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Airport Capacity in London

Volume 767: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the last date on which the decision about where to build an additional runway for London could reasonably be made, in the light of their commitment to publish that decision this year.

My Lords, on 10 December, the Government accepted the Airports Commission’s case for expansion in the south-east. We agree with the commission’s shortlist of three options, all of which it concluded were viable. The Government will now conclude a package of further work by the summer and will ensure that the timetable for delivering additional capacity set out by the commission does not alter.

My noble friend will be relieved to hear that I do not have a supplementary question for him. This is partly because I have run out of ideas for new ways of asking the same question but also because the Government are producing the same answers, which—I do not know how to put this tactfully—have a short shelf-life attached to them. I wish Heathrow Airport, the Government and your Lordships a very happy Christmas, and an even better new year.

I also wish everybody a happy Christmas. In the House of Commons on Monday, the Secretary of State said that the Government were still assessing all three airport extra capacity options identified by the Davies commission. He said:

“I hope very much that, by the summer, we will be able to tell the House which one carries the most favour with the Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/12/15; col. 1311.]

Subsequently, he said:

“I hope to come back to the House in the summer”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/12/15; col. 1317.]

However, in answer to another question, the Secretary of State said that,

“there will be a decision by summer next year”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/12/15; col. 1313.]

Which of those statements by the Secretary of State is correct? Is it the ones that said the Government “hope” to make a decision by next summer or the one that said the Government “will” make a decision by next summer?

The world runs on hope in every respect. We will certainly come back in the summer, and being a person of the Muslim faith, I say, inshallah, I will be returning in the summer of 2016, God willing.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that regional airports in the United Kingdom such as Newcastle, which is expanding and becoming much busier, are expressing serious concern about the adverse effect on their activities of the lack of capacity in the south-east? Is the Minister absolutely confident that a new runway will be built, or is this beginning to look increasingly like a figment of the Government’s imagination?

The Government have made it very clear that we will expand south-east airport capacity. The noble Lord is right to point out that failing to address this will result in a loss of £30 billion to £45 billion to the wider economy. The Government are committed to expansion in the south-east: that decision was made clear on 10 December and we will be reporting back in the summer of next year on the final decision that will be taken on this issue.

My Lords, the south-east of England has one-third of the UK population and two-thirds of the flights, and expanding Heathrow would exacerbate that issue. Some 28% of the people in Europe who suffer from aircraft noise are under Heathrow flight paths. Does the Minister still believe that this is a suitable location for airport expansion? Given that successive Governments have agonised over this for generations, does the Minister believe that they are still answering the right question?

The Davies commission made clear three viable options, and the Government have also been clear that they are committed to expansion in the south-east. The noble Baroness raises environmental issues—noise and carbon. They are the very reasons that the Government are examining all three viable options against those criteria and the finalised air quality strategy.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I do not blame him personally in any way for this affair? But when it comes to questions of noise, is he further aware that the first occasion on which I was a crewman flying a 707 out of Heathrow was in 1960—55 years, half a century, ago? How many of the people who are there complaining about the noise now have moved in under the shadow of the 707s and the other big jets? Can he persuade his colleagues to understand that if Heathrow is not expanded to take long-haul flights as a hub airport, the business and the jobs will go not to somewhere in the north of England but to Frankfurt, Paris and Schiphol?

I would say first to my noble friend that 50 years ago, I certainly was not under the flight path, but I am one of those who, through issues of birth, are under the flight path now. Nevertheless, my noble friend raises the important issue of the UK economy. Let me assure him that the Government are committed to ensuring that the right decision is taken on south-east airport expansion and that a major determinant of that is to ensure the continued competitiveness of the UK.

The Minister is fast earning a reputation for escaping entirely from responsibility. Purely for political purposes, the Government have dithered and dithered. Other airports in Europe, as has already been said, thrive while British aviation disappears. Is it not more important than anything that while the Government adopt their present stance, the country suffers?

It is for others to judge the noble Lord’s first comment, but the Government take their responsibility very seriously, and that is why they are taking their time to ensure that the right decision, a considered decision, is taken on which of the three viable options should be moved forward. The Davies commission reported that new expansion needs to happen by 2030 and I assure the noble Lord and all other noble Lords that whatever decision is taken will ensure that that timetable will be met.