John McDonnell MP
Like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to express my sadness at the loss of Captain Tom Moore and send my condolences to his family.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), who has campaigned so steadily on these issues to protect our environment.
Let me be clear. I welcome the aim of the Bill, which, as it states in the briefing, is:
“to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys.”
Whether the Bill’s further aim of delivering more capacity is compatible with “quieter and cleaner journeys” has yet to be seen and yet to be proved. Assessing the past performance and the current practice of the aviation industry leads us to be extremely sceptical that the continued expansion of capacity will enable the aviation sector to be cleaner and quieter. As we hopefully bring the covid pandemic under control in the coming period, there is obviously an urgent need now to address the next imminent crisis, which is the existential threat of climate change. If the aviation industry is to play its part in tackling climate change, the Government must be equipped with the powers to drive through the necessary changes to aviation practices.
The Bill does take a first step in seeking those powers and I welcome it in that respect. The problem is that it is yet another piecemeal measure without the context of an overarching strategy for aviation to secure an economically and environmentally viable future for the industry. The Government promised they would publish, in 2020, an aviation White Paper, “Aviation 2050”, to spell out their views and plans for the future of aviation. I appreciate and understand why the impact of the covid crisis has delayed the White Paper—I am happy to cut the Government some slack on that one. However, we have also been repeatedly promised, since last March, that the Government would at least come forward with an interim sector strategy that would see the industry through the pandemic and lay the foundations for the future. It is disappointing that that has not been forthcoming. Instead, there has just been a steady drip of unco-ordinated announcements of short-term support schemes.
Apart from this tardy and piecemeal sticking plaster approach, one of the worst elements of the situation is that the Government’s financial support to the aviation companies has been without any conditions about the behaviour of those companies. That has allowed unprincipled companies like Heathrow Airport Ltd in effect to use taxpayers’ money to treat its staff—many of my constituents—like serfs. They have seized on the crisis to impose fire and rehire tactics, cut wages, undermine working conditions and seek to break the unions.
Instead of this Bill, the Government should bring forward a comprehensive strategy that provides the support and direction to the industry to see it through the tough period it faces over the next 12 months, but also a strategy for the long term: setting out the clear objective of creating an environmentally sustainable aviation sector; setting out the parameters in which the industry will have to operate to achieve that; establishing the decision-making, implementation and regulatory structures that will successfully drive the strategy through; and, of course, identifying the policies and the financial support that will be available to secure what we are arguing for, which is a just transition.
The Bill is a fish out of water. It is impossible to discern how it fits into any clear strategy for a viable future for aviation. It leads to even more confusion over who does what, who leads on what and who decides on what. It fails to inspire confidence that it has taken any account of the most recent research and understanding of the social, health and environmental impacts of expanding aviation, especially the impacts of noise and air pollution. Worryingly, as a constituency MP with an airport in my constituency, it appears to sideline even further the role of local authorities and local communities in decision making.
The Bill will go through its Second Reading tonight, but it just provides yet more evidence that the Government’s whole approach to the aviation industry is increasingly turning into a dog’s breakfast. The people who suffer from this self-evident fiasco, which is ongoing, are, regrettably, my constituents and others. Although the Bill will go through, I hope the Government now recognise their responsibility and their promises to bring forward an aviation strategy paper, so we can properly discuss the long-term future of the sector.