HC Deb 06 November 2001 vol 374 cc94-6
2. Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire)

If she will make a statement on the impact on the civil aviation industry in Scotland of the terrorist attacks in the United States. [10310]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell)

The terrorist attacks in the United States have had significant implications for the aviation industry worldwide. It is inevitable that airline operations in Scotland should be similarly affected. The Government have already announced measures to assist airlines in dealing with the immediate implications of the events of 11 September and I maintain contact with the industry to monitor further developments. Indeed, I am calling senior representatives of the industry together on 3 December so that we can have fuller discussions on those matters.

Jim Sheridan

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. She may be aware that my constituency, like many in Scotland, is heavily dependent on air and sea transport, so will she assure the House that, following the events of 11 September, the Government will seek improvements in all transport links throughout Scotland and between Scotland, Europe and beyond? That would protect jobs in that vital industry.

Mrs. Liddell

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I would expect nothing less from him given the nature of his constituency and its history of shipbuilding. It is important to the economy of Scotland that we have the best possible transport links to our main markets in Europe. I am therefore pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions today agreed in principle to provide £12 million of freight facilities grants to Forth Ports plc and Superfast Ferries SA to establish a ferry link between Rosyth and Zeebrugge in Belgium. The grant is subject to state aid clearance by the European Commission, and that is being sought. The service will save thousands of long-distance lorry journeys on Britain's roads and will be of enormous help to Scotland's exporters.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Labour Government's privatisation of National Air Traffic Services is predicated on £1 billion of private investment coming from the partner airlines. Following 11 September, it is highly unlikely that that will be forthcoming, which puts in doubt the air traffic control centre at Prestwick. What steps are she and her Department taking to ensure that the project proceeds?

Mrs. Liddell

The events of 11 September have caused much rethinking across the aviation industry and my office is in constant contact with it. Although we are disappointed with the delayed start of the second centre, we are encouraged by the fact that the commitment to it remains in place. I intend to invite representatives of NATS to meet me to discuss how quickly we can get the project up and running again.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Rolls-Royce has announced some 3,800 redundancies in the United Kingdom as a result of 11 September. We are not aware of the extent of redundancies at individual plants, but given that there is a plant at Hillington in my constituency and the likelihood of a knock-on effect, will she use her good offices to do everything she can to assist Rolls-Royce to deal with that blow to Paisley, North?

Mrs. Liddell

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. Indeed, she has articulated it to me before. We are all aware of the importance of Rolls-Royce to the economy of the west of Scotland, but all companies that are involved in the aerospace sector need to balance capacity with demand. Yesterday, however, Emirates Airlines announced a £15 billion plane order that will benefit Rolls-Royce to the tune of at least $50 million. That may not have an immediate impact on the redundancy programme, but it is good news for the company and the industry, as is the Lockheed-Martin joint strike fighter announcement. If my hon. Friend wants to bring representatives of the company and work force to meet me and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I am happy to afford her that facility.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the consumer confidence barometer—a monthly survey compiled for the European Commission—shows an alarming drop in confidence in the UK, including Scotland? That is bad news for the aerospace industry and jobs, as is the Prestwick announcement. Does she know that the figures show the biggest drop in confidence since last year's fuel crisis? Have not increased taxation, increased red tape and increased burdens on business—all of which were introduced by Labour in Scotland—left the aviation industry less well placed to face a world economic downturn?

Mrs. Liddell

On confidence in the airline sector, in September 2001 BAA released figures on airport usage in Scotland. Compared with the previous year, passenger numbers through Edinburgh have risen by 13.4 per cent., through Glasgow by 6.9 per cent., through Aberdeen by 0.5 per cent. and through Prestwick by a massive 37.9 per cent., so there is still confidence in the airline sector.

On confidence in the economy overall, we are now seeing the sense of the measures taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997 to introduce stability to the economy and move away from the boom and bust of 18 years of Tory rule. It has never been more important for us to have stability in our economy, as a result of which unemployment in Scotland is at its lowest for 40 years and we have historically low interest rates. There are more people in employment than there have been since the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) and I were at Strathclyde university.