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Heathrow Expansion

Volume 469: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2007

May I say how grateful I am to Mr. Speaker for granting me this Adjournment debate? The fact that so many Members are here on a Wednesday afternoon indicates how much it is needed. The reason for wanting to debate the subject today is that we have yet to hold a proper debate on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State decided to issue only a written statement about the consultation, although much was said and done outside the House, which I thought was very insulting to Members.

At Transport questions recently, I asked a topical question, but to be honest I was appalled by the complacency and the lack of interest with which the subject—not only is it a major decision but it affects hundreds of thousands of people—was dismissed. I am therefore incredibly grateful to have secured this debate. Although it will be one of the first parliamentary debates on the subject in coming months, it will be a useful start. Because many other Members want to speak, I shall try to keep my comments relatively short, Mr. Benton, so that others can join in if they catch your eye.

I have lived within a short distance of Heathrow all my life. By and large, those who live in the area have always been quite proud of Heathrow. It is certainly something that we have lived with. I am always a little concerned when people say, “Why do people live there? Surely they knew there was an airport there.” It reminds me of the story—is it apocryphal?—of the American wondering why they built Windsor castle so close to Heathrow. Some informed comment is less than informed if it suggests that people do not have to live there if they do not like the problems.

Having an airport nearby can have a positive impact. It has economic advantages, although they are not 100 per cent. positive. If one were to ask the people of the London borough of Hillingdon whether they would still want Heathrow within its boundaries, I think we might get quite a mixed answer. It has brought many other problems to the borough. However, that is as it is.

Those who have lived in the area have seen expansion over the years, but the appetite for expansion seems to grow year by year. I was not sufficiently active in politics when some of the previous developments were proposed to have been in the forefront of campaigns for or against. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has an honourable tradition in opposing much of the expansion at Heathrow, particularly the fifth terminal. With hindsight, I wish I had been alongside him earlier because I think he was right. I hope, Mr. Benton, that he will catch your eye. He may be on the other side of the fence politically, but he is certainly on the same side on this subject.

We have seen an insatiable appetite for expansion, but we have also discovered what happens when we are promised it is to be the last piece of expansion. It never is. Having Heathrow on our back doorstep is almost like having a bully there. No sooner is a fifth terminal agreed than we are told that that is it—that that is all that is needed. There is no question of there being any more—no more runways, no more terminals, that is it. But almost as the ink was drying—perhaps, cynically, I might say before the ink was drying—plans for future expansion were well ahead.

We were told that a third runway was needed. We had been consulted and were told that a third short runway would be necessary; but there was no mention of a sixth terminal. Now there is a third runway, with a sixth terminal. I would be very surprised if the new runway was short—I cannot quite see the point in that; if we are going that far, we might as well go the whole hog. If we are now being been told that that it is all that is needed, then other plans are already afoot for more.

We have been told—I am sure that this applies to Members on all sides of the House, because the subject crosses the party divide—that if there is no further expansion at Heathrow, somehow the airport will die. There will be no third runway; there will be tumbleweed blowing down the Great West road; somehow, we will be living in an industrial desert. The fact is that very few businesses say that they would leave if Heathrow was not expanded. I have a certain amount of experience and knowledge as a local businessman, and I do not think it would make that much difference. I do not think that Heathrow will die.

The hon. Gentleman speaks about the sixth terminal and the third runway, but he should equate it to what happened in the east end of London with the docks. We were told that expansion did not matter there. Why then did we have complete closure of the docks in the east end of London? As someone who travels regularly through Heathrow, I can say that it is more and more the case that I prefer to use Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle or Frankfurt airports. I believe that it should be taken into the equation. If the hon. Gentleman does not wake up to the need for expansion, in the global sense, Heathrow will indeed end up as a desert.

The hon. Gentleman gives me a great deal of ammunition. The example of the docks is interesting. One problem with dockland areas—the Minister represents a former docklands area—is the same as what is happening at Heathrow. The danger is that it will become a one-horse town, a one-industry town. If aviation has problems, as it did with the Gulf war and 9/11, when a delegation of MPs saw Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, to express their worries about the downturn in aviation, local industries could be in serious peril—everything is connected. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is one reason for diversifying. We should not be so reliant on one section of industry.

As for using Schiphol or other airports, I would say—it is the view of many—that BAA ought to get Heathrow running more efficiently, making it a nice airport to use. People would then want to go there. But that is not their experience at the moment. In fact, Heathrow is regarded by many travellers as being a very unpleasant experience. We will have to see whether everyone can get their act together with the fifth terminal. By the way, the fifth terminal was given permission by the inspector on the express condition that there was no further expansion. You can see, Mr. Benton, why we are all so angry in my part of the world. As for the hon. Gentleman using Schiphol, he will find it rather difficult getting to the Houses of Parliament from Amsterdam. It might be more appropriate for him to use the train—a subject that someone else can take up.

I have not seen any hard evidence—the Government have not provided any—to back up the mantra that business will disappear if there is no expansion. The aviation industry seems to have a hold on the Government—Governments of all party persuasions, as far as I can see. If they say they need it, the Government of the day have to fall in with it. It is about time that we challenged that. If there is positive evidence—proper hard evidence—I will look at it.

The reason why I got angry and had a rare outburst in the Chamber—I am normally a quiet sort of person, sitting there loving all my fellow MPs and thinking that they are jolly and nice, but I was very upset—is that the expansion is not a project that will not affect people. It is not just a piece of land, whether brownfield, greenbelt or any other kind. By the Government’s own figures, which I think are underestimated, 700 homes will be destroyed, representing whole communities, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. I do not want to steal his thunder, but I must say as a local person that there are villages and homes there in which people have lived for centuries, yet because we must have a wonderful new runway and another terminal, somehow we must say that it does not matter and move them out. It is like Ceausescu’s Romania, Stalin’s Russia or the highland clearances. We could put sheep there. That would be a good idea.

That is what it is about—putting business before people’s lives—and quite frankly, we are a bit sick and tired of it locally. The Government also refuse to tell us where those people will go. The simple answer is that in an already overcrowded area where housing is a problem, the idea of suddenly rehousing all those people—never mind those who will be working there building the expansion—is absolutely potty. Why do the Government think that they can just remove people, flatten their homes and send them somewhere else in the country—to the virgin lands near Tselinograd, perhaps? What is the matter with them? It is appalling.

We hear a lot about climate change. Today in Bali, world leaders are speaking—wonderful sentiments about how we must reduce our carbon emissions. The Government say that they will be at the forefront, that they are introducing a Climate Change Bill to set real targets and, by the way, that they will be actively encouraging the growth in air travel and ensuring that it is not curbed. I am not suggesting stopping air travel, just curbing its growth.

On the question of curbing the growth in air travel, I commend to my hon. Friend the extension of the high-speed rail network to Heathrow airport. I come from the north country, and many people who come from the north country are forced to transit through Heathrow because rail service terminates in central London. It is inadequate. If the high-speed rail service went via Heathrow, it would save many internal flights.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are lots of internal flights. For some short-haul flights within Europe, I would much rather go by Eurostar than through Heathrow, even though Heathrow is only 15 minutes from my home. It is much simpler to go city-to-city. How can the Government expect me to tell my constituents that they must change their light bulbs and put in a bit of insulation or they will somehow cause the death of numerous polar bears and penguins? This is a serious point, because it is about leadership. If the Government are serious about curbing emissions and being leaders in trying to stop man-made climate change, they must show leadership and say, “Enough is enough. We must look at alternatives to this mad scheme.”

Order. Before I call the next speaker, quite a number of people wish to speak in this debate. Obviously, I shall do my very best to get everybody in, but I propose to start winding-up speeches at 3.30. I ask hon. Members to bear that in mind.

I thank my neighbour the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) for securing this debate, as well as the other Members who also applied for it. It is the luck of a petty bourgeois shopkeeper to be called, but there we are. This is a scene-setting debate. We shall apply regularly for debates on different aspects of the matter, so I warn the Minister not to plan any lengthy holidays next year, and certainly not to plan any via Heathrow.

The issue is fundamental to many of us. The Minister is held in affection in all parts of the House—I remember him as a youthful member of the Socialist Workers party—but the issue comes with a blight warning. He could be the Minister who not only wipes out a third of my constituency but contributes, by his decision on this matter, to the impact on climate change in a way that no other Government decision could.

On Second Reading of the Planning Bill on Monday, I explained my background and involvement in relation to the development of Heathrow. I was at the terminal 4 inquiry, gave evidence to the terminal 5 inquiry and have been involved in virtually every planning issue involving Heathrow for the past 30 years, because I live near there. In 1983, when I was a Greater London councillor for the area, I held the first meeting to protest the proposals for a third runway. At that meeting, local historian Philip Sherwood showed a slide of a planning map from the 1940s for Heathrow airport. On that map was a third runway in almost exactly the position now intended. That confirmed in my constituents’ minds and in my own that over the years, an incremental plan has been systematically rolled out for Heathrow airport that is swamping the Heathrow villages, and the Government have schemed with BAA and other bodies in the aviation industry to enable it to happen.

The third runway and terminal 6 are the latest development in that incremental roll-out, but to return to what the hon. Member for Uxbridge said, I was at the terminal 5 inquiry when BAA’s barrister got up and promised the inspector, “If we get the fifth terminal, there will be no third runway and no further terminal expansion at Heathrow.” BAA wrote to me, stood on platforms with me and wrote to my constituents. The inspector, Mr. Vandermeer, then made his decision—terminal 5, but no further. He did so on several grounds, including an assessment of the environmental impact of any further expansion in terms of both air pollution and noise.

Debates at the inquiry also involved reference to the social impacts—the devastation of our local communities. In the 1990s, the Government undertook a study on runways in the south-east that identified that the expansion of Heathrow airport by a third runway could impact 10,000 people and up to 3,500 homes. Now that further development has taken place, 4,000 homes could be affected either by demolition or by being rendered unliveable. Since then, a further argument has arisen in the form of climate change. Science has moved on and we know more about the impact of emissions, particularly aviation emissions, on climate change. The report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, published two weeks ago, warned us that we have six to eight years to reduce emissions or face climate chaos.

What has changed since the terminal 5 inquiry? We are told that a sixth terminal and a third runway have the potential, with mixed-mode use and runway alternation, to expand the cap on air traffic movements from 480,000 a year to 720,000, and then upwards to 800,000. At the same time, we are told despite the warnings of the terminal 5 inspector about the potential for increased pollution and noise that the expansion will result in no increase in noise or air pollution. It is laughable, is it not?

Project Heathrow, the process set up by the Government for examining the scientific consequences of what would happen as a result of a third runway and a sixth terminal—basically, an impact study—was elicited only by our campaign to get some truth and, to be frank, was rigged. There was no access to all the information or all the partners available. In fact, environmental and local community groups were excluded from that process. On the science, we agreed the assessment techniques, but had no access to the modelling upon which the results would be churned out. We then discovered that BAA supplied most of the information and doctored it as part of the overall inquiry.

I pay tribute to hon. Members who had to use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to get information out of that supposedly independent assessment process. It was a public relations exercise more than an independent study. I expected some form of independent commission with experts, including international experts, acting as observers to ensure veracity in the process. It was no such thing. No social impact assessment was undertaken by the study. All we have in the consultation document is a reference to the number of homes that will be affected, which has gone up from a few hundred to 700 homes. In reality, we know from the South East and East of England Regional Air Service study that 3,000 to 4,000 could be affected.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the other concern about the work done before the consultation is that no formal assessment was made of the public health impact of any of the proposals? I would have expected that to be one of the first issues to be addressed.

Interestingly enough, the hon. Members for Uxbridge and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), and I, met with our primary care trust last Friday to ask it to undertake such work. They had not even been invited to submit evidence on that basis, which I find fascinating, because that was one of the key issues addressed by terminal 5 when we presented surveys of the respiratory conditions of my constituents that resulted from the impact of the airport. We also presented the Chicago research on the cancer impact on those living and working at airports in America. There has been no contingency planning or social impact assessment.

I want to put on the record what the proposals would mean to my community. I believe that they would result in the forced clearance of 10,000 people and whole families. Furthermore, three primary schools will be either demolished or rendered unusable: Harmondsworth, Heathrow and William Byrd. There will also be an impact on the secondary schools in the surrounding area owing to the massive extension of the road network. Whole communities will be wiped out. And what about community centres? I have looked at the flight paths in relation to our two churches—St. Mary’s in Harmondsworth and the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Harlington. When the planes take off from the expanded runway—we were told that it would be a short take-off—they will virtually scrape the roofs. We know what will happen—those churches will be rendered unusable. I predict that we will return to the scenario three years ago when we had to dig up our dead. And there are war graves in those churches’ grounds.

We know from a freedom of information inquiry made by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) that the supposedly most-credible road system—this does not apply to all the options for road systems—will literally run through the gardens and within yards and feet of people’s homes.

Interesting. We have looked at those figures and we think that it is no more than about 15 per cent. of the population. However, interestingly, we have been talking to airport workers, and those who live and work in the area oppose this scheme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen), with whom I have worked over the years, is a good example of this change of heart. A number of us accepted terminal 4; others, including airport workers, accepted terminal 5, but enough is enough—that is the expression now coming from many airport workers.

My hon. Friend knows very well that I was one of the strongest supporters of Heathrow airport and the air transport industry. I supported expansion within the current boundaries, including for terminal 5. Like him, I have decided that enough is enough. Take that as a strong indication that the time has come to draw a line under the expansion of Heathrow airport.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, which has been principled and honest throughout the debates on different levels of expansion.

Let us consider the economic argument. We will return for a further debate specifically on the economic argument, which is incredibly one-sided. In my community, the airport has created jobs, but it has forced some out as well. Land prices have gone up and I have lost skilled manufacturing work. Skilled and trained people have lost their jobs and are now working at Heathrow on unskilled jobs and not necessarily with the same recompense. As the hon. Member for Uxbridge said, my community has become increasingly dependent on the airport, so when the aviation industry catches a cold, there are lay-offs and redundancies and we become almost like a mining town in some areas. I have been at each inquiry at which BAA has promised my constituents that if it gets the new terminal and the development, more jobs will follow. However, I have seen job cuts and losses time and time again, largely as a result of the way in which processes have been changed and of mechanisation. It does not necessarily follow that further expansion and the depletion of our local environment will bring increased employment opportunities.

This process has angered me, my constituents and anyone involved with it all the way through. The consultation was derisory. The consultation document has not been distributed as widely as we were promised. It is difficult to obtain the full documentation. In fact, at one point, when people were phoning up and trying to get hold of it, we were told that copies had run out. There will be no exhibition on the expansion and terminal 6 in Sipson village—the very village that will be obliterated off the face of the earth. I received a note on this matter today. Here are some more examples: the Cranford village exhibition venue is not in Cranford, but close to Cranford cross on the Bath road; the Colnbrook venue is not in Colnbrook, but in Harmondsworth beside the detention centre, which is inaccessible; the west Drayton venue is unsuitable with inadequate parking, and there is no planned consultation or exhibition in Hayes itself, which is in the centre of my constituency, and therefore affected. I believe that the consultation is just a front and public relations propaganda exercise.

There have been no opportunities for Ministers to visit the area and respond to questions from local constituents. There has been no resourcing of community organisations or environmental groups so that they can participate in the consultation. I think that this makes a mockery of demo-cratic government. It might well be that the decision will be taken under the new planning legislation. We have been told that the Government want to convert the aviation White Paper into a planning policy statement. That is unacceptable, because it will not follow a full consultation process, which we are promised planning policy statements do. If the infrastructure planning commission is established it will mean unaccountable bureaucratic decision makers for this major project.

The process has been prejudiced already: statements made by the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor, documents on last year’s Budget, his speech to the City of London, and speeches made by the Secretary of State for Transport on this matter and to the media generally have all announced that the Government plan to drive this process through. That has prejudiced any public inquiry.

In conclusion, the assessment process has been doctored, the consultation process has been fixed and the planning and decision-making processes have been rigged. People will not put up with that. It is a wholesale sell-out of the demo-cratic process. In the summer, the climate camp came to my constituency. Some 200,000 people turned up, constructed a village and brought the issue to the head of media attention. If people do not have confidence in the decision-making process, the climate camp will be back and there will be further demonstrations and protests, because they believe that the demo-cratic process has failed them. And I will join them.

I, too, welcome the debate, and believe that an oral statement should have been made, because this is a controversial issue. I suspect that I am about to make myself unpopular, but there we go.

Like my neighbour, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), I agree that this is a fundamental issue, not only for his constituents, but for mine and many others. I represent people right at the western end of the southern runway and along the southern boundary fence. Until a recent boundary change, I represented what is now terminal 5—then the sewage works—the cargo terminal and, believe it or not, half of terminal 4. Heathrow is fundamental to the 70,000 people whom I represent.

Again, I welcome the fact that there will be further debate, because so much needs to be said on a range of issues. That cannot be done in 10 minutes on an afternoon such as this. So today, I wish simply to do what I have always attempted: to dispel what I see as a number of myths. The first is the myth that everybody near Heathrow is against another runway.

Would the hon. Gentleman therefore like the runway to be south of the proposed location? If he wanted to undertake the consultation, I would be happy to see the plans reconfigured so that the runway and the sixth terminal were built to the south—obliterating part of his constituency.

I have said on a number of occasions that I hope that I would have had the courage to say the same thing—even if the plans had been to the south. I do not know whether that helps the hon. Gentleman.

So the hon. Gentleman is willing to accept that the third runway should be reconfigured on the south of Heathrow.

I can only repeat that I hope that my views remain the same wherever the runway goes, and even if it were in my constituency.

It is an option. I hope that I would keep to the same views, for the simple reason that the majority of my constituents support another runway at Heathrow. I have asked them about the location, and the only condition of support that the majority of my constituents would like is to sort out the environmental issues. I do not disagree with anyone that, if we cannot sort out the environmental issues, we cannot build a runway. However, my research on the basis of mail bags, surgeries and more than 100,000 questionnaires, including independent research, indicates that more than 50 per cent. of my constituents would support another runway, provided that that condition was met.

The second myth that I want to dispel is that anybody who dares to speak up in favour of further expansion at Heathrow must, by definition, be in the pay of the airlines or of big business. I resent that. The only people whose pay I find myself in are the 70,000 who send me here and pay my mortgage for me, for which I am eternally grateful. I resent the argument that it is impossible in all conscience genuinely to believe that expansion at Heathrow is in the interests of the people we represent. That is a myth. My constituents believe that it is in their interests for Heathrow to survive and flourish.

The third myth is that one either opposes or supports everything about Heathrow. I want to ensure that people do not leave the debate with the view that there is nothing on which we all agree. I have already said that we have to sort out the environmental issues. I have not read all the documents, so I cannot comment one way or the other on whether the Government have achieved what they said they would, and I reserve judgment for another debate.

Let me make it clear that any attempt to scrap alternation of runways is something that I too oppose and will fight. I suspect that the Government will impose their view, but my response will be that a third runway should jolly well ensure the ability to reinstate alternation. In any event, I do not want to see an end to alternation. Likewise, there is nothing between me and other hon. Members on wanting an end to night flights. However, I have often said that if we adopted double summer time, we would probably solve most of that problem.

There is a list of myths, but I do not have time to go through them all, so I shall mention one or two others to give some indication of what worries me about the national and regional debate. I exempt those of my colleagues who are present from my comments, because all of us have gone through all the facts and understand the position absolutely. There are others elsewhere, however, who keep repeating a load of nonsense, and I shall give a couple of examples of that.

It has been said in newspapers that should know better that transfer passengers do not matter for the future of Heathrow. That is total nonsense; transfer passengers make up approximately a third of passengers who use the airport. Quite a few routes are made viable by such passengers. Transfer passengers are also the reason why some airlines have a presence at Heathrow. It is nonsense, therefore, to argue that people who come in on one plane and go out on another do not matter to my constituents. Transfer traffic provides the justification for routes and for airline presence. If airline presence and routes are lost, jobs are lost. I do not want my 70,000 to lose jobs, thank you very much.

There is another example that it is appropriate to mention on an occasion such as this. There was a hint in relation to high-speed rail that journeys carried out via short flights may, somehow or other, be undertaken by train instead. I accept that that should be possible, but it is not. There is a simple answer to the argument that all sorts of flights from Manchester to Heathrow are unnecessary, if only people would get their minds around it. More than half the passengers on such flights are transfer passengers who are going somewhere else. If we told them that they had to get on a train in Manchester, go to Euston, and then fight their way through the traffic on the M25 or on the A4, or go across London, they would not. They would simply go from Manchester to Schiphol or Frankfurt. They would fly just as much, and we would lose jobs at Heathrow.

The point that I made earlier was that those of us who travel from the north and transfer between flights would be happy to travel instead on a high-speed train—it would be much more convenient for many of us—provided that the high-speed train route included a stop at Heathrow, as is the case at Charles de Gaulle airport. We do not use the train because, as my hon. Friend says, the trains terminate at Euston and King’s Cross.

That is the point that I was trying to make. I agree with my hon. Friend that it should indeed be possible to make such journeys. It is not, however. Until it is, people will not travel to Heathrow by train no matter how much they are told to do so. They will fly somewhere else, business will be lost from Heathrow and my constituents will lose jobs.

Is not the hon. Gentleman excited by the Arup proposals unveiled in the House just a couple of weeks ago? They would achieve the very objective that he mentions and link London St. Pancras to a new station at Heathrow via Paddington, with an extension parallel to the Chiltern line to Birmingham, and on to the north-west and Scotland. Would not that alternative be well worth consideration?

If we reach the stage where that has happened, we can re-open this discussion. For the moment, however, we cannot even get AirTrack built, which should have been built long ago. Until such projects have happened, it will be necessary to make use of short flights.

I have a final example, which concerns the argument on the future of Heathrow if the runway is not built. I happen to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) in that I do not imagine that Heathrow would close tomorrow or even in the medium term if the project did not happen, but it would decline. My hon. Friend made the point that we used to be proud of Heathrow. I hate to say this, although I have said it to the faces of BAA plc managers, so my comments in this debate will not surprise them: even if Heathrow does not decline, I have gone from being proud of the airport on my doorstep to being somewhat ashamed of the situation that exists there.

There is a list of reasons why things have changed for the worse. If we try to put 68 million people in terminals designed for 45 million, we must not be surprised if we end up with chaos. That was good enough reason for me, with my constituents’ support, to say that T5 would be an answer. Of course, Heathrow cannot carry on as it is and continue to flourish, because it is going backwards already. We know that, because we use it and we see what happens there. If Heathrow goes backwards, my constituents suffer. The status quo simply will not do. We must solve the problems, and doing so in the best interests of my constituents means, in my judgment, building another runway, provided that the environmental issues can be overcome.

I make no apology for upsetting those of my colleagues who are present, nor do I make any apologies for wanting Heathrow to flourish, as 26 per cent. of the economically active people that I represent—a quarter of them—depend directly on Heathrow for their living, which means that the airport affects their families and children. If we were to calculate the figure for those others who depend indirectly on the airport, it would be even greater. As with coal mining towns, we can argue that such dependence is undesirable, which might be true, but the reality is the way it is: we are locked into dependency on a business that needs to flourish in the best interests of my constituents.

Not only the people who depend on the airport are important. There is growing evidence that house values in my constituency are higher, not lower, as a result of proximity to the airport. Therefore, anybody in my constituency, whether they depend on the airport for their wages or not, depends on it to support their mortgage and avoid the negative equity that would result from a decline.

I make no apology for saying that if the Government can persuade us that the environmental issues can be dealt with—that is a big proviso—I and my 70,000 constituents, who live right against the boundary fence, will want to see Heathrow flourish. Flourishing means expansion with another runway.

I want to make a few observations and then urge the Minister and the Government to consider things slightly differently.

First, the position is generally fairly clear. If aircraft were silent and non-polluting and the issue of surface-level access had been completely sorted out, few people would object to the further expansion of Heathrow or of air travel generally, but none of those things is the case. In the real world, there are problems with pollution around Heathrow, and there will be further problems if we increase the number of passenger movements from 480,000 to 720,000, as proposed.

Nor can anyone deny that there are problems with traffic around the airport; one simply has to sit on the M25 near the junction for Heathrow or to move around my constituency on a busy day at the airport to see that the roads are congested.

Similarly, I live under the flight path in Windsor and I know that noisy aircraft wake people up and wreck a good night’s sleep. Indeed, if alternation disappears—from the consultation document, that seems to be the way the Government are heading—nobody will get any respite during the day.

Does my hon. Friend agree that noise is the key issue for millions of people in London and the south-east? Does he also agree that it is sad and surprising that the Government have ignored the findings of the report “Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England”, which they approved and which showed that 57 dB is no longer appropriate for judging serious noise pollution?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely pertinent point. The ANASE study clearly showed that people are now more annoyed with aircraft noise at every level of decibel measurement. I have grave concerns about the Government’s treatment of the report, which indicated that the 57 dB line should be lowered somewhat, but I am sure that we will address that issue in one of our future debates.

I have several observations to make. First, night flights are the great enemy of the people. If there were no night flights, the quality of life of many people around Heathrow and many other airports would improve no end.

Secondly, there will be some changes to flight paths if the third runway goes ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said that property prices near the airport are, bizarrely, going up, but it is clear from all the evidence that prices would go down if a new flight path were created over properties that were not under an existing flight path.

Another point that is constantly raised in favour of the expansion of Heathrow is the economics of the airport, so let us be clear about the issue. About a third of the traffic through Heathrow is business traffic, a third is people visiting friends and family abroad, and a third is leisure travel and holidays abroad. It is equally clear, although this was left out of the Oxford Economic Forecasting report, that British tourists travelling abroad spend more than £15 billion a year, which is more than those coming into Heathrow spend in Britain. Therefore, if we look at the economics—even in terms of the Chancellor’s take at the Exchequer—the arguments are against further expansion, if that means the further expansion of tourist and leisure flights from Heathrow.

It is also clear—perhaps the Minister could address the point specifically—that the inspector at the inquiry placed a condition on the previous expansion and granted permission on the condition that there would be no further expansion at Heathrow.

Is there not a case for an independent body to monitor the pollution and environmental impact of Heathrow, along with surface access to the airport and the noise that comes from it? Most of those matters are monitored by various different bodies, but would it not be a good idea to consider establishing a body with a duty to publish and disperse such information? Currently, the information is fragmented, and as hon. Members will know, it is incredibly difficult to discover the details of what has been going on at Heathrow, particularly with regard to noise at particular times of day.

It is clear from the Chancellor’s remarks and the tone of debate in the House thus far that the Government have already made a decision somewhere along the way. Consultations are a good thing, but they can sometimes set up a false expectation. If people think that spending one or two hours of their day filling in the consultation forms will have an impact on the Government’s decision, I feel very frustrated for them. What we have is a consultation on the technical aspects of the decision, not on whether to go ahead, because the Government seem already to have decided to do so.

My final question is, where is the vision? We are in the 21st century, but where is the vision for Heathrow and air travel? We have two different models of air travel. In the US, people have discovered that the hub-and-spoke model, which is being argued for here, is outdated. Most people’s preferred choice is to get on a flight and fly directly, point to point, to their destination.

New models of aircraft can also be a lot quieter. Arguably, the A380 is a third quieter than existing 747s. That is helpful. Why not insist that new standards are brought in sooner rather than later? That would help to deal with the noise issue.

The difficulty with that argument is that almost no runway in the world can cope with the A380, so flying point to point with the A380 would not be possible.

I can understand why my hon. Friend makes that point, but I should note that the A380 can operate on just over 50 per cent. of the runways in the United Kingdom, as well as on runways worldwide, although I cannot remember the exact percentage. It is only a matter of time before more A380 landings are accepted and we can use the existing number of flights to transport 70 or 80 per cent. more passengers more quietly. The A380 and other aircraft developments in the field are therefore to be welcomed and encouraged.

Again, my question to the Government is, where is the vision? There is so much new technology out there, and many more aircraft will be coming off the production lines in the next few years, so why not introduce new standards sooner rather than later, particularly at Heathrow? Commercial airlines could then decide which aircraft they wanted to use on a commercial basis in and out of Heathrow.

Finally—I just float this as an idea for consideration—the French have been able to move their main airport twice in a 20-year time frame. They seemed to manage that and to sort out the traffic issues around the airport. It was a fairly bold move, but it seems to have paid off. Has the Minister considered showing more vision and perhaps having an airport offshore or on the coast, with a high-speed rail link? Nobody would complain about aircraft noise or lose a night’s sleep, Britain would prosper economically and even tourist flights would be more welcome than they are today.

I am pleased to contribute to the debate. Many hon. Members will have heard me speak at length outside the Chamber about my concerns regarding the impact of the expansion of Heathrow on my constituency, but it is useful to be able to put some of those concerns on record.

Underpinning all the comments that we have heard today are a few key issues, of which the most important for me is trust, or rather people’s lack of trust, in the consultation document on which they can currently give their views. There is lack of trust because, although people expected BAA to provide data for the modelling process, they never expected Heathrow’s operator, which stood to gain so much financially from a yes decision, to do so much modelling of the environmental results. Conveniently, those results now say that it is okay to go ahead and expand Heathrow and that there will be less noise and pollution, even though the airport will be nearly twice the size.

Bias, therefore, is our other key concern. Some of us had hoped to have, perhaps for the first time, a balanced debate about how to strike a balance between the difficult issues of a growing city’s needs for airport capacity and the needs of its residents, including my constituents, who drive London’s economy day to day. We needed a reasoned debate, which would feature unbiased facts. The biggest tragedy and disappointment from my perspective is the loss of that opportunity.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned my requests for information, and in spite of six months of effort, I have still not managed to obtain any detailed modelling of the environmental impact of an expanded Heathrow. I have now asked for an internal review of the decision not to give me any data. Even that request has not had an answer. That is a month late, having been due on 6 November. It is now 12 December, and still there is no yes or no. That is the critical answer that I need, because without it I have no potential to complain—should I receive a no—to Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner.

The matter is important for my constituents, and it is of great concern to me that public health has not yet been considered. The impact that the development could have on family life in Putney is of great concern to me. In the recent study, “Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England”, which examined how aircraft noise affects people across England, many of the people who identified themselves as most frustrated and annoyed by aircraft noise were, ironically, professional people—the very ones who are about to get on to crammed tubes every day, struggle in to the City and do those deals that keep the wheels of our economy turning. It is therefore particularly worrying that the Government and the Minister are so cavalier about the risks.

I want to keep my comments short, but I have a few final key questions for the Minister. What independent review has been undertaken of the environmental work, and is the Minister willing to say which bodies did it and to put their comments in the public domain? What independent review was undertaken of the public consultation exhibition boards that are being shown to people? That is not happening in my constituency— according to the Government, my patch apparently does not have a problem with aircraft noise, so it does not need a consultation.

Who reviewed the boards? One of the bullet points on them says, for example, that nine out of 10 companies in the area close to Heathrow say that it is very important or vital, but it fails to point out that that figure refers to nine out of 10 companies that responded to the questionnaire, which was sent out as part of the Oxford Economic Forecasting report.

I understand that just 5 per cent. of companies that were asked for a view bothered to respond. So, one in 20, rather than nine out of 10, thinks that Heathrow is critical or very important. What process was used for the questionnaire that people were asked to fill in? Many of us are concerned that it is very technical. I appreciate that this is a technical area, but what review process was there for the document, so as to provide a reasonable check of its intelligibility?

I make a final plea to the Minister for some assurances. Many different groups and individuals, including my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), London First and all the MPs present for the debate, say that environmental issues are important. Will the Minister at least give an assurance that if—when I eventually get the facts about what has been modelled—it turns out that the expansion of Heathrow will be as catastrophic for the local environment as some of us suspect, he will go back to the drawing board and take on board the grave concerns that we all have for the environment and London’s economy?

The Government will not be able to persist in sticking their head in the sand. We need a reasoned, balanced approach that confronts environmental issues, rather than pretending they do not exist. Whether by this Government or another, the issues will have to be confronted eventually. The cost to the population of London of getting the decision wrong will be very dear. The Minister should be careful before pressing on in such a cavalier way.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on securing the debate. The brief time that I have available will allow me to register three messages with the Minister.

First, Hillingdon speaks with one voice on this issue through its elected representatives in Parliament and in the council. The community that I represent is not losing houses, schools or churches, but it feels tremendous solidarity with the outrage at the putting of business before people, as my hon. Friend put it. My constituents are worried about the impact of new take-off flight paths over Harrow and Northolt. They are worried about what the expansion means for the future of RAF Northolt, because there have been mixed messages about that in the past, and they are worried about what it means in terms of the costs that they will have to pay.

In the interest of joined-up government, the Department for Transport should be aware that the expansion of Heathrow presents the people of Hillingdon with a real issue, because a bigger airport means more unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. That is not an issue that affects every constituency in the country, but the numbers are big and the economic reality is that Hillingdon supports those unfortunate people and pays for them. The numbers run into hundreds, and the costs into millions of pounds. Hillingdon takes enormous pride in the service and support that it offers, but is deeply disappointed by the Government’s reaction to its need for funding support. The reality, of which the Minister should be aware, is that this year Hillingdon council tax will rise 3 per cent. to fund those costs, which the Government do not meet. That problem touches people in their pockets and we in the community are concerned that it will begin to affect what have been, up to now, very good community relations. I give that example to show the many facets and angles of the debate that the Government need to think carefully about.

Secondly, the process may drive another nail into the coffin of public trust in the political process and the Government. Other hon. Members have made that point adequately, but it is a simple one: promises have been broken, so why should anyone believe what the Government say on the issue in future?

Thirdly, I want to reinforce the point that the process is in danger of driving a coach and horses through the Government’s climate change policy. Are we serious about that or not? If we are, why do we continue to adopt a predict-and-provide approach for the fastest-growing source of emissions? We should remind ourselves that aviation is the fastest-growing source of emissions in this country: it has grown 90 per cent. between 1990 and 2004 and is expected to double by 2050. On some models it will represent 100 per cent. of Britain’s carbon budget by 2050 if it is left unchecked, yet we continue to give a green light to further expansion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge pointed out.

What on earth are we to say to our constituents when they say, “Hang on, the Government are telling us that climate change is the most important challenge we face, but they are expanding Heathrow”? The Minister may talk about emissions trading in his reply, but I sat on the Environmental Audit Committee for two years and we examined emissions trading exhaustively. It is a cap and trade scheme, and cap and trade schemes are only as good as the cap. The history of the emissions trading scheme should not, if it is the only tool in the box for controlling aircraft emissions, give the Government any of the comfort that we desperately need in the face of the threat.

My final point is that the Government argue that the expansion is in the interest of national competitiveness and the national economy, but I seriously doubt whether that proposition has been tested adequately. The growth in aviation is due not to business, but to cheap leisure. With the growth of sophisticated video conferencing technology, I do not expect that trend to change. What proportion of the new passengers will be interchange passengers, who contribute nothing to the national economy? What consideration has been given to the tourism deficit—the difference between what British tourists spend overseas and what overseas tourists spend here—which is calculated to be about £15 billion annually? How has the London economy suffered during the time when Heathrow has not grown as fast as other international airports? I have not noticed such suffering.

Have the Government really caught the genuine voice of business? The last British Chambers of Commerce survey that I saw said that 70 per cent. were not in favour of Heathrow expansion. The last Institute of Directors survey showed that only 1 per cent. of directors considered the expansion of Heathrow to be a priority. The voice that I hear says that people want a better airport, not a bigger airport.

We have an opportunity to stop the rot. The Government have an absolutely golden opportunity to take a lead and stop the nonsensical game of, “My airport is bigger than your airport,” as if it were a significant symbol of a nation’s status. The Prime Minister has billed the issue as an example of his ability to take a tough decision; the truth is that the only brave and visionary decision would be to say no.

I speak not only on behalf of my party as its transport spokesperson, but as the Member for Richmond Park, a constituency that is very definitely under the flight path. If I have a conflict of interest, it is that I live under the flight path and within the 57 dB benchmark area.

My party is unequivocally and without question opposed to the third runway, to the sixth terminal and to the end of runway alternation and its substitution for mixed mode. We oppose each proposal that was offered in the Heathrow consultation, which would create a Gatwick next to Heathrow. It would not be expansion; it would essentially be the creation of a second airport on the Heathrow site. I hope today that I hear from the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman equally unequivocal opposition to the expansion plans.

This must be one of the most ironic debates ever. Government representatives are in Bali, supposedly at the heart of negotiations on how we as a global economy can combat climate change and on the changes that we must make to every aspect of life; but here we are, at a debate in which the Government are proposing probably the most significant carbon emission-increasing measures that will pass in front of any Department in the next decade. I shall use my time in several ways. This is not a moment to reiterate the general debate about carbon emissions, but with air transport already producing about 5.6 per cent. of emissions, and well on its way to producing 25 per cent. of UK emissions by about 2030 if nothing is done, it strikes me as completely ludicrous to think that that strategy could possibly be in keeping with the thrust and urgency of tackling climate change.

The proposal is the last throe of an old era—a project that has been in the stocks for a long time and that represents an old way of thinking. When I hear the business case, I am very much reminded of all those discussions with business back in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, when every city needed more and more motorways carved through its centre and every road needed to be expanded, because if one did not constantly predict and provide and stimulate and meet demand, one’s economy would simply turn in on itself and begin to disintegrate. That thinking has ended—thank goodness. When we talk about the motor car, we recognise its foolishness, but the same thinking still seems to capture the Government when they deal with aviation.

If the Government really were to spend some time with the business community, they would find that opinions have shifted dramatically. People who did not question the conventional wisdom one or two years ago question it today. If the Government were to talk to small and medium-sized businesses, particularly, in this city, they would find general disinterest in what happens at Heathrow. The businesses would like a decent service at Heathrow, but there is no sense that we are short of the capacity to move people across the globe or across continental Europe, or that additional flights are desperately required at Heathrow.

The hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) and others made the point that the strength of the London economy has depended on its ability to attract headquarters, particularly in major industries such as banking and finance. The Minister knows that those companies move to London only because the families of senior executives are willing to live here, which is one reason why Frankfurt has not expanded as many in the Germany economy anticipated. That situation has given strength and opportunity to London, but on the day that those additional flights come overhead and the third runway means that planes fly intensively over Kensington and Chelsea, there will be a fundamental change in the attitude towards living in this city. Quality of life is not simply a nicety, a luxury or an add-on; it is essential to the functioning of London’s economy, and as we lose it, we put the future of London at risk.

The hon. Lady knows that planes already fly overhead for half the day, so it is not a question of imposing on people something that they do not have. They already have half a day of planes flying overhead; they are asking for the other half to be kept free.

I can only agree with the hon. Lady. Mixed mode and half a day of peace certainly make a huge difference in my constituency. People can plan things like weddings in the afternoon, and schools can have a sports day during which their children can be outside and hear each other in the afternoon. The difference is phenomenal. I am conscious of other constituencies that are so close to the airport that children’s education and lives are generally disrupted by the constant impact of noise, but the loss of that half day is the final straw for my community. People who have put up with the insistent and intrusive level of noise have been able to do so only because they know that there will be relief from time to time. To take away that relief is so utterly fundamental that the Minister should meet some of my constituents to understand how it changes their views, turning them from people who are generally opposed to Heathrow into active militants.

Noise was inadequately dealt with during the consultation. I spoke to a noise expert who visited Barnes wetlands recently. The hon. Member for Putney also attended, because it was the nearest exhibition to her constituency. The expert and I agreed that decibels are a measure of interest to physicists who are interested in the behaviour of sound waves, but that they do not tell anybody very much about how people hear noise. The value of the “Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England” study has been to demonstrate that noise is becoming more intrusive, disturbing and annoying. If the Government will not take it into serious consideration and understand that the standards of noise that they used in the past will not do today, just as the standards of pollution, cleanliness and responsiveness that we used in the past will not do today, they do not understand the dynamics of my city.

The issue that exercises me more than any other is the consultation process. Several hon. Members have said that there is a question about trust. Indeed, one promise after another has been broken over the years, so we start from a position of grave distrust of the Government and of BAA and its motivations. It bothers people enormously that BAA was so intensely involved in the development of the consultation documents and of the documents behind them, such that it is impossible to tell where one organisation stops and the other begins. There was obviously no independence in that process.

I ask once more, will the Minister come, or will he direct his senior officials to come, and answer questions directly, face to face? Some 700 families will lose their homes, thousands of people will lose their half day of peace and thousands more will come under the flight path for the first time, but no Minister is willing to enter into dialogue. We live in a democracy, and such dialogue is essential. The mistrust extends to the planning process, which is quite frightening when one considers the issue in the context of airport expansion.

The possibility is that without consultation, the new proposals for Heathrow will be fast-tracked into the new Planning Bill. Someone said to me—it struck me as wise—that we ought to call it the “Planning (More Runways and Nuclear Power Stations) Bill”, because that is what it is—a mechanism for a fast-track decision, which essentially means that local people will be carved out of any effective consultation. I have said to the Minister before—I think perhaps he smiled and laughed at the time—that many of the questions in the consultation document are just about unintelligible. To work one’s way through it and give a positive or sensible set of responses is nearly impossible.

Those of us who oppose the expansion are backed by the 2M group, which comprises local councils representing more than 2 million residents. As a group, collectively and across parties, we are determined to fight the expansion in every way we can, by every means. I suspect that we will succeed, because we have the populace behind us. We are all determined to ensure that the expansion does not happen.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on obtaining the debate. He has been a most effective campaigner for his constituents on the issue over the years and has made his mark again and again. In March, I visited his near neighbours in Hounslow, and the vexation of local people was evident. Many felt that they had been, and continued to be, ignored. One would have needed a heart of stone not to be affected by some of the sights. Lampton school, which I visited, did not even have an air-conditioned room for students to take their exams in, so the teaching staff were faced with the choice of frying them in a boiling hot room in June or their having to be deafened every 90 seconds by a jumbo taking off.

My hon. Friend represented the views of his constituents colourfully, and when he mentioned the highland clearances and we heard the vigorous speech of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), it struck me that if the Scots had had those two at Culloden, history might have taken a different course.

The debate presents an opportunity to put many people’s concerns to the Minister, and there have been some very good speeches. In fact, we all welcome the opportunity to question the Government. We have been told by them, not least by the Prime Minister, that the expansion of Heathrow is an issue of the utmost national importance—so important, in fact, that the decision to launch the consultation did not even involve the Secretary of State coming to the House. Instead, it was slipped out in a written statement.

Meanwhile, a report appeared in The Times on 22 November under the headline, “Stansted runway plan scrapped in favour of Heathrow growth”, saying that the Government were prepared to drop backing for expansion at Stansted to get it at Heathrow. Is that true? The Opposition are firmly against further runway expansion at Stansted and Gatwick. Nobody with a serious commitment to combating climate change—we heard a brief but remarkable speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd)—could consider the three extra runways that were in the Government’s original White Paper.

We, as a party, are committed to reducing the growth in aviation emissions towards a rate that could be covered by efficiency savings. Nevertheless, we recognise as a party that the economic case for expanding Heathrow is much stronger than those for the other two airports. With characteristic vigour, my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) made some points on that. However, before any decision can be made on a matter of such importance, four tests must be met—those set out clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), who has taken the trouble to join us today. They are on NOx pollution, noise, examining alternative ways to meet demand and free up capacity, and, above all, meeting our climate change targets.

Can expansion go ahead in a way that is consistent with meeting EU requirements on NOx emissions? Can it go ahead in a way that still allows us to meet our targets on climate change and cutting CO2 emissions? Is it possible to meet increased demand with more efficient use of existing capacity or by providing better transport alternatives, such as high-speed rail? Most controversially of all, is expansion consistent with no increase in the overall noise footprint of the airport and a progressive reduction in that footprint in the medium term?

There is a particular wrinkle on that last point: the current night-time flight regime was rejigged in 2006 and will end in 2012. During the passage of the Civil Aviation Act 2006, as has been said several times, the Government tried to abolish the combined movement and noise quota in favour of just a noise quota to determine night flights. Conservative peers, working with Liberal Democrats, defeated the Government in the Lords. Had they not done so, night disturbance would have increased considerably.

I shall put some detailed questions to the Minister. Can he guarantee that there are no plans to remove the night cap? What are the plans after 2012? During the passage of the 2006 Act, we tabled a number of amendments to improve the measurement of noise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) said, and to introduce independent verification of noise limits and tightening of the system of fines for exceeding noise quotas, which my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) is keen on. The Government rejected them all out of hand. Are they willing to reconsider?

Do the Government stand by their promise, made in the White Paper and reiterated in the statement to the House, that there will be no net increase in the 57 dB noise contour area of 127 sq km? Following on from that, after commissioning and paying for the ANASE report, which my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) described with his customary vigour and which was six years in the making, have they simply abandoned its findings? In particular, do Ministers still believe that Leq is an appropriate and credible measure of noise?

How many homes would lose their alternate half-days of comparative peace and quiet if mixed mode on runways were introduced? When I visited Hounslow, I got the feeling that communities thought that their half-day of peace and quiet was a bigger issue than the third runway. I note the unanimity on that subject among all who have spoken today. Has the Minister made any comparative studies of noise insulation schemes administered by non-BAA-owned airports abroad and in the UK? Does he appreciate that if Heathrow had to apply the standards that City airport has voluntarily taken on, it would be insulating homes in Kensington?

The Government stated in the 2003 White Paper:

“The most difficult issue confronting Heathrow concerns compliance with the mandatory air quality limits for NO2 that will apply from 2010, and in particular the annual mean limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. The consultation document…said”


“another runway at Heathrow could not be considered unless the Government could be confident that levels of all relevant pollutants could be consistently contained within EU limits.”

Do the Government rule out seeking a derogation, temporary or otherwise, from the mandatory air quality limits on NOx that will apply from 2010? Does all or any part of the Heathrow site already exceed those limits? Have the Government studied Ove Arup’s innovative Heathrow hub concept and fully considered its advantages in tackling real threats to security and hugely reducing traffic flows, the carbon footprint and NOx?

At 14 years, the public inquiry on terminal 4 was the longest in UK planning history. Does the Minister accept that, whatever the decision, we owe it to all parties to arrive at a decision in a timely fashion? At what stage does he envisage the Secretary of State calling in the planning application for a third runway?

I am sorry. I would normally give way, but I have almost run out of time.

Where do the Government stand on the rumours that BAA is about to propose a full-length, rather than short-length, runway? One more question, which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood: what is the future of RAF Northolt? Is it guaranteed under the planned scenario? Everybody who has spoken in the debate agrees that we need a better service at Heathrow, but the Government must answer those questions before the Opposition take a view on whether it should be expanded.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Benton. I congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on securing this debate on a topic of such importance not only to his constituents, but to the whole UK.

I have some remarks to put on the record first, and I shall try to rattle through them and get to as many points that hon. Members raised as I can. If I am unable to do that, as I suspect I shall be, I shall write to hon. Members.

We had a meeting with a number of interested local MPs last week and I have promised another one, and I acknowledge the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that this will be only one of a series of debates on specific aspects of the matter. I suppose that, given the generality of opening up Heathrow, that is appropriate.

The Government recognise the breadth and intensity of views on airport expansion, particularly Heathrow. We believe it is time to take decisions about the future of Heathrow, both in the national interest and to end the uncertainty for those who live in the locality.

Hon. Members have asked whether a decision has already been taken. The case for expanding Heathrow was made clearly in the 2003 White Paper, “The Future of Air Transport”, following an extensive study of capacity and likely future demand for air travel in the UK. It concluded that three new runways would be needed in the south-east to satisfy demand over the next 30 years. That is the vision and long-term planning that one or two hon. Members asked about. However, the Government decided to support only two runways—at Stansted and at Heathrow—subject to important preconditions. The article in The Times was completely wrong, and we have said that publicly. We think that the Stansted application will come forward shortly, and we support expansion there.

Alternative locations, including a new four-runway airport at Cliffe in north Kent, were examined in depth and consulted on. Despite the obvious benefits of minimising flights over populated areas, they were ruled out on the grounds that they were not viable, not least in financial terms. The Government decided instead to support a strategy aimed at making the best use of existing infrastructure and targeting new runway capacity where it is really needed, in the south-east and in the regions.

I shall try to give way later if possible. I apologise for not giving way now. I am not being discourteous; I simply want to respond to as much of the debate as possible in the nine minutes left.

That strategy set out to balance, as far as possible, the needs of the economy, the environment, local communities and the wider population of the UK. Our latest forecasts endorse the broad trends identified earlier. They also confirm that even when the costs of carbon have been fully taken into account, in line with the Stern review, the economic case for developing Heathrow remains strong. That point is covered in some detail in the impact assessment that forms part of our consultation document, to which I shall turn in a moment.

We also want conditions at the airport to improve. Delays, overcrowding, and lost baggage are just some of the frequent complaints, but Heathrow is struggling with ageing infrastructure and volumes of traffic beyond its design capacity. The good news is that the state-of-the-art terminal 5 will open next March and that BAA has plans to invest £6.2 billion in modernising the airport over the next 10 years. By 2012, two out of three air passengers will be using terminals that are not open today.

We need to consider the whole passenger journey, including travel to and from Heathrow. Again, improvements are coming. The Government’s £16 billion funding deal for Crossrail is now in place, which will provide a 25-minute link to the centre of London. From 2014, enhanced Piccadilly line services will add further options for people travelling to the airport, including, very importantly, its work force. Also, AirTrack, if approved, promises to make a significant addition to Heathrow’s rail links, providing direct services from terminal 5 to the south-west rail network via Staines. That point was raised by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire).

All that will improve the passenger experience, but it is not just the terminal facilities that are struggling to cope—so are the runways. Demand for departures and arrivals exceeds capacity on the current two runways, so even the smallest problem in the system can have a disproportionate impact elsewhere, leading to delays from which it is difficult to recover.

Current runway constraints also have environmental impacts. More than 100,000 aircraft had to be stacked over London in 2006-07, emitting more than 50,000 tonnes of carbon. If the current proposals are approved, National Air Traffic Services would look to balance safety, which is paramount, airspace capacity, airport resilience and environmental requirements. Depending on any options pursued, there may be some scope to reduce stacking with consequent potential environmental benefit. Ultimately, we have to address the question of runway capacity.

Our support in 2003 for a short, third runway at Heathrow was conditional on strict local conditions, one of which was that there would be a noise limit and no increase in the size of the area significantly affected by aircraft noise, as measured by the 2002 57 dBA Leq noise contour—the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) asked about that. Other local conditions concerned air quality limits and our being confident of meeting the European air quality limits around the airport, and improving public transport access to the airport.

The consultation launched on 22 November also presented proposals for introducing mixed mode operations on the existing runways, both within the flight cap, to improve resilience, and beyond the cap to allow an additional 60,000 movements a year. That would be subject to the same conditions. Again, the consultation document presents analysis and invites views. It also considers existing operational procedures such as the Cranford agreement and westerly preference, which the T5 inquiry recommended should be reviewed.

We want to take full account of the breadth of views and the evidence that all interested parties may have to offer between now and the closing date of 27 February, and I urge all people who will be affected by the proposals to register their views. We have tried to facilitate that by sending summary documents to more than 217,000 households, alerting them to the consultation process and telling them how they can find out more.

I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington—there were a few problems for a couple of days, but they have been resolved. We have set up a helpline number—0845 600 4170—and an e-mail address, heathrow, to enable people to ask questions. The online address is

In addition, we are mounting a series of 11 exhibitions—six in December and five in January, or it may be the other way around—which began last Friday, to give people further opportunities to understand the issues and register their views. Following the consultation, we will take the final policy decisions later in 2008 after we have finished assessing all the responses and accompanying evidence.

I shall now address a few of the specific points that have been raised and then give way to answer questions, if I have the chance. The hon. Member for Uxbridge criticised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on her approach to the matter, but I assure him that she treats it with the utmost seriousness. She fully explained to the House last week, in Transport questions, why a written statement was entirely appropriate. Consultations are generally launched by a written ministerial statement, and she intends to make an oral statement to the House in due course.

I asked where in the consultation the people who are to be forced from their homes can find out where they are to be removed to.

I shall come to that in a moment. My final point on the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised earlier is that it is not only BAA making the economic case, but London First, the City and other individuals and organisations. I believe that the consultation responses will show that.

On the issue that the hon. Gentleman has just raised, home owners whose properties are required will have statutory protection in the form of blight and compensation payments at the appropriate planning stage, which is normally once a planning application has been approved. In line with Government recommendations, BAA also operates a voluntary scheme, the property market bond scheme, which provides additional protection to home owners in the form of guaranteeing the market value of properties in the intervening period, once the intention to apply for planning permission has been announced.

Other protection includes the reimbursement of legal and moving expenses when homes are sold, and an additional home loss payment of 10 per cent. when planning permission is granted. BAA is already implementing such arrangements at Stansted, ahead of any formal planning application for a second runway there.

The position as far as leaseholders and tenants are concerned will depend on the terms of their leasehold or tenancy. For those in social housing, the local authority will have a responsibility to find alternative accommodation. On the availability of alternative housing, if the proposals are taken forward, the relevant properties will be acquired over a considerable period. We expect those affected to be able to find alternative properties on the open market.

I suggest that the Minister come and see for himself that there are no available properties in the area. People want to live in the same area, within a few miles, but there are no available properties and the value of their houses has already decreased. The whole thing is ridiculous.

There are already 2,000 families on the homeless waiting list in Hillingdon. There is nowhere for them to go.

Before our next debate, will the Minister provide us with information regarding the costs of the third runway and the sixth terminal in terms of construction and the contingency plans that will be required to relocate those communities? What cost burden will fall on the public purse? I believe that Ferrovial will not pay for it, and that it will squeeze out all other expenditure on beneficial transport developments for perhaps two decades.

My hon. Friend asks me to research a matter for him in advance of the next debate, and I am happy to do that. Obviously, we are in the consultation period and we expect many of these genuine and serious issues to be raised. Answers will have to be forthcoming in due course; that is why we are having the consultation. However, the Government are consulting on the basis that we have stated our policy to expand Heathrow and have a third runway and additional terminal, because we believe it to be in the economic interest of London and UK plc.

The scientific, environmental and economic modelling are contained in the reports that accompany the consultation—