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2 Apr 2008 : Column 877

I think that there must be accountability for such behaviour. I assume that no Minister was directly involved in the massaging of these data, but I believe that leading civil servants—including, as has been mentioned, David Gray, who appears in all the documents—should be disciplined and, if necessary, removed, which is what I believe would occur in any other sector of employment.

It pains me to agree with the Opposition motion, but I believe that the Government have got to stop going through the motions of consultation, when it is clear to everyone that they have already made up their minds. It happened with GM foods; it happened with nuclear power; it happened with Trident; and now it is happening with the third runway. The Government should listen more to the voices of the people—in this case, the long-suffering and much put-upon people of west London—and listen less exclusively to the big financial and industrial barons. I simply say that what is good for BA and BAA is not necessarily good for the UK.

Mr. Wilshire rose—

Mr. Meacher: I have no time.

The second fundamental issue that I wish to address—in a minute and a half, or, actually, even less— [Interruption.] I wanted to talk about the relationship between aviation and climate change, but I shall save that for a future occasion.

6.41 pm

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): I shall start by picking up where the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) left off, as the link between aviation and climate change provides the context for this debate. The right hon. Gentleman will know that only last November the Department for Transport projected emissions growth from aviation. It said that, even taking account of the radiative forcing effects, 9 per cent. of our current emissions come from aviation; by 2020 it will rise to 15 per cent.; and by 2050, 29 per cent. That means huge potential growth in the emissions from aviation, and here we are looking at expanding a major airport. The two simply do not sit together, and if we are serious about tackling climate change, we have to say no to the third runway at Heathrow.

This has been a debate of contrasts. We have had some very clear contributions, and it is noticeable that all four Back-Bench contributions from Labour Members were opposed to the Government’s position. The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen) provided a knowledgeable and passionate defence of his constituents and their interests; the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton), who is no longer in his place, raised the issue of those just below the top decibel threshold and the many more who will be affected by the noise impact of Heathrow; the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) talked about the growth in promises, and the dodgy consultations that we have already seen on nuclear power and we are seeing now with Heathrow; and the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton highlighted, as have others, the role of BAA in all this. No one doubts that it has to supply information; no one doubts that it is an interested party, but it has to be open and transparent.

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I echo the tributes paid to the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for her perseverance, which should not have been necessary. The information should have been in the public domain. If the Government have nothing to hide, why will they not— [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says “It is” from a sedentary position, but I strongly suspect that there is a long list of information that the hon. Member for Putney has requested that has not been put in the public domain—environmental information, for example, which needs to be in the public domain now.

Before moving on, I should also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), who has been absolutely unambiguous about her position on the third runway and has been a doughty campaigner. The contrast between her position and that of the official Opposition could not be more acute. The House has the right to know the position of each of the major parties. The Secretary of State is clearly pro a third runway, as she said earlier that there is “a clear need” for “extra runway capacity” at Heathrow. She did not say that it was subject to anything. The record will show that she said that— [Interruption.] The Minister may wish to qualify it, but that is what the Secretary of State said.

In contrast, the shadow Transport Secretary said that there were four tests, but the implication of that for another runway is that if the tests are passed, the runway goes ahead. When I intervened to ask her whether the runway would go ahead if the tests were passed, she said something to the effect that the tests were not being passed and it was all very difficult. But it is not very difficult. Either the runway should or should not go ahead or it is conditional on passing the tests. If the Conservatives are saying that it should go ahead subject to the passing of those tests, they should make that clear to the voters of London. The Conservative leader sent an e-mail to a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park on that very issue. One gets a slight sense that the Conservatives—though it pains me to use the expression—say one thing to one set of people and something else to another set of people— [Interruption.]

Several hon. Members rose

Steve Webb: The leader of the Conservative party said in an e-mail:

That is one of the official Conservative positions.

Mrs. Villiers: Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman supports the building of another runway at Stansted?

Steve Webb: No, we do not support that.

Where do we go from here? I shadow the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who said on 13 March that

To be fair to the Ministers who are here tonight, that is not what they are saying. They are saying that the aviation industry will just buy carbon emissions above the cap.

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The Government are trying to give the impression that extra runway capacity at Heathrow does not matter because the emissions are capped, but of course they are not capped. All that will happen is that the aviation industry will buy carbon credits from other sectors of the economy. If Heathrow is allowed to expand and aviation expansion goes ahead, other sectors of the economy will not just have to meet the carbon reduction targets that we think they should meet anyway but will have to go even further, which means that the British industry will have to go even further and householders will have to go even further. Why should constant attempts be made to satiate what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) rightly described as the insatiable appetite of the aviation industry?

Mr. Randall: Could the hon. Gentleman explain again why his party thinks it is such a great idea to end runway alternation?

Steve Webb: For the avoidance of doubt, the Liberal Democrats oppose the ending of runway alternation. [Interruption.] That is absolutely clear. Anyone who reads the motion as a whole can be in no doubt about that.

In the few minutes remaining to me, let me pose this question: what is the alternative strategy? At the beginning of her speech, the Secretary of State criticised us for suggesting that not everyone should be able to go on every holiday they want, and that not every business should be able to take every business flight. She criticised us for suggesting that there should be constraint. She also said, however, that she did not favour predict and provide, and that the growth would be less than the predicted demand.

There is no difference between our position and the Government’s—we both accept that the growth of airport traffic will be rationed—but, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, the Liberal Democrats have stated explicitly that that should involve substituting high-speed rail for air travel, which is far more relevant, and also demand management, which means raising the cost of flying through carbon taxation and rationing. If the Government are serious about meeting their carbon emission targets, they must accept the need for measures of that kind.

The Climate Change Bill, to which reference has been made, does not even mention aviation. It is not included in the targets. Only carbon dioxide emissions are capped by the trading scheme; other aviation emissions are not capped in the same way. It is not the case that there is no problem with emissions as a result of airport expansion. It is clear that there is a problem, even given the trading scheme. The next phase, which applies to aviation, will not be introduced until three or four years from now, and in the meantime the emissions will continue to increase. That is the key point.

As we have heard from Members representing constituencies in the area, this is predominantly a local issue, but it is also a national and a global issue. Important issues have been raised by Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, but we are in danger of losing sight of the bigger picture: the soaring contribution of aviation emissions to climate change.

One of the problems with tackling climate change is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural
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Affairs does not control transport policy, so Heathrow gets expanded. It does not control energy policy, so we get new coal-fired power stations. It does not control the rules on new houses, so no effective action is taken on emissions from housing. Regrettably, we have a weak Department responsible for the environment and a powerful Transport Department, with powerful friends alongside it, shaping the consultation. That is why, on an environmental basis and on a transport basis, this is a fundamentally flawed prospectus.

To conclude, there have been two clear positions in this debate: that of the Liberal Democrats, who oppose the third runway at Heathrow, and that of the Government, who have clearly made up their mind already. What we have had from the Conservatives is fudge and bluster, and the electorate will find them out.

6.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): This has rightly been another lively debate on the issue of Heathrow. That reflects the importance not only of the airport to the economy and as the UK’s aviation hub, but of the need to balance that with proper concern for the environment.

Before trying to address some of the points that Members have made, I would like to comment on the recent consultation exercise. Several Members criticised the “Adding capacity at Heathrow airport” consultation. By any standards, it has been a major democratic exercise: summary documents were mailed to more than 217,000 households; consultation documents were sent to more than 700 stakeholder organisations; it was widely publicised, in both the national and local media and elsewhere; 13 public exhibitions were held in communities around the airport and in central London; the consultation materials were available on request and online; and a dedicated call centre was in operation throughout. Almost 5,000 people visited the exhibitions, and we have received more than 70,000 responses. That explains why the consultation has met, and in some aspects exceeded, the Cabinet Office guidance on the conduct of such exercises.

The lengths to which we have gone to inform the public and others about our proposals is a clear statement of our determination to ensure that final policy decisions are fully informed by the views of as many stakeholders as possible. So despite the criticisms of some, I am firmly of the view that this consultation—albeit on a subject that many feel passionately about—has been conducted in an exemplary manner.

Mr. Randall: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Against my better instincts, so as not to run the risk of appearing rude I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Randall: The hon. Gentleman is always very courteous. Can he tell me why I did not receive a consultation document when I was only four miles way, whereas people in west London—miles and miles away—did?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I knew I should have listened to my instincts and not given way to the hon. Gentleman. He was fully aware that the consultation was taking place, and he could have downloaded the document. As I have said, it was sent to 217,000 households.

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The analysis of the consultation responses will be used to inform final policy decisions on a third runway, on mixed mode, and on other operational procedures. As the House will appreciate, until this analysis has been completed it would be premature for Ministers to comment on the outcomes. What I can say is that we expect to make final policy decisions later this year.

The hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) made accusations of collusion, which we refute entirely. We refute the accusations that the Department has behaved improperly in its relations with BAA plc and in managing the consultation exercise.

The 2003 air transport White Paper made it absolutely clear that we expected the aircraft operator, working with the Civil Aviation Authority, NATS and the Government, to develop proposals to form the basis of consultation. It would not have been sensible, or indeed possible, to attempt this work without the technical and operational expertise of the operator.

I must also say that it is outrageous of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) to suggest that civil servants should be disciplined on the basis of an article in a newspaper.

Norman Baker: The article in The Sunday Times is important, as Members of different parties have raised it this afternoon. Does the Minister believe there are factual inaccuracies in that report, and if so, what are they?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I do not have time to go into the detail of the factual inaccuracies in the report in The Sunday Times. What I can say is that we refute the allegations of collusion, and that we stand by the information, the evidence and the data we published in our consultation material, which is edited by, and under the control of, the Department for Transport. I have faith in the professionalism and integrity of the officials at the Department for Transport.

The hon. Member for Lewes raised the issue of airspace availability to support expansion and my response to him at Transport questions. As he knows, safety is the Government’s top priority. The Department for Transport has worked with both the CAA and NATS to ensure that proposals for a third runway at Heathrow are fully workable.

NATS has undertaken a feasibility study—I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Lewes has received a letter, but if I could explain the information that I have, perhaps we could compare notes afterwards outside—on the airspace for a third runway and mixed mode. We have published reports for both, along with the consultation document, that show that an expanded airport is operationally feasible in air traffic control terms. Naturally, further detailed work would need to be done if the proposals are taken forward, and consultation would need to take place on final designs under established CAA procedures.

The hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) has been raising the question of the release of the environmental data. We originally withheld partial and preliminary results ahead of the consultation, as we are permitted to do under freedom of information legislation. We have published the finished material in depth, in the consultation and the supporting documentation, and it is on the Department for Transport website.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen) raised the question of Cranford. The Cranford agreement was introduced when the noise from departing aircraft was significantly higher than it is now. Although it benefits some residents, it is disadvantageous to other communities around Heathrow. The consultation asks for views on whether that is equitable.

I find it staggering that the Liberal Democrats intend to press their motion to a Division even though it has a word missing. That is the type of error that we would not expect from a sixth-form debating society. Forgive me; I am not comparing the Liberal Democrats to a sixth-form debating society, as to do so would be to demean sixth-form debating societies. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for Lewes and colleagues, the words on the Order Paper are not what they meant to say and if they had any integrity they would not press the motion to a vote. They have had their say and stated their position, and they should withdraw the motion when they get the opportunity to do so at the end of the debate, rather than pressing a flawed motion to a vote.

I hope that the hon. Member for Lewes does withdraw the motion, because in my view, and that of the Department for Transport, it shows that the Liberal Democrats are in denial. The motion does not seem to acknowledge that aviation is growing, has been growing and will continue to grow. We must balance our need to provide for that expansion while addressing the challenge of climate change. We have clearly outlined our support for benchmarking emissions at 2004 to 2006 averages, and we have been leading internationally on aviation being incorporated into the emissions trading scheme. Responsible policies are the way forward. We do not have to choose between being rich and dirty or poor and green. The Government have set out their climate change strategy and the Department for Transport has published our policy document “Towards a Sustainable Transport System”.

On the contribution by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, I must tell many of her colleagues that although she may not be persuaded that the case has been made for a third runway, the business community has not just been persuaded—it has been actively lobbying for it through most of its organisations. No one is saying that these are easy decisions, but they are important and they are in the wider economic national interest. I suspect that, to a certain extent, the Conservative amendment is partly about getting the name of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) on today’s Order Paper, as much as anything else for the sake of the London elections.

In conclusion, the Liberal Democrat motion is plain wrong. It is wrong in its wording, wrong in respect of what is happening in the real world of aviation, wrong in attacking this Government’s international efforts to tackle climate change and wrong in its basic conclusion that we can ignore the capacity constraints at Heathrow. In contrast, the amendment standing in the names of the Prime Minister, our right hon. Friends and myself restates how we will address the issue of emissions and climate change, acknowledges the economic importance of Heathrow and refers to the consultation exercise and how we will take this issue forward.

I commend the amendment to the House and ask the hon. Member for Lewes to withdraw his motion. If he does not do so, I ask the House to vote for our
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amendment and against the motion, which he and his colleagues have accepted is flawed, wrongly worded and does not say what they want it to say.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

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