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Aviation: Policy

Volume 739: debated on Monday 23 July 2012


Asked By

My Lords, the Department for Transport published on 12 July a draft aviation policy framework setting out the importance of aviation to the UK economy and the Government’s proposals on how aviation can grow and deliver for the economy while meeting its noise, climate change and habitat obligations. The Government aim to adopt the final aviation policy framework next spring. Separately, a call for evidence on maintaining the UK’s international aviation connectivity will be published later this year.

Does my noble friend agree that aviation in general and Heathrow in particular are vital to the nation’s economic prosperity and growth, and that this is particularly apparent in the week in which we begin to host the Olympic Games? If he does, and if the Government do, why the delay in the consultation process about airports?

My Lords, I agree that aviation is vital to the economy of the United Kingdom. My noble friend asked me about the delay. It is important that we get this policy right and that it can be sustained even with a change in government.

Aviation companies and trade unions argue that the aviation policy devised by the Government is based on indecision not decision. Would it not be hugely advantageous for the UK if we had a third runway at Heathrow, embarked on large-scale road traffic amelioration there and, at the same time, sought to develop a south-eastern airport? Would that not be an advantage?

My Lords, the noble Lord suggests that there would be an advantage in having a third runway. Of course there would be an advantage in having a third runway, which is why the previous Government supported one. However, we also need to bear in mind the interests of the more than 200,000 people who live in west London underneath the flight path.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that business aviation and general aviation will continue to play an important part in the Government’s aeronautical thinking?

My noble friend makes an important point. At a meeting with my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, I agreed to take forward to my right honourable friend Theresa Villiers the importance of maintaining general aviation airfields.

I can tell the Minister, as someone who lived under the flight path in west London for something like 30 years and represented the area, that in fact opinion there is much more evenly divided than he says. Why? Because Heathrow provides enormous levels of employment; some 170,000 jobs depend on it remaining a premier hub airport. For the sake of the economy and of jobs, will the Government finally make their mind up?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right about the number of jobs involved at Heathrow Airport. It is, of course, a major consideration that in moving one’s hub airport somewhere else you would have to move 176,000 employees—over time, I agree.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that a central part of aviation policy is the question of pilot safety? Will he recall the representations made to him by my noble friend Lady Mar about the quality of air in cockpits? Will he confirm that since he refused to accept those arguments fairly recently, his department has received representations on behalf of pilots who are extremely concerned about this matter?

My Lords, I can confirm that I have received numerous e-mails on this particular subject, and I will be very surprised indeed if the noble Countess does not pursue the matter vigorously on Report. I am looking forward to the debate.

My Lords, is not the Government’s policy since coming to office one just of dither and delay? They have taken one decision—to abandon the third runway proposal at Heathrow—but have taken no other constructive position at all. Is it not about time that the Government stopped looking for the long grass, or the long Recess, in which to run for cover on this issue, and for the Minister to say that by next spring—three years after this Government came to power—they might have some proposals to put before the nation? It is quite scandalous.

My Lords, it is not quite right to say that we have done nothing about Heathrow. First, we introduced the operational freedoms that will make it easier for Heathrow to recover from any disruption during the day without having any more unscheduled night flights. In addition, we have just announced the western rail access to Heathrow, so the argument that we have done nothing is not a good one.

My Lords, will the noble Earl tell his right honourable friend that there are a lot of capacity issues to discuss? There is a lot of capacity at Stansted, Birmingham, Gatwick, Manchester and Luton that is underused. Will she also make sure that, as well as taking the environment and regional growth outside London into account, what the passenger wants is also taken fully into account?

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for putting the other side of the argument to the House. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is well seized of these points.

My Lords, the Government have delayed this review and the Minister says that that is to “get it right”. Would he be kind enough to tell the House just what they are doing to get it right?

My Lords, we have published our aviation policy framework for consultation and we will release the call for evidence later this year.

My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has raised the issue of spare capacity at airports outside Heathrow, would the Minister not agree that Stansted, for example, has had its capacity increased very considerably and that that capacity has not been taken up? Would he not further agree, therefore, that the airlines are very unlikely to have any particular wish to make Stansted a seriously larger airport than it is now?

The noble Baroness makes an interesting point, but I think what concerns people such as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is having one very effective hub airport with connectivity right around the world. We issued our call for evidence on hub connectivity because it is such an important issue.