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Norman Baker: Our policy has not changed as a matter of fact, but may I draw the Secretary of State back to the 2003 White Paper, on which he has predicated so much of his speech today? Does he not accept that the world has moved on significantly since 2003, both for the reasons that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) gave and because of the potential for high-speed rail and the developments in transport elsewhere? It is simply unwise to rely on a 2003 White Paper to work out what should happen to aviation in 2008. Will he therefore revisit the major concerns, rather
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than concentrating this debate solely on the environmental consequences, important though they are, for the communities around Heathrow?

Mr. Hoon: If the hon. Gentleman has studied the White Paper as carefully as I hope he has, he will have noticed that we are talking about the requirements for this country’s aviation to 2030. As I have referred to the previous Conservative Government looking into capacity in the early 1990s and concluding by 1995 that Heathrow was already full in a practical sense, let me make it clear that even if we decided to go ahead today, which clearly we will not, it would be at least 2020 before a further runway was available and a further terminal constructed. That means that some 30 years would have elapsed on a decision that was being considered by the previous Conservative Government in the early 1990s.

It is therefore wrong to suggest that the issue can be determined on the basis of this year’s or next year’s forecast. We are talking about a strategic decision. It is disappointing that the Conservative Opposition have, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, simply adopted the rather short-term approach that is characteristic of the Liberal Democrats.

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

Mr. Hoon: I am not giving way; I am going to make some progress.

In part, the changes that I have outlined are a function of cheaper travel, but they are also a reflection of how the world is changing and getting smaller. Family and friends are travelling between countries more easily, but they are also staying in touch by coming back home from time to time. People visiting friends and relatives account for some 23 per cent. of total air travel today, compared with 15 per cent. in 1995. We may be entering difficult economic times, but it is important to remember, as I have already mentioned to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), that we are talking about a long-term strategic issue. The air transport White Paper is a 30-year plan and forecasts must be seen in a similar light.

Fiona Mactaggart: My right hon. Friend is talking about the real impact that is felt by our constituents of the developments at Heathrow and the fact that people are travelling more. My constituents supported terminal 5. At the public inquiry, we were promised a cap of 480,000 flights and told that there would be no third runway. We are now experiencing the consequences of travel to Heathrow along the M4 and inadequate surface transport infrastructure. He has not suggested any plans to deal with that. We cannot contemplate a third runway when we are operating the M4 at 105 per cent. of capacity today.

Mr. Hoon: I will come to the question of public transport and the third test that was set out in the White Paper, so if my hon. Friend can be patient, I will deal with her point in due course.

It is important that we are not planning for this winter or next summer. What Heathrow needs and this country deserves is a long-term, strategic plan for aviation in the United Kingdom.

Susan Kramer: Will the Transport Secretary give way?

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

We remain confident in the robustness of our forecasts. Indeed, only last year, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) argued that

I would welcome any indication from the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet that she agrees with that. If she does, she needs to say where the growth will take place. She rejected any expansion at Stansted and Heathrow, so where does the Conservative party believe that expansion is going to take place? This is not only about greater personal freedom.

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

Mr. Hoon: I will give way if the hon. Lady will tell us where she believes expansion will take place.

Mrs. Villiers: I can answer the question by saying that we need to provide a high-speed rail alternative. We can provide a realistic, viable high-speed rail alternative to thousands of the flights that are now clogging up Heathrow.

Mr. Hoon: I will come to that point in a moment, but I notice, as will others in the House, that the hon. Lady failed to answer the challenge that I gave her. She has consistently failed to do so.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The Secretary of State has repeated that he is interested in a long-term, strategic solution to the problems of British aviation. He is as aware as anyone that the constraint imposed by the Heathrow site—it is surrounded by residential communities and all flight paths have to go over them—means that there must be a limit to its expansion. There cannot simply be more runways and terminals as the years go by. Will he give some thought to, for example, a feasibility study for a Thames estuary airport or some equivalent? Aviation will doubtless grow. Such a study would enable us to feel that, in the long term, there could be a solution that could enable it to grow without causing untold misery for all the communities that are currently affected by it.

Mr. Hoon: I will deal with the proposals for an estuary airport in due course, but may I make clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that some 400 different sites were considered in the run-up to the production of the 2003 White Paper? That included a significant number of potential sites in the estuary as well as others close by, on the land abutting the estuary. He is not able to say with any accuracy that the Government have failed thoroughly to consider that, because it was thoroughly considered in the run-up to the 2003 White Paper.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I am going to make a little more progress before I give way again.

I have been describing the expansion in the demand for aviation. It is not only about greater personal freedom and keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family. Aviation in general continues to make a significant
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contribution to the UK economy. It brings in around £11 billion a year, and it supports 200,000 jobs directly, and many more indirectly.

As one distinguished commentator from The Times has said:

Who am I to argue with the insight and wisdom of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) on this matter? It is therefore crucial that we continue to protect Britain’s position and plan for the long term. To those who propose that we sit on our hands and do nothing, I ask: what are the alternatives? Are we to ration flights? Are we to go back to a situation in which only the rich can travel abroad, a policy that many Opposition Members actually favour? The practical consequence of their policy would be to export jobs to the continent. That is what would happen if the Conservative party got its way. Those are the real questions for this debate which the Conservative party must address and answer.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman referred earlier to the Government’s consideration in the 2003 White Paper of the possibility of a Thames estuary airport. Does he accept that the Government did not consider those proposals with anything like the enthusiasm they are now showing for the Heathrow proposals, and that there has not been any serious consideration of a Thames estuary proposal since the Roskill commission in the early 1970s? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me the name of the engineering consultancy employed by the Government to consider those proposals, for example?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that proposals for constructing a major hub airport in the Thames estuary have been made every decade for the past three decades. The proposals have been considered, examined and, unfortunately, found wanting. They were given proper and serious consideration, but I accept that the issue will come up again and again; I shall return to it later.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): What worries me—I was an aviation Minister for 18 undistinguished months—is that my right hon. Friend’s argument seems to presume unlimited expansion. If I learned one thing in my 18 undistinguished months, it was that the aviation industry had plans for unlimited expansion. After we were elected, the industry inserted the word “sustainable” before its plans but went on to repeat all the same demands. Sooner or later, politicians are going to have to say no. Should we not be looking into ways of managing demand rather than predicting and providing for it?

Mr. Hoon: I assure my hon. Friend that we are not predicting and providing, but he must recognise that we are having this debate because his constituents, my constituents and those of every right hon. and hon. Member in the House want to travel by plane—and have had the opportunity to do so in recent years. I accept some constraints on their ability to do so, not least because of the issues raised in the debate so far, but we all have to face up to the fact that it is our
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constituents who are demanding that capacity. Without such demand, the airlines and airport operators would not have responded as they have.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman talks a lot about the consideration that the Government are giving to our constituents, so let me tell him that my constituents want the Government to consider the impact of a third runway at Heathrow on their quality of life. If it goes ahead or if the Government abandon runway alternation, the quality of my constituents’ life—not only those living close to Heathrow in Maidenhead or Cookham, but those further afield in Wargrave, Twyford and north Woodley—will deteriorate significantly. There is particular concern about night flights, so will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to guarantee that, whatever the Government do about capacity at Heathrow, there will be no increase in night flights?

Mr. Hoon: We have not consulted on that matter and it is not a decision that we have to take. [Interruption.] Let me make it clear to the right hon. Lady that that is not the issue. If she wants to appear in the local paper, scaremongering in the manner that she does, that is fine, but we are dealing with the serious matters that are the subject of consultation today. The right hon. Lady needs to think about the fact that more than half of her constituents—probably considerably more than half, given the demographic profile that she represents—will use Heathrow and other British airports pretty regularly.

I shall deal further with the issue of Heathrow acting as a hub in a few moments, but the logical consequence of Conservative party policy is clear: more and more constituents who want to use Heathrow will be told that the only way of getting the connecting flight they want is to go to Schiphol, Paris or Frankfurt. [Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet shakes her head, but that is already happening. The number of British citizens who have to take connecting flights to travel to the continent, simply because the capacity at Heathrow is not available, has increased significantly. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady still shakes her head, but she needs to look carefully at the statistics.

Heathrow has a unique position in British aviation. It is the United Kingdom’s only hub airport, and it has seen dramatic growth in recent decades. It serves two thirds of all our long-haul routes, and operates the United Kingdom’s only direct air links to world cities such as Mumbai, Shanghai, Beijing and Sao Paulo. It serves some unique destinations from the United Kingdom, including San Francisco, Mumbai—which I mentioned a moment ago—Miami, Tokyo and Sydney. That is possible only because Heathrow is a hub airport. As such, it caters for a mix of short-haul and long-haul services to a wide range of destinations, attracting large numbers of passengers connecting from one flight to another.

Susan Kramer: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: I will when I have finished making this point.

The existence of those connecting passengers means that airlines can operate routes that might not otherwise be viable. It also means that operators can offer greater
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choice and more frequent services than they could if they relied only on meeting local demand or providing “point to point” services. Without the connecting passengers, we could lose flights from Heathrow to destinations such as Seattle, Bangalore and Riyadh.

Heathrow also serves crucial domestic markets. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet is muttering away. If she listens she will understand the argument, but it is quite important for her to listen first of all.

There are 10 United Kingdom airports served by Heathrow, including cities that are vital to the regional economies of this country such as Aberdeen, Belfast, Newcastle and Glasgow. Links to Heathrow are essential to enable passengers from those airports to connect with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, however, Heathrow is already losing its ability to serve its many customers across the country as a result of capacity constraints. The number of destinations served by it has fallen by 20 per cent. since 1990. Services to places such as Inverness, Newquay, Plymouth, Prestwick, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have all ceased to operate. Heathrow now serves around 184 destinations compared with Amsterdam’s 233, Paris’s 244 and Frankfurt’s 289, and without additional capacity its position will be eroded even further.

If I had to highlight one statistic that underlines Heathrow’s importance to the United Kingdom’s economy, it would be the statistic that more than 70 per cent. of foreign companies moving to the United Kingdom for the first time choose a location within an hour’s journey of Heathrow.

Susan Kramer rose—

Mr. Hoon: The problem is that Heathrow’s runways are already full. The airport is operating at around 99 per cent. capacity, compared to between 70 and 75 per cent. at airports such as Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and Frankfurt, whose spare capacity provides an attractive alternative for any future business if the United Kingdom cannot provide it. That will mean the steady erosion of Heathrow’s position and the loss of British jobs, which will be exported to continental airport hubs following the long-haul flights.

Susan Kramer rose—

Mr. Hoon: This is the policy of the Conservative party: to constrain growth at our only hub airport. For an anti-European party to be exporting British jobs to the continent is a disgrace, and the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet knows it.

Susan Kramer rose—

Mr. Hoon: I will give way.

Susan Kramer: I thank the Secretary of State for noticing me. If he looks at his own technical documents, attached to the consultation, he will find that leisure demand is driven primarily by fares, and specifically by cheap fares. We have cheap fares because aviation is so heavily subsidised. If it were properly priced, the demand that the Secretary of State has just claimed to be the basis for Heathrow would not exist. As for business
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demand, if he talks to firms he will find that they require a sufficiency of destinations. They do not require the ability to travel to every destination on the globe. That is why, although the number of destinations has fallen, business in London has increased at exactly the same time.

Mr. Hoon: I am not at all surprised by the Liberal Democrats’ propensity to damage British business. What disappoints me deeply is that an Opposition party that aspires to government should want to damage business so irrevocably. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet shakes her head, but I have a stream of quotations from senior business people who are appalled at the position that the Conservative party has taken, and cannot understand why the interests of British business are being so seriously damaged by a policy that the hon. Lady has advocated.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of capacity to United Kingdom airlines, and about the importance of international links. Does he accept that one of the constraints on flights from many of the international destinations that he has described—which are in different time zones—is the restriction on night flights that must inevitably apply on a site such as Heathrow, which is surrounded by a large resident population? Does he also accept that that constraint could be overcome only through unacceptable noise nuisance, which would have an horrendous impact on the lives of people living around the airport? That is the argument for considering an alternative site, for example in the Thames estuary, which would not be so constrained.

Mr. Hoon: I will come on to the Thames estuary in due course, but I have already made it clear that we are not debating night flights or an extension of such flights. That matter was resolved in 2006, and there is no requirement on us to discuss it again.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: I will do so shortly.

It is important that we answer the question of how we can improve the United Kingdom’s competitive position in aviation. We will need to continue to invest in public transport to and from Heathrow. A good proportion of Heathrow’s passengers already access the airport by public transport; about 38 per cent. do so, which compares well with many airports, but we want to see that increased. BAA plc has already taken concerted action to improve public transport links at Heathrow with the Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect services from Paddington, and now the £16 billion Crossrail project will join Heathrow to the City and Canary Wharf. That link will provide much-improved access to Heathrow for thousands of passengers and airport workers. When it is complete in 2017, Crossrail will carry four trains an hour into Heathrow for most of the day, cutting journey times across London and the south-east, strengthening international links and tourism, and supporting the economy. We have committed more than £5 billion to deliver Crossrail, and last week BAA confirmed a £230 million funding package for the scheme, representing a major step forward in its delivery.

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