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There is a way for the Government to get off this hook by which they do not have to cede the economic argument—which does exist, and I have not attempted to take it apart today—about the importance of Heathrow and the need for it to expand. Their previous statements made it clear that the environmental and access considerations would be paramount. Those preconditions have not been met. We also know that technology is advancing—BAA makes that case—and there may well come a point when air travel is not so environmentally damaging and does not produce as many emissions as at present. As technology advances and aircraft are manufactured that are capable of carrying more people around with fewer flight movements and less disruption, there may be a case for a third runway at some point in the future.

At this stage, however, why does the Secretary of State not sign up to the following three simple principles? First, there will be no expansion of Heathrow airport and no third runway without a vote in this House.
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Secondly, until we are able to take advantage of advancing technology to address the emissions issues, there will be no decision on a third runway. Thirdly, will the Secretary of State stick to the promise that was solemnly made in the 2003 aviation White Paper that until we resolve the all-important and overarching environmental issues, we will not proceed with a third runway at London Heathrow airport?

8.19 pm

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I am the third Hillingdon MP to speak. My constituents are not being thrown out of their homes and they are not losing their churches, schools and cemeteries, but Hillingdon speaks with one voice on this issue. My constituents’ quality of life will be affected, by the new flight path and by an increase in traffic on the roads—but stronger than that is the real sense that Heathrow is big enough and that the social and environmental costs are too great to proceed. A voice says, “We were told that terminal 5 was the end of it. That was a lie, so why should we believe anything else that is said by this Government or by anyone involved with this process?” The message from Hillingdon is that enough is enough.

That is the local view, and I make no apology for stating it, but, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) also acknowledged in his brilliant speech, there is a big national decision to be taken. The Secretary of State drew himself up to his full height at the Dispatch Box and talked about a long-term strategic decision—what a way to go about it. What a shambolic process. If this is how we take long-term strategic decisions, shame on us. This decision is rooted in an out-of-date White Paper—life has moved on a long way since then—and in a consultation document that was condemned by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who is also my neighbour, as a dodgy dossier with no credibility, and it all stands and rests on a business case that the Government are not even prepared to make or to commission. The work is being done by outside bodies, financed by the industry, and the best that they can come up with is that there will be, at present value, benefits of about £5 billion over 70 years. In this process, which has been so badly managed by the Department for Transport, the Government have left themselves open to accusations of collusion with BAA plc. It has got that bad. What a shambolic process. That is no way to make a long-term strategic decision of this importance.

The Secretary of State is right to say that there is a capacity issue at Heathrow to address, and we have reached crunch time for a decision on it. We must decide whether to adopt the predict and provide approach to accommodate demand. He says that that is not what the Government are doing. We are now told, because the Labour briefing to Back Benchers says so, that no decision has been taken: you could have fooled me! It feels very much as though this Government have taken a decision and have subscribed to the myth that a nation’s status is judged by the size of its airport, so we are condemned to continue playing a game of “My airport’s bigger than yours”.

Mr. Gummer: Not only that, but the Government are excusing what they are doing by saying that doing it makes us good Europeans. That is the really depressing thing.


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Mr. Hurd: It has been a depressing afternoon, and not solely for that reason.

The Government appear to have made their mind up, despite evidence that the social cost will be enormous in Hillingdon, in Hayes and Harlington and across west London. Their sensitivity to this issue is reflected in the fact that although they pride themselves in carrying out the most “comprehensive” consultation—I think that was the adjective used by the Secretary of State—we are yet to be given an assessment of the health impact, which is probably one of the biggest issues for my constituents, and an equality assessment, which is also important. A health impact assessment is not considered important enough to be in the mix to help us with this decision and this debate.

The environmental cost has been touched on late in the debate, and I wish to say a word about it. Although we take pride in the process of the Climate Change Bill, in which I was heavily engaged, we remain in the business of setting and monitoring targets, and the mechanics of all that. It is time for an “emperor’s new clothes” moment, because we are failing and our emissions are rising. We are failing not only in this country, but across Europe. We have raised the bar to 80 per cent on emissions, but in the context of failure, we must acknowledge that the transport sector is the most stubborn one, and that within it, aviation is the fastest-growing source of emissions.

The problem is that we will not get help from technology. Whereas we can just about see that car technology is on the brink of major change and that our children and grandchildren will drive something very different, fuelled by something very different, from what we drive, aviation is not the same, because we cannot see an alternative to kerosene. The fact that stock takes 20 years to pass through the system means that no technological solution is in sight, which gives us big policy challenges in managing this problem and in the degree to which we are prepared to manage demand. The Government have done really well on climate change on so many levels, but there has been a failure in their response in this area, because they are prepared to place just one chip on the table—emissions trading. That is so despite the evidence, which suggests that emissions trading, for the time that we have had it, has improved the mechanics of the process, but has been a failure in doing what it is meant to do, which is to reduce emissions. It has been a failure because there is so much political risk in the process; it is a haggle and a negotiation. It is a cap-and-trade scheme that is only as good as the cap, and that is the function of a political process.

For the Secretary of State to say that things are going to be all right because the emissions trading scheme will sort them all out is not good enough. The Commission has set out its stall on the parameters and the kind of cap that it is imagining. It is quite demanding and there will be costs to consumers, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the industry will pass them on to our constituents. The price of flying will rise, as will the price of carbon credits, because aviation will start trying to buy them in the market, and that will have implications for other industries. The point is that the negotiation process has not even started yet. The mother of all lobbies is about to be unleashed and it will take real political courage, which I do not see evident either here or on the continent,
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to assure us that the cap will be set at a meaningful level to help genuinely curb the growth in aviation emissions.

The Government can slap themselves on the back for everything that they have done on climate change, and they can talk about how they are prepared to consider aviation within the targets, but it counts for nothing in the minds of our constituents when set against the decision to give a green light to the fastest-growing source of emissions. People simply do not understand that decision, and it makes a mockery of the whole climate change strategy.

In that context, there needs to be a fantastic, overwhelming business case for taking such a decision—but there is not one. The case being made is pathetic. Even the advocates put forward only a small number of benefits, and the Government have not even bothered to do their own work. We hear long lectures about the importance of the hub model, without any reflection about whether that is the economic model that will survive for the next 10 or 15 years. My constituents do not understand what the national economic benefit is of a passenger arriving and then sitting in Heathrow airport waiting to catch another plane—although they can see the benefits to BAA. We are given a long solemn list of destinations that have been cancelled, but what my constituents and I are saying is, “Help us to understand just how important it is.” Where is the Government modelling to help us understand the erosion of the hub and when it will bite in terms of affecting our competitiveness? Again, there has been silence, and no evidence has been provided.

One thing that does matter in terms of the economic case is foreign direct investment, and whether companies will change decisions about whether to relocate in the UK in the light of the capacity of Heathrow. What matters is whether they will relocate because they cannot fly to where they want—but where is the evidence to suggest that that is happening? Other airports on the continent have grown during a period of fantastic prosperity for London, so where is the evidence that we face an abyss in terms of this business risk? We all know that the airport is not the only factor in business decisions. Many other factors shape business attitudes towards staying or locating in London, such as the tax environment, the regulatory environment and the quality of life. It is ironic, but many business executives are thinking about relocating their business because of the impact of noise pollution from Heathrow, let alone concerns about where they can or cannot fly.

The voice of business that I hear does not say, “I can’t get to where I want to go.” It says, “Heathrow is a terrible airport, with an awful passenger experience.” People want a better airport, not necessarily a bigger airport. In the light of that, we are forced to conclude that the Government’s decision is rooted in the worst possible reasons, and is politically motivated. We can be confident in that judgment, because we had the most ridiculous political and partisan speech from the Secretary of State, which did neither his Department nor himself any credit. The decision is based on inadequate data, a discredited consultation process and a tremendous insensitivity to the reality of the climate change agenda, and it drives another nail into the coffin of public trust in our public institutions and the way in which we are governed. We have to be able to do better. I wholly support the call from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington to step back and rethink.


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8.29 pm

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I am glad that I have sat through this debate, if only to listen to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who made a clear and rhetorical speech. It often helps to listen to a speech of such clarity, so as to realise why its arguments are wrong. What the right hon. Gentleman was really saying was that building a third runway at Heathrow would be the end of this Government’s commitment to the environment, and of our leadership in Europe. It was a millennial speech. But he makes that argument in the context of hubs all over Europe—not just the ones that have been mentioned, such as Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt and Schiphol, but Madrid, Copenhagen and others—increasing their capacity. Such contentions are absurd when viewed in that broader context.

Mr. Gummer: What is absurd in saying that if we want to change the world, we should start by changing ourselves? If we do not want to change the world, we can do what everyone else is doing. That is not an absurdity: it is the lesson of history.

Graham Stringer: The right hon. Gentleman makes his point clearly. What is absurd is saying that if we make this decision, this country will lose its leadership in Europe and environmental catastrophe will ensue.

I come to this debate from the north of England, and I have supported Manchester and other regional airports over the years. It is an odd position for me to be supporting investment in London. The Olympics will not be good for the regions and they will receive no benefit from Crossrail—I could go on. However, this country would be making a mistake if we did not expand Heathrow.

People who take a different position on this issue ask—reasonably—where the evidence is. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the 30 or so destinations that have been lost, and they are important not only for the straightforward economic benefit that has been lost, but because if we do not have the connections to Osaka or to emerging economies in China, India or even Vietnam, it is unlikely that investment from those countries will come into this country. It will be a real problem if those routes are lost for ever.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) made the reasonable point that capacity exists throughout the regional airports. If we used all that capacity, we could have 10 times as many planes coming into this country. In theory, we could replace the routes that are duplicated at Heathrow, but that is not the economic reality. This Government and the previous Government—and the European Union—have increasingly liberalised the skies, so no one can tell planes where to land. They will go wherever they want, and there are fewer bilateral agreements all the time. It simply is not possible to say that too many flights from New York go to Heathrow, and to send five to Manchester, three to Birmingham and two to Glasgow. There is no power, either in this country or in the European Union, to do that.

Adam Afriyie: I admire the hon. Gentleman’s passion and his belief that we could fall behind in the world if we do not expand Heathrow. However, it is just a belief,
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an assertion without evidence. This is such an important decision that the Government should produce clear evidence, and not rely on such assertions.

Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman asks for evidence. I shall give him a piece of what I believe to be evidence that has not been mentioned in this debate so far. Let us consider the air freight industry, and the two great world integrators of that industry—FedEx and DHL. Where are their European hubs? They are at Brussels and Charles de Gaulle. We have missed that opportunity; those jobs have gone. Businesses that want to locate next to an integrator, because they need just-in-time, high-value widgets, have gone. Those hubs, and the jobs and relocations that go with them, have disappeared. We will not get them back. I hope that the hon. Gentleman finds that adequate evidence.

The other points that I want to make come from my experience of representing the majority shareholder in Manchester airport and chairing the board at Manchester airport when it built the only extra runway that has been built in this country since the second world war. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) looks surprised, but that is true.

I do not blame any of my hon. Friends or any other hon. Member for doing their best to represent their constituents’ interests when their lives will be affected by the building of a runway. That is the proper job of a Member of Parliament. However, when we talked to people and carried out opinion polls, we found that even in the village that would be most badly affected by the second runway—Styal, in the second most affluent county in the country, Cheshire—there was majority support for the proposal. There were many headlines against it, but it had majority support. We were able to satisfy many of the environmental criteria.

There is a detailed argument, which is often about cash. One of the people whose house was going to be affected by the second runway at Manchester fought the hardest battle. Her grandson was a barrister. At the end of the day, it came down to cash, and that barrister, who had fought a hard fight, went to work for British Airways, on the other side.

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

Graham Stringer: No, I have given way twice.

That is the detailed side of the argument, and there has to be a debate about those issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said that this had become an iconic issue. I agree. It is iconic: it is symbolic of the role of aviation in the economy and the environment.

The aviation industry makes a relatively small contribution to global warming. The figures given vary between 2, 3, 4 and 6 per cent., so it is increasing, and it is said that it will reach a certain level in 50 years’ time. I do not trust any politician—because I have yet to meet a politician who can do differential equations—who talks about rates of change over a 42-year period. That is another absurdity. People say, “This will happen.” And yet when it comes to the economy, we do not know what will happen next week.

Aviation has become symbolic because of the way in which it is modern. We do not see the same level of savage attacks on the contribution to global warming made by the computers and services that are necessary
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to make the internet work. Those factors make a huge contribution to it, but we do not talk about them. I talked to the people who opposed the second runway in Manchester on many occasions, and when we went through all the improvements to the environment and all the damage that the 2 miles of concrete would do, I came to the conclusion that we were having a symbolic debate about the future of society in which it was not possible to convince people that aviation and modern technology was the way forward. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will bear that in mind.

I do not think that the alternatives that have been proposed are realistic. Let us take as an example the proposal to build an airport out on the Thames estuary, with all the extra infrastructure and costs that that would require. My guess is that even without the airport, changing the roads, the railway tracks and the access routes would make a much greater contribution to global warming and greenhouse gases than anything else in the package. It took 25 years to build the new Munich airport, at a time when environmental standards were less stringent. Quite simply, the Thames estuary airport is not going to happen. It is on the agenda only because it was the Mayor of London who decided Opposition policy—in the interests not of the country, or even of the Conservative party, but because he wanted votes in west London so that he would win the mayoral election. It was as simple as that, and the Conservative party should be ashamed of itself for allowing its policy to be tweaked like that during the mayoral election.

I shall finish by making two points. Some people say that we cannot meet our climate change objectives but, even though such things are very difficult to predict, restricting Heathrow expansion is not the same as restricting emissions. We will merely be exporting them, just as we will be exporting jobs, and those emissions will come instead from Copenhagen, Schiphol or somewhere else. We will not make a contribution to the environment in that way.

I shall conclude by stating that I agree with some of my hon. Friends that we should not be in this position. It is absolutely extraordinary that only one new runway has been built in this country over the past 60 years or so, and we are suffering as a result. The Department for Transport, under different Governments, has seen BA and BAA as clients, even after privatisation. Because of that, it has not looked after the country’s interest; instead, it has been advising those companies and looking after their interests. That is why complaints that I consider to be completely reasonable have been made about the commitments that have been made to the effect that there would be no third runway or fifth terminal.

Those commitments were wrong. If this country is to make its way in the world economically, it needs a hub airport. I wish that that airport could be in Manchester, but it can really only be in west London. The hub is not going to be transferred. Had the people who planned it known what was going to happen in the 60 years since it was built, they would not have put it where they did, but it is where it is, this country needs it—and needs it to expand.

8.42 pm

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