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Commission on Aviation

Volume 554: debated on Thursday 29 November 2012

5. For what reasons summer 2015 has been set as the time by which the independent commission on aviation chaired by Sir Howard Davies must publish its final report. (130585)

It is vital that the commission has sufficient time to carry out a thorough investigation of the options and build a consensus on its long-term recommendations. The timetable has been set to allow that to take place.

This looks very much like an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass until after the election. My message to the Secretary of State is that uncertainty for three years, and probably another three years for planning, is not only bad politics but bad for the economy. I urge him please to ensure that next year’s interim report provides real clarity on the Government’s preferred solution so that communities, businesses and, of course, voters can plan accordingly.

I am not going to predict at this stage what will be in the interim report of a commission that has only just been set up. They will not be the Government’s recommendations; they will be those of the commission. I hope that the commission has been drawn widely enough to attract cross-party support.

After half a century of inquiries and investigations into runway capacity in the south-east of England, there are almost no new facts to be learned. Is this not just a fig leaf before the Government do a U-turn and provide a third runway at Heathrow?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that is the case, but it is not. In fact, we are trying to build a consensus across the parties on large infrastructure projects such as this, and to a degree that consensus has been achieved. The HS2 route that we have adopted is the route that the previous Government published.

In the meantime, noting the results announced by the owners of Gatwick airport yesterday, does my right hon. Friend believe that competition is an important element in trying to ease the capacity problems in the London airport system?

The truth of the matter is that a number of airports are now owned by different companies as a result of the changes that have been made, and they are coming forward with their own proposals, which will add to the approach taken by the Davies commission. It will certainly not be short of representations of various sorts, including, I imagine, from my right hon. Friend.

The Prime Minister came back from his summer holiday saying that he was

“more determined than ever to cut through the dither that holds this country back.”

Having dithered for a year before finally accepting our suggestion of an independent commission on aviation, the Government have now cynically set a time scale that pushes decisions beyond the next election. Will the Secretary of State finally listen to all those, including the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, who want the national interest to be put before party management, accelerate the time scale, and ask Sir Howard Davies to produce his final report by the end of next year?

In all honesty, the Labour party has also changed its position on what should happen at Heathrow. I would have hoped that the composition of the commission attracted widespread support. Indeed, one of its members is an adviser to the Leader of the Opposition on infrastructure projects. It is right that we get the right answer and build consensus on what we are trying to do.

Business will be bitterly disappointed by that answer. It is no wonder the Mayor of London has described his own Government’s approach to aviation as

“a policy of utter inertia”,

“glacial” and a “fudgerama”. HS2, Thameslink, franchising, investment promised in the autumn statement a year ago: all are running late. The Secretary of State is now presiding over the department for dither and delay. When is he going to get a grip?

The hon. Lady was smiling at the end of her question, and that betrays the fact that it was a very good line written for her but not quite believed by her when she delivered it. We are doing a huge amount in delivering for UK infrastructure. I look forward to seeing the recommendations that she wants to put to the Davies commission, which will tell us what Labour wants to do.