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28 Nov 2007 : Column 116WH—continued

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Mr. Clifton-Brown: What the Minister has said is helpful, but will he please answer one key question? If any of the six groups, or any individual country, does not sign an EPA by 31 December, is he prepared to stand by and watch the EU increase tariffs on it simply because there is not enough time to negotiate an agreement?

Mr. Thomas: As I have said, we have had disagreements with the Commission over tactics, but it has shown flexibility and brought the other 26 member states with it around to the UK position. We have been making the case strongly that no developing country should have worse market access from 1 January, and we shall continue to do so in the discussions that are under way.

I have indicated that significant development benefits have potentially been secured under EPAs, the most profound of which is duty and quota-free market access. There are also simpler rules of origin and the ability to protect completely up to 20 per cent. of a developing country’s products from market opening. Some countries have actually offered to open up more than 80 per cent. of their markets. The Commission has not asked for up to 90 per cent. to be opened; there may have been some confusion because some countries and regions have wanted to go beyond 80 per cent.

There is still a long period for countries to reach the point of opening up 80 per cent. of their markets—up to 15 years at the moment, and we are pushing for more time beyond that. Written into the agreement is the provision of safeguards to protect particular industries in which there is a surge in imports. For example, food security would be a particular concern. Another development benefit will be regional integration.

To take some of the technical nature out of the debate, I shall give some examples of how countries will be able to secure direct benefits. The hon. Member for Cotswold mentioned the agreement that was signed in the Southern African Development Community region. As a result of that goods-only agreement, Namibia and Botswana, for example, will be able to sell more beef to the European Union market, as there are no quotas on it. The liberalised rules of origin could mean that Lesotho will be able to trade more clothing into the EU market, mirroring what it does in the US market. There are already direct development benefits.

I turn to specific questions that Members have asked. The Cotonou deadline is real; it is in place because the Cotonou agreement was challenged in the World Trade Organisation by other developing countries. I do not believe that a further waiver will be possible, as it would be challenged quickly and it would be difficult to get any sort of agreement. Developing countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Brazil and Indonesia all grow products for which ACP nations now get much better access into EU markets. It is difficult to conceive of their agreeing to a waiver.

The extension of Cotonou was one of the four alternatives to full EPAs that the Overseas Development
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Institute referred to in the papers that it produced in the summer. I shall explain why I do not believe that two of the other three alternatives were suitable. I share the House’s concern about the huge increase in tariffs that would follow the GSP, and we do not think that it is acceptable. That is why our position is that no country should have worse market access.

Equally, GSP+ is not a suitable alternative, although we are supporting the Seychelles’ request to move towards it, for example. GSP+ countries would have to ratify some 27 UN conventions on human and labour rights, good governance and the protection of the environment. We would not want to undermine those agreements and give access to GSP+ to the Zimbabweans or the Fijians. The rules of origin under GSP+ are not as good as those under the Cotonou agreement or the proposed EPAs, and there would be a tariff jump for many products. Beef, bananas and oranges are just some of the products that would be hit by GSP+.

The alternative to full EPAs that did have merit was framework EPAs, which are effectively goods-only agreements and put off the need for progress on services and Singapore issues until a later date. We have always been clear that countries should be allowed and encouraged to negotiate on that basis if they wish. If they do not—a number of countries have made clear that they do not—those requirements should be put off. Given the current time scale, we need to concentrate on goods-only agreements. That is the position that we have taken since the Madeira Development Ministers’ council, and will continue to take.

The loss of revenue from tariffs on key products is an issue to consider, but the considerable flexibility on which products will be opened up allows countries better to plan their market opening and to consider matters. I do not downplay the significance of that concern for some regions, but the goods-only agreements that have been negotiated will help to generate a significant increase in regional trade, and we want more regional trade benefits to be secured. The fact that some countries will have to negotiate further details under framework EPAs next year will provide for further regional trading benefits to be opened up.

Any goods-only agreement must be ratified by the Commission through its processes in the EU—that is a clear Commission competence. There will still be scrutiny by the House of Commons through the European scrutiny process, and agreements that go beyond goods-only will have to come through the House for ratification. We have a debate on the matter next week, and I have no doubt that there will be other debates to come.

We have provided funding not only to the Caribbean negotiators but to Economic Community of West African States, Pacific, SADC and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa negotiators, to help equalise the imbalance that Members have described between the EU and developing countries.

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Heathrow Airport

4 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Since the beginning of the millennium, the Government have been dithering over the pressing need to expand airport capacity throughout Great Britain. We have seen White Papers, judicial reviews, announcements, retractions and consultations. With tired predictability, the Secretary of State for Transport last week signalled that the Government might tack another runway and terminal on to Heathrow airport. That may or may not happen by 2020. The 2003 White Paper said that we should expect a new runway at Stansted as soon as 2011.

We grapple with aviation, which I believe is a must for business. I am a little more sceptical than many of my colleagues about the lobbying that comes from BAA, British Airways and others. I also listen very attentively to representatives from my own constituency in the City of London and Westminster—an increasingly important commercial hub—who recognise the importance of increasing aircraft capacity. The notion that we can take many people off aircraft, particularly for internal flights, and put them on to trains is something of a fallacy. That is possible to a certain extent, but given the reliability and the speed of our rail network, it is not a realistic argument for reducing substantially our air capacity.

In a moment or two, I will raise my concerns about the nature of the globalised economy. Increasingly, with the growing power of China, India and south-east Asia, we require a tremendous investment in our airports. However, this is not just an issue for business. Undoubtedly, we live in a much more affluent and outward-looking society, which is a very positive thing, but the flip side of that is that demand for leisure and personal flying will increase in the years ahead. I do not see that that is undesirable in the world in which we live.

If we look at some of the problems of our global society, we find that it is inward-looking, backward-looking and that opportunities exist for terrorists to develop networks. One of the most important things that any modern, forward-looking society can do is to ensure that its people have the opportunity to travel abroad and to see other cultures. However, to achieve that, we need to maintain our airport capacity.

The Government’s solution, which was announced last week, was another conventional yet inadequate solution to the long-term problem. By papering over Heathrow’s cracks, we get a cut-price remedy for our overburdened airports, but for how long and at what cost to the long-term health of our economy and transport system, the character of west London and the quality of life for local residents?

I believe that we desperately need a visionary outlook to improve transport and to have political leaders who have a firm eye on the future and the courage to take brave and innovative decisions. Too often, the UK’s transport decision making has lain in the hands of corporate interests and environmental pressure groups. Unfortunately, that has happened with the Labour Government. After a decade in office, we have seen no such strategic thinking from successive Transport Ministers, and our transport system has ground to a halt as a result.

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Not even Crossrail can be credited to this Government until we can be sure that the financial arrangements are robust. Although I have always supported Crossrail, I recognise that there are relatively few votes in it for me because a lot of my constituents, particularly in Mayfair, the City of London and Bayswater, will be adversely affected. However, now that we have put that programme in place, I believe that it is essential that we ensure that the funding is there; otherwise there will be ongoing blight for a lot of local residents. I particularly want to touch on the blight for local residents in relation to the proposals for a third runway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow.

We need more airport capacity, and I am all in favour of people’s horizons being extended by international travel. I would be in favour of the third runway and the Government’s additions to Heathrow’s infrastructure if I believed that it was a long- term solution, but I fear that it is not. London and the UK now need a new state-of-the-art hub airport.

Given the emergence of Canary Wharf over the past decade and half as an important commercial centre and the plans to develop in the Thames estuary, the airport would need to be located in the east of the capital. The centre of gravity in our capital city, both commercially and in population terms, is certainly moving eastwards, and that is a process that will continue in the decades ahead. By building from scratch, such an airport could be planned according to the needs of a modern, global economy and utilise advances in environmentally sound construction and high-speed rail links into central London, the docklands and beyond.

Flying in over the North sea, planes would not disturb a large residential population, and that could allow a truly modern airport to operate 24 hours a day. Business folk could depart to and arrive from India, China and the rapidly developing economies of south-east Asia at convenient times. Construction could take place with minimal disruption, and the airport would be located in a place that would allow future expansion.

I have taken the opportunity to raise this important issue because if the consequences of our current aviation difficulties are to be seen anywhere, it is in my constituency. In the City of London, we have a large international business community that needs proper transport facilities to function. In Westminster, we have cultural and historical wonders that draw visitors from across the globe.

I have no particular affiliation to airline companies, environmental groups or those living near Heathrow. However, on several occasions in recent years, I have walked—I mean walked, rather than driven—through Harmondsworth and Sipson, the two villages that would be wrecked by a third runway. Even though they are located just by the existing airport, they retain some charm from their centuries-old roots. The same can be said, just about, for places such as Stanwell Moor, which is located right under the flight path of the existing runways and where some historic 18th century buildings still stand amid the noise and pollution. The residents of those villages have been misled by promises from all Governments—Conservative as well as Labour—on Heathrow’s long-term expansion. This latest Government announcement is just a further stab in the back for all those who have held on in that quiet and pleasant little quarter of Middlesex.

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It is clear to me as an MP who represents Britain’s financial heart that there is a strong economic case for a comprehensive overhaul of our thinking on aviation. I speak as someone who rejoices in the availability of air travel for all and sundry. The people who wish to encourage British people to stay in the UK for their holidays presumably have no interest in the earnings that we gain from overseas tourists, who will continue to come to these shores. We live in a global marketplace. Agricultural produce, which was mentioned in an earlier debate, comes to us from all parts of the world, and we should wholeheartedly support free trade with the developing world as the best way for our nation to rise out of poverty.

Flying is part of our commercial life, and Heathrow has been the mainstay of our international connectivity for more than 50 years. Now, however, is the time to move on. Heathrow is currently operating at full capacity. Every year, 68 million passengers cram into facilities that were designed to take 45 million. With its two runways, Heathrow is the world’s busiest airport and the resultant chaos is clear for all to see.

Flying into Britain, often for the first time, travellers from abroad can expect to be greeted by a shabby, overcrowded, understaffed and poorly planned mess of an airport, and Britons flying abroad face the frustrating prospect of long security queues and mind-numbing delays as the prologue to their hard-earned breaks.

None of that takes into account the problems that they might experience on arriving at their destination. Some 22,000 items of luggage are lost in transit from Heathrow each month. Heathrow has low landing charges through an outdated regulatory system. That leaves the busiest international airport in the world with landing charges that stand 17th in the world league. It makes very little economic sense, and it is not so surprising that important profitable revenue is often sought from retail outlets. BAA bosses have done their sums and found that necessary profits come not from passenger satisfaction, but from selling alcohol, perfume and Toblerone to a captive and often delayed audience. On top of that, operating at full capacity means that the airport is inflexible and staff are unable to respond quickly to changes in security procedures or to minor changes to the landing schedule.

We all use Heathrow airport because there is no alternative. The airport remains our single most important gateway to the global economy, but City bosses are beginning to claim that the Heathrow hassle factor is dissuading many business executives from travelling to our capital city. No one can blame them, especially in view of the delays that senior business folk often experience at immigration. It is expensive for companies to have staff unable to work simply because of costly delays in the travel system.

Research undertaken by the City of London corporation in 2002 revealed that some 70 per cent. of firms consider air services to be critical for business travel by their staff and that more than half of the respondents considered air travel critical for meeting clients. The square mile is the world’s foremost financial and business centre and has a high concentration of international firms that can choose any of the world’s major capital cities in which to locate. The City has made it clear that good aviation services and efficient, welcoming airports are a critical
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contributory factor to the continued competitiveness and ongoing success of the UK economy.

I do not believe that a new runway at Heathrow will solve the UK’s aviation capacity difficulties and help maintain economic competitiveness into the future. The supporting infrastructure is likely to remain inadequate, even with Crossrail, and the limited supply of land around Heathrow suggests that the area will not be able to cope with a significant increase in airport activity.

Talk of airport expansion will inevitably be dogged by environmental concerns about aircraft emissions, but we need to accept that unilateral action by Britain to cut carbon emissions will solve very little globally but will seriously disadvantage our economy. To put our interminable navel-gazing over Heathrow into perspective, China hopes to have completed no fewer than 49 new airports within the next five years.

I reckon we need to rethink completely the entire question of aviation and airports in Britain and resurrect the idea of a brand new hub airport to the east of London. To provide real competition, it should be operated by someone other than BAA. It is only right that the Conservatives take the blame for the monopolistic regulatory framework that we put in place when we were in government. It is not the right way forward. The idea of an airport out on Maplin sands was considered and rejected in the past, mainly on the grounds of finance, but as long as Heathrow remains open, most major airlines will not consider relocating and the private sector will not consider stumping up the finance.

In essence, government in the broader sense needs to take a brave step and accept that Heathrow will never be what Britain needs. Many other cities came to that realisation about their own outdated airports and had the vision to relocate: Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and even places such as Beijing and Oslo, which I have visited in the past three or four years. Those airports are an absolute pleasure to pass through. We must reduce Heathrow’s capacity, rather than expand it in a piecemeal form.

At present, aircraft operating at Heathrow are rightly subject to strict flight controls to reduce noise for the nearby large residential population. In essence, the controls mean that few planes can fly between 11.30 pm and 6 am. I well understand and very much support the idea that people have to be allowed to sleep in peace. Furthermore, the airport is hemmed in by houses and roads, which severely restricts future capacity, including freight capacity. Aircraft going to a new airport in the Thames estuary, for example, could fly in over the North sea.

With no residential noise and little disruption during construction, such an airport could become a 24-hour hub, and there would be potential to enlarge it if necessary in the decades ahead. The stacking of planes, which currently is such a problem at Heathrow because of noise and environmental impact, would be a thing of the past. High-speed bullet trains could take passengers directly to the City. I travelled on a Maglev train to Shanghai. It took just eight minutes to traverse the 21 miles between Shanghai’s financial district and its international airport.

We could have such an airport as part of the regeneration of the Thames gateway, but it would require vision. Reducing Heathrow’s use would leave the potential for 2,500 acres of prime land for community development
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in a location near London with excellent City transport links. The sale of that land could help to fund the cost of a new state-of-the-art airport.

It must be recognised that our economy and quality of life will continue to suffer in an increasingly competitive world if we fail to invest in our infrastructure and think strategically for the future. Do we really believe that a sixth terminal and third runway at Heathrow will put to rest the issue of airport expansion for decades to come? We need an adaptable solution that allows us room to manoeuvre according to demand and future economic requirements. Above all, the Government should regard this as an opportunity to equip our nation as an internationally formidable partner and competitor for decades to come.

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