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The aviation industry is an important and successful contributor to the British economy, both in its own right and as a key driver of economic growth. However, we live in an age where we all accept that the commercial imperative must be balanced against environmental costs and social disruption. I therefore give the statement a very cautious welcome, albeit with considerable reservations, because it accepts that approach. I welcome the recognition of the importance of regional airports, especially their ability to take some of the load from the south-east and to help to manage demand.
Will the Secretary of State confirm the Government's commitment to ensuring that aviation meets its external costs, but will he tell us what "over time" means? Are the Government actively working to achieve that aim and when will the Secretary of State set a target date for its achievement? Will he also confirm his acceptance of the polluter pays principle with higher charges for aircraft that pollute more? What is he doing to extend the principle? For example, what is he doing to promote aviation fuel tax, as opposed to air passenger duty? That duty on passengers is equivalent to approximately 10p in aviation tax, yet it provides no incentive for operators to improve environmental performance.
I welcome the announcement that there is to be no airport at Cliffe, although as that was always a non-starter, I suspect that the proposal was a red herring to divert the attention of the environmental lobby. Does he accept our welcome for his statement that simply building more capacity to meet demand is not sustainable? I hope that he will confirm that that commits predict and provide as a policy to the dustbin.
As the Secretary of State said, it is necessary to plan ahead over a 30-year time scale, but has he not missed an opportunity to consider the long-term vision across all modes, particularly with regard to high-speed rail links? Does he accept that the growth in budget airlines is unsustainable and that the budget airline model is fatally flawed until such time as its costs are properly externalised?
Finally, on Heathrow, what assurances can the Secretary of State give that no development will be entertained until a sustainable environmental case has been made? Does he accept that further noise and pollution cannot be imposed on long-suffering residents of the surrounding area? My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) would have made that point had she not been giving the eulogy at a funeral as we speak. Will the Government accept that more could and should be done to manage demand as the essential tool for achieving sustainable growth for our aviation industry?
Mr. Darling: It would have been helpfulalthough perhaps it is not surprising in the case of the Liberalsif the hon. Gentleman too had a policy for dealing with the problem. The Liberals are in favour of air travel but not airports.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments about regional airports, which are important. On airports in the south-east, it is worth bearing it in mind that about 80 per cent. of people travelling to and from them live in the south-east, so many of their customers are local. He is right that airports outside the south-east are
I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about aviation meeting its costs, which I mentioned in my statement. The polluter pays principle applies to aviation as much as it does to any other sector, but, as he ought to know, aviation fuel taxation is governed by international treaties. The Government have been arguing for some time that aviation ought to meet its costs, and we will continue to do so. Some of the measures that I announced today, such as giving power to airport operators to charge higher landing fees for more polluting aircraft, will be an incentive to airlines to clean up engines. I agree that predict and provide is complete nonsensebearing it in mind that runways will be built by commercial operators and no one will build a runway on spec, just in caseand it has never been a policy that I have supported.
On rail links, the hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly good point. The channel tunnel rail link has carried 1 million passengers since the first high-speed line was opened in Septemberthanks to us rescuing it in 1998and the CTRL now has more than half the travel market between London and Paris. That is an example of how it can help. He should be clear about managing demand, about which we may hear more. I am clear that, over time, aviation must meet its costs like any other sector, but when people talk about managing demand, in many ways they are talking about pricing people off aeroplanes. In that regard, he is getting himself into tricky waters, unless he proposes to march down the check-in queue at Inverness airport saying to people, "I can fly, but you can't."
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): This is the first time in 25 years of representing my constituents at local or central Government level that any Government have said no to the automatic expansion of Heathrow airport that has been demanded by the aviation industry. I thank my right hon. Friend for that. Many of my constituents will feel that we have won a decisive battle but not the war. What mechanism will he put in place to ensure the independent assessment of any aviation industry claims that it may have met the environmental conditions that he set out today for further expansion at Heathrow? What process does he envisage for undertaking the review of alternation at Heathrow?
Mr. Darling: There are two points in that. My hon. Friend will know that, following the terminal 5 inquiry, the airport operator, BAA, is already obliged to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels, and that work is in hand to do that. In relation to our evaluation methods, the Department uses a model that is widely accepted as accurate. In any planning inquiryone would have to take place on a third runway at Heathrowall the arguments and counter-arguments would be fully tested and explored.
I note my hon. Friend's comments, for which I am grateful, but there is a difficult balance to be struck at Heathrow. Clearly, there are big environmental problems, which is why I do not believe that we can authorise a third runway there now. He will be acutely
Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): The decision to build at Stansted before Heathrow is perverse and will prove unworkable. It will be bad for aviation, bad for the country and bad for the environment. Given that, in 1985, the Government's own inspector concluded that a second runway at Stansted would, to use his words, be an environmental catastrophe, on what evidence is the Secretary of State now reversing that judgment?
Mr. Darling: In 1985, Stansted was used by a very small number of people, and I do not suppose that the inspector, Mr. Eyre, could possibly have foreseen that Stansted would this year handle 19 million passengers[Interruption.] Hold on. The hon. Gentleman will know, because he knows Stansted airport, that the rise in use of that airport has been dramatic. When I made my statement, I told the House that, looking at the south-east of England, over the next 30 years, it needs two runways. Work needs to start on one now, as, on any view, it would be the end of the decade before the runway was available, and work also needs to start on the second one. If we do not do that, we will end up with increasing pressure to fly that we simply cannot meet. I remind the House that, if only Governments 20 years ago had had the sense to realise the pressures on our road and railway system, we would not have some of the problems that we have today. We need to plan ahead, and if he asks what the grounds are, they are set out in the White Paper.
Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on having the courage to take the long-term view on aviation. In relation to central Scotland, however, he proposes to safeguard land at Edinburgh airport for future runway and terminal expansion but only recommends that consideration be given to the same at Glasgow. That flies in the face of evidence taken from the CBI, Scottish business, BAA and anyone who was consulted on it. Can he tell me what the terms of that consideration will be? Who will make that consideration, and what is its likely time scale?
Mr. Darling: The position in relation to Glasgow is that Renfrew council, the local planning authority, will be asked to safeguard land for a possible second runway there. In the central belt of Scotland, there will be a need for one additional runway. All the evidence is that pressures will arise at both Edinburgh and Glasgow. On Glasgow, it has become evident since we started consulting that the use of Prestwick has increased dramatically, and that, in effect, the west of Scotland already has two runways, because Prestwick airport is taking traffic away from Glasgow. Whether Glasgow needs a second runwaywe are talking about 2020we do not know. It is sensible to safeguard development
All the signs are that the pressure on Edinburgh airport, which has increased dramatically in the last few years, will grow and grow. Clearly, BAA, which owns both airports, will have to decide what it wants to do. We have arranged in the White Paper that there is facility for expansion at both airports. I do not believe that we need two runways in the centre of Scotlandthere is no justification for thatbut we do need one. The position in Glasgow is being safeguarded, but what is happening with Prestwick and Glasgow means that there are effectively two runways operating in the west of Scotland now. That was not the case even four or five years ago.