My Lords, a number of important decisions on airport capacity were taken by the Government in December last year, including to accept the case for expansion in the south-east. However, as I have said before, we must take the time to get the location decision right. The Government are further considering what will maximise the potential local economic opportunities as well as the best possible measures to mitigate any environmental impacts. This work will conclude by summer 2016.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is one scenario being mooted in some quarters that does not involve the expansion of the London system? Remain wins the referendum and, because of the acquis communautaire, the setting up of a state of Europe is hastened, with Berlin as the de facto capital. Berlin would therefore attract aeroplanes from London, and it would deposit them on an airfield it has had for the last five years, which has not had a single aeroplane going through it, at Brandenburg. Problem solved, I hope the Minister may say: it would take the strain off Heathrow and give more business to the Germans. I am very interested to see how that grabs the Minister.
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, asked a similar Question last month, the Minister said that the Government would conclude their further consideration of the environmental impacts of expanding airport capacity in the south-east by the summer, which the Minister later said was often defined as the time when noble Lords enjoy their Recess. Bearing in mind that the Government are in full control of the timetable for making and announcing their decision on this major, contentious issue, does the Minister agree that it would be an act of political cowardice for the Government to announce their decision on airport capacity when Parliament is not sitting or on the day Parliament rises for a recess?
My noble friend is quite right to raise the issue of drones. Indeed, there was an incident only yesterday at Heathrow, which has been fully investigated. The pilots have given their full reports, and the details have been reported by the media. Let me assure my noble friend that there already are stringent procedures regarding the use of drones, but the Government are also working very closely with international and domestic partners, including the CAA and BALPA. We are also working closely with our European partners—including leading on EASA’s work in this regard—as to what more can be done in what clearly is an area of expansion.
My Lords, the Airports Commission recommended establishing an independent aviation noise authority to participate in planning and monitoring airport expansion in the south-east. Can the Minister explain to us what steps the Government have taken towards establishing that authority and, if none have been, why not?
The noble Baroness is right to point out that one of the findings of the Davies commission was the importance of full community engagement, and that remains part and parcel of government thinking and is very much in the mix. However, the final call on that can be made only once we make the final call on the location of expansion in the south-east.
I offer the Minister my belated congratulations on his birthday on 3 April and remind him that in the year he was born, I first expressed concern about the future of Heathrow unless we kept up with the management of airports in other countries. Will he do all he can to make sure that he gets the announcement made before the Summer Recess? If this goes on for as long as he has been alive, he will be 96 and I will be 125 when the decision is made.
I am sure that all noble Lords will wish us both a long, healthy and happy life. The noble Lord is quite right—the Government have made their position clear; the decision is important. [Laughter.] Noble Lords may laugh, but the Government have made clear the principle that there is a need for expansion in the south-east, and we are progressing on that basis.
My Lords, 219 years ago today, the Spithead mutineers submitted a form to Earl Howe, whose relative sits here today, because they were appalled at a two-year delay in the Government taking action that they had promised. What does the noble Lord think they would make of the multi-year delay we have over this particular decision?
After consulting my noble friend, the current Earl Howe, I shall come back to the noble Lord on the history behind his question. The serious point behind this is the importance, as we all recognise, of ensuring the UK’s competitiveness, which requires expansion of capacity in the south-east, and we are progressing on that decision. As I said, the additional considerations will be concluded by the summer of this year.
Indeed, it gives me great pleasure to join the noble Lord in wishing the Lord Speaker, on behalf of the whole House, a very happy birthday. In doing so—I am not sure that I shall get the chance later this week—I wish Her Majesty the Queen a very happy 90th birthday.
On the decision that may be taken in the summer on the third runway and Heathrow, is the Minister aware that, for more than a decade, air pollution around Heathrow has been way above acceptable levels and little has been done by any Government? Regardless of the decision, will any steps be taken to try to solve that problem and ease the poisoning that is taking place, particularly of children?
The noble Lord is right to raise the issue of pollution. That is why the Government are taking full consideration of the Davies Commission’s powerful recommendations on mitigating those impacts, so that appropriate consideration is given to ensure that those impacts can be mitigated, whatever the final decision on south-east expansion.
Does my noble friend recognise that there are concerns in all parts of this House that the announcement on the runway should not be made close to the recess? On a day when the Chancellor is discussing the economic benefits of staying in the EU, will my noble friend please acknowledge that every single day or week that this decision is delayed is a loss to this country?
My noble friend makes two very important points. Of course, the Government are listening and hear these concerns. I assure him that the concerns reflected in this Chamber are very much given due consideration by other members of the Government, as well as myself.