|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for his characteristic courtesy in providing me with a copy of it in advance. I am very much looking forward to debating transport matters with him in the coming months, and I hope to provide him with robust but genuinely constructive opposition, since, as he will know better than any other right hon. Member, there are no easy or quick solutions to the nation's transport difficulties.
Of course the Secretary of State is entirely right to say that we must plan for the long term. As he knows, up to 500,000 jobs and something like £10 billion of gross domestic product in this country depend on the air transport industry. He will also know that there are serious concerns about the competitiveness of the UK with airports in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. He will have heard today the chief executive of BA saying:
The Secretary of State is entirely right to say that doing nothing is not an option. He would have been derelict in his duty had he failed to plan for growth; I am pleased to see that he did not. However, there are still detailed questions that he would expect me to ask.
On passenger number projections, the Secretary of State will know that the media todayparticularly the lunchtime television bulletinswere heavily briefed about a set of figures that suggested a figure of 180 million passengers at the moment rising to an expected 400 million by 2020. Interestingly, the Secretary of State did not refer to those figures in his statement. Does he agree that straight-line predictions of growth can often be dangerous? The world has changed in recent months and will change even further in years to come.
The figure of 180 million passengers was a figure for the year 2000. Can the Secretary of State provide the House with the figure for 2001 yet? Is he aware that, since the figure for 2000 was announced, there have been a global economic slowdown as well as the events of 11 September? Is he aware that many people who earn a living predicting the future of the airline industry are not so sanguine about rapid growth as perhaps he and his officials are?
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Farnborough air show has its lowest level of commercial aircraft orders for 30 years? Is he aware that the largest airline manufacturing company in the world, Boeing, has halved production and sacked 30,000 workers in recent months? Is he familiar with the fact that Sabena has gone bust and that Swissair, Aer Lingus and BA are in financial difficulty? [Interruption.] I am sure that he is aware of these matters. In light of that, will he tell the House whether he is committed personally[Interruption.]
Mr. Collins: I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. Is the Secretary of State saying that he personally stands by the projected figure of 400 million passenger movements by 2020, which the Department provided extensively to the broadcast media at lunchtime today?
The Secretary of State is right to say that many residents will be affected by airport expansion. Does he recognise that there is a need for certainty? He is right to consult, but does he recognise that swift decisions will be greatly welcomed by those affected? None of us wants to see the whole procedure of terminal 5 repeated
Mr. Collins: We do not want the procedure to be dragged out indefinitely. Is the Minister aware that the compensation provided to residents affected in this country is arrived at on a different basis from elsewhere in Europe? Will he look at that?
Only last November, the Government imposed a cap on the number of flights into Heathrow. The Secretary of State will recall that the cap was set at 480,000 air transport movements. However, in the documents published today, he says that an extra runway could see that increase to 655,000 ATMs. Does the cap announced last November stand or not? Can he give any other assurances to residents living near other airports?
Will the Secretary of State address, as he did in part of his statement, the question of sharing the burden of extra capacity around the United Kingdom? He will know that a substantial proportion of passengers coming into the south-east to use airports do not actually live in the south-east. Does he have a strategy substantially to expand regional airport capacity?
At lunchtime today, I spoke with the chief executive of Luton airport, Paul Kehoe, who said that Luton airport was ready rapidly to double its existing passenger numbers from 7 million a year and could quite easily triple that figure. Has the Secretary of State taken that into account in his planning?
Does the Secretary of State believe that the Government have demonstrated joined-up government on this issue? Is he aware that, in most of the areas in which he is contemplating substantial runway expansion, the local authorities have been told by the Government in the last few days that they will also have to cope with substantial increases in the number of homes to be planted in their area, above and beyond what their residents want; and that, because of changes in the local government funding formula, they will have less, rather than more, money to help them to cope with that? How, against that background, does he expect them to expand their infrastructure to cope with extra runways?
The Secretary of State referred to the north of England, saying that the consultation looks at how far rail can substitute for domestic services, particularly to London from the north and north-west of England. Those of us who represent north-western constituencies find that a somewhat ironic observation for the Secretary of State to make in the week when the west coast main line upgrade appears permanently to have been shelved. Will he say a word about upgrading public transport access to the new runways, whether in new or old airports? Does he recognise an essential need for public transport to be upgraded?
Is the right hon. Gentleman furthermore prepared to tell the House whether the proposal for a possible new airport at Cliffe marshes is an entirely serious and worked- through proposal? The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has said:
Finally[Hon. Members: "Hooray!"]well, Labour Members may not think that these questions are important, but let me assure them that their constituents and others believe that these matters are important. The Secretary of State is quite right to be thinking about these issues, and I commend him on the spirit in which he has done so. He will have the constructive support of Her Majesty's Opposition in looking for sensible and practical solutions. Will he recognise, however, that it is essential that these decisions be taken in a swift but consultative manner? Will he say specifically that he does not expect the Government to take anything like as long to take these decisions as they took to reach a conclusion about terminal 5?
Mr. Darling: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment to his new post. I have to say that we shall miss the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May)for reasons that she may not appreciatebut anyway, she has gone now. I must also commend the hon. Gentleman for another reason. He flashed across my consciousness once before, when, during the Tory leadership campaign in 1995, he described the campaign team of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) as
I am conscious of the fact that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to ask me questions, and I shall deal with the points that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) has raised. I shall not criticise him for being light on policy, since, three hours into his appointment, it is probably a bit early for him to be anything else.
I appreciate the fact that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that the Government are consulting. He went on to ask some detailed questions about matters such as Cliffe, for example, on which, by definition, we have not yet made firm proposals because we are consulting on a principle. He asked me to reach a swift decision after the consultation, and I agree with him that that is wholly desirable. It is best for everyone concernedresidents, people who are affected by airports, the industry and the travelling publicto know what the Government are proposing, and I want to bring these matters to a conclusion as quickly as I can, consistently with doing justice to the representations that are made. Moreover, the consultation period does not end until the end of November. It will therefore be next year before we publish a White Paper, but I entirely accept the point that he makes.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned several points of detail, the first of which concerned terminal 5, Heathrow and night flights. The decision on terminal 5 holds good, and was made in the light of existing pressures on Heathrow and its two runways. The inspector acknowledges in his report that the Government are embarking on long-term consultation, looking ahead to the next 30 years. So the position on terminal 5, and on the cap on the number of flights that was referred to at that time, remains good in relation to Heathrow's current situation. Everybody knew that we would look at Heathrow in the context of the other London airports over a longer period. The Government will publish a consultation paper on night flights towards the end of this year.
As I said in my statement, there is excess capacity at Luton, and as the general manager recognises, it can be expanded. However, if the hon. Gentleman was thinking of Luton as an alternative to, say, developing Stansted, I should point out that a second runway cannot be built at Luton because of the topography, which inevitably imposes some constraint.
The hon. Gentleman asked about rail links from the north-west in particular. In developing any sensible airport policy, it is important to allow for the fact that, in some cases, people should find it easier and better to travel by rail. I accept that there are problems with the west coast main line upgrade, although as he will discover, it has not been postponed. Having discovered that Railtrack had grossly underestimated the costs and scale of the project, the Strategic Rail Authority is examining the matter from the start. So his point about Railtrack is not a particularly good one, especially as the main cause of the problem relates to Railtrack's initial setting up.
The hon. Gentleman made a general point about future projections. The document looks at the likely demand for unconstrained travelin other words, the number of people who are likely to want to travel, or to trade, in the next few years. It also examines assumptions and options, based on constrained travel in the south-east or throughout the entire United Kingdom. The point is that, if airports are extended or new ones are built, the work will be done by the private sector, which will have to take a view on the likely levels of business. The Government are consulting on the numbers who are likely to want to fly, and how we respond. That is the point of a consultation period.
The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that, if we look ahead 30 years, there are bound to be some ups and downs. Twelve months agoafter Septemberpeople thought that the air industry would take a knock and that it would not recover. However, domestic and European travel has recovered substantiallynot just because of low-cost airlinesand transatlantic journeys are also approaching previous levels. In this case, we must look ahead 30 years, which is what we are doing in the consultation documents published today. Over the next few months, the object of the exercise is to gather people's views on what they think will happen.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for recognising that doing nothingpretending that there is no problem, or hoping that it will go awayis simply not an option. We all face this difficulty in our lives: most people want to travel by plane, and most of us have to fly from time to time, but all of us are concerned about airport expansion. Frankly, we cannot have it both ways. We must face up to the fact