Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Darling: My colleagues and I have always made it clear that we are happy to meet our colleagues on both sides of the House. That remains the case and I am happy to meet my hon. Friend, who has already expressed her concerns to me about the environmental impact on the area surrounding Heathrow. She recognises that there is a difficult balance to be struck between the importance of Heathrow to her constituents as an employer and economic driver, and the environmental impacts. She has also raised with me the problem of noise, especially as it affects schools and hospitals. Proposals are set out in the White Paper and we are due to consult generally next year on the noise regime at Heathrow.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): I welcome the announcement that no one Scottish airport will be favoured over any other, but surely many Scottish air services, especially those that go beyond Edinburgh and Glasgow, will be dumped at Stansted. What reassurances has the Secretary of State received that that will not be the case?

Mr. Darling: If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not use the term "dumped". The last time I was at Stansted, many of our fellow countrymen seemed only too happy to be there, not necessarily because they were bound for Essex, but because they were bound for sunnier climates.

The hon. Gentleman would have been better off making a point on PSOs. He will know from his constituency that there is concern about those. The Government have set out proposals to ensure that there are maintained links and adequate levels of supply between the north and the west so that people there can

16 Dec 2003 : Column 1451

get access into the London airports. I am seized of that point, but the hon. Gentleman should be cautious in what he says about Stansted. I know he and his colleagues have a problem with things south of the border, but they are not all bad.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): What are the Government doing to bring about international agreements on the liberalisation of long-haul traffic to reduce the number of unnecessary international connecting flights, which constitute a large proportion of the throughput at Heathrow airport? Although my right hon. Friend is correct in saying that the taxation regime on aviation fuel for international journeys is subject to international agreement, that is not the case for domestic flights. Will he consider imposing a taxation regime to raise the revenue stream to enable much bigger investment into high-speed rail links?

Mr. Darling: I welcome my hon. Friend's commitment to liberalising markets. I had not realised that that was where she was coming from. I am slightly taken aback, but I think we can all agree on that approach.

The Government are supporting talks between the European Union and the United States to get a genuine open skies agreement across the Atlantic, because that would be hugely beneficial for people on both sides of the ocean. I suspect, however, that it will take time.

My hon. Friend is right that fuel taxation is dealt with by international treaty. We are taking a lead in trying to ensure that aviation does, over time, meet its costs. On domestic flights, my hon. Friend is right up to a point. We charge air passenger duty, for instance, which brings in about £900 million. However, she is no doubt aware that if we acted unilaterally, airlines would go to a more benign regime, from their perspective, to fill up their aircraft and come back. I am not sure that that would be a desirable outcome.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): The Secretary of State said that the proposals are for a generation, but for those of us living under the shadow of Heathrow, they will be a blight on another generation. Does he agree that the air quality limits will probably be more stringent in 2015? Will the amber light that he gave to a third runway at Heathrow be for a short runway, as suggested in the consultation, or will it be for something else?

Mr. Darling: It is for a shorter runway. During the consultation process, BAA produced proposals to ensure that the runway does not take as much land as originally planned. On Heathrow itself, more stringent environmental conditions may be in place in future, but I do not know what they will be. I do, however, know what they are for 2010, which is why we have to be cautious.

Like many MPs who represent areas around Heathrow, the hon. Gentleman has to balance the environmental impact with the fact that Heathrow is the major employer in west London. The prosperity of west London and the Thames valley depends on it. Given that Heathrow is in competition with Paris, Amsterdam

16 Dec 2003 : Column 1452

and Frankfurt, we must do everything we can to ensure that that airport continues to compete in the future. It is a difficult balance to strike, but we have tried to strike it. I appreciate that the decision will be controversial, but we are doing the right thing both on the environmental front and with regard to the future economy of west London.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for listening and for recognising so clearly that Glasgow has two airports, one of which is Glasgow Prestwick international airport, which has spare capacity that can and should be utilised. I also welcome his comments on aircraft maintenance. He knows that that is creating many jobs in my constituency and I hope that it will create many more in the future. Has he given consideration in the White Paper to the important role of freight at Glasgow Prestwick international airport?

Mr. Darling: On the last point, I have considered freight. My hon. Friend will know that there has been substantial growth in freight transport at Glasgow, Prestwick and Edinburgh. The three Scottish airports are developing quite a big freight trade.

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to something that is a problem on the west coast for some of our colleagues. The west of Scotland already has two runways, which is why I said what I did about Glasgow airport to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams). There is no doubt that part of Prestwick's increased traffic is coming out of Glasgow airport. We have to face up to that. It is a quite good thing. My hon. Friend's work, and that of others, in promoting Prestwick has been worth while. The House will remember that not so long ago Prestwick was threatened with closure. It is now doing very well, although the strength of its case has resulted in its being a genuine second west and central Scotland runway.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for his announcement on Gatwick, which will be popular in my part of the world. He also mentioned a big expansion of air travel in the UK. On the anticipated effect of his proposals on greenhouse gas emissions, he will know that emissions were expected to double between 1990 and 2010 and, before long, 25 per cent. of CO2 emissions will be from air travel. Will CO2 emissions go up or down as a consequence of his proposals? He says that he wants to ensure that the full environmental costs are met over time. Why is that time not now? What time scale is he applying? Why have the discussion proposals in the aviation and environment paper of March 2003 been kicked into touch for the foreseeable future, on page 41 of the White Paper?

Mr. Darling: In relation to the international discussions, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman when they will be finalised because they depend on international agreement. In common with just about every other country in the world, we are signatories to the convention and have to reach international agreement. In relation to reducing emissions, I said that we will make it a priority in our presidency of the European Union to bring aviation within the European emissions trading scheme. That will be a significant help. I also said that we will introduce legislation to enable airport

16 Dec 2003 : Column 1453

operators to impose higher charges for the more polluting aircraft. That will help as well. It has helped with noise already in the London airports. A number of things are being done that I think will reduce aircraft emissions.

The hon. Gentleman and others are right that we must balance the need to ensure that people can travel, because our economy will depend upon it, and the need to ensure that we are alive to the environmental consequences.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his clear and categoric statement in the White Paper, at page 92 of which he clearly acknowledges that full account has been taken of the almost uniform opposition to the proposal for a new airport at Rugby, as well as a number of concerns raised in the consultation document. In addition, he refined the options during the consultation, taking into account the concerns of the people of Birmingham. We thank him for his support of Birmingham airport as well. Will he say once again that the Government rule out once and for all the option of that new hub airport in the midlands? Thank you.

Mr. Darling: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thanks. I do not think that I could have made the position any more clear than I did in my statement. I know that he has worked tirelessly against the proposal. Having examined all the evidence and having considered what people had to say, I am clear that the right thing to do was to ensure that we allowed for expansion in the west midlands, but that it should be at Birmingham.

Next Section

IndexHome Page