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2 Apr 2008 : Column 853

Norman Baker: Is the right hon. Lady aware that flights between Paris and Brussels have been eliminated as a consequence of high-speed rail, as have many other flights in mainland Europe? How can aviation and road capacity be expanding in this country, but railways be constrained within the existing lines?

Ruth Kelly: I was not making a case against high-speed rail per se; I was just saying that it is not necessarily a green form of travel. It can be a green form of travel, depending on the energy mix, which is different in France from in the United Kingdom, for obvious reasons. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman supports the energy mix and production in France—

Norman Baker indicated dissent.

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. There may be a case for putting more investment in conventional rail—indeed, we are doing that—but high-speed rail is not a panacea. There will always be a need for short-haul flights.

Mr. MacNeil rose—

Ruth Kelly: No, the hon. Gentleman has had his chance.

We rely on good international connections to support our national and regional economies, and we need to plan ahead, so that Heathrow is in a position to continue supporting economic growth in 10 or 20 years’ time.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are many Labour Members, including me, who accept her argument about the country’s economic need for continued expansion and the importance of a hub, but who nevertheless do not agree that Heathrow is the right location for it? That is not least because of the clear decision of the inspector, who sat for a disproportionate amount of time considering the previous proposal for Heathrow expansion, which led to the terminal 5 decision, and who, having considered all the evidence, including the importance of a hub, concluded that there should be no further expansion at Heathrow beyond terminal 5. Is it not time to accept that logic and begin work on planning for the one location where a suitable hub airport for the United Kingdom could be established, in the Thames estuary?

Ruth Kelly: I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. Indeed, I read with interest his article on the issue at the weekend and I know that he has considered such matters in depth. However, let me remind him that in the course of preparing the 2003 White Paper, more than 400 different airport locations were examined, some in great depth. Indeed, the Government actively considered the possibility of an offshore airport, and the preferred site was Cliffe.

Mr. Raynsford: Cliffe was onshore.

Ruth Kelly: The preferred site for a new airport, an offshore airport having been considered, was Cliffe. All the relevant factors were taken into consideration, including the distance from London, the up-front cost in infrastructure investment, the labour supply that would be able to work in the airport and the impact
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on the local environment, particularly the ecosystems, including birds and wildlife, yet none of the sites was considered suitable.

Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Secretary of State regard the birds as more important than my constituents in Feltham and Heston who live adjacent to Heathrow airport? Also, does she accept Lord Soley’s argument that if Heathrow does not expand, it will become a desert? However, if it expands dramatically, where will the fourth runway go and how many thousands of houses would have to be knocked down?

Ruth Kelly: I know that my hon. Friend feels passionately about the subject and has championed his constituents’ interests with force and tenacity, in this place and elsewhere. No, it is not the case that the birds have priority. In fact, the presence of so many birds is a safety hazard for planes. That was one of the issues taken into account when examining different locations.

I understand that my hon. Friend refers, too, to commitments that BAA made at the time of the previous planning inquiry. The Government then did not commit themselves to a decision at that point, but we considered all such matters afresh in the 2003 White Paper. I know that he disagrees with the Government’s position, and he is entitled to his views, representing his constituents.

Mr. Randall rose—

Norman Baker rose—

Ruth Kelly: I must make some progress, although I will take one intervention from the hon. Member for Lewes, whose debate this is, after all.

Norman Baker: On commitments made in the past, I referred in my contribution to the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), who promised in 2001 that the number of flights was capped and that there would be no further increase, but now the Secretary of State is proposing to go back on that. Will she stick to that pledge?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman knows that the 2003 White Paper stated the Government’s position. One of the things that we are considering in the consultation is whether that cap should be lifted. Indeed, the mixed-mode proposal—ending the alternate use of runways, as he may prefer to put it—contains two options to be considered: one within the existing cap and one raising it. The Government have an open mind on those issues. We want to hear what local people have to say, particularly on how noise would affect them in the intervening years before a third runway could come into operation.

The sad fact is that, no matter what changes are made in the short term in terminals at Heathrow, it will count for little unless we really tackle the fundamental problem of capacity on Heathrow’s runways—and the truth is that those runways are nearly full. Indeed, Heathrow is falling behind because its runways are operating at 98.5 per cent. capacity, compared with 75 per cent. at Paris. Our most important international airport has lost a fifth of its routes since 1990 and has fallen from second to fifth in the EU for routes served.

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China is building 60 new airports over the next five years but, as things stand, Heathrow will have no extra capacity to serve emerging markets, which has clear implications for our economic competitiveness and for the passenger experience in the future. At Heathrow, which still has the same two runways it had when it was built in the 1940s, even a small amount of fog in the early morning can disrupt services for the rest of the day. Of course, operating at peak capacity gives its competitors abroad a huge advantage.

So there is a clear need for additional runway capacity at Heathrow—a point recognised even by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) at the launch of the consultation, when she said that the Conservatives

Mrs. Villiers rose—

Ruth Kelly: But perhaps she has changed her mind.

Mrs. Villiers: The point that I was making was that the Government’s misconceived plans for expanding Stansted have no justification whatever— [Interruption.]

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Lady is clearly flip-flopping on this issue, like so many other Opposition Front Benchers. Perhaps she would agree that, for London to be a world capital, it needs excellent links with the rest of the world.

Several hon. Members rose

Ruth Kelly: I will not give way at the moment.

Our analysis shows that a third runway at Heathrow would provide net economic benefits of about £5 billion, even after taking account—full account—of climate change and noise costs.

Justine Greening rose—

Susan Kramer rose—

Ruth Kelly: Let me turn to my second theme and make some progress, as I know that many Back Benchers want to speak in the debate. I must set out the steps that we are taking to ensure that we have a sustainable aviation policy that is compatible with our climate change goals.

There are, of course, huge challenges in how we enjoy the benefits of air travel while still meeting our climate change objectives. We all know that climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the global community today and that if it were left untackled the implications for our way of life would be catastrophic. There are no easy answers, but when Sir Nicholas Stern looked at the question of how to tackle climate change without putting economic growth at risk, he suggested a three-pronged approach: making sure that carbon costs are reflected in prices to consumers; promoting greener technology; and offering consumers information and choice. Those three elements are clearly applicable to aviation. Let me take each briefly in turn.

First, it is clearly important that the cost of air travel reflects its impact on the environment. I turn here to the point raised by the hon. Member for Richmond Park in an earlier intervention. We consulted on the
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emissions cost assessment, which was specifically designed to consider how far aviation was meeting its external climate change costs. The consultation document used figures that pre-dated the increase in air passenger duty, on which the Treasury is currently consulting. Since APD was doubled, aviation will meet its climate change costs, taking account not just of carbon dioxide emissions, but of the other aviation greenhouse effects such as NOx emissions and contrails.

Susan Kramer: I thank the right hon. Lady for her generosity in giving way. Just on that issue of the shadow cost of carbon, to which I assume she is referring, will she confirm that it is based on an assumption, first, that the Government have the right target for emissions and, secondly, that they will hit that target? The calculation is, therefore, that there will be only modest carbon costs because the risk of climate change will have been mitigated by those other measures. In other words, the pricing used in this calculation depends on a perfect world scenario rather than being within the range of pricing that most of us would consider prudent at a time when we are debating even what climate change targets should be. It is, in other words, inadequate.

Ruth Kelly: I may be out by a pound or two, but I think that the price that we are putting on carbon is about £25 per tonne of CO2, increasing by 2 per cent. in real terms year on year. As Nicholas Stern pointed out, there is a range of carbon prices that could be used, but when he was asked on the “Today” programme whether we could view our current policy on aviation expansion and road building as compatible with meeting our CO2 targets, he said, “I believe we can”. Not only that, the figures that we have put forward are robust to different scenarios for the shadow price of carbon. We have estimated the net economic benefit to be about £4.8 billion, and it would clearly be possible to increase the shadow price of carbon significantly without cancelling out that benefit.

Ultimately, however, the international nature of the aviation industry means that action to tackle environmental impacts is most effective if it is delivered on an international basis. We have been pressing for greater worldwide progress on the environment in the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation, but perhaps most important is the fact that we have been leading negotiations in Europe to include aviation in the European Union’s emissions trading scheme. If that happens from 2012, as is currently proposed, any extra carbon emissions from an expanded Heathrow will be balanced by a reduction in emissions from other, more cost-effective parts of the economy. In effect, net carbon emissions would be stabilised at 2004 to 2006 levels, which would constitute a significant improvement on the position today.

Justine Greening: As has already been mentioned, the carbon cost was calculated on the basis of just half the total number of flights that would depart from Heathrow and the extra capacity that would be created. The calculation also left out the emissions from the new terminal, and those resulting from any of the journeys of the 40 million-plus non-hub passengers who would have to travel to and from the airport. How can the Secretary of State claim that the figures are “robust” when she has gone against DEFRA’s own guidelines in calculating the emissions for this policy?

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Ruth Kelly: We have not gone against DEFRA’s guidelines at all. In fact, terminal 5 will be one of the greenest airport buildings in the world. It would be ludicrous—the hon. Member for Lewes asked me to respond to this point—to include flights leaving London and flights arriving there for the purposes of a trading scheme, as it would be double-counting the impact of carbon dioxide emissions.

Justine Greening rose—

Ruth Kelly: I will not give way to the hon. Lady again. I have already given way to her several times.

The second important issue is technology. We must continue to press for greener planes, greener airports and greener skies, but we are already seeing progress. New aircraft today are typically 20 per cent. more fuel-efficient than the aircraft that they replace, their noise footprint has been more than halved, and they carry more passengers.

We can improve the way in which we manage air traffic. The single European sky proposals will harmonise air traffic control across Europe, streamline routes, and reduce the need for stacking of planes on the approach to airports. I am also keen to examine the potential of “green slots”. If there is additional capacity at Heathrow, why should it not be used to try to encourage a new breed of more environmentally friendly planes?

Mr. Randall: Climate change issues are of course very important, but there is one issue that the Secretary of State has not mentioned so far. I have a feeling that she is not going to mention it, although I may be wrong. Will she tell me what consultations and discussions she has had with local authorities, or with anyone, about where she will house the people whose homes have been destroyed? Where will those communities go? It is not just people in Sipson who will be affected, but those in all the surrounding areas: Harmondsworth, Harlington, Longford and West Drayton. The area is already overcrowded, and there are an incredible number of housing problems. What thought has the Secretary of State put into that?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), the Aviation Minister, has met all the council leaders and residents’ groups who have expressed concern, and rightly so. We would never make such decisions lightly, because people’s houses and livelihoods are potentially at stake. We cannot make a decision that is based purely on the impact on the local community—we must balance that against the impact on the nation as a whole—but it is right for those people to be compensated, and the issues will be examined carefully as part of the planning process. We expect the compensation to be generous, and I think that BAA has been assiduous in providing information for local people.

Mr. Randall rose—

Ruth Kelly: I must make some progress. I have already been speaking for more than half an hour.

The third point raised by Nicholas Stern is how we can give people real information and choice in how they travel. I have already dealt with the issue of
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high-speed rail, but let me say now that we are investing in rail. We have the fastest-growing railways in Europe, and we plan to accommodate a doubling of capacity over the next 30 years. Far better than my giving that promise to the House is for me to give the facts, which speak for themselves. Whereas in 2004 two thirds of journeys between London and Manchester were made by air, two thirds are now made by rail, thanks to the £8 billion that we have spent on modernising and upgrading the west coast main line.

That brings me to my third and final theme. Of course, none of our ambitions on aviation can be realised unless we meet the strict local environmental conditions on noise, air quality and transport access set out in the White Paper.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): So far in the debate no Member has mentioned the aircraft engine manufacturers. Rolls-Royce, for example, has invested heavily in cleaner engines and reducing fuel consumption. Have the Government had any discussions with the manufacturers, because it is worth noting that that is a major factor in encouraging manufacturers to invest more in research and development in this area?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I know that the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in particular has been looking at these issues and talking to manufacturers of aircraft engines and other industrialists. Despite there being almost three quarters more aircraft movements in 2005 than in 1975, the number of people affected by noise has fallen by almost 90 per cent., which shows how much quieter aircraft are becoming—and they have also become much more fuel efficient.

Susan Kramer: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ruth Kelly: No, I must make progress.

The White Paper announced a programme of work to consider how further capacity could be added, or how to make best use of the existing runways, while meeting critical local environmental tests. It committed to consulting on the outcomes of this work, once complete. The air transport White Paper made it absolutely clear that the Government did not intend to conduct this further work on their own. Indeed, it would not have been sensible, or even possible, to attempt it without the technical and operational expertise both of the airport operator and of other key stakeholders. The White Paper explicitly stated, in paragraph 11.63:

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