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House of Commons Hansard
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30 June 2016
Volume 612
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8. What plans he has to expand airport capacity. [905576]

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10. When he plans to make a decision on the construction of an additional runway in south-east England. [905578]

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I had hoped that we would be able to announce a decision on airport capacity this summer. Clearly, any announcement on airport capacity would have to be made when the House was in session. Being realistic, given recent events, I cannot now foresee that there will be an announcement until at least October. We aim to publish the further analysis on air quality soon. Separately, promoters have announced undertakings that would increase the compensation available for residents living near the airports and the connectivity between other UK airports. The Government are fully committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects that they have set out, including the delivery of runway capacity on the timetable set out by the Davies report.

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It is another boring day at Westminster, and I was rather hoping that the Secretary of State might inject some excitement into it for me. Nobody can accuse him of rushing this decision. Post-Brexit, with a number of countries banging on the door of the UK to do trade deals, does he agree that increasing airport capacity at London City, London Heathrow and London Gatwick will be vital to British businesses throughout the UK?

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I would have liked to be in the position of asking the House to make a decision, and endorsing a decision. We are not going to be in that position, and we have to be realistic. My hon. Friend may regard it as a boring day in the House of Commons, but it is certainly not a boring day in Westminster.

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The Secretary of State will know that I am going to make the case for Birmingham airport. Is there still time, whenever the report comes out, for Birmingham airport to make the case for the 250,000 jobs that could flow from a second runway there?

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Looking at the hon. Lady’s question, I did not realise that she was going to mention Birmingham, because her question specifically talks about south-east England. To the best of my knowledge, Birmingham has not moved since I knew it as a boy, 20 miles away from where I lived. Birmingham airport is a fantastic airport, which serves an important role as far as Birmingham and the midlands are concerned, and it has just had a runway extension.

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We are greatly reassured by the Secretary of State’s geographical knowledge.

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Does my right hon. Friend accept that even if he had been able to make an announcement on this subject today, the earliest that extra runway capacity could be provided would be 2023, and at worst probably 2030? Does that not point up the need to improve connectivity to Stansted, which is the only airport in the London area with the capacity to deal with the strain of extra demand?

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That is one of those questions that one cannot really disagree with, and my right hon. Friend has a habit of asking such questions in Transport questions. Although I agree with the point he makes, the delivery of what he is asking for is somewhat more difficult than he suggests.

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Yet more dithering on the decision whether to expand hub capacity at Heathrow will harm the regions of this country and the United Kingdom. What recommendation will the Secretary of State make to the next Prime Minister?

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Well, one step at a time. If the hon. Lady does not mind my saying so, she is assuming a number of events, which I am not going to do. In all seriousness, I would say to the hon. Lady, who is Chair of the Transport Committee, that this is a very important and big decision for the United Kingdom and it is not an easy one. The simple fact is that whichever option we choose will impact on people’s lives. It is therefore right to make sure we do all the preparatory work on air quality and the other issues. However, I very much hope that a decision can be made later this year.

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It is inconceivable that either the Home Secretary or the former Mayor of London would at this time put their constituency interests ahead of the national interest. I know that had the Secretary of State sought an assurance from the former Mayor of London that he would support this decision if the Government went ahead with it, he would have received it. Did he seek such an assurance, and if not, why not? This is not in the national interest, and it is not in the interests of people around Gatwick who will have to live with further uncertainty.

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I am very sorry that my hon. Friend is disappointed by my announcement this morning. As I have said, however, given the parliamentary timetable and when the House will rise, I do not see how it would be possible to come to the House for a statement with a recommendation and possibly a vote before the summer recess.

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I thank the Secretary of State for his earlier comments, but his answer is exacerbating the profound uncertainty about the future of essential transport projects, including HS2 and a new runway at Heathrow. Hundreds of thousands of jobs and apprenticeships are in the balance. Does he not understand that delaying these plans will add to the wider economic shock that was triggered last week, and that public and private investment in our transport networks must be delivered?

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We are now back on familiar ground and I do not need to repeat what I said earlier. The simple fact is that I am very proud of the investment that this Government are putting into infrastructure. Infrastructure investment is 50% higher than it was during the last Parliament, and it is much larger than the amount put in by the previous Labour Government, so this Government are very committed to infrastructure investment. The hon. Lady talks about airport capacity, but there were airport capacity issues during the 13 years her party was in government, when it did nothing.

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With the political and economic uncertainty following last week’s referendum vote, infrastructure projects have become more, not less, important for the future of this country. That is particularly true of our airports, which will have renewed importance in ensuring that the UK is a global, outward-looking trading nation. The comments made by the Prime Minister and, indeed, by the Secretary of State today have cast doubt on that. Does the Secretary of State not accept that kicking this decision into the long grass yet again is simply utterly unacceptable?

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We are accused of kicking something into the long grass, but I have said that I hope to see a decision by the end of the year, and Opposition Members have not yet expounded which option they actually support.