Like my hon. Friend, I want to raise whether the Bill has a correct balance of regulation on airports, which are a vital source of jobs and growth. I have looked at the Transport Committee’s recommendations, and I note that BAA Airports and Gatwick Airport Ltd both touched on those recommendations. As my hon. Friend said, BAA highlighted the risk that the draft licence conditions could add significant regulatory burden and cost to its operation. It told the Transport Committee:
“The draft licence as it stands is extremely vague, obliging the licensee to operate an ‘efficient and reliable airport’. While unobjectionable as an idea, it is not useful as a legal obligation because it is unclear what, specifically, it means and so is open to wide interpretation and thus uncertainty.”
Gatwick Airport stated:
“The operational resilience licence condition could be taken to imply that the regulator should have oversight of all parties at an airport, using the vehicle of the airport operator's licence to do so. We believe that care needs to be taken to ensure that it is properly drafted.”
The Transport Committee said:
“We welcome the intention to improve the financial and operational performance of airports. There is a risk, however, that licence conditions, and their associated costs to airports, may not be proportionate to the benefits delivered to the users of air transport services. We recommend that the bill be amended to require the CAA to provide impact assessments for the licence conditions imposed on airports.”
We can see why, with the best of intentions, the CAA may well require gold-plated provision, which ultimately would not greatly benefit passengers but would have a negative impact through costs.
Will the Minister explain precisely what she means as regards the draft licence conditions, as the wording is unclear and risks confusion in its interpretation by airports and thus a vastly different application? There does not seem to be a clear, coherent framework, and we know from bitter experience that law that is not absolutely clear is ultimately good only for lawyers.
How does the Minister think the licence conditions will impact on airports? What does she see as the risks of imposing such licence conditions on airports? How does she think airports will handle the changes to the licence conditions while remaining competitive and not impacting negatively on passengers through costs? Without an impact assessment, is it possible to understand fully the possible consequences of the proposed regulation?