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Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does the Minister agree that one of the reasons for the phenomenal growth in the number of air passengers in the past 10 years has been the real-terms decrease in air fares? Will he be vigilant against excessive consolidation in Europe, which might result in competition becoming less intense than it has been in recent years and the fall in air fares being reversed? A real-terms increase in fares would be an additional deterrent to air travel.
Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that air travel costs have fallen in real terms. It is also true that people have more money in their pockets: our economy and, by and large, the economies of other European
The UK has a wide range of quality airlines, including a very successful no-frills sector. That is underpinned by some of the most successful airports in the world: Heathrow serves more international passengers than any other airport in the world, with Gatwick sixth on that list. It is impressive to note that travellers to and from the UK account for 25 per cent. of all international air travellers. We want that success story to continue. Some will say that in the current circumstances, it is all a question of survival, not expansion, and that might be true in the short term, but I am confident that the industry is resilient enough to secure future growth.
The Government remain committed to addressing the long-term future of UK aviation. We have a manifesto commitment to publish a new White Paper next year: in it, we intend to set out our plans on aviation and airports for 30 years ahead, and that work continues with energy. Over a 30-year period there are bound to be severe shocks to the industrythe past 30 years has seen its share of such shocks, whether as a result of terrorist action or of increases in the price of oil, but, despite that, world aviation has grown continuously during that period, with declines proving to be but temporary.
Governments around the world will be doing their best to ensure that any pause in economic growth is as small and as short as possible. Our long-term forecasts are based on trends driven largely by growth in national and world GDP, and we are confident that demand for air travel will eventually come back into line with long-term forecasts. Our aim therefore remains to produce a White Paper that provides a framework for the sustainable development of aviation and airports in the UK. It will attempt to balance the social, environmental and economic impacts of the industry while remaining consistent with the principles of sustainable development.
The UK has long been a world leader in aviation, and despite the current difficulties it will remain so. The prognosis for UK aviation is very encouraging, albeit that the current economic difficulties may have wrought permanent changes in the industry. I look to the future with confidence and foresee a stronger European aviation industry, with the UK maintaining its vanguard position.
I am pleased to have been able to set the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington in a broader context tonight. The Government understand the special difficulties facing his constituency; we understand, too, that trade unions and others will be concerned about job losses in the area. However, I assure him that the Government are doing everything we can in difficult and somewhat unpredictable circumstances to ensure that the problems do not last long, and that the situation does not become permanent. I hope that we will in future be able to have a debate in which we can agree that the fortunes of the people in his constituency and of Heathrow have risen as we expect them to.