With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the work of the Airports Commission. I will also give brief details of my written ministerial statement from this morning on Network Rail’s reclassification.
In September last year, Sir Howard Davies agreed to chair an independent Airports Commission. That commission was asked to examine how the UK’s status as a leading global aviation hub can be maintained, and this morning it published its interim report. I have deposited copies of that report in the Library, and it is available on the Airports Commission’s website. I know this issue is central not only to our nation’s economic future but to those who use or work in airports, or who are affected by the impact of airports on their lives.
The UK is a leader in aviation, with the third largest aviation network in the world. The sector contributes £18 billion per year to our economy, and employs around 220,000 workers directly and many more indirectly. We need airports that put our country at the front of global competition and allow people to get to where they want to go. We also want airports that are quieter and meet our carbon commitments. Today’s report is an important step towards both goals.
Many Members of the House and their constituents hold strong views about the right outcome, and it is right that we respect that. I will be writing to invite Members to a briefing session early in the new year, when Sir Howard will explain the contents of the commission’s report in more detail. I take this opportunity to thank Sir Howard and his fellow commissioners—Sir John Armitt, Professor Ricky Burdett, Vivienne Cox and Dame Julia King, and Geoff Muirhead who stood down in September—for the care they have taken. Their interim report is a detailed and professional piece of work based on careful research, and it merits the fullest consideration.
It may be helpful if I provide a brief overview of the key issues that have been addressed. First, the interim report provides the commission’s advice on the level of future airport capacity this country will require, which is based on new evidence about a rapidly changing industry. The commission has also consulted a wide range of people and organisations, and as a result it offers a clear recommendation that there is need for new runway capacity in the medium term to support continued competitiveness and prosperity. We will, of course, be looking carefully at that recommendation and at how best we can take decisions that are in the long-term economic interest of the country, while respecting the environment and quality of life. Sir Howard is also clear in his report that there is no crisis of capacity now. He does, however, conclude that we will need one additional runway in the south-east by 2030, and in all likelihood a second by 2050. The commission is clear that those recommendations can be consistent with the UK’s climate change obligations.
Secondly, the commission has announced which long-term options it intends to take forward in the second phase of its work. The first option is Gatwick Airport. The commission will consider a new runway spaced sufficiently south of the existing runway to permit fully independent operation. The second and third options are for Heathrow Airport. The Commission will consider, first, a new full-length runway to the north west of the existing airport, as proposed by Heathrow Airport Ltd, spaced sufficiently to permit fully independent operation; and secondly, an extension of the existing northern runway to the west, as proposed by Heathrow Hub Ltd, which would allow it to be operated as two separate runways, one for departures and one for arrivals.
Options for the construction of a new airport in the Thames estuary have not been shortlisted by the commission at this stage. However, the commission intends to carry out further analysis of the feasibility and impacts of a new airport on the Isle of Grain and aims to reach a decision in the second half of 2014 on whether this constitutes a credible option for further development and detailed study. If this option is then added to the shortlist, it will be subject to a process of appraisal and consultation similar to that proposed for other shortlisted options. In phase two of its work, the commission will undertake detailed analysis and consultation on each of these locations, in partnership with promoters. It will also, of course, work with local communities and listen to their views.
On the third key issue, the commission also recommends action to make better use of our existing aviation infrastructure, particularly over the next five years. I welcome this fresh thinking, much of which is aimed at industry as much as the Government, about how we can make improvements to our already strong aviation sector. The commission has produced some interesting ideas including: the better use of airspace to improve resilience at London airports; trials at Heathrow airport to smooth the early-morning arrival schedule to minimise stacking and delays and to provide more predictable respite for local communities; and an independent aviation noise authority to improve decision making on noise issues. These are important recommendations that merit a response in advance of decisions on longer-term capacity. The Government will consider the short-term recommendations in detail and respond to them by the spring of next year. Finally, the commission proposes improvements to surface access to airports. The Government set out their initial response to these recommendations in their national infrastructure plan, published earlier this month.
I would also like to set out how we intend to address the concerns of people who live around sites subject to further consideration by the commission. Now that the commission’s report has been published, we will be working closely with promoters to consider the form and scale of any appropriate relief that might be put in place, and we will set out our thinking on this important issue in our response to the interim report.
I know that colleagues on both sides of the House will have their views on the content of the commission’s interim report, and in particular on the choices made in shortlisting those options. My principal concern as Secretary of State for Transport is to protect the integrity and independence of the commission process through to the final report, which we expect to be delivered by summer 2015. The Government will not therefore be commenting, either today or in responding to the interim report, on the respective merits of the options that have and have not been shortlisted. Given the vital importance of aviation to our nation, I urge colleagues to engage positively with the work of the commission as it moves into the next, equally important phase of its work. The variety of views in the House and beyond about the right way forward is proof that an independent commission, rather than ill thought out actions that might suggest other alternatives, is the right way forward. The commission process offers us the best chance we have to get this decision right.
I turn briefly to a second issue. Hon. Members will also be aware that today the Office for National Statistics announced that from 1 September 2014 Network Rail will be reclassified and appear on the Government’s balance sheet. As the Treasury and the Office for Budget Responsibility noted when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made his autumn statement, this includes the company’s net debt of some £30 billion. I laid a written ministerial statement this morning, and I published a memorandum of understanding with Network Rail on my Department’s website and placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses. The MOU shows how my Department will work with Network Rail until its reclassification in September 2014. This independent, statistical decision will not affect Network Rail’s investment programmes, plans for High Speed 2 or the franchising programme.
The Government will continue to deliver vital improvements to all modes of transport so that transport can remain the engine for economic growth that it is. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me notice and advance sight of his statement. I welcome the interim report from Sir Howard Davies. This is important work, and we will scrutinise it closely. It is vital that we take decisions about our airport capacity, including in the south-east, as it is important for Britain’s jobs, growth and competitiveness. Britain’s status as a global centre of aviation should be maintained.
It is good to see that the original Heathrow proposal for a third runway to the north of the current airport, which we were sceptical about, has been taken off the table. We also welcome the fact that this work takes into account our climate change obligations. As the commission now looks at specific proposals in more detail, we urge it to take into account the need to minimise the impact of increased capacity on local people and the environment. We are glad that the Government accepted our proposal to establish the commission, and we will look carefully at the report. The commission must be allowed to get on and complete its work on the long-term future of UK aviation.
Will the Secretary of State explain the exact status of the plans for an airport in the Thames estuary? I also want to ask him about the commission’s short-term recommendations. Will he introduce legislation in the Queen’s Speech in May to set up an independent aviation noise authority? If so, which Bill will contain the proposals? Can he say more about the optimisation strategy to improve the efficiency of UK airports in the short term? Communities that are currently affected by aviation noise want to know the Secretary of State’s position on additional night flights and on compensation for communities. Will he draw up plans to ensure that EU limits on air pollutants from existing aviation are met, as recommended by the Transport Select Committee?
On the reclassification of Network Rail, given that the Government already guarantee Network Rail’s debt, will its cost of borrowing now fall as a result of today’s announcement? Will the Government’s fiscal rules be changed to take account of the changes to debt and borrowing? Will today’s change affect the deficit? Will the Government and the Office for Budget Responsibility continue to publish borrowing and debt figures excluding these changes, as they have done with the transfer of the Royal Mail pension scheme, so that the underlying changes in borrowing and debt are transparent? Will the Government be taking any additional powers to direct Network Rail’s borrowing now that it will be on the Government’s books, or will the reclassification mean that Network Rail’s borrowing and debt have to be offset by further cuts and tax rises elsewhere? Could the change mean less money being available to invest in the railways? Can the Secretary of State guarantee that passengers will not face higher fares to pay for the debt reclassification? Does he anticipate any structural changes to Network Rail that would take the debt off balance sheet in the future?
The Secretary of State’s memorandum of understanding announced the appointment of an accounting officer to satisfy Parliament’s accounting and budgeting process. When will that person be in post? What will the audit arrangements be? When can we expect decisions from the Secretary of State on whether to appoint a special director to Network Rail, and on whether he will change the framework for Network Rail executives’ pay and bonuses? How many of them are currently paid more than the Prime Minister? Will he now personally sign off on their pay and bonuses? Can we expect greater transparency in the way in which Network rail operates? Who will be accountable for Network Rail’s performance? Will he tell us who is now responsible for safety on the railways? Is it Network Rail executives, Network Rail members, the permanent secretary or the Secretary of State himself?
I thank the hon. Lady for her—I am not quite sure how many—questions. A number were on Network Rail, on which I may respond a little later. It is always amazing to hear the way in which the hon. Lady tries to rewrite history. I notice today that she has said in a press release that it is good to see that the original Heathrow proposals for a third runway
“of which we were sceptical”
have been taken off the table. I cannot help but go back to the manifesto on which the hon. Lady fought the last general election; a manifesto written, I think, by the current Leader of the Opposition. The manifesto says:
“We support a third runway at Heathrow, subject to strict conditions on environmental impact and flight numbers”.
Something about which they are now sceptical was actually a core part of their transport manifesto at the last general election. I know that there is a rewriting of history going on but when something appears in the manifesto, it is usual to try to stick to it.
On the welcome for the setting up of Sir Howard Davies’ commission, I do not remember the calls for it initially; I think that the idea was put in place by my predecessor and was announced by me when I became Secretary of State for Transport. I am glad that the hon. Lady welcomes the report because this is a big infrastructure issue that takes time to develop. It takes time to work through all the proposals and it is right that we try, if possible, to get as much consensus as we can across parties. One of the commissioners did a report for Labour on infrastructure spending that was published not so long ago. I welcome the hon. Lady’s points on that.
On the Thames estuary proposals—the Isle of Grain— Sir Howard has said this morning in interviews and in the report that he would hope to have a view on that by the middle of next year and we will then know on which route we are going.
With the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip here, I am not at this stage able to announce what may or may not be in a future Queen’s speech. I did say that I will respond by the spring to some of the points that Sir Howard has made in the report and I shall stick by that commitment.
The hon. Lady asked me a number of questions about Network Rail. There will be more time for us to debate this issue as the change comes into operation from September 2014. But as I am here today making the statement, and as I have made a statement on the Office for National Statistics recommendations, which came through only this morning, I will be happy to deal in more detail with specific points that she raised on a number of issues.
One of the things that the Government and I are keen on is that over the next four years in the CP5 phase of Network Rail’s expenditure, it will invest £38 billion in the railways, far more than it has been investing for some years. That certainly is under no threat whatsoever. We will still see record levels of investment taking place. Some of the other questions the hon. Lady asked are on issues that the hon. Lady I am considering.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that too many Governments of all political parties have fiddled around on the question of airport capacity for too long, which is why the commission is to be welcomed so much? But does he agree that when the final recommendation is made, we need to seek political consensus across the chamber to be able to move forward as quickly as possible? How does he think that consensus can be achieved?
There may be a consensus, but there will always be a certain number of people who are against a consensus. I am not necessarily sure that one gets total consensus on any infrastructure project. It often depends on how it impacts on individual constituents, which is something we have to take into account. We should not run away from that. I hope that, as a result of the detailed work that is being done by the commission and the fact that it is being as open as possible in its dealings with everybody, it will be seen that it is doing a proper and constructive job and will enjoy widespread confidence. Today has been a good example of that, in the way that the shadow Secretary of State has welcomed the initial findings of the report.
At a minimum, according to the report, 2,000 of my constituents will lose their homes, which will be demolished. That could rise to perhaps 10,000 because of homes being rendered unliveable by noise and air pollution. Two primary schools will be demolished, with perhaps two more being rendered unfit to teach in. The threat returns that we may have to dig up our relatives buried in the local cemetery. Where will my constituents find a home? Where will my constituents send their children to school? Where will we bury our dead? Does he appreciate the sense of betrayal that is felt in my community?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has spoken very sincerely about this on behalf of his constituents. However, he is prejudging the outcome of the report. The report has not said which option it has gone for. It has come forward with three shortlisted options and another option that will be looked at in the longer term. This is not a fait accompli. The commission’s work will continue over the next 18 months.
Bearing in mind that the recommendations of the Roskill commission on airport capacity were rejected by successive Governments, does my right hon. Friend accept that until the first concrete, and lots of it, is poured, uncertainty will not be removed from many of the locations that are mentioned by Sir Howard Davies today? To echo the sentiment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), will my right hon. Friend work extremely hard to get bipartisan acceptance of the final recommendations?
Not only will I try to get bipartisan agreement, I will try to get tripartisan agreement. I shall not just look at any two parties. I hope that that is the way in which we can move forward. My right hon. Friend has huge experience of this issue and has often made the case for protecting Stansted airport.
The Davies commission report includes a shortlist that has on it the recommendation of the Transport Committee for expanding Heathrow, and confirms the importance of connecting the economy of this country with the emerging economies in India, Brazil and China. Does the Secretary of State agree that taking no action means that this country continues to lose out? When does he think the decision should be made?
I am sorry; I missed the last bit of the hon. Lady’s question. [Hon. Members: “When do you think the decision should be made?”] I know that the Transport Committee will be seeing Sir Howard at one of its meetings in the early part of January. I agree with the hon. Lady; we will be responding early next year to the recommendations on which Sir Howard has asked us to come to a view.
The Government was absolutely right to scrap Labour’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow. I very much welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement:
“No ifs. No buts. No third runway”.
I assume the Prime Minister meant it. What assurance can the Secretary of State provide that nothing will be done to breach the Committee on Climate Change recommendations?
It is important that everything that Sir Howard is looking at is contained within our climate change obligations. Aircraft are changing; their emissions are changing. What is very unenvironmentally friendly is stacking aircraft above London that are pumping out emissions into the atmosphere.
The Commission appears to be recommending another runway at Heathrow, which is exactly where we were 10 years ago. The proposal on Gatwick appears to be “in addition to” rather than “instead of” the proposal at Heathrow. I notice that the Secretary of State studiously avoided expressing an opinion and I understand that he wants to await the outcome of the commission. However, could he tell us whether or not the Government think that the commission is on the right track? Clearly if it is not, it would be better to tell it now, rather than wait until 2015. I join everyone in this House who believes that, 50 years after the Government first looked at what should happen to London airport, we need to make a decision, and we should do so as soon as possible. If we do not, we will fall behind the rest of the world.
I am always slightly cautious in the answers I give to the right hon. Gentleman, who has the distinguished record of being one of the longest-serving Transport Secretaries of recent times. I would point out, however, that when he was Secretary of State and the 2003 White Paper was published, there was only one mention of Dubai. Things have changed hugely in aviation over the last few years, which is why it was right to set up this commission. The right hon. Gentleman was wrong on his original assumption: Gatwick is an alternative—it is not necessarily a case of Heathrow and nothing else—as is the Thames estuary.
The commission report places great importance on the success of all the options it is still looking at through effective and integrated surface transport links. So much so that the commission, which I understand is carrying out, in the Secretary of State’s own words, work that merits the fullest consideration, now intends to examine the HS2 line and the possible HS2 spur to Heathrow. Surely the Government should now wait until this work is completed and the final decision on airport capacity is made before pressing ahead with a high-risk £50 billion project that might end up being built in quite the wrong place.
I refer my right hon. Friend to page 202 of the report. I thought that she would raise this issue, so I refer her to paragraph 6.94:
“A high speed rail spur from the main HS2 line to the airport is not included in the cost estimate, but the Commission will consider the case for this as part of its review of surface access options. It will not, however, consider the case for any re-routing of the main HS2 line.”
I believe that it is a vital part of the national infrastructure of the United Kingdom.
Is the Secretary of State aware that some of the UK’s leading companies have cut their flights by an average of 38% over the past three years, and does he not recognise that his reckless enthusiasm for new runways will not only cause huge harm for the local communities involved, but shows this Government lagging far behind progressive companies that understand the urgency of climate change and are reducing their number of flights on economic as well as environmental grounds?
The hon. Lady needs to look at the passenger numbers through the terminals. At Heathrow in 1992, for example, there were 45 million in comparison with 70 million in 2012. At Gatwick in 1992, passenger numbers were 19.9 million, but 34.2 million in 2012. People still want to travel. I am sure that the hon. Lady has holidays only in the United Kingdom and never travels abroad, but a lot of people like the option to go abroad.
Sir Howard reminds us that Heathrow is 100% full and Gatwick is 85% full. A new build of any kind anywhere is going to take an absolute minimum of 10 years and probably longer. We are losing business to Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Dubai now. We have to get to chapter five, paragraph 5.91 on page 163 before we find a paragraph that mentions other airports, and it is dismissive. Manston airport in Kent has the capacity—now, as we speak—to take business from Gatwick and Heathrow to release the capacity we need and to build in the time we need for the right decisions to be taken in the longer term. Will my right hon. Friend please look at it seriously?
The commission has looked at a number of options. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the conclusions on page 102, where it is made clear that the UK does not face an immediate capacity crisis. Sir Howard and the whole commission are clear that we need to take this decision so that we have the option of a new runway by 2030. That is exactly what we will be doing.
For my constituents, today’s report is proof that the Heathrow lobby’s hold over the Conservative party never went away. The hands of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are all over this report. One third of those seriously affected by airport noise in Europe live around Heathrow. What is the Secretary of State offering to the 2 million people in west London other than a continued deterioration in their quality of life by the expansion of Heathrow.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that he fought the election on the basis of a manifesto saying that there would be a third runway at Heathrow airport. Before he gets on his high horse about what I am doing, perhaps he should consider what that manifesto said. As I have said, the simple fact is that we need to do everything we can to alleviate noise problems; we need to look carefully at the eventual recommendations of the final report. We do not yet have the final recommendations; the time to conduct this type of debate is when we get them.
My first impression is “so far, so depressing”. I know that this is only an interim report, but my constituents will note that Heathrow is yet again emerging as the favoured option. I should also say that the two options for Heathrow that are flagged up in the report will both be particularly bad news for my constituents in Ealing, Chiswick and Acton. Let me ask my right hon. Friend: what on earth more do my constituents have to do to get their message across that any expansion of the noise, pollution and congestion that goes with Heathrow and blights the whole of west London would simply be intolerable?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I understand the passion that she and other Members feel about this issue. It is right for us to try to look at and address these issues. We have to see what is happening with aviation noise and how it should be judged. That is why I am very interested in some of the commission’s interim proposals. It will take longer to take a view on that, but I hope to be able to come back in the spring to announce the way forward. This is a very difficult job because these issues have been around for some time. It is right to conduct a proper investigation and, I hope, come up with the right alternative at the end of the day.
As Government after Government have ducked this issue, our main European competitors have built many runways, while our new competitors in the middle east have built even more of them. Does the Secretary of State agree that the only way to break this logjam is for both the major political parties represented in this Chamber to give a commitment to accept the conclusions of the Davies report?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who served for a long time on the Transport Select Committee. I certainly agree with him that it would be good if we could reach a consensus on this matter. Whatever option we come up with will impact on people’s lives and communities. We need to try to do everything we can to address and relieve it, but we also need to look at the options for the longer-term future offered by quieter aeroplanes, for example. An overall consensus would indeed be the best way to move forward on big infrastructure projects.
My right hon. Friend has repeatedly used the phrase “longer term” both in his statement and in replying to questions. The exam question to the commission was how the UK’s status as a leading global aviation hub could be maintained. By any standards on a long-term basis, the commission has failed. Its principal options simply cannot sustain the UK’s position as a long-term hub. The only hope remains the Isle of Grain option. When it comes to consideration of Gatwick, for example, someone will need to explain that doing up Gatwick station will not deal with the capacity issue on the Brighton main line or with the road issues. Someone will also have to explain where a town the size of Crawley is going to be placed.
My hon. Friend has just dismissed two options, but no doubt other hon. Members who may be called to speak a little later will dismiss the third option, which my hon. Friend refers to as the “only” option available. That is why we set up a commission—so that we could base our final decisions on proper researched evidence.
The chief executive of Birmingham airport, Paul Kehoe, has described the Davies report today as focusing disproportionately on the south-east and entrenching the dominance of the south-east economy to the detriment of growth in the rest of the UK. The Birmingham chamber of commerce has said the same thing. Does the Secretary of State recognise that, in circumstances where Birmingham wants the expansion of its airport, which will be key to economic growth in the midlands, Britain simply cannot succeed through London and the south-east alone?
I am a passionate believer in the role of airports outside London. The first time I appeared before the Select Committee, I said that we should stop describing airports such as Birmingham and Manchester as regional airports, because they are major international airports in their own right. I want to see those airports—along with East Midlands airport—serving their local communities. On page 195 of its report, the commission says that it does not see
“a strong case for expansion at Birmingham”
at the moment, but that may well change by 2050. Moreover, being served directly by HS2 will give the airport a great opportunity for the future.
At the last general election, both coalition parties opposed an increase in runway capacity in the south-east. I think it is clear that the Conservatives have now realised that that was the wrong decision and have changed their minds, but the Liberal Democrats are still in denial. Most of us want the Davies commission to report earlier than the summer of 2015. Who set the deadline—the Secretary of State, Sir Howard, or the Liberal Democrats?
I note that the hon. Gentleman is now speaking from the Back Benches about a subject on which he used to speak from the Front Bench. When he was on the Front Bench, I challenged him to tell us, if his was such an easy solution, what proposals he would support. He was unable to answer that question from the Front Bench, but perhaps he will be able to do so from his more privileged position on the Back Benches.
I note the answer that the Secretary of State has just given, but does he not accept that no serious political party can go into the next general election without a clear opinion on an issue that matters to so many people and so many businesses in this country? That is simply not a credible position for any party to have.
I know my hon. Friend’s views on this matter, and I know that he fights passionately on behalf of his constituents. However, I think it right for us to try to obtain an answer that is, as far as possible, based on good evidence and good research. That is what the commission is doing, and it will report by the summer of 2015.
According to the Davies report, London continues to accommodate the largest overseas destination market in the world. What more can be done to enable regional airports such as Durham Tees Valley airport, which is in my constituency, to have access to that market by ensuring that it is given Heathrow slots sooner rather than later? May I also ask the Secretary of State to discuss with his colleagues in the Treasury the possibility of varying the levels of air passenger duty around the country, which would help all United Kingdom airports?
I think that the biggest increases in APD occurred under the last Government rather than this one. At a time when we are trying to reduce the deficit, it is always easy to find ways of making cuts, but we must then find a replacement for that certain income. As for the hon. Gentleman’s question about regional airports, I remind him of what I said a few moments ago about their importance to local communities.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the provision of more long-haul services from, for instance, Manchester airport, and Leeds Bradford International airport—which my constituents use—to China, India and the other emerging markets would help to ease all the congestion at London’s airports? Could that not be part of the solution?
Will the Secretary of State consider seriously the issue of connectivity throughout the United Kingdom, particularly in relation to Scotland? Connections to the south-east are extremely important, and if we do not get a move on, we shall be in danger of strangling growth throughout the UK.
Let me first thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He described the United Kingdom as an international aviation hub. What discussions has he had with representatives of Belfast City, Belfast International and City of Derry airports in Northern Ireland to ensure that the viable transport links to which he referred can be solidified and all regions can benefit from them?
Having responded to questions from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I am well aware of the importance to Northern Ireland of its connections with London. I have had no direct conversations with the Northern Ireland Assembly, but I have of course listened to what colleagues in the House of Commons have had to say.
I commend the Howard Davies commission for recognising that the Isle of Grain cannot be lightly dismissed and merits further consideration. However, he said this morning, when comparing it with the other proposals, that the Thames estuary proposal was
“a much more extensive proposition for shifting the economic geography of the south-east of England by creating a new pole of economic development.”
Is that within the remit of the commission?
I should make it clear that by “he said”, my hon. Friend meant what Sir Howard Davies had said, rather than any words that I might have said.
The commission must look at the whole proposal, and it has said that it will do so, because it is completely different from the proposals that certain airports have been making themselves. The matter will be addressed in the report which Sir Howard has said he hopes to produce by next summer.
I am not sure that I derive much comfort from the information that the expansion of Birmingham airport may be decided in 2050, by which time I shall be 95 years old. May I suggest something that the Secretary of State could do now? He could compel Network Rail to come up with a strategy to improve surface access to airports, so that those such as Birmingham which have spare capacity can be properly connected?
I am not sure that I wish to comment on the first part of the hon. Lady’s question—it might not be the thing to do from the Dispatch Box—but I will say that I know Birmingham airport very well, having used it on a number of occasions. It is not badly connected at present, but there is room for improvements, and I naturally want to think about ways of making those improvements. I believe that the direct connection between HS2 and Birmingham airport will give it the potential to develop in that way.
A suppressed Cabinet Office report on HS2 raises major concerns about its risky construction timetable, its poor management and the insufficient work done on costs, and also questions the capability of those involved in the delivery of the project. Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether the Government are prepared to publish the report by the Major Projects Authority?
I do not think that there is any shortage of reports on HS2, be they from the National Audit Office, from the Transport Committee, or in the form of evidence given to the Treasury Committee. There is a huge number of such reports that people can consult rather than consulting a report that is more than two years old.
Birmingham airport is right in the middle of the country and right next to the major motorways of the United Kingdom, and, with HS2, it will be within easy reach of the vast majority of the people who live in Britain. People living in the west midlands will be utterly staggered to learn that they must wait until 2050 for any consideration to be given to its expansion.
It is not a case of waiting until 2050 for any consideration of that airport’s expansion; what I said, and what the report said, is that there will be a need for a new runway in the south-east by 2030 and then probably for another runway in 2050, and at that stage that airport could be one of the considerations. But a huge amount is still going on at Birmingham airport. I am not going to talk that airport down now, and I do not want anyone else to do so. It has extended its runway and has a lot more availability, and I want it to be able to prosper, along the lines that other airports, such as Manchester, have done.
I very much agree with the comments made by the Chairman of the Transport Committee that the current situation is an option that cannot go on for much longer, but I also agree with comments made by Opposition Members about the connectivity with Birmingham. Given that senior engineers in HS2 doubt the efficiency, cost and environmental suitability of the route, would it not make sense to link HS2 directly not only from Birmingham to central London, but to whichever airport is chosen to have that third runway?
There is a widespread feeling that the airports issue is symptomatic of this country’s poor approach to long-term infrastructure planning. Clearly there will be winners and losers whichever decision is made, but the truth is that a decision will still need to be made. If we need two runways by 2050, will the Government make a provisional decision on both, thus finally bringing some long-term certainty to this issue?
I am not sure that we will make a decision on both of them in one go. As I say, the report is very clear: we will need an additional runway by 2030 and, in all likelihood, another by 2050. A number of things will have changed by then, so it would be wrong at this stage to start saying exactly what the runway beyond the next runway will be, because the infrastructure I have talked about, such as HS2, will be in place and other airports will come much more into play.
The Government are determined to build HS2, rebalance our economy and make Birmingham airport 38 minutes from London Euston. Does the Secretary of State share my concern and disappointment today that Birmingham airport was not included in the initial recommendations?
What I am seeing, and what I see nearly everywhere I go, is a strong lobbying exercise, or representation exercise, on behalf of Birmingham airport, and rightly so because it is a very good airport—I like it and use it regularly. What Birmingham has already done, through its expansion and extending the runway, means that it will be able to offer lots more services to the people of the west midlands, and I very much hope to take advantage of that.
Will most ordinary people listening to this debate not conclude that a politician who cannot make a decision is no more use than a chocolate teapot? If we are going to keep on procrastinating and if the Government cannot even decide that Boris island is not going to float, they have run out of steam.
Coming from somebody who was 13 years in a Government who refused to make—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman was 13 years in Parliament supporting a Government—avidly, on every occasion—who continually failed to take any decisions about major infrastructure projects, yet he now complains that this Government, who have made more progress on the railways and on aviation, are somehow slacking in making their decision.
Heathrow is crucial to the continued economic vibrancy of towns such as Reading and to foreign inward investment into the Thames Valley region. Airport capacity does need to expand, but so, too, does surface access to Heathrow. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Heathrow rail link to Reading and from the west is immediately brought forward from the 2021 timeline currently in progress?
My hon. Friend is a very big advocate of more infrastructure investment in Reading, where we are currently spending some £880 million on a major refurbishment of Reading station, which will greatly enhance the capabilities for surface access to Reading. However, I note his early applications for even more investment in his area.
One issue that merits greater consideration than the half page given by the commission is the proposal for a temporary exemption from air passenger duty for new long-haul routes from airports outside London. Such an exemption would help airports such as Manchester to develop new routes to China. Will the Secretary of State make sure that this idea stays on the table?
The Davies report states that expansion at Birmingham airport would have a “relatively high” noise impact compared with the alternatives, but ironically a second runway would have taken the noise further way from areas of habitation. Will the Secretary of State look also at the road surface access to the existing extended runway, as that can currently be a source of gridlock at a very important transport node?
On the Network Rail statement, given the way in which responsibilities for rail services in Scotland are divided between the Scottish and UK Governments, how will responsibility for the net debt of £30 billion or its servicing be divided between those Governments?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on coming to the House to make a statement on an interim report. I am delighted to hear him confirm that the Government have no set position on this matter, but I am sure he will be reassured to know that people in Hillingdon, including my honourable comrade, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), will be dusting off the campaign material and once again proving that any expansion at Heathrow is politically and environmentally undeliverable.
My right hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman will be a formidable team in their campaigning approach to this matter. I know they will do so, but I also urge them to submit their views to the commission as it moves to its next phase in preparing its final report.
The Aerospace Growth Partnership, with strong environmental safeguards, is supported by all three main parties—even the Liberal Democrats have signed up. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) made the good suggestion that all three parties should commit to the outcome reached by the Davies inquiry. Will the Secretary of State explore that with all main parties?
I thought that Sir Howard’s remit was to examine the need for aviation provision for the whole UK economy, so does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that he seems focused on the self-fulfilling prophecy that growth feeds further demand in the south-east? Does my right hon. Friend share my wish for further consideration to be given to growth in resurgent economies, and, thus, to Birmingham international airport, for the midlands, and to other regional airports and economies?
The commission has had to work on the basis of what is actually happening in aviation: Heathrow has 99% usage and Gatwick is also filling up, but other airports in London are not as busy at the moment. So it is right that the commission has done the overall work and the proper work, and has made an interim suggestion. The Davies commission does also talk about the importance of regional airports, and nobody is denying that; I would much prefer more services to be available for people so that they would not necessarily have to travel into London to use an airport of demand. However, the availability of services does attract a lot of passengers to airports in the south-east.
New airport capacity must go hand in hand with our efforts to reduce CO2 omissions from aviation, as the Secretary of State mentioned in his statement. Given that his Government abandoned the UK’s target to be at or below 2005 levels by 2050, what guarantees can he give to the House to ensure that those considerations are included in the final plans?
I invite my right hon. Friend to expand a little on the role of regional airports. Will he give an assurance that the Government will recognise the important role that smaller regional airports can play, not just in easing the burden on traffic to the south-east but in providing economic growth to areas such as the Humber region?
I cannot add very much to what I have said already. I agree with my hon. Friend, but it is difficult for some regional airports to attract new services. That is one of the big changes that we have seen as far as the aviation industry is concerned, and I am keen to do anything I can to encourage those regional airports to be able to provide more services.
In that regard, Birmingham could cater for two thirds of the projected passenger increase from building a new runway at Heathrow at less than 2% of the £6 billion cost, without the need to demolish schools, villages or homes. Why are those considerations not worthy to be looked at now?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that increased airport capacity and quieter aircraft will not just benefit the UK economy but improve the quality of life of my constituents in Hornchurch and Upminster and those in the rest of Greater London by reducing stacking of aircraft, which currently have nowhere to land?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One thing that causes too much pollution is stacking aircraft. Through better traffic management and longer traffic management of aircraft, a lot has been done to improve the flows into airports so that there is orderly access and entry into Heathrow, but more work can be done on that. That is one of the interim recommendations of the commission.
In his statement, the Secretary of State rightly described the increase in airport capacity in the south-east as the “engine for growth”. The same applies in south Wales. Will he directly engage with the Welsh Government on how Cardiff airport can develop its services so that it can play its part in both UK and regional growth?
Can the Mayor of London expect any Government money to promote his imaginative proposal, and if so, could we also have some in Medway? Given that the page numbers in the Secretary of State’s report are different from those I got from the commission, can he shed any light on the late change in the report to include a Grain option and tell us whether meetings with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor last week played any part in that?
It is true that my report did not come off a PDF document, but I am not sure whether the page numbers differ from those in the report received by my hon. Friend. How the Mayor of London spends the considerable amounts of money that he has at his disposal is a matter for him.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that within these important considerations about aviation expansion fits the complementary issue of supporting nationwide infrastructure? With that in mind, will he assure the House that Ilkeston train station is on target for opening at the end of 2014? Such news will perhaps bring a bit of extra festive cheer to the good people of Erewash.
I assure my hon. Friend that everything I have said about Network Rail and its reclassification will have no impact on the courageous campaign that she has mounted to get a railway station open in Ilkeston by next December. When I was in Ilkeston recently, it was suggested to me that it should be called not Ilkeston station but Jessica’s junction.
I welcome the recommendation in the Davies commission on the use of existing airport capacity, particularly the reiteration of the support for Birmingham gateway. Does the Secretary of State share my disappointment that the commission has not been bolder in looking at Birmingham airport as a long-term solution? If we are considering options in London and the south-east, would it not have made more sense to have a credible option outside the area, because it could have a transformative effect on the west midlands economy?
I am pleased to see the Birmingham lobbying exercise spread across the whole of the west midlands. There is clearly a united front on the matter. I know that Sir Howard will look at the exchanges today, but there is nothing to stop Birmingham airport expanding; indeed, I encourage that. At the moment, the airport is not utilised to its full capabilities. Many more services can be provided from Birmingham now that the extension of the airport has been completed.
The aviation White Paper in 2003 stated that expansion of Leeds Bradford airport would need surface access improvements, yet we have seen very few. In this report, chapter 5 makes specific reference to surface access to other airports and recommends that the Government work with local authorities to ensure that such improvements take place. Will the Secretary of State make sure that Leeds Bradford airport will be looked at, because my constituents have to suffer many people going past their homes on very overcrowded roads?
The Mayor of London claims that Heathrow is a planning error. It is not; it is our hub airport. As my right hon. Friend is well aware, the Thames estuary is home to some significant ports infrastructure. Is it not to be hoped that the Davies commission rules out, once and for all, a Thames estuary airport, particularly as we already have an excellent airport at Southend?
Let us forget Birmingham and Leeds Bradford and get back to Manchester. Given that Heathrow is already operating at full capacity and it is likely to be years before any option being considered by the Davies commission is built, may I ask my right hon. Friend what steps he is taking to encourage greater use of these regional airports—or major international airports as he calls them? May I suggest that a useful and popular first step would be to reduce airport passenger duty for new long-haul flights from regional airports, which would not cost the Treasury anything because they do not exist at the moment?
I am always keen to hear about schemes that cost no money whatever. Colleagues often convince me of a scheme but, unfortunately, when I go to the Treasury the idea is usually dismissed in fairly short terms. None the less, I understand my hon. Friend’s point. The truth is that Manchester has expanded and is, without any doubt, now a major international airport. I am just sorry that no one has mentioned East Midlands airport, which is also owned by Manchester airport.
Forty years ago, a Labour Government cancelled the Maplin airport project, thus creating the situation we now have with under-capacity. Now that we have a second chance to get this right, does the Secretary of State agree that any report from Sir Howard’s commission should include a proper analysis of the advantages of a new airport east of London?
As I have said and as Sir Howard has been at pains to say in his statements today, if this was an easy decision it would have been taken some time ago. It is not an easy decision to take. It is right that we should consider all the facts and our environmental commitments, too, and that is the work that the commission has embarked on.
Will my right hon. Friend commend the Manchester Airports Group for its new stewardship of Stansted airport? Although I note that the report suggests that an extra runway is environmentally unsustainable and economically unviable, it also considers the expansion of the existing runway. If that happens, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government invest in the infrastructure on the M11 and the railways and ensure that local people are employed to help with the extra expansion?
I certainly commend Manchester Airports Group for how they have taken over Stansted and I hope that they will continue the public engagement with people from around the area. At the moment, it is estimated that there is room for growth at Stansted without any extra runway capacity. My hon. Friend makes the point about how important airports are for jobs and for giving people opportunities.
Given the crucial role that Network Rail plays in the provision of Britain’s transport infrastructure, not least at the moment through the necessary but highly disruptive work in Kettering in preparation for the welcome electrification of the midland main line, does my right hon. Friend think that it is as efficient as it might be in providing Britain’s railway infrastructure and does he regard its extraordinary and expensive corporate structure as fit for purpose?
As I announced in my statement, Network Rail has been reclassified and is charged with some important projects. My hon. Friend refers to the electrification of the line that serves both his constituency and mine, but I would also point out the big infrastructure jobs that Network Rail has undertaken, such as the closure for six weeks in the summer of Nottingham station and the complete resignalling in that area. That project came in under budget. The projects are very big and, obviously, certain consequences will flow from the changes. It is vital that there is no question but that the huge investment we have committed to Network Rail will be delivered over the next five years.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the comments made by Sir Howard Davies, who said that the estuary airport would cost about £80 billion to £110 billion and would cause massive disruption. Do the Government have that amount of money to spend when there are other, better, environmentally friendly options? Those views are shared by my constituents in Gillingham and Rainham and the local authority, Medway council. They are bitterly opposed to that bizarre idea on those grounds and many others.
One thing that will have to be considered if such proposals are made is how they will be paid for. I am, however, aware that figures for transport infrastructure projects sometimes get greatly inflated. This one started off at about £75 billion, it has grown to £100 billion, my hon. Friend says that it is £110 billion and I have no doubt that by next week it will be around the £150 billion mark.
In his statement, my right hon. Friend said that he is seeking political consensus on both sides of the House. By now, he will no doubt have gathered that there is practically political unanimity behind Birmingham airport. Is not the important point that rebalancing the economy of the UK is about not just regions but sectors? Significant expansion at Birmingham would rebalance the economy not just out of the south-east but away from the service sector, supporting our industrial heartlands in the midlands.
My hon. Friend makes yet another representation from the Birmingham grouping—[Interruption.] The Birmingham mafia, as Members say. As he knows, there is nothing to stop Birmingham airport expanding significantly. There is spare capacity there at the moment and it has to attract carriers in to the airport. I am keen to see it do that and for that to become available to the whole of the west midlands.
The west midlands is one of the only regions to have a positive balance of trade. The Government want to build on that rebalancing by investing in HS2. To properly integrate our transport infrastructure, does my right hon. Friend not agree that the future development of Birmingham international airport should feature far more heavily in the final Davies report than it does in the interim one?
I do not know whether I have been kiboshed as far as Birmingham is concerned, but my hon. Friends on both sides of the House have made clear to me how important they consider the airport to be. There is nothing to stop the expansion of Birmingham airport. It has done a lot to increase capacity and I hope that more services can be attracted to Birmingham.