[Relevant documents: First Report from the Transport Committee, on Aviation strategy, HC 78, and the Government response, HC 596.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered aviation strategy.
May I congratulate you on your new role, Madam Deputy Speaker?
I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate aviation strategy in the UK, which was the subject of a Transport Committee report published in May. A decision on capacity in the south-east has been in the “too difficult” box for too long. The independent Davies commission set up by the Government has been asked to submit its final report after the next general election, but the Transport Committee felt that this was too important an issue to ignore in this Parliament. I therefore thank the Backbench Business Committee for this opportunity to debate our findings.
Our main focus was inevitably on the controversial subject of runway capacity in the south-east. We concluded that the expansion of Heathrow was the best option, because that recognises the importance of aviation to the UK’s economy and the need for more hub capacity to maintain international connectivity, and reflects consideration of the feasible options. The report considers future demand forecasts for aviation, the impact of aviation growth on the global and local environment, the importance of hub airports in securing connectivity, the role of airports outside the south-east, and aviation taxation, especially air passenger duty, and I will refer to all those issues during the debate.
It is vital to recognise the importance of aviation to the economy. In 2011, the UK’s aviation sector had a turnover of some £53 billion and generated about £18 billion of economic output. It employs more than 220,000 workers directly, and it has been estimated that the total number of jobs supported could be as high as 921,000. Aviation is also important for the lives of many citizens by providing transport, and trade and leisure, links to the rest of the world. Demand for aviation links is growing. In 2012, UK airports handled 221 million passengers, which was 1.4 million more than in 2011. The latest passenger forecasts predict that demand at UK airports is set to grow. Unconstrained forecasts—those in which there are no airspace constraints or capacity limitations—show that passenger numbers will grow to 320 million a year by 2030 and 480 million a year by 2050. It is likely that there will also be greater demand for air connections to new destinations.
The UK has direct air links to more than 360 international locations. There are, however, serious and growing concerns about poor connectivity between the UK and some of the world’s emerging markets, such as the BRIC group of Brazil, Russia, India and China. There are particular concerns about the absence of links to China’s manufacturing centres. The lack of capacity at Heathrow, the UK’s only hub airport, is reducing the UK’s connectivity to important destinations. For many years, Heathrow has operated with two runways at full capacity while competitor hubs such as Paris, Frankfurt and Schiphol have benefited from four to six runways each. The growth of large hubs in the middle east, such as Dubai, has also threatened the UK’s position as an international hub. If the necessary hub capacity is not available in the UK, airlines use competitor hubs to places such as Schiphol, Frankfurt and Madrid, and if no action is taken, the UK will continue to lose out.
What weight would the hon. Lady give to the warning from Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, who says that the UK’s current approach to airport expansion will mean that another runway will be built at Heathrow and at Gatwick some day, but it will be done in an incredible hurry, will not be well planned, and will be the usual sticking-plaster solution?
I congratulate the hon. Lady and her Committee on their excellent work. On capacity, does she agree that there are more cost-effective options that could better meet the need for capacity than proposals to build a £70 billion new estuary airport? I declare an interest, because it would be located near my constituency.
I am about to address that very point. The situation could be dealt with in three ways: build an entirely new hub airport; link existing airports through high-speed rail to form a split hub; or expand one or more existing airports.
Many of the proposals for a new hub airport would locate it to the east of London in the Thames estuary area. There are significant challenges associated with building such an airport, including the difficulty of designing airspace in an already crowded environment, and the need to mitigate bird strike and to deal with environmental challenges such as future sea-level rises and the risk of flooding. Noise would also become an issue for the many people who inevitably would move into the area.
We commissioned specific research into the options and it became clear that, in addition to the factors I have mentioned, the first option would inevitably lead to the closure of Heathrow, threatening more than 100,000 jobs, which would be devastating. It would also require a significant public subsidy of up to £30 billion towards surface infrastructure and compensation for the closure of Heathrow, which would be on top of the tens of billions of pounds that it would cost to build the new airport itself.
The second option is to link existing airports through high-speed rail to form a split hub, perhaps involving Gatwick and Heathrow—Heathwick. That was rejected because of uncompetitive connection times for transferring passengers, especially compared with the transfer times of competitor hubs overseas. The third option is to expand one or more of our existing airports. We looked in detail at the possibility of expanding Gatwick and/or Stansted as alternatives to the expansion of Heathrow, but new runways alone, distributed across a number of airports, will not provide a long-term solution to the specific problem of hub capacity. We concluded that expansion of Heathrow with a third runway would be the best way forward, and that was also the solution that British business throughout the country overwhelmingly favoured.
I appreciate the work the Committee has done, but I wonder whether it has been somewhat bamboozled by the public relations operation that is Heathrow. The fact is that it has been the only game in town for a number of years. To dismiss the option of expanding other south-east airports as a split hub, rather than viewing them as a network serving the whole of the huge city of London and the south-east, is somewhat too glib.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Our report looks specifically at his suggestions, but we came to the very clear conclusion that the expansion of Heathrow was the only realistic option. We recognise that there might be a case for additional runways at Gatwick and perhaps Stansted, but that is not an alternative to additional hub capacity at Heathrow.
We acknowledged the need to address the very real environmental objections that may arise. In particular, noise in excess of 55 dB is a major problem for more than 700,000 people in the airport’s vicinity. We have suggested a number of steps that could be taken to mitigate that serious issue. Planes are getting quieter, but aircraft manufacturers must continue to develop quieter aircraft. To facilitate that, we recommend that the Government, through their involvement with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, try to influence global noise standards. Airports themselves should encourage airlines to take older, noisier aircraft out of service at the earliest opportunity, and people living under the flight path who are affected by excessive noise should be adequately compensated. We have called on the Government to develop a comprehensive, nationwide approach to noise compensation. The Civil Aviation Authority should review existing flight paths and landing approach angles to reduce noise pollution.
Local air quality is also important, and the Government should draw up plans to ensure that the EU limits on air pollutants are met. We were especially concerned about unnecessary emissions that are generated due to the stacking of aircraft over London. We recommended that NATS, the air traffic controllers, should carry out modelling work to identify the extent to which stacking might be reduced if an additional runway was built at Heathrow. Ultimately, any plans for increased aviation capacity must take account of progress on global initiatives to deal with emissions.
It is vital to remember that a hub airport is about serving the national interest, meaning that 63 million people in the UK are affected. Local problems must be addressed, but that must be done in the context of considering the needs of the UK as a whole.
Our report looked at the important role that is played by airports outside the south-east. We hope that increased capacity at Heathrow would improve connectivity to other UK regions as more slots became available. The Government should do more to reduce the barriers that are faced by airports when trying to secure new routes, such as through better marketing or the introduction of an unrestricted open skies policy outside the south-east. The introduction of an air passenger duty holiday, which we have recommended, would also encourage the development of new routes.
In the course of our inquiry, we heard numerous concerns about the high rate of air passenger duty, which is damaging to UK plc and puts UK aviation at a disadvantage compared with our European competitors. We were disappointed that the Government rejected our recommendation to reduce significantly or abolish air passenger duty and we are concerned that they show no willingness to undertake a full review of its economic impact.
Parliament has shied away from deciding whether and where to permit additional aviation capacity in the south-east. That is a prime example of a failure to recognise our infrastructure needs. The Davies commission will produce an interim report at the end of this year with recommendations for immediate action to improve the use of existing runway capacity over the next five years, as well as a short list of options to address capacity over the longer term, but the commission’s final report will not be published until after the general election in 2015.
We must act decisively on this issue before we lose our competitive edge as a global hub for aviation. The commission must provide a robust and independent evidence base for future decisions, as well as recommendations for action. The failure to take a decision has consequences for the UK because it puts our competitiveness and economic success at risk. When the Davies commission reports, it will be time to decide, and that will be the challenge for the 2015 Parliament. I hope that today’s debate assists the House in identifying the key issues so that a conclusion that is in the interests of the UK can be reached.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that erudition, of which I was not capable.
I must declare an interest because Stansted airport is in my constituency. However, the views that I hold on airports policy were formed when I had the honour to be the Member for Middleton and Prestwich in Greater Manchester. I took the view then, in the wake of the study by the Roskill commission, the last great body to study airports policy, that none of the inland sites, whether Cublington, Nuthampstead, Stansted, Willingale or any other, should be developed, and that if we were to have a proper airport system for London, it should be offshore. My view was that it would be a mistake to urbanise a large part of the countryside in any of the home counties. I never dreamed that, due to the sad early death of Sir Peter Kirk, a vacancy would occur in the Saffron Walden constituency, which I was chosen to fill. I am therefore not simply saying “Not in my back yard”—I have tried to have a wider perspective on the matter.
The subject of the debate is aviation strategy, but looking back, it is difficult to espy that there has ever been a real strategy. The evolution of our policy has been part deception, part confusion and part cowardice. Why? Because as soon as we begin to formulate a strategy, all the opposition from different parts of the country is combined, and Governments tend to run away from that. It is easier, perhaps, to pick off particular parts of the policy and have a bit-by-bit approach, which is what has led us to the current wholly unsatisfactory situation.
If I dare mention it, we got nearest to a policy when Geoff Hoon was Secretary of State for Transport. Certain difficulties arose in the House, and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), in defence of interests around Heathrow, got to the Mace quicker than I could have, as I was occupying the Chair. I therefore recognise the passion to which the subject gives rise.
I contend, as many other Members have, that it was probably a mistake initially to choose Heathrow for London’s principal aerodrome, as it was then called. I do not think anyone foresaw the increase in civil aviation that would take place. I can remember when the facilities on the north side at Heathrow were in tents, and when it was decided that aviation was going to be a more serious factor in our post-war world, I found it astonishing that the permanent buildings were put between the two runways, so that they had to be reached by a tunnel—what a brilliant way of developing the airport.
Does the right hon. Gentleman also feel that the subsequent post-war behaviour in conducting international bilateral air agreements, which for decades stipulated that the London airports should be used for access to the UK, was a mistake, particularly given the bleating and screaming that is now happening in the south-east of England and around London?
The hon. Gentleman anticipates me. I will come to that point, but I am starting with Heathrow, the design of which has been a complete disaster. After three terminals were put in the middle of the runways, more were needed, so terminal 4 had to be on the south side. It was sworn that there would be no further expansion, and BAA consistently said that the idea of moving the Perry Oaks sludge works was out of the question—that it was impractical and that those of us who suggested it did not know what we were talking about—but that is where terminal 5 now stands. Had an intelligent approach been taken to the development of Heathrow, that would have been where all the terminals were put. It was not to be.
Giving BAA control of the three London airports was a huge mistake, and it was extraordinary that the person who had to pilot that proposal through the House was the late Nicholas Ridley, who I do not think believed in that type of monopoly being created. With the passage of time, I think very few hon. Members believe that it was the right policy, and it is now being dismantled.
My right hon. Friend has just mentioned a good free market Conservative and he spent some time eloquently setting out the degree of capital investment in Heathrow. Will he join me in recognising that if we use the power to tax and direct to throw away that capital investment and force scarce capital into a loss-making project in the estuary, this country will become poorer?
I am coming to that. The problem is that the design of Heathrow is not good and expanding it further—although I recognise that that might happen because in some people’s eyes it is the easiest option, what business most wants and so on—runs the risk of compounding the problem.
The next airport to come on to the horizon was Gatwick. A previous Minister of Civil Aviation said in this House in answer to a question that Gatwick would not be a second London airport but would merely be a diversionary airport for Heathrow. Eventually, of course, the truth came out that it was to be the second London airport.
BAA—I have no time for it—then decided to enter into a pact with West Sussex council not to build a second runway at Gatwick for 40 years, which was the equivalent of the Molotov–Ribbentrop treaty as far as I was concerned. That pact expires in 2019. Having done that, BAA was still anxious to go and find a third airport so it must bear a heavy responsibility for the split situation. Had there been competition between those three airports, we might be in a slightly different place—and this is certainly not the best place.
I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), the Chairperson of the Transport Committee, that we need a hub airport for our major city. There has been much talk of late of that being old hat, as everything is now point-to-point. Everything is not point-to-point. Point-to-point becomes increasingly possible when traffic increases and routes become, in the language of the trade, thick routes, meaning that so many flights a day can be justified between those points. That is fine and that will go on, but it will be a long time before there is a daily flight between Denver, Colorado and, say, Naples. There will be a need for passengers to interline at an airport and it would be to our advantage commercially, not just for the businesses in London but for the airlines, if British Airways, Virgin or any other British carrier had part of that business. The argument for the split hub, suggesting that interlining is not important, overlooks the fact that many passengers are now not coming through London. They are going to airports in Europe where interlining is more conveniently executed.
I believe that there needs to be a hub in London and I accept that it is perhaps inevitable that that will be Heathrow, but to build a third runway, possibly a fourth runway and a sixth and seventh terminal for that airport will not make it anything like the new airport in Hong Kong, or Changi in Singapore, or the airport in Beijing. It will still be a confusing mass airport. I do not think that that serves London best, but it might be the best that can be achieved in the circumstances.
I absolutely understand why London deserves a decent airport. Our engineers and architects have designed some of the other airports in the rest of the world, so it is a great shame that we cannot give them the chance to build a decent airport for our city.
I am also concerned, as I have a northern history, about balancing this country. I saw the effect of deciding to develop Stansted. One can still walk around the towns and villages of north-west Essex and find a variety of regional UK accents, as people were drawn down to the area. That is all part of a problem that post-war Governments have contested, unsuccessful by and large—that is, the drift from the north to the south. I think that is a great shame.
I was close to Manchester for a time, and I saw the potential for the development of Manchester airport. It has two runways, so why can that potential not be seen? Why not promote that as at least one other gateway into the country? Most air traffic has to do with leisure, and from Manchester not only can the business community be served in that part of the country—going both west to Liverpool and east to Leeds—but there is access to north Wales, the Derbyshire peak district, the Yorkshire dales, Yorkshire moors, the lake district and so on. We ought to encourage those who visit this country to see parts of it other than just London and the home counties. That would take some of the pressure off London, without—of course—excusing the need for a proper hub. I tell my constituents who occasionally ask, “Should we be spending all this money on HS2?” that when I hear that HS2 would bring Birmingham airport within 36 minutes of London, my eyes water because it is an average of 47 minutes from Stansted airport into London.
That brings me to a point about infrastructure. Over the years, our one consistent failing—there have been many—is that we have not been prepared to back airport development with suitable infrastructure for people to get there. So what happens? Well, I can speak for Stansted with some passion. On the back of an airport that we were unhappy to see develop, we did not get the compensation of a good railway system. In fact, we got one that is worse because priority was given on a two-track railway to the Stansted Express. I am all in favour of a good service to Stansted airport, but that must not be at the expense of all the commuters whom Government policies over the years have encouraged to live in the M11 corridor. They get the worst of both worlds and that is wrong.
On compensation, we have been niggardly over the years in the amount of money we are prepared to give to people—it is all spent on long public inquiries, fighting the case and so on, instead of being paid to those people who might feel most affected by the project. We should provide those people with at least some compensation so that if it is necessary in the national interest to bring about a major project, they will at least get some advantage from that. We must do more on that if we are to get people to settle for whatever strategy—if we actually succeed in getting one at the end of all the further deliberation through the Davies commission.
In the late 1960s and during the period of the Heath Government, it was decided, in the name of the environment, to go for an estuarial solution. That was my wish and that would still be the ideal. I do not believe the most pessimistic forecasts about the time and expense it would take. We lack imagination in this country. We struggled over the channel tunnel; we struggled over the rail link to the channel tunnel—we were going to build half of it at one point, and it would be difficult to imagine anything more crazy. Finally, however, we got there. It took us an awfully long time to think about Crossrail before we began building it. Why cannot we realise that London deserves a good airport? The whole country deserves a better deal, and to level up the north.
I am about to come to an end and I have given way once already to the hon. Gentleman. The whole country needs to get some benefit from the people whom we encourage to travel to our country for business or pleasure. We need imagination—that is what I appeal for—and a solution that is worthy of our main city and our country as a whole.
It is a pleasure to follow the extremely erudite and knowledgeable speech by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst). I learned most of what I know about aviation and Stansted during the air inquiry in the run-up to the 1985 White Paper on aviation. At that time, as leader of Manchester city council, I was a director of Manchester airport. We put together solid arguments against the expansion of Stansted airport, which we believed would contribute to a continuing imbalance in the country’s economy. I should tell him that I have not shifted far from those views, although some of my then colleagues, who could not have envisaged that Manchester airport would end up owning Stansted, have shifted quite a long way from their views. That is for a more detailed future debate.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—I shall put it in slightly different words—that this country has been hopeless, not only in aviation infrastructure, but all infrastructure. We have the lowest motorway density in what used to be called western Europe; we have one small high-speed line, which, symbolically, goes out of the country; we have built one new runway—at Manchester airport—in the whole UK since the second world war; and we have poor broadband speeds. We have been very poor indeed at infrastructure.
I believe that the recession was caused by bankers and the euro—Government Members might have a different perspective—but, nevertheless, productivity has fallen, and if we are to earn our living in the world, it must increase. One way in which the Government can support industry and jobs, and the country’s competitiveness, is by ensuring that we have good infrastructure.
That brings me to the main point in the Transport Committee’s aviation strategy report. We have been through some of the arguments, but there is no shortage of runway capacity in this country. Figures in the written submissions to the report show that, at the main airports, only a third of runway capacity is used, and that, throughout the UK, we have 21 times the runway capacity we need. However, we are extraordinarily short of hub capacity. Heathrow is full, and what happens there cannot easily be replicated directly at Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham or, unfortunately, Manchester.
The example given by Heathrow—we are not falling for its public relations—was the Seattle service. There are insufficient passengers in London to provide a daily service to Seattle from London. The British Airways Seattle service flies daily because of transfer passengers. Approximately a third of passengers at Heathrow are transfer passengers. I have chosen the Seattle example, but there are many others. Heathrow enables routes to connect London and the UK to the rest of the world.
The constraints on the hub capacity come in because, when we consider the number of serious destinations served, we realise that it is not just a numbers game. At the time of the report, Heathrow served 128 destinations, although there might be fewer now because it is declining all the time. At the same time, Amsterdam served 131 destinations; Frankfurt served 149; and Paris served 155. It is not good for the business of this country if our European competitors are connected to more parts of the world.
In the emerging economies, it is not the cities to which London and the UK are connected that stands out, but the fact that we are not connected to places such as Jakarta and Manila. We are not connected to huge mega-cities in China, such as Nanjing, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Xiamen. One thousand more flights go from Frankfurt to China per year than from this country, excluding flights to Hong Kong. That cannot be good for the business of the UK.
On the alternatives, I think “mad” was the word that some professionals used to describe spending £30 billion on an airport in east London, with all the environmental problems that that would cause. It is said that fewer people would be affected by noise, and that would be true to start with. However, once an airport is built out there with all the jobs that would be created, people would, as the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden said, go to live near where they work and be affected by the noise. An estuarial airport costing at least £30 billion is therefore not an alternative.
Another alternative, which I think has been dealt with, is joining up airports. That has been tried in Toronto, Tokyo and Glasgow and it simply has not worked—people want to transfer within one airport.
There is no alternative but to expand Heathrow, otherwise this country will lose out. When the Roskill commission sat the figures would have been different, but all the arguments about having a major hub airport in London were before them. We are now in the commission’s future and we still have not dealt with the problem. We need to deal with it as quickly as possible.
Yesterday, there was a debate—I do not intend to repeat it—on air passenger duty. The Economic Secretary said that she did not accept the figures in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which indicated that if air passenger duty was abolished completely the Treasury would collect more finance and 60,000 extra jobs would be created. I accept that in any report consultants know who they are working for and include assumptions that are often helpful to the conclusion. The Minister said that she did not accept the assumptions, which is fair, but she needs to explain why, and that was not part of the debate. I hope that the Minister responding to this debate will explain why the assumptions are not acceptable, because it is difficult to understand why a report that states that more jobs could be created with less tax—an attractive proposition to Conservatives—is being rejected.
A report by York Aviation has also been mentioned, and I would be interested in a response from the Minister. The report did not look into the current situation, but it did study how many more passengers could be attracted to airline travel in long-haul, interregional, non-congested airports if there was an APD holiday. For Manchester—there are similar cases for other regional airports, such as Birmingham and Bristol—routes to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Delhi, Mumbai and Beijing would become viable if there was an APD holiday for two or three years. There would be no loss to the Treasury, just gain when people arrived in this country and spent money, because the routes do not currently exist. Will the Minister respond to the detail of that report, either now or at a future meeting, because that should also be an attractive proposition for a Conservative Government.
During the passage of the Civil Aviation Act 2012, I regularly questioned the then Transport Minister, now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), about why so many extra costs and regulations—in terms of security and extra red tape—were being imposed on airports. She said that they were not being imposed, but when the Civil Aviation Authority came before the Select Committee, it admitted that the costs had gone up, and now we find they have risen again. Will the Minister look at why these costs and burdens on airports have almost quadrupled since the Bill became an Act, contrary to the assurances from the then Minister?
Finally, many people make an environmental argument against aviation. We have heard about the perverse situation of air passenger duty, which is huge for people travelling from China and for those on other long intercontinental routes, forcing people into Paris and thus losing us business, but it also forces people to multi-ticket. For a long journey, it is much cheaper for someone to take a plane from Stansted, Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester or Birmingham to a major European hub and then to fly on. By doing that, a family can save hundreds of pounds, but it leads to a 5% to 16% increase in carbon dioxide output and an increase in NOx gases, most of which are produced on take-off and landing. If someone changes in the middle east—increasingly a major competitor to Heathrow, alongside the European hubs—on their way to the far east, the result is a 37% increase in fuel usage. The case, therefore, for constraining airport capacity to improve the environment is actually having a perverse effect.
I should, at the beginning of my speech, have congratulated the Minister on his appointment. We worked together on the Transport Select Committee at one time, and I wish him well and look forward to his responses. I know he cares about aviation, which is not a well-understood part of the transport industry, but I genuinely believe that the Government’s policies are severely restricting what could be a genuine growth industry that could create many jobs in the country.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I must tell the House that there is considerable demand from Members, but very little time left to fill. After the next speaker, therefore, I will have to impose a seven-minute time limit on speeches from the Back Benches.
I am delighted to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) for generating the opportunity for us to debate something of absolute national importance. Finally, I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Minister on the Front Bench and welcome him to his new job. I look forward to welcoming him to Kent in the not-too-distant future—he does not know that, but it is going to happen.
I do not want to rerun yesterday’s debate either, but during the debate on air passenger duty, the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) referred to the loss of business to Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle—he might have added Frankfurt—and several other locations in Europe. This is crucial for the economy of the UK. We cannot gainsay the fact that the economic hub of the nation is in London. There is much good business in Manchester, Birmingham and Scotland, but the place that people have got used to interlining through, and therefore also doing business in, is London.
Frequently people just change planes, but equally frequently they stop over. Because they are coming through London, they take the opportunity to take in a show or do business in the City of London. It is not just the thousands of jobs at Heathrow or Gatwick that are at stake and which we could lose to mainland Europe; this is about all the other, ancillary jobs, and the tourism and business that go with them. The cost to the country from the loss of aviation business in the south-east to mainland Europe is almost inestimable.
A long time ago, I upset my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) when I championed the cause of the airport at Stansted. I remember saying then, “It’s not Heathrow or Stansted; it’s Stansted or Schiphol.” That is even truer today than it was then. If I need to underscore that point, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Air France are now flying from Manston, in Kent, twice daily to Schiphol, as they are from a number of other regional airports. They are not doing that for fun; they are doing it because they can see there is business to be taken, from the south-east of England in particular, to Schiphol to interline and to go on to all the other places in the world—literally, anywhere that it is possible to fly to from Schiphol. We cannot afford to sacrifice that business.
This debate is about aviation strategy, but my worry is that there is no aviation strategy. There is a commission, and Sir Howard Davies will do his job and report by 2015. Then there will be a debate and more discussion, and there will not be another strip of tarmac or another building, or a Boris island, for 20 years. That is how long it will take. We are losing business today—not tomorrow, in a year’s time or in five years’ time, but today. As we speak, business is transferring from the United Kingdom to the mainland European airports. We cannot afford to sustain that loss.
On the doorstep of London there is a place called Manston, in Kent. It has the fourth longest runway in the country—it has taken Concorde and wide-body jets—and it is available now. I am not suggesting for one moment that Manston could or should be another London airport, but I believe it could have a major role to play. In, I think, 2005—I stand to be corrected—the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) published his White Paper on the future of aviation in the south-east, but since then nothing at all has happened in any meaningful or constructive form, apart from perhaps another terminal at Heathrow. I put it to him at the time that Manston was available, and I was told, “No, it’s too far from London”—76 miles.
Let us think about that. Manston is quite a long way—it is further than Gatwick and Heathrow. Actually, it is not, at least not in time. I hope we will eventually finish High Speed 1—my hon. Friend the Minister might have a hand in that. Indeed, I have travelled on the existing line, with old rolling stock, in under an hour from central London to Manston, and if that was possible then, with High Speed 1, it is even more possible today. We can get the journey time down to about 50 minutes. It takes more than 50 minutes to get from central London to Heathrow and almost as long to get to Gatwick. Therefore, in terms of time rather than distance, which is what matters to the traveller, Manston is viable.
So what do we have? We have an airport sitting in Kent, out on the peninsular, relatively out of harm’s way in terms of overflying, available today and under new ownership—Manston was sold and bought last week. Its future was in a bit of doubt because it was on the market, but it has now been bought, so it is secure, at least for the foreseeable future. Manston is there and I say to my hon. Friend the Minister and the House that we have to buy time if we are not going to lose more jobs. Manston is never going to be another London airport. What Manston can do is take traffic from Gatwick to release capacity, allow Gatwick to take traffic from Heathrow and free up the capacity there, which is what we need in the short term while the Government take long-term decisions. Manston is a national asset—not a regional or local asset—and we need to use it now. This country cannot afford to waste it.
I am delighted to welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) to his post. I am pleased to be able to participate in the debate.
I agree with the Select Committee on two of the three main themes in its report. First, it is completely right to recognise the need for increased runway capacity and increased scope for aviation in the national interest—a point made forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). Secondly, I agree with the vital importance of a hub and the inadequacy of the other options, which do not provide a hub solution.
I am afraid, however, that the Committee has made a mistake in opting for Heathrow as the location of Britain’s future hub. I fear that it has not learned the lessons of history. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) gave us a certain amount of that history, and I shall now amplify it a bit more. I suspect that I am almost as old as he is, and I recall the Roskill committee. Like him, I was attracted to the concept of an estuary airport at the time, and I was disappointed when the project initiated by the Heath Government was cancelled by the incoming Labour Government in 1974 as an austerity measure. There are echoes of recent history there, too. Cublington was the wrong solution—I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the idea of an inland airport was wrong—but the crucial point is that Heathrow is in the wrong location. It might have been right in 1947, when we were looking for a new airport immediately after the war, but by the 1970s it was clear that, because of its location in an area of dense population, it was not the right location for the long term.
The subsequent history of all the inquiries into airport expansion included the Layfield inquiry into terminal 4 and the Vandermeer inquiry into terminal 5, as well as the sad history of the third runway proposal in the 2000s. Every one of those projects was bitterly opposed, which produced dishonest responses from the airport operators, in saying that that was as far as they would go. I remember BAA stating emphatically at the time of the terminal 5 inquiry that that was it, and that if approval were granted, it would not seek any further expansion. Public confidence and trust in the airport operators was totally destroyed, and people were further infuriated, when it came back seeking further expansion only a few years later. That history has undermined public confidence in the veracity of the people responsible for planning our airports.
We need to get this right. We need to have a strategy, rather than just continuing to make do and mend, and adding a bit more in an unsatisfactory and inappropriate location at Heathrow. It is inappropriate because around 700,000 people are seriously affected by the noise it creates. My constituency is a huge distance from Heathrow, yet I get more complaints about the noise from aircraft approaching Heathrow than I do about the aircraft using City airport, which is just across the river from me. My constituency is far outside the 55 dB contour—let alone the 57db one—yet there are still people there who are deeply affected by aircraft noise.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; I am with him on that.
It is notable that 25% of all the people in the European Union who are seriously affected by airport noise are to be found around Heathrow. The airport cannot operate 24 hours a day, and any attempts to relax the restrictions on night flights are strongly contested. That, too, has an impact on the efficacy of the airport and makes it impossible to operate as a proper international hub that can receive aircraft at all times of the day and night. Furthermore, the approach path to Heathrow over central London is potentially hazardous. The incident involving an aircraft coming down short of the runway two or three years ago was a timely reminder of the serious risks associated with having an airport in a densely populated area.
There is also the issue of air quality. I remind the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, of what her Committee’s report says on that issue. She quotes the Environment Agency, which gave evidence about Heathrow to the effect that
“concentrations of nitrogen dioxide were expected to continue to exceed the EU air quality limit for the foreseeable future.”
Because of the heavy volume of vehicle and industry, there are already serious problems with air contamination in the surrounding area, so the airport is simply adding to them.
If we are going to have extra capacity and a hub to allow expansion to, say, 150 million passengers a year, it is in my view inconceivable that this can be done at Heathrow. It should obviously be done in an appropriate location. I believe that the estuary is the right location: it has the capacity for a four-runway hub airport; it would allow 24-hour operation; and it would dramatically reduce the number of people affected.
With regard to the issue of safety, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier, along with the capacity of an estuary airport, has he taken into consideration the fact that if the proposed estuary airport goes ahead, it will be 12 times more likely to be subject to bird strike than any other major airport in the United Kingdom? Does not safety in that respect also need to be taken into consideration as well as the fact that an airport is in London?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about bird strike, but it occurs at Heathrow. A number of aircraft are affected by bird strike at Heathrow—and, indeed, at other airports internationally, including Hong Kong, which is in a waterside location—so these problems have to be addressed and are addressed by airlines at the moment. It is not at all inconceivable—indeed, it is absolutely feasible—to take appropriate measures to provide safeguards against that particular hazard and some of the other hazards that might be encountered—instances of fog in the estuary, for example. Although evidence suggests that there is no greater incidence of fog in the estuary than there is at Heathrow, it is an issue that needs to be taken into account. Practical issues certainly need to be addressed, but I do not accept that this problem is a showstopper, which prevents us from considering the option.
Other hugely important issues for future planning include the way in which people get to an airport. Heathrow’s problem is that is located very close to the M4-M25 junction, which is already a heavy generator of air pollution and traffic congestion. The modal split in respect of access to Heathrow is heavily dominated by the motor car. One of the great advantages of the estuary airport, which I am afraid the Select Committee did not recognise in its report, is that it would effect a very considerable modal shift by having a far greater proportion of passengers—estimated at 60% by advocates of the Foster-Halcrow scheme on the Isle of Grain—coming by rail.
Looking at the Select Committee report, it was a little disappointing to see an access map based on drive times being used to argue the case that access to the estuary site would be more difficult and slower than at Heathrow. Surely we should be doing our best to try to discourage driving to airports and to encourage the modal shift, which will also help to reduce air-quality problems.
The £30 billion cost is, of course, entirely conjectural. I understand that the Select Committee took evidence from Oxera, but as its report says:
“Oxera has used the following assumptions, based on recent proposals, although Oxera has not tested the validity of these estimates.”
I have to say that the figures showed a cost for a third runway at Heathrow of £8 billion to £9 billion, whereas we now see from the latest Heathrow proposals that it is likely to cost a minimum of £18 billion. I therefore do not think that the figures in the report necessarily support my hon. Friend’s case.
May I join others in congratulating you on your election to your new office, Madam Deputy Speaker? It is a great pleasure to be speaking in one of your debates for the first time. I also congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), on his appointment as the Minister responsible for aviation. Welcome to the hot seat!
I commend the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and her Committee for tackling this important issue at a time when it is very topical. As a fellow Select Committee Chairman, I can vouch for the fact that policy inquiries such as this are the most difficult in which to engage. Certainly the evidence is the most difficult to assess. However, while I agree with the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) that the hon. Lady has got some things right, I think that some of her Committee’s decisions were wrong.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on recognising that London will not survive as a global city unless we maintain its connectivity. Being a city is about being connected. If we want London to remain the world’s global financial centre—the premier international city—we must have international connectivity. Aviation services are the new rivers of our generation. Along with the airwaves and the internet, aviation is what connects cities nowadays, and if we cut ourselves off by persevering with a patch-and-mend aviation policy in London and the south-east, we shall see an end to London’s global status in our lifetimes.
The hon. Lady is right about “Heathwick”—it just would not work—and she is entirely right about hubs. However, she is wrong about Heathrow. As the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich pointed out, experience and the political reality tell us that there will simply not be any new runways at Heathrow. Have we not learnt from the fact that, although every member of the last Government was absolutely committed to getting that proposal through, it did not go through? That was due to the sheer scale of opposition from west London constituencies. Far more marginal constituencies would be affected by the development of Heathrow than would be affected by the choice of any other possible site for an airport. It is simply not possible to generate enough political support for development at Heathrow—one party or another will always oppose it.
Which mayoral candidate will stand, and be elected, on a pro-Heathrow policy? That will never happen. Ken Livingstone was against development at Heathrow, Boris Johnson is against it, and I guarantee that all three members of the main political parties who stand in the mayoral election will be against it. It is never going to happen.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point, to which I hope to return if I am lucky enough to be called to speak. Given that the Conservative party went into the 2010 general election as the only party that was totally opposed to the third runway at Heathrow, why did it not win that sweep of west London marginals?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we would have won even fewer seats in London had we supported the Heathrow case. There is no doubt about that. Why does he think that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is so strongly opposed to a new runway at Heathrow?
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that Heathrow is not the right hub airport, and does he support the proposal for an estuary airport? If so—and I suspect that that is the argument that he is about to advance—does he believe that Heathrow should close, which would lead to the loss of many, many jobs?
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will develop my argument further before dealing with that point.
The Davies commission has a hugely difficult task to perform. It must take a strategic view, and that means taking a long-term view. I think that the Select Committee has inevitably fallen victim to the pile of evidence shunted in its direction by business. Yes, we should listen to business, but business does not tend to take a view that covers more than about seven to 10 years—perhaps a maximum of 15. We need the Davies commission to take a 50-year view. The chief of Ryanair—bless his cotton socks—and, indeed, the chief of British Airways are not taking a 50-year view; they are taking a much shorter-term view than that.
The Davies commission needs to recognise that taking a 50-year view means stepping outside many of the immediate short-term controversies. It is significant that the Select Committee has not come up with a long-term solution to our airports question, but has merely suggested, rather tentatively, that there should be one more runway at Heathrow, and then probably another. If the Committee wants a four-runway hub airport at Heathrow, why did it not just spell that out? I think that it has been diverted by short-term commercial interests and has not taken that 50-year view.
I perfectly accept that, but we are committed to a hub. We need a hub, and we need a decision to build a four-runway hub now. Once we have reached that conclusion, all the logic drives us towards having a Thames estuary airport.
Not a single objection has been raised to a Thames estuary airport—not cost, not bird strikes, not sea level rise—that is a showstopper; and then there are the advantages of a Thames estuary airport: it is achievable, and achievable within a predictable time frame; and its connectivity is better than that of any other possible site for a four-runway hub, and that almost includes Heathrow. Because it is already almost on the HS1 route, it has better rail connections to European onward destinations than any other possible site. It is also closer to the City of London by rail time than Heathrow. As the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said, its connectivity by non-road is better than any other possible site, so that puts it firmly on the agenda, as does the fact that east of London is where we need regeneration and investment.
This is the visionary approach that should be adopted by the Davies commission. The estuary airport is the best environmental option because a bird habitat that would be affected can be replicated and replaced—or even doubled—elsewhere, and the Ramsar sites can be moved. It is the best safety option, because there would be no more flying over populated areas, and it is the best noise option, too. Some 750,000 people live under the 50 dB-plus noise footprint of Heathrow, which is why a decision there is impossible. Almost no people will be living under such a noise level around the Thames estuary airport, which is why this is a no-brainer.
I am not giving way.
It is an opportunity to create 250,000 new homes west of London—a new hi-tech city that has all the infrastructure already in place. It is a huge opportunity to solve the shortage of housing problem in London, and to drive growth west of London, not to close it down. I am afraid that we can come to a slightly myopic view if we do no more than talk to people who work at Heathrow. We will get the view that somehow this change is bad. All change is difficult, but this is a change that needs to be made.
In this age, nobody in their right mind would choose to put London’s hub airport where Heathrow is located. There only needs to be one accident, and we nearly had that a few years ago when the airliner with frozen fuel came down on the edge of the runway. If it had come down half a mile short of that spot, it would have landed on a densely populated area and people would be crying out for the airport to be closed on safety grounds.
Big airports have been moved before: notably British engineers and British planning in Hong Kong moved Hong Kong international airport—an airport of comparable size—to a new island site. As that has been done before, it can be done again, and this is the vision the Davies commission needs to have to deliver on its remit. It must not get sucked back into a shorter-term view and propose a patch-and-mend solution—a runway here and a runway there. I believe that Manston will have a big role to play, particularly in the interim, because it will take time to build a four-runway airport in the Thames estuary. We have to solve this problem once and for all and to take the really big strategic decision that will ensure that London and the south-east remain a globally connected part of the world, and that London remains the global city it deserves to be.
I am pleased to congratulate you on your election, Madam Deputy Speaker; this is my first opportunity to do so formally. I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). He rightly said that this is a crucial issue for UK plc, but after that I stopped agreeing with him as he went on to develop his support for the estuary airport and the proposal of Mayor Boris Johnson, which is very much the wrong one. His suggestion of closing Heathrow would be an economic disaster for London, certainly for west London.
I also welcome the Minister to the Chamber. When he was my shadow in 2007-08, he coveted my office and told me that he would have it one day. He has now got it, and I hope he enjoys it—of course, it was not my office, but that of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport. I would be surprised if he does not enjoy his time there. May I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) to the shadow Front-Bench position? We have already had one or two discussions, and I wish them both well in developing the aviation strategy that has been suggested by the Transport Committee.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), the Chair of the Committee, and commend the Committee’s report to the House. I agree with the vast majority of its conclusions. Recommendation 34 is the most important, and that is what I shall be seeking reassurances from the Minister and the shadow Minister about in due course.
Colleagues will know that I was the aviation Minister in the previous Labour Government between 2007 and 2009, during which time I argued for the third runway, both in the House and outside, and that I was shadow aviation Minister until the Syria debate a couple of months ago. I have therefore spent a lot of time looking at this issue. The Select Committee’s examination is timely and its recommendations are food for thought for the Government, so account ought to be taken of them.
I will not repeat all the statistics that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside set out, but I will say that aviation is responsible for a turnover of £28 billion and 120,000 directly employed jobs, and that it raises £9 billion in tax and duty. In addition, most of the £18 billion achieved through tourism is raised from air passengers. All that demonstrates the importance of aviation to the UK economy and UK plc. It has been clear that the vast majority of the speakers in the debate have underscored the importance of a hub airport in that regard. However, there are also key concerns to address—noise and the big problem of emissions—and recently we have seen the noise health study and the report on impacts on human health. Both the 2003 aviation White Paper and the third runway proposal addressed those issues, as does the Select Committee. It is important that they are addressed—they cannot be ignored—so that residents under flight paths and near airports are reassured.
The 2003 White Paper pointed the way forward, and the 2007 proposal for a third runway was hotly contested. The Conservative party made that a party political issue in the run-up to the 2010 general election. That was political opportunism. I am not criticising that; I suspect that we probably would have done the same thing if we had been on the other side. I would hope that we would not have done, but we did not have the opportunity to demonstrate that opportunism, whereas the Conservatives did. A clutch of west London marginals did not fall because Heathrow has underlying, solid support in west London, however.
Naturally, the Lib Dems are in complete denial on aviation—at least they have been consistent on that. One of the red lines of the coalition agreement was, “No aviation capacity whatsoever.”
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that, as we all know, the Lib Dems are not consistent in opposition and in government. He rightly says, however, that this is one issue on which they have been consistent—consistently in denial.
When we look at the international competition from Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt, and from the new airports that have been built or are being built in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Berlin and Istanbul, we see the importance of aviation and having a aviation hub. We are falling behind the times. However, when the Prime Minister indicated that the Government were appointing the Davies commission, we saw the beginning of one of the longest U-turns in recent British politics. The moving of the right hon. Members for Putney (Justine Greening) and for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers) to other Departments and the appointment of the current Secretary of State for Transport clearly indicated that, after three years, Conservative Back Benchers who had been arguing the case—as did the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, London First, the TUC and others—had gone to the Government and said, “This issue is too important. We’ve got it wrong and we need additional capacity.”
I think that the Conservative manifesto for 2015 will have a commitment to the Davies commission’s conclusions, although I want to hear what the Minister says about that because he has history on this issue, given his support for the village opposed to the third runway at Heathrow. When the right hon. Ladies were moved and the new Ministers were brought in, that was a sign of encouragement for the aviation industry and those who support additional capacity. However, when the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), and Baroness Kramer, the predecessor of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), were appointed, it was almost as if the Government were going back to where they were before the last reshuffle. I would like reassurance from the Minister about what that means.
For me, the Transport Committee’s key recommendation is No. 34. Whether we support the Heathrow plan, the estuary plan or point to point, there is general agreement that capacity is an issue, as well as about the importance of aviation to UK plc and the significance of a hub airport. The Davies commission at least gives us a chance of a fresh start and an opportunity to try to build consensus so that there is not the party political squabbling of the past 10, 20 or 30 years and the piecemeal approach to aviation that was cited by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst).
Will the hon. Gentleman reflect that if Davies comes down in favour of some cobbled together compromise on Heathrow, we will go straight back into that kind of paralysing debate? If he comes down in favour of a Thames estuary airport, that will be decisive and a way forward. There will be far more consensus around a long-term solution than around a patch-and-mend, short-term one.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making the point. He said that there was no showstopper for the estuary option, but for me the showstopper is the £50 billion to £70 billion—depending on the estimate—of public sector money that it would cost. The options for Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and elsewhere involve private sector money, which is a whole different ball game.
If the Davies commission says that Heathrow is the answer, some people will oppose that—the Lib Dems, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and, I suspect, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter). Some have been consistently against aviation or Heathrow, but I hope that the general consensus will be, “Davies has been given three years to do the job. We have wasted 20 years already—we can’t waste another decade.”
I support a lot of what the hon. Gentleman has said about the estuary airport. Does he agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) has to explain which public services he would cut to fund the £50 billion to £70 billion needed to build the airport, which is completely unviable?
I agree, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to develop those points.
My conclusion is that everybody in the Chamber agrees that we need an aviation strategy. The Davies commission provides a new opportunity. Whatever its conclusions, they will be controversial and opposed by some. However, we need a strategy—of that there is no doubt—and hopefully the Davies commission will give us the chance to have one.
I was going to join colleagues in congratulating our new Deputy Speaker, but unfortunately she has left the Chamber. I congratulate the Minister and his shadow on their appointments.
On consistency, perhaps I should ask Labour Members about the previous Government’s consistency on maintaining a balanced budget, the 10p income tax band, tax allowances and so on. Inconsistency has been rife on their side of the Chamber.
As an MP with a thriving and well-run airport in my constituency, I am well aware of the importance of civil aviation to the economy of my constituency and that of the United Kingdom as a whole. We are proud of the part that Eastleigh aerodrome, as it was then, played in the defence of this country in world war two, because it was there that Reginald Mitchell designed and built the Spitfire. We are still very proud, although it has now unfortunately become Southampton international airport.
Growth in demand for air travel is inevitable, and responding to that growth through infrastructure and policy takes time. Although it is Liberal Democrat policy to oppose a third runway at Heathrow and the Mayor of London’s proposal to build a brand new island in the Thames estuary, we fully accept that we need to address the forecast lack of capacity. That can partly be done by redirecting some air travel on to rail, better use of airports away from London and the south-east, and more efficient use of existing resources. While Heathrow may be full in terms of flights, there are still too many flights that are not full and too many planes that are too small. We must remember that four other airports besides Heathrow serve London.
The economic needs of the country must also take into account our obligation and moral duty to take a lead in combating the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One can argue about the speed and effects of this, but the fact that a carbon atom reflects back heat is as much a law of physics as the fact that if I dropped my glasses they would fall to the ground. A build-up of CO2 acts like an overcoat. Yesterday, the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), who is not in the Chamber today, made clear, in advocating the abolition of air passenger duty, his scepticism about the human contribution to global warming. However, if he went out in the sun and then put his overcoat on, I think he would soon find that he got a lot warmer than just by standing in the sun.
In the debate on APD on 18 April, Scottish National party Members made repeated attempts to tease out from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid), who is also not here today, the Liberal Democrat position on APD. Has that become apparent to the hon. Gentleman since his arrival in this House?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for alluding to my rival. Obviously our position was that a per-plane passenger duty was far more sensible than an individual, per-passenger payment. Unfortunately, international regulations and laws do not allow for that possibility at the moment. It would be good if we could seek to change that and use a far more efficient per-plane tax system that encourages full aeroplanes.
It is not possible to solve this capacity problem within one or even two Parliaments. Consequently, there is a real danger that political differences, whether genuine or contrived, could prevent a proper, long-term strategy. These are complex matters. We therefore welcome the setting up of the independent commission on aviation chaired by Sir Howard Davies, which is considering the UK’s airport capacity needs and how to address them. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) said, the commission will publish an interim report expected before the end of this year and a final report in 2015. It seems to me that there is little point in establishing such a commission if we do not wait to pay attention to its findings. I am sure that the whole House recognises the need for a long-term, consistent strategy. Liberal Democrat Members look forward to Sir Howard Davies’ interim report, which is due shortly.
My understanding is that the Liberal Democrats have ruled out Heathrow expansion completely, whatever happens under the next Government or any Government after that. In that case, why did they sanction the inclusion of Heathrow expansion in the terms of reference for the Howard Davies commission? Surely that means either that they have absolutely no intention of forming any part of the next Government or that they have wasted an enormous amount of time and money, and, I suspect, have been playing a few games at the same time?
It is now 10 years since a Government White Paper highlighted the need for action on London’s airport capacity—10 years of dithering and hand-wringing, of refusing to make difficult decisions about aviation and of inaction—so I welcome this debate as an opportunity to highlight the urgency with which this issue must now be addressed.
In the time that successive Governments have pushed this problem into the long grass, London and Britain have lost out. The number of destinations served by Heathrow has dropped by a fifth in the past 20 years and it now has connections to just half the number of cities served by Amsterdam Schiphol. We have been overtaken by our rivals—that is for sure. Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt all now outrun us. Delays to flights landing at Heathrow are now the highest of any major airport in Europe. This simply cannot continue.
I want to be clear: it is beyond doubt that London and the south-east vitally need increased air capacity. I am pleased that the Davies commission has also reached that conclusion, as, of course, has the Transport Committee. Our capital and the surrounding area face an air-capacity shortfall of £16 million by 2030 and £57 million by 2040. The Department for Transport forecasts that demand for UK airports will double by 2050—an increase of more than 100 million passengers.
There are no easy choices in tackling this problem, but not tackling it is simply out of the question. Last year, Germany overtook the UK for new investments, which is hardly surprising given that it has significantly more connections to developing markets in China, India and Latin America. In fact, London has fewer weekly flights than its European rivals to most of the emerging market economies. Heathrow has nearly half as many flights as Frankfurt to China’s airports, despite the fact that Britain’s trade always increases 20 times over when we have direct flights to that country. That is why, if London is to have a next chapter in its ever-evolving success story, measures must be introduced to increase its airport capacity.
I support the Government’s decision to set up the Davies commission to investigate all options and make a comprehensive recommendation on the best way forward, but I see no need at all for Davies to take three years to make a recommendation. Why does this commission need three years to report on something that the Transport Committee managed to report on in a matter of months? Yes, it is crucial that we get the right decision, that a recommendation is not made hastily and that we should properly examine all of the options, but let us be honest: that will not take three years.
I think everybody now knows that the reason why the commission will not report until after the next election is that the Conservative party does not want to lose marginal seats in west London before it comes out in favour of a third runway at Heathrow, which it undoubtedly will if it is in power after the next election.
My hon. Friend makes the point that I was about to make. He is absolutely right.
We have to be bold, honest and ambitious about what this country needs. Every week delayed is a week in which London and our country lose and our competitors gain. Every week lost is a week in which British industry loses potential business to its international rivals.
I am yet to meet a single person other than those who occupy the Government Front Bench who supports the deadline falling after the next general election. I do not think that anyone on our Back Benches believes that that is a credible deadline, so in real terms this is probably in the hands of the Labour party. If it wants to force the agenda, I suspect that would be very easy to achieve. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could put some pressure on his own Front Benchers.
I think the pressure I am able to put on my Front Benchers is about exactly the same as the pressure the hon. Gentleman is able to put on his, he makes a very good point.
I hope that the Davies interim report due at the end of the year will show that real progress has been made in coming to a conclusion. It would be disappointing if the interim report consists merely of a long list of all the options we already know are on the table, many of which have been discussed today. The commission was set up over a year ago. We must begin to get some concrete early results. I would like to see a shortlist of two or three of the best options for increasing Britain’s airport capacity. That would provide a much clearer idea of the way forward and focus the debate on aviation, which is very much needed.
I am especially clear on one thing: one of London’s biggest success stories must not simply be wiped off the map. Heathrow airport is the busiest airport in the world on the basis of passenger numbers. It directly or indirectly employs 230,000 people. The contribution of the western wedge of London and the home counties accounts for 10% of the country’s GDP. The percentage of GDP that is contributed by London, at 21.9%, is the highest that it has been since 1911. We therefore ought to be very careful in talking about the idea that Heathrow could somehow be shut overnight with no problem.
It was right that the last proposal for a third runway at Heathrow was rejected, but that was largely because it took no account of the population in the wider west London area. The recent proposals contain more consideration of how to minimise noise levels and disruption to residents. It is obvious that the expansion of Heathrow is one of the main options that the Davies commission must consider.
This debate must be based on the assumption that airport capacity will be increased in addition to the continued success of Heathrow, not at its expense. Let us be clear: any strategy that results in closing one of Britain’s most successful and important infrastructure locations should be avoided like the plague. We should rule out right now any option that would close Heathrow airport because it would be a disaster for London and for the country.
That includes the idea of a new hub airport in the Thames estuary. It is clear that building a new hub airport in the east of London would require Heathrow to be closed. That would decimate the west London economy and end all the wider benefits that Heathrow brings to the city. If that option ever was on the table, it should be taken off the table right now. Not only is it economically and technically unfeasible; it would mean closing Britain’s best and most successful airport. Thankfully, there is only one person in this country who genuinely seems to believe that the answer to Britain’s airport problem lies in building a new £65-billion airport in the middle of a river. Unfortunately, that person happens to be the Mayor of London.
Moving a major airport is a dramatic idea, but it would happen over a period of time and would be an evolution. If Heathrow ceased to be an airport, there would not just be a big hole. There would be a massive opportunity to fill the space with new industries, homes and economic activity. That would be a huge opportunity for the whole of west London.
Ministers often talk about the country’s finances. We must be absolutely clear about the staggering cost of that proposal.
I will end by saying that it is important that we recognise the contribution of Stansted—an airport that is below capacity as we speak. It is ridiculous that the journey from London to Stansted takes so long and is so unpredictable. We need to deal with the infrastructure on the West Anglia line. It needs to be upgraded so that Stansted is more viable.
I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill). He is not just a decent man, but hugely competent, and I am sure that he will do brilliantly in his new role.
I will start by giving some figures on the airports that are being built in China. The Mayor of London has been to that country recently, as has the Chancellor. Between 2005 and 2010, 33 new airports were constructed, taking the total number to 175. By 2015, there will be more than 230 airports in China. If my maths is correct—I am an accountant by training, so I think it is—there will have been 55 new airports over five years, an average of 11 a year. I know that it is a developing nation, that is much larger than us and has the advantage of a different form of government, but if we compare and contrast that with what we have had in this country, it makes us think that we have not got to grips with the need for more airport capacity.
The Transport Committee made the point, as a number of Members have today, that it has been a decade since the last White Paper on the subject, and at that time it was 20 years since the previous one. We are back to the future, because now the Davies commission has said that there is a need for more airport capacity in the south-east, but we still have not concluded where it should be.
As Members have said, there are two problems with the fact that we have not reached a decision and that the pace has been slow. The first is that the lack of certainty is bad for business and investment. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) will agree with that, although we may not agree about the solution. The other problem is that others are getting ahead. A number of Members have made the point that Frankfurt, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle are all getting ahead in the global race that we want to win. I was at a meeting this week at which somebody who knows the airport industry well made the point that people at Schiphol talk about their airport being Heathrow’s third runway, which says something.
Another sobering fact that I have found in considering the matter is that more flights leave Frankfurt for cities in China in a week than leave Heathrow for the whole world in a weekend. That must tell us something. Figures from the International Air Transport Association show that due to the lack of capacity at Heathrow, between 2005 and 2011 there was a 49% growth in the number of passengers flying from UK regional airports to transfer at overseas hubs such as Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle. That represents a loss of business and jobs to the UK that we should do everything we can to retain.
I note the Transport Committee’s recommendation of a third runway at Heathrow, and I commend it on the urgency of its deliberations. It has come to a conclusion a lot faster than the Davies commission, which will release its interim report at the end of this year. There has been discussion of the costs, which I am sure will continue, but the proposed expansion of Heathrow would have much less of an impact on public expenditure and the Exchequer than a Thames estuary airport.
The other innovative proposal that I have found interesting to learn about is the Heathrow hub, proposed by the Centre for Policy Studies. It talks about doubling capacity from two to four runways and suggests that that can be done at no cost to the public purse.
Is my hon. Friend not slightly alarmed that that study takes no account at all of the extra impact of congestion? Just a third runway would lead to an extra 25 million road passenger journeys a year, and a fourth would presumably have more or less the same effect. Can he explain how our roads would be able to handle 50 million extra road passenger journeys a year to and from Heathrow? Does he share my concern that the costs simply do not exist in the report that he cited?
Clearly, that is exactly what the Davies commission should come up with. I am not suggesting that the CPS’s proposal is the only one in town, I am just highlighting it as a particularly interesting one.
We have waited a long time for a conclusion, so we might as well see what the Davies commission comes up with, but the one thing I would find disturbing in any final recommendation would be a solution that ultimately led to the closure of Heathrow. That would be bad news for business and jobs. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who is no longer in his place, about everything, but I do agree with his points about the impact that it would have not just in London but in the western wedge, which covers areas such as the Thames valley and Reading, which I represent. As he said, a report commissioned by a range of local enterprise partnerships covering the Thames valley, Buckinghamshire, west London and Oxfordshire concluded that £1 in every £10 of UK economic output is generated in the western wedge area around Heathrow, and that aviation and related activity at Heathrow supports about 120,000 jobs there. If a new hub airport was to be built to the east of London and Heathrow was to be closed by 2030, because I do not think anybody is suggesting that we are going to end up with two hub airports—
My conclusion differs slightly from that of my hon. Friend. I am the Member of Parliament for Windsor, where we are very much affected by our noisy but welcome neighbour at Heathrow, and there is certainly a scenario in which Heathrow could continue to operate as a hub airport if the estuary airport were to take over. This scaremongering about hundreds of thousands of jobs disappearing is not necessarily entirely helpful.
Well, let us see what the Davies commission comes up with, but I personally think that it is unlikely that we could operate a system with two hub airports.
The report goes on to say that the closure of Heathrow would put at risk another 170,000 jobs in the western wedge area. We can have a discussion about the number of jobs at risk and about the fact that, if there was going to be an estuary airport, things would not just change overnight. There is no doubt, however, that there would be a huge economic impact in a region that is the powerhouse of Britain in driving the economy forward.
The Davies commission must clearly take into account the economic benefit of any of the recommendations it makes and, of course, the environmental impact. We have to take into account what business wants and what airlines want. If we build another airport, will airlines come? Will British Airways move to a new hub airport? Ultimately, it comes down to the cost to the public purse resulting from any new expansion.
Those who have been in this place for many years will see this debate as another groundhog day in the life of Parliament’s debates on aviation policy. I suspect we will see a lot more groundhog days. Of course, the question is very difficult, but once the commission makes its final recommendation what we want is politicians who will show a bit of backbone and implement the recommendations on expanding airport capacity in the south-east, whatever those recommendations might be. To duck the question for another electoral cycle will do a huge disservice to Britain’s hopes of succeeding in the global race.
I agree with the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma): this is like the annual reunion of the Heathrow debate. The Transport Committee always comes out with a report in favour of expansion. I have a lot of respect and affection for my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), but it is the same recommendation every time it reports. We then have a discussion and we usually put the decision off. As the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) said, we also put off having a discussion on aviation strategy more generally, including coming to a conclusion.
I agree that we should not put off any decisions from here on in. The Davies commission is a fudge to get everyone past the next general election without having to come to any conclusion so that the electorate cannot know what any political party stands for on this political issue. That is not good enough. It is not good enough for parliamentary democracy and it is not good enough for my constituents.
I agree with the hon. Member for—is it Putney?
Richmond Park. That posh area of London, anyway.
I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). All of us with sound common sense should band together on a cross-party basis and insist that the Front Benchers agree that the Davies commission should report in full before the general election, so that we can come to some conclusion. We should be able to go into the next general election with a clear view from each political party about their position on future aviation strategy.
I cannot see any political party going in to the next election in favour of expansion at Heathrow. Before the last general election, the Prime Minister made it very clear that as part of his greening of the Conservative party it would come out against the third runway at Heathrow. The Lib Dems, to give them their due, have consistently opposed it—the one thing on which they have been consistent throughout. The current leader of the Labour party opposed the expansion of Heathrow and has made that clear publicly. That might be why—together with his position on Syria—my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) is on the Back Benches, I do not know. The politics of this is that there is no consensus in favour of expansion at Heathrow, and so far there is no consensus in favour of a new airport in the estuary. The arguments put forward have been about cost, and I cannot see anyone grasping that nettle.
I think that anything that gets past £40 billion frightens the horses of any future Government—I apologise for allowing the intervention, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will press on.
In recent months, the debate has changed significantly as people have become more aware of the environmental and health consequences of what is already happening at Heathrow. A series of reports from Imperial College London and Harvard have demonstrated that, as a result of air and noise pollution, the area has low birth weights. Children’s growth patterns are affected even as they grow older, and there has been some growth delay as a result. In addition, a huge study over 12 boroughs has demonstrated an increased risk of heart attack and stroke as a result of aviation noise. If anyone comes forward at this stage in favour of further expansion at Heathrow, there will not be protests like last time and the Camp for Climate Action—I was there—or anything on that scale; the protest will be multiplied tenfold. It will be the largest environmental battle that the country has seen, and I will be part of it.
If there is a fudge at the next general election, and then a decision is made to expand Heathrow, people will feel that they have been conned and betrayed. That will motivate them even more into saying that democracy in this country has been undermined, and there will be more direct action as a result. It is important to convince the leaders of the different political parties that they need to bring forward the Davies commission to before the next election, so that we can have a proper debate and be honest with the electorate about its conclusions.
I enjoy a good joke, so I saw the submission by Heathrow Airport Ltd to the Davies commission—I do not know whether Members have seen it. It does not just want one more runway, it wants three; it wants to obliterate not only my constituency, but two others as well. The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) is not in his place, but he is a prime advocate for expansion at Heathrow. Now he has been taken at his word—they want to expand into his constituency. His councillors have met and said, “We’re still in favour of expansion at Heathrow, as long as it is to the north”—a breathtaking act of nimbyism if ever I saw one.
The proposals by Heathrow Airport Ltd—now owned by Ferrovial, the Chinese sovereign state fund, and Qatar—looks at an expansion that will take 20,000 people from their homes and expand air pollution, possibly to about 100,000 people. We are already beyond EU limits; children in my constituency are already going into classrooms and handing over their puffers to their teachers. The proposals would increase such things, perhaps tenfold. It will destroy whole communities, but I do not think people will sit back and allow that to happen. I think they will mobilise.
A new campaign has been launched called Back Heathrow. It has basically come together and said, “We are in favour of ensuring that we maintain the airport.” I contacted it and said, “This is a wonderful initiative.” I fully support that because we want to keep jobs in the area, and we can improve the quality of Heathrow and look at how we expand to meet challenges, for example that of China. Routes between China and Heathrow have been limited because we have been refused access in some areas, but that is now opening up. There is capacity at Heathrow to do that because if we took out the short-haul flights—25% of flights at Heathrow are short-haul or point-to-point—we could accommodate those direct flights to China.
I was in favour of the Back Heathrow campaign, but then I discovered that it backs Heathrow only in favour of the airport’s recommendation to expand, and that it is actually funded by the airport itself. What a surprise.
I had something from Back Heathrow through my door as well. It calls itself, “The voice of the silent majority of west London residents in favour of Heathrow expansion”. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a very, very silent majority in west London?
The silent majority is in an office by Heathrow airport and solely funded by Heathrow airport. I cannot find a community group or a resident in favour of the expansion. Let us expose that campaign for what it is on the Floor of the House and ensure that people are aware that it is a con of that nature.
We want a sensible debate on aviation strategy. We need to recognise that, realistically, London has seven airports and eight runways serving it. We move more passengers than any capital city in the world. Paris is fifth behind London—nowhere near us. People make the argument of business connectivity, but we come top of every poll on business connectivity. The answer to the need for further capacity at Heathrow is to ensure that it is not bigger, but better, which is exactly what the Conservatives said at the last election. We should manage it better by moving the short-haul and point-to-point flights elsewhere. I do not accept the argument that we cannot have a collective hub. We can have one as long as we ensure connectivity between the airports.
We need that rational debate to take place. I welcome the report as part of the debate—it is rubbish, but it at least stimulates debate. I urge Members not to allow the deal that is going on between the political leaderships to put the debate off until after the election. Let us have the Davies report before the election, and come to conclusions with which we can then go to the electorate.
I suppose it was inevitable that the debate would be dominated by London and the south-east, but I remind the House that the northern economy is very dependent on improved communications, including better air services. I shall concentrate on the role of regional airports and, from a constituency point of view, Humberside airport, in economic regeneration and development locally.
First, as a member of the Transport Committee, I should put my cards on the table about Heathrow. I was not a member when the Committee conducted the inquiry prior to the report, but I broadly agree with its recommendations. The Chair of the Committee might be somewhat reassured by that.
The Humberside area has been designated and recognised by the Government as a potential area for major economic development. To give a couple of examples, they have shown their support for the area by halving Humber bridge tolls and creating the largest enterprise zone in the country. Only a month ago, the Prime Minister highlighted the area in his party conference speech.
We need better services in the area. Whatever happens in London and the south-east, getting them will be a long job. All hon. Members recognise that, and Governments make a habit of kicking it into touch. That point has been made clearly. Regional airports have a role to play in that respect. The Minister has been to Humberside more than once, and will know that Humberside airport would be ideally located if only there were better connectivity between the various modes of transport. A railway line runs within a quarter of a mile of the airport terminal, but there is no air-train connection. That is worthy of consideration—I have made that point regularly to the local enterprise partnership, local authorities and the like.
In the minute I have left, I should like to talk about the impact of air passenger duty, which is particularly relevant to regional airports. I have a note from Paul Litten, the commercial director at Humberside airport. He recognises that the tax is required, but says that
“it would be better to encourage airlines to move to smaller regional airports and take advantage of space, flexibility and customer demand but having a much lower APD amount for”
such airports. He says that
“if you use the logic of the congestion charge in London, then where there is a large demand, you should continue to tax; but apply a lower rate to those areas that need development.”
In other words, he says we need a smaller tax for regional airports. Finally, he says:
“Let me know if this makes sense.”
It makes sense to me, so perhaps the Minister could tell us in his reply to the debate whether it makes sense to the Government.
I will try to charge through what I have to say and if any political enemies or friends wish to intervene to give me another minute or two, they would be most welcome.
I can always try, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I know the importance of aviation. I fly probably more than any other MP—at least four times a week and sometimes six times a week. At least, I did until flights in my constituency were vandalised by the local council, which axed 60% of inter-island flights between Stornoway and Benbecula and Barra and 100% of flights to the most vulnerable island community. That was all the more strange given that they were public service obligation routes. While the council can make arguments about rurality and peripherality in Edinburgh, London or Brussels, the arguments hold no weight it seems once it secured the money within its own corridors of power. Indeed, flights used by people going for cancer treatment have been described by the council leader as 10-minute tourist flights, which is very disappointing. The flight was not 10 minutes and the councillors he dragooned into voting to axe flights to these communities have not been to visit them since their election. The upshot of this transportation vandalism is that travel from one end of the Outer Hebrides to Edinburgh, London or Brussels is faster for most of the week than going to the other end of the Outer Hebrides.
Why do I mention this? The debate has concentrated on the south-east of England and Heathrow, about which there seems to be a love-hate relationship. London has tremendous connectivity, with 360 destinations—almost one for every day of the year—which I think is more than Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam enjoy, although the individual airports are better.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that when I was Minister with responsibility for aviation, I heard repeated requests by Members from the regions for access to Heathrow. That clearly was not possible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, because short-haul routes were taken out so that there could be flights to international destinations.
The building of Heathrow has been brought about through general UK taxation. Scots have on average paid more tax than the rest of the UK in each of the last 30 years. We have contributed to Heathrow, as have other areas of the UK, and our investment should be protected. There are 360 other areas that have contributed and are arguing for the benefits of Heathrow. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point.
Heathrow is a disappointing airport. If one travels to it by train, one straightaway meets a glass wall between the train and the lifts. That is indicative of rest of Heathrow and terminal 5, where passengers seem to be reversing into each other constantly. Gatwick is no better—a veritable rabbit warren that makes London City airport almost look like bliss. The Heathrow Express, Heathrow airport and the airlines seem unable to talk to each other when there is a train delay—an example of component efficiency rather than network efficiency that is sadly all too typical around UK airports.
There is doublethink at the heart of the relationship with Heathrow. Recommendation 9 of the Select Committee report states:
“It is imperative that the UK maintains its status as an international aviation hub.”
That seems to be about a badge of prestige rather than transporting people, as the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) said. I have mentioned, yesterday and today, that decades of bilateral agreements have favoured London airports to the detriment of Scotland and other places. This has now come back to bite the south-east of England. One solution could be co-operation with the Dutch and the French. Schiphol and Paris are not that far away, and increased and improved surface transport could bring them closer. As the hon. Member for North Thanet said, it is time, not distance, that matters to the passenger. A global mega-region encompassing either side of the Channel would benefit passengers globally. There is an economic benefit to linking hubs, an argument I would make for the central belt of Scotland, too.
What happened to the south-east of England when the London docklands lost its pre-eminence to Rotterdam will happen in aviation. Schiphol will win and Heathrow will lose out, as the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) said, because of the UK’s piecemeal approach.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) pointed out that with direct air links trade improves twenty-fold. As a result of the imbalance in the UK, Scotland has definitely lost out; we have paid in, but we are not getting the benefits. It is disappointing that this high-tax Government are not interested in reviewing APD at any point. Their “see no evil, hear no evil” approach continues. In the meantime, Spain is getting rid of it and Barcelona has seen 37 new routes in the last year. APD is a demand-management tool for Heathrow and it comes at a tremendous price for other areas of the UK, particularly Scotland. With independence, I am hopeful that we can sort that one out.
An estuary airport strategy would be binary and lumpy. The proposal is for one massive new airport opening at a single point in the future, but it would run the risk of being half-empty when it opened, and in the meantime we would have none of the capacity we need now.
It is ridiculous to suggest, as the Mayor of London did, that we could build such an airport in the same time it would take to add one runway to an existing airport. And all the while, the economy is suffering. The Stalinist command-and-control-economy assumption that we could move hundreds of thousands of jobs to the Thames estuary at the stroke of a Mayor’s or even a Government’s pen is preposterous: many of these jobs would not move, many would move to Europe and many others would no longer be economical, because the capital and investment on which they depended would be destroyed. The assumption that all the hotel and business infrastructure around Heathrow could be rebuilt, cost-free, in the estuary airport is wrong. If people had to pay twice for that, many fewer jobs would survive.
We hear from the Mayor of London that Heathrow could become like Kensington and Chelsea or Canary Wharf, yet he has just been to the old airport in Hong Kong, which, 15 years on, is still a shell, with next to no development, in one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Boris told me that if he proposed this seriously, he would come down to look at the Thames estuary and the Hoo peninsula, in my constituency, where he wants to build it, but he has not come, so I can only assume that he is not serious. The Davies commission, which did come, was absolutely astonished. It thought, having listened to Boris, that it was like a blank sheet of paper, but there are more than 23,000 people living there, nine villages and some of the most important energy infrastructure in the country.
I am pleased at least that Transport for London has recognised that we could not use HS1 to access that new airport—it would not have the capacity and there is no where to put the trains at St Pancras—yet, like Fosters and Partners, which is in the clouds as much as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), it is saying that there could be three other substantial railway projects, including a parallel new high-speed line. Even those three projects would not provide the local access to work for the people coming into that airport, which would require further tunnelling under the Medway towns to get those people across the two river pinch points.
Crucially, given the level of environmental protection in this area, legislation states that there must be an “absence of alternative solutions” even before we can consider building such an airport. It cannot be a credible option, therefore, if it has already been determined, as the Davies commission must, that there are other credible options.
I heard that the scheme would cost £80 billion, but the Deutsch Bank aviation analyst tells me it would be £120 billion. Of that, up to £30 billion would be public money. It is absolutely extraordinary. It is incredible. I do not think any Government would fund that. What about the private money? Ignoring all the new investment, we would still be looking at about another £50 on every ticket for anyone who used that airport. What a blow to business that would be!
As to its operational viability, National Grid said that
“the proposals being put forward for a Thames Hub Airport on the Grain peninsula are incompatible with the energy infrastructure”.
The fog is three times what it is at Heathrow and the risk of bird strikes is twelve times as high. The delivery risks are absolutely enormous.
We have heard a lot about Heathrow, but what about Stansted, which we have also heard about? It needs better train service connections. Perhaps even our Lib Dem friends would support those extra train connections to allow the half-empty runway to be better used. Gatwick should be strongly considered, too, because it has the money. It would only cost £5 billion to £9 billion —about one tenth of the Thames estuary airport—and with the improved train connections, particularly the Thameslink service to London Bridge and, crucially, to Farringdon, it would be a credible option and provide competition.
“Aviation Strategy” is a great title for a debate; what we are actually having is the “Is Heathrow going to get away with it yet again?” debate yet again. I fear that those at Heathrow might get away with it, as those of us in west London who have debated these issues with them over 30 years and seen how they operate think they might, because of political cowardice and the way in which politicians of all parties have given in to the airport lobby over that time.
Although we have had some excellent speeches today, I am somewhat surprised by that, because at the moment we have very little of substance to say that is new. The reason for that is partly the vacuum caused by the Airports Commission not reporting until after 2015, for no reason whatever other than political convenience. That has created a vacuum into which has floated the Mayor of London, with his frankly ludicrous suggestion of an estuary airport.
I do not think I should.
Not only is the idea of an estuary airport distraction politics of the worst kind; it is now affecting Stansted as well. Because the Mayor has virtually abandoned the idea of an airport actually in the river, he is now looking at the four-runway option at Stansted as a fallback position, which has mesmerised those at Stansted, who cannot get on with their ordinary work.
The fact that we had three London airports in the same ownership for so long has constrained the debate and let BAA, as it was then, keep control of the argument. I still do not understand why so many politicians—this includes the last Labour Government—are mesmerised by the airports and airline industry, which are simply looking after their commercial advantage. That has happened to such an extent that the Conservatives in opposition were saying that HS2 should go via Heathrow. That was another mad suggestion, which slowed down high-speed rail, but it has now been abandoned.
We have been ill served by the debate so far—that goes not just for my constituents, but for the general public. Because Heathrow has been making the weather on this issue and because the other airports in the south-east have been so far behind the curve, it has been left to organisations such as HACAN—the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, led by John Stewart—and community groups to provide the rationale and the arguments, which they have done admirably.
We are now faced with the prospect of two options. I do not have the time to go into this, but I am pleased that other colleagues have talked about the horrendous effects that Heathrow expansion would have, and not just on noise—the fact that 25% of those in the EU who are bothered by serious noise nuisance are from around Heathrow should rule out expansion alone. However, there is also the congestion and pollution, as well health and safety issues. Expansion is therefore simply unthinkable, but so is an estuary airport. Not only would an estuary airport be in the wrong place—hon. Members should see what the chambers of commerce have said about the prospect of that much public money going into such a white elephant; it is a ludicrous suggestion—but it would close Heathrow, as the Mayor of London, its chief cheerleader, says it would, or Heathrow would otherwise be reduced to the size of City airport.
That is not sustainable for either the west London or the UK economy, so why are we so hung up on this idea of a hub airport? In advocating expansion, I am not expert enough to say exactly how it would occur and where it would be possible in a city and a region that has five airports, but Gatwick, which is now making some money, Stansted and Heathrow should all get together and look at that proposal. Failing that, our politicians from all parties should get together, show leadership and put forward a proposal that can deliver short-term gains for public transport and free up the existing capacity and, in the longer term, deliver a network to serve the great capital city, rather than going for an expansion of Heathrow.
We are debating aviation strategy today, but a lot of the comments I have heard—particularly about the sticking-plaster solutions for Heathrow and all sorts of other complicated, detailed, short-term fixes—do not deal with the strategy we need for the nation. We used to be a great island global trading nation in the 1700 and 1800s, and we had a fantastic period even in the early 1900s. If we are talking about strategy, we should be talking about a long-term vision for where we want our country to be, and having a new offshore airport is a very good idea for the long-term economic growth of our country.
A short runway at Heathrow would not do it, while an extra runway at Gatwick would not deal with the hub issue. All those small fixes for the short term would just lead us straight back to where we were: putting off the long-term decision again, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) described. I very much welcome the Davies commission. I differ somewhat with the timetable for the reporting and the decisions, but it is right that someone is going to take a calm, long-term view of the situation.
There have been a lot of scare stories saying that, if a new hub airport were to be built over a period of 20 or 30 years, Heathrow would somehow cease to exist. However, we already have regional airports, and Heathrow could continue in that capacity and gradually evolve over time. I must declare an interest, in that I live under the flight path in my Windsor constituency. The biggest challenge is to ensure that, with 480,000 air traffic movements a year, the number of flights does not increase. A second concern relates to night flights. I was involved with the recent Civil Aviation Bill. Thankfully, Heathrow has only 16 night flights at the moment, but with an extra runway, that number would increase massively. I will certainly continue to go on marches and to work with hon. Members across the House to ensure that a third runway does not become a reality.
We need to step back and look at the interests of the nation over the next 50 to 100 years, then make this decision in a cool, calm and collected fashion without focusing on short-term, sticking-plaster solutions. I hope that, when the Davies commission reports, it will have taken a long-term, mature look at the matter. I believe that an offshore airport would solve all the problems, despite the short-term challenges involved in getting it built.
We have had an extremely good debate. I do not have time to dwell on all the contributions, but I shall simply say that the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), has performed a singularly important task on behalf of us all in putting forward her views so strongly and eloquently. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) made an imaginative pitch for diversification. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) made some thoughtful comments about hub connectivity, which were echoed by many other hon. Members, and my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) brought all his experience and distinguished service to his comments. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) spoke with passion, as always, on behalf of his constituents.
I come to this new brief to listen and to learn, as well as to speak, but I do have Blackpool airport just down the road from my office. It handles 250,000 passengers a year, and 750,000 RAF staff trained there during world war two. Flights have been taking off from there since 1909. As today’s debate has shown, the aviation sector has enormous strengths and strategic importance. It encompasses skills in manufacturing, in leisure and tourism, in professional standards and in logistics. The sector serves a huge variety of customers and passengers, balancing business and leisure.
I believe that the aviation sector has a major contribution to make, not least because we have BAE Systems just down the road from Blackpool, supplying good jobs and apprenticeships to my constituents. There are huge opportunities for the sector to contribute to local economies, and I know that Heathrow has done some really innovative stuff with the schools and colleges in its area. The future brings great challenges, not least that of how to satisfy those under the planes as well as those on them, and how to strengthen the sense of a community of interest between them.
We agree with the Government that the aviation sector needs to grow, but we believe that that should be subject to concerns about sustainability criteria being met. The UK scores fifth in the International Air Transport Association connectivity index, and we must maintain and strengthen that position. The industry is vital to the UK economy. The aviation policy framework that was published earlier this year showed that aviation adds some £18 billion to our gross domestic product, although the Airport Operators Association puts the figure at nearly £50 billion. The Minister might like to think about whether the significance of aviation jobs, the supply chain and tourism ought to be included in that assessment. The Government’s role is to be an active and intelligent provider of connectivity for those expanding export businesses.
I broadly agree with the Chair of the Select Committee that expansion in the regions will not provide a magic bullet to deal with all our capacity problems and that there are national infrastructure issues that urgently need to be addressed. The question of whether to locate in London and the south, or in the areas beyond, is not an either/or—we have to do both. Similarly, the question of whether to opt for point to point or hub expansion is not an either/or—both are necessary. Addressing the question of the hub, and the spokes that might come from it, is critical to connectivity and consumer experience, and we must remember that that cannot simply be measured or satisfied by the number of shopping malls that might accompany the development.
Howard Davies confirmed to the Airport Operators Association conference on Tuesday that any major response to hub capacity would not become operational until 2023. In that case, there must be a particular and minute focus on short-term capacity solutions. As Davies himself has said:
“A number of airports have proposed that there are ways in which you can make existing airports more appealing and provide some additional headroom.”
I agree, and I also agree with the chief executive of AOA, who says:
“To deliver the UK’s future air connectivity we need both vibrant point-to-point airports and sufficient world class hub capacity”.
That view is echoed by the British Chambers of Commerce, although it makes the point that that strategy should not focus only on the south-east, but
“should also involve the strengthening of regional airports throughout the UK.”
There are some splendid examples of such airports in my region, quite apart from my airport at Blackpool. There is Manchester airport—we have heard wonderful illustrations of its importance—which has great strengths in local connectivity. All the 10 councils of Greater Manchester were involved with the exercise from the ’80s, and this is an £800 million airport city. Liverpool airport is increasingly widening travel options for huge swathes of people across the north-west, Wales and beyond. Elsewhere, Birmingham has put forward to the airports commission, as part of its bid for a second runway, some innovative and interesting ideas on future flight patterns and its future involvement in them.
To the extent that it is relevant to the area, I welcome the language of the aviation policy framework, which sets out the Government’s objectives and principles to guide the making of plans and decisions at local and regional levels, but if we will the ends, we also have to will the means, which means real localism on the ground from government. We believe in active empowered government, and if we are to achieve these objectives, we need local economic partnerships, local authorities and other sub-regional stakeholders to collaborate with airports.
There is particular potential for boosting tourist economies in popular destinations about the UK, in which regard the APF refers to the strategy of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Transport Ministers must not allow aviation to remain in a silo in one branch of the Department or elsewhere. Engagement is needed with other aspects of departmental responsibilities, not least the rail network, and they need to be a force for innovation and collaboration.
Airports are key players in their communities and, as the APF recognises, airports should be encouraged to strengthen these relationships with communities. To build and maximise such initiatives, we need to link rail policy with airport policy. I did not agree when the Government responded to the Select Committee by saying:
“The Government does not agree with the Committee’s view that surface access to major airports in the south east is poor.”
That shows a very complacent attitude, and we should be using the Davies gap to look actively at other ways of expanding. It is crazy that current rail services to airports are not directly considered in the aviation policy framework, and that is why we support building the new western rail link to Heathrow.
I will not; I do not have the time.
That was also why I supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) when he expressed his concerns about Stansted.
We will not prejudge the conclusions of the Davies commission, which has been tasked with producing independent recommendations on the strategy. It must be left to produce its initial report in December and subsequent recommendations, but we echo the calls of the Select Committee to the effect that, given the protracted timetable, the time available must be used to ensure that the research is comprehensive and robust.
No, I will not; I am trying to keep to my time.
The Government must also address consumers’ ongoing concerns about air passenger duty. As we said in yesterday’s Opposition day debate, the Government need to undertake a real review of the effects of that tax. In straitened times, we need to keep a clear line of sight over costs and charges, ensuring that consumers are not at the centre of any resolution between airports and airlines that disbenefits them. We also have to make sure that new or improved public transport links remain affordable to consumers because otherwise unfair burdens will be imposed on them.
Of course, we have to deal with noise, which was raised by several hon. Members, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. We will continue to oppose any increase in night flights and to listen to arguments for tighter restrictions. We will urge the Government and industry to look further at noise mitigation measures.
These are difficult times and the decisions are difficult to make, but the strategy is not a choice between economic growth, and social and community cohesion and contentment. Those factors have to be reconciled, and the Government will have to play a key part in that process.
I welcome the opportunity to respond to what has been a timely and generally good-natured debate. I also welcome the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) to his new post. He represents Lancashire’s premier resort; I represent the United Kingdom’s premier resort.
I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) for seeking the debate, the Backbench Business Committee for arranging it, and Members on both sides of the House for taking part in it. The hon. Lady is the sole survivor of the Transport Committee on which I served, and I remember my days there with great affection. She is continuing the assiduous work of her predecessor, Gwyneth Dunwoody, even if not in quite the same pugnacious style.
The Government are determined that the whole country will continue to gain the economic benefits of a vibrant aviation sector. The sector employs some 120,000 people directly, and many more indirectly. Today’s debate stems from the Transport Committee’s report on aviation strategy. As part of the Committee’s investigation, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave evidence before it on 11 February this year, and the Government responded to the report in July.
Let me update the House on some significant aviation policies before dealing with a number of points that were raised. We appear to be in broad agreement about the importance of maintaining the United Kingdom’s position as a leading global aviation hub for the UK economy. Freight volume and terminal passenger numbers were higher in 2012 than in the previous year. We have the third largest aviation network in the world, after the United States and China. The five airports serving London offer direct services at least weekly to more than 360 destinations worldwide, which is more than Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam. We are determined to take the necessary action to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub.
Aviation capacity is important for the economic growth of the UK, and that vital issue requires long-term thinking and consensus-building. The UK continues to have excellent aviation connectivity, both on a point-to-point basis and through the London hub, but our major airports face a capacity and connectivity challenge in the medium and longer term. Heathrow is operating to capacity today, Gatwick is expected to be full in the 2020s, and Stansted, which currently has considerable spare capacity, is expected to be full by the early 2030s.
The Government accept that aviation capacity, especially in the south-east, has been a controversial and difficult issue for many years. The only way in which we can end the years of indecision and inaction is by taking the approach that we have adopted, which I hope establishes cross-party support and political consensus. That was an important factor in our decision to create the airports commission and to make it independent of the Government. Led by Sir Howard Davies, the commission is examining options, and it will make recommendations that will maintain the UK’s status as a leading global aviation hub in the long term.
Given that we believe in democracy, openness and transparency, would it not be much more democratic to allow the Davies commission to report before the general election so that the debate at the time of the election can take place in the light of its findings?
The commission will publish its interim report before the end of the year, and the Government will respond to it by the spring. There may be some action that we can take at that stage, perhaps in respect of surface connectivity, but I think it is important for the commission to have a chance to do its work properly, and that means giving it enough time. If we are going to do this, let us do it right.
I am pleased by the support for the commission’s work that Members have given today. The Government welcome the publication of its discussion papers on issues such as connectivity, climate change and noise, and we look forward to receiving its interim report by the end of this year. That report will outline the scale of the additional capacity that is needed, shortlist the places that the commission thinks can best provide that capacity, and make recommendations for the effective use of existing capacity in the short term. We have also asked the commission to consider the findings of the report on our trial of operational freedoms at Heathrow, so that, too, will be covered in the interim report.
The Government look forward to the interim report, and we will give it full consideration, but we shall not be in a position to comment on the scope or content of our response—which, as I have said, we intend to issue in the spring—until the report’s publication at the end of 2013. I hope that the hon. Members for Liverpool, Riverside and for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) will understand the need for the work to be done thoroughly, and the time that that will take.
I am pleased to be able to tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) that I will visit Stansted soon, so I will learn about some of the issues there first hand. He said there has never been a strategy, but I hope that the Davies commission addresses that failing.
The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) has considerable experience of this subject through Manchester Airports Group, and I hope he welcomes the fact that I spent an Industry and Parliament Trust year with MAG, when I learned a lot about the operations of airports. He mentioned the vexed issue of APD, which the House had a good opportunity to discuss yesterday. Although I am new to the job, I am not so wet behind the ears that I would encroach on the Treasury’s territory, but I would make the point that there are other barriers to visitors coming to the UK, including the issue of visas for people from China, so I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor addressed that on his recent visit there.
I would hope that the Department for Transport would have a fairly robust view on this and that it would communicate its thoughts to the Treasury if it felt that APD was limiting the numbers of passengers, although we know it is—by about 2.1 million per annum in Scotland. Surely the Department for Transport will not sit back and let the Treasury take the lead.
The Government are determined to stay on track with our deficit reduction plans, and it is important that the aviation sector continues to play its part. A number of Members in the House should shoulder some of the blame for the deficit that we are having to reduce.
On CAA costs, I assure the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton that I intend to have regular meetings with its chair, Dame Deirdre Hutton. Indeed, one such meeting is already in my diary. Of course, under the Civil Aviation Act 2012, there is a requirement on the CAA to consult on charges.
The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) raised the issue of noise and air quality, as did the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), whose views on this matter are well known. The right hon. Gentleman referred to recent research by Imperial college and others about heart attacks and strokes in areas affected by aircraft noise. We need to do further work on that because other factors may also be in play.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) made the case for London to be better connected, so I look forward to his support next week as we push forward with plans for the High Speed 2 rail network, which will connect London with the north of England so effectively. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse raised concerns about some of the initial press coverage following my appointment. May I assure him that he should not read too much into the meeting I had with the Scarborough Greenpeace people? Indeed, I was relieved that the coverage was not portrayed as the Chancellor having another of his chums in a Government Department watching his back. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I come to this with an open mind. Indeed, when the Secretary of State appointed me he said, “You’ll be just the person for aviation as you’re 250 miles away from the south-east of England.”
Looking outside London, the Government’s aviation policy framework, which was published earlier this year, supports the growth of regional airports, and we recognise the importance of regional air connectivity to London in supporting regional economies and contributing to national cohesion. In fact, domestic airport connectivity across the UK increased in 2012. We now have a flight from Leeds Bradford to Heathrow, which is becoming a boon to the Yorkshire economy.
Aviation is a challenging topic. Successive Governments have struggled with how best to continue to gain the economic benefits it brings while restraining its impact on local people. I hope that the House agrees that the Government have established the right foundations to move forward, gain consensus and secure the benefits aviation brings for the nation.
I thank all Members who have participated in this very well-attended Backbench Business Committee debate. There is overwhelming support for additional hub capacity to support our economy. I hope that hon. Members’ contributions will assist the Davies commission to come to the correct conclusion. This issue will not go away; it is about the future of our country.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered aviation strategy.