Clause 66 - Airports

Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 6th March 2012.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:15 pm, 6th March 2012

I beg to move amendment 56, in clause 66, page 40, line 27, leave out ‘modify’ and insert ‘amend’.

Photo of Linda Riordan Linda Riordan Labour, Halifax

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 57, in clause 66, page 40, line 28, leave out ‘modify’ and insert ‘amend’.

Amendment 58, in clause 66, page 40, line 29, leave out subsection (5).

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport)

We hope that these simple probing amendments provide the opportunity for us to seek clarification from the Minister. The clause does not allow the Secretary of State to repeal by secondary legislation the definition of an airport. If it does, perhaps the Minister will explain why such a provision is needed. We are relatively sure that the Secretary of State is not trying to achieve that end, but we would be grateful for the reassurance.

Subsection (3) states:

The Secretary of State may by regulations”.

Subsection (4) states:

“The regulations may, in particular…modify” all the subsections above and

“the definition of the core area of an airport in section 5.”

Subsection (5) states:

“‘modify’ includes amend or repeal.”

The clause is drafted widely in terms of giving the Secretary of State power to redefine what an airport is, although the Bill is all about airports. We seek clarification from the Minister about whether that is intended and, if it is, an explanation about why “airport” may need to be redefined linguistically in future.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am grateful for the indication that this is a probing amendment. The clause provides a power for the Secretary of State to use regulations to change two definitions contained within it: first, the definition of an airport in clause 66(1) and clause 67(1) and, secondly, the definition of the core area in clause 5.

In the Government’s view, it makes sense to have the option to amend those definitions via secondary legislation, because what could constitute an airport may change over time. Experience since the previous legislation was enacted in 1986 demonstrates that the nature of the aviation market can change significantly over time. We are considering an economic regulation framework that we hope will last upwards of 20 years.

Because we want the legislation to last, it is prudent to retain some flexibility to adjust the definition if experience subsequently proves that that would be the right thing to do.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

I am intrigued by what the Minister is saying. There have been huge changes in the aviation industry in the past 25 to 30 years and a number of changes in the past 60 years, but I do not think that the definition of airports and aerodromes has changed. I should be grateful if she helped the Committee by providing some examples of what she might mean.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

It is not appropriate at this stage to prejudge, but we had a debate about the distinction between core and non-core areas. The aim of the provisions is to ensure that, while the CAA would be able to regulate facilities such as parking where a core area of the airport, such as the terminal or the runway, passed the appropriate test, we do not end up in a situation where the CAA finds itself regulating car parks at an airport when the main areas of the airport itself do not fall within the appropriate definition.

We have degree of complexity in determining the distinction between core and non-core areas. People’s perception of what amounts to a core and a non-core area has the potential to change over time, which is one reason why it is appropriate to include some flexibility. It is worth the Committee noting that such a change, if the Secretary of State chose to make it, would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, and therefore a debate in Parliament.

There are also some technical problems with the amendment; I am not sure that they would achieve what they are designed to achieve. If the Secretary of State was minded, she could amend the definition to leave  effectively a ghost definition, which would have the same effect as repealing it. If the Opposition accept the need for the power to amend, there is no need to remove the option for the Secretary of State to remove parts of the definition.

I hope that that has provided some clarity. I am unable to accept the amendment, but I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will consider withdrawing it.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for attempting to clarify the situation. Given the additional question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton about the basis of our questioning—whether an airport is likely to change in the future—we are not entirely convinced that the Minister has reassured us. However, as I said, it was a probing amendment and the Minister has explained the thinking behind the clause. We will reflect further on her words once we see them in print. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.