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Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2003

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If he will make a statement on the progress of the consultation on airport provision for south-east England. [112571]

The national consultation ends on 30 June. We have already received tens of thousands of responses from across the UK, and we expect to receive many more. All responses will be considered carefully before decisions are set out in the White Paper, which we intend to publish later this year.

Does my hon. Friend sense that there is a growing irritation among hon. Members at BAA's disproportionate clout and influence on aviation policy and airport capacity? My hon. Friend was in the House when I said in prophetic terms, in relation to terminal 5, that BAA would perform its usual stunt and say, once it had got a runway, that it now needed a terminal. I was wrong in one sense, however: now that BAA has got terminal 5, it wants not one more runway, but three. Is it not time to blow the whistle on BAA, and say that enough is enough? We want all the regional airports that can serve London to be expanded, and there must be a more sensible policy to decide how we meet our aviation capacity shortfall—in the interests of the UK, not of BAA.

I thank my hon. Friend for those views, which were expressed, as ever, in an understated way. Of course, BAA is a big player in the provision of air services; that it should make a contribution to the consultation is totally to be expected, but its contribution to the consultation is no more than that. Other views will be expressed, in both agreement and disagreement, and it will be up to the Government to weigh those matters very carefully at the end of the consultation period. It is probably fortuitous that BAA should have published its views now, as it allows people the opportunity to form possibly contrary views during the consultation process.

I welcome the downgrading of the proposals for expansion of Luton airport from an assumption to an option, but will the Minister confirm that he is not now considering different options, such as the building of taxiways? Such options have not been included in the consultation document, and my constituents have not been asked to give their views on them.

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that no decisions have been made, and that none will be made until the end of the consultation period. He will appreciate that it is not only the options put forward by the Government in the consultation document that have been commented on, and that many contributors to the consultation produced ideas that did not appear in the consultation document. Those ideas will have to be considered very carefully, and weighed against each other. There are very wide-ranging views on all these matters, and we must consider them all very carefully after the end of June.

I want to say, in support of BAA, that its rejection of a proposed airport at Cliffe is absolutely correct. That proposal should be ruled out, on both commercial and environmental grounds. Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to support BAA in this instance, and announce that Cliffe will not be an option in the White Paper?

Tempting though it may be to preempt the consultation, I am unfortunately unable to give my hon. Friend that undertaking today. The Cliffe option is still very much part of the consultation. Some very strong views have been expressed against it, not least by my hon. Friend's constituents, and by people in neighbouring constituencies. However, other views very much in favour of the Cliffe option have also been expressed. We have to weigh those up very carefully at the end of the month. I am sure that the comments that my hon. Friend has made, very robustly, on behalf of his constituents will be taken into consideration at that time.