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28 Jan 2009 : Column 322

Robert Key indicated dissent.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I hope that he will give me some credit for setting out those criteria, as that is something that those on the Opposition Front Bench have singularly failed to do today. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet has given us no evidence at all about how the Opposition would weigh local people’s interests against our national interest, our economic interest, and our interest in preserving jobs in this country. We want to promote opportunities for British people to get jobs, and it is a difficult balance that requires judgment. However, it also requires fundamental criteria, and I think that the hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to those on his own Front Bench rather than to me, because the Government have set out the relevant principles.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I have been listening to what the Secretary of State has been saying about jobs, opportunities, Schiphol, Heathrow, and the many flights that go from other airports to those destinations. Can he give any guarantees about whether a third runway would enable places such as Aberdeen and Inverness to have guaranteed slots, morning and evening?

Mr. Hoon: The guarantee that I can give is that that can never happen without expansion and more capacity at Heathrow. As I set out, the history of Heathrow since 1990 has been that the number of different destinations served has fallen from 227 to 180, and it is precisely the regional airports that have suffered most. Essentially, what has happened is that, because of the scarcity of slots at Heathrow, airlines have consistently substituted shorter routes for long-distance ones. Therefore, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the guarantee that he seeks; all I can guarantee is that there will be no change without expansion.

I turn now to the question of climate change, which various hon. Friends have mentioned. I recognise that Heathrow does not raise only local environmental issues: quite rightly, people also want to understand how the Government’s support for a third runway can be reconciled with our climate change commitments.

As a result of the measures that we have set out, we now have a set of proposals that give the UK the toughest climate change regime for aviation of any country in the world. There will be a new target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from UK aviation in 2050 to below 2005 levels. That provides clear assurance that our strategy for aviation is consistent with our wider climate change goals.

There will be a limit on the initial use of Heathrow’s third runway so that the increase in the annual number of flights is no more than 125,000 a year. That is almost half the additional capacity that we consulted on. In addition, there will be no future capacity increases at Heathrow beyond that figure without Government approval, and following a review by the Committee on Climate Change in 2020 as to whether we are on track to achieve our new aviation carbon dioxide target. The Committee on Climate Change has also been asked to advise on the best basis for measuring that target.

The Government are also at the forefront of international efforts to include aviation in a global deal on climate change that would build on the UK’s leadership in
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securing the inclusion of aviation in the European Union emissions trading scheme. As a result of the agreement reached by European Ministers last year, aviation will join the ETS in 2012. From that point, net carbon dioxide emissions from aviation in Europe will be capped at 97 per cent. of average 2004-2006 levels, with the cap tightening to 95 per cent. from 2013 onwards. Any increase in emissions above those levels would need to be matched by equal reductions in other sectors in the scheme.

In addition, we are arguing for progressively stricter limits on carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft, similar to those already in place for new cars within the EU. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), proposed that idea at a G8 meeting very recently and we plan to develop it further with our international partners. That is why I can say with confidence that the United Kingdom will have the toughest climate change regime for aviation of any country in the world.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): One of the issues relevant to increased capacity and the impact of a third runway on local residents that the Secretary of State has failed to address is night flights, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers). I asked him about the number of night flights last November, and he replied:

However, we now know that BAA is predicting a 30 per cent. increase in the number of night flights. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether the Government are going to abide by the current night flight quotas? Will there be an increase in night flights under his plans, or not?

Mr. Hoon: As I set out to the House, there will be no change in the basis on which night flight arrangements operate.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The third runway at Heathrow is an important issue for people in Northern Ireland because, as the Secretary of State has pointed out, no high-speed rail link will help domestic flights from Northern Ireland. However, there is real concern that slots from Belfast could be lost if a third runway is not built. Will he give an assurance that any planning agreement for a third runway would contain some guarantees about flights from regional airports into Heathrow?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman makes a very strong case on behalf of our regional airports. It is a matter of great regret, as far as I am concerned, that we have seen a reduction in the number of flights that serve our regional airports over very many years, precisely because of capacity straits, and it is vital that we maintain sufficient capacity to allow that diversity, including flights to Belfast, to continue.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): On night flights, does not the decisions that my right hon. Friend is making on terminal 6 and a third runway offer an opportunity to make the permission to build conditional
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on the removal of the remaining night flights? The number is not large; they could be easily rescheduled, as a result of the extra capacity that will come on track.

Mr. Hoon: I set out very clearly the basis of the decision on night flights in the decision that I announced to the House, and I have indicated to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) that there is no change in that basis.

The fact remains that this country faces a fundamental choice: we can follow the Conservative party’s approach, which would duck the most difficult decisions, slash transport investment in the midst of a downturn, export British jobs and undermine this country’s long-term prosperity; or we can help people through the difficult times and take the long-term decisions on investment and climate change that prepare the United Kingdom for the future. For those reasons, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Government’s amendment to reject the cynical political opportunism that is so manifestly reflected in the motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition.

1.51 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I regret very much the tone that the Secretary of State for Transport adopted in his responses this afternoon. There was really no need to be gratuitously unpleasant and offensive, as he seemed to wish to be. Far be it from me to defend the Conservative party, but he seemed to decide that attack is the best form of defence. He decided to do that because he has an unconvincing case to put forward. Let us remember that when he was Defence Secretary he was the man who gave us the dodgy dossier, and now, as Transport Secretary, he wants to give us a dodgy runway—the extra runway that has more and more flights, yet somehow the Government’s target of an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions is met, where the EU limits will apparently be respected and somehow met, with lots more flights and lots more cars turning up at the airport. The environmental damage will be acceptable, but Sipson will be wiped off the face of the map. That is the dodgy runway that he wants to give us.

Mr. Gummer: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the debate would be more instructive if the Secretary of State had met the fundamental climate change issue about which most of his colleagues are concerned, rather than trying to make odd points against both Opposition parties, which have a principled reason—I could not possibly have a constituency reason—for saying, “If you really care about climate change, you cannot have this extension and expect Ministers to go to Copenhagen with any credibility”?

Norman Baker: I entirely agree with that. The right hon. Gentleman has a long record on this issue. Let me make it absolutely clear that, although we have a number of reasons for objecting to a third runway, our principal reason is climate change. Therefore, the people whom I feel most sorry for are the two who have been corralled on to the Front Bench today: the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The Cabinet has been leaking like a colander in recent weeks, and we know that those two Secretaries of State have had
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genuine difficulties—quite rightly, from their perspective, given their Cabinet positions—and that they have been wheeled out today to sit on the Front Bench to give the impression that all has mended and that all is unity.

I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change sum up tonight, when he can tell us how a massive increase in the number of flights, with no technological solutions on the horizon, will contribute to his target of an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions. I do not know whether he ever took part in university debates where people have to argue the opposite of what they believe, but he will have to practise that this evening.

The reality is that this is a very serious issue in climate change terms and for the constituents of those hon. Members who are affected. The House needs to address those two serious issues. I am afraid the Government have got themselves on the wrong side of the argument. The Secretary of State for Transport, who spent his time attacking other people rather than defending his own case, must recognise that there is now overwhelming opposition to the proposed third runway, even in his own party.

I am happy to say that the Liberal Democrats were the first party in the House to oppose a third runway. In April, we introduced such a motion in the House. We are now being joined by the Conservatives and others: 57 Labour MPs signed the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan). I am glad that the independent spirit has not been entirely extinguished on the Government Benches and that the lure of becoming a Parliamentary Private Secretary has not taken away entirely the need to vote the right way when issues come before the House.

I draw the House’s attention to the article in The Times that has been referred to; colleagues in the nationalist parties and in Northern Ireland need to be aware that, far from guaranteeing any extra traffic for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, a third runway at Heathrow

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but from a Scottish point of view, we want transport links that will take us to Europe. High-speed rail may be the answer, but I asked the Conservative spokesperson about the time scale and payment for high-speed rail and did not get an answer. Can the hon. Gentleman give me an answer on when high-speed rail will reach Scotland to stand in for flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow airports?

Norman Baker: I am very happy to try to respond to that point. We have made a firm commitment that high-speed rail will start immediately after the next election if we are in the lucky position to be in government or, indeed, part of the Government, which may be a possibility. That is not a 2015 plan; it is not a 2027 plan; it starts right away. We have also said how we will pay for it—partly by a £30 per person surcharge on domestic flights, other than lifeline flights to the highlands and islands, for example, and that money will go towards the construction of a high-speed rail network. We are deadly serious about that, and we are determined that the benefits of high-speed rail are not simply for the west midlands but will benefit the whole country.

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Graham Stringer: As ever, I listen carefully to the case that the hon. Gentleman puts, which seems to be based on the fact that, if there is not a third runway, there will be fewer flights. But surely, without a third runway, people will not stop flying to Japan or elsewhere; they will just leave this country and go to a European hub, so there will be two flights and more, not less, CO2.

Norman Baker: I have not made the case that stopping the third runway would end up with fewer flights. I have made the case that the Government have accepted for roads. The Government have accepted that, if more road capacity is built, it becomes filled with vehicles, making journeys that would not have been made. However, the Government do not want to accept the case on aviation that, if more airports and runways are supplied, there are more flights. Why do they not accept that argument? I fail to understand the logic that the Government adopt.

Sammy Wilson: Of course, there is real concern about the impact that any decision on Heathrow may have on regional airports, especially those in Northern Ireland, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that, without a hub airport in London, people who leave Northern Ireland and want to fly elsewhere are likely to have to fly to Europe? Those flights are longer, so carbon emissions would be greater. Total carbon emissions are then likely to have an impact on any decision made about regional airports. So it would be far better to have an effective hub airport in the south-east of England, rather than in Germany, France or elsewhere.

Norman Baker: I agree, but we have an effective hub airport at Heathrow already. More people are already using London’s airports than those in Germany or France—London is first in the list—so I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of Heathrow ceasing to exist. It will continue to serve Belfast and the other regional airports that are fitted into it. In fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) mentions, we want guarantees that slots and flights from places such as Belfast, the north of Scotland and so on will be protected, because they have to feed into Heathrow—there is no alternative—to get elsewhere outside the UK.

The Government have adopted a dangerous political position, and are out of line not just with the House, but with the country at large. With the Government 15 per cent. behind in the opinion polls, I question whether they really want to go to the wall over the issue. Is it really the issue that they want to go down fighting on? Have Labour MPs lost their survival instinct? It seems so.

Mr. Tom Harris: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that because of opinion polls, the Government should change their position and adopt a populist approach? Is that what the Liberal Democrats are suggesting?

Norman Baker: I am saying that the Government are muddle-headed and have the wrong policy. The opinion polls should concentrate their mind. If the Government were to concentrate their mind and examine the facts, they would reach a different conclusion.

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Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, as he has come to a pause. The Secretary of State for Transport just made a comment about night flights that he needs to check with his officials. I believe that under current legislation, the cap on night flights ends in 2012. There is no cap on the number of flights—there is only a general noise commitment—beyond that date. The House is possibly being misled. Perhaps that point could be addressed, at least in the summing up.

Norman Baker: That is an important point, and my understanding is that my hon. Friend is correct on that matter. When the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), replies at the end of the debate, he ought to answer that point in full and clarify the Government’s position on that matter.

As I mentioned, we have long been concerned about the impact of aviation on climate change. That is the primary, but not the only, reason why we oppose a third runway at Heathrow. According to Government figures, aviation accounted for 13 per cent. of total UK climate change damage in 2005—that is all gases, not just CO2. That takes account of departing flights only. If the calculation were based on return flights by UK citizens, the figure would be nearer 20 per cent., according to the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise. Emissions from air travel are due to rise by 83 per cent. from 2002 levels by 2020, and could amount to a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions by 2038.

That is the direction of travel that the Government wish to support by allowing the construction of a third runway at Heathrow. They have to get real. I give them credit for putting targets in their Climate Change Act 2008; we are the first country in the world to have a climate change Act. We fully supported it, while others in the House did not. The Government have to realise that they will have to deliver on their climate change targets. They cannot have a target only for some Government to say, 20 years hence, “We cannot possibly meet it.” We must know now how we will meet it, and building a third runway at Heathrow does not help in any shape or form.

Mr. Randall: I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree with me on this point. We are using a sort of shorthand when we talk about a third runway. He is of course aware that we are talking about not just a runway, but something the size of another Gatwick airport, including a sixth terminal, which, as he knows, was not even in the original consultation.

Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. While we are talking about Gatwick, let me make it absolutely clear that we Liberal Democrat Members are totally opposed to any further expansion of airport capacity in the south-east, and in the term “south-east” I include Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow.

The Government waved away the comments of Chris Smith—Lord Smith, who is now chairman of the Environment Agency. He was of course a former Labour party spokesman on the environment, and was well respected in that capacity. He said on 27 January—not very long ago—that Heathrow expansion is “a mistake”. He said that there was “a very big chance” that the
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project would stall owing to the threat of legal action from campaigners and resistance from Opposition parties. I can confirm that the last part of that point is certainly true. He also said:

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