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The Prime Minister: I would urge all councils to engage with the Department for Work and Pensions on
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those issues. The policy recognises that just keeping drug addicts on benefits is not the answer to their problems. They need the treatment that is necessary and the support for that. That is exactly why we have changed the policy to make it possible for people to get the treatment and to give them support while they are doing that. That is the right policy for the future of this country, whatever the Scottish National party says.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): What is the sterling value of an ounce of gold today, and what was it when the Prime Minister started selling our gold reserves in July 1999?

The Prime Minister: It was right to diversify our portfolio. [Hon. Members: “Answer.”] One thing we did was buy euros, and the hon. Gentleman will be sad to hear that the value of euros is up in our portfolio.

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Opposition Day

[2nd Allotted Day]

Heathrow (Third Runway)

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.33 pm

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I beg to move,

I welcome the support of the Liberal Democrats for the motion, which is lifted verbatim from early-day motion 2344, tabled last year by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), with cross-party backing. The issue is of grave importance, and rightly spans party boundaries.

Let me first explode a myth peddled by the Secretary of State. To oppose a third runway is not to oppose flying. We recognise the importance of aviation and the benefits of flying for our economic competitiveness and for holidaymakers. We applaud the work of the budget airlines in bringing air travel within the reach of a wide range of people, for whom it would have been a distant aspiration less than a generation ago.

However, there comes a time when stuffing thousands and thousands more flights and millions and millions more passengers into the same overcrowded corner of the south-east of England starts to impose an unacceptable cost on our environment and our quality of life. We believe that Heathrow needs to be better, not bigger. That is why we and so many others oppose the Government’s plans to build a third runway.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I regret that the hon. Lady’s party has chosen to make a political football out of a cross-party early-day motion. Will she tell us whether the Conservatives would consider a proposal for a new airport for London and the south-east in the Thames estuary, and whether they oppose the expansion of regional airports?

Mrs. Villiers: We are not making a political football out of Heathrow. We are giving the House the opportunity to vote on the issue, which the Government would not give us. In response to pressure from both sides of the House, we thought that it was right that hon. Members, particularly those whose constituents are directly affected by this important decision, should have the right to vote
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on this matter. On the Thames estuary, that is not an option that we are looking at, at the moment. I shall come in due course to the subject of regional airports, but we acknowledge the possibilities and benefits that could come from the proportionate and carefully considered expansion of regional airports.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The hon. Lady will appreciate that many people are concerned about the impact on climate change of the expansion of air transport anywhere. Can she explain to the House the difference between the impact of expanding flights at Heathrow and that of doing so elsewhere?

Mrs. Villiers: The difference between Heathrow and so many other airports is that its flight paths cover an incredibly densely populated part of the south of England. The environmental problems associated with Heathrow expansion, as I shall explain, are dramatically wider than just climate change. Yes, climate change is a concern for many of our constituents, and for all Members of the House, but with Heathrow, we have to take into account the fact that nitrogen dioxide pollution is already a serious problem. The Environment Agency has warned that a third runway would increase the risk of serious illness and early death. Those are environmental considerations that we cannot, and should not, ignore around Heathrow.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does not my hon. Friend think it amazing that the Government have not given us an opportunity to vote on this issue, given that their own Environment Agency has said that the expansion of Heathrow is environmentally unacceptable, and given that the Government have set up a Committee on Climate Change and are supposed to be keen on dealing with emissions? In the light of all that, does she not agree that this democratic Parliament should have the last word and a proper vote on the matter in Government time?

Mrs. Villiers: Absolutely. It is regrettable that the Government have refused to give us the vote that we need on this issue in their own time. It is also regrettable that they are proposing that the ultimate decision on the issue will be made by an unelected, unaccountable quango.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Lady think that it makes environmental sense for aircraft to spend half an hour flying from Manchester to London, and then to spend another three quarters of an hour circling London because there are not enough runways to land on?

Mrs. Villiers: That is one of the reasons why we are providing a viable alternative to a third runway—namely, a top-class, high-speed rail link between Leeds and Manchester and London.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: I have taken a lot of interventions, and I shall take more later in my speech, but I want to make some progress now.

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I want to look at four key problems: air pollution, road congestion, aircraft noise and carbon emissions. I shall then look at the economic issues, and finally at the alternative ways to make Heathrow a better airport.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: Not at the moment.

I shall start with air pollution. A massive increase in flights at Heathrow would intensify a serious problem with nitrogen dioxide pollution at an airport that is already in breach of the EU pollution limits that are due to become legally binding from next year. The damage to health caused by nitrogen dioxide is well established and, as I have already said, the Environment Agency has warned that proceeding with a third runway would lead to an increased risk of serious illness and early death in a densely populated area around the airport. It is therefore a matter of grave concern that the Government are now seeking a derogation from the air quality directive, despite their promise that they would not let their expansion plans undermine their efforts to comply with it.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): For the benefit of the House and the country, will the hon. Lady set out the criteria by which she would judge any decision on airport expansion in air quality terms? Does she stand by the terms of the EU air quality directive?

Mrs. Villiers: I am calling on the Government not to try to wriggle out of the obligations that they have undertaken under the air quality directive; they signed up to it. I am afraid that this is one environmental precondition that the Government will find it impossible to wish away.

Mr. Hoon: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: No, I have already answered. That precondition could yet provide a legal bar to building runway 3. Of course, a major contributory factor in the nitrogen dioxide problem is surface traffic generated by passengers travelling to the airport, which takes me to the second major problem with the third runway—road congestion.

The plan set out in the congestion consultation document envisaged an increase in passenger numbers at Heathrow to 122 million a year—nearly double current levels. On the Government’s own figures, that would mean that passenger-related car journeys at Heathrow climbed to 53.4 million. Road congestion around Heathrow, as anyone who has travelled there will know, is already a major problem, and the Government’s plans will only make a bad situation worse—not just for people living around the airport, but for those attempting to use the M4 and the M25 for longer journeys. Neither the consultation document nor the Secretary of State’s recent announcements contain any of the convincing proposals for a major shift out of the car on to public transport that are needed to deal with the congestion or the air quality problem. Indeed, paragraph 56 of the document “Decisions following consultation” states:

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According to the Department for Transport, that is BAA’s problem, not its problem.

Mr. Hoon: Again, may I give the hon. Lady the opportunity to set out on behalf of her party to the House and the country what criteria on road congestion she would use in order to determine these issues and related matters affecting other airports?

Mrs. Villiers: I have answered that question already. Actually, we have set out plans to build a new Heathrow rail hub, close to the airport, enabling many people to get the train directly from their home town to the airport; connecting Heathrow directly to the main Great Western main line; and enabling people living in cities as far apart as Bristol, Exeter, Cardiff and Swansea to get a train directly from their home town to the airport. That is an effective strategy to reduce congestion and nitrogen oxide emissions, in the absence of the Government’s having proposed any effective strategy at all. Let us look at the record. BAA has yet to—

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: No.

BAA has yet to meet the Government’s 40 per cent. target for public transport use, which it was supposed to achieve eight years ago. The proportion of people using public transport to access Heathrow has actually fallen in the last couple of years, and the company has downgraded its own targets on the issue. BAA has talked about Airtrack for years, but there is no guarantee that the scheme will go ahead, and London councils of all political complexions, representing all 33 of the city’s local authorities, do not believe that the Piccadilly line will be able to cope with expected uplift in passengers.

Thirdly, I turn to an even more serious problem: noise.

Mr. Dismore: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: No.

In debates in the Chamber, hon. Members representing areas as far apart as Maidenhead and Windsor in the west and Vauxhall, Brixton and Greenwich in the east have expressed their concerns about the impact that aircraft noise from Heathrow is already having on their constituents.

Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: Not at the moment.

According to the local authorities in question, 114 schools are already seriously impacted by Heathrow aircraft noise, affecting at least 100,000 children.

Mr. Dismore: Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Mrs. Villiers: Okay.

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is also my parliamentary neighbour. Her motion does not refer at all to mixed mode, but does refer to “alternative solutions”. Under mixed mode, her constituency and mine would probably have been affected by noise, so why does her motion not rule out mixed mode as one of the alternative solutions, as the Government have already done in their announcement, which is to the benefit of her constituents and mine when it comes to noise?

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Mrs. Villiers: One of the reasons why mixed mode is not there is that the Government have apparently promised us that mixed mode is not going to happen. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that that promise is not worth the paper that it is not written on. Many people might actually agree with him on that. Obviously we welcome the Government’s retreat on mixed mode, which would have had a catastrophic impact on people’s quality of life across a huge area. As he says, it would have impacted negatively on people living in my constituency and in his. So yes, I welcome the Government’s decision to drop their plans for mixed mode, but it remains to be seen whether this promise will prove any more durable than so many others that have been subsequently abandoned when the pressure for expansion has risen again.

Emily Thornberry: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: Not just at the moment. The simple fact remains that a new runway with a massive uplift in flights and a new flight path over a densely populated area will make an already serious noise problem at Heathrow a whole lot worse.

Mr. Hoon: Will the hon. Lady kindly give way on the question of noise?

Mrs. Villiers: Certainly.

Mr. Hoon: We all recognise that noise plays a part in these decisions; that is why, necessarily, they are difficult. Will she set out for the benefit of the House and the country what— [ Interruption. ] I am very sorry, but there is an important question here. The Conservative party cannot say that it rejects expansion without describing the basis upon which that decision is taken. If the party wants to be taken seriously, it has to give the criteria. Will the hon. Lady say whether or not she supports the noise criteria set out in the 2003 White Paper?

Mr. Gummer: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I do not think that this is a point of order, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give it to me.

Mr. Gummer: Is it not true that the right hon. Gentleman is going to make a speech of his own later on?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I knew that it was not a point of order. I call Mrs. Villiers.

Mrs. Villiers: The Secretary of State is in no position to make assertions or claims about, or to ask questions about, the basis for noise calculations. His credibility on noise is completely undermined by the documents revealed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by the assiduous work of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), which show his officials deliberately reverse-engineering and re-forecasting the data to try to meet the tests and get the answers that Ministers wanted.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case against Heathrow expansion and in favour of high-speed rail. Surely rail would be a better alternative to short-haul flights for both the environment and noise nuisance?

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