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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the low-fuel incidents at Heathrow Airport to which my noble friend referred include a combination of pilot-notified concern as well as mayday calls. They are investigated as they occur. With regard to concern about aircraft which offend persistently, the statistics show that incidents of aircraft arriving at their destinations with fuel levels approaching the minimum reserve are rare. There are no persistent offenders. If it appeared that aircraft operated by a UK airline were arriving with insufficient fuel, the CAA would require the airline to improve its fuel management policy. In the case of foreign operators, we would expect their national aviation authorities to take similar action.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that too many aircraft are landing at Heathrow in any event, and that a percentage of them should be required to land elsewhere?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend taxes my natural commitment to Manchester International Airport as being my regional airport. We of course take seriously the question of safety. I must stress that any incident causing concern or indicating potential concern is rare. There were just three events out of some 220,000 landings at Heathrow last year.

Baroness Gardner of Parks: My Lords, how many of the incidents to which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred have been instances where the aircraft have been held in a waiting pattern at Heathrow? Is it a common problem that aircraft arriving are asked to fly around until there is an opportunity to land?

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the standards require that the amount of fuel carried allows not just for stand-by and circling, but enables such aircraft to go to an alternative airport should that prove necessary. Of the five incidents referred to, two--one in March 1996 and one in December 1997--were following long hold. In the case of the incident on 15th December 1997, priority approach was given, the aircraft landed, but the fuel reserve was still above the minimum level required.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, may I say--

Noble Lords: No.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, I am getting into bad habits, I am sorry. Those figures for mayday and other emergency calls are small, but one serious crash through lack of fuel could be a major disaster. Would my noble friend kindly look into the advice given in the circulars to see whether it is sufficiently strong? Further, does she feel that there should be tough monitoring, bearing in mind that we have had reports of serious problems when it comes to landing aircraft safely at Heathrow?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend is right. This is a serious matter. Because of that, it is a matter of routine that the CAA reviews all aeronautical information circulars every five years. We take the issue seriously. I refer my noble friend to the figures: in Heathrow there were just three incidents out of some 220,000 landings.

As I said in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, the incidents where concern was expressed by the pilot in the event did not lead to aircraft landing with below the minimum level of fuel available.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are significant gains for companies operating aircraft on or below minimum fuel levels?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am aware of that, and so is the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Any question of aircraft travelling with below the minimum standard would be subject to the most rigorous scrutiny. If any serious offenders were identified, the ultimate sanction would be prosecution for breaches of air navigation orders.

Lord Whaddon: My Lords, the Minister referred to priority landings. How many were maydays and how many had declared a PAN call?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, of the low fuel incidents, I recollect that two were PAN calls and three were maydays over the period of time. I shall check the figures. If I find that that is inaccurate, I shall notify my noble friend.

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Severn Bridges: Tolls

2.51 p.m.

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there has been any recent assessment of the toll charges on the Severn bridges and their effect on inward investment into Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, while no such assessment has been made recently by the Government, the Severn bridges provide a major high quality link in the transport networks linking South Wales with the remainder of the United Kingdom and Europe. They are a major factor in encouraging new industries to locate in Wales and tolls and private finance were integral to the provision of the new Severn crossing.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that over generations Wales has been plagued by unemployment, and that there are still many black spots? Yet to enter Wales through its main access point, a lorry pays a toll charge of £12.10, a light van pays £8.10 and a car £4. Is there any wonder that a recent survey of economic development officers by the CBI and the AA demonstrates clearly that the tolls are an impediment to investment by existing companies and new companies considering relocating there? Is it not time for the Government to give some thought to how the problems can be tackled?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am well aware of my noble friend's concern about these matters. He stated the concern expressed in the Western Mail as regards the AA/CBI report to which he referred. I have seen that report. It dealt with the need for investment in transport infrastructure in the whole of the United Kingdom. That was one comment among many in one small section of the report. The evidence indicates that in 1996-97 Wales secured 22 per cent. of all new jobs promised for the UK by foreign direct investment. That is with a population of 5 per cent. of the UK. So there is not a great deal of evidence that tolling acts as a disincentive to investment, although in view of the unemployment concerns to which the noble Lord referred, it is a matter that the Government will keep under review.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the charge of £4 for a motor car to cross one of the busiest and most prosperous parts of Wales and England is cheap compared with the charges in Skye, one of the poorest parts of Scotland?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord tempts me to report to the House that in response to a manifesto commitment to review the impact of tolls on low income island communities, frequent users of the Skye Bridge now pay £2.60 for a round trip. Therefore those concerns were addressed.

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I know to my cost that issues of comparative prices on tolls are controversial, but I believe that the balance is right.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we wish that high level of investment under the Conservative Government to continue under the present Government? Anything that can be done to alleviate the toll situation over the Severn bridges would be most welcome.

Although there have been complaints over the years about the toll on the Severn Bridge (now the Severn bridges) is it not a fact that the previous Labour government did not abolish tolls? Is it, or is it not, the intention of the present Government to abolish tolls over the Severn bridges? They may not wish to do so because the cost would be prohibitive.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we do not propose to legislate to change the current toll structure under the Severn Bridges Act 1992. That is because we recognise, as I said earlier, that there is not a disincentive to investment in Wales by the tolling. Since the new crossing has opened, heavy goods traffic has increased by 6 per cent. to 8 per cent. compared with 5 per cent. to 6 per cent. growth in car traffic, which suggests that the economic traffic is still travelling there.

As regards records of comparative governments, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales announced last month plans for a new £15 million European rail freight terminal in Cardiff which will open in 1999. It will provide much needed infrastructure to encourage further development in the Principality, an aim which was notably absent from the programme of the previous government.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, can the Minister explain why the tolls over the Severn are so much higher than those over, for example, the Forth and Clyde? Surely one would expect that the high usage should render the toll lower since the overheads can be regained over a larger number of vehicles.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the tolling regime on different crossings are related to the financial costs of the infrastructure and to the concession agreements granted in relation to them. The Severn River Crossing plc elected to charge tolls in one direction. That decision was reflected in the provisions of the Severn Bridges Act 1992 and its concession agreement.

As I said earlier, it is invidious to make comparisons between individual pieces of infrastructure, each of which has separate concession agreements relating to them.

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