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Lifeline Flights

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 25 June 2009

4. What recent representations he has received on the future of lifeline flights within the UK; and if he will make a statement. (282101)

The Department has received little correspondence on existing lifeline services in Scotland and Wales. There have been calls to introduce public service obligations on some domestic routes to London, although no formal applications have been received. Our policy on this subject is set out in the published guidance of 2005.

I am grateful for that answer, but in my constituency, which has genuine lifeline routes, there is growing concern about the increasing cost and the decreasing quality of service provided to local people since Flybe took over the franchise. Is he prepared to set up a meeting, perhaps including his opposite number in the Scottish Government and local representatives, to see how the Minister’s regulatory functions and the Scottish Government’s funding obligations might all be brought together to ensure that the people who need the services most get the best quality service?

Let me make it clear that we continue to support the use of public service obligations as a means of helping to subsidise important lifeline services for communities such as that represented by the hon. Gentleman. Some of the issues to which he refers will be partly subject to a commercial decision-making process, but we will continue to consider how to ensure that people in such communities have lifeline services.

Lifeline services are important, and my constituents also have Flybe as the sole operator from airports within the islands to airports in central Scotland. However, anyone who books with Flybe and changes their travel plans with advance notice will not get a refund. Does the Minister not think that travellers and consumers deserve a better deal?

Indeed. The Government have been committed to ensuring that passengers get a fair deal, whether on rail, buses or aircraft. Clearly, that is part of the reason for considering introducing a role for Passenger Focus with regard to airline passengers. Within the provisions that we have, we will do all that we can to ensure that passengers get the best deal. As the hon. Gentleman understands, these are commercial matters in many cases, but I undertake to consider the issues raised.

I am pleased that the Minister supports lifeline flights, but he must recognise that the cost to the passenger of some essential flights is excessive, often because there is a monopoly supplier—there is no alternative. In contrast, bargain basement prices are offered on destinations where there is competition with rail. Does he not see merit in the Lib Dem idea of a cap on the cost of essential flights from monopoly suppliers, with a surcharge on those flights that compete directly with rail, both to encourage modal shift and to help to fund high-speed rail?

The hon. Gentleman well knows the Government’s commitment, not only in policies and words in the Chamber, but in deeds and investment in high-speed rail, and in our continuing work on issues, some of which have been raised, such as improving overcrowding with additional rolling stock. Whereas the Lib Dems see a bottomless pit of taxpayer’s money to fund schemes that are not in balance, we will do what is required to ensure a balanced transport position, and to ensure that lifeline services continue.

Mr. Speaker, may I welcome you to your new post?

Does the Minister accept that lifeline flights require healthy regional airports? Between higher taxes, new charges for spectrum, and now an imposed blank cheque for security costs, does he see a future for regional airports?

In our aviation White Paper, as the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, we are clear that regional airports have an important role to play in supporting individuals and businesses and giving people freedom and choice. We shall support that position.