I beg to move,
That this House urges the Government to rethink its plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport and to give full consideration to alternative solutions; regrets the Government’s heavy reliance on data supplied by BAA in assessing the case for expansion and notes the likely forthcoming break-up of BAA’s ownership of three of 5 London’s airports following the investigation by the Competition Commission; believes that the consultation paper Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport was deeply flawed, as it paid insufficient regard to the costs of air and noise pollution in the surrounding areas and the commitment to curb carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change; regrets the fact that provisions to improve high-speed rail lines from 10 Heathrow to major cities have not been fully explored, along with the potential of other UK airports to handle more long-haul flights; and urges the Government to initiate a consultation on a new national planning policy statement on the theme of airports and high-speed rail.
I welcome the support of the Liberal Democrats for the motion, which is lifted verbatim from early-day motion 2344, tabled last year by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), with cross-party backing. The issue is of grave importance, and rightly spans party boundaries.
Let me first explode a myth peddled by the Secretary of State. To oppose a third runway is not to oppose flying. We recognise the importance of aviation and the benefits of flying for our economic competitiveness and for holidaymakers. We applaud the work of the budget airlines in bringing air travel within the reach of a wide range of people, for whom it would have been a distant aspiration less than a generation ago.
However, there comes a time when stuffing thousands and thousands more flights and millions and millions more passengers into the same overcrowded corner of the south-east of England starts to impose an unacceptable cost on our environment and our quality of life. We believe that Heathrow needs to be better, not bigger. That is why we and so many others oppose the Government’s plans to build a third runway.
I regret that the hon. Lady’s party has chosen to make a political football out of a cross-party early-day motion. Will she tell us whether the Conservatives would consider a proposal for a new airport for London and the south-east in the Thames estuary, and whether they oppose the expansion of regional airports?
We are not making a political football out of Heathrow. We are giving the House the opportunity to vote on the issue, which the Government would not give us. In response to pressure from both sides of the House, we thought that it was right that hon. Members, particularly those whose constituents are directly affected by this important decision, should have the right to vote on this matter. On the Thames estuary, that is not an option that we are looking at, at the moment. I shall come in due course to the subject of regional airports, but we acknowledge the possibilities and benefits that could come from the proportionate and carefully considered expansion of regional airports.
The hon. Lady will appreciate that many people are concerned about the impact on climate change of the expansion of air transport anywhere. Can she explain to the House the difference between the impact of expanding flights at Heathrow and that of doing so elsewhere?
The difference between Heathrow and so many other airports is that its flight paths cover an incredibly densely populated part of the south of England. The environmental problems associated with Heathrow expansion, as I shall explain, are dramatically wider than just climate change. Yes, climate change is a concern for many of our constituents, and for all Members of the House, but with Heathrow, we have to take into account the fact that nitrogen dioxide pollution is already a serious problem. The Environment Agency has warned that a third runway would increase the risk of serious illness and early death. Those are environmental considerations that we cannot, and should not, ignore around Heathrow.
Does not my hon. Friend think it amazing that the Government have not given us an opportunity to vote on this issue, given that their own Environment Agency has said that the expansion of Heathrow is environmentally unacceptable, and given that the Government have set up a Committee on Climate Change and are supposed to be keen on dealing with emissions? In the light of all that, does she not agree that this democratic Parliament should have the last word and a proper vote on the matter in Government time?
Absolutely. It is regrettable that the Government have refused to give us the vote that we need on this issue in their own time. It is also regrettable that they are proposing that the ultimate decision on the issue will be made by an unelected, unaccountable quango.
Does the hon. Lady think that it makes environmental sense for aircraft to spend half an hour flying from Manchester to London, and then to spend another three quarters of an hour circling London because there are not enough runways to land on?
I have taken a lot of interventions, and I shall take more later in my speech, but I want to make some progress now.
I want to look at four key problems: air pollution, road congestion, aircraft noise and carbon emissions. I shall then look at the economic issues, and finally at the alternative ways to make Heathrow a better airport.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Not at the moment.
I shall start with air pollution. A massive increase in flights at Heathrow would intensify a serious problem with nitrogen dioxide pollution at an airport that is already in breach of the EU pollution limits that are due to become legally binding from next year. The damage to health caused by nitrogen dioxide is well established and, as I have already said, the Environment Agency has warned that proceeding with a third runway would lead to an increased risk of serious illness and early death in a densely populated area around the airport. It is therefore a matter of grave concern that the Government are now seeking a derogation from the air quality directive, despite their promise that they would not let their expansion plans undermine their efforts to comply with it.
For the benefit of the House and the country, will the hon. Lady set out the criteria by which she would judge any decision on airport expansion in air quality terms? Does she stand by the terms of the EU air quality directive?
I am calling on the Government not to try to wriggle out of the obligations that they have undertaken under the air quality directive; they signed up to it. I am afraid that this is one environmental precondition that the Government will find it impossible to wish away.
No, I have already answered. That precondition could yet provide a legal bar to building runway 3. Of course, a major contributory factor in the nitrogen dioxide problem is surface traffic generated by passengers travelling to the airport, which takes me to the second major problem with the third runway—road congestion.
The plan set out in the congestion consultation document envisaged an increase in passenger numbers at Heathrow to 122 million a year—nearly double current levels. On the Government’s own figures, that would mean that passenger-related car journeys at Heathrow climbed to 53.4 million. Road congestion around Heathrow, as anyone who has travelled there will know, is already a major problem, and the Government’s plans will only make a bad situation worse—not just for people living around the airport, but for those attempting to use the M4 and the M25 for longer journeys. Neither the consultation document nor the Secretary of State’s recent announcements contain any of the convincing proposals for a major shift out of the car on to public transport that are needed to deal with the congestion or the air quality problem. Indeed, paragraph 56 of the document “Decisions following consultation” states:
“The Department is clear that a detailed surface access strategy is not a prerequisite for a policy decision and would be a matter for the airport operator as part of a planning application in due course.”
According to the Department for Transport, that is BAA’s problem, not its problem.
I have answered that question already. Actually, we have set out plans to build a new Heathrow rail hub, close to the airport, enabling many people to get the train directly from their home town to the airport; connecting Heathrow directly to the main Great Western main line; and enabling people living in cities as far apart as Bristol, Exeter, Cardiff and Swansea to get a train directly from their home town to the airport. That is an effective strategy to reduce congestion and nitrogen oxide emissions, in the absence of the Government’s having proposed any effective strategy at all. Let us look at the record. BAA has yet to—
BAA has yet to meet the Government’s 40 per cent. target for public transport use, which it was supposed to achieve eight years ago. The proportion of people using public transport to access Heathrow has actually fallen in the last couple of years, and the company has downgraded its own targets on the issue. BAA has talked about Airtrack for years, but there is no guarantee that the scheme will go ahead, and London councils of all political complexions, representing all 33 of the city’s local authorities, do not believe that the Piccadilly line will be able to cope with expected uplift in passengers.
Thirdly, I turn to an even more serious problem: noise.
In debates in the Chamber, hon. Members representing areas as far apart as Maidenhead and Windsor in the west and Vauxhall, Brixton and Greenwich in the east have expressed their concerns about the impact that aircraft noise from Heathrow is already having on their constituents.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is also my parliamentary neighbour. Her motion does not refer at all to mixed mode, but does refer to “alternative solutions”. Under mixed mode, her constituency and mine would probably have been affected by noise, so why does her motion not rule out mixed mode as one of the alternative solutions, as the Government have already done in their announcement, which is to the benefit of her constituents and mine when it comes to noise?
One of the reasons why mixed mode is not there is that the Government have apparently promised us that mixed mode is not going to happen. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that that promise is not worth the paper that it is not written on. Many people might actually agree with him on that. Obviously we welcome the Government’s retreat on mixed mode, which would have had a catastrophic impact on people’s quality of life across a huge area. As he says, it would have impacted negatively on people living in my constituency and in his. So yes, I welcome the Government’s decision to drop their plans for mixed mode, but it remains to be seen whether this promise will prove any more durable than so many others that have been subsequently abandoned when the pressure for expansion has risen again.
We all recognise that noise plays a part in these decisions; that is why, necessarily, they are difficult. Will she set out for the benefit of the House and the country what—[Interruption.] I am very sorry, but there is an important question here. The Conservative party cannot say that it rejects expansion without describing the basis upon which that decision is taken. If the party wants to be taken seriously, it has to give the criteria. Will the hon. Lady say whether or not she supports the noise criteria set out in the 2003 White Paper?
The Secretary of State is in no position to make assertions or claims about, or to ask questions about, the basis for noise calculations. His credibility on noise is completely undermined by the documents revealed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by the assiduous work of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), which show his officials deliberately reverse-engineering and re-forecasting the data to try to meet the tests and get the answers that Ministers wanted.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case against Heathrow expansion and in favour of high-speed rail. Surely rail would be a better alternative to short-haul flights for both the environment and noise nuisance?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will respond to that point in more detail later.
The Secretary of State’s assurances on noise simply lack credibility because the Government have made every effort to duck their promises in the past. Let us take their assurance that expansion would not lead to an increase in the area covered by the 57 dB noise contour. Even setting aside the criticism of the validity of that contour—such criticism came from both the World Health Organisation and the DFT’s own research study, “Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England”, or ANASE—the Government use the 2002 base year for their calculations, a year when Concorde was still flying. The way in which the Civil Aviation Authority’s noise model operates means that the demise of Concorde allows the headroom to give the green light to major increases in flight movements by conventional planes, without exceeding the noise tests set.
Not just at the moment.
Even more controversially, as I have said, the documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the DFT and BAA working closely together on a re-forecasting, and reverse-engineering the projections for future flight mix to try to meet the tests that the Government had set and get the answers that Ministers wanted. Even then, the Government are still relying on a massive leap forward in aircraft technology to enable them to reconcile their promises on noise with the increase in flights that they want to see, including the delivery of the now notorious twin-engine “green jumbo” which is not in the design portfolios of either major aircraft manufacturer, and yet is expected by the DFT to replace completely all 747s by 2030 and virtually all units of Boeing’s successor to the 747, which is not even on the market yet.
It is this history that undermines the Government’s credibility when they make more promises on ‘green slots’. When challenged, the Secretary of State was unable to give one single example of a model of plane green enough or clean enough to qualify to use the new slots, and it is a major concern that documents published alongside the statement on Heathrow contain no explanation of how the system for regulating the use of new slots will work. Most controversially of all when it comes to noise issues, The Sunday Times recently reported that figures passed to the Civil Aviation Authority by BAA predict an increase in flights between 11 pm and 7 am from about 27,300 in 2006 to 35,000 once the third runway is operating at full capacity—an increase on today’s levels of more than 25 per cent. We strongly and successfully resisted the Government’s attempts to lift the cap on night flights, which can have such a corrosive impact on quality of life. Yet again I urge the Secretary of State to guarantee the future of the ‘night cap’, and to drop his plans to review it.
Then, of course, there is the climate change impact of a third runway. With 222,000 more flights, the airport could well become the largest single source of carbon dioxide in the United Kingdom, emitting nearly 27 million tonnes every year. According to research by Greenpeace, by 2050 emissions at that level could take up around a fifth of the entire UK carbon budget under the Climate Change Act 2008. Even with the increase in flights restricted to 125,000, and even if optimistic estimates of efficiency gains are factored in, Heathrow could still consume approximately one eighth of the nation’s total carbon budget by 2050.
I shall say something about regional airports shortly, but I think the hon. Lady is wrong to dismiss their importance. They can have a significant impact on regional development, and as I have said, they can play a part in relieving pressure on capacity in the south-east.
I have answered the question.
While the Secretary of State may have placated his Cabinet colleagues, I am afraid that his proposed climate change safeguards do not stand up to scrutiny. Let us take the proposed 125,000 cap on the use of the new runway. There is no guarantee as to how long it will last. It is expressly stated to relate to the initial use of the runway, and a review is promised in 2020, but it is unlikely that a new runway—
It is up to the Committee on Climate Change.
Why should we believe that the Government will take any notice of the Committee on Climate Change, given that they are currently ignoring the Environment Agency, the Sustainable Development Commission, a huge coalition of environmental groups, Lord Smith, who is one of their own former colleagues and who chairs the Environment Agency, and their own vice-chairman for the environment, the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter)?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the role that regional airports can play. I think she is aware of the two misconceptions about Conservative policy in this regard. One is that the party is opposed to aviation per se; she has already dismissed that idea, which is welcome. The other is that we would rule out any expansion of aviation capacity in the south-east. Will she now debunk that myth as well, for the benefit of the House?
My hon. Friend is right. We do not rule out the possibility of airport expansion in the south-east; nor, as he says, are we against flying.
Let us return to that 125,000 cap. As I was saying, there is no guarantee as to how long it will last. There is to be a review in 2020 anyway, and it is unlikely that a new runway will even have been built by then. In reality, the Secretary of State’s assurance about 125,000 flights takes us no further than the promises that Labour has already made, many years ago.
In a moment.
The consultation document acknowledged that the full uplift to 702,000 flights could not take place until 2030 in any case, as not even the Government, with their optimistic approach to aircraft technology, believe that there is any prospect that before then technology will deliver aircraft clean or quiet enough to comply with the promises on noise and pollution that Labour made as long ago as 2003.
On the subject of carbon, the hon. Lady said something very interesting. She said that she did not rule out aviation expansion in the south-east. She has also said this:
“We recognise that the economic arguments for expanding Heathrow are much stronger than any other airport in the south-east”.
How does she reconcile those two positions?
I make no secret of the fact—indeed, I said this on the “Today” programme—that I once thought that the economic arguments in favour of expansion at Heathrow were stronger than they are. Having looked at the detail, I find the economic arguments wholly unconvincing.
Was it not Keynes who said “When the evidence changes, I change my mind”? I congratulate the hon. Lady on having had a change of heart on this issue. I am still unsympathetic towards her view that airport expansion is possible in the south-east, but I hope she may come to review that as well.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the point that she has made.
Let me return again to the 125,000 cap. I am afraid that the credibility of flight caps is undermined by the long list of broken promises that has characterised the history of Heathrow, and by the fact that Labour was pushing hard to lift the flight cap that it promised to impose when it gave the go-ahead to terminal 5, years before the terminal had even opened its doors for business.
Then there is the target of reducing aviation emissions to below 2005 levels by 2050, not mentioned in the voluminous document published alongside the Secretary of State’s statement earlier this month. I am afraid that this has all the hallmarks of something cobbled together at the last minute to paper over internal divisions.
No. I have given away to the Secretary of State already. He will have his chance later.
Leaving aside the limited impact of having a target so far in the future unless demanding interim milestones are imposed, let us look at page 84 of “UK air passenger demand and carbon dioxide forecasts”, which was published alongside the Secretary of State’s statement. Table 3.7 predicts that by 2030 Heathrow will emit 23.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, and that the combined total for all the London airports will be 31.6 million tonnes. Yet according to the target set by the Secretary of State, in 2050 the entire industry must emit less than 37.5 million tonnes, the 2005 level. The Government’s calculations, as set out in that document, leave no room at all for regional airport expansion, which would need to be constrained below the 2005 level to avoid breaching the limit. Some regional airports might even have to close to allow for the uplift in flights in the south-east, even if we assume no emissions growth at Heathrow between 2030 and 2050.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No. I have been very generous in giving way, and I want to make some progress now.
Whereas the environmental case against the third runway is compelling, the economic case, as I have said, is unconvincing. It is astounding that the Oxford Economic Forecasting study on which the current economic case is based fails to make any attempt to deduct the costs of increased air pollution, aircraft noise and a massive increase in congestion on some of the United Kingdom’s most important roads. Nor is any attempt made to assess the carbon cost of inbound international flights. The CE Delft study for HACAN ClearSkies disputes the £120 value that OEF claims every passenger arriving in the United Kingdom contributes to the economy. It also concludes that OEF overestimates the extent of suppressed business demand for air travel at Heathrow. Indeed, the Government’s whole analysis completely ignores the huge efforts being made to reduce the need for business travel. According to a recent survey conducted for the World Wildlife Fund, 89 per cent. of the FTSE 350 companies interviewed expected to cut flights over the next 10 years.
Not at the moment.
Also worth noting is the success of initiatives such as Project Icarus, which asked companies to pledge to reduce their travel carbon footprint by 60 per cent., and which has attracted significant support from major blue chip companies.
No. I have been very generous in giving way.
In a recent poll of small businesses conducted by Continental Research, 95 per cent. said that expanding Heathrow would not provide any benefits for their business. Despite Frankfurt’s extra runways, London has captured a dominant share of financial services business over recent years, and a simplistic comparison between Heathrow and airports such as Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol completely ignores the fact that London is served by a total of five busy airports. The south-east system of airports collectively offers a wider choice of flights to more destinations than either CDG or Schiphol.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Does she recognise the importance of Heathrow as our only international hub airport, and does she also recognise that it is used by businesses and that they are urging that it should run better, which means it should have more capacity so that our economy can grow in our very difficult economic circumstances?
Of course I recognise the importance of Heathrow and that business wants Heathrow to be better, but businesses are divided over the third runway issue. I hope I can assure all businesses that, as I will explain, we have concrete and credible plans to make Heathrow better by delivering a top-class high-speed rail link connecting the terminals directly with the European high-speed rail network and thereby providing a high-speed rail alternative to short-haul flights. As the hon. Lady will know, it has been demonstrated in the rest of Europe that there is a clear opportunity for high-speed rail to provide a viable alternative to short-haul flights. By providing that alternative, we would relieve overcrowding at Heathrow and make it a much better airport for both businesses and passengers.
Does my hon. Friend share my belief that the fact that this Government have failed to do anything on high-speed rail after 11 years in charge, while at the same time we have seen expanding networks in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, is a shocking indictment of their record on this issue?
Both the OEF study and the Government’s entire approach are fundamentally flawed by a refusal to give serious consideration to alternative ways of dealing with the problems that passengers all too often experience at Heathrow. That is the essential thrust of early-day motion 2344 and the motion before the House this afternoon.
Not at the moment.
Much of the travel misery that so many people experience at Heathrow has more to do with poor customer service than with a shortage of runway space. The most notorious example of such poor service is the fiasco that accompanied the opening of terminal 5. Breaking up BAA’s monopoly over so much airport capacity in the south-east and allowing passengers to vote with their feet and choose an airport run by a different operator should help drive improvements in service quality across all of London’s airports.
The Government’s approach to Heathrow underestimates the potential that regional airports have to relieve pressure on capacity at airports in the south-east. Giving people a wider choice of destinations from their home airport has advantages in terms of passenger convenience and the regional balance of our economy. A switch to more direct flights from regional airports reduces emissions by cutting out the interim leg and relieves the road congestion caused by people having to drive to the south-east’s airports. Sensible and proportionate expansion of regional airports on a case-by-case basis, with full regard to local and environmental planning concerns, should be an important part of any strategy to relieve overcrowding problems at Heathrow.
In proposing a new high-speed rail line connecting Heathrow terminals directly with Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and the channel tunnel link to Paris and Brussels, we have found a further means of relieving Heathrow’s overcrowding problems and one that does not inflict—[Interruption.] I hear comments about Scotland. I believe what we are proposing would be an excellent foundation for a high-speed network that one day would stretch across the country and up to Scotland. We have made a firm commitment to going as far as Manchester and Leeds, whereas the Government are talking only in vague terms about possibly going as far as Manchester.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Like her, I have a strong interest in railways. She seems to have forgotten that we do have one high-speed line—the line from London to the channel tunnel. It was designed as a private line by a former Conservative Government, but that collapsed and Government had to intervene. How would the high-speed rail link that she is proposing be financed?
We have set out detailed plans for the costings of our high-speed rail line.
In our proposal for a high-speed rail link, we believe we have found a means of relieving Heathrow’s overcrowding problems in a way that does not inflict the damage that would clearly come with runway 3. Evidence from Europe clearly shows that high-speed rail provides a viable and attractive alternative to competing flights.
The hon. Lady mentioned the high-speed rail links, which we in Scotland would be very keen to see, but I understand that at present Conservative policy is to go only as far as Leeds. Can she give us an idea of what the policy would be for extending these lines to Scotland? Given the cost estimate of £44 billion, what time scale can she give for these important links, which would cut out the need for much air travel from the central belt?
I recognise the advantages of taking a line all the way to Scotland, but we have to be realistic about what we can promise, and we have to build such systems in stages. The history of our transport system demonstrates that we cannot deliver the whole lot all in one go. It is clear that constructing, and committing to, the link that we have proposed will be a major step along the road to delivering that wider-scale network, one day including, I very much hope, a full link between Scotland and London.
Today’s debate is about Heathrow. It is about the Government’s reckless decision to proceed with a third runway, which would significantly undermine this country’s ability to meet its target of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent. by 2050. No matter what they say, the Government cannot get around that problem.
Whether it is Paris-Brussels, Paris-Marseille or Madrid-Malaga, the arrival of high-speed rail as an alternative to the plane has had a dramatic downward impact on flight numbers. BAA’s own figures confirm that there were about 63,200 flights between Heathrow and Manchester, Leeds, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam in 2007—all journeys where it is realistic for high-speed rail to replace flying. Freeing up that many slots would provide space at Heathrow equivalent to about a third of the full capacity of a third runway, and more than half the 125,000 uplift that the Government now say should be the maximum permitted usage of runway 3. With the last gap in the high-speed link between Brussels and Cologne about to be plugged, which opens up easier rail travel to German destinations, and with interconnections and through-ticketing improving every day on the European high-speed network, the potential for air-to-rail switching is clearly going to increase even further in the future.
It is clear that high-speed rail is a much less carbon-intensive way to travel than flying. The climate change differential between the two forms of transport will widen with the expected decarbonisation of electricity generation.
Sorry, but no.
Furthermore, the Conservative party believes that as a nation we can no longer put off the decision to start building a high-speed rail network in this country. Our proposal on high-speed rail would bring major advantages for rail users suffering from chronic levels of overcrowding. The boost for jobs would be felt right across the country, but the impact would be particularly strong in the midlands and the north.
The Secretary of State’s apparent conversion to high-speed rail was welcome, but unlike in our proposals, there is no firm commitment, no timeline and no attempt to get a new line past Birmingham. The new rail hub that the Government are considering for Heathrow will apparently be located at Old Oak Common, but a station more than 9 miles away from the airport, at Wormwood Scrubs, simply will not yield the benefits of the innovative proposal we have backed to connect Heathrow terminals directly with the main rail network to the west and the European high-speed network. What the Secretary of State still just does not get is the fact that high-speed rail could be an alternative to a third runway, not a sweetener for it.
In conclusion, I make the following appeal to Members of all political parties. A third runway is not inevitable: there is a better way; there are credible alternatives. To all those who signed early-day motion 2344, I say that this is an important opportunity to ask the Government to listen to the millions of people who care about climate change and the dissenting voices on their own Back Benches, and to drop their plans for a third runway, which could cause such devastating damage to our environment and our quality of life in this country.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“notes the Government’s commitment in the 2003 Aviation White Paper to limit noise impacts and to be confident both that statutory air quality limits will be met and that public transport will be improved before expansion is permitted at Heathrow; welcomes the Government’s new enforceable target to reduce UK aviation carbon dioxide emissions below 2005 levels by 2050, and the commitment that increases in capacity at Heathrow, beyond the additional 125,000 movements a year already agreed, will only be approved after a review in 2020 by the Committee on Climate Change of whether the UK is on track to meet this independently monitored target; notes that development at Heathrow will be conditional both on requirements that the size of the 57 decibel noise contour will not increase compared with 2002 and on adherence to the requirements of the European Air Quality Directive; notes the decision not to proceed with mixed mode, thereby ensuring that neighbouring residents will have predictable respite from aircraft noise; welcomes the proposal that new slots at Heathrow should be ‘green slots’ using the most efficient planes; recognises the economic and social importance of Heathrow; and welcomes proposals on ultra-low carbon vehicles and new rail links to the west of Heathrow and new high-speed services from London to the Midlands, the North and Scotland linked to Heathrow, to the benefit of the UK as a whole.”
I set out clearly in my statement on 15 January the key decisions that the Government had reached on the future of Britain’s transport infrastructure, including Heathrow. I do not intend to go over that ground again, although I want to address the main points raised by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers). The fact remains—the Conservative party needs to face up to this—that despite her refusal and perhaps inability to answer some very basic questions, she has put forward a policy that lacks coherence, is founded on no clear principles and will do serious damage to Britain’s jobs and economy.
The hon. Lady simply cannot come here and tell Members that the Conservative party would not go ahead with a major project such as the expansion of Heathrow and fail to set out the basis on which that decision has been reached—without being able to set out the criteria for that decision, her argument has no credibility. As long ago as 2003, the Government set out in a White Paper clear criteria for such expansion. On each issue that she cited as one of the reasons for her decision—air pollution, road congestion, noise and climate change—I asked her, I invited her, I implored her to tell this House and the country the basis on which she has taken any decision, but she could not do it. She has not done any basic homework on the matter, and that leads to the clear conclusion—anybody witnessing the hon. Lady’s woeful performance would know that this is the case—that the Conservative party’s decision is dictated by political opportunism of the lowest kind. The Conservative party’s decision, on which she admitted that she has changed her mind, was determined by Conservative central office. It was not taken on the basis of any kind of principle; it represents the worst kind of expedient. Unless she can answer basic questions on the subject, she has no right to represent her party or the country.
I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman the basis of our decision—it was what I set out in my speech: that a third runway would inflict huge damage on the quality of life of millions of people who are already suffering because of aircraft noise and on the quality of life of many people who are already suffering direct health problems as a result of the expansion of Heathrow. We believe that it is deeply reckless and irresponsible to press ahead with a course of conduct that would be so incredibly damaging for our environment and for our quality of life. That is why we oppose a third runway at Heathrow.
Those comments would have some credibility if the hon. Lady could set out the basis on which those assertions are made. She and her Front-Bench team are desperate to get into government, to sit on the Government Benches and to take decisions such as on the third runway, but unless they can set out the basis on which their decisions are taken, whatever they say on these issues simply does not carry any weight. She cannot argue that jobs and this country’s economy should be put at risk by failing to go ahead with the project without being able to give the reasons for that decision. Unless she can set them out—I am about to give her another opportunity to do so—she has no credibility.
If there is no credibility in opposing a third runway—if there is no basis or justification for opposing it—why did 57 of the right hon. Gentleman’s own colleagues sign early-day motion 2344 and why has he lost a member of the Government only this morning over this issue?
If the hon. Lady is not worried about jobs and the economy—[Interruption.] Well, the position of the Conservative Front-Bench team—I heard some sedentary comments—appears to be that a list of environmental and other organisations will be cited as a reason for not taking a decision on the runway. If that is the policy of the Conservatives, they should articulate it, instead of blustering as the hon. Lady has done.
Let us consider the impact of the go-ahead decision on jobs and the economy of this country, because hon. Members should not simply take my word for how important this decision is for the country’s economic well-being. They should listen to David Frost, of the British Chambers of Commerce, who has said:
“This sends a strong message to the world that we are a nation open for business.”
Brendan Barber, of the TUC, has said:
“Aviation is key to the UK economy and will support the creation of many more quality jobs.”
Miles Templeman, of the Institute of Directors, has said:
“A third runway is vital to maintaining the UK’s economic competitiveness, and will put us in a good position to win business from the key markets such as India and China when the upturn comes.”
I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is not here, because I really wonder what he must think as he looks across his party—a party that was once capable of taking economically serious decisions. He is a man who sat in Conservative Cabinets with Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and who is supposed to speak up for business and jobs inside the Conservative party. He now apparently finds himself, as do the entire Conservative Front-Bench team, at odds with representatives of both employers and employees. It cannot often be said, so let me repeat that the CBI, the TUC, the Institute of Directors and Unite are all on exactly the same side of the argument—they are united in favour of the action necessary to support British jobs and the British economy. That is something that the Conservative party is giving up on.
No responsible Government can ignore the importance of Heathrow to our international connections, to the 100,000 jobs that it supports directly or indirectly and to the ability of London and the UK’s nations and regions to compete for business and commerce. Every great trading nation needs access to the growth markets of the future. Unlike any of the other UK airports, Heathrow serves destinations such as Mumbai and Beijing and it provides more frequent services to key international destinations. In these times of economic slowdown, those links become even more crucial in supporting British jobs and helping to revitalise our economy. What does it say about the Tories’ economic policy that they will today turn their backs on 100,000 jobs at Heathrow airport?
If the Secretary of State is so convinced on the rightness of his argument, why is it that when we invited him to come to our constituencies to meet the people most affected by this, the offer we received was that three people—that is all—to be nominated by an MP and from each of the affected constituencies, could come to this place to discuss the matter with Ministers and civil servants?
I would have been delighted to make such visits, but unfortunately, and unusually for me, I found my presence in such demand in so many different places that it was necessary to find a means by which such discussions could take place. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and representatives of his community, but as I say, I could not spend the next year touring west London, much as I would have been delighted to do so.
May I deal directly with the motion? I listened carefully to the comments that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet made, but I still do not understand how her party’s policy addresses the difficult questions that have been raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and others on her own Conservative Benches. I simply do not know how she answers those questions about noise and the impact on local communities, and neither does the House nor the country. [Interruption.] It is no good Conservative Members saying that we do not know, because those answers have been set out in a detailed White Paper. I invite those hon. Members who clearly have not read it to have a look at the criteria, because if they were to do so, they would see that a process has been followed for taking the decision—a process that the hon. Lady has completely failed to set out.
I am not going to ask the right hon. Gentleman to come to meet my constituents, but will he give them comfort that the Government will not reconsider the Thames estuary airport option, which is being promoted by a number of senior Tories?
I shall give way in a moment.
First, does the hon. Lady recognise that our constituents and British businesses demand that they should be able to travel by air and that there is growing demand from our constituents and from British business for such services? Her own leader, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), made that point quite clearly in 2007, when he said:
“It’s unrealistic to think aviation is not going to grow. Business requires a huge amount of travel and we live in a world in which people enjoy going on holiday. As people get richer there is going to be growth in aviation”.
Does she accept that argument? She says that she does.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the decision-making process. My constituents are not particularly interested in party political knockabout; we want absolute clarity about the process that will be used to make the decision. I would welcome the opportunity to come back to the matter just to get the clarity. My understanding is that it will be dealt with by the new Infrastructure Planning Commission. If that is the case, it will require a new national policy statement. Will he explain the process of arriving at that new national policy statement given that the aviation White Paper is now six years out of date? If we could get clarity on that today, it would be incredibly helpful.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Of course, the process will be governed by the Planning Act 2008, which will set out the process that he has at least in part described. I anticipate that the Government would want to bring forward a new aviation White Paper that would set out the up-to-date position, given the history since 2003. It is important that we acknowledge something that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet and her colleagues on the Conservative Front Bench seem to have failed to realise—I am sorry that the shadow Chief Whip is not in his place, because he will have to deal with these problems in the unfortunate eventuality of his becoming the Government Chief Whip. The Opposition—I would be delighted to give way again on this point—appeared to suggest that every major planning infrastructure decision would be subject to a vote on the Floor of this House, but that specific provision was rejected in the course of the Planning Bill.
If every major planning decision were not to be subject to a vote on the Floor of the House, then, once again, I must accuse the Conservative party of political opportunism. It is simply picking out those particular policies on which it thinks it might have some success, rather than being consistent and acknowledging that it is necessary as a governing party to adopt a consistent process governing how decisions are taken.
In tabling the motion, we were simply responding to the passionate demands from both sides of the House that the people who represented constituencies that would be blighted by the Government’s plans should have the opportunity to speak and vote on the issue.
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Lady, because she clearly did not listen to the question. The question is straightforward. If a Government take a decision, they have to take similar decisions according to a consistent process. They cannot pick and choose for political reasons the kinds of decisions that they would like to be subject to votes on the Floor of the House. Until she understands that, she will not be fit to be in government.
I have given way to my hon. Friend. I shall give way in a second.
As the Opposition have accepted that there is a requirement for some increase in capacity, where will that increased capacity be made available? The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet appears to have ruled out in the past any extra capacity at any of the airports in the south. Today, I was not quite so sure what her position would be. Let us consider the policy recommended to the Conservative party by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), whose economic competitiveness policy group was set up and reported in 2007. It was set up, as far as I recall, by the leader of the Conservative party. The report said:
“The primary issue for UK air transport is the lack of airport capacity to meet the relentless demand…We recommend that an incoming Conservative government’s priority should be the strengthening of London’s, and Britain’s, main air transport hub at Heathrow”.
That was the policy outlined by senior figures in the Conservative party. The policy was articulated as recently as last year by the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) when he appeared on “Any Questions?” in Hounslow. He said:
“I’m afraid there is an economic need for more airport capacity somewhere—somewhere in the South East”.
He also said that
“no responsible party can simply say that we can put up the shutters and there’s not going to be any more runways anywhere in the South East”.
That was what was said by a member of the shadow Cabinet, speaking as recently as last year. That is precisely what the Conservative party is trying to do—to put up the shutters and to do nothing. That has been its policy since it changed its position on Heathrow.
I will give the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet credit—she has acknowledged that the policy has changed. She has acknowledged that the Opposition have changed their mind. What she is not able to tell the House or the country is why that policy has changed for any reason other than grubbing after votes in some cheap exercise in political opportunism.
May I take my right hon. Friend back to what he just said about the process by which the decision will be considered and the role of the new planning agency? Will he tell the House what account will be taken of the work of the Committee on Climate Change? It has already said:
“Whilst aviation and shipping emissions are today both relatively small as a percent of total global emissions they are likely, if unconstrained, to grow to much larger shares.”
That will have a huge effect on other industries, which will need to have carbon allowances. Will he tell the House what part the Committee on Climate Change will play in the process governing how any decision will be made?
I made it clear in my statement to the House that any further expansion beyond that which was permitted would require a new process by which any new slots would be made available. That process would depend critically on the views of the Committee on Climate Change, which would have to report to the Government, and therefore indirectly to the House, that we were on track—that is, that we were taking the right decisions—to meet our ambition of ensuring that there would be no more carbon emissions through aviation in 2050 than in 2005. That is a clear commitment to take account not only of the advice of the committee but to ensure that it will advise the Government on the necessary steps to meet that ambition.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the Opposition’s opportunism is to be deprecated. However, wrong-headedness is also to be deprecated. I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend has begun his speech on the premise that we should bow to the market forces first and put climate change somewhere down the ladder. That appears to be the case. The industry’s own sustainable aviation road map predicts that by 2020 there will be a sizeable increase in aviation emissions in this country and seems to deny that there is such a thing as radiative forcing, which is something that the Government recognise. Are we putting too much of our future into the hands of an industry that seems to have a golden inheritance while other industries have to pay the price—[Interruption.]
I do not accept the way in which my hon. Friend has made his point, not least because I took great pains to set out in my statement the week before last that such decisions are necessarily a matter of balance between the requirement to allow more flights and to allow more people to travel on those flights, and the consequences for the local environment and the people affected by Heathrow as well as our international position in securing international agreements on reducing carbon. We have led the way in ensuring that we adopt strict standards and pass them into law. We will implement them. I hope that he will accept that, and I shall deal with it in more detail in a few moments.
I am going to make some progress, in the light of Mr. Speaker’s observation.
One suggestion set out in the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet is that we should
“give full consideration to alternative solutions”.
I have no idea—and I am none the wiser from her speech—what that would mean in relation to her previously stated opposition to expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. She has opposed expansion at each one of those airports without saying why she is against it. Perhaps she is now considering the option of a new four-runway airport in the Thames estuary, which I know that the Mayor of London and some Members of this House favour. At the weekend, I read about the Mayor’s plans for runways and train tunnels in the sea, which were described by others as something out of “Thunderbirds”—Boris island rather than Tracy island.
Some 400 alternative sites were considered before the 2003 White Paper, many of which were in and around the estuary. I have said repeatedly why we do not believe that they are feasible or practical. The recent incident in New York, in which a plane was forced to land in the Hudson river, should demonstrate the consequences of a bird strike and make hon. Members think about the implications. Anyone who believes that such a proposal is non-controversial should note the words of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which said:
“‘Boris Island’…has been conclusively proven to be a complete non-starter ecologically, environmentally and economically. To revisit the issue is a complete waste of everyone’s time and energy.”
The Secretary of State has made much of the White Paper. When I raised the issue of Manston airport with his predecessor at the time—now Chancellor of the Exchequer—he indicated clearly that it was too far from London. The hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), who will defend a 600 majority—is trying to promote Manston. Does the Secretary of State agree with his predecessor or does he accept that Manston, which is 50 miles from so-called Boris island—has a role to play?
I have visited Manston airport, and I can see the argument for its expansion and I recognise that it has a part to play. Indeed, several airports in and around London could help in relieving the expansion capacity problems that we face. However, no one is seriously suggesting that one of those 400 sites could be a substitute hub airport. The hon. Gentleman knows enough about aviation to recognise that we are talking about Heathrow, which is a hub airport and an international gateway very different from the airport that he mentions.
Will my right hon. Friend recognise that the proposal for a Thames estuary airport is currently being evaluated by Douglas Oakervee, the project director of the Hong Kong airport, which was built in the sea, and chairman of Crossrail? He is one of the most respected civil engineers in the country, and is employed by the Department on that major rail project. Will my right hon. Friend accept Douglas Oakervee’s judgment that this proposal is a serious alternative that needs to be evaluated?
My right hon. Friend is right to say that Mr. Oakervee is employed by the Department, and in that capacity I have met him. I am delighted by his judgment, because it is that it will never be built. That was his conclusion.
The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet suggests that increased competition will somehow provide a solution. I welcome the work that the Competition Commission has done and I believe passengers will see some real benefits from the changes outlined. But to suggest that competition on its own can solve the capacity problems we face just is not credible. Let me quote Oliver Dowden, recently installed as the Conservative party’s director of political operations. Last summer he said:
“No matter how much competition you inject into the UK airport market, the fundamental problem remains the same. The projected growth in demand for air travel continues to exceed the projected growth in supply. The way to rectify this is by building more airports and runways. Approving such expansion requires real political will”.
Perhaps in his new position he will instil real political will into the Conservative party, and he should start with the hon. Lady.
Even with all the evidence of the need for expansion for economic and social reasons, this was not a decision to be taken lightly. I know that the decision to support a third runway at Heathrow will have a significant impact, especially on those who live in the surrounding area, and that that understandably arouses strong feelings. That is why I have always been clear that while there is a strong case for expansion, it could be supported only if strict conditions on noise, air quality and public transport were met.
Last week I announced my decision that those conditions could be met. A key part of that statement was that there will be a limit on the initial use of the expanded airport, so that the increase in aircraft movements is only around half the level on which we consulted. The modelling carried out showed that the critical noise and air quality tests could both be met in 2020, with the airport operating at that level; that the 57 dB noise contour would be no larger than it was in 2002; and that no residential properties would be in areas of nitrogen dioxide exceedances. However, to ensure that we are basing our decisions on facts, not modelling, we have provided added reassurance by committing to a legally binding mechanism that will ensure that additional capacity will be released only when an independent assessment shows that the limits have already been met and will not be compromised by additional flights.
We will legislate to ensure that, in the event that air quality or noise limits could be breached, the independent regulators would have a legal duty and the necessary powers to take action. Modern aircraft are quieter and less polluting than older aircraft. Modern designs have helped to deliver a reduction in the number of people around Heathrow affected by average levels of noise at or above 57 dB. That was some 2 million people in 1974, but had fallen to 258,000 people by 2002, as the result of significant improvements in aircraft technology. Those improvements in technology will continue, ensuring that aircraft are quieter, more fuel efficient and less polluting. To reinforce that trend we intend to make new capacity at Heathrow subject to a green slot principle to incentivise the use of the most modern aircraft. My decision also included responding to many concerns about the loss of runway alternation if we had agreed to options for mixed mode on the existing runways. I announced my decision not to support mixed mode ahead of a third runway. That means that people living under the existing flight paths will continue to enjoy the predictable periods of relief from aircraft noise that many local residents told us they value highly.
I agree with the essence of my right hon. Friend’s arguments that there is simply no economic alternative to a third runway at Heathrow if this country is to continue to compete internationally. However, I was worried by the analysis by Ben Webster on page 3 of The Times today, which claimed that keeping within the 2005 limits on CO2 would place unnecessary restrictions on regional airports. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend could assure the House that that is not the case.
That is simply not the case. Unfortunately, The Times seems to have confused the projections for carbon and not taken into account the kinds of policy changes that have been agreed. The pressure will be on the airlines to use more efficient aircraft, so that they are not required to buy permits under the emissions trading scheme, to reduce their emissions and fuel consumption. That is a much more likely approach by a rational airline that is acting economically.
In 1990, some 18 different regional airports had services into Heathrow. Because of capacity constraints, now only nine do so. In fact, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet might like to reflect on the fact that Schiphol serves 21 UK destinations. If that is not an example of the Conservative party’s policy exporting jobs, I cannot think of one.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that perhaps the most polluting and wasteful practice by Heathrow is stacking, in which aeroplanes have to wait to come into land? That is because the runways are used at 99 per cent. capacity, which causes problems with the reliability of services. Is it not the case that the first impact of a third runway would be to reduce carbon emissions through the reduction and even abolition of stacking?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and one that was completely ignored by the hon. Lady. At any given time, there can be as many as four stacks of aircraft waiting to land. The average delay at Heathrow—caused by the capacity problems—is some 19 minutes, and some aircraft are delayed for far longer. Therefore it is necessary to address the question of capacity, in carbon terms as much as for any other reason.
We have been criticised by the hon. Lady for failing to progress longer-term options for transport infrastructure, which is why I set out clearly our ambition to ensure the development of a new high-speed line to the north, approaching London via a Heathrow international station on the Great Western line. That could provide a four-way interchange between the airport, the new north-south line, existing Great Western rail services and Crossrail, with a 15-minute service into the centre of London. But I reject the idea that that could somehow be an alternative to much needed runway capacity at Heathrow. The Conservative figures on which the hon. Lady relies assume that every single domestic passenger would transfer to high-speed rail. That would include all passengers flying from the remaining nine British airports served by Heathrow. Incidentally, that includes Belfast. The hon. Lady has failed to explain how a rail link would help our friends in Northern Ireland.
A great many people simply do not believe the hon. Lady’s argument. Richard Lambert of the CBI does not, and he said that
“a high speed rail link would have a lot going for it, but I don’t think for a minute that it will solve the capacity problems at Heathrow.”
The Conservative Mayor of London does not believe it. He said:
“High speed rail should certainly be part of the mix, but it is not enough on its own.”
Even Conservative Back Benchers do not believe it. Only this week, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said:
“Those who believe new rail links mean fewer flights are wrong.”
The beneficiaries of the Opposition’s policy are clear—they would be the Dutch, the French and the Germans. Indeed, on Monday night the director of airport development at Schiphol said on the BBC London news:
“If I am honest, I must say Heathrow needs a third runway to stay as a major important hub in Europe and to connect London with all the other cities in the world. But for us it would be the best if they wouldn’t get the third runway at all.”
Now, despite the reincarnation of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, I do not believe for a moment that those on the Opposition Front Bench have suddenly seen the light and become overwhelmed by enthusiasm for all things European. What their policy would do, however, is give a real boost to continental employment and growth by exporting British jobs.
The reality is that, by encouraging our European competitors to expand at our expense, the Opposition’s policy would damage us economically without saving a single gram of carbon. The sorry truth is that, in their opportunist drive to secure short-term headlines, the Opposition are sacrificing the country’s longer-term interests.
The Liberal Democrat party may be the last party on the planet to notice that we are in the middle of a global economic slow-down. I regret that slow-down and I am very sorry that businesses around the world are having to reduce costs. I know that the Liberal Democrat party is not the most economically literate party, but I should have thought that even the hon. Gentleman would have noticed that there are some economic problems out there in the real world—although I know that that is not a world that he inhabits very often.
May we come down to earth for a minute? So far, the Secretary of State has completely failed to talk about the impact of a third runway on any of the local people, but they are not the only ones who would regret the arrival of the bulldozers. He will recall that the construction of terminal 5 took more than a decade, and that it posed a danger to some of the most important archaeological sites in the area. The Thames gravels will be equally affected by a third runway. It took up to 100 archaeologists working over 10 years to rescue what was left of that great part of Britain’s heritage. What plans does he have to rescue Britain’s heritage from the wanton destruction caused by the third runway?
I am not entirely clear how the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises is relevant to the third runway, as he prefaced his question with a reference to terminal 5 which, when I last looked, was in a different place. Even so, I am perfectly willing to follow through the logic of his argument. Is he really saying that national projects such as this have to be decided on the Floor of this House only in the light of the views of local people, or those conducting an archaeological dig?
The hon. Gentleman says, “Of course not.” I invite him to go back and look at the careful statement that I made to the House. If he does so, he will accept that I carefully weighed the impact on local people. I set out very detailed criteria for noise and pollution—
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I hope that he will give me some credit for setting out those criteria, as that is something that those on the Opposition Front Bench have singularly failed to do today. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet has given us no evidence at all about how the Opposition would weigh local people’s interests against our national interest, our economic interest, and our interest in preserving jobs in this country. We want to promote opportunities for British people to get jobs, and it is a difficult balance that requires judgment. However, it also requires fundamental criteria, and I think that the hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to those on his own Front Bench rather than to me, because the Government have set out the relevant principles.
I have been listening to what the Secretary of State has been saying about jobs, opportunities, Schiphol, Heathrow, and the many flights that go from other airports to those destinations. Can he give any guarantees about whether a third runway would enable places such as Aberdeen and Inverness to have guaranteed slots, morning and evening?
The guarantee that I can give is that that can never happen without expansion and more capacity at Heathrow. As I set out, the history of Heathrow since 1990 has been that the number of different destinations served has fallen from 227 to 180, and it is precisely the regional airports that have suffered most. Essentially, what has happened is that, because of the scarcity of slots at Heathrow, airlines have consistently substituted shorter routes for long-distance ones. Therefore, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the guarantee that he seeks; all I can guarantee is that there will be no change without expansion.
I turn now to the question of climate change, which various hon. Friends have mentioned. I recognise that Heathrow does not raise only local environmental issues: quite rightly, people also want to understand how the Government’s support for a third runway can be reconciled with our climate change commitments.
As a result of the measures that we have set out, we now have a set of proposals that give the UK the toughest climate change regime for aviation of any country in the world. There will be a new target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from UK aviation in 2050 to below 2005 levels. That provides clear assurance that our strategy for aviation is consistent with our wider climate change goals.
There will be a limit on the initial use of Heathrow’s third runway so that the increase in the annual number of flights is no more than 125,000 a year. That is almost half the additional capacity that we consulted on. In addition, there will be no future capacity increases at Heathrow beyond that figure without Government approval, and following a review by the Committee on Climate Change in 2020 as to whether we are on track to achieve our new aviation carbon dioxide target. The Committee on Climate Change has also been asked to advise on the best basis for measuring that target.
The Government are also at the forefront of international efforts to include aviation in a global deal on climate change that would build on the UK’s leadership in securing the inclusion of aviation in the European Union emissions trading scheme. As a result of the agreement reached by European Ministers last year, aviation will join the ETS in 2012. From that point, net carbon dioxide emissions from aviation in Europe will be capped at 97 per cent. of average 2004-2006 levels, with the cap tightening to 95 per cent. from 2013 onwards. Any increase in emissions above those levels would need to be matched by equal reductions in other sectors in the scheme.
In addition, we are arguing for progressively stricter limits on carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft, similar to those already in place for new cars within the EU. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), proposed that idea at a G8 meeting very recently and we plan to develop it further with our international partners. That is why I can say with confidence that the United Kingdom will have the toughest climate change regime for aviation of any country in the world.
One of the issues relevant to increased capacity and the impact of a third runway on local residents that the Secretary of State has failed to address is night flights, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers). I asked him about the number of night flights last November, and he replied:
“We have not consulted on that matter, and it is not a decision that we have to take.”—[Official Report, 11 November 2008; Vol. 482, c. 650.]
However, we now know that BAA is predicting a 30 per cent. increase in the number of night flights. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether the Government are going to abide by the current night flight quotas? Will there be an increase in night flights under his plans, or not?
The third runway at Heathrow is an important issue for people in Northern Ireland because, as the Secretary of State has pointed out, no high-speed rail link will help domestic flights from Northern Ireland. However, there is real concern that slots from Belfast could be lost if a third runway is not built. Will he give an assurance that any planning agreement for a third runway would contain some guarantees about flights from regional airports into Heathrow?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very strong case on behalf of our regional airports. It is a matter of great regret, as far as I am concerned, that we have seen a reduction in the number of flights that serve our regional airports over very many years, precisely because of capacity straits, and it is vital that we maintain sufficient capacity to allow that diversity, including flights to Belfast, to continue.
On night flights, does not the decisions that my right hon. Friend is making on terminal 6 and a third runway offer an opportunity to make the permission to build conditional on the removal of the remaining night flights? The number is not large; they could be easily rescheduled, as a result of the extra capacity that will come on track.
I set out very clearly the basis of the decision on night flights in the decision that I announced to the House, and I have indicated to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) that there is no change in that basis.
The fact remains that this country faces a fundamental choice: we can follow the Conservative party’s approach, which would duck the most difficult decisions, slash transport investment in the midst of a downturn, export British jobs and undermine this country’s long-term prosperity; or we can help people through the difficult times and take the long-term decisions on investment and climate change that prepare the United Kingdom for the future. For those reasons, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Government’s amendment to reject the cynical political opportunism that is so manifestly reflected in the motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition.
I regret very much the tone that the Secretary of State for Transport adopted in his responses this afternoon. There was really no need to be gratuitously unpleasant and offensive, as he seemed to wish to be. Far be it from me to defend the Conservative party, but he seemed to decide that attack is the best form of defence. He decided to do that because he has an unconvincing case to put forward. Let us remember that when he was Defence Secretary he was the man who gave us the dodgy dossier, and now, as Transport Secretary, he wants to give us a dodgy runway—the extra runway that has more and more flights, yet somehow the Government’s target of an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions is met, where the EU limits will apparently be respected and somehow met, with lots more flights and lots more cars turning up at the airport. The environmental damage will be acceptable, but Sipson will be wiped off the face of the map. That is the dodgy runway that he wants to give us.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the debate would be more instructive if the Secretary of State had met the fundamental climate change issue about which most of his colleagues are concerned, rather than trying to make odd points against both Opposition parties, which have a principled reason—I could not possibly have a constituency reason—for saying, “If you really care about climate change, you cannot have this extension and expect Ministers to go to Copenhagen with any credibility”?
I entirely agree with that. The right hon. Gentleman has a long record on this issue. Let me make it absolutely clear that, although we have a number of reasons for objecting to a third runway, our principal reason is climate change. Therefore, the people whom I feel most sorry for are the two who have been corralled on to the Front Bench today: the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The Cabinet has been leaking like a colander in recent weeks, and we know that those two Secretaries of State have had genuine difficulties—quite rightly, from their perspective, given their Cabinet positions—and that they have been wheeled out today to sit on the Front Bench to give the impression that all has mended and that all is unity.
I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change sum up tonight, when he can tell us how a massive increase in the number of flights, with no technological solutions on the horizon, will contribute to his target of an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions. I do not know whether he ever took part in university debates where people have to argue the opposite of what they believe, but he will have to practise that this evening.
The reality is that this is a very serious issue in climate change terms and for the constituents of those hon. Members who are affected. The House needs to address those two serious issues. I am afraid the Government have got themselves on the wrong side of the argument. The Secretary of State for Transport, who spent his time attacking other people rather than defending his own case, must recognise that there is now overwhelming opposition to the proposed third runway, even in his own party.
I am happy to say that the Liberal Democrats were the first party in the House to oppose a third runway. In April, we introduced such a motion in the House. We are now being joined by the Conservatives and others: 57 Labour MPs signed the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan). I am glad that the independent spirit has not been entirely extinguished on the Government Benches and that the lure of becoming a Parliamentary Private Secretary has not taken away entirely the need to vote the right way when issues come before the House.
I draw the House’s attention to the article in The Times that has been referred to; colleagues in the nationalist parties and in Northern Ireland need to be aware that, far from guaranteeing any extra traffic for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, a third runway at Heathrow
“could bring expansion at all other airports to a halt.”
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but from a Scottish point of view, we want transport links that will take us to Europe. High-speed rail may be the answer, but I asked the Conservative spokesperson about the time scale and payment for high-speed rail and did not get an answer. Can the hon. Gentleman give me an answer on when high-speed rail will reach Scotland to stand in for flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow airports?
I am very happy to try to respond to that point. We have made a firm commitment that high-speed rail will start immediately after the next election if we are in the lucky position to be in government or, indeed, part of the Government, which may be a possibility. That is not a 2015 plan; it is not a 2027 plan; it starts right away. We have also said how we will pay for it—partly by a £30 per person surcharge on domestic flights, other than lifeline flights to the highlands and islands, for example, and that money will go towards the construction of a high-speed rail network. We are deadly serious about that, and we are determined that the benefits of high-speed rail are not simply for the west midlands but will benefit the whole country.
As ever, I listen carefully to the case that the hon. Gentleman puts, which seems to be based on the fact that, if there is not a third runway, there will be fewer flights. But surely, without a third runway, people will not stop flying to Japan or elsewhere; they will just leave this country and go to a European hub, so there will be two flights and more, not less, CO2.
I have not made the case that stopping the third runway would end up with fewer flights. I have made the case that the Government have accepted for roads. The Government have accepted that, if more road capacity is built, it becomes filled with vehicles, making journeys that would not have been made. However, the Government do not want to accept the case on aviation that, if more airports and runways are supplied, there are more flights. Why do they not accept that argument? I fail to understand the logic that the Government adopt.
Of course, there is real concern about the impact that any decision on Heathrow may have on regional airports, especially those in Northern Ireland, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that, without a hub airport in London, people who leave Northern Ireland and want to fly elsewhere are likely to have to fly to Europe? Those flights are longer, so carbon emissions would be greater. Total carbon emissions are then likely to have an impact on any decision made about regional airports. So it would be far better to have an effective hub airport in the south-east of England, rather than in Germany, France or elsewhere.
I agree, but we have an effective hub airport at Heathrow already. More people are already using London’s airports than those in Germany or France—London is first in the list—so I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of Heathrow ceasing to exist. It will continue to serve Belfast and the other regional airports that are fitted into it. In fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) mentions, we want guarantees that slots and flights from places such as Belfast, the north of Scotland and so on will be protected, because they have to feed into Heathrow—there is no alternative—to get elsewhere outside the UK.
The Government have adopted a dangerous political position, and are out of line not just with the House, but with the country at large. With the Government 15 per cent. behind in the opinion polls, I question whether they really want to go to the wall over the issue. Is it really the issue that they want to go down fighting on? Have Labour MPs lost their survival instinct? It seems so.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, as he has come to a pause. The Secretary of State for Transport just made a comment about night flights that he needs to check with his officials. I believe that under current legislation, the cap on night flights ends in 2012. There is no cap on the number of flights—there is only a general noise commitment—beyond that date. The House is possibly being misled. Perhaps that point could be addressed, at least in the summing up.
That is an important point, and my understanding is that my hon. Friend is correct on that matter. When the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), replies at the end of the debate, he ought to answer that point in full and clarify the Government’s position on that matter.
As I mentioned, we have long been concerned about the impact of aviation on climate change. That is the primary, but not the only, reason why we oppose a third runway at Heathrow. According to Government figures, aviation accounted for 13 per cent. of total UK climate change damage in 2005—that is all gases, not just CO2. That takes account of departing flights only. If the calculation were based on return flights by UK citizens, the figure would be nearer 20 per cent., according to the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise. Emissions from air travel are due to rise by 83 per cent. from 2002 levels by 2020, and could amount to a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions by 2038.
That is the direction of travel that the Government wish to support by allowing the construction of a third runway at Heathrow. They have to get real. I give them credit for putting targets in their Climate Change Act 2008; we are the first country in the world to have a climate change Act. We fully supported it, while others in the House did not. The Government have to realise that they will have to deliver on their climate change targets. They cannot have a target only for some Government to say, 20 years hence, “We cannot possibly meet it.” We must know now how we will meet it, and building a third runway at Heathrow does not help in any shape or form.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree with me on this point. We are using a sort of shorthand when we talk about a third runway. He is of course aware that we are talking about not just a runway, but something the size of another Gatwick airport, including a sixth terminal, which, as he knows, was not even in the original consultation.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. While we are talking about Gatwick, let me make it absolutely clear that we Liberal Democrat Members are totally opposed to any further expansion of airport capacity in the south-east, and in the term “south-east” I include Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow.
The Government waved away the comments of Chris Smith—Lord Smith, who is now chairman of the Environment Agency. He was of course a former Labour party spokesman on the environment, and was well respected in that capacity. He said on 27 January—not very long ago—that Heathrow expansion is “a mistake”. He said that there was “a very big chance” that the project would stall owing to the threat of legal action from campaigners and resistance from Opposition parties. I can confirm that the last part of that point is certainly true. He also said:
“I think the likelihood is that engines will get cleaner, whether they will get cleaner as rapidly as the government projects I have my doubts.”
He made sensible objections, on behalf of the Environment Agency, to the Government’s policy on a third runway. Will the Government formally respond to the Environment Agency, or does that advisory body matter only when it is in line with Government policy, and is it to be discarded and ignored when it is out of line with it? That appears to be the Government’s attitude.
I know that it is the hon. Gentleman’s policy to be against all expansion of aviation capacity in the south-east—[Interruption.] That is his party’s policy; he just said so. Many projections show that demand will increase. If supply is restricted, the price of the item will go up. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that poor people—working people—will not be allowed to fly?
Not be allowed to fly? I do not know where on earth the hon. Gentleman got that from. If he is saying that aviation is underpriced, well, frankly it is. It is underpriced in terms of the carbon damage it does. It sometimes costs less to fly to Manchester or Newcastle than to take the train, and that is wrong. We increasingly need to base our economy on carbon emissions, and we need to put the price next to the carbon emissions. We have to recognise that aviation is underpriced. I have been frank with the House today, and have said that we should have a £30 surcharge on domestic flights to help pay for the construction of high-speed rail.
May I make the absolutely obvious point that most constituents in constituencies such as mine may use transport, including public transport—they may use the bus, the tube and the train—but there are very few people from constituencies with high numbers of people on low incomes who fly around Britain to take part in the economy? Often, the people who fly the most are in the business sector, which ought to set a good example.
Yes, that is perfectly true, and analysis of travel patterns shows that disproportionate numbers of those who take cheaper flights are middle class or well off, and are not the people referred to in the intervention by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris).
Let me ask the Secretary of State for Transport to address the issue of safety. I do not wish to say that the proposal for a third runway is unsafe; I just want to raise the issue, and be given an assurance at the end of the debate. The Civil Aviation Authority said:
“Were all…southeastern airport development plans to come to fruition, CAA and NATS are of the view that there would not be sufficient airspace to accommodate the scale of predicted growth”—
that is, traffic growth—
“on the basis of current and predicted technology.”
I raised the matter with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town, last March, as he may recall. He said:
“The CAA has examined our White Paper proposals and believes that the necessary airspace capacity can be provided safely.”—[Official Report, 4 March 2008; Vol. 472, c. 1589.]
NATS said, in a letter to me:
“NATS has not yet carried out detailed work as there has been no requirement for us to do so. We are not therefore able to advise at this stage on any specific airspace changes that may be required in support of any…Government policy to permit expansion of Heathrow.”
It is a serious issue. It may be that expansion can be handled safely; I do not wish to start hares running needlessly, but it is important that it be put on the record that any expansion at Heathrow can be handled safely under the current air traffic regime. I shall be grateful for such an assurance from the Minister when he replies.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is any question about airspace capacity safety, the issue could be dealt with by the introduction of a high-speed rail link? About 50 per cent. of all flights that leave Edinburgh go to other UK cities that people could easily access by alternative means.
That is perfectly true. The issue is not simply about getting to other cities in the UK—this may partly relate to the Belfast point; it is also about getting to other cities in near Europe. The potential for high-speed traffic to take us to Amsterdam and other towns and cities in near Europe is significant. The Government have not given that point full weight. There are still too many short-haul flights. There are 24 flights today from London to Manchester; I checked this morning. There is no need for flights from London to Manchester. Paris-Brussels flights have effectively been eliminated by a good rail link. There is considerable potential for transfer of traffic from air to rail. There are still a large number of flights to Paris, although Eurostar offers a good service.
Why is there such a rush to get the third runway approved? It is partly because BAA and its friends know that if there is a change of Government at the next election, whatever the outcome—no matter whether there is a Conservative majority or a hung Parliament—it is much less likely that Heathrow expansion will be progressed with. By the way, I tell civil servants in the Department for Transport not to waste their time on working out an aviation statement; they will not need it. It will be rewritten after the next election.
The majority shareholder in the Department for Transport, BAA, is keen that we should move forward with the expansion as soon as possible. It knows that high-speed rail is a real alternative. It knows that in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, there has been a massive transfer from air to rail on key corridors. It knows that that will happen in this country, too, and that is why it is so desperate to get permission for the third runway before high-speed rail kicks in and the whole case vanishes from under its feet. That is what the game is about, and that is why it is so determined to push the change through. It is just a pity that the Government are determined to aid it in that proposal. It is a great shame.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern at the lecture that the Opposition received from the Secretary of State on due decision-making processes, when the Government commissioned a business case in partnership with the very industry that is set to benefit most from the expansion of Heathrow airport?
Yes, I do. There was a lot wrong with the consultation period and with the whole Government process leading up to this point. If the Government had identified a proper way forward, they might have had a stronger case than they have. Unfortunately, they did not do so.
I return briefly to the subject of carbon. The Eurostar figures, which have been provided to all Members of the House and which the Government have not queried, show that rail journeys by Eurostar to equivalent destinations would emit only 10 per cent. of the carbon per passenger. That is an enormous saving. If we are aiming for an 80 per cent. saving on carbon, there we are—there is a 90 per cent. saving on that journey right away. Even if we allow for different energy modes—Eurostar has nuclear generation—the figures from the all-party sustainable aviation group show that the emissions per passenger per kilometre in grams of CO2 will be 58 for rail and 227 for domestic air. Even on that normal energy mix, there is three quarters more for domestic air than for rail.
The Government set much store by the economic case, which has been rather overstated. We seem to be told that the expansion of the runway at Heathrow would have massive economic benefits for London and the south-east. In fact, London has been doing quite well in the past 10 years, even with the terribly constrained Heathrow that we apparently have. In my intervention on the Secretary of State, who has left his seat, I mentioned the loss of jobs at Schiphol, but perhaps a Minister ought to reflect on the survey carried out by the Institute of Directors in January. Only 1 per cent. of IOD members think that air should be the Government’s top priority for increasing capacity, and 52 per cent. said rail.
A survey conducted by the London chamber of commerce in 2006 said that 78 per cent. of London firms opposed Heathrow expansion. Tim Jeans, the managing director of Monarch Airlines, said that the expansion of Heathrow would have a detrimental impact on the lives of millions of people living in west London and prevent the aviation industry from being taken seriously on environmental issues. He also said that the Government’s reliance on new technology to reduce emissions was “highly optimistic”. That is the aviation industry speaking.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that during the public consultation exhibitions there was a board stating that 95 per cent. of businesses had said that Heathrow was very important or vital? What was not mentioned was that that was 95 per cent. of the 164 that responded, out of the 3,000 businesses that had been asked. In other words, less than 2 per cent. of businesses asked about Heathrow’s importance said that it was very important or vital.
I remind my hon. Friend and the House that there is, at last, progress on Crossrail, which will produce jobs and better train services, and progress on Thameslink, which presents some constituency problems for me but is a welcome north-south rail link; there is an East London line extension; there are plans for a cross-river tram; and there are further plans for light rail. There are many transport schemes that will add to carbon-efficient, non-harmful transport in and around London and provide many jobs in the process.
Has the hon. Gentleman also noticed that major companies and small companies alike have used the opportunity of the downturn to learn to do a great deal of international business without travelling from place to place? Does he think that after the downturn is changed, those habits of sensible behaviour and unwasteful use of money will continue?
The right hon. Gentleman is right. He may have seen a recent study that came out in the past few days and confirmed that. It said that it was not only economically sensible but environmentally sensible to try to do much more business by, for example, video link. It is often unnecessary to fly around the world to do business and it is inefficient to do so—except for Government Ministers, who like to travel round the world frequently.
The economic case has been overstated. It does not take into account the huge subsidy that aviation gets from the fact that it pays no tax on its fuel, unlike other modes of transport. Lastly on the economic point, I draw attention to a poll carried out in December 2008 covering 500 businesses, not the one or two referred to by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening). Only 4 per cent. believed that they would benefit from an expanded Heathrow, whereas 95 per cent. said that that would make little or no difference. However, 23 per cent. of businesses thought they would be helped by a new high-speed rail line to the north. When asked which one they would choose, 27 per cent. chose the rail link and only 4 per cent. chose Heathrow. That is the voice of business.
Political support is vanishing from under the Minister’s feet, as is business support. We are told that the Heathrow expansion will help tourism. Foreign visitors arriving by air in 2004 spent £11 billion in this country, but UK citizens going abroad that year spent £26 billion, so if we increase Heathrow’s capacity, there is also an issue about whether we should allow more money to flow out of the country and suck less in. That seems not to have been factored in. I do not know whether the British Tourist Authority is in favour of a third runway at Heathrow. I would have thought that it was rather dodgy, if I were considering the future of tourism in this country.
I am conscious of the time that I am taking. I have not mentioned local factors, which are very important. I remember powerfully the intervention and comments of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) the last time we debated the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) has a close constituency interest. I hope she will catch the Deputy Speaker’s eye and be able to speak on those matters. Seven hundred homes demolished, 1,600 people evicted, and Sipson wiped off the map is not something that the House of Commons should be proud of.
We must ask ourselves the reasons for the Government’s policy. It is electorally unpopular, economically it does not make sense and it is environmentally damaging, so what is the policy for? The Department for Transport seems to have been influenced far too much in recent times by BAA, which seems to decide the Government’s aviation policy. Let us not forget that BAA half-wrote the consultation, set up a joint body, the Heathrow Delivery Group, to steer the plans through the consultation process, and provided the data for calculations of noise and pollution that formed the premises of the consultation document. Opposition groups were not permitted to challenge the data. The Department for Transport and BAA set up a risk list, a list of threats to the building of the third runway, which includes the 2M campaign representing 2 million people.
I will not bore the House by elaborating on the revolving door, but there are a huge number of people in government who find themselves connected with BAA, and a huge number of people connected with BAA who find themselves rather close to Government. That explains why the Government have got their position completely wrong on the matter.
I appeal to the House today to leave aside the charge of political opportunism. Whether hon. Members believe that or not, it is not relevant. What is relevant is that the Government have studiously avoided giving the House of Commons the opportunity of a vote on Heathrow, which is a disgrace.
We on the two Opposition Front Benches have done the best we can to try to make sure that there is a vote in the House. It is the only vote that we are likely to get before the next general election, so I ask Labour MPs to think very carefully about how they will vote this evening. If they go through the Lobby with the Government, which is the easy way of dealing with the matter, the way of least resistance, they will have to answer to their consciences. They will have to answer for the inconsistencies with the Climate Change Act 2008, and they will have to answer mostly to their constituents if they happen to live anywhere near London or the flight path.
This is the one opportunity that we all have to get it right. I ask Labour Members to think about the environmental impact of a third runway, and about the local impact. If they cannot do that, I ask them to think about their own political prospects. If they think of those three things, they will vote to reject a third runway at Heathrow. It does not really matter what the Government do; I think the third runway is dead in the water and it will not go ahead.
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I should remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. That applies from now on.
I was going to make a joke about new jobs for archaeologists, but that would not have gone down very well with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), to whom I pay tribute. His constituents are lucky to be represented by him, and many Members, including Opposition Members, have worked with him under his chairmanship of the Project Heathrow Watch committee. We have worked on a non-party political basis.
My hon. Friend now has to face constituents who are going to suffer, including those who will lose their homes. I promise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will not praise my hon. Friend for picking up the Mace, but had the Secretary of State not said in his statement the week before last that he was going to bar mixed mode, I would not, in my hon. Friend’s place, have been able to put the Mace down in as gentle and gentlemanly a way as he did. I would have been too angry.
I say straight away that I am going to vote against the Opposition motion on the grounds that it is, without any doubt, party politicking. I shall tell you why, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I recall the joy that I felt when the Secretary of State barred mixed mode. I shall tell hon. Members what mixed mode is; obviously, many people do not understand it, although some do because we have sat on a committee and talked about it. We know how serious it is. Aircraft bound for both runways come over my constituency. Because of the prevailing winds, the aeroplanes get on to the two flight paths 70 to 75 per cent. of the time, which in the end—[Interruption.] The shadow Secretary of State looks puzzled. I should tell her that planes for both runways start to land over my constituents. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon my constituents get a break, because of alternation.
The shadow Secretary of State said a lot about wanting us to have a chance to vote, but it is a shame that she ignored mixed mode; I do not know why she did that. The barring of mixed mode is the best thing that could have been done. BAA wanted to introduce mixed mode immediately.
I reiterate that we strongly opposed mixed mode, and that we welcome the Government’s retreat on mixed mode. The issue did not feature centrally in what I had to say to the House today because I was hoping that that victory had been won. If the hon. Gentleman has no confidence that the Government will stick to their promise to scrap their plans for mixed mode, I will be concerned. However, he should make no mistake: the Opposition oppose mixed mode.
I was sitting in the second row here in the Chamber when the Secretary of State announced the barring of mixed mode. I looked at the faces of Conservative Members whom I have often regarded as colleagues during my years of opposing the third runway, and there was not a smile on any of their faces. That is how I know that the motion is party politicking; there is no doubt about that. What is more, they know it.
The shadow Secretary of State has just mentioned the issue reluctantly, and then asked whether the promise would be kept. BAA wants mixed mode immediately, because it would relieve the pressure on Heathrow, but the Secretary of State has barred it. The only Opposition Member who acknowledged the issue during my right hon. Friend’s statement was the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), and she did not quite manage to raise a smile. None of the others who opposed it on the committee with us managed to show any—
The reason why there were not many smiles on this side is that we get the same old story. No promise on Heathrow expansion has ever been followed through. Every statement about Heathrow has always gone something like, “We’re going to get on with this expansion, and that will mean that we won’t need that other expansion.” The Secretary of State’s statement took the same form as every previous announcement. When we were told that there would be a fourth terminal, there was supposed not to be a fifth terminal; when we were told that there would be a fifth terminal, there was supposed not to be a third runway—and when we are told that there will be a third runway, that is supposed to mean that there will not be mixed mode. Is it any wonder that people are sceptical and think that if there is another Labour Government after the election we will get mixed mode—just as we got a third runway, even though we were told that it would not go ahead without environmental constraints?
Just a few moments ago, an Opposition Member mentioned the bar on increases in night flights until 2012. That was the first concession that any Government had ever given on Heathrow airport—the first time they had ever opposed anything that British Airways or BAA wanted. My hon., and special, Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) and I met the Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Secretary of State for Transport, and he agreed not to oppose the House of Lords amendment on the expansion of night flights. He agreed to allow the amendment to come through. People were delighted. That was the first concession ever made by any Government against BAA’s wishes. That is not a mammoth example, but it was the first one, and a good sign.
The barring of mixed mode will make a tremendous difference. [Interruption.] People are pulling faces again, but they cannot have felt the relief that I felt. My constituents live very close to Heathrow—right up to the fence—and the noise is appalling. They have had to put up with that noise for many years. We are now arguing about the third runway, which I opposed, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. However, mixed mode would affect my constituents; runway No. 3 would bring a little more surface transport.
At no meeting that I have attended to plead for a bar on mixed mode have I ever done anything other than say at the outset that I supported my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and his constituents in protesting against runway No. 3. However, that runway will hardly affect my constituents at all. The barring of mixed mode will not only save people who would not have been able to use their own gardens with any pleasure ever again; it will also prevent the damage to education in schools in my constituency. Knowing on which days the noise will start at 3 pm and on which days there will be noise until 3 pm makes a tremendous difference. As Opposition Members know, their motion is party politicking. That is why I shall vote against it, despite my opposition to expansion outside the current boundaries.
I did sign the EDM. The Opposition told us today that they wanted to give us the chance to debate and vote on Heathrow expansion, but they conveniently ignored the fact that mixed mode has been barred. There is no comparison. Obviously, the media favour talking about whether there should be a third runway or not. However, my constituents fear having to put up with aircraft noise and air pollution all day long, instead of having the half-day’s break, and there is no comparison with people in north Chiswick, for example, who will have a flight path across them in 10 years’ time. The issue is serious. I know that there is party politicking, and that is why I do not come to the Chamber as often as I might, although I always enjoy it when I do. Again, I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and all the effort that he has put in.
Finally, on 3 April 2008, the Liberal Democrats, led by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), tabled a motion saying that runway alternation would bring more noise and air pollution; it should have said that the ending of runway alternation would bring more noise and pollution. I noticed that the Liberal Democrat website reports that that motion said that any runway alternation would bring more noise. They actually changed the motion on which the House of Commons decided that day; they altered it for their own purposes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it would have been better if the website had said that a mistake had been made and that the motion had meant to say that the ending of alternation would cause more noise. However, they chose not to include the mistake, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will not be surprised about that.
I recognise the need for the United Kingdom to remain competitive in aviation terms. Throughout the 1980s I supported the development of Stansted in competition with Schiphol, because it was clear that jobs would go either to Schiphol or to Stansted. I did not make myself popular with my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means, but I believed that it was the right decision for this country. I also recognise that Heathrow is the world No. 1 hub airport, and in the interests of United Kingdom Ltd. must remain so.
However, I do not accept that that is dependent on the building of a third runway. Gatwick will never be a hub airport, and neither will Luton, Stansted or Manston in Kent—but there are alternatives, some of which were put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers); Conservative party policy is very clear. High-speed rail can take some of the pressure off Heathrow, and must do so—that is in the interests of this country—but there are alternatives. The other regional airports in the south-east—Manston is one of them and Southend is another—can take some of the pressure, not directly off Heathrow but off Gatwick, which can then take further pressure off Heathrow. Those alternatives have not been thought through.
The Secretary of State made much of the aviation White Paper. When that was published, I challenged the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling) as to why he had omitted Manston. With, I suppose, the sense of geography that one might expect from somebody who represents a seat north of Hadrian’s wall, he said that Manston was too far from London to be of any use. Just for the record, Manston is about 77 miles from London; in train journey times, that should be not more than an hour from St. Pancras. There is every reason to suppose that Manston airport could take significant amounts of traffic currently using Gatwick, and that in turn would release capacity. It can be done.
Incidentally, I am not a fan of “Boris island”. I do not think that it would work. The Mayor of London—or perhaps it is his advisers—appears to have overlooked the fact that he wants to site it directly on top of a brand-new wind farm, which would have to be demolished, with all the investment involved in that. There is also the small matter of several hundred thousand migratory birds that would need to be told that they have to go somewhere else, as well as the minor issue of the redirection of all the traffic using the Thames estuary. Apart from that, the Mayor of London is right at least to take a passing look at the idea; I trust that it will not be much more than that.
Fifty miles from where Boris wants to put his island is Manston. Manston has one of the longest runways in the country, and its take-offs and landings are currently, and will remain, over the sea. My colleague Mrs. Laura Sandys, who represents the Conservative interest in South Thanet and will, I trust, be its next Member of Parliament, and I oppose the creation of a hub airport—a London airport—at Manston; let me make that absolutely plain before it gets turned into a “Focus” leaflet. However, we believe that as a regional airport Manston has a great deal to offer the south-east, via Gatwick to Heathrow, and to the wider United Kingdom. We see the potential within the next three years for creating London’s Olympic airport. We have the opportunity, if we choose to seize it now—and it must be now—to ring-fence Manston. It is potentially the most secure airfield in the country. It would offer a complete, secure package for the coming and going of all those taking part in the Olympics and those who wish to watch them, and it is on the right side of London.
That can be done. What is needed is investment in the fast rail link. At the moment the link effectively stops at Ashford. The trains go on to Ramsgate, but from Ashford to Ramsgate they run slowly. The rail link could be upgraded for a fraction of the money that the Government are considering spending on a third runway at Heathrow. That would give us a one-hour journey time from central London—if one regards St. Pancras as being central London—right through to a parkway station at Manston. The opportunity is there; it should not be disregarded, and I urge the Minister to seize it.
It is a great pleasure for me to be able to take part in this debate on an issue that I have dealt with in the past. I want to support the position of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has taken decisions that have been incredibly brave but also vital for our nation’s economic future.
Aviation in general, not just the question whether to have a third runway at Heathrow, has had a terrible press in recent months and years, particularly from the green lobby, which has put the case that it is not possible for us to meet our climate change obligations if the number of planes leaving Britain continues to grow. I note that that is the position taken by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). If that were true, I would not hesitate to change my position immediately, and neither would, I hope, my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary and the Government. Others, such as the Mayor of London, argue that aviation is vital to Britain’s future but that Heathrow, whose location no one would suggest is ideal, is unable to support a third runway because of the impact that it would have on the local community and west London residents.
Of course, we should all be concerned about any disruptive impact on the people who live locally. These are incredibly emotive issues. Nevertheless, I personally think that the impact on the local environment and on local people can be managed through the framework that my right hon. Friend has set down. Planes become quieter and greener over time, as they have done over the past 10, 20 or 30 years. We would naturally expect that to continue in future, and the safeguards that he has proposed are important in ensuring that the local impact is managed.
I want particularly to address the question of the impact on climate change. Until today, I thought that that was the principle underlying the Opposition’s opposition to Heathrow. In fact, they have been through many changes of position over the past 12 months. When I started looking at this issue, the position taken by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) was that Heathrow expansion should go ahead provided that the local environmental conditions were met. She argued that it was difficult to see how they could be met—a respectable position but not one that I happen to agree with—but suggested that were that to happen the expansion of Heathrow could proceed given the economic case for it. Then she made a massive U-turn and said that there should be no aviation expansion in the south-east at all. Today, I was genuinely shocked to read the motion, which suggests that we have not fully examined provisions to improve high-speed rail, which I would dispute,
“along with the potential of other UK airports to handle more long-haul flights”.
The hon. Lady was clear today that the Opposition would now consider an expansion in aviation in the south-east.
I am following the right hon. Lady’s remarks closely. Is not the logical position of her own Government that if a third runway is built, and if they are serious about reducing carbon emissions, the development of regional airports will be stymied or indeed stopped in its tracks, with implications across the whole United Kingdom for regeneration and employment in those areas, including our own area of Greater Manchester?
No: I have only a very short space of time to make my case, and I would like to proceed.
People who argue on climate change grounds that we should not expand Heathrow miss two essential points. The first is the social value of flying—something to which we all, as individuals, attach enormous importance. Travelling improves our lives. It enables us to visit places and understand cultures in a way that we could not possibly do if they were seen through a video link. It enables us to keep in touch with loved ones and families and to come together at important times in our lives. Most people, if they had a choice, would be prepared to make much greater sacrifices in other areas of their lives to tackle climate change if that meant being able to continue to use international flights.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, with whom I had many dealings when she was in office. Does she agree that the cost of travel, whether by rail, air or road, should in future be more closely related to the carbon emissions from the relevant mode of transport? If so, does that not mean that the cost of flying needs to go up?
I agree that the cost of flying should reflect its full environmental and social costs, and I shall develop that point in a moment.
The economic value of flying is another point that people often misunderstand. This country is a global hub of finance, trade and culture, and its competitiveness is supported by aviation in a real and direct way. Fast, effective connections to international markets are essential to our country’s future economic success. Having a global aviation hub helps the economy not just in London, but in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and all the regions of the UK.
No, I will not.
The transfer business is often derided by the Opposition and by sceptics in the press. That business is sometimes generated by short-haul flights from within the UK and sometimes by flights passing through London on their way from, say, the United States to Singapore, which enable people to board a direct flight from the UK to their destination. People in London and elsewhere in the UK therefore benefit from a wide choice of direct flights to international destinations.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, in recent years the number of destinations served by Heathrow, particularly domestic destinations, has fallen sharply. At the same time, the number of destinations served by Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle has been on a relentlessly upward path. In other words those airports, with four or five runways each, are benefiting at Heathrow’s expense. In fact, since 1990 the number of domestic destinations from Heathrow has fallen by 50 per cent., as those are the least profitable routes and the first to be squeezed by any rationing of capacity. The number of international destinations has also fallen, which means that any growing international business choosing where to locate its headquarters will think twice about locating in London rather than in mainland Europe.
There is also tax, and there are all sorts of other issues for those businesses to consider. However, access to a hub airport is clearly an important one. If a company depends on growing business in India or China, having to conduct business via a hub airport in mainland Europe or the far east will add several hours to each journey and cause huge inconvenience, not to mention the impact on carbon emissions of having to take two flights instead of one. That suggests to me that we need a very ambitious solution that will allow aviation to grow sustainably while maintaining our position as a country with an internationally competitive global hub. If there are ways of meeting our climate change goals without rationing aviation capacity, we should seek them out first.
The most efficient way of doing that is, of course, through carbon trading. If aviation emissions are appropriately priced—the hon. Member for Lewes made that point well—so that people are paying the full social and environmental costs of travelling by air, they could pay for every household across Europe to switch to low-carbon light bulbs or for energy-intensive industries in other parts of Europe to create a step change in their carbon performance. In fact, people who fly will be paying for the transition to the low-carbon economy that we all want to see. Whether they choose to pay will depend on the personal social value that they place on taking a plane. If they are not prepared to pay the price, the number of flights will fall and we will meet our carbon goals in a different way, with less effort on the part of other carbon-intensive industries.
I shall take my argument a step further. Sir Nicholas Stern rightly argued that there would be an economic cost to tackling climate change, but that doing so now would ensure that the cost was less than if we failed to act and instead waited for the inevitable catastrophe 50 years down the line. He also said, in a less noted and less cited part of his report, that the up-front cost could be minimised and made achievable only if we tackled climate change in the most cost-effective way possible, allowing trading between different sectors of the economy. Carbon-intensive industries that could convert relatively cheaply to less carbon-intensive methods would then be funded by industries that currently do not have much choice about how much carbon to emit, such as aviation.
If a true cost is put on carbon, people in business will be faced with the true cost of their actions. Forcing polluters to buy permits would mean that emission cuts took place wherever in the economy they were most cost-effective. If we do not allow people to choose how they want to make their sacrifices, and if we force them through rationing to make fewer flights, we will face a tremendous backlash against our climate change objectives and people will not trust the Government, or any party that seeks to be in government, to take the necessary action in future.
I have only one minute left, so I beg the hon. Gentleman to wait.
In the end, I believe that the matter comes down to an old-fashioned debate between using rationing to shape individual choices and achieving what we want by shaping outcomes through the market mechanism. If we can do that through trading, people will ultimately be much more satisfied, as they will be allowed to make the choices that they believe suit them. The proposal to bring aviation into the European trading system is therefore an absolutely vital but proportionate step in dealing with the threat of air emissions, which in future will be capped across Europe below 2005 levels. In such a system, reducing capacity at Heathrow would be equivalent to granting Schiphol or other airports a licence to expand further. That would be a real economic loss to this country, with no environmental gain whatever.
It is incumbent on our generation to make the European trading system work. It was the UK that pushed for aviation to be included in it, and the UK must continue to be at the forefront of efforts to broaden trading to other regions of the world. Ultimately, the solution has to be global—a worldwide emissions trading scheme for aviation. That is why I commend the efforts of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who have been pressing for the inclusion of aviation emissions trading at the International Civil Aviation Organisation and elsewhere. I hope that the new President, President Obama, will hold good to his commitments to tackle climate change, too. Alongside any increase in capacity, we need an overhaul of the regulatory system to put passengers first.
The House will be aware that I have set out my constituents’ concerns about the expansion of Heathrow many times both in the House and outside. We feel that the consultation that the Department for Transport and Ministers went through was utterly shambolic. To that end, many Members will remember that I asked the Secretary of State to come and meet residents of my constituency and talk to them. I asked him whether he had ever met any residents who would be affected by his decision, and he said:
“I visited the area, and went carefully around the perimeter of Heathrow.”—[Official Report, 15 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 368.]
I hardly think that that can have given him a particularly good understanding of how residents will be affected. However, he seemed to suggest that he would come to Putney. I was therefore very disappointed when we had yet another broken promise on Heathrow; I received a letter a couple of days ago telling me that the meeting would take place not in Putney but in the safe confines of Westminster. Apparently, I am allowed to bring three residents, but for every resident I bring, thousands would have relished the chance to talk directly to him.
Will the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is in his place, explain why the Government received legal advice that, perversely, they could not meet residents before the decision was taken? They clearly met BAA, so why not residents? That is clearly inequitable, but in the world of the DFT and this Government, somehow residents do not seem to come even remotely high up the list of people who should be talked to directly about decisions that will affect the public.
I wish to tackle the impression, which the Secretary of State gave in his statement last week, that he would somehow be able to reassure Members by making concessions. On noise, the concession was apparently that there would not be mixed mode. None of my constituents is convinced by his assurances, because not one promise on the expansion of Heathrow has ever been kept. We were promised that environmental tests would be met, and that without them no expansion would go ahead. That promise has been broken.
My hon. Friend is right. Perhaps it is a good time to remind the House of the night flights consultation. Phase 1 asked people what they thought about night flights and everybody responded that they did not like them. In phase 2, the Government suggested that we should have more night flights. When I checked, I found that only three out of the approximately 2,500 people who responded to the consultation had asked for more night flights, yet they took precedence over everyone else.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am sorry, but I will not give way because of the time.
The Secretary of State talked about concessions and having only 125,000 extra flights by 2020. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is in his place, and I tell him that that is not a concession. It was always the plan, as he will see if he looks at page 136 of the consultation document. It is no concession, and it is disingenuous of the Secretary of State for Transport to suggest that.
Air quality is important, and we know that the Government will allow the UK to breach the EU air directive, which will become mandatory, and sets limits for 2010. The Government intend to ask for a derogation from it. Yet the Department’s assessment of environmental risk on air quality was high. I have a copy of the Department’s risk register, and I will use the Department’s words, not mine, in describing the perception of the risks of going ahead with the project. Risk 1.2.1 states:
“Mitigation measures identified to achieve air quality targets are too costly or impractical to implement, or politically unacceptable”.
The risk was assessed as high. The register also states:
“New modelling suggests that EU limits for NO2 in 2010 will be exceeded around Heathrow (without new development) necessitating capacity constraints”.
The inherent risk was assessed as high.
Let us consider the Department’s assessment of the risks posed by the probable 40 million extra road journeys undertaken by people getting to the airport. Risk 1.3.1 states:
“Solutions to road congestion in and around Heathrow prove difficult to deliver, politically unacceptable or airlines refused to support, threatening further expansion”.
Again, the risk was assessed as high. One of the mitigation measures proposed to tackle that was
“Constructive engagement with BAA and airlines”.
I am sure that we all have faith that that will produce some positive results. Another mitigation proposal is “a narrative” in the ironically named “condoc”, short for “consultation document”, which
“will outline the possible measures for handling exceedences in 2015 rather than details modelling”.
In other words, instead of tackling the problem, the Government want to talk it away. They do not want to provide the real facts about what will happen.
Let us consider Government policy. Risk 1.3.6 states:
“Lack of clarity in DfT over approach to exceedences on the Strategic Road Network exposes inconsistency in policies and frustrates search for solutions”.
The Government clearly admit that there is an inconsistency in their policies. Again, the inherent risk was assessed as high. Surely that has proved correct. Risk 1.3.7 deals with surface access and states:
“Surface access modelling is insufficient to demonstrate how increased passenger numbers will be accommodated”.
The inherent risk was assessed as high. Yet, in the consultation document, the Government asked us to believe that everything would be fine.
The final risk that the document assesses is whether terminal 5 will be a botch-up. That risk was assessed as low. That shows how much credence we can give to the Government’s transparency and the reliability of their facts, and to the consultation process that has just taken place.
Why is all that important? We know that not meeting air quality targets will be detrimental to public health. The Environment Agency said that the Government’s plans could increase morbidity and mortality rates around the airport. I have tried to follow that up with the Secretary of State to ascertain how on earth a responsible Government can ignore their own Environment Agency’s warnings about public health and go ahead with the project. I received a letter from him yesterday. Even he now admits that public health is at risk. The letter states:
“I note your reference to comments from the Environment Agency about possible increases in mortality and morbidity rates. However, the work done by AEA Energy & Environment, a respected organisation”—
as if the Environment Agency were not—
“that works alongside Defra on air quality matters, suggests that such fears have been greatly exaggerated.”
The risk register, from which I have quoted, suggests that that is not correct. The letter continues by saying that the statistics and scenarios that were
“published alongside the recent announcement”
“that there are only marginal physical health impacts of an expanded airport in 2020.”
If one’s family is suffering from the physical impacts of an expanded Heathrow, that is not marginal. It is not marginal to the possibly thousands of people who will be affected. It is the first time that the Department has admitted that there are genuine public health impacts.
The Government have spent more than three years modelling noise and air quality effects. They will not release the detailed data—that is why the Environment Agency is concerned about morbidity and mortality. The Government have not convinced residents and Ministers will not even come to the affected areas and meet people. Why is the Department so secretive? Clearly, hon. Members of all parties are worried about the impact of the plan, so why not allow access to data that would set people’s minds at rest?
Much of what I have said comes down to democracy. Ministers have said that we should not vote on such matters. We had a vote on Iraq, because that was viewed as exceptional. Many hon. Members feel that the third runway has such profound consequences for the day-to-day lives of their constituents that they view it as similarly important. We have had a consultation, to which residents have responded overwhelmingly by saying that they do not want the plan to go ahead. Despite all those points, Ministers still seek to override people’s will. That is deeply worrying. I am sure that Ministers will not change their minds. They are wrong not to be concerned about public health and wrong to avoid being clear about the risks. They are so out of touch with people and their concerns that it will take an election to get some sanity into Government policy on Heathrow.
The debate has been curious. I do not support the expansion of Heathrow, but I was disappointed in the speech of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), which failed to rise to the occasion and showed that the Opposition still face a steep learning curve on aviation and transport policy.
I applaud Labour Front Benchers’ efforts to mitigate the consequences of Heathrow expansion. I applaud their efforts to set limits and restrictions, especially focusing on climate change concerns, to try to square the circle of environmental objectives and the interests of the economy and aviation. However, I do not believe that their position is tenable long term. The location of Heathrow means an inherent conflict between quality of life and environmental objectives, about which many hon. Members feel deeply, and the interests of the economy and aviation. I fully endorse the Secretary of State’s view that we cannot sacrifice the latter without losing competitiveness to other countries. We must address the issue of how we can provide some additional capacity for aviation—which I believe is necessary—in a genuinely sustainable way.
I listened with great care to the admirable speech that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) made. She focused in a very intelligent way on the importance of international measures, particularly the introduction of a system of carbon trading that could be applied to aviation in order to achieve the necessary effect. That is part of the answer, but it cannot address the other tensions that are inherent at Heathrow, including the problem of its location in the middle of a densely populated area of west London in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people live under the flight paths and are subjected to intolerable noise pressures.
Nor can such a measure deal with the problem of a highly congested road network that is responsible for many of the air quality problems that the Government are trying to address. However effectively we reduce the emissions from aircraft, the emissions from motor traffic around Heathrow will remain a crucial constraint. Furthermore, as one or two hon. Members have said, there remains the separate but equally important issue of the impact on the people of Sipson and the surrounding areas, whose homes will be demolished to make way for this expansion. I do not believe that it is tenable to set that aside and not treat it as a serious issue.
The question ultimately must be whether Heathrow is the only site on which we can achieve the maintenance of a hub airport capacity—which I believe is necessary and important to our economy—while meeting our environmental objectives. The answer is that I do not believe that Heathrow holds out that possibility, and that we have to look at the alternatives.
Last Friday, I had the good fortune to travel to the Thames estuary, in the company of the Mayor of London and Douglas Oakervee, to explore a site that is the focus of a study being undertaken by Doug Oakervee into the feasibility of an estuary airport. In absolutely filthy weather conditions, we embarked on a barge from Sheerness and travelled to an extremely remote site some 8 miles out into the estuary. It was the site not of a wind farm but of a world war two anti-aircraft battery that had been placed there to defend London from a different type of aviation in the 1940s. Interestingly, it is still there today.
We could not have been given a clearer message that the site should be considered for an airport, if that were feasible. It is several miles from either shore, and therefore very remote. Also, aircraft would be able to take off and land over water, which would avoid the degree of conflict that is caused by noise problems in surrounding communities. That would give it a huge advantage over Heathrow. Furthermore, the river is relatively shallow at that point. The very fact that anti-aircraft batteries could be located there is living proof of that.
As I said in an intervention on the Secretary of State earlier, Doug Oakervee was the chief engineer and project director responsible for the Hong Kong airport, and he is now the chairman of Crossrail. He is an extremely distinguished engineer, and he made it quite clear that, in engineering terms, it was a feasible option. He also believes that it would probably be feasible financially. It would be very expensive—no question—particularly because of the need for all the ancillary infrastructure, including the high-speed rail links and other links, necessary to make it work.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating my right hon. Friend on his birthday, although he appears to have had his birthday treat a few days ago. As a result of his maritime exploration of the estuary, is he suggesting that the new airport could totally replace Heathrow? Or could it enable Heathrow to retain its present position without further expansion?
I will await the full results of Doug Oakervee’s study before reaching a fully informed view, but my present view is that, if the new airport were located in the estuary, it would be able to provide the basis for a hub. However, it would take a while before that function could come into operation, during which time there would be a need for joint operation between Heathrow and the estuary airport, just as, in Germany, the two hub airports at Frankfurt and Munich operate in parallel. I believe that that option is a possibility.
I certainly do not see the possibility of the closure of Heathrow, for which some people have argued, in the foreseeable future. That is neither desirable nor feasible. It would be possible, however, to ensure that the most damaging kind of aviation going into Heathrow—particularly night flights—was immediately relocated to a site in the estuary, where, because of its location, there would be no problem about a 24-hour operation.
All these matters will have to be looked at much more thoroughly by people who are experts in all the operational aspects involved. Nevertheless, following my visit on Friday, my conclusion was that this is definitely a possibility that needs to be explored. It also needs to be explored because it is entirely sympathetic with the Government’s wider objective of developing the Thames Gateway in order to rebalance the economy of south-east England. One reason for the problems around Heathrow is that there is enormous pressure for people to live, work, build offices and operate in that densely occupied area.
The right hon. Gentleman appears to support the view that we must do nothing to impede the expansion of aviation. That point was also made by the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), on whom I tried to intervene earlier in order to support her. She spoke a lot of sense. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel able to join me in the Lobby to support the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, because all that it asks is that we
“give full consideration to alternative solutions”,
which must be a sensible course of action.
I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that I will respond to his comment at the end of my speech.
First, I want to say a little more about the feasibility of the estuary site. I have mentioned the fact that the depth of the river at that point is such that the engineering would be feasible. There are important hydrological issues, which Doug Oakervee is looking at very closely, and they will be crucial in determining the compatibility of an airport with the existing maritime use of the area. Shellhaven port is now being developed on the north side of the river, a little further inland, and the two would clearly need to be able to operate together.
There is also scope for some highly environmentally desirable energy generation— Doug Oakervee has explored this possibility—in tandem with an estuary airport site, thanks to the power of the tides and the scope for tidal generation. In the longer term, there could well be a case for the site being associated with the barrage that might be necessary in about 90 years’ time, when London’s defences will require strengthening beyond the existing barrage. These are all long-term, complex issues, but the crucial point is that they should be looked at seriously and properly. I believe that the study that Doug Oakervee is undertaking will allow that to happen.
I was disappointed by the 2003 aviation White Paper. It put up an Aunt Sally, in the form of a proposal for an estuary airport at Cliffe. That proposal was defective in almost every way—it was the wrong site, and it would not have brought the kind of environmental benefits that an offshore island airport could bring. Not surprisingly, the Government rejected it. However, that should not be a reason for rejecting the option of an offshore airport that is now being examined.
Given the inherent tension that exists at Heathrow, any proposal to expand it will inevitably result in massive opposition, because of the people living around the airport, the road traffic congestion, and so on. All those factors mean that, every time there is a further proposal for expansion, commitments have to be given on limits and mitigating measures to try to restrain the damage. Each time, those commitments are given and then broken. I am not the only person who regards it as quite disgraceful that, at the time of the terminal 5 inquiry, BAA should have given a pledge that, if it received permission to build terminal 5, it would not proceed with an application for a third runway. BAA has, disgracefully, broken that pledge.
If the House supports the Government’s policy tonight, if we proceed with a third runway at Heathrow, and if it proves impossible to meet the various conditions that my right hon. Friends have rightly tried to put in place to mitigate the environmental impact, I fear that there will be pressure on them to say, “Well, we tried, but it wasn’t possible. We have to leave those commitments behind and accept the greater economic case for the expansion of the airport.” That problem is inherent in Heathrow. If we take the decision in favour of its expansion tonight, we will be committing our successors to exactly the same scenario as the one that we are wrestling with now, as we try to reconcile the irreconcilable.
I believe that it is time to take stock. The Opposition motion calls for a look at alternatives. I have expressed my disappointment at the quality of the Opposition’s case and at the grasp of transport issues displayed by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, but I will vote with the Opposition tonight, because I believe that we must look at alternatives and we cannot proceed as we have up to now with an untenable airport at Heathrow.