New Clause 3 - Obligation to operate an air transport service serving a specified route

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 13th March 2012.

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Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:45 pm, 13th March 2012

The hon. Gentleman raises the example of Silverjet in my constituency. Of course, Silverjet was a business that fell over, which was sad because it offered an extremely good service. What happened was pretty marginal. The timing and the fall-off of the UK economy at that point meant that it was not able to secure a proper business jet service to the States. The new clause would not constrain businesses that were put into bankruptcy or were in financial difficulty in that sense; it would only require consultation before services were withdrawn.

For example, with regard to the UK’s railways, two successive companies running the east coast line have fallen over at different points, despite the stringent requirements that we place on train operating company franchising—sometimes to the detriment of smaller companies, which cannot get in. There is a question to be asked about that process, but I will not digress.

The behaviour of a train operating company in one region, if it chooses to pull out, should have a knock-on effect on other routes being advertised or awarded. Again, this probing new clause is intended to make the point that the behaviour of an airline before it is granted a new route or new slot should be taken into account. In that way, we hope that a more responsible approach from a number of airlines could be sought.

It was clear, in the case of the east coast line, that the business practice in question was not only unhelpful but disingenuous. Subsequently, it was sorted out in the courts over a number of years that bmibaby did not behave in the way that it should have done in upholding the agreement that it rightly made. However, should that have a knock-on effect on the other routes that it hopes to reach a settlement on and is hoping to fly?

In that context, the new clause makes good sense. It raises important issues and calls for thriving aviation in the UK, which we acknowledge, and it offers something  in return as well. Much of this good Bill would resettle the UK’s aviation regulation for the next 20 or 30 years, say. Looking back at the last 20 or 30 years, we see the big shift that has happened with low-cost carriers and people wanting to be more mobile in respect of where planes and stands are sited. The new clause goes a long way towards correcting the situation, so that we can have a successful, thriving aviation sector in the next 20 or 30 years as well.