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Airport Development

2. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): What assessment he has made of the recent report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in relation to plans for airport development. [85902]

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5. Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): What assessment he has made of the conclusions of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution regarding the impact of a substantial increase in air travel on global warming; and if he will make a statement. [85905]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Government will consider this report along with responses to our consultation on the development of air transport in the UK.

Tony Wright: Did my right hon. Friend notice that the subtitle of the royal commission's report is Xflying to a warmer climate"? It estimates that as much as 10 per cent. of man-made global warming will come from aviation in 50 years' time. Given that, is it not daft that travel by train gets ever more expensive while travel by air gets ever cheaper, and that we have no tax on aircraft fuel? Are we sure that it is sensible to keep increasing airport capacity to meet demand without raising questions about the nature of that demand?

Mr. Darling: I did notice the subtitle of the report as I read it on an aeroplane, although I was returning to my constituency at the time, and so travelling to a colder climate. I also noticed that the report was not as thorough and, perhaps, in-depth as I might have liked, notwithstanding the conclusions. In particular, it did not give due credit to the fact that the Government made it clear in the consultation document that we believe that the air industry should pay for the environmental costs that it causes.

The report also did not take account of the fact that when I announced the consultation process, a number of hon. Members asked about rail alternatives, especially in the United Kingdom. I made it clear that once the west coast main line is upgraded and we have faster and more reliable train services, we will be able to encourage people to use that railway line rather than flying from Manchester to London, which strikes me as something they would not want to do if they had a reliable railway service. However, none of that gets away from the fact that many people go to airports to fly not within the UK or to close destinations in Europe, but to other parts of the world. For that reason, we need to consider the capacity of airports, notwithstanding the report's conclusions.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I know that the Secretary of State is trying to give full answers, but I have the difficulty of getting through the Order Paper and need his co-operation.

Mr. Mullin: But is it not the case that there is a flat contradiction between the Secretary of State's Department's plans for an indefinite expansion of air travel and the Government's commitment to the environment? Has he consulted his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and are they happy?

Mr. Darling: That does not happen to be the Government's policy. In the consultation, the Government asked to what extent we should meet the

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likely demand for an increase in flying over the next few years. The premise on which my hon. Friend bases his question is wrong. In the interests of brevity, I shall leave it at that.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): In seeking to meet demand for air transport, will the Secretary of State take note of the very serious air pollution that already exists in and around Heathrow? Will he exclude the possibility of a third east-west runway at that airport in favour of an incremental development of the airport system in the south-east of England as a whole, which is a more cost effective option?

Mr. Darling: It would be imprudent of me to come to a conclusion on something on which the Government are consulting. However, I am well aware of those points.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): The House will be familiar with my interests in aviation and air transport. In drafting the response to the royal commission's findings, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the potential for increasing the role of regional airports so that our constituents can travel from Scotland and the north of England directly, using regional air services, without being affected by the obsession of having to travel over London? Is that one aspect of his airport expansion proposals on which he might see fit to take a favourable approach?

Mr. Darling: I was not aware of the hon. Lady's interests in aviation, but as she has raised them I shall have a look. As for regional airports, as I said when I made my statement in July, many people in central Scotland, the north-east and the north-west of England would like to be able to fly to more international destinations and not have to come through a London airport. That is addressed in the consultation, and is something on which representations are sought—indeed, a number of people have made representations about it.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that information and recommendations from the royal commission will be included in the consultation papers on airport capacity developments that will be produced in the new year?

Mr. Darling: As my hon. Friend knows, the consultation documents refer to the environmental costs of airport expansion, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) earlier, but I cannot give an undertaking that the royal commission findings will be incorporated in a Government paper, as that would not be appropriate. It is fairly well known that the royal commission has looked at the matter and reported—I am sure that people living at or around Heathrow will be well aware of the report, and will take up the arguments that they believe to be appropriate.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the House last Thursday that she had had discussions with the right hon. Gentleman about the report on

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airport policy produced by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Does he recall those discussions, and can he tell us how he has amended his policy as a result?

Mr. Darling: On the documents, when we discussed the matter in prolonged exchanges in Question Time last month, I said that we would publish a further paper on the result of the court decision on Gatwick. The representations and general comments that we have received are publicly available and known about. Ministers will take them into account, as will the House.

It is important that we take into account not just what people say about the need to expand airports but what they say about the environmental cost of air travel—both are important. As I have said time and time again, next year we will reach a conclusion about what we ought to do. I am pretty clear about the fact that the House, the industry and the public want certainty about our strategy, and we still plan to make that decision towards the end of next year.

Vehicle Emissions

3. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): What representations he has made to the road transport industry to reduce pollution from vehicles which can cause asthma; and if he will make a statement. [85903]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Ministers meet regularly with representatives from the road transport industry, and the issue of the environmental and health impacts of road transport is frequently raised. Action at both national and European level has been very successful in reducing the levels of pollutants from road transport over the past decade, and the Government continue to play an active role to ensure future improvements in this sector.

Mr. O'Brien : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he share my view that the increase in the number of people suffering from asthma, particularly children, is unacceptable? There is now evidence that particulates from vehicles are a cause of asthma—the problem is mainly caused by the density of traffic. Is my hon. Friend aware of the important studies by the Department of Health on the medical effects of air pollution, and will he act upon that information to ensure that the communities that we represent can be free of asthma?

Mr. Jamieson: I am aware of the report to which my hon. Friend referred—he is right to be concerned about this important matter, especially the impact on children. The latest research on the causes of asthma shows that there is no evidence that air pollution causes asthma, but there is certainly evidence that it exacerbates or may bring on attacks in people who already have asthma. We have therefore asked the Government's expert Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollutants to provide further advice next year.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Recently, one of the main causes of increased vehicle pollution has been the mad policies of the Mayor of London—narrowing

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streets, putting in chicanes, humps and bumps, and turning all the traffic lights red, which has been copied by other authorities around the country. In the interests of having cleaner air, will the Minister offer new guidance to local government to start easing the flow of traffic, rather than clobbering the motorist?

Mr. Jamieson: The congestion charging zone will give a dispensation to cleaner vehicles, which we greatly welcome. If we get some vehicles off the road to create a flow of traffic, that will reduce congestion. Roads can be congested by people travelling one person to a car, stop-starting, and travelling at low speeds. That is the most polluting aspect of vehicle usage, and we hope that congestion charging can make some contribution to tackling it.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Will my hon. Friend examine carefully the relationship between congestion and asthma in London, and in particular, with the implementation of congestion charging in the spring, will he look carefully at whether the levels of asthma fall as the levels of congestion fall, as we hope they will?

Mr. Jamieson: That is a very good point. We have asked the Government's Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollutants to consider the matter and refer it back to us next year. My hon. Friend will know that English local authorities can apply to have air quality management areas, in which they can have designated powers to conduct random roadside checks. All those things together will make a major contribution to improving asthma levels. Some of the evidence that we have at present is inconclusive. We want to make sure that the quality of the evidence is improved, so that we can take appropriate action.

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