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Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for prior sight of his statement. This is an important day for the future of our aviation industry, and he is right that important decisions must be taken to set the framework for the industry's future if it is to continue to contribute successfully to the UK economy. But decisions taken today are also crucial for those millions of people who live close to an airport or underneath a flight path, and for the quality of our environment. A difficult balance has to be achieved between competing needs. That is why the Government's decisions need to give clarity and certainty for all involved.

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Far from setting a clear way forward for air transport in the UK, today's announcement is a fudge from an incompetent Government, which will deliver only blight to millions of people living around airports across the country. Indeed, anyone living around any of the airports in the south-east is now faced with indefinite uncertainty.

Let us look at the Government's incompetence. They have already been forced by the courts to extend the consultation because they failed at first to include Gatwick in their proposals. The Environmental Audit Committee, noting that the airports consultation did not include a formal environmental impact assessment, went on to say:

When Birmingham Airport proposed a new short runway, the Department refused to re-issue consultation documents and include the plan in its public consultation, so the voice of local people on that proposal was not heard. Today the Secretary of State has announced precisely the proposal on which the people of the midlands were not consulted. Does he accept that the Government's failures in the consultation process now make it certain that there will be legal challenge to their decisions, thus blighting the lives of millions of people with years of further uncertainty?

The Government's incompetence is all too clear elsewhere. The Secretary of State says that Heathrow will expand when the emissions problem is solved. But there is nothing in this statement that explains how the Government propose to solve that problem. On page 122 of the White Paper, he says that he has

in that area. He also says:

Can he confirm that he is announcing no improvements to public transport to bring that about?

The Eyre airports inquiries 1981–83 reported on a possible second runway at Stansted, concluding that it

Is the Secretary of State now reversing that judgment and, if so, what has changed to make him do so? [Interruption.] On page 115 of the White Paper, the Secretary of State said that Stansted enjoys—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members are unfair to the hon. Lady. She is entitled to put her case to the House—[Interruption.] Order. The Secretary of State was heard; the hon. Lady must be heard.

Mrs. May: On page 115 of the White Paper, the Secretary of State said that Stansted enjoys good transport connections by road and rail. Has he tried them recently?

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The Government support a new runway at Stansted where the growth has been in low-cost airlines, yet building the runway would mean putting up charges, thus driving away those low-cost airlines. The Government have said that commercial viability is a hurdle that must be cleared by developments on new or existing airport sites, yet the British Airports Authority has told the Government that an extra runway at Stansted would not be commercially viable without cross-subsidy from Heathrow and Gatwick. BAA may well find either that it cannot fund or that it cannot afford a new runway at Stansted in the near future. Given that the Government are making expansion at Stansted a pre-requisite for expansion of capacity in the south-east, what do they propose to do if the funding is not available?

The Government are proposing a new runway at Stansted which local people do not want, large airlines do not want to use, and low-cost airlines may not be able to afford to use. Just who will use a new runway at Stansted?

Not only have the Government not made the proper assessments on which to base their decisions, but it is clear that their right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. At the same time as the Secretary of State for Transport is proposing a new runway at Stansted, the Deputy Prime Minister wants to build tens of thousands of new homes in the Stansted-M11 corridor. One Department says that it is okay to build a runway because there are not many people in the area, yet another Department says, "Let's put people there".

Lack of joined-up thinking between Departments is one thing, but lack of joined-up thinking within a Department is quite another. Today, the Department for Transport announced plans to increase passenger numbers at Stansted, Birmingham, Heathrow and possibly East Midlands and Gatwick. That will need better roads and railways to get people to and from the airports, yet the same Department for Transport has made no provision for building those roads and railways.

In Birmingham, the Department has shelved plans for an expansion of the M42—the very road that will have to take traffic to and from an expanded Birmingham airport. At peak times, the hard shoulder already has to be put into use. Getting to Birmingham by rail depends primarily on the west coast main line, yet only last week the Government shelved some of the planned improvements on that line. That is not a 10-year transport plan; it is not even a 10-day transport plan.

We need railways before runways. Will the Secretary of State confirm that no provision was made for that work in the 10-year transport plan, that the work needed would cost a total of £30 billion and that the Strategic Rail Authority does not have the money?

We were promised joined-up government; what we have is disjointed government. We were promised an integrated transport policy; what we have is a disintegrating transport system. We were promised decisions for the future of air transport; what we have

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from this incompetent Government are years of uncertainty and serious blight on the lives of millions of people.

Mr. Darling: I am sure that I cannot be the only Member of the House who wonders what Conservative policy on airports actually is. I shall not labour the point as I expect that we shall have many occasions to debate those things, but it occurs to me that if the hon. Lady is serious about being in opposition and about providing a credible alternative, she needs a policy on airport development.

The hon. Lady said that we made fudged decisions, yet she then criticised the detail of the decisions that we announced. She cannot have it both ways. This is the first time for about 30 years that a Government have looked at the long-term requirements for air travel, covering the whole country. We held consultations and listened to what people said and then we had to take difficult decisions. As will, I suspect, become apparent in the next hour or so, the decisions are difficult and controversial.

The hon. Lady mentioned Birmingham. I conclude from what she says that she is against expansion there, as she is against a second runway. However, looking ahead to about 2016, we believe that the airport will need a second runway to help it to develop and to help people living in the midlands who fly just as much as people elsewhere.

It would appear that the hon. Lady is against development at Heathrow, too. I listened to what she said about motorway widening and public transport; but at least we are actually spending money on improving public transport. She is against every penny of it.

On Stansted, it is perfectly true that in 1981 fewer than 1 million people were using the airport. Even five years ago, only 7 million people were using it, but this year it will handle 19 million passengers. Anyone who has ever been to Stansted, and I have been there by both road and rail—incidentally, we have just finished major improvement of the road into Stansted airport—will know that the airport is extremely crowded. That brings us to the nub of the hon. Lady's problem, which is, indeed, a problem that we must all face up to. Of course, increased air travel has environmental consequences, especially for people living close to airports; but at the same time, her constituents, my constituents—all our constituents—are, because of their increasing prosperity, choosing to fly more.

I do not say that we should meet all that demand—indeed, we are proposing less than is actually needed according to some views—but we cannot have a situation in which the Government take the easy option, as successive Governments have done in the past, of doing absolutely nothing and hoping for the best. The decisions are difficult and, yes, I have no doubt that there will be legal challenges—lawyers up and down the country will be rubbing their hands even as I speak—but it is the job of the Government to make decisions and to set out a clear strategy for the next generation. That is what we have done.

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