House of Commons
Thursday 15 January 2009
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before questions
Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] and Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the promoters of the Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] and Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords], which were originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2006-07 on 21 January 2007, may have leave to proceed with the Bills in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Thursday 22 January.
Canterbury City Council Bill, Leeds City Council Bill, Nottingham City Council Bill and Reading Borough Council Bill
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the promoters of the Canterbury City Council Bill, Leeds City Council Bill, Nottingham City Council Bill and Reading Borough Council Bill, which were originally introduced in this House in Session 2007-08 on 22 January 2008, may have leave to proceed with the Bills in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Thursday 22 January.
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Marine Environmental Protection
The Government want a marine environment that is clean, safe, productive and biologically diverse. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill will play a significant part in achieving this, along with other steps that we are taking, including action on sustainable fisheries management and on achieving good environmental status for our seas under the marine strategy framework directive.
With reference to the progress of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which represents a sea change, is my right hon. Friend aware of the wonderful coastline in my constituency, starting with a five-star, award-winning seabird centre in North Berwick, which is educational and protective and does all the things that the Government want to do to look after the marine life in the River Forth?
I am very pleased to hear from my hon. Friend about the centre that she mentioned. The Bill has started its passage in the other place and we look forward to its coming here. There will be much to discuss and debate, but there is widespread support for the legislation. It is groundbreaking, it is important, and we need to get it on the statute book and get on with the work.
The Secretary of State mentioned the importance of marine sustainability. Does he acknowledge the concerns expressed by many environmental groups and local fishermen about the extent to which licences are being issued for industrial scallop dredging, and the damaging effect that that has both on the seabed and on future fish stocks, not least in my area, in Cardigan bay, which is protected as a special area of conservation? Does he regard the arrangements in the Bill as robust enough to meet the challenges brought to us in our constituencies?
I am indeed aware of those concerns. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the action that we have taken in relation to scallop dredging in the Fal and Helford special area of conservation, and of the decision taken last year in respect of Lyme bay, which was very significant. That illustrates the Government’s determination to take the right decisions to provide conservation where it is needed, and the Bill provides the framework to do that. In the end, all these things must be balanced, but one of the purposes of introducing the Bill is to allow for the designation of marine conservation zones. The two steps that we have already taken with regard to scallop dredging will give comfort to those who are concerned about the Government’s willingness, in the right circumstances, to act.
My right hon. Friend may remember that a few weeks ago he visited my constituency. During that visit, I had arranged a meeting with a number of leading Scottish environmental non-governmental organisations. They are very pleased with the way he listened to their concerns and has come up with a sensible division of responsibilities for nature conservation between the UK and Scottish Governments. What steps will the Department take to ensure that there continues to be effective co-ordination between the Scottish and UK Government responsibilities in this area?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that. I recollect saying to his environmental groups on that occasion that we would listen to what was said as a result of the consultation. They will have seen how we amended the draft Bill when it was published and introduced into Parliament. I am absolutely determined that we continue to build on the arrangements that we have put in place to ensure partnership between the different parts of the devolved system. One of the things that came across clearly in the consultation was the desire for one coherent framework. The discussions that we have had with the devolved Administrations have allowed us to put in place a structure which I think will work, and I am committed to it.
Further to the important point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams), the Minister will know that the destruction caused by scallop dredging may last for 10, 12 or 14 years. It is nothing short of vandalism. Will he contrast the needs of those fishermen with the crofting that goes on both in Scotland and in north Wales on the Llyn peninsula, where farmers supplement their income by sustainable fishing methods? Will he ensure that their interests are catered for in the interests of good, sustainable fisheries for the future?
It is important that there should be local discussion and local input. In the end, it is about balancing all these things. However, as I said in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams), we must have a framework that allows us to take such decisions; obviously, the Welsh Assembly Government would have responsibilities in this particular case. A balance has to be struck. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill and the support of the devolved Administrations provide the framework within which we can try to deal better with the problems, and that is why there is such widespread support for the Bill.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one thing that will not improve the marine environment is EU Commission regulation article 47, which relates to EU monitoring of recreational fisheries? It seeks to take away precious quota from our professional fishermen and heap a horrendous bureaucratic burden on the 1.5 million sea anglers, who contribute £1 billion to the economy. Will the Secretary of State join me and the newly formed Angling Trust and use every ounce of his strength to reject that ridiculous proposal?
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will meet representatives of the Angling Trust shortly to discuss the matter. In the end, it is important that we strike a balance, on that issue and others. We are determined to ensure that there are opportunities for sustainable fisheries and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s achievement in the fisheries negotiations just before Christmas. Such things are difficult to balance, but we achieved a reasonable outcome.
Animal Diseases/Contaminated Feed
The Government are funding scanning surveillance to detect the emergence of new or exotic diseases in cattle. The diagnosis and disease investigation service is subsidised and offered to farmers through their private vets, and the analysis of samples is delivered by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency. There are also projects targeted at specific diseases. DEFRA collaborates with the Food Standards Agency, Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency to manage contaminated animal feed incidents.
The Minister’s answer contains some reassurance, but she will be aware of the devastating effect of the feed contamination in Ireland just before Christmas on the whole of that country’s pork meat industry—large amounts of product had to be destroyed. What specific steps have been taken to minimise the risk of such an event in the United Kingdom, and does the Minister agree that what happened emphasises the importance of better product labelling to enable us to enhance traceability if such an incident were to occur here?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I am in active dialogue with my right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for public health. We need to learn the lessons from that recent incident to make sure that our procedures are as robust as we believe they are. However, the assurance scheme that protects British-produced pork—bacon, ham and other pig products—has really proved its worth in the past month. Consumers can be assured that when they purchase pork, bacon or ham that bears the British quality standard mark agreed with the British Pig Executive and which applies throughout the whole food chain, they are buying a product derived from animals that have been fed, reared and processed to the highest standards of animal welfare and food safety.
This is not just an issue about the protection of livestock in England; it applies right across the UK. Will the Minister assure the House that she regularly discusses issues such as animal disease and contaminated feed with her colleagues in the devolved Administrations?
Yes, indeed. As my hon. Friend would expect, I am very interested in working collaboratively with the devolved Administrations. The recent report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has made recommendations on the pork industry, referring to the Scottish taskforce for pig products. I want to learn from the Scottish experience, and I will be in touch with ministerial colleagues in the other authorities.
Given that the Government were essentially responsible for the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2007, surely they have an even greater responsibility to farmers, consumers and farmers’ livestock to protect against other animal diseases, including bluetongue? There is a vaccine against bluetongue strain 8, but not against other strains of the disease. Serotype 1 of the disease was discovered in Blackpool less than two months ago and is present elsewhere in western Europe. Given the devastating impact of an outbreak of bluetongue, not only on animal welfare but on farm incomes, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that we are protected against other strains of the disease?
As the hon. Gentleman would expect, we are monitoring the situation very closely. Our veterinary and animal health authorities conduct very strict surveillance. I am not aware of any circulating bluetongue disease found in the UK in 2008. The vaccination uptake previously was high in the south and the east of England, and the Pirbright experts believe that this was effective in controlling the BTV8 outbreak. We are not complacent, however—we know that we must keep all this work under very close review. We are conducting post-import tests for all bluetongue stereotypes. Every type of bluetongue can be detected through routine testing. We are urging the industry to consider the risks and to check the health and vaccination status of animals when sourcing any animals from within the UK or, indeed, from abroad.
Animal feed is one very important part of the food chain, but the focus and function of animals and farms in passing on manure to allotment holders is another vital part of the food chain. I have been contacted by allotment holders in Wakefield who have had farmers selling them manure that is not pure but has been contaminated with chemicals. What has my right hon. Friend’s Department been doing to ensure the minimisation of that and to ensure that people who want to grow their own do not end up with distorted carrots and parsnips?
I am very interested in the case that my hon. Friend has brought to the House, and I would want to have the opportunity to look into it in detail. The Environment Agency will be closely at work on the detail of this matter, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is also following it closely. We are aware that a particular product has been withdrawn. I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend, or if she would care to write to me with the details of the representations that she has received, I will be happy to look into them.
The people at the forefront in combating disease in our animals are the institutes of animal health. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the scientists and other staff who work at the Institute for Animal Health at Compton in my constituency and give them some assurance that the future of the institute in that location will be confirmed?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, no decisions have yet been taken regarding the institute and the other organisations with which it works. I am more than happy to join Members on both sides of the House in paying tribute to the work of those people in his constituency, who do extremely important work. I hope to visit their organisation in the near future to learn about their work.
Surface Water Drainage Charges
My hon. Friend will know that it is for Ofwat, as the independent economic regulator of the water industry, to approve water companies’ charging schemes. However, to give him some reassurance, I can say that we are very aware of the problem of affordability faced by some customers as a result of the switch to site area charging for surface water drainage, and we are actively looking at what can be done.
I am grateful for that answer. Throughout the north-west, sports and social clubs are receiving from United Utilities water rate bills that include a new surface area water drainage charge that is resulting in an increase of about 400 per cent. in the three-year transitional period. In discussing this matter with Ofwat, will my hon. Friend remind it of the guidance that was given following the passage of the Water Industry Act 1999? It said:
“It would be inappropriate to charge all customers as if they were businesses.”
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. It is worth reiterating the advice issued by the then Secretary of State in 2000, which said of that guidance:
“those making similar demands on services should be charged on the same basis… surface water drainage charges”
for non-household customers
“should be set in a way that is sensitive to the actual use of the service by different premises. Premises with large grounds, such as burial grounds, schools, hospitals”—
and playing fields—
“may have a large proportion of their land not draining to a public sewer. Companies should be prepared to set their charges…accordingly”.
It is worth reiterating that advice on the guidance. As I say, we are actively considering what may be done.
I fully support every word uttered by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). Will the Minister go further than he so far has in dealing with this grotesquely unfair charge, which could put a number of social clubs, sporting clubs and—yes, I shall mention them—churches in grave financial difficulty? I hope he will indicate that he will approach Ofwat and ask it to review the whole basis of the charge. It is a licence for the water companies, particularly United Utilities, to print money, and we want to stop it. It is unfair. Will he give a firmer assurance about the action that the Government will take?
Once again, I thank all hon. Members who have raised this issue, which is vital for their constituents and for small organisations, churches, sports clubs and so on in their areas. I hope that I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman and others just how seriously we take this matter, and that we will examine what can be done. I cannot go further than that today, but we are actively considering it.
It is worth stating that Ofwat’s approach is that in principle, site area-based charging is overall the fairest means of charging for surface water drainage. However, the charge relates only to areas draining into a public sewer from impermeable surfaces such as the roofs of buildings or car parks. Grassy areas such as sports fields, burial grounds and so on will not be liable to charges. Ofwat is making that clear to companies, and I glad to restate it today.
At the risk of repeating what the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) said, may I focus on the application of the new surface water charges to ancient cathedrals and churches with huge roof spaces? They will be adversely affected, and some are already struggling. I had better declare an interest: I am an honorary lay canon of Bradford cathedral.
I thank my hon. Friend. I am more than happy, on the basis of the comments that have been made today and other representations that have been made, to examine individual cases. It is worth my saying also that if a customer is of the view that he or she has been charged for permeable areas, in the first instance they should raise the matter with the water company, bearing in mind the guidance that is on record and has been reiterated today. Failing that, they should raise it with the Consumer Council for Water. I reassure Members that we are taking concerns seriously and actively considering what can be done.
The Minister will be aware that the Government rightly applaud the work of faith-based and other voluntary sector groups such as sports clubs, the guides and the scouts. The gross increase in charges that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) pointed out could not come to such volunteer-based organisations at a worse time than this time of economic hardship. Will the Minister intervene and ask what economic and financial impact assessment has been done and whether it was done during or before the economic crisis? May we please have a moratorium on the charges until such an assessment has been carried out?
I cannot offer the hon. Lady a moratorium on the charges, but I can assure her that as part of our examination of what is currently going on and our undertaking to review how the charges are rolled out, we will take into consideration the factors that she has mentioned, including the economic impact.
This is an opportune moment to say that Ofwat is encouraging churches and other customers to double-check their chargeable area, to ensure that those who are entitled to a lower bill by virtue of a small permeable area are receiving one. I have been made aware of instances where that has not happened, so I thank the hon. Lady for raising the matter.
My officials meet with the Environment Agency on a regular basis to discuss air quality and progress in meeting emission limits.
What comfort can my right hon. Friend give my constituents in Eastham, who are faced with the possible construction of a Biossence gasification plant and an Agri Energy tallow plant, that if those projects go ahead they will continue to enjoy clean and safe air, and that any installations will be appropriately monitored?
I understand that Biossence Ltd held pre-application discussions with the Environment Agency last March. It expressed the intention to apply for a permit under the environmental permitting regulations. If it does, there must be statutory consultation, and in the end the Environment Agency decides on applications, either granting the permit with conditions or refusing it. In making any application, an operator needs to cover various matters, including satisfactory environmental management of the installation, adequate monitoring and compliance with EU directives and other requirements. I hope that that offers him and his constituents some reassurance.
How much harder will it be to achieve air quality objectives if the 222,000 extra flights a year which will result from the third runway at Heathrow go ahead? Will the Secretary of State outline the extent to which he wholeheartedly gives his passionate commitment and support to the third runway at Heathrow?
The hon. Gentleman must be a little more patient because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will make a statement later today. To answer the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, the Government have always made it clear that our air quality and noise targets must be met before any expansion can go ahead.
In his discussions with the Environment Agency, will my right hon. Friend emphasise that the public need to know that all our decisions on air quality are based on good science? In the past, the Environment Agency has listened too much to Greenpeace and other campaigners about, for example, energy for waste. The air quality is perfectly good, EU regulations are fine and the debate requires science, not passion.
I am a great believer—I am sure all hon. Members are—in science, facts, information and effective monitoring so that we can make the right decisions. Science of course informs the limits that domestic and European legislation have put in place. We must recognise that there has been real progress in the past 30 years in improving air quality in the country. However, there is some way to go on some forms of pollution. It is a genuine problem because the pollution we still have reduces average life expectancy by about seven to eight months. That is why we must keep up the progress.
The Secretary of State has a reputation for being quietly effective, but he lives in west London so he understands the impact that a 46 per cent. increase in Heathrow capacity will have on the environment of my constituents and others across that area. On Heathrow expansion, has he been defending Londoners at the Cabinet table, or has his reputation for quietness extended to silence on this occasion?
I am not known for my silence, and I have made it clear that my responsibility as Environment Secretary is to ensure that the Government’s air quality and noise targets are met. When the hon. Gentleman has a chance to hear the announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport later, he will find the answer to his question.
As I have already said in answer to the first question on the subject, the Government have made it clear that any decision on expansion must be subject to our meeting our targets for air quality and noise. That is essential. As I have said to other hon. Members, if my hon. Friend waits a little longer, he will learn from the announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport how that will be given effect.
The Department has made something of a habit of wasting taxpayers’ money through paying expensive fines for failing to deliver its targets and for serial incompetence. The impending threat of further punishment from the EU for failing to meet air quality standards is only the latest example. The Olympic Delivery Authority in east London stands accused of doing little or nothing to fulfil its promises to cut air pollution from construction. What is the Secretary of State doing about that?
I know that those who are working on the construction of the Olympics are conscious of the need to try to ensure that it is done in the most environmentally friendly way. On the substance of the question, we are currently not meeting the targets for the two pollutants PM10 and nitrogen dioxide. However, we are not unique in that. If the hon. Gentleman considers the rest of the EU, he will find many other countries that do not meet the requirements. That is why provision was made in last year’s revision to the directive for member states to apply for more time to do so. As I have already said, it is likely that we will need to apply for more time to meet the requirements on PM10 and nitrogen dioxide.
The answer, then, is not a lot. Let me join those over in west London who have already done this and ask the Secretary of State exactly how a third runway at Heathrow will help to cut air pollution. Will he confirm that, as a result of the statement that we will hear later today, the Government’s decision will cause millions of people to face blight, pollution, deteriorating air quality and noise, will massively affect the natural environment and affect people’s well-being? He is the Environment Secretary and we want to hear his view. It is no good hiding behind the latest statement. He has, to his credit, been notably silent in his enthusiasm for expanding Heathrow, but clearly he has little clout. Has he perhaps considered as a last resort joining Airplot, the organisation that is safeguarding land at the airport? That might be his only way of getting a share of the action.
I note the hon. Gentleman’s comment, and in response I simply say that I have said throughout that my responsibility is to ensure that if there is to be any expansion—he, like other hon. and right hon. Members, will have to be a bit more patient—it will be subject to the Government’s being able to demonstrate that we will meet the air quality and noise targets that we have set. If he just waits a little longer, he will see how the Government intend to ensure that we fulfil those promises.
Fishermen (Assistance with Aid Applications)
In response to my right hon. Friend’s question, I am pleased to confirm that funding is indeed available, under both axis 1 and axis 3 of the European fisheries fund, for vessel owners to change to more selective gear. Applicants should first make contact with the fisheries department in their operational area for direct advice on application procedures.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I would also like to put on record my recognition of the robust leadership that he gave at the recent Fisheries Council, when some of the Commission’s more outrageous proposals, including the closure of the west coast fishing grounds, were challenged and changed. I only regret that his Scottish fisheries counterpart did not more generously recognise the role that he played. He has identified funding and he will be aware that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is looking to unlock funding for intelligent gear and nets. I hope he will co-operate with the Scottish Government to maximise such funding, because any trials piloted in Scotland will have a benefit across the whole of the UK fishing fleet.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her warm words about what was a tough but good outcome from the fisheries negotiations. I am pleased that last year we launched the EFF, with £100 million for UK fisheries right across the UK to improve their sustainability. I will be working alongside others, including Scottish fisheries colleagues and the Scottish Executive, to ensure that there is good use of those funds to support the sustainable use of fisheries. To echo her comments, I am particularly pleased that as part of the negotiations we managed to save the livelihoods of people on the west coast of Scotland.
If ever there were an issue where good, effective working relations between the Minister and Richard Lochhead in Edinburgh were so important, this is surely it. May I urge the Minister to remain engaged with the fishing industry itself as the new technical measures are rolled out? He will be aware that serious concerns were expressed by those parts of the fleet that operated on the west of Scotland about the suitability of some of the early measures. Those concerns must not be forgotten now that the deal is done.
The hon. Gentleman makes absolutely the right points. I intend to continue close engagement, both with the Scottish Executive and with fishermen on the ground, because there is a level of local expertise and knowledge that has really helped us in the negotiations and which will have to help us, in what will be a challenging year, to deliver sustainable fisheries. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that I will remain engaged at all levels, and I will, I hope, be visiting the west coast of Scotland in the near future.
I met the chairman and chief executive of Ofwat on 16 December to discuss the 2009 review of water price limits, covering the period 2010 to 2015.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response, and I note the response about clubs that his Minister gave earlier. However, I would like to ask what the Government are doing to reduce the burden of water bills on domestic households by tackling other factors that affect the price of water, such as the non-payment of bills, which leads to those who do pay their bills subsidising those who do not.
That was one of the issues that I discussed in the meeting to which I referred. It is important that water companies are able to collect the payments that are due, recognising that in the current economic circumstances some people have genuine difficulty in paying their bills. I attach particular importance, as does Ofwat, in taking final decisions about the price review and its impact on bills between 2010 and 2015, to the question of affordability. Like many things in life, it is a question of balance, as it is also necessary to take further action on reducing leakage and improving some environmental problems, particularly those relating to the Thames area, United Utilities and some other parts of the country.
The Secretary of State has received a range of representations from various groups regarding surface water drainage charges. As I said in response to an earlier question, the Government are aware of the issue of affordability raised by the switch to site area charging, and we are actively considering what can be done.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reply—obviously, I heard the exchange on Question 3, asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). Strong representations are being made and it would be good to hear whether they are reaching the Minister’s door. The problem has been around for 10 years—I read a debate from 1999 in which the current Home Secretary raised the issue of the potential fallout from changes in water charges. Is it not about time that we told Ofwat that its proposals are wrong, and that organisations should be properly protected from such excessive increases?
My hon. Friend is right that the issue has been around for some time. I reiterated earlier the advice that the former Secretary of State gave in 2000, which is important to note. I reassure my hon. Friend that we will not leave the issue lying. We are aware of the concerns, and the Secretary of State and I are actively considering what can be done.
The Department’s responsibility is to enable us all to live within our environmental means. I inform the House that the Rural Payments Agency has now made full single payment scheme payments to 78 per cent. of farmers, which amounts to 67.4 per cent. of the estimated total fund. As the House will be aware, the RPA’s target is to make 75 per cent. of SPS 2008 payments by value by the end of this month, and 90 per cent. by the end of March.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Earlier, we rightly discussed the importance of protecting consumers by ensuring adequate food safety standards in the meat industry, but it is equally important to protect animal welfare. Does my right hon. Friend support the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in its “Rooting for pigs” campaign to ensure better animal welfare standards within the pig industry?
Yes. A set of labelling definitions, such as “free range” or “barn grown”, agreed between the RSPCA and the UK pig industry, would be extremely powerful and command much public support. I prefer a voluntary agreement to the imposition of more legislation, and I welcome the good progress made so far. We are close to agreement between all the parties, including the supermarkets, on a set of assurance scheme criteria. All of us who enjoy pork and bacon will welcome such a labelling scheme. It will allow us to exercise an informed choice and to support our farmers, particularly in delivering higher standards of welfare.
The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be aware of bids by water companies outside Wales to supply customers inside Wales, particularly in a development in his constituency known as Valleywood. Will he meet me to discuss the important issues raised by that attempt?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, elements of water policy in Wales are devolved, but the regulatory regime remains with Westminster. On that basis, I am more than happy to meet him to discuss the matter at the earliest opportunity.
I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend, not least because she has been a tireless advocate of regeneration in relation to the Olympics and her own communities.
I visited Prescott lock recently. We were fortunate enough to be in a position to allocate £2 million to its development, and to ensure—this is relevant to an earlier question—that construction materials for the site were delivered on our canal network, in which the Government are investing.
As I have said, I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend, because I think that we have a good news story to tell.
I know that the authority reached that decision recently, and I am happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman in further detail. Obviously the judgment on advertising is one for the authority to make. As for the Government’s policy, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the review conducted by Ed Gallagher last year, which examined precisely this question. What the Government have said throughout is that we need to be sure that biofuels are sustainable. We need to consider both the direct impact, in connection with which a comparison can be made with the petrol and diesel that they might replace, and the more complicated issue of the indirect effect. The British Government have been pressing strongly in Europe for sustainability standards that can give the public confidence that biofuels are indeed sustainable.
Does this week’s vote on pesticides in the European Parliament mean that the United Kingdom Government have lost the argument on control of existing pesticides, or will there still be the possibility of insisting on a full impact assessment before any change in established practices is forced on British farmers? Should we not make decisions about such changes on the basis of the best possible evidence?
I entirely agree, and I have been making the same point for a very long time. Indeed, I have asked the European Commission for a full impact assessment, but none has been forthcoming. As I have said publicly, this is not a very good basis on which to make decisions. If you are asked to sign up to something, it kind of helps if you know what it is that you are signing up to.
I must be frank with the House. I regret that there do not appear to be enough other member states that share the concern that we have expressed so forcefully. We will of course use the possibility that exists in the final shape of the proposals to seek derogations where they are necessary, but there is a fundamental principle here. A balance must be struck. We take the protection of public health extremely seriously, but we must also enable farmers to protect their crops so that we can grow the food that we need. We must make decisions on the basis of good evidence and sound science, and I am sorry that that has not been done on this occasion.
I acknowledge that bovine TB is our biggest endemic animal health issue. Working to eradicate this terrible disease is at the top of my agenda, given the devastating impact that it has.
We have a zero tolerance policy on overdue tests. We have pre-movement tests for cattle moving from high-risk herds, and extended use of the gamma interferon test. We are also actively pursuing the future use of vaccination. However, we need to consider further measures with the industry, and that is exactly the aim of the new bovine TB eradication group.
On air quality, although concern is currently understandably focused on Heathrow and London, will the Secretary of State look into air quality in Greater Manchester? Following the failure of the transport referendum, there is now a big vacuum in public transport policy in Greater Manchester and there are huge issues in relation to worsening air quality. Will the Secretary of State discuss this with his counterpart at the Department for Transport and with the Environment Agency?
Yes, I certainly will, because as my hon. Friend rightly points out, air quality limits are currently being exceeded in several parts of the country. The principal problem is road traffic, and we set out the steps we propose to take in the air quality strategy published last year. I have already pointed out to the House that we will very probably have to apply to the Commission for further time to meet the targets; if it is to grant us further time, we will have to set out to its satisfaction in those applications the further steps we intend to take to meet the targets. This is a responsibility of the Government, and I take it very seriously, but it is also a responsibility of those who can influence questions of traffic management in our big towns and cities across the country.
I am happy to take up that suggestion, and I will do so. That is an important technology, which is still in a state of evolution. In the fight against climate change and the effort to reduce carbon emissions, we need all the technological assistance we can get. I would not, however, have a go at what the hon. Gentleman describes as the intermediate technology, because low-energy light bulbs certainly do save consumers money—even taking account, in some cases, of the additional costs—because of the longer life of the bulbs and the reduced energy consumption involved, but technology needs to continue to evolve to help us in this task of reducing our emissions.
The Secretary of State is known for not being swayed by passion, and for being an open-minded man who is happy to rely on science and his advisers. The Environment Agency has said that the third Heathrow runway would exceed EU pollution limits because of unsafe nitrogen dioxide levels. How is it right—or how would it be right, to use the correct tense—for such advice to be discarded in a cavalier and cursory fashion?
I am certainly not in favour of discarding any advice in a cavalier fashion. I say once again to the House—I am sure my hon. Friend will listen very carefully to this—that the Government are determined that we will meet the air quality and noise targets that we have set. That would be a condition on any expansion of Heathrow. People will be able to make a judgment about whether they think that condition has been met when they hear what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport says shortly.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, in relation to nitrogen dioxide and Heathrow, the principal problem is road traffic, not aircraft movements. Therefore, what happens on the M4 and other roads in that area has a significant impact. We have not yet applied for that derogation. We are likely to do so first in relation to PM10, because we should have achieved the targets by 2005—many other member states have not—and it is possible to allow for extra time until 2011. In relation to nitrogen dioxide, the date for achieving the target is 2010; we are not going to do so, for the reasons I have set out, and the derogation would extend that to 2015. The hon. Gentleman is right that the Government will have to set out to the satisfaction of the Commission that we have a credible plan for dealing with that. We will have to do so in relation to all the sites where there is a problem, including Heathrow, but as I hope he is aware, Heathrow does not present the biggest problem, because those limits are exceeded by a greater margin in other locations around the country.
The Solicitor-General was asked—
In November, the National Fraud Strategic Authority published an action plan to bring together public and private efforts to target mortgage fraud, and it intends to review the plan in a year. In support of that programme, about a tenth of the Serious Fraud Office’s current caseload is about mortgage fraud.
I thank the Solicitor-General for her reply. My constituents, like those in other areas, are having difficulty in obtaining mortgage finance for the purchase of homes in the current economic climate. Given the difficulties in obtaining funds, can she assure me that she will do everything she can, working with the legal profession, to ensure that the funds that are available are used for legitimate house purchases and not by profiteering fraudsters?
As ever, my hon. Friend has the interests of his constituents closely in mind. The SFO has recently produced best practice guidance both for lenders and for lawyers who deal with mortgages. The intention of that is, in part, to make it crystal clear when something odd is beginning to happen in a mortgage transaction so that a broader range of people than has been the case historically are able to spot it before things go too wrong. An important part of the whole fraud strategy is turning resources towards protection and prevention and, as the Director of Public Prosecutions said recently, as one would expect the prosecution and investigation authorities are taking on board what is happening in the economy and assessing its impact on crime patterns. I hope that gives my hon. Friend some of the reassurance that he seeks.
The SFO and the Financial Services Authority seem to have been asleep at the wheel in recent years in respect of mortgage fraud and near-fraud, which appears to have been carried out by some financial services companies themselves. Can the Solicitor-General tell me what steps she proposes to take, with her ministerial colleagues, to improve the rather poor performance of the SFO and FSA in recent years?
My hon. Friend’s point is unarguable really, although it was not all bad in the SFO and there were some very commendable results. He will know that a review of its functioning was carried out by Jessica de Grazia, which reported in 2008, and that a fresh director, Richard Alderman, was appointed around the same time. He has instituted quite a large number of the changes that Ms de Grazia proposed and some further ones; they are designed primarily to strengthen the leadership team, improve staff training and shorten the time that it takes to get cases to court. Quite a sizeable transformation programme is in process, and I shall send my hon. Friend more detail of that if he so wishes.
National Fraud Strategic Authority
The NFSA is developing its first national fraud strategy, which follows an extensive consultation with public and private sector bodies. The strategy is intended to bring together Government, enforcement and private sector activity to tackle and prevent fraud. The strategy will be published in the next few months.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer and commend her for coming in when she is obviously quite poorly—I hope that she will soon be on the mend. The formation of the NFSA is welcome, but will its role include fraud prevention? If the NFSA is to be at all strategic, its role surely must include fraud prevention.
My hon. Friend has got exactly to the point identified by the review: although agencies are in place to prosecute, to sentence and to seize assets, a focus must be on spotting fraud early so that the public can be protected from it before it starts, and it can be prevented and disrupted. It was with that aim in mind that the NFSA was set up to co-ordinate and fill in the gaps of our national effort against fraud. The NFSA is working closely with Lothian and Borders police in particular in leading the development of a comprehensive Scottish fraud strategy to match this one.
Serious Fraud Office
Once again, this is about the Serious Fraud Office and our efforts to combat fraud. Since publication of the de Grazia report, to which I have referred, the director of the SFO, Richard Alderman, has made many changes to the leadership team, improved staff training, and introduced measures to shorten the time taken to get SFO cases to court. He has reorganised the operational divisions and introduced a case management reform programme. The hon. Gentleman has probably read that a new general counsel, Vivian Robinson QC, with whom I am acquainted from my practice and who is an excellent choice, was recently appointed to sharpen up that end of the SFO’s work.
I am sure that my noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General will be as confident as I am of what I am about to say. There have been early successes, bearing in mind that Mr. Alderman has been in post less than a year. In October, the SFO obtained its first ever civil recovery order under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in a case in which Balfour Beatty was required to return £2.25 million of resources that it had progressed with. There are currently six specific mortgage fraud cases on the SFO’s stocks, and much has been done to sharpen its procedures up front so that it spots and evaluates more quickly which cases it should pursue and which it should leave. I hope that its conviction rate will follow that of the American models that the de Grazia review used.
Will the Solicitor-General agree to meet me and the former director of Excel Engineering, which was involved in one of those cases and had the largest number of people prosecuted for fraud? The company, which was the main victim of that fraud, has not been properly compensated, although other complainants who were involved in the fraud have been.
May I suggest that the Government are too complacent in their approach? We have correctly identified that the de Grazia report showed a significantly poor SFO performance, relative to US prosecutors, in cost per case, staffing per case and conviction rates. One third of the SFO’s management then left the service, and on top of that, only two days ago, the Solicitor-General made a written statement requesting an extra £15 million, but giving no reason whatever. Is it not increasingly looking as though the SFO is an organisation in crisis? The Solicitor-General needs to explain urgently what is going on with the SFO’s management.
The hon. Gentleman could not be wronger—[Interruption.] Well, he tries hard, but he could not be wronger. It is not unexpected that when reports such as de Grazia’s are produced and a new head comes into the SFO with different ideas about how it should be run, there is movement in the senior management. Richard Alderman seems to me from his presentations to be confident that the new people in post are likely to improve matters enormously. There is absolutely nothing odd, strange or overly demanding about the funding that has recently been given to the SFO. The hon. Gentleman should not be led astray by a Liberal Democrat piece of nonsense that was fed to the press. The Daily Mail reported that a spokesman for the SFO had said:
“This additional funding is the anticipated and agreed amount for this financial year.”
May I explain, in case the hon. Gentleman does not know, that funding for the SFO is based on blockbuster cases, which need the replenishment of funds as they are inquired into? The procedure that has taken place just recently is a very normal one.
I am glad that the Solicitor-General has come to that topic. Last year, the SFO came to Parliament to ask for £17 million extra, and Parliament was told that nearly £7 million of that was purely to cover administrative costs. This year, the SFO is coming to Parliament to ask for £20 million, which is more than half of its base budget, but we are not being told how much of that will be spent on purely administrative costs. In fact, the format of the estimates has been changed so that it is now impossible to tell how much the SFO is spending on administrative costs. Will the Solicitor-General tell the House what the £20 million is being spent on? How much is being spent on administrative costs and how much on cases? Will she also explain why the format of the estimates was changed?
I know of no important change in the format of the estimates. There is no figure of £20 million of which I am aware—I think there has been a little bit of exaggeration. The SFO has an additional £18.81 million, made up of £15.45 million and £3.36 million. That money is largely for the normal accrual of blockbuster cases. In addition, of course, the transformation programme to which I have alluded also requires replenishment. They are perfectly normal bits of funding. A contingency payment has been made and formal parliamentary approval will come in the spring supplementary estimates. If the hon. Gentleman wants any more detail, I invite him to write to me rather than simply getting it wrong and assuming something sinister when there is nothing sinister at all.
Sexual Abuse Victims (Court Proceedings)
The Coroners and Justice Bill, which was introduced to the House yesterday, will allow into evidence as of right, as it were, records of first interviews with complainants of serious sexual offences. That will avoid their having to go through the whole story again from the start in court. It will also allow in evidence from the first time that they complain of an alleged offence. Historically, complaints have only been allowed in when they have been made quickly after the incident, but now the courts recognise that it often takes time before complainants can bring themselves to complain. We have also increased the number of sexual assault referral centres and the number of independent sexual violence advisers, who, in their different ways, befriend and support rape complainants.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that response and congratulate the Government on what they are doing in this field. In Cardiff, we have benefited from the recent opening of a sexual abuse referral centre based in the Cardiff royal infirmary and from an independent sexual violence adviser who helps victims in the courts. What more can be done to help those women, whose experiences are so traumatic, so that when they go to court they feel that they will have a fair hearing and will be able to get justice?
An important aspect of sustaining people who complain—the British crime survey shows that about a third of people who are sexually assaulted never tell anyone about it, except presumably the British crime survey interviewers many years later—is sustaining their confidence to go to court. We can do that with sexual assault referral centres such the one my hon. Friend mentioned, Safe Island in Cardiff, with better trained police who interview in a more appropriate way and with better trained prosecutors. One hopes that from making a complaint to getting to court a complainant will be sustained and supported so she will have the confidence to get through. It seems to us that that is probably the most important factor in ensuring that women—and men—who have suffered sexual assault get justice.
The Government are currently actively considering the Law Commission’s report on bribery, published in November 2008. We are committed to reforming that area of the law, and have announced that we will bring forward a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny this Session.
Of course, the UK has been committed, by treaty, to reform in that area for some time, but has not yet made those reforms. The Government were not interested in taking forward proposals for legislation in previous Sessions. Now that we have very clear proposals from the Law Commission, why on earth can we not go ahead with them with the greatest possible urgency?
Because although it is important that we act quickly, it is very important that we get it right. It is a complex issue and it merits pre-legislative scrutiny. Usually, the hon. Gentleman would welcome pre-legislative scrutiny as providing appropriate exposure of the law. There will be pre-legislative scrutiny in this case. I add that the OECD has recognised that our current law now meets the requirements of the convention, that we are in the top 10 per cent. of countries when it comes to ongoing investigations, that we are in the top third for convictions for bribery, and that we are one of the least corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 19 January—Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill.
Tuesday 20 January—Motion to approve European documents entitled “From Financial Crisis to Recovery: a European Framework for Action” and “A European Economic Recovery Plan”, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to financial management, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to EU-Russia relations.
Wednesday 21 January—Opposition Day (1st Allotted Day). There will be a debate entitled “Access to Emergency and Urgent Care in the NHS”, followed by a debate entitled “The Plight of Savers”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 22 January—Proceedings on a business of the House motion, followed by a debate on motions relating to freedom of information, followed by motions relating to Members’ allowances.
The provisional business for the week commencing 26 January will include:
Monday 26 January—Second Reading of the Coroners and Justice Bill.
Tuesday 27 January—Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill.
Wednesday 28 January—Opposition Day (2nd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Thursday 29 January—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by general debate on armed forces personnel.
First, may I take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) back to his role? The Leader of the House has received numerous requests for a debate in Government time on Zimbabwe. The situation there continues to worsen, and the fact that it is not on our television screens does not mean that it should be out of our thoughts. Will the Leader of the House commit to a debate to give all Members the opportunity to speak on this devastating and pressing issue?
After months of delay, the Transport Secretary will finally make a statement on Heathrow to the House today. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said:
“There will be a debate about what he says”.—[Official Report, 14 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 212.]
I understand that the Prime Minister is to meet Labour Back Benchers after the statement has been made, but Members from all sides would welcome the opportunity for a debate, particularly as so many have signed early-day motion 339.
[That this House notes the Government’s commitment given in the 2003 Aviation White Paper, The Future of Air Transport to reduce noise impacts and to ensure that air quality and environmental standards are met before proceeding with a third runway at Heathrow Airport; further notes the assurance given by the Prime Minister on 12 November 2008 that support for a third runway at Heathrow is subject to strict environmental conditions; further notes that Heathrow Airport is already in breach of the European Air Quality Directive to be implemented by 2010; welcomes the statement by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that these environmental commitments should be honoured; supports the Chairman of the Environment Agency’s decision to oppose the third runway on environmental grounds; and calls upon the Government not to proceed with the third Heathrow runway or mixed-mode and to put the matter to a vote on the floor of the House.]
Will the Leader of the House confirm when we will have a debate on Heathrow, and when all Members, on both sides of the House, will have the opportunity to question the Prime Minister on the issue?
The Leader of the House will also know that 85 Members have signed early-day motion 428 on Royal Mail.
[That this House notes that the Labour Party Conference 2008, with the backing of Ministers, supported a vision of a wholly publicly-owned, integrated Royal Mail Group; welcomes the conclusion of the Hooper Report that the current universal service obligation offered by Royal Mail, including six days a week delivery, must be protected and that the primary duty of a new regulator should be to maintain it; further welcomes the recommendations in the Report that the Government should take responsibility for the pensions deficit which followed an extended contributions holiday; endorses the call for a new relationship between management and postal unions and welcomes the commitment of the Communication Workers Union to negotiate an agreement which would support the modernisation of the industry; observes that in 2007 the Government agreed to a £1.2 billion loan facility on commercial terms to modernise Royal Mail operations; rejects the recommendation of the Hooper Report to sell a minority stake in Royal Mail which would risk fracturing one of Britain’s greatest public services; further notes that the Government is currently advertising for a new Chair of Royal Mail; and urges the Secretary of State to appoint a Chair and management team who are committed to the principles of a modern public enterprise.]
May we have a debate in Government time on the future of Royal Mail, so that Members can discuss the Government’s part-privatisation plans?
Official figures show that 100,000 pupils educated entirely under a Labour Government failed to attain at least one GCSE at grade C or above. That is an appalling record, particularly for a party that promised it was all about education, education, education. May we have a debate in Government time on what Ministers intend to do before it is too late for the next generation of schoolchildren?
The Leader of the House has made her commitment to protecting the primacy of this House, when it comes to announcements of Government policy, clear. On 10 January 2008, she said:
“I take the matter very seriously. I agree that it is important that Ministers are answerable to this House rather than the media.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 538.]
Yesterday’s statement by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the hon. Member for Dudley, South (Ian Pearson), on the loan guarantee scheme was leaked to the BBC on Tuesday and was followed by media interviews with Ministers yesterday morning, and it was briefed in a press conference by Lord Mandelson. An oral statement was made in the House only because Mr. Speaker granted our request for an urgent question. While the country is in recession, not only is the Business Secretary not answerable to the House but there are four Business Ministers in the Lords and only one Minister solely from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in the Commons, which makes a mockery of the Prime Minister’s pledge to strengthen Parliament. What is the Leader of the House going to do to ensure that announcements are made to the Commons so that Members can ask questions on behalf of their constituents?
Eighteen months ago, the Prime Minister said that all Ministers’ relevant financial interests would be released
“to ensure proper scrutiny of ministerial conduct”.
Yesterday, he said:
“If it has not been done, it will be done.”—[Official Report, 14 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 211.]
Will the Leader of the House tell us when that report will be published, and will she also confirm that the delay was caused by Lord Mandelson’s “complicated” interests?
Finally, yesterday, the Business Minister, Baroness Vadera, said that she could see “a few green shoots” of recovery in the economy. That was on the very same day that Barclays announced that it was cutting 2,100 UK jobs, a further 800 jobs went at Jaguar Land Rover and the music chain, Zavvi, and Grattan announced that 3,500 jobs were at risk. What on earth was the Business Minister thinking, and do her comments not show that the Government and their Ministers are completely out of touch?
The shadow Leader of the House asks for a further debate on Zimbabwe. Members on both sides of the House are well aware how dire the situation is, and that it is deteriorating. I shall continue to look for an opportunity to debate Zimbabwe on the Floor of the House.
The right hon. Lady asks about the process following the forthcoming decision about Heathrow and the third runway. As she knows, there will be a statement by the Secretary of State for Transport, but the process thereafter is contingent on what he announces, so I shall not seek to pre-empt him by saying what it will be after the decision. That is a matter for hon. Members to put to him when he has given his substantive decision.
The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs made a statement to the House on the future of the Royal Mail, bringing the House up to date and allowing it an opportunity to hold Ministers accountable. He reaffirmed our commitment to universal postal services, and the fact that we shall ensure that Royal Mail keeps its commitment to fulfil its pension liabilities. He reported, too, on the Hooper review and on our response to it. The proposals ensure that we keep our pension commitments, that we keep a universal postal service, that we have better regulation to allow Royal Mail to thrive in future, and that we go into a partnership with a minority stake held by a private partner. The proposals were put into the public domain in an oral statement to the House, and they are open to discussion. It is up to the Opposition if, the week after next, they would like to choose that as the topic of their Opposition debate.
The right hon. Lady mentioned educational outcomes for children in this country. We are very proud indeed that, after investment in education, far more and better-paid teachers in our schools, higher valuation of education, more capital investment, and rebuilding our schools, the number of children attaining five A to C GCSEs has gone up from 45 per cent. in 1997 to 64 per cent. We intend to continue that investment and to make further progress.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) spoke of the statement on the four-point plan to help businesses with credit lines. The whole House will be aware that the development of our plans has been ongoing: there have been announcements, debates, oral statements and responses by the Prime Minister and other Ministers to parliamentary questions. I am well aware that we need to make sure that the House is kept fully up to speed and that hon. Members have an opportunity to ask questions. Indeed, when I stood in for the Prime Minister at oral questions in December I talked about the plans that we were developing for helping businesses with their credit lines.
We want to strike the right balance between coming to the House with our plans and making sure that they are announced. This House, of course, has primacy and I have drawn up a list of all the occasions since October when hon. Members have been able to take part in topical debates, general debates and Opposition day debates on these matters. There have also been statements—on the G20, for example—as well as the pre-Budget report and the emergency debate on the economy. In addition, the Chancellor has given evidence to the Treasury Committee and we had the Queen’s Speech debate on the economy. I undertake to write to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead to remind her of just how much accountability to the House there has been in respect of the very important priority that we should all give to the economy and to providing help for business.
The right hon. Lady asked when the Register of Ministers’ Interests will be brought forward. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, it will be brought forward as soon as it is complete.
The right hon. Lady asked about Baroness Vadera, who is a highly professional, dedicated and effective member of the ministerial team at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. I would say that five minutes of Baroness Vadera’s time is worth a lifetime of the judgments of the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow Chancellor. In our ministerial team we have serious people for serious times, and I welcome the arrival in our team of Mervyn Davies.
In response to a question three months ago from my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House agreed that the situation in Sri Lanka was such that it required a debate on the Floor of the House. I should be grateful if she reconsidered that judgment, given that 70,000 people have lost their lives since the ceasefire failed. The situation in Sri Lanka is becoming much worse, with thousands of people displaced and their lives under threat.
It is all downhill from here.
The noble Baroness Vadera has one facet that the Leader of the House did not mention—she is unelected. We have got ourselves into a constitutional muddle on this issue, as I shall make clear. The junior Minister in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform was dragged to this House yesterday to make a statement and then, rather lamely, the Secretary of State who made the decision was able to make a statement four hours later in another place. I gather that another banker is being added to the ministerial team, but he too will be in the other place.
That is the constitutional problem, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how, in this economic crisis, we make sure that key ministerial posts are filled by people who are properly answerable to this House? They are dealing with important economic matters but at the moment they answer to a House that is not supposed, constitutionally, to consider public finances. We are the elected House, and this is where such debates should happen.
May we have an urgent statement on the response to the High Court decision on the rights of Gurkhas to settle in Britain? Many people, myself included, feel that those brave men have been treated shamefully by this country. We have been waiting for a Government response since September, and we need a debate on the matter. Can the Leader of the House also deny categorically the report in one newspaper that the Brigade of Gurkhas is to be disbanded?
I guess I have to declare an interest in Heathrow as I am now a landowner—of a very, very small portion of land in the path of the new Heathrow runway. The Prime Minister promised us a debate. The Leader of the House does not have to be so coy about whether there will be a debate. The Prime Minister promised a debate in the House, and every indication is that the majority of Members want the opportunity to vote against what we expect to be announced shortly on Heathrow. This, again, is a constitutional issue. If most of the House want to have the opportunity to debate the matter and have a substantive motion to vote on, we should have one.
Lastly, I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Lady regularly reads the Almaty Herald or Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, but if she does she may have picked up a headline along the lines of “Prime Minister tells Ministers to answer questions”. Prime Minister Karim Masimov of Kazakhstan said:
“I order all Ministers to start personal blogs where people will be able to ask you questions that you must answer.”
I am not sure about the blogs, but would it not be an excellent precedent for this country as well if Ministers actually answered the questions that they are asked?
The process in relation to ministerial roles in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is the normal process whereby there are Ministers in the Lords and Ministers in the Commons. The most important issue is to ensure that this House is kept fully abreast of all the developments and that there is an opportunity for Members of this House to question the responsible Minister.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the Gurkhas. As he knows, new guidance is being prepared. Once it is complete, former Gurkhas’ applications for the right to live in this country will be considered case by case. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Prime Minister has consistently, including at the end of last year, expressed his absolute commitment to the role of the Gurkhas in the British Army.
The hon. Gentleman asks about Heathrow. I shall not pre-empt the statement. The substance and the process of the Heathrow announcement need to be looked at together. No doubt the hon. Gentleman can ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about that after he makes his statement to the House.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s announcement that next week we will debate the important topics of freedom of information and publication of Members’ allowances. Can she assure me that we will be given the chance to debate and to vote to make our allowances even more transparent?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will have heard me announce that on the Order Paper next Thursday there will be a statutory instrument on freedom of information, followed by motions. The draft statutory instrument is in the Table Office and the motions are on the Order Paper. What I, as Leader of the House, aim to achieve by next Thursday’s business is to ensure that in respect of allowances paid to Members of Parliament, which is public money, the public can be certain that there is a clear and reasonable set of rules against which money is paid out, that there is a proper audit system to make sure that those rules are obeyed, that the amount is paid under clear headings for each individual Member of Parliament every year and is made public, that it is proportionate and affordable, and that all this is done at a reasonable cost.
That is what we are proposing in a statutory instrument and a series of motions next week. Hon. Members will see that whereas in the past we have published about 13 information headings, the combination of the statutory instrument and the motion that I will put before the House will mean that the public instead have 26 categories of information. The public will have more information than they have ever had before and we will take that back to 2005, so that for all Members, since they have been in the House, each year their allowances against 26 headings will be made public. We want to make sure that the public have confidence that there are clear rules and that they know what is going on.
I will put a business motion before the House before the substantive debate. The business motion will prescribe that the first debate will be on the statutory instrument under the Freedom of Information Act, which will be Government business. In the same debate there will also be a motion that sets forth a publication scheme. That motion will say that we will publish once a year back to 2005 for every individual Member under those 26 headings. At the end of that first substantive debate there will be two votes—one on the Government business under the Freedom of Information Act, and the second one, which will be House business, on the publications scheme.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that investment in green energy technology is essential if our economy is to be developed for the future? The north-east is ideally placed to take forward the application of that technology—critically, in continuing to develop a manufacturing base to support renewable energy. Will she make space for a debate soon on this important topic?
My hon. Friend makes an important point across both the environmental and the economic agendas. We want to provide help to businesses to invest now and hope for the future of the economy. Renewable energy and green issues will be extremely important. I will bring that to the attention of my right hon. Friends and seek an opportunity to debate it.
When the Green Book was last debated in July, a rather bizarre and unnoticed resolution went through linking capital gains tax to the additional costs allowance. There was no word of debate about it, it was completely misunderstood by the House, and it is unworkable and almost certainly unenforceable. May I suggest that next Thursday a further resolution be tabled saying that the original resolution does not come into effect until there is further debate and consideration of the matter?
The Speaker has published the new Green Book, which was prepared by the advisory panel on Members’ allowances and which was considered and approved by the Members Estimate Committee. If he looks in that, the hon. Gentleman will see that a way of dealing with that is laid down. We need to make sure that while we are not changing the provisions of the Finance Act in relation to how the selling of homes is dealt with by way of capital gains tax, we have a flexible and sensible situation for the treatment of the second home under the ACA. I am happy to have a further discussion with the hon. Gentleman after business questions so that we can go through the Green Book and I can explain it to him. My deputy and I are more than happy to go through any aspects of the motions or of the Green Book individually with Members between now and next Thursday, so that everybody can be as clear as possible before they have the opportunity for a full day’s debate on Thursday.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider allowing a debate on the Legal Services Commission’s latest consultation paper? It states that organisations wishing to deliver immigration and asylum advice would need to have a permanent presence in an area of high demand. Most of the immigration casework that I do is with a law centre in Gloucester, which would be expected to have a base in Bristol to continue to be able to apply for funding. That would not work and would not be acceptable. We have a very good rapport with the centre and much of my casework is about immigration, so I hope the Department of Justice will consider that.
Given the unprecedented number of responses to the south-west regional spatial strategy, will the Leader of the House allocate parliamentary time so that a representative group of MPs from across the region can participate fully in debate on these issues?
My right hon. and learned Friend must realise that the issue of the third runway is of concern to Members on both sides of the House. Will she at least concede a debate in Government time, rather than there being an Opposition day debate and the opportunism that that involves? I see from the Evening Standard that the Government have a lot to say on the matter, even in advance of the statement. Will a Government debate be allowed, and will it end with a vote so that the House can express its view?
As the noble Lord Mandelson is now widely acknowledged to be the deputy Prime Minister, would it not be a proper answer to the questions previously put to the Leader of the House if the Prime Minister deputised for the noble Lord in this House?
May we have a debate on consumer protection? If someone buys a faulty pair of shoes, they can take them back. If they buy a faulty large electrical item from a company such as Comet, they are required to make themselves available for four hours so that the company can remove the faulty equipment that it has delivered. Is it not time that we looked at how we protect hard-working families who cannot take such time out and whose e-mails and letters are ignored? Should the onus not be on the company putting the issue right, rather than on the consumer being available at the company’s behest?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which goes for utilities as well. If families are hard-pressed, working hard and looking after their children and elderly relatives, they do not want to be messed around by Comet, the gas board or anybody else. I shall raise the issue not only with Lord Mandelson, but with Ministers in this House.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving a positive answer to my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House about a debate on Zimbabwe. Despite the tragedy and horrific events in Gaza, it is important that we do not overlook Zimbabwe, where the death and suffering are as great or greater than in Gaza.
I turn to my main question to the right hon. and learned Lady. Will she find Government time for a full day’s debate on the economy, so that Back Benchers can express to Ministers the impact in individual constituencies of what is clearly the worst credit and financial crisis of my lifetime? The Government would be the wiser if that debate took place.
As well as the Queen’s Speech debate on the economy on 15 December, we had in Government time the emergency debate on the economy on 26 November. If we think that there has not been enough business before the House giving an opportunity for Members to comment more broadly on the economy, we will bring forward specific time for such debate. It is important that the House should play its full part, with Members bringing information from their constituencies and holding the Government to account for our handling of the economy. That is very important indeed.
Zimbabwe is a preoccupation of all Members, not least the hon. Gentleman. I assure him that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister himself are doing a great deal of work on Zimbabwe. The Prime Minister personally liaises with world leaders to try to mobilise the European, United Nations and African Union effort to better effect. I will look for an opportunity for an early debate on Zimbabwe.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect on her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh)? The Prime Minister’s answer on Sri Lanka yesterday was helpful, but at the moment 300,000 Tamils are under siege because of the actions of the Sri Lankan Government. The Leader of the House changed the business this week to deal with the situation in Gaza. The situation in Sri Lanka is just as bad. Will she please allow an emergency debate on the catastrophic situation there?
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.