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Aviation: International Trade

Volume 776: debated on Tuesday 1 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the importance of aviation to Britain’s international trade.

My Lords, aviation contributes to international trade by facilitating the movement of services and goods. In 2015, goods worth £155 billion were shipped by air between the UK and non-EU countries—that is over 40% of the UK’s extra-EU trade by value. This demonstrates how crucial Britain’s international trade is to aviation. Connectivity alone is insufficient to create trade, as other factors are important. However, without it, new trade opportunities would not materialise.

My Lords, as the Minister says, aviation makes a huge contribution to the economy. However, after the Brexit vote, this is under threat. Leaving the EU will affect rights to travel, not only between the EU and the UK, but also with the US. Priority must be given to reaching new agreements to maintain market access. Can the Minister give us details of the steps the Government have already taken to prioritise negotiations on continued membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency and of the open skies agreement? Since Heathrow will not be completed until the 2030s, will the Government introduce a strategy for the whole of UK aviation?

On the last point the noble Baroness made—a strategy for the whole UK—the decision that the Government took last week reflects just that. I have been to Scotland and Northern Ireland, among other places. I was in Manchester only yesterday, again underlining the importance of the decision that we took last week to the whole United Kingdom. In our ongoing discussions with our current EU partners post-Brexit, we are certainly prioritising aviation. We need to ensure that what we benefit from today—in terms of the agreements the noble Baroness referred to—is sustained. Let us not forget that, bilaterally, this is not just for the benefit of the United Kingdom; it is also for the benefit of the remaining members of the European Union.

Does not the exciting news from the aviation front that the next generation of civil airliners will be 50% quieter and 30% more fuel-efficient absolutely underline the importance of the decision that Her Majesty’s Government made to have a third runway at Heathrow?

Now that the Government have decided “No ifs, no buts, it’s a third runway at Heathrow”, which differs at least marginally from their previous “no ifs, no buts” pledge, what plans do they have to increase the range of international direct flights from our international airports outside London and the south-east, and in so doing to provide the opportunity for an increase in air freight traffic, including exports, from at least some of those airports—in the north in particular—direct to other parts of the world?

The noble Lord raises an important point about freight, and that was part and parcel of the decision that we took last week. He talks about international connections outside London and the south-east. I am delighted to tell him why I was in Manchester yesterday—because I was welcoming the first Singapore Airlines flight to Manchester, which, for the first time, was flying directly to Houston. That was a first for Manchester Airport, a first for Singapore Airlines and a first for the north-west, outside London and the south-east.

Can the Minister say whether the UK is planning to join the European Aviation Safety Agency after Brexit, and indeed whether the UK will be eligible to do so? If not, what other options is he considering?

As I said in my Answer, we are looking at how all the current arrangements with the European Union can be sustained and strengthened while we remain a member of the EU. After Brexit, we want to ensure the same level of connectivity and the same access regarding safety issues. As I have already said, this will be of benefit not just to the UK but to the whole of Europe, as well as globally.

Given the amount of time that it apparently takes to achieve anything at our airports at the moment, would it be an idea if we started putting down Questions on the 20 or so international airports that we have around the country?

Does the Minister not think that it would be wise to await the judgment of the Supreme Court before assuming that Brexit will go ahead?

We as a Government are relying on what the people of this country decided. We promised that there would be a referendum. The British people voted and it is now our job, as a responsible Government, to respect the will of the people, as both Houses should do, and make sure that that decision is implemented.

Can my noble friend estimate the time that it will take to negotiate bilateral aviation agreements with third countries when we leave the European Union, and of the cost to UK airlines of re-establishing themselves elsewhere in the European Union as well as having a base in this country?

I do not think that we should be alarmed about this. As I have already said, it is part and parcel of the discussions that we are having with not just European but international partners. I have already met directly airline and airport operators here in the UK and with airline operators outside the UK. All are very keen to see a seamless transition to ensure that the rights that British airlines enjoy today, and those that international airlines using UK airports enjoy, continue without any kind of interruption.

My Lords, in his visit to Manchester Airport yesterday, did the Minister hear that more destinations are flown to from Manchester than from Heathrow?

Overall, if we look back over the last 10 years, Manchester has made some incredible progress in terms of its expansion and opening up new air connectivity. The noble Lord is right. I talked about Singapore, and in June there were new routes to China. The opportunities are immense for airports not just in the south-east but across the country.

My Lords, will my noble friend take a moment to remind noble Lords on both sides of the House that, before the United Kingdom became part of the European Economic Community, as it was then, we had a fine air transport industry and a safe airline industry, and licensed our own pilots? We did all those things on our own. Is it conceivable that we might be able to do that again one day?

It is not just conceivable, it does happen and it will happen. I assure all noble Lords that Europe looks towards the United Kingdom, especially on aviation, where we have led on much of what the EU does today. As I have already said, there will be bilateral benefit on these areas. Much of what we did in 2009 is now being repeated across the European Union, so I agree totally with my noble friend.