The Government have worked closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on this matter and have reduced air passenger duty on all direct long-haul flights from Northern Ireland from 1 November 2011. Provisions to devolve APD are set out in part 3 of schedule 23 to the Finance Bill, which is awaiting its Committee stage.
I thank the Minister for his response. The Secretary of State recently had a meeting with Willie Walsh of BAA and was assured that the Belfast city airport flight routes were safe. The staff at bmibaby are on a 90-day protective notice, as flight routes are due to finish. At that meeting, air passenger duty was also discussed. If there is one initiative that can retain flights, it is the reduction of APD for Northern Ireland. What steps is the Minister taking to reduce APD and to secure jobs?
It is very important to make this situation clear. Northern Ireland Ministers asked for APD to be devolved only for bands B, C and D, and we were able to meet that request, thanks to our all-listening Chancellor. We have not been asked to devolve band A flights, which would reduce the block grant by a substantial amount. The hon. Gentleman’s question allows me the opportunity to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have been very proactive on this matter, working with the local Minister of Enterprise, Trade, and Investment, Arlene Foster. As the hon. Gentleman says, my right hon. Friend has spoken to Willie Walsh a number of times. Keeping those routes open from Belfast to Heathrow is very good news.
I hope my hon. Friend meant more private sector jobs in Northern Ireland, but more jobs there is great news. The employment figures for Northern Ireland are better today—better than in other parts of the United Kingdom. We are not on the back foot on this one: we want more traffic and more flights to and from Northern Ireland; that is what we are working towards.
Does the Secretary of State agree with me, and with many members of the business community in Northern Ireland, that air passenger duty charges are inhibiting business access and activity, and making it even more difficult to achieve growth and business development?
I think that this is an opportunity for the Chancellor to be given some credit for responding to what the Executive wanted and having air passenger duty devolved, which is good news for Northern Ireland. We want more flights into and out of Belfast, and we are on the right road towards achieving that. We have also saved the flights to Heathrow, which is good news for the businesses in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.