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What is wrong about this issue is that a line has been crossed because BAA has been involved in writing the consultation paper. It has not simply provided facts and figures, as it maintains—the memos that the hon.
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Member for Putney helped to secure show that it went much further than that. They show that BAA was helpfully redrafting and suggesting to the Government how particular information could be eliminated and how particular environmental outcomes could be redrafted. It was sending memos to that effect to the Government.

That worries me, because the Department for Transport appears to be subject to regulatory capture by BAA. That should worry the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas); she is getting a response not from her Government, but from BAA. BAA is perfectly within its rights to lobby and make its case, but not to take over the aviation policy of the Department for Transport, although it appears to have done that to a large degree in respect of Heathrow.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I would like clarification on where the hon. Gentleman’s party stands on runway alternation, bearing in mind the text of its motion.

Norman Baker: We are in favour of ending— [Interruption.] No, I mean that the motion should have said “ending”.

Susan Kramer: As the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) will undoubtedly have noticed, a cap of 480,000 is permanently and firmly placed on flights at Heathrow. Ending runway alternation would add another 45,000 flights; it is therefore impossible for the motion to be read in any other way than that runway alternation should be preserved and that mixed mode should not be introduced.

Norman Baker: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I referred to the word “ending”; I concede that, unfortunately, it is missing from the motion. I accept that it is missing, and I am sorry about it. That one word is missing. I suggest that Conservative Members will have their own explaining to do in a moment about their own policy. The motion leads to no interpretation other than our total opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. We are clear that a third runway there has to be stopped at all events and under all circumstances. The House should be in no doubt whatever about that.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman repeat what he said a few minutes ago—that the Liberal Democrats support ending runway alternation at Heathrow?

Norman Baker: I have already answered that. Let me read the sentence from the motion:

the word “ending” is missing—“runway alternation”. Our policy could not be clearer. [Laughter.] Well, let me tell the House what the policy is in one sentence: it is to oppose any third runway at Heathrow under any circumstances. I challenge the Government and the Conservative Front Bencher to match that pledge. We would not build or support any third runway at Heathrow under any circumstances. I invite the hon.
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Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) to make a similar pledge when she speaks in due course.

Voters in London will have to look at three parties in the local elections, the mayoral election and the general election in respect of policy on Heathrow. We know that the Government have been captured by BAA in terms of policy, and we will find out where the Conservatives stand with their chaotic policy on Heathrow. We are the only party in this House that will oppose the third runway at Heathrow under any circumstances.

5.4 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): I beg to move, To leave out from “House” to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

Let me start by congratulating the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on securing this debate. As is already clear from his characteristically robust speech, we are not going to agree on much today, but at least we agree on the importance of the subject, which, as he knows, raises strong passions. I understand that, and I also understand that the decision that we make on Heathrow, and indeed our wider aviation policy, will have a major impact on the continued prosperity of our country, our quality of life and our freedom to travel.

I find it a little odd that the successors to the Liberal party now appear to see it as their role to tell millions of people how and when they can travel, but that is the result of the decisions made by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. As he clearly stated, they have set themselves against any expansion not just of Heathrow but of any airport in the south-east. They clearly want the growth in air travel in the UK to be thwarted, and at least they are consistent in their opposition. They do not, of course, want to be quite so clear in telling millions of people in the UK that they intend to make it much more difficult for them to enjoy a holiday abroad, and neither are they quite so clear in explaining that one of the key factors in a global marketplace is good links with the rest of the world and that their policy would worsen those links, with a serious impact on jobs and prosperity. Nor do I recall the hon. Gentleman clarifying the point that restricting capacity at Heathrow would merely mean that passengers who want to use a hub airport would continue to use other hub airports in Europe, damaging Britain but with zero impact on the level of carbon emissions.

Susan Kramer: Can I take it from what the Secretary of State has said that she backs “predict and provide” and that the principles she has outlined will guide aviation taxation and other green tax policies provided
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by the Government—in other words, that priority will be given to meeting demand, not to dealing with emissions?

Ruth Kelly: No. I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, but “predict and provide” is not the policy of this Government. She should look back at the 2003 transport White Paper, which makes it clear that even with the expansion of all the airports that were supported in that document we would not meet predicted demand for air travel in future. We need a tough approach that recognises the impact on the environment as well as the genuine concerns of local people. We have put forward a balanced approach.

I am not surprised by the opposition of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) or by that of her Front Benchers, but I find it remarkable that the Conservatives have reversed their position and adopted the Lib Dem policy as their own. A party that once stood for choice and for a strong economy is now in favour of restricting choice and ready to put the economy at risk in the cause of short-term political gain. I am sure that many Tory Back Benchers will be horrified at that change of position.

Mrs. Villiers: Before we can take a responsible decision on the future of Heathrow airport, we want the Government to answer the key environmental questions and to produce objective, trustworthy data on the key environmental tests that have to be met.

Ruth Kelly: That is precisely what we are committed to doing, and it is not in the wording of the Conservative amendment.

Mrs. Villiers: How can the Secretary of State possibly say that she is answering the questions on, for example, NOx—oxides of nitrogen—with legally binding limits applicable from 2010? The Environment Agency has said that her evidence is not sufficiently robust, so even her own advisers on environmental matters do not believe the Government’s case.

Ruth Kelly: We need to examine the local environmental conditions that we said are necessary to be met in order for us to decide, if that is indeed the case, that this should go ahead. We have put these proposals and the scientific evidence out for consultation to be publicly tested and scrutinised by the Environment Agency and others, and I will not make a decision until all the responses have been analysed.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): The Secretary of State mentioned the decision. Can we have clarity about how it will be made? At the end of the consultation process, will the decision be made through a vote on the Floor of this House before we move to any future stage—if we do so at all?

Ruth Kelly: It will be important for the Government to take a decision and for the proposals to go through the planning inquiry. One of the options for the House to consider is how planning procedures should be speeded up in future, and we will have to consider a national policy statement on aviation, and the point at which that comes in. Those decisions are yet to be determined.

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Mrs. Villiers rose—

Ruth Kelly: I give way to the hon. Lady, who is obviously desperate to join the debate again.

Mrs. Villiers: I am grateful to the Secretary of State; she is generous in giving way so many times. How can she possibly say that decisions have yet to be made when she stands at that Dispatch Box month in, month out, expressing fulsome support for building a third runway at Heathrow? She has already made up her mind. The consultation is a complete sham.

Hon. Members: Absolutely.

Ruth Kelly: Absolutely not, and in the course of my speech I intend to set out the arguments that were expressed in the 2003 air transport White Paper for more capacity at Heathrow. At the same time, however, we have always said that we would not go ahead unless the strict local environmental conditions were met. We promised then—I shall return to this point—that we would present the detailed modelling evidence for public scrutiny in order to test the robustness of the case before any decisions were made.

Mrs. Villiers rose—

Mr. Redwood rose—

Ruth Kelly: I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman rise to his feet. I am sure that he is distressed by the U-turn on the part of those on his Front Bench.

Mr. Redwood: I think it is time for me to ask questions, rather than answer them. Will the Secretary of State tell us how long she thinks it will take to reach a decision, assuming the accelerated planning processes are approved? People on both sides of the argument would like to know when we will get a decision on this crucial matter. Were the decision to be in favour, could she promise generous compensation for those adversely affected?

Ruth Kelly: I am afraid that it is not possible for me to predict the length of the planning process because decisions have yet to be taken. It is important that the planning process is robust, and that all considerations, such as the health impact, which was raised by the hon. Member for Lewes, are taken properly into account. If there were a decision in favour, of course it is right that BAA would compensate individuals and communities that were affected. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman got to his feet. He has been brave in taking on these arguments in his own party, like the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), who valiantly confronted the sceptics at Hounslow, no less, when he said that

The Conservative amendment demonstrates the lack of leadership and the short-term political opportunism of a modern Conservative party that is prepared to put short-term political gain ahead of the long-term national interest of the country.

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Justine Greening: The Secretary of State says that she has put the detailed environmental data in the public domain. She has not; that is simply not true. I have been trying since May last year to get the Government to release detailed environmental modelling data under the Freedom of Information Act. What I have got are memos, minutes and board meeting minutes, just as the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) described. What I have never been given, and am still prevented from getting, are the environmental data. If the Government are so convinced of their case, why will they not give me those data so that we can all be convinced?

Ruth Kelly: I certainly congratulate the hon. Lady on her tenacity. She has been a brilliant campaigner on these issues. The Department has already given her much material to peruse at her leisure, but the fact is that the experts have been out there with work—peer-reviewed in many cases—that has involved some of the most eminent scientists in this country. That process has been led by the Department, and we have presented our evidence.

Justine Greening: On that point, will the Secretary of State confirm that the peer reviewer was the company WS Atkins, which was sought, employed and then paid by BAA?

Ruth Kelly: It is certainly the case that Atkins has peer-reviewed some of the work, but it was not responsible for peer-reviewing all of it. Much of the work was peer-reviewed by the Civil Aviation Authority and independent experts. Noise modelling, which I know the hon. Lady is interested in, was carried out by the CAA, whose expertise is internationally respected. Air-quality modelling followed a two-year programme of research that drew on panels of eminent experts in the field, and a peer review found its conclusions to be

and “fit for purpose”. BAA’s air traffic forecast, to which the hon. Lady may be referring, was also subject to careful quality assurance by the Department. I shall deal shortly with the local environmental tests, but I want to cover some of the other points that the hon. Member for Lewes raised.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I am worried that the reputation of WS Atkins could be besmirched. The implication of comments today is that WS Atkins can be bought. As a member of the profession, I stress that engineers, who make up the vast majority of WS Atkins, cannot be bought. We offer impartial advice and judgment because we are reviewed by our peers and, frankly, we take no notice of politicians’ views. Our job is to offer advice—that is it.

Ruth Kelly: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her point. Every hon. Member should listen carefully to those comments. It is important that we do not cast aspersions on the integrity of those—some of the most eminent reviewers in the world—who have done the work.

Mr. MacNeil: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ruth Kelly: I promised that I would make some progress and I am going to do exactly that.

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I shall deal with the comments of the hon. Member for Lewes in three parts. First, I shall tackle his point on the Government’s overall aviation policy and the case for additional capacity. Secondly, I shall set out the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that we have a sustainable aviation policy, which is compatible with our climate change goals. Thirdly, I want to tackle some of his specific points about the consultation.

Let me begin by tackling the hon. Gentleman’s claim that we should rule out any further increase in airport capacity in the south-east. Air traffic is hugely important for this country. As a global centre for finance, trade and culture, this country’s competitiveness relies on good international links. Our recognition of the economic and social benefits of flying is precisely why we support the sustainable growth of aviation, as set out in the transport White Paper in 2003.

Mr. MacNeil rose—

Ruth Kelly: Not yet.

Given the title of the debate, let me focus on the importance of Heathrow. If the hon. Gentleman’s point is about capacity there, I will gladly give way.

Mr. MacNeil: Perhaps some of the pressures on Heathrow are due to the lack of a high-speed rail link. I have already flown four times this week in relation to my parliamentary duties. On some of those occasions, I have flown over water, although when I land in Glasgow, I would be more than happy to take a train to London, but it is not practical. A few years ago, I had cause to go to Seville. The journey from Seville to Madrid is an equivalent distance to that from London to Glasgow. One can travel from Madrid to Seville in less in two hours. The Secretary of State would find it difficult to travel from Glasgow to London in two hours. Lack of a joined-up transport policy is part of Heathrow’s problem.

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman feels passionately about the points that he makes, and he makes them well. Unfortunately, he is wrong. I have not considered a high-speed rail link from London to Glasgow, but I have examined in detail the case for such a rail link from London to Manchester. There may be a case for high-speed rail, but it is not the one that he makes. If we introduced a high-speed rail line between London and Manchester, the energy consumed would increase by 90 per cent. Indeed, we would get nearly two thirds of the carbon emissions of a domestic jet on a short-haul flight between London and Manchester. High speed does not necessarily equal green. Some people who oppose aviation expansion often propose high-speed rail as an easy way out. There may be arguments for it, but that is not one of them.

Mr. Wilshire: On travelling from Scotland, would the Secretary of State prefer to travel from Glasgow to, for example, Los Angeles directly, perhaps changing at Schiphol, or travel all the way down to a London station, get the underground or a taxi and struggle out to Heathrow to catch another plane? Which is more likely?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the importance of a hub airport. All short-haul domestic journeys by air will never be replaced by rail. It is important for the regions and the nations of the United Kingdom to have access to Heathrow.

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