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Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hon. Gentleman has touched on the issue of confidence, which is extremely important in encouraging people to travel by air. As we are losing a great deal of transatlantic business, our airlines—among all the European airlines—are particularly badly hit, so does the hon. Gentleman agree that the British and American Governments must do all they can to work together? In that connection, does he endorse the fact that the French have come up with a bilateral agreement with the United States—whereas our Government have still not been able to do so? Does he agree that we should put every possible effort into concluding such a bilateral agreement?

John McDonnell: Those at this morning's meeting argued that there should be a level playing field across Europe and the United States and that those negotiations should continue apace. I believe that Ministers are visiting America this week to hold discussions to enable that to happen.

Several of company and trade union representatives at the meeting made the point that George Bush's Administration has sunk £6 billion of support into the airline operators to ensure that they get through this period. We shall look for some form of assistance—again, on a selective basis and in response to real need—to get through this crisis.

Security and the restoration of confidence were critical to our discussions. There have been continued security lapses at some of our airports, which we do not want to

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highlight too much because, in general, the security is good, but there is still a need to tighten it up. We must be firm with those companies that avoid their responsibilities by allowing unvetted staff to operate air-side and, as was said this morning, by preventing their staff from discussing security problems with the inspectors.

The third issue discussed was support for the communities affected by the aviation crisis, because it was felt that we need to reappraise existing regeneration initiatives to take account of the latest situation. For example, many of the single regeneration budget programmes around Heathrow will end in the next 18 months. Community leaders argued this morning that additional funds are needed to support regeneration initiatives, for example, training, retraining, new enterprise promotion and development in the airport community areas.

The fact that the SRB is running out at a critical time, just as our communities need it, is unfortunate, so there is a need to examine whether additional resources can be provided, possibly through the central pool that the Mayor of London will hold at the end of the SRB period. However, because of competing demands on that central pool, there is an argument that additional resources should come from the Treasury direct to London to help us to tackle the current problems.

The other issue raised in this morning's discussion was the problem that local authorities around Heathrow have in bidding for additional funds under other regeneration schemes. The problem is that with high levels of employment around Heathrow, the local authorities do not necessarily score well in the deprivation indices because unemployment has a great influence on those indices. However, those indices do not take into account the quality of employment, so we may have high levels of employment, but, unfortunately, there are also high levels of low pay. The deprivation indices must be reshaped to ensure that moneys are awarded according to the quality of life of the local people in those communities.

We felt that all those matters should be open to negotiation with central Government to reflect the current crisis. We want the work of the existing agencies, such as the London development agency and the Learning and Skills Council, to be co-ordinated to assist in the short term and to consider the longer-term problems, so that we can rebalance our local economies to avoid overdependence on the airport if a further downturn occurs.

The long-term solutions were the fourth issue discussed. Obviously, there is a strong argument for continued investment in the infrastructure to keep ahead in such a competitive market. Apart from terminal 5, crossrail was also mentioned as one of the key projects needed to keep Heathrow at the forefront of the world's aviation industry. However, all the operators recognised that the airport must be a good neighbour to its surrounding communities and that the environmental impact of such measures should be addressed.

As a result of this morning's discussions, we have agreed that we will convene the task group and aim to submit a briefing paper to Ministers, including those at the Treasury, within weeks. There is a real sense of urgency about the matter. We aim to identify a programme of readily available and implementable measures for the Government. We want to work together

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to get our own communities through the current crisis and to return to the stable economic climate that we have experienced in recent years.

Heathrow is the logistical centre for this country; it is also a logistical centre for Europe and for the world. We must not allow the current crisis to undermine its pre-eminence in that role. On Thursday, the Transport and General Workers Union will lobby the House. Many workers from Heathrow will come here to express their concerns about the threat to their livelihoods. We need to give them a clear view that we appreciate their concerns and will stand by them, so that we can see them through the current crisis.

7.34 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who is my constituency neighbour, not only on obtaining this debate but on managing to ensure, by good fortune, that we have more time than the half an hour normally permitted on many of these occasions, which has allowed other hon. Members to contribute.

My constituency borders Heathrow, and many of the problems that the hon. Gentleman has outlined affect my constituency, especially in the southern half around West Drayton and Yiewsley. However, as he said, such issues do not just affect the aviation industry; there is a huge knock-on effect locally—for example, on the hotels and some of the other service industries in the area. I declare an interest: I am still a director of retail outlet in Uxbridge, so I know that consumer confidence is also affected. A new shopping centre has opened in Uxbridge, and the viability of such developments is also dependent on the confidence of the local economy. I am pleased to report that consumer confidence is holding up in the pre-Christmas rush.

Without repeating too much of what the hon. Gentleman said, there is another knock-on effect. Many of the local organisations connected with the airport—in particular, the British Airports Authority and British Airways—contribute to the local economy by being involved in voluntary schemes, such as the Hillingdon Partnership Trust. When they begin to feel the pinch, there will be a knock-on effect on many of our community projects.

One or two controversial issues have cropped up at the same time as the crisis in the aviation industry. The ruling on night flights will put some hon. Members in a difficult position. Although we advocate help for the aviation industry and want people to have confidence, we are pleased that the ruling might, if the Government take it on board, provide relief for many of our constituents. However, we have to consider the economic effect that that will have on the airlines.

I should also like to echo the comments made about NATS, because those services must be reconsidered in the light of recent events.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to the TGWU's lobby on Thursday this week, and I am pleased to say that it has been very active—I was even accosted at half-term at the excellent match between Uxbridge and Cirencester Town. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) will be delighted to know that that match ended in a three-all draw, with the replay tomorrow. A great deal of local

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concern has been expressed about the impact of all the job losses and their effect on people's perception of the local economy.

As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, we have been very lucky in many respects. We have felt the benefits of the airport, but, as he said, we have put all our eggs in one basket. Now that that basket has been severely rattled, we are very concerned that, as he said so eloquently, when the aviation industry sneezes, we shall end up with pneumonia. That view is widely held in the local area.

Our overarching desire is to try to ensure that our aviation industry has a level playing field, to which the hon. Gentleman also referred. I should also like to congratulate him on convening the meeting that he mentioned and the Minister for Transport for agreeing to be involved with the taskforce. I am sorry that I could not attend this morning because of previous engagements, but I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on acting quickly.

The TGWU is looking for other measures, and I am sure that the Treasury has its own ideas, as, I suspect, has the shadow Treasury team. The TGWU is looking for an immediate freeze on air passenger duty and, particularly, for compensation for the lost four days in the immediate aftermath of 11 September when many flights did not take off. A great deal of money was lost.

The hon. Gentleman referred to security, and I agree that the issue must be considered. There will be additional security costs and the aviation industry and the airlines, in particular, might find them to be what might be described as a burden. Although we all want further security measures to be introduced, they will create extra costs at a time when airlines' income is falling.

The hon. Gentleman and I might slightly disagree about terminal 5. I think that an early statement would restore local confidence in the airline industry. I have strong environmental concerns, but the construction of the terminal might provide opportunities that would benefit the local economy. We have had many discussions on that point in the past, and I accept that we might have to agree to differ on it.

It is not my job or that of anyone in the House to tell businesses how to run their enterprises, but it is interesting to note that some airlines have not suffered the same impact recently. I understand that the transatlantic routes of airlines such as British Airways are a particular problem, but I wonder whether the airlines have been as quick in promoting confidence in air travel as they might have been. Perhaps they could have been a bit more generous in discounting flights in the way that some of the low-cost airlines have done. Those airlines have been quick off the mark and that fact has been reflected in their figures.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about the continuation of the regeneration budgets. Perhaps we could extend the single regeneration budget beyond the next 18 months or we could look to the Mayor of London for help. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, we are constantly told that we are in for a long haul and that might mean that the aviation industry will not emerge from its current problems as quickly as we would like.

The hon. Gentleman referred to crossrail, and we have always accepted the need to be good neighbours. The aviation industry provides jobs even though some of them are low paid. Therefore, if we expect it to be a good

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neighbour to our constituents, it is beholden on our communities to be good neighbours to the industry in times of trouble. Even the people who are not directly affected by job losses in the industry recognise that we need to ensure that the local economy does not suffer the consequences that some of us fear that it might. I therefore urge the Minister to consult his colleagues to ensure that the problems that I have described are tackled urgently.

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