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 4:30 pm on 13th March 2012.

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Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Labour, Glasgow South 4:30 pm, 13th March 2012

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he has been very consistent in his support for the economic case for Heathrow.

I spoke flippantly about this being some kind of Stalinist plot; at this point it may be wise to mention that the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) has also called for Government action to preserve slots for regional services, and has called for a public service obligation to protect Heathrow flights to and from Durham Tees Valley airport. I will come on to that shortly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South is absolutely right: without expansion of capacity at Heathrow, domestic services and therefore regional economies will suffer, and so it has proved. Colleagues in north-east England, many of whom have added their name to the new clause, have had a similar experience following bmi’s decision to withdraw services between Durham Tees Valley airport and Heathrow. There was no consultation. Surely any Government—particularly a  Government who campaigned against Heathrow expansion on the basis of a commitment to developing and nurturing regional airports—have a duty to intervene to ensure that local economies are not put at risk by the short-sighted commercial decisions of airlines.

The new clause would ensure that there was a mandatory consultation period before any obligation could be put on airlines by the CAA under direction from the Secretary of State. That level of consultation has been sadly lacking whenever airlines such as bmi have unilaterally withdrawn services that are crucial to regional development and regional economies across the country. Those economies are being put at risk by a short-sighted approach to Heathrow expansion. That can be rebalanced, if not completely solved, by allowing the CAA to impose the obligations that I have mentioned on airlines. I look forward to the Minister’s response.