Clause 83 - Information for benefit of users of air transport services

Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 13th March 2012.

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Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member) 10:30 am, 13th March 2012

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I have been asked whether there will be a clause stand part debate. I cannot yet determine that but, as always, I am prepared to accommodate a broad-ranging debate on the amendments on the understanding that there will not then be a clause stand part debate.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I beg to move amendment 29, in clause 83, page 51, line 19, at end insert

‘, including services and facilities in relation to immigration control’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 27, in clause 83, page 51, line 22, at end insert—

‘(d) waiting times for users of air transport services at immigration control at a civil airport.’.

Amendment 30, in clause 83, page 51, line 22, at end insert—

‘(d) the time taken for users of air transport services to complete the check-in and security processes on an outbound journey and the immigration control and baggage reclaim processes on an inbound journey.’.

Amendment 28, in clause 83, page 51, line 41, at end insert—

‘“immigration control” has the same meaning as in Part 6 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.’.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

It is a pleasure to be here again, Sir Roger.

The amendments are all aimed at pushing the Minister to comment, and I suspect that I will not press them to a vote. They would close a gap in the information that is already published, or will be published as a result of the clause, on what passengers can expect to experience when departing from and, in particular, when arriving back at an airport, especially in relation to how long they can expect to wait to have their passport checked.

It is important to say that I am not attempting to have a go at the staff of the UK Border Agency who have to check passports. The main aim of all of us is to ensure that every person arriving in this country has their passport and other documentation properly checked.  If that takes a long time, that is better than making shortcuts and risking letting in people who should not be here. I have tabled the amendments because we want to consider the transparency of how long that process takes or should take, so that we can learn lessons from what goes wrong and when. We should try to find ways to improve that process to give the passenger the best possible experience for all parts of their journey.

Airports can take measures to help the UKBA ensure that queues are as short as possible. Is the passenger control area in the best place and is it the right size and shape? Are the queuing facilities sensible, and are there enough electronic gates, at which people do not require someone to scan their passport? Could the airport invest in extra electronic gates to try to reduce the queues?

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about people’s major experience of airports. He is right to say that the problem is partly about the location, but does he accept that it also relates to the number of staff available? I recently returned from a visit with the Home Affairs Committee during peak hours to find only seven of the large number of booths in operation. One of the staff, who work incredibly hard, said to me, “It’s the Home Office’s decision to just not have enough people around.” Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, whatever the infrastructure, we also need enough people?

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

That is exactly right. We need enough people at the right time, based on the demand from flights that are scheduled to land. It is worth saying that there is a role for airports in that. If they share with the UKBA the details of flight times, the numbers of passengers on all planes and where those planes are flying from, that will help it to plan its resourcing more efficiently. It could ensure that it had the right number of staff at peak times, when it knew that it would need to carry out much more detailed and time-consuming checks, and that staff were not standing around waiting for planes that did not arrive. There is a need for management, and I suspect that our airports are much better than the UKBA at deploying their staff so that they have the right number of staff to manage the number of passengers there are at any given time. If the data and the stacking models were shared, we would end up in a better position.

It is important to get that right, because the Vine investigation into why border security checks were suspended showed that queues accounted for 234 of the 463 occasions when checks were suspended and that insufficient staff accounted for 75 of those occasions. If we aggregate those figures, we see that there were insufficient staff to cope with the number of passengers, and the vast majority of times we had to weaken border controls were due to the pressure of the number of passengers. If we can get it right, not only will we improve the overall passenger experience, we will probably improve border security.

Photo of Mark Reckless Mark Reckless Conservative, Rochester and Strood

I not sure I agree that we had to weaken our border security. A choice was made about it. Is not such information already available to the UK Border Agency, an integral  part of the Home Office? Surely it receives such flight lists from the airlines for anti-terrorist purposes in any event?

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. We would certainly expect that such action would be a relatively straightforward, statistical exercise in most cases, given the amount of passport details and so on that passengers now have to provide before they board the plane. As a result, such information about who will be arriving, where from and how long the flight is likely to take is correct the majority of the time. Some freedom of information requests published on queue queues for 2008-09 showed that generally, month by month and by region, the average wait time was only 10 minutes. Unfortunately, when such a process goes wrong, it can go spectacularly wrong. Those data showed queues of two and a half hours or more—2 hours 50 minutes in the north region was the worst that I read about.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green

Is my hon. Friend aware that airlines provide to the UKBA passenger numbers four weeks out, 48 hours out and 24 hours out so that airport immigration controls know exactly how many passengers are arriving by the hour? One issue is not only staff numbers, but rostering that means that there is a quiet terminal and a busy terminal. UKBA seems incapable of having flexible rostering and moving around resources to meet demand.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I agree with my hon. Friend. I referred earlier to the UKBA deploying its resources more effectively to ensure that the right number of staff are present when airports are busy, not quiet. That might create a better situation without needing to use huge amounts of expert resource. We just have to accept that sometimes matters will go wrong, flights will be delayed and a problem will arise somewhere, and twice as many flights will be landing at the same time than was anticipated. In those circumstances, if the problem for the delay were explained, most passengers would be reasonable and accept that a problem had occurred outside the airport’s control.

Clearly, the clause is designed to apply not to the UKBA’s functions but to when the Civil Aviation Authority should arrange for the publication of certain information that would be useful to passengers. My contention is that, of all the information that would be useful to passengers, the most useful would be about the elements of the journey that I cannot fix for myself and the airlines cannot fix. To take a journey by plane 10 or 15 years ago, I would have to queue up to check in and to check in my bag in at the airport, and go through security. If I fly now, I can choose to check in online and avoid the queue. I can choose not to take a bag and avoid that queue. About the only two issues I cannot avoid on a flight are the security process on the way out and the passport control process, perhaps on the way out but certainly on the way back in.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

As part of improving the experience for passengers at airports, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be some flexibility for those with bad health conditions? I am talking not only about a disabled person in a wheelchair or on sticks, but those who have a colostomy bag, a prosthetic limb or a metal bar in their back. Those are examples of  people who have difficulties going through the system. Does he consider that there is some need for flexibility to help such people move through the system more quickly and with less bother?

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I agree with all the hon. Gentleman said. We want airports to innovate and to find ways to improve the passenger experience all round, especially for those who have more difficulty than others engaging in it.

However, the amendments are on a slightly different subject, and the two matters that I cannot manage in respect of my journey are the security check and the passport control on the return journey. The publication of information about which airports are better at such services will help me to choose which one to travel from.

Living in the midlands, I have a choice when I take holidays. In the summer, I can drive to Heathrow and get a direct flight, or fly from Birmingham and change at Amsterdam or Paris. Frankly, I make such a choice based on the journey time and the price. When thinking about my journey time, I should be working out how long it will take me to get out of the airport after I have arrived, because that might make a fundamental difference to the equation. If I know that at Heathrow it takes me an hour, whereas at Birmingham it takes 15 minutes, that will make a material change to my journey times. That is what I am trying to tease out: how to give passengers all the information they need about how long it is going to take to get through all the things they have to do at the airport.

Looking at what will be published, we see that we will get information about how long it takes to reclaim baggage. I think that is squarely included in clause 83 and in the publication of information requirements in the CAA indicative licence for Heathrow. It is handy to know how long it will take to get back my bags, and it is great that some airports already publish those data by airline so that I know which are quick and which slow. The only problem is that, if it takes 15 minutes for my bags to get through but I am stuck in a queue at passport control for an hour, it makes no difference how long my bags take. That is not going to delay my journey. Equally, if I steam through passport control in five minutes and my bags take an hour, the passport control time did not matter.

What matters is how long it takes me from when the plane reaches the gate to when I am free to leave the airport and get on my way home or to a day’s work. That point should not be understated, as it is someone’s first experience of Britain. They walk off the plane wanting to do business, generate money and create jobs. The last thing anyone wants is to have to walk through a long, dingy corridor and stand in a queue for an hour. By the time someone has got through that, they will be wondering what sort of country they are trying to invest in. It is important to get this right so that people coming here to do business have the best experience possible.

The reason for my amendments is to get the information that the passenger wants: how much time they need after arrival at the airport; how long they can expect to queue to get through check-in and security; and how long, on the way back, it will take between the landing time on their ticket and when they are free to leave the airport. When do they need to book their hire car, get  their car back from valet parking or book car parking until? All those things are important for passengers. They need to know roughly how long it will take to get through all that.

On its website, the UKBA advises that it might take up to 45 minutes to get through passport control. As a target, aim or aspiration that is not great. If we want an average of 10 minutes, a target of 45 minutes is not much of a stretch. I would like to see each airport publish on a regular basis the average queue time to get through passport control for the previous month—10 minutes, for example. If something had gone wrong, they could say that the average time was 10 minutes but the longest was two hours and the reason was, for example, a strike or air traffic control issues over France that meant 30 planes arriving when there would normally be only five. That would enable passengers to understand that generally it takes 10 minutes, but it might go wrong and has gone wrong twice in the past year at that airport. They could then make their arrangements on that basis.

An issue raised in our evidence sessions was that we cannot use the Bill as a way to bind UKBA into publishing information. That is a separate matter. What we can do is try to get the airports to publish the data. They know how long it takes a passenger from landing at the gate to getting through all the processes. When I was in Hong Kong recently, I was presented with a plastic card containing a chip that I had to return when I had gone through passport control. That was the airport’s way of knowing how long it took me to get through the process. There is no reason why airports here could not use a similar process to check how long it takes to complete.

I am not trying to impose a duty for publication on the UKBA; I think the airports could do it and they may want to get involved. An airport trying to compete and show that it gave the best passenger experience would be able to say that its passengers were generally free of its processes within half an hour, while at the nearby airport it took 45 minutes to an hour. It could say that things never go wrong; a certain process might have taken 10 minutes every month for the past year, whereas at other airports it might go wrong five times a month. That would be material information that helped us all to choose on the basis of journey time.

I hope that the Minister can find some way of making available to all passengers this final piece of information, which is not currently out there.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:45 am, 13th March 2012

Good morning to you, Sir Roger, and to everybody else.

We are interested in the amendments of the hon. Member for Amber Valley, and we raised the issue of the publication of data when we moved amendments 18, 19 and 20 to clause 18. The hon. Gentleman intervened at that point and raised this very matter, demonstrating his interest. The Minister responded that clause 83 would be the appropriate place to debate the issue. Indeed, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South last week, the Minister went further and said:

“He may be getting ahead of himself, because that excitement awaits us next week.”––[Official Report, Civil Aviation Public Bill Committee, 1 March 2012; c. 204.]

This is that excitement, and here we are. I can only apologise if some of my hon. Friends have not made it—apparently, something even more exciting is happening at the Select Committee on Transport, but they will be with us in a short while. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Amber Valley for raising the issue.

Last week, the Minister mentioned the UKBA in response to questions about contact with Ministers in different Departments. She said that, following discussions about transparency that were raised on Second Reading, the Minister for Immigration

“indicated that he was happy to look again at transparency in relation to UKBA, and to consider whether it might be appropriate to publish port-by-port information.”––[Official Report, Civil Aviation Public Bill Committee, 1 March 2012; c. 206.]

The Government clearly intend to do their best in that area, and they are keen to move forward with the information available to passengers, so the amendments are wholly appropriate. As the hon. Member for Amber Valley has said, waiting times are an important element of the passenger experience.

The Minister has mentioned the indicative licence that has been produced for Heathrow, and within that licence are elements of information that it is required to publish. Last week, the Minister said that, because the Crown is exempt from the Bill, the UKBA’s performance would not be included. I suspect that that is the biggest obstacle to the proposal’s being incorporated. However, there is nothing to stop the Government from saying that the proposal should have been included in the Bill or elsewhere.

Prior to the start of this Bill Committee, I asked the Minister about new technology and how it impacts on the performance of the UKBA. I will be grateful for an update at some point on how eye scanners and so on will feed in to the improvement in performance; as I and hon. Members on both sides have mentioned, the performance of immigration and the UKBA has raised questions. That is not to criticise the diligence or the professionalism of the staff, who are our front line; the issue is about policy, security and staffing, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Cambridge in his intervention.

It would be ironic if, through what the Government are doing and from the information that the CAA collates and publishes, the passenger experience at airports improved, only to be compromised by the UKBA letting down passengers because, being excluded from the exercise, it is not under the same pressure to demonstrate better performance in efficiently dealing with passengers. We have said that it is appropriate that airports collect the data on behalf of the CAA because they are perfectly placed to do that. As the hon. Gentleman said, the proposal may place more pressure on airports to co-operate more with the UKBA to ensure improved performance, because of the facilities, the arrangements and the geography at airports.

We support the hon. Gentleman’s amendments and what he is trying to do. We are keen to support the Minister in her efforts with ministerial colleagues in other Departments—the Home Office and elsewhere—to include the performance of the UKBA in the data published by the CAA as a requirement of clauses 83 and 84. We are also keen to listen to the Minister’s response to her hon. Friend.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

I rise to talk about cargo, another aspect of the clause. In a previous life, I was a Member of the European Parliament and a rapporteur for the e-customs system, which, I guess, businesses are beginning to suffer from; like any decent piece of European legislation, it adds a new layer of interesting bureaucracy and hassle. I got to know the cargo industry well and have stayed in contact with it. The trade body for the sector, the Association of International Courier and Express Services, has concerns about the inclusion of cargo in clause 83.

From the evidence given, we know that the sector as a whole is broadly supportive of the Bill and wants to work closely with the Government and the CAA to ensure that the security aspects are implemented as effectively as possible. However, it is concerned that cargo consumers and passengers are treated almost in the same way and that certain CAA powers on information and services that are simply not appropriate to the sector have been incorporated.

The express industry is extremely competitive and the vast majority of services are business-to-business rather than business-to-consumer. The customers are highly sophisticated purchasers of the services that the industry provides and they ask for lots of information, as they require it directly from the business with which they have contracted. The businesses operate in a highly fragmented market and if they do not maintain excellent service, customers simply move their accounts to a provider that gives them a better service. The industry therefore believes that the provision of information to the CAA to benefit the consumers of express services is unnecessary, and extending competition law would be more appropriate for the sector.

As far as the industry understands it, the Department for Transport and the CAA have collected no evidence to suggest that there is any major customer dissatisfaction in the sector or general demand for additional information. The industry certainly supports the Government’s “red tape challenge”, but wonders whether the provision collides with that. It likes the principle that every additional regulatory burden must be costed and justified, but based on that standard, it does not believe that it is appropriate for clause 83 to extend to the sector the requirements on information for the benefit of users of air transport services.

AICES members also worry that the additional protections in the clause are not generally needed, because a lot of enabling provisions already exist for Ofcom to intervene under the Postal Services Act 2011. As a result of the third postal services directive 2008, the 2011 Act gave Ofcom powers to impose customer complaints and redress systems on the express sector should existing provision not prove adequate. Ofcom has accepted that existing provision by many AICES members is sufficient to comply with the directive and the 2011 Act, but the enabling provision under section 51 of that Act still exists and could go further. Subsection (3)(d) and (e) state:

“the information…is to be made available by postal operators to users of their services about service standards and about the rights of those users, and…anything else appearing to OFCOM to be necessary to secure effective protection for those users.”

There is therefore already provision in other law that accounts for the information requested by the Bill.

Officials at the Departments for Transport and for Business, Innovation and Skills have acknowledged to the industry that the provisions and section 55 of the 2011 Act could create a regulatory overlap between the CAA and Ofcom. There has been an assurance that there will be a memorandum of understanding to ensure that there is no undue burden, but the industry believes that regulatory overlap will be created, which is inconsistent with the general aim to deregulate.

The express industry is concerned about the CAA’s regulatory remit in relation to its service standards, which might be based on a fundamental misconception of the business sector. Consumers do not use the industry because they want to transport their package by air; they want the package transported by any means that will get it to a particular place by a particular time and to be able to track and trace it throughout the journey. The industry guarantees mode of transport or route only in rare circumstances. Generally, it prefers to transport by air for speed and reliability, but it will use trucks, ferries, bicycles, mopeds and even people on foot if those options are cheaper and possible given the time commitment. For example, the industry might use several methods to transport a package from England to France on a Friday for a Monday delivery, without using air. In the unlikely event that customers were dissatisfied, they would not turn to the CAA for assistance; it would not be the logical organisation for them to go to. Customer confusion might be created in the sector, given the existing legislative provision for Ofcom to rule on such matters.

I hope that the Minister can allay the concerns of this important UK industry. It is very important for my constituency, where DHL employs almost 4,000 people, making it the largest employer there. Many people are employed by other freight-forwarding services. I would appreciate the Minister’s comments.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a few comments about the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley. If it is permissible at this point, I shall make some more general observations about the clause.

I have a lot of sympathy with the aims behind my hon. Friend’s amendments. The performance of border checks is a key contributor to the passenger experience. However, I take a different view about how best to include such provisions in the mix. It is not necessary to specify that information on check-in and security processes should be included in the Bill. In my reading, subsection (1) is sufficiently general to capture all aspects of what contributes to the passenger experience. If we start specifying individual points, we might end up in a mess, because we might leave off other information that contributes to the passenger experience. I am not minded to support the amendments, but I agree about the importance of providing information.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

One of the questions I wanted answered in tabling the amendments, particularly amendment 29, was whether the UK Border Agency’s functions count as either an airport service or facility; they do not feel much like a service or fall into a natural definition of a facility. Perhaps when the debate is concluded, we will  understand whether its functions are included in the clause, although I do not think the provisions extend to them.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. I will defer to the Minister on what constitutes a service or facility. My reading of the clause is that it would be included, because subsection (1) is sufficiently widely drafted to include all such aspects that contribute to an airport’s operation.

Let us put the point into context. There are many different aspects of air travel and airport operation that contribute to the passenger experience. There is obviously the cost of a flight, the punctuality of flights, the speed of getting through border control and baggage handling. There is also, at each terminal, the distance that a passenger has to walk to get to a gate.

We have probably all experienced being at an airport where the gate is such a distance from the check-in that we think that we have already walked halfway to our destination. There are the facilities at the airport for families and for business people as well. Local authorities have a role in the ease of access to airports.

There are all sorts of different facilities that contribute to the passenger experience, and different passengers will have different needs. A business passenger will want to whizz through as quickly as possible. That will be different from a family going on holiday with children, who have a low boredom threshold and require some facilities to keep them entertained.

Different organisations have a role to play in all those services—the airlines, the airport, the UKBA and the local authority. To start specifying all those individually in the Bill may be overly prescriptive; I raised that point on Second Reading and in our evidence sessions earlier. The new consumer panel of the Civil Aviation Authority will have an important role in guiding what information is presented and in what format.

I do not have a view on whether the CAA should provide a website or some publication to allow passengers to compare performance at different airports or whether the information should just be made available to passengers through an independent publication, such as a “good airport” guide. It would be helpful if the Minister gave a little steer on the breadth of information that she thinks should be included and how regularly it should be updated.

We have to remember that airports are competing not just with other airports, but with other modes of transport. For example, if I want to visit my family in Scotland, I can drive up, take the train up or fly up. If I choose to fly up, I have a choice of five airports within 90 minutes’ drive of where I live. I will evaluate each option on not just the cost of each mode of transport or each flight, but on how pleasant the experience is. Some airports close to me are very good and others are less enticing. I have only found that out by trial and error; I fly frequently enough to be able to make that assessment. For people who travel infrequently, where the flight is part of the holiday experience and they do not have the opportunity to try different airports, it is important that the information that we are discussing is available.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley on raising his point, because it is absolutely correct that such information should be available. However, I have to disagree with him on this amendment, because I do not see the necessity for a list to be specified.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley 11:00 am, 13th March 2012

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, although there is a requirement in the indicative licence for Heathrow to publish all manner of information—nearly everything that a passenger could want—the one thing that is left off is the queue to get through passport control? One of the reasons for trying to get a debate on this issue was that that is not specified, although it is something that we—and, I suspect, passengers —want to see.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

Again, I make the general point that I do not see a need for the amendment within the context of clause 83. I do, however, want to see that information published. My interpretation is that subsection (1) is sufficiently robust to capture that point.

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

This has been a good debate, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley for indicating that he is not minded to push the amendment to a vote. I am grateful to all contributors for the constructive and positive tone that they have adopted on an important issue.

Before addressing Members’ points, it is important that I emphasise the importance of clause 83 and the important statutory role it will give the CAA in promoting better public information about the performance of the aviation industry. That is intended to improve choice in the market and address what is essentially an asymmetric information problem. In simple terms, passengers do not always have the information they need to compare the services on offer effectively. So giving consumers more information on the service quality provided by airports and airlines will help to ensure that markets deliver consumer benefits and high-quality services.

I shall deal now with the amendments and the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley. First, on check-in, baggage handling and security queues, I can reassure him that the powers granted in the Bill will certainly enable the CAA to collect information on those aspects of amendment 30. Those issues fall fairly and squarely within the remit of clause 83 as there can be little doubt that they are of concern to passengers. But of course, the main focus of much of the debate is border controls. I have to make a definitional point: during the debates on this Bill we have all tended to refer to UKBA as the relevant agency. For correctness I should mention that from 1 March the UK Border Force was split from the UK Border Agency and became a separate operational command, accountable directly to Ministers.

Whether one calls it the UKBA or the UKBF, I am afraid I cannot accept that it is appropriate to include it in the regulatory arrangements contained in the Bill. The UK Border Force is accountable to Ministers and to Parliament. That is a far more effective and appropriate means to hold it to account than to give the CAA the power to oversee its activities. The Government do not believe that it would be appropriate for the aviation  regulator to be able to require data from an agency of the Home Office, particularly where there is a threat of a financial penalty to the extent sought and within the period set.

Of course, where I and my hon. Friend, and others who have expressed a view, are as one is that immigration queues can and do have an impact on the passenger experience. However, the purpose of the performance reporting functions in clause 83 is to correct market failure. There is no market for the provision of immigration control services, and thus systems that are designed to deal with market failure are simply not an appropriate or suitable way to deal with performance issues in relation to the UKBA. We should not let a focus on queuing times make us overlook the importance or the sensitivity of the work of the UKBF. It is, after all, the UK control authority responsible for screening arriving and departing passengers and goods at the border for counter-terrorism, immigration and criminality purposes.

The Government require full travel document checks to be conducted on all persons, including British citizens, arriving at the UK border. Although, of course, the UKBF and the Government take seriously the issues raised by hon. Members about the passenger experience, the security of our borders and the checks that need to be undertaken to protect us from those who would enter our country to do us harm have to be paramount. That said, we have listened carefully to the views expressed on Second Reading and by the Transport Committee in its valuable pre-legislative scrutiny. In the circumstances the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has agreed to review what additional data beyond those currently collected may potentially be published by the Home Office and shared with port operators, as well as with the CAA in its intended new role, to bring greater transparency at an individual airport level while minimising bureaucracy and burdens.

I should also like to assure the Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley that the UKBF fully recognises the importance of working closely with individual airport operators to manage passenger flows effectively while ensuring that control functions are properly discharged. I very much agree with the sentiments that he expressed about how such collaboration can make a real difference in addressing the types of passenger concerns that he and others have outlined. An impressive example of that kind of partnership working between the UKBF and an airport operator is provided by the work done at Gatwick over recent months. I know that the UKBF is interested in seeing whether elements of that approach could be used more widely. Where appropriate, queue data are already shared with port operators and are used to identify bespoke solutions specific to traffic at that port, including the use of automated gates and other biometric checks to help improve passenger flows. That currently happens at Gatwick and Heathrow.

I have already addressed some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, but he is anxious to hear more about how technology could address queuing times and so on. As a mere Transport Minister, I hesitate to trespass on the Home Office’s turf, but I can give him some information on the progress  in harnessing new technology to assist in addressing and improving matters related to passengers and immigration control.

E-passport gates are available on arrival at all major UK airports. Such gates provide passengers with a secure self-service alternative to the conventional manual control and do not require pre-enrolment. There are 63 e-passport gates in 15 terminals, and they have been used more than 6 million times. Usage is up 60% since April 2011. A peak of more than 630,000 passengers used the technology across all sites in September 2011. The gates can be found at border controls at the following airports: Birmingham terminal 1; Bristol; Cardiff; East Midlands; Gatwick north and south; London Luton; Manchester terminals 1 and 2; Heathrow terminals 1, 3, 4 and 5; and Stansted.

The UK Border Agency has spent just over £9 million to date on e-passport gates and associated automation infrastructure. The gates can be used by UK or European passengers who have an electronically chipped biometric passport issued since 2006, providing legitimate travellers with an automated, secure route through the border. The gates use facial recognition technology to compare the faces of UK and European economic area passengers with images held on their biometric e-passport. That is in addition to biographical security and watch list checks.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

Returning to the UK from several recent visits, I have been impressed that the e-passport system has had no queues whatsoever, which makes it a significant contributor to speeding up access back into the country for UK and other EEA citizens.

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

I am grateful for that intervention. My next point was to acknowledge that such technology can help to address queuing times efficiently.

Earlier in the Committee’s deliberations, the shadow Minister specifically asked about iris recognition technology. As I have said, the current focus is on e-gates for people with chipped passports, which use facial recognition technology. The implementation of the iris recognition system is anticipated in due course.

I should also draw attention to another way to improve the efficiency of border checks. The smart zone trial at London Luton tested the use of advanced screening capabilities provided by the e-borders system and the National Border Targeting Centre. That trial is complete, a review has been undertaken and recommendations for the next steps are under consideration. The smart zone system analyses advanced passenger information data to enable the pre-screening of selected low-risk flights carrying predominantly British and EEA passengers, such as returning holidaymakers, who can be processed through a discrete smart zone channel at ports. That has a number of benefits, including transaction times and the redeployment of border force officers to other, higher-risk traffic, while maintaining border security.

Various hon. Members referred to staff hours, and the shadow Minister referred to the work force. The UK Border Agency introduced an annualised working system as part of its modernisation agenda. The new UKBA annual hours working system began on 1 April 2011. AHW allows the UKBA to deploy staff more effectively and flexibly than was previously possible, with immigration officers covering the operation through the flexible  redeployment of staff in response to the peaks and troughs in traffic levels. A number of hon. Members have referred to the importance of that for airports. Through AHW, a fairer package has been introduced that ensures that staff are remunerated appropriately for their attendance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South asked what the new powers are likely to be used for. It is not suitable for me to prejudge how the CAA will use them but, for example, they may cover the additional charges applied by airlines when people book tickets—it is a matter of controversy when the initial ticket price is very low but the end result is higher—and information on passenger waiting times and performance in relation to lost bags and the promptness of baggage delivery on arrival.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the new consumer advice panel, which the CAA will soon set up, will no doubt provide informed and helpful advice on the exercise of the powers. One of the panel’s key roles will be to recruit a chairman and members with real expertise in and experience of consumer protection and advocacy. The CAA is currently engaged in that process, and the new panel’s expertise and experience will prove useful in relation to activities covered by the clause.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:15 am, 13th March 2012

Condition 4 in the indicative licence for Heathrow produced by the CAA covers the service quality rebate scheme, which suggests that there is provision for people to receive rebates if they have been let down because performance standards have not met expectations. Confusion might arise if the UKBA, perhaps through the Home Office, provides performance targets and people who feel let down therefore think that they are entitled to a rebate because of the expectations contained in the standards. In reality, however, because they are not part of the CAA licence, those people would not have the opportunity to claim a rebate. Does the Minister think that that might cause confusion?

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

That is one reason why it is important to be clear that the Bill does not cover the UK Border Force.

That leads me to clarify another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South, who said that clause 1 was relevant to clause 83 in relation to whether the UKBF will be covered by the Bill. Clause 1 concerns economic regulation, and the UKBA and the UKBF are not covered by that clause because clause 77 specifically exempts them from such regulation, but I may have misunderstood his point.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

I probably did not make it clear, but I meant subsection (1) of clause 83, not clause 1.

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

The Government’s position is that the powers in clause 83 do not extend to border controls. It is useful to clarify that the Bill will not apply those powers or the economic regulation powers in clause 1 to border controls, so it is not possible for the kind of remedies set out in the indicative licence to apply to the  UKBA. As I have said, the Government have decided that the current accountability mechanisms for the UKBA and the UKBF to Home Office Ministers and Parliament are far more appropriate.

Finally—I have trespassed on the patience of the Chair for a long time, but we have had an interesting and important debate—I warmly endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry about the importance of the air freight industry for the UK. I am also aware of the fantastic work done by DHL in his area and of how many of his constituents work for it. I therefore agree that it is important for us to use the powers contained in clause 83 proportionately, whether in relation to the freight industry or the passenger airline industry. Safeguards will ensure that the regulatory burden of the clause is kept to a minimum. Clause 92 will require the CAA to consult on and publish a policy statement, and in doing so it must have regard to the principle that the benefits of regulatory activity should outweigh its adverse effects.

I am well aware of my hon. Friend’s long history of fighting unnecessary over-regulation from the European Union, but I am confident that the safeguards in clause 92 will prevent the Bill from imposing unnecessary and disproportionate regulatory burdens on the freight industry. It may be, for example, that in a competitive business-to-business market there is less need to intervene than in the passenger market. No doubt, the CAA, in exercising its powers under clause 83, will need to take the differences between the freight and the passenger markets into account in designing proportionate measures under the clause, potentially with less activity in the freight market than the passenger market, where the information asymmetry may, I acknowledge, be more significant than in a competitive business-to-business freight market.

However, we are deciding on a regulatory framework that we hope will last upwards of 20 years. It is difficult to predict with certainty that there will never be an information asymmetry that needs addressing in the freight market. That is why we would be reluctant to seek to carve out freight from what I see as important powers to assist the appropriate operation of the market.

On regulatory overlap, express couriers are only required by Ofcom to establish a customer complaints handling service in accordance with the EU postal services directive. I do not believe that creates the overlap with clause 83 about which my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley is anxious and the industry is concerned. Ofcom does not have general powers to publish information for the benefit of the owners of cargo or for environmental purposes. Ofcom’s information-gathering powers arise only in relation to its own postal services functions. If Ofcom wished to impose any new consumer protection conditions on freight operators, it would have to be satisfied that they were proportionate, non-discriminatory and objectively justifiable. Clearly, regulation imposed by other regulators would be relevant to the test. It would be important for Ofcom to have regard to it.

I hope that provides some reassurance that the powers in clause 83 are designed to be used in a proportionate way, and that the CAA is under duties contained in clause 92 to ensure that the appropriate costs and benefits are taken into account.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Hon. Members:


Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

Order. An objection has been raised. For Members who have not experienced this before, I will explain what happens. The amendment the hon. Gentleman has moved becomes the property of the Committee and is no longer his. If such an objection is raised, I have to put the amendment to the Committee, even though he may wish to withdraw it. That is the process. It releases the hon. Gentleman—Mr Mills, in this case—from any obligation to support his own amendment. That may seems strange but that is how it is.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 14.

Division number 10 Decision Time — Clause 83 - Information for benefit of users of air transport services

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 14 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment 69, in clause 83, page 51, line 22, at end insert—

‘(d) carbon emissions resulting from the use of air transport services to or from a civil airport.’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 70, in clause 83, page 51, line 22, at end insert—

‘(d) carbon emissions resulting from domestic flights within the UK or to European Union member states, and a comparison with emissions for an equivalent journey via rail or road transport.’.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am conscious of your earlier advice, Sir Roger, about our possibly not having a stand part debate. I therefore crave your indulgence in allowing me to make the only point I would make in such a debate, which is that we support clauses 83 and 84. I want to put that on the record simply because we disagree with the Transport Committee. The Committee knows that we would have preferred a statutory environmental duty and a licence requirement for key data, and at least these clauses go some way toward improving the situation for passengers. The Transport Committee said it was concerned that provisions in clauses 83 and 84 granting powers to the CAA to require publication of environmental information are too widely drawn and risk creating bureaucracy and additional costs for the aviation industry, while the benefits are less tangible. Although we have agreed with much of what the Transport Committee said previously, we do not agree with everything it says. This is one of those occasions.

Amendments 69 and 70 cover territory similar to the territory covered when we discussed the need, in our view, for an environmental duty to be included in the Bill. The amendments are about publishing information on carbon emissions and allowing passengers to compare and make choices based on those data. We made that case earlier so I will not go over the same ground again, but these amendments seem in keeping with the Government’s approach to publishing information and allowing—even encouraging—passengers to make the right choice for themselves and the environment.

In discussing the previous group of amendments, the hon. Member for Amber Valley made a point that we heard several times during the evidence sessions: that passengers’ choice of mode of transport and airport is based on convenience and cost, and not necessarily on environmental matters. However, without publishing the data it is much harder for passengers even to consider whether that is an important factor in their decision. Amendment 69 calls for data on the carbon emissions resulting from the use of air transport services to and from a civil airport to be published. Amendment 70 calls for comparable data for European and domestic flights and equivalent coach or road journeys.

We know that the aviation industry is making great strides in becoming “Cleaner, quieter and smarter”, which is the title of the sustainable aviation booklet published this month. We know too that it has made significant strides in fuel efficiency, engine and airframe technology, cleaner engines, biofuels, air traffic movements and better ground handling. It also said that it could do more, and we want to encourage it along those paths. In previous debates we called on the Committee on Climate Change to advise the Government and the industry on how it can improve even more, and these simple, straightforward amendments would go some way toward making it easier for passengers to choose their mode of travel.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham 11:30 am, 13th March 2012

These amendments give Tory Members and especially Lib Dem Members the opportunity to live up to the Prime Minister’s aspiration for the coalition to be the greenest Government ever. We all understand the need for a thriving aviation sector to create jobs and growth, and I am acutely aware of that in my part of the country. However, climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the world today, so it is important that any new capacity must go hand in hand with tougher targets to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation to tackle the industry’s contribution to climate change. That is especially important given that we know that aviation journeys are set to increase, so the challenge for the aviation industry will become that much harder to meet.

Amendment 70 would include in the list of information that the CAA has to publish a carbon emissions figure for each journey. That would help passengers to make better journey choices. Members may recall that I spoke about that during the evidence sessions and told the Committee about my experiences of working for a Government Department. Prior to being elected to the House, I worked as a Government adviser on education and I travelled the length and breadth of the country seemingly on a weekly basis, meeting school leaders and  local authorities, making judgments on what I saw, and sharing good practice as I went. I travelled on average three out of five days every week and would arrange my travel through a central travel office or fuel my car using a fuel card issued by the office. Whenever I ordered travel tickets or used my fuel card, I would receive a printout clearly stating the carbon miles of my journey and the carbon miles that I would have travelled had I taken that same journey by air, rail, coach, or car. I do not think of myself as an environmental angel, nor do I think I am any more or less environmentally aware than anyone else. I do the usual things: I recycle, I compost garden waste and I walk instead of using the car whenever I can. However, that simple piece of information on that printout had an immediate and lasting impact on my decisions about travel. Thereafter, I did not fly when I could make the same journey just as easily by rail, and I took the train rather than the car whenever I could.

I have taken part in Westminster Hall debates where we have discussed the difficulties of travelling east to west and vice versa by rail in this country—the journeys over the Pennines are a joy. In the past, if I was travelling east-west or west-east, I would go by car. It is much easier to travel north-south by train, whether by the east or west coast main lines, but travelling across the north Pennines, especially in winter, is not easy. After I started to receive information about carbon miles, however, instead of travelling by car from Durham to Liverpool and back again, I would make a little more time to ensure that I could make that journey by rail.

Passengers make choices about modes of travel based on factors such as cost, convenience and timeliness, but at the moment too few passengers have too little information to understand the environmental impact figures of their mode of transport.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

There is a dilemma here in that a person who takes a decision to travel by car instead of air does not stop that flight from happening. The timetabled flight still happens and the emissions still occur, so if the person travels by car, they will add to emissions. I am not completely convinced that the hon. Lady’s argument stands up.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but doing nothing is not good enough. I know that these are long-term decisions, but by investing in HS2 we will move the tipping point for airline journeys in this country. Take the journey between Newcastle and Edinburgh: at the moment, most people will travel by rail if they are going from Newcastle to London, but if they are coming from Edinburgh they will travel by air. One of the by-products of HS2 will be that the tipping point will change. We have seen that happen in places such as France and Spain, where some air journeys simply do not happen anymore because people travel by train.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend is making the very point that I wanted to intervene to make. In the UK, the improved rail travel time from London to Manchester reversed the polarity: formerly, two thirds of people flew and one third went by train, but that changed within a number of years, so that now two thirds travel  by rail and one third by air. It depends on where in London they want to get to—it is a matter of personal convenience. Improved rail services can determine a reduction in the number of flights overall if they give people a better option. Notwithstanding that point, if fewer passengers are on the plane, it uses less energy, because it has a smaller payload.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham

I thank my hon. Friend, who helps make the point very well. If I make fewer journeys and everybody else makes similar changes in their behaviour, it will have, over time, a major impact on carbon emissions.

We know that transport underpins the quality of life and economic prospects of us all. We want to give people and businesses more low carbon choices about when, where and how to travel, or how to transport goods. Giving travellers information about their journey’s impact on carbon emissions enables them to make better choices that lower the impact of their journeys on the environment, which will have a cumulative effect over time. If the Government still believe in nudging consumers, as the Prime Minister has said they do, the proposals are a very good way of giving passengers information that can encourage and nudge them to make better decisions.

I asked about such a measure during the evidence session at the start of the Committee stage. The Aviation Environment Federation told us that that type of information is becoming more common on some of the online booking facilities for business travel operated by travel management companies such as American Express and Carlson Wagonlit Travel, although most of those business tools do not have specific data for each route—they use generic figures. The most commonly used comparison is the information produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to calculate carbon footprints.

Although decisions will depend on many factors, giving even general contextual information to the consumer could prove to be cost-effective, and it would be relatively simple for the CAA to construct something based on that, as it is already accepted Government advice. It is clear from my experience that the technology is available and is already being used, so I urge the Government to consider the huge good that could be achieved almost as a by-product of providing such information to passengers. If the CAA is going to provide passengers with information about how long it will take their bags to get from one part of the airport to another, surely information such as this, which can have a real impact on people’s behaviour and ultimately the environment, is much more useful.

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

I fully agree with the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for North West Durham on the benefits to be gained from giving passengers clearer, better information about the environmental impact of their travel choices, including their carbon impact. Although for various reasons, I cannot support the amendment, I share with them the goal of harnessing consumer power in our efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of aviation.

There are a number of examples of where provision of better information has impacted on consumer behaviour—giving them the nudge, as the hon. Lady mentioned. For example, many people now consider the  European new car assessment programme safety rankings for cars when deciding which car to buy. In the environmental field, information about the relative energy efficiency of white goods has been associated with changes to consumer choices. I therefore regard the function that the Bill gives to the CAA to collect environmental information as an important way to draw passengers into our wider efforts to tackle the environmental impact of aviation and climate change.

I do have a number of concerns about the amendments, though. First, I am concerned that they apply to the wrong clause. The hon. Lady emphasised the importance of giving the CAA the ability to collect information on environmental matters, and the Bill gives the CAA the power to do exactly that, but those powers are contained in clause 84, not clause 83. Clause 83 is designed to enhance choice in the market, where passengers do not always have the information needed to compare the standards of services and facilities on offer, whereas clause 84 covers environmental information. There is a problem with tacking an environmental measure on to provisions on service quality in clause 83.

My second concern is that amendment 70 would require the CAA to publish information that went beyond aviation to other modes of transport. I fully accept that it is useful for the public to have information about the impact of different modes of transport, but I am not convinced that it would be proportionate or appropriate to require the aviation regulator to collect and publish information on rail and road modes of transport, as the amendment would have it do. We have to bear in mind the concerns rightly raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry about ensuring that the cost impact of the provisions in clauses 83 and 83 remains proportionate. The industry has certainly been emphatic about the need to ensure that the Bill’s information provisions do not impose unnecessary or disproportionate burdens. I am not convinced that asking the aviation industry to fund the collection of information on road and rail transport would be proportionate.

A further concern is that the amendment singles out just one aspect of the environmental impact of aviation. The Committee is in no doubt that the local impact of aviation should be taken seriously, but the amendment focuses solely on carbon emissions, and few can doubt that aircraft noise, particularly at night, can have a corrosive impact on quality of life—indeed, earlier in our deliberations, the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston set out a range of concerns about aircraft noise and other local impacts. Also, in specific locations, air quality is also a concern, although I acknowledge that surface transport makes a bigger contribution to that. Clause 84, which relates to the environmental provisions, refers in broad terms to the full range of aviation’s impacts, giving the CAA flexibility.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham

I have been listening carefully to the Minister, but I am finding it difficult to reconcile the arguments. If the amendment is to the wrong clause, that is surely just an administrative issue—if it is good, it can just be moved to the right clause. Secondly, the Minister is saying that the amendment would be an additional burden, but if a Department is already doing this and is using generic figures collected from DEFRA, it is not onerous to ask the CAA to do it. It has been said that because the amendment does not cover noise, we should  not accept it, but surely we should start somewhere. I am finding it difficult to see how those arguments are strong arguments against doing as the amendment proposes.

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

I am disappointed not to have convinced the hon. Lady yet, but I will expand on why I think that the amendments are inappropriate. The Bill already delivers the goal that the amendments are designed to achieve. Clause 84 refers to the full range of aviation’s environmental impacts, giving the CAA flexibility to decide how information powers can be most effectively deployed. Singling out CO2 emissions, although I acknowledge their importance, would leave the Bill less balanced and indicate that Parliament is less concerned about noise impact than it actually is.

My last point will hopefully provide reassurance for the hon. Lady, even if my previous arguments did not. It is clear that clause 84 enables the CAA to collect information on carbon emissions from UK aviation, and it has been welcomed by a number of stakeholders. Committee members will recall the evidence given by Tim Johnson from the Aviation Environment Federation. He acknowledged that the CAA can play an important role in providing a portal to deliver environmental information, which can be genuinely useful for passengers when they make choices. Flybe, an airline that has promoted the benefits of environmental transparency in reporting for some years, responded to the proposals by stating:

“It will not only give passengers a very clear choice but will incentivise airlines to invest in newer, lower emitting fleet....and we stand ready to work with the Civil Aviation Authority…in making transparent reporting a reality.”

Providing consumers with better information can provide real assistance to our efforts to protect the environment. The information provisions in the clause 84 will provide a valuable means of encouraging the aviation industry to invest in cleaner and quieter planes and to harness consumer pressure to secure environmental goals. I am confident that that clause fully covers the aims of the amendments, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing his amendment.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:45 am, 13th March 2012

We are very disappointed, particularly as the Minister somewhat teased us when she rose and said that she fully agreed with what I and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham said, but then proceeded to try to a do a demolition job on our arguments. I hear what the Minister says about the contrast between clauses 83 and 84, but if we are not successful in persuading the Government to accept the amendment now, we obviously reserve the right to bring it back on Report under clause 84. However, we want to press it to a Division.

My hon. Friend pointed out that our proposals are not burdensome because what they suggest is already being done by Government Departments. They are fully in keeping with what the Government are trying to achieve, and there is not a great deal of difference between the Government and the Opposition. I regret to say, Sir Roger, that I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 14.

Division number 11 Decision Time — Clause 83 - Information for benefit of users of air transport services

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 14 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put forthwith (Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 69), That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 83 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 84 to 85 ordered to stand part of the Bill.