give full consideration to alternative solutions,
First, I want to say a little more about the feasibility of the estuary site. I have mentioned the fact that the depth of the river at that point is such that the engineering would be feasible. There are important hydrological issues, which Doug Oakervee is looking at very closely, and they will be crucial in determining the compatibility of an airport with the existing maritime use of the area. Shellhaven port is now being developed on the north side of the river, a little further inland, and the two would clearly need to be able to operate together.
There is also scope for some highly environmentally desirable energy generation Doug Oakervee has explored this possibilityin tandem with an estuary airport site, thanks to the power of the tides and the scope for tidal generation. In the longer term, there could well be a case for the site being associated with the barrage that might be necessary in about 90 years time, when Londons defences will require strengthening beyond the existing barrage. These are all long-term, complex issues, but the crucial point is that they should be looked at seriously and properly. I believe that the study that Doug Oakervee is undertaking will allow that to happen.
I was disappointed by the 2003 aviation White Paper. It put up an Aunt Sally, in the form of a proposal for an estuary airport at Cliffe. That proposal was defective in almost every wayit was the wrong site, and it would not have brought the kind of environmental benefits that an offshore island airport could bring. Not surprisingly, the Government rejected it. However, that should not be a reason for rejecting the option of an offshore airport that is now being examined.
Given the inherent tension that exists at Heathrow, any proposal to expand it will inevitably result in massive opposition, because of the people living around the airport, the road traffic congestion, and so on. All those factors mean that, every time there is a further proposal for expansion, commitments have to be given on limits and mitigating measures to try to restrain the damage. Each time, those commitments are given and then broken. I am not the only person who regards it as quite disgraceful that, at the time of the terminal 5 inquiry, BAA should have given a pledge that, if it received permission to build terminal 5, it would not proceed with an application for a third runway. BAA has, disgracefully, broken that pledge.
If the House supports the Governments policy tonight, if we proceed with a third runway at Heathrow, and if it proves impossible to meet the various conditions that my right hon. Friends have rightly tried to put in place to mitigate the environmental impact, I fear that there will be pressure on them to say, Well, we tried, but it wasnt possible. We have to leave those commitments behind and accept the greater economic case for the expansion of the airport. That problem is inherent in Heathrow. If we take the decision in favour of its expansion tonight, we will be committing our successors to exactly the same scenario as the one that we are wrestling with now, as we try to reconcile the irreconcilable.
I believe that it is time to take stock. The Opposition motion calls for a look at alternatives. I have expressed my disappointment at the quality of the Oppositions case and at the grasp of transport issues displayed by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, but I will vote with the Opposition tonight, because I believe that we must look at alternatives and we cannot proceed as we have up to now with an untenable airport at Heathrow.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I speak as someone who has changed his mind on Heathrow. I have done so because, although I understand the importance of the competitiveness of British industry, I am convinced that if we go ahead with the proposal, it will make it impossible to meet reasonable climate change requirements. That is why I want to address the issue in a rather more measured way than that of the Secretary of State.
I have no wish to claim any constituency interest in Heathrow, except to say that it will be better for my constituency if Heathrow is expanded, because it will make it less likely that Stansted will be expanded. I am not biased in that sense. We must take the problem seriously and ask how we deal with it in a way that meets the requirements of the Climate Change Act 2008 and climate change demands. We cannot turn round and say that there is a balance and that we are going down on this or that side of it. I say that there is no balance: we have to meet the demands of dealing with climate change, so there is a need for an alternative policy to achieve that. I wish I could go along with the argument for Heathrow, but when I look at the facts and figures, I do not think that they stack up.
It has been suggested by the former Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), that everything will be all right because of the European emissions trading system. I am a fan of that system, but there is no way that the price of those certificates will outweigh some of the economic incentives for unnecessary airline flights. It will not happen; the figures quite clearly prove it.
It just happens to be economically advantageous to fly flights to Manchester, even though that is not a sensible thing to do, particularly if we replace the present railway line with a much faster alternative. The truth is that the flights going to Manchester show just how wrong it is to argue that there is somehow a scarcity of slots. The truth is that if we did not have the unnecessary flights, we would have the slots to the north of Ireland that are necessary, if that is the argument. The first thing we need to do, then, is to get rid of the flights that are not necessary and replace them with such additional air transport as may be needed.
There is also the argument about stacking. One can deal with stacking very simply and remove 11 per cent. of emissions by having a sensible European-wide air traffic control instead of the present divided system. That would mean planes would not take off from Madrid unless there was a point at which they could land. That is a sensible way forward.
I am not going to argue the geographical case against Heathrow, as that is for others to do. In any case, I am in favour of replacing Heathrow for such air traffic as we needa considerable amountwith a new airport, simply because the Hudson river example demonstrates the exact opposite of what the Secretary of State has suggested. The fact is that it shows just how dangerous it is to fly large numbers of flights over extremely densely populated areas. That also leads me on to say that to rely on arguments in the aviation White Paper of 2003 when we have moved on so far in climate change terms shows how difficult it is to resolve the problem.
There are four things that I want to put to Ministers. First, it is very difficult to take the Governments assurances on a number of these issues seriously when the Environment Agencythe Governments own agencywhich has not shown itself previously to be enthusiastically opposed on these issues, tells us that the Heathrow expansion should not go ahead.
Secondly, I must request that we should not ask for a derogation from EU rules on low-level emissions because if we go ahead with that, it makes the whole argument about credibility very difficult to defend. The Government need to tell us that we are going to meet the EU
requirements, not have a derogation and show that we can achieve what we say in a manner that any environmentally supportive Government would do.
Those are local issues about the local environment, but the biggest issue of all comes back to the question of climate change. Here I want to address the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in particular. Britain needs to lead Europe and Europe needs to lead the world on this issue. President Obama represents a remarkable and wonderful change, but he will have his own internal difficulties, which will build up as the honeymoon period inevitably diminishes, so we have to put ourselves into the strongest possible position.
I know that the Secretary of State feels that he has gained enough in this whole argument to put forward the case that we can both lead on climate change and have a third runway at London airport. I put it to him that that will not be possible, because at some point we have to draw the line and say that we cannot go on with the expansion of aviation at its current rate as well as realistically meet our climate change targets without putting so heavy a burden on the rest of industry that it will lose the very jobs that Heathrow is supposed to provide.
Rob Marris: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the official Oppositions motion partly contradicts the position that he has consistently put forward on climate change? The motion calls for an exploration of
the potential of other UK airports to handle more long-haul flights.
Mr. Gummer: The difficulty is that the Government would not allow the vote in Government time that we should have had, so the Oppositions only opportunity to present the case as impartially as they can is to take the words of a Cross Benchers motion. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, who I know rather agrees with me on this issue, that it is perfectly proper in a democratic framework for the Opposition to ask the Government for a proper vote. I shall say more about that before I finish, but let me return to climate change.
I believe that if we do not embark down the road of restricting the growth of aviation, the weight on the rest of British industry that will result from trying to meet our climate change requirements will be far too great. How do we restrict the growth of aviation without restricting our ability to trade and to take leisure? The answer, of course, is high-speed rail. What worries meI am sure that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change can be exempted from this criticismis that we heard nothing about high-speed rail proposals from the Government until they became the official policy of the Opposition. I happen to know this to be true, as the Government would be prepared to bring forward high-speed rail proposals now in order to overcome the downturnthey are looking for ways of dealing with it. Why can they not bring such proposals forward? It is because the right hon. Member for Bolton, West did not do the work on them. That serious criticism can be levelled at previous Ministers.
Mr. Tom Harris: To come to the defence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), who is no longer in her place, there was a commitment in the Labour party manifesto to look at high-speed rail, and in 2006, when the report to which she referred was published, there was a commitment by the Government at that stagelong before the Conservative party came up with any proposals on high-speed railthat we would continue investigating the possibility of high-speed rail. At that point, that was a far greater commitment than the Conservative party had ever come up with.
Mr. Gummer: A commitment to investigate by a Government who have had more taskforce investigations, commissions and the like is a meaningless commitment, and we all know it. The truth of the matter is that there was no intention at all to push this forward until it was seen that this was a realistic and reasonable alternative, and that we could make the present Heathrow work better by having a hub there, along the lines of the Ove Arup suggestion.
So there is an alternative, and it is one that delivers for both the needs of British industry and for our climate change policy. I should point out in British industrys defence that more and more businesses are seeing that we travel much more than we need to, and we will come out of this downturn with many more people taking seriously this part of their commitment to sustainability. So I find it difficult to argue at this moment that we need to have the particular answer that has been put forward.
I do not believe that we can meet this requirement in this curious, two-handed waya new runway, and our support for the Committee on Climate Changeabove all because someone has to say Stop. The European Union is not going to carry forward a policy in which we restrict airport expansion in Europe as a whole as part of its climate change programme if the country that puts it forward is the one that has just done the last development. That is precisely the way to make nobody follow us. That is why we have to take the brave step of being the leader.
I know that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has a difficult role to play. Instinctively, he knows what a difficult balance it is. He has come down on one side, after a great deal of argument, and I respect him in this because at least he believes in climate change. I have to say that, to judge from the speeches of the Secretary of State for Transport, I am beginning to wonder whether he really has that commitment to the belief that climate change is happening. He does not really take it seriouslyat least, that seriousness has not come through in his speeches. Perhaps a little tutoring over the years will make him better at feigning, at least, some sort of enthusiasm.
I want to make the time spent by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in Copenhagen the most productive it could be. I want to make him the man who made the difference in the European Union, and the EU the body that made the difference to save this world from the effects of climate change. This issue
hampers himit makes it almost impossible to take this Government seriously, and because I believe that climate change is the biggest physical threat to the world, I believe that we should not have a third runway.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), as I did in the debate that we had on 11 November. The fact that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), who speaks for the Opposition on these matters, did not make one of her finest speeches today does not make the Governments case any stronger for forcing through a third runway at Heathrow airport.
My starting point is the 2003 aviation White Paper, The Future of Air Transport, which contains commitments that I and every other Labour MP were elected on. It is worth reminding the House what it said about air quality, noise and surface accessthree of the key tests for all of us who represent constituencies under the Heathrow flight path. It was fairly clear:
To tackle local impacts around airports, the White Paper prescribes a range of measures to be applied nationally and locally. These include new legislation and economic instruments as well as improved technology and stringent planning conditions attached to airport development. The Governments under-pinning objectives are to limit
and, where possible, reduce noise impacts over time.
I welcome the announcement on mixed modethat was not limiting noise impacts; it was not making them worse immediately, which is an entirely different thing. The White Paper continues with the phrase,
to ensure air quality and other environmental standards are met, and to minimise other local environmental impacts.
Ensuring easy and reliable access for passengers, which minimises environmental, congestion and other local impacts, is a key factor in considering any proposal for new airport capacity. All such proposals must be accompanied by clear proposals on surface access which meet these criteria.
Increasing the proportion of passengers who get to airports by public transport can help reduce road congestion and air pollution. We expect airport operators to share this objective, and to demonstrate how they will achieve it in putting forward their proposals for developing new capacity.
We have heard from the contributions today that BAAs management do not accept that responsibilityin fact, they butted it back. It is not their problem. BAAs problem is to provide landing and take-off slots. Its problem is to run an airport; it is not interested in the chaos that it causes around the airport. Its track record and believability, for any of us who represent constituencies around Heathrow airport, is shredded. It lied. It lied to the people of this country, to this House, to the Government. It said whatever it had to say to get terminal 5, and now it has the bare face to admit that it was deceitful all the way through. And we are supposed to believe the assurances that it is going to give us.
Could the hon. Gentleman tell me of a single occasion on which a solemn promise made by
BAA has actually been carried forwardexcept those where it has not had time to break them?
Martin Salter: I do not think I need detain the House in racking my brains for an instance when BAA may have kept a promise. The whole House knows the thrust of the right hon. Gentlemans argument and my argument, and I concur entirely with what he is saying.
So we have a solemn commitment to do something about air quality, which was pretty bad in 2003 and is a lot worse now. Air quality is the big onecertainly for me, representing a Thames valley constituency. The Thames valley suffers from very high levels of asthma among its children and young people, which is an issue that I will return to.
We know that, in common with nine other European Union countries, we are about to be in breach of the European air quality directive. That is why the Government are about to apply for a derogation, which can last for only five years. I have to tell the House that there is no guarantee that that derogation will be successful. I have been passed a letter from the Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, which makes the situation clear. Article 4 of the directive
sets a limit value of 40 micrograms/m3 for NO2 and requires this limit to be achieved by 1 January 2010.