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Heathrow Airport Expansion

Volume 494: debated on Tuesday 16 June 2009

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mark Tami.)

It is a pleasure to open this debate. First, I would like to issue some thanks. I thank the campaign against the third runway for maintaining unity in the face of a Government who seem hell bent on bulldozing the proposal through. I thank the Labour party members and MPs who, for the sake of their constituents and their beliefs, have united behind the campaign against the third runway. I thank the Liberal Democrats for being behind the discontinuation of the project to develop the third runway wholeheartedly. If you will indulge me for a moment, Mr. Taylor, I also thank our party leader and party for taking the bold decision to make it a policy not to continue with the third runway should we come into office.

I thank HACAN and the 2M group. I also thank the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which was one of the founding members of the 2M group, for understanding that although there are sometimes small differences between constituencies and borough councils, overall we are united in trying to prevent the third runway. I thank the bold business men who put it on the record that they were not in favour of the third runway in the south-east to hold at bay the impression the Government intended to give that business was unanimously in favour of it.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the business community is not totally supportive. I remind him that not every MP near the airport is on the same side.

I recognise that. I respect the views of other MPs and hope that they are working in the interests of their constituents wholeheartedly. It is a matter of record that my hon. Friend is in favour of the third runway.

As always, the hon. Gentleman has started his speech graciously. He said that the Conservative party is against the runway and I welcome that. What is Conservative party policy on an alternative to the third runway? Will he fight with me and others against the estuary airport, which a number of Tory MPs from Essex, the Mayor of London and others are promoting actively? I understand that the Mayor of London has spent more than £100,000 on consultants to consider the estuary airport.

We are in favour of considering all the alternatives with an open mind, especially given that the facts have changed since the White Paper of 2003.

From the point of view of the Conservative party, there is no well-established case for an additional runway at Heathrow or elsewhere in the London area. A great part of the economic case has disappeared because of high-speed rail. Other steps could be taken to ensure that the amount of traffic that flows through airports in the London area does not grow as originally anticipated.

I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point clear. That illustrates why I wanted to indulge in thanking our party leader and party for taking their current position. As I will explain, the Government have failed to secure virtually every leg of their case, whether on economics or the environment.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned in passing the letter from business leaders to The Times. I do not think that he should underplay the significance of that. It is new information that has emerged since the House last debated this issue. The bosses of Carphone Warehouse, BSkyB, Sainsbury’s and many other businesses concluded that the business case for the third runway did not stack up.

I was hoping not to underplay that and will discuss it further. The letter included many well-known business men and businesses, such as BSkyB and KKR. I said that they were courageous because it is bold to put one’s head above the parapet when faced with an onslaught of all the energies and powers of the civil service and Government working in favour of the opposite argument. Those businesses have my congratulations and thanks for doing so.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the six trade unions that signed up to an advert opposing the third runway were also courageous? Those were Unison, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the Public and Commercial Services Union and Connect. Bearing in mind the current economic conditions, those unions recognised the importance of stopping this project.

Absolutely. Such unity is the beauty of the campaign for reason over the third runway. There is unity across parties among those who are not members of the Government, and I suspect among some who are. There is unity among businesses and trade unions. There is a coalition of people who have the country’s interests at heart, including economic and environmental interests and the interests of workers. Those of us who are against the third runway are often painted as being against economic development. That is a lazy argument for the Government to deploy. The third runway will not necessarily work in favour of the economic interests of this nation. It is neither in our environmental interests, nor in the interests of our quality of life.

I am pleased to open this debate because I want to keep this issue live. I have made the case before on a logical and rational economic basis. I have made the argument about noise on behalf of my constituents in Horton, Wraysbury, Old Windsor and Datchet. I have set out a case based on changing circumstances and made the observation that some of the information in the 2003 White Paper is 10 years old. A lot has changed over those 10 years. Any reasonable Government—indeed, any reasonable person—would look at the new evidence and at least question the decisions they made in the previous circumstances.

I also want to give the new Minister an opportunity to reconsider. Once he hears the various comments and observations from hon. Members, I hope that he will give just a spark of light to show that the Government are not rock solid in their decisions. He has the opportunity to indicate that there is some chance that they might begin to see reason, especially as he is fairly new to the role.

I want this debate to be an opportunity for other hon. Members to speak. There is much strong feeling and logic behind the opposition to the third runway, so I will not hog the entire hour that I am allowed. I will keep my comments as close to 20 minutes as I can. If it is okay with you, Mr. Taylor, I invite hon. Members to intervene whenever they wish.

As I said, those of us who are opposed to the third runway are often caricatured as being against any form of economic development and in favour of closing Heathrow airport and undermining it. That is not the case. As an Old Windsor resident, I know that it is infuriating to have noisy aircraft going overhead at 4.30 in the morning. Many hon. Members will appreciate that. The airport may be a noisy neighbour, but it is a neighbour nevertheless. Heathrow serves more than 180 destinations around the world and 70,000 jobs are dependent on it, directly or indirectly. There is no truth in the argument that those of us who oppose the third runway wish to see the airport closed.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that Heathrow’s position as a competitive international hub is already being damaged? The number of destinations that it can serve is decreasing, while competitor hubs such as Schiphol, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Madrid, which have built extra runways, are increasing the number of destinations that they serve. That is bad for the whole UK economy.

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable observation: the number of routes from Heathrow has declined, marginally, over the past 10 or 15 years. However, I have had meetings with BAA and British Airways, and for the past four or five years I have been asking them for a look at a model that mathematically or even logically demonstrates the minimum number of destinations that would constitute a viable hub. So far, that number has not been forthcoming. I understand the reasoning that a hub is needed for international transfer in order to keep routes open, but I cannot see any direct evidence that Heathrow has suffered from that marginal reduction in routes over the past several years. I am a reasonable person; I am the shadow Minister for Science and Innovation. If the evidence existed that the hub would fall apart if the number of destinations were to fall below 130, for example, I would certainly accept it, but it simply does not exist at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that BAA itself has briefed us for debates on the Floor of the House that even without a third runway, the number of passengers will expand to as many as 94 million. There will be dramatic growth even without a third runway.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way repeatedly during his eloquent speech. It is extraordinary that the aviation industry should argue, and even find supporters for the argument, that the loss of a few of the thinnest routes and their replacement by more planes on more popular routes should somehow constitute a threat to the British economy. Where is the evidence? If the industry cannot do better than the Oxford study, it should not be trying to put the case at all.

In addition, the pro lobby often makes the observation that the hub is Heathrow. A strong case could be made that the five airports in the south-east together form a hub.

On that point, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the period during which Heathrow has concentrated on a slightly narrower range of destinations has been matched by a period of rapid economic growth in the London area, the turnaround of the London population and the establishment of such a solid financial base that it seems to be coming out of the financial crisis rapidly?

That is an astute observation. If one is looking for correlation, the correlation appears to be between insufficient capacity at Heathrow and in the south-east and a boost in economic growth. We must be careful about how we use figures, and we must be particularly cautious about the Government’s use of them.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that in all the projections on which the Government have relied so far, there is a thundering silence about the effect of high-speed rail on passenger growth? Without that, there is clearly no serious study.

That is right. My right hon. Friend brings me to a key point that I will be making in a few moments. Without serious consideration of the alternatives of the past couple of years—not 10 years ago—the Government’s bulldozing through of the proposal can be taken more as an act of political positioning, which might be backfiring on them, rather than a genuine search for the best solution for our country.

There is no doubt that Heathrow is in the wrong place. Were we to start today, I am sure that we would not put a major airport with 480,000 flights a year right in the heart of a populated area. If we were starting now with a new project for an international airport that might arguably be a hub, we would look to position it where noise levels would not disturb people, in a location more easily accessible by high-speed rail or existing road infrastructure.

I note that France’s main airport was moved twice in a period of 20 years. I am not suggesting at all that we should move London Heathrow, because so many jobs depend on it, but it shows a lack of ambition that the Government cannot envisage or even entertain the concept that a new airport could be forthcoming elsewhere, in a better location linked by high-speed rail to existing airports and city centres.

I must celebrate on behalf of my constituents in Windsor. I am delighted that the Cranford agreement is no longer in existence. I will not dwell on that point, as I recognise that if BAA decides that it wishes to rebalance flights across the area, that simply means that other areas may well be adversely affected by larger numbers of flights. I suspect that the Transport Secretary’s announcement is a trap by the Government. I think that he is hoping that the unity of 2M and of MPs around the south-east will be broken if Windsor begins to argue that the abolition of Cranford should be implemented immediately.

I do not think that we will fall into that trap. I shall certainly be pressing BAA as to what its plans are to implement it—I have been doing so on behalf of my constituents and will continue to do so—but there is no way that I will break the unity of the campaign against the third runway, for two reasons. A prisoner may be tempted from his cell with the question, “Would you like to stretch your legs, sir? That’s a nice benefit,” only to realise a little later that he has been let out in order to be hanged at the gallows. In a way, the announcement could be seen as part of a plan of creeping encroachment to put the criteria for the third runway in place. The other thing to bear in mind is that even if the abolition of Cranford were implemented fully, any benefits would be negated immediately by the extra 220,000 flights a year. We must be careful what we hope for while working in our constituents’ interests.

I shall run briefly through the criticisms of the Government’s case, because on every count the case falls over or is at least deeply questionable. The Government have argued that there is support from the entire business community. As we have seen, businesses are not united in the desire for a third runway at Heathrow. Indeed, business men have been bold in putting their heads above the parapet to say that they are not in favour of it at all. At best, the Government can argue that some businesses—I suspect that BAA might be on the list—are interested in a third runway at Heathrow.

The second count is an environmental one. The Government say that they have put conditions in place so that the third runway cannot be used to full capacity unless the environmental concerns—they involve nitrogen dioxide more than CO2—are met. However, that seems absolutely bizarre. If they are saying that the third runway cannot be used to full capacity initially, that completely undermines the economic case, or would if there were one. A partially used third runway will not deliver the benefits that the Government argue, on the basis of the Oxford Economic Forecasting report, will be delivered. There is no doubt that hitting nitrogen dioxide targets will be a stretch even in existing circumstances, and any reasonable person who looks through the numbers and projections will recognise that a third runway would merely add to the problem.

My hon. Friend is focusing on NOx, but he will know that the elephant in the room is carbon and climate change policy. Does he understand the confusion in my constituency? People are coming up to me to say, “Hang on a minute. On one hand, the Government are telling us that climate change is the most important risk of our time, and on the other, they’re giving a green light to the fastest-growing source of emissions. How do we make sense of this?”

There can be no greater contrast, especially as the Government do not even attempt to say that the building of a third runway will help towards their goal of reducing carbon emissions in the short term. It seems rather bold and impressive of the Government to tie us into targets 40 years from now, when—I had better be careful what I say—many hon. Members may no longer be in this place. On the other hand, the Government’s actions in the short and medium term will lead to an increase in CO2 and nitrogen dioxide emissions. We recognise that technology moves on and that some of the new aircraft in development, although not the fantasy aircraft that have been mentioned, will improve emissions. However, there is no way, looking at the charts and calculations, that they can deliver those improvements in time to meet the goals that the Government have set.

On quality of life, I refer to an observation that I made about four years ago in a civil aviation debate and in one or two other debates. Often, it is not the average noise made across a noise-quota period that causes disturbance, but the noise of an individual aircraft that wakes someone during the night and ruins their quality of life for the following day. Something else needs to be looked at here: it is not only aircraft movements that one needs to take into account, but the reality on the ground. The simple testing of noise in aircraft hangars and the theoretical testing of aircraft engine noise is not enough. I urge the Minister to attempt to address that point.

Anyone who travels up and down the M4 will know that it is constantly congested, even in the current economic downturn. Similarly, anyone who drives around the M25 will know that, even with six lanes in places, it is still constantly congested. Clearly, there is a problem with road access to Heathrow, and that has not been addressed in the Government’s case so far.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Surely there is a further point about not just aviation carbon emissions, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) has mentioned, but ground emissions. Even if a high proportion were, as some argue, to be displaced elsewhere, there will be more ground emissions as more people get stuck in congestion in the south-east instead of using regional airports, which have been growing healthily.

The point is well made, and I shall not labour it other than to say that in the absence of high-speed rail linking domestic locations, it is very difficult to see how any of the targets, even for future generations, can possibly be met with the existing road network, even with the modifications that the Government have suggested.

On noise, there has been a lot of noise from the campaign against the third runway, and a lot of noise from the Government arguing a case that seems untenable. As the shadow Minister for Science and Innovation, it seems to me that one must base one’s judgments on evidence and studies as far as one can, where such evidence is available. The Government commissioned the ANASE—“Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England”—study, which, even though the data range was, to a certain degree, fixed to include noisier aircraft from the past, concluded that people are more irritated by noise than they ever were. What did the Government do? They simply said that the study was marginally flawed and that they were not going to pay much attention to it. That is not the behaviour of a Government who want to engage in rational and reasonable debate to find a solution to the challenges.

Following on from the issues of noise and increased road congestion, particularly on local roads in Hillingdon, there are also health implications. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there has been no local health impact assessment and that Hillingdon primary care trust has not been consulted on the expansion of Heathrow?

Absolutely; this is a fascinating story is it not? It is bizarre that every Government who wish to appear to be caring and to work in the interests of the economy and people’s quality of life fail to consider the health impacts. I hope that the Minister has a sensible and reasonable answer as to why the Government do not wish to look into the health of people in and around the airport.

I return briefly, as we have already covered it marginally, to the concept of hubs. I have spoken to BAA and BA, I have scoured the internet and I have researched the issue as best I can to try to work out mathematically and logically, on whichever calculation should be used, what constitutes a hub and whether the five airports can be considered part of a hub. So far, I have failed to come up with anything other than people’s bold assertions that if we have two or three fewer destinations, the whole thing will crumble. However, with the projections for just the existing two runways, we are already hitting the flight limit of 480,000 flights, so the evidence does not seem to be there.

There is also the issue of transit passengers and what contribution they make to the UK economy. I do not have the quote to hand, sadly, but several notable people have pointed out that simply having the wheels touch down and people transit to another country does not add much to the UK’s gross domestic product. Indeed, it does not add a vast amount to BAA’s revenue. One must consider that BAA is merely one company of thousands in the UK, and one has to look at its profits and revenue in the light of those of other organisations.

I have heard time and again the argument that transit passengers are only worth a cup of tea. Does my hon. Friend accept that if 35 to 40 per cent. of passengers—indeed, well over half on some flights—are transferring through Heathrow and going out again on different flights, many flights would not be economically viable, and more routes would be lost, if that were to change?

I do not say that there is no value from transit passengers; I merely observe that there is little value from them directly to the UK economy.

There are a couple of broader arguments that we sometimes overlook. If we are saying that the UK aerospace and airport industries, or even BAA, the Spanish company, would suffer from a gradual reduction in the number of routes—not that that will necessarily continue—can we not look at the issue more broadly? If we think that transit passengers will begin to go via Schiphol or other European airports, what is to prevent people from investing in airports elsewhere?

I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he has been very patient with interventions. May I urge him to consider that, as far as we can make out, as the Government have never produced a study that has shown this definitively, a high proportion of so-called transit passengers come from other parts of the UK and transfer to flights out of the UK? Again, with high-speed rail links into Heathrow, a great number of those passengers will find their way to Heathrow and take off on the same flights, but will not have to come in on a flight to Heathrow. Do we need clarification from the Government—

I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point very clearly and, I thought, rather succinctly, but I accept the steer of the Chair in these matters. I shall attempt to bring my remarks to a close in approximately two to three minutes.

May I make a point speedily? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many other hub airports across the world operate with something like 20 per cent. transit passengers and find that more than sufficient? Heathrow is out of the league altogether in trying to go for 35 to 45 per cent. transit passengers.

I accept all those observations, particularly about high-speed rail. If a large number of transit passengers are from within the UK, it makes complete sense environmentally, and probably economically, for them to come to Heathrow that way or to fly direct, point to point. I have been in business for many years before becoming a Member of Parliament and to try to second-guess the detail of somebody else’s business model is never a wise idea—although it is, of course, interesting to make observations on it.

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes looking at the objective facts about aviation and the airport system in the south-east seriously. I suggest that he looks at international experience, and the experience of Glasgow where they have tried but failed to use more than one airport as a hub. In Toronto, Washington and Glasgow such airports eventually had to be consolidated.

That is a fair observation, but if we look at various places around the world, we could make all sorts of observations—for example, the Government have tried to harangue and make light of the idea of having an airport offshore somewhere. However, Hong Kong has managed very well to have such an airport. That should certainly inform our debate.

There is also a world trend towards point-to-point travel, but if one looks at the examples in the United States we see a different picture. That is why the issue of aviation is not as simple as the Government try to make out, why a hub is difficult to define and why no one has managed to come up with a proper tangible or robust definition.

My hon. Friend mentions Hong Kong and makes the point well that the new Hong Kong airport flourishes and is wonderful. The old Hong Kong airport is a golf driving range.

Okay. As I said, no one is arguing for Heathrow to be closed down, and I do not want the debate to be characterised in that way. We are happy with the level of employment there and we hope that the levels of noise and pollution are reduced.

The Government have not studied the alternatives properly in light of the developments in technology and the proposals put forward for high-speed rail. Various models have been put forward and it is time for the Government to step back and give them consideration. The Government have not properly looked at the alternative of having a new airport. If air travel is to double over the next 20 or 30 years, none of the airports will be able to take that level of capacity, so surely now is the time to have a bit of vision and look towards the long-term rather than the short-term goal.

Briefly, I have the following questions for the Minister. We are going through a massive economic downturn at the moment and air travel has been declining—I think there was an 8 per cent. reduction in the last month of 2008. That buys us a window for decision making and, on that basis, I urge the Minister to step away and perhaps give us a chink of light—a possibility that the Government will reconsider the matter. Is the Minister honestly confident that the Government can meet pollution targets if we have a third runway at Heathrow? Is he genuinely confident of that? Have the Government recently—not five or 10 years ago—looked seriously at the alternatives to expansion at Heathrow? If I go back to the ancients, I think the Greeks said that we can win the argument or get our way by force, trickery or persuasion. I have seen a lot of force and a little bit of trickery in the Government’s argument. Will the Minister now resort to the means of persuasion, rather than using more brutal methods?

I thank the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) for initiating the debate. I agree with him: we should use the debate as a progress report and as an opportunity to consider some of the issues again so that we will perhaps get some assistance from the Government on how we can move forward.

The hon. Gentleman has covered the economic arguments. The intervention of the business sector—the representatives who came out against the expansion—was catastrophic for the case of the Government and BAA. May I update him on the union side? During the past week, we gained another union when the Communication Workers Union came out against the third runway at its conference. There is mounting trade union pressure against the development of the third runway. On the economic arguments, it is interesting to note that the Government and others are preparing alternatives in terms of high-speed rail—there is the Government’s HS2 development study and, obviously, 2M is now looking at the high-speed north link. Those matters have moved on.

On the environmental impact, the Committee on Climate Change will look at reducing the CO2 emissions of aviation to below 2005 levels by 2050, and it will be reporting in December. Again, that study will look at the modal shift and—exactly as the hon. Gentleman has requested—will provide the Government with the opportunity to stand back at that stage and see whether the target of reducing emissions can be achieved with the expansion of Heathrow.

On noise, BAA’s plans on the reduction of the noise impact are now being produced in a consultative form. Having looked at the draft, I know that much of what has been said in the draft proposals is not much different from what is happening at the moment. Many of us cannot see what the visible impact will be as a result of the plans being introduced. In addition, there has not really been any movement on air quality because it now seems that Heathrow will remain an air quality hotspot into 2010. The Government will look for a derogation from the EU limits that come into force at that stage, and yet no quantifiable measures have been put forward to mitigate the air quality problems in our area. If the Government are to seek a derogation, they must at least put forward some form of a plan. However, there does not seem to be anything forthcoming.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) made a point that has also been made by hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and me when meeting the local primary care trust: we have had no information about the health impact assessment that is supposed to be undertaken by the Government. That was promised to us on the Floor of the House by the Secretary of State. The PCT has not been approached, and there has been no consultation or discussion. We thought that, at least at this stage, we would be examining the brief for that health impact assessment because our constituents need some assurances about that matter. We have seen the issues that have come from the Chicago study with regard to cancer and we have had survey after survey in the areas around Heathrow about the respiratory conditions from which our constituents suffer. It behoves the Government to come rapidly into discussions with the PCT and bring forward the proposals on the health assessment.

On the question of who will cover the cost of the expansion of Heathrow, the situation gets worse. Demand for air travel is plummeting at the moment and the aviation industry is, in some sectors, in crisis. It does not inspire confidence that there was a story in The Guardian business pages over a week ago that BAA has approached the Government to talk about what happens if it goes into administration. It has asked for the arrangements to be changed so that the Government no longer appoint the administrator—it has asked for it done by BAA or whoever its successor is in terms of ownership.

As I say, that does not inspire confidence, but it also worries me because it raises fears that the Government will be forced to subsidise this development. We know that if the development goes ahead, the Government will have to pay for the collateral damage that will impact on local communities—the shifting of populations, the new schools that will be needed and the creation of new communities elsewhere for people to live in. We now believe that there will be direct subsidy as a result of BAA’s precarious financial position and the precarious position of Grupo Ferrovial globally, and that the development itself—the construction of the runway and the terminal—will have to be subsided. Again, I do not think that that information was available to Members when the decision was made by the Government earlier this year. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), who is not in his place at the moment—I know that he has other business—that if we have to intervene on any significant scale to subsidise the expansion of Heathrow, it will impact on the Government’s transport investment programme for the next decade.

On the legal challenge, letters of action have gone in and we will know the decision on whether a judicial review will take place in the next few weeks. I believe that it will take place and that we will be in court in the autumn. That case will inevitably drag on for a time. I say to the Government that the information that will come out will expose not only their argument, but the collusion that has gone on between BAA and the Government at various levels. On the planning process, we are now told that BAA will not even be in a position to put forward proposals about what could be laid before a planning inquiry until late 2010 at the earliest.

Is this not the nub of the issue? By the time we have a national policy statement it could be 10 years from when the White Paper on aviation was published, yet that is still the key document on which everything is based. What has been said today has shown that so much has changed that surely we need an independent review of aviation policy, on which the planning process can be based.

That is exactly the point. It has been made on a cross-party basis repeatedly over the last few months as we have come to know more clearly not just how the aviation White Paper will be converted into some form of national policy statement but also the fact that we will have no say about it on the Floor of the House. There will be no vote on the national policy statement itself. We have been told that it may be ready for consideration by April 2011 at the earliest.

The process that we are involved in now is an absolute pig’s breakfast. There is mounting unrest and protest, and people are not accepting the Government’s decision because they do not believe that they have in any way participated in consenting to it. In Iran, demonstrations have resulted in even the Supreme Leader getting the message. Perhaps we could take a message back to our supreme leader, Lord Mandelson, the First Secretary of State, that we have a problem here. Perhaps that message could go out from this debate, because we need rationally to stand back and see where we are.

Let me briefly outline what the uncertainty, which is worsening, is doing to my constituents. The uncertainty and blight mean that they cannot plan for their future. They live under the threat of the loss of their home and the destruction of their community. They cannot plan the basics of life. Their homes are threatened with demolition, but they cannot plan where they will live in the long term. Those in Sipson and other parts of the area where it has been confirmed that BAA’s plans will involve demolition have been offered a bond scheme to pay for relocation—not compensation but simply payment for relocation—but it will be implemented only when the planning application is submitted. That could result in another year or more of uncertainty for them.

BAA refused to attend a public meeting that I convened. I spoke to the then Secretary of State, and BAA eventually decided to come. It told us at that meeting that it wants to bring forth implementation of the bond scheme. We were told that that would be done in weeks, but residents associations at the meeting said that they had been told that six months earlier. We have heard nothing further. Why? Because BAA is dependent on individual airline industry companies standing to cover the liabilities of the bond scheme if it is implemented earlier, and it cannot get agreement among them.

For those who live in the other villages of Harmondsworth, Harlington, Longford, Cranford Cross and, yes, parts of Hayes itself, there is no scheme on offer whatsoever to pay or compensate for relocation. People do not know where the final boundaries of the airport will be or even whether their homes are threatened with demolition. They do know that their homes will be rendered unliveable as a result of noise and air pollution, but they have not been offered a penny except for limited amounts of support for additional insulation, which will fail to protect them.

Because schools are to be demolished or rendered unusable, families cannot plan the education of their children. Because there is no binding commitment on whether a road will go through our local cemetery at Cherry Lane, we cannot even plan where we bury our dead at present. Local businesses, some of which are small businesses, will be affected. Jacqui Clarke, the local hairdresser who lives above her shop, will get nothing; there is no compensation for her. Several local businesses are in a precarious position because they cannot plan for long-term investment in their businesses, and that will impact on local employment.

We know from the Government’s figures that 2,000 people will be relocated, but more likely it will be 10,000—the largest evacuation of people in living memory, given what we know from studies done in the 1990s. The Government’s response up until now has been that it is up to individuals themselves to plan their future. The then Secretary of State said that at a public meeting that we had with local residents. Well, they cannot. The alternative is that it is up to local authorities, Hillingdon in particular, to plan for the development of new communities and the relocation of individuals, but local authorities have had no guidelines from the Government. There has been no consultation or extra resources for Hillingdon to enable it to start the planning process.

My constituents have been left in limbo. Most want to remain, but they want to know what their position will be in the future. They want a secure future. Some inevitably have to move—families grow up, or the elderly may want to relocate to live with their families elsewhere—but they are trapped because the bond scheme cannot be implemented, the Government’s decisions have been so tentative, and the process is so long-winded and insecure.

Residents are protesting. They resent how they have been treated as a result of their peaceful protests. They have been harassed by police, and photographs and films have been taken of them. They want the evidence that has been collected to be given to them or destroyed. They are not criminals; they have simply been involved in peaceful protests. The use of anti-terrorist legislation to stop people photographing homes that will be demolished is extraordinary behaviour and an inappropriate use of legislation.

Yes, there is anger at the Government’s decision—of course there is—but people are worried about their future. That is fuelling a growing fury at the way in which the whole process has been handled by the Government.

Finally, we still have not had a single Minister visit any of the villages to meet local residents. That is an abrogation of ministerial duty and the Government’s responsibility to my constituents. We will continue to fight the proposal, but we expect to be treated in a manner that respects people’s concerns about their future. We will continue to protest and to demand a change in Government policy, and I make it clear that at the next election, whatever is in the Labour party’s manifesto, I shall stand on a manifesto that opposes the expansion of Heathrow. The democratic wishes of the population around Heathrow should be respected.

Order. Two hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Please bear in mind that there are 14 minutes left before I call the Front-Bench spokesmen. I call Mr. John Randall.

Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I shall try to keep my remarks short in order to ensure that we hear at least one person from the other side of the argument.

It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I was glad to hear him say that he will stand on a different manifesto, because standing in his constituency on the manifesto that the Government will put forward would, I am afraid, be dramatically difficult.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate, because we need to be constantly updated. One of the great shames of the last reshuffle is that we now have a Secretary of State for Transport who is in the Lords. When we actually have a debate on the subject on the Floor of the House—they are relatively few but have been forced from time to time by Opposition parties, and there has been the odd statement—we will not be able to question the Secretary of State to find out what is happening. I know that the Secretary of State is an honourable man, but it will be difficult for us to explain to our constituents, many of whom are bitterly opposed to the expansion, that we do not even have the democratic right to question the person who will ultimately take the decision.

I agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. He is right to say that the noble Lord is an honourable man; he is also known as a rail man. He has been kind and courteous to me in visiting west London whenever I asked him to visit schools in the area. Perhaps we could make a joint approach to get him to make the kind of visit that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington described and to see the sites of devastation that his policy is creating.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the Secretary of State. He was always courteous and helpful when he was a Schools Minister, and he is very much a fan of rail travel. I find that encouraging, particularly as that seems to be the way in which the argument is going.

There is no need for me to repeat in the limited time left all the arguments that we have heard. All I will say about the situation is that it is exactly the same in my constituency. My constituents, particularly those in West Drayton, are suffering exactly the same problems.

I just cannot get my head around the fact that we are constantly being told that climate change is the greatest threat facing the planet, yet here we have a Government who are proposing something that will not reduce emissions but actually increase them. I can never get an answer from the Government on how they can justify that. It is absolutely appalling.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) has done his usual trick of making an intervention and whizzing off, but I would say to him that I am opposed to any development in the Thames estuary. I have said from the outset that if we oppose in our area the expansion of Heathrow, the traffic should not go somewhere else—for example, to Gatwick or Stansted. It is not fair to dump the problem on somebody else. We as a nation have to tackle the problems of aviation, including its increase, because nobody wants an airport in their back garden. We have had that happen in Heathrow. I have to say to the Minister that I get fed up with people—not necessarily the Government—saying, “People who move there know it was there.” That does not apply to lots of my constituents, including my family. My mother was born in the constituency a long time ago, when Heathrow was just a market gardening area. So it is wrong to say that we knew what was going to happen. We have lived with it in our back garden and now it is at the back door. That is what is really so galling for us.

The Government keep talking about listening to people and going on about how they want to change everything and get people involved. This is an ideal opportunity for them. The argument is falling away rapidly. If they could bring themselves to be brave and courageous enough to say, “This is not the time. We cannot go ahead with it. We got some of the arguments wrong,” I would salute them. But, unfortunately, I know that they will not, because I can see that, given the way they have run this country for the last 12 years, they do not listen to the people.

There is one message. We should have an election and let people make their own minds up about whether they want this Government and whether they want this third runway.

Having 51 minutes versus nine minutes is a bit of an imbalance when putting such cases. May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate? Had he been a bit more astute he could have got the second debate, in which case I would have been in the Chair and therefore silenced. I am sorry about that.

The House knows my views, Mr. Taylor, so I will not bore you by repeating them. I will just say that they are the same as they always have been. I shall, as I always do, see if I can agree with hon. Members, first of all. I agree with my hon. Friend on three things. First, some of us will not be here in 40 years. At my age, I think that that is a fair assumption and I agree. Secondly, he said that Heathrow is in the wrong place. Yes, it is, but we cannot say, “I wouldn’t start from here.” We must start from where Heathrow is. But I agree with him. Thirdly, he said that he welcomed the disappearance of the Cranford agreement. I agree with him on that as well.

I like to call the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) my friend, because he is my neighbour and we have never argued with each other nastily and I appreciate that. I agree with him. He has problems with his party line and I am in the same position, so we have something in common.

I also agree with my genuine hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—a real friend—who says that the Secretary of State should be in the House of Commons.

As far as I am concerned, the position remains the same. Provided that the real environmental issues can be overcome, I am still of the view that Heathrow needs another runway; the need is now more urgent than it was. I accept that there have been changes since the last debate. The economy has made life more difficult for everybody. I realise that the amount of air travel is decreasing. I am conscious of the issue of whether Ferrovial will be able to finance the project in the current climate; but I do not know about that. The forced sale of Gatwick and Stansted has come into the equation and will have some impact. In addition, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, any legal challenge could slow the process.

I am a realist. I see what is going on. But my views are not just mine; they are the views of the majority of my constituents, which is probably not surprising, because of all the boroughs around Heathrow mine has the highest percentage of people working directly at the airport. My view is also shared by my local council, which is not represented by the 2M group, despite its claim to represent everybody around the airport.

The reasons are fairly obvious, but in the little time that I have may I comment on one or two things that my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor said? He started by saying that there were 70,000 jobs at Heathrow, directly and indirectly. With the greatest respect, that is not so. There are 70,000 jobs inside the boundary fence and at least as many again outside depend on the airport, directly or indirectly. So the number of jobs is probably double the figure that he gave us.

My hon. Friend suggested that destinations do not matter, but they do. People only have to talk to the airlines to get an answer on that. It is not surprising that the airlines will not put in the public domain the routes that would be under threat if Heathrow declines, because if they were to announce that routes were dodgy, people would go somewhere else and it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My hon. Friend also said that there can be growth without another runway, but one of the big arguments about another runway at Heathrow is not about growth. I know and accept that growth is involved, but growth based on the existing runways is related to the larger-aircraft issue. It is not just about the growth of the other airports, but about the need to solve the problems of delays, circling and lost baggage, all because the two existing runways are vastly overused and any delay produces lots of cancellations. There is an opposite argument to be made in that regard.

My hon. Friend also mentioned a five-airport hub. I do not think that there will be many volunteers to fly into Gatwick to get a bus to Heathrow, en route to somewhere else. Instead, people would go to Schiphol, Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle and save making a bus journey between airports.

A lot is made of the economic case and much is said about the Oxford Economics report, which is now out of date. I have Oxford Economics’ new report, which has just come into my hands, although I must be honest and say that I have not had a chance to read all of it. But, again, it is new information and it deserves study. I think that we will find, from what I have seen so far, that it reinforces the economic case for another runway.

My hon. Friend said that he did not want to close Heathrow, but also said that there is a need for a new airport somewhere else. One only has to look at the experience around the world.

I am not sure that I said quite that. In fact, I am not sure that I said quite what my hon. Friend said I did in respect of the other points that he made. I was not arguing for an airport elsewhere; I was arguing for the alternatives to be looked at seriously.

Okay, if one looked at the matter seriously and decided that it would be a good idea to have another airport elsewhere—I take my hon. Friend’s point that he did not say that he wanted one—the idea presumably would be to have one. Looking at the rest of the world, in Montreal, for example, where they have done just that, the new airport is now being closed because the old one is still open and everybody uses it. In Hong Kong, which I have mentioned, and in Denver, the old airports were shut and the business was transferred. That is the way that a new airport can be made to work. Let us not hop about. A new airport somewhere else replaces Heathrow: it does not complement it.

On using runways to full capacity, we did not get a definition of “full capacity”. At the moment, we are running at 99 per cent. capacity, which is causing problems. The airports elsewhere, which are Heathrow’s competitors, are running at about 75 per cent., which they think is about the capacity that is justified to offer a decent service. The same argument applies at Heathrow.

Carbon emissions are mentioned regularly. Yes, if the world can come to an agreement that everywhere will do something about carbon emissions, that is a case to follow. However, if one says, “We unilaterally will do something that will harm the British aviation industry while everybody else doesn’t bother,” why should we want to undermine our own economy and watch other people benefit from that point of view?

On high-speed rail, the best figure that I have, which is recent, shows that no more than 11 per cent. of transfer passengers using Heathrow are domestic passengers. If we take 11 per cent. as the only number involved, not all of them will use a high-speed rail link, so not many people will not take flights and instead get there by train. That would be an awfully big investment to make to solve nothing much of a problem.

Many people who currently fly into Heathrow from other parts of the country and are not in transit would be coming by high-speed rail.

That is highly unlikely. These figures are the best one has in respect of passengers in the domestic market coming into Heathrow. That market is not big. Almost all the flights are international. The number of regional flights is declining as ever more people go from regional airports to Schiphol, Amsterdam and Charles de Gaulle. That is another reason why not much is done about carbon emissions, because somebody makes the same flight but goes to a different destination. In addition, the great bulk of transit passengers is not from the United Kingdom, as I have just said. Those are the brief responses that I can give in the time available.

We are in an economic downturn, which is hurting all of us and includes hurt to Heathrow and the airlines that use it. Instead of putting off the runway issue, that is an argument for bringing it forward. Unless the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is correct, no public money is involved. If there were I would rethink the matter, but at the moment, no public money is on offer. The project would provide 6,000 or 7,000 construction jobs when we desperately need jobs, and Heathrow would be ready to benefit before anyone else when the upturn comes.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate. I speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, and also my constituents in Richmond Park, who are utterly determined to continue to resist the third runway. They are glad that Members of Parliament are continuing to find different mechanisms to ensure that the matter remains on the public agenda, and that Ministers continue to answer their questions.

We have had a change of Secretary of State for Transport and the complete ministerial team, and I hope that that will be an opportunity to rethink past decisions, particularly as some key members of the team have a track record and expertise in transport, which could not be said of the previous Secretary of State, whose speeches about Heathrow were described as disgraceful, and rightly so. I hope that the change will be a new opportunity.

I am glad that we have had a statement from the Conservative party on its policy on a Thames estuary airport. The local prospective parliamentary candidate in my constituency has written to the papers arguing for the closure of Heathrow and its replacement with an estuary airport. That would definitely be a wrong decision. An estuary airport would have four runways, the climate change implications would be phenomenal, and the impact on the surrounding area and the loss of jobs would be dramatic. I am glad that we have had clarification on that.

Several hon. Members referred to financing and it was pointed out that the recent economic recession has changed the picture. Obviously, the impact of BAA’s financial condition on its parent company has raised genuine concern. The recession has hit the aviation industry extremely hard, but I hope that the new administration that is examining transport issues will consider the financing issue more closely. The various statements to justify rejecting most of the comments and protests during the Heathrow consultation suggested that environmental safeguards had been put in place to limit use of the third runway to half capacity or, if the appropriate aircraft were not available, to prevent it from opening. I see no way in which any financial institution would fund around £16 billion in construction and financing costs with that possibility on the horizon without Government guarantees or letters of comfort plastered all over it.

I have received letters from the Department saying that that has not been discussed or even contemplated, and that it would never happen, but we need reassurance. All those issues are reinforced by the current financial pressures that the aviation industry and BAA specifically are facing. I was interested to hear that our one voice so far in support of the third runway is concerned about public money and resources being pumped into the third runway proposal.

Many of the comments that have been made, particularly those from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), covered the issues that I would like to cover, so I shall limit my speech and align myself with those. The blight that faces the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is totally unacceptable. There is great anxiety among my constituents after suddenly learning that the national policy study for aviation will not appear in draft before 2011. My constituents fear that that will leave a period in which BAA may make an application and ask for it to be dealt with under a different regime, which might be much more favourable to a yes answer, rather than raising even the relatively weak questions that would arise in an aviation national policy statement.

Residents living under the flight path need a lot of clarification on the process. The timetables that we have been able to download from various Government websites seem to be completely irrelevant to trying to understand what the procedures will be. Serious local concerns arose from the residents’ meeting with the former Secretary of State for Transport, and the current Secretary of State in his then role as Minister with responsibility for railways, which failed to address local traffic issues. That contributes greatly to air pollution in the area, but the answer in every case was, “We are not considering that; it is for local authorities to do so.” That was extremely disturbing because we will almost double the number of passengers at Heathrow, and consequently the number of people trying to reach Heathrow, many of them by road. Business leaders have been courageous in finally coming forward and exposing the hollowness of many of the arguments, and I associate myself with all those.

I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak, and I am anxious to hear the Minister. I reiterate my party’s ongoing opposition on grounds of climate change, and the impact of noise and air pollution on local communities. A final request to the Minister is that he tells us at some point what will happen with the application for derogation from air quality. I again congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor on raising the issue.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate, and on his excellent contribution on a matter of great concern to all hon. Members here. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on their typically robust comments about their constituents’ concerns, which were echoed by the Liberal Democrats’ spokesman. If there were a contest between the bulldozers and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, I know whom I would back in a straight contest.

I shall endorse rather than repeat the various plaudits for the environmental groups, trade unions, and business men who have stepped out of line with what was briefly consensus among the business community and are speaking out against a project that we believe will inflict devastating damage on the environment and the quality of life of millions of people in London and the western home counties. The Conservative party plans to make Heathrow a better airport, rather than a bigger one.

Three arguments are usually made in favour of a third runway at Heathrow: the UK plc argument and two aviation-specific ones. Despite a number of voices, including that of the CBI, the UK plc argument is extremely weak. It has been heavily based on one study—the Oxford Economics study, which has nothing whatever to do with Oxford university, whose transport unit takes a different line. The study is full of one-sided assumptions. It prices none of the downside of expansion, apart from carbon, and even ignores road congestion. It centres its calculations on assumptions mostly at the extreme favourable end of each scale. It bizarrely includes aviation tax as a net gain to the UK economy, and it assumes that BAA will be allowed to continue to operate one of the stingiest schemes for noise insulation in the world. However, that document is still the only major study behind the UK plc side of the argument.

Even before the recession, BAA admitted that only 36 per cent. of passengers travelling through Heathrow were business passengers. If we remove the transit ones, barely one quarter of the passengers going through Heathrow are British business men or people coming to do business in Britain.

I have not been through the new one in detail yet. I look forward to doing that, but if the quality of the work compares to the quality of the work in the last one, it will not add very much to the argument.

The proportion of business passengers is likely to fall still further—indeed, it has already done so—and not just because of the recession, but because of the growing sense of corporate responsibility and the active steps by businesses to reduce the amount of flying that they do. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor referred to the letter in The Times last month, from which I shall quote just one sentence:

“We recognise the business need for air travel and that strong air links between the UK and the rest of the world are required, but the business case for the third runway simply does not stack up.”

As much of business joins the growing consensus against runway 3, the Government are increasingly isolated.

I shall now consider the general capacity argument—an aviation-specific argument. Many regional airports have plans for more capacity. Since 2001 the percentage of passenger traffic going to regional airports has increased from 39 to 48 per cent. and, despite the recession, many have plans for further expansion in the medium term. Of course, regional plans must be considered on a case-by-case basis—each on its own merits—but far too much emphasis has been placed on the big three London airports and not nearly enough on regional development, which boosts local economies and, crucially, reduces ground-based emissions and congestion on the traffic infrastructure in the south-east.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) while he made his typically courteous and well argued speech. He argued that somehow a large part of the extra capacity that would come out of a third runway would go into reducing overstretch, rather than extra flights. That would have been a difficult case to make even a year or two ago, but let us consider it in the light of the current financial strains and the difficulties that Ferrovial will have in putting this package together. If that assumption was worked into it, it would be impossible to finance in the private sector.

The last argument in favour is the hub argument. Refusing to allow the third runway at Heathrow will mean that other aviation hubs continue to grow larger than Heathrow. That is unavoidable. We have lost a few thinner routes already, but with 180 routes from the airport and a transaction just over a year ago of £30 million for two slots, Heathrow remains an important hub. The focus should be on making it a better airport.

Let us remember the environmental price of a third runway. There is no time for me to restate the very strong arguments advanced by all three major parties—arguments on noise and the fantasy aircraft that the Government are arguing will protect the footprint and on nitrogen dioxide. Frankly, even with the derogation, there are question marks over whether the 2015 target can be met, let alone the 2010 one.

We want Heathrow to be better, not bigger. It is true that many of its problems are related to runway overcrowding, but there are many other issues too. That is why we supported from the beginning the idea that BAA should be broken up by the Competition Commission, although we accept that the recession makes BAA’s welcome decision to sell Gatwick immediately harder to implement. None the less, we will keep pressure on BAA to improve the quality of service that it gives customers in the airports that it retains. That will help to address the Heathrow hassle. Baroness Neville-Jones is carrying out a comprehensive study on security, which, by learning lessons from best practice abroad, should show how to improve security and reduce unnecessarily burdensome queues.

However, the most important issue for passengers, especially business passengers, is the wretched ongoing links from Heathrow. Most modern airports allow passengers to get off an aeroplane and straight on to a train to go to a range of destinations. From Heathrow, passengers have two choices: to climb, with all their bags, on to an underground train, crushed between commuters at many times of the day, or to take the link to Paddington to transfer on to the underground to transfer again to a station that takes them somewhere.

A Conservative Government would give the go-ahead for a high-speed rail line linking Heathrow with the channel tunnel, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Our proposals for a Heathrow rail hub, linked into several existing rail arteries, as well as HSR, would give us a Heathrow with links to be proud of. Experience in the rest of Europe shows that HSR provides an attractive alternative to short-haul flights. We believe that the link that we propose could replace virtually all flights between Heathrow and destinations such as Manchester, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Flight figures published by the Government for 2007 suggest that trains to those destinations could replace up to 30 per cent. of the capacity of a third runway. That figure could rise further as HSR expands in this country and on the continent.

By relieving overcrowding problems at the airport, our proposals would do a great deal to make Heathrow into a modern airport of which we can be proud. Our plan would also leave a lasting legacy for the future, freeing up capacity on the existing network for more commuter services. It would contribute to a more balanced UK economy, providing growth for the midlands and north and reducing the pressure on roads, land and housing in the south-east. It is a long-term project and would start in the most challenging economic circumstances, but our transport system has suffered from short-termism for far too long. Sometime in the next 12 months, the British people will have a clear choice. A Conservative Government will cancel the third runway and instead take steps to make Heathrow a better airport.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing the debate and allowing an opportunity for the issues to be raised again; no doubt they will be raised in further debates in the ensuing months. We are talking about the important issue of meeting the aviation demands of our country, whether that relates to private travellers, travelling for leisure purposes or to visit friends, or to travel that is necessary to have a successful and thriving economy as part of UK plc.

I have been particularly interested to listen to all the comments that have been contributed to the debate by the hon. Member for Windsor, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), and to the interventions from the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter). I have listened particularly to the comments of Front-Bench spokesmen and women with regard to meeting the challenges and making the hard decisions that have had to be faced by those in government. I shall run through some of those points now.

First, let me make it clear that although there may have been a change of team to an extent, I was present in March when the hon. Member for Windsor accompanied a delegation from his constituency, along with other representatives, including in this Chamber today, to discuss the issues with the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon). I noted the comments from the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) that the contributions by the former Secretary of State were outrageous. I suspect that the reason for her saying that was that his comments did not find favour with her view. As I said, I attended that meeting with hon. Members and other representatives and I listened with interest to many of the views that were expressed by local residents—views that were clearly held firmly and expressed robustly. I am happy to confirm that information on a number of the points raised at that meeting has now been posted on the Department for Transport website. I am talking about issues that were raised at the meeting but could not be fully answered in that forum. I want to make it clear that those are on the Department’s website.

I am pleased to hear about the continuity in the Department because the Minister will be able to confirm or deny the persistent press reports that it has been collating information about those who oppose the third runway.

The continuing work of listening to the views that are raised across the board—by those who are for or against—in this important debate is absolutely essential for any Government worthy of their name.

May I make some progress? I may well cover some of the points that have been raised. There has been more than an hour and a quarter of debate, and I am trying to respond in 10 minutes.

I welcome the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government, but I preface my remarks by noting that the decisions that we announced on Heathrow in January are subject to an application for judicial review, which was brought by a number of local authorities, including the royal borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, as well as by other parties. That application relates to a number of the issues that right hon. and hon. Members have raised, including noise impacts.

The decisions that we have taken and announced on Heathrow, as well as the reasons for them, have been clearly spelled out, including in the documents published on 15 January, which are freely available. You will be pleased to know, Mr. Taylor, that I do not propose to go over all of those this morning, but I can say that the Government are happy to defend those decisions in court if permission for judicial review is given.

One issue that has been raised in the debate is that people do not understand how the Government can make such a decision when climate change is meant to be the most important thing that exists. Of course climate change is critical, which is why the Government commissioned studies by Stern and Eddington, and those are the driving forces behind the Department’s work. However, although we must recognise that climate change is fundamental, we cannot make decisions by looking at one part but not the others. The needs of business, the UK and, indeed, the residents of all the constituencies that are represented here are equally important in this framework. A hard decision has to be taken in the light of all these important issues, and none is more important than climate change and getting the balance right.

The further development of Heathrow has been debated in Parliament on many occasions—most recently on the Opposition day on 28 January, shortly after the Government’s decision was announced. At the time, we were told that Heathrow was “the wrong decision”, that “the world had changed” and that the Government should delay their decision for “three or four years”, and that argument has been made today. We have also heard that “some of the alternatives” should be considered, and that, too, has been repeated today.

Although the office holders in the Government who took the decision that was announced on 15 January may have changed, the arguments have not. The fact has not changed that the transport system is the lifeblood of Britain’s economy. The fact has not changed that Heathrow is our only hub airport, that it is a vital international gateway for us, that it is vital to our economy and that it connects us to the growth markets of the future. The fact has not changed that Heathrow, as the hon. Member for Spelthorne said, is operating at near capacity and losing ground to international hub airports in competitor countries. Those are still the issues with which we have to deal, whether the Government’s transport team is led by the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) or Lord Adonis. We are talking about a Government decision, and it has to be taken on the basis of facts and information. We have to reach a decision, but not at any price.

I want to return to the serious point made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. I do not expect the Minister to answer today, but we would welcome a letter on the issue. There have been reports in the press recently suggesting that the Department has provided BAA and others with information on opponents of Heathrow’s expansion. I would welcome confirmation or not—hopefully not—of whether that has occurred. If the Minister could write to us, that would be helpful.

I am more than happy to write to my hon. Friend on that.

I want to deal now with some of the substantive issues that have been raised. As I was saying, there is the economic side, the demand and the capacity issues, and we clearly said that we believed in principle that there should be a third runway. However, we said that that should not be at any cost, which is exactly why we set criteria on the issues of noise, air quality and surface access. In that respect, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who represents Her Majesty’s Opposition, made a fascinating statement about the investment that he would make in surface transport. I do not know whether he has discussed that with the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), who may have different ideas about the amount of public investment that his party would put in if it ever came to power.

The short answer is yes. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition are committed to the high-speed rail link. In fact, only the first stage—the stage that links into the fast link to the channel tunnel—is needed to achieve nearly all the aspects of flight replacement.

I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says. He will be well aware that the Government are getting on with the job of making sure that there is a robust case for a High Speed 2 link that meets the requirement of linking into an expanded Heathrow. There are also the investments that we have put into the Piccadilly line to increase capacity, as well as the commitment that we have given on Crossrail, and the hon. Gentleman would no doubt wish to put on record that he is totally committed to that scheme.

In terms of industry and business, I accept that individuals have made a number of statements arguing one side of the case. Equally, however, I can quote from the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and the TUC—we must be the only Government to have got everyone on side in that way, because they recognise the importance of our announcement on the Heathrow expansion.

Interestingly, the hon. Member for Uxbridge said that when his family moved there—

They were already there. However, he said that hardly anything was operating, and that was, indeed, the case. That is why Heathrow is fundamentally important. Some 70 per cent. of foreign businesses locate their headquarters within an hour of Heathrow, as right hon. and hon. Members will be well aware.

In the last couple of minutes, let me bring in some of the other issues. The hon. Member for Windsor said that international routes had declined marginally. There were 227 international destinations in 1990, but 180 in 2006, which is not a marginal decline. Heathrow now serves only nine domestic airports, but it served 18 in 1990. Some 21 domestic airports are served by Amsterdam alone. Hon. Members will therefore recognise the issues involved.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset referred to High Speed 2. We are going down that line because we have witnessed a 40 per cent. increase in the demand for rail and we are planning ahead to make sure that Britain remains competitive.

We have taken opportunities to ensure that there are robust processes in place, including the national policy statement process. In terms of—