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There is also the argument that Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle have more runways than Heathrow, which of course they do. For competitiveness reasons, it is argued, Heathrow must be allowed to expand. However, that misrepresents the configuration of airports in Britain. In south-east England we have not one airport but five—Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City—each catering for a different sector of the air transport marketplace. The south-east transport system as a whole—that is the only way of regarding it—will always collectively offer more choices of flights to more destinations at a greater range of prices and times, with greater convenience and with more airlines, than Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol put together. Added together, London’s airports handle 137 million passengers a year.
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That number is set to grow within current planning limits to about 210 million passengers by 2030. In comparison, Charles de Gaulle airport handles 59 million passengers, Frankfurt 54 million, Madrid 52 million and Schiphol just 46 million. So Heathrow’s so-called continental competitors lag a long way behind, and they will continue to do so as our five-airport system develops.

The business case for the third runway at Heathrow is clearly much weaker than has been made out, and I have to say that what does not fit it has been massaged. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the treatment of the noise, air pollution and climate change impacts of the proposed Heathrow expansion.

Last March The Sunday Times published devastating evidence that the Department for Transport and BAA knew perfectly well even then—and, in fact, a long time before that—that a third runway at Heathrow would immediately breach mandatory EU noise and pollution limits, especially on nitrogen oxide. That would mean that it could never be built, and they therefore colluded in re-engineering the figures to fit the limits.

In his statement a fortnight ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said:

On the latter point, it is not good enough to say that the EU mandatory limits will be met by 2020, because they kick in on 1 January 2015. On the former point, I hope that my right hon. Friend will understand me when I say—slightly delicately—that it is all very well to be assured that action will be necessary to meet the targets by 2020, but that commitments have been given and broken repeatedly by successive Governments. We need to be told transparently exactly what mechanisms will bring the UK into compliance with the EU limits, because it is very difficult to place much credibility in vague promises.

The fact is that we are already well over the permitted EU nitrogen oxide levels around Heathrow. The problem will be worse by 2015, and worse still by 2020. Therefore, I ask again: what precisely are the mechanisms that will ensure that we meet the limits that the EU will force on us? If the Secretary of State cannot tell the House precisely what they are, I do not see how he can responsibly approve the expansion of Heathrow, nor how this House can responsibly vote in support of that proposal.

For all the reasons that I have set out, and although I understand what others have said, I regret to say that I support the motion and intend to vote for it tonight.

3.57 pm

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I want to speak in two capacities today. As a local MP whose constituency is under the flight path, I need to say a few words about how the third runway will significantly exacerbate the quality of life problems that people in my area already suffer as a result of the existing Heathrow operation. I also want to speak about two much more fundamental and overarching issues.

The first of those is climate change. Hon. Members of all parties agree now that it has a stature and importance
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that matches any issue to do with the economy or the future of the UK, because if we do not have a sustainable future, we do not have a future.

The second fundamental issue that I want to raise is that of democracy in this House. I am shattered that a decision of this magnitude—it has been called “totemic”, and I think that it easily has that status—should not be subject to a vote. Regardless of whether hon. Members would vote for or against a third runway at Heathrow, this is an issue on which the House should decide. It should not be masked within a paper on aviation policy that, essentially, was drafted six years ago, and which does not concern itself with all the knowledge and understanding that we have gathered since, both from across the House and from our constituents. There is a real question as to whether this House matters—and it is the question of who decides that is at stake today.

I shall speak first as a local MP. I want to do so in the spirit of reaching across the Chamber, because it was a huge relief to my constituents to hear that the Secretary of State had decided not to proceed with mixed mode. Frankly, it would be Chinese water torture for my constituents to live with flights overhead all day. I have some hope that that will be a true and genuinely kept commitment, but I can tell the Government that one of the reasons why the decision not to proceed with mixed mode was taken is that, if a third runway is built, mixed mode cannot be operated on runways 1 and 2. Runway 3 could operate mixed mode, but that could not be done on runways 1 and 2, or planes would crash into one another. I hope that if, for some reason, the third runways does not proceed—and I hope it will not—the commitment that has been given to the House will not be discarded, and mixed mode will not suddenly come back on to the agenda because the third runway has been demonstrated to be impossible and undesirable, and is rejected. That is crucial.

Mr. Mullin: The hon. Lady is quite right to draw attention to that possibility, and she can be absolutely sure that BAA and the airlines will seek to undermine the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision, perhaps from the very day that he first mentioned that that was what he intended to do. She is quite right to alert the House and her constituents to that possibility.

Susan Kramer: The hon. Gentleman gives a very wise warning, and I am glad that that observation is coming from hon. Members in many parts of the House, because it matters.

For my constituents, the third runway means planes overhead every 60 seconds rather than every 90 seconds, and our air will be more polluted. Traffic and access issues are sometimes considered as something to look at later, as though there is bound to be a way to deal with them. I invite the Secretary of State for Transport to come with me to see what it is like on the M4 and all the surrounding roads that feed off it, and the impact that that has on my constituency at peak hours of airport use. There is no easy answer.

BAA has proposed what it thinks is a wonderful idea of increasing rail transport with the Airtrack proposal—wonderful if it was a proper and real proposal. For my constituents, it would be a transport route from Heathrow via Richmond to Waterloo, but it comes without updating signalling to 21st-century standards and without changing
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the stations. Consequently, because my constituency contains four level crossings, about 30,000 people will be marooned between a railway on one side and the river on the other, unable to get across the couple of congested bridges and completely unable to cross the railway line, because there are only two points where the level crossing barriers will not be down for 45 minutes in the hour. There has been no thought, no planning and no sincerity concerning the public transport option on offer. I would love it to be turned into something, but the BAA case is not convincing when it is presented in that unthought-out, undeveloped and unsustainable form.

My constituents have been very clear that although there are local issues, they are taking a stand in this matter for broader reasons. Many of them have asked me to say today that they stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Sipson, where the community will be eliminated. People in Sipson face the elimination of an ancient community, but there are no arrangements for them to remain together as a community. It is regarded as simply a matter of paying compensation, but there are questions about how adequate the compensation will be. Those people simply have to find somewhere else to live. Given the difficulty of finding a home anywhere in the outer London area, this is a really serious issue: 700 families are suddenly trying to find a new place to live and a way to build a new community. That issue has been given very little thought: no attention has been paid to it, or effort made to deal with it. The people of Harmondsworth will be essentially marooned within an airport. What kind of life is that? What kind of commitment is there to people in south-west London when that is what this project offers?

Climate change is obviously one of the underlying issues. I will not reiterate what has been said, because brilliant speeches have been made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and others who have gone through the climate change issue. I simply say that my party thinks that people must change the way in which they think about aviation and other transport. The Government seem to focus on making some marginal changes, thinking that they will constrain things until they meet a benchmark before going ahead. But we need to think outside the box. Climate change fundamentally adjusts the way in which we have to look at how we develop in future. Sustainability has to become absolutely core. That whole way of thinking has not been brought into the transport planning that underpins the decision to proceed with a third runway. Like many others, I believe that that completely destroys the credibility of the Government’s argument.

I am running out of time, so I need to move quickly. I will briefly raise two last issues. One of them is the economic argument, which is always presented in discussion on Heathrow. One would think that Heathrow was disappearing, instead of having more passengers than any other airport in Europe. It has 69 million passengers; there are 59 million at Charles de Gaulle and 54 million at Frankfurt. Heathrow is by far the largest airport. As others have said, if we think about all five London airports, the aviation option available to people who base themselves in London for business or leisure is completely out of scale.

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People say, “There are so many runways at other airports.” They will be conscious, as I am sure the Secretary of State for Transport is, that at any one point in time, those airports cannot use their full selection of runways. The typical number that they can use is two. There may be four runways at Charles de Gaulle, but only two can operate at any one time, so although there is slightly more runway capacity there, the reality is not significantly different. We never hear that point made in discussion.

Often, when the business case is presented to the House, it is as though there had been some sort of major, serious study to enable us to understand the dynamic between aviation options and business in London. None of that work has ever been done. There is the occasional survey, but when one digs down into them, one finds that they were answered by only a couple of hundred people, and that 700 or 800 people refused even to bother with them. When people are offered the rail option, they choose it over aviation. The point is that if decision makers were serious, they would go around businesses across London finding out in detail what their needs were, where they needed to go, and what the constraints were. We would build the economic case from the ground up—but that fundamental, simple work has never been done.

Businesses need sufficient flights to key destinations. They do not need to go absolutely everywhere, and they do not need to buy into the idea that there have to be ever more flights. People may say, “We’ve got capacity constraints,” but how many Heathrow flights use relatively medium-sized or small planes? The answer is: a significant proportion. I read today that the Aviation Environment Federation estimates that we could increase the number of passengers by about 30 per cent. just by reordering the flight make-up at Heathrow, so there are a whole lot of possibilities.

Let me finish on the issue of democracy, because I think that it matters. I have constituents here today, and constituents of mine have come to these debates before. They are utterly disillusioned with the Government, and they are becoming disillusioned with Parliament. They say to me, “This is only the beginning of the fight for us. We’re not going to lie down.” I say to the Secretary of State and others that if they will not allow MPs to speak on the Floor of the House, and go through the Lobbies, in Government time, and with a clear opportunity to say yes or no to the third runway, they will drive people to direct action—possibly sometimes illegal action, but never, I hope, damaging action. The Government will drive people to that if they do not allow democracy on an issue that is central to people’s understanding of a sustainable future for their communities and for this country.

4.8 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I was not completely sure how to attract your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Laughter.]

For some of my constituents, last week’s statement was heartbreaking. Most of them, faced with the loss of their homes, schools, places of worship and whole community, found it devastating. For most of them, it
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brought about a stronger sense of community, and absolute determination to fight on to ensure that this disastrous proposal does not go ahead.

My forced absence from Parliament over the past week meant that I held a number of meetings across the constituency, and the Mayor of London held his question time there, too. As a result, I spoke to more than 1,000 constituents that week. The message that they want me to convey to the House, and to the Government, is: “We will not be moved. We will not allow this to happen. We will not allow our communities to be bulldozed in this way.”

I heard the Secretary of State say that he has “carefully weighed” the interests of local people. My constituents and those of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and other local MPs would be more convinced of that if, over the past decade, a single Secretary of State had come to our area to meet local residents. Ministers have been to the area plenty of times to meet the aviation businesses, but not one Secretary of State at any invitation has come and met the local people. I find that appalling. I issue the invitation again today, not to meet hand-picked delegations of one or two, but to come and meet the people whose homes they are threatening to demolish.

I do not expect Members to know every detail of the decision. That is not the way of things. No one can know everything about every debate and every decision, but because it affects the lives of so many people, I expect Members to look at some of the information available to us. I have pored over the published documents associated with last week’s statement. They are voluminous, but it is worth time and attention to study them. When the Government make the decision, we need to know what the economic arguments are, the implications for local communities, the environmental impact and what people feel about it.

I jotted down some of the arguments that we have heard today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) set out the alternative economic case. Heathrow is not failing. It is expanding. There will be another 30 million passengers in the coming planning period. The argument that it is failing as an aviation resource is laughable when one considers the intensity of the development that is taking place and the number of passengers that we are moving.

Comparison has been made with our international competitors. We are moving across London and the south-east nearly three times the number of passengers that other capital cities are moving. Reference was made to a hub. It was pointed out that we have five airports, or six, including Northolt. Each one is providing a specialist service for the area. What we need to do now is connect them so that they become a collective hub, allowing people to fly into London through any airport and to fly wherever they want.

That is the future for aviation in this country. The reason that it has not happened—let us be honest about it—is the strength of lobbying by BAA and BA, self-interestedly trying to develop solely Heathrow as their own airport to maximise the profits from BAA’s ownership of Gatwick and Heathrow. We need to cut through that self-interested lobbying and develop the future of aviation in this country, so that it will be sustainable and have a collective, co-ordinated hub linked by high-speed rail.

Members need to read the documentation about the social impacts of the development. We know about the
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700 houses in Sipson because that is in the documentation, but there is no mention of Harmondsworth, Harlington, Cranford, South Hayes and all the rest. It is like Brigadoon. It is almost as though they had disappeared off the face of the earth.

When Sir John Egan, the chief executive of BAA, wrote to my constituents at the time of the building of the fifth terminal, he said that BAA would not go for a third runway because of the destruction of 3,300 homes. There are now 4,000 homes in that area, which means that people in Harmondsworth, Harlington, Cranford Cross and Longford—this is particularly so as a result of the scrapping of the Cranford agreement—will live in homes that will eventually be bulldozed or in areas where they are breathing poisoned air and which have been rendered unliveable by noise and air pollution.

The House, without a vote, is determining the forced movement of 10,000 people. Let us recognise that. It is not mentioned in the documentation. It is not just a matter of 700 homes. At one of my meetings, one of the people from Sipson got up and said, “We’re the lucky ones. Others face the lingering death of their communities around the area.”

The health implications for my constituents and others have been mentioned. We have been asking for a health impact assessment around the airport for almost 15 years. I took evidence to the terminal 5 inquiry about the respiratory conditions in our area. We did a survey. We asked the Government to make a health impact assessment before they made any decision, but none was forthcoming. My local primary care trust has just written to the Secretary of State saying that it would carry out the assessment but that it needed the necessary funding. How can we go forward with a decision such as this without even assessing the health consequences for my community?

The economic arguments in the document are almost laughable. I say to hon. Members from other parts of the country that the costs are unsustainable. Grupo Ferrovial, the Spanish company involved, will pay for the building of the runway and the terminal itself, but we taxpayers will pay all the ancillary costs. For the next decade, that will squeeze out of this country’s transport budget any potential for transport improvements across the country. Basically, we are committing taxpayers’ resources to subsidise the profits of a Spanish company that has just taken over the British Airports Authority for speculative gain.

Let me go back to the conditions. It has been said time and again in the House that the conditions will not stick. There is almost consensus on it; no one believes that they will do so. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) asked what single commitment BAA had given that it had adhered to, or that any Government had adhered to. We are told that the conditions will be legally binding, but we have been here so many times before.

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