I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of adding capacity to Heathrow.
I am grateful to the House and to the business managers for agreeing to this debate. I very much welcome this opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding the future development of Heathrow airport. It is of course not the first debate on this subject in the House, but it is the first time that I have had the opportunity of taking part as Secretary of State for Transport. I am looking forward to hearing the views of right hon. and hon. Members. I know that many here today have particular points that they wish to make about Heathrow; indeed, some have previously asked to meet me personally. However, with the consultation on Heathrow now closed, it would have been extremely difficult for me to meet particular individuals or interested parties without invoking criticism that they were being given undue influence. That is why I asked for this debate to take place. The great benefit of today’s proceedings is that they are on the record and give all Members an equal opportunity to have their say before any final decisions are taken.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) informed the House in her written ministerial statement on 8 July, I hope to announce my decision on whether, and if so how, additional capacity might be added at Heathrow before the end of the year. It is right that we bring this period of uncertainty to an end as soon as practically possible for the benefit of the people directly affected and for the country as a whole. However, it is also right that we carefully and thoroughly review all the available evidence before reaching our conclusions. That is precisely what we are doing.
The House will be aware that the Government completed a very extensive consultation on the future development of Heathrow earlier this year. I am acutely aware that airport development in general, and the future of Heathrow in particular, arouses strong feelings. Indeed, we received almost 70,000 responses to the consultation from individuals and organisations across a whole spectrum of views. It is worth emphasising at this stage that this consultation was not about the need for new capacity at Heathrow. The Government made clear their views in the 2003 White Paper “The Future of Air Transport”, which supported the case for future development of Heathrow, including a further new runway and additional terminal capacity.
If I could make a little more progress, I will give way in due course.
We recognised at the time that this would have implications for people around Heathrow, which is why we have made that commitment subject to meeting stringent local environmental conditions. Let me remind the House of what those conditions are. First, we must meet our European obligations with regard to local air quality. That means that pollution from particulates and nitrogen dioxide must be within prescribed limits by the time any capacity changes are implemented.
In a moment.
Secondly, there is a commitment not to increase the size of the area significantly affected by aircraft noise. We measure this by reference to the 57 dB noise contour, which is a measure of the average exposure to aircraft noise over a typical 16-hour day. We take as our benchmark the size of that area in 2002—the latest data available before publication of the 2003 White Paper—which was 127 sq km. Thirdly, there is an expectation that any airport development should be accompanied by measures to improve public transport access to the airport, particularly by rail.
I undertook to give way in a moment. If the hon. Lady will wait, I shall set the scene and set out the principles. It is important that the House should have this opportunity. I will certainly give way when we get on to the detail.
We have since undertaken a three-year programme of technical analysis to assess whether these conditions can be met for a new runway given the construction time frame, as well as for the other options we set out for adding capacity at the airport. I will return to these conditions in more detail later in my speech.
After that work had concluded, the consultation launched in November last year invited views on three different options: first, a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; secondly, mixed-mode landing and take-off patterns within existing capacity around 2010 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; and, thirdly, mixed-mode within existing capacity around 2010, full mixed-mode around 2015 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020. The mixed-mode process involves using each runway for both landings and landings and take-offs—the kind of operation that happens now at any single-runway airport such as Gatwick or Stansted. At Heathrow, however, it would mean aircraft arriving and departing on both runways, in contrast to the current practice of runway alternation, whereby aircraft normally arrive on one runway and depart from the other. Mixed-mode operations could provide additional runway capacity in the period before a third runway could be operational.
In two seconds, if the hon. Lady will be patient.
That could also bring an added degree of resilience to the airport, even without increasing traffic levels, as it would provide greater flexibility in the use of the two runways and an improved ability to manage air traffic during periods of congestion or bad weather.
How does the Secretary of State reconcile his repeated statements that he is in favour of a third runway at Heathrow—statements echoed repeatedly by the Prime Minister—with the fact that the consultation has only just closed? Surely the consultation that they have carried out has been a complete sham, because his mind is made up, and has been for a long time—as has the Prime Minister’s.
In a sense, I am sorry to have given way. I set out the position very precisely for the hon. Lady. It is set out in the White Paper: it is that the Government supported the expansion of Heathrow on the basis of capacity in the 2003 White Paper, subject to the clear environmental conditions—the local environmental conditions—that have to be met. I have just set out the answer—
I am going to make a little progress. I will give way in a moment.
The question of capacity—this is important, and I hope that the hon. Lady pays better attention—is not a new one for Heathrow. The need for new runway capacity in the south-east has been under review in one form or another since 1990, including a runway capacity study that ran for 3 years from 1990 to 1993 and regional air studies from 1999 to 2003.
I will give way in a second.
Indeed, the need for new capacity was recognised by the Opposition when they were in government. As recently as 1995, my predecessor, the noble Lord Mawhinney, told this House that he recognised there was
“a strong case for additional runway capacity in the south-east”.—[Official Report, 2 February 1995; Vol. 253, c. 859W.]
In a second.
There are now more than 1 million flights a year. That is what has changed—the need for new capacity has got greater. And in response, the Opposition have collapsed into incoherence on the issue. Airport capacity throughout the United Kingdom was fully explored in the run-up to the 2003 White Paper. At the time, that was the largest transport policy consultation we had ever undertaken, attracting around half a million responses. The scale of the consultations to date clearly illustrates how important aviation is to the country and to the lives of the many people it touches directly or indirectly. It also highlights the vital need for the Government to take long-term, strategic approaches to future UK airport capacity. These are not questions that can be fudged for politically expedient reasons.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that what has changed is that we now understand the threat of climate change? A Climate Change Bill is passing through Parliament, and his right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has said that unless Britain plays its part in the coming Copenhagen meeting, there will be no solution. To have a consultation that excludes the wider environmental issues is a sham. We are talking not about narrow, party political or local issues, but the future of Britain and the world.
The right hon. Gentleman has an extremely distinguished record on such matters and has consistently argued his case on environmental protection. Sadly, he has rarely influenced his Front Benchers, either in government or since the Conservatives have been in opposition. [Interruption.] Conservative Front Benchers scoff, but the right hon. Gentleman has consistently and rightly argued for European and international co-operation on protecting the environment. Conservative Front Benchers have singularly failed to address those matters. Unless they deal with the need for European co-operation to protect the environment, their policies amount to nothing other than “cheap, populist clap-trap”, to quote the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack).
I am shocked that the Secretary of State refers to the Conservative party’s stance as “cheap, populist clap-trap”. It is not cheap, populist clap-trap to want to stand up for the quality of life of millions of people who live around Heathrow. It is not cheap, populist clap-trap to care about the way we deliver the 80 per cent. cuts in carbon emissions that the Government signed up to only weeks ago.
The hon. Lady is a distinguished former Member of the European Parliament. In those days, I know that she valued European co-operation—she sought to be elected to the European Parliament. Somehow, she appears to have abandoned her commitment to Europe since then.
I came into the Chamber and heard the hon. Gentleman use the phrase “populist clap-trap” in describing the proposals made by one of his colleagues. I apologise unreservedly for applying it to a different colleague—though the effect is the same.
The 2003 White Paper sought to provide a strategic framework for the development of aviation in the United Kingdom over the next 30 years. It offered a measured and balanced approach to the question of forecast growth, while dealing with the impact of aviation on our environment, including its effect on climate change.
After careful consideration, the Government decided to support the provision of just two new runways in the south-east, for which the overall case was strongest, and we also supported the development of the United Kingdom’s regional airports.
My hon. Friend is right, and I will deal with that shortly. Notwithstanding the bluster from those on the Opposition Front Bench, the Government have led the way in arguing the case for including aviation and shipping in the European emissions trading scheme, and we have succeeded in those negotiations.
My right hon. Friend spoke about a strategy for developing aviation. Would not any half-decent strategy include economic factors? Should not those economic factors include, for example, the £9 billion that the aviation industry gains from its tax-free status for fuel and freedom from VAT? Why do we not factor in the costs of community destruction and climate change, noise and air pollution, as the White Paper did not? It is not too late to do so now.
That is the precise approach for which Stern argued in his report. He said that there was an economic cost to pollution. I assure my hon. Friend that that is built into our assessments.
I want to deal with the wider context because aviation has enjoyed remarkable growth in recent decades. The increase in the number of flights and of worldwide destinations that can be reached from UK airports has greatly benefited British business, offering faster and more convenient connections to global markets. That is crucial for a trading nation in a global economy.
Just as important—this is sometimes forgotten in debates about airport development—is the fact that the growth of aviation has helped to democratise air travel. More people than ever can now travel abroad at lower cost. At our regional airports, such as East Midlands airport, the destination board looks positively exotic, with regular flights to everywhere from Goa in India to Dalaman in Turkey to Banjul in The Gambia. Previous generations of ordinary hard-working families would not have imagined such mobility and freedom possible.
In a second.
Today, international travel is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, although it is fair to say that the better-off are taking advantage of far more flights than even they might have made in the past. However, the real point is that everyone is benefiting. The number of international flights taken by UK residents more than trebled between 1986 and 2006. That meant that in 2006, UK residents made on average one international flight a year, whereas in 1986 that figure was one flight between three people. In the past 12 months, more than half the population took at least two flights.
To illustrate what that means in practice for our constituents, let me take an example chosen not entirely at random. The latest census data show that the leafy north London seat of Chipping Barnet has a population of 103,000 people. Using those UK averages, we can calculate that more than 50,000 constituents of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) took at least two flights in the past 12 months. Of course it is also important to bear in mind the fact that some 50 per cent. of the hon. Lady’s constituents are in managerial occupations and so tend to use air travel even more.
I hope that the hon. Lady will be explicit to her constituents about the implications of her party’s position: less frequent, less reliable and more expensive flights. Moreover, she will have to explain to her constituents that if she gets her way, instead of making the 25-mile journey to Heathrow, they will have to get used to flying to Paris or Schiphol for a connecting flight. The number of passengers passing through UK airports has also grown rapidly, from 32 million in 1970 to 241 million in 2007, a rise of around 650 per cent.
That is of course the case, but the reality is that there is enormous demand for flights from Heathrow that has not been satisfied in recent years. That is precisely why the right hon. Gentleman’s former colleague, the noble Lord Mawhinney, made the statement to which I referred earlier. The right hon. Gentleman’s Government—the Government whom he consistently supported—were looking at capacity in the south-east in the early 1990s. He knows that full well. Therefore, as a distinguished Member of the House, he ought to be able to explain rather more effectively than those now on his Front Bench why his party’s policy has changed so dramatically on the basis of a massive increase in the number of flights, albeit without any explanation of how that capacity will arise.
Our policy has not changed as a matter of fact, but may I draw the Secretary of State back to the 2003 White Paper, on which he has predicated so much of his speech today? Does he not accept that the world has moved on significantly since 2003, both for the reasons that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) gave and because of the potential for high-speed rail and the developments in transport elsewhere? It is simply unwise to rely on a 2003 White Paper to work out what should happen to aviation in 2008. Will he therefore revisit the major concerns, rather than concentrating this debate solely on the environmental consequences, important though they are, for the communities around Heathrow?
If the hon. Gentleman has studied the White Paper as carefully as I hope he has, he will have noticed that we are talking about the requirements for this country’s aviation to 2030. As I have referred to the previous Conservative Government looking into capacity in the early 1990s and concluding by 1995 that Heathrow was already full in a practical sense, let me make it clear that even if we decided to go ahead today, which clearly we will not, it would be at least 2020 before a further runway was available and a further terminal constructed. That means that some 30 years would have elapsed on a decision that was being considered by the previous Conservative Government in the early 1990s.
It is therefore wrong to suggest that the issue can be determined on the basis of this year’s or next year’s forecast. We are talking about a strategic decision. It is disappointing that the Conservative Opposition have, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, simply adopted the rather short-term approach that is characteristic of the Liberal Democrats.
I am not giving way; I am going to make some progress.
In part, the changes that I have outlined are a function of cheaper travel, but they are also a reflection of how the world is changing and getting smaller. Family and friends are travelling between countries more easily, but they are also staying in touch by coming back home from time to time. People visiting friends and relatives account for some 23 per cent. of total air travel today, compared with 15 per cent. in 1995. We may be entering difficult economic times, but it is important to remember, as I have already mentioned to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), that we are talking about a long-term strategic issue. The air transport White Paper is a 30-year plan and forecasts must be seen in a similar light.
My right hon. Friend is talking about the real impact that is felt by our constituents of the developments at Heathrow and the fact that people are travelling more. My constituents supported terminal 5. At the public inquiry, we were promised a cap of 480,000 flights and told that there would be no third runway. We are now experiencing the consequences of travel to Heathrow along the M4 and inadequate surface transport infrastructure. He has not suggested any plans to deal with that. We cannot contemplate a third runway when we are operating the M4 at 105 per cent. of capacity today.
I will come to the question of public transport and the third test that was set out in the White Paper, so if my hon. Friend can be patient, I will deal with her point in due course.
It is important that we are not planning for this winter or next summer. What Heathrow needs and this country deserves is a long-term, strategic plan for aviation in the United Kingdom.
I will give way in a second.
We remain confident in the robustness of our forecasts. Indeed, only last year, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) argued that
“it’s unrealistic to think aviation is not going to grow”.
I would welcome any indication from the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet that she agrees with that. If she does, she needs to say where the growth will take place. She rejected any expansion at Stansted and Heathrow, so where does the Conservative party believe that expansion is going to take place? This is not only about greater personal freedom.
The Secretary of State has repeated that he is interested in a long-term, strategic solution to the problems of British aviation. He is as aware as anyone that the constraint imposed by the Heathrow site—it is surrounded by residential communities and all flight paths have to go over them—means that there must be a limit to its expansion. There cannot simply be more runways and terminals as the years go by. Will he give some thought to, for example, a feasibility study for a Thames estuary airport or some equivalent? Aviation will doubtless grow. Such a study would enable us to feel that, in the long term, there could be a solution that could enable it to grow without causing untold misery for all the communities that are currently affected by it.
I will deal with the proposals for an estuary airport in due course, but may I make clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that some 400 different sites were considered in the run-up to the production of the 2003 White Paper? That included a significant number of potential sites in the estuary as well as others close by, on the land abutting the estuary. He is not able to say with any accuracy that the Government have failed thoroughly to consider that, because it was thoroughly considered in the run-up to the 2003 White Paper.
I am going to make a little more progress before I give way again.
I have been describing the expansion in the demand for aviation. It is not only about greater personal freedom and keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family. Aviation in general continues to make a significant contribution to the UK economy. It brings in around £11 billion a year, and it supports 200,000 jobs directly, and many more indirectly.
As one distinguished commentator from The Times has said:
“If we’re going to remain competitive in the future, then of course we’re going to have to ensure that we have the capacity to allow goods and individuals to move freely into and out of this country”.
Who am I to argue with the insight and wisdom of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) on this matter? It is therefore crucial that we continue to protect Britain’s position and plan for the long term. To those who propose that we sit on our hands and do nothing, I ask: what are the alternatives? Are we to ration flights? Are we to go back to a situation in which only the rich can travel abroad, a policy that many Opposition Members actually favour? The practical consequence of their policy would be to export jobs to the continent. That is what would happen if the Conservative party got its way. Those are the real questions for this debate which the Conservative party must address and answer.
The right hon. Gentleman referred earlier to the Government’s consideration in the 2003 White Paper of the possibility of a Thames estuary airport. Does he accept that the Government did not consider those proposals with anything like the enthusiasm they are now showing for the Heathrow proposals, and that there has not been any serious consideration of a Thames estuary proposal since the Roskill commission in the early 1970s? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me the name of the engineering consultancy employed by the Government to consider those proposals, for example?
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that proposals for constructing a major hub airport in the Thames estuary have been made every decade for the past three decades. The proposals have been considered, examined and, unfortunately, found wanting. They were given proper and serious consideration, but I accept that the issue will come up again and again; I shall return to it later.
What worries me—I was an aviation Minister for 18 undistinguished months—is that my right hon. Friend’s argument seems to presume unlimited expansion. If I learned one thing in my 18 undistinguished months, it was that the aviation industry had plans for unlimited expansion. After we were elected, the industry inserted the word “sustainable” before its plans but went on to repeat all the same demands. Sooner or later, politicians are going to have to say no. Should we not be looking into ways of managing demand rather than predicting and providing for it?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are not predicting and providing, but he must recognise that we are having this debate because his constituents, my constituents and those of every right hon. and hon. Member in the House want to travel by plane—and have had the opportunity to do so in recent years. I accept some constraints on their ability to do so, not least because of the issues raised in the debate so far, but we all have to face up to the fact that it is our constituents who are demanding that capacity. Without such demand, the airlines and airport operators would not have responded as they have.
The right hon. Gentleman talks a lot about the consideration that the Government are giving to our constituents, so let me tell him that my constituents want the Government to consider the impact of a third runway at Heathrow on their quality of life. If it goes ahead or if the Government abandon runway alternation, the quality of my constituents’ life—not only those living close to Heathrow in Maidenhead or Cookham, but those further afield in Wargrave, Twyford and north Woodley—will deteriorate significantly. There is particular concern about night flights, so will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to guarantee that, whatever the Government do about capacity at Heathrow, there will be no increase in night flights?
We have not consulted on that matter and it is not a decision that we have to take. [Interruption.] Let me make it clear to the right hon. Lady that that is not the issue. If she wants to appear in the local paper, scaremongering in the manner that she does, that is fine, but we are dealing with the serious matters that are the subject of consultation today. The right hon. Lady needs to think about the fact that more than half of her constituents—probably considerably more than half, given the demographic profile that she represents—will use Heathrow and other British airports pretty regularly.
I shall deal further with the issue of Heathrow acting as a hub in a few moments, but the logical consequence of Conservative party policy is clear: more and more constituents who want to use Heathrow will be told that the only way of getting the connecting flight they want is to go to Schiphol, Paris or Frankfurt. [Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet shakes her head, but that is already happening. The number of British citizens who have to take connecting flights to travel to the continent, simply because the capacity at Heathrow is not available, has increased significantly. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady still shakes her head, but she needs to look carefully at the statistics.
Heathrow has a unique position in British aviation. It is the United Kingdom’s only hub airport, and it has seen dramatic growth in recent decades. It serves two thirds of all our long-haul routes, and operates the United Kingdom’s only direct air links to world cities such as Mumbai, Shanghai, Beijing and Sao Paulo. It serves some unique destinations from the United Kingdom, including San Francisco, Mumbai—which I mentioned a moment ago—Miami, Tokyo and Sydney. That is possible only because Heathrow is a hub airport. As such, it caters for a mix of short-haul and long-haul services to a wide range of destinations, attracting large numbers of passengers connecting from one flight to another.
I will when I have finished making this point.
The existence of those connecting passengers means that airlines can operate routes that might not otherwise be viable. It also means that operators can offer greater choice and more frequent services than they could if they relied only on meeting local demand or providing “point to point” services. Without the connecting passengers, we could lose flights from Heathrow to destinations such as Seattle, Bangalore and Riyadh.
Heathrow also serves crucial domestic markets. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet is muttering away. If she listens she will understand the argument, but it is quite important for her to listen first of all.
There are 10 United Kingdom airports served by Heathrow, including cities that are vital to the regional economies of this country such as Aberdeen, Belfast, Newcastle and Glasgow. Links to Heathrow are essential to enable passengers from those airports to connect with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, however, Heathrow is already losing its ability to serve its many customers across the country as a result of capacity constraints. The number of destinations served by it has fallen by 20 per cent. since 1990. Services to places such as Inverness, Newquay, Plymouth, Prestwick, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have all ceased to operate. Heathrow now serves around 184 destinations compared with Amsterdam’s 233, Paris’s 244 and Frankfurt’s 289, and without additional capacity its position will be eroded even further.
If I had to highlight one statistic that underlines Heathrow’s importance to the United Kingdom’s economy, it would be the statistic that more than 70 per cent. of foreign companies moving to the United Kingdom for the first time choose a location within an hour’s journey of Heathrow.
The problem is that Heathrow’s runways are already full. The airport is operating at around 99 per cent. capacity, compared to between 70 and 75 per cent. at airports such as Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and Frankfurt, whose spare capacity provides an attractive alternative for any future business if the United Kingdom cannot provide it. That will mean the steady erosion of Heathrow’s position and the loss of British jobs, which will be exported to continental airport hubs following the long-haul flights.
I thank the Secretary of State for noticing me. If he looks at his own technical documents, attached to the consultation, he will find that leisure demand is driven primarily by fares, and specifically by cheap fares. We have cheap fares because aviation is so heavily subsidised. If it were properly priced, the demand that the Secretary of State has just claimed to be the basis for Heathrow would not exist. As for business demand, if he talks to firms he will find that they require a sufficiency of destinations. They do not require the ability to travel to every destination on the globe. That is why, although the number of destinations has fallen, business in London has increased at exactly the same time.
I am not at all surprised by the Liberal Democrats’ propensity to damage British business. What disappoints me deeply is that an Opposition party that aspires to government should want to damage business so irrevocably. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet shakes her head, but I have a stream of quotations from senior business people who are appalled at the position that the Conservative party has taken, and cannot understand why the interests of British business are being so seriously damaged by a policy that the hon. Lady has advocated.
I agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of capacity to United Kingdom airlines, and about the importance of international links. Does he accept that one of the constraints on flights from many of the international destinations that he has described—which are in different time zones—is the restriction on night flights that must inevitably apply on a site such as Heathrow, which is surrounded by a large resident population? Does he also accept that that constraint could be overcome only through unacceptable noise nuisance, which would have an horrendous impact on the lives of people living around the airport? That is the argument for considering an alternative site, for example in the Thames estuary, which would not be so constrained.
I will do so shortly.
It is important that we answer the question of how we can improve the United Kingdom’s competitive position in aviation. We will need to continue to invest in public transport to and from Heathrow. A good proportion of Heathrow’s passengers already access the airport by public transport; about 38 per cent. do so, which compares well with many airports, but we want to see that increased. BAA plc has already taken concerted action to improve public transport links at Heathrow with the Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect services from Paddington, and now the £16 billion Crossrail project will join Heathrow to the City and Canary Wharf. That link will provide much-improved access to Heathrow for thousands of passengers and airport workers. When it is complete in 2017, Crossrail will carry four trains an hour into Heathrow for most of the day, cutting journey times across London and the south-east, strengthening international links and tourism, and supporting the economy. We have committed more than £5 billion to deliver Crossrail, and last week BAA confirmed a £230 million funding package for the scheme, representing a major step forward in its delivery.
This is not the only step that is necessary, however. We are also looking to the London Underground public-private partnership to deliver important enhancements to Piccadilly line services, with an increase of up to 25 per cent. in capacity from 2014. We are looking, too, at new rail links, such as Airtrack, which would provide direct rail access from terminal 5 to the rail network south-west of the airport and Waterloo, Guildford and Reading, as well as the potential for new high-speed lines.
I will give way shortly.
As a result, some people have asked why we need any more capacity at Heathrow; that is the position the official Opposition have adopted. Why cannot we simply curb domestic flights by investing in high-speed rail? It makes sense, of course, to use rail where this provides a viable, practical and cost-effective alternative. Passengers know that and, to a large degree, they are already taking those decisions for themselves. For example, the proportion of London to Manchester journeys is now two thirds by rail as against one third by air. In 2004, before the £8.8 billion investment this Government made in the west coast main line, the position was the reverse.
I will give way once I have completed this point.
As a result of Eurostar and the high-speed line through the channel tunnel, London-Paris flights are down by more than 20 per cent. since 2000. I am, therefore, a big fan of high-speed rail, but it is wrong to suppose that a national network of high-speed lines in the UK could replace more than a fraction of Heathrow journeys, or provide a substitute for a third runway. Apart from anything else, domestic flights make up less than 10 per cent. of the airport’s traffic. The number of flights between Heathrow and Manchester and Leeds-Bradford last year was less than 3 per cent. of Heathrow’s total number of flights, with approximately 13,000 over the past 12 months. Even if every single one of those passengers was transferred on to a new high-speed rail line—which is the Opposition’s policy—Heathrow would still be operating at 97 per cent. of capacity, so high-speed rail could only ever make a modest reduction in that figure. As Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, has said,
“a high speed rail link would have a lot going for it, but don’t think for a minute that it will solve the capacity problems at Heathrow. We need to have a third runway at Heathrow, as long as all the environmental conditions are met”.
I could not have put it any better.
Positing airport growth and high-speed rail as alternatives is an entirely false and bogus choice. I hope the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet will accept that. We need to make progress on both.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Before we lose sight of his comment on Airtrack, may I ask a question? That route will largely go through my constituency and will have a major new station at Staines. Does he agree that it will not only help passengers to get off the roads, but it will also help a very large number of people who work at Heathrow and live in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies to get to work by train, which they cannot do at present?
The hon. Gentleman makes a practical and serious point, which needs to be thought about in relation to the wider issues to do with airport expansion. We must not lose sight of the fact that some 70,000 people are employed at Heathrow and a further 30,000 people’s livelihoods are dependent on it.
The Secretary of State has been on his feet for 40 minutes or so—it has felt longer—yet the words “climate change” have not fallen from his lips. Does he not understand that there is profound concern in the House that an emissions trading scheme that has so far categorically failed to reduce emissions will be inadequate for the task of controlling the fastest-growing source of emissions? Does he not appreciate that for many of our constituents the decision to give a green light to Heathrow’s expansion makes a mockery of the Government’s climate change strategy?
I do not accept that for a moment, and I shall deal with the environmental arguments in due course. Although I have been on my feet for a while, I have been answering questions as well as making a speech. Given the hon. Gentleman’s implicit criticism, I shall make some further progress.
I need to deal with the suggestion that Heathrow might be replaced with a new airport in the Thames estuary. As I have said, 400 potential locations for a new airport in the south-east were assessed ahead of the 2003 White Paper, including a number in and around the Thames estuary area. After detailed analysis of the costs and benefits, the Government decided against a completely offshore airport, but consulted on a serious proposition for a new four-runway airport at Cliffe in north Kent. After careful consideration, that proposal was rejected for three major reasons—high up-front costs; lower benefits than the options for the development of existing airports; and a significant risk that the site would not be financially viable—and it should be noted that it was the best of the options for a completely new airport. The bird populations in the area were also a significant consideration, given the significant safety implications arising from the risk of bird strike.
I know that the new Mayor of London is an enthusiast of that scheme, but I am less clear on the position of the Conservative party. Just last Friday, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), to whom I would be delighted to give way, was asked whether her party liked the Mayor’s plan. Her answer was “That’s Boris’s proposal”, which reveals the chaos and confusion on the Benches opposite. I hope that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet will today be able to clarify her party’s position on the Thames estuary proposal, once and for all. I look forward to what she has to say.
The arguments against increasing capacity at Heathrow involve the impact on our environment. Some argue that capping capacity at Heathrow will somehow cap the climate change impact. It is clear, for all the reasons I have set out, that if there is not sufficient capacity at Heathrow, the reality is that more and more flights will simply move east to Schiphol, Paris or Frankfurt—other hub airports that are in direct competition for long-haul services. There will be no reduction in carbon emissions; they will simply be displaced and British jobs will be lost.
We should also remember that as Heathrow is now full and operating at 99 per cent. capacity, there is a good chance that without further development we will actually add to the environmental burden: the resilience of the airport will decrease, delays will increase and more planes will be stacked above us using fuel and producing carbon emissions across the south-east of England. The current congestion and lack of capacity wastes fuel and increases carbon emissions.
Lord Stern advocated international emissions trading as a central part of plans to reduce carbon emissions, and that is precisely the approach that this Government have pursued. We have been working hard over recent years to ensure that aviation is included in the EU emissions trading scheme, and that is exactly what is going to happen from 2012. It means that CO2 emissions from EU aviation, covering all departing and arriving flights, will be capped at 97 per cent. of average 2004 to 2006 emissions in 2012, tightening to 95 per cent. in 2013. As a result, any growth in aviation emissions from the expansion of Heathrow would be fully offset by a reduction in emissions elsewhere. Moreover, the scheme would be EU-wide, affecting all EU hub airports equally. It is simply wrong to say that more planes at Heathrow means there will be more CO2 emissions overall.
May I just return to the idea of the Boris airport off the Isle of Sheppey? The Secretary of State has hinted that the Cliffe report shows that without a new M2 and a brand new rail track it would be impossible to get 100,000 people to Cliffe or to Sheppey, and, moreover, it would be impossible to get 185,000 people a day to an island airport. The crux of the matter is that no extra money is being offered by the Mayor of London, and that he would use only the existing communications system, which is already overloaded.
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point; the Conservative party, in its various guises, whether in support of the Mayor of London or not, seems to have completely overlooked the fact that 70,000 people work at Heathrow and a further 30,000 work in the immediate vicinity, and they will have to find a way to the Thames estuary if they are to continue in employment—although, historically, the Conservative party has not much cared about people’s employment prospects
Will the Secretary of State nail the lie on Cliffe and say that the Government will not reopen consideration of that site? Will he also ignore the siren voices of Conservatives on a new Thames estuary airport? Can he tell us whether any capacity is available in regional airports to take flights out of London Heathrow and the other London airports, especially inclusive tour and holiday flights, because it is economically and environmentally nonsense for such flights to go from London?
There may be capacity in some other airports, but that suggestion overlooks the unique position of Heathrow as a hub airport. Most major developed countries have one airport that acts as a hub, allowing their citizens to travel on from regional and local airports and make a connection with international flights. Historically, British Airways tried quite hard to use Gatwick as a separate hub, but for financial reasons that was unfortunately not possible. If we look at a map, it is apparent that very few countries are able to sustain more than one hub airport: there simply is not the regularity of flights necessary to support such a situation.
I must reach a conclusion.
The global environmental issues that I have mentioned are also important in terms of the potential local impacts on people in and around Heathrow. That brings me back to the consultation we completed this year and the conditions contained in the air transport White Paper. The “Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport” consultation was a vast exercise, publicised extensively online and through local and national media. The Department for Transport sent out more than 217,000 summary documents to households in the Heathrow area. In addition, the Department held a series of public exhibitions from Hounslow in the east to Windsor in the west to West Drayton in the north. The Department also published 14 technical reports containing the evidence that we relied on.
More recently, we also completed a further consultation on the potential equalities impacts associated with Heathrow development. This examined the possible differential impacts on equality priority groups by reason of race, age, gender or disability, and closed last week.
We made it clear in the 2003 White Paper—and repeated in last November’s consultation on “Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport”—that our support for further development at Heathrow was subject to the three critical tests on air quality, noise and public transport. In the November consultation, we set out the results of our analysis and showed how we believed those conditions could be met in the future under the various development options, and we invited views, both generally and in response to specific questions.
The first condition concerns air quality. We do not intend to compromise on our European air quality obligations, especially concerning local nitrogen dioxide limits, the key pollutant of concern around Heathrow.
I shall make a little more progress.
The key factor affecting local air quality around Heathrow is actually emissions from road vehicles. Our analysis shows that even immediately outside the airport, nitrogen dioxide emissions from road vehicles in 2002 exceeded that from airport sources, and near the M4, nitrogen dioxide from road use represents 70 per cent. of the total nitrogen dioxide emissions, with aviation accounting for only 4 per cent. That does not mean—[Interruption.] I am not giving way. That does not mean that we take the issue any less seriously because of the source—it simply means that we have to keep working just as hard to make sure that we mitigate such effects no matter what the source of emissions.
Reports that we are seeking to abrogate from our responsibilities in this area solely in order to promote expansion at Heathrow are completely and utterly wrong. Along with many member states, we recognise that we face a stiff challenge in meeting European air quality limits by the deadlines originally envisaged. The new directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, adopted in June, allows additional time for member states to meet the limit values for both particulates and nitrogen dioxide. We have an extra five years, to a target date of 2015, subject to Commission approval of a plan for securing compliance for nitrogen dioxide. The Dutch have already applied for this flexibility until 2015 and other member states will certainly follow suit. In the United Kingdom the problems are mainly to do with existing pollution from traffic in Greater London, including around Heathrow, and traffic in other major cities across the country. They are not to do with decisions about future capacity at Heathrow.
The second condition is a commitment not to increase the size of the area significantly affected by aircraft noise, as measured by the 57 dB noise contour in 2002. The Department for Transport works closely with industry to reduce noise and emissions wherever it can. Some of the progress we have made to date can already be seen in today’s modern aircraft. For example, the double-decker Airbus A380 generates no more departure noise than the Airbus A340-200 or A340-300 despite being more that twice their size. The number of people within the 57 dB noise contour has fallen by more than 80 per cent. since 1975, from around 2 million to just over a quarter of a million, despite an increase of more than 70 per cent. in the number of flights.
We can and we fully intend to do more. That leads me to the other condition included in the White Paper, which was the commitment to improve public transport access to the airport. Again, we set out in the consultation documents our assessment of the prospects for improving public transport access, especially by rail. I have already set out the range of measures that we have in progress, but we made it clear that, in the event of a confirmed policy decision to support expansion, it would be for the airport operator to develop a comprehensive transport assessment working with the Highways Agency and local authorities as appropriate.
We are not just thinking about Heathrow in isolation. Improving access to the airport is part of a long-term strategy for this country’s transport network as set out in our “Towards a Sustainable Transport System” document.
The Secretary of State talks about not increasing the area in which noise will be a significant blight. Does he not understand that area is only one of the parameters? The other is the extent and the timing of the noise. One of the things that concerns most people about Heathrow is the end of runway alternation. At the moment, at least half of their days are silent. For the other half, of course, they live with aircraft noise, because of where they live. Does he not understand that area is immaterial? It is the timing of the noise that is important. Will he address that problem?
I addressed that earlier in my remarks, when I referred to mixed mode. The consultation exercise in relation to mixed mode will certainly have the effects that my hon. Friend describes. It increases the resilience and capacity of the airport, and so it also means that the likely interval between flights will be reduced because of the greater flexibility that mixed mode would offer. Mixed mode would have a significant effect. That is why we are consulting about it, and why that decision will be subject to precisely the same conditions, which I have set out, as any decision to go ahead with either mixed mode or the third runway in combination. I have addressed those matters, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising them.
May I take the Secretary of State back to the aviation White Paper in 2003, and two specific points? The first concerned the need to improve surface access to Heathrow and the second was a solemn commitment that:
“The Government’s under-pinning objectives are to…reduce noise impacts over time, to ensure air quality and other environmental standards are met”.
Does the Secretary of State not realise that five years down the track we do not have a single fast-track public transport link to Heathrow airport from the west, and so any increase in capacity will increase carbon emissions and gridlock? We are already asking for a derogation from the European air quality standards, so we do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting the solemn objective set out in the White Paper in 2003.
I have already set out the conditions that are required and the way in which they can be satisfied. I accept that part of the assessment that has to be made is that we have to be satisfied that those conditions can be met and can be met within the appropriate time frame.
The Northern Way group of regional development agencies is totally in favour of putting together high-speed rail service connections from the west and the east to Heathrow airport, but it is also in favour of maintaining, improving and expanding the air connections too. It is not a case of either/or, but both.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I said something very similar earlier. I do not believe that the Conservative party is sensible to pose the two options as alternatives. It is important that we develop a high-speed rail link alongside taking important decisions about airport capacity across the UK. That is why we have been through one of the most comprehensive and thorough consultation exercises ever undertaken. That is entirely appropriate, as we are looking at policy decisions of crucial importance to west London, the south-east and the UK as a whole.
Taking all the issues into account, we have carefully analysed all the responses that we have received, either in written submissions or online. We are in the process of updating our assessments, taking into account all the information that we received during the consultation, as well as recent economic developments. It has been a massive effort that has stimulated a huge volume of data and opinions. As I said earlier, I am aiming to announce my conclusion to the House before the end of the year.
I am very conscious that we need to take account of all the available evidence before taking decisions. We have heard a range of views on the issue of Heathrow expansion, not just from people and businesses located close to the airport but from others right across the UK.
I am grateful for the opportunity of this debate and I look forward to responding to points where I can, although I hope that the House will recognise that I may sometimes be constrained in my replies to ensure complete fairness and transparency. [Interruption.] Nevertheless, I assure the House that I will reflect fully on all the issues that have been expressed on these questions before reaching my conclusion.
I am actually quite new to the House, having been a Member for only three years, but in that time I do not think that I have ever seen a Secretary of State more isolated in a debate. The right hon. Gentleman asked me several times whether I was listening to what he was saying, but I wonder whether he has been listening to what his colleagues are saying. Has he listened to the 70,000 people who responded to the consultation, or to the thousands of our constituents who send postcards to us every day about the urgency of tackling climate change? I think that the Government are deaf to the concerns of people in this country about the environment.
No. I will in a moment, but I want to kick off with my remarks.
Labour’s determination to press ahead with a third runway at Heathrow is deeply misguided. If the Conservatives win the next general election, we will scrap Labour’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow. We will also scrap the Government’s proposal to end runway alternation at Heathrow. The simple fact is that the environmental and social costs of a third runway outweigh its potential economic benefits.
No, not at the moment. The potential economic benefits of a third runway are unclear and unproven. We recognise the importance of the aviation and aerospace industries and the major contribution that they make to our economy in providing both jobs and world-beating technological advances. We also understand the benefits of flying and its importance to families across the country. We want to make Heathrow better, not bigger, so that we have the top-class international airport that we need for business competitiveness and for holidaymakers, but without the negative environmental impact of a third runway.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She has mentioned the environmental impact of a third runway at Heathrow, but has she also looked at the impact on jobs if capacity at Heathrow or somewhere else in the south-east is not increased? Some 200,000 people are employed either directly or indirectly as a result of Heathrow, and 1.1 million passengers a year connect into Heathrow via the north.
I well understand the economic issues in connection with Heathrow. There is absolutely no evidence that those jobs at Heathrow will start disappearing unless there is the major expansion that the Government plan. There is no evidence to suggest that Heathrow will go into terminal decline if it does not get a 46 per cent. increase in flights.
A third runway at Heathrow would mean that there would be 220,000 more flights there every year, which amounts to a 46 per cent. increase from current levels. It would be the equivalent of bolting on to Heathrow a new airport the size of Gatwick. An increase on that scale would clearly make it significantly harder to deliver the 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions to which the Government signed up just a few short weeks ago.
Labour’s own advisers on the environment have asked the Government to think again. The Sustainable Development Commission has strongly disputed the data underpinning the Government’s whole aviation strategy. Chris Smith, Labour’s choice to head up the Environment Agency, has directly challenged the case for a third runway. The hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who, I believe, is Labour’s vice-chairman for the environment—at least he was this morning; I am not sure whether he still is—has signed early-day motion 2344, calling for the Government to think again, as have 51 of his colleagues on the Labour Back Benches.
The environmental concerns are not confined to climate change. A 46 per cent. increase in flights would blight the lives of thousands of people because of the increased aircraft noise and pollution. Heathrow’s proximity to the M4 and the M25, two of the busiest roads in Europe, means that pollution from the combined effect of aviation and road transport is already a very serious problem around the airport, even at its current size. The Government’s 2007 revised air quality strategy confirms that the airport is already in breach of the rules in the EU air quality directive, which should become legally binding by 2010. I fail to see how Heathrow could possibly handle another 222,000 flights, or have any chance whatever of complying with the directive.
The hon. Lady said that she was aware of the economic consequences of capacity problems at Heathrow. Will she explain why, if there are no capacity problems, the number of international destinations served by Heathrow fell from 227 in 1990 to 180 in 2006, and why the number of domestic airports served by Heathrow has fallen from 18 in 1990 to nine? Amsterdam serves 21 United Kingdom airports; Heathrow, by comparison, serves nine. What explanation does she give for that change, if it is not the result of capacity constraints?
One of the reasons for that change is BAA’s decision to try to sweat the more profitable routes at the expense of the less profitable ones. [Interruption.] No, we all accept that there are capacity issues at Heathrow, and that it is a crowded airport. The Conservatives have presented a credible plan to relieve the overcrowding problems by providing a viable, high-speed rail alternative to thousands of the flights clogging up Heathrow. That would free up slots and make Heathrow a much better airport.
Will the hon. Lady accept my congratulations on the leadership that she has shown in the internal debate within the Conservative party, which led to us securing this policy position? Does she accept, albeit perhaps with more difficulty, that there are strong arguments, concerning jobs and green transport plans, for Gatwick eventually to have some additional expansion? That would be much more convenient for residents in south London, in terms of shorter journeys, and it would provide extra jobs, as has been mentioned. Gatwick is an important area for employment and extra jobs within the A23 transport corridor.
No, I think I will make a little more progress, but I promise that I will come back to the hon. Gentleman in due course.
To come back to the point about NOx, when we talk about the EU air quality rules, we are not talking about some dry point of EU law. The health damage that NOx pollution causes to people suffering from respiratory conditions is clear. They include the increased risk of early death, in some cases. The Environment Agency has warned of the risk of increased morbidity and mortality if the third runway goes ahead. Neither the Government nor BAA have come up with any convincing plans for the major shift away from the car and on to public transport that would be needed if we are substantially to reduce surface pollution around the airport. BAA has failed to meet the 40 per cent. target that the Government set it eight years ago. Labour’s analysis rests on the assumption that there will be such a dramatic step forward in vehicle technology that cars will become clean enough to provide the headroom to allow a major increase in flight movements, as well as to allow the number of car journeys to increase from 67 million to 122 million, as a result of passenger growth at Heathrow, without breaching the terms of the directive.
The Government’s assumptions are hopelessly optimistic, and their credibility is further undermined by the documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening)—I shall come to that later. Greenpeace has used the Act to reveal another worrying development—the Government are going to apply for a derogation from the directive. Labour’s clear promise that it would not press ahead with expansion if it violated EU air quality rules turns out to be worthless. A third runway would mean a new flight path over one of the most densely populated areas in the country, with thousands more people living with a plane overhead every 90 seconds.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made the point that there has been a reversal of the ratio whereby for every two passengers going to London by air, one passenger travelled by train: it is now the other way round, and the trains are taking most passengers. When, on the odd occasion, I fly from Manchester to London, the plane spends as long circling Heathrow as it does on the journey. Surely, an extra runway would halve emissions from such aircraft.
The plans that we have set out for a high-speed rail link connecting Heathrow with Manchester and Leeds would provide relief from capacity problems at Heathrow. That would free up slots and relieve the overcrowding problems without a negative environmental impact both on quality of life and on climate change. The Government’s plans to scrap runway alternation would rob residents of the precious quiet time that they value so much. They would also have a major negative impact on schools under the flight path, with lessons disrupted by high levels of aircraft noise throughout the day.
I am sure that the hon. Lady would agree that it is not just people who live near Heathrow who are affected by the flight patterns and by noise. Many of my constituents who live in Vauxhall, Oval and Stockwell write letter after letter trying to get something done about their early morning wake-up call. They have made it very clear indeed that they do not want another Heathrow runway until that problem has been sorted out, and that has certainly not been done yet.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. Indeed, aircraft noise is already an issue in areas as far apart as Windsor and Camberwell, Brixton and her constituency. A key issue is that the 57 dB contour on which the Government have focused underestimates the extent of the problem. It would be useful for the House to consider the Government’s ANASE—“Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England”—study, which concluded that annoyance sets in at much lower levels than the 57 dB threshold that the Department for Transport uses. Labour spent £15 million of taxpayers’ money on that report, which was the first major study of aircraft noise for 30 years. When the Government commissioned it, the aviation Minister at the time said:
“This new study underlines the Government’s commitment to underpin our policy on aircraft noise by substantial research that commands the widest possible confidence.”
However, the Government dismissed the study’s conclusions as soon as they were published.
Far from commanding the widest possible confidence, the research underpinning Labour’s approach to Heathrow is deeply flawed. Yes, planes have become quieter over the past 20 years but, again, Labour has relied on a massive leap forward in aircraft technology to enable it to reconcile its promises on noise with the increase in flight movements that it wants at Heathrow. The freedom of information documents indicate that when the fleet mix data provided to support the air transport White Paper was fed into the Civil Aviation Authority’s noise model, they failed the noise test that the Government had set. The documents then show the DFT and BAA working together closely on a subsequent “re-forecasting” of both aircraft types and numbers—a process that went on until a few weeks before the publication of the November 2007 consultation. To all intents and purposes, the projections for the future flight mix were reverse engineered to try to meet the noise and NOx tests, and get the answer that the Government wanted. The document even revealed that Department for Transport officials were worried that the final BAA projections were not credible, but it seems that they did little about it.
I draw the House’s attention to a document entitled “ERCD Report 0705”, the technical annexe on noise, which was published alongside the consultation. The document makes it clear that the compliant fleet mix that the Government expect to be delivered by 2030 includes a new 450-seat, twin-engine, wide-bodied jet, and that, according to table 2.3 on page 11, the Government assume that, by 2030, that new green jumbo will completely replace the four-engine Boeing 747. Not only that, they assume that it will replace almost all of Boeing’s successor to the 747—and it is not even on the market yet. The freedom of information documents reveal that the percentage of four-engine, 747-type aircraft with their higher noise levels was steadily reduced every time the figures were recalculated and failed to produce the result that the Government wanted. That new green jumbo is crucial to the final calculation, but, as BBC’s “Panorama” programme highlighted, the plane does not actually exist—it is a virtual plane. When the BBC approached Boeing and Airbus, it was told that the aircraft was not even in their design portfolios, and that neither company had any plans to produce it. It is a fantasy plane.
In the face of major blows to the credibility of their data, all the Government have said is that if the new cleaner and quieter aircraft do not materialise, the airport will simply scale back the flight numbers to meet the 57 dB noise contour area, but, frankly, no one believes a word that the Government or BAA say on flight counts—not after all the broken promises that have been made about Heathrow expansion over the years. It is clear that the Labour party is making every possible effort to try to wriggle out of its promise that expansion at Heathrow would not be allowed to lead to a deterioration in the noise climate around the airport.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way once again; she really is generous with her time. However, I must challenge the notion that the aerospace industry is not working hard to reduce carbon emissions in construction, because engineering interests in my constituency are working hard to produce better, lighter and stronger aerospace steel to reduce aircraft carbon emissions.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point, and I absolutely agree that the British aerospace industry works incredibly hard at delivering technological advances. I made that point at the beginning of my remarks, and I pay tribute to the industry. Indeed, I believe that aircraft will become cleaner and quieter, but I challenge the Government’s assumptions. I do not believe that the Government’s predicted time frame for delivering those advances is realistic.
As a result of the revelations in the documents that were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it is necessary for us to consider the Government’s heavy reliance on BAA’s data and modelling. It is a cause for major concern. Leaving aside BAA’s obvious commercial interest, why should we believe a word that it says when so many times over the years, it clearly said that it would not seek to build a third runway at Heathrow? One of many examples is a “Dear Neighbour” letter that was sent in April 1999 by Sir John Egan, the then chief executive of BAA. In it, he said:
“We have since repeated often that we do not want, nor shall we seek, an additional runway. I can now report that we went even further at the Inquiry and called on the Inspector to recommend that, subject to permission being given for T5, an additional Heathrow runway should be ruled out forever.”
I have no criticism to make of BAA for lobbying as hard as it can to get its way, because that is the process, but is it not extraordinary that the Department for Transport appears to have been manipulated in the way that it has? Is it not even more extraordinary that, while my hon. Friend has read out those statistics and an account of how the data were manipulated to get that result, the Secretary of State has sat there on the Front Bench and not contested a single word that she has said?
My hon. Friend’s point is excellent, and I do not need to add to it.
I turn to the alleged benefits of a third runway. The economic arguments simply do not stand up to scrutiny. Their main sources are the 2006 study by Oxford Economic Forecasting and the “Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport” consultation document. Both contain serious flaws. Neither makes any attempt to include the cost impact of NOx pollution, a point made strongly by the Environment Agency, the Government’s own environment adviser. Nor is the cost of noise in the areas around the airport assessed. Anyone who owns a property under the flight path will say that noise has a real financial impact. It has even been reported that Hounslow primary care trust is considering attempting to recoup from BAA the costs of health care for noise and pollution-related illnesses in the borough. Neither document includes the carbon cost of inbound international flights. The consultation document incorrectly lists revenue from air passenger duty as a net benefit to the UK, although clearly much of that would be simply a transfer from the private to the public sector. In its study for the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, the Dutch economic consultancy CE Delft concludes that Oxford Economic Forecasting considerably overestimates the extent of suppressed business demand for air travel at Heathrow.
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Lady. I am not sure whether she knows much more about aviation than she knew about buses during the debate that we had two or three weeks ago. Her point about house prices is simply wrong. I advise her to look at a York Consulting report that studied house prices around prisons and airports. She will find that in fact house prices are elevated, not depressed, because of the economic activity represented by airports.
I am a resident of Old Windsor, and I am clear that aircraft noise and flight paths over homes definitely reduce house prices.
The Oxford Economic Forecasting report was also flawed in not taking into account the extra money that British tourists flying abroad spend beyond what is spent by tourists flying into Heathrow. Having studied economics, I think it absolutely bizarre that the report did not take into account the enormous sum—£15 billion to £18 billion—that leaves the UK in that way.
I may be the only hon. Member here born within a stone’s throw of the perimeter fence of Heathrow airport. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) is right: an airport drives economic activity and the prosperity of an area. However, living directly under a flight path is a negative factor and is included in all estate agents’ particulars.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point, which is a valid one.
The argument that transfer passengers bring economic benefits is now hotly disputed. Such passengers generally spend no more than the price of a cup of coffee, and the economic case for the new runway falls even further with the increasing challenge to that argument. There is simply no evidence to back up the Secretary of State’s claim that Heathrow will go into some kind of terminal decline if it does not become a much bigger hub with thousands more transfer passengers. For example, BAA representatives have repeatedly told me that a pair of Alitalia slots at Heathrow reportedly changed hands last year for £30 million—clear evidence that predictions of the airport’s imminent decline do not stack up. There is every reason to believe that even without major expansion millions of people will still want to fly to and from Heathrow.
I am wrestling with the Government’s concept that Heathrow will be badly hit if there is no third runway, with jobs lost and disappearing airlines and flights. However, at the same time they suggest that high-speed rail would make no difference and Heathrow would still be up to capacity if it were introduced. That does not add up.
I am delighted to find myself agreeing with the Lib Dems. Almost every aspect of the Government’s position on Heathrow does not add up.
There is no hard evidence of major job losses arising if plans for a third runway are blocked. Yes, airport facilities can and do have an impact on competitiveness, but they are only one element among many factors that businesses take into account in deciding where to locate. As the aviation lobby repeatedly points out, Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle have more runways than Heathrow, but I did not hear the Secretary of State claim that the economies of France and Germany have dramatically outperformed ours over the past 10 years or so, as they surely would have done if runway capacity were the critical factor that the Government and BAA claim that it is.
Of course I did not make that claim. These are long-term, strategic decisions that the country expects the Government to take. They are not driven by winning the next election or by appeasing people who are understandably concerned about noise—they are about taking a sensible strategic view. I demonstrated statistically to the hon. Lady the fact that this country is already losing out to Schiphol and Frankfurt. In a horizon that goes to 2030, we would expect a little more of the Conservatives thinking in the long term, and not taking easy, populist decisions. She has to face up to that.
The hon. Lady completely failed to deal with the points that I made about the number of long-distance destinations served by Heathrow having fallen since 1990. Let me give her one further statistic to consider. More people now travel from Manchester to Schiphol than through Heathrow in order to get connecting flights. Why is that? It is because Schiphol has a greater number of destinations available. That will continue, and, in the long term, it will affect the competitiveness of the British economy.
The Secretary of State wants us to take long-term decisions. I agree that we must take long-term decisions on how we achieve an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions. We must also take long-term decisions on delivering a high-speed rail network that could have a huge positive impact economically and environmentally. It is Labour Members who are taking short-term decisions based on data that are flawed and that have been wholly undermined by the “freedom of information” documents that I have discussed.
If runway capacity determined whether a financial sector captured market share, why is London streets ahead of Frankfurt? Why are there more German banks in London than in Frankfurt? What happens if Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle build yet more runways? They have the space to do it. Do the Government expect us to match them—to play a game of indefinite runway poker until even more villages have to be demolished for more and more runways? Where do they draw the line? Would the Secretary of State care to rule out the possibility of a fourth runway, or even a fifth?
Perhaps the most fundamental flaw in the Oxford Economic Forecasting study and the consultation document is that they consider only the status quo versus a third runway, and nothing else. They do not consider alternative ways of dealing with the problems that passengers all too often experience at Heathrow. I believe that in proposing a new high-speed rail line connecting Heathrow terminals directly with Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and the channel tunnel link to Paris and Brussels, we have found that alternative. Our proposal would relieve overcrowding problems and make Heathrow a much better airport, but without the negative consequences for the environment and for quality of life that would inevitably come with a third runway. It would not only dramatically improve public transport access to Heathrow— evidence from Europe clearly shows that high-speed rail provides a viable and attractive alternative to competing flights. For example, Air France has entirely abandoned flying between Paris and Brussels, preferring instead to charter carriages on Thalys high-speed trains. The extension of the Spanish high-speed rail network to the south had a major downward impact on domestic flight numbers. Figures published by BAA confirm that there were about 63,200 flights between Heathrow and Manchester, Leeds, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam in 2007.
Not at the moment.
All the destinations I mentioned are ones where it is realistic for high-speed rail to replace flying. BAA’s figures are thus consistent with our claim that high-speed rail has the potential to free up landing slots equivalent to about a third of the 222,000 flight capacity of a third runway.
No, I would like to make a bit of progress. I am conscious that Front Benchers are taking up a lot of time, and lots of Back Benchers want to speak.
The potential for substituting high-speed rail for flights is likely to improve significantly with improvements and additions to the high-speed rail network in the UK and the rest of Europe. Furthermore, there is an increasingly widespread acknowledgment that the flight growth forecast made in the 2003 White Paper should be revisited. The White Paper is simply no longer fit for purpose, drafted as it was in completely different economic times and before the urgent need to tackle climate change had forced its way up the political agenda. Eurostar tells us that its high-speed trains emit just a tenth of the carbon of competing aviation. The latest generation of high-speed trains from Alstom are greener still.
Even with a higher carbon electricity generation mix than those figures assume, it is clear that high-speed trains are far greener than planes. Our high-speed link would provide a major boost to jobs throughout the country, but the impact would be particularly strongly felt in the midlands and the north, helping to remedy long-standing imbalances in the economy—imbalances that have seen more and more pressure piled on the south-east with the north left at an economic disadvantage and starved of the transport improvements it needs.
There are more than 50 flights every day between Scottish airports and Heathrow, but the hon. Lady’s plans for high-speed trains seem to stop at Leeds. Is there a particular reason why she does not think it important to cut down the number of flights from Heathrow to Scotland?
Well, the Government’s plans do not even make a start on high-speed rail. I can see enormous benefits in having a high-speed link all the way to Scotland, but we have to be realistic about what we can deliver and when. We have to take care to ensure that all our promises are deliverable.
Not at the moment—I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am just answering this point. Our commitment to a high-speed link to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds is a major step towards a full high-speed network. If the Secretary of State is going to match our commitment, I will be happy to take his intervention.
I am interested in the Conservative party’s commitment and in the statistics on which it bases its commitment. The Conservatives talked in their programme about a £60 billion benefit to the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, that is based on a consultant’s assessment of a national high-speed network, not the Conservatives’ modest proposal. What is the benefit from their proposal, not the consultant’s assessment of a national network? There is a complete discrepancy between the statistics that the hon. Lady advocates in her policy and the reality.
In using that statistic, we have always made it clear that it related to a full, national network, which we want to see built. At least we are making a start—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State tells the House, “I’m a big fan of high-speed rail”, but he refuses to match the commitment that we have made to building high-speed rail. [Interruption.] It is all very well for him to talk about dodgy figures—he is the one who believes in fantasy green planes.
The business case for the new rail link we propose is very strong. There is an industry consensus that the west coast main line will be full to bursting within a decade, necessitating the construction of a new line anyway. There is a huge opportunity to seize the chance to address three problems—the north-south economic divide, chronic rail overcrowding and Heathrow—with a single scheme.
No, I am sorry, I am about to conclude.
We hope that our scheme will be the foundation of a country-wide high-speed network that will transform the country’s transport infrastructure and radically improve our competitiveness. The Government’s aviation White Paper is fundamentally flawed, as is their “Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport” consultation document. Their consultation is a sham—no one believes a word that they say about environmental pre-conditions. They pushed for the terminal 5 flight cap to be lifted when the ink was barely dry on the planning inquiry that imposed it. They said that they would not let their expansion plans violate EU air quality rules, yet today the Secretary of State confirmed that he is applying for a derogation from them. They want to remove all semblance of democratic scrutiny of the ultimate decision on the issue by giving it to an unaccountable quango. They are split down the middle on Heathrow.
On the question of Heathrow expansion, the world has moved on, but Labour has not moved with it. It is on the wrong side of the argument. The Government are wrong about the economics, wrong about the environment and wrong about noise and quality of life. I therefore appeal again to the Secretary of State to see sense, seize the chance to do the right thing and say no to a third runway at Heathrow.
For literally thousands of my constituents, the debate is too important for party political knockabout or policy making by electioneering.
According to the Government’s figures, at least 1,500 of my constituents will be forcibly removed from their homes in the village of Sipson. Another 4,000, in the villages of Longford, Harmondsworth and Harlington, will have their homes virtually surrounded by the airport or the road network. Noise and air pollution will render their homes uninhabitable, and they will lose not only their homes but their communities. Those villages have survived for 1,000 years. They have community halls, churches, a gurdwara, a doctor’s surgery and so on. All will be wiped off the face of the earth. The only difference between those communities and others is that they will be sacrificed for BAA’s profits.
It has been argued that people should have known before moving into the area that the runway posed a risk. However, we are considering settled communities, with families who go back generations in the area, and successive Governments have assured them that no further expansion of Heathrow will occur. I remember vividly the community meeting that BAA representatives attended. One of them read out the “Dear Neighbour” letter, which gave the assurance that BAA would not seek a third runway if it gained a fifth terminal.
My constituents have been subjected to a litany of lies and deceit about the development of the airport. First, we were told that there would be a runway but no terminal. In weeks, there was a lobby for a new terminal. Then we were told that the development would encompass only one village; we now know that it will encompass all the villages to the north of the airport.
We have recently seen plans for the road network. To my constituents’ distress, one of the roads is planned to go through our local cemetery. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) assured us in the House that that was not the case, but subsequently had to apologise to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and admit that he was wrong because BAA had supplied the information. I am told that this week I will receive another letter from BAA, assuring me that there will be no road through the cemetery. I will believe that—just as I believed the Sir John Egan letter of several years ago.
When the White Paper was published, the Government gave us assurances that any development had to stand the test, especially for air pollution, that an independent consultation exercise would take place to verify that, and that the process would be peer reviewed. The process was peer reviewed, but the information that went into it was not; it was largely provided by BAA. It reached a farcical level when, as has already been mentioned, fictitious aeroplanes were invented.
I am told that QinetiQ was involved in some of the assessments of the supposedly independent process, yet an advert in the Financial Times only a few weeks ago listed it as one of the companies that supports the expansion of Heathrow. BAA tainted the evidence, confidence in the process was undermined and integrity was breached. Ministerial statements, which are so positively in favour of the third runway, are interpreted as pre-empting the Government’s decision and the consultation.
All that leads to the conclusion that if the Minister announces that a third runway is to go ahead, litigation will ensue because the consultation was contaminated. If local residents lose, the litigation will be followed by a lengthy public inquiry, which, covering a sixth terminal and third runway, would make the terminal 5 inquiry appear almost brief.
It is time to stand back and review the position, because the situation, and the evidence, have moved on since 2003. We now know more about the effect of air pollution, which will cover the south of my borough. We now know that the new aeroplane technology that we were promised would be developed has not materialised. We now also know that we already violate the European Union’s air pollution directive. That means that a number of my constituents are already living in a poisoned atmosphere. It also means that with a third runway, we will have no chance of meeting the European directive limits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) said.
Reference has been made to the ANASE study, which I welcomed, and which said that the level of noise at which people get annoyed and their quality of life is affected would be 50 dB, not 57 dB. That means that 2 million people, rather than 200,000, as was originally envisaged, will suffer.
On the health of my constituents, like other hon. Members, I have been urging a health impact assessment, but the Government have consistently refused to undertake one. We are told that one will take place during the planning inquiry process, but that will be too late to inform the Secretary of State’s pre-Christmas decision, which we await. We now know much more about the effects on health, however, including from the Chicago study on the links to cancer and from more recent studies on the links to stress and heart conditions.
We were given a reminder of the safety risks at Heathrow only two years ago, when an aeroplane fell out of the sky and was literally minutes away from crash-landing in one of the most densely populated areas of the country. I still fear for people’s safety with all this over-flying, particularly given the risk of terrorist attack.
Our position on climate change has moved on since 2003. I welcomed—indeed, the whole House welcomed—the commitment to the 80 per cent. target in the Climate Change Bill. I voted for the Bill, but there is no way that we will be able to meet that target with the expansion of aviation at Heathrow. The Tyndall study basically says that if we want to cope with the increase in emissions from aviation on our current growth path, we will virtually have to shut down the rest of UK industry. That is obviously not feasible. The two things are not compatible.
That is why Lord Smith, the chair of the Environment Agency, told the Government that building a third runway at Heathrow would be a mistake. It is not just him saying that, however. The Government’s Sustainable Development Commission and the Institute for Public Policy Research, in the joint study that we commissioned, have said that the Government should stand back and allow an independent review of the White Paper. The European Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, has made it clear that we are already violating EU directives and have little chance of meeting them in future.
I listened to what the Secretary of State said last week about the existing limits, and the impact of our non-compliance on the health of Londoners overall worries me. We are now revisiting the economic arguments, too. What concerns me is the automatic acceptance of some of the economic arguments that were put forward in certain studies—I would not say that they were shoddy, but it is now coming to light that those studies were paid for by the industry.
New information comes to light even as we drill down into the consultation paper. I refer to the work of Jeff Gazzard, the aviation expert and environmentalist, that was published this week. He says that even with the 480,000 limit still in place, the Department for Transport and BAA agree that we can grow passenger numbers at Heathrow from 67 million in 2006 to 85 million in 2015 and 95 million in 2030. Why? Because aeroplanes are getting bigger and can carry more passengers in each flight. That throws into question the very need for expansion.
With regard to competition with other European airports, we now have a world-leading aviation industry in London and the south-east, with a five-airport system. Each of those airports plays a specialist role, developing and competing effectively. The reason Schiphol and other airports have different flight movements is that we have won all the best at Heathrow—the most profitable ones. I will not rehearse the point about how the economic arguments have been exaggerated, but alternatives have been brought forward.
It is not just the Conservatives who have proposed the alternative, high-speed link; it is the coalition of rail and other unions, which has commissioned its own independent study. It means that we have the opportunity to expand our transport network overall without the significant environmental cost of the expansion of Heathrow. I must also say that the breaking up of BAA by the Competition Commission has led the Government to review their aviation policies.
The hon. Gentleman is representing his constituents in his characteristic style, with one of the most strongly worded and well-argued speeches that I have heard. Does he find it a little odd that although he has torn to shreds almost every aspect of the Secretary of State’s argument, the Secretary of State remains in his seat and has not challenged him once?
I am arguing for reaching some form of consensus across the House about the way we approach the issue. This is such a big decision that it needs to be taken out of the party political knockabout arena. We need to have a discussion. I dislike the tenor of the debate on both sides of the House, not only because of my constituency interests but because of the significance of the decision, which I mentioned. The onus is on us to treat the matter seriously and see whether we can find cross-party agreement.
The alternatives that have been put forward deserve better analysis. I actually think that the Marinair proposal that the Mayor has now taken up was dismissed too lightly in the assessment in the White Paper. I also believe that the Government dismissed too lightly the idea of developing a proper regional airport strategy linked to a high-speed rail system.
Let me briefly go through the arguments and look for a way forward, and let us see whether we can get some agreement. This is a major decision that will, as the Secretary of State said, affect the long-term interests of our economy. It will also make or break our climate change policy. It has immense economic consequences not only for London and the south-east, but for the country as a whole. If we are good Europeans, we should look to the overall implications for European economic and transport policy. The policy will cause immense social division within the country. Many people are disillusioned with the whole process of consultation, assessment and policy making that the Government have undertaken. They are angry, and the anger is building. I believe that it is building into a form of direct action the like of which neither the Government nor the country have ever seen. We saw what happened at the climate camp, but Heathrow is becoming the iconic battleground for the climate change campaign, not only in Britain but throughout Europe. Forging ahead with a decision to expand Heathrow will sow social division; it will divide our country and bring us into conflict in a way that we have not seen before.
We need to take the decision out of the political knockabout arena. We should accept that events have moved on since the 2003 White Paper. The Government have introduced a new Planning Bill. We were given assurances on the Floor of the House that if the Heathrow decision was taken under the procedures in that legislation, there would have to be a new national policy statement. If the decision is not taken under the new legislation, we will go back to the old planning inquiry system. The process for terminal 5 lasted five years, and on that basis the process for terminal 6 and a third runway will probably take seven years.
We should commence cross-party discussions about the development of a new national policy statement on aviation, and see how times have moved on and how Government climate change policy has changed. We should set up an independent—properly independent—review of aviation strategy and decide where the Heathrow decision fits into it. On that basis, we can at least attempt to seek consensus on this critical decision.
However, if the Secretary of State thinks that he can railroad the decision through the House without a Division, he is sorely mistaken. The least the Government can promise us is that any final decision will be taken democratically, by this House, in a Division, on the basis of the decisions that our electorates made to have us represent their interests in this matter.
The House has rightly listened with respect to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who I think represents his constituents magnificently on the issue. They will be pleased that he has come to the House to make the points that he has made this afternoon. He mentioned the word “consensus”, and I am a great fan of consensus on environmental issues, as I hope Members will know. I believe that a consensus is emerging and that it embraces my party, the Conservatives and a good many Labour Members; it certainly embraces the public at large, but it does not yet embrace the Government. It is for them to move to join everyone else, rather than for everyone else to move to join them.
I would like to raise a matter with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had a meeting with BAA early last week—I am always happy to meet representatives of the transport industry—at which I was informed that the House would debate Heathrow this week. No statement had been made through the usual channels. I contacted my Whips Office, which contacted the Government Whips, who said that no information was available and that they could not confirm either way whether such a debate would take place. The announcement through the usual channels came as late as Wednesday 5 November. Am I and other Members, Mr. Deputy Speaker, expected to learn about House business from BAA rather than through the Government Whip system? Will you explain whether that is acceptable behaviour on the part of the Government?
It is not for the Chair to determine the House’s order of business, but I can say to the hon. Gentleman that Mr. Speaker has made it clear on a number of occasions that he expects this House to be informed about what is going to be determined here as soon as possible.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I welcome your reiteration of Mr. Speaker’s statement that the House should properly be informed first. I fear, however, that BAA rather than the House was informed first, which underlines the concerns of many of us that the Government are hand in glove with BAA. It shows that the Government give higher priority to keeping BAA rather than Members of this House informed about their intentions.
That is nothing new, of course. We know that in January 2007 there was a meeting between Department for Transport officials and BAA, at which they discussed how to ratchet down forecasts of the environmental impact. The Sunday Times, which revealed this matter, said that the civil servant involved had sought clarification from BAA on what data could be
“stripped out to achieve compliance”.
I raised this matter before, as did the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), and no attempt was made to correct my account, so it was accepted as fact by the Government of the day. There seems to be no attempt to correct it now, so the hand-in-glove relationship between the Government and BAA continues to this day.
In common with the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), I do not blame BAA; it has a business to look after and is lobbying as effectively as it can—very effectively, in fact, as it has got the Government on board adopting its own policy. I blame the Government, and I ask the House this question: if BAA had written the Secretary of State’s statement today, in what way, if any, would it have differed from the statement that was actually read out? I suggest that BAA did write it.
In respect of allegations of collusion with BAA, may I reiterate a point of which the hon. Gentleman is well aware? We were very clear in the 2003 White Paper that we would seek the assistance of the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS, as well as BAA, to ensure that we produced a consultation document that could be put to the public with confidence. It was also clear that it would have to comply with any regulations that we set down. The key word in the hon. Gentleman’s comments is “compliance”. BAA will have to comply with the requirements that will be set down if the third runway goes ahead.
There is a clear difference between consulting individuals and bodies with a perfectly proper interest in the future of air transport and stripping out inconvenient details in order to “achieve compliance”, which is what the Government have done here.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) referred earlier to his time as aviation Minister. He said in 2003 that
“the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable”
“successive governments have usually given way to them…It wants more of everything—airports, runways, terminals”.
That appears to be absolutely the case. Other elements in our society have learned to live within their carbon footprint to some extent. Predict and provide has been abandoned for the road network, albeit not entirely, but it seems that the aviation industry, rather than cutting its cloth accordingly and changing its operating procedures to improve its service, simply wants more of what it already has. If it wants more concrete, the Government simply say, “Yes, how much do you want?” That appears to be the policy that the Government have now embarked upon.
Let me remind the House what a former Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers), said in 2001. He said that the Government had endorsed the public inquiry inspector’s recommendation that terminal 5 be given the go-ahead, but with a cap on the number of flights. That would rule out a third runway. I agree with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, and others who have spoken, that that is a broken promise. We were given clear assurances that if permission was given for one piece of infrastructure, that would be the end—but like some kind of drug addict, the Government come back for more and more each time.
I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman’s views on transport issues, about which he thinks deeply. Does he accept, however, that if there is constraint on Heathrow and the rest of the aviation industry in this country, we will export pollution and jobs and will not control pollution?
No, I do not accept that. First, if the Government succeed in including aviation in the European emissions trading scheme at a sensible level, that will act as a price mechanism to discourage some of the flights that are taking place. Secondly, there is a clear opportunity for a modal shift to high-speed rail. I do not know why the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), a former transport Minister, shakes his head. His former Department is working on this at the moment. It is possible for high-speed rail to move people not simply to domestic destinations but, with the development of increasingly open access, to European destinations as well.
I simply do not accept that there will be the automatic transfer that the hon. Gentleman has described. If I may say so, it might as well be argued that we should still be manufacturing torture equipment, on the basis that if we did not, someone else would.
I am attracted by the hon. Gentleman’s ideas about demand management. Does he not think that a simple form of demand management at Heathrow would be withdrawing the landing slots for short-haul flights where viable alternatives exist? Would that not provide a stimulus for investment in those alternative routes?
It might well do so.
Another factor is the price of travel. According to a parliamentary answer that I received from the Government—of course, we must believe Government statistics—the average cost of a one-way flight in the United Kingdom has declined from £205 in 1997 to £103 today. In other words, the cost of domestic flights has halved. Meanwhile, the cost of travelling by rail, which is much more carbon-friendly, has increased by more than the rate of inflation, and the Government refuse to rule out further above-inflation increases. They have stuck to the RPI plus 1 formula—RPI plus 3 for those who happen to live in the wrong part of the country—driving up rail prices while air prices are cut. That is not a sensible climate change policy, by any stretch of the imagination.
Climate change is an important issue, which was rightly raised by the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers). I am pleased that the Government have introduced a climate change Bill, and I congratulate them on the fact that ours is the first country in the world to introduce such legislation. That is a matter for consensus. I am equally delighted that the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley)—along with others, including my colleagues—has helpfully managed to persuade the Government to increase their 60 per cent. target to an 80 per cent. target.
All that is good news. We need an 80 per cent. target, because the climate change challenge that we face is enormous. But how can it possibly square with the construction of an extra runway at Heathrow? How does it square with the predict and provide policy that the Government seem so determined to maintain? How does it square with the additional flights, increased pollution and increased carbon emissions that will inevitably accompany an increase in the number of flights from Heathrow? The Government are talking about almost doubling the number of flights. How does that square with an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions?
As a south Essex Member, I strongly opposed the proposal for an airport at Cliffe, not least because of its environmental impact. Equally, I oppose the fantasy airport in the Thames estuary. What is the Liberal Democrats’ position on the idea of an airport in the Thames estuary? Are they for it or agin it?
We are all against it. We have no mayoral candidates, or anyone else, in favour of it. We are against any expansion of aviation in the south-east: we believe that there is no environmental case for it whatsoever.
The issue of high-speed rail has been raised in a positive way by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and me, and in a sort of “grunt, grunt” way by one or two Labour Members who do not agree that it has a role to play. Well, it has got a role to play. First, let us consider carbon. Eurostar’s externally validated figures demonstrate that the environmental cost in terms of carbon of travelling from London to Paris by train is about a tenth of what it would be by air.
The Department for Transport fiddled some other figures earlier—that was the fault not of the present Secretary of State, but of one of his predecessors. The original campaign for high-speed rail was discredited in part because we were told it was not particularly carbon-friendly, but an examination of the figures for that shows that the Department had assumed a speed for high-speed rail that would have been impossible and that no one was projecting, and a load factor so low as to suggest that the train was almost empty. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Department’s figures demonstrated a poor carbon case. If sensible and realistic parameters are applied, however, it can be demonstrated that there is a massive carbon saving.
We know that plenty of journeys could switch from Heathrow. There are up to 60 flights a day to Paris, which is more than to any other destination even though there is a very good connecting train service, and there are still 36 flights a day to Manchester, despite the improved west coast main line, and other such regional UK destinations could also be considered in this regard. Even if the high-speed line went only to Manchester or Leeds—although I would like it to go further than that, up to Scotland—there would be a significant saving in journey time for Glasgow and Edinburgh, which would make the rail line more attractive all the way down its route.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman on the high-speed line, and there is no stronger advocate of high-speed trains than myself, but does he not believe that the idea of a spur to Heathrow is a red herring to help get the Conservatives out of the hole they have dug themselves into?
Since my party was the first to advocate a spur to Heathrow, I am not sure I entirely agree with that intervention.
Heathrow will carry on as a major airport. Despite all the doom and gloom from the Government, it will not suddenly shut down if it does not get a third runway. It will carry on at, or near, capacity. We need to deal with the situation of passengers arriving at Heathrow who currently find it most convenient to transfer to another aircraft, so that in future they transfer to rail. That requires plugging in the high-speed network with Heathrow in a way that facilitates such journeys, so there is one more leg to go. That would be a sensible way forward.
The Secretary of State was keen to talk about the 2003 White Paper, but, as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) pointed out, so much has changed over the last five years. After all, the Government’s 2003 energy policy was against nuclear power, and we are now told that it is the best thing since sliced bread. They have managed to change on that in the past five years, but they have not changed on aviation. Why not?
Exactly so. A lot of things have changed since 2003, including that a much stronger case is now being put for high-speed rail by Network Rail and others, which means there is a capacity for modal shift that was not anticipated. I do not mind the Government being committed to a 30-year long-term air strategy—the Secretary of State said it would be long term—but why does the rail strategy run out in 2014? Why are there no plans beyond 2014 to improve our railways? We have some longer platforms and trains now, but there are no plans beyond 2014—no lines opening, no commitment yet to high-speed rail, no electrification. A lot of things have been talked about, but nothing has been delivered on beyond 2014. Why is it right for air to have a long-term strategy, but not railways? That shows the unbalanced way in which the Department for Transport has addressed transport policy over the years: it has been roads, good; air, good; rail, bad; bus, bad. That simplistic way of looking at matters accurately reflects how the Department has dealt with transport policy.
I have been trying to resist the temptation of imagining that I am still the Minister responsible for the railways, but since I was the Minister for the railways when the White Paper was produced, I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the 2014 forecast is purely and simply to allow a spending programme to be set for that control period. The hon. Gentleman knows that is the case, and he also knows that this is the first Government who have set out such long-term spending plans for the railways, and that the White Paper included a 30-year strategy for the railways as well as the high-level output specification to 2014.
2014 is not a long-term date, and there is nothing in the 30-year strategy beyond 2014. The hon. Gentleman was a very good Minister; he was able to make a threadbare and hopeless case sound convincing, so I am unclear why the Government did not keep him on the Front Bench.
I join the hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the former Minister. Would he also like to make the point that as a recently as March, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) confirmed that not a single official in the Department was working on high-speed rail?
That is true. I have asked such questions a couple of times, and I have found that five officials are working on rail projects to extend the network—that, presumably, relates to electrification and everything else. I suppose that that is better than nothing.
That is the first time I have been accused of talking down the railways. I am not sure who was responsible for the channel tunnel, although I have a feeling that it predates this Government. Never mind that, because we have it now and it provides an opportunity to expand. Logically, we should do what other European countries have done very successfully and roll high-speed lines out across the country. Paris to Lyon was a corridor along which the vast majority of traffic went by air, but 91 per cent. of it now goes by rail, so the potential for a switch from air to rail is enormous.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) talked rightly and powerfully about the impact on the local area. I do not want to dwell on that—not because it is not important, but because it is better that local Members do that.
In all the consultation documents thus far, we have seen BAA’s costings for building the terminal and the runway, but no costings for the impact and the collateral damage across the whole area. I am talking about the loss of schools and homes, compensation for the loss of whole communities and the wider ramifications of the noise impact across London. That is one issue that has never been debated in this House, or addressed in such a publication.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that matter. If I were the local MP I would be heartbroken at the plans to wipe Sipson off the map, to affect Cranford and Longford so badly, to increase the noise significantly for many local people in his area and more widely, and to increase air pollution. It seems that all these people and their views do not count; there will be a consultation exercise whereby they can tick a box and send back a postcard, but ultimately, the Government are listening, in the same office, to BAA, and not to the thousands of people who are affected. That is a betrayal of the population of this country and an affront to democracy.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this approach takes no account of the fundamental fact that the people who live in London drive its economy, and that the Government are wrong in attempting to try to decouple residents from London’s success?
I agree with that. Business in London has been mentioned, and I should say that when London First met me, it was sceptical about the value of all those transit passengers. Part of the cause of passenger congestion at Heathrow is people who come in, spend £5 at Heathrow on a cup of coffee and give nothing else to the economy. It is about time we reassessed what the point of Heathrow is; it is about serving this country, rather than serving people who are getting off one plane and on to another to go somewhere else. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is keen to intervene from a sedentary position, but I am keen to put British residents first, and if he does not want to do that, that is a matter for him.
Nitrogen dioxide is the issue that the Government do not want to address, but they will have to do so, either through litigation or through a vote in this House. Alternatively, judging by today’s Evening Standard, they may have to do so because of the European Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, who has made it very clear that the Government’s policy will not be acceptable and that he will insist on NO2 limits being respected.
I know from a letter that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sent me on 21 October—to be fair, the Secretary of State confirmed this today—that the existing pollution from traffic in London, including around Heathrow, will already put the Government beyond the NO2 limit. They have a major problem even in present circumstances, so how will that be solved by increasing the number of flights at Heathrow, which will mean increased road traffic, and even low-carbon rail journeys to Heathrow? How will those increases help the Government to meet a target that they already fail to meet? Even their non-existent planes and other attempts to find ways around this major problem will not solve that issue.
From Department for Transport papers and internal documents that have come my way, we know that officials have been working with DEFRA officials on the interpretation of the relevant EU directive to try to ensure compliance. The DFT is a hopeless basket case on climate change, but we might have expected DEFRA to be more sympathetic to attempts to meet climate change targets. However, that does not seem to be the case.
The Government have got into a hole on this matter. They are on the wrong side of the argument. From the top down—the Prime Minister and the previous Prime Minister—they have bought the line that Heathrow must go ahead. They have also misread the mood of the business community, not all of which is in favour of the Government’s proposals. They have certainly misread the opinion of the population in London and elsewhere. Most importantly, the Government have misread the environmental challenge they face. They have a potentially good story on climate change, and could credibly claim to the electorate that they have done something on that issue. But they will be shot out of the water if they go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow. People will not remember the 80 per cent. target or the Climate Change Bill, but they will remember being betrayed over the third runway.
Order. I wish to give notice that the Chair might review the time limit that has been imposed on Back Benchers’ speeches in view of the time now and the number of hon. Members who wish to contribute. It would be very helpful if Members tried to keep their remarks well within the present allocation so that the Chair will not have to make a formal change.
This is an important debate and it is clear that hon. Members on all sides of the argument have very strong feelings. I shall attempt to highlight some of the key problems that need to be considered carefully.
The Transport Committee has considered this issue on three occasions in the context of inquiries into broader aviation matters. First, in 2003, in a study on aviation, the Committee concluded that the targeted development of existing sites was one way to deal with the anticipated expansion of aviation. The Committee said that
“if the Government believe Heathrow should expand its position as a prime European hub then expansion is needed there as a matter of urgency”.
The Committee recognised the significance of the environmental concerns and said that a decision must not be taken lightly.
More recently, the Committee conducted two further inquiries—on passengers’ experience of air travel in July last year, and this year in March on the future of BAA. In both inquiries, the Committee considered poor conditions at Heathrow, which is currently overcrowded. It castigated the monopoly airport owner—BAA—and advocated its break-up. The Committee found that inadequate runway capacity was a major cause of the problems that passengers experienced at Heathrow. The report supported the Government’s proposal to add capacity at Heathrow, subject to strict environmental conditions being met. That is a key condition.
Underlying many of the comments in support of the expansion of Heathrow was the recognition of it as an international hub, important to our economy and the jobs in it. It is our only such hub, with 68 million passengers a year and 56 per cent. of freight. It is because of the high volume of transit passengers that the hub is able to operate long-haul flights to multiple destinations, including to centres of economic growth in China and India that are important to our economy. If the arguments in favour of expansion are to be challenged, the whole issue of whether Heathrow should be an important international hub needs to be considered.
Can the hon. Lady cite the studies she has seen that determine what level of transit passengers is necessary to ensure a wide range of destinations? I question whether she could find such a study, because many other hub airports have a wider range of destinations than Heathrow on much lower percentages of transit traffic.
The fact is that transit passengers are important to enable international flights to develop. Heathrow is full—it operates at more than 98 per cent. capacity, and that is why it is losing some of its flights to rivals such as Schiphol, Paris and Frankfurt, where more runways cater for fewer passengers with greater reliability. That fact was highlighted in the recent Competition Commission report, which examined BAA’s operations. The importance of regional routes for regional connectivity should also be taken into account. I am a strong supporter of high-speed rail, but I would pause before advocating that we should sever aviation links between the regions and the capital. That would be a major step.
Several key questions must be asked before deciding how expansion of Heathrow could take place, if that is felt to be desirable. First, we should ask whether there are other ways of achieving that aim. A partial proposal for high-speed rail from limited destinations has been put forward as an alternative. It appears that that would deal with only some 3 per cent. of flights, and would not make a significant difference. That proposal may need to be developed further, but it is not the alternative at present.
It has been suggested—
I am sorry, but I am unable to do so in the time allowed.
An alternative airport has been suggested in the Thames estuary, but it would face major problems. Perhaps that proposal should be considered more seriously.
Several issues that have been identified need more scrutiny than they have had so far. Can the environmental conditions that we have set be met? They include noise and air quality in the locality of Heathrow, and the contribution to climate change. We must also consider our obligations under the Climate Change Bill to reduce emissions. We must remember that a transfer of flights to Schiphol or elsewhere in Europe would mean only a transfer of emissions, not a reduction. We should look much more closely at changes in technology and aircraft design, including alternative fuels. That point has been mentioned in today’s debate, but I do not think it has been scrutinised very deeply.
The recent provisional decision by the Competition Commission suggested that BAA should be broken up, and steps have already been taken in that direction with BAA stating that it wishes to sell Gatwick airport. That will have implications for financing and the efficiency of BAA as an operator.
What are the implications of the current recession for long-term aviation trends? Much has been made of the recent reduction in aviation caused by the recession—indeed, we may only be at the beginning of what may prove to be a prolonged recession. However, these plans are about the future—about 2020 and beyond. We need to take a further look at what the recession might mean for long-term aviation trends and for trends in our economy.
Those are all important questions that need to be addressed in the planning process. It would be helpful if the Secretary of State said how he envisaged any proposal for the expansion of Heathrow proceeding. Would it be conducted under existing planning legislation or under new planning proposals? How would that scrutiny take place in both those scenarios?
I am sorry, but I cannot because of the time constraints.
It is extremely important that the implications for Heathrow as an international hub are considered seriously. It is vital that we look at the economy of the United Kingdom and do not throw away our economic competitiveness at a time of recession. All the factors that I have mentioned need to be examined, both as they are now and as they will operate in the future. We need to recognise the importance of Heathrow as an international hub and we need to take decisions for the long term.
Parts of Heathrow are in my constituency, so this debate is very important to the people who sent me here. They rightly expect me to speak up for them. However, if I do that I face a dilemma. The majority of my constituents, and my local council, support another runway, but my party’s policy is the exact opposite. Making a constructive contribution is quite a challenge but, happily for my colleagues on the Front Bench, I do not see that there is much to be gained by setting out all over again what I see as the overwhelming local, regional and national case for another runway. That approach has been done to death. I doubt whether there is anyone in this Chamber who did not make up their mind, one way or another, long ago.
Instead, I want to echo what my neighbour, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), said about seeing whether we could find any consensus. I thought I might see whether there was anything on which we could all agree.
The hon. Gentleman has asked me that before, and I shall have to give him the same answer. If that is what is necessary, that is what is necessary.
I believe that the answer to the question, “Can we all agree on anything?” is—to quote someone else—“Yes, we can.” Do we not all agree that shutting Heathrow is a bad idea? Do we not all agree that Heathrow has problems? Do we not all agree that we want a better Heathrow? If I am right, and we all agree on those points, that means that we are all signed up to keeping Heathrow open, curing its problems and deciding how to make it better.
If Heathrow is to survive it has to prosper, which is the opposite of what is happening at the moment. To keep Heathrow open, we all need to be against the proposals made by the Mayor of London. As he rightly says, for his scheme to work Heathrow will have to be shut. If that happened, where would it leave the 70,000 people who work inside the boundary fence? They would face redundancy. I hope we all agree that redundancies are a bad thing.
Heathrow’s key problems are all horribly familiar to us: frustrating departure delays, annoying landing delays, cancelled flights, missing bags—[Hon. Members: “Noise.”] I shall come to noise later; do not worry. We all agree that those problems have to be overcome. The problems of planes queuing to take off and circling overhead before landing can only sensibly be solved by another runway. Many cancellations are caused by delay: if runways are 99 per cent. full, when flights are delayed they simply cannot be slotted in between the other flights that are waiting to take off, and they become cancellations.
Many bags go missing because of landing delays. Those delays leave too little time for a bag to make it from the flight that it has come in on to the flight that it should go out on. Again, the solution is to get rid of landing delays, for which we need another runway.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is another solution? Instead of focusing on quantity, BAA should start to focus on quality, and perhaps it might do that if it had a bit of competition—it might then decide to provide a better service to people who use the airport.
I am coming to the fact that Heathrow’s competition is already doing damage.
Heathrow also has some lesser known problems, some of which have already been mentioned tonight. The airport is losing routes—down from 230 to 180. By comparison, the competitors which my hon. Friend is concerned about are gaining routes and passengers. If Heathrow loses its transfer passengers, as some suggest it will, it will lose even more routes and become less viable.
No, I am sorry, but time is against me and Mr. Deputy Speaker urged us to be brief.
We would lose even more routes, including those to such places as Madras, Seattle, Bangalore, Osaka and Johannesburg. Heathrow is losing passengers to continental competitors, and that is already costing us jobs.
Heathrow is losing passengers as businesses start to relocate because a declining Heathrow no longer meets their needs. The computer firm Dell has begun to move its operations from London to Frankfurt for that very reason. Heathrow’s inability to accommodate new intercontinental airlines, especially from such crucial places as India and China, is forcing those airlines to set up their European hubs across the channel. Jet Airways, one of India’s most successful new airlines, can get only two slots at Heathrow and has therefore decided that its European hubs ought to be Brussels and Paris. That will cost us routes and jobs and will damage Heathrow.
I am sure we all agree that we want a better Heathrow. “Better, not bigger” has in fact become something of a mantra. However, there is one thing wrong with that analysis. A better Heathrow requires additional runway capacity, not so that Heathrow can expand but because that is the way to sort out its problems. Terminal 5 was not all about expansion, but represented an effort to sort out the chaos in the four other overcrowded terminals.
No, I am afraid not.
A better Heathrow requires the runway capacity to sort out those problems. Interestingly, those people who live under existing flight paths need to think about the fact that if we take the use of a runway down from 99 to 75 per cent., fewer flights will go over the houses of those people who live under the flight paths. We all agree that we do not want to end runway alternation, and another runway would make that unnecessary. To cheer up those on my Front Bench, I want to tell them that the policy of opposing the scrapping of alternation has my wholehearted support.
I ought to say something about the environment. I would like to say a lot, but Mr. Deputy Speaker urged us to be as brief as we could, so I shall limit myself to a couple of points. My approach is that it should not be expansion at any price. Quite properly, the Government have set out conditions, and if they cannot be met, there cannot be another runway. I have never said other than that, and I do not want to be misunderstood either here or in my constituency.
However, in my 21 years of representing Spelthorne, the environmental problems caused by Heathrow have got better. Noise has reduced dramatically: since 1998, BA has halved the noise impact of its aircraft at Heathrow, and emissions have also been reduced dramatically in my time, with fuel efficiency doubling over the past 40 years. The improvements are set to continue. The new Boeing Dreamliner will be 75 per cent. quieter than the 747s it will replace, and Rolls-Royce tells me it is confident that by 2020 its new generation of engines will reduce NOx emissions by 80 per cent. Things are getting better.
Again because of time constraints, I shall limit myself to just one comment on global warming, although there is a lot that I could say about what I have heard in the course of the afternoon. I hope we all agree that we have to get the debate on global warming into perspective. UK civil aviation produces only 6 per cent. of the UK’s greenhouse gases; it is not the demon that some people want us to believe it is. Only 2 per cent. of the UK’s transport sector emissions—that is, everything produced by our transport sector—comes from civil aviation.
The global perspective is crucial. The UK’s total emissions production is just 1.6 per cent. of the world’s output. By 2050, civil aviation worldwide will produce only 5 per cent. of the world’s total emissions. That is the perspective that we need to understand. We also have to understand that this is a global issue. Punishing ourselves by damaging our aviation industry and our businesses unilaterally will not do us any good, but it will make our competitors very happy indeed.
Finally, I want to say a few words about Heathrow, my constituency and the financial crisis that faces us all. Some 26 per cent. of my economically active constituents depend directly on Heathrow for their jobs, and redundancies have begun already. For example, it has been announced that some 450 managers will be out of their jobs at Heathrow by the end of the year. The success of regional and national economies owes a great deal to Heathrow keeping its status as Europe’s No. 1 hub.
The key position that Heathrow holds in the global aviation network is under threat, and decline has already started. That is why I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron): we Conservatives have a moral obligation to help people who are at risk of losing their jobs. I believe that my constituents face a clear choice—another runway, or redundancy. I know what I would prefer.
My constituents sent me here to speak up for them. I know it is not popular in some quarters, but speak up for them I will. I hope that that is what I have done today.
I want to make a few points almost at random, but I shall start by noting that my friend the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said that planes are somehow getting less noisy. For people in my constituency, the difference is like getting hit on the head very hard as opposed to extremely hard. It is impossible for them to live proper lives, or to enjoy time out in their gardens. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman supports my opposition to the ending of runway alternation, but the planes are not really any quieter.
I agree with every word that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said. I have nothing to gain in election terms from this debate. I am often told by BAA that most of my constituents support expansion, although others tell me differently. In any case, I do not think that this should be a political issue, so I shall say what I always say in these debates.
Along with my special friend who is Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen), up to now I have always supported Heathrow expansion. We both supported terminal 5, but there has to be a limit at some point. Whatever the hon. Member for Spelthorne may say, there really is no room for another runway on the south side of the airport. In fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has said so many times, there is no room for another runway on the north side of the airport either.
I want to speak up for my constituents, many of whom work at Heathrow and depend on it for their living. We understand the economic benefits extremely well, and my constituents have given a tremendous amount to the aviation industry. Many of them came from the Punjab in the late 1950s and early 1960s and, regardless of whether they were professional people, in the main they worked on the ramps at Heathrow airport. They deserve better than the treatment that they are getting now, as we seem to have little concern about the effects of increased noise.
The ending of runway alternation will make life impossible for some of my constituents, who will never be able to enjoy time in their gardens because planes will be flying over their houses continuously. There will be no day free of that, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seemed to say that the ending of runway alternation—what is called mixed mode—would lead to there being a few more seconds between each aeroplane. He seemed to suggest that that would be OK, but I return to my point about the difference between being hit on the head very or extremely hard. It is impossible for people to cope when they are being hit on the head by aircraft noise every day, with no break. The people who have given so much to the aviation industry deserve better than that.
My constituents also deserve better transport. I have said this many times, but they complain as much about the traffic congestion around Heathrow as they do about noise, but the industry wants to spend nothing on that, even though it would improve people’s daily lives. They deserve better, and we cannot keep on ignoring them time and again.
I am a friend of the air transport industry, and I still do work to help with various issues. For instance, we are trying to limit the weight of individual pieces of baggage to 23 kg because, whatever the House may have been told about mechanisation, each suitcase has to be handled by a person. It is important to understand that, although the airport has modern systems, all suitcases—and they can be very heavy—are packed away into aircraft holds by people who have to bend double to do so.
While I am on this subject, I should like to pay tribute to someone who I presume is beginning to come to the end of his career. Sir Michael Bishop has made a great contribution to the aviation industry. I do not get a lot of joy from the fact that BMI has been sold to Lufthansa, but I want to pay tribute to a man who has given so much of his life to the air transport industry. That is a lot more than most of the chief executives of the large companies give, and that is why they never worry about taking long-term decisions. Most chief executives believe that short-term decisions about profit over the next five or six years are all that really matters, but Sir Michael Bishop has given a lot to the industry.
The economic arguments for the expansion of Heathrow sound very attractive. Is the airport completely full or not? I wish that I could hold a competition about that here this afternoon. A week on Saturday, I am taking one of my grandsons to see a football game at Middlesbrough. I am taking him on an aeroplane from Heathrow airport—not because I want to, as I always go by train, but because his parents do not like to fly, so the flight will be a special treat for him.
I wonder how many hon. Members can guess how much the trip from Heathrow to Teesside will cost? I ask that question to illustrate the fact that Heathrow is not really full. In fact, the trip will cost £4 each, which shows that another runway at Heathrow is absolutely unnecessary. The seats are being filled to display to everybody that Heathrow is full, and the slots that are worth so much money have to be justified so that airlines can hold on to them. Obviously, the price is higher with tax, but £4 will be what BMI gets for tickets on that flight.
People have said that it would be an absolute disaster if Heathrow did not expand; I think that the hon. Member for Spelthorne mentioned that point of view. The airline industry keeps telling us that we need the economic expansion, and says that the expansion and the jobs are important, but why is British Airways looking to shift its engineering work overseas? We are told by the industry that the jobs are important, but it is happy to shift the really high-paid, high-skilled jobs overseas to save a little money. However, the attitude is that it is okay to make more noise for my constituents.
I have already said that it does not really make a lot of difference whether one is hit on the head very hard or extremely hard. I repeat that when runway alternation ends, people will never again be able to enjoy their garden in the spring or summer. As for planning their lives outside the house, they may be able to dig their garden while the planes are going over incessantly, but they cannot enjoy their garden. That is too much to ask of people who have given their whole lives to the air transport industry. It is repeated time and again—we have heard it said this afternoon—that planes are now a lot quieter. That is just not the case. It is absolutely unacceptable.
The informal Cranford agreement has existed since the late ’50s. My constituents are very close to the take-off point on the northern runway. That is why, unless it is an emergency, planes do not take off towards the east; they use the southern runway. I know that that gives a lot of pain to people on the west side of Heathrow, because planes come in to land along the same line, all day, every day, when the wind comes from the east. People are therefore unhappy on the west side. It is impossible to live a reasonable sort of life close to Heathrow. The Cranford agreement will be done away with as part of the plans before us, and that is completely unacceptable.
The economic situation has changed dramatically. Will the tremendous demand for air transport continue, or not? Some people say that the jobs will go, and others disagree, but if the economic situation has changed dramatically, let us take account of that when making decisions about Heathrow airport. We all understand the seriousness of sustainable development considerations much more than we did five or 10 years ago. Let me make a simple point that I have made before: if there is to be a contraction of air transport need, we will not need expansion at Heathrow. However, if need continues to increase year on year, there will be less need for Heathrow to be a hub, as there will be enough flights from Manchester and other regional airports to justify flights from those regional airports to many other destinations around the world. That would take away the need for people to travel to Heathrow.
We have not reviewed the situation in the light of the changed circumstances. I ask the Secretary of State and those who will take the decisions to look again at the likely scenario. The Secretary of State said that we are talking about long-term decisions. It will be the first time that the air transport industry has ever made a long-term decision; as I have mentioned, chief executives usually stay in their position for a few years, and then disappear.
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Sir Michael Bishop, whom I have known since my early days as a Member of the European Parliament. May I gently mention one aspect of BMI’s policy that rather makes my point, instead of my hon. Friend’s? When I was an MEP, there was a direct service from East Midlands airport to Heathrow, which allowed me to travel on to Strasbourg and Brussels. BMI withdrew that service because it had a limited number of slots. It used those slots for a service to Frankfurt—a service that was already well provided by BA and Lufthansa. The consequence is that now, anyone who wishes to travel from the east midlands to a connecting destination almost certainly does so by road. That does not help our environment, and it does not particularly help our economy.
I shall respond to that by making a slightly different point. Why should we want people from Teesside to come to Heathrow to travel on somewhere else? Sustainable development is a global problem. We should not look at it purely as an issue for UK industry. Why should we not encourage people from Teesside, Tyneside and Scotland to travel to Europe to pick up flights to somewhere else in the world? Why should they have to come to Heathrow? That is a very narrow view of the air transport industry.
I shall try to be as brief as possible. I completely share the views of my neighbour and, dare I say, comrade in arms, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). Certainly, on this issue, we are comrades. He rightly said that this is far too important a subject for us to get into petty, party political arguments on it. I have to say that I was extremely disappointed by the manner in which the Secretary of State made his speech. I do not think that it did the debate any good at all. I am sure that if he reflects on it—perhaps I will buy him the DVD so that he can watch it—he will realise that he got it badly wrong.
Luckily, the debate has improved. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington made a wonderful speech; some of us often hear him speak on the subject. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire); he perhaps made the speech that the Secretary of State should have made. He made points that I do not agree with, and points that I do agree with, but he made a well-reasoned argument, from his sincere point of view.
My constituents, and many of the constituents of other hon. Members present, are effectively living on death row. To many people who live further away, that may seem a bit of an exaggeration, but it is not. What is proposed will completely alter our constituents’ lives. Of course this is a national issue, but we have to consider what sort of nation we want to live in. Do we live in a Stalinist state, or Ceausescu’s Romania, where people are just removed—taken out of their homes, and moved somewhere else—as part of what is ostensibly a state project?
Earlier today, there was a debate in Westminster Hall about housing provision in London. All Members who attended agreed that there is a desperate shortage of housing in London, but we are talking about uprooting people from 4,000 homes. There is nowhere for those people to go. That has not been thought out at all. I have repeatedly tried to find out from the Department for Transport whether it has plans. It does not, because there can be no plans. It has no idea where those 4,000 homes will be put. Do we live in a country where those people’s lives are treated as being of no significance, so that we can carry out a scheme that we are not even sure about? As was rightly said, it is not just a runway, but another airport—a Gatwick—that will be tacked on to the side of Heathrow.
I feel very strongly about the issue, and many of my constituents, and the constituents of other Members—my fellow residents—are deeply concerned and angry. They sometimes wonder, “What is the point?”, because there are consultations and meetings, but nothing happens. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington spoke of the impact on young people in their schools, and on old people, who expected to live out the last few years of their lives in the area. They will be drummed out of their homes, and God knows where they will have to go. They will not be near their loved ones, whether those loved ones are alive or dead. As we heard, we do not know whether the cemeteries are safe. Centuries-old communities and buildings will be destroyed, and we do not even know that there is an argument in favour of development. Increasingly, I think that the business argument has been destroyed, and I am delighted that my hon. Friends have seen sense.
I do not take delight, however, in the fact that it is my party, together with the Liberal Democrats, against the Government, because I want the Government to understand that they are wrong. Many of their hon. Members realise that. I am not sure all the alternatives—I do not necessarily mean location—have been considered, and we must look seriously at what we expect from aviation. Can it continue to grow endlessly, year after year? I know how important this is: air quality is an issue of huge importance for my residents, and we have health problems. Many people who are much more capable than an old retailer know about climate change, but if I try to explain to my constituents the importance of adapting their lifestyle to ensure that they adapt to climate change by fitting energy-efficient light bulbs or lagging their property—those things are all good measures—they say to me, “What is the point? They are going to put a huge great airport down there and increase aviation emissions endlessly.”
I shall end by failing to be consensual in one respect. The consultation document was extremely flawed, and I would say to the Secretary of State that it was a dodgy dossier. May I take him back to those years when we were looking for weapons of mass destruction? For my constituents, potential weapons of mass destruction can be found on their doorstep, as homes and people’s lives will be destroyed. When we had the dodgy dossier before, I decided that I did not believe in it. I had to follow my conscience, and I walked through the Division Lobby, shoulder to shoulder with many Members who have now spoken. If my party had not taken this decision about the expansion, I would have taken the same decision to go against it, despite my position as one of those ghastly individuals who tell colleagues how to vote, because it means more to me and my constituents than anything else. I hope that the Secretary of State will allow a vote in the House, and I hope to see many of those old comrades walking through the Lobby shoulder to shoulder with my hon. Friends and me. If we do not win that vote, I expect to see them with me in front of the bulldozers.
May I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for my first opportunity to address the House in a debate since leaving ministerial office? I am reminded once again of what an immense privilege it is to do so, whatever geographical position one speaks from. May I offer my apologies to you and the House because I will not be present for the winding-up speeches due to family commitments? I hope that the House will understand that.
I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) because—and I agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—his comments were extremely well thought out and expressed. I genuinely hope that his party listens to the arguments that he made. This is a not just a debate about the case against the third runway at Heathrow; it is an argument about the case for or against Heathrow itself. We can all argue about the economic factors that will affect Heathrow’s long-term economic health, and everyone will take a different view. My strong view is that without a third runway, Heathrow will be left to wither on the vine, and it will cease to be the economic powerhouse for the country.
One of the arguments against the third runway was expressed in yesterday’s Evening Standard by—God help me—Andrew Gilligan, which is probably reason enough to go against it. It suggested that, in anticipation of an economic downturn and a recession over the next year or so, the case for such a runway was not valid. My vision—and the Government’s vision—for the British economy is slightly more long-term than next year, and I have more optimism and more confidence in our economy. We should plan for the next decade at Heathrow, not just for the next year.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that Heathrow would somehow fall apart if it did not expand. Where is the evidence for that assertion, as one cannot make policy or support a position unless there is clear evidence that without further expansion Heathrow will disappear? That is an assertion, not an evidence-based statement.
The hon. Gentleman is right to a certain extent. We all have our own view on this, and we all have to make our own decision about what will happen to Heathrow in the longer term if expansion is not allowed. From my experience of Heathrow, and from speaking to the people who use it, it appears that the business community is running out of patience with the airport. Business people will tolerate delays and cancellations at Heathrow for only so long. It is only a matter of time before that business goes elsewhere in Europe, and not to this country unless there is the prospect of serious expansion. I accept that the hon. Gentleman takes a different view, and he is entitled to do so. However, I hope that he accepts that those of us who believe that the absence of a third runway will lead Heathrow to wither on the vine must follow our conscience and adopt whichever economic remedies present themselves.
Today, I received a Friends of the Earth briefing that stated that
“we believe that the proposed expansion is based on a flawed economic case”.
Of course, it believes that: I doubt that there has ever been an economic case for a major infrastructure project that Friends of the Earth believed was not flawed. George Monbiot, the esteemed environmental journalist, said on 9 October 2007 in an article in The Guardian under the headline, “Bring on the Recession”:
“I hope that the recession now being forecast by some economists materialises…A recession in the rich nations might be the only hope we have of buying the time we need to prevent runaway climate change.”
To paraphrase what was said by a former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, that is saying that joblessness and unemployment are a price well worth paying to stop climate change. That would be an entirely unacceptable position for any hon. Member to take, as I do not believe that economic growth can be anything other than good for my constituents. I am sure that most hon. Members believe the same.
I wanted to contribute to the debate because, as the Minister who took the Crossrail Bill through the House—
I hope that the House does not adopt that particular view.
The Bill was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), and I had the privilege of taking the measure through its remaining stages in the House until it received Royal Assent earlier this year. I have strong reservations regarding the effect of the cancellation of the third runway on Crossrail, which will link Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west to Kent in the east, and will provide an essential link to the City of London from Heathrow. In recognition of the importance of that link, the City will fund up to a third of the £16 billion capital cost. It is a robust funding package, but it is not immune to external factors, including any Government decision to say no to a third runway.
If the Government expressed such a lack of confidence in Heathrow’s future, how would the confidence of City institutions in Crossrail be affected? Is the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) aware of the unhappiness in the business community about her party’s policy for Heathrow? I will say something about her solution to capacity constraints at the airport.
Lest the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) be allowed to have the last word as far as my position on high-speed rail is concerned, I make it clear that I strongly support high-speed rail—for the right reason. I am not in favour of it for environmental reasons in particular, but it has a part to play in the long-term prosperity of this country. It can provide extra capacity, and, if we get High Speed 2 and, I hope, High Speeds 3 and 4 up and running over the next decades, it will be of economic benefit to the whole country. But can we separate the argument for high-speed rail from the argument for the third runway? If we are to propose a high-speed rail network, let us propose it and work towards it. I hope that the next Government—of whichever colour, although I hope that they will be Labour—will begin the planning process for a new high-speed rail network.
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall try to make progress.
May we please, however, separate the argument for high-speed rail from the arguments for the third runway? No one believes the Conservative claim that a high-speed rail network will have any noticeable effect whatever on capacity at Heathrow.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with respect, although he has not explained why he said, in answer to a written question in March, that there was not a single official in his Department working on high-speed rail. Will he not accept that other countries recognise that high-speed rail can replace aviation, that Air France now operates train franchises between Paris and Brussels, which is a step in that direction, and that it is a case not just of replacing many internal flights to places such as Manchester and Leeds, but of replacing some international flights to places such as Brussels and Paris, to which Heathrow could be linked?
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s optimism, but, as the Secretary of State said, if 100 per cent. of all domestic regional flights were moved en masse to a high-speed rail network, there would be only a 2 per cent. improvement in capacity at Heathrow. The hon. Member for Lewes told me earlier in an aside across the Floor of the House that his calculations for a 26 per cent. shift from flights to high-speed rail assumed that people would use high-speed rail to reach European destinations. But that would happen only if every single person was forced—against their will—to use high-speed rail instead of flights to reach European destinations. I understand why the Liberals, being a liberal party, might want to force people to do that, but I am amazed that the Conservative party has put itself in the position where it suggests that we need a 100 per cent. shift to high-speed rail by everyone who would normally use those flights.
Will the hon. Gentleman mind if I do not? I have only five minutes left, and he may have his chance to give a winding-up speech later, although I shall not be present to hear him, as I said.
Further to the point that I made to the shadow Transport Secretary, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, I must say that with so many regional flights to Scottish airports from Heathrow, it is amazing that the Conservative plans for high-speed rail do not include running it north of the border. On a Thursday night, when I leave this place, I should be more than happy to take a high-speed train to Glasgow, but it seems that the Conservatives do not have enough confidence in their planning ability or, indeed, in their electoral prospects north of the border to invest in a high-speed line to Glasgow.
The Conservative party knows how long it took to get the Crossrail Act 2008 on to the statute book. It took three years of parliamentary time, and we still have not started laying any lines and the first Crossrail services will not start until 2017. If the Conservative party is truly serious about relieving congestion at Heathrow, it will have to come up with a solution that is slightly more short term or medium term than a high-speed rail network, because how long will a 300-mile or 400-mile network take to plan and to go through the hybrid Bill process over goodness knows how many years? That is before we have laid a single piece of line. We are talking about decades before a high-speed rail network would be up and running, and the idea that Heathrow and its capacity can wait that long is fantasy politics.
I strongly suspect a deep level of cynicism from the Conservative party that is more about winning seats to the west of London at the next general election than it is about any concern at all for climate change. I have spoken off the record to several Conservative MPs—including at least one member of the party’s Front-Bench team, although they were not from its Transport team—who agree that the Conservative policy of opposing the third runway is disastrous. If the Conservative party goes into the next election with that commitment in its manifesto, it will have proved that it is not serious about growing this country’s economy.