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Airports Commission

Volume 764: debated on Monday 7 September 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the cost of the Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, including the costs of commissioning and analysing the commission’s final report.

My Lords, up until the end of August 2015, the cost of the Airports Commission is around £13.4 million across 2012-13 to 2015-16. This covers buildings, staff and IT costs, consultancy, publishing, travel and hosting public consultation events. The final cost will be known once the commission secretariat has been dissolved, following which we intend to publish the final figures. We do not hold estimates of the cost of commissioning or reviewing the findings and conclusions of the Airport Commission’s report.

My Lords, would it not therefore be a terrible waste of money if the Government were to reject the unanimous advice of the commission to go ahead with developing Heathrow through a third runway in such a way as to make it again the No. 1 international airport in the world, which it certainly was when I was Minister for Aviation?

My noble friend makes a very valid point about the detailed work done by the Airports Commission. I again put on record our thanks to Sir Howard Davies and his fellow commissioners for their work. As I said before the Recess, the Government have received the report. As my noble friend will be aware, the Prime Minister has established a Cabinet sub-committee on this issue and will announce the way forward by the end of this year.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear to the Leader of the Opposition in the other place that the decision will be made and will be made by the end of the year.

My Lords, is it the Government’s view that the Davies commission’s remit gives sufficient consideration to the impact of a third runway on the Government’s plans for a northern powerhouse? Are the Government convinced that the development of Heathrow will not have an adverse impact on, for instance, Birmingham and Manchester Airports?

The Government believe very strongly in the regional airport network. As I am sure the noble Baroness is aware, Manchester announced earlier this year—at the beginning of the summer in June—a £1 billion investment over the next 10 years. Indeed, we have seen further investment in, for example, road surface improvements around Birmingham, Bristol and Doncaster Airports, so various investments are being made which will reinforce the northern powerhouse.

My Lords, Sir Howard Davies and his commission have put a lot of work into coming up with their recommendation, which has been decided as the one to go forward with. Why do the Government now have to appoint another sub-committee and take even more time? There is probably need for expansion of both Heathrow and Gatwick, but let us get on with Heathrow because it is affecting our competitiveness as a nation. Could the Minister assure us that this is going to be taken quickly and it will be established and put in place really fast?

The noble Lord is quite right. I agree with him that this has been a detailed report, which the previous Government, under the current Prime Minister, commissioned in 2012. The report has been received, and I am sure the noble Lord would agree with me that it is time now to give the detailed report considered opinion. It is quite right that there should be a sub-committee of the Cabinet to take this decision forward. I reiterate the point that the Prime Minister has made quite clear: a decision will be made by the end of the year.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that I spent the first two years of the last Parliament dodging this very issue? The reason was the helpful policy input from the Liberal Democrat party. Does the Minister recognise that the Government really will have to make a decision on this matter this year?

I would never accuse my noble friend of dodging anything. If he did so that was his assessment; I thought he handled questions in this respect very ably from the Dispatch Box. I reiterate that the Government—and indeed the Prime Minister—have made it clear that a decision will be made and it will be made by the end of the year.

Whatever option is pursued, is it not clear that the cost will be enormous? Is not the real issue this: how best and how quickly we can advance British aviation in the best possible way? Surely it is apparent that there is only one answer and it is becoming blindingly obvious—Heathrow.

Again, I feel I am repeating myself. The Government have made their position very clear. The report has been received, it is being considered and a decision will be made. Of course the Government recognise the importance of Heathrow as well as other airports around the country. We continue to regard the importance of aviation in developing, furthering and strengthening the British economy.

My Lords, as well as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, presumably the Secretary of State for Transport from time to time considered the issue of Heathrow and answered one or two questions on it in the other place. It is inconceivable that the Government are acting as if they are in total ignorance of the main features of what the report has been considering. I cannot understand—nor can the House, I believe—the additional delay in either endorsing that conclusion or saying that, in fact, the Government had an alternative strategy all along.

There is no dithering. Let us be quite clear here: it was the previous Government under the current Prime Minister, the same Prime Minister, who commissioned the report. The report was commissioned in 2012. The findings were received—very detailed analysis I am sure the noble Lord recognises—and there were 70,000 responses contained within the commission’s report. Therefore, it is quite right that a considered opinion is given to the commission’s recommendations, and that decision will be made not in due course, as I say again, but as the Prime Minister—the head of the Government—has made clear, by the end of this year, that is 2015.

My Lords, in making the decision on Heathrow or Gatwick, depending on which it is, will the Government publish after the decision the considerations of the legal delays that might occur depending on which decision is taken? It would seem to me that the advocates of Heathrow should surely want for the first spades to start the construction work as soon as possible. However, Gatwick seems more plausible in terms of fewer political and legal interventions.

The Government have already made clear that they wish to proceed on whatever option is pursued on a speedy basis. That is why we set up the commission report in the first place and the Government have made clear that they will take a decision. In terms of the proposal about legal issues or whatever, it would be speculative for me to comment on those on this occasion because that decision has yet to be taken.