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28 Jan 2009 : Column 334

The shadow Secretary of State has just mentioned the issue reluctantly, and then asked whether the promise would be kept. BAA wants mixed mode immediately, because it would relieve the pressure on Heathrow, but the Secretary of State has barred it. The only Opposition Member who acknowledged the issue during my right hon. Friend’s statement was the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), and she did not quite manage to raise a smile. None of the others who opposed it on the committee with us managed to show any—

Justine Greening: The reason why there were not many smiles on this side is that we get the same old story. No promise on Heathrow expansion has ever been followed through. Every statement about Heathrow has always gone something like, “We’re going to get on with this expansion, and that will mean that we won’t need that other expansion.” The Secretary of State’s statement took the same form as every previous announcement. When we were told that there would be a fourth terminal, there was supposed not to be a fifth terminal; when we were told that there would be a fifth terminal, there was supposed not to be a third runway—and when we are told that there will be a third runway, that is supposed to mean that there will not be mixed mode. Is it any wonder that people are sceptical and think that if there is another Labour Government after the election we will get mixed mode—just as we got a third runway, even though we were told that it would not go ahead without environmental constraints?

Alan Keen: Just a few moments ago, an Opposition Member mentioned the bar on increases in night flights until 2012. That was the first concession that any Government had ever given on Heathrow airport—the first time they had ever opposed anything that British Airways or BAA wanted. My hon., and special, Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) and I met the Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Secretary of State for Transport, and he agreed not to oppose the House of Lords amendment on the expansion of night flights. He agreed to allow the amendment to come through. People were delighted. That was the first concession ever made by any Government against BAA’s wishes. That is not a mammoth example, but it was the first one, and a good sign.

The barring of mixed mode will make a tremendous difference. [Interruption.] People are pulling faces again, but they cannot have felt the relief that I felt. My constituents live very close to Heathrow—right up to the fence—and the noise is appalling. They have had to put up with that noise for many years. We are now arguing about the third runway, which I opposed, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. However, mixed mode would affect my constituents; runway No. 3 would bring a little more surface transport.

At no meeting that I have attended to plead for a bar on mixed mode have I ever done anything other than say at the outset that I supported my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and his constituents in protesting against runway No. 3. However, that runway will hardly affect my constituents at all. The barring of mixed mode will not only save people who would not have been able to use their own gardens with any pleasure ever again; it will also prevent the damage to education in schools in my constituency. Knowing on
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which days the noise will start at 3 pm and on which days there will be noise until 3 pm makes a tremendous difference. As Opposition Members know, their motion is party politicking. That is why I shall vote against it, despite my opposition to expansion outside the current boundaries.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): The Opposition motion that we are debating today is based on an early-day motion. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he signed that EDM?

Alan Keen: I did sign the EDM. The Opposition told us today that they wanted to give us the chance to debate and vote on Heathrow expansion, but they conveniently ignored the fact that mixed mode has been barred. There is no comparison. Obviously, the media favour talking about whether there should be a third runway or not. However, my constituents fear having to put up with aircraft noise and air pollution all day long, instead of having the half-day’s break, and there is no comparison with people in north Chiswick, for example, who will have a flight path across them in 10 years’ time. The issue is serious. I know that there is party politicking, and that is why I do not come to the Chamber as often as I might, although I always enjoy it when I do. Again, I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and all the effort that he has put in.

Finally, on 3 April 2008, the Liberal Democrats, led by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), tabled a motion saying that runway alternation would bring more noise and air pollution; it should have said that the ending of runway alternation would bring more noise and pollution. I noticed that the Liberal Democrat website reports that that motion said that any runway alternation would bring more noise. They actually changed the motion on which the House of Commons decided that day; they altered it for their own purposes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it would have been better if the website had said that a mistake had been made and that the motion had meant to say that the ending of alternation would cause more noise. However, they chose not to include the mistake, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will not be surprised about that.

2.29 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I recognise the need for the United Kingdom to remain competitive in aviation terms. Throughout the 1980s I supported the development of Stansted in competition with Schiphol, because it was clear that jobs would go either to Schiphol or to Stansted. I did not make myself popular with my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means, but I believed that it was the right decision for this country. I also recognise that Heathrow is the world No. 1 hub airport, and in the interests of United Kingdom Ltd. must remain so.

However, I do not accept that that is dependent on the building of a third runway. Gatwick will never be a hub airport, and neither will Luton, Stansted or Manston in Kent—but there are alternatives, some of which were put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers); Conservative party policy is very clear. High-speed rail can take some of the pressure off Heathrow, and must do so—that is in the interests of
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this country—but there are alternatives. The other regional airports in the south-east—Manston is one of them and Southend is another—can take some of the pressure, not directly off Heathrow but off Gatwick, which can then take further pressure off Heathrow. Those alternatives have not been thought through.

The Secretary of State made much of the aviation White Paper. When that was published, I challenged the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling) as to why he had omitted Manston. With, I suppose, the sense of geography that one might expect from somebody who represents a seat north of Hadrian’s wall, he said that Manston was too far from London to be of any use. Just for the record, Manston is about 77 miles from London; in train journey times, that should be not more than an hour from St. Pancras. There is every reason to suppose that Manston airport could take significant amounts of traffic currently using Gatwick, and that in turn would release capacity. It can be done.

Incidentally, I am not a fan of “Boris island”. I do not think that it would work. The Mayor of London—or perhaps it is his advisers—appears to have overlooked the fact that he wants to site it directly on top of a brand-new wind farm, which would have to be demolished, with all the investment involved in that. There is also the small matter of several hundred thousand migratory birds that would need to be told that they have to go somewhere else, as well as the minor issue of the redirection of all the traffic using the Thames estuary. Apart from that, the Mayor of London is right at least to take a passing look at the idea; I trust that it will not be much more than that.

Fifty miles from where Boris wants to put his island is Manston. Manston has one of the longest runways in the country, and its take-offs and landings are currently, and will remain, over the sea. My colleague Mrs. Laura Sandys, who represents the Conservative interest in South Thanet and will, I trust, be its next Member of Parliament, and I oppose the creation of a hub airport—a London airport—at Manston; let me make that absolutely plain before it gets turned into a “Focus” leaflet. However, we believe that as a regional airport Manston has a great deal to offer the south-east, via Gatwick to Heathrow, and to the wider United Kingdom. We see the potential within the next three years for creating London’s Olympic airport. We have the opportunity, if we choose to seize it now—and it must be now—to ring-fence Manston. It is potentially the most secure airfield in the country. It would offer a complete, secure package for the coming and going of all those taking part in the Olympics and those who wish to watch them, and it is on the right side of London.

That can be done. What is needed is investment in the fast rail link. At the moment the link effectively stops at Ashford. The trains go on to Ramsgate, but from Ashford to Ramsgate they run slowly. The rail link could be upgraded for a fraction of the money that the Government are considering spending on a third runway at Heathrow. That would give us a one-hour journey time from central London—if one regards St. Pancras as being central London—right through to a parkway station at Manston. The opportunity is there; it should not be disregarded, and I urge the Minister to seize it.

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2.34 pm

Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West) (Lab): It is a great pleasure for me to be able to take part in this debate on an issue that I have dealt with in the past. I want to support the position of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has taken decisions that have been incredibly brave but also vital for our nation’s economic future.

Aviation in general, not just the question whether to have a third runway at Heathrow, has had a terrible press in recent months and years, particularly from the green lobby, which has put the case that it is not possible for us to meet our climate change obligations if the number of planes leaving Britain continues to grow. I note that that is the position taken by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). If that were true, I would not hesitate to change my position immediately, and neither would, I hope, my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary and the Government. Others, such as the Mayor of London, argue that aviation is vital to Britain’s future but that Heathrow, whose location no one would suggest is ideal, is unable to support a third runway because of the impact that it would have on the local community and west London residents.

Of course, we should all be concerned about any disruptive impact on the people who live locally. These are incredibly emotive issues. Nevertheless, I personally think that the impact on the local environment and on local people can be managed through the framework that my right hon. Friend has set down. Planes become quieter and greener over time, as they have done over the past 10, 20 or 30 years. We would naturally expect that to continue in future, and the safeguards that he has proposed are important in ensuring that the local impact is managed.

I want particularly to address the question of the impact on climate change. Until today, I thought that that was the principle underlying the Opposition’s opposition to Heathrow. In fact, they have been through many changes of position over the past 12 months. When I started looking at this issue, the position taken by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) was that Heathrow expansion should go ahead provided that the local environmental conditions were met. She argued that it was difficult to see how they could be met—a respectable position but not one that I happen to agree with—but suggested that were that to happen the expansion of Heathrow could proceed given the economic case for it. Then she made a massive U-turn and said that there should be no aviation expansion in the south-east at all. Today, I was genuinely shocked to read the motion, which suggests that we have not fully examined provisions to improve high-speed rail, which I would dispute,

The hon. Lady was clear today that the Opposition would now consider an expansion in aviation in the south-east.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I am following the right hon. Lady’s remarks closely. Is not the logical position of her own Government that if a third runway is built, and if they are serious about reducing carbon emissions, the development of regional airports will be stymied or indeed stopped in its tracks,
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with implications across the whole United Kingdom for regeneration and employment in those areas, including our own area of Greater Manchester?

Ruth Kelly: I do not agree with that for one second. In fact, regional economic growth would be hampered massively if runway capacity at Heathrow were rationed and constrained in future.

I am seriously concerned about the impact on climate change.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ruth Kelly: No: I have only a very short space of time to make my case, and I would like to proceed.

People who argue on climate change grounds that we should not expand Heathrow miss two essential points. The first is the social value of flying—something to which we all, as individuals, attach enormous importance. Travelling improves our lives. It enables us to visit places and understand cultures in a way that we could not possibly do if they were seen through a video link. It enables us to keep in touch with loved ones and families and to come together at important times in our lives. Most people, if they had a choice, would be prepared to make much greater sacrifices in other areas of their lives to tackle climate change if that meant being able to continue to use international flights.

Norman Baker Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ruth Kelly: I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has made this environmental case in the past.

Norman Baker: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, with whom I had many dealings when she was in office. Does she agree that the cost of travel, whether by rail, air or road, should in future be more closely related to the carbon emissions from the relevant mode of transport? If so, does that not mean that the cost of flying needs to go up?

Ruth Kelly: I agree that the cost of flying should reflect its full environmental and social costs, and I shall develop that point in a moment.

The economic value of flying is another point that people often misunderstand. This country is a global hub of finance, trade and culture, and its competitiveness is supported by aviation in a real and direct way. Fast, effective connections to international markets are essential to our country’s future economic success. Having a global aviation hub helps the economy not just in London, but in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and all the regions of the UK.

Mr. Tyrie: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ruth Kelly: No, I will not.

The transfer business is often derided by the Opposition and by sceptics in the press. That business is sometimes generated by short-haul flights from within the UK and sometimes by flights passing through London on their way from, say, the United States to Singapore, which enable people to board a direct flight from the UK to their destination. People in London and elsewhere in the UK therefore benefit from a wide choice of direct flights to international destinations.

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As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, in recent years the number of destinations served by Heathrow, particularly domestic destinations, has fallen sharply. At the same time, the number of destinations served by Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle has been on a relentlessly upward path. In other words those airports, with four or five runways each, are benefiting at Heathrow’s expense. In fact, since 1990 the number of domestic destinations from Heathrow has fallen by 50 per cent., as those are the least profitable routes and the first to be squeezed by any rationing of capacity. The number of international destinations has also fallen, which means that any growing international business choosing where to locate its headquarters will think twice about locating in London rather than in mainland Europe.

Mr. Hands: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ruth Kelly: I will not.

Of course, access to a hub airport is not the only consideration that such businesses will take into account. There is also the use of the English language, the time zone—

Justine Greening: Tax.

Ruth Kelly: There is also tax, and there are all sorts of other issues for those businesses to consider. However, access to a hub airport is clearly an important one. If a company depends on growing business in India or China, having to conduct business via a hub airport in mainland Europe or the far east will add several hours to each journey and cause huge inconvenience, not to mention the impact on carbon emissions of having to take two flights instead of one. That suggests to me that we need a very ambitious solution that will allow aviation to grow sustainably while maintaining our position as a country with an internationally competitive global hub. If there are ways of meeting our climate change goals without rationing aviation capacity, we should seek them out first.

The most efficient way of doing that is, of course, through carbon trading. If aviation emissions are appropriately priced—the hon. Member for Lewes made that point well—so that people are paying the full social and environmental costs of travelling by air, they could pay for every household across Europe to switch to low-carbon light bulbs or for energy-intensive industries in other parts of Europe to create a step change in their carbon performance. In fact, people who fly will be paying for the transition to the low-carbon economy that we all want to see. Whether they choose to pay will depend on the personal social value that they place on taking a plane. If they are not prepared to pay the price, the number of flights will fall and we will meet our carbon goals in a different way, with less effort on the part of other carbon-intensive industries.

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