Previous Section Index Home Page

I want to focus on what seems to be the heart of the Government’s argument: their economic case, which I
2 Apr 2008 : Column 871
find very specious. Listening to those arguments is like listening to the people who argued once upon a time that the way to develop London’s economy was to bring motorways criss-crossing through the city to meet the demand for cars. It is exactly the same now with air travel. Of course Heathrow is a hub airport but, as I said earlier, the point about hub airports is that constantly expanding them has diminishing returns. It is attractive to the aviation industry to bring more transfer passengers into Heathrow—BA and BAA love that, because it serves their narrow business interests extremely well.

The former chief executive of BAA, Stephen Nelson, said that he thought that 35 per cent. of the expanded number of passengers would be transfer traffic. All continental airports compete for transfer traffic, not destination traffic. Having additional flights to more destinations when all the key destinations are already being served to virtual saturation point brings very little economic benefit. The Government have not absorbed that, and Heathrow is the obvious example. As the Secretary of State said, the number of destinations served at Heathrow has dropped by almost a fifth over the past few years. Passenger numbers have stayed steady and London has gone through its strongest period of economic growth, with more companies coming to London and this area than ever before. There is a complete disconnect in the thinking.

The very complex booklet on UK air passenger demand that has been part of the consultation is conceptually utterly naive, looking merely at a linear relationship between the number of passengers and gross domestic product. It is mathematically complex but has very little understanding of actual behaviour and economic drivers and of the fact that here in London business is changing. Business people do not want to be put on a flight every 10 minutes by their employers—they used to accept that, but no longer. Businesses are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. New technologies are coming through for video conferencing and other ways of communication. High-speed rail is increasingly a preferred option. We are in a period of dynamism and change, and the Government are clinging to an old technology and an old strategy just when they need not do so. The logic of what they say is that we must constantly grow and grow. If there are six new runways in Beijing, then my goodness, we must have more runways here in London. That is utterly unsustainable. If we say that at some point we must draw a line in the sand, let us draw it now before we do additional damage to London’s economy and quality of life.

What brings people to this city is in large part the quality of life that is on offer. Expansion means that parts of London and the south-east that have never been affected by noise will be greatly affected by it, including the City and Canary Wharf and, may I say, Kensington and Chelsea. The minute the spouse of a major executive of an American bank says, “I’m damned if I’m going to go and live in that city, because it’s bloody unbearable”, is the point at which the economic change begins to be delivered in London and we start to lose out. Anyone who thinks that the number of destinations is key should take a look at Frankfurt. It has the most destinations of any of the cities in Europe, but it is not attracting businesses from the UK or
2 Apr 2008 : Column 872
anywhere else because people do not want to live there. That is the important underlying issue.

In my last seconds, I say to the Conservatives that this is the day when they must stand up for stopping this expansion now and for ever. Never mind the typo—this is the day to show true colours, stand together and bring an end to this absolutely idiotic plan to expand capacity at Heathrow.

6.23 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I abhor the nature of this debate. I am unhappy that it has become party political knockabout. [ Interruption. ] I am not being pompous. This issue is too important to most of us. To be frank, all those of us opposed to a third runway should have got together and even helped to draft the motion.

For many people out there, the message that comes across loudly is that this place is becoming good enough only for climbing on the roof and hanging their banners, and useful for nothing else. Many people think that the third runway is already going ahead because the Government have made up their mind about it. We cannot blame them for that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen) said, they have been lied to and deceived for decades. On the fourth terminal, they were told there would be no further expansion by a Conservative Government; on the fifth terminal, an inspector says no, and BAA writes a letter to promise no further expansion; and a Labour Government then cap that, but within six months the cap is under contest.

Even during the current process, the White Paper referred to a third runway, but did not mention a sixth terminal in any detail. It referred to one village, but it is not just one—as has been said, more than six are involved, including Harmondsworth, Harlington, Longford and Cranford Cross. First of all it was said that just under 100 homes were at risk, but we then learned that it was to be 700, affecting 1,000 people. We then discover that it is actually 4,000 homes and 10,000 people. We are told that an objective analysis has gone on and that detailed discussion has taken place based on the free flow of information. It has not. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for the work that she has done under the Freedom of Information Act to extract information.

All the way through this process, people believed that the Government sought to deceive them because they had already made up their mind. The consultation process has been a farce. The exhibitions have been meaningless and the distribution of materials has been chaotic. I say to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), that it is unacceptable for the Secretary of State not to come to my constituency and meet people who will lose their homes when she has taken the time to visit Heathrow airport to meet aviation companies instead. That does not respect the standards of decency of any Government whatever.

As far as the discussions on collateral costs are concerned, there has been no planning and no meetings with any authority, or any of us, about what will happen to our constituents if they are forced out of
2 Apr 2008 : Column 873
their homes. Let us remember that three schools, a community centre and a hospice are affected, and now we have discovered that the road network goes through the cemetery in my local community—Cherry lane cemetery, in which we are still burying our dead. That is what is happening at the moment.

There has been no financial analysis. During the discussions on the original White Paper we were told that alternatives were looked at. They were not looked at in any detail and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) raised the point that there had been inadequate discussion about alternative sites. There was inadequate discussion about rail alternatives. Today, HACAN ClearSkies has submitted a letter to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary outlining the options available to relieve Heathrow through further rail investment.

As far as economic analysis is concerned, we have not been told what the overall costs will be and what the burden will be on the public exchequer. We all know about the state of Ferrovial and the high leverage buy-out it made of BAA. Even given the increase in landing charges allowed by the CAA recently, we know about the financial problems that that company has, and we know that it is running into difficulties in other deals. I say to my hon. Friends that I resent paying public money to subsidise the profits of a company that was founded by a fascist who made his money out of his relationship with Franco and his dealings behind the scenes through Opus Dei.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman will withdraw those remarks.

John McDonnell: I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am referring to the company, which was founded by a fascist who had a relationship with Franco. That is who I condemn. If that is out of order, please advise me.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I understand. You are saying the company; I thought that you were referring to an individual.

John McDonnell: Can I just explain, then, that the individual was a fascist? He fought on the side of the fascists against the republicans in the civil war. He made his profits as a result of his relationship with Franco. I understand if there has been a misinterpretation.

I return to the point that people out there feel that the decision has already been made. I shall give some examples. People have referred to the fact that the Prime Minister, when Chancellor, made statements in favour of the expansion of Heathrow. He has also made such statements as Prime Minister. We had the gaffe on Monday on terminal 5, when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary referred to the consultation and said:

Three minutes later, he is passed a note by the lawyers, and has to correct the statement.

2 Apr 2008 : Column 874

I also refer hon. Members to what has happened in my own borough. The London borough of Hillingdon received a notice from the planning inspectorate and the Department saying that it had to amend its local planning framework to take into account a third runway and a sixth terminal, pre-empting the consultation on the development of the framework.

I refer to what happened to the Mayor of London, whom one of my constituents contacted because he came out against the expansion and the third runway—as have all the other candidates, on which I congratulate them. My constituent wrote to ask the Mayor why he had not included his opposition in his development plan. We received the following response:

That is why people outside believe that the decision has already been made. The Government have fixed the White Paper and the consultation process. They are bullying local authorities and even the Mayor of London to try to undermine the opposition throughout our communities, and, thereby, the decision-making process of the House.

I therefore demand that the matter be brought to the Chamber for decision.

6.30 pm

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I am pleased finally to be able to contribute to the debate. All I ever wanted was to have a fact-based discussion about the right decision on the matter.

The issue is clearly important in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields. We are especially concerned about the proposals for runway alternation. The current half day of respite that we get from aircraft noise is massively valued. Families live in my area and love the open space and all-day flights would fundamentally undermine our quality of life. When we held a public meeting to consider the proposed expansion, more than 700 people turned up at St. Mary’s church in Putney. There were not more only because the church was full. We had to hold a public meeting because, in spite of a direct promise from the former Minister with responsibility for aviation in 2006 to hold a public exhibition in my constituency and in the borough of Wandsworth, it did not happen. Since I became a Member of Parliament and before that, I have emphasised that aircraft noise is a genuine problem.

We know that all-day noise will have an impact on not only residents but our local children. I am a governor at Hotham primary school in Putney, and it will be affected, as well as All Saints and Brandlehow schools. Those children’s education will be fundamentally disrupted by the all-day noise overhead.

I am disappointed and frustrated that the Liberal Democrat motion has not been designed to gain broad support in the House. Obviously, it contains a glaring error and a mistake about runway alternation. I also believe that it is in error because it does not call on the
2 Apr 2008 : Column 875
Government to get rid of mixed mode as well as the proposal for a third runway. I cannot support it because having all-day flights over Putney would put my constituents at risk, and that would be wrong.

Susan Kramer: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Justine Greening: I am afraid that I do not have much time. I understand the concerns of the Liberal Democrats, and our amendment states that the expansion proposal cannot and should not go ahead.

The freedom of information results that I have obtained clearly show that BAA was so involved with modelling the air pollution and noise that there was a BAA forecasting team. BAA also sat on the Heathrow project board. I do not remember being invited to sit on that board as a key stakeholder and local Member of Parliament. That applies to hon. Members of all parties. BAA was involved in writing the consultation document and was actively asked for input. Meeting minutes show that it was not only asked to do that but that, a couple of months later, it provided some input, which has been incorporated.

BAA was involved with the Department for Transport in developing joint lines to take to deal with media and press inquiries—and, no doubt, Members from the south and their constituents. That is fundamentally wrong. BAA had to seek out and employ WS Atkins to conduct part of the peer review. Again, that is wrong and gives an impression of a review of whether the environmental tests could be overcome that is led not by the Department for Transport but by BAA. The Secretary of State shakes her head, but that is exactly how the minutes come across.

As I said in my intervention on the Secretary of State, if she is so happy that the environmental case has been made, why will she not release the detailed data, after nearly a year of my trying to obtain them through every possible method? Why do the minutes say that the fleet mix used to estimate noise and air pollution was still being modified right into September last year, just weeks before the consultation?

I have notes in which BAA is asked by the Department for Transport to redo the modelling. Those notes say:

That does not sound like a DFT-led proposal. Interestingly, the people at BAA said in response that they were concerned that the re-forecasting scenarios

I do not have e-mails from after that, however, so I do not know what eventual decision was taken, but I know that BAA was heavily involved, to an inappropriate extent.

I will wrap up. We have talked about the fact that CO2 emissions have not been properly accounted for. It is ridiculous for the Secretary of State to say that half the flights should have been excluded. “How to use the Shadow Price of Carbon in policy appraisal”, a document issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says that the impact on greenhouse gas emissions

2 Apr 2008 : Column 876

There would be 220,000 fewer plane movements every year in the absence of the policy, yet they have not been included at all.

The reality is that the consultation has been a sham. It has let Londoners down and shown that the Government are out of touch. It is absolutely right that we are tabling a motion to say—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Mr. Meacher.

6.36 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): I am not a local MP to Heathrow, unlike others in the Chamber tonight, but I have a strong interest in two aspects of the debate. The first is the evidential basis for the forecast of air quality and noise impacts, and the second is the status and weight—or perhaps the lack of them—given to climate change considerations in the final judgment.

On the first issue, the conclusion reached—that one can bolt a new airport the size of Gatwick on to Heathrow without any adverse environmental impacts—never commanded any credibility and, frankly, has attracted a great deal of derision. However, what was so disturbing about the story in The Sunday Times on 9 March is the exposure—uncovered by the excellent work of the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening)—of just how deceptive and manipulative Departments can be in pursuit of a pre-determined objective.

The documents show that BAA gave directions to Department for Transport officials on how to strip out data in the consultative document that showed that the expansion would cause unlawful levels of pollution and extra noise. The documents show that BAA repeatedly selected alternative data for the consultation, which were devised in order to secure the result that showed an insignificant impact on noise and pollution. The documents show that the Department for Transport apparently gave unprecedented access to confidential papers and allowed the company to help to rewrite the final document.

The documents also show that the final document significantly reduced the likely greenhouse gas emissions of the third runway, by excluding incoming international flights. We also know that one official closely involved in Project Heathrow, which researched the environmental impacts of the runway, said:

If all that is true—I am not aware that any of it has been denied—it indicates that a line has been crossed that is not acceptable. The era of spin and manipulation in this country has done untold damage to our political culture. Politics in this country will not recover until people are confident that they are being given the truth, however hard the truth is, and that it is not simply being massaged in order to suit the interests of the powers that be.

I say all that much more in sorrow than in anger, but certain implications follow from it. Frankly, the consultative document should be withdrawn and replaced by a much more honest and accurate one, before it is legally challenged in court, which I expect it will be, and before a judge requires it to be withdrawn.

Next Section Index Home Page