Clause 1 — Aerodrome charges: noise and emissions

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 12th October 2006.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 12:45 pm, 12th October 2006

I shall not detain the House long because, as Mr. Brazier said, we have already been round the course once or twice, and the arguments are beginning to feel as tired as I do.

I welcome the Minister's conversion to light-touch regulation for small airports—and, indeed, the apparent conversion of her Department. I would have been even more delighted if that had happened three years ago when I argued for exactly that approach to Tingwall airport in Shetland in my constituency, but at the time the Government argued that we could not be given different treatment because the airport was small, and it had to be treated exactly like every other airport in the country. If it is a genuine conversion I am delighted to welcome it, but if, as I fear, it is a conversion for the purposes of today's debate, I have some difficulty accepting it at face value.

On the application of the measure to small airports—a subject near and dear to my heart, as I spend most of my life sitting in them waiting for planes to take off—I would have thought that if charges are to be set with regard to noise and emission, the charge would be zero at a small airport where no or "de minimis" noise and emissions were caused by air traffic. That would not be a particularly difficult calculation to make. That said, the hon. Member for Canterbury says that the amendment is less than perfect, and I accept that there is some force to that. Knowing the electoral arithmetic of the House, the measure will inevitably go back to the other place. Before that takes place, there may be scope for discussion, and I hope that that discussion takes place, because I really do not want to revisit the matter in the Chamber in the next four weeks.

The question is whether what is proposed by the Government is better than what is in the Bill as presented to us by the other place. I find no suggestion that what the Government offer us is better than what the other place has sent them, flawed though it is. The simple fact is that in seeking to maintain the status quo, the Government do not answer any questions about what happens in situations such as that of Coventry and Birmingham, which has been mentioned. Coventry airport does not enforce noise and pollution controls in the way set out in the Bill, but Birmingham International airport does. I am told that as a result, many of the planes landing at Coventry airport are older, noisier and more polluting aircraft. That is not acceptable, and we ought to do something in the Bill to sort it. The Government refuse, and frankly I do not understand why.