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Of course, it believes that: I doubt that there has ever been an economic case for a major infrastructure project that Friends of the Earth believed was not flawed. George Monbiot, the esteemed environmental journalist, said on 9 October 2007 in an article in The Guardian under the headline, “Bring on the Recession”:

To paraphrase what was said by a former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, that is saying that joblessness and unemployment are a price well worth paying to stop climate change. That would be an entirely unacceptable position for any hon. Member to take, as I do not believe that economic growth can be anything other than good for my constituents. I am sure that most hon. Members believe the same.

I wanted to contribute to the debate because, as the Minister who took the Crossrail Bill through the House—

Graham Stringer: Shame.

Mr. Harris: I hope that the House does not adopt that particular view.

The Bill was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), and I had the privilege of taking the measure through its remaining stages in the
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House until it received Royal Assent earlier this year. I have strong reservations regarding the effect of the cancellation of the third runway on Crossrail, which will link Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west to Kent in the east, and will provide an essential link to the City of London from Heathrow. In recognition of the importance of that link, the City will fund up to a third of the £16 billion capital cost. It is a robust funding package, but it is not immune to external factors, including any Government decision to say no to a third runway.

If the Government expressed such a lack of confidence in Heathrow’s future, how would the confidence of City institutions in Crossrail be affected? Is the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) aware of the unhappiness in the business community about her party’s policy for Heathrow? I will say something about her solution to capacity constraints at the airport.

Lest the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) be allowed to have the last word as far as my position on high-speed rail is concerned, I make it clear that I strongly support high-speed rail—for the right reason. I am not in favour of it for environmental reasons in particular, but it has a part to play in the long-term prosperity of this country. It can provide extra capacity, and, if we get High Speed 2 and, I hope, High Speeds 3 and 4 up and running over the next decades, it will be of economic benefit to the whole country. But can we separate the argument for high-speed rail from the argument for the third runway? If we are to propose a high-speed rail network, let us propose it and work towards it. I hope that the next Government—of whichever colour, although I hope that they will be Labour—will begin the planning process for a new high-speed rail network.

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Harris: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall try to make progress.

May we please, however, separate the argument for high-speed rail from the arguments for the third runway? No one believes the Conservative claim that a high-speed rail network will have any noticeable effect whatever on capacity at Heathrow.

Mr. Brazier: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with respect, although he has not explained why he said, in answer to a written question in March, that there was not a single official in his Department working on high-speed rail. Will he not accept that other countries recognise that high-speed rail can replace aviation, that Air France now operates train franchises between Paris and Brussels, which is a step in that direction, and that it is a case not just of replacing many internal flights to places such as Manchester and Leeds, but of replacing some international flights to places such as Brussels and Paris, to which Heathrow could be linked?

Mr. Harris: I admire the hon. Gentleman’s optimism, but, as the Secretary of State said, if 100 per cent. of all domestic regional flights were moved en masse to a high-speed rail network, there would be only a 2 per cent. improvement in capacity at Heathrow. The hon. Member for Lewes told me earlier in an aside across the
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Floor of the House that his calculations for a 26 per cent. shift from flights to high-speed rail assumed that people would use high-speed rail to reach European destinations. But that would happen only if every single person was forced—against their will—to use high-speed rail instead of flights to reach European destinations. I understand why the Liberals, being a liberal party, might want to force people to do that, but I am amazed that the Conservative party has put itself in the position where it suggests that we need a 100 per cent. shift to high-speed rail by everyone who would normally use those flights.

Mr. Brazier: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Harris: Will the hon. Gentleman mind if I do not? I have only five minutes left, and he may have his chance to give a winding-up speech later, although I shall not be present to hear him, as I said.

Further to the point that I made to the shadow Transport Secretary, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, I must say that with so many regional flights to Scottish airports from Heathrow, it is amazing that the Conservative plans for high-speed rail do not include running it north of the border. On a Thursday night, when I leave this place, I should be more than happy to take a high-speed train to Glasgow, but it seems that the Conservatives do not have enough confidence in their planning ability or, indeed, in their electoral prospects north of the border to invest in a high-speed line to Glasgow.

The Conservative party knows how long it took to get the Crossrail Act 2008 on to the statute book. It took three years of parliamentary time, and we still have not started laying any lines and the first Crossrail services will not start until 2017. If the Conservative party is truly serious about relieving congestion at Heathrow, it will have to come up with a solution that is slightly more short term or medium term than a high-speed rail network, because how long will a 300-mile or 400-mile network take to plan and to go through the hybrid Bill process over goodness knows how many years? That is before we have laid a single piece of line. We are talking about decades before a high-speed rail network would be up and running, and the idea that Heathrow and its capacity can wait that long is fantasy politics.

I strongly suspect a deep level of cynicism from the Conservative party that is more about winning seats to the west of London at the next general election than it is about any concern at all for climate change. I have spoken off the record to several Conservative MPs—including at least one member of the party’s Front-Bench team, although they were not from its Transport team—who agree that the Conservative policy of opposing the third runway is disastrous. If the Conservative party goes into the next election with that commitment in its manifesto, it will have proved that it is not serious about growing this country’s economy.

6.45 pm

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I shall keep my comments as sharp and as brief as I can and address four issues: the economic concerns that I have; the concern about the concept of a hub being undermined if Heathrow is not expanded; the quality of life for people around Heathrow and in my constituency; and, why the other options have not been considered in full.

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We live in exceptional times. We have recognised the environmental impact of climate change, we face a banking crisis and we will face an economic recession or, at least, a serious downturn. The question is how painful and deep that downturn will be. Under the circumstances, it cannot just be “business as usual” when it comes to Heathrow expansion; something fundamental has changed over the past few years since the White Paper and, certainly, within the past 12 to 14 months. We must therefore re-examine the case for expansion and challenge the assumptions that underpin our thinking about the creation of a third runway at Heathrow. From what I have heard from the Government Front-Bench team today, I must say that their ideas are painfully stuck in the past, they have not been updated as the facts have changed and there is now a strong demand for the renewal of their thinking.

When the assumptions about economic growth and whether the runway would impact on the environment have been swept away, when the assurances that boom and bust would not return have been exploded, and when the notion that economic growth is inevitable has been turned on its head, it is necessary for us to consider the impact of aviation before rushing into another costly mistake that is out of kilter with the modern world.

Let us be clear: with a third runway, the quality of life of millions of people will be at risk. But before I reach those concerns, I shall make two quick points, so that I do not end up taking interventions suggesting that I am arguing for Heathrow to close or for it to be undermined. First, Heathrow provides a wonderful level of jobs, contributes greatly to the economy and, along with the other four airports around London, is important in our international framework. Nobody in this debate is arguing for Heathrow to be reduced in size or fundamentally undermined.

Secondly, from my personal perspective, terminal 5—despite the massive teething troubles—was great, incorporating the idea that if we want to make Heathrow better, why not create a new terminal that makes life easier and smoother for passengers? I am sure that many other things can be done at Heathrow to make travelling far better for those who pass through it or fly directly from or to it.

I turn to my concerns. First, on the economy, The Guardian suggested in one of its reports that there will be about a 2 per cent. reduction in the number of flights during this winter alone at Heathrow, amounting to 25 flights a day. The argument has been made that even if there is a downturn or a recession, we will still have to take long-term decisions, and that is absolutely right. However, if we have a three-year or four-year slowdown or a slight decrease in activity, it will nudge forward the point at which any project needs to be started. There have been delays, and I take the point about Crossrail, so we need to make up our minds fairly briskly. However, we should not ignore the fact that a slowdown in economic growth delays the necessity for, and start date of, further developments.

As an economics graduate, I must say that the Oxford Economic Forecasting report, which I mentioned earlier in an intervention, missed three or four key variables that we must consider when assessing the economic impact of an airport, the economic impact on the take at the Exchequer and the overall value to the economy.
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If we ignore the money spent abroad by people leaving the UK relative to the money spent here by people who fly in, we clearly ignore a vast sum. That fact seriously undermines the report.

David Taylor: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue. In fact, in the last year for which data are available, foreign visitors who flew to the UK spent £11 billion and UK citizens spent £26 billion abroad on holiday. The key point is that the gap is steadily growing. Any suggestion that Heathrow expansion would be good for British tourism at home is absolutely barmy.

Adam Afriyie: The hon. Gentleman has made the point well. That was just one of the variables—a multi-billion-pound variable—completely missing from the Oxford Economic Forecasting report. We have to take a lot of that report with a pinch of salt, especially considering who commissioned it. I shall not go through the details of the CE Delft response to the report, but it undermines many of the main assertions and assumptions in it.

I also want to challenge the idea that if we do not significantly increase the number of flights in and out of Heathrow, the concept of Heathrow being a hub will be undermined. I would put it this way: it is the five airports in the south-east and around the London area that constitute a hub. A few routes or destinations may have been lost in the past decade or 15 years, but where is the model that demonstrates the extent to which it is no longer viable for Heathrow to be a hub or part of a five-airport hub? I have even asked BAA to show me the evidence, but so far nobody has been able to present the relevant mathematical model or the relevant evidence from other places around the world. Again, the challenge is still there, but the facts and the model to demonstrate the extent to which Heathrow’s or the UK’s status might be undermined are not.

Mr. Brazier: My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. People would be very pressed to produce such evidence, given that a pair of slots can change hands for £30 million.

Adam Afriyie: Price is a great arbiter and if the price is going up, there is not a major issue today. However, I am open-minded; I would welcome the evidence and modelling, for which I have asked on four or five occasions.

Mr. Hoon: I just want to deal with the intervention made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). The hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) is an economist. The fact that scarce slots are changing hands at high prices indicates a lack of capacity. An economist would confirm that, would he not?

Adam Afriyie: Yes, but it also indicates that people are willing to pay the price. A market can operate at any price. I shall leave that issue there; I have only a few minutes left.

The third issue that I want to consider is the quality of life for people around the airport. There is no doubt that the quality of life for those woken by night flights is ruined. To be slightly contrary on the issue, I should say that if people purchased houses under an existing flight path, they knew what they were buying into. The great injustice of expansion at Heathrow, however, is against
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the hundreds of thousands—potentially millions—of people who did not purchase houses under flight paths but who will live under them. That gross injustice needs to be taken into account.

I should like to put on record once again that the noise of a single aircraft will wake people at night and disturb the environment during the day. The issue is not only about the average noise levels across an area; the specific noise of each individual aircraft also needs to be taken into account. There is also the traffic, certainly around the M25, that interferes with the daily lives of my constituents in Windsor and those of the constituents of many other hon. Members. I turn to the flight limit of 480,000; if we proceed with the Heathrow expansion, that figure will be blown out of the water. There will be a 40 to 50 per cent. increase in flights and the Government will find an immense amount of active public campaigning to ensure that the limit is not undermined. Pollution is also a factor, of course.

I want to say a few words about the alternatives. Given the change in economic circumstances and the understanding and acknowledgment of climate change, this is surely the moment to step back, take a breath, think about the issue for a month or two and take the changing facts into account. Some Members have been having a bit of fun, laughing at high-speed rail links and asking how long they will take to build and how difficult they are to bring about. Actually, it is a serious matter. We could have a strategy based on very-high-speed rail links throughout the United Kingdom, perhaps including Scotland.

Opposition Members have been doing our best to work out a better way to tackle climate change and our transport challenges. With the rest of the British public, we are incredibly frustrated and annoyed that the Government have not stepped forward with anything that would do that. We are working with limited resources. Rather than lambasting what we are trying to do, the Government should get on board and put forward their own proposals as soon as possible.

I would like better noise and fuel efficiency standards for aircraft. I think that they are coming through, but we may be able to do something to lay out the longer-term framework for the type of aircraft that we would welcome into Heathrow and other airports in the south-east.

Finally, I turn to the new airport that has been proposed, tentatively, by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. He is clearly passionate about the concept. Surely, once again, we should take a pause, step back and have another look at such alternatives. Technology has moved on; there has been a lot of innovation in the aviation, construction and engineering sectors. There may now be possibilities that did not exist five or 10 years ago, when they were last considered.

It feels to me, my constituents and those of many other hon. Members that the Government are riding roughshod over the views of local people and the mood of the country. They have neither taken into account the changing economic circumstances nor adequately considered the alternatives. The facts are changing, and I urge the Government to pause and take the opportunity to change their mind.

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6.57 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has answered one of the questions that I was going to ask him. It was about how he travelled when he was a Member of the European Parliament. He was lucky in being able to travel from East Midlands airport. I live 20 minutes from Cardiff airport, but when I was a Euro-MP I had to travel every week, backwards and forwards, to Heathrow. Reasons such as that are among the many reasons Members other than those with constituencies in or around London are interested in what happens at Heathrow.

The debate has been interesting and I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to the various points of view. However, I am surprised that people have not made the case more strongly for regional airports and their further development. Cardiff airport is just down the road from where I live. Every morning in London I wake up at about half-past 5, for the usual reason—noise overhead. I am arguing for the expansion of Cardiff airport, but I realised this weekend, as I was lying in bed at home in Wales, that I woke at exactly the same time, because there is aircraft noise overhead there as well. Nevertheless, I want to argue for the future of regional airports, because air transport in the UK is over-centralised. Those who have been Euro-MPs will realise that more and more. Compared with other European countries, there is over-centralisation in this country.

The 2003 White Paper contained a specific undertaking to encourage the growth of regional airports in order to support regional economic development, provide passengers with greater choice, and reduce pressures on more overcrowded airports in the south-east. It also set out the general importance of regional airports to regional economies. Encouraging people to fly on direct services from their local airport rather than making a long journey to a hub airport not only reduces emissions but can reduce travel time for business and leisure users. For example, the airline Flybe estimates that the 900,000 extra passengers that it carries to and from Southampton airport in a two-year period saves 17 million car miles per year. That is an important consideration.

The 2003 White Paper proposed 33 per cent. higher volumes of air traffic in Cardiff if south-east capacity were constrained and there were no additional runway. The 2006 progress report on the White Paper says that the policy remains to make the best use of existing airport capacity. Cardiff airport has capacity available at all times, including peak times. The other week, on my way to Geneva, I was held up at Heathrow for three and a half hours because of fog, yet my own local airport is practically fog-free all year round. That is an additional irritation and an additional argument for the development of Cardiff-Wales airport.

Mr. Brazier: The hon. Lady is making a powerful point. Does she agree that the astonishing success of the Boeing Dreamliner, with nearly 850 orders having already been placed for an aircraft not yet in flight, is a sign that, as Boeing and the market believe, we are moving towards point-to-point movements between regional airports rather than just the old hub and spoke model?

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