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There is no hard evidence of major job losses arising if plans for a third runway are blocked. Yes, airport facilities can and do have an impact on competitiveness, but they are only one element among many factors that businesses take into account in deciding where to locate. As the aviation lobby repeatedly points out, Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle have more runways than Heathrow,
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but I did not hear the Secretary of State claim that the economies of France and Germany have dramatically outperformed ours over the past 10 years or so, as they surely would have done if runway capacity were the critical factor that the Government and BAA claim that it is.

Mr. Hoon: Of course I did not make that claim. These are long-term, strategic decisions that the country expects the Government to take. They are not driven by winning the next election or by appeasing people who are understandably concerned about noise—they are about taking a sensible strategic view. I demonstrated statistically to the hon. Lady the fact that this country is already losing out to Schiphol and Frankfurt. In a horizon that goes to 2030, we would expect a little more of the Conservatives thinking in the long term, and not taking easy, populist decisions. She has to face up to that.

The hon. Lady completely failed to deal with the points that I made about the number of long-distance destinations served by Heathrow having fallen since 1990. Let me give her one further statistic to consider. More people now travel from Manchester to Schiphol than through Heathrow in order to get connecting flights. Why is that? It is because Schiphol has a greater number of destinations available. That will continue, and, in the long term, it will affect the competitiveness of the British economy.

Mrs. Villiers: The Secretary of State wants us to take long-term decisions. I agree that we must take long-term decisions on how we achieve an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions. We must also take long-term decisions on delivering a high-speed rail network that could have a huge positive impact economically and environmentally. It is Labour Members who are taking short-term decisions based on data that are flawed and that have been wholly undermined by the “freedom of information” documents that I have discussed.

If runway capacity determined whether a financial sector captured market share, why is London streets ahead of Frankfurt? Why are there more German banks in London than in Frankfurt? What happens if Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle build yet more runways? They have the space to do it. Do the Government expect us to match them—to play a game of indefinite runway poker until even more villages have to be demolished for more and more runways? Where do they draw the line? Would the Secretary of State care to rule out the possibility of a fourth runway, or even a fifth?

Perhaps the most fundamental flaw in the Oxford Economic Forecasting study and the consultation document is that they consider only the status quo versus a third runway, and nothing else. They do not consider alternative ways of dealing with the problems that passengers all too often experience at Heathrow. I believe that in proposing a new high-speed rail line connecting Heathrow terminals directly with Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and the channel tunnel link to Paris and Brussels, we have found that alternative. Our proposal would relieve overcrowding problems and make Heathrow a much better airport, but without the negative consequences for the environment and for quality of life that would inevitably come with a third runway. It would not only dramatically improve public transport access to Heathrow— evidence from Europe clearly shows that high-speed rail
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provides a viable and attractive alternative to competing flights. For example, Air France has entirely abandoned flying between Paris and Brussels, preferring instead to charter carriages on Thalys high-speed trains. The extension of the Spanish high-speed rail network to the south had a major downward impact on domestic flight numbers. Figures published by BAA confirm that there were about 63,200 flights between Heathrow and Manchester, Leeds, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam in 2007.

Mr. Raynsford: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: Not at the moment.

All the destinations I mentioned are ones where it is realistic for high-speed rail to replace flying. BAA’s figures are thus consistent with our claim that high-speed rail has the potential to free up landing slots equivalent to about a third of the 222,000 flight capacity of a third runway.

Mr. Raynsford: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: No, I would like to make a bit of progress. I am conscious that Front Benchers are taking up a lot of time, and lots of Back Benchers want to speak.

The potential for substituting high-speed rail for flights is likely to improve significantly with improvements and additions to the high-speed rail network in the UK and the rest of Europe. Furthermore, there is an increasingly widespread acknowledgment that the flight growth forecast made in the 2003 White Paper should be revisited. The White Paper is simply no longer fit for purpose, drafted as it was in completely different economic times and before the urgent need to tackle climate change had forced its way up the political agenda. Eurostar tells us that its high-speed trains emit just a tenth of the carbon of competing aviation. The latest generation of high-speed trains from Alstom are greener still.

Even with a higher carbon electricity generation mix than those figures assume, it is clear that high-speed trains are far greener than planes. Our high-speed link would provide a major boost to jobs throughout the country, but the impact would be particularly strongly felt in the midlands and the north, helping to remedy long-standing imbalances in the economy—imbalances that have seen more and more pressure piled on the south-east with the north left at an economic disadvantage and starved of the transport improvements it needs.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): There are more than 50 flights every day between Scottish airports and Heathrow, but the hon. Lady’s plans for high-speed trains seem to stop at Leeds. Is there a particular reason why she does not think it important to cut down the number of flights from Heathrow to Scotland?

Mrs. Villiers: Well, the Government’s plans do not even make a start on high-speed rail. I can see enormous benefits in having a high-speed link all the way to Scotland, but we have to be realistic about what we can deliver and when. We have to take care to ensure that all our promises are deliverable.


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Mr. Hoon: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: Not at the moment—I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am just answering this point. Our commitment to a high-speed link to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds is a major step towards a full high-speed network. If the Secretary of State is going to match our commitment, I will be happy to take his intervention.

Mr. Hoon: I am interested in the Conservative party’s commitment and in the statistics on which it bases its commitment. The Conservatives talked in their programme about a £60 billion benefit to the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, that is based on a consultant’s assessment of a national high-speed network, not the Conservatives’ modest proposal. What is the benefit from their proposal, not the consultant’s assessment of a national network? There is a complete discrepancy between the statistics that the hon. Lady advocates in her policy and the reality.

Mrs. Villiers: In using that statistic, we have always made it clear that it related to a full, national network, which we want to see built. At least we are making a start— [ Interruption. ] The Secretary of State tells the House, “I’m a big fan of high-speed rail”, but he refuses to match the commitment that we have made to building high-speed rail. [ Interruption. ] It is all very well for him to talk about dodgy figures—he is the one who believes in fantasy green planes.

The business case for the new rail link we propose is very strong. There is an industry consensus that the west coast main line will be full to bursting within a decade, necessitating the construction of a new line anyway. There is a huge opportunity to seize the chance to address three problems—the north-south economic divide, chronic rail overcrowding and Heathrow—with a single scheme.

Mr. Tom Harris: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: No, I am sorry, I am about to conclude.

We hope that our scheme will be the foundation of a country-wide high-speed network that will transform the country’s transport infrastructure and radically improve our competitiveness. The Government’s aviation White Paper is fundamentally flawed, as is their “Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport” consultation document. Their consultation is a sham—no one believes a word that they say about environmental pre-conditions. They pushed for the terminal 5 flight cap to be lifted when the ink was barely dry on the planning inquiry that imposed it. They said that they would not let their expansion plans violate EU air quality rules, yet today the Secretary of State confirmed that he is applying for a derogation from them. They want to remove all semblance of democratic scrutiny of the ultimate decision on the issue by giving it to an unaccountable quango. They are split down the middle on Heathrow.

On the question of Heathrow expansion, the world has moved on, but Labour has not moved with it. It is on the wrong side of the argument. The Government are wrong about the economics, wrong about the environment and wrong about noise and quality of life. I therefore appeal again to the Secretary of State to see sense, seize the chance to do the right thing and say no to a third runway at Heathrow.


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Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I remind the House that a 12-minute limit on Back Benchers’ speeches comes into operation now.

5.15 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): For literally thousands of my constituents, the debate is too important for party political knockabout or policy making by electioneering.

According to the Government’s figures, at least 1,500 of my constituents will be forcibly removed from their homes in the village of Sipson. Another 4,000, in the villages of Longford, Harmondsworth and Harlington, will have their homes virtually surrounded by the airport or the road network. Noise and air pollution will render their homes uninhabitable, and they will lose not only their homes but their communities. Those villages have survived for 1,000 years. They have community halls, churches, a gurdwara, a doctor’s surgery and so on. All will be wiped off the face of the earth. The only difference between those communities and others is that they will be sacrificed for BAA’s profits.

It has been argued that people should have known before moving into the area that the runway posed a risk. However, we are considering settled communities, with families who go back generations in the area, and successive Governments have assured them that no further expansion of Heathrow will occur. I remember vividly the community meeting that BAA representatives attended. One of them read out the “Dear Neighbour” letter, which gave the assurance that BAA would not seek a third runway if it gained a fifth terminal.

My constituents have been subjected to a litany of lies and deceit about the development of the airport. First, we were told that there would be a runway but no terminal. In weeks, there was a lobby for a new terminal. Then we were told that the development would encompass only one village; we now know that it will encompass all the villages to the north of the airport.

We have recently seen plans for the road network. To my constituents’ distress, one of the roads is planned to go through our local cemetery. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) assured us in the House that that was not the case, but subsequently had to apologise to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and admit that he was wrong because BAA had supplied the information. I am told that this week I will receive another letter from BAA, assuring me that there will be no road through the cemetery. I will believe that—just as I believed the Sir John Egan letter of several years ago.

When the White Paper was published, the Government gave us assurances that any development had to stand the test, especially for air pollution, that an independent consultation exercise would take place to verify that, and that the process would be peer reviewed. The process was peer reviewed, but the information that went into it was not; it was largely provided by BAA. It reached a farcical level when, as has already been mentioned, fictitious aeroplanes were invented.

I am told that QinetiQ was involved in some of the assessments of the supposedly independent process, yet an advert in the Financial Times only a few weeks ago
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listed it as one of the companies that supports the expansion of Heathrow. BAA tainted the evidence, confidence in the process was undermined and integrity was breached. Ministerial statements, which are so positively in favour of the third runway, are interpreted as pre-empting the Government’s decision and the consultation.

All that leads to the conclusion that if the Minister announces that a third runway is to go ahead, litigation will ensue because the consultation was contaminated. If local residents lose, the litigation will be followed by a lengthy public inquiry, which, covering a sixth terminal and third runway, would make the terminal 5 inquiry appear almost brief.

It is time to stand back and review the position, because the situation, and the evidence, have moved on since 2003. We now know more about the effect of air pollution, which will cover the south of my borough. We now know that the new aeroplane technology that we were promised would be developed has not materialised. We now also know that we already violate the European Union’s air pollution directive. That means that a number of my constituents are already living in a poisoned atmosphere. It also means that with a third runway, we will have no chance of meeting the European directive limits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) said.

Reference has been made to the ANASE study, which I welcomed, and which said that the level of noise at which people get annoyed and their quality of life is affected would be 50 dB, not 57 dB. That means that 2 million people, rather than 200,000, as was originally envisaged, will suffer.

On the health of my constituents, like other hon. Members, I have been urging a health impact assessment, but the Government have consistently refused to undertake one. We are told that one will take place during the planning inquiry process, but that will be too late to inform the Secretary of State’s pre-Christmas decision, which we await. We now know much more about the effects on health, however, including from the Chicago study on the links to cancer and from more recent studies on the links to stress and heart conditions.

We were given a reminder of the safety risks at Heathrow only two years ago, when an aeroplane fell out of the sky and was literally minutes away from crash-landing in one of the most densely populated areas of the country. I still fear for people’s safety with all this over-flying, particularly given the risk of terrorist attack.

Our position on climate change has moved on since 2003. I welcomed—indeed, the whole House welcomed—the commitment to the 80 per cent. target in the Climate Change Bill. I voted for the Bill, but there is no way that we will be able to meet that target with the expansion of aviation at Heathrow. The Tyndall study basically says that if we want to cope with the increase in emissions from aviation on our current growth path, we will virtually have to shut down the rest of UK industry. That is obviously not feasible. The two things are not compatible.

That is why Lord Smith, the chair of the Environment Agency, told the Government that building a third runway at Heathrow would be a mistake. It is not just him saying that, however. The Government’s Sustainable Development Commission and the Institute for Public Policy Research, in the joint study that we commissioned,
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have said that the Government should stand back and allow an independent review of the White Paper. The European Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, has made it clear that we are already violating EU directives and have little chance of meeting them in future.

I listened to what the Secretary of State said last week about the existing limits, and the impact of our non-compliance on the health of Londoners overall worries me. We are now revisiting the economic arguments, too. What concerns me is the automatic acceptance of some of the economic arguments that were put forward in certain studies—I would not say that they were shoddy, but it is now coming to light that those studies were paid for by the industry.

New information comes to light even as we drill down into the consultation paper. I refer to the work of Jeff Gazzard, the aviation expert and environmentalist, that was published this week. He says that even with the 480,000 limit still in place, the Department for Transport and BAA agree that we can grow passenger numbers at Heathrow from 67 million in 2006 to 85 million in 2015 and 95 million in 2030. Why? Because aeroplanes are getting bigger and can carry more passengers in each flight. That throws into question the very need for expansion.

With regard to competition with other European airports, we now have a world-leading aviation industry in London and the south-east, with a five-airport system. Each of those airports plays a specialist role, developing and competing effectively. The reason Schiphol and other airports have different flight movements is that we have won all the best at Heathrow—the most profitable ones. I will not rehearse the point about how the economic arguments have been exaggerated, but alternatives have been brought forward.

It is not just the Conservatives who have proposed the alternative, high-speed link; it is the coalition of rail and other unions, which has commissioned its own independent study. It means that we have the opportunity to expand our transport network overall without the significant environmental cost of the expansion of Heathrow. I must also say that the breaking up of BAA by the Competition Commission has led the Government to review their aviation policies.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is representing his constituents in his characteristic style, with one of the most strongly worded and well-argued speeches that I have heard. Does he find it a little odd that although he has torn to shreds almost every aspect of the Secretary of State’s argument, the Secretary of State remains in his seat and has not challenged him once?

John McDonnell: I am arguing for reaching some form of consensus across the House about the way we approach the issue. This is such a big decision that it needs to be taken out of the party political knockabout arena. We need to have a discussion. I dislike the tenor of the debate on both sides of the House, not only because of my constituency interests but because of the significance of the decision, which I mentioned. The onus is on us to treat the matter seriously and see whether we can find cross-party agreement.


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