With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Government’s plans for Britain’s transport infrastructure.
Effective transport links are vital to our economic competitiveness and our daily lives. Britain’s prosperity is increasingly defined by the quality of its links to other great trading nations, by the way in which we move people and goods around the country, and by our ability to meet the needs of businesses for gateways to the global economy and to enable people to see their families and friends and go on holiday.
As the economic downturn demonstrates, we live in a global age. It is critical that the Government should make the tough choices necessary to deliver long-term prosperity for the United Kingdom—but in a way that meets our environmental objectives. In that context of sustainable economic growth, I want to set out a package of transport investments to prepare us for an ever more global and mobile world.
Over the past decade, we have delivered a £150 billion investment in transport—more than £13 billion this year alone—and we have announced that we will bring forward an extra £1 billion to stimulate the economy by accelerating our plans to cut congestion and increase rail capacity significantly. Over this current three-year period, we are spending around £40 billion, ensuring that investment in transport is at its highest for 30 years as a proportion of national income.
I should first like to update the House on our plans for the road and rail infrastructure and carbon dioxide emissions from transport, before turning to aviation and, in particular, Heathrow. I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses relevant papers setting out the proposals in more detail. At the conclusion of my statement, copies will be available in the Vote Office and on the Department’s website.
Motorways are essential for enabling people and goods to move around the country. Successful trials on the M42 have enabled us safely to open up motorway hard shoulders in peak periods, delivering more reliable journey times and adding a third more capacity at peak times—and all delivered at a lower cost than a more conventional road-widening scheme. After further detailed work, I can announce today a programme of up to £6 billion which includes applying those techniques to some of the most congested parts of the M1, M25, M6 and M62, the M3 and M4 approaching London, and the motorways around Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. This is the first step in our strategy to provide for managed motorways across the core of the motorway network, linking our major cities over the next 10 to 15 years and reducing congestion, with fewer environmental impacts than conventional motorway widening.
We are already investing £10 billion in the railways over the next five years, to add capacity while improving reliability and safety. However, given the time that it takes to plan and build new rail infrastructure, we need to look well beyond 2014. Electrification is advantageous on heavily used parts of the rail network. Electric trains are lighter, accelerate faster, are quieter and emit less carbon dioxide. We are well advanced in procuring replacement trains for the inter-city routes, but before we finalise our plans we need to decide whether new parts of the network should be electrified.
Initial work suggests that the case for electrification appears strongest on the most heavily used parts of the Great Western main line from Paddington and the midland main line north of Bedford. Alongside the work on our new inter-city trains, we will analyse the value for money, affordability and financing options of the electrification proposals that Network Rail will put to me shortly. I intend to make a further statement later this year.
Because of the need to plan for the long term, I can also announce that I am today forming a new company, High Speed 2, to consider the case for new high-speed rail services from London to Scotland. As a first stage, we have asked the company to develop a proposal for an entirely new line between London and the west midlands; that would enable faster journeys to other destinations in the north of England and Scotland, using both existing lines and a new high-speed rail network.
Our experience with Crossrail and the channel tunnel rail link has demonstrated that advance detailed planning is required to progress such major infrastructure schemes. The purpose of the new company will be to advise Ministers on the feasibility and credibility of a new line, with specific route options and financing proposals. Sir David Rowlands will chair the company in the interim. I see a strong case for this new line approaching London via a Heathrow international hub station on the Great Western line, to provide a direct four-way interchange between the airport, the new north-south line, existing Great Western rail services and Crossrail, into the heart of London. My intention is that by the end of this year the company will have advised us on the most promising route, or routes, with their individual costs and benefits.
In the 2003 air transport White Paper, the Government set out their support—in principle—for a third runway at Heathrow airport: that support was conditional on any development meeting strict local environmental conditions. Heathrow airport supports more than 100,000 British jobs. A third runway is forecast to create up to 8,000 new on-site jobs by 2030 and will provide further employment benefits to the surrounding area. Its construction alone would provide up to 60,000 jobs. But, more significantly for businesses across the United Kingdom, Heathrow is the only hub airport—it is our most important international gateway. It serves destinations that none of our other airports serve, and it provides more frequent services to key international destinations such as Mumbai and Beijing. It connects us to the growth markets of the future—essential for every great trading nation. In doing so, it benefits every region of the United Kingdom. But Heathrow is now operating at around 99 per cent. of its maximum capacity, leading to delays and constraints on future economic growth. Heathrow is already losing ground to international hub airports in other competitor countries. This makes the UK a progressively less attractive place for mobile international businesses. Delays damage the efficiency of the airport, but they also cause unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions as up to four stacks of aircraft circle London waiting to land.
The Government remain convinced, therefore, that additional capacity at Heathrow is critical to this country’s long-term economic prosperity. We consulted in November 2007 on three options for providing additional capacity, and on whether the environmental conditions could be met. We received nearly 70,000 replies. I have now considered the responses and reached my conclusions. Two of the options would use the existing runways for both arrivals and take-offs, otherwise known as mixed mode. This would improve resilience, reduce delays and has the potential also to provide early additional capacity. It is clear from the consultation, however, that residents under the flight paths greatly value the present alternation of runway operations at around 3 pm, which gives them respite from overhead aircraft noise for at least eight hours a day. Having carefully considered the evidence, including from the consultation, I have decided not to proceed with mixed mode. I have also decided to extend the benefits of runway alternation to those affected by aircraft taking off and landing when the wind is blowing from the east. I will therefore end the Cranford agreement, which generally prohibits easterly take-offs on the northern runway. This will benefit the residents of Windsor and others to the west of the airport, and Hatton and north Feltham to the east. I support the continuation of the other operating procedures as set out in the consultation.
This leaves the question of a third runway. Let me first explain my conclusions, in the light of the conditions on noise, air quality and surface access set out in the 2003 White Paper. In 1974, some 2 million people around Heathrow were affected by average levels of noise at or above 57 dB. By 2002, that number had reduced to 258,000 people as the result of significant improvements in aircraft technology. In the White Paper, the Government committed not to enlarge the area within which average noise exceeded 57 dB. In the light of all the evidence, including from the consultation, I have decided that this condition can be met, even with a third runway. Indeed, because newer aircraft are quieter, the numbers of people within the 57 dB contour by 2020 is expected to fall by a further 15,000 from 2002, even with more aircraft movements in 2020. And the number of people affected by higher levels of noise is expected to fall even more significantly: for example, a 68 per cent. reduction—more than 20,000 fewer people—in the number of those affected by noise averaging 66 dB and above.
On air quality, the Government are committed to meeting our EU obligations. The relevant pollutant at Heathrow is nitrogen dioxide, for which the EU has set a 2010 target of an annual average of no more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre. As with most other major European economies, the UK does not yet fully comply with this limit, largely as a result of emissions from motor vehicles. The area around Heathrow is by no means the worst example in the country, and the limit is currently exceeded in a number of places in the UK, in most cases by more than is the case near Heathrow. Meeting EU air quality targets is an issue that must be addressed right across the United Kingdom, not simply around Heathrow airport. The European Commission has agreed that member states could be allowed an extension to 2015 if member states can show that they have plans in place to meet the targets. This presents a significant challenge, but I am committed to supporting the actions, mainly in relation to motor vehicle emissions, necessary to achieve it. Immediately around Heathrow, action will be necessary to ensure that we meet the air quality limits by 2015. Our forecasts predict that, in any event, we will be meeting the limits by 2020 even with airport expansion.
Usually these decisions would be taken on the basis of forward projections and modelling. To reinforce our commitments on noise and air quality, I have decided, however, that additional flights could be allowed only when the independent Civil Aviation Authority is satisfied, first, that the noise and air quality conditions have already been met—the air quality limit is already statutory, and we will also give the noise limits legal force—and secondly, that any additional capacity will not compromise the legal air quality and noise limits. We will give the CAA a new statutory environmental duty to ensure that it acts in the interests of the environment in addition to its existing obligations and duties, and that it follows guidance from myself and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Energy and Climate Change. Moreover, in the event that air quality or noise limits were breached, the independent regulators would have a legal duty and the necessary powers to take the action needed—or require others to take it—to come back into compliance. In the case of noise, the matter would be for the CAA. In the case of air quality, where emissions from roads and rail around Heathrow also need to be considered, the Environment Agency will act as the enforcement body, with appropriate guidance from Ministers.
The third local condition for expansion for Heathrow was the provision of adequate public transport. Major improvements in rail access have already been announced, including increases in capacity on the Piccadilly line and the introduction of Crossrail services from 2017. This will provide a maximum capacity of 6,000 passengers per hour, which will be able to accommodate the estimated demand for rail access to a three-runway airport. The Government also welcome the lead being taken by BAA to promote the Airtrack project providing direct rail access to the airport at terminal 5 from the south and west. The Department will work with BAA and Network Rail to consider this and other schemes to improve connections from Heathrow to places such as Waterloo and Guildford, Reading and other stations on the Great Western main line.
Having considered all the evidence, I have decided that all three of the Government’s conditions for supporting a third runway at Heathrow can be met. I can therefore confirm that an additional terminal and the slightly longer runway proposed in the consultation are the best way to maximise the efficiency of a larger airport. However, I want there to be a limit on the initial use of the third runway so that the increase in aircraft movements does not exceed 125,000 a year rather than—at this stage—allowing the full additional 222,000 aircraft movements on which we consulted. I have also decided that any additional capacity available on the third runway will, after consultation, be subject to a new “green slot” principle to incentivise the use at Heathrow of the most modern aircraft, with further benefits for air quality and noise—and, indeed, carbon dioxide emissions.
It is of course crucial for transport, including aviation, to play its full part in meeting our goal to limit carbon dioxide emissions. As a result of UK leadership on aviation emissions in particular, carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation were included in the EU’s 20 per cent. greenhouse gas reduction target for 2020, agreed by the Prime Minister with other European leaders in December last year. Under the EU emissions trading scheme, this reduction will occur whether or not Heathrow is expanded. With a fixed cap for aviation across Europe, doing nothing at Heathrow would allow extra capacity at other hub airports such as Frankfurt, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle. Doing nothing will damage our economy and have no impact on climate change. The framework for reducing emissions across the EU covers international aviation and all sectors of each member state’s domestic economy. This includes emissions from domestic transport within the UK. The Government have already made it clear that they will respond to the advice of the Committee on Climate Change on carbon budgets, taking into account aviation, and we will set our carbon budgets later this year. Those budgets will reflect the measures in the EU 2020 package, such as tough new limits on emissions from new cars.
To reinforce the delivery of carbon dioxide savings, and to lay the ground for greater savings beyond 2020, I am announcing today funding of £250 million to promote the take-up, and commercialisation within the UK, of ultra low-emission road vehicles. With road transport emissions so much greater than those of aviation, even a relatively modest take-up of electric vehicles beyond 2020 could, on its own, match all the additional carbon dioxide generated by the expansion of Heathrow.
However, action in relation to domestic transport is not sufficient. We need to take the same tough approach to aviation emissions as we are taking to other transport emissions. Having taken the lead in promoting the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme, the Government will be pressing hard for international aviation to be part of the global deal on climate change at Copenhagen later this year. I have asked the Committee on Climate Change to report back later this year on the best way in which such a deal for aviation could be structured.
I can announce my intention to promote an international agreement to secure the same kind of progressively stricter limits on carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft as are already in place for cars within the EU. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), has been in Tokyo this week setting that out to a meeting of G7 Transport Ministers. However, I want to go further. Work published by the aviation industry illustrates how it could reduce UK emissions below 2005 levels by 2050. That could include the use of new technologies such as blended wings and the sustainable introduction of renewable fuels. I can announce that we will establish a new target to get aviation emissions in 2050 below 2005 levels, and I have asked the Committee on Climate Change to advise on the best basis for its development.
The Government will monitor carefully the emissions from aviation, with the help of the Committee on Climate Change. Any future capacity increases at Heathrow beyond the decision that I have announced today will be approved by the Government only after a review by the Committee on Climate Change in 2020 of whether we are on track to achieve the 2050 target that I have announced.
We are effectively taking three steps to limit any increase in carbon dioxide emissions. First, we are limiting the initial extra capacity to around half of what was originally proposed. Secondly, we intend that new slots at Heathrow will have to be green slots. Only the cleanest planes will be allowed to use the new slots that will be made available. Thirdly, we will establish a new target to limit aviation emissions in the UK to below 2005 levels by 2050. Taken together, that gives us the toughest climate change regime for aviation of any country in the world, which gives Ministers the confidence that we will achieve our 80 per cent. emissions reduction target. In addition, we will make it one of our highest priorities to secure international agreement on measures to reduce aviation emissions.
The airport clearly needs new capacity as soon as possible to reduce delays and improve resilience. Since I am not willing to allow the two existing runways to operate on mixed mode, I anticipate that the airport operator will bring forward a planning application for a new runway to be operational early in the period envisaged in the White Paper, between 2015 and 2020.
The parallel review of the economic regulation of airports is focusing on how best to improve the passenger experience and encourage investment. In the regulatory framework that results from that work, I expect the first call on new capacity to be ensuring that journeys are more reliable for existing passengers. We will therefore have a better airport.
These announcements on transport infrastructure, on motorways, on railways, on Heathrow, and on carbon reductions from transport show the Government taking the right decisions for the long term. We are delivering real help with job creation today, creating real hope for Britain’s long-term growth prospects, and giving real help in securing carbon reductions, real help for rail passengers and real help in increasing the long-term competitiveness of the UK economy by creating excellent transport links to the global economy, ensuring that this country remains an attractive place in which to do business. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, but frankly, if this is the result of the great row in the Cabinet, his colleagues did not get a very good deal out of it. Let us be in no doubt: this is a bleak day for our environment and for all of us who care about safeguarding it. Labour’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow would inflict devastating damage on the environment and on quality of life, and the Conservatives will fight them every step of the way.
I begin with the Secretary of State’s commitment to restrict the initial use of the runway, and that at this stage he would give the go-ahead for only 125,000 more flights, rather than 222,000. When does he propose to lift that cap? How long is that tenuous guarantee going to last?
The Secretary of State has admitted again today that Heathrow is already in breach of the EU air quality directive, which will become binding in a year’s time. Will he explain how an airport with a massive increase in flights and car journeys to support another 55 million passengers can possibly comply with the directive? Why does he continue to be deaf to the Environment Agency’s warning that pollution from a third runway will increase the risk of serious illness and early death around the airport?
Is the Secretary of State concerned that in the debate in the House last year, Members from as far apart as Reading and Greenwich expressed concern about the impact on their constituents of aircraft noise from Heathrow at its present size? Is it not recklessly irresponsible to compound an already serious problem with a new flight path over a densely populated area?
I welcome the Secretary of State’s apparent retreat on mixed mode. He says that he will not proceed with it, but again, how long will that guarantee last? How long will residents have that protection?
The Secretary of State claims that only low-emission planes will be allowed to use the new slots generated by a third runway. Which planes will qualify for the green slots that he talked about? Will he admit that there are no planes on the market that are clean or quiet enough to meet the environmental promises that he has already made, never mind the vague pledges on green slots that we have heard today? Will he admit that his Department’s expectation of future compliance with the environmental preconditions depends heavily on fantasy green planes that no manufacturer has plans to produce?
The Secretary of State’s apparent conversion to high-speed rail gives us little more than warm words and the possibility of a link to Birmingham. Why does he still refuse to accept that high-speed rail could provide an alternative to a third runway by providing an alternative to thousands of short-haul flights? Why will he not admit that the economic arguments for a third runway have been conclusively rebutted, and that there is no convincing evidence that Heathrow will go into a spiral of decline without major expansion?
Frankly, no one believes what the Secretary of State has to say about a limit of 125,000 flights. How does he propose to reconcile a massive increase in flights every year, the equivalent of bolting on to Heathrow a new airport the size of Gatwick, with Labour’s legally binding commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent.? Does he really want his political legacy to be the bulldozers rolling out to construct a runway to blight the lives of millions, when instead he could have gone down in history as the man who finally put the brakes on the relentless outward expansion of Heathrow, and demonstrated that the political class has at last woken up to the compelling urgency of climate change?
The Secretary of State has given us assurances on flight caps, on green slots and on a 2050 date for restricting aviation emissions, but the Government’s credibility is wholly undermined by their record. They have made every effort to dodge their environmental promises by reverse-engineering the data to get the answers that they wanted. They are seeking a derogation from the EU air quality rules, which are a fundamental pillar of Labour’s environmental safeguards. They are the Government who were pushing to lift the terminal 5 flight cap less than a year after the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers) stood at the Dispatch Box and pledged to impose it. They are in disarray over Heathrow, their consultation has been a sham and their aviation White Paper is no longer fit for purpose.
The world has moved on when it comes to Heathrow, but Labour just has not moved with it. The Government are on the wrong side of the argument and their environmental credibility is in tatters. It is time for Labour to scrap its plans for a third runway. If it will not do that, it is time for it to call a general election so that the country can elect a Conservative Government who will prevent this environmental disaster from going ahead.
In weighing the evidence when making difficult decisions, such as those that I outlined to the House today, any Government or potential Government have to consider it carefully and reach often difficult conclusions. I am sorry that the hon. Lady demonstrated in her remarks today that she had clearly reached her conclusions long before any examination of the evidence. She also showed—I encourage her researchers to provide her with some assistance on the matter—that she simply does not understand the terms of the EU air quality directive or the enormous improvements in technology for producing modern aircraft. I am disappointed, albeit not particularly surprised, by her response. Her comments are entirely representative of the do-nothing attitude of the modern Conservative party.
In contrast to the action and decisions that we are taking, the Conservative party would do nothing to give businesses and families real help now and in future. It would do nothing to provide a genuine financial stimulus to the economy; it has opposed the £3 billion capital investment that we introduced for infrastructure projects, including £1 billion extra for transport. It would do nothing to tackle the capacity problems at Heathrow, which will increasingly damage the economy and British jobs.
Doing nothing is the worst of all possible worlds. By encouraging our European competitors to expand at our expense, doing nothing would damage the country economically and save not a single gram of carbon. That is why British business has roundly condemned the Conservative party’s position.
It may surprise the House to learn that there is a Conservative position on aviation, which, unlike that of Conservative Front Benchers, has the benefit of being intellectually coherent—[Interruption.]
I do not agree with the comments of the Mayor of London about developing an estuary airport, but it is significant that his approach recognises the requirement for extra capacity for Heathrow. Although I disagree with his conclusion, at least he recognises the problem that the country and its businesses face. He said:
“The reality is that this recession will end, and when it ends we need to be able to compete in the long term with other capitals whose main airports have four, five or even six runways.”
I do not often cite the Mayor of London with approval, but he acknowledges the problem. He has not avoided the issue for a short-term party political advantage—an advantage that Conservative Front Benchers believe that they might gain through putting their political interests ahead of this country’s interests.
The hon. Lady also persists in her absurd argument that we should somehow choose between expanding aviation and rail capacity. Her policy was nonsense when she originally announced it, and it remains nonsense. Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, 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.”
That is exactly the problem that Conservative Front Benchers have consistently failed to address. I have always been a strong supporter of our railways and I firmly believe that we should accelerate work on new high-speed links. We have put in place the mechanisms for determining that in a practical way, both financially and in terms of the required structures, unlike the policy that was cobbled together on the back of some envelope in the hon. Lady’s office.
Let me be clear: a new line would be complementary to expansion at Heathrow, not an alternative. That is why I have asked for the development of plans for a Heathrow interchange station. It is all very well for the hon. Lady to complain that she supports those plans, but she neglected to explain how she would pay for the new transport projects that she announced. The Leader of the Opposition has proposed cuts of some £840 million in the next year alone. It is simply not credible for Conservative Front Benchers to talk about extra investment in new transport infrastructure without saying where the cuts that they propose will happen. They cannot guarantee a single transport project, not even Crossrail, while they consider such massive cuts in the transport budget. We have not heard a single word from Conservative Front Benchers about which projects they will cut. They cannot be taken seriously on transport when they are talking about such cuts in the budget that is already available.
The country clearly faces a choice about Heathrow and transport investment. It can make a choice for the future—for jobs, British business and our international competitiveness. Hon. Members can decide which side they are on. I know which side I am on, and which side the Government are on.
Perhaps the Secretary of State could place his written answers to questions in the Library. I declare an interest as the beneficial owner of a very small, recently acquired piece of land at Sipson.
The decision to proceed with the third runway is the worst environmental decision that the Government have made in 11 years. It drives a jumbo jet through their Climate Change Act 2008, on which the ink is barely dry. With a commitment to a reduction of 80 per cent. in carbon emissions, how can the Secretary of State and his colleagues possibly justify the construction of a new runway? It is also one of the worst political decisions in 11 years, on a par with that on the millennium dome. There is huge opposition to it in the Labour party, and it has united the opposition in the House and in the country and destroyed the Government’s green credentials. I make it plain that the Liberal Democrat manifesto will include a commitment to reverse the decision. That is not insignificant given the likely arithmetic in the next House of Commons.
Will there be a vote in the House in Government time on the matter? Will we be allowed to make a democratic decision? If the Government were defeated—I believe that they would be—would the Secretary of State accept the democratic will of the House and abandon his plans?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister promised a planning inquiry into the third runway proposal. Will that be a proper inquiry in traditional planning terms, or will it be held by his new puppet body, the Infrastructure Planning Commission? If the latter is the case, when will the Secretary of State bring the relevant national policy statements before the House?
The promises about Heathrow are not worth the paper they are written on. Time and again, this Government and previous Governments have broken them. For example, when terminal 5 was approved, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet agreed that a third runway would be “totally unacceptable”. Are not Government promises about Heathrow akin to a pledge from a fox not to harm chickens?
The Secretary of State said that additional flights would occur only if air quality limits were already fulfilled. The following page of his statement gives an indication of the number of flights that will take place. Does he seriously want us to believe that, if a runway is built, it will not be used? Does he expect us to believe that more weight will be given to a target that he sets than to a concrete runway? If the runway is built, it will be used, irrespective of any promises he makes today about air pollution. The effect of the green slot principle will simply be to concentrate dirtier planes on runways 1 and 2. It will make no difference to the type of plane used generally at Heathrow.
Has the Secretary of State received confirmation from the CAA that the extra flights can be safely accommodated?
The Secretary of State’s comments on rail have been cobbled together at the last minute in a desperate attempt to sugar the poison pill of a third runway. No commitments high-speed rail have been made today. He said that he would establish a company to “consider the case”. The case has been made: Network Rail has already done a great deal of work on it. We are simply kicking high-speed rail into the long grass again in an attempt to find something that will make the third runway at Heathrow sound palatable today.
It is a terrible day for the environment and for the Secretary of State and his colleagues in government. However, the opposition in the House and in the country is such that the third runway will not be built.
I am sorry that the House had to listen to that tirade of observations, which did not deal with any of the issues, but I suppose we get used to that from the Liberal Democrats. The party is not back to the future but back to the past.
It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman could not address the issues that we must tackle. Sadly, like Conservative Front Benchers, he concluded that his party is prepared to put the British economy’s long-term competitiveness second to that of European countries with hub airports. That is the reality of both parties’ policies. They say that, through the European trading scheme, they will allow other airports, which compete directly with Heathrow, to expand at the expense of this country. That is already happening. I can demonstrate that to him and send him the statistics, if he needs them and is interested in the facts. Continental hub airports already provide the capacity that is not available at Heathrow. If he wants to ensure that British jobs are transported to the continent, his policy is the perfect vehicle for doing so. If he pretends that in doing so he will somehow save carbon, he needs to understand more about the agreement on the ETS, which his party supports. He supports the approach that we have set out and agreed on the European trading of carbon. That policy will allow continental hub airports to expand at Heathrow, so he really needs to think through what he is arguing for if he has any interest whatever in jobs, the economy and employment in this country, which I doubt he does.
Let me deal with the two or three other points that the hon. Gentleman made. Clearly no developments will take place without safety. On green slots, I have indicated that we will set out a legal regime for determining the expansion of capacity at Heathrow, so there is no doubt that it will be governed by the law. We will bring forward legislation where necessary that will govern the extra capacity, so there can be no doubt of our absolute commitment to ensure expansion consistent with our environmental objectives, as set out in the White Paper and as brought up to date today, in the light of our determination to save carbon and put this country at the forefront of carbon saving around the world.
As for the hon. Gentleman’s point about a vote in the House, he well knows the position in the United Kingdom and in Parliament. If he is saying that every major transport decision, infrastructure decision and planning decision will henceforth be subject to a vote in the House of Commons, he had better make clear his party’s policy.
Order. The House will probably know that I could fill an hour on this subject myself, but I am afraid that we do not have that luxury of time available. I am all too aware that a considerable number of hon. Members have knowledge of this subject. We have an important statement on Equitable Life, for which I know many hon. Members are waiting, and also the important debate on Gaza. I therefore appeal to hon. Members please to understand if I am very strict about the brevity and singularity of supplementary questions from hereon in. I would equally appeal to the Secretary of State in giving his answers not to go anywhere outside his brief.
It is vital that there should be proper recognition of the significance of Heathrow as an international hub. It is critical for jobs and for this country. However, what is the process for assessing whether the environmental concerns set out can be met? Although I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s statement about high-speed rail, it appears that the plans for high-speed rail—if indeed it happens—will stop in the west midlands. Could he clarify what that means?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I outlined the process earlier. It is clearly necessary, in light of the 2003 White Paper, that we should address the conditions set out on environmental grounds. That is what I sought to do in my statement. As for the position beyond 2020, we have made it clear that we will seek guidance from the Committee on Climate Change, which will construct the methodology by which we satisfy that 2050 obligation, and that we will ensure that any extra capacity is subject to the tests that I have outlined.
As for high-speed rail, I made it clear that it is obvious from any assessment of our requirements that our rail network is working extremely hard and that, as of today, we need to contemplate long-term decisions for the future. Therefore, not only will I invite the company to look at the clear case for a new line to the west midlands, but equally, as I made clear in my statement, it will look beyond the west midlands at the possibility of a high-speed line right to Scotland.
As a result of today’s announcements, my constituents face the prospect of a reduction in their quality of life with more planes flying overhead, restriction in driving their cars locally and a far worse train service in Crossrail. I hope that the Secretary of State recognises that as a result of today’s announcement, nobody will take this Government seriously on the environment again. On a very specific point, when terminal 5 was announced, the then Secretary of State promised us a cap on the number of flights a year of 480,000. The Government have now broken their word, and this Secretary of State is playing the same game. In today’s statement he says, “I want there to be a limit on the initial use of the third runway so that the increase in aircraft movements does not exceed 125,000 a year.” That is an aspiration, not a commitment. Will he now say that it is a commitment, how it will be put in place and why my constituents should believe him today any more than they believed the previous Transport Secretary who put a cap on flights?
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady approaches significant investment in road, rail and aviation as somehow matters for criticism. The truth is that we are putting enormous sums of public money into improving our road and rail network and ensuring that this country has the appropriate international gateways to allow people—including, I am sure, people in her constituency, given the profile of the kinds of people who use Heathrow regularly—to do business. They are the better-off and those engaged in business. It is precisely the people who live in places such as Maidenhead who will benefit most from the investment that we are making in transport.
I set out very clearly the position on the increase beyond 125,000. Obviously it is vital, given the importance to our economy and every economy of constraining carbon emissions, that we put in place a new regime for determining how those extra slots will be allocated over and above the 125,000. They will take into account our progress towards the 2050 target of matching our carbon emissions to 2005 levels. The process is very clear.
The decision today, for my constituents, is an absolute disgrace. The commitments that have been given on the conditions to be attached are spin. They are as worthless as the commitment that there would be no third runway. The decision is a betrayal of future generations, in terms of the environment, and a betrayal of my constituents, who will lose their homes, their schools, their cemeteries, their churches and their gurdwara. It is a betrayal of this House, and of democracy, not to have a vote in the House. We are not asking for a vote on every infrastructure project; we are asking for the most significant project in a generation to be brought to this House for a vote. Will there be a vote, and why not?
I have made clear the position of the House in relation to such matters. It is a long-standing position that the House does not vote on quasi-judicial or planning matters. Nevertheless, I entirely understand that my hon. Friend puts his case with his customary passion on behalf of his constituents, but this is an issue for the country. Heathrow is a national airport serving the whole of the country. Necessarily, when judgments have to be made about the interests of the country, those decisions have to be made, however difficult they are—[Interruption.]
Order. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) must—[Interruption.]
John McDonnell, Member for Hayes and Harlington, having conducted himself in a grossly disorderly manner, was named by the Deputy Speaker.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 44), That John McDonnell be suspended from the service of the House.—(Ian Lucas.)
A Division was called, but no Members being appointed Tellers for the Noes, the Deputy Speaker declared that the Ayes had it.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Ordered, That John McDonnell be suspended from the service of the House.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify something? You say that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) is suspended, and many of us support not necessarily what he has done, but why he has done it—the fact that we are not going to have a vote in this House. Can you explain how long he will be suspended for?
The answer to the hon. Lady is five days. I counsel the House that I understand that the strength of feeling on this matter is very great, but many hon. Members are not only wishing to question the Secretary of State on the matter, but waiting for the other important business. I am sure that there will be other occasions when Members’ voices will be heard on a matter of this importance. We should proceed. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington must now withdraw from the service of the House—[Interruption.] Without further comment.
Accordingly John McDonnell, Member for Hayes and Harlington, withdrew from the House.
One condition that the Government have not considered at all is what they are going to do with those many thousands of people who will be evicted from their homes. There will be those who have to move because their quality of life will be shattered; they will not be able to sleep any more. Have the Government, or the Secretary of State’s Department, considered where those people will be housed in an already overcrowded area?
The difficulty that I have with the hon. Gentleman’s question is that, as I set out in my statement, and as he knows well, having considered the issue over a long period, the numbers affected by the 57-decibel limit, which has been the standard limit for many years, have fallen dramatically from 2 million in the mid-1970s to a quarter of a million and falling today. The impact of noise has dramatically changed over that period. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) talked about devastation. The last time I looked at property prices in places such as Maidenhead and west London, there was no shortage of people willing to move to those areas, and apparently no impact on property prices. [Interruption.] Property prices are far higher there than they are in my constituency simply because people want to live in those places. [Interruption.] They want to live in those places knowing full well that they will be living in the proximity of Heathrow airport, so there is something seriously inconsistent about what Opposition Members are saying. [Interruption.]
Order. I say to the House that we will make more progress if every hon. Member gives a hearing to whoever I have called to address the House. Otherwise, we shall slow down and prejudice other matters as we go along. I hope for real brevity; the comments so far have been far too wordy. I promise the House that I understand the passion on this subject, but I am sure that we will come back to it on many occasions.
Will the Secretary of State guarantee the electrification of the Great Western line, and will he ensure that the interests of a community such as Slough, which could be damaged by the siting of this proposed new railway station, will be listened to in the proposed decisions about the surface infrastructure?
I made it clear that there is a strong case for electrifying the Great Western line, along with another of our great railway lines. I believe that that should be part of a comprehensive programme, and I made it clear that we would make a further statement later once greater details have been addressed. I did not wish to mislead my hon. Friend in any way with regard to what I said about the hub. Our proposals on the hub are for a site much closer to west London, on land already owned by Network Rail, at the junction of the existing Great Western line and the proposed Crossrail line. A Heathrow hub would not necessarily have to be placed close to Heathrow.
The Secretary of State met BAA and the unions, but can he tell the House when he has ever met directly any of the communities that will be affected? Will he come to Putney to meet my constituents to explain to them why their quality of life and environment should be destroyed by more planes, more noise and more pollution? If he will not come, will he explain why? I can assure him that he would get a very big audience.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point. Once I assumed this position, the consultation having been completed, I regretted that on legal advice I was unable to meet communities. I visited the area, and went carefully around the perimeter of Heathrow, visiting the various places affected—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady should listen, instead of getting exasperated. Now that the consultation has concluded and I have made the decision, I am in a position to meet those communities, and I would be delighted to do so.
I have campaigned across party political lines, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). We all understand his passion. I say to the Secretary of State that it was with massive relief I heard him announce that he would not press ahead with mixed mode. That will affect not only my constituency, but Brentford and Isleworth, Richmond Park, Twickenham, Putney—
I will add Ealing, North if my hon. Friend likes, but I am not so sure about that.
The decision will also affect Battersea and places further east. I am most grateful to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, who listened carefully to our arguments. Even though the Cranford agreement is going, which I am sad about, that will at least benefit the constituents in Maidenhead, Windsor and places like that. We have to give and take on such issues.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he has campaigned vigorously on behalf of constituents, and has done so successfully, if I may say so. I looked carefully at the results of the consultation, and it is clear, as I mentioned in my statement, that people value the alternation of the existing two runways. The ending of the Cranford agreement will allow a more even distribution of noise. It will reduce the noise impact on large numbers of people. I am extremely grateful for his efforts, and for drawing those matters to my attention.
The constituents of Richmond Park will be standing shoulder to shoulder with the constituents of Hayes and Harlington and the people of Sipson in this continuing campaign to oppose the third runway, and I believe that we will succeed. The Secretary of State did not say what would happen to the 700 families in Sipson that will lose their homes and, as yet, have nowhere to go. The history of Heathrow has been one of continual broken promises: they are abandoned as soon as they become inconvenient. My constituents will be relieved to hear the words he has said on mixed mode, but how can they have confidence in what he has said, rather than consider it as a temporary measure to abate opposition while progress on the third runway goes ahead?
I have to make similar remarks to the hon. Lady as those I made to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). The history of Heathrow is inevitably a history of expansion. It is a history that reflects the demands of the people of the United Kingdom and, no doubt, the demands of the hon. Lady’s constituents, to travel on business, for pleasure and to visit family and friends around the world. The expansion of our airports is a direct result of the expansion of that demand. If the population of the United Kingdom did not wish to travel, airlines would not be providing services and, in turn, airports would not need to develop. I assume that she believes that only those who are sufficiently wealthy to afford ever higher air fares should be the ones who can take advantage of travel. That is not the position of the Government. We believe that we must respond to people’s increased demand for travel in all ways, which is why it is important to put the statement about transport infrastructure in the context of what we have to do to satisfy that demand for travel in the 21st century. Sadly, her party’s policy is mired somewhere in the 19th century.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what is truly a courageous and far-sighted decision to give the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow, and to consider seriously the case for new high-speed rail. I welcome, too, the commitment in his statement to look at the economic regulation of airports. Is it not now the time to consider tough new service standards for passengers? For example, any new runway that is built could not ever run at 99 per cent. capacity, as the current runways do, so passengers will benefit not just from a bigger Heathrow, but from a better Heathrow.
First, I thank my right hon. Friend for all her work as Secretary of State for Transport, which allowed this decision to take place. I must say that there have been times when I wish that she had taken the decision, but she nevertheless contributed greatly to the ability to have the decision taken. As she emphasises, the need for the decision results from the existing capacity at Heathrow. When the House debated the matter before Christmas, several Conservative Members referred to the importance of improving the airport, which no one can argue against. However, one of the practical problems faced by users of the airport, and their biggest complaint, is delay. Those delays are the direct result of operating an airport at 99 per cent. capacity. The slightest difficulty in the organisation of the airport leads to long delays, not only of hours but sometimes of days. The Conservative party needs to think about that.
Heathrow is a fixture and is important for the south-east economy as well as that of the rest of the country. Therefore, it needs to be efficient, and on that basis I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision. The issue is an emotional one, but my constituents will benefit, particularly if stacking—one of the consequences of lack of capacity at Heathrow—is reduced. Secondly, I welcome his efforts to constrain the environmental effects, because that will pull through new technologies—modern aircraft such as the A380 have a much smaller noise footprint over a given area. But will he comment on the alternatives offered by rail? The problem is that rail transport per kilometre and per passenger gives off more CO2 than an equivalent use of aircraft. If energy is consumed on the basis of what we produce currently from gas and coal, the CO2 emitted is far greater. At least the French have nuclear energy, which reduces the impact of their rail travel.
I had the privilege of shadowing the hon. Gentleman when he was a Minister with responsibility for technology, and saw his rigorous approach to scientific and technological matters. I am delighted that he continues to take that approach in the same independent manner. We should improve not only the operation of the airport but people’s access, which is one of the conditions that we set out in 2003. I have set out a number of proposals that will undoubtedly improve access. In answer to his question, however, it is often overlooked that running diesel engines at high speed is carbon-inefficient, whereas running electrified engines at high speed, particularly on the basis of the changes proposed to ensure that more renewable electricity energy is generated, will make a real difference to the carbon impact of our transport network.
Although there is not nearly enough in the Transport Secretary’s statement to drag me into the Lobby to vote in favour of a third Heathrow runway, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that the dropping of mixed mode lifts the immediate threat of intensifying aircraft noise across communities as far afield as Reading, Watford and High Wycombe. The longer term prospects, however, are grim. Surface access to Heathrow from the west is a joke, as his Department acknowledges. We need direct rail access to London Heathrow airport. Is he giving the go-ahead today for a third runway at Heathrow, or two and a half runways, as suggested by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change?
I think I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s observations. Certainly, it is right not to pursue the short-term benefit that would otherwise flow from mixed mode. It is right to take account of the impact of that in the surrounding area, and that is why I reached my conclusion. I agree with him that it is necessary to improve surface access to the airport, and there are several proposals under way that will do that. In addition, I mentioned in my statement BAA’s proposal in relation to Airtrack and direct surface links into terminal 5. My high-speed proposals will also significantly improve people’s ability to travel into the airport by public transport—after all, it is a major ambition to reduce the number of people who drive their cars to Heathrow, to reduce their carbon impact.
Few people will take comfort from either part of the Secretary of State’s statement today. My constituents already suffer considerable noise pollution from Heathrow. The statement contains no real commitment to Airtrack, no money to extend Crossrail, no commitment to a third Thames bridge in my constituency and nothing to reduce pollution. Has not the Secretary of State merely proved the old adage that the emptiest vessel rattles the loudest?
I will send the hon. Gentleman a briefing on Crossrail, as he has misunderstood. The funding for Crossrail is in place. [Interruption.] The only threat to Crossrail—perhaps the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) is giving us the benefit of her point of view from a sedentary position—is from the prospect of a Conservative Government. The Conservative party’s proposal contains an unfunded gap. If the Conservative party cuts transport infrastructure as it proposes to do, Crossrail might not have sufficient funding.
The country will not understand how we, in the mother of Parliaments, representing our constituents, cannot have a vote on such a crucial issue. Perhaps the Secretary of State will be honest and explain to the House—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I am sure that he is always honest; I mean that in the widest sense. Is he worried that if we had a vote, his decision on the Heathrow runway would not command the support of the House?
My hon. Friend has been a Member of the House for far longer than I have. During that period, she has seen Ministers make a range of uncomfortable decisions in relation to planning and infrastructure, and such decisions have never been the subject of a specific vote. Clearly, the House must express its opinion on a wide range of issues, and as a former Leader of the House I would strongly support that. However, individual planning decisions have never been subject to a vote of the House of Commons. Recently, when the Planning Bill went through, it was not accepted by the House that specific planning projects should have specific votes. I hope she will accept that throughout her time in the House, it has never been the case that such votes took place.
South-east London residents will be bitterly disappointed by the Secretary of State’s decision today, as they will inevitably suffer increased pollution and noise as a result of a third runway. Is the Secretary of State not concerned that our children and grandchildren will inevitably suffer because of his decision?
I do not know exactly how many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents work at Heathrow airport, but some 100,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, depend on it. It is the largest source of employment in the south-east. Many of those people about whom he is concerned will thank the Government for the decision, as they will know that their jobs and livelihoods are being protected and preserved.
If my right hon. Friend understands that mixed mode would cause additional misery to those on current flight paths, why does he not understand that tens of thousands of people—many of them my constituents—who will be affected for the first time by a third runway will have their quality of life severely depleted? If he is wedded to airport expansion in the south-east, why does he not consider alternative sites, which would cause a fraction of the disruption?
I assure my hon. Friend that we did consider alternative sites. If he has another look at the 2003 White Paper, he will see that some 400 alternative sites were considered. A shortlist was drawn up, and those sites were considered in still more detail. Necessarily, my hon. Friend makes representations on behalf of his constituents; I understand that. I hope, however, that he and they will look at the improvements in technology since 1975—the significant reductions in noise and in the impact on air quality. That will continue; the process will not suddenly draw to a halt. Significant improvements, such as aircraft engines causing less noise, less pollution and less harm to his constituents, will continue.
The Secretary of State has said that he expects the new runway to be operational early in the period between 2015 and 2020. Can he assure us that if that does not prove feasible, he will reconsider the issue of mixed mode? Many people who use Heathrow are very worried about the possibility of the airports becoming redundant.
At the heart of my decision is a recognition that it is important to provide Heathrow with greater capacity. To that extent, I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We have set out a way forward in terms of providing extra capacity for the airport, subject to strict environmental conditions, but I do not foresee any difficulty resulting from the decision that we have just made.
Residents of south-east London will welcome the decision not to proceed with mixed mode, but they and everyone else will also be concerned about the impact of my right hon. Friend’s proposals on climate change. Can he clarify the role that the Climate Change Committee will play in overseeing the environmental measures that he has announced? Will it merely comment on those measures, or will it have to assess the likelihood of their success in achieving the goals that he has set out before any approvals are given? If my right hon. Friend cannot clarify that, people will lose confidence in the committee, and in all that he has announced today about the environment and the third runway.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations, and for the representations that he has made on these issues.
It is clearly important that, in presenting arguments for expansion as I have done today, we recognise the significant climate change implications not just for aviation but for all transport. That is why I have set out a clear path forward that will allow the Climate Change Committee to present its proposals for how the Government should meet their 2050 obligations. There will be a detailed programme of work, involving the committee, to ensure that the Government are on track to meet not just their general target, but specific aviation and transport targets.
If NOx exceedances are already well above permitted European Union levels, how can they conceivably be brought below those mandatory ceilings if there is a 50 per cent. or even a 25 per cent. increase in flight movements? Have the Government sought from BAA precise details of the mechanisms that are intended to bring them below those ceilings, and by how much each mechanism is expected to do so if there are 600 additional flight movements per day? If the Government have that evidence, will they publish it now, in full? If they do not have the evidence, is it not irresponsible for them to rely on BAA assurances without evidence to support them, especially given that the present level of exceedances will lead to EU fines of perhaps hundreds of thousands of pounds per day after January 2015?
My right hon. Friend will forgive me if I am slightly puzzled by his observation. He will know from his ministerial experience that air quality testing is an independent exercise, conducted quite separately from BAA, and that the exceedance figures are published and readily available to Members of Parliament. He will also know from his previous experience that the EU air quality directive is measured in relation to people and their homes, and that testing takes place throughout the country.
As I made absolutely clear in my statement, we do have problems with exceedances, which are far greater in some parts of the country—including parts of central London—than at Heathrow. I am not making any excuses for Heathrow in saying that, but what is critically important is for us to ensure that those exceedances are brought within the terms of the directive, if possible by 2010 but if necessary, following an application for an exemption, by 2015. That will depend crucially on action in relation to motor vehicles, not aviation.
I fear that the proposal has been given an over-optimistic greenwash, and that it relies heavily on a particular type of plane for its delivery. Can the Secretary of State tell me which particular plane he has in mind, or which particular group of aerospace companies is proposing to deliver the plane by 2015?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has put her question in that way. This is not about a particular plane. Every new aircraft that comes into service has reduced carbon emissions, improved efficiency and lower noise levels. As I made clear earlier, steady progress has continued in that regard since the mid-1970s. We have far more efficient aircraft today. Every time the airlines bring new aircraft into service, there is a marginal improvement in their emissions.
It is not a question of “any plane will do”. I have made clear that it is necessary to ensure that the newest, most efficient, most up-to-date aircraft fill the new slots, but that is something that the airlines themselves will accept and encourage. If the hon. Lady looks at the kind of aircraft that generally operate from Heathrow, she will see that most airlines use their newest, most up-to-date aircraft in those existing slots.
My right hon. Friend understands the symbolic significance of Heathrow expansion in the context of the climate change agenda. Does he accept that there is enormous scepticism about the compatibility of the increase in flights and aviation emissions with Britain’s capacity to meet our reduced carbon emissions target by 2050? Can he tell us what proportion of that target will be accounted for by aviation emissions?
That will be something for the Climate Change Committee to determine, but I am absolutely confident that we can satisfy the commitments that we have made generally on carbon change within a regime involving aviation. We are not simply saying that aviation will get a free ride, or that it can go on expanding at the expense of other parts of our economy. There will be a determined effort, both nationally in terms of the target that I have set out on behalf of the Government and internationally, which means persuading other countries to accept a similar approach as part of our Copenhagen negotiations.
If we are serious about the environment, surely we need to move as many people as possible out of planes and on to trains. That is particularly relevant to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Should not speeding up the west and east coast main lines be a priority, especially beyond Preston? The line between Preston and Carlisle is a problem.
As I said in my statement, it is an equal priority. We must not only ensure that we speed up journey times across the United Kingdom to improve our transport infrastructure in the United Kingdom, but recognise that we need effective communications around the world. We must do both.
It seems to me that, difficult though the decision is, it is a decision about the national economic interest and not just about London. It is perfectly legitimate for the Conservatives to take the position that they have taken, but it is not legitimate to ignore the impact on the national economy. I hope that in the coming months the Secretary of State will take time to ensure that we fulfil our responsibility to make certain that the population know what the impact of the Conservatives’ policies would be if a third runway did not go ahead.
Given the appalling service received by commuters in the very first week of the newly refurbished west coast main line, does the Secretary of State at least understand why they are slightly cynical about his promises and the impact of future investment in the railways? May I ask him to reassure them about the action that he will take to ensure that last week’s events are not repeated?
One of the clear economic justifications for looking hard at future capacity on our rail network and the requirement to build new lines is the increasing use of that capacity on lines such as the west coast main line. Despite the difficulties that we have faced, and while I well understand the impact on travellers in recent weeks and sympathise with them, an £8.8 billion investment is producing better, more frequent services for passengers up and down that line. There will, however, come a point when we need new capacity, particularly if rail usage continues to increase as it has in recent years. That is why we are proposing specifically a new high-speed line to the west midlands and beyond.
My constituents will certainly welcome the rejection of mixed mode, which was the greatest threat to their quality of life, even if they are dismayed on environmental grounds by the continuation with the third runway. Will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear to them that there will be no increase in landings over south London on to the two existing runways? Also, if he is abrogating the Cranford agreement, could he not also do away with westerly preference, which results in an undue number of flights over south London, and far beyond what is justified in terms of prevailing winds?
My hon. Friend has been assiduous in making the transport case for his constituency. I have had a number of meetings with him where he has argued it extremely effectively. I am pleased to be able to respond in the way that I have in relation to mixed mode—he has argued that case extremely effectively. It is right to make allocation judgments that spread the noise around Heathrow airport more fairly, which is why we have abandoned the Cranford agreement. However, I do not agree with my hon. Friend’s argument about changing the current preference in respect of the airport, because, again, that is determined largely in relation to the populations affected.
Order. We must move on now, to be fair to the other issues that have to be discussed. I apologise to the Members I have not been able to call, but I am sure they will be remembered collectively by the Chair when this matter comes up for discussion again.