There has been much mention of a number of business leaders who have claimed that the third runway is essential for the global competitiveness of the UKor perhaps we should say the south-east. I am not surprised. It is not the first time, and I doubt that it will be the last, that many of those business leaders have been out of touch with people, partly because they, like the Government, have failed to reject the old-fashioned notion of predict and provide. If we move away from those business
leaders and speak to businesses on the ground, we see that many of them have already moved away from a business-centric model of how development should take place to one in which there is a balance between a range of issues, including climate change and general environmental impact. Those issues are the lifeblood of those businesses as much as earning profits is.
I find the claims for the essential role of the expansion of Heathrow increasingly fanatical. As Members have said, that is partly due to the refusal to see Heathrow as part of a ring of airports around London. There is no proven link between the number of runways and global competitiveness. How have we lost competitiveness in the UK in the past five years, since the last major redevelopment and extension at Schiphol? There is no evidence to show that we have done so. It is even more absurd when the argument involves comparing London and Frankfurt as financial markets. We are asked to believe that the defining factor in Londons continued success as a global market is the number of runways that Heathrow has, compared with Frankfurt. That is absolute nonsense. London is a global market; Frankfurt is not. That is due to the substance of the markets with which they deal, rather than the impact of individual runways.
Two years after the last major development at Schiphol, the Corporation of London produced a report entitled The Competitive Position of London as a Global Financial Centre. It showed that the development had had no impact on the position at all, and the foreword states that two year afterwards, London had
moved further ahead of Frankfurt and Paris as
international financial centre.
As other hon. Members have said, the most disappointing aspect of the Governments position is the lack of serious study of alternatives, but what particularly stuck in my craw was the notion that the Government were suddenly wedded to the idea of UK plc. After all, they have spent the past 11 years demolishing the idea of UK plc through excessive regionalisation and the pitting of one region against another. I cannot fail to see that the decision on Heathrow is more a reflection of the triumph of that policy, and of the greater lobbying powers of the south-east, than of anything else.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab):
Almost all the people who contacted me about todays debate believed that it was about climate change and the impact on it that airport expansion has, not just at Heathrow, but in general. However, we are talking about an early-day motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) that the Conservatives adopted to entice as many hon. Members as possible to follow them into the voting Lobby. The idea was that Members
would feel duty-bound to do so because they signed that early-day motion, believing that that was the right thing to do. It is a mere device not just to bring the issue to the Floor of the House, as some people have suggested was the intention, but to use it as a political football.
When I began to think about what I might say in the debate, I expected to see an Opposition motion setting out what, if anything, we should do about airport expansion and laying out the criteria by which the Opposition would measure whether they would introduce any airport expansion and where that might be, but we do not have that. What we have is a motion that is purely about the third runway at Heathrow. Many of my colleagues feel that, because of their constituency situation, they have to state their position in relation to Heathrow and support the early-day motion that has been presented as an Opposition motion today.
Adam Afriyie: I recognise some of the hon. Gentlemans concerns about whether party politics are involved, but does he regret the fact that his Government will not give the House of Commons a vote on the third runway?
We heard from the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) a refusal to give any commitment at all about where we might see expansion, how she might measure expansion if she were ever a Secretary of State for Transport in future, and what criteria she would use. None of those questions was answered. She spoke about expansion at Heathrow, and expansion alone.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) asked the hon. Lady about mixed mode, however, she welcomed the statement from the Secretary of State that there would be no mixed mode at Heathrow, but when pressed about whether she would approve mixed mode across London, she refused to give a commitment that a future Conservative Government would not introduce mixed mode. If her position is that she would not introduce mixed mode given the chance, why did she not take the opportunity to refuse to introduce it? [Hon. Members: She did.] She did not. I challenge hon. Members to check Hansard. The hon. Lady said that she welcomed the commitment from the Secretary of State, but that she hoped he would stand by it in the future. I suggest that Conservative Members check Hansard.
Mr. Brazier: May I lay this one to rest? On several previous occasions in the House and at press conferences, my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) has made it clear that we are profoundly against allowing mixed mode.
Clive Efford: I am sure that people are listening, but they will go back and check Hansard. The hon. Lady, who opened the debate, refused to give a commitment on the issue. Last October she was asked whether she would approve a second runway at Stansted. She made an unequivocal statement then that if BAA were to pursue that option, she would advise them not to do so because a future Conservative Government would stop it in its tracks. There was no mention of Stansted today.
The motion says no to a third runway at Heathrow, but let us look at all the other options. Right across the south-east now, anyone who lives near an airport might
have the Tories coming down their way to expand that airport. That is what the motion says. In the absence of any policy [Interruption.] I am sorry if they do not like it, but they are going to have to sit there and listen to it. In the absence of any policy
In the absence of any policy of their own, the Conservatives have adopted an EDM in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Selby. It has fixed them now with a policy of airport expansion, potentially right across the south-east. Let us look
Let us have a look at what the Tories are saying where they are in power. Let us look at Mayor Boris and the island, for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) made a powerful case. It does not represent the position of the Conservative party in the House. The Conservative party has got into a schism about airport expansion; it does not know whether to go one way or the other. The Mayor, who actually has power and influence, is pushing for a new airport in the Thames estuary. The Conservative party does not know which way to go on any airportall it knows is that it does not want Heathrow to expand. Much as I have misgivings about airport expansion, I will not join the Conservatives in the Lobby today.
I turn to the position of the Government. Labour Members have made some reasonable requests today, most notably about the national policy statement. Heathrow is totemic in environmental terms, and it will be made so whether it is talked about in this bubble of the House of Commons or elsewhere. The matter should be brought back to the Floor of the House; let us have a vote on it in the near future. That would be a test of our commitment on climate change. We passed the Climate Change Bill, which is now an Act. There is the Committee on Climate Change, and we intend it to consider the measures that we have put in place for airport expansion. We are also going to give powers to the Civil Aviation Authority and the Environment Agency. Labour Members have questioned whether we are earnest in our commitments in relation to those measures. I believe that they should be brought back to the Floor of the House for debate so that people can question, amend and alter them if they need to be strengthened. That is an essential role that the House can play in future on the issuean issue to which we will return, as others have said.
I want to mention the high-speed rail link before I sit down. I do not believe that it will ever be built. I support it and want it, but according to the Conservatives own figures it would cost £17 billion to introduce. I have always felt that we could make much more efficient use of our resources by building a dedicated freight line and taking freight off our passenger rail network. That would be cheaper and would not require all the engineering that a high-speed rail link would need. It would allow us to create more capacity and improve timetables on the
existing passenger network. We could deliver it much more cheaply and, in addition, take a great deal of freight off the road. Currently, 12 per cent. of our freight goes by rail; that represents a significant increase in the past 10 years, but if we could create more freight capacity the figure would rise further. One freight train is the equivalent of 50 heavy goods vehicles; an aggregate freight train is the equivalent of 120 HGVs. Building a dedicated freight line rather than going for a high-speed rail link, which would knock off only marginal amounts of time from journeys up and down the country, would make an enormous contribution to the environment.
In conclusion, I hope that the Government are listening to what we on the Labour Benches are saying. There is great concern that past promises on Heathrow have not been adhered to. This issue is a major test of our commitment on climate change, and that means that the House, the Committee on Climate Change, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Environment Agency must have a role, to ensure that we deliver on the commitments that we have made.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): There have been some powerful speeches in this debate, especially from Members whose constituencies are affected by this proposal. Although local issues are involved, howeverin Northern Ireland I have seen in another role how airport expansion and changes to airports can generate heat and anxiety in local communitieswhat we are discussing is not a local issue; it is about an asset of national significance and extreme importance to outlying regions of the United Kingdom.
At a time when we are going into recession and are concerned about jobs and the future of the economy, we should be aware that a project such as this can sustain many thousands of jobs and generate many additional thousands of jobs, and at the same time encourage the private sector to see that we are friendly to business in the United Kingdom. That pushes us to the conclusion that there is an economic case for the expansion of Heathrow from the point of view of the regions, such as Northern Ireland, where we are out on a limb and need good link to a central infrastructure that then radiates out to the rest of the world. It is important that those link are not only maintained but strengthened.
I listened to what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) said in putting the Oppositions case. A high-speed rail link, whether or not it is feasible or ever happens, will not help Northern Ireland unless we are going to build a bridge or a tunnel as well. I would welcome those links, but I suspect that that is a dream for people in Northern Ireland. It is therefore essential that we have the ability to link into Heathrow. There is already concern that because of the pressures on slots at Heathrow, and now the link-up between BMI and Lufthansa, those slots could be lost to what are regarded by the bigger airlines as more profitable flights.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP):
My hon. Friend will understand that I have Northern Irelands international airport in my constituency, and that BAA
took those slots from Northern Ireland and gave them to flights to international destinations. Does he agree that Heathrow is therefore vital to my constituents, to the people of Northern Ireland and to the prosperity of the Province?
Sammy Wilson: It is. I hope that at the end of the debate the Government will be able to make commitments about the number of planes and kinds of planes that will use these runways. I am sure that it must be possible to give a commitment in the planning agreement that slots will be retained for flights from regional airports to the central hub.
Many Members have expressed concern about the impact on climate change of a third runway at Heathrow. Some, at least, have been upfront in saying that there should be a reduction in air travel and that it should be made more expensive. I do not take that view. I suppose that I might be at odds with many Members anyway, because I do not attach the same importance to reducing CO2 emissions as to doing so at the expense of sacrificing the economy, but I will not enter into that debate here. Nevertheless, there is an inconsistency in the argument. We have heard that if we are going to keep on increasing air traffic to other airports, there will be more CO2 emissions as a result. If one believes that CO2 emissions have a dramatic impact on climate, one is bound by the argument to believe that that impact will be created. If we start going down that road, we tie ourselves in the same knots as the Opposition, and some Labour Members, have done today. There have been challenges from other speakers in that regard. If air travel is expanded, there will be an impact on CO2 emissions and we have obligations on that which the Government have to live up to.
Some Members, including the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), suggest that the circle could be squared through the European emissions trading scheme. I do not believe that. Given that there is currently a surplus of those certificates and that firms could sell them and move polluting activities elsewhere, the scheme would not reduce CO2 emissions anyway. We have to question that as an alternative.
The third reason why I oppose the motion is that although there is talk of alternatives, those alternatives have not been properly explained to us or argued for. One argument is that high-speed rail links could cut out a lot of the travel from regional airports to Heathrow. As I have pointed out, that idea is probably not a runner for places such as Scotland and Northern Ireland, and even the limited high-speed rail link proposal that has been put forward will cost about £15.6 billiona quarter of what is currently spent on subsidising the rail network. At a time when we already have economic constraints on Government spending, one must ask whether that alternative can be delivered. I suspect that it cannot. If we are relying on the private sector to deliver it, we are in even greater difficulties, as we have already seen in the case of other proposed high-speed rail links.
I do not believe that there is a credible alternative. Even if there were, and we reduced the number of flights into Heathrow by 66,000, which I think was the
figure that the Opposition spokesman gave, that would not solve the problem. Heathrow is currently operating at 98.5 per cent. of its capacity, and flights are already being stacked up because of the lack of capacity. This is at an airport that has two runways, when other hub airports with far less traffic, and therefore with the capacity to compete in future, are operating with three, four or five runways. If we look at the matter from that point of view, we see the need to increase capacity at Heathrow for the sake of the whole UK, particularly the regions.
Another suggestion that has been madeI am amazed at the suggestions that are coming out of the woodworkis that we should link all the other airports around London. I do not know how much work has been done on that, but I suspect that had it been a feasible option, it would have been considered some time ago. As the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) asked, do we want to introduce uncertainty to the communities around all those airports, in the vain hope that by linking them in some way we can deal with the demand for increased air traffic?
This is an important matter, and Members have said that the House should have had a vote on it. I do not really mind whether there is a vote in Government or in Opposition time, but even if the House were to vote, how could the result be a material consideration in a planning application? I do not believe that it could, so I do not know how much impact a vote would have on the final decision. It might once again raise hopes unnecessarily and bring the House into disrepute.
Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): I am profoundly against the building of a third runway at Heathrow, because of the impact of aviation on the environment. I do not believe that an extra runway should be built in the UKnot at Heathrow, not in the north of England, not on the Thames estuary. Planes not only emit CO2 but speed up global warming by emitting further damaging gases at altitude. Unless we restrict them, emissions from aviation are set to increase to five times their current levels. All that is at a time when we simply must cut our carbon emissions.
However, if the Opposition parties think that because of those firmly held beliefs I will vote for their motion this afternoon, they must be stark staring bonkers. It is based on an early-day motion that was tabled last year. When that motion urged the Government to rethink and give
full consideration to alternative solutions,
it meant that they should consider rail, restrictions on short internal flights and a host of other measures, but the Tories have hijacked it. The hype surrounding it led environmentalists to expect a motion today that would oppose the expansion of aviation on the basis of its effect on the environment. Well, it does not do that. It does not provide the strong, green leadership, for which many of my constituents and non-governmental organisations may have hoped. It does not deal with the question of why the rest of the world should suffer for the benefit of the few and it is not about the urgency of reducing our emissions and the challenge of realising that goal.
full consideration of alternative solutions