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11 Nov 2008 : Column 642

We recognised at the time that this would have implications for people around Heathrow, which is why we have made that commitment subject to meeting stringent local environmental conditions. Let me remind the House of what those conditions are. First, we must meet our European obligations with regard to local air quality. That means that pollution from particulates and nitrogen dioxide must be within prescribed limits by the time any capacity changes are implemented.

Mrs. Villiers rose—

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: In a moment.

Secondly, there is a commitment not to increase the size of the area significantly affected by aircraft noise. We measure this by reference to the 57 dB noise contour, which is a measure of the average exposure to aircraft noise over a typical 16-hour day. We take as our benchmark the size of that area in 2002—the latest data available before publication of the 2003 White Paper—which was 127 sq km. Thirdly, there is an expectation that any airport development should be accompanied by measures to improve public transport access to the airport, particularly by rail.

Mrs. Villiers rose—

Mr. Hoon: I undertook to give way in a moment. If the hon. Lady will wait, I shall set the scene and set out the principles. It is important that the House should have this opportunity. I will certainly give way when we get on to the detail.

We have since undertaken a three-year programme of technical analysis to assess whether these conditions can be met for a new runway given the construction time frame, as well as for the other options we set out for adding capacity at the airport. I will return to these conditions in more detail later in my speech.

After that work had concluded, the consultation launched in November last year invited views on three different options: first, a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; secondly, mixed-mode landing and take-off patterns within existing capacity around 2010 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020; and, thirdly, mixed-mode within existing capacity around 2010, full mixed-mode around 2015 and a third runway with a new terminal around 2020. The mixed-mode process involves using each runway for both landings and landings and take-offs—the kind of operation that happens now at any single-runway airport such as Gatwick or Stansted. At Heathrow, however, it would mean aircraft arriving and departing on both runways, in contrast to the current practice of runway alternation, whereby aircraft normally arrive on one runway and depart from the other. Mixed-mode operations could provide additional runway capacity in the period before a third runway could be operational.

Mrs. Villiers: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: In two seconds, if the hon. Lady will be patient.

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That could also bring an added degree of resilience to the airport, even without increasing traffic levels, as it would provide greater flexibility in the use of the two runways and an improved ability to manage air traffic during periods of congestion or bad weather.

Mrs. Villiers: How does the Secretary of State reconcile his repeated statements that he is in favour of a third runway at Heathrow—statements echoed repeatedly by the Prime Minister—with the fact that the consultation has only just closed? Surely the consultation that they have carried out has been a complete sham, because his mind is made up, and has been for a long time—as has the Prime Minister’s.

Mr. Hoon: In a sense, I am sorry to have given way. I set out the position very precisely for the hon. Lady. It is set out in the White Paper: it is that the Government supported the expansion of Heathrow on the basis of capacity in the 2003 White Paper, subject to the clear environmental conditions—the local environmental conditions—that have to be met. I have just set out the answer—

Mrs. Villiers: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: I am not going to give way to the hon. Lady if she does not indicate that she is listening to anything I have said. I have set out the position precisely.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I will make a little more progress, then I will give way again. I hope that in the course of—

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: I am going to make a little progress. I will give way in a moment.

The question of capacity—this is important, and I hope that the hon. Lady pays better attention—is not a new one for Heathrow. The need for new runway capacity in the south-east has been under review in one form or another since 1990, including a runway capacity study that ran for 3 years from 1990 to 1993 and regional air studies from 1999 to 2003.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab) rose—

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD) rose—

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD) rose—

Mr. Hoon: I will give way in a second.

Indeed, the need for new capacity was recognised by the Opposition when they were in government. As recently as 1995, my predecessor, the noble Lord Mawhinney, told this House that he recognised there was

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I will give way in a second.

So one might well ask what has changed since Lord Mawhinney uttered those words to the House on behalf of a Conservative Government. I will tell Members what has changed. In 1995 there were 700,000 flights—

11 Nov 2008 : Column 644

Mrs. Villiers: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: In a second.

There are now more than 1 million flights a year. That is what has changed—the need for new capacity has got greater. And in response, the Opposition have collapsed into incoherence on the issue. Airport capacity throughout the United Kingdom was fully explored in the run-up to the 2003 White Paper. At the time, that was the largest transport policy consultation we had ever undertaken, attracting around half a million responses. The scale of the consultations to date clearly illustrates how important aviation is to the country and to the lives of the many people it touches directly or indirectly. It also highlights the vital need for the Government to take long-term, strategic approaches to future UK airport capacity. These are not questions that can be fudged for politically expedient reasons.

Mr. Gummer: Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that what has changed is that we now understand the threat of climate change? A Climate Change Bill is passing through Parliament, and his right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has said that unless Britain plays its part in the coming Copenhagen meeting, there will be no solution. To have a consultation that excludes the wider environmental issues is a sham. We are talking not about narrow, party political or local issues, but the future of Britain and the world.

Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman has an extremely distinguished record on such matters and has consistently argued his case on environmental protection. Sadly, he has rarely influenced his Front Benchers, either in government or since the Conservatives have been in opposition. [Interruption.] Conservative Front Benchers scoff, but the right hon. Gentleman has consistently and rightly argued for European and international co-operation on protecting the environment. Conservative Front Benchers have singularly failed to address those matters. Unless they deal with the need for European co-operation to protect the environment, their policies amount to nothing other than “cheap, populist clap-trap”, to quote the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack).

Mrs. Villiers: I am shocked that the Secretary of State refers to the Conservative party’s stance as “cheap, populist clap-trap”. It is not cheap, populist clap-trap to want to stand up for the quality of life of millions of people who live around Heathrow. It is not cheap, populist clap-trap to care about the way we deliver the 80 per cent. cuts in carbon emissions that the Government signed up to only weeks ago.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Lady is a distinguished former Member of the European Parliament. In those days, I know that she valued European co-operation—she sought to be elected to the European Parliament. Somehow, she appears to have abandoned her commitment to Europe since then.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I shall make a little more progress because I am deeply disappointed by the Conservative party’s stance, which, I fear, is driven more by the need for short-term headlines than the country’s long-term needs.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Having been misquoted, let me say that I do not believe that what the Secretary of State is saying is populist, but it is certainly clap-trap.

Mr. Hoon: I came into the Chamber and heard the hon. Gentleman use the phrase “populist clap-trap” in describing the proposals made by one of his colleagues. I apologise unreservedly for applying it to a different colleague—though the effect is the same.

The 2003 White Paper sought to provide a strategic framework for the development of aviation in the United Kingdom over the next 30 years. It offered a measured and balanced approach to the question of forecast growth, while dealing with the impact of aviation on our environment, including its effect on climate change.

After careful consideration, the Government decided to support the provision of just two new runways in the south-east, for which the overall case was strongest, and we also supported the development of the United Kingdom’s regional airports.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): If aviation emissions are included in any EU emissions trading scheme, will Britain not have to meet and stick with the targets, whether a third runway is built at Heathrow or not?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right, and I will deal with that shortly. Notwithstanding the bluster from those on the Opposition Front Bench, the Government have led the way in arguing the case for including aviation and shipping in the European emissions trading scheme, and we have succeeded in those negotiations.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend spoke about a strategy for developing aviation. Would not any half-decent strategy include economic factors? Should not those economic factors include, for example, the £9 billion that the aviation industry gains from its tax-free status for fuel and freedom from VAT? Why do we not factor in the costs of community destruction and climate change, noise and air pollution, as the White Paper did not? It is not too late to do so now.

Mr. Hoon: That is the precise approach for which Stern argued in his report. He said that there was an economic cost to pollution. I assure my hon. Friend that that is built into our assessments.

I want to deal with the wider context because aviation has enjoyed remarkable growth in recent decades. The increase in the number of flights and of worldwide destinations that can be reached from UK airports has greatly benefited British business, offering faster and more convenient connections to global markets. That is crucial for a trading nation in a global economy.

Just as important—this is sometimes forgotten in debates about airport development—is the fact that the growth of aviation has helped to democratise air travel. More people than ever can now travel abroad at lower cost. At our regional airports, such as East Midlands airport, the destination board looks positively exotic, with regular flights to everywhere from Goa in India to Dalaman in Turkey to Banjul in The Gambia. Previous generations of ordinary hard-working families would not have imagined such mobility and freedom possible.

Norman Baker: Will the Secretary of State give way?

11 Nov 2008 : Column 646

Mr. Hoon: In a second.

Today, international travel is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, although it is fair to say that the better-off are taking advantage of far more flights than even they might have made in the past. However, the real point is that everyone is benefiting. The number of international flights taken by UK residents more than trebled between 1986 and 2006. That meant that in 2006, UK residents made on average one international flight a year, whereas in 1986 that figure was one flight between three people. In the past 12 months, more than half the population took at least two flights.

To illustrate what that means in practice for our constituents, let me take an example chosen not entirely at random. The latest census data show that the leafy north London seat of Chipping Barnet has a population of 103,000 people. Using those UK averages, we can calculate that more than 50,000 constituents of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) took at least two flights in the past 12 months. Of course it is also important to bear in mind the fact that some 50 per cent. of the hon. Lady’s constituents are in managerial occupations and so tend to use air travel even more.

I hope that the hon. Lady will be explicit to her constituents about the implications of her party’s position: less frequent, less reliable and more expensive flights. Moreover, she will have to explain to her constituents that if she gets her way, instead of making the 25-mile journey to Heathrow, they will have to get used to flying to Paris or Schiphol for a connecting flight. The number of passengers passing through UK airports has also grown rapidly, from 32 million in 1970 to 241 million in 2007, a rise of around 650 per cent.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Has not the growth of low-cost flights been in flights from airports other than Heathrow?

Mr. Hoon: That is of course the case, but the reality is that there is enormous demand for flights from Heathrow that has not been satisfied in recent years. That is precisely why the right hon. Gentleman’s former colleague, the noble Lord Mawhinney, made the statement to which I referred earlier. The right hon. Gentleman’s Government—the Government whom he consistently supported—were looking at capacity in the south-east in the early 1990s. He knows that full well. Therefore, as a distinguished Member of the House, he ought to be able to explain rather more effectively than those now on his Front Bench why his party’s policy has changed so dramatically on the basis of a massive increase in the number of flights, albeit without any explanation of how that capacity will arise.

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