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Mr. Speaker: Order. Many hon. Members want to speak, so they should ask only one question.

Mr. Darling: I am not sure which side of the great argument the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is on. The White Paper says unequivocally that the Government will support the development of a third runway at Heathrow once we are satisfied that it could meet our environmental obligations. That seems pretty clear to me.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab/Co-op): Speaking on behalf of the 42 members of the west midlands regional Labour parliamentary group, I congratulate the Secretary of State on his firm rejection of a new airport in Rugby, which we opposed unanimously during the consultation. I warmly welcome his decision on Birmingham International airport because the group believes that that will assist the region to meet demand more locally, to generate benefits for economic development and to minimise environmental impact. Will he acknowledge our thanks from the west midlands and may I wish him a happy Christmas?

Mr. Darling: Let me see if I can answer that difficult question. I think that I find myself in total agreement with my hon. Friend.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con): Does the Secretary of State realise that his proposal for Birmingham airport was not one of the four options on which my constituents were consulted? The consultation was therefore a sham and an insult to them, and the decision will be challenged.

Mr. Darling: As I said earlier, I am sure that there would have been the possibility of legal challenges up and down the country whatever we did, so we have to accept that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the expansion of Birmingham airport will be required at some point in the long-term interest of the west midlands and Birmingham itself. It will probably need a

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second runway some time after 2016, so the questions will be where that should be and what should be proposed. The proposal that we are prepared to support has the advantage that it suggests a shorter runway than that originally proposed.

Mr. Taylor: It was not one of the options.

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman must contain himself. The proposal represents a better solution, and surely we must all be in the business of providing better solutions for our constituents. If something better is on offer, that is worth looking at.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's support for regional services to Heathrow. He knows that many regional airports have lost their links, so will he consider how to restore links to airports such as Liverpool?

Mr. Darling: Yes, I am aware of that. The Government's first preference is for all services to be provided on a commercial basis because that represents the best way of ensuring their long-term success. As I said earlier, the Government will consider using PSOs, and the White Paper sets out the criteria under which we would decide whether they would be necessary.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): I welcome the Secretary of State's comments on Belfast's airports but may I press him again on Heathrow, because we all recognise its importance? How much of the air quality pollution at Heathrow is due to long taxiing and the fact that planes must fly around for half an hour waiting for a slot?

Mr. Darling: There is no doubt that taxiing, aircraft circling Heathrow and aircraft having to wait a long time to take off contribute to pollution, but they are not the major source of the problem. There is an argument that additional runway capacity would mean that there might be less need for aircraft to run their engines when not taking off, but most of the pollution comes from the airfield itself and associated traffic movement around Heathrow. That is why we need to do more not only to get cleaner engines but to improve public transport links to Heathrow. The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) criticised me for not widening the M25 further, but I do not think that it could be widened much further there—for all I know, that is her policy. We must ensure that we bear down on pollution on all fronts, but we should do that anyway for the good of people living in west London.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) (Lab): I welcome today's deliberate and sensible statement, especially the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow eventually. May I urge the Secretary of State not to allow any slippage and to ensure that the runway is built as soon as the conditions laid down are met, otherwise the UK as a whole will lose out further to Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol as a result of Heathrow's limitations? I also welcome the protection of slots at Heathrow for Anglo-Scottish services, but

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will he assure the House that any final decisions on Edinburgh and Glasgow airports will be made on the basis of an absolutely level playing field?

Mr. Darling: Certainly, on the last point, yes. The point that my hon. Friend makes about links between the airports and London is important, so I am sure that he and others will welcome the fact that BMI British Midland yesterday announced a direct flight from Heathrow to Inverness, which British Airways took out of service several years ago, and more flights to Aberdeen. He is right about the risks relating to Heathrow. We have set out our proposals in the White Paper. People have every right to make their views heard on the planning process but I hope that we can make progress quickly for once in this country because otherwise we will pay a heavy price. That has happened with other transport modes, so I do not want it to happen on this matter.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I do not know whether the Secretary of State's decisions about Stansted and Heathrow are right, but he has certainly got the decision on Rugby right. Many of my constituents will be absolutely delighted that the proposal will not be imposed on them, because it would have ruined many aspects of their lives. May I tell him that all of us want a major international airport close to where we live, but not too close, so Birmingham will do just fine?

Mr. Darling: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and agree with him.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab): If evidence emerges to show that the increase in capacity foreshadowed by my right hon. Friend today is insufficient to meet demand for long-haul passenger and cargo traffic, will the Government be willing after all to examine open-mindedly and seriously—without prejudice to the outcome—the benefits for aviation, the economy and the environment of creating a new international airport in south-east Wales complementary to the regional role of Cardiff airport?

Mr. Darling: We looked at the two proposals on south-east Wales and, as I said in my statement, the Government did not feel able to support them for the reasons that are fully set out in the White Paper. The White Paper sets out our view of what is necessary and it would be a trifle premature for me to revisit it only an hour after making my statement. I understand my right hon. Friend's point about development at Llanwern but, based on the information that we have, it is not a realistic option.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): The Secretary of State made much play of the economic advantage of air travel and of the numbers at Stansted. Surely the growth at Stansted is due to point-to-point travel and highly subsidised flights. Are we really going to tear up two public inquiries and a royal commission to preserve the economic importance of £7 flights to Prague or Eindhoven? Surely the economic case could be made for a hub operation in the United Kingdom. Given the difficulty that was experienced with

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establishing a hub at Gatwick, what makes him think that Stansted would be able to cope? Surely it is more likely that British Airways will decide to move many of its operations to Charles de Gaulle.

Mr. Darling: In relation to the hon. Gentleman's first point, we do not "highly subsidise" airlines. It is interesting that a Conservative Member should criticise the entrepreneurial flair shown by airport operators, and even more surprising that he should call for higher taxation for his constituents. We note that point and no doubt will return to it often.

There is a lot of point-to-point flying at Stansted, but it is increasingly being used as a low-cost hub, with people flying to it and then flying on to other places. I have made my position clear. South-east England needs two runways. The first should be at Stansted for the reasons stated in the White Paper. We also need to consider Heathrow, again for the reasons that we stated.

Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I, too, thank my right hon. Friend for taking note of the environmental impact that a third runway would have on my constituents. I acknowledge the work that campaigning groups, in particular the London borough of Hounslow, have done on that. Does he agree that we need to consider the noise impact on schools in the London borough of Hounslow? I would appreciate it if he could meet me to consider ways in which BAA can assist those schools.

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