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Davies Commission Report

Volume 762: debated on Wednesday 1 July 2015


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

“I would like to make a Statement about the Airports Commission’s final report, published earlier today. I received a copy yesterday evening and I have had copies put in the Library of the House and the Vote Office. First, I will review the commission’s process to date; secondly, I will describe the next steps.

In September 2012, the Government appointed Sir Howard Davies to lead a commission to consider how the UK could maintain its status as an international aviation hub and, in particular, provide capacity in the south-east. I thank Sir Howard for his contribution and his leadership. I also thank his fellow commissioners —Sir John Armitt, Ricky Burdett, Vivienne Cox and Dame Julia King—for their hard work. I also acknowledge honourable Members from all sides of the House who have campaigned vigorously on behalf of their constituents. I am sure they will continue to do so.

There are strong opinions on this issue and it is not easy to resolve. For the Government, the task is to balance local interests against the wider, longer-term benefits for the UK. This report is part of that process.

Over 50 different propositions were considered. In December 2013 the commission shortlisted three schemes for further consideration—two at Heathrow, one at Gatwick. It also made recommendations for improving our existing airport infrastructure, including upgrading transport connections. We are acting on these interim recommendations.

We are working with Gatwick Airport to upgrade the station there. Network Rail is leading a study to improve the rail link between London and Stansted, and Crossrail will soon provide a new direct route to Heathrow.

The commission has also sought views from across the country because the UK’s other airports play a big role in our aviation success story—airports such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Connectivity to all parts of the UK is something the commission has rightly considered.

The UK has the third largest aviation network in the world after the US and China, but it is congested, and a lack of capacity holds our country back. Since 1990, 12 UK airports have lost their direct links to Heathrow. As Sir Howard Davies says in his foreword to the report:

‘Good aviation connectivity is vital for the UK economy. It promotes trade and inward investment’.

As the report points out:

‘About half of the British population travelled by air over the past twelve months’.

It also says:

‘While London remains a well-connected city, its airports are showing unambiguous signs of strain’.

Meanwhile, hub airports such as Dubai and Istanbul are growing fast.

The commission found that all three shortlisted schemes are credible options for expansion but that the Heathrow Airport Northwest Runway scheme offers the strongest solution. To quote the report:

‘Heathrow offers a stronger solution to the UK’s aviation capacity and connectivity needs than a second runway at Gatwick’.

The report recommends action to address the impact of any expansion on the local environment and communities, among them a limit on night flights, greater compensation, controls on air quality and a guarantee there will be no fourth runway.

Let me turn to the Government’s response. There are a number of things we need to make progress on now. First, we must study the substantial and innovative evidence base the commission has produced. Secondly, we will need to decide on the best way for achieving planning consents quickly and fairly if expansion is to go ahead. Thirdly, we will come back to Parliament in the autumn to provide clear direction on the Government’s plans.

This is a vital moment for the future of our aviation industry. Our aviation sector has been at the heart of our economic success and quality of life. All those with an interest in this important question are expecting us to act decisively.

This is a clear and reasoned report. It is based on the evidence; it deserves respect and consideration; and we must act.

I commend this statement to the House.”

My Lords, that concludes the Statement

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this important Statement, which was delivered by the Secretary of State for Transport in the other place. The Official Opposition join with him in thanking Sir Howard Davies and his team for the vital work they have done since 2012 in producing this very important report.

I take this opportunity to praise Heathrow and Gatwick for the campaigns they have run in recent years which have been educative for the public and have often been conducted with an eye to giving information rather than just propaganda.

This substantial work has got one very important feature. Sir Howard Davies has proceeded to a clear recommendation:

“A new Northwest Runway at Heathrow delivers more substantial economic and strategic benefits than any of the other shortlisted options, strengthening connectivity for passengers and freight users and boosting the productivity of the UK economy”.

Aviation plays a very substantial role in our economy and it has the potential to play a greater one. The sector employs hundreds of thousands of people, contributes more than £50 billion to our GDP and pays the Exchequer more than £8 billion every year in tax revenues. But we know that the growth of our aviation sector is at risk. Heathrow has been full for 10 years; Gatwick will become full over the next five. It is therefore quite clear that we need additional capacity. That is the case made by Sir Howard Davies in the report but, as the Minister indicated, there are details regarding the report that we need to consider.

We, as the Opposition, present the following tests which we think need to be met so that the public can have confidence that this is the right way to move forward. The recommended expansion in capacity must go hand in hand with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation, allowing us to meet our legal climate change obligations. We also need to ensure that local noise and environmental impacts have been adequately considered, and will be managed and minimised. The benefits of expansion must also be felt in every corner of the country, including any infrastructure, employment and supply chain benefits; regional airports must be supported, too. If these conditions can be met, it is quite clear that it is in the long-term interests of the country to carry out the report’s main recommendation. I therefore hope the noble Lord will appreciate that, given strenuous efforts to ensure that these tests are met, the Official Opposition will support the construction of an additional runway at Heathrow.

My Lords, this is a worthy report but I suppose we could say, “Here we go again —another report on the airports of south-east England and another recommendation for Heathrow”. There has also probably been another not very ringing endorsement of such a report. A Statement that says in almost its last sentence:

“It deserves respect and consideration”,

is hardly a ringing endorsement from the Government.

The Liberal Democrat position is very different from that of the Official Opposition, in that we believe there is no need to expand airport and runway capacity in the south-east. One thing to illustrate that is in the report itself, which clearly states that airports in the south-east will reach full capacity in 2040. That is 25 years ahead. We certainly need to plan ahead on major infrastructure projects in this country but some 25 years ago, back in 1990, I was lucky enough never to have seen an email and I certainly did not have a smartphone. I had also never participated in a videoconference, which is perhaps more relevant. Over that time, Stansted, which has capacity, has increased its ability to take extra flights.

Yes, Heathrow is full. As the Minister said, it has been full for 10 years. In fact, it has always been full but you manage businesses, as Heathrow and other airports do, by making sure that your fixed assets are fully used. If you have an asset that is not being fully used, you are not managing it properly. Airport capacity will clearly be used as much as it can be and we will find that at Heathrow, as a prime airport in the UK. We would no doubt quickly find that it was true with a third runway as well.

I now move on to the fourth runway, which the report goes into. There is an illustration here of how the report looks at the future. It says categorically that,

“there is no environmental or operational case for a fourth runway at Heathrow”.

If that is the case, I find it difficult to understand why the third is so important, given that Heathrow salespeople, if they are up to their measure, will make sure that the capacity of the third runway is used fully and as soon as possible.

Heathrow is irresistible. Asking for a fourth runway is irresistible to the management of Heathrow, as they asked for terminal 5 after terminal 4. What the report really says is that Heathrow is in the wrong place. If the environmental or operational issues are wrong for a fourth runway, a third runway is clearly wrong now.

On climate change, we can be very proud of a 20% reduction in emissions since 1990, yet airline emissions in the UK have gone up by some two-thirds. Is that compatible or is it a contradiction of policy, given that the Government have, quite rightly, committed themselves to the climate change policies and budgets of the Climate Change Act 2008?

On air quality, page 196 of the report states that,

“none of the schemes improve air quality compared to a scenario where no expansion takes place”.

On connectivity, I agree that there is a real issue around regional airports being squeezed out by Heathrow, but the report recommends that the Government should be prepared to use public service obligations. There is nothing in there saying that these should be mandatory.

On noise, the reports states that,

“an independent aviation noise authority should be established with a statutory right”,

which sounds very strong, but it concludes with “to be consulted” over noise levels in the west. That is clearly another very weak recommendation.

I have two questions for the Minister. It is said that this autumn’s decision will give a clear direction. Will there be an actual decision in October? Most importantly, the Statement says that,

“we will need to decide on the best way for achieving planning consents quickly and fairly if expansion is to go ahead”.

Will the Minister confirm that that “if” is still an option?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, for his support for the Statement. I join him in extending thanks to all involved in the report. He and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised issues around climate change. In the short time we have had to digest quite an extensive report, I am sure that both noble Lords will acknowledge that the commission has done a great deal of work on looking at how threats to the environment and to air quality can be mitigated. Certainly, the Government will look at those elements as part of our decision on the report.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, also raised local concerns and the impact on the local community. Indeed, he may have noted the suggestion in the report for a local community board to be established, which would evaluate the impact of any expansion and its operation. It is not unprecedented: I am sure the noble Lord is aware that Amsterdam Airport Schiphol operates a similar board for local interests. His point about local, regional airports was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. Of course, as the Statement said, and as the report acknowledges, this is not just about the south-east and London; it is about the country. The issue of our regional airports is important and the Government will respond accordingly, but the report has dealt with that issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked about October and the question of “if”. I am not going to give a commitment at the Dispatch Box on what the Government’s decision will be, but the Government have said we will press ahead. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and, indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister have today both stated the importance of moving forward on this and we will return to the issue with the Government’s review in the autumn.

My Lords, the Secretary of State accepted in the other place today that lack of airport capacity was holding this country back. Now that we do not have the alliance, we can rely on the new Conservative Government to implement this particular expansion. Can we now expect the Davies report to be the main determinant of the Government’s decision?

As my noble friend is aware, we commissioned the report in 2012 during the previous Government. I believe that was the right thing to do at that time. The issue of capacity in London and the south-east is something that we have been reviewing and looking at over the last 50 years. This was an extensive report, which looked at more than 50 different options and then whittled them down to the three on which it has reported. Of course it will be a primary consideration for the Government in thinking about the way we move forward on south-east airport capacity.

I have been campaigning on this for years, in the House of Commons and in this House. I remind the Minister that many constituents supported my line precisely because they knew that Heathrow needed to expand if their jobs were to be safe and if the British and regional economies were to grow. I have two very quick, simple questions. First, can the Government make sure they act on this, hopefully by the end of the year? Please do not drag this out, which is what we have done before on so many infrastructure projects in this country. It is an embarrassment for us that we have not achieved this. Secondly, we have to stop this nonsense of taking years to decide whether an airport can expand when what matters is that we put down very tough conditions, as Howard Davies has suggested, on noise and the environment. Those are the issues that trouble people, quite rightly. If we do that, airports should be allowed to expand, because they are amazing economic drivers, locally, regionally and nationally. They are terribly important.

I share the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord and commend his efforts as an exponent for ensuring that airport capacity meets the challenge not just for our country but for the global role we wish to play. I draw his attention to the penultimate sentence of the Statement I repeated: “And we must act”. I hope he takes some reassurance from that. As he rightly pointed out, the commission looked at the conditions extensively and put in various mitigating safeguards covering noise, other environmental issues and, as I said earlier, engagement with the local community. Those will be important factors in the Government’s evaluation of the report as well.

My Lords, I declare that I have lived for 20 years under the Heathrow flight path and that I am a member of HACAN. Could the Minister tell us what the anticipated impact is on Manchester and Birmingham airports? The business plan for Heathrow includes a proposal to divert direct flights into those two airports to the third runway, which will have an impact on the northern powerhouse. In addition, my neighbours and I were told when the fourth terminal was approved that there would be no further expansion at Heathrow. There was then an effort to get a fifth terminal, and we were promised that there would be no expansion beyond the fifth terminal and no third runway. Within six weeks of planning approval, a campaign began for the third runway. Would the Minister tell me whether I am a fool to have believed those assurances from both the airport and the aviation industry, and whether I would be a fool to believe again promises about there being no plans for a fourth runway or indeed about the rather minor mitigations promised, many of which could have been implemented already?

As the noble Baroness knows, I have great respect for her opinions and I would certainly never suggest that she has been a fool in any respect. The important thing for Manchester is that it will benefit from the engagement and the statements we have made on the northern powerhouse and from the development of HS2. As I am sure the noble Baroness is aware, Manchester itself recently announced £1 billion of investment for Manchester airport and its expansion over the next 10 years.

I emphasise again that it is the Government’s opinion—and the commission has evaluated this in its report—that regional connectivity is important in ensuring that our regional airports are part and parcel of the development of our airport capacity nationally.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Statement. I agree completely on the need to act decisively. He referred to the fact that 12 regional airports have already lost their links into Heathrow because of lack of capacity and that virtually all regional airports are urging the expansion of Heathrow to go ahead. Can I ask him please to ignore the siren voices like that of the noble Baroness who spoke earlier? It can hardly have come as a surprise to her when she bought her House in west London, next to one of the busiest airports in western Europe, that she experiences airport noise. So while it is important to take on board these concerns, please also bear in mind the concerns of the rest of the country, which needs Heathrow to expand to help in particular areas such as the northern powerhouse.

I thank my noble friend for his comments. I agree with him about the importance of ensuring that whatever decision the Government take in moving forward on what has been a very extensive report reflects the importance of UK plc and regional connectivity. We will certainly review that, and it will be part and parcel of our decision-making on the way forward when we return to this issue in the autumn.

Does the Minister agree that the only way to ensure regional connectivity is to regard airline slots as the national asset that they are and not leave them to airlines to cut regional services and instead introduce more lucrative long-distance services? More capacity will not improve regional connectivity unless it is destination specific.

As much as we may regard national slots at airports as our national heritage or assets, they are allocated by the EU and are governed by European Union and associated slot regulations. The UK Government are legally prevented from intervening on slot allocation processes—be it at Heathrow, Gatwick or other slot-co-ordinated airports.

I, too, declare an interest as a former chairman of HACAN and a former MP for the constituency of Richmond Park. Some years ago the Prime Minister said that, “no ifs, no buts”, there would never be a third runway at Heathrow. Could the Minister tell us what his line is going to be now?

I am sure that the noble Baroness heard the Prime Minister responding to PMQs, when he said that the important thing was to move forward on the decision. She referred to the comments of the Prime Minister, “no ifs, no buts”, but what he was commenting on at that time was a very different proposition for Heathrow. Following this, we made the decision to set up the Airports Commission. It was the Prime Minister’s decision and that of the last Government—indeed, the noble Baroness’s party were part of that Government. That is what we have now done, and the option put forward for Heathrow now is a very different one from the one proposed in 2010.

My Lords, I apologise, but we cannot have two noble Lords standing at the same time. The Cross Benches have not made a contribution as yet.

Could the Minister confirm that in his opinion Her Majesty’s Government have taken into adequate account the increased security implications for this capital city of increased flights over its administrative centre?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the issue of security through aviation—indeed through all modes—is something that the Government take very seriously. Perhaps I speak with a special interest, because I am the Minister for Aviation Security at the Department for Transport.

There can be no doubt that the Davies report has come down in favour of Heathrow, but there are certain details that have to be addressed. Can the Minister say that, in the autumn, the Government will make a firm decision? That is imperative, in my view. The report also stressed that an early decision is absolutely imperative. The delay would be immensely dangerous, particularly since the Government commissioned the report in the first place. It would imperil British aviation, and it would imperil our economic advantages and our situation in the global economy, as well as our standing as a nation. Does the Minister not agree that an early decision is absolutely vital?

I do agree, and the challenge now is to make decisions that are reflective of what has been a very well-balanced report and are also, as I have said, in the best interests of the country. I assure the noble Lord that the Government will carefully consider the commission’s extensive report without delay. By the autumn, I want to get to a stage where we can set out a position to Parliament on the way we want to take forward this work.

My Lords, unlike many noble Lords, I have the honour of being elected. I was elected as leader of a council and represent many of the people who will be most affected by this report, so perhaps I might intervene. As I walked around the streets this morning, I sensed anger, dismay and cynicism, but no surprise. I deprecate my noble friend’s comment that implied that people in west London are nimbys. They already put up with 40% of the noise pollution from airports in Europe and with air quality that breaches European standards. Whatever position we take in this debate, I would be obliged if the people I have the honour to represent were not spoken of in that way.

My erstwhile noble friend mentioned the Prime Minister’s statement,

“no ifs, no buts … no third runway”.

Will he forgive me if I thought I heard an “if” and a “but” in his response? That statement was made by David Cameron at a PM Direct event. It was clear and was heard clearly. Will my noble friend use his influence to make sure that that statement is kept before the Government in all deliberations on this question?

I reassure the noble Lord that, when he gets a chance to read the commission’s report, he will find that it has addressed all the concerns that he has highlighted, and it will be a significant part of the Government’s decision. With regard to the statement made in 2010 by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as I said earlier, the proposal that was in front of him at that time, including some of the concerns that the noble Lord has just highlighted, merited what the Prime Minister said. However, we are quite clear: the commission has now produced its report; it is well balanced and has looked at many factors that the proposition in front of us in 2010 did not consider; and the Government will come back with their view in the autumn.

Has the Minister noted the recommendation of the commission that:

“The Government should alter its guidance to allow the introduction of Public Service Obligations on an airport-to-airport basis, and use them to support a widespread network of domestic routes at the expanded airport”?

Given that if the third runway gets the go-ahead, it could be a number of years before it is actually in place, what is to stop the Government altering their guidance to bring it in line with a number of other European Union countries to enable further,

“Public Service Obligations on an airport-to-airport basis”,

being delivered?

The Government consider their public service obligations very seriously, as I am sure the noble Lord knows. It is not that we have not interjected in recent times. For example, the route has been protected from Gatwick to Newquay, as have routes up to Dundee. Where the criteria are met, the Government have exercised their option and met their obligations. We are keen to ensure that public service obligations are, if you like, the backstop, to ensure that any concerns over particular domestic routes are retained.

Does my noble friend not agree that it is wrong to hold the Prime Minister to what he said some years ago when faced with a report that has been carefully considered and that says unequivocally that it is in the national interest for the expansion of Heathrow to go ahead? It is his duty to proceed as recommended. I very much welcome the fact that the Official Opposition have indicated their support for that. Has this thing not been in a holding pattern for far too long? We need to get on with it.

I thank my noble friend for the first analogy about aircraft and holding patterns. I agree with what he said about the Prime Minister’s statement. We are looking at something very different. I stress to all noble Lords that the Government commissioned the report in 2012. It is extensive and covers a range of factors, including mitigating factors, regional connectivity and a raft of other matters. I am sure noble Lords agree that it is right that the Government look at the report’s recommendations, evaluate them and come back in the autumn with their response.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the largest aircraft coming into Glasgow Airport is the Boeing 777 operated by Emirates, and the number recently increased to two per day? Does he agree that if there is no expansion at Heathrow, the winners are going to be the Middle East airlines?

The Government will return to the issue of the expansion of capacity across London and the south-east, but as I have said, our decision, which will be put forward in the autumn, will reflect on ensuring the competitiveness of UK plc and the importance of regional connectivity.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that, 30 years ago, I was rash enough to buy a house in Battersea—a considerable distance from Heathrow—where the noise is excessive, even today. I have one specific question. If this goes ahead, it is proposed that there should be a legal limit on night flights so that they cannot arrive before 6 am. At present they fly though my bedroom window, so to speak, at 4 am every day because the airlines pay the necessary penalty to do so. During the long time before we go through this long process, why can we not legislate to put a legal ban on night flights straightaway?

My noble friend is quite right to point out that there are current obligations, which will continue until October 2017, but I take his point about the penalties that are paid, and I will take that back to the department.

My Lords, I speak as somebody who has taken a fairly hard-line position on expanding airport capacity: I have not been in favour of it. Does the Minister agree that there is no possibility of a meeting of minds between people who take the view that there should be no capacity increase and people who are arguing about where the capacity should be put? Will he assure the House that, since this report is about where additional capacity will be put, the Government will not come back in October, having considered, with a decision not to decide?

I have never regarded the noble Baroness as being hard line in any respect. I am sure she will agree that it would be inappropriate for me to give a commitment at this time. The Government will evaluate the report, and we will come back on the way forward in the autumn.

My Lords, in view of the Minister’s Statement and the comments of a number of noble Lords from all sides of the House, can I look forward to the inevitability of government support for my Airports Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill?

I pay tribute to the consistent tenacity of the noble Lord in presenting his Bill. It has been discussed in this House, and he heard the Government’s response at that time.

My Lords, the Statement refers to our aviation success story, citing Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Is the Minister aware that London Luton Airport has passenger throughput greater than any of those airports, with the exception of Manchester: currently some 11 million, and there are plans to go up to 18 million? I declare my interest as an advisory member of the board of London Luton Airport.

When we discuss Bills we always say that lists are indicative and not exhaustive, and that was true of that Statement.

My Lords, the important issue here is the connectivity of provincial cities with London. Am I to understand from the previous answer that slots are very much under the control of the European Union and not of Her Majesty’s Government?