Lord Bryan Davies is a Shadow Transport Minister in the Lords
The Civil Aviation Bill gets its Second Reading in the Lords today. The Bill’s efforts to modernise the industry’s regulatory framework and afford greater protection to consumers are welcome. But the way in which a number of issues have been approached fails to demonstrate a coherent aviation policy.
The main structure of the Bill was created by Labour Ministers in the last government, and we will not oppose it in principle. We endorse the broad thrust of the reforms, including economic regulation of airports and the legislative framework of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). We also approve the proposals to grant the government powers to extend the ATOL scheme, which affords greater protection to consumers, to holidays sold by airlines or arranged on an ‘agent for the consumer’ basis.
All that said however, the way in which Ministers have approached certain areas of the Bill deserves additional scrutiny. So we will strive to improve those measures driven through the Commons with no concession to our front-bench team’s well-argued criticisms and constructive amendments.
The Government’s backsliding on the policies necessary to moderate climate change is already evident in key areas of the economy, and aviation is no exception. This Bill weakens the proposed terms of environmental obligations and sends the wrong signal to the industry.
Airports are major economic players and environmental concerns about their operations have been well articulated for many years, particularly Heathrow. Yet there is no longer a clear duty on the CAA in its crucial role of economic regulation to have regard to compliance with environmental and planning law. This limits the legislative pressure on airports and may result in reduced investment in the improvement of environmental performance.
Improved passenger welfare is a necessary objective in the Bill, particularly after the chaos and hardship suffered by stranded passengers in the winter of 2010-11. But the current provisions fail to meet the necessary requirements and obligations of the airports and CAA. The Transport Select Committee expressed strong concerns about passenger welfare and the Bill should guarantee that airport licences are structured to address fully key areas of passenger satisfaction, including baggage handling and immigration.
We also have concerns about the transfer of responsibility on security from the Department of Transport to the CAA, which appear motivated more by reducing departmental expenditure than efficiency in action. Airlines are concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding the costs of this transfer and we are worried that experienced staff will be subject a major change in their employment conditions. And the CAA should also be brought within the remit of the National Audit Office.
The Bill has obvious departures from Labour’s original thinking and we will harness opinion from all sides in the Lords to effect necessary changes. It will also afford Peers a significant opportunity to ask Ministers to think again about the Coalition’s aviation and environmental policies, which once again undermine David Cameron’s claim to lead the “greenest government ever”.