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Clause 1 - CAA’s general duty

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 28th February 2012.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 4:00 pm, 28th February 2012

I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Mrs Riordan. As I said at the end of the last sitting, the debate on this group of amendments has been good. We heard a thoughtful contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, who has great expertise on transport matters and a strong focus on the environment. I will, of course, consider carefully all the points that he made.

Other insightful contributions came from the hon. Members for North West Durham, for Blackley and Broughton, for Scunthorpe, for Bolton West and for Feltham and Heston, with pithy interventions by my hon. Friends the Members for Amber Valley and for Finchley and Golders Green. Although I cannot ask the Committee to support the amendments, it is not because I consider regulatory intervention on environmental issues unnecessary. I am unable to support the amendments because economic regulation is not the right vehicle for pursuing the important goal of reducing aviation’s environmental impact.

We heard this morning from the Opposition Front Bencher that the last Government took a different approach from the present Government. However, the differences are perhaps not quite as great as Opposition contributions suggest. The previous Government did consult on including text along the lines proposed in  amendments 11 and 16, which we are considering in this group, but after a mixed consultation response, they decided to restrict themselves to a duty on the Civil Aviation Authority to have regard to airport operators’ legal obligations to comply with applicable environmental and planning law. Hence, before they left office, the last Government ended up broadly in the same place as the much more limited amendment 12, which we debated earlier.

For reasons that were discussed when we considered the last set of amendments, the current Government decided that the supplementary duty proposed had no substance. Such a duty is not needed, because the Bill already gives the CAA the power to authorise appropriate investments to meet environmental and planning law obligations. That is why the then Secretary of State decided in July 2010 not to include that duty in the Bill.

The previous Government did not advocate the wider, overarching environmental duty for which some Opposition Members expressed support; nor did they propose empowering the CAA to use economic regulation as a means of imposing environmental obligations on airports where those are not consistent with the primary duty or the attempt to replicate a functioning market. Ultimately, by the time they left office, they did not support amendments of the sort that we are considering in this group. Neither the last Government nor the present one considered that to be the right approach.

We accept fully the importance of addressing both the positive and negative externalities associated with airports’ activities. A number of hon. Members rightly highlighted the quality of life and health concerns relating to noise and, of course, the importance of addressing climate change and air quality issues. We believe that such issues must be addressed appropriately in relation to all airports, not just those that happen to be subject to economic regulation.

Environmental impacts are present at every airport, and it is fairer, more rational and more efficient to consider the aviation sector across the board when deciding what regulatory intervention is needed. For example, the European Union emissions trading scheme covers the whole airline sector in the European Union, and restrictions on noise are imposed at a range of airports around the country, some of which are subject to economic regulation and some of which are not.

As Dr Barry Humphreys from the British Air Transport Association pointed out in his evidence to the Committee, the CAA undertakes a number of functions, in addition to economic regulation, where it can and does have regard to environmental matters. An important example is provided by its work with NATS on airspace management. The Transport Act 2000 explicitly requires it to take into account environmental guidance from the Secretary of State, which she gives to the Civil Aviation Authority. If there is a case for imposing an environmental regulation on an airport, it is worth doing regardless of whether that airport happens to have substantial market power and falls within the scope of those airports subject to economic regulation.

I particularly want to respond to concerns raised by the shadow Minister on what I dub the Brian Ross point, highlighted by Brian Ross of AirportWatch and the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign. It is important to consider carefully the issue around voluntary investment in measures to mitigate the environmental impact of  airports—the sort of market support schemes that the shadow Minister referred to. The Bill allows the CAA to authorise appropriate investment in measures that mitigate environmental impact, even where they are voluntarily undertaken.

That view was confirmed by the CAA. As the CAA commented clearly in its evidence, a system that safeguards the interests of end users and seeks to replicate a functioning market can and does embrace appropriate investment in environmental measures. That is because, as Iain Osborne of the CAA pointed out, unregulated airports across the world invest in environmental measures. Environmental investment has been allowed under the current rules despite the CAA having no explicit environmental duty in relation to economic regulation. That has been allowed even where the schemes in question are voluntary, as the examples presented to the Committee by the shadow Minister have evidenced.

Neither the current system nor the proposals in the Bill would impose on the CAA a requirement for investment on environmental matters that goes beyond the kind that could be delivered in a competitive market. That kind of environmental requirement should be applied fairly and evenly across the sector, taking on board the impact of different airports, regardless of whether they are subject to economic regulation. Such requirements should come with the sanction of Parliament and Ministers, rather than being delegated to the CAA in its capacity as economic regulator.

We already have an example of how the Government are using the Bill to apply a measure that goes across the airport and aviation sectors in a fair way—a measure that we believe will provide important environmental benefits that are much more significant than those delivered by an environmental supplementary duty in economic regulation, which we do not feel is the right way to address the question. An example of such a requirement is set out in clauses 83 to 93. The Government propose to take forward an information requirement that we consider to be more concrete and of more practical benefit to the public than the provisions in the amendments, and to provide a more realistic and sensible way to deliver environmental goals.

We will come to this in more detail in the later stages of the Bill, but the Bill gives the CAA a role in promoting better public information about airline and airport performance, the environmental impact of aviation, and the travel choices made by consumers. We believe that provision of that information will prove a useful addition, enabling the consumer to make informed choices and helping to drive up standards of service delivery. That has been strengthened in several ways since the 2009 consultation carried out by the previous Government. For example, the CAA may publish guidance and advice with a view to reducing, controlling or mitigating the adverse environmental effects of civil aviation in the UK.

We very much share the aim of addressing the local and carbon impact of aviation, but I am not convinced that the amendments in this group are the right way to deliver that. We believe that they are significantly flawed and not consistent with what the previous Government proposed to do before they left office. However, that does not mean we will not carefully consider the points made in today’s debate, or that we are not prepared to consider the matter again. We are particularly conscious  of the points made in evidence given by the environmental groups. We will continue to keep the matter under careful consideration.