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The consultation that I launched last November, and which closed in February, met that commitment. In it, we presented our evidence that the local environmental conditions could be met at Heathrow, and we invited scrutiny and comment from any interested party or individual.

There has been a lot of comment in the debate on these specific tests. However, the facts that I have quoted on noise show that over time it is perfectly possible to
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have a quieter fleet of aircraft, with fewer people affected by noise and with more fuel-efficient engines. The key question is whether over time we can have more aircraft within that same 57 dB noise contour without infringing the European limits on air quality, and with sufficient transport access.

Susan Kramer: I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. She will be aware from her conversations with aircraft manufacturers that all the quick and easy gains on both noise and fuel efficiency have been captured, and that there are no immediate major technological breakthroughs on the horizon. In terms of noise, is that not confirmed by her choice of a benchmark year when Concorde was flying? Because of the averaging techniques she used, we will be talking about keeping noise not at today’s levels, but at levels as they used to be if we were able to take Concorde’s allocation of noise, as it were, and average out—even if we agreed on how to measure noise.

Ruth Kelly: Unfortunately, I disagree entirely. That was the latest available year, and the Concorde issue is not significantly relevant to the calculations. The hon. Lady is right that there is no step change in technology—as there may be in car technology—which could within the next two, three, five or 10 years transform the way aircraft fly, but year by year there are significant improvements in the efficiency of the fleet. Even more important than that, the fact is that we will have a cap at European level on the amount of carbon that can be released, and trading will take place beneath that cap. That will be at the level of 2004 to 2006, which is below where we are today.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab) rose—

Mr. MacNeil rose—

Ruth Kelly: I shall give way one last time, and I shall do so to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton).

Martin Linton: Does my right hon. Friend accept that she should be looking at not only the 57 dB contour but the 54 dB contour, and that under mixed mode, which is one of the proposals she is considering, that 54 dB contour would be increased enormously by more than 130,000 people right across south London? At present, it ends in Stockwell; it would go right over to New Cross and bring hundreds of thousands more people in south London into the 54 dB contour.

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is certainly right to draw attention to the fact that the noise impact with mixed mode, or the potential better use of existing runways, is very different from the noise impact with the third runway. Over time—by 2030—far fewer people than at present would be affected by 57 dB, or indeed, I think, by 54 dB. The question that we are consulting on openly is whether we should try to bring forward capacity in the intervening years, which could help both to support the economy and improve the passenger experience at Heathrow. We are asking for views on whether that different distribution of noise level would be acceptable to the local—

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Mr. MacNeil rose—

Ruth Kelly: I have said that I am not going to give way any more.

As in many areas of national policy, we face vital long-term decisions over Heathrow and air travel in this country. They require the Government to consider carefully the long-term needs of our country and to balance often conflicting interests. Even the hon. Member for Lewes would find it difficult to describe his party’s position as balanced. Through policies that I believe are both balanced and effective, we can meet our economic needs and environmental obligations. This Government will put into place those balanced and effective policies, which, as this debate has already underlined, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories are determined to oppose. I therefore urge my hon. Friends to support the Government’s amendment.

5.40 pm

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): The truth is that the Government are determined to press ahead with Heathrow expansion, regardless of whether hugely important environmental questions are answered and even before they have considered the consultation results. Their consultation is simply a sham, because Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box month in, month out expressing their support for a third runway at Heathrow. The Prime Minister is also a strong and vocal supporter of expansion.

The Opposition believe that the Government have failed to make the case either for a third runway or for an end to runway alternation at Heathrow. We will therefore vote against their amendment. Our position is set out in the amendment that we have tabled, but because it has not been selected we will not have the chance to vote on it. We shall abstain on the Liberal Democrat motion. As my speech will show, we agree with elements of it, but we do not believe that it is possible for airport policy in the south-east to be set in stone for ever in all circumstances.

Moreover, I am deeply concerned that the Liberal Democrats will go through the Lobby to support a motion that condemns runway alternation and asserts that it increases noise annoyance for residents. For thousands of people across the capital, runway alternation gives a welcome respite from aircraft noise. The Government’s proposals to introduce mixed mode are deeply controversial with those who wait every day for the 3.30pm switchover of runways. The Liberal Democrats have got this matter badly wrong, and that is one reason why we will abstain on their motion.

Susan Kramer: Does the hon. Lady agree that because a process of consultation is under way and the Government are going to make a decision, this is the day to draw the line in the sand and permanently to say no to the third runway? Will she refuse to join us in that stand simply because of a typo?

Mrs. Villiers: As I have just said clearly, we do not believe that the Government have made the case either for a new runway at Heathrow or for mixed mode. They have failed to make the economic case for expansion. A recent study by CE Delft for the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise throws into question
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the analysis in the Oxford Economic Forecasting report, which has been the foundation for the economic case since its publication.

The consultation document published by the Secretary of State last November includes increased tax revenue from air passenger duty as a benefit to the economy, but of course it is only a transfer from the private to the public sector. Crucially, neither the consultation document nor the OEF report puts a credible price on the impact of expansion on local air pollution or noise. Those who live under the flight path tell us clearly that noise has an obvious economic impact, not least on the value of their homes.

The Secretary of State has simply failed to address the four key environmental tests that we set for her when she published her consultation document. The Opposition believe that they must be met before a responsible decision can be made on Heathrow’s future. The tests are: whether expansion is consistent with meeting EU rules on oxides of nitrogen emissions, which will become binding from 2010; whether expansion is consistent with ensuring that there is no increase in the overall noise footprint in the airport and with a progressive reduction of that footprint in the medium term; whether expansion is consistent with meeting our climate change targets on CO2 reduction; and whether all the alternative ways to free up capacity at Heathrow have been fully considered, including serious and urgent consideration of high-speed rail. The Government have failed to meet those tests and to produce the objective and reliable data that would allow a sound judgment to be made on the pros and cons of expansion.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): If the hon. Lady receives satisfactory answers to her four questions, will she confirm for the avoidance of doubt that in some circumstances the Conservatives will approve of a third runway at Heathrow?

Mrs. Villiers: We have had no satisfactory answers to the questions, and that is my point. The Government have failed to produce objective and reliable data and the documents obtained by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) under the Freedom of Information Act demonstrate the Government’s efforts to fix the figures to suit the case that they want to make. They show close involvement by BAA in the data and modelling used by the Government in those critical environmental issues, despite the fact that the company’s direct and obvious commercial interest in the outcome of the debate means that it cannot possibly be disinterested.

Ruth Kelly: I would be delighted if the hon. Lady could confirm that she disagrees with the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition last Friday to a business audience. He said of Heathrow that it

Mrs. Villiers: I do not know whether the Secretary of State thinks that cosy meetings at BAA headquarters to “reforecast” and fix the figures to get the answer that is wanted are a proper way to conduct the planning process, or indeed any other process. I do not think it was proper for the Secretary of State to make up her mind before the planning process even started.

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Mr. MacNeil: A further question sprang from the one intervention that I managed to make on the Secretary of State. It seemed from her answer that she prefers to fly between Glasgow and Edinburgh rather than using high-speed rail. Of course, she is free to clarify that point if she wants to. What is the Opposition Front Benchers’ preferred form of travel between mainland cities in the UK? Is it air or rail?

Mrs. Villiers: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has brought up that issue. Frankly, I was enormously disappointed by what the Secretary of State had to say about high-speed rail. It was astonishing. At the end of my speech, I shall talk in detail about how we think we should progress with that issue.

Ruth Kelly: I am really confused. The Leader of the Opposition said to a business audience—we know that the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and London First all support the expansion of Heathrow—that once the consultation process the Government are carrying out is complete the policy should proceed through the planning process. I do not know whether the hon. Lady understands that we have not gone through a planning process but, rather, consultation on the evidence. Does she disagree with the Leader of the Opposition that it should now proceed to the planning process and go through that detailed level of inquiry?

Mrs. Villiers: I have already answered that question, so I shall go back to my speech.

Let me take each of the four issues in turn. NOx pollution probably provides the greatest practical hurdle for the Government’s expansion plans.

Norman Baker: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: No. The hon. Gentleman has had his chance.

As we have heard, NOx pollution can worsen bronchitis, asthma and respiratory problems. It is a serious issue. Heathrow’s proximity to the M4 and the M25, which are some of the busiest roads in Europe, means that there is already a significant problem with NOx emissions from cars travelling to the airport. As we have heard, tough new EU limits on NOx emissions will become legally binding from 2010. Already, the combined emissions from air and surface traffic see limit values regularly exceeded around the airport. The Government simply have no credible plans for how to meet the limits in the EU directive with an expanded airport that will have nearly 50 per cent. more flights and a possible increase in the number of passengers a year from 67 million to about 135 million. The only hope of dealing with that problem would be to secure a major modal shift on to public transport, yet Government targets set eight years ago to increase public transport use for travel to Heathrow have not been met. BAA has actually reduced its targets in that area.

The Government have effectively abdicated responsibility for the issue, leaving it to BAA to solve. That, of course, leaves open the possibility that cheaper options such as M4 congestion charging or a £20 airport drop-off fee might be the preferred commercial solution, regardless of the views of local people and the impact on local business, as opposed to more imaginative, but I would
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have thought, more expensive proposals such as that from Ove Arup for a Heathrow northern hub to link in with the national rail network.

On NOx, the Government are making an enormous leap of faith. They are banking on a major advance in vehicle technology providing the headroom to allow the number of cars to increase significantly without an overall increase in NOx emissions. Astonishingly, they are basing their optimistic assumptions at least partly on data and analysis supplied by BAA. Even the Environment Agency, the Government’s own environment adviser, stated that the Government had not produced robust evidence on dealing with that serious problem.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: I will in one moment.

The agency also highlighted the morbidity and mortality impact of such pollution on a dense local population around Heathrow. If the hon. Lady can give me the answer to the NOx question, I shall happily give way.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I suspect that I am one of the very few Members who has actually done NOx emission testing, as well as SOx—sulphur oxides—emission testing, for more than 18 months, so I think I know what I am talking about. On NOx emissions, I was fortunate to be one of the first people in the country to implement Tory legislation on NOx emissions. It was immensely difficult, because the legislation was passed but there was no instrumentation to measure the level of NOx emissions. There is always a dispute between technologies when we come to measure NOx emissions. There will be a dispute here, and we should surely seek a correlation of opinion that satisfies the majority. All companies that produce the equipment could be prosecuted by Europe, and I hope that they would be. They are striving to achieve the emission levels that we are seeking.

Mrs. Villiers: Of course it is essential that we have reliable measurement, but that still does not explain how the Government will deal with the NOx problem and achieve the shift on to public transport that is needed to deal with it.

Secondly, we all know that aircraft noise is hugely important in terms of its impact on the quality of life of thousands across the south-east who live under Heathrow’s flight paths. The Government assume—we have heard it again today from the Secretary of State—that by the time a third runway becomes operational, a whole new fleet of quieter aircraft will be in the air. I certainly hope that there will be significant improvements in the fleet mix and a shift to quieter engines, but again the Government’s predictions depend at least partly on data supplied by BAA, and Ministers have wholly disregarded the “Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England” report, which they themselves commissioned. It concluded that annoyance from aircraft noise starts at a much lower level than is set out in the criteria that the Government are using. Furthermore, after their shameful bid to lift the cap on night flights, the Government still refuse to give long-term guarantees that that vital protection will be retained. Frankly, the obligations that they place on BAA to pay for noise insulation for schools and homes affected by Heathrow are wholly inadequate.

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Thirdly, the Government have simply made no proper effort to explain the impact that a projected increase to 702,000 flights at Heathrow will have on the fight against climate change. Even if they promised to cap flight numbers, which they have yet to do, who would believe them? They were, after all, the Government who started pressing ahead with proposals to dispense with the 480,000 limit set for T5 before the terminal had even opened for business. Controversially, as we have heard, the Government’s carbon calculations failed to include the impact of inbound international flights, but they also failed to include the impact of thousands of cars arriving at the airport every day to drop off passengers.

Fourthly, and finally, the Government have failed to look with any real seriousness at the alternatives to a third runway or mixed mode. HACAN ClearSkies, which has campaigned on the issue for many years, has highlighted the significant number of flight movements at Heathrow to destinations where there is a viable rail alternative. As the Aviation Minister told the House on Monday, the experience with high-speed rail in France has shown that, where a good rail alternative is available, consumers will frequently choose it over flying.

Ruth Kelly: I have a simple question for the hon. Lady: does she support aviation expansion in the south-east? Yes or no?

Mrs. Villiers: We need answers to the environmental questions about the future of Heathrow.

Even conventional rail can help to deliver modal shift, as the Secretary of State has pointed out. That has been demonstrated by the reduction in flights between London and Manchester as a result of even the limited improvement to the west coast main line in recent years.

If we could find a way to make progress towards building a north-south high-speed rail link to Heathrow and the channel tunnel, we could dispense with hundreds of the flights now clogging up the airport. On the eve of the launch of the channel tunnel rail link, I called on the Secretary of State to work with me in taking forward the case for more high-speed rail in this country, but she declined. The Government have set their face against high-speed rail, and the right hon. Lady made that even clearer today than she has in the past.

The Government have missed a huge opportunity to transform the debate on airport expansion. I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the Government’s position and to make a full and proper assessment of whether high-speed rail could provide solutions to a very difficult problem.

In conclusion, the Government have fiddled the figures on Heathrow, and they have failed to address the key environmental test or to give proper consideration to the viable alternatives to Heathrow expansion. They have also failed to make the case for expansion, and that is why we shall vote against the Government amendment this afternoon.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Mr. Speaker imposed an eight-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches. However, because of the limited amount of time, I am going to impose a six-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions in the hope that all those who wish to speak will be able to do so.

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