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Airport Expansion

Volume 614: debated on Thursday 15 September 2016

The Government are committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects that the country needs, including delivering runway capacity in the south-east on the timetable set out by the Airports Commission. We are currently undertaking further work, including assurance of the Airports Commission’s evidence and on air quality, and the decision will be made shortly.

The new Transport Secretary, a fierce advocate of the UK exiting the EU, has already done more than enough to wreak economic havoc. Perhaps he would care to use his new position to mitigate some of that damage by putting an end to this third runway debacle. If not, will he apologise to businesses and commuters in Scotland for putting their economic interests on the line?

First, I would simply remind the hon. Lady that some of the things that were said about our economy have not proved to be the case, and that under this Government our economy continues to do well. I would also say to her that this Government retain, and will always retain, a commitment to the economy and the people of Scotland, as part of one United Kingdom. The decision that we seek to take on runway capacity in the south-east, whatever it may be, will be designed to benefit the whole of the United Kingdom by improving our connectivity to the world.

When the previous Prime Minister was reminded of his words “no ifs, no buts” that there would be no third runway at Heathrow, he said that a decision would be made this summer. The current Government position is that the decision will be announced in October, and the current Prime Minister seems to be erasing all evidence of her previous opposition to the proposal. After the Davies debacle and the expenditure of £20 million, it looks as though there is going to be a free vote. Can the Secretary of State confirm or deny that? To my constituents, this looks like a protracted fudge.

I am afraid that the hon. Lady is going to have to wait for us to set out our plans. I have said today that we are committed to making our decision shortly. I regard this as an important decision for our nation, and it is one that we need to get on with. We have of course seen a significant change in the Administration across the summer, and it is right and proper that the Prime Minister and I should be sufficiently prepared to make the decision. We will make sure that that is the case.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we want to keep London as the hub airport for western Europe, it is crucial that we deal with the capacity problems that currently affect Heathrow in particular? This saga has been going on for so long, and I want him to ensure that we have no further delays in reaching a conclusion on the Davies recommendations. May I also tell him that there is only one obvious answer, and that it is Heathrow?

As you know, Mr Speaker, there are differing opinions on this across the House, and it is right and proper that the Government should look in a dispassionate way at all three options recommended to us by the Davies commission, assess the strengths and weaknesses of what is being offered and take the right decision in the interests of our nation. I assure the House that that is what we will do.

As Britain leaves the European Union, we are going to have to develop more markets in Asia and the far east. That will mean more passenger traffic and, in particular, more freight traffic. Is it not therefore essential for the national interest that RiverOak’s plans for a freight hub at Manston should be allowed to proceed and to be successful, and that we should preserve Manston as an airport?

I absolutely understand how strongly people in Thanet feel about the future of Manston. I know how controversial it is, and has been. I can simply say to my hon. Friend that this Government would be perfectly supportive of proposals to develop a freight hub at Manston, but I am afraid that that has to be a matter for the local community, the owners and the local authority, and I hope that they reach the right decision in the interest of the nation.

The expansion will use 370,000 tonnes of steel and Heathrow has committed to using UK steel. Whatever the decision on airport infrastructure, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure that UK steel is used in any expansion?

I am an unashamed champion of this country’s businesses and of what we do as a nation to give them the best possible opportunities. While we are an outward-facing nation and will always do business with companies from around the world, it is right and proper that we champion organisations that deliver in this country, such as our steelmakers. I am proud that our railways use almost entirely British steel and want British steel to be used in all our major infrastructure projects.

Although residents would agree that there is a need for airport expansion, does the Secretary of State share the concerns of the three quarters of a million people who live under Heathrow’s flight path about the new plan, about the change to the tunnelling of the M25 and about the lifting of a cap on the limit of aircraft movement? Does he agree with residents that Heathrow cannot be trusted not to go for a fourth runway and not to have night flights?

I am well aware of how strongly people in west London feel. I am also aware of how strongly people around Gatwick feel, albeit they are smaller in number than those around Heathrow. My hon. Friend is passionate about such issues and I can only assure her that the Government will have in mind the impact on noise and air quality and how that is dealt with as we reach a view on the Davies commission’s recommendations.

As a veteran of almost 12 weeks in post, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. He is the second Secretary of State I have had the pleasure of shadowing. I welcome him and his new Ministers to their places and look forward to many discussions about transport in the months ahead.

A decision on airport expansion in the south-east is long overdue and has been made only more urgent by the vote to leave the European Union and the consequent need to demonstrate that the UK is open for business. Already twice delayed to avoid party political bickering inside the Tory party, there are now rumours that Ministers will be given a free vote. This is neither a constitutional issue nor a matter of conscience; it is a nationally critical infrastructure project. Will the Secretary of State tell the House the exact date on which he will confirm that the decision, whatever it is, will have the backing of the full Cabinet?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s words of welcome. He is underemployed in comparison with my previous shadow, who held two shadow Cabinet roles, so perhaps there will also be an opportunity for him to have additional responsibilities. I look forward to sparring across the Dispatch Box with somebody so much more experienced than I am in this role.

The decision is important for our nation’s strategic interests. I am new to this job, as the hon. Gentleman points out, and the Prime Minister is new to hers, so we want to ensure that we have done the necessary work and are properly informed before we take a decision. I did a lot over the summer to ensure that that was the case, including visiting the sites of all three proposals. I have carefully considered the issues and the Prime Minister is doing the same. We will reach a view shortly and will bring it to the House. It is right and proper that everyone in the House will be able to have a say in this important matter.