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17. Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): If he will make a statement on bilateral relations with Iran. [69593]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The UK, through critical engagement, seeks to apply a twin-track approach in respect of Iran. We support reform in Iran while maintaining a robust dialogue on matters of concern, such as human rights and weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. McCabe: The US State Department and Israeli intelligence have warned that Iran is a state that sponsors terrorism. In view of that, and of Iran's developing nuclear and chemical weapons and its appalling human rights record—with almost daily public executions and

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floggings, sometimes for the most trivial offences, such as playing snooker—why is Iran a friend, yet Iraq, which has a remarkably similar record, is an enemy and a threat?

Mr. O'Brien: At least in Iran, unlike Iraq, the Government are led by a reformist President democratically elected by the people of Iran. The UK supports President Khatami's stated objective of a civil society based on the rule of law. The UK remains committed to a policy of critical engagement, which allows us to support reform in Iran while maintaining robust pressure in relation to issues of concern, such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend. Those issues include Iranian support for terrorist groups in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran's reported development of weapons of mass destruction and aspects of its human rights record. We believe that constructive and critical engagement is the best way forward.

International Criminal Court

18. Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the USA about the International Criminal Court. [69594]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had discussions with the United States Secretary of State on the ICC, resulting in United Nations Security Council resolution 1422, which was unanimously adopted on 12 July 2002 and which respects the statute of the court and allows the US to continue to participate in UN peacekeeping operations.

Valerie Davey: I welcome that reply, but there is a clear recognition that that is a compromise. May I ask the Minister whether there will be ongoing debate or dialogue with the United States so that we do not have another US stand-off position in a year's time?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right. That is why the Foreign Secretary is continuing those discussions. The United States Senate, Congress and leadership have always been unwilling to sign up to the International Criminal Court. We continue to try hard to persuade them that an international rule of law in this area is the right way forward, and that will continue to be our position.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I welcome the Minister's statement. Does he agree that this is sending a bad signal to other nations, especially when we bear it in mind that there is a fall-back position: the United States could take any action against any of its citizens? In that context, would it not be better to encourage the United States to join international law enforcement as well as international law keeping?

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman makes his point effectively. I would hope that every hon. Member, even those who voted against the Third Reading of the International Criminal Court Bill, now supports his position.

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Future of Air Transport

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): I should like to make a statement about future air transport and airport capacity in the United Kingdom.

We have built the fourth largest economy in the world on our ability to trade. Air travel is crucial to our expanding economy and we need to plan for the future. There has been a sixfold increase in air travel since 1970, and now half the population flies at least once a year. Demand is expected to continue to grow.

The Government will next year publish a White Paper on air travel. As part of that, we will set out our concluded views on how much additional airport capacity is needed and where it should be sited. Before we do that, we need to canvass views on a range of options. So today, in advance of the White Paper, I am publishing six consultation papers covering the English regions, Scotland and Wales. A further consultation paper for Northern Ireland will be published shortly.

The key issues that we need to address are how we should respond to the continued growth in demand for air travel; how much additional airport provision is needed; and where it should be located. Just as importantly, we need to deal with the environmental impact of expansion and its effects on the people living close to airports. Providing a framework for sustainable development for the next 30 years and beyond is essential. So the consultation is the first stage in that process. It seeks views on a range of options and their implications.

I should first set out the background against which we need to plan. There has been a phenomenal growth in travel by air. In 1970, some 32 million passengers passed through UK airports. Today, that figure is 180 million. People increasingly want to travel by air, whether for holidays abroad or business travel, in an increasingly international economy. Business depends on its ability to get goods quickly to markets across the world. One third of all UK goods exported now go by air. Air travel has opened up possibilities that simply did not exist years ago.

This is not just about travel, however; the airline industry is of critical importance to economic prosperity. It directly employs 180,000 people, and as many jobs again depend indirectly on the aviation industry. Many firms choose to locate close to airports and many businesses choose to invest in the UK because of our good communications, particularly air travel.

Today we publish a range of projections of the number of people who might be expected to use each of the main UK airports over the next 30 years. Some airports will not be able to deal with even a modest increase in demand. At this time of year, of course, holidaymakers are familiar with congested airports, but this is not just a summer issue. Throughout the year, some airports, such as Heathrow, are already near their full capacity.

So doing nothing is not an option. As a first step, we of course need to do all we possibly can to make the most of existing capacity—but on any view that is not enough. The Government therefore aim to set a framework for sustainable development against which people can plan. It has to be sufficiently flexible to cater for changes in demand and in patterns of travel, but it must provide a degree of certainty too.

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It is essential that we get this right, which is why we are consulting. We will be making decisions that shape the air industry and air travel for the next generation and beyond. The need to take full account of the environmental consequences of air travel is critical, which is why, for example, the consultation asks about rail alternatives in relation to domestic air travel. Where there is increased airport capacity, we need to strike the right balance between benefits from increased travel and trade and their environmental costs. As we said in 1998, we believe that the aviation industry should cover its environmental costs. Our forecasts for demand reflect that, and the proposals on which we are consulting include strict environmental controls, paid for by the air industry.

Let me summarise the options in each consultation paper before I turn to the options for the south-east. Those, for obvious reasons, have significance for the whole country. There has already been substantial growth at regional airports throughout the country, and the Government want to encourage development of such airports. As well as making travel more convenient, that is essential for economic development all over the country. The consultation looks at how to maximise the use of regional airports. For every part of the UK, we ask how we should respond to people's increasing desire to travel by air; whether extra capacity is needed and where it should be; and in every case we seek views on the environmental impact of any future development.

In Scotland in the past 10 years the number of people using the main Scottish airports has doubled to 16 million a year, and we expect continued growth as the Scottish economy expands. The consultation paper looks at making the most of existing capacity. It asks where new capacity should be situated—should it be concentrated at one or two key airports, or spread across all Scottish airports? It asks what scope there is to develop Edinburgh or Glasgow as a hub airport for Scotland, attracting new services to a wider range of destinations, and the Scottish Executive are also publishing a report on how to improve rail links to both those airports. The consultation looks at other issues of vital concern in Scotland, such as maintaining access to London and the lifeline air links to the highlands and islands.

In Wales, the consultation paper looks at what new capacity might be needed, especially at Cardiff. BMI recently announced that it will establish a second UK base there for its low-cost airline. Wales is already a major centre for aircraft maintenance, and to develop that, the consultation includes proposals for a major aerospace park. Because two thirds of passengers living in Wales fly from airports in England, the consultation covers improved surface links to airports in both Wales and England, and looks at the potential to start up internal flights within Wales, which would improve access where surface journeys are lengthy.

The north of England has seven major airports handling 26 million passengers a year, and that number is expected to rise over the next 30 years. Expansion could support many new jobs in the region. Manchester airport is by far the biggest outside the south-east of England and demand is likely to be higher there than at any airport outside London, so the consultation paper looks at how it could be developed further to become a hub airport complementing Heathrow. The consultation also asks how to make the most of other airports in the region; whether additional

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capacity should be concentrated at one or two airports, or spread across the region; and how far rail can substitute for domestic services, particularly to London.

In the midlands, there are now 10 million air passengers a year. The consultation paper looks at what options are available once capacity at Birmingham is reached, and it considers the role of east midlands airport, which is the third largest freight airport in the country. The consultation identifies options—again over the next thirty years—including a new runway either at Birmingham or at east midlands airport. There may be more demand for services from Birmingham than from east midlands, but that needs to be balanced against the impacts of noise and traffic congestion. A new site between Coventry and Rugby might be examined: away from houses, impacts would be less, but the cost of a new airport would of course be much greater. Decisions about capacity at south-east airports will have consequences for developments in the midlands, as elsewhere.

In south-west England, demand for air travel is growing fast. Most people living in the south-west use airports in both the south-east and the midlands. The Government are keen to ensure that airports meet as much local demand as they can, so the consultation looks at the expanded capacity that might be needed at Bristol airport and elsewhere, and asks how a wider range of services could be secured. Because vital links between the south-west and London are limited, the document looks at supporting these air links and at improving rail connections to London airports.

Development of London airports will affect every part of the country and air travel to the rest of the world. One in every six of the world's international passengers start or finish their journey at a south-east airport. So those decisions affect the whole country, and they are central to the future of our United Kingdom aviation industry.

Already, 117 million passengers a year use south-east airports, and the number is likely to grow substantially. The pressures on existing London airports today are obvious enough, so on any view doing nothing is not an option. As with the rest of the country, we need a framework to cater for people's increasing wish to travel and trade. Again, of course, existing capacity must be maximised—for example, at Luton and Stansted, which have seen substantial growth of low-cost airline travel.

With Heathrow, we have a world-class hub airport. Some 15 million international passengers transfer through the airport—the biggest number at any airport in the world—and it employs 68,000 people directly, but Heathrow is already under pressure. Airlines cannot get the runway slots to operate new services. It is already at its limit. Gatwick's single runway is full for much of the day, and Stansted is rapidly filling up, too.

In the meantime, in Europe, there have been substantial developments at Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, all of which want to rival Heathrow and attract its business. If we do nothing, the United Kingdom will lose out, not just in terms of flights, but in terms of jobs. So the consultation asks about the importance of an international hub airport. We believe that it is in Britain's interests to maintain a world-class global hub airport in the south-east, not just because it is good for passengers, but because it is an essential part of United Kingdom's prosperity. The key question is where should it be.

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One option is to build at Heathrow—already the fourth busiest airport in the world. That could mean an additional, shorter runway, complementing what is already there. Alongside the economic benefits, we would, of course, need to consider the environmental impact, particularly the effects on the many people who live around the airport and its flight paths.

A second option looked at is Stansted—another existing airport that could be developed to become a hub itself or to complement Heathrow. As with expanding Heathrow, costs would be less than building a new airport, but it would be necessary to improve transport links to and from the airport, and of course the impact on the local community has to be considered.

A third option is to build a completely new airport, with the option of development at Cliffe in north Kent. The advantage is the maximum flexibility to construct a new airport to meet the demands of the future. Against that, we need to consider the environmental consequences of building at Cliffe and, of course, the very substantial cost of a new airport. Those have to be balanced against the considerable benefits for jobs and economic regeneration of Kent, Essex and east London.

So the Government seek views on the merits of a new development. As well as the question of a hub airport, the consultation looks at where any other new capacity should be located.

At Gatwick, a legal agreement rules out construction of a new runway before 2019, and the Government do not propose to challenge that. So we are not putting forward any option for a new runway, but there is still some capacity that can be used in the years to come, as is already agreed locally.

The consultation also looks at the needs of other airports in the region, including Luton and an option of a freight airport at Alconbury. The consultation looks at most major airports and asks what further development is necessary and desirable and, in each case, at how to deal with the environmental effects of any development.

Air travel is crucial to our expanding economy. We need to plan for the future and to provide a framework for sustainable development for the next 30 years and beyond. The consultation is the first stage in that process. I commend this statement to the House.

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