen

I am willing not to pursue this, as I am sure the Minister has noted my point.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am glad.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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