Previous Section Index Home Page

I do not often cite the Mayor of London with approval, but he acknowledges the problem. He has not avoided the issue for a short-term party political advantage—an advantage that Conservative Front Benchers believe that they might gain through putting their political interests ahead of this country’s interests.

The hon. Lady also persists in her absurd argument that we should somehow choose between expanding aviation and rail capacity. Her policy was nonsense
15 Jan 2009 : Column 363
when she originally announced it, and it remains nonsense. Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, said:

That is exactly the problem that Conservative Front Benchers have consistently failed to address. I have always been a strong supporter of our railways and I firmly believe that we should accelerate work on new high-speed links. We have put in place the mechanisms for determining that in a practical way, both financially and in terms of the required structures, unlike the policy that was cobbled together on the back of some envelope in the hon. Lady’s office.

Let me be clear: a new line would be complementary to expansion at Heathrow, not an alternative. That is why I have asked for the development of plans for a Heathrow interchange station. It is all very well for the hon. Lady to complain that she supports those plans, but she neglected to explain how she would pay for the new transport projects that she announced. The Leader of the Opposition has proposed cuts of some £840 million in the next year alone. It is simply not credible for Conservative Front Benchers to talk about extra investment in new transport infrastructure without saying where the cuts that they propose will happen. They cannot guarantee a single transport project, not even Crossrail, while they consider such massive cuts in the transport budget. We have not heard a single word from Conservative Front Benchers about which projects they will cut. They cannot be taken seriously on transport when they are talking about such cuts in the budget that is already available.

The country clearly faces a choice about Heathrow and transport investment. It can make a choice for the future—for jobs, British business and our international competitiveness. Hon. Members can decide which side they are on. I know which side I am on, and which side the Government are on.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Perhaps the Secretary of State could place his written answers to questions in the Library. I declare an interest as the beneficial owner of a very small, recently acquired piece of land at Sipson.

The decision to proceed with the third runway is the worst environmental decision that the Government have made in 11 years. It drives a jumbo jet through their Climate Change Act 2008, on which the ink is barely dry. With a commitment to a reduction of 80 per cent. in carbon emissions, how can the Secretary of State and his colleagues possibly justify the construction of a new runway? It is also one of the worst political decisions in 11 years, on a par with that on the millennium dome. There is huge opposition to it in the Labour party, and it has united the opposition in the House and in the country and destroyed the Government’s green credentials. I make it plain that the Liberal Democrat manifesto will include a commitment to reverse the decision. That is not insignificant given the likely arithmetic in the next House of Commons.

Will there be a vote in the House in Government time on the matter? Will we be allowed to make a democratic decision? If the Government were defeated—I believe that they would be—would the Secretary of State accept the democratic will of the House and abandon his plans?

15 Jan 2009 : Column 364

Yesterday, the Prime Minister promised a planning inquiry into the third runway proposal. Will that be a proper inquiry in traditional planning terms, or will it be held by his new puppet body, the Infrastructure Planning Commission? If the latter is the case, when will the Secretary of State bring the relevant national policy statements before the House?

The promises about Heathrow are not worth the paper they are written on. Time and again, this Government and previous Governments have broken them. For example, when terminal 5 was approved, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet agreed that a third runway would be “totally unacceptable”. Are not Government promises about Heathrow akin to a pledge from a fox not to harm chickens?

The Secretary of State said that additional flights would occur only if air quality limits were already fulfilled. The following page of his statement gives an indication of the number of flights that will take place. Does he seriously want us to believe that, if a runway is built, it will not be used? Does he expect us to believe that more weight will be given to a target that he sets than to a concrete runway? If the runway is built, it will be used, irrespective of any promises he makes today about air pollution. The effect of the green slot principle will simply be to concentrate dirtier planes on runways 1 and 2. It will make no difference to the type of plane used generally at Heathrow.

Has the Secretary of State received confirmation from the CAA that the extra flights can be safely accommodated?

The Secretary of State’s comments on rail have been cobbled together at the last minute in a desperate attempt to sugar the poison pill of a third runway. No commitments high-speed rail have been made today. He said that he would establish a company to “consider the case”. The case has been made: Network Rail has already done a great deal of work on it. We are simply kicking high-speed rail into the long grass again in an attempt to find something that will make the third runway at Heathrow sound palatable today.

It is a terrible day for the environment and for the Secretary of State and his colleagues in government. However, the opposition in the House and in the country is such that the third runway will not be built.

Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that the House had to listen to that tirade of observations, which did not deal with any of the issues, but I suppose we get used to that from the Liberal Democrats. The party is not back to the future but back to the past.

It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman could not address the issues that we must tackle. Sadly, like Conservative Front Benchers, he concluded that his party is prepared to put the British economy’s long-term competitiveness second to that of European countries with hub airports. That is the reality of both parties’ policies. They say that, through the European trading scheme, they will allow other airports, which compete directly with Heathrow, to expand at the expense of this country. That is already happening. I can demonstrate that to him and send him the statistics, if he needs them and is interested in the facts. Continental hub airports already provide the capacity that is not available at Heathrow. If he wants to ensure that British jobs are
15 Jan 2009 : Column 365
transported to the continent, his policy is the perfect vehicle for doing so. If he pretends that in doing so he will somehow save carbon, he needs to understand more about the agreement on the ETS, which his party supports. He supports the approach that we have set out and agreed on the European trading of carbon. That policy will allow continental hub airports to expand at Heathrow, so he really needs to think through what he is arguing for if he has any interest whatever in jobs, the economy and employment in this country, which I doubt he does.

Let me deal with the two or three other points that the hon. Gentleman made. Clearly no developments will take place without safety. On green slots, I have indicated that we will set out a legal regime for determining the expansion of capacity at Heathrow, so there is no doubt that it will be governed by the law. We will bring forward legislation where necessary that will govern the extra capacity, so there can be no doubt of our absolute commitment to ensure expansion consistent with our environmental objectives, as set out in the White Paper and as brought up to date today, in the light of our determination to save carbon and put this country at the forefront of carbon saving around the world.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s point about a vote in the House, he well knows the position in the United Kingdom and in Parliament. If he is saying that every major transport decision, infrastructure decision and planning decision will henceforth be subject to a vote in the House of Commons, he had better make clear his party’s policy.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House will probably know that I could fill an hour on this subject myself, but I am afraid that we do not have that luxury of time available. I am all too aware that a considerable number of hon. Members have knowledge of this subject. We have an important statement on Equitable Life, for which I know many hon. Members are waiting, and also the important debate on Gaza. I therefore appeal to hon. Members please to understand if I am very strict about the brevity and singularity of supplementary questions from hereon in. I would equally appeal to the Secretary of State in giving his answers not to go anywhere outside his brief.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): It is vital that there should be proper recognition of the significance of Heathrow as an international hub. It is critical for jobs and for this country. However, what is the process for assessing whether the environmental concerns set out can be met? Although I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s statement about high-speed rail, it appears that the plans for high-speed rail—if indeed it happens—will stop in the west midlands. Could he clarify what that means?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I outlined the process earlier. It is clearly necessary, in light of the 2003 White Paper, that we should address the conditions set out on environmental grounds. That is what I sought to do in my statement. As for the position beyond 2020,
15 Jan 2009 : Column 366
we have made it clear that we will seek guidance from the Committee on Climate Change, which will construct the methodology by which we satisfy that 2050 obligation, and that we will ensure that any extra capacity is subject to the tests that I have outlined.

As for high-speed rail, I made it clear that it is obvious from any assessment of our requirements that our rail network is working extremely hard and that, as of today, we need to contemplate long-term decisions for the future. Therefore, not only will I invite the company to look at the clear case for a new line to the west midlands, but equally, as I made clear in my statement, it will look beyond the west midlands at the possibility of a high-speed line right to Scotland.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): As a result of today’s announcements, my constituents face the prospect of a reduction in their quality of life with more planes flying overhead, restriction in driving their cars locally and a far worse train service in Crossrail. I hope that the Secretary of State recognises that as a result of today’s announcement, nobody will take this Government seriously on the environment again. On a very specific point, when terminal 5 was announced, the then Secretary of State promised us a cap on the number of flights a year of 480,000. The Government have now broken their word, and this Secretary of State is playing the same game. In today’s statement he says, “I want there to be a limit on the initial use of the third runway so that the increase in aircraft movements does not exceed 125,000 a year.” That is an aspiration, not a commitment. Will he now say that it is a commitment, how it will be put in place and why my constituents should believe him today any more than they believed the previous Transport Secretary who put a cap on flights?

Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that the right hon. Lady approaches significant investment in road, rail and aviation as somehow matters for criticism. The truth is that we are putting enormous sums of public money into improving our road and rail network and ensuring that this country has the appropriate international gateways to allow people—including, I am sure, people in her constituency, given the profile of the kinds of people who use Heathrow regularly—to do business. They are the better-off and those engaged in business. It is precisely the people who live in places such as Maidenhead who will benefit most from the investment that we are making in transport.

I set out very clearly the position on the increase beyond 125,000. Obviously it is vital, given the importance to our economy and every economy of constraining carbon emissions, that we put in place a new regime for determining how those extra slots will be allocated over and above the 125,000. They will take into account our progress towards the 2050 target of matching our carbon emissions to 2005 levels. The process is very clear.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): The decision today, for my constituents, is an absolute disgrace. The commitments that have been given on the conditions to be attached are spin. They are as worthless as the commitment that there would be no third runway. The decision is a betrayal of future generations, in terms of the environment, and a betrayal of my constituents, who will lose their homes, their schools, their cemeteries, their churches and their gurdwara. It is a betrayal of
15 Jan 2009 : Column 367
this House, and of democracy, not to have a vote in the House. We are not asking for a vote on every infrastructure project; we are asking for the most significant project in a generation to be brought to this House for a vote. Will there be a vote, and why not?

Mr. Hoon: I have made clear the position of the House in relation to such matters. It is a long-standing position that the House does not vote on quasi-judicial or planning matters. Nevertheless, I entirely understand that my hon. Friend puts his case with his customary passion on behalf of his constituents, but this is an issue for the country. Heathrow is a national airport serving the whole of the country. Necessarily, when judgments have to be made about the interests of the country, those decisions have to be made, however difficult they are— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) must— [Interruption.]

John McDonnell , Member for Hayes and Harlington , having conducted himself in a grossly disorderly manner, was named by the Deputy Speaker.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 44), That John McDonnell be suspended from the service of the House.— ( Ian Lucas .)

A Division was called, but no Members being appointed Tellers for the Noes, the Deputy Speaker declared that the Ayes had it.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered, That John McDonnell be suspended from the service of the House.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify something? You say that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) is suspended, and many of us support not necessarily what he has done, but why he has done it—the fact that we are not going to have a vote in this House. Can you explain how long he will be suspended for?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The answer to the hon. Lady is five days. I counsel the House that I understand that the strength of feeling on this matter is very great, but many hon. Members are not only wishing to question the Secretary of State on the matter, but waiting for the other important business. I am sure that there will be other occasions when Members’ voices will be heard on a matter of this importance. We should proceed. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington must now withdraw from the service of the House— [ Interruption. ] Without further comment.

Accordingly John McDonnell, Member for Hayes and Harlington, withdrew from the House.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): One condition that the Government have not considered at all is what they are going to do with those many thousands of people who will be evicted from their homes. There will be those who have to move because their quality of life will be shattered; they will not be able to sleep any more. Have the Government, or the Secretary of State’s Department, considered where those people will be housed in an already overcrowded area?

15 Jan 2009 : Column 368

Mr. Hoon: The difficulty that I have with the hon. Gentleman’s question is that, as I set out in my statement, and as he knows well, having considered the issue over a long period, the numbers affected by the 57-decibel limit, which has been the standard limit for many years, have fallen dramatically from 2 million in the mid-1970s to a quarter of a million and falling today. The impact of noise has dramatically changed over that period. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) talked about devastation. The last time I looked at property prices in places such as Maidenhead and west London, there was no shortage of people willing to move to those areas, and apparently no impact on property prices. [ Interruption. ] Property prices are far higher there than they are in my constituency simply because people want to live in those places. [ Interruption. ] They want to live in those places knowing full well that they will be living in the proximity of Heathrow airport, so there is something seriously inconsistent about what Opposition Members are saying. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I say to the House that we will make more progress if every hon. Member gives a hearing to whoever I have called to address the House. Otherwise, we shall slow down and prejudice other matters as we go along. I hope for real brevity; the comments so far have been far too wordy. I promise the House that I understand the passion on this subject, but I am sure that we will come back to it on many occasions.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State guarantee the electrification of the Great Western line, and will he ensure that the interests of a community such as Slough, which could be damaged by the siting of this proposed new railway station, will be listened to in the proposed decisions about the surface infrastructure?

Mr. Hoon: I made it clear that there is a strong case for electrifying the Great Western line, along with another of our great railway lines. I believe that that should be part of a comprehensive programme, and I made it clear that we would make a further statement later once greater details have been addressed. I did not wish to mislead my hon. Friend in any way with regard to what I said about the hub. Our proposals on the hub are for a site much closer to west London, on land already owned by Network Rail, at the junction of the existing Great Western line and the proposed Crossrail line. A Heathrow hub would not necessarily have to be placed close to Heathrow.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): The Secretary of State met BAA and the unions, but can he tell the House when he has ever met directly any of the communities that will be affected? Will he come to Putney to meet my constituents to explain to them why their quality of life and environment should be destroyed by more planes, more noise and more pollution? If he will not come, will he explain why? I can assure him that he would get a very big audience.

Next Section Index Home Page