Clause 24 - Appeal to Competition Commission: conditions of new licences

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 6th March 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 11:00 am, 6th March 2012

I apologise for jumping the gun previously; I thought we were taking these two amendments together, but I was in error.

I agree with the basic changes being made here. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said, relying on judicial review to get decisions is not a sensible way to run an airport. It is sensible to have an understood and thought-through appeals process. I also think that in defining the appeals process in clause 24 we come to some of the problems, ambiguities and, perhaps, even contradictions that arise when the Bill switches its focus from what happened previously, when the interests of the airlines were what needed to be considered. As that has changed to the interests of the passenger and freight user, we have arrived at a half-way house, which could lead to some problems in future.

The amendment says that

“the appeal, if granted, would have effects inconsistent with the duties of the CAA under Section 1”.

In other words, an appeal would not be allowed if it was in conflict with the duties defined in clause 1, which are effectively the interests of the passenger and the freight user. What troubles me, which is why I tabled the amendment, is what has troubled me on previous amendments. I can find no definition in the Bill—if there is one I should be grateful if the Minister could tell me—of what the passengers’ interests are.

It has been clear from previous arguments and discussions between airlines and airports that the interests of low-cost carriers—including the most aggressive low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair—are very different from those of American Airlines, British Airways, Delta or Singapore Airlines, which want to provide a quality experience. Both types of airlines are materially affected by the licensing arrangements, but they would have very different views on the definition of the interests of the passenger. Put simply, Ryanair wants things cheap and cheerful: it wants  costs to be as low as possible, and passage through the airport and the other services to be as quick as possible. British Airways, however, may want a much more sumptuous, lavish experience for their first and business-class passengers. How is the Competition Commission expected to decide between Ryanair, which may appeal on one basis when it is materially affected, and, say, Singapore Airlines, which may be affected in a different way, where this is all leading to the same licensing conditions? I find it difficult to imagine how the Competition Commission would approach that.

The judicial review process was a procedural one; if an airport was taking decisions in an unreasonable way, without taking account of the facts and without consulting properly, it would lose the judicial review. These are a different set of criteria that do not define the freight user’s interest or the passenger’s interest, which lies at the very heart of this Bill. I am increasingly worried that if those interests are not defined, the Competition Commission will not have good guidelines on which to make its decisions. That is my problem, which is why I have tabled the amendment. I want to understand how the Government intend to make sure, when airlines or air users appeal, that the interests of the passenger and the freight user are paramount.