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Airports: London

Volume 774: debated on Monday 5 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will announce their decision about extra runways for London’s airports.

My Lords, the Government are committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects the country needs, including delivering runway capacity to the timetable set out by the Airports Commission. As noble Lords will appreciate, it is vital we get this decision right. The Government commissioned extra work looking at the three options shortlisted by the commission. Ministers will consider this alongside the comprehensive evidence published by the commission before reaching a final view on the preferred scheme.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on his well-deserved promotion to Minister of Aviation, which is a job I once held. Is not this whole issue getting a bit out of date? Should we consider asking not whether Heathrow or Gatwick will have another runway, but whether Gatwick and Heathrow will have extra runways?

First, I thank my noble friend for his kind remarks. He served in a very distinguished capacity as Aviation Minister, but he is also quite right to mention aviation capacity in the south-east. As I have said previously from this Dispatch Box, the Davies commission carried out quite comprehensive work in this regard. Three options were presented to the Government, which remain on the table.

In this post-Brexit world, will the Minister use his enhanced position, which is well deserved—he has been a good supporter of the expansion issue—to make sure his Cabinet colleagues, and the Prime Minister, who is chairing the relevant committee, understand that it is critical that Heathrow can deliver the services the rest of the world will expect if we are to be part of that market? To follow the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, they need to recognise that we need a better way to deal with airport expansion in this country. Expansion of airports is critical to both regional and national economies.

The noble Lord is right in that over the summer there have been a few changes in the Government and in the position of the United Kingdom. A new Government, Prime Minister and Secretary of State are in place, but I assure the noble Lord—indeed, all noble Lords—that the Government are giving this decision a high priority. It is paramount in our mind. The other element to bear in mind is that it will be in line with the Davies commission to ensure that we have this extra capacity operational by 2030.

My Lords, this decision concentrates on the south-east. It will have an adverse impact on airports elsewhere, not least because if we have more flights in the south-east we will have to have fewer in the rest of the UK to reach our carbon reduction targets. Will the Minister seek to persuade the new Prime Minister that she needs to make this decision with the interests of every part of the UK in mind?

I assure the noble Baroness that, knowing the new Prime Minister well, the right honourable lady will make all decisions, whether on airport expansion or on the economy and our position on the international stage, focusing on what is of benefit to the United Kingdom as a whole. The noble Baroness raises an important issue about regional airport capacity and regional connectivity. I assure her and the whole House again that the decision taken on expansion of south-east capacity will reflect the importance of the aviation industry and airport connectivity, in particular to our international positioning.

Are there any issues relating to additional runway capacity in the south-east and the Davies commission report that are now being considered by Theresa May’s Government that were not being considered, prior to his leaving office, by David Cameron’s Government?

The Government’s position remains consistent. The Prime Minister may have changed but the Government’s position remains that the Davies commission was commissioned to look specifically at airport capacity in the south-east. As I said earlier, there are three options on the table and they are all being considered.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Spicer asked when the Government’s decision will be announced. I wonder whether my noble friend could answer that Question.

My Lords, does that not imply that the consistency of the Government’s position, which the Minister has just referred to, is that this issue is to be kept in the long grass for as long as possible?

I assure the noble Lord that there is no long grass. To continue with that metaphor, I have the lawnmower at the ready if there was any such long grass. I do not think it is inconsistent at all. The Government have given priority to this decision. The previous Government and the previous Prime Minister commissioned the Davies commission to look at this important issue. I have already reiterated the point that the Government are giving high priority to this issue. The decision will be made shortly.

Does the decision of the Government to widen the M4 to an eight-lane motorway indicate that the decision has already been made for a new runway at Heathrow, in spite of the enormous opposition to such a project?

That is a very open-ended question but I would be very much inclined to say to my noble friend: sooner.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, on his unremitting campaign for the best interests of British aviation. Is it not clear that the longer a decision on this vital issue is delayed, the worse it will be for British aviation? In my view, a decision should have been made long ago, and the Government are playing for time. The more we encounter delay, the more British aviation will suffer while its rivals manage to march forward unremittingly.

I agree with the noble Lord about the way in which my noble friend Lord Spicer has ensured that this issue is kept at the forefront. I assure all noble Lords that the importance of the aviation sector is a high priority for this Government. I further assure the noble Lord that the decision that will be taken will be in the best interests of the aviation sector, as well as of the country as a whole.