Previous Section Index Home Page

He made sensible objections, on behalf of the Environment Agency, to the Government’s policy on a third runway. Will the Government formally respond to the Environment Agency, or does that advisory body matter only when it is in line with Government policy, and is it to be discarded and ignored when it is out of line with it? That appears to be the Government’s attitude.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I know that it is the hon. Gentleman’s policy to be against all expansion of aviation capacity in the south-east— [Interruption.] That is his party’s policy; he just said so. Many projections show that demand will increase. If supply is restricted, the price of the item will go up. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that poor people—working people—will not be allowed to fly?

Norman Baker: Not be allowed to fly? I do not know where on earth the hon. Gentleman got that from. If he is saying that aviation is underpriced, well, frankly it is. It is underpriced in terms of the carbon damage it does. It sometimes costs less to fly to Manchester or Newcastle than to take the train, and that is wrong. We increasingly need to base our economy on carbon emissions, and we need to put the price next to the carbon emissions. We have to recognise that aviation is underpriced. I have been frank with the House today, and have said that we should have a £30 surcharge on domestic flights to help pay for the construction of high-speed rail.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): May I make the absolutely obvious point that most constituents in constituencies such as mine may use transport, including public transport—they may use the bus, the tube and the train—but there are very few people from constituencies with high numbers of people on low incomes who fly around Britain to take part in the economy? Often, the people who fly the most are in the business sector, which ought to set a good example.

Norman Baker: Yes, that is perfectly true, and analysis of travel patterns shows that disproportionate numbers of those who take cheaper flights are middle class or well off, and are not the people referred to in the intervention by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris).

Let me ask the Secretary of State for Transport to address the issue of safety. I do not wish to say that the proposal for a third runway is unsafe; I just want to raise the issue, and be given an assurance at the end of the debate. The Civil Aviation Authority said:

that is, traffic growth—

28 Jan 2009 : Column 329

I raised the matter with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town, last March, as he may recall. He said:

NATS said, in a letter to me:

It is a serious issue. It may be that expansion can be handled safely; I do not wish to start hares running needlessly, but it is important that it be put on the record that any expansion at Heathrow can be handled safely under the current air traffic regime. I shall be grateful for such an assurance from the Minister when he replies.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is any question about airspace capacity safety, the issue could be dealt with by the introduction of a high-speed rail link? About 50 per cent. of all flights that leave Edinburgh go to other UK cities that people could easily access by alternative means.

Norman Baker: That is perfectly true. The issue is not simply about getting to other cities in the UK—this may partly relate to the Belfast point; it is also about getting to other cities in near Europe. The potential for high-speed traffic to take us to Amsterdam and other towns and cities in near Europe is significant. The Government have not given that point full weight. There are still too many short-haul flights. There are 24 flights today from London to Manchester; I checked this morning. There is no need for flights from London to Manchester. Paris-Brussels flights have effectively been eliminated by a good rail link. There is considerable potential for transfer of traffic from air to rail. There are still a large number of flights to Paris, although Eurostar offers a good service.

Why is there such a rush to get the third runway approved? It is partly because BAA and its friends know that if there is a change of Government at the next election, whatever the outcome—no matter whether there is a Conservative majority or a hung Parliament—it is much less likely that Heathrow expansion will be progressed with. By the way, I tell civil servants in the Department for Transport not to waste their time on working out an aviation statement; they will not need it. It will be rewritten after the next election.

The majority shareholder in the Department for Transport, BAA, is keen that we should move forward with the expansion as soon as possible. It knows that high-speed rail is a real alternative. It knows that in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, there has been a massive transfer from air to rail on key corridors. It knows that that will happen in this country, too, and that is why it is so desperate to get permission for the third runway before high-speed rail kicks in and the whole case vanishes from under its feet. That is what the game is about, and that is why it is so determined to push the
28 Jan 2009 : Column 330
change through. It is just a pity that the Government are determined to aid it in that proposal. It is a great shame.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern at the lecture that the Opposition received from the Secretary of State on due decision-making processes, when the Government commissioned a business case in partnership with the very industry that is set to benefit most from the expansion of Heathrow airport?

Norman Baker: Yes, I do. There was a lot wrong with the consultation period and with the whole Government process leading up to this point. If the Government had identified a proper way forward, they might have had a stronger case than they have. Unfortunately, they did not do so.

I return briefly to the subject of carbon. The Eurostar figures, which have been provided to all Members of the House and which the Government have not queried, show that rail journeys by Eurostar to equivalent destinations would emit only 10 per cent. of the carbon per passenger. That is an enormous saving. If we are aiming for an 80 per cent. saving on carbon, there we are—there is a 90 per cent. saving on that journey right away. Even if we allow for different energy modes—Eurostar has nuclear generation—the figures from the all-party sustainable aviation group show that the emissions per passenger per kilometre in grams of CO2 will be 58 for rail and 227 for domestic air. Even on that normal energy mix, there is three quarters more for domestic air than for rail.

The Government set much store by the economic case, which has been rather overstated. We seem to be told that the expansion of the runway at Heathrow would have massive economic benefits for London and the south-east. In fact, London has been doing quite well in the past 10 years, even with the terribly constrained Heathrow that we apparently have. In my intervention on the Secretary of State, who has left his seat, I mentioned the loss of jobs at Schiphol, but perhaps a Minister ought to reflect on the survey carried out by the Institute of Directors in January. Only 1 per cent. of IOD members think that air should be the Government’s top priority for increasing capacity, and 52 per cent. said rail.

A survey conducted by the London chamber of commerce in 2006 said that 78 per cent. of London firms opposed Heathrow expansion. Tim Jeans, the managing director of Monarch Airlines, said that the expansion of Heathrow would have a detrimental impact on the lives of millions of people living in west London and prevent the aviation industry from being taken seriously on environmental issues. He also said that the Government’s reliance on new technology to reduce emissions was “highly optimistic”. That is the aviation industry speaking.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that during the public consultation exhibitions there was a board stating that 95 per cent. of businesses had said that Heathrow was very important or vital? What was not mentioned was that that was 95 per cent. of the 164 that responded, out of the 3,000 businesses that had been asked. In other words, less than 2 per cent. of businesses asked about Heathrow’s importance said that it was very important or vital.

28 Jan 2009 : Column 331

Norman Baker: That is absolutely right, and it shows that there was a dodgy consultation to back up a dodgy runway.

Simon Hughes: I remind my hon. Friend and the House that there is, at last, progress on Crossrail, which will produce jobs and better train services, and progress on Thameslink, which presents some constituency problems for me but is a welcome north-south rail link; there is an East London line extension; there are plans for a cross-river tram; and there are further plans for light rail. There are many transport schemes that will add to carbon-efficient, non-harmful transport in and around London and provide many jobs in the process.

Norman Baker: Yes. Part of the objective of dealing with the present difficult economic conditions is to move forward in a way that not only encourages jobs, but does so in a green way. There is no point in creating jobs that are unsustainable in environmental terms.

Mr. Gummer: Has the hon. Gentleman also noticed that major companies and small companies alike have used the opportunity of the downturn to learn to do a great deal of international business without travelling from place to place? Does he think that after the downturn is changed, those habits of sensible behaviour and unwasteful use of money will continue?

Norman Baker: The right hon. Gentleman is right. He may have seen a recent study that came out in the past few days and confirmed that. It said that it was not only economically sensible but environmentally sensible to try to do much more business by, for example, video link. It is often unnecessary to fly around the world to do business and it is inefficient to do so—except for Government Ministers, who like to travel round the world frequently.

The economic case has been overstated. It does not take into account the huge subsidy that aviation gets from the fact that it pays no tax on its fuel, unlike other modes of transport. Lastly on the economic point, I draw attention to a poll carried out in December 2008 covering 500 businesses, not the one or two referred to by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening). Only 4 per cent. believed that they would benefit from an expanded Heathrow, whereas 95 per cent. said that that would make little or no difference. However, 23 per cent. of businesses thought they would be helped by a new high-speed rail line to the north. When asked which one they would choose, 27 per cent. chose the rail link and only 4 per cent. chose Heathrow. That is the voice of business.

Political support is vanishing from under the Minister’s feet, as is business support. We are told that the Heathrow expansion will help tourism. Foreign visitors arriving by air in 2004 spent £11 billion in this country, but UK citizens going abroad that year spent £26 billion, so if we increase Heathrow’s capacity, there is also an issue about whether we should allow more money to flow out of the country and suck less in. That seems not to have been factored in. I do not know whether the British Tourist Authority is in favour of a third runway at Heathrow. I would have thought that it was rather dodgy, if I were considering the future of tourism in this country.

28 Jan 2009 : Column 332

I am conscious of the time that I am taking. I have not mentioned local factors, which are very important. I remember powerfully the intervention and comments of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) the last time we debated the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) has a close constituency interest. I hope she will catch the Deputy Speaker’s eye and be able to speak on those matters. Seven hundred homes demolished, 1,600 people evicted, and Sipson wiped off the map is not something that the House of Commons should be proud of.

We must ask ourselves the reasons for the Government’s policy. It is electorally unpopular, economically it does not make sense and it is environmentally damaging, so what is the policy for? The Department for Transport seems to have been influenced far too much in recent times by BAA, which seems to decide the Government’s aviation policy. Let us not forget that BAA half-wrote the consultation, set up a joint body, the Heathrow Delivery Group, to steer the plans through the consultation process, and provided the data for calculations of noise and pollution that formed the premises of the consultation document. Opposition groups were not permitted to challenge the data. The Department for Transport and BAA set up a risk list, a list of threats to the building of the third runway, which includes the 2M campaign representing 2 million people.

I will not bore the House by elaborating on the revolving door, but there are a huge number of people in government who find themselves connected with BAA, and a huge number of people connected with BAA who find themselves rather close to Government. That explains why the Government have got their position completely wrong on the matter.

I appeal to the House today to leave aside the charge of political opportunism. Whether hon. Members believe that or not, it is not relevant. What is relevant is that the Government have studiously avoided giving the House of Commons the opportunity of a vote on Heathrow, which is a disgrace.

We on the two Opposition Front Benches have done the best we can to try to make sure that there is a vote in the House. It is the only vote that we are likely to get before the next general election, so I ask Labour MPs to think very carefully about how they will vote this evening. If they go through the Lobby with the Government, which is the easy way of dealing with the matter, the way of least resistance, they will have to answer to their consciences. They will have to answer for the inconsistencies with the Climate Change Act 2008, and they will have to answer mostly to their constituents if they happen to live anywhere near London or the flight path.

This is the one opportunity that we all have to get it right. I ask Labour Members to think about the environmental impact of a third runway, and about the local impact. If they cannot do that, I ask them to think about their own political prospects. If they think of those three things, they will vote to reject a third runway at Heathrow. It does not really matter what the Government do; I think the third runway is dead in the water and it will not go ahead.

Several hon. Members rose

28 Jan 2009 : Column 333

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I should remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. That applies from now on.

2.19 pm

Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I was going to make a joke about new jobs for archaeologists, but that would not have gone down very well with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), to whom I pay tribute. His constituents are lucky to be represented by him, and many Members, including Opposition Members, have worked with him under his chairmanship of the Project Heathrow Watch committee. We have worked on a non-party political basis.

My hon. Friend now has to face constituents who are going to suffer, including those who will lose their homes. I promise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will not praise my hon. Friend for picking up the Mace, but had the Secretary of State not said in his statement the week before last that he was going to bar mixed mode, I would not, in my hon. Friend’s place, have been able to put the Mace down in as gentle and gentlemanly a way as he did. I would have been too angry.

I say straight away that I am going to vote against the Opposition motion on the grounds that it is, without any doubt, party politicking. I shall tell you why, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I recall the joy that I felt when the Secretary of State barred mixed mode. I shall tell hon. Members what mixed mode is; obviously, many people do not understand it, although some do because we have sat on a committee and talked about it. We know how serious it is. Aircraft bound for both runways come over my constituency. Because of the prevailing winds, the aeroplanes get on to the two flight paths 70 to 75 per cent. of the time, which in the end— [Interruption.] The shadow Secretary of State looks puzzled. I should tell her that planes for both runways start to land over my constituents. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon my constituents get a break, because of alternation.

The shadow Secretary of State said a lot about wanting us to have a chance to vote, but it is a shame that she ignored mixed mode; I do not know why she did that. The barring of mixed mode is the best thing that could have been done. BAA wanted to introduce mixed mode immediately.

Mrs. Villiers: I reiterate that we strongly opposed mixed mode, and that we welcome the Government’s retreat on mixed mode. The issue did not feature centrally in what I had to say to the House today because I was hoping that that victory had been won. If the hon. Gentleman has no confidence that the Government will stick to their promise to scrap their plans for mixed mode, I will be concerned. However, he should make no mistake: the Opposition oppose mixed mode.

Alan Keen: I was sitting in the second row here in the Chamber when the Secretary of State announced the barring of mixed mode. I looked at the faces of Conservative Members whom I have often regarded as colleagues during my years of opposing the third runway, and there was not a smile on any of their faces. That is how I know that the motion is party politicking; there is no doubt about that. What is more, they know it.

Next Section Index Home Page