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Susan Kramer rose—

Martin Salter: What that means, effectively, is that if a Government have good reason and need time to establish measures to improve air quality, a derogation may follow. Building a third runway moves in exactly the opposite direction: a child of three could see that. Now I give way to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer).

Susan Kramer: I thank the hon. Gentleman, but it was precisely that point that I wanted to underscore.

Martin Salter: You can have too much of a Liberal Democrat. I am sorry; that was uncalled for.

What is causing the problems for people living around Heathrow and under the flight path? I know the area well. I was brought up in Bedfont, moved to Ashford and now represent Reading, and all those communities are under the Heathrow flight path. To some extent, they benefit from the economic activity generated by the airport; let us make no mistake about that. Let us also be under no misapprehension about the fact that the economic case presented for a third runway is predicated on increasing airport capacity across the piece. It is not predicated on increasing airport capacity in the very place where it is causing the maximum damage: that is where the analysis falls down.

In the time that remains to me, I want to focus on the damage caused by nitrogen dioxide, a lethal pollutant which causes much of the high incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases in my constituency. During the debate on 11 November, the Secretary of State dismissed
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concerns about nitrogen dioxide. Perhaps “dismissed” is too strong a word, but he certainly appeared not to give those concerns the emphasis that we felt they should be given. He claimed—it is on the record—that the prime cause of nitrogen dioxide emissions was vehicle exhaust fumes, and that only 20 to 25 per cent. of such emissions were caused by the movement of aircraft.

That does not justify building a third runway. If nitrogen dioxide is indeed a problem, it certainly does not justify increasing the appalling gridlock and traffic congestion that exists in the area, primarily because Heathrow is already operating at capacity. The envisaged increase in the number of flights per year from 480,000 to 605,000 raises the prospect of millions of extra vehicle journeys, with more gridlock, more pollution, more nitrogen dioxide and more young people put at risk of asthma.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) both on her research and on her speech, in which she demolished the Department’s plans by citing its own figures. Her analysis was devastating, reflecting my concerns and many of the concerns of my constituents.

I worry about how the House is ever likely to be taken seriously on the issue of climate change, and on broader environmental issues. There is a real problem with issues such as the third runway, which has become a totemic issue. We can do good things in this House. We can present good legislation, we can use the levers and mechanisms available to us to encourage councils to recycle more, and we can introduce landfill levies. We can change human behaviour. We can lead on an issue about which many of us care passionately, and which was identified and evaluated so effectively in the Stern report, which I think all parties welcomed. But we have to walk the talk. I cannot stand up in front of audiences of, in particular, young people and say, “We are taking your future seriously: we do care about the future of your planet,” if our fingerprints are on this decision.

When moments such as this happen in Parliament, people ask, “Are you prepared to go into the Lobby with the Opposition?” Normally I am not. I detest the Conservative party as much as anyone on these Benches does. I have spent my life fighting the Conservative party. However, no one political party has a monopoly on truth, and no one political party is always right.

What makes this occasion different is that what is actually before us is a House of Commons motion, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and signed by 57 or 58 Labour Members. It is a sensible, bipartisan motion. I would rather the Opposition had picked the one that I tabled a few weeks later, but as it praised the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I understand their reluctance to do so. This is not a Tory motion; it is a motion calling for a rethink, raising important arguments and recognising that we need a new aviation statement.

David Taylor: My hon. Friend is referring to early-day motion 2344, which was tabled in the last Session. There is no doubt that it is a bipartisan motion, but does my hon. Friend not realise that some of those 57 or 58 will not be in the Lobby with us tonight—for I plan to be in the same Lobby as my hon. Friend—because of the charge of political opportunism?

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When the Conservatives were last in power pre-1997, they were even closer to the aviation industry than the present Government are. They were in bed with the industry, and refused to implement reasonable and decent environmental frameworks at airports such as East Midlands airport in my constituency, which has more night flights than Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick put together. Their track record—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. That is a very lengthy intervention.

Martin Salter: I think I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

At the end of the day, we cannot look the parents of a young child with breathing problems in the eye and say, “When I had an opportunity to do something about this, I walked away from it; I didn’t walk into the Lobby because my political opponents were in that Lobby.” There comes a point when such an argument carries very little credibility.

I agree that on these issues we in this House are all on a journey. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal understood the climate change issue before many of us. A lot of us have been slow to wake up to the dire predictions that were being made, but we know that climate change is happening and that we in this House have a leadership role to play. Frankly, I do not think I would have credibility in the job I seek to do if I was—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman’s time is up.

I have now to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. On the Question relating to section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, the Ayes were 261 and the Noes were 214, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]

3.36 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) on his contribution. It is a privilege to follow him. I do not think I will very often say that he speaks a lot of common sense—I certainly would not do so publicly—but I have to say that on this occasion he got it absolutely right. I should add that, as is common in these particular debates, as the discussion moves forward the arguments are made in a very sensible manner.

Before the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) leaves his place, I should like to add the following. Shortly after I first entered the House, I served on the Committee of the Greater London Authority Bill—I think several other Members who served on it are still here. The right hon. Gentleman was the responsible Minister at the time, and although I disagreed with probably most of what he said, I was impressed by the persuasive way that he expressed his arguments, and I am still impressed by that today. On the current occasion, moreover, I agree with much of what he has said. I am most grateful to be able to be present to listen to such contributions.

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I feel so passionately about the matter under discussion that I regret that I did not spend more time learning oratory. Later tonight, I will probably sit down somewhere and think of the speech I should have made—of the wonderful points, and the glorious acclaim from all around—but I am unable to make such a speech because I get overawed when I stand up here, particularly when I am following such excellent contributions. The speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was a model of what an excellent speech should be, and he has been completely right on climate change from the early days.

There are many issues, but I will not reiterate them. Instead I will speak on behalf of my constituents and my neighbours—those people with whom I have lived all my life—because that is what I feel most strongly about. We know the arguments. We have heard about climate change, which is very important, and pollution, which will greatly affect my constituents. I cannot understand how in this age we can so lightly consider the removal of entire communities. I understand that sometimes in national projects some people will have to move—their houses will have to be taken over. However, we are talking about 700 families at least, if not more—a whole community. I have asked the Department time and again what plans they have in respect of where those people can go. Anyone who knows this part of west London—or Middlesex, as I prefer to call it—will know that there is no space. When reference is made to all the jobs that allegedly will be created, I will say, “Where are the people who do those jobs going to live, because there’s no capacity for more houses there?” The plan is to move 700 people from Sipson, and thus to destroy them completely. They are to be dispersed all around; the Government are not going to build another Sipson somewhere else. They are just going to give those people their blood money and let them go.

This will not just happen to Sipson; it will happen to other villages, where people will not fall within the compulsory purchase area. Such people will have their lives blighted, because they will be living at the end of a runway, but they will not be able to get any compensation. I know of somebody—I believe he has been in The Sunday Times—who has farmed in that area for generations. His name is Roy Barwick and he used to be a constituent of mine; he has moved but his farms are there, and his family have lived there for ages. If one thing upsets me more than anything else, it is when people who are telling me about the third runway say, “But those people knew what they were getting into when they moved there.” These people have lived in the area for generations. I am from only the second generation to live in my particular house, but my grandmother moved to the area in 1929, when there was no Heathrow airport—market gardening took place then. Do hon. Members think that anyone said, even to the people who have moved in lately, “While you are here, it is only fair to tell you that BAA will want your homes, your houses, your schools, your churches and your cemeteries, because it needs them for another runway”? Nobody said that, and why not? Because BAA plc consistently said that it did not want anything else. So people who have put up with Heathrow in their back garden will now find it in their sitting room, and that is not acceptable in the 21st century.

People might accuse me of being anti-aviation, but I am not. I am also not anti-Heathrow. In fact, I have
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always been very proud of Heathrow being where we live; when I am abroad and people ask me where I come from, I tell them I am from Uxbridge, but unless they have served in the RAF they probably do not know it so I tell them, “That’s Heathrow.” Heathrow is a vital part of our local economy, but it is not going to be allowed to take over utterly and destroy people’s lives. Although I understand the difficulties that Labour Members have, that is why I am glad my Conservative colleagues chose this issue for the motion, which was also signed by the Liberal Democrats in order to try to make it as consensual as possible. This is not a party political matter; it is something on which our constituents, wherever we may represent, would expect us to take a decision—and not on party lines.

I hope that if the boot were on the other foot, I would do as I hope Labour Members will do tonight. This is important, and at a time when Parliament is not held in the highest respect in this land, it is at exactly these moments that our constituents can look at us and say, “This is what Parliament should be about.” It should be about MPs speaking up for what we believe. I understand that the Government have a decision to make, but I regret that the Secretary of State adopts a certain tone every time—it is his particular style. I observe Members of Parliament as they make speeches and I am aware that we all have our own style. His particular style tends to be hectoring and badgering. It is better suited to the Whips Office, where I know he served admirably.

Martin Salter: He is here.

Mr. Randall: I know he is here; I see him in a place in which I would not expect to see him—on the Back Benches. I was just wondering whether the Prime Minister heard his speech and decided that he ought to revert to the Back Benches and let more consensual politics take over, but I do not think that was the case. I think that the Secretary of State is merely having a word with one of his Labour colleagues.

This issue is about leadership for our country. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, if we want to be taken seriously in Europe and around the world on climate change, this is the moment to say, “No; here is a line in the sand. There must be other alternatives. We cannot go ahead with this particular proposal because if we were to do so, no one would ever take us seriously again.”

3.44 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): I support the motion, because it is identical to early-day motion 3244, tabled in the last Session by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), which I signed, and in which I believe. I am grateful for this solitary opportunity for Members to vote on this key issue.

I oppose the third runway, not only for social and environmental reasons, but because I believe that the economic case that the Government have made for the expansion of Heathrow simply does not stack up. Moreover, the social and environmental arguments against a third runway—the serious worsening of noise, air pollution, climate change emissions and quality of life for the 2 million long-suffering residents of west London—are overwhelming in their own right.

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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was acutely aware of those arguments when he made his statement a fortnight ago, and he offered three sweeteners to soften the pill. The third runway would initially operate at only half capacity when opened, aircraft using the third runway would have to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions standards, and CO2 emissions from UK aviation in 2050 would be limited to 2005 levels—a point that he repeated today. Those concessions, welcome as they are, do not carry very much weight when looked at closely.

A promise to limit the runway to half its potential would last only a very short time, and is hardly credible when, as hon. Members have repeatedly pointed out in this debate, Governments of both parties have four times in the past 30 years given firm pledges that there would be no further expansion and a cap on flight numbers. Every time, those promises have been quickly broken.

Martin Salter: I applaud the contribution made by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in mitigating the worst aspects of the proposal, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it beggars belief to claim that an organisation with a track record like that of BAA will tolerate a situation in which it builds a runway but cannot use it? That is nonsense.

Mr. Meacher: I completely agree. The second promise was to limit capacity, under the so-called green slot principle, to more modern aircraft. That is also welcome, but it is no serious constraint on noise, air pollution or emissions. The most important commitment is the one to limit aviation emissions in 2050 to no more than the level in 2005, when they were 37.5 million tonnes. That artfully conceals the fact that if the Government make the 80 per cent. reduction in climate-changing emissions to which they are committed, that level of emissions will be 30 per cent. of total UK emissions in 2050—and that is not acceptable.

Mr. Gummer: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult to take seriously promises made for 2050, when the people who make them—with the possible exception of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change—are unlikely to be here to answer for them?

Mr. Meacher: I agree. It is easy to make commitments for five years’ time, but those for 50 years’ time are not very serious, unless there is evidence in the short term that we are systematically making progress towards them.

The whole thrust of the Government’s case in the statement made on 15 January is that whatever the environmental downsides—and the Secretary of State did acknowledge those—the economic case for expansion was overriding. We are told that the third runway is essential for the business economy and Britain’s future competitiveness. That case has been far too widely taken at face value, and it needs far more scrutiny.

First of all, the aviation industry ranks only 26th in this country; it is half the size of the computer industry. Far from aviation being key to the balance of payments, as the airline industry constantly likes to argue—of course using only one side of the equation: the expenditure
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of incoming travellers to the UK—both sides of the equation show a deficit of £17 billion a year. That is the amount by which what British tourists spend abroad exceeds what incoming foreign tourists spend here.

The UK airline industry is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer: £10 billion is spent a year, roughly, on VAT-free tickets and planes and tax-free fuel. That is taxpayers’ money that could be far better spent on sustainable transport systems, and particularly on substitutes for domestic short-haul flights. Indeed, the respected industrial consultants that I have quoted before, CE Delft, argued that the official figures greatly exaggerate both the number of jobs that the runway would generate and the value brought to Britain by extra business travellers.

In addition, in a video-conferencing age—to take on the point made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) about business practices changing in the economic downturn—the number of business flights that are absolutely essential to the British economy are, I suspect, comparatively few. No less than 87 per cent. of international passengers are in the leisure and tourism category, and even at Heathrow only a third of travellers are travelling on business. I suspect that much even of that travel is probably perks—a conference or a holiday on expenses.

The hub argument that is repeatedly used, and is so beloved of the industry, is not any more persuasive. Indeed, Bob Ayling, the former BA chief executive, recently said that transfer passengers spend little or no money in London and offer no external benefits, except to airline profits. The biggest growth in air travel has actually been in non-hub cheap flights, as we know.

There is also the argument about capacity constraint, but the industry does not actually believe that. Table C1 on page 205 of the recent Department for Transport Heathrow consultation document, which by chance I have with me, shows BAA’s forecast for Heathrow, with the 480,000 maximum movement limit still in place for the period between 2000 and 2030. BAA sees a growth from 67 million passengers in 2006 to 85 million in 2015 and 95 million by 2030—a 30 per cent. increase. Why is there a capacity constraint? Why will that increase happen? The movement limit will rightly force airlines to fly larger and larger aircraft per flight, increasing passenger numbers per movement. That clearly shows that even the industry does not anticipate that Heathrow is in any sense in decline. The industry has a very optimistic forecast, even under the current capacity-controlled regime.

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