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7.8 pm

Mr. Robin Cook: In responding to the debate, I shall not intrude on the private debate between the nationalists and the Liberal Democrats, however enjoyable it was for the rest of us. I would say to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) that I hope that the Modernisation Committee's report will propose making the departmental Select Committees marginally larger, because that will do much to resolve the problem that the hon. Gentleman identified.

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I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for his support for the terms of the motion. Between us, we have made a modest step towards modernisation this evening and I hope that the future holds many further such steps. He raised the question of whether the Chair of the Liaison Committee should be a Government supporter. For what it is worth, all the precedents support that. Sir Terence Higgins was the Chair of the Committee through two Parliaments when the Conservatives were in office and Lord Sheldon was the Chair in the last Parliament. However, it would be wrong for us to start to weigh up the relative merits of a potential Chair of the Committee by considering whether he or she is a supporter of the Government. The important question is whether we have found a senior Member with an independent cast of mind, and I am confident that that is what the Liaison Committee will look for.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) expressed some concern about the size of the Committee. That seemed rather at tension with his argument that those who were Chairs of Committees in the previous Parliament should also be members in this Parliament. That could increase its membership to more than 50, rather than 30, so I am not persuaded on that count.

If I may just mildly raise an eyebrow, I was a bit upset to be accused of offering a place to a distinguished colleague as a consolation prize. If any offer of a consolation prize was being made, it sounded to me as though it came from the Liberal Democrat Benches, not from this Dispatch Box.

Nevertheless, I take on board the point that on the basis of the present chairmanships of Select Committees—I seek consensus on this—the Liberal Democrats would be left with only one member of the Liaison Committee. It is important that we do not start to think of the Liaison Committee as one of those Committees to which we appoint Members pro rata, by representation in the House. Strictly speaking, the Liberal Democrats would be entitled to four members on that basis, but I would not accept that as a case for changing the composition of the Committee. However, I recognise that to drop from two to one is an unkind thrust when the membership of the House has not changed for the Liberal Democrats. I am keen to maximise support for the motion. Therefore, in a spirit of ensuring the maximum support, I am willing to accept the amendment.

I hope that that will not cause too much distress to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. It is not at any cost to his party, which will continue to retain all the members who were on the Committee at the start of this debate. I hope that on that basis we can all agree to set up the Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, agreed to.


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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With permission, I shall put together the remaining motions.



That Mr. Nigel Jones be discharged from the International Development Committee and Mr. Alistair Carmichael be added to the Committee.—[Mr. John McWilliam, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]

Public Accounts

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Aviation Industry

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kemp.]

7.13 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Because of the nature of this debate and the wide-ranging interest, other hon. Members may wish to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would welcome the exercise of your discretion to enable that to take place because of the scale of the problem that we are dealing with.

Heathrow airport is the national centre of the United Kingdom's aviation industry and is located in my constituency. I have sought the debate to discuss the current crisis in the aviation industry. I do not wish to be alarmist, but I do not use the term "crisis" lightly.

Prior to 11 September, the aviation industry, airport operators and all the associated companies were experiencing a cyclical downturn associated with the overall downturn of the world economy, especially the American market. That was nothing unusual. We have been through downturns before. To use an appropriate expression, we expected a soft landing when the downturn bottomed out, after which the markets would begin to pick up again.

Prior to 11 September, several firms had announced a tightening of their belts and associated voluntary redundancies. Again, it was nothing that we had not experienced before. The aim was to get through the downturn with the least pain possible and to prepare for the upturn in demand, estimated to occur within about 12 months. September 11 and the horrific attack on the World Trade Centre changed all that.

The pre-existing downturn was exacerbated dramatically by the terrorist attack. A predictable fall in demand, the impact of which was generally assessed as lasting 12 months and which was thought manageable, was immediately transformed into a crisis of significant proportions for those working in the aviation industry and for communities heavily dependent on airport operations, including communities in my constituency and others located around Heathrow.

I run through just some of the public announcements that have been made since 11 September by airport operators and the aviation industry which will result in job losses. Since 11 September, British Airways has announced that 5,200 jobs are to go, on top of the 1,800 previously announced due to the economic slow-down. Virgin has recently announced 1,200 redundancies. British Midland, which has a lower exposure to the transatlantic impact, is nevertheless grounding eight aircraft and cutting 600 jobs.

European airlines have been similarly affected. Swissair has filed for bankruptcy. Lufthansa has cut one United States route, grounded four aircraft and shelved orders for new aircraft. KLM has cut capacity by 5 per cent. Alitalia has cut staff by 12 per cent. Aer Lingus has cut scheduled services by 25 per cent. Austrian Airlines has cut capacity by 10 per cent. Air France has removed 17 aircraft from service and Sabena has filed for bankruptcy.

United States airlines have been hit equally hard, if not more so. United Airlines has announced 20,000 job losses worldwide and a 20 per cent. cut in flight schedules.

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American Airlines has laid off at least 20,000 employees in order to survive and reduced capacity by 15 per cent. Continental Airlines will lay off 12,000 employees. Northwest Airlines has cut 10,000 jobs.

Aircraft manufacturers are also feeling the impact of 11 September. Boeing has announced cuts in jobs of 20,000 to 30,000. The impact on passenger traffic through Heathrow has been around 20 per cent. Air traffic control has experienced a 20 per cent. reduction in support staff, as was announced recently: initially, it was announced that 1,100 jobs would go, but over the weekend we read that that could go up to 2,000.

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