That individual makes those representations to me in private and in public, and to be completely blunt he may well have a very good point, but where I criticise him and other members of the ruling group on my local council is over their complete disregard for the ethos that runs through the framework, which is about working

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with communities—where communities decide things based on neighbourhood plans. That is a wonderful idea, and Rushcliffe borough council, which happens to be Conservative-controlled, is going out and holding workshops.

Martin Horwood: At the risk of continuing the love-in, may I say that I have some sympathy, because three Gloucestershire councils have just published a joint core strategy, which will be completely unsupported by local people, for 40,000 new houses in Gloucestershire—though I hate to say that most of the councils involved are Conservative-led.

Anna Soubry: I am very grateful, believe it or not, for that intervention, because the hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, and I feel a lot of sympathy for councillors who are advised by their officers—understandably—but sometimes almost put in fear. They feel that they have to take a particular route, but they forget that they are the democratically elected representatives of their communities. That may be a criticism of ourselves on these Benches—that we have not explained the great provisions in the Localism Bill, which will empower our neighbourhoods to come together and to decide on their own plans.

I am, however, becoming confident that the Liberal Democrats in Broxtowe will hear that message loud and clear, especially when the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) responds to the debate. They will realise that the Bill gives them the power to work with those people, coming together to build sustainable communities that are not just the sort of awful housing development that we have seen in so many parts of the country, which were built using the previous Government’s atrocious Prescott regulations with no regard at all for services and no proper consideration of infrastructure, but in fact sustainable developments—not just providing good homes for people, but improving their services, improving infrastructure and, indeed, embracing the environment. Such developments are not about simply concreting over land.

As ever, the clock is against me, but that is probably good for Opposition Members, as I was about to turn my attention to the previous Government’s disgraceful policy. I find it quite astonishing that Opposition Front Benchers, given their dreadful policies that would have concreted over thousands of acres of our green belt, can criticise Government Members and, notably, Front Benchers, so I commend this framework and look forward to the transition powers and all that they will bring.

5.14 pm

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): I think it was Lord Palmerston who is supposed to have said that only three people had ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein question: Prince Albert, who was dead; a German professor, who had gone mad; and Palmerston himself, who had long since forgotten it. The same might be said for what passes for the current planning framework. At well over 1,000 pages, it is far too long and, divided between more than 20 planning policy statements that do not always seem to be consistent with each other, it is much too complicated. The complexity and bureaucracy of the planning system has created what I would call a tyranny of experts, where ordinary

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people are effectively excluded from the process and democratic scrutiny is virtually impossible. If we are to achieve sustainable development that benefits both the economy and the local environment, we need to make sure, as other hon. Members have said, that the right development is built in the right place. That will happen only if development policy is decided at a local level.

The regional strategies, with their top-down targets, were bureaucratic and, frankly, undemocratic. Regional housing targets failed to build the homes that were needed where they were needed. In Dudley, part of which I represent, the local authority projected that an additional 14,000 homes would be needed, but the regional target dictated that 16,000 should be built to satisfy demand in other parts of the region. Residents were understandably opposed to building far more homes than it seemed would be required to cope with population growth and changing household patterns. This has made communities feel isolated from the process and view development in general with suspicion. At the same time, the areas that needed the additional homes to satisfy growing demand, and in some cases housing shortages, would not get the new homes that their communities needed. It is right that there will be a duty for local authorities to work together on planning matters where there is a shared interest. I know from my own constituency how well Dudley and Sandwell councils work together, despite differences in political control, in sharing facilities and services with each other and with other neighbouring authorities.

We need to re-engage our local communities with the planning process so that they can properly shape local development plans, and we need local planning policy to be set by councils, not by regional quangos. Making sure that neighbourhood planning is more than the formality that local consultation has sometimes seemed to be within the planning system is vital if we are to ensure that development reflects communities’ concerns and priorities. Local communities need to have a proper voice in deciding where development should take place and which areas should be protected in local plans, but once that is done there must be a meaningful presumption in favour of sustainable development, which is at the heart of the national planning policy framework.

There has been a lot of misinformation, and not all of it coming from shadow Ministers. Some sections of the press give the impression that the presumption would mean that developers could build what they want, where they want, when they want, and how they want. That must not be the case. Presumption of sustainable development gives more power to local communities rather than taking it away. Planning authorities, as other hon. Members have pointed out, will still refuse developments that go against their local plan. Developments that cause significant harm will not be approved. However, putting those local plans into action will be simpler and faster. Housing and regeneration projects that are proposed in local plans should be approved quickly, because we urgently need sustainable development and regeneration to lead the economy forward, especially in areas such as the black country, which I represent.

A number of world-class construction companies are based in the black country, making the sector one of the largest employers in the area. Many of my constituents rely on a strong building industry for their jobs. A quick glance at the list of companies helping to build the

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Olympic facilities, for example, shows that black country construction companies are competing with the best in the country. That has provided a big boost for many companies and has safeguarded countless jobs. We must look at what we can do to remove the barriers that are stopping such firms building the new homes that we need and regenerating our town centres. When we can see for ourselves that the number of homes being built, even before the recession, was well below what was needed, and when we can hear for ourselves companies from all sections of the construction industry saying that the planning system is part of the problem, we need to take action to give the economy the boost it needs.

The four black country local authorities—Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton—have worked hard together to make development across the black country more business friendly. They believe that their joint strategy will pave the way for 60,000 new homes and up to 250,000 square metres of retail development across the black country.

Mr Marcus Jones: Earlier in his contribution, my hon. Friend mentioned neighbourhood planning. Does he agree that neighbourhood planning is extremely important for local communities? Is it not disappointing that local authorities such as Labour-controlled Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council have not been willing to engage local communities in the front-runners scheme? Does he acknowledge that that stifles the opportunity for local people to have their say in the planning system?

James Morris: My hon. Friend makes a good point and he is standing up for his constituents.

As I was saying, the four authorities in the black country believe that their joint strategy will create up to 95,000 jobs.

We need to ensure that we are doing our part and that the Government are doing their part to make it easier to create the sustainable development that our communities and local economies need, and I believe that the planning reforms in the Localism Bill and the NPPF go a long way towards achieving that.

5.21 pm

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this important debate.

Elmbridge borough, which covers my constituency, is 57% green-belt land. I have therefore been inundated, like many colleagues, with letters and e-mails that seek reassurance and a degree of extra clarity about the draft national planning policy framework.

I endorse the Government’s principal aim of streamlining the bureaucracy of the planning process. Much has been made of the bureaucratic impact on developers and the economic cost, but it is worth bearing in mind how the planning system that we inherited from the previous Government also tied up local councils in that expensive bureaucratic process, at considerable cost to the taxpayer.

I also recognise the bigger picture. I am delighted that the Government scrapped the south-east plan, with its top-down targets for Elmbridge, which were bitterly

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resented locally. Rather than being forced to comply with diktats from a distant and faceless regional quango, Elmbridge borough council has replaced the regional plan with a local plan, after extended local consultation. Elected councillors will be accountable to residents for planning policy. That strengthens local democracy and I welcome it wholeheartedly.

I have a number of points and questions on the detail. My understanding is that once a local plan is in place it will govern the planning process for individual applications and will not subsequently be trumped by the framework. If so, that might be spelled out a bit more clearly in the draft framework. I would also be grateful if Ministers clarified whether the presumption in favour of sustainable development applies only where no local plan is in place. If so, it would be useful to be explicit on that point. If not, the relationship between the two needs further elaboration. I urge the Government to give primacy to local democracy.

I welcome the provisions in the draft framework that explicitly acknowledge that the green belt serves the purpose of preventing the merging of towns and wider urban sprawl. I note from the draft framework that there is a narrow list of exceptions to the general rule in paragraph 144 that it is inappropriate to build on green belt. Are those exceptions subject to the strictures in the local plan or can they override it, and with it the democratic credibility that the Government have so painstakingly built up by abolishing the regional plans?

Beyond the green belt, I welcome the exhortation in paragraph 122 for developers to work closely with communities affected by development. Many communities want a safeguard in case developers do not listen. If there is one criticism, it is that the draft framework is a little light when it comes to explaining how the democratic checks that we have built so carefully into local planning policy formulation will translate into the individual application process. I hope that the revised draft can be beefed up in that regard.

In my view, the developer’s right of appeal over the heads of our democratically elected councils should be curtailed and the balance shifted in favour of local communities and their representatives. In particular, I should like to see stronger safeguards—I am relaxed about whether they are in statute or guidance—enabling a major development to be blocked by the local council as a whole, a majority of local ward councillors or a local referendum, which would empower residents directly. That seems particularly germane to the practical operation of the principle of the community’s right to buy, which is set out in the draft framework.

The framework must not be viewed in isolation, and I welcome the new homes bonus. For too long, the last Government allowed untrammelled development in certain areas and creamed off the tax revenue from the sale of new properties, with communities seeing far too little of that money coming back to support local infrastructure. The new homes bonus will address that, which is crucial because development without the resources to provide the public services to accompany new residents creates considerable local resentment.

Even with the new homes bonus, however, it must be right that local authorities can take into account the costs that developments bring and the burdens on schools, councils, roads, GPs and other local services, in co-ordination with the providers of those services. If that is what is meant by sustainable development, it

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might go some way towards allaying fears if that could be spelled out directly. Likewise, there is relatively minimal guidance in the draft framework on the right to refuse development to mitigate flood risk, which is an important factor in my constituency. Perhaps that, too, might be spelled out a little more clearly.

I am confident that we can get the balance right in the framework. It is important, and the overarching aim behind it is sound. I am even more confident that Ministers will take due account of the points expressed by colleagues during the debate, and by the experts and other groups outside the House, so that we end up with a framework that both cuts bureaucracy and strengthens localism.

Mark Pawsey rose—

Bob Russell rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. The wind-ups are due to begin at 5.30 pm, so we have time for a very short contribution from Mr Mark Pawsey.

5.26 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): I say at the outset that it is important not to underestimate the importance of this afternoon’s debate, because we are talking about the development of land, and once land is developed it remains developed. There is no going back. When development takes the form of a building, the average life of a structure is 60 years, so it is very important that we get these things right.

What are the reasons for changing the system? I believe there are three. The first is the lack of public participation in the planning process. Local communities often feel that they have no power in the face of the development industry and are unable to influence what happens. They have things done to them, not by them. The second is the housing failures that we have heard about, with last year seeing the lowest number of peacetime house building completions since 1923. The third is the failed system of 1,000-plus pages of guidance.

It is interesting that the simplifications have been welcomed not only by the shadow Secretary of State but by the opponents of the Government’s proposals. The Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), drew attention to the evidence that we heard from Simon Jenkins of the National Trust, who said that

“everyone agrees the planning system needs localising and needs updating.”

I believe there are four positive reasons for accepting the framework with enthusiasm. The first is that it embraces localism and involves local people. It is only right that local people should have a leading role. The second is that it places the views of the broader community above those of narrow groups. For example, paragraph 167 states that authorities should

“give great weight to protecting landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks”.

Regrettably, there will always be those who oppose any kind of development, but I believe the Government have been courageous in dealing with that problem. Professor Sir Peter Hall, whose lectures I attended in the ’70s, has praised the Prime Minister for

“defying the extraordinary narrow lobby”

presented by those who support nimbyism.

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The third reason for accepting the framework is that it will protect the environment. That view is supported by the Countryside Land and Business Association. The fourth is the economic argument that it will provide a system to get our economy moving.

I wish to mention the “town centre first” policy. I have great sympathy with those who argue in favour of retaining office use within that policy, because offices provide the consumers who support the retail and hospitality sectors, which we are defending in the framework.

In conclusion, the economy is stagnant, yet prime land for development lies untouched because in recent years our planning framework simply has not worked. Our reforms represent a fundamental step change in community power and provide a much better system for economic development. The Government should not be swayed off course by the lobby that has rallied against them in recent months.

5.30 pm

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): This debate has been wide ranging and informed, with many memorable contributions, and has been conducted in a constructive and cross-party way, focusing on what the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) called a matter of crucial concern to our communities and our country: the future of the planning system. Indeed, such was the nature of the 60 hours of debate that we had on the Localism Bill that the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), listened with an open mind to strong criticism of the Government’s fundamental changes to our planning system of 60 years standing. He listened to the concerns that we expressed and to a coalition of the concerned from the business community, through to the planners and those charged with safeguarding our countryside and heritage. A decent man, the philosopher king of localism—he agreed that big changes to the Government’s proposals were necessary.

Imagine, therefore, how the Minister must have felt, Mr Speaker, having on the Saturday offered constructive dialogue with the National Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, when he woke up on the Monday to read a declaration of war in the Financial Times—a declaration announced by the formidable presence of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the omnipresent Chancellor of the Exchequer. “This is a battle we must win,” they declared. “We will fight them on the hillside, in the dales and on the beaches.” The propaganda machine then went into full throttle. The National Trust, a charity of more than 4 million members and with more than 60,000 volunteers—the quintessence of the good society—was accused of running a left-wing smear campaign to justify its own existence, supported by what Ministers now believe to be the Pravda of the British press, The Daily Telegraph. We are talking about a charity that has more than 100 million visits to its properties every year—including, I understand, one only last year by the Bullingdon club, although I am not sure whether that was to admire our heritage or to smash it up.

On the criticisms of the planning system, the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) made the point in her characteristically honest way that, in her words, the system achieved much over

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the last 50 years. In the light of some of the contributions that have been made, it is important briefly to put the record right. The Government have said that the planning system is broken and that there are too many refusals. Wrong: the Government’s own figures show that 86% of applications were approved by district planning authorities last year. The Government have told us that the planning system does not deliver enough permissions to meet housing need. Wrong: in 2006 and 2007, before the financial crash, Labour’s planning system delivered more than 500,000 permissions for new homes, tens of thousands above the 60,000 now needed each quarter to meet our housing need. The Government have also said that the planning system is a huge barrier to growth. “It’s far too slow,” they say. Wrong: last year, 81% of developments for districts were dealt with within eight weeks, rising to 92% within 13 weeks.

In need of improvement? Absolutely, and it was common ground in the debate on the Localism Bill that the planning system was capable of improvement. A broken planning system? Absolutely not. A planning system that is responsible, as some in the Government have alleged, for near-zero growth and a collapse in house building? Utter nonsense.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) was right to say that it was this Government who were responsible for residential planning permissions falling to 25,000—the second lowest number of permissions granted in a quarter in the past five years—and causing chaos in the planning system. And it is this Government who are responsible for a mortgage market in which no one can get a mortgage. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) were both right to say that that was having a serious impact on development and developers because, although planning permission exists to build 300,000 homes, the mortgage finance—and the finance more generally—just is not available.

The Government have ripped up a 60-year-old system that delivered in the public interest, striking the balance between growth and development, on the one hand, and the protection of our natural environment and a real say for local people, on the other. Emerging from the ashes of the war, the great planning settlement of 1947 sought to reconcile growth and development with a genuine say for local people and the protection of our natural environment. Now, in the 21st century, in these desperate economic times, we need growth and development. My constituency of Erdington might be rich in talent, but it is one of the 12 poorest in Britain. I represent a constituency that badly wants to see growth and development. However, the reformed planning system must be built on those same fundamental principles, and it must work.

Today, in the light of this first-class debate, we want to say to the Government that fundamental changes are necessary. The Government must put in place a workable presumption in favour of genuine sustainable development that will give confidence that our countryside and environment will be protected. The hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole was right to ask why we should not continue to use the 2005 definition. The Government must restore Labour’s successful “brownfield

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first” policy. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr Brine) was right when he said that the existing definition was clear and that it should continue to obtain in the future.

Mr Marcus Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jack Dromey: Given the time available, I will not.

The “brownfield first” policy was working. Last year, 76% of new dwellings were built on brownfield sites, up from 55% in 1989. There are currently enough brownfield sites on which to build 1.2 million homes. The Government must put the heart back into our high streets by protecting, not weakening, the “town centre first” policy, and the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) was right to ask the Government to do precisely that. They must not weaken the requirement to provide affordable housing, which is fundamental to meeting a growing housing crisis and ensuring the future prosperity of our young people. They should accept Labour’s proposed transitional arrangements to ensure certainty for local people, communities and developers alike. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) was right to say that, during the transition, local communities should be protected from predatory bids.

As the excellent contribution from the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), made clear, the Government must recognise that their duty to co-operate, as it stands, is toothless and will not allow for the kind of effective strategic planning that England needs in order to deliver on our future needs in housing, economic development, waste management, transport, infrastructure and the mitigation of climate change. We must not have a planning system that is increasingly combative, rather than consensual, with applications being decided in the courts as the number of appeals goes through the roof. In the chaos that is unfolding in our planning system, more homes there will be: second homes in Marbella built by planning lawyers salivating at the prospect.

Finally, the Government need to move beyond polarising the debate by demonising their critics. Today we have heard voices from all sides of the House— [ Interruption ] from all sides of the House saying “Ministers must think again”. We need to remember that whatever amendments the Government make, they are making the most fundamental changes to a national planning system that has been in place for 60 years.

I ask the Minister to respond to this. Does he agree that, once the changes are made to the draft national planning policy framework that have been demanded by Members on both sides of the House, there will be a second process of consultation? In particular, will he indicate now that the transitional period should, as we have argued, be extended? Will the Government ultimately have the courage of their convictions and hold a vote on the final national planning policy framework—in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords—so that we can have a system in which the public can put their trust for years to come?

5.41 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): There was a great deal of consensus in the debate up to the point when the hon. Member for Birmingham,

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Erdington (Jack Dromey) said that he was hearing voices. I welcome this opportunity to debate the Government’s proposals. The new national planning policy framework is an important document and we have had a positive and constructive debate on it, covering not just the NPPF but the broader context of the Localism Bill. Debate on this subject has been carried on outside the House as well as inside it not just today but for the last three or four months—and we are all the better for it. The Government are making time available for further discussions in the House of Lords on 27 October.

As of this morning, 13,700 responses have been received to the consultation, of which some 3,700 are substantive individual ones. The debates in the two Houses will be taken into consideration. Indeed, if any hon. Members felt that their contributions were cramped by today’s limitation on time, we will hold that door open for a few more days for them to submit written representations on the document. Quite a number of today’s speakers have already sent in representations, which are also welcome.

We have heard contributions from 35 Back Benchers and interventions from quite a number more. That shows how important this issue is as a fundamental development in the way we approach the creation and safeguarding of communities in this country. This planning system is the way we make communities work. We create places we are proud of and proud to live in; we lay the foundations for businesses to grow; and, as has been a constant theme today, we develop a system that not only protects but enhances our green spaces, our parks and our countryside for our enjoyment, and for generations to come.

Bob Russell: On the preservation and retention of green spaces, the Secretary of State made a personal visit, for which I am most grateful, to see the fields of west Mile End in Colchester, which I hope can be saved. My concern is where local authority A decides to dump a large part of its housing right on the border of local authority B, which is what Tendring district council is planning to do on Colchester borough council. Surely the local decision making must be made by the people who are most directly affected and not by the local authority that is doing the dumping.

Andrew Stunell: I shall certainly respond to my hon. Friend, because the same point has been raised by others, including the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who asked how the duty to co-operate will work. I think that my hon. Friend is asking the same question. The duty requires—not allows, but requires—ongoing constructive engagement on all the strategic matters arising between councils when they prepare their local plans, and councils will be required to consider whether they enter into agreements on joint approaches and on the preparation of joint policies on cross-boundary issues. They will also have to satisfy the independent examiner of the local plan and to demonstrate compliance with the duty of co-operation when they do so. If they fail to satisfy the independent examiner, the plan will fail. That would be a powerful sanction to encourage council A to bear in mind the importance of taking into account its consultation and co-operation with council B. I hope that my hon. Friend finds that response helpful.

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There is a pressing need for reform of our national planning policy. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington seemed to be caught betwixt and between. He accused us, on the one hand, of ripping it up, but, on the other, of arguing that we need a presumption of sustainable development. Perhaps the Labour Front Bench team needs to establish exactly what it believes is its principal criticism of what we are doing.

Joan Walley: The argument is not about sustainable development, but about its definition. We do not want a definition under which economic development simply trumps all the other aspects of sustainable well-being.

Andrew Stunell: I hope to cover that point more fully in a few minutes. The hon. Lady and I, surprisingly enough, are on the same page. It is not a question of whether to have sustainable development. In fact, the emphasis is on “sustainable” not “development”. I shall come to that in a moment.

The current system is unworkably complex and has been criticised soundly by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. There are more than 1,000 pages of national planning policy and at least 6,000 pages of guidance. I challenge any Member, even if they have 26 years of professional background, to say, in all honestly, that they have read all 7,000 pages—nobody has. It is a long-running accident. The complexity of the system not only slows down decision making and frustrates the sustainable growth of the country, but alienates and frustrates local people. It does not allow for the rapid creation of the new homes that we desperately need for young families who are already struggling to scrape together a deposit or stuck on an endless waiting list, and it hinders the creation of the new jobs that will breathe fresh life into local economies.

That is bad enough, but on top of that, as all hon. Members have experienced, the planning system too often reduces people, at a local level, to impotent rage and denies them any real engagement in shaping the future of their communities. That cannot be a good system. A streamlined system focusing on key priorities will be more accessible and transparent. In the future, anyone who wants to understand the principles informing how decisions are made will be able to do so. That does not suit many of the professionals, but it should suit our constituents and the House.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I agree completely with my hon. Friend. In constituencies such as mine, where there is pressure for much more affordable housing, it is exactly the sort of thing that my constituents would want to participate in. Does he share my view that, for it to work, the viability of development proposals needs to be open to full scrutiny? Often developers say, “We can only do 10% affordable property, because otherwise the figures do not add up.” In reality, they could do more, but are never forced to reveal their hand and so sometimes get away with doing far too little.

Andrew Stunell: My right hon. Friend makes a very interesting point. I hope that he has encapsulated it in the representation that I know he has submitted to the consultation, and that if he has not, he will make a second submission.

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The Government are keen to put matters right. The new planning architecture of the national planning policy framework and the local development framework—the core strategies that have been referred to so frequently today—and the neighbourhood and parish plans must be taken together and seen in context.

Mark Pawsey: The Minister refers to the importance of plans. Does he agree that the essential purpose of the NPPF is to put those plans in place, and that local authorities that fail should be urged do so by both Government and Opposition, so that there is a template against which development proposals can be measured?

Andrew Stunell: My hon. Friend is right. I shall deal with some of the specific points that have been raised in a moment, although several of them are quite detailed, and I shall not have time to respond to all 35 Members who have spoken. We will make a serious effort to write to those whom I do not manage to respond to today.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I wonder whether the Minister can answer one point that was raised by a number of Members. Do the Government intend to introduce transitional arrangements, so that local authorities such as mine that were not encouraged to draw up local plans under the old regional spatial strategy system will have time to do so?

Andrew Stunell: The hon. Gentleman is a page ahead of me, but I will get there very shortly.

Of all the thousands of comments that have been made about the NPPF so far, very few have challenged the importance of both the simplification and the localisation that we have set out. I would have said that none had done so, but, funnily enough, a former planning Minister, the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford), said that he was one of those who considered this to be the best of all possible planning systems. His view was somewhat contradicted by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State’s quotation from Lord Rooker, which demonstrated that that simply was not so.

Quite properly, today’s debate has largely concerned the precise shape, the exact wording and the detailed nuances of what we have proposed in the NPPF and the Localism Bill. Let me now deal with some of the key points made by Members. I will begin by tackling what seem to me to be some of the principal issues. One is our use, or rather non-use, of the word “brownfield” . We have referred instead to land of the “least environmental” quality.

There is a clear reason for that. We think that land of the least environmental quality should be taken first, and we recognise that some brownfield land is of high quality. It may be the quarry that has been left for 40 years and is now the next best thing to a self-managed wildlife sanctuary, or it may be back gardens. There are a number of circumstances in which brownfield land may have become recreational. Indeed, there is an example in my constituency that is sufficiently contentious to be prayed in aid. Using brownfield land as a planning category and turning it into the first priority for development will prove to be a mistake in some instances. At the

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beginning of the debate, my right hon. Friend said in his emollient way that we were taking careful account of all the representations we have received, and we certainly are in that respect.

Martin Horwood: I entirely sympathise with my hon. Friend’s wish to move to a definition of environmental value, but, as I pointed out in my speech, even that reference in the NPPF is heavily qualified by reference, again, to development and growth. That rather undermines the point that is being made.

Andrew Stunell: Given that my hon. Friend’s submission to the consultation is longer than the NPPF itself, I am sure that it covers that point.

My right hon. Friend made it clear—not for the first time—that there will be transitional arrangements, but it would be presumptuous to set them out before our friends in the House of Lords have disposed of the Bill or it has returned to us. We therefore must approach this issue in a measured fashion, but we understand the points that have been made, even if the critics appear to be a little confused about whether the result of the proposals will be a slowing down or a speeding up of development. Certainly, uncertainty is unwelcome and needs to be dealt with.

Jack Dromey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Stunell: I am sorry, but I do not have enough time.

On the presumption in favour of sustainable development, the debate has focused on the term “development” rather than the term “sustainable”. Some good points were made, both in our debate and in the representations we received, about alternative ways of approaching this issue and, as my right hon. Friend said, we are bearing them all in mind. However, let me quote from a 1949 planning circular:

“In cases where no serious issue is involved, and where the authority can produce no sufficient reason for refusal, the presumption should be in favour of granting the application.”

Things have moved on since then, and we have a plan-led system, but the presumption in favour of sustainable development that we propose will strengthen that plan-led system, not undermine it.

I have already commented on the duty to co-operate. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich cannot be in the Chamber now, but he gave some statistics, and I want to put on the record that home ownership fell to its lowest rate since 1990 during the 13 years of the Labour Government, and that they managed to combine that reduction with a 440,000 fall in the number of social and affordable homes. Regardless of what the planning system delivered, the Labour Government certainly did not deliver.

Several Members emphasised the importance of bringing empty homes back into use, and the Government agree. We have set aside £100 million to fund a programme to achieve that, and we are also about to launch a consultation on other measures that can help. I welcome the broad support this will receive in the House.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) said the planning system must be consistent with the Government’s other aims. She referred to the

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natural resources White Paper and the work of the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but we should also mention the work being done by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Treasury to generate growth. The planning system must reflect both the priorities of the Government and the priorities of local communities. This debate is about how we can get that balance right.

This debate has been a small but significant part of the important process of building a planning system of which we can be proud—a system that supports growth and change where that is needed to create jobs and homes, that creates health and prosperity for all communities, and that enhances and preserves our country’s unique natural and built environment. To respond to another point that was made in our debate, that includes 20th century buildings.

We must establish a planning system that leaves future generations admiring our foresight, not condemning our selfishness. I believe the framework we have produced can do exactly that, and I urge the House to support the motion.

Question put and agreed to .

Resolv ed,

That this House has considered the matter of the National Planning Policy Framework.

Mr Speaker: We come now to the Adjournment debate. I appeal to hon. Members who, inexplicably, are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly so that the rest of us can hear from Mr Henry Smith.

20 Oct 2011 : Column 1170

Air Passenger Duty

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Angela Watkinson.)

6 pm

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. May I say how extremely grateful I am to have the opportunity to hold this Adjournment debate?

In this place I might be known as the hon. Member for Crawley, but my constituency is perhaps better known for being the home of Gatwick airport, the world’s busiest one runway, two terminal airport. It is also home to a number of significant aviation industry companies, such as Virgin Atlantic Airways, TUI Travel and British Airways. My arguments for not increasing air passenger duty and for simplifying the system are not simply parochial; Great Britain’s historical success has been not only as a politically assured, innovative country, but as a trading nation, and we have a unique set of global links. In addition, approximately 30 million hard-working Britons save each and every year to fly off on well-deserved holidays.

Like the debate we have in the Gatwick area about the future of the airport and whether or not it should expand, the debate on the future of APD is about balancing economic growth and the needs of environmental protection—I care passionately about both. It is right that aviation should contribute to dealing with its environmental impact, but that needs to be put into perspective and weighed against its economic contribution. Aviation accounts for about 5.5% of UK total emissions. To put that in context, road transport emissions account for about 18% and energy production emissions account for about a third of the UK total. In addition, it should be noted that the aviation sector contributes some £53 billion to UK GDP and employs almost 1 million people, in addition to the further 1.5 million employed in our tourism industry, and that about half of this country’s population fly each year.

The history of APD goes back to the early 1990s, when a charge of £5 was introduced for flights to EU countries, with a £10 charge for flights to rest of the world destinations. Under Labour, over the past decade, that was significantly hiked up to a point where British aviation taxation has become by far the highest in Europe—indeed, it is eight and a half times the European average. It is worth noting that only four other European countries charge a form of APD, with a further five European countries—Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Malta and the Netherlands—having abandoned the charging of APD. The Dutch Government abandoned APD as a taxation because it brought in the equivalent of £266 million to their exchequer but cost an estimated equivalent of £950 million to the Dutch economy.

For our own Government’s part, I very much welcome the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in the last Budget on the freezing of APD. I also very much welcome the taxation of business jet aviation for the first time ever, so long as the collection of that tax does not cost more than it brings in. I very much congratulate the Government on their consultation on the future of APD in order to get the widest possible view on that. That is all in stark contrast to the Labour party, which did not even mention the issue in its pre-election manifesto and does not seem to have a plan B, although we are quite used to Labour not having a plan A on the economy.

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Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): This is the second time I have come to listen to what the hon. Gentleman has to say and I had hoped that his speech would be somewhat non-partisan. I remind him and the Minister that the Conservative party said in its manifesto that it would move to a per-plane duty and would not keep the current banding system, which is seen to be wholly unfair. I hope that both the hon. Gentleman and the Minister will address what will be done to remove the unfair anomalies in the system.

Henry Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is absolutely right that a per-plane duty was discussed and I understand that there were some legal problems with it. It is important that we as a country should finally get right the future of aviation taxation in the round, not only for the sake of hard-working families who want to enjoy a holiday now and again but, most importantly, for our economy.

Quite apart from what we think in this place about the future of APD, let me quote what a few others have said. Southern rail has added its concerns about a future increase in APD by saying:

“Any tax regime that has the potential to impact negatively on Gatwick Airport’s growth plans also has the potential to impact on Southern’s growth plans. We work closely with the airport and in recent months we have seen growth in airport passenger numbers and growth in its public transport market share. We would not want this momentum to be lost or hampered as this will impact on the medium term growth aspirations of our business”.

The airport has said:

“Gatwick is a family airport. Our passengers pay £400 million in APD every year, which goes straight into the Treasury’s coffers. It is difficult to understand why hardworking families, whose household bills are rising every month, should pay so much extra just to go on holiday. For many of them, it’s a luxury they save all year to afford.”

The Gatwick Diamond Business Association, which represents all the economy and not just the aviation sector in the sub-region, has said:

“The tax regime is having a negative impact on the UK’s ability to connect with emerging markets.”

In his speech in Manchester just a couple of weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out how one of the keys to UK economic growth is the need to connect better with the growing markets in Asia and South America. The Gatwick Diamond Business Association went on to say:

“Increasing tourism from the Far East is important too and in total the hospitality sector is the fifth largest in the UK. This could grow by 10% over the next five years alone…provided they are given the ability to derive their fair share of the forecasted growth in global travel.”

Another local firm in the Gatwick diamond area, CGGVeritas, has taken about 1,500 flights to meet its global customers in the past year and estimates that it has paid up to £50,000 of its budget just on the APD portion of those air tickets.

Virgin Atlantic, headquartered in my constituency, takes the view that aviation has a critical role to play in UK tourism and the wider economic recovery through encouraging visitors to these shores ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic games, but this economic potential is being stifled by ever increasing levels of air passenger duty, which are already the highest in Europe.

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Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate not once, but twice, not least because it gives me the opportunity to welcome the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to her new role—a well-deserved promotion. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the problem with this issue, with which I am very sympathetic, is the fact that there is a gap between the Treasury and the Department for Transport in that the Treasury leads but the Department for Transport is required to produce plans for airports and aviation?

Henry Smith: I am grateful for that intervention. The holy grail of government is joined-up government, with all Departments and the Treasury working together. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General is doing a great job in trying to achieve that.

The World Economic Forum’s international tourism competitiveness report ranked the UK 134th out of 138 nations for air taxes, and we are beaten only in the amount we charge by the west African countries of Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali and Chad. The chief executive of British Airways said:

“Aviation in the UK is the most undervalued and overtaxed industry in Britain. We want to play our full part in assisting Britain’s economic recovery, but we are held back by levels of tax on flying which are higher than anywhere else in the world”.

and added that the increases would cost BA an extra £100 million and put more pressure on ticket prices. At the recent launch of a new Air Asia X route from Kuala Lumpar to London Gatwick, its chief executive stated that it is commercially more difficult to operate from the UK than from France. He pointed out that 10% to 12% of its passengers flying from Paris to Kuala Lumpar are British nationals. That gives a sense of the shift that passengers are already starting to make.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): We in Northern Ireland have an interest in airport duty. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an irony that we, as island nations that have to use air transport to make those important international connections, are taxed so highly in comparison with many other regions? There is also a challenge in trying to join up what happens not just with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and other Departments, but, particularly in terms of the growth of our economy, with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Henry Smith: The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I have been pleased to see that in the context of Ireland, between the north and the south, there has been some improvement. Her point about our being island nations and relying on trade—and therefore in this day and age on aviation—is extremely well made.

The chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents has said:

“It is vital that the Government understands the damaging impact that APD is having on the tourism industry in the UK. We already pay the highest levels of aviation tax in the world, and if the Government goes ahead with its double-inflationary increase and levies”—

as will happen on 1 January with the European emissions trading scheme tax—

“on top of this…we will see another eye-watering increase in the tax burden on the industry and on holidaymakers”.

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The CBI has also rightly highlighted the fact that aviation is a critical pillar of the UK economy. Crawley-based companies such as TUI Travel, which is perhaps better known in the domestic market as First Choice and Thomson Holidays, are world leaders in developing biofuels to mitigate their environmental impact. Indeed, I am delighted that just a couple of weeks ago, they started regular biofuelled flights. Virgin Atlantic, another local company, has invested in the very latest new aircraft with the highest environmental standards.

In addition to those quotes from the industry, I should like to outline some figures that clearly demonstrate how the UK’s aviation tax burden is significantly in excess of those of our nearest competitors. As I have said, we already charge by far the highest in Europe. To fly from the UK to a European destination, we charge £12 in APD, whereas Germany charges £7 and France charges just a single euro to travel within the EU. To travel from the UK to New York, we charge £60 in APD, whereas the Germans charge £22 and the French charge just €5. To travel from the UK to Sydney, Australia, we charge an APD rate of £85 at the moment, whereas Germany charges £39 and France charges just €5. I do not think that anyone can accuse the Germans of not being astute in economic or environmental policy.

If APD were to increase from next April, there would be a huge percentage increase in just six years. For example, a family of four travelling on holiday to Florida in economy class in 2006 paid £80 in APD, whereas they would currently pay £240. If the increase goes ahead, they would pay £260 in 2012, representing an increase of 225%. A business party of four travelling to Shanghai in premium economy in 2006 were charged £160 APD; currently they are charged £600 and in 2012, if the increase goes ahead, the charge will be £656, representing a percentage increase of 310%. My final example is that of a retired couple travelling to Australia to visit family, again in economy class. In 2006, they would have been charged £40 in APD, currently they would be charged £170 and in 2012, if the increase goes ahead, they would be charged £186, representing the biggest percentage increase of 365%.

Simplifying APD would benefit not only citizens of the UK but Her Majesty’s subjects in the overseas territories. For example, the Government of the British Virgin Islands are rightly concerned that, as currently structured, APD is charged at a higher level to travel there than to fly to the west coast of the United States because the system is based on where the capital of a country is. It should not be forgotten that there are five British overseas territories in the Caribbean, as well as the many other Commonwealth countries around the world.

Before I conclude I wish to refute one suggestion mooted recently, which is that London and south-east originating flights should pay an enhanced amount of APD compared with the rest of Great Britain. I am very much opposed to that proposal because it would be unfair, unnecessary, economically misguided and environmentally dubious. It is unfair because, as I have said, we already pay one of the highest duties in the world. Millions of people living in the south-east and London should not have to pay extra just to fly from their local airports. It is unnecessary because the proposed growth of regional airports between now and 2050 is significant.

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The proposal is economically misguided because while proponents of the policy say that it would rebalance the UK economy by moving key business routes to regional airports, it misunderstands the fundamental economics of long-haul business routes and ignores the fact that London’s airports serve the whole British economy. Indeed, London is a global-class city and, with the south-east, a world-class region, connecting with and competing against the likes of southern California, the east coast cities of Japan and China, the greater Frankfurt area and the Ile de France among others. Finally, the proposal is environmentally dubious because it perversely risks increased carbon emissions if south-east passengers drive hundreds of miles to regional airports for cheaper flights. More indirect flights—for example, London Heathrow to Manchester; Manchester to New York—would result in more movements and more take-offs and landings.

In conclusion, I believe that if APD is increased further and not simplified we risk damaging growth by increasing the tax burden on families and by giving our European competitors an unfair advantage in a global market. Additionally, it could create an unintended, negative environmental impact when we are already more than off-setting our aviation carbon emissions, and that is before we join the European trading scheme in the new year. Indeed, the TaxPayers Alliance, using the Department for Transport’s own figures, has highlighted the fact that, following the APD increase in 2007, aviation more than covers the cost of its environmental impact by at least £100 million. It also points to research by the Economic and Social Research Institute which found that doubling APD back in 2007 might have actually increased emissions because it reduces the relative price difference between near and far holidays.

In welcoming the Minister to her position and congratulating her, I appeal to her and the Treasury to think again, for the sake of our economy and our hard-working families, about increasing the APD burden further still.

6.18 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Chloe Smith): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on securing this debate and thank him for his response to the air passenger duty consultation earlier this year.

I will address the content of my hon. Friend’s speech and some of the specific points raised by hon. Members in a moment. First, let me say as the new Minister responsible for APD that not only did it fall on my desk with a thump in my first week, but the main challenge is to get the policy right for the long-term benefit of passengers, the industry, the economy and those who have responded to the consultation. I very much agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the aviation sector. That goes without saying for all of us here in the debate. It employs substantial numbers of people—my hon. Friend’s constituents and others—directly or indirectly in the UK and is among the most productive sectors of the economy. I recognise that aviation is also an enabler and a catalyst for many businesses in the UK. The hon. Members for Belfast East (Naomi Long) and for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) pointed out the vital need for joined-up government so that we can get taxation and regulation functioning sensibly together and contributing to growth in the economy.

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Let us be very clear: we all want UK aviation, and sectors such as the travel industry that rely on aviation, to succeed. That was the starting point for the APD consultation launched at Budget. It is why my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), spent a lot of time over the past year talking and listening to airports, airlines and various organisations, including those overseas, to understand their concerns, and I hope to do the same. I note that she will be spending more time on transport issues than she might have anticipated only a few days ago. It is because we understand the pressures facing consumers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley has outlined very capably, that the Chancellor froze APD in the Budget in March.

Despite that, some people have called for a cut in APD. We must be frank about the situation in which we find ourselves, as my hon. Friend has said. When we came to office last year, we inherited a fiscal deficit of historic proportions, and action has been necessary to try to steady the ship, if you will forgive another transport pun, Mr Deputy Speaker. If we are to put the economy back on the path to sustainable growth, it is imperative that we tackle the deficit and that we take contributions from all parts of society. Unfortunately, I cannot promise the House that APD will be cut in the near future. I know that many hon. Members are concerned about other aspects of APD, including the changes that the previous Government made to the structure of APD in 2009. My hon. Friend has referred to some of those changes and their impact on our Commonwealth partners.

Many stakeholders have complained about the previous Government’s changes to the banding structure of APD. Some have pointed to the anomalies created by that structure, including my hon. Friend, and we have received a number of representations from those who feel that flights to Caribbean destinations are unfairly penalised. Following in my predecessor’s footsteps, I will hold a series of meetings with stakeholders on that subject.

Mr Slaughter: I congratulate the Minister on her appointment, although she has been handed a bit of a poisoned chalice.

My constituents who travel regularly to the Caribbean are concerned about the anomaly. Before the election, the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who was then shadow Economic Secretary, often posed in photographs with Ministers from the Caribbean and gave assurances about those anomalies. We understand that many other assurances will not be kept, including on the move to per-plane duty. Will the Minister at least give us the comfort that the Caribbean anomaly, if I can put it that way, will be addressed, whatever the Government propose?

Miss Smith: I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that I shall carry on meeting representatives from the Caribbean and, indeed, from Australia and New Zealand very shortly, to discuss those concerns. I am afraid, however, for reasons I shall come on to, that it is rather difficult at this precise moment to give him further assurances, because the Government are due to respond to the consultation. I shall shortly deal with the detail of that, and with his points about per-plane duty.

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The good news is that the consultation enabled Ministers to go into all those issues in more detail. The hon. Gentleman will know that in the Budget, the Chancellor announced that, for the first time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley described, APD would be extended to passengers flying aboard business jets, which is another important feature that we have made clear. That addresses a clear unfairness in the system, and the consultation invited views on how that should be addressed.

I cannot promise the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) or anyone else that we will meet everyone’s wishes, but we will try to deliver an APD system that is fairer, simpler and more efficient, and the Chancellor will set out those details in due course. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about per-plane duty, to make the position clear, the UK’s international obligations in that area include air service agreements with more than 150 countries, including the 1944 Chicago convention. We will not introduce per-plane duty at present because of concerns about legality and feasibility. We will, however, work with international partners to continue building consensus.

Gavin Shuker: Will the Minister give way?

Miss Smith: Briefly, as I must conclude.

Gavin Shuker: I want to make just a small observation. Before the election, the Conservatives campaigned on moving to a per-plane duty. Given the complexity that the Minister mentioned, can she shed some light on why they said that they would do so?

Miss Smith: The glory of coming into government is that one realises that all sorts of things are worse than one imagined, and that is a case in point. As I have said, the legality and feasibility of that approach have been clarified quite extensively.

I will touch briefly on the question of the devolution of APD. As hon. Members will know, the Chancellor announced that from 1 November 2011 the rate of APD for direct, long-haul passengers departing from Northern Ireland will be cut to the short-haul rate, which I hope we all agree is good for constituents in Belfast East and elsewhere in Northern Ireland. That measure was in response to the unique challenge facing Northern Ireland and is designed to ensure that local airports remain competitive. However, in order to provide a permanent solution to the issue, the Government have launched a process for the devolution of APD to the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are working in close consultation with the Executive to take that forward. I would also like to offer my thanks, and those of my predecessor, to members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee for the diligent and helpful input they provided on the issue.

Let me also say a few words about APD and the regions, which hon. Members may be interested in. We received around 500 responses to the APD consultation, many of which related specifically to the question of regional APD rates. It is certainly fair to say that there is no consensus on the matter. Some regional airports have asked us to consider lower APD rates for the regions, but several airlines and hon. Members have asked us to consider the opposite. I note the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley in this regard.

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On that question, and on the broader reform of APD, the Government aim to publish a full response to the consultation later this autumn. We will of course take into account the views expressed in this debate.

There is one other issue that has been raised which I must address quickly: the environmental impact of aviation. We must recognise the scale of the challenge that confronts us. Since 1990, CO2 emissions from UK aviation have more than doubled. In 2010 they accounted for around 6% of total UK CO2 emissions. As other sectors decarbonise over the coming decades, aviation emissions are likely to make up an increasingly large proportion of total UK emissions. The Government’s approach to this problem is a pragmatic one. The international nature of aviation requires an international response, which is why we support the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading system from 2012. At the same time, the Department for Transport, in true joined-up fashion, is considering the best way to tackle local environmental impacts as part of its aviation policy review.

I know that some have called for the abolition of APD once aviation enters the ETS, but I must point

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out, as others have done, that APD is fundamentally a revenue-raising duty and currently raises around £2.5 billion a year. The forecast revenues that will result from aviation joining the ETS are only around £0.1 billion a year, reflecting the fact that under the relevant EU directive most of the allowances for the system will be given to airlines for free. In looking forward, however, the Government will assess the revenue requirements from aviation taxes, including those from the ETS, in the round.

In conclusion, I hope that we can continue to have constructive debates in a way that helps deliver a tax system for air transport that is fair and sustainable for the long term and puts us on a positive footing in the world. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley again for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

6.28 pm

House adjourned.