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Airports: London

Volume 765: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will now announce the date on which they will make public their decision about an extra runway for the London airport system.

My Lords, the Government’s position on airports capacity has not changed since the Airports Commission published its final report in July. The Government are currently reviewing all the evidence before coming to any final decision. As I have said before from this Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister has said that a decision will be made by the end of the year.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Heathrow is now full? Is he further aware that whatever decision is taken about the future of that airport, it is likely to be challenged in the courts? Is it not therefore sensible that, from an aviation point of view, a decision to publicise should be taken as soon as possible, preferably this afternoon before the six o’clock news?

It is for the very reason that my noble friend has articulated—the importance of making a considered decision which is not subject to judicial review—that the Government are fully considering all the evidence in the commission’s report and will report on their final decision in due course.

Does the Minister appreciate that while we prevaricate over the choice of the extra runways, Paris, Schiphol and Frankfurt are going ahead inevitably and inexorably? Are we not paying a very heavy price for the delay that is happening at the moment? I am delighted that, as former Ministers with responsibility for aviation, the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, and I both have no doubt about what should happen.

The noble Lord raises an important point about retaining the competitiveness of London alongside those who are competing for business across Europe. He referred to his experience and that of my noble friend. It is for that very reason that I am sure he would agree that the Government need to ensure that they make a considered response that is not open to judicial review.

Can the Minister give us the benefit of his best guess about which happy occurrence will happen first—the building of the third runway at Heathrow or the publication of the Chilcot report?

One thing I have learned in my time as a Minister is that guessing results in a very short time in office. Guessing and speculation are not advised for any Minister.

My Lords, I was at a meeting this morning—it was part of a series of meetings—about statesmanship in the 21st century, stemming from the Churchill 2015 events. It was attended by a lot of youngsters, and there were a lot of debates. One of the key attributes that those attending felt that statesmen in the 21st century should have is an ability to make rapid and concise decisions. This decision has now taken longer than World War I. If this decision is important for our nation, does the Minister not believe that we ought to make it, as was said, before the evening news?

As I am sure the noble Lord recognises, World War I was not based on a report. In this instance, the Prime Minister who leads the current Government initiated this report during the previous Government in 2012. It is an independent report. The commission took evidence. There were more than 70,000 respondents, and it is only proper that the Government should ensure that all options are carefully considered before they come to a final decision.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell your Lordships’ House how the date of the announcement about Heathrow will be influenced by the date of next year’s mayoral elections in London?

All I will say to my noble friend is that, as I have said already, I would have a short ministerial career if I were to speculate on such things.

Will the Government give an undertaking that when the decision about which airport is chosen is made and publicised, the effects on air quality and surface access will be covered in the same decision?

As the noble Lord will know, the issue of surface access has already been addressed. At Gatwick, for example, we have seen investment in a new station. He also raised the issue of air quality. That is very much part and parcel of the reporting of the Davies commission, and it will indeed form part of the Government’s response.

Will the Minister remind the House why the expansion of Stansted Airport was aborted? It has tremendous capacity and very good connectivity with the centre of town.

Stansted, like other airports around the country, is an important part of UK plc’s airport offering. As the noble Lord will also know, the Davies commission looked at many options, and it was after considering over 50 options that it whittled those down to what is recommended in the report. It is important when you commission a report that you consider its findings in detail and indeed reflect on those findings appropriately.

My Lords, in view of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, I should perhaps declare an interest as a member of the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign. That said, does the Minister accept that this Government—and those who have gone before, unfortunately—have form on the issue of not taking decisions in a timely fashion on airport capacity? Does he further accept that the effect not just on the aviation industry but on the communities in the areas of those airports is baleful when these decisions are repeatedly delayed? They are put into a condition of virtual suspended animation, or worse, and many bad effects ensue. Will he assure the House that this Government are well aware of that?

I assure the noble Baroness that the Government are fully aware of that. Indeed, the Davies commission’s report highlighted the importance of establishing a community engagement forum, and that will form part and parcel of the Government’s reporting on the report.

Will my noble friend assure the House that this decision will be made while both Houses are in session, and that it will be followed by full debate in each House of Parliament?

I look toward my noble friend the Chief Whip. I am sure that with his professionalism in these matters he will table debates accordingly.

My Lords, have the Government considered the possibility that in 30 to 50 years’ time hundreds of millions of Chinese, Indians and others from developing parts of the world will be flying into Europe? Are we sure, with the nonsense of this Heathrow expansion, that it would actually be big enough? Would it not be better to go down the “Boris Island” route and have something proper built for the future?

I am sure that my honourable friend in the other place has noted the noble Lord’s support for his proposal. People will be flying in from all over the world, as they do today and indeed as my father did from India 50 years ago. That will continue to happen 50 years from now. What is important is that the report highlights the options that we need to undertake up to 2015 and beyond.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. Is the Minister aware that by the time the first sod is to be turned on the new runway, wherever that may be, London Luton Airport will be well on its way to handling some 18 million passengers each year, providing substantial capacity to the London air transport system? What encouragement will the Government give to the further expansion of that airport?

I remind the noble Lord that I have already said that the Government are supportive of all our regional airports. We are investing in both the surface transport and the road network to ensure accessibility, and the statistic that he has just quoted underlines that particular support because it underlines that our regional airports are also expanding well in servicing UK plc.