Previous Section Index Home Page

2 July 2008 : Column 259WH—continued

Dr. Howells: No. I do not know if the right hon. Lady heard me. I said precisely that the Government believe that that wall should not incorporate Palestinian land and should be on the 1967 line or behind it. I reiterate
2 July 2008 : Column 260WH
that point for her. Nevertheless, I stick to my argument, which is that, in the meantime, since parts of the wall or barrier have been built, that mentality has grown up inside Israel and is a new factor that we must take into consideration. I am not trying to justify the stealing of any land as a consequence of the wall’s construction.

As the right hon. Lady knows, there are major impediments to access and movement on the west bank—she mentioned some of those difficulties—and Palestinians’ ability to move on the west bank has deteriorated significantly in recent years. Checkpoints, curfews, road blocks and the permit system have all contributed to that. The permit system has resulted in delays for some of our consulate staff in Jerusalem—I experienced that when I was there—as well as for people going to and from work daily. The permit and checkpoint restrictions have isolated west bank residents from east Jerusalem, which is an important consideration.

The Government continue to make it clear to Israel that it should halt the construction of the barrier on Palestinian land. When explaining that to the Israeli Government, we have made it clear that they should not create facts on the ground—that is what they are—which will prejudice future final-status negotiations. The route that the Israeli Cabinet approved on 20 February 2005 takes in a number of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. This morning, I asked Foreign Office officials how much land has been encompassed, and was told that it was 10 per cent. of the Palestinian territory. That is a huge amount of land.

The barrier also contributes to the fragmentation of the west bank. I have a map which shows the mess. I am not sure whether it looks like a Swiss cheese, which is how President Bush described it, but one can see why the right hon. Lady made the point about cantonisation or bantustans. It has always disappointed me to hear all sorts of excuses when I have spoken to Israeli Ministers, about how someone from Bethlehem, for example, can get to Ramallah, which is not far away. The whole area is tiny, but the journey involves going the best part of the way to Jericho, and back up the road to Ramallah. They have sometimes said that they will build tunnels, but that is not good enough and does not address the aspirations of Palestinians who live in the area, and it means the cantonisation of the sovereign state that we want to be created.

The route does nothing to enhance the move towards the creation of a two-state solution, and we will continue to raise that—we do so regularly—with the Israeli Government. In our discussions with Israel, we have focused on those parts of the barrier’s route that we believe are most problematic. They include the settlement of Ariel, which cuts 20 km deep into the west bank at a point where it is only 45 km wide. At Ma’ale Adumim, the barrier threatens territorial contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the west bank. That is a very deep cut, which contains a large number of new houses, many of which are still being built.

We have also raised with the Israeli Government our concerns about Israeli policies in Jerusalem, which threaten to cut off east Jerusalem from the west bank. Those policies include the routing of the barrier on occupied territory, settlement activity both within and around east Jerusalem, and increasingly restricted access to Jerusalem for Palestinian residents. We have also worked to raise those issues through the EU.

2 July 2008 : Column 261WH

It is vital that we take this opportunity to focus on the wider picture—this debate has an important bearing on it—and notably the opportunity that the Annapolis process has provided to move the peace process forward. Since November’s Annapolis conference, for the first time in seven years, we have been able to talk about a real process—perhaps not progress, but at least a process. At the conference, we saw substantial political movement from both sides. President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert committed themselves to fortnightly meetings, and both restated their commitment to their road map obligations, meaning improved Palestinian security and a freeze on Israeli settlements. The US undertook to monitor the process, and all parties agreed to conclude negotiations by the end of 2008.

The conference was a signal of renewed international commitment to the peace process, and was remarkable for the strong Arab attendance, showing that the Arab world is prepared to be meaningfully involved in the process. The UK is deeply committed to supporting the peace negotiations. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have been engaged in supporting the process, and both have spoken regularly to the key actors involved and have been very clear in their message. We expect all parties to fulfil their road map obligations. That means that Israel must freeze all settlement activity and that the Palestinians must work to improve their security sector. I believe that the Palestinians are trying to do that.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House on 18 June, it is essential that Israel

The United Kingdom has been deeply engaged in supporting the political process. On 2 May, London hosted the ad hoc liaison committee and a meeting of the Quartet. Those were the first meetings on the middle east peace process in 2008. Since then, the Foreign Secretary visited Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories on 8-9 June, which was his second visit this year. More recently, I met Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and the Foreign Minister on 23 June on the margins of an important peace conference in Berlin on Palestinian security.

2 July 2008 : Column 262WH

Last Monday, I met the Israeli social welfare Minister and former housing Minister under the Ariel Sharon Government, Isaac Herzog. I tried to convey to Minister Herzog the Government’s great concern at news of the planned construction of yet more illegal dwellings on Palestinian occupied territory.

I want to make it clear to the right hon. Lady that we do not believe that a series of bantustans or a fragmented parody of a state will do. Palestine must come out of the process as a sovereign state in every sense with control of its external borders. If that does not happen, the conflict will continue, as the right hon. Lady said, because the aspirations that have so often been voiced will not have been met.

In the couple of minutes remaining, I want to say that we have been working hard to try to help the Palestinians to increase their ability to guarantee security within the west bank. That is more difficult in Gaza. As the right hon. Lady said, the situation there is terrible, and we have pressed the Israelis, now that a peace process has been brokered by the Egyptians between the Israelis and Hamas, to ensure that where crossings in Gaza are open, albeit partially, many more goods are allowed to cross in and out. We shall keep pressing for that.

I do not know what effect today’s tragedy in Jerusalem will have, but usually such crossings are closed for a while. There is undoubtedly great suffering there. We have seen from a number of Palestinian factions, not just the Palestinian Authority, an attempt to abide by the agreement that they made for the calm, or the peace process, to try to stop rockets being fired into Israel with the inevitable retaliatory consequences.

I have run out of time, but I want to tell the right hon. Lady that we are extremely concerned about the matter. We will continue to press the Israeli Government on it because it is important. We will also continue to work through the EU and every other channel to try to ensure that the terms of the Annapolis talks are abided by and that the road map is adhered to.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

2 July 2008 : Column 263WH

Flight Paths (London)

2.30 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): It is a pleasure to see you chairing our proceedings this afternoon, Mr. Bercow—I am most grateful to you for enabling me to debate this important issue. I am also grateful to the Minister for being here to reply.

As hon. Members will be aware, NATS, which provides air traffic control services in the United Kingdom, has recently conducted a consultation on its proposed redesign of terminal control north airspace. The sheer demand for air travel has brought about the need for fresh consideration of flight path access to our airports and I therefore fully realise that there is a challenge that needs to be addressed. The consultation ended on 19 June and a feedback report will be published on NATS website towards the end of this month. The report will then be forwarded to the Civil Aviation Authority for approval by the end of the year.

The proposed plans concern a large part of southern and eastern England, which incorporates my constituency. I would like to make it clear that I am fully aware of the benefits that air travel brings. There can be no denying that it is essential to the success of the UK economy and that it is an important part of modern life. Aviation provides some 200,000 direct jobs and a further 600,000 jobs are indirectly supported. The industry directly contributes more than £11.4 billion to UK gross domestic product and visitors who arrive by air contribute a further £12 billion a year to the UK tourism industry.

In 1970, 32 million passengers passed through UK airports and last year the figure was 241 million, which is a 653 per cent. increase. A similar pattern emerges if we consider each individual London airport. In the past 10 years, the number of passengers who have passed through Heathrow has increased by 22 per cent.—from 56 million passengers in 1997 to 68 million in 2007. There has been a 31 per cent. increase in passengers at Gatwick—from 27 million in 2002 to 35 million in 2007. The number of passengers passing through Stansted airport has increased by 344 per cent.—up from 5.4 million in 1997 to 24 million in 2007—and Luton has also had a substantial increase in the number of passengers going through its terminals. In 1997, 3.2 million passengers passed through Luton compared with 10 million in 2007, which is a 212 per cent. increase. Finally, in the past five years, the number of passengers who have passed through London City airport has increased by 82 per cent.—from 1.6 million in 2002 to 3 million in 2007.

According to the latest published forecast, the number of passengers passing through UK airports by 2030 will be between 450 million and 530 million, which is twice the number it is today. More than half of the total UK demand that is forecast for 2030 is for airports in the south-east of England. Stansted will have between 51 million to 60 million passengers passing through its terminals, which is a 150 per cent. increase. In the past 10 years, air transport movements have increased at London airports by 35 per cent.—from 739,000 movements in 1996 to 994,000 in 2006. At Stansted, there has been an increase of 153 per cent. in air transport movements in the past 10 years—from 75,000 in 1996 to 190,000 in 2006. BAA wants to increase flights on the existing runway to 260,000 and then open a second runway to accommodate 500,000 flights a year.

2 July 2008 : Column 264WH

Although it is important for London to continue to be a hub for air passengers, it is also important to ensure that a balance is achieved. The biggest change proposed for the Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and north-east Essex area is to increase the number of holds for Stansted and Luton arrivals from two to three. The two Stansted holds would be south of Newmarket between Hadleigh and Stowmarket. One of the main factors that NATS considered when designing the proposed changes was to try to avoid populated areas at lower heights. However, in doing that, the proposed changes would have an unfair and disproportionate impact on rural areas. The Campaign to Protect Rural England is concerned that the plans will mean that planes are rerouted over areas of natural beauty.

Under the proposals, aircraft will descend in spirals to 7,000 ft before breaking out of the holding pattern to make their approach to Stansted. Areas to the south of Newmarket and Bury St. Edmunds, including some areas close to Newmarket that are presently not normally over-flown at all, would be over-flown by as little as 4,000 ft. That would lead to noise levels of between 58 to 73 dB, which is against the Suffolk local transport plan objective to improve the ambient noise climate within the county.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware of the strong opposition to the NATS proposals expressed by the Chilterns conservation board—the statutory body for the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty? Under the proposed regime, many of my constituents who live on hill-top villages fear that they will be a great deal closer to more frequent and lower flights than is currently the case.

Mr. Spring: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out because the Chilterns are, of course, an area of outstanding natural beauty in this country and people choose to live there because of the tranquillity. That is likely to be destroyed under the proposals.

Picking up on the point made by my hon. Friend, NATS has simply shifted aircraft noise to those rural areas that currently experience very little background noise. Many of my constituents have complained to me that the Civil Aviation Authority seems to have chosen to ignore the guidelines set out by the Department for Transport in the terminal control north consultation. In its guidance to the CAA on environmental issues relating to airspace, the Department for Transport requires the Directorate of Airspace Policy to

I would be grateful to know whether the Minister has the same view on that as my constituents. West Suffolk already suffers from virtually continuous aircraft noise from the US air force bases located in Mildenhall and Lakenheath, just north of Newmarket in my constituency. The proposed changes will further put at risk the tranquillity of that area. I have had an avalanche of letters from concerned constituents who live in the villages around Newmarket, particularly to the south of the town.

Residents of the village of Hargrave are concerned about the impact the changes will have on local air quality. My constituent, Mr. James Perry, has rightly pointed out that

2 July 2008 : Column 265WH

Mr. and Mrs. Ambridge, who also live in Hargrave, have concerns about the aircraft leaving the westerly stack following the dog-leg red route passing over Hargrave and then having approximately 35 miles to descend to the runway.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned aeroplanes leaving the stack, which would probably be at about 6,000 or 7,000 ft. That applies to Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, and is the issue about which we are concerned. People are saying that the NATS consultation is confusing in relation to the stack and the area around the stack, as some diagrams show that planes can also fly at 6,000 or 7,000 ft—if it relates to the stack itself, the number of planes would be restricted to eight, but if it relates to a much wider area, there could be dozens of planes. That confusion is upsetting people who live in rural areas.

Mr. Spring: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening and I totally accept his point. The whole consultation process has been extremely confusing and non-specific, and I shall now talk about that.

Mr. and Mrs. Ambridge would like to know why the consultation document does not provide a meaningful explanation for why the stack and dog-leg are located so far away from the airport and why the dog-leg that is connected over Hargrave is necessary at all. Another of my constituents, Mr. Rous of Newmarket, is worried about the visual impact of aircraft flying at heights as low as 4,000 ft in the area. He has forcefully argued that at peak times, aircraft movements will be as many as 33 an hour, or one every two minutes. Mr. and Mrs. Fish of Higham made a very serious point in their submission to NATS when they asked why the consultation document does not explain why the lowest height limit being set over the whole area is 4,000 ft when the other proposed holds have a lowest height limit of 6,000 ft. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister can answer those queries from my very anxious constituents.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. Does he agree that although there is a move to shift aircraft to stack over the countryside, people tend to notice aircraft noise more when they are in the country than when they are in cities and urban areas? I am aware of that as someone who lives not only in London, which is obviously very busy, but in the country. Has my hon. Friend probed the Minister on what other alternatives have been put on the table, or is the current proposal the only solution that the Government have offered?

Mr. Spring: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that any noise in an area that is essentially quiet is much more noticeable. I will certainly come to the issue of the alternatives in my remarks.

There is a desperately serious potential threat to a hugely important commercial activity in the area that I am discussing. That is because of the fear that the proposed changes will have a decisively negative impact on the racing industry. As Deloitte noted in a recent report on the horse racing industry,

2 July 2008 : Column 266WH

Let me illustrate what I mean. The racing industry is a substantial contributor to the British economy. It generates expenditure of £2.9 billion a year and raises £282 million in tax revenues for the Government. The thoroughbred horse racing industry produces sales of more than £150 million annually in the United Kingdom and has export revenues of £160 million. There are about 9,500 active racehorse owners, and overall some 50,000 people are involved in racehorse ownership through various types of co-ownership. It is, then, no surprise that racing is second only to football, measured by revenue and spectator numbers, with total race course attendance in 2006 being just under 6 million.

Newmarket, in my constituency, is at the heart of all this. Originally, Newmarket found fame as the world headquarters of racing during the reign of Charles II, so racing has been central to the life of the town and the surrounding area, and indeed the whole country, for more than 300 years. As well as being one of the most tranquil areas in the east of England, Newmarket contains the largest concentration of stud farms, racehorses, trainers, stable staff and racing organisations in Europe, shared between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice).

Situated in Newmarket are two of Britain’s leading race courses, more than 2,900 racehorses in training, 89 licensed trainers, 62 stud farms, 2,800 acres of training grounds, the original home of the Jockey Club, the National Horseracing museum, the British Racing School, the National Stud, the Animal Health Trust, the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory, the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the International Racing Bureau, Racing Welfare, the Federation of Bloodstock Agents, the UK’s top support services and Tattersalls—the oldest and most successful bloodstock auctioneers in the world. Today, there are 40 race meetings a year—in the summer on the July course and in the spring and autumn on the Rowley Mile. That unique part of Britain provides breeding and training facilities for up to 3,000 horses, accounting for one fifth of all racehorses in training in the United Kingdom.

The racing industry also significantly contributes to the local economy. It is estimated that 33 per cent. of jobs in Newmarket are directly related to horse racing, with the breeding industry paying £15 million to its employees. Newmarket’s stud farms and racehorse trainers directly spend more than £150 million a year in the area on wages, goods and services. They indirectly spend more than £100 million locally, with turnover of horse racing sales, training and stud farm businesses greater than £500 million. A survey of Newmarket Stud Farmers Association members showed that an estimated 85 per cent. of their expenditure goes to businesses and individuals within a 20-mile radius of Newmarket.

Next Section Index Home Page