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Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Today’s debate is not just about the future of Heathrow airport—whether it should get a third runway or whether we should
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introduce mixed mode—because we are talking about a judgment that will have a real and profound consequence for millions of Londoners. On Ministers’ judgment will depend Londoners’ day-to-day quality of life and, for some, even their health. I believe that people have a right to expect a reasonable quality of life, and that it is the Government’s duty to respect that right and to protect public health.

The Government have given the House the fantastical assurance that adding an airport the size of Gatwick on to Heathrow will somehow make it less noisy and polluting. Ministers assure us that Heathrow is a hub and that London’s economy will be irrevocably damaged and threatened without expansion. However, neither case has been made, and I believe that Ministers are about to take a deeply reckless decision for whose consequences they will never be held personally accountable.

Right at the beginning, the Government set important tests in the White Paper on noise and, in particular, on air quality. They assured people that they would “bear down” on noise and meet EU air pollution limits but, as we have heard, on air pollution the simple fact is that the UK is already set to breach the EU’s 2010 mandatory limits on NOx levels, and that is even before any extra flights are added.

This afternoon, the Secretary of State admitted that our country will have to apply for a three or five-year derogation when it comes to meeting the EU pollution limits. How on earth, then, can the Government consider expanding Heathrow, given that that would mean an even greater rise in NOx emissions? It simply defies common sense—nearly as much as do the fantasy planes that my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) mentioned and which have been included in some of the modelling that the Department for Transport claims proves that the proposal to expand Heathrow is possible.

Suspension of disbelief seems to be a common thread in the Government’s attitude to the environmental case for expanding Heathrow. Let us take the subject of noise. The “Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England” report, compiled by experts and commissioned by the Government, which took six years to complete, said that people were more sensitive to noise now than in the past, which undermines the historical 57 dB limit used by the Government. The Government simply ignored that report.

My constituents will lose the half-day respite from aircraft noise that they so value. It is a crucial balance that all previous Governments have appreciated, yet the value of that half day does not feature anywhere in the economic case that the Government considered. All-day flights will make life in parts of London intolerable. Families and many other residents will simply want to leave.

The increased pollution will come not just from more planes in the sky, but from more cars on the road—a lot more cars. The expanded Heathrow will handle more than 60 million more passengers. That will mean around 40 million more people travelling to and from the airport, the majority of whom will be on the roads. As we have heard, that raises the nightmarish prospect of a serious deterioration in air quality, with major health implications, chaos on London’s roads, and a gridlocked M4 that will grind to a halt more often than it already does. West London businesses and residents will face
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traffic hell. More planes, more cars, more pollution, more noise, a ruined quality of life—the environmental case for expansion simply does not stack up, and neither does the economic case.

As we have heard, the Government’s own figures say that the net present value of the economic benefit is £5 billion. That includes £3 billion of extra air passenger duty, but we would be hard pressed to find anyone in finance who would say that tax should be counted as an economic benefit. Of course, if we included the full costs of the extra missing emissions for CO2, it would add an extra £5 billion cost, which would give the project a negative net present value; we all know that that is the reality.

Of course, all the so-called key evidence on adding capacity has been generated by the Department for Transport and BAA, which, unlike the rest of us, seems to have had unfettered access to the process. I am afraid that throughout that process, Ministers have not been frank with Members of this House or with the public about the information that they have looked at, on which they based their decisions. When I have tried to get information, whether through parliamentary questions or freedom of information requests, so that we could have a level playing field, at every stage I have met resistance. I have made freedom of information requests to which it has taken seven months to get an initial substantive response.

I was not the only one who was denied access to information. The Environment Agency was given no access to the detailed fact base that the Department for Transport had considered, so it is no wonder that the Environment Agency reached the chilling conclusion that there was a risk of increased morbidity and mortality if the Government went ahead with this reckless plan. Even the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was kept out of the loop when it came to the environment. The DFT compiled its own assessment of the risk of expansion, called the risk register, yet when I met the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he was blissfully unaware of the existence of the document, let alone its contents.

The risk register states that the risk of pollution mitigation measures failing to meet air quality targets is high, but did Ministers make sure that DEFRA was aware of that? No. Did Ministers make sure that that “high risk” assessment, made back in October, got into the public consultation document, so that the public and businesses were aware of the risk assessment and the dangers? No. We should put that “high risk” assessment of pollution mitigation measures failing into context: the same team that assessed that risk as high also considered the risk of terminal 5 being a botch job, leading to reputational damage. I am sure that hon. Members will be amazed to hear that the risk attached to that was low. Of course, we all know what actually happened. The Government have shown that they did not foresee the risk of national disgrace and embarrassment in the case of terminal 5, yet we are about to walk headlong into another disgraceful risk. However, the outcomes could be far worse, and irreversible.

Concealing information and ignoring risks are all just part of the Government’s consistently disingenuous attitude towards engaging with the public. That has
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pervaded all levels of the consultation process. At every stage of the modelling process, the Government’s approach can best be described as “How can we fix the data to support our policy, and how can we twist the facts to get the result we want?”

Let me give the House a couple of examples of the discussion. On tackling air pollution, a DFT airmail on 28 March 2007 summarised the conclusions of a departmental meeting:

the pollution—

In other words, let us just have the pollution, but nowhere near places where it can be monitored.

A Heathrow project board meeting minute of 16 April 2007 noted:

Translation: “Don’t worry about reducing pollution—just move it away from measuring equipment, and spread it out a bit so that it doesn’t show up too much.” Most compellingly, an e-mail from the DFT on 10 August 2007 hit the nail on the head:

that would give a green light. That is self-explanatory. It was never a hunt for the reality of what Heathrow expansion would do to the environment—that never entered the Government’s thinking—but a hunt for a model to get the right answer. One team member was reported as saying:

I agree.

Adam Afriyie: Why does my hon. Friend think that Ministers and the Secretary of State are not standing up to challenge any of the facts she is presenting?

Justine Greening: I have given up wondering why Ministers take the approach that they do. It is clear that there is no substance to their case, yet they pursue it. I have long since stopped wondering why they have gone down such a reckless route. Given the serious health and environmental impacts at stake, I find their attitude to the situation disgraceful. How can we trust Ministers who said that Heathrow expansion was sustainable, when we have seen the tactics they use and the evidence they have ignored in reaching their conclusions. The fact is that Heathrow expansion will leave many Londoners facing a toxic combination: more planes making more noise, causing more pollution; more cars clogging the roads, reducing air quality; and a public health risk that the Environment Agency says could lead to increased morbidity and mortality rates around the airport.

Every day, I receive letters from constituents who are concerned about Heathrow expansion. They are worried and, as a resident who lives in Putney, I am worried. They believe that if we have all-day flights on a third runway, our part of London will become a place where families no longer want to bring up their children, and where people simply do not want to live. The noise will be so intolerable that I predict it will make people ill with its relentlessness. For my constituents, there will be no respite from aircraft noise ever again. It will be perpetual.

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In conclusion, the reality is that, economically, there are better alternatives to expansion. The economic benefits have been vastly overstated. Environmentally, expansion means more emissions and noise, and greater risks to health, not to mention safety. The Government are isolated on this issue, and Ministers must ask themselves what is more important—saving face and sticking with a bad decision, or having the courage to admit that this is wrong, and change course. It is time to listen to the 70,000 people, including my constituents, who responded with their grave concerns to the consultations. As far as they are concerned, with Heathrow, enough is enough.

8.53 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): The great Paul Theroux begins one of his finest travel books by saying that it is

That is particularly true of urban airports, of which Heathrow might be advanced as an exemplar. They are paradoxes, and they destroy lives, as we have just heard eloquently expressed, but they provide livelihoods, so nobody should approach the issue in a cavalier way and without considering balance. But, having considered balance, I must say that there is not the slightest doubt that this proposal for Heathrow should be opposed in this Chamber, implacably opposed outside this Chamber, will, I predict, be voted on in this Chamber, which is a point that I shall come to in a moment, and will be defeated in this Chamber. All those processes should be gone through.

I should like to set out three simple premises. They have been mentioned before, and I regret that there will be repetition, but it is worth repeating these things—three simple premises that seem to me to be immutable. First, of course, Heathrow is in the wrong place. In 1946, the last Lancaster flew out of the site and the first converted Lancaster bringing passengers flew into the site, where they disembarked and sat in tents in armchairs, no doubt sipping glasses of champagne and smoking cigarettes through long, elegant holders. If one had said to those first passengers, “Do you know that from this site in barely half a century’s time, we are proposing to fly 700,000 flights a year?”, they would have looked around at the villages and said, “You are stark mad.” But, of course, the madness persisted, and it persisted because of an irresistible and, apparently, irreversible process.

The process was very simple: every expansion of Heathrow was used to reinforce the idea that Heathrow was indispensable. And that indispensability became the basis for every subsequent application and demand for expansion, so the process became circular, and it became never-ending. It is never-ending, and the villages in the constituency of my good and hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) will be the first to go. But the truth is that nowhere is safe. I have a mental vision of Her Majesty herself standing on the battlements of Windsor castle, looking with angst-stricken eyes as the first bulldozers appear on the far side of Windsor Great park. Indeed, for those who know it, the royal ride through the centre of the park would make a splendid runway—apart from the statue of George III in the middle of it, which would have to be ritually removed.

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Adam Afriyie: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Of course. The hon. Gentleman is going to say that it is not George III.

Adam Afriyie: At a public meeting in my youth, before I came to this place as the Member for Windsor, I was asked what I was going to do about the third runway, and I said, “They will build that runway over my dead body.” I hope that that will not be the case, and that today we will win through with the comments that the hon. and learned Gentleman makes.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Absolutely. Heathrow is, of course, a curse and, in some ways, a blessing for those who live around it. Those who have lived around it—I declare an interest, because I have, to a greater or lesser extent, for 40 years, so I know about it—have come over the years to a sort of melioration, a sort of understanding, with the airport. It is based on certain concessions that have been made over the years. The Cranford agreement is one of them, but immensely important as well is the alternation of the runways. A failure to alternate runways will simply be the breaking of a bargain that has existed with Heathrow’s neighbours for half a century, and it will change beyond repair the lives, and the dimension of the lives, of children and other people living in that area. The Government need to get on board, because raw anger will manifest not among a few privileged people but among 2 million people in London who will be exposed to that blight.

The second premise that I wish to place before the House is a very simple one. In this day and age of climate change and the desperate fight to preserve our environment, it is a very simple premise: the days have long gone when we can destroy and despoil our environment to create a non-essential improvement in human lifestyle. Of course, there can be essential improvements in lifestyle; as we all know, they exist in the third world. In such circumstances, some compromise with the environment may be necessary, but not here—not to enhance the lifestyles of people, frequently mentioned by the Secretary of State, who travel to visit their relatives. That is not a reason for the kind of damage being contemplated.

As has been said, the Government are now in an extraordinary position. Two weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change came to the House and, amid justified adulation and approval, gave the best and most outstanding undertakings on the environment in the world. Two weeks later, his Cabinet colleague, the Secretary of State for Transport, has come to the House and wrecked them. We are told that there is division in the Cabinet—such information must be highly unreliable of course, because, as we know, the Cabinet is a leak-proof zone. However, we are told that there are deep Cabinet divisions on this issue. That is hardly surprising: when one Secretary of State wrecks another’s policy, there will be such division from time to time. Let us hope that it is resolved sensibly and properly.

The third premise is the myth of demand and the idea that it should be assuaged in these circumstances. That demand is not atavistic or fundamental—it does not relate to food, drink or even the desire to procreate. It is based on the preference of people who wish to fly. That is all. Manifestly, that demand can be managed and
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controlled. It is, to use a word employed by George Soros in relation to the economy, a “reflexive” demand—that is, it increases according to the capacity used to feed it, and it will recede as that capacity goes away. Such demand must be addressed, but it must also be sensibly managed. One citizen must understand that their right to fly is not immutable, and cannot be predicated on the destruction of other people’s lifestyles.

Finally, I turn to Cliffe airport, which was to have been in my constituency. It was one of the potential airports in the White Paper and the consultation. Let me say this: Cliffe was never a sensible option, and it was never thought to be. I shall say how I know that. We all thought it all the time, but immediately after the consultation the former Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, came to my constituency and helpfully said so. It was never a sensible or real option. It began to look like a real option only for a moment on one occasion. That was when I was talking to the former Prime Minister about the subject at the beginning of the consultation, and told him that even putting Cliffe in as a proposal would make it likely that we would lose my parliamentary seat. For a moment, I saw a thought flash across his mind as he contemplated virtues that he had not previously seen.

There will be a vote on this issue; the Government will not avoid that. This place is not so enfeebled or lacking in creativity that we cannot find the means to have a vote, and we will have it. I say to the Secretary of State that when that vote comes, the Government will lose it—and with it, their new-found and deserved reputation for environmental custody. That will be terrible, not only because of the loss of that reputation, but in electoral terms. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Government will take that on board.

9.4 pm

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. We have heard some high-quality contributions in which the common factor, in almost every case, has been opposition to the expansion of Heathrow; in fact, I have heard only one Back-Bench speech in favour. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews)—if there were a vote on the proposal, I would very much expect it to be defeated.

I have always been a pragmatist as regards Heathrow. I am not necessarily opposed to its expansion, but I would always look to see whether the net overall effect on the environment was neutral or positive before supporting that proposal. I used to be an admirer of BAA. In the early 1990s, I used to fly an awful lot, transatlantically and domestically within the United States, and I was always impressed by how BAA managed its airports and its customers. Regrettably, those days are long gone. For me, the fading gold and black graphics in BAA airports sum up what has happened to the company: it has not really achieved anything since its heyday in the early ’90s.

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