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Volume 530: debated on Thursday 23 June 2011

I regularly receive representations from the aviation industry and other stakeholders on a range of issues relating to UK airports.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He may be aware that some have suggested a congestion levy on south-east airports to fund a discount on air passenger duty in regional airports. What assessment has he made of the competitiveness of south-east airports in view of this ludicrous suggestion?

I think my hon. Friend’s question betrays the fact that he has already made his own assessment. I believe that this suggestion was made in a response by regional airports to a consultation on APD conducted by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. No doubt the Chancellor will respond to those suggestions in due course.

I think it is an excellent suggestion. There is huge capacity in the regional airports and since there has been complete freedom to fly anywhere in Europe, it has been difficult for Governments to use that capacity. Does the Secretary of State have any ideas how that extra capacity in regional airports can be used to the benefit of the UK economy?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: there is significant capacity in our regional airport runways. We have to recognise that the demand for aviation growth in the UK is not just an aggregate demand—it has a certain geographical distribution—but I am keen that the regional airports play a role in meeting that demand. I believe that the high-speed rail project will help them to do so.

As part of the review, will the Secretary of State discuss with the Treasury the viability of having an APD holiday for new long-haul routes from regional airports to improve their competitiveness with south-east airports and airports on the continent?

As I said, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has conducted a consultation on the future of APD and he has made it clear that any changes to the system would have to be broadly revenue-neutral. I do not know whether my hon. Friend submitted his suggestion during the course of the consultation, but if not, I am sure that the Chancellor would be prepared to take it as a late entry.

Does not the Secretary of State agree that the competitiveness of Belfast airports is gravely impinged by the fact that APD is levied at £120 for a return on business-class long-haul flights from Belfast, while 90 miles down the road in Dublin, it is €3 going down to zero. Clearly, as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, there is a strong case for looking at the issue of APD.

Once again, I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman will have submitted his views to the Chancellor in the consultation to which I just referred.

Britain’s business community finds it incredible that the Government have no intention of bringing forward a proper strategy for aviation and UK airports for the next two years. Opposition Members believe that any expansion in aviation must be sustainable, but is it not nonsense for the Government to rule out any expansion in the south-east, regardless of whether or not it can be demonstrated to be sustainable. Is not the chief executive of London First right when she warns that this failure is

“damaging our economy and enhancing that of our EU rivals”?

The hon. Lady is right that we have a big challenge in relation to aviation growth in the south-east. What I did not hear her do was repeat Labour’s policy to build a third runway at Heathrow airport. Perhaps at some stage she could tell the House whether that remains Labour’s policy. The coalition Government cancelled the third runway at Heathrow because of the unacceptable environmental burden that it imposed, but we are committed to developing a new and sustainable aviation strategy that will allow the growth of aviation in the UK—but only when it meets its environmental obligations.