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Airports: Heathrow Third Runway

Volume 754: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what forecast they have made of the tax revenue which will be raised from employment and investment as a result of the construction of a third runway at Heathrow.

My Lords, the Government have not made any forecasts of this type. The Airports Commission has been tasked with independently assessing the options for proposed new airport capacity and will present its analysis and conclusions in its final report in summer 2015. In the mean time, the Government do not propose to comment on any of the shortlisted options.

If it requires a third runway to make Heathrow fully effective, I suspect that many if not most of your Lordships would accept that it should be built. Indeed, I guess that many of your Lordships will agree with me that it is almost bound to be built at some point in the future. The Cornish, I think, would call that “shortly”, but we would just say “in the future”. There is only one supplementary question that I can think of to ask my noble friend—politely and agreeably, I hope—and that is: when?

I am tempted, of course, to say “shortly”, but it is the next Government who will respond to the report of the Davies commission. However, I think that it is worth pointing out that the Davies commission concluded that although one new runway will be needed, it will not be needed in the south-east until 2030.

Does the Minister recognise, with the Chinese Prime Minister and trade delegation in town, that this will not be the first time that the Chinese have raised with us the lack of runway space at our premier hub airport for their expanding economy? Why, then, does the Minister persist with this silly idea that Britain is closed for business because we do not expand our airports?

My Lords, it is not for the Government to decide the priorities of individual airlines flying out of Heathrow or anywhere else. However, the noble Lord will be aware that, in September last year, British Airways launched a new service from Heathrow to Chengdu. He will undoubtedly also be aware that our current bilateral flight agreement with China, which sets a constraint on the number of flights that we can have to China, is up for review. Discussions on that will take place next month.

Does my noble friend have any estimate of the current number of people employed around Heathrow—not at Heathrow, but around Heathrow—in businesses directly involved with Heathrow, such as hotels, catering, freight and others? What would happen to them if Heathrow were to move?

My Lords, I am not going to speculate on what might happen in any scenario, but one of the key points which I think lies behind the noble Lord’s question is that having an aviation hub in the UK is extremely important for the economy. The aviation sector employs tens of thousands of people and the Government believe that maintaining that hub status is very important.

Would the Government care to give us a case for delaying the decision—or is it the Lib Dems’ fault?

I am tempted to say that I sometimes think that everything is the Lib Dems’ fault. However, this is an extremely important decision. It is a difficult decision, and it is very important that it is taken after the fullest possible consideration of all the factors.

I wonder whether the Minister might turn his mind to the very effective competition that Gatwick and Birmingham are now providing against Heathrow. Perhaps he will he also say that this is not simply a matter of tax revenue; it is very wide-ranging research about the impacts on employment and revenue for the Treasury, which takes a lot of time. I am certain that whoever caused the pause did so in the proper interests of the country.

My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point—which is that whatever happens in terms of a particular airport in London in the future, it is very important that we have a range of airport capacity. Manchester Airport and Birmingham Airport play very important roles. My noble friend also referred to Gatwick. On current projections, Gatwick has spare capacity at the moment and will not fill it until about 2020.

My Lords, will the Minister accept two propositions: first, that good aviation links are vital for Britain’s competitiveness and our future economic success; and, secondly, that to govern is to choose? What items in the manifesto of the two coalition parties carried the rubric, “We will make up our minds possibly in five years’ time on this issue”?

My Lords, the noble Lord will have to contain his impatience as far as manifestos are concerned, I suspect. I would just point out to him and to the House that the five airports serving London currently offer at least weekly direct services to more than 360 destinations worldwide. That is more than Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam.

My Lords, in his earlier answer my noble friend correctly said that it is not the job of the Government to dictate to airlines to which airports they should fly. In the event that Heathrow ceases to provide a suitable hub for this country, given overcrowding, and airlines start to move out, is it thereby implied that it is all right for the Government to tell airlines where they should not fly from, even if it is not all right to tell them where they should fly from?

My Lords, I do not think that it is a good idea for Government to try to micromanage the commercial decisions of individual airlines.

My Lords, this is a question that the noble Lord can answer. Will he tell the House, please, how many international flights have migrated from Heathrow to Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Düsseldorf in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013? If he cannot answer now, will he do so in writing?

My Lords, I am happy to ask colleagues at the Department for Transport to write to the noble Lord, but I do not think that the matter is as straightforward as that. Individual airlines have a whole raft of decisions to take into consideration when they decide what they are going to do. To say simply that lack of capacity is always the cause of the kind of decision that the noble Lord talks about is to oversimplify the matter. However, I will suggest to my colleagues in the Department for Transport that they drop him a line.