§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]9.30 am
§ Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)
It is a matter of great sorrow, following the tragic loss of life in the air crash in Germany, that we should be debating aviation this morning. I am sure that we all deeply sympathise with the victims and their families.
Today's debate is about the role of the Scotland Office in promoting air services to and from Scotland. It should allow a meaningful exchange of views on a matter of great importance to the Scottish economy and to Scotland's future well-being. Furthermore, it comes at an appropriate time, as we await publication of the Government's consultation document, which I hope will set out options for the long-term development of Scotland's airports and, as a consequence, have a substantial effect on what services there will be and from where they will operate.
I welcome our new Minister to her first Adjournment debate and I look forward to her reply to the points that will be raised, although I realise that the imminent publication of the consultation document means that her comments may be somewhat limited.
I intend to concentrate on the three central Scotland airports. In alphabetical order, not in order of importance, they are Edinburgh, Glasgow and Prestwick. I also intend to consider where we are today, what may happen in the short term and what I believe should happen for the long-term benefit of Scotland as a whole. If we were to start again with a clean sheet, I have no doubt that there would be only one airport, not three, and that it would be located between Edinburgh and Glasgow, where it would be adjacent to the motorways and the main line railway links—but more about that later.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scotland Office (Mrs. Anne McGuire)
Why not have it at Stirling?
§ Mr. Marshall
Well, why not have that airport at Stirling? The existing provision may serve local needs quite well, but does it do the nation a service or a disservice? Prestwick airport exists for historical and outdated technological reasons. Edinburgh and Glasgow, however, are there for reasons of municipal rivalry, parochialism and civic pride. There is nothing wrong with that.
§ Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)
It may surprise my hon. Friend to know that I am quite happy with Glasgow airport being where it is, but I remind him that it is in Glasgow in name only. It is sited at Paisley.
§ Mr. Marshall
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that correction. I remember when it was called Abbotsinch, but she may not, as she is younger than me.
We assume that those three airports are all competing with each other, but are they? If so, are they competing on a level playing field? In the 1979–83 Parliament, I served on the Scottish Affairs Committee, which in 1981–82 investigated the future of Prestwick airport. The inquiry's main recommendations were that high-speed railway links and motorways should be constructed between Prestwick and Glasgow, but the Government of the day chose to do nothing and Prestwick went into rapid decline.
In 1988–89, I was Chairman of the Transport Committee when it conducted an inquiry into air traffic control safety and runway capacity in the United Kingdom. One of the Committee's many recommendations, which I pushed strongly, was that transatlantic gateway status be extended to airports such as Birmingham and Glasgow. I campaigned for that with Alan Stewart, the then Member for Eastwood—happily, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) now holds the seat—and Glasgow achieved gateway status.
I became involved in that campaign because I sincerely believed that the airline that operated transatlantic services from Prestwick was on the verge of moving to Manchester, which was marketing itself aggressively as Scotland's gateway, as was Amsterdam's Schipol airport. Twelve years later, a similar situation is looming for transatlantic services from Glasgow. The transfer of transatlantic services to Glasagow was a blow to Prestwick, but it fought back well, although to be fair, BAA handed over more than £1 million of assets for a pittance when it sold the airport. Substantial sums of additional public money were invested in Prestwick, and I am sure that some of that money became part of the large profit that investors made when Prestwick was resold.
I am pleased to note that, at 36 per cent., Prestwick's growth last year was the largest of any regional airport, but it was from a low base. The trick is to sustain that growth, but that will be much more difficult this year and in future years.
Yet again, we are seeing an industry drift from west to east. In the tobacco, sugar and aviation industries, the emphasis has moved from trade with the Americas to trade with Europe, and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh has added to that trend. The west of Scotland needs compensatory action if the east-west divide is not to worsen and people are not to move east en masse in search of employment. Edinburgh could well become the London of Scotland.
When the British Airports Authority—now BAA plc—was privatised in the 1980s, I joined a delegation of Labour Members who went to see the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Lord Young. We argued that BAA should be privatised en bloc, and that Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Prestwick should all remain part of BAA. I now believe that that was a great mistake, because we simply exchanged a public monopoly for a private one.
3WH It has been alleged, and denied, that BAA is pro or anti one or another airport.
§ Mrs. Adams
I am sorry to keep intervening, but is my hon. Friend aware that Prestwick is no longer part of BAA?
§ Mr. Marshall
I am sure that my hon. Friend heard me say that Prestwick has been sold and resold, and that BAA gave it away with more than £1 million of assets, so I am well aware of the position.
It has been alleged, and denied, that BAA is either pro or anti one or another of the airports in its ownership. It is possible to argue that BAA—perhaps in conjunction with some of the airlines—could control and manipulate the competition and where services at its six airports fly to or from. Has the Scotland Office considered the matter, and should it be referred to the Competition Commission? Would it be better for Edinburgh and Glasgow airports to have different owners?
Edinburgh airport has rapidly and substantially increased its passenger traffic over the past few years to approximately 6.3 million, although it is open to question whether that happened naturally or as a result of manipulation. In a short time, Edinburgh will probably overtake Glasgow's 7.3 million passengers to become Scotland's No. 1 airport. Some may say that that is fair enough, but where will that leave Glasgow and the west of Scotland?
The Minister is well aware of Glasgow airport's importance to the economy of the west of Scotland, and more than 5,000 jobs depend on it. Is she also aware of serious concerns that Glasgow is about to be downgraded, and transatlantic services moved to Edinburgh? There are fears that a second runway and a rail link will soon be announced for Edinburgh, while there will be nothing for Glasgow. Is she aware of concerns that more business class passengers will be encouraged, persuaded or forced to use Edinburgh, and that all European scheduled services will operate from that city, with only domestic feeder and charter flights from Glasgow?
The lessons of Prestwick's demise in the 1980s have not been learned, and we have delayed for years the completion of the M74 in my constituency. That project will relieve the pressure on the Kingston bridge and some gridlock in Glasgow. It will also allow much faster and better access to the airport, although it will be some years before it is completed. The Scottish Executive's decision to complete it is welcome, however.
We still have no decision on the airport rail link from Glasgow city centre. Strathclyde passenger transport authority has waged an excellent campaign in support of the link, and we must end the uncertainty as soon as possible. Has the Scotland Office discussed the issue with the Scottish Executive, who are responsible for making the decision? When do the Scottish Executive hope to make an announcement about their decision? Will the Minister seek a guarantee that Glasgow will not be downgraded and sacrificed for Edinburgh's benefit?
Will the Minister also consider the assessments that are being made of future trends in aviation, such as the possible construction of 600-seater aircraft? Will such 4WH planes, if they are ever built, be able to use Edinburgh and Glasgow airports? What terminal facilities will be needed to cope with a fleet of them, and how will they ever be filled with passengers from Scotland? Will such planes operate only from Manchester, London and the big European airports, relegating Scottish airports to providing only feeder services?
The substantial add-on costs of charter flights south from Scotland are a sore point with most Scots who go on holiday by air and yet another example of how consumers are ripped off in the UK. As far as I am aware, there is no corresponding reduction for Scots on the cost of charter flights going north, whether they originate in England or in Scotland. It is a case of win-win for the operators. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy), in conjunction with the Daily Record,has waged a vigorous campaign to have action taken on the matter. Will the Minister raise the subject with her ministerial colleagues?
When the Minister does that, will she consider the high cost of business-class fares on Anglo-Scottish services, which must be a disincentive to business and jobs? Why should such fares cost approximately the same as some transatlantic flights? Where is the price competition between airlines in business-class fares? They all seem to charge the same. It is probably a coincidence, but those of us who do not believe in coincidences think otherwise.
There have been numerous suggestions and some attempts to make a success of air cargo operations, but again we have the problems of inadequate road and rail links and the lack of air services to further forwarding destinations, which prevent them from being a great success. Will the Minister say whether cargo will be included in the consultation document?
We could not have a full debate without referring to low-cost carriers, which are a mixed blessing. There is no doubt that the increased competition has forced some airlines to lower costs, but, again, is the competition on a level playing field? Do some airports not offer low-cost carriers substantially reduced landing fees, or even none at all? Surely there may be a case for charging identical landing charges for identical aircraft, or identical per-head landing charges throughout the United Kingdom.
I am also concerned at the misleading advertisements and hidden costs for passengers on some routes operated by low-cost carriers. It must come as quite a shock to many passengers to find that the airport at which they land is 25, 40 or even 60 miles from their destination—substantial additional expense and time are necessary before they get to where they want to be. Such information and costs should be made clear to prospective passengers before they book their tickets.
§ Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)
The growth in low-cost operators suggests that people are willing to accept a somewhat inconvenient destination if they get the price that they want to pay. Surely the issue is competition.
§ Mr. Marshall
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but people who feel conned have complained to me. A classic example is a friend of a friend who went from London to what they thought was Glasgow airport. Instead, they arrived at Prestwick, 5WH took a taxi and asked for the city centre only to find that taxis cost £40 each way. Many passengers who use low-cost airlines do not appreciate the additional costs that could be involved until it is too late. That is why it is a good idea that they be provided with such information before they book their tickets.
So far as I am aware, none of the low-cost carriers has much of an operating base in Scotland. We could have a case of here today, gone tomorrow, and that has already happened to some carriers. We do not know how long term the low-cost carriers are—they operate on extremely low overheads and hire space, and they do not have the overheads of regular scheduled multinational carriers. Time will tell who wins the battle between the types of carrier.
§ Angus Robertson (Moray)
Bearing it in mind that Ryanair now has a higher market capitalisation than British Airways, will the hon. Gentleman concede that its long-term prospects are probably not bad?
§ Mr. Marshall
We have seen a lot of allegedly global giant companies descend to the ashes as quickly as they rose. Who can tell what will happen? Some were of much greater value than the company that the hon. Gentleman refers to.
What efforts has the Scotland Office made to establish any maintenance and repair organisations or call-centre activities for low-cost airlines in Scotland? Has any assessment been made as to whether low-cost operations result in a net loss of inward investment? That is an important point. Do the carriers not take many more people out of Scotland, and bring them back, than they bring to Scotland from other destinations? The figure could be two or three times as many. People who might otherwise spend their money in the Scottish economy spend it abroad, because they are encouraged to take the low-cost fares.
Is it just a coincidence or is the increase in low-cost air travel linked to a substantial reduction in the number of tourists spending their holidays and their money in Scotland? Our tourist industry must draw up a strategy to combat that. Will the Minister say whether any studies have been carried out on that point? I believe that low-cost carriers' operations are causing a drain of money from Scotland, and I want people to spend their money in the beautiful parts of Scotland rather than on travelling to other European countries. I make no apologies for making that point.
I compliment my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for participating in the post-11 September aviation summit in Edinburgh with 14 different airlines. Will the Minister say what discussions took place with a view to encouraging more direct international flights to and from Scotland? A common complaint from airlines is that they cannot get business passengers to travel directly from Scotland, because most want to travel via London. Have any surveys been carried out to discover why that is so? Why go through a busy, overcrowded airport such as Heathrow when one can travel from Glasgow or Edinburgh? If no surveys have been carried out, will the Scotland Office consider whether one should be?
I must raise two important issues with the Minister. First, bilateral UK-US agreements, or the Bermuda 2 talks, as they are known, are important and they could 6WH affect services to and from Scotland. Has the Scotland Office been involved in those talks at any stage? As the Minister is aware, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice has issued an opinion that such bilateral agreements are likely to be illegal. It is expected that the court will uphold that opinion later this year and that the European Union will then be involved in the process. Will the Scotland Office have an input to any such EU discussions?
Secondly, EU enlargement will cause eastern Europe—the east again—to open up, especially as a tourist destination. Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt and Schiphol airports may overtake Heathrow as destinations for Americans, with a consequential loss of tourists to Scotland. Will that be taken into account in future plans and policies?
Finally, as a Glasgow MP, I have been parochial and argued Glasgow's case. Having done so on the basis of having to work with what is, I would argue that to accept the long-term economic consequences of the existing situation is to sell Scotland short. I accept that we are a relatively small nation with a small population and that, as such, we will never be able to sustain a large airline hub, meaning an airport with hundreds of onward connections—
§ Mr. Marshall
The hon. Gentleman could also cite Schiphol. Copenhagen is certainly doing very well. None the less, if we genuinely have Scotland's interests at heart, we should seriously consider investing no more in the status quo than is necessary to keep up standards in the short term.
The three existing airports could eventually fill a number of niche markets, enabling them to survive for a considerable time. Instead of continuing as at present, we should draw up a long-term airports plan for the rest of the century, encompassing Scotland's employment, export market, inward investment and tourism needs, and anything else that is relevant.
We should bite the bullet and go for a brand new central Scotland airport, located between Edinburgh and Glasgow and adjacent to motorway and rail links. Such an airport, according to present-day figures, could have 15 million passengers a year—the combined total for all three existing airports. If we allow for growth in air travel and new businesses as a result of having such an airport, by the time it is built it could have 20 million passengers a year. That would make a tremendous economic difference to our country, safeguarding existing aviation jobs that otherwise may wither away and creating many new ones. If such an airport should ever be built, please let the state operate and benefit from the car parks—they are licences to make money, with next to no liability to the customer.
I am grateful for the good attendance and interest in the debate, and I look forward to the other contributions.
§ Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)
I commend the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) for his good judgment and good fortune 7WH in securing the debate. The subject is an important one, and it is ripe for discussion as the consultation gets under way.
Scotland faces challenges, because it is peripheral to the United Kingdom and to Europe, which makes air travel all the more appropriate for discussion. The world is becoming smaller and air travel is growing accordingly; passenger traffic throughout the United Kingdom is increasing annually by 5 per cent., with freight traffic growing at 7 per cent. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on freight traffic, which is often neglected in discussions on air travel. Freight provides a significant opportunity for Scotland, as we have learned from the experience of Prestwick.
This is a new era for air traffic. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has what he calls a parochial interest in Glasgow, but given that the city has two airports—Glasgow Prestwick and Glasgow Abbotsinch—some of his comments could have been better balanced. He would have done better to reflect the market as it is today, because air travel is fuelled by marketing demand, whereas a few years ago it was fuelled by manipulating supply.
No-frills operators are making air travel ever more accessible to people who, 10 years ago, would not have thought it to be in their reach. I commend those operators for their part in that. Some may question how substantial those companies are, but I would say that they are substantial, given the market capitalisation of Ryanair and the growth of easyJet. We may compare that with the relative instability of some major air traffic operators in the United Kingdom—British Airways' share price is not what it was a few years ago, for example.
There is more outgoing air traffic than incoming air traffic through those no-frills airlines, but that is a commercial matter. It is up to companies to make the most of the market opportunity, and they seem to be among the most dynamic, flexible and innovative operators in the travel industry. However, every time I arrive at airports in Glasgow, it strikes me that we do not make enough of arriving passengers. For example, there is little marketing for people who arrive at Prestwick who happen to have got on the plane at Frankfurt because the flight is cheap. When they arrive, they could be anywhere, but there is no marketing of the gem that is Galloway, which is only an hour's drive away, and only limited marketing of the fantastic golf courses within 10 miles of Prestwick. We do not make the most of the potential for incoming air travellers.
I must address accessibility. Air travel has become more accessible to a vast proportion of the population, but that should be matched by airport accessibility. That is a major lesson that Prestwick can teach other Scottish airports. Its rail-air link was opened in 1994 at a cost of £2.3 million, of which £1 million was given as Government support. That came about as a result of imaginative marketing by the Strathclyde passenger transport executive and ScotRail. An incredible 30 per cent. of those who arrive at or depart from Glasgow Prestwick do so by rail.
That is a significant lesson that other airports in Glasgow and Edinburgh could learn. Putting party politics to one side and irrespective of the history of the 8WH past 30 years, is it not a tragedy that Scotland's two major airports do not have a direct rail link? Whatever the rights and wrongs of that situation, it is a missed opportunity. As the statistics from Prestwick show, many people can be tempted into using public transport.
I was delighted to meet people from SPTE in Perth at one of the many packed fringe events at our Scottish party conference and delighted to hear of the executive's plans and of the excellent marketing of its proposals for the Glasgow rail-air link. I travelled on the sleeper last night, having left my car at Glasgow airport, as one has to take a bus to get from Glasgow airport to the city centre.
§ Mrs. Adams: Did not a certain Mr. Beeching close some links to the airports that might have been used?
§ Mr. Duncan
The hon. Lady's petty party politics never cease to amaze me, or to disappoint me at moments when we could rise above such argument. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston is correct: whatever the rights and wrongs, and however it has happened, we have reached a stage at which two of Scotland's major airports do not have direct rail-air links. That is a matter of considerable regret.
I should like to consider the part that the Scotland Office can play in adding to Scotland's infrastructure. Air travel is a matter not only for the central belt—it is of significant interest to the peripheral areas of Scotland, but by no means do I say that pejoratively. My constituency is an example, as it is in one of the parts of Scotland that is least accessible by air. Of all hon. Members present, I have one of the longest commutes, even though I do not travel as far north as some.
Although my constituency is an inaccessible corner, we have a significant air asset in our Ministry of Defence airfield. There have been proposals over many years to develop it for civilian air traffic, and those for another airstrip between Perth and Stirling are under consideration. We must soon reach the stage at which the procedure for opening up civilian airfields and MOD airstrips becomes much more straightforward—the rewards for doing so are much more significant.
I am one of the greatest supporters of the MOD, which serves us fantastically well, but it is sitting on a huge resource of airfields, airstrips and structural assets around the UK that could be used for commercial gain and to the great benefit of Scotland's peripheral communities. I urge the Scotland Office to consider carefully how it can work with the MOD to that end. Something is preventing operators from unlocking the potential as easily as they might, and the Scotland Office can help them to do so.
I hope that some productive long-term planning emerges from the consultation, but if air travel changes as much in the next 20 years as it has in the past 10, any planning must be done carefully.
§ Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)
First, I apologise for the fact that I have to leave early, having Chairman's duties in another part of the House. However, I look forward to reading colleagues' contributions and the Minister's reply.
9WH I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on having secured the debate. He has always taken a keen interest in all transport matters and has a great knowledge of them. I add my sympathies to his for the overnight air crash. However, I cannot entirely agree with some of his comments, particularly those about one large airport for central Scotland. One of the joys of landing at and leaving from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Prestwick is the fact that there is not the hustle and bustle of Heathrow or Gatwick. That is a great attraction of Scottish airports.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne), who has played a great part in keeping Prestwick airport open. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston, I think that there is a place for Prestwick and Glasgow airports in the west of Scotland. I recently travelled from Prestwick, and it was a relaxing experience. The airport is quiet, and the flight departed and landed on time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr has played a great part in assisting that airport, but given that Glasgow international airport is entirely within the constituency of Paisley, North, and is arguably the biggest employer in my constituency, I hope that I will be forgiven if I confine my comments to that airport.
I cannot over-emphasise the importance of Glasgow airport to me and to the area that I am fortunate to represent. As I am in fairly regular contact with BAA management and workers' representatives at Glasgow airport, I have been taken aback by recent suggestions, albeit from an apparently anonymous source, that Glasgow airport is in decline. Reports of its decline are not only greatly exaggerated, but completely unfounded.
By way of background information, it might be helpful for hon. Members to know that, during the 1980s and early 1990s, the Paisley post code area lost more than 90 per cent. of its manufacturing jobs. Paisley was a mill town, where some 10,000 women were employed in the manufacture of thread. At the beginning of the 1980s, the mills closed and the jobs virtually disappeared overnight, taking with them the small to medium-sized light engineering factories that served the mills. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of what almost became death by a thousand cuts as, over the ensuing decade, we lost the heavy engineering jobs that had, in some cases, been part of that constituency not only for decades, but for centuries. Some 7,000 jobs were lost at Babcock in Renfrew and 10,000 at Rolls-Royce in Hillington. All in all, by the mid-1990s, the Paisley area had lost 30,000 manufacturing jobs, which sent unemployment there to a high of 16.9 per cent., with pockets of 40 per cent. male unemployment.
During those dark days, we had a lifeline in Glasgow airport. In the early 1960s, it became apparent that Renfrew airport, which was also in the Paisley, North constituency, would no longer be able to cope with the growth in air traffic. As that site did not prove suitable for expansion, the move was made some three miles west to what was then the royal naval airbase HMS Sanderling at Abbotsinch in Paisley—incidentally, about half a mile from where I was born.
10WH First, Glasgow airport emerged, and I could not know then how much time I would spend going through that airport. By the early 1990s, some 4 million passengers a year were passing through it. Today, that figure has risen to 7.3 million. In the year to May 2002, there was a 5.7 per cent. growth in traffic, and in May 2002 alone, the figure was 11 per cent. That is hardly the sign of an airport in decline. In fact, those figures come when there is a UK downturn in passenger traffic. Glasgow is outperforming England's key airports.
§ John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the loss or downgrading of such an airport would decimate not only her constituency, but the whole Greater Glasgow area?
§ Mrs. Adams
I do indeed agree with that, but given the figures that I have just quoted and what I am about to say, I do not think that it will happen.
§ Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)
I sympathise with the hon. Lady's comments because I, too, was born close to what is now Paisley airport. I am aware, however, from flying up and down from London City airport, that the Glasgow service has been withdrawn. Given her comments about how busy Heathrow and Gatwick are, with which I completely agree, I wonder how often she and her colleagues from the west coast travelled through London City airport.
§ Mrs. Adams
Indeed, I did travel through London City airport, and many of my colleagues joined me on those flights. Unfortunately, it is true that business flights to Glasgow are not as frequent as those to Edinburgh. Business accounts for some 80 per cent. of Edinburgh's traffic, whereas the figure is only 50 per cent. for Glasgow. The excuse given is that there are not enough daily travellers on such flights. Even if my colleagues travelled all or most of the time by air, flights on Monday afternoons and Thursday evenings would not be enough to maintain a link to Glasgow.
Regional airports such as Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle are being out-performed by Glasgow. I should like to thank everyone concerned with the operation in Glasgow, from BAA management to ancillary staff; they deserve a huge pat on the back for a job well done. In the past year, they have literally flown in the face of adversity, and won. I firmly believe that BAA has shown its commitment to Glasgow airport by investing some £200 million since 1990, and only two weeks ago, at a cost of £9 million, it opened a new car park, which arrives ahead of demand and shows great confidence in a secure future for the airport.
Glasgow is Scotland's biggest and busiest airport, with in excess of 200 flights every day to and from 80 destinations. It is Scotland's No. 1 charter airport with flights throughout the year. It is the only airport in Scotland to have direct transatlantic flights from Continental Airways, American Airlines and Air Canada; Icelandair has flights to the United States with a stop-over in Reykjavik. At the budget end of the market, 50 no-frills flights operate out of Glasgow daily. The Secretary of State has taken great interest in air traffic and has worked hard to attract direct flights into Glasgow and the rest of Scotland's airports.
11WH The greatest boost to Glasgow airport will be the completion of the M74 motorway. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston that one of the biggest blights on Glasgow's horizon is the difficulty in getting through the city and over the Kingston bridge at peak hours. That has proved detrimental to Glasgow, so the completion of the road link will improve figures for the city.
The Government have supported airports and businesses in Scotland and employment for my constituents. The grim figure that I spoke of earlier has, I am glad to say, fallen to less than 4 per cent. My firm belief is that Glasgow airport is flourishing. Information, or misinformation, from anonymous sources must be consigned to the dustbin lest it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is always a danger. As long as we stick to the facts, the only way for air traffic in Glasgow to go is up.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton)
The winding-up speeches will begin at 10.30 am. Three hon. Members still wish to speak and, if they keep their remarks to about seven minutes, they will all have time.
§ 10.8 am
§ Angus Robertson (Moray)
I begin by commending the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) for securing the debate, and I associate myself with his comments about the tragedy in Öberlingen. I also welcome the Minister to this, her first Adjournment debate in her new role. I wish her success.
It is clear to all observers that aviation is vital to Scotland. For a nation that is geographically distant from many of its markets, and which contains numerous communities that are distant and isolated from the country's social and economic centres, affordable and accessible air links are a necessity, not a luxury. Aviation is not a luxury for the rich but vital both domestically and internationally. It is the external method by which we can make our country easily and cheaply accessible to visiting tourists.
I shall give examples of conversations that I have recently had with travellers who share the regular flight that I take from Inverness airport to Gatwick. Other Members from the north of Scotland will be aware of such comments, which are oft repeated. One conversation that I had was with a regular business traveller who works in the fabrication industry. He is one of the many who, no longer able to work in fabrication in the north of Scotland, have to commute as far as Sakhalin island on the east coast of the Russian Federation. The frequency of flights from Inverness—and, I suspect, from other airports in Scotland—is not everything that he, or his many colleagues who take regular business flights, would wish.
A second group of travellers that I meet regularly in the lounge at Inverness airport is service men and women, thousands of whom serve in my constituency of Moray at RAF Lossiemouth or RAF Kinloss. The overwhelming majority come from England, and many need, in urgent circumstances, to fly down to be with family members. I mention that because some Members might be unaware of how much it costs to fly from 12WH Inverness to London. I checked this morning with the travel office how much my flight will cost this evening, as I have to return on urgent constituency business. A return flight costs £379. A return flight to New York with British Airways, the same airline, is £248. It is cheaper to fly to New York than to fly from one city in the UK to another.
Another example of the experience of someone in the north of Scotland is that of a local hotelier. He is very proactive, flying to the United States and other markets to try to bring people to Scotland. He quite rightly complains that the lack of direct international flights to the majority of our airports is a disincentive to tourists who would like to come and enjoy what Scotland has to offer. Those are the complaints of ordinary business people, travellers and people involved in tourism. They are not the complaints of one political party or another.
I should like to associate myself with the comments made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston on the monopoly status of the main airports in Scotland. That is an issue because 85 per cent. of flights within the UK go through BAA airports, and 87 per cent. of flights within Scotland go through BAA airports there. There is clearly an incentive for BAA, in conjunction with the airlines, to route flights through the major London airports. That is a disincentive to establishing direct flights to and from Scottish airports, which means that many people coming to our country or leaving it, for whatever reason, have to be funnelled through airports in and around London. That cannot be a good thing.
Other small countries do not find themselves in that situation. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we might never be able to compete with some other airports. I am not sure why we cannot compete, for example, with Denmark—an independent country with 5 million people, peripheral to the European continent, with a vastly larger choice of air links. Similarly, Finland, also a small independent country of 5 million people on the periphery of northern Europe, seems to do far better than Scotland. BAA has a budget of £12 million for route development at the moment. How will that help to attract people to Scotland, compared with the £3.8 billion investment that we are likely to see at Heathrow 5? The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to highlight the monopoly. It must be looked at. We need to examine imaginatively the idea of a route development fund for marketing.
I have a number of specific issues to raise. One, concerning the flight from Inverness to Gatwick and the application for a public service obligation, is particularly important to the north of Scotland. The application for a PSO was made last autumn. It has cross-party support and the support of the overwhelming majority of public bodies in the north of Scotland. Members representing all parties and I have repeatedly asked for information about when the announcement will be made. I note with interest that there is no mention of the PSO on the Scotland Office website. Will the Minister tell us in her winding-up speech when the announcement will be made, whether there have been objections from British Airways and the BAA to a PSO and what response the Government are making?
I should be interested to hear the Minister talk about the proposal that the Ministry of Defence should widen the inquiry by Strike Command into the use of RAF 13WH Kinross as an alternative to Inverness airport if the discussions between Ryanair and Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd. are successful. I wrote to Ryanair and the MOD at the same time, and I am glad that Ryanair was able to write back to me; unfortunately the MOD has been unable to do so. Will the Minister tell me the exact view of the Scotland Office and the MOD on the proposal?
Lastly, the long title of today's debate refers to the role of the Scotland Office, which is a mystery to me because I am unsure what role it plays. We have had no word on the PSO, which is probably the biggest current issue in Scottish aviation, and we have had no confirmation of the situation from the MOD. While we are on the subject of launching reviews and new papers, a press release on 12 December 2000 stated that the Government were to issue a consultation document on UK air services for the next 30 years, which is a subject that we discussed earlier. How many reviews will it take before the issue is taken as seriously as it should be? I should be interested to know what role the Scotland Office plays in aviation in Scotland.
§ John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on securing the debate. I add my condolences to those families who suffered a great loss earlier today.
It will be no surprise that I am going to concentrate on the Glasgow area and the central belt of Scotland. Nearly one quarter of Scotland's population lives in the Greater Glasgow area, and Glasgow is still the main employment area in Scotland. It has been said of Scotland's success, or failure, that if Glasgow fails, Scotland fails.
The world is getting smaller as transportation becomes quicker. A first-class gateway is essential to the future prosperity of not only Glasgow but the whole country. Airports are only as good as their accessibility, and concern has been voiced regularly, especially in the central belt, about accessibility to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. As roads become more congested, transport becomes more important for the continued survival of Scottish airports. Cost, which is the primary factor in choosing an airport, is another area that needs to be looked in relation to attracting passengers.
As my hon. Friend said, the M8 link has become congested particularly around the Kingston bridge, which is now one of the busiest bridges in the world. The M74 extension to the south side of the city was started late and is long overdue. Road access is not, however, the only transport that is needed. We need a rail link from the city centre to the airport not only in Glasgow but in Edinburgh if we are to compete with other main airports in Britain and to promote services in Scotland. There are problems because rivalry between Glasgow city council and Renfrewshire council over where the link should go has clouded the issue. One solution would be to put the councils in a padded room, throw away the key and not let them out until they reach a common-sense compromise.
There is some good news. I want to congratulate Strathclyde passenger transport authority's decision to commit £500,000 to preparatory work for those rail 14WH links, but that must be done in agreement with all those concerned. The controversy surrounding the rail links to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports must be overcome to help both airports to realise their ambitions, which are to be the best in their field. There is room for both airports, and given a level playing field both will continue to grow. To that end, I welcome both the cross-party support and the cross-Parliament support that we are receiving for both airports. I also congratulate the Evening Timesand The Heraldon their help and support for Glasgow airport. They have both done excellent work in informing the public of the present situation and the need for a gateway airport in the west of Scotland, while still supporting Edinburgh in its aspirations for its airport.
I raised with BAA Scottish Airports and BAA plc the problems of pitting Glasgow airport against Edinburgh airport. Although I have been more than satisfied with the reply from Scottish Airports, I am somewhat disappointed by the refusal of BAA plc to speak to the Glasgow group of MPs of which I am secretary. Although I am happy with Scottish Airports' insistence that it supports both airports, I am unhappy that landing costs in Glasgow exceed those in English airports. I have not received a satisfactory answer as to why that is. I can understand why Scottish Airports may not want to answer the question, but the silence from BAA plc is deafening.
On 1 May I asked the Prime Minister whether he would ensure that airport costs were the same throughout the country, and for his assurance that the links to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, which are vital to Scotland's growth, will be started and completed quickly. In his answer, he mentioned the aviation White Paper, which he said would be published shortly, and he went on to say:We are urgently looking at the matter with not just the British Airports Authority, but the Scottish Executive and the Strategic Rail Authority, and I hope that we will have some news to announce shortly."—[Official Report,1 May 2002; Vol. 384, c. 939.]Will the Minister enlighten us as to when the White Paper will be published, and tell me when those announcements will take place?
I sent the letter to the then Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and in his reply he also mentioned the White Paper that was about to be published, and the work with the Scottish Executive and the Scotland Office. However, there was nothing tangible about what was actually being done. Will the Minister tell us what consultation she has had with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Scottish Executive?
I feel that there is a great deal to discuss concerning air services for holidaymakers. Why should holidaymakers in Scotland pay more than those in England? In most cases, the difference in distance to the resort that they are going to is nil or less, so why the extra cost? The holiday firms are ripping off the people of Scotland. Their answer that the market can support the cost is no excuse for ripping people off and taking money from the holidaymakers of Scotland. What incentive is there for people south of the border to come to Glasgow or Edinburgh airports now that millions of pounds have been spent to upgrade transport to both airports if it costs more once they are there? There is no 15WH incentive for people from the north of England, who would probably find it a lot easier to get to Glasgow or Edinburgh than to airports in England.
We need the incentive of an even playing field for the people of Scotland, and not what we have at present. Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world—in my opinion it is the most beautiful. It is certainly the best country in the world, but we need to improve our transport infrastructure to a level that others already have. We only want a fair deal. And if it could be arranged, could we also have some better weather?
§ John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on securing the debate, and the Minister on her new appointment, on what is a sad day for the airline industry.
Today's debate allows us to focus on two important issues: air services in Scotland and the role of the Scotland Office. I disagree with the plan of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston for one central Scotland airport. He did not explain fully whether that would involve the closure or reduction in importance of any of the other airports. With Edinburgh airport in my constituency, I should perhaps declare an interest—it is Scotland's fastest growing airport. In May, the number of passengers passing through Edinburgh soared by 16.2 per cent. to 6.42 million, just behind Glasgow at 7.4 million. In the same year, Heathrow increased its numbers by just 1.4 per cent. In what has been described as the toughest decade for the industry, it has had the toughest year following 11 September.
The Scotland Office could assist in a number of ways to promote air services from Scotland to the rest of the United Kingdom and abroad, and to restore confidence in the industry. It could promote Scotland so that visitors and businesses want to go to Scotland; it could ensure that the good track record of safety at Scottish airports and in the air is not compromised; and it could work with the Scottish Executive to ensure that links exist on the ground when passengers land in Scotland. Visitors to Edinburgh airport who experienced the taxi wars and the shambles of the system that followed did not receive the welcome that a capital city should provide.
Reference has been made to rapid links to city centres. They are vital and we must keep up the pressure to ensure that they are delivered. Whether that is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament or of local authorities, people must work together or there will be a price to pay. That price will be businesses choosing to go elsewhere or falling tourist numbers. Businesses and tourists have a choice. No one is forced to go to Scotland, although it is the most beautiful country and people should want to go to it. However, we must have the necessary links and we must compete and win.
Edinburgh provides an example of the potential close to airports—the Royal Bank of Scotland is considering building its new world headquarters there. It would employ 3,000 people, but the bank is being tempted by offers from elsewhere in the United Kingdom where the 16WH infrastructure is in place and offices are ready. It would be a disaster if Scotland did not see off threats from elsewhere, and the possibility of flying more often and more cheaply to Scotland would encourage others to join the Royal Bank and to succeed in Scotland.
One reason for the relatively good percentage increase in the figures for those flying in and out of Scotland is that we have relatively few transatlantic flights. Because of that, we have avoided the recent downturn, but we are not best placed to benefit from any recovery in international flight numbers. The Secretary of State has done good work to help to promote Scotland abroad. She has flown to Malaysia and to China, and the Advocate-General has flown to Canada, but where did they fly from? Probably the south of England.
Promoting flights from Scotland makes sense in several ways. It is quicker and, therefore, more attractive. It makes no sense to fly to the USA via Schiphol and to fly over Scotland twice. It would be more environmentally friendly, but, as the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) said, it can be cheaper to fly to New York than to Inverness. It would take the pressure off the many over-heated airports in the south, which would be popular around airports that are bursting at the seams and with holidaymakers who must spend as much time on the ground travelling to airports such as Manchester as they do travelling to their two weeks in the sun.
I hope that the Minister comments on the concerns that I and other hon. Members have raised about the £7 security charge levied by many tour companies, as airport baggage handling companies charge about 20p a bag. Is the charge necessary, is it having an effect on the industry and where does the money go?
Reference has been made to surcharges on Scots flying abroad on holiday flights. Low-cost carriers advertise very cheap flights, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston said, but it costs more to get from the train station at Gatwick to central London, for example, than to fly from Edinburgh to Gatwick. That must be more fully explained so that customers are not left in the dark.
In December last year, the Secretary of State hosted an aviation summit in Edinburgh and we look forward to positive results from that. I also look forward to hearing from the Minister exactly what those results are. We have direct links to about 15 countries, and we must push for more. There is a demand for more direct flights in Scotland for tourists and the business sector, and we must compete with those who can provide the flights and quick links at the end of flights. We must compete globally and we must encourage inward investment. There have been some positive moves. BA is heading in the right direction with its discounts on landing charges, and its plans to reduce airport charges and to give marketing support to airlines using Scottish airports. That is welcome, but there has been criticism of landing charges in Scotland.
Another issue, which I understand the Scottish National party is also pursuing, is the cost to the public purse of the tartan day trip to New York. No doubt that visit, which included Members of the Scottish Parliament from all parties, would have cost less had there been more flights from Edinburgh to New York
§ John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)
I begin by echoing the sentiments expressed by many Members about the tragedy that occurred yesterday. I add my condolences to the bereaved.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on securing the debate. It has been stimulating and there has been a remarkable degree of cross-party consensus about the problems, even if there has been divergence as to what should be done about them. We await the forthcoming report, but I hope that the Minister ensures that remarks made in the debate are taken into account.
All transport is vital, particularly for business travel, and transport is the oil that makes the business engine turn, but transport issues are nowhere more important than in the outlying areas of the country. Some hon. Members have been somewhat parochial in their remarks, and I shall be exactly the same. I begin not quite in my constituency, but in Inverness.
It is interesting to note the improvements in the economy of the highlands—and particularly in the Inverness drive-to-work area—that have taken place in the past decade. Those improvements have been hugely facilitated by, and are mirrored in, the number of air passengers coming to Inverness airport. For example, in 1991, 199,000 air travellers came to Inverness, but that figure had risen to 332,000 by 1999. Those numbers mirror the expansion in business as well as the improvements in air links.
As the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) said, there is considerable worry about the frequency and the availability of flights. We went through a period in the mid-1990s when flights were moved from the Inverness-Heathrow link to the Inverness-Gatwick link. There was a tremendous campaign to save the Heathrow link, but it is impossible to say how many more overseas visitors would have come north because of the simplicity of transit through Heathrow had it been maintained. They may have stayed in London and not bothered to come to Inverness, but it is certain that the removal or the substantial reduction of the Gatwick link would have a very negative effect on business and tourism in the highlands and the Inverness area.
In that regard, I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's questions on the public service obligation. It is incredible that the Government cannot secure such a vital link and ensure that it continues at least at the current level. Expansion may come as a result of market forces. On the public service obligation, I should also point out that the links from the islands to central Scotland are vital. The Government should properly consider all such issues.
Nowhere are air links more important than in the tourism industry. The United Kingdom tourism industry delivers about 7 per cent. of gross domestic product and is responsible for approximately 7 per cent. of jobs. The direct spend by overseas visitors only is estimated by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to be about £13 billion. In 2000, there were 17,829,000 overseas visits by air to the United Kingdom.
Tourism is even more important for the highlands, as it accounts for about 20 per cent. of its GDP and about 25 per cent. of jobs. It is an absolutely critical industry and one that has been growing and enjoying 18WH considerable success. Against that, we must balance the fact that 75 per cent. of overseas visitors use Heathrow as their gateway airport. In 2000, all the Scottish airports that have been mentioned received only 2.6 per cent. of overseas visitors, which shows what a mountain that we have to climb.
VisitScotland and the British Tourist Authority have two sales to make when they market the UK to the overseas visitor: they must encourage people to come to the United Kingdom and then, having got here, to come up to Scotland. Therefore, the availability of flights is crucial in helping to drive the future of our tourism industry in Scotland.
In my career in the industry, I have met many visitors to the UK who simply never considered the possibility of visiting Scotland because they wanted to take one flight from America, the far east or Europe, arrive in the UK and then enjoy their holiday. They did not want to go through the difficulty of taking a second flight. For that reason, I was pleased when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston mentioned Prestwick. I had a small part to play in the current ownership of Prestwick airport. In 2000, I took part in a mission to Pierce airport, which is just outside Boston, in conjunction with the people who are now the owners to persuade them to allow an air link to operate from Prestwick to that airport. I hasten to add that I received no financial reward for that, but they did put me up in a very nice hotel.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the three main airports, and I fully understand why he chose Glasgow, Edinburgh and Prestwick. However, if any of my hon. Friends from the Aberdeen area were here, they would want Aberdeen airport to be included, as it provides a growing and important air link with much of Europe. He mentioned how much we are beginning to look east rather than west, and the importance of Aberdeen airport's links with the continent will grow significantly in future years.
I shall now be completely parochial and mention one of the smallest airports in the United Kingdom—Wick, which is in my constituency. Unfortunately, the story at that airport has not been as good as elsewhere. In fact, over the past decade, the number of air passengers at Wick has dropped from some 32,000 to 22,000, not only because of the improvements at Inverness, but because of the many difficulties that Wick continues to face. However, there is a note of success in general aviation at Wick.
We should not forget the possibilities that general aviation offers. Mr. Andrew Bruce, who runs Far North Aviation in Wick, has had tremendous success in persuading people who want to fly to America in small planes to use Wick airport as the starting point for their voyage. As result, there were 600 air movements last year, and, according to him, 60 per cent. of those people stayed in Wick. However, that economic benefit is threatened by the fact that the cross runway, which is vital in our very windy climate, is no longer available to passenger aircraft other than those involved in general aviation, and £1 million is needed to repair it. Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. has provided only £300,000, and I hope that the Minister will bring some weight to bear so that the cross runway can be made available, as that would be a tremendous benefit to Wick.
19WH Finally, I wish to make a rather larger point about integrated transport. Notwithstanding the comments made by other hon. Members, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston makes a valid point in saying that one airport in central Scotland, serviced by an extremely good rail link, is the ideal way forward. Of course, an extremely good rail link is the key. Looking 20, 30 or 40 years into the future, thinking strategically and considering the environmental damage done by air transport, we must reserve it for intercontinental and island-to-mainland flights. The UK mainland needs a good, fast bullet-type train, which is why I question the future of the budget airlines.
The best way to judge a company is not by its market capitalisation, but by its business model, especially if one considers Enron, WorldCom and various others. Given the way that environmental issues are going, I wonder whether the budget airline business model will be sustainable in 10 years. I believe that the people involved are great entrepreneurs, so they will surmount the problem and continue to offer us good value, but it will be a different value in future.
Many issues have been raised, and I hope that the Minister gives answers on some of them. Also, I hope that she takes away the excellent contributions and points that have been made, and sees that the proper authorities in Westminster and Holyrood understand them.
§ Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)
I add my condolences to the families of those who have been affected by the tragic crash in Germany. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on securing the debate. Although it is not the first time that we have crossed swords, I, too, welcome the new Scotland Office Minister to her first Adjournment debate.
I was interested to read the title of the debate in the Order Paper:Role of the Scotland Office in promoting air services to and from Scotland".More than anything else, we have seen a concentration on a plea that goes back at least 40 years. When I worked in the Scottish Office, a major inquiry into the role of an airport in the central belt was defeated largely because of fog. I know that technology has moved on, but I have travelled from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City in the autumn, and on many occasions the flights were cancelled or delayed because of fog in Scotland. Those airports are relatively fog free, although the central belt is still as foggy as ever.
Despite improved technology, with the best will in the world, the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston—that there should be a mega airport in the central belt—would probably not work on a technical basis. I am sorry if I have completely destroyed his argument, but even with global warming we have not seen significant changes in the fogginess of central Scotland.
I am most interested in the role of the Scotland Office. When I first read the title of the debate in the Order Paper, I thought that the hon. Gentleman would talk 20WH about the role of the Scottish Executive, although the role of the Scotland Office is much more intriguing Several contributors have asked questions of the Minister that I sincerely hope receive serious answers Most of us are fairly frustrated when we ask questions of Scotland Office Ministers, because the standard answer is that they have regular meetings with members of the Scottish Executive, the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions or whichever Department is relevant to the subject under debate. We never receive information as to the content of the meetings, what the representations contain and how effective those consultations are. I hope that the Minister, in her first contribution to an Adjournment debate in this role, affords us some enlightenment on the role of the Scotland Office on the issue.
The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) first brought up, thank goodness, the issue of Inverness airport. At present, that airport is entirely subsidised. It is owned by Scottish Executive Ministers and it has put in a bid for a public service obligation order.
§ John Thurso
I believe that Inverness airport itself makes a profit. It is Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. that is subsidised.
§ Mrs. Lait
The hon. Gentleman is right, and I apologise for that error. There is a need for a PSO because of the subsidies, and it is the existence of the subsidies that causes difficulties in negotiations with Ryanair. Having been briefed by the managing director of the company before the negotiations with Ryanair last week, I am glad to see that they are continuing, as that means that opportunities to travel will be afforded to people in the north of Scotland.
I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston said that people should stay in Scotland, implying that they should not take advantage of low-cost airlines and the expansion in air travel that people in the rest of the UK and throughout the world are enjoying. Although. I agree that Scotland is a beautiful country, there should be every opportunity for people to travel, and it would be advantageous to everyone in the north of Scotland to be able to avail themselves of the services of airlines such as Ryanair, so I welcome the fact that negotiations are continuing in Scotland. It would be helpful, however, if the Minister told us what representations she has made, if any, either to the Scottish Executive or to the Department of Trade and Industry, on the whole issue of the PSO and on trying to change the structure of HIAL, so that Ryanair can negotiate a sensible deal with the company.
It would also be useful if the Minister untangled the role of the Scotland Office for us and explained what contribution it will make to the Scottish air transport consultation paper to which hon. Members have referred and which is to be published this summer. How will the feedback from that exercise be fed into the UK air transport White Paper, which I understand is due at the end of the year, and what role will the Scotland Office have in ensuring that the DTI takes the results of that consultation into account? Queries often arise about the role of the Scotland Office, and this is an opportunity for her, in her first Adjournment debate, to enlighten us on the positive role that it could play.
21WH The Minister could also clarify what role the Scotland Office has played in the debate on airport security charges. Apart from the fact that BAA or the security companies are benefiting from the income from all the pairs of nail and needlework scissors that they claim from me every time I go through the security system, it would be enlightening to know what discussions she has had with the DTI on the Scotland Office's role in ensuring that Scottish airports are as competitive as possible.
On BAA's alleged monopoly in Scotland, I understand that BAA spent about £500 million on the infrastructure of Scottish airports, which is more than the profits it gains from them, so it is committed to delivering good services to those who use Scottish airports. Does the Scotland Office have any input to any discussions that the DTI may be having with BAA about any monopoly issues raised by hon. Members?
This is an opportunity for the Minister to enlighten us on the practical work of the Scotland Office in representing the views of people in Scotland to UK Departments. It is also an opportunity for her to enlighten us on the role of the Scotland Office vis-a-vis the Scottish Executive, who have internal responsibilities for transport in Scotland.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston for giving us the opportunity to try to glean further information from the Minister on the role of the Scotland Office, because we are concerned that there is little evidence that it does anything at all.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire)
First, I offer my congratulations on your new honour, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I feel as though I should curtsey, as well as showing you the usual due deference.
I associate myself with the comments made about yesterday's air crash. Those of us who remember Lockerbie feel for the inhabitants of that village in Germany, who did not know what was coming out of the sky. When such things happen, those of us who travel regularly by air say to ourselves, "There but for the grace of God go I.
" I should inform the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) that I have made it my life's mission to enlighten the Conservative party on any subject.
§ Mrs. McGuire
Usually on everything. In a previous existence, the hon. Lady compiled a review on Scottish airports in the fog. I assure her that the fog lifted on 1 May 1997 and that the sky got even brighter on 7 June 2001.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on encouraging us all to be in the Chamber for half-past 9 to discuss this important issue. I congratulate, too, the hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. Remarkable woman though I am, I doubt that I shall be able to answer every question specifically, given that my hon. Friend asked at least 12 and other hon. Members added their tuppence-worth. If hon. Members will allow me to 22WH do a tour of the points that have been raised, I shall deal with anything left over outwith the confines of the debate.
There are areas of agreement and we all agree on the importance of air services, not only to the Scottish economy, but to the United Kingdom economy as a whole. It is hard for us to imagine life without air travel, but I should point out to my hon. Friend that when I first flew out of Abbotsinch airport in 1957 as a wee lassie, I was given a leather helmet and I was told that my parachute was under my seat. Even then, however, I was able to fly from Glasgow to Hamburg. I was fair taken with the idea of being away up a'ky in a plane—I shall translate that later for Hansard.
The 1998 White Papers, "A New Deal for Transport" and "Travel Choices for Scotland" emphasised our intention to develop a strategy for UK airports and air services by looking 30 years into the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) made a point about Beeching. Had we looked 30 years ahead in the 1960s, we might not have suffered such difficulties in our railway system, which we are now forced to review and redevelop.
Our strategy will be set out in a White Paper, which we hope to publish at the turn of the year. In that respect, the hon. Member for Beckenham is correct. The air transport White Paper will consider the effects of aviation, both on passengers and on those whose lives are affected by airports and aviation—the industry provides some 15,000 jobs in the Scottish economy. We must examine the effects of aviation on the economy, the environment and regional economic development, and consider how aviation can integrate with surface modes of transport. That process requires careful in-depth analysis.
In Scotland, the necessary work was undertaken jointly with the Scottish Office and, subsequently, with the Scottish Executive and their own agencies, including the Scotland Office. Discussions are also being held with airports, airlines and other key stakeholders. The intention is to look forward over 30 years as far as possible and to forecast air passenger and freight traffic in a wide range of different growth and policy scenarios. We must examine the infrastructure required to address those demand forecasts and assess the economic, environmental, social and safety implications of doing so. A UK consultation paper was published in December 2000, and its results have been fed into the development process for the White Paper.
As an aside, although the point is relevant, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston mentioned the ownership of Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. Glasgow city council has referred the matter to the Office of Fair Trading, and the Director General of Fair Trading will now deal with it. Furthermore, the consultation documents that are to be published later this year will examine all the issues relevant to the development of Scotland's airports, which obviously include ownership.
I hope that I can assist the hon. Member for Beckenham by saying that the regional consultation documents are the next stage in the process. A series of 23WH documents will shortly be published simultaneously for each of the UK's main nations and regions. That includes a separate Scottish document, which the Government and the Scottish Executive have jointly developed and will jointly publish. I hope that we all agree that that is a sensible approach, given that responsibility for aviation policy and security is a reserved function, while responsibility for planning and economic development is devolved under the Scotland Act 1998.
The consultation documents will examine several issues, including regional access in Scotland and to and from the main international and national hubs, the scope for developing more services from Scotland, how to manage and develop airport capacity and the impact of the growth in air travel on our economy. I can give the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) an assurance that they will also examine opening up military airfields—an issue that the MOD is seriously considering.
The development of air services is too important to leave it solely to the usual suspects—representative bodies and pressure groups—to comment on the issue. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to engage in serious debate on the development of a major economic, social and environmental factor for Scotland. The Scotland Office has been closely involved in the development of the Scottish consultation document and in formulating wider UK policy, and that involvement will carry on into the management of the consultation process. Working jointly with the Scottish Executive and the Department for Transport, we will hold consultation events in Scotland, including full conferences.
Let me deal quickly with direct flights and the Scotland Office's specific role in the issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston and, I am pleased to say, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) noted, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been involved in promoting direct air 24WH services from Scotland. [Interruption.]It is nice to get a compliment from Opposition Members, and I want to pay true tribute to them.
§ Mrs. McGuire
That is a cheap shot.
The period since the tragic events of 11 September in New York and Washington has been difficult for the airline industry, and some companies have undergone a retrenchment, which has obviously affected Scotland. Progress is still being made, however, and we should not underestimate the advances that Scottish air links have made.
Services, including charter services, now fly direct to 33 destinations. On indirect services, I often wonder why people complain about making a single stop, when such things are taken as a natural part of visiting foreign countries and moving around them. Scotland's airports run practical services, with a single stop, to more than 100 destinations in more than 25 countries.
At this point, I should mention the Friends of Scotland initiative, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has promoted. People can fly from Scottish airports to Reykjavik, Toronto, New York, Paris, Copenhagen and Bergen. They can also fly to Brussels-Charleroi from Prestwick, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne) in that regard. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston that more tourists use that route to come to Scotland than to leave it.
In my final 30 seconds or so, I shall deal with one or two other issues. I sometimes think that we talk down the advantages of Scotland. [Interruption.]I will deal with the PSO and the high cost. One of the SNP's great attributes is that it never compares like with like. Had the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) asked the travel office about the cost of a business-class ticket from Scotland to New York, he would have been told that it is £3,900, not £254. That is the figure that he should have compared with the Inverness fare.
There are issues related to Inverness that I do not have time to discuss, but I assure hon. Members that the Government and Scottish Executive Ministers are conferring on the matter as we speak. There are many opportunities out there, and the Scotland Office will continue to work in the Government and with others to ensure that they are seized for the benefit of the whole of Scotland.