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11 Nov 2008 : Column 684

I ought to say something about the environment. I would like to say a lot, but Mr. Deputy Speaker urged us to be as brief as we could, so I shall limit myself to a couple of points. My approach is that it should not be expansion at any price. Quite properly, the Government have set out conditions, and if they cannot be met, there cannot be another runway. I have never said other than that, and I do not want to be misunderstood either here or in my constituency.

However, in my 21 years of representing Spelthorne, the environmental problems caused by Heathrow have got better. Noise has reduced dramatically: since 1998, BA has halved the noise impact of its aircraft at Heathrow, and emissions have also been reduced dramatically in my time, with fuel efficiency doubling over the past 40 years. The improvements are set to continue. The new Boeing Dreamliner will be 75 per cent. quieter than the 747s it will replace, and Rolls-Royce tells me it is confident that by 2020 its new generation of engines will reduce NOx emissions by 80 per cent. Things are getting better.

Again because of time constraints, I shall limit myself to just one comment on global warming, although there is a lot that I could say about what I have heard in the course of the afternoon. I hope we all agree that we have to get the debate on global warming into perspective. UK civil aviation produces only 6 per cent. of the UK’s greenhouse gases; it is not the demon that some people want us to believe it is. Only 2 per cent. of the UK’s transport sector emissions—that is, everything produced by our transport sector—comes from civil aviation.

The global perspective is crucial. The UK’s total emissions production is just 1.6 per cent. of the world’s output. By 2050, civil aviation worldwide will produce only 5 per cent. of the world’s total emissions. That is the perspective that we need to understand. We also have to understand that this is a global issue. Punishing ourselves by damaging our aviation industry and our businesses unilaterally will not do us any good, but it will make our competitors very happy indeed.

Finally, I want to say a few words about Heathrow, my constituency and the financial crisis that faces us all. Some 26 per cent. of my economically active constituents depend directly on Heathrow for their jobs, and redundancies have begun already. For example, it has been announced that some 450 managers will be out of their jobs at Heathrow by the end of the year. The success of regional and national economies owes a great deal to Heathrow keeping its status as Europe’s No. 1 hub.

The key position that Heathrow holds in the global aviation network is under threat, and decline has already started. That is why I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron): we Conservatives have a moral obligation to help people who are at risk of losing their jobs. I believe that my constituents face a clear choice—another runway, or redundancy. I know what I would prefer.

My constituents sent me here to speak up for them. I know it is not popular in some quarters, but speak up for them I will. I hope that that is what I have done today.

6.13 pm

Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I want to make a few points almost at random, but I shall start by noting that my friend the hon. Member for
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Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said that planes are somehow getting less noisy. For people in my constituency, the difference is like getting hit on the head very hard as opposed to extremely hard. It is impossible for them to live proper lives, or to enjoy time out in their gardens. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman supports my opposition to the ending of runway alternation, but the planes are not really any quieter.

I agree with every word that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said. I have nothing to gain in election terms from this debate. I am often told by BAA that most of my constituents support expansion, although others tell me differently. In any case, I do not think that this should be a political issue, so I shall say what I always say in these debates.

Along with my special friend who is Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen), up to now I have always supported Heathrow expansion. We both supported terminal 5, but there has to be a limit at some point. Whatever the hon. Member for Spelthorne may say, there really is no room for another runway on the south side of the airport. In fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has said so many times, there is no room for another runway on the north side of the airport either.

I want to speak up for my constituents, many of whom work at Heathrow and depend on it for their living. We understand the economic benefits extremely well, and my constituents have given a tremendous amount to the aviation industry. Many of them came from the Punjab in the late 1950s and early 1960s and, regardless of whether they were professional people, in the main they worked on the ramps at Heathrow airport. They deserve better than the treatment that they are getting now, as we seem to have little concern about the effects of increased noise.

The ending of runway alternation will make life impossible for some of my constituents, who will never be able to enjoy time in their gardens because planes will be flying over their houses continuously. There will be no day free of that, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seemed to say that the ending of runway alternation—what is called mixed mode—would lead to there being a few more seconds between each aeroplane. He seemed to suggest that that would be OK, but I return to my point about the difference between being hit on the head very or extremely hard. It is impossible for people to cope when they are being hit on the head by aircraft noise every day, with no break. The people who have given so much to the aviation industry deserve better than that.

My constituents also deserve better transport. I have said this many times, but they complain as much about the traffic congestion around Heathrow as they do about noise, but the industry wants to spend nothing on that, even though it would improve people’s daily lives. They deserve better, and we cannot keep on ignoring them time and again.

I am a friend of the air transport industry, and I still do work to help with various issues. For instance, we are trying to limit the weight of individual pieces of baggage to 23 kg because, whatever the House may have been told about mechanisation, each suitcase has to be handled by a person. It is important to understand that, although
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the airport has modern systems, all suitcases—and they can be very heavy—are packed away into aircraft holds by people who have to bend double to do so.

While I am on this subject, I should like to pay tribute to someone who I presume is beginning to come to the end of his career. Sir Michael Bishop has made a great contribution to the aviation industry. I do not get a lot of joy from the fact that BMI has been sold to Lufthansa, but I want to pay tribute to a man who has given so much of his life to the air transport industry. That is a lot more than most of the chief executives of the large companies give, and that is why they never worry about taking long-term decisions. Most chief executives believe that short-term decisions about profit over the next five or six years are all that really matters, but Sir Michael Bishop has given a lot to the industry.

The economic arguments for the expansion of Heathrow sound very attractive. Is the airport completely full or not? I wish that I could hold a competition about that here this afternoon. A week on Saturday, I am taking one of my grandsons to see a football game at Middlesbrough. I am taking him on an aeroplane from Heathrow airport—not because I want to, as I always go by train, but because his parents do not like to fly, so the flight will be a special treat for him.

I wonder how many hon. Members can guess how much the trip from Heathrow to Teesside will cost? I ask that question to illustrate the fact that Heathrow is not really full. In fact, the trip will cost £4 each, which shows that another runway at Heathrow is absolutely unnecessary. The seats are being filled to display to everybody that Heathrow is full, and the slots that are worth so much money have to be justified so that airlines can hold on to them. Obviously, the price is higher with tax, but £4 will be what BMI gets for tickets on that flight.

People have said that it would be an absolute disaster if Heathrow did not expand; I think that the hon. Member for Spelthorne mentioned that point of view. The airline industry keeps telling us that we need the economic expansion, and says that the expansion and the jobs are important, but why is British Airways looking to shift its engineering work overseas? We are told by the industry that the jobs are important, but it is happy to shift the really high-paid, high-skilled jobs overseas to save a little money. However, the attitude is that it is okay to make more noise for my constituents.

I have already said that it does not really make a lot of difference whether one is hit on the head very hard or extremely hard. I repeat that when runway alternation ends, people will never again be able to enjoy their garden in the spring or summer. As for planning their lives outside the house, they may be able to dig their garden while the planes are going over incessantly, but they cannot enjoy their garden. That is too much to ask of people who have given their whole lives to the air transport industry. It is repeated time and again—we have heard it said this afternoon—that planes are now a lot quieter. That is just not the case. It is absolutely unacceptable.

The informal Cranford agreement has existed since the late ’50s. My constituents are very close to the take-off point on the northern runway. That is why, unless it is an emergency, planes do not take off towards the east; they use the southern runway. I know that that gives a lot of pain to people on the west side of Heathrow,
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because planes come in to land along the same line, all day, every day, when the wind comes from the east. People are therefore unhappy on the west side. It is impossible to live a reasonable sort of life close to Heathrow. The Cranford agreement will be done away with as part of the plans before us, and that is completely unacceptable.

The economic situation has changed dramatically. Will the tremendous demand for air transport continue, or not? Some people say that the jobs will go, and others disagree, but if the economic situation has changed dramatically, let us take account of that when making decisions about Heathrow airport. We all understand the seriousness of sustainable development considerations much more than we did five or 10 years ago. Let me make a simple point that I have made before: if there is to be a contraction of air transport need, we will not need expansion at Heathrow. However, if need continues to increase year on year, there will be less need for Heathrow to be a hub, as there will be enough flights from Manchester and other regional airports to justify flights from those regional airports to many other destinations around the world. That would take away the need for people to travel to Heathrow.

We have not reviewed the situation in the light of the changed circumstances. I ask the Secretary of State and those who will take the decisions to look again at the likely scenario. The Secretary of State said that we are talking about long-term decisions. It will be the first time that the air transport industry has ever made a long-term decision; as I have mentioned, chief executives usually stay in their position for a few years, and then disappear.

Mr. Hoon: I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Sir Michael Bishop, whom I have known since my early days as a Member of the European Parliament. May I gently mention one aspect of BMI’s policy that rather makes my point, instead of my hon. Friend’s? When I was an MEP, there was a direct service from East Midlands airport to Heathrow, which allowed me to travel on to Strasbourg and Brussels. BMI withdrew that service because it had a limited number of slots. It used those slots for a service to Frankfurt—a service that was already well provided by BA and Lufthansa. The consequence is that now, anyone who wishes to travel from the east midlands to a connecting destination almost certainly does so by road. That does not help our environment, and it does not particularly help our economy.

Alan Keen: I shall respond to that by making a slightly different point. Why should we want people from Teesside to come to Heathrow to travel on somewhere else? Sustainable development is a global problem. We should not look at it purely as an issue for UK industry. Why should we not encourage people from Teesside, Tyneside and Scotland to travel to Europe to pick up flights to somewhere else in the world? Why should they have to come to Heathrow? That is a very narrow view of the air transport industry.

6.25 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I shall try to be as brief as possible. I completely share the views of my neighbour and, dare I say, comrade in arms, the hon.
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Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). Certainly, on this issue, we are comrades. He rightly said that this is far too important a subject for us to get into petty, party political arguments on it. I have to say that I was extremely disappointed by the manner in which the Secretary of State made his speech. I do not think that it did the debate any good at all. I am sure that if he reflects on it—perhaps I will buy him the DVD so that he can watch it—he will realise that he got it badly wrong.

Luckily, the debate has improved. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington made a wonderful speech; some of us often hear him speak on the subject. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire); he perhaps made the speech that the Secretary of State should have made. He made points that I do not agree with, and points that I do agree with, but he made a well-reasoned argument, from his sincere point of view.

My constituents, and many of the constituents of other hon. Members present, are effectively living on death row. To many people who live further away, that may seem a bit of an exaggeration, but it is not. What is proposed will completely alter our constituents’ lives. Of course this is a national issue, but we have to consider what sort of nation we want to live in. Do we live in a Stalinist state, or Ceausescu’s Romania, where people are just removed—taken out of their homes, and moved somewhere else—as part of what is ostensibly a state project?

Earlier today, there was a debate in Westminster Hall about housing provision in London. All Members who attended agreed that there is a desperate shortage of housing in London, but we are talking about uprooting people from 4,000 homes. There is nowhere for those people to go. That has not been thought out at all. I have repeatedly tried to find out from the Department for Transport whether it has plans. It does not, because there can be no plans. It has no idea where those 4,000 homes will be put. Do we live in a country where those people’s lives are treated as being of no significance, so that we can carry out a scheme that we are not even sure about? As was rightly said, it is not just a runway, but another airport—a Gatwick—that will be tacked on to the side of Heathrow.

I feel very strongly about the issue, and many of my constituents, and the constituents of other Members—my fellow residents—are deeply concerned and angry. They sometimes wonder, “What is the point?”, because there are consultations and meetings, but nothing happens. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington spoke of the impact on young people in their schools, and on old people, who expected to live out the last few years of their lives in the area. They will be drummed out of their homes, and God knows where they will have to go. They will not be near their loved ones, whether those loved ones are alive or dead. As we heard, we do not know whether the cemeteries are safe. Centuries-old communities and buildings will be destroyed, and we do not even know that there is an argument in favour of development. Increasingly, I think that the business argument has been destroyed, and I am delighted that my hon. Friends have seen sense.

I do not take delight, however, in the fact that it is my party, together with the Liberal Democrats, against the Government, because I want the Government to understand
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that they are wrong. Many of their hon. Members realise that. I am not sure all the alternatives—I do not necessarily mean location—have been considered, and we must look seriously at what we expect from aviation. Can it continue to grow endlessly, year after year? I know how important this is: air quality is an issue of huge importance for my residents, and we have health problems. Many people who are much more capable than an old retailer know about climate change, but if I try to explain to my constituents the importance of adapting their lifestyle to ensure that they adapt to climate change by fitting energy-efficient light bulbs or lagging their property—those things are all good measures—they say to me, “What is the point? They are going to put a huge great airport down there and increase aviation emissions endlessly.”

I shall end by failing to be consensual in one respect. The consultation document was extremely flawed, and I would say to the Secretary of State that it was a dodgy dossier. May I take him back to those years when we were looking for weapons of mass destruction? For my constituents, potential weapons of mass destruction can be found on their doorstep, as homes and people’s lives will be destroyed. When we had the dodgy dossier before, I decided that I did not believe in it. I had to follow my conscience, and I walked through the Division Lobby, shoulder to shoulder with many Members who have now spoken. If my party had not taken this decision about the expansion, I would have taken the same decision to go against it, despite my position as one of those ghastly individuals who tell colleagues how to vote, because it means more to me and my constituents than anything else. I hope that the Secretary of State will allow a vote in the House, and I hope to see many of those old comrades walking through the Lobby shoulder to shoulder with my hon. Friends and me. If we do not win that vote, I expect to see them with me in front of the bulldozers.

6.33 pm

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): May I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for my first opportunity to address the House in a debate since leaving ministerial office? I am reminded once again of what an immense privilege it is to do so, whatever geographical position one speaks from. May I offer my apologies to you and the House because I will not be present for the winding-up speeches due to family commitments? I hope that the House will understand that.

I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) because—and I agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—his comments were extremely well thought out and expressed. I genuinely hope that his party listens to the arguments that he made. This is a not just a debate about the case against the third runway at Heathrow; it is an argument about the case for or against Heathrow itself. We can all argue about the economic factors that will affect Heathrow’s long-term economic health, and everyone will take a different view. My strong view is that without a third runway, Heathrow will be left to wither on the vine, and it will cease to be the economic powerhouse for the country.

One of the arguments against the third runway was expressed in yesterday’s Evening Standard by—God help me—Andrew Gilligan, which is probably reason enough
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to go against it. It suggested that, in anticipation of an economic downturn and a recession over the next year or so, the case for such a runway was not valid. My vision—and the Government’s vision—for the British economy is slightly more long-term than next year, and I have more optimism and more confidence in our economy. We should plan for the next decade at Heathrow, not just for the next year.

Adam Afriyie: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that Heathrow would somehow fall apart if it did not expand. Where is the evidence for that assertion, as one cannot make policy or support a position unless there is clear evidence that without further expansion Heathrow will disappear? That is an assertion, not an evidence-based statement.

Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman is right to a certain extent. We all have our own view on this, and we all have to make our own decision about what will happen to Heathrow in the longer term if expansion is not allowed. From my experience of Heathrow, and from speaking to the people who use it, it appears that the business community is running out of patience with the airport. Business people will tolerate delays and cancellations at Heathrow for only so long. It is only a matter of time before that business goes elsewhere in Europe, and not to this country unless there is the prospect of serious expansion. I accept that the hon. Gentleman takes a different view, and he is entitled to do so. However, I hope that he accepts that those of us who believe that the absence of a third runway will lead Heathrow to wither on the vine must follow our conscience and adopt whichever economic remedies present themselves.

Today, I received a Friends of the Earth briefing that stated that

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