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.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 11:00 am, 6th March 2012

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as ever, for his remarks and for the opportunity to debate the amendments. As with many debates in Committee, I understand and sympathise with the aim of the amendments but I do not feel that they are necessary and I hope to convince the Committee that the Bill deals with the points they raise. I will deal specifically with the amendments before I touch on the broader issues that the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton raised.

Our aim is to establish an appeals process that facilitates transparency, accountability and the timely resolution of appeals. As we have discussed this morning, clauses 24 and 25 provide that permission to appeal should be granted only where appropriate. The amendments would not change how the Bill works in practice; in effect, they would be empty provisions, because clause 30 substantially delivers the outcome that they seek.

Subsections (2), (3) and (4) of clause 30 provide that the Competition Commission be subject to the clause 1 primary duty to passengers when deciding an application for permission to appeal under clauses 24 and 25; determining such an appeal, including taking decisions and giving directions under clause 27; and deciding an application for permission to intervene. The granting of a direction to suspend a licence is governed by slightly different criteria.

I hope I can reassure the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton that the combined effect of clause 24(5)(b), clause 25(5)(b) and clause 30 ensure that the Competition Commission is subject to the primary duty in clause 1 when deciding whether permission to appeal a licence condition or licence modification should be granted. I recognise, however, that the hon. Gentleman has raised wider issues about how the regulatory structure will address the interests of end users. I fully acknowledge that, at times, the interests of different passenger groups will contrast, and they will aspire to different outcomes as they travel through the airport.

Last week, we debated that point in relation to the interests of present and future passengers, so there is no doubt that the CAA, in its decisions, and the Competition Commission, when considering appeals, will need to think intelligently about how to balance and deal with such conflicting interests. I believe that the CAA has the capacity to balance the interests of different groups, as provided for in clause 1(5), which we debated last week.

There is no single right answer that the Committee can give as legislators about the decisions that the CAA might take, in terms of how to deal with conflicts between the interests of different passengers. It is good practice, however, to vest such decisions in an independent, expert regulator, with the maximum flexibility to ensure that we have a regulatory system that is responsive to passengers and promotes their interests, but does not impose unreasonable or unnecessary costs on our airport sector. With that, I hope the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing the amendment.