Air Discount Scheme

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 1st February 2007.

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Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 11:40 am, 1st February 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will provide an update on the air discount scheme. (S2O-11879)

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

As at 1 January 2007, there were 90,293 members of the air discount scheme in eligible areas of the Highlands and Islands, including 26,653 in the Western Isles, Mr Morrison's constituency.

In total, 14,326 residents have accessed discounts under the scheme, including 5,202 in the Western Isles. A total of 74,133 flights were booked with discounts between May and December 2006.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

As the minister's answer proves, the air discount scheme has been remarkably successful and has benefited many islanders and island businesses. Now that the Scottish Executive has established the principle of, and implemented in practice, a discount scheme that discriminates in favour of island residents, will the minister—as a fellow islander, in common with the First Minister—agree with me that this valuable and eminently sensible principle can and should be applied to ferry travel?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I concur with the member's views on the warm welcome that the air discount scheme has received on the islands. In Islay, which I represent, the scheme has been well received and much used. As I stated at the Islay conference on the future of the islands, we need to go further in looking at improving the affordability of ferry services. Islanders need a greater direct benefit from the £30 million annual subsidy for ferries. The air discount scheme is a model that needs to be examined further in the context of ferry fares.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Chancellor Gordon Brown's latest tax increase came into force today, with another £10 being levied on every passenger who takes a domestic flight. I am concerned that, as well as being an extra burden on those who live in the Highlands and Islands, the extra tax will be a real disincentive to those who might be considering visiting some of the remoter parts of Scotland, many of which are very reliant on tourism. What representations has the Scottish Executive made to the United Kingdom Government on the tax increase? Will the minister assure me that, if it has not already done so, the Executive will fight to oppose the increase and any further increases that raise money for Gordon Brown at the expense of the north of Scotland's tourism sector?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I understand that the tax does not apply to outward flights, but I think that it is rather disappointing that the increase applies to inward flights. That seems to run contrary to the Executive's attempts to improve air transport for islanders. I can assure the member that the Executive makes representation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a wide range of matters, including this one, and will continue to do so.