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Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): This is a Bill of bits and pieces, but sometimes it is necessary to cover all the bits and pieces and bring them together. It is not like me to volunteer for a Standing Committee, but I have already asked the Whips if I can be on this one, because I think that the interest will be in the Committee stage.
As others have already said, what is missing, not only in the Bill but in general, is an overall strategy on air transport. For instance, the shadow Secretary of State said that the non-designated airports had no control over flight numbersbut those of us who live close to Heathrow airport feel that we have no control over flight numbers either, because as soon as they get near the limit, the limit is taken away.
David Taylor : I am sure that my hon. Friend would show due gratitude for the fact that at least Heathrow airport has a cap on night landings, which people who live near Nottingham East Midlands airport would dearly love.
Wewhen I say "we", I am talking about my hon. and special Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen), myself and the people on the council in Hounslow, the area that we coverare concerned about the Bill because of what it does not say. We think that it may make it possible to increase
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numbers, which is why the Committee stage will be particularly interesting. That was a lovely smile that I just got from the new Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). I welcome her to her place today, and I can tell her that although I have been in the House for 13 years, and have lived close to Heathrow airport for 40 years, if she ever asks me for any advice on Heathrow, it will be the first time that any Minister has done that.
Not only have I lived within six miles of Heathrow for 40 years, but for all of the 30 years before I was elected in 1992, I worked in industries close to the airport and often dealt with air transport companies, and with BAA itself, as customers. I know the industry pretty well, my constituency contains the largest number of employees at Heathrow, and my constituents suffer the greatest noisemore noise than anyone else, by a very high percentage. I therefore have a special interest in this subject.
We still have not given way on runway 3, so I shall comment on some of the arguments about the expansion or non-expansion of Heathrow. I speak as a friend of Heathrow airport. I am very proud of the air transport industry, and until runway 3 was suggested I had always supported expansion, within the present boundaries. I am not the only Member of Parliament who has always supported previous expansions but has changed his or her mind since the runway 3 proposal was made. It is worth listening to all of us who have changed our minds about continuing expansion.
There are some people who always oppose expansion of Heathrow, and I am certainly not one of those. HACAN has changed out of all recognition. I hope people will not mind me saying this, because I have told the organisation about it before, but I used to class those in HACAN as nutters. I remember going to its annual general meeting when I was campaigning for the 1992 election. It holds the AGM where it is based, in Sheen, rather than in Cranford, Heston or Hounslow West, where the real noise is. The chairman then was not the same person who is chairman now; the present chairman and vice-chairman are helping to build it into a really good campaigning organisation. At that AGM, the then chairman said to me, "I don't know why you can't come out and condemn terminal 5." I said, "Let me ask you a question: do you support terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4?" He refused to answer, because if he had been honest, the answer would have been that he did not support any terminals at Heathrow airportunless, of course, he was flying from it, I presume.
I am not a protester, but a friend of the airlines. Some people accuse me of sitting on the fence over terminal 5, but I was the only Member of Parliament who took the trouble to make a submission before the inquiry started, so I was entitled to call witnesses, which I did, from both sides of the argument. I could call people who lived under the flight path, so that their opinions did not have to be heard through legal representatives.
I have said this before, but it is worth saying it again: those who oppose the Government often criticise them for not consulting enough, but there was a big difference between what is happening now and what happened with terminal 5, when the previous Government were in power. The start of the whole process was just the submission of a planning application, so those who were
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against it were put on the defensive straight away. At least with runway 3, consultation was announced, so everyone was on a level playing field when people started to put forward their views.
What will the future of Heathrow airport be? Before I was elected in 1992 I spent the whole of my career in the private sector, so I recognise the need for competitiveness to drive down costs. However, I am also a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament, and I understand the co-operative ideology as well. It is essential that consumers be consultedand in this case, that means those who live around Heathrow and suffer the noise, as well as those who fly, who have already been mentioned many times today.
If there were ever a case for the Government to play an effective part on behalf of the electorate, it is here and now with respect to the possible expansion of Heathrow airport. Those who live close to Heathrow understand the issues much better than those who do not live close to it. I have heard people saying time and again that one gets used to the noise and then it is no botherbut that is not possible with aircraft noise. It is more than enough if the noise wakes people up. I have also lived near railway sidings where trucks are shunted through the night and I believe that it is possible to get used to that sound, but it is not possible to get used to aircraft noise, particularly at night. My two grandchildren, aged one and three, live right under the flight path of the northern runway in Isleworth, and it is horrific. Many people already living stressful lives are easily woken and then find it impossible to get back to sleep.
I am not trying to make the point that we should get rid of Heathrow airport. I have already said that there are more than 65,000 permanent jobs and many thousand more in companies surrounding Heathrow in the freight, engineering, airline food and other supporting industries. We desperately need Heathrow airport, but it seems to many of us that the Government look too much to the airline industry and listen not enough to the people who live close by. Many of my constituents work at Heathrow, but suffer from a tremendous amount of noise. Anyone who has seen photos or newsreel of aircraft flying over the top of chimneys has seen Cranford. Waye avenue is adjacent to the airport boundary. The Government, however, do not take enough notice of residents.
When the previous Secretary of State made a statement about airport policy, I specifically asked whether he would help with relieving traffic congestion, particularly around the junction where the A4 crosses the A312one of the busiest junctions in the country. It is currently served by a roundabout, which leads to tremendous queues, particularly during the Heathrow rush hour and we need to be aware that the Heathrow rush hour extends much longer than the average one. People who live close to Heathrow make more fuss about the traffic because they know that something could have been done about the problem. It would take only a tiny fraction of the profit that comes into Heathrow to put the road junction problem right. The refusal to do anything about it time and again means that people lose trust. Yet if we are to build up our air transport industry, it is important that people trust the industry, but the prospect of runway 3 is moving people over to the other side of the argument.
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What is the big problem with Heathrow expansion? It is a story that has afflicted British industry over the last 30 yearsshort-termism. There is no question but that Heathrow airport can be expanded with the addition of runway 3, but at quite a heavy cost to local people as well as a financial cost. If that runway goes ahead, however, it will mark the limit of what could ever be sustainable at Heathrow because the whole area is so built up. It is a short-term viewpoint to believe that Heathrow can be expanded for a relatively short period. We really need a new airport. We cannot go on as we are. I can understand the industry itself not wanting to find an awful lot of money for a new airport, but the failure to build one will cost a lot more in the long run.
I can understand why decisions are made on a short-term basis. Rod Eddington did a magnificent job at British Airways, but he is already on his way. He is not taking a long-term view of things, as he is going back to him home country of Australia. We must understand that people are important. If we continue to ignore them, the industry will not get away with it.
One good thing about the Bill is that it recognises that the polluter should pay. I believe that it is the first time that that principle has gone down in print in a Bill. If the polluter has to pay, it will become increasingly difficult to sustain Heathrow airport at its current expansion rate. Something else will have to be done in readiness.
I have been asked a few times by various people whether I want Heathrow to be a desert. Air transport is either going to expand or it is not, so I would certainly love to be the owner of that desert over the next 20 years. Whatever happens elsewhere in the UK, the notion that Heathrow could become a desert is surely put forward by people who are either stupid or being paid to say it. I rather suspect that cash has something to do with it.
I read an interesting article in The Guardian today about Chinese tourists, who were complaining about the £50 charge for a visabut they are still coming. Some people say that measures will be taken to stop expansion because of the environmental damage worldwide, but does that mean that Chinese tourists here this week will be the last to come here from China? I do not think so. There are already 0.5 million middle-class people in India. We have to look at the situation more widely and rid ourselves of a short-term vision. I was heartened by the penalty clauses in the Bill, because they amount to recognition that the polluter should pay.
I shall finish shortly as other hon. Members want to speak, but I want to come back to my own constituents. The Cranford agreement has already been mentioned. When the wind blows from the east, planes have to take off towards the eastit happens about 25 per cent. of the total time in a yearand the north runway is not used for take-offs because my constituents live so close to the end of that runway. It is different for normal take-offs to the west and from about 3 o'clock the other runway is used, which gives people a break, but when the planes take off to the east, the southern runway is used all the time. That is the basis of the Cranford agreement: it is an informal agreement, but it has applied for 50 years.
I would like to table an amendment that would make the Cranford agreement a permanent one in order to provide protection for my constituents who have
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already given such a lot to the air transport industry. The London borough of Hounslow and HACAN would like the Bill to be amended in Committee and I hope that the Government will listen to us because we have had considerable experience. For example, I spent the 13 years before I came here working half a mile from the touchdown point, directly under the southern runway at Heathrow. It is pretty horrific. It may not be too bad when things are going well at work, but when under stress, it is almost impossible to cope with such noise. We cannot go on and on ignoring the problem. As I said, we hope that the Government will listen sympathetically to the case for the amendments, which will attempt to put some conditions down. The Bill looks good in places, but what it does not say is also important.
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