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He also said that

That was what was said by a member of the shadow Cabinet, speaking as recently as last year. That is precisely what the Conservative party is trying to do—to put up the shutters and to do nothing. That has been its policy since it changed its position on Heathrow.

I will give the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet credit—she has acknowledged that the policy has changed. She has acknowledged that the Opposition have changed their mind. What she is not able to tell the House or the country is why that policy has changed for any reason other than grubbing after votes in some cheap exercise in political opportunism.

Mrs. Villiers: We have provided a viable way to make Heathrow a much better airport, by providing a viable high-speed rail alternative to the thousands of short-haul flights that are clogging up the airport and contributing to its overcrowding problems.

Mr. Hoon: Unless the hon. Lady is able to provide the criteria by which that decision has been taken, she cannot be taken seriously.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I have already given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley).

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): May I take my right hon. Friend back to what he just said about the process by which the decision will be considered and the role of the new planning agency? Will he tell the House what account will be taken of the work of the Committee on Climate Change? It has already said:

That will have a huge effect on other industries, which will need to have carbon allowances. Will he tell the House what part the Committee on Climate Change will play in the process governing how any decision will be made?

Mr. Hoon: I made it clear in my statement to the House that any further expansion beyond that which was permitted would require a new process by which any new slots would be made available. That process would depend critically on the views of the Committee on Climate Change, which would have to report to the Government, and therefore indirectly to the House, that we were on track—that is, that we were taking the right decisions—to meet our ambition of ensuring that there would be no more carbon emissions through aviation in 2050 than in 2005. That is a clear commitment to take account not only of the advice of the committee but to ensure that it will advise the Government on the necessary steps to meet that ambition.

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Colin Challen: I agree with my right hon. Friend that the Opposition’s opportunism is to be deprecated. However, wrong-headedness is also to be deprecated. I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend has begun his speech on the premise that we should bow to the market forces first and put climate change somewhere down the ladder. That appears to be the case. The industry’s own sustainable aviation road map predicts that by 2020 there will be a sizeable increase in aviation emissions in this country and seems to deny that there is such a thing as radiative forcing, which is something that the Government recognise. Are we putting too much of our future into the hands of an industry that seems to have a golden inheritance while other industries have to pay the price— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. We must be careful with interventions. There is a 10-minute limit on speeches because Back Benchers want to make a speech and interventions should not be as long as the one that we just heard.

Mr. Hoon: I do not accept the way in which my hon. Friend has made his point, not least because I took great pains to set out in my statement the week before last that such decisions are necessarily a matter of balance between the requirement to allow more flights and to allow more people to travel on those flights, and the consequences for the local environment and the people affected by Heathrow as well as our international position in securing international agreements on reducing carbon. We have led the way in ensuring that we adopt strict standards and pass them into law. We will implement them. I hope that he will accept that, and I shall deal with it in more detail in a few moments.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I am going to make some progress, in the light of Mr. Speaker’s observation.

One suggestion set out in the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet is that we should

I have no idea—and I am none the wiser from her speech—what that would mean in relation to her previously stated opposition to expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. She has opposed expansion at each one of those airports without saying why she is against it. Perhaps she is now considering the option of a new four-runway airport in the Thames estuary, which I know that the Mayor of London and some Members of this House favour. At the weekend, I read about the Mayor’s plans for runways and train tunnels in the sea, which were described by others as something out of “Thunderbirds”—Boris island rather than Tracy island.

Some 400 alternative sites were considered before the 2003 White Paper, many of which were in and around the estuary. I have said repeatedly why we do not believe that they are feasible or practical. The recent incident in New York, in which a plane was forced to land in the Hudson river, should demonstrate the consequences of a bird strike and make hon. Members think about the implications. Anyone who believes that such a proposal is non-controversial should note the words of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which said:

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Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The Secretary of State has made much of the White Paper. When I raised the issue of Manston airport with his predecessor at the time—now Chancellor of the Exchequer—he indicated clearly that it was too far from London. The hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), who will defend a 600 majority—is trying to promote Manston. Does the Secretary of State agree with his predecessor or does he accept that Manston, which is 50 miles from so-called Boris island—has a role to play?

Mr. Hoon: I have visited Manston airport, and I can see the argument for its expansion and I recognise that it has a part to play. Indeed, several airports in and around London could help in relieving the expansion capacity problems that we face. However, no one is seriously suggesting that one of those 400 sites could be a substitute hub airport. The hon. Gentleman knows enough about aviation to recognise that we are talking about Heathrow, which is a hub airport and an international gateway very different from the airport that he mentions.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend recognise that the proposal for a Thames estuary airport is currently being evaluated by Douglas Oakervee, the project director of the Hong Kong airport, which was built in the sea, and chairman of Crossrail? He is one of the most respected civil engineers in the country, and is employed by the Department on that major rail project. Will my right hon. Friend accept Douglas Oakervee’s judgment that this proposal is a serious alternative that needs to be evaluated?

Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend is right to say that Mr. Oakervee is employed by the Department, and in that capacity I have met him. I am delighted by his judgment, because it is that it will never be built. That was his conclusion.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet suggests that increased competition will somehow provide a solution. I welcome the work that the Competition Commission has done and I believe passengers will see some real benefits from the changes outlined. But to suggest that competition on its own can solve the capacity problems we face just is not credible. Let me quote Oliver Dowden, recently installed as the Conservative party’s director of political operations. Last summer he said:

Perhaps in his new position he will instil real political will into the Conservative party, and he should start with the hon. Lady.

Even with all the evidence of the need for expansion for economic and social reasons, this was not a decision to be taken lightly. I know that the decision to support a third runway at Heathrow will have a significant impact, especially on those who live in the surrounding area, and that that understandably arouses strong feelings. That is why I have always been clear that while there is a strong case for expansion, it could be supported only if strict conditions on noise, air quality and public transport were met.

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Last week I announced my decision that those conditions could be met. A key part of that statement was that there will be a limit on the initial use of the expanded airport, so that the increase in aircraft movements is only around half the level on which we consulted. The modelling carried out showed that the critical noise and air quality tests could both be met in 2020, with the airport operating at that level; that the 57 dB noise contour would be no larger than it was in 2002; and that no residential properties would be in areas of nitrogen dioxide exceedances. However, to ensure that we are basing our decisions on facts, not modelling, we have provided added reassurance by committing to a legally binding mechanism that will ensure that additional capacity will be released only when an independent assessment shows that the limits have already been met and will not be compromised by additional flights.

We will legislate to ensure that, in the event that air quality or noise limits could be breached, the independent regulators would have a legal duty and the necessary powers to take action. Modern aircraft are quieter and less polluting than older aircraft. Modern designs have helped to deliver a reduction in the number of people around Heathrow affected by average levels of noise at or above 57 dB. That was some 2 million people in 1974, but had fallen to 258,000 people by 2002, as the result of significant improvements in aircraft technology. Those improvements in technology will continue, ensuring that aircraft are quieter, more fuel efficient and less polluting. To reinforce that trend we intend to make new capacity at Heathrow subject to a green slot principle to incentivise the use of the most modern aircraft. My decision also included responding to many concerns about the loss of runway alternation if we had agreed to options for mixed mode on the existing runways. I announced my decision not to support mixed mode ahead of a third runway. That means that people living under the existing flight paths will continue to enjoy the predictable periods of relief from aircraft noise that many local residents told us they value highly.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I agree with the essence of my right hon. Friend’s arguments that there is simply no economic alternative to a third runway at Heathrow if this country is to continue to compete internationally. However, I was worried by the analysis by Ben Webster on page 3 of The Times today, which claimed that keeping within the 2005 limits on CO2 would place unnecessary restrictions on regional airports. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend could assure the House that that is not the case.

Mr. Hoon: That is simply not the case. Unfortunately, The Times seems to have confused the projections for carbon and not taken into account the kinds of policy changes that have been agreed. The pressure will be on the airlines to use more efficient aircraft, so that they are not required to buy permits under the emissions trading scheme, to reduce their emissions and fuel consumption. That is a much more likely approach by a rational airline that is acting economically.

In 1990, some 18 different regional airports had services into Heathrow. Because of capacity constraints, now only nine do so. In fact, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet might like to reflect on the fact that
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Schiphol serves 21 UK destinations. If that is not an example of the Conservative party’s policy exporting jobs, I cannot think of one.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that perhaps the most polluting and wasteful practice by Heathrow is stacking, in which aeroplanes have to wait to come into land? That is because the runways are used at 99 per cent. capacity, which causes problems with the reliability of services. Is it not the case that the first impact of a third runway would be to reduce carbon emissions through the reduction and even abolition of stacking?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and one that was completely ignored by the hon. Lady. At any given time, there can be as many as four stacks of aircraft waiting to land. The average delay at Heathrow—caused by the capacity problems—is some 19 minutes, and some aircraft are delayed for far longer. Therefore it is necessary to address the question of capacity, in carbon terms as much as for any other reason.

We have been criticised by the hon. Lady for failing to progress longer-term options for transport infrastructure, which is why I set out clearly our ambition to ensure the development of a new high-speed line to the north, approaching London via a Heathrow international station on the Great Western line. That could provide a four-way interchange between the airport, the new north-south line, existing Great Western rail services and Crossrail, with a 15-minute service into the centre of London. But I reject the idea that that could somehow be an alternative to much needed runway capacity at Heathrow. The Conservative figures on which the hon. Lady relies assume that every single domestic passenger would transfer to high-speed rail. That would include all passengers flying from the remaining nine British airports served by Heathrow. Incidentally, that includes Belfast. The hon. Lady has failed to explain how a rail link would help our friends in Northern Ireland.

A great many people simply do not believe the hon. Lady’s argument. Richard Lambert of the CBI does not, and he said that

The Conservative Mayor of London does not believe it. He said:

Even Conservative Back Benchers do not believe it. Only this week, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said:

The beneficiaries of the Opposition’s policy are clear—they would be the Dutch, the French and the Germans. Indeed, on Monday night the director of airport development at Schiphol said on the BBC London news:

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Now, despite the reincarnation of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, I do not believe for a moment that those on the Opposition Front Bench have suddenly seen the light and become overwhelmed by enthusiasm for all things European. What their policy would do, however, is give a real boost to continental employment and growth by exporting British jobs.

The reality is that, by encouraging our European competitors to expand at our expense, the Opposition’s policy would damage us economically without saving a single gram of carbon. The sorry truth is that, in their opportunist drive to secure short-term headlines, the Opposition are sacrificing the country’s longer-term interests.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The Secretary of State is very keen about not exporting jobs to Schiphol, but is he aware that in the last hour that airport has announced a 25 per cent. reduction in its work force, due to a decline in traffic?

Mr. Hoon: The Liberal Democrat party may be the last party on the planet to notice that we are in the middle of a global economic slow-down. I regret that slow-down and I am very sorry that businesses around the world are having to reduce costs. I know that the Liberal Democrat party is not the most economically literate party, but I should have thought that even the hon. Gentleman would have noticed that there are some economic problems out there in the real world—although I know that that is not a world that he inhabits very often.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): May we come down to earth for a minute? So far, the Secretary of State has completely failed to talk about the impact of a third runway on any of the local people, but they are not the only ones who would regret the arrival of the bulldozers. He will recall that the construction of terminal 5 took more than a decade, and that it posed a danger to some of the most important archaeological sites in the area. The Thames gravels will be equally affected by a third runway. It took up to 100 archaeologists working over 10 years to rescue what was left of that great part of Britain’s heritage. What plans does he have to rescue Britain’s heritage from the wanton destruction caused by the third runway?

Mr. Hoon: I am not entirely clear how the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises is relevant to the third runway, as he prefaced his question with a reference to terminal 5 which, when I last looked, was in a different place. Even so, I am perfectly willing to follow through the logic of his argument. Is he really saying that national projects such as this have to be decided on the Floor of this House only in the light of the views of local people, or those conducting an archaeological dig?

Robert Key: Of course not.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman says, “Of course not.” I invite him to go back and look at the careful statement that I made to the House. If he does so, he will accept that I carefully weighed the impact on local people. I set out very detailed criteria for noise and pollution—

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