Air Travel Trust

Part of Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 21 March 2017.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 2:00, 21 March 2017

Quite right, Ms Ryan. I am going to ensure that I do not ping, and that my Parliamentary Private Secretary does not ping on my behalf.

This morning we had a long discussion as well as a debate about the areas that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield has once again this afternoon articulated: consultation, continuing consideration, dialogue and a willingness to listen and to change where necessary. Those themes have percolated throughout our consideration so far and seem to me to be part of the critique, led by the hon. Gentleman, that the Committee has offered of the Bill.

As with the preceding amendment, I start by saying that I fully endorse, and indeed support, this amendment’s purpose. It is absolutely right that the Bill, throughout its content, requires detailed further consideration as its measures find their effect. When we introduce reforms of this kind, of course it is important that they are reviewed, but I agree that although that might be regarded as axiomatic by some, it can never be said too often. The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise it in articulating the amendment’s purpose.

We need carefully to craft our policies and regulatory framework. Doing so is the key to good governance. With respect to this clause, I can explain that I have no plans to change the current air travel deed. The system works well. The changes that we are introducing in the Bill are very much built on those elements of the system that we know are effective, time honoured and well tested. I feel that as Mr Gray has benefited from the wisdom of Edmund Burke, you should be able to also, Ms Ryan. Burke said:

“A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman.”

Even I would not claim to be a statesman, but I am more than happy to pay tribute to the statesmanlike way in which the hon. Gentleman has debated the Bill so far, and to his additional emphasis on those elements that I set out as necessary to ensure that we continue consultation and review the effects of what we do.

In the light of responses to our consultation last year, however, the Government propose to take the power to establish trusts, with the flexibility to make separate provision for different types of risks and different business models. That is very much in tune with what I said earlier about the evolving character of the market. It is an important change that needs to be reflected in an amended though not radically different regulatory regime. That regime should build on, in Burke’s terms, what we should preserve, but equally be fit for purpose in that it responds to changing conditions. An example would be the new, looser type of package arrangements called linked travel arrangements. We do not know how the industry will react to the innovation, or whether riskier products will result, requiring us to separate the trust arrangements. At our evidence session, Richard Moriarty from the Civil Aviation Authority said:

“it would be prudent and sensible for Government to have the flexibility to respond to that”—[Official Report, Vehicle Technology and Aviation Public Bill Committee, 14 March 2017; c. 65, Q150]

By “that” he meant those kinds of emerging trend changes.

With regard to consultation, I am content—indeed, more than that, I am enthusiastic—to give the hon. Gentleman a commitment that the Government will conduct a thorough impact assessment and consultation before implementing the powers. That is a binding assurance, and I am more than happy to support that in writing. It seems absolutely right to consider those matters in that way.

We have a good track record—I would never want to say that it speaks for itself, because then I would have no need to speak to it—and we can be proud of the fact that we have gone about the review thoroughly and diligently. I have already drawn attention to the workshops, the roundtable discussions, the extensive consultation and the response to it. By way of amplification of what I said earlier, we have also, against the background of the changes made in 2012 and as part of the consultation, asked again how the changes made affected business and changed practice, and whether they were right. It is important for the Government to ask such questions, to be self-analytical and, where necessary, self-critical. Moreover, the Civil Aviation Act 1982 places a requirement on the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority to consult under section 71A, so as well as my commitment there is a good legislative foundation on which it is built.

We also want to discover whether what we changed in 2012 better reflects market practice. Therefore, in our call for evidence on our long-term review of the ATOL scheme, when we consulted on the changes to be given life by the Bill, we were prepared to learn from any criticisms or suggested further changes that resulted. Each stage of the work has been subject to impact assessments and consultations, and the Civil Aviation Authority and the Association of British Travel Agents have commended the Government’s approach to reform, highlighting the diligence to which I have drawn the Committee’s attention.

At last week’s evidence session, Richard Moriarty said that he hoped the Government would

“follow the practice that they have followed today: consult with us, consult the industry, do the impact assessment, and so on.”––[Official Report, Vehicle Technology and Aviation Public Bill Committee, 14 March 2017; c. 65, Q150.]

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned that in his speech.

For those reasons, I am confident that the current process works and I do not intend to deviate from it. Given the need to react quickly to reflect consumers’ interests, it is unnecessary to bind the Government’s hands as described, potentially fettering our ability to act rapidly in the light of the circumstances of a dynamic market. That is particularly so when we are midway through an extensive process of consultation and engagement, which has been commended by those involved, such as Richard Moriarty and others.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue again. It is vital for me to give those assurances, which I am prepared to support further should he wish me to. Let me put the Opposition’s critique of the Bill—indeed, that of the whole Committee—in a three-pronged way: first, that we need to continue dialogue; secondly, that we need to maintain parliamentary involvement in that process as appropriate through the scrutiny of regulation and so on; and thirdly, that we need to review progress. The three prongs of the Opposition’s case all seem to make sense, so I am as one with him on those. We can always have discussions about how things are done, but the principles are entirely sound. On that basis, I hope he will withdraw his amendment.