I meet my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Exiting the European Union and for International Trade regularly—indeed, I did so yesterday—to discuss the UK’s exit from the EU. Seeking new aviation arrangements—both with the EU and with those states where we currently rely on EU-negotiated arrangements for market access—is a high priority for my Department. We aim to have the new arrangements in place well before the day of exit.
The Secretary of State obviously agrees with the absolute need for aviation agreements, through either bilateral means or an EU-wide arrangement. Will he tell us how many DFT staff have expertise in negotiating aviation deals and how many are working on deals as we speak?
I have a big team that is experienced in dealing with such things, because, across the world, we have bilateral arrangements with countries in all continents. I have experienced teams that are working on that right now. We are pursuing the necessary successor arrangements that we will need for flights to countries around the world, and there is nothing but good will and constructive discussion between us and those countries in ensuring that there is no interruption in flying.
Not only is the aviation timetable agreement important, but so is the securing of routes. Will the Minister tell us what has been done to secure routes for Belfast City and Belfast International airports to make sure that Dublin does not receive, to our detriment, the routes that we should be getting instead?
Of course, the choice of routes is ultimately down to the airlines themselves, but the hon. Gentleman will know that we provide significant support for important links from Northern Ireland, and we will continue to do so. The biggest difference for Northern Ireland will come with the expansion of Heathrow airport towards which we are working at the moment, and a guarantee of slots to provide excellent connectivity for Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales into countries around the world.
The Scottish Government have not been able to cut air passenger duty because the UK Government have not properly implemented an exemption for Inverness airport. Given the importance of low-cost carriers to Scotland’s regional airports, it is important that the Scottish Government are also involved in any discussions. However, to allow sufficient time for EU ratification, the aviation agreements need to be concluded by October 2018. How many staff does the Secretary of State have working on these matters, and what guarantees can he provide that travel will continue uninterrupted?
The hon. Gentleman makes his comment about air passenger duty in Scotland, but we did what the Scottish Government asked: we devolved air passenger duty and they have not cut it. I am afraid that they are discovering the realities of government. It is all very well making demands from the Opposition Benches, but when they actually have to take tough decisions, they discover that it is not all that easy. We are seeing that they are failing to deliver for the people of Scotland. When it comes to planning for aviation after Brexit, things are different, because we are planning for that and we will deliver. We will see, post 2019, that aviation continues to be the success story that it is today.