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Lord Warner: My Lords, the noble Lord is exactly right, and I share his bafflement at the newspaper report.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, are EC nationals required to pass this test?

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Warner: Wait for it, my Lords. EU doctors do not have to take English language tests through the GMC, but NHS employers must ensure that these doctors have English language competence to ensure that they can practise safely, and they may require them to undertake language assessments. The law was changed in this area by the previous government to stop infraction proceedings.

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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, am I not correct in recollecting that the law was changed by the previous government because of a European Union directive which required that it should be so and that the standards would be set by the profession, not by the employers?

Lord Warner: My Lords, as I understand it, the law was changed because the previous government were concerned about infraction proceedings being taken against them. We are, however, looking to see if case law makes it possible to reopen the issue.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, given the EU directive, it would be preferable if the department itself required that its employees could speak English to the required standards of the GMC?

Lord Warner: My Lords, there is a clear obligation on NHS employers to ensure that the doctors they employ can actually communicate satisfactorily with their patients. As I said, they can require these doctors to undertake an English language test.

Earl Howe: My Lords, can the Minister say when the Government are likely to reach a conclusion as to their scrutiny on recent case law?

Lord Warner: As quickly as possible, my Lords.

Airport Capacity

2.49 p.m.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that significant expansion of airport capacity in south-east England will be in the long term interests of the residents of the area and their environment.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, no decisions have been taken on how much capacity should be provided. Those will be taken after carefully considering all responses to the consultation. The Government will publish their conclusions in a White Paper later this year. In developing a future airports policy, the Government are committed to the principle of sustainability. That means striking the right balance between maximising the social and economic benefits of airport expansion and minimising the impacts, such as noise, air quality and damage to the environment.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response which elegantly avoided the Question that I asked, but that I entirely understand. I should declare an interest as a resident of north-west Essex which is likely to be severely affected by increased

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noise and other pollution in the event that there is further expansion of Stansted Airport. Is my noble friend aware that north-west Essex has one of the highest concentrations of historically important buildings in the UK, a number of which will be lost if current proposals for Stansted are carried through? Does he agree with me that such irreversible losses together with increased noise and pollution should be accepted only when the benefits unequivocally outweigh the disadvantages? Does he further agree that the recent report of the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee raises a number of serious concerns about the assumptions underpinning the Government's thinking on airport expansion, including the probability that the growth in emissions into the atmosphere, which the report describes as "unsustainable and unacceptable" could destroy the Government's own commitment to a 60 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050? Can he say with confidence in all these circumstances that major growth in air traffic should be encouraged at all?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend presents her case with her usual eloquence. There are environmental effects with any form of airport expansion. However, my noble friend will recognise that I mentioned in my initial reply that no decisions have yet been taken in respect of any airport in the country. She is right to say that we must take air pollution issues into account in assessing costs. The Government are carrying out an evaluation of exactly that aspect. We seek to encourage the development of air travel using airplanes which cause considerably less pollution than has been the case in the past. I emphasise to my noble friend that it is not a question of the Government seeking to discourage increased air travel. The simple fact is that air travel increases year on year. We already have massively overcrowded airports. We shall need additional capacity. However, that has to be balanced against a proper recognition of environmental costs.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the Minister consider that the recent French court ruling on Ryan Air will affect how the Government put together their traffic forecasts for the future? Does he consider that the airline industry in this country is subsidised as it is the only fuel-user that does not pay any duty or tax on the aviation fuel that it uses?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I understand that the case to which the noble Viscount referred has gone to appeal. Therefore, it would not be entirely appropriate for the Government to devote massive resources to a change in policy in the light of the initial judgment. Were the judgment to stand, it would have some effect upon the demand for air travel. However, I put it to the noble Viscount—he will recognise this point from his expertise in the matter—that the increase in air travel was a given factor in all developments in recent decades. There are bound to be pressures upon our airports and upon our airways

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irrespective of the decision to which he referred. As regards the more general issue, airlines are not unfairly subsidised compared with other forms of transport. It is true that they do not pay tax on aircraft fuel but they meet full costs as regards airport provision.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, given the degree of concern and anger on the part of thousands and thousands of people in villages and towns in the South East threatened by airport expansion, does my noble friend accept that the policy of predict and provide, which he appeared to point to in an earlier answer, is no longer appropriate for airlines and airport planning and needs to be replaced—as it has been with motorway construction—by a policy of demand management? Is it not time that the Government spent some time looking at alternatives to air traffic such as building decent long-distance rail services?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I appreciate what my noble friend says. I emphasise that I did not use the words "predict and provide", nor do I seek to justify or defend that policy. My noble friend will recognise that my initial Answer carefully balanced possible increases in demand for air travel against social, environmental and pollution costs. Railways may indeed play a greater part in the provision of transport within the United Kingdom, but my noble friend will appreciate the very significant demand for air travel. A great deal of that demand relates to travel overseas as opposed to internal flights. It would be totally irresponsible of the Government not to address that issue.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords—

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Liberal Democrats first and then the Cross Benches perhaps.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, in considering the question of airport expansion, will the Minister make sure that all the costs associated with getting to and from airports—that is, the expansion of the surface access—are fully borne by the people who use airports and are not visited upon counties and towns around airports which would be, and is, a direct subsidy to the airline industry?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I recognise the point that the noble Lord makes. We shall seek to ensure that appropriate costs are borne by the industry. Certainly in relation to the question of air pollution we believe firmly in the principle that the polluter should pay. However, the noble Lord will recognise, with his usual fairness, that the development of an airport in an area brings significant

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economic development to that area. Airports provide a significant number of jobs. Therefore, the airline industry should not bear all the costs.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that serious consideration is being given to the Severnside option which does not involve the expansion of an existing airport, involves no compulsory purchase, is the most environmentally friendly of all options and has much local support in the Severnside area?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful for that constructive suggestion in view of the challenges facing government policy at present. I emphasise that we have taken no decisions following the extensive consultation that has taken place over the past 11 months. We shall produce a White Paper before the end of the year. I assure my noble friend that we take seriously the development in the Severn Valley to which she referred.


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