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Airports: London

Volume 762: debated on Tuesday 2 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the recent statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Sir Howard Davies’ recommendations for London’s airports should be accepted, what assessment they have made of proposals to develop an airport in the Thames estuary already discounted by Sir Howard’s commission.

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated at the CBI annual dinner on 20 May, when the Government receive the Airports Commission’s final report, we will take the decision to address the country’s aviation capacity requirements. We will consider the commission’s full body of work, including its conclusions on the Thames estuary, and decide how and at what pace to respond to any recommendation that the commission may make.

My Lords, the Government could have said that they have no plans to build what would be one of the largest airports in the world, and stick it in the middle of one of the best and most famous rivers in the world. They could have said whether that is their position but they have not done so, and therefore I have to ask the Minister: why?

It was the previous Government who set up the Airports Commission to explore all options and it is right that we wait until it has produced its report. I say to my noble friend that perhaps he will not have to wait much longer.

If British aviation is to thrive, does the Minister not agree that an early decision about the siting of our airports is absolutely essential? He has not said anything about when the Government will make up their mind. It is all very well to wait for a report, but does he not have some indication already about the suitability of Gatwick or Heathrow? I personally support Heathrow but it is vital that we do something about that, and do it quickly.

The Government recognise the challenge of capacity and the need to make a decision, but it is also right that if you set up a commission, you wait for its result—its independent decision—and act accordingly. As I said in my opening remarks, and as my right honourable friend the Chancellor has said, as soon as the report has been received the Government will seek to make their decision on the recommendations that they receive.

What consideration, if any, is being given to the development of Filton aerodrome in Bristol as an international airport, given that it was large enough to take Concorde jets and that it has excellent communication by rail to London?

The noble Lord raises important points. Our regional airports and our regional aviation capacity are an important part of the overall offering of UK plc. Certainly we are working across the country to ensure that all airports reach their true potential and that the UK is, as it rightly should be, a place where people come to do business for the right reasons. We shall be looking at all our airport capacity across the country. I will certainly take back to the department the mention he made of Bristol.

My Lords, are the Government not aware that a decision is being taken currently and has been taking place for some time? The traffic is going to Schiphol and Frankfurt, so we had better get a move on or it will all have gone there and we shall have only a local, European airport at London.

When my noble friend says that we should get a move on, I always seek to act accordingly. As I said previously, the report is due shortly. However, I would just say to my noble friend that the UK remains, after the US and China, the third-largest area in terms of aviation, which is something we seek to protect and develop. Indeed, London currently provides connections to 360 destinations weekly across the world, which is unrivalled across Europe.

My Lords, the block on getting a move on was clearly the general election. The noble Lord may have noticed that that is now over, so we can expect an early decision on this issue. Will the Minister confirm that it is government policy that the only runway that will be approved and developed in this Parliament will be that recommended by the Davies commission, whose report we all await, and that there are no circumstances in which the Government would approve expansion in any area which Davies does not recommend?

As I have said already, we will await the report of the commission. I am mindful of the fact that the noble Lord said that after the election, an incoming Labour Government would consider the report. I am delighted to say that, as the whole House and indeed the whole country recognises, it is an incoming and new Conservative Government who will be acting on the report.

Could the Minister inform the House whether there have been discussions with the National Assembly for Wales over the development of Cardiff Airport, given that its runway is large enough to take jumbos and that the engine-servicing facility at Caerphilly has been there for some time?

As I have already said, regional airports are part and parcel of the offering, but on that specific issue I will write to the noble Baroness.

Will the Minister tell us, when the commission reports and makes whatever recommendation it makes, what further legal steps are necessary before anybody can start work?

Once we have received the commission’s report, the Government will consider its recommendations and report accordingly. In terms of specific legal steps, that obviously depends on what option is pursued. That will be made clearer once the commission’s report has been published.

One part of the question was about the new Government, which is a Conservative one—and we will act in accordance with the commission’s report. It is somewhat incredible for noble Lords opposite to suggest that after the Government have commissioned an independent report, which is due imminently, we should not actually wait for its recommendations. We will not have to wait long.

My Lords, 99 years and two days ago, Admiral Jellicoe made a decision in less than a minute to deploy 28 battleships on the right flank, which stopped him losing a battle which could have lost the war for Britain. Six years does seem an incredibly long time, with all this information, to make a decision which seems fairly straightforward in reality.

I always find the noble Lord’s lessons in history extremely enlightening. As I said, we will wait for the report; once it is published, the Government will respond accordingly.

Could the Minister try to answer the question? If the Davies commission recommends only one new runway, will that be the only runway that the Government consider or are there other runways that might go forward as well?

My Lords, patience is a virtue, and I would ask the noble Lord to be patient. The commission is going to report very shortly and he will have his answer then—and the Government’s support accordingly.