I apologise for having allowed that intervention to lead me astray momentarily. Of course I will come back to the Bill.
Does the Under-Secretary of State, as regulator for what was the British Airports Authority—now BAA plc—intend to have any consultations with the Civil Aviation Authority about the forecast increase in landing charges in the current year? Does he believe that the CAA will take any action, as it did last year, to restrict fare increases? I want briefly to draw his attention to a cutting from the Sunday Times of last week.
In an article headed "Bargain flights grounded as airlines' costs soar", Francis Rafferty pointed out:
The CAA has just spent £50m on a new radar network and £20 million on an air traffic control computer which will be in operation this summer as part of a £600m programme.
The CAA last week said it was relaxing the 10-day notice period to allow airlines to put up fares quickly.
`Our landing fees at Gatwick will increase by 49 per cent. from April,' said Malcolm Naylor, managing director of Bryman Airways. 'Changes in the pricing structure mean that our tiny 46-seaters will be charged £382 per landing, the same as a Jumbo Jet.'
I do not know whether, at this time of night, the Minister can give us any reassurance about the likely impact of such costs on airline fares. I hope that he will concede that it is a worrying trend and not likely to assist the Government's well-publicised, albeit very unsuccessful, battle to reduce inflation.
Finally, I want to draw to the attention of the Under-Secretary of State an aspect of air safety in this country that is often overlooked. I hope that this Bill will go some way to tackling it. I refer to the increasing use of foreign registered and operated airlines leased by British airlines.
My understanding is that these aircraft are neither maintained nor operated to United Kingdom standards; nor are they subject to normal checks and controls by the Civil Aviation Authority. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us—preferably tonight, but, if necessary, at some future time—that the increase in borrowing powers will go some way towards reducing this problem.
Many British aircrew believe that foreign crews leased to British airlines fly longer hours than would be permitted if they were United Kingdom nationals flying with United Kingdom airlines. In some parts of the industry, there is considerable concern that in these cases maintenance does not conform to United Kingdom levels.
There is no point in the Government and the CAA insisting on United Kingdom airlines adopting more stringent maintenance practices and reducing crew flying hours if the result is that airlines bypass the laws and bring in foreign crews and aeroplanes. Many passengers fly with British airlines because they feel safer doing so, and it would surely be a betrayal of their faith and trust if, through Government policies, there was even greater use of foreign aircraft in the future.
As a side issue, we allow crews and aircraft to operate in this country from countries that would not allow us to operate there. I refer especially to the United States of America. Certain aeroplanes that are certified for use in that country fly in the United Kingdom—one has done so for over two years now—without any United Kingdom certification, whereas the reverse would not be permitted in the United States of America. In our view, it is not something that should be permitted here.
Although I have asked the Minister a considerable number of questions, I hope that he will be able to answer them, if not this evening, at least in the very near future—in which case the Opposition believe that the Bill should receive its Third Reading tonight.