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11 Nov 2008 : Column 672

The alternatives that have been put forward deserve better analysis. I actually think that the Marinair proposal that the Mayor has now taken up was dismissed too lightly in the assessment in the White Paper. I also believe that the Government dismissed too lightly the idea of developing a proper regional airport strategy linked to a high-speed rail system.

Let me briefly go through the arguments and look for a way forward, and let us see whether we can get some agreement. This is a major decision that will, as the Secretary of State said, affect the long-term interests of our economy. It will also make or break our climate change policy. It has immense economic consequences not only for London and the south-east, but for the country as a whole. If we are good Europeans, we should look to the overall implications for European economic and transport policy. The policy will cause immense social division within the country. Many people are disillusioned with the whole process of consultation, assessment and policy making that the Government have undertaken. They are angry, and the anger is building. I believe that it is building into a form of direct action the like of which neither the Government nor the country have ever seen. We saw what happened at the climate camp, but Heathrow is becoming the iconic battleground for the climate change campaign, not only in Britain but throughout Europe. Forging ahead with a decision to expand Heathrow will sow social division; it will divide our country and bring us into conflict in a way that we have not seen before.

We need to take the decision out of the political knockabout arena. We should accept that events have moved on since the 2003 White Paper. The Government have introduced a new Planning Bill. We were given assurances on the Floor of the House that if the Heathrow decision was taken under the procedures in that legislation, there would have to be a new national policy statement. If the decision is not taken under the new legislation, we will go back to the old planning inquiry system. The process for terminal 5 lasted five years, and on that basis the process for terminal 6 and a third runway will probably take seven years.

We should commence cross-party discussions about the development of a new national policy statement on aviation, and see how times have moved on and how Government climate change policy has changed. We should set up an independent—properly independent—review of aviation strategy and decide where the Heathrow decision fits into it. On that basis, we can at least attempt to seek consensus on this critical decision.

However, if the Secretary of State thinks that he can railroad the decision through the House without a Division, he is sorely mistaken. The least the Government can promise us is that any final decision will be taken democratically, by this House, in a Division, on the basis of the decisions that our electorates made to have us represent their interests in this matter.

5.29 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The House has rightly listened with respect to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who I think represents his constituents magnificently on the issue. They will be pleased that he has come to the House to make the points that he has made this afternoon. He mentioned
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the word “consensus”, and I am a great fan of consensus on environmental issues, as I hope Members will know. I believe that a consensus is emerging and that it embraces my party, the Conservatives and a good many Labour Members; it certainly embraces the public at large, but it does not yet embrace the Government. It is for them to move to join everyone else, rather than for everyone else to move to join them.

I would like to raise a matter with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had a meeting with BAA early last week—I am always happy to meet representatives of the transport industry—at which I was informed that the House would debate Heathrow this week. No statement had been made through the usual channels. I contacted my Whips Office, which contacted the Government Whips, who said that no information was available and that they could not confirm either way whether such a debate would take place. The announcement through the usual channels came as late as Wednesday 5 November. Am I and other Members, Mr. Deputy Speaker, expected to learn about House business from BAA rather than through the Government Whip system? Will you explain whether that is acceptable behaviour on the part of the Government?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is not for the Chair to determine the House’s order of business, but I can say to the hon. Gentleman that Mr. Speaker has made it clear on a number of occasions that he expects this House to be informed about what is going to be determined here as soon as possible.

Norman Baker: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I welcome your reiteration of Mr. Speaker’s statement that the House should properly be informed first. I fear, however, that BAA rather than the House was informed first, which underlines the concerns of many of us that the Government are hand in glove with BAA. It shows that the Government give higher priority to keeping BAA rather than Members of this House informed about their intentions.

That is nothing new, of course. We know that in January 2007 there was a meeting between Department for Transport officials and BAA, at which they discussed how to ratchet down forecasts of the environmental impact. The Sunday Times, which revealed this matter, said that the civil servant involved had sought clarification from BAA on what data could be

I raised this matter before, as did the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), and no attempt was made to correct my account, so it was accepted as fact by the Government of the day. There seems to be no attempt to correct it now, so the hand-in-glove relationship between the Government and BAA continues to this day.

In common with the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), I do not blame BAA; it has a business to look after and is lobbying as effectively as it can—very effectively, in fact, as it has got the Government on board adopting its own policy. I blame the Government, and I ask the House this question: if BAA had written the Secretary of State’s statement today, in what way, if any, would it have differed from the statement that was actually read out? I suggest that BAA did write it.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): In respect of allegations of collusion with BAA, may I reiterate a point of which the hon. Gentleman is well aware? We were very clear in the 2003 White Paper that we would seek the assistance of the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS, as well as BAA, to ensure that we produced a consultation document that could be put to the public with confidence. It was also clear that it would have to comply with any regulations that we set down. The key word in the hon. Gentleman’s comments is “compliance”. BAA will have to comply with the requirements that will be set down if the third runway goes ahead.

Norman Baker: There is a clear difference between consulting individuals and bodies with a perfectly proper interest in the future of air transport and stripping out inconvenient details in order to “achieve compliance”, which is what the Government have done here.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) referred earlier to his time as aviation Minister. He said in 2003 that

and that

That appears to be absolutely the case. Other elements in our society have learned to live within their carbon footprint to some extent. Predict and provide has been abandoned for the road network, albeit not entirely, but it seems that the aviation industry, rather than cutting its cloth accordingly and changing its operating procedures to improve its service, simply wants more of what it already has. If it wants more concrete, the Government simply say, “Yes, how much do you want?” That appears to be the policy that the Government have now embarked upon.

Let me remind the House what a former Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers), said in 2001. He said that the Government had endorsed the public inquiry inspector’s recommendation that terminal 5 be given the go-ahead, but with a cap on the number of flights. That would rule out a third runway. I agree with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, and others who have spoken, that that is a broken promise. We were given clear assurances that if permission was given for one piece of infrastructure, that would be the end—but like some kind of drug addict, the Government come back for more and more each time.

Graham Stringer: I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman’s views on transport issues, about which he thinks deeply. Does he accept, however, that if there is constraint on Heathrow and the rest of the aviation industry in this country, we will export pollution and jobs and will not control pollution?

Norman Baker: No, I do not accept that. First, if the Government succeed in including aviation in the European emissions trading scheme at a sensible level, that will act as a price mechanism to discourage some of the flights that are taking place. Secondly, there is a clear opportunity for a modal shift to high-speed rail. I do not know why the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), a former transport Minister, shakes his head. His former
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Department is working on this at the moment. It is possible for high-speed rail to move people not simply to domestic destinations but, with the development of increasingly open access, to European destinations as well.

I simply do not accept that there will be the automatic transfer that the hon. Gentleman has described. If I may say so, it might as well be argued that we should still be manufacturing torture equipment, on the basis that if we did not, someone else would.

David Taylor: I am attracted by the hon. Gentleman’s ideas about demand management. Does he not think that a simple form of demand management at Heathrow would be withdrawing the landing slots for short-haul flights where viable alternatives exist? Would that not provide a stimulus for investment in those alternative routes?

Norman Baker: It might well do so.

Another factor is the price of travel. According to a parliamentary answer that I received from the Government—of course, we must believe Government statistics—the average cost of a one-way flight in the United Kingdom has declined from £205 in 1997 to £103 today. In other words, the cost of domestic flights has halved. Meanwhile, the cost of travelling by rail, which is much more carbon-friendly, has increased by more than the rate of inflation, and the Government refuse to rule out further above-inflation increases. They have stuck to the RPI plus 1 formula—RPI plus 3 for those who happen to live in the wrong part of the country—driving up rail prices while air prices are cut. That is not a sensible climate change policy, by any stretch of the imagination.

Climate change is an important issue, which was rightly raised by the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers). I am pleased that the Government have introduced a climate change Bill, and I congratulate them on the fact that ours is the first country in the world to introduce such legislation. That is a matter for consensus. I am equally delighted that the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley)—along with others, including my colleagues—has helpfully managed to persuade the Government to increase their 60 per cent. target to an 80 per cent. target.

All that is good news. We need an 80 per cent. target, because the climate change challenge that we face is enormous. But how can it possibly square with the construction of an extra runway at Heathrow? How does it square with the predict and provide policy that the Government seem so determined to maintain? How does it square with the additional flights, increased pollution and increased carbon emissions that will inevitably accompany an increase in the number of flights from Heathrow? The Government are talking about almost doubling the number of flights. How does that square with an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions?

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): As a south Essex Member, I strongly opposed the proposal for an airport at Cliffe, not least because of its environmental impact. Equally, I oppose the fantasy airport in the
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Thames estuary. What is the Liberal Democrats’ position on the idea of an airport in the Thames estuary? Are they for it or agin it?

Norman Baker: We are all against it. We have no mayoral candidates, or anyone else, in favour of it. We are against any expansion of aviation in the south-east: we believe that there is no environmental case for it whatsoever.

The issue of high-speed rail has been raised in a positive way by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and me, and in a sort of “grunt, grunt” way by one or two Labour Members who do not agree that it has a role to play. Well, it has got a role to play. First, let us consider carbon. Eurostar’s externally validated figures demonstrate that the environmental cost in terms of carbon of travelling from London to Paris by train is about a tenth of what it would be by air.

The Department for Transport fiddled some other figures earlier—that was the fault not of the present Secretary of State, but of one of his predecessors. The original campaign for high-speed rail was discredited in part because we were told it was not particularly carbon-friendly, but an examination of the figures for that shows that the Department had assumed a speed for high-speed rail that would have been impossible and that no one was projecting, and a load factor so low as to suggest that the train was almost empty. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Department’s figures demonstrated a poor carbon case. If sensible and realistic parameters are applied, however, it can be demonstrated that there is a massive carbon saving.

We know that plenty of journeys could switch from Heathrow. There are up to 60 flights a day to Paris, which is more than to any other destination even though there is a very good connecting train service, and there are still 36 flights a day to Manchester, despite the improved west coast main line, and other such regional UK destinations could also be considered in this regard. Even if the high-speed line went only to Manchester or Leeds—although I would like it to go further than that, up to Scotland—there would be a significant saving in journey time for Glasgow and Edinburgh, which would make the rail line more attractive all the way down its route.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman on the high-speed line, and there is no stronger advocate of high-speed trains than myself, but does he not believe that the idea of a spur to Heathrow is a red herring to help get the Conservatives out of the hole they have dug themselves into?

Norman Baker: Since my party was the first to advocate a spur to Heathrow, I am not sure I entirely agree with that intervention.

Heathrow will carry on as a major airport. Despite all the doom and gloom from the Government, it will not suddenly shut down if it does not get a third runway. It will carry on at, or near, capacity. We need to deal with the situation of passengers arriving at Heathrow who currently find it most convenient to transfer to another aircraft, so that in future they transfer to rail. That requires plugging in the high-speed network with
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Heathrow in a way that facilitates such journeys, so there is one more leg to go. That would be a sensible way forward.

The Secretary of State was keen to talk about the 2003 White Paper, but, as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) pointed out, so much has changed over the last five years. After all, the Government’s 2003 energy policy was against nuclear power, and we are now told that it is the best thing since sliced bread. They have managed to change on that in the past five years, but they have not changed on aviation. Why not?

Mr. Gummer: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is inconceivable that this Government would have produced the Climate Change Bill in 2003, and does that not underline exactly the change that has taken place?

Norman Baker: Exactly so. A lot of things have changed since 2003, including that a much stronger case is now being put for high-speed rail by Network Rail and others, which means there is a capacity for modal shift that was not anticipated. I do not mind the Government being committed to a 30-year long-term air strategy—the Secretary of State said it would be long term—but why does the rail strategy run out in 2014? Why are there no plans beyond 2014 to improve our railways? We have some longer platforms and trains now, but there are no plans beyond 2014—no lines opening, no commitment yet to high-speed rail, no electrification. A lot of things have been talked about, but nothing has been delivered on beyond 2014. Why is it right for air to have a long-term strategy, but not railways? That shows the unbalanced way in which the Department for Transport has addressed transport policy over the years: it has been roads, good; air, good; rail, bad; bus, bad. That simplistic way of looking at matters accurately reflects how the Department has dealt with transport policy.

Mr. Tom Harris: I have been trying to resist the temptation of imagining that I am still the Minister responsible for the railways, but since I was the Minister for the railways when the White Paper was produced, I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the 2014 forecast is purely and simply to allow a spending programme to be set for that control period. The hon. Gentleman knows that is the case, and he also knows that this is the first Government who have set out such long-term spending plans for the railways, and that the White Paper included a 30-year strategy for the railways as well as the high-level output specification to 2014.

Norman Baker: 2014 is not a long-term date, and there is nothing in the 30-year strategy beyond 2014. The hon. Gentleman was a very good Minister; he was able to make a threadbare and hopeless case sound convincing, so I am unclear why the Government did not keep him on the Front Bench.

Mr. Brazier: I join the hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the former Minister. Would he also like to make the point that as a recently as March, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) confirmed that not a single official in the Department was working on high-speed rail?

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