Clause 18 - Licence conditions
Civil Aviation Bill
Theresa Villiers (The Minister of State, Department for Transport; Chipping Barnet, Conservative)
We have had a wide-ranging debate, and I welcome the flexibility that you have shown, Sir Roger, in allowing hon. Members to wander far and wide on crucial matters. In fact, it reminds me of my days as an MEP when war stories were frequently exchanged about the nightmares that parliamentarians had during air travel; I sometimes think we spoke of little else in Strasbourg. I am concerned to hear about all the unfortunate personal experiences, particularly that of the parents of the hon. Member for North West Durham.
In a moment, I will come to why the amendments are inappropriate. The belief that issues such as security queues, passenger welfare during disruption and winter resilience are crucial for passengers unites us. Regardless of what degree of detail should go into licence conditions, and I will come on to that in a moment, I hope that we all agree that the licence system itself will be tremendously valuable in enabling the regulatory system to respond more effectively to such issues.
Your entirely expeditious and efficient chairing, Sir Roger, has meant that we have not dwelt on the less contentious clauses, so we have not dwelt on the principle of the introduction of the licence into the airport economic regulatory framework. It is an innovation. It is so important and valuable for passengers because, at the moment, more or less the only practical, viable tool available to the CAA is a five-yearly price cap; beyond that, it has very limited powers to intervene and deal with the sorts of concerns raised today.
The fact that the Bill introduces a licence system, which could conceivably cover a range of the matters raised today, is a crucial reason why I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will support the Bill. It was a vital part of the work that the previous Government and the current Government have done on the Bill.
I echo and welcome the comments by the hon. Member for Scunthorpe on how important our international gateways are for UK plc and our competitiveness. The Government are determined to make our airports better, and the provision of the licence-based system for economic regulation is a key part of how we will do that. There is a difference of opinion on whether the amendments are the best way to deliver the important goals debated this afternoon, but I take on board the fact that the Transport Committee’s report highlighted such matters. It is particularly important that this Committee has a chance to consider them.
There is no doubt that passengers want efficient baggage handling services when they travel by air and airports to be properly prepared when the cold weather hits. The experience of recent years has demonstrated how vital it is for airports to prepare appropriately for extreme weather conditions, as hon. Members have illustrated this afternoon. It is also clear that the aviation sector as a whole needs effective means of dealing with passenger welfare when extreme weather leads to disruption.