The bill, containing proposed amendments to the Airports Act 1986, was introduced on 7 December 2011 as a private members' bill. It addresses the national air infrastructure between Heathrow (hub) and regional airports.
Lord Empey (Ulster Unionist Party) opened the debate and made reference to the opinion report written by MEP Philip Bradbourn on the future of regional airports and air services in the EU. He explained that: 'Paragraph eight of that report states:
"considers it essential for regional airports to have access to hubs".
That quotation from Mr Bradbourn's draft report is the core rationale for this bill.'
Lord Empey explained how the UK has a unique problem as Heathrow is the only hub airport. He said: 'Heathrow is operating at 98 to 99 per cent capacity. In other EU member states, where there is a connectivity problem with a hub airport, most of our continental partners have the opportunity to use spare capacity to add take-off and landing slots to accommodate connectivity between regions and hub airports but because of the lack of capacity at Heathrow that option is not open to the United Kingdom.'
There is further complication as 'the slots at Heathrow are owned by the individual airlines' to sell or use for more profitable international routes as they see fit. The bill suggests giving 'the Secretary of State power to direct airport operators as well as requiring the Civil Aviation Authority to take these connectivity issues into account when exercising its functions.'
Lord Lexden (Conservative) took an overall approach to the UK's transport infrastructure: 'Where the replacement of one method of transport by another is not feasible for economic or geographical reasons, we should seriously consider whether it would be appropriate to give the Transport Secretary modest additional powers, as the bill seeks to do.'
Lord Clinton-Davis (Labour) argued for an expansion of Heathrow to be considered 'while making life more tolerable for those on the ground' and improve road and rail access.
Earl Attlee (Conservative) responded on behalf of the government and explained that the government is 'committed to producing a sustainable framework for UK aviation which supports economic growth and addresses aviation's environmental impacts.'
He argued '...the potential for ring-fencing slots at Heathrow to protect regional services is to be dealt with by reference to the Public Service Obligations rules alone.'
Earl Attlee concluded that the bill 'would be incompatible with EU law' and that the government would not support it or 'entertain a corresponding amendment to the Civil Aviation Bill.' He explained that the government 'are committed to highlighting the issue of regional connectivity in the context of the forthcoming reform of the EU slot regulations and intend to explore measures to help secure the ongoing provision of air services between UK regions and congested London airports.'
Speakers who debated the general principles of the bill included
- Lord Davies of Oldham (Labour), a former spokesperson for transport
- Earl of Caithness (Conservative) a former Department for Transport minister
- Lord Clinton-Davis (Labour) president of the British Airline Pilots Association
- Earl Attlee (Conservative) will respond on behalf of the government.
The private members' bill received its first reading on 7 December 2011.
What is second reading?
Second reading is the first opportunity for members of the Lords to debate the main principles and purpose of the bill and to flag up concerns and areas where they think changes (amendments) are needed.
Before second reading takes place a list of speakers for the second reading debate is opened and interested members add their names to it. The list is published in the order in which members will speak shortly before the debate.
The government minister, spokesperson or member of the Lords responsible for the bill opens the debate. Any member can speak in the debate so this stage can indicate those members particularly interested in the bill - or a particular aspect of it - and those who are most likely to be involved in amending the bill at later stages.
Second reading debates usually last for a few hours but sometimes stretch over a couple of days. After second reading the bill goes to committee stage - where detailed line by line examination of the bill takes place.