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Civil Aviation Bill

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2012

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Throughout the consideration of the Bill, the debate has been informed and constructive. I thank all Members who have taken part, including Opposition Front Benchers such as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), the shadow aviation Minister. We have also been assisted by the excellent report prepared by the Select Committee on Transport. I reiterate the thanks that I have given to the Committee and its Chair for their work on pre-legislative scrutiny.

The Bill has enjoyed considerable cross-party support at every stage in its passage through the House, and its key elements have been broadly welcomed by airports, airlines and a number of other stakeholders. That reflects the efforts made not just by this Government but by our predecessors in office to listen to the industry’s concerns and respond effectively to them to put together a balanced reform package.

In the year of the London Olympics and the diamond jubilee, we are reminded once again of the crucial role that the aviation industry plays in bringing millions of tourists to this country. That is just one element of its wider contribution to the UK economy. The Bill will modernise the framework for the economic regulation of airports, greatly improve transparency and accountability and put the passenger interest right at the heart of the new regulatory system. There is widespread agreement that the current one-size-fits-all regulatory regime is inflexible and outdated. The system proposed in the Bill will deliver more effective protection for passengers and a lower regulatory cost for industry.

At the heart of our proposals is a new primary duty to further the interests of passengers and freight owners. The Bill will also enable the Civil Aviation Authority to tailor measures to each individual airport, allowing it more flexibility to target intervention in the most proportionate way.

With a strong emphasis on the price control process, the current rules leave the CAA with very limited options if problems occur between five-yearly reviews. The new licence system in the Bill will allow for real-time regulation, empowering the CAA to act swiftly if an airport is failing its customers on, for example, service quality, winter resilience, volcanic ash or any challenges that it is not yet possible to foresee.

Clause 1(3) and (4) require the CAA to carry out its economic regulation functions in a transparent, accountable, proportionate and consistent way. To respond to points made in earlier debates, we are strengthening the scrutiny to which the CAA is subject by giving a new accounting direction to the regulator, requiring it to include an efficiency statement in its annual report, which will be subject to validation by its external auditors.

The primary duty to passengers, which is so pivotal to the Bill, will provide greater certainty and clarity for airport operators, which in turn will encourage long-term investment in the improved facilities that passengers want. A shift to more independent economic regulation also removes risks associated with political interference, which is why it is a common feature of modern regulatory regimes.

The Bill will also make the CAA’s decisions more accountable than they have ever been by introducing a new appeals process. The Government worked hard with both airlines and airports to come up with an appeals system that gives effective redress to airlines without turning the new regulatory regime into a two-tier system, which would have dragged the Competition Commission or the Competition Appeal Tribunal into everyday CAA decision making. The result of that work is that the Bill provides appeal rights to both airlines and airport operators that are significantly more effective than existing remedies. However, not just businesses benefit from greater transparency and clarity. The Government believe that providing the right information for consumers can sometimes achieve better results than traditional regulatory intervention, so the Bill will give the CAA new functions on collecting and publishing information on issues such as service quality to help consumers to make informed decisions on competing operators in the aviation sector.

The Bill contains important security provisions—keeping people safe and secure when they travel is paramount. The Secretary of State is responsible for aviation security policy and for giving security directions. That will not change under the new approach we are advocating, but the Government believe that giving the experts in aviation operations a greater say in how security is delivered will improve our ability to guard against the very real threats we face.

The CAA has valuable experience not just of regulation generally, but of safety management systems that ensure that risks are controlled as effectively and efficiently as possible. We believe that that track record on safety will assist the CAA in overseeing the delivery of the new security management systems, which are an important element of the move to an outcome-focused, risk-based approach to security, which has been debated extensively during the Bill’s passage through Parliament.

I am also convinced that vesting those regulatory functions for security in the CAA will benefit the aviation industry, because it will henceforth be able to deal with a single regulatory body rather than the current two bodies. Moreover, we expect that the complementary measure—the introduction of an outcomes-focused, risk-based approach to security—will enable security checks to be integrated more closely into the general business of the airport. That should open the way to more cost-effective and more passenger-friendly ways of delivering security outcomes.

Plans for the proposed move of responsibilities in relation to security regulation to the CAA are already being developed. The Department for Transport is in discussions with the Department’s staff who are likely to be affected and with their trade union representatives, because we are keen that as many employees as possible stay in post when their jobs transfer to the CAA, taking their skills and valuable experience with them.

The Minister said that the Department has had conversations with the staff and their representatives. Can she give us any more information about that, because—as she will be well aware—one of the concerns we raised during the passage of the Bill was about the loss of expertise if staff did not follow their jobs to the CAA?

We are in discussions with both the CAA about the practicalities of the move and with those Department for Transport staff whose posts we expect to move. At the moment, we are not able to give them all the answers on all the issues, partly because the Bill has not passed as yet, but also because issues such as pensions are under review both in the civil service and in the context of the CAA. But we are very conscious of the need to try to provide as much visibility and information as possible, and we are working to do that, although it will take time to work through certain issues.

On environmental matters, the Opposition tabled an amendment on Report—it was extensively debated—that would have imposed a supplementary environmental duty in relation to the CAA’s airport economic regulation functions. I understand the motivation for such an amendment, as I said on Report and in Committee, but I believe that its aim is already provided for in the Bill, which already allows the CAA to approve reasonable investment in measures that mitigate environmental impact. No doubt the discussion on whether further clarification on that point is needed on the face of the Bill will continue in the other place in the same constructive and thoughtful way that it has in this House.

I must emphasise, however, that the Bill already includes important new information provisions to help us address the environmental impact of aviation. The Bill gives the CAA powers to collect and publish information about the environmental effects of civil aviation. Not only could that be used to give more information to communities affected by aircraft noise—hon. Members know how significant an issue that is for many people—but it will ensure that passengers have better information about the environmental impact of their travel choices than is currently available. We believe that improving transparency will help us to harness consumer power in pushing for progress towards cleaner and quieter planes.

Some have called for more on the environment to be included in the Bill, but to be effective, environmental measures need to be applied proportionately across the whole sector and not just focused on those airports that happen to be subject to economic regulation. So separately from our efforts contained in the Bill to reform economic regulation, a number of initiatives are under way to deliver cross-sectoral action on the environmental impact of aviation. Adding aviation to the European emissions trading system is expected to deliver carbon savings across Europe of some 480 million tonnes in the period to 2020. Both NATS and the CAA have a strong focus on reducing fuel burn and addressing noise in their work on improving airspace management, and the Government will soon publish a consultation on a sustainable framework for aviation. We are clear that aviation should be able to grow, but it must also play its part in delivering our environmental goals and protecting the quality of life of local communities affected by aircraft noise and other local impacts.

The Minister said that the consultation document will be published “soon”. During the passage of the Bill, we have talked about future legislation that would enable environmental concerns to be addressed, so can she tell me what “soon” means in this context?

We will publish the consultation in the summer alongside a call for evidence on maintaining the UK’s hub capacity.

Last, but definitely not least, the Bill will grant the Government the power to extend ATOL protection to flight-inclusive holidays sold by airlines and those sold on an agent for the consumer basis. Extending the ATOL scheme has received strong support in the House and has the long-term support of the Transport Committee. If the Bill is adopted, we would expect to consult next year on whether the new powers should be exercised.

In conclusion, by establishing a single, clear, primary duty to passengers as the overriding principle of economic regulation, the Bill will incentivise investment in our airports by providing greater clarity and certainty for airport operators and investors; put passengers’ interests at the forefront of the regulatory regime; give the CAA far more effective powers to intervene swiftly if an airport fails its customers; and open the way for a further extension of the ATOL scheme, which for nearly 40 years has provided financial protection and peace of mind for millions of holidaymakers. I urge the House to support the Bill.

I begin by thanking all my colleagues who sat on the Bill Committee for their support, assistance and advice, as well as those who helped on Report, outside stakeholders who sent submissions and/or gave evidence and the Transport Committee for its scrutiny of the Bill.

We welcome and support the Bill. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) said that we would support the Bill. That was no surprise. Much of it was drafted when we were in government, so there was a legacy. However, the timing of its arrival was a bit of a surprise, so the Transport Committee scrutiny was a little dislocated. Indeed, the Government’s response to the Select Committee was published only last Friday. It is good that it is out, but it demonstrates that there were surprises in the timing.

Not only was the arrival and timing a surprise but the inclusion of the security clauses, which were not in the original Bill, was not expected. Also, importantly from our point of view, the environmental protection measures, which were in the original draft Bill and mentioned in the Department for Transport press releases announcing the publication of the Bill, surprisingly did not appear in the Bill. That was a disappointment to the Opposition, and I shall return to it.

I do not want to appear too critical, however, although it might come across that way in due course, because, as I said, we support the Bill. In Committee, the Minister was as courteous as usual, although she and the Government did not accept a single amendment—she did so quite politely—even when she was injured and might have been a bit more vulnerable. The fact that Ministers did not accept any amendments was a matter of considerable disappointment to us, particularly given that we had the support of many stakeholders and recommendations from the Transport Committee.

The Minister has well covered two of the obviously key elements of the Bill—putting the passenger at the core of the CAA and updating the industry’s economic regulation. However, a number of other issues were raised in Committee, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the Bill, and I wish briefly to refer to some of them. We had a good discussion on security and the outcomes-focused, risk-based system. We support those arrangements, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) said, we were concerned about the arrangements for staff transfers and the certainty of their entitlements on wages, conditions, pensions and redundancy agreements. The staff side raised concerns that members of staff might be worried and often not accept or apply for transfers. The potential haemorrhaging of staff in such a sensitive area was of concern to the whole Committee, so it was good to hear the Minister provide additional reassurances before and after my hon. Friend’s intervention.

The Minister mentioned the ATOL reforms, which we all support, despite the delays. We will do what we can to help the Secretary of State and the Minister of State introduce and enact the reforms, because that is what we all want. Recent pronouncements have perhaps pointed towards more complications arising, which is obviously frustrating not only to the Department and the Government, but to all concerned.

Let me turn to the opportunities that were missed. On the environment, we proposed a duty, as the Minister mentioned. We also suggested including environmental aspects in the licensing conditions for Heathrow, which we think would be reflected right across the industry. On the passenger experience, we proposed that the responsibility for producing welfare plans should be a matter for the licensing arrangements for Heathrow, given the experiences in recent years of passengers being stranded, with all the difficulties that we have seen, heard about and, in some instances, experienced. It is interesting that the indicative licence produced for the Civil Aviation Authority suggested that the licence that it will produce for Heathrow ought to contain passenger welfare elements. We think that the Government could have given a firmer steer by referring to that in the Bill, which would have helped. We also made various suggestions about the efficiency and scrutiny of the Civil Aviation Authority, although I will return to those presently.

There are two additional areas that the other place will want to take account of: one was mentioned in Committee, whereas the other was not. The first is the honesty and accuracy of ticket prices, particularly from the bucket airlines, and the hidden surcharges. The CAA could clearly play a role in addressing that, and I am sure that the issue will be raised in the other place. The other issue, raised most recently, is the suggestion that certain passengers should be able to fast-track themselves through security and immigration for a price, which has caused quite a bit of consternation among passengers generally. Given that the suggestion has been made since Report, I suspect that the other place will want to see how things could be obviated to ensure fairness for everybody going through our airports.

Let me look briefly at the three areas I have mentioned. On the environment, we had a bit of banter with the Government about their mantra, which we hear all too frequently, of wanting to be the greenest Government ever. We obviously had quite a bit of disagreement about whether the Bill reinforces that claim. Indeed, the Minister for shipping, who is in his place, and I had a discussion this afternoon about this being the greenest Government ever in terms of environmental protection. However, I do not think that Mr Deputy Speaker—[Interruption]—if he was paying attention—will let me go there. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] My apologies, Mr Deputy Speaker: I wanted to ensure that you did not allow me to stray, because, seeing the hon. Gentleman in his place, I could easily have gone down that cul-de-sac.

On reporting and giving information to passengers, clauses 83 and 84, which we covered extensively, are welcome. However, we thought that there ought to be a duty on the Civil Aviation Authority, as there is on every other economic regulator, to take account of the environment. Reading between the lines, I am not sure whether the Minister’s comment that she expects the matter to be raised in the other place was perhaps an indication of more openness from the Government or that they might be prepared to look at this again.

One element of licensing to do with the environment that was raised by a number of my hon. Friends concerns protection for neighbourhoods, planning permissions and the rest of it. We think that including that in the licence would give communities greater strength and the certainty that airports and the aviation industry would take account of the sensitivities mentioned by the Minister of State.

The last thing we suggested—which the Government did not think it was appropriate to pick up—was the requirement for ticketing to show the environmental impacts of different modes of travel, thereby helping passengers to make decisions based in part, perhaps, on the difference between the environmental impact of going by air and the impact of travelling by rail or coach. I will be surprised if that suggestion is not examined further in the other place.

On the passenger experience, the reporting, information gathering and publishing will, again, be welcomed. However, as I have said, we think that the welfare plans should have been included in the licence, and that represents a missed opportunity by the Government.

I feel that I ought to reiterate the reassurance I gave in Committee and on Report. We, too, are very supportive of a focus on passenger welfare plans. We just do not believe that the content of the licence should be hard-coded in legislation. We believe that the best approach is to give the independent, expert regulator the responsibility to decide what licence conditions are appropriate.

I fully accept that; we have a disagreement over whether this ought to be in the licence. We think that putting this in the Bill would strengthen the requirement and give a much clearer indication to the regulator that the Government expected it to look at this as a key area, particularly given the experience in recent years. We are talking about a difference in emphasis, rather than a difference in principle, because we all want passengers to be better protected against the vagaries of the weather or other factors detrimentally affecting them.

Labour Members raised the whole question of the information on queuing times, and not just in baggage-handling areas. The key area where we disagreed was on whether immigration queues could or should be counted and measured, with information given to the public. Obviously, the Government’s position is that immigration and the immigration service, the UK Border Agency and the UK Border Force are the responsibility of the Home Office, and therefore it is not appropriate to deal with them in this Bill. However, given the further recent confusion over what the queuing time actually is, particularly at Heathrow, and given the disagreements on measuring between the airports and the immigration service, we think that the CAA could have played a very constructive role in that area, authoritatively collating the evidence and publishing it. As with a number of the other amendments that we failed with, I am sure that the Lords will wish to return to that.

On CAA efficiency and National Audit Office scrutiny, we again agree to differ, but at least the Minister did come up with a proposal to strengthen the scrutiny, which, in some way, addressed the concerns we were raising. Obviously, we will monitor how the proposal works in effect. We hope that it will give greater reassurance to the airlines and other customers that the CAA will operate as we would all wish.

In conclusion, this was a good Bill in draft and, in essence, it remains a good Bill, but there is still much room for it to be even better. We hope that the other place will be able to make the improvements that we were, sadly, unable to make.

It was a pleasure to speak on Second Reading and an honour to serve on the Public Bill Committee earlier this year. As I said on those occasions, and it is worth repeating now, the airport and airline industry has changed significantly in the more than a quarter of a century since this area of legislation was significantly addressed. Since the British Airports Authority—latterly known as BAA—was privatised in 1986, London’s largest airports, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, have been subject to the same economic regulatory regime designed to ensure that they did not abuse their monopoly position. The prices that Gatwick airport, which you will know is in my constituency, Mr Deputy Speaker, charges airport passengers are currently capped by the CAA, which sets them in accordance with Competition Commission recommendations. The revenues from those prices often appear listed on passenger tickets simply as “airport charges”, but of course they are used to pay for things such as runways, airfield facilities, terminal security, baggage systems and future development. Price caps are normally reviewed every five years. The Bill rightly reforms this process.

Gatwick airport supports the Bill’s key principles, which herald a more flexible regulatory system that better reflects the way in which today’s aviation sector operates. Nevertheless, Ministers should recognise the relationship between the economic regulation of London’s airports and the Government’s priority of attracting new direct routes to emerging economies, which will help to grow the UK economy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently acknowledged that, under new ownership, Gatwick is emerging as a business airport, competing with Heathrow. Indeed, the airport’s operators have established new routes to countries such as China, Vietnam, South Korea and Hong Kong. Such progress shows that Gatwick can compete to provide direct links to those emerging economies, fulfilling the ambition it has of being a gateway to Asia.

My point probably applies more to Heathrow than it does to Gatwick, which is obviously the hon. Gentleman’s main interest, but does he agree that the decision of COMAC—the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China—to locate in Paris rather than in London, mainly for airport capacity reasons, shows that the Government’s aviation policy has failed because it is essentially an anti-aviation and anti-business policy?

I would not accept that the Government’s aviation policy is either anti-aviation or anti-growth, as shown by the fact that we are now on Third Reading of a Bill that will produce greater flexibility in this sector—vital for a trading nation such as ourselves. I believe the Government should be congratulated by hon. Members on both sides of the House on that achievement.

Returning to my principal interest of Gatwick airport—I am the local Member of Parliament—I believe that it can grow by a further 11 million through-passengers than the current market share shows. The airport’s overall market share is only about a quarter of the total. Gatwick is not a monopoly, so it does not need to be economically regulated. The market should be allowed to work. Deregulation would allow Gatwick the flexibility to invest with pace in new infrastructure to accommodate developments such as the new A380 aircraft and undertake much-needed investment in areas such as the border zone. Through deregulation, Gatwick can emerge fully in line with the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as an airport that can fairly compete with Heathrow and others. As an economically regulated airport, Gatwick cannot invest flexibly or price services according to what individual customers want or what the market will support.

The Bill outlines a series of tests that must be met for an airport to be regulated. These aim to determine whether an airport has substantial market power and, if so, whether there is a risk of abuse of that position, which existing competition law is insufficient to control. An airport that meets the market power test requires from the CAA a licence to operate, which may include a price cap on what can be charged to carry passengers.

With Gatwick being sold by BAA two and a half years ago and now separately owned and operated, I very much agree with the Transport Select Committee’s findings:

“Given the greater degree of competition that now exists between airports in the south east of England…the CAA should undertake its economic regulatory duties with a relatively light touch.”

Several members of the Public Bill Committee expressed a similar view. On Report, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) said, correctly in my opinion:

“If Gatwick feels that it should invest significant sums of money in better terminal facilities in order to service the A380s and…allow the sorts of routes to high-growth markets in Asia that we so strongly support, I see no strong reason why it should be prevented from doing so and charging what the market will bear. I believe that that could be to the benefit of the consumer.”—[Official Report, 25 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 1031.]

Similarly, in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), whom I am pleased to see in the Chamber, noted that the CAA started

“from a position that… airports are regulated, and appears to want to keep them that way…. we should regulate airports only where there is a definite need to do so, and where there is a real advantage to the user, rather than looking to regulate unless we can find a way out of it.”––[Official Report, Civil Aviation Public Bill Committee, 28 February 2012; c. 153.]

There is clear evidence that Gatwick is now competing with other London area airports. Airlines and passengers are moving between those competing airports in the south-east, and airlines are choosing Gatwick in preference to other airports to establish brand-new routes to countries that are key trading partners. Any legal test should reflect those trends, and there should be no risk of presumption towards regulation.

The correct threshold for economic regulation of any company, including an airport, involves the application of the legal concept of dominance, which is well established in both European Union and United Kingdom competition law. It is used, for example, to determine whether telecom network operators should be subject to economic regulation in all EU member countries. Any test for market power should also be one of dominance. That would ensure a consistent approach to assessing whether there is a need to regulate in line with the regulation of other industries.

I welcome this updating of legislation for the air industry. I believe that it gives us an opportunity to enhance our gift as an innovative aviation and trading nation, and to grow the economic prosperity and employment that we need.

I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate because this is an important Bill that reflects the significance of aviation to our economy. I am glad that there is so much agreement on the essentials, and I am pleased that the Select Committee on Transport was able to consider aspects of the Bill not once but twice, given some rather curious timing which my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) described as “dislocated”. I have not heard that word used before in connection with consideration of a Bill, but perhaps it is indeed relevant.

We conducted pre-legislative scrutiny, but the parliamentary debate on the Bill began within about two days of the publication of our report. We then considered separately the proposals for reform of ATOL holiday insurance, when we had fuller information about the Government’s plans. In both our inquiries we generally supported the Bill, but we sought a number of changes and made a number of criticisms, some but not all of which have been taken up. I want now to refer to some of the concerns that we raised, which have been reflected in other parts of the debate on the Bill.

The Bill’s focus on passenger experience and welfare is greatly welcomed, but it is important for that work to be conducted efficiently and effectively, particularly when it comes to the production of information about different experiences in different airports. When we were considering the Bill, concerns were expressed by a number of airports—especially regional airports—which were suffering as a consequence of the current economic hardships, and were worried about the increased cost that could result from the new regulation for which the Bill provides. It is important for the light-touch regulation to be effective, producing correct and appropriate information that can benefit passengers by enabling them to decide how they wish to travel.

How to deal with adverse weather conditions has exercised the House for a long time. Although the Bill does address the issue, we were disappointed to note that its proposals were not strong enough to ensure that all airports would draw up proper plans to deal with bad weather. We were told that the CAA would deal with the matter, but, although we are glad that it has been highlighted to a greater extent, we still feel that sufficient emphasis has not been placed on it in all instances.

Our greatest concern, which has been vindicated by events since the publication of our report, was the need for much more effective co-ordination and working together by the Department for Transport and the Home Office. Our report addressed immigration queues—and, indeed, if we are interested in questions of passenger experience, we should note that among travellers’ greatest concerns are baggage handling and queues at immigration. However, such queues are controlled by the Home Office through the UK Border Agency. We expressed concerns about a lack of co-operation, and subsequent events have reinforced that point. It is unclear how much co-ordination there is between the Department for Transport and the Home Office on how to deal with queues such as those at immigration and passport control. I hope that will be addressed once the Bill is enacted.

Security is a linked area of concern. There has been a change in aviation security policy—a move to an outcome-focused, risk-based approach—and a split in responsibility for security between the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority acting on behalf of the airports. There is concern about how that division of responsibilities will operate while ensuring we maintain the highest standards of security in the most cost-effective manner. More thought needs to be given to how that is to be achieved. We also raised concerns about staffing and the initial proposals to move staffing from the Department to the CAA. We wondered whether expertise would be lost. The Department has addressed that in its response to our report, but concerns remain.

Holiday insurance and ATOL reform are long-standing issues. The Committee has looked at that for many years, both in the previous Parliament and this one. The ATOL scheme was introduced in the 1970s. At that time it fitted the way most people went on holiday, which was on conventional package holidays. The situation has changed dramatically, however. Before the changes that came into force a few weeks ago, only about 50% of people going on holiday were covered by ATOL, and there was a £42 million deficit in the scheme. We support the Government’s proposed changes, such as the extension of what constitutes a package holiday—or, rather, a qualifying holiday—the introduction of flight-plus and requiring tour companies and transport operators to provide a certificate where ATOL is in force, giving clearer information to the traveller about what is covered by the insurance.

I understand that about 60% of travellers will be covered under the new scheme, but I urge the Minister to use the powers under the Bill to extend ATOL further to incorporate holidays sold by airlines. Other tourism companies and operators feel a deep sense of grievance that while they have to pay the levies associated with ATOL, when airlines sell holidays they do not have to do so and do not face the same costs. I hope that will be dealt with, along with companies designated as agents for the consumer also being able to avoid some of the liabilities that other holiday companies have to take up. Although we welcome these changes, a much broader look at how the scheme operates is needed.

We also think there is a need for more information on what the consumers—the travellers—actually want. There is little information about the views of travellers. They might, for instance, want more information on other forms of available insurance. Although I repeat that we certainly welcome the Government’s measures, they need to go further.

More work can be done on all those points of concern, although I reiterate that there is general support for the Bill. I view the items of concern I have mentioned as works in progress and I hope that the Minister can assure us that she sees them in that light too. I hope that she can give us an absolute commitment that there will be closer working between the Department and the Home Office on the queues at our airports so that that problem, at least, can be dealt with satisfactorily as soon as possible.

I welcome the Bill. For too long, regulation across Government has been too centralised in Whitehall and has not focused on its core consideration, which is the needs of the public. The general duty to passengers in the Bill is an excellent step forward.

For far too many decades, we have seen top-down central control of transport policy. Even if all we had was a general duty for passengers the Bill would be good, but it has more to it, as has been outlined by the Minister, such as the ATOL reforms. Under clauses 83 and 84, extra information must be provided for passengers so that they know what is going on, whether it is about transport options for getting to the airport or the environmental impact. It lets passengers know and lets them decide what they want. I particularly welcome the environmental information required under clause 84.

It is clear that we must tackle the growing environmental impact of aviation. Even if we simply stick with the framework set by the Committee on Climate Change back in 2009, by 2050 aviation is due to make up at least 25% of our allowed carbon emissions. Its relevance to the future of our planet is hard to quantify but also hard to overestimate. Aviation already has a huge impact on people’s daily lives. Hundreds of thousands of people live under the Heathrow flight path—indeed, a quarter of all people in Europe who are affected by aircraft noise pollution are under the Heathrow flight path.

I have made it clear throughout the progress of the Bill that I want an enhanced environmental duty and a strengthening of the Bill in that regard. I have been talking to the Minister about that point, as we have not yet reached a solution that works. I am optimistic that the Minister will be able to work out the exact wording before the Bill reaches the other place, but we are not there yet.

In that case, my timing is appalling. It might have been the first time that the hon. Gentleman had been nice to me—[Hon. Members: “Aah!”] I am not getting this right at all tonight, Mr Speaker. I apologise for that.

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman and I had a very difficult exchange. He rightly said that our first amendment on the environment did not have the quite the right focus or the right wording, was not strong enough and did not mention the Climate Change Committee. We took his advice, changed all those points and tabled an amendment on Report that covered all those elements, but he still could not vote for it. Will he give us some indication whether he will be more successful with the Minister this time than we were last time?

I thank the shadow Minister for his praise and I am glad that he listened to my comments about the first version of the amendment. I was about to say that I welcomed its intentions and was very pleased that it was improved. I think that it is almost at a stage where it could be accepted. Unfortunately, it was not quite there.

I was wondering whether to use some of the criticisms that I had stored up, and I shall use one. One thing that concerns me about the shadow Minister’s position is his party’s overall position on the environment. The new shadow Environment Minister whose post was announced in the recent reshuffle—the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris)—said on Second Reading that he hoped his party would support the third runway at Heathrow and argued that concern for the environment was really a form of class warfare, saying that we were coming up with environmental concerns because people with less money were able to fly. I am sure that that is not what the shadow Transport Minister, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), means and I hope that he will be successful in persuading his colleagues to take a more sensible approach.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing for an additional runway at Heathrow? The impact of flying to Heathrow and flying around until the plane can land—stacking—must be environmentally wrong. He is right to argue for an additional runway.

I do not think anyone here believes I am arguing for a third runway at Heathrow. If the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood that, I am sorry. This highlights the problem that there are people on the Back Benches on the Government side who are in favour of a third runway at Heathrow. I wish Ministers good luck in persuading them. Unfortunately, it seems that Back Benchers and Front Benchers on the Opposition side hold such views, although I realise that is not the shadow Minister’s official position.

I hope we will be able to get the outcome that we all want, party political bickering aside, and that the Minister and the Secretary of State will be able to deliver that in the other place. One concern that has been raised is that the current proposals will tackle only regulated airports. I would like them to go wider than that. For example, the Aviation Environment Federation suggested amending section 4 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. That would be a more general approach and would not hit just particular areas, so that is one possibility. This is a good Bill. It could be tweaked to be even better, but it should be greatly welcomed on both sides of the House. It will give us a sustainable future for civil aviation in this country, with open data, proper regulation, support for sustainable transport and proper passenger-led reforms. I am delighted to support it.

I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to speak. It is particularly expedient that I should do so after the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), for reasons that I shall come to. First, let me address one of the issues at the heart of the Bill: passenger experience. We welcome the Bill, which we sought to amend and improve in Committee. I was proud to serve on the Committee with colleagues from the Opposition Benches, some of whom are present. When things go wrong for someone at an airport their first instinct is to blame the airline, but it is rarely the airline that is at fault. We have seen such experiences at several airports and some bubbling discontentment, particularly more recently as a result of immigration and other issues such as poor weather. That is why we sought to put welfare plans for passengers into the Bill and why we sought to help disabled passengers more explicitly by putting such measures in the licence conditions. The two Front-Bench teams have explained their differences on where the emphasis should be.

For me, the key issue is about holding airport operators to account. I served on the Select Committee on Transport, and I remember seeing the chief executive of BAA come before the Committee shortly after the December 2010 snow disruption and confess that, of the 80 different measures of Heathrow’s success that were taken in December 2010, only three or four had been breached and marked as red, whereas every other box had been ticked green. In a sense, that underlines why we need to be really explicit about what we want to measure. I am sure that the CAA will be good at that, although the Opposition would have preferred the Government to have a more active role at the legislation stage.

The second issue I want to address is environmental responsibilities. In Committee, we felt it would be extremely helpful and effective if the CAA had a clear duty on the environment, and at one stage it appeared that the Department for Transport believed that too. Certainly, as the Bill came through, we saw from its drafting that that would not be included. I am talking about giving environmental information to passengers so that they can make smarter choices and about making sure that the CAA, as an economic regulator, can do its job, balancing the needs of the economy alongside the needs of the environment.

I wanted to speak to this Bill not just because I represent an airport constituency—Luton airport, which many people will know and love—but because I am deeply concerned about growth. We know that there is limited growth in the economy, to put it mildly, and that we need a long-term strategy for growth. As the Minister has pointed out, if aviation is one of the routes for that growth, it is important to have continuity and consistency in the Government’s approach. That is why I am so concerned about the remarks that we heard in Committee, which the hon. Member for Cambridge spoke about.

A Liberal Democrat member of the Committee whom I shall not name—okay, I will, it was the hon. Member for Cambridge—said in Committee:

“I would very much like to see an environmental duty in the Bill. That is an important issue, and I raised it on Second Reading.”

He went on:

“I am confident that she”—

the Minister of State—

“will…find a way to deliver an environmental duty in this Bill…It is not a trivial issue.”––[Official Report, Civil Aviation Public Bill Committee, 28 February 2012; c. 116-17.]

We wait to see whether the Minister is willing to give to her coalition colleague that assurance. We certainly felt that the point might have been more easily pressed home had the hon. Gentleman voted for it in the first place. I say that not to embarrass any particular Member on the Government side—honestly—but because I think the issue goes to the heart of aviation strategy more broadly under this Government. As with many issues under the coalition Government, we have one party on the accelerator and one party on the brake. Sometimes those flip around, but on aviation strategy the nature of the coalition becomes even more disparate. We have two people on the accelerator and one on the brake, or one on the accelerator and two on the brake at different times. There is no clarity for the industry about where this Government want to take aviation. That should be a big concern for us.

We know the issues in aviation; the big one that needs to be tackled is the requirement for greater capacity in the south-east. With reference to Luton airport, we know that the Minister is deeply interested in point to point and she is right. We should make more effective use of the capacity that we have. I hope the ministerial team will bring forward commitments on that in the coming months. We can go from 8 million passengers to a greater number without doing significant ground works or extending the runway.

We need resolution on whether there will be a genuine hub airport—one that does not fall over when it snows, when it rains, when there are small amounts of disruption. While that issue remains unresolved, perhaps because of the nature of coalition government, perhaps because of geographic requirements on Ministers or individual MPs, simply saying no is not a policy.

I wish Luton airport well; I have used it on a number of occasions. However, the recent report from BAA shows that if we do not have a third runway at Heathrow, which is the only solution to providing a hub airport, we will lose £100 billion in the economy. That is a non-trivial amount. Not having a third runway, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) said, is actually bad for the environment.

I thank my hon. Friend. I want to make it clear that I think the right approach is to reach a cross-party consensus on the future for a hub airport. In that context, the moves by the shadow Secretary of State and the shadow Minister of State to write to Ministers at the Department for Transport saying, “We will take the option of a third runway off the table,” acknowledging that it has been taken off the table by Ministers, is the right way to go. However, the issue does not go away. In the course of developing policy in both major parties, we cannot continue to dodge the bullet. We need a hub airport that is fit for purpose. That is why I believe it is so important, given the passage of the Bill through the House tonight, that we find a way to tackle the big issues in aviation.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that more people who wish to travel to and from London could and should use Luton airport?

Sometimes one is bowled a googly in the House. I am not sure whether I have been with that question. I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman. More people could use the four or five other airports around London instead of Heathrow and use existing capacity well.

I believe that the Minister’s heart is in the right place on the issue. We should speak positively and give a clear direction for industry, because without that the Department will not make its vital contribution, which we need for growth.

I congratulate the Minister and the Government on bringing the Bill to the House on Third Reading, and the Opposition on the hard work that they did in laying the foundations for legislative change when they were in power. It should be recognised that the Opposition have done a lot of work on the matter.

The thrust of the Bill is to reform the economic regulation of airports, with particular focus on those airports with market dominance. We are talking about Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. As a Northern Ireland MP travelling every week, I have become very familiar with Heathrow and Gatwick. Since the British Airports Authority was privatised in 1986, London’s largest airports, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, have been subject to the same economic regulatory regime, which was designed to ensure that these major airports did not abuse their monopoly position.

The prices that Gatwick charges airport passengers are currently capped by the Civil Aviation Authority, which sets them in accordance with a Competition Commission recommendation. The revenues from these prices often appear on passengers’ tickets as airport charges. They are used to pay for runways, airfield facilities, terminals, security, baggage systems and future development. Price caps are usually reviewed every five years, but the Bill reforms that process.

As a Northern Ireland MP, I would ask for some clarification on a number of issues. The Bill has some consequences for all Northern Ireland airports, which I will briefly touch on. The Government are rightly always looking to consult the public, but sometimes the cost is astronomical. Airports have expressed concern to me that the CAA is running a consultation that may lead to a significant increase in the charge it levies on airports, so a cost element comes into the CAA process, which it is important to take into consideration.

In addition, there is the proposal to transfer some of the aviation security oversight functions from the Department for Transport to the CAA, which in turn will directly charge airports for those services, which is not currently the case. As the Bill contains no provision for the airport operator to pass the charges directly to users, that will mean an increase in cost that the operator has to absorb, and those costs are extreme. At Belfast International airport, it is likely to be in the region of £100,000 to £120,000 annually. Obviously, that is unwelcome, because it eats into the capability to reinvest in infrastructure, yet the Government’s first objective was to encourage reinvestment in the airports. There are perhaps unintended consequences, but they are significant when we take into account the fact that the annual CAA licence, which is based on passenger numbers alone, presently costs the likes of Belfast International airport £202,000 a year, which is a 50% increase on top of what it already pays. That is very concerning. Who can absorb such colossal sums of money annually?

It has also been pointed out to me by officials from Belfast International airport that we must recognise the relationship between the economic regulation of London’s airports and the Government’s priority of attracting new, direct routes to emerging economies that will help the UK economy to grow. The Bill is about regulating, but it is also and should be about encouraging growth in our airports to encourage growth in our businesses and tourism, and the Bill has a part to play in that. We in Northern Ireland want a balance between regulation, growth and opportunity for our airports, Belfast International, Belfast City and Londonderry.

The hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) also referred to that in relation to Gatwick, and he outlined the issue of regulation. Gatwick wants the regulation system to reflect the way in which the aviation sector operates. Gatwick is clearly emerging as a business airport, competing with Heathrow, and it has space available—another issue that has emerged. In determining whether an airport should be regulated, the CAA must find that an airport is dominant, as interpreted in competition law by the European Commission and referred to in the CAA’s own competition assessment guidelines, and Ministers should provide clarification on that matter.

The CAA has said that it fully expects more than 50% of all decisions to be appealed under the new system. That suggests that the present system is not perfect, and that changes should be made sooner rather than later. Will the Minister clarify how the Government have assessed the financial and business impact that the new appeals system will have, and whether they will consider additional safeguards to reduce the burden that it will place on regulated airports, such as a narrower right of appeal?

The Transport Committee recommended that the information publication requirements should not create disproportionate burdens for the aviation sector, and that is another issue of concern. Gatwick is now competing with other London airports. There is clear evidence of that, with airlines and passengers moving among competing London airports and Gatwick, and airlines choosing Gatwick over others to establish brand new routes to key trading partners. There should be no risk of presumption towards regulation.

I will conclude with a final comment on the CAA. It has been indicated to me that the CAA is unable to deliver slots for Heathrow airport. Indeed, it has been identified that the European Union needs to amend regulations in order to enable flight slots for regions, for example for Belfast International airport and Belfast City airport. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have no power as a result of EU regulations to retain or safeguard routes between Belfast and Heathrow? I understand that if she is unable to confirm that, amendments to the Bill will be tabled in the other place. I look forward to the Minister’s response to those questions.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.