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28 Jan 2009 : Column 388

to Heathrow expansion in a week when the most powerful Tory in the land, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, sailed up the Thames on a dredger to show us two islands on which he wants to build four runways for the biggest airport in Britain. That “alternative” to Heathrow is an airport four times as big as Gatwick, which allows people to get into their Chelsea tractors, drive to the wilds of east London and catch a plane there without the hassle of the crowds at Heathrow. That is the Tory policy and I will not vote for it.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) told us today that she does not rule out expansion in the south-east. However, she is not prepared to state the extent of the carbon emissions that would be permissible in that expansion. She also says that she is in favour of proportionate expansion of regional airports, but she is not prepared to give us any details about that, either. Do the Tories genuinely believe that the public will not notice that?

Exactly what are the Liberal Democrats doing supporting the motion? What is their policy? I do not know. Some people might describe it as political opportunism, but I am sure that that cannot be true. I understood that they opposed aviation expansion—my local Liberals claim to oppose it—but perhaps they do not. Today, they have said that they oppose the expansion of aviation in the south-east, but the Tories are in favour of it. Both parties are held together in some unholy alliance. I will certainly not vote for the motion.

Environmentalists have been dazzled by the hype, and the Tories should apologise to the green movement, especially Greenpeace, which is based in my constituency and has been manipulated by the Conservatives into being their cheerleaders. They should apologise to the more than 6,000 people who have written to and e-mailed me, urging me to support the motion because they believed that it was anti-expansion, when it is pro-expansion.

Mr. Randall: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Emily Thornberry: No, I shall be very quick.

If the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) would like to draft such an apology, I undertake that my office will send it to all the people who made contact.

I pay tribute to the work that has been done on restricting the development of Heathrow and to the commitment to restrict the increase in carbon emissions to 2005 limits by 2050. Some people believe that those restrictions are so severe that a third runway will never be built and that it will simply not get through a planning hearing. Perhaps that is true. However, it is unfortunate that the decision, although it is surrounded by restrictions on pollution and a cap on aviation, is in danger of eclipsing all our huge achievements on the environment.

What should I do tonight? I have thought about that carefully. Although I hate the possibility of the Tories wrapping themselves in their phoney turquoise cloak and winning a vote on an opportunistic motion designed to hold together an unholy alliance, the whole purpose of which is to embarrass the Government, I will get on my bike and cycle home. I will go home because there is no motion for Members of Parliament like me who want to halt the expansion of aviation anywhere in the UK on environmental grounds. No motion allows us to
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express that. However, I assure hon. Members that, when I get on my bike, no car will follow me, carrying my shoes.

5.53 pm

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I shall vote for the motion, which was originally tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan). I do not care who is in the Lobby with me or what contradictions they bring with them. Given that the House is not allowed to vote specifically on the Heathrow third runway, the vote this evening will be seen as a surrogate for that. I say to all those who wriggle about and pretend that it will not, that that is how it will be perceived outside.

I hope that those who live in the vicinity of Heathrow will forgive me for making next to no comments about their circumstances. That is not through lack of sympathy, but simply because I regard the matter as an overwhelmingly national and ecological issue. It is in that context that I want to address my remarks to the House.

I get most dispirited about the House when it cloaks itself in delusions, and the most consistent delusion that has paraded itself around in this debate is that, when we come out of the present global crisis, we will somehow go back to business as usual, and that we will be able to carry on with this everlasting expansion of over-production, over-consumption and over-pollution. It simply is not going to be like that.

Two years ago, the International Energy Agency issued a report that said that, by 2013, the world would face an energy supply crisis. It added the caveat that the only thing that might delay that crisis was the possibility of a global slump. It is some kind of lifeline, but that is what we are immersed in at the moment. When we come out of it, in whatever way we do so, that energy crisis will be waiting for us.

The scientists at the intergovernmental panel on climate change revise their climate change predictions forward every time they meet, in such a way that we now have a window of opportunity of probably only six to eight years in which to make profound changes to the way in which we think about the framework of the economies in which we live, and in which we hope that our children will be able to live.

I like to think that President Obama understands some of this, and that he understands the urgent need for change now. I also like to think that my own Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change understands that. He has done many inspirational things, and one of them is so inspirational that I do not think the House has a clue what it means. It is that we are committed to introducing annual carbon budgets at the end of this year. It will come as a huge shock to households, businesses and other parts of our infrastructure when they have to live within their annual carbon budget.

The delusional aspect will become apparent only when we try to hide behind the presumption that carbon budgets can be forward-projected, that we do not really have to meet them until 2050, that, in the context of aviation, they can be premised on the basis of planes that do not exist yet, and—worse still—that the emissions trading scheme will somehow get everyone off the hook.
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The presumption will be that we will be able to continue to pollute as we like, while paying others to clean the planet up in ways that we will not do. The emissions trading scheme is a cheats’ charter. It will not work, because everyone involved—including ourselves—is part of the cheating game. If we want to address how we should deliver our climate change targets, we need to do so in the now. That is the context in which I want to address the issue of the third runway.

Just a couple of months ago, Jim Hansen from NASA said that, if we were to survive the century, we would have to constrain climate change within 2° C. That probably means lowering the carbon thresholds to 350 parts per million, not the 450 parts per million that we are currently talking about. That would be an astonishing target for us to set ourselves. Jim Hansen is still vaguely optimistic about that, but James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia theory, has now given up on that premise. He says that, by 2050, we are likely to have had to divide the UK into three, just to survive. One third would have to accommodate the entire population of 57 million. The second third would have to be given over to intensive agriculture, and the third handed back to nature. If that happens, I suspect that not a single person who is squeezed into that space in central England will be sitting there saying, “Well, I’m glad we got that third runway. It’s certainly made a difference to the quality of our lives.” That is nonsensical.

If we are going to take carbon budgets seriously, we have to begin to budget for them now. How we reduce aviation’s contribution to carbon emissions overall is one question; how we deal with the additional emissions resulting from a third runway is quite another. The figures in the official documents state that 11.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents will be emitted as a result of the third runway, on an annualised basis. How do we translate that? If we were to offset it by something positive, it would mean that we had to deliver and install 7.2 million solar roofs in the UK. If we take out apartment blocks and everything north facing, it probably means the entirety of south-facing roofs in the UK.

If we did not offset those emissions through a positive countermeasure, we might have to reduce the carbon impact of things that we currently do. That could work out as the equivalent of taking 4.5 million cars—one in six—off the road. We might want to do that in a fairer way and say to every car owner that for two months every year their cars would be impounded—and they would just have to live with it. If we did not want to do that, we could look into reducing electricity consumption. To achieve the required offset would mean permanently disconnecting 5 million households from the electricity supply for the duration of the existence of the third runway. We might want to share the impact of that more equally, so we could say that every household could take a share of the cut—every day each of us would have to do without any electricity in our homes for four and a half hours.

Those are the real costs that we have to trade off among ourselves to live within an annualised carbon budget for the third runway—and the budget is not even static. To get to the position we need to be in by 2050 effectively means shrinking our carbon footprint on the basis of an annualised 3 per cent. reduction per year, probably right through the entirety of this century. That requires meeting transformational demands, affecting
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the whole way we live. I suspect that, in the future, we will live in more localised or more regionalised economies. I think we can live simpler and better lives, but I will tell you this, Mr. Deputy Speaker—whichever way we try to make this stack up, a third runway is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

6.1 pm

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I grew up with Heathrow, living for about 30 years under the flight path in Fulham before I moved to the gentler and quieter climate—quiet at the moment, that is—of Shepherd’s Bush. I concede to my Front-Bench team that planes were noisier and dirtier then, but like the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), I could never describe myself as an opponent of Heathrow at any stage. As he said, it is a driver of the west London economy as well as a direct employer.

I do not want to get into an auction of misery, but my constituents may not be the most at risk—perhaps unlike those of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I have a large constituency in Shepherd’s Bush and I have a prospective constituency in Hammersmith with a total combined population of about 160,000 people. I have done canvassing in both those areas and I can say that very few people there—almost no one—believe that Heathrow should be closed. Indeed, I believe that even the Mayor of London has resiled from that position. People hold that view despite the fact that we know that Heathrow is in the wrong place as an historical accident and despite the fact that we know that the airport potentially affects the health and safety, quality of life and convenience of people living in west London.

As with so much about living in London, people accept that this issue comes down to a balance between environmental and economic considerations. The one organisation that has never accepted that balance is BAA, which has fought time and again for expansion by any means. That is why I have spent the 25 years that I have been active in west London politics fighting against Heathrow expansion. The terminal 5 planning application is now legendary and we heard earlier about the letter that went out from BAA at that time, effectively saying, “If you give us terminal 5, we will never apply for a third runway”. That, too, has become legendary. It shows that this issue has become not just a matter of tactics but one of trust for many people living in London.

I am sorry that I have only eight minutes to talk about a matter of such complexity. I concede that these arguments are complex. If we look into the issue of noise alone, we find as many different views as there are objections. We cannot agree on a system for measuring it; we cannot agree on what level it takes effect; we cannot agree on the flight paths; we cannot agree on what changes in technology will mean. It is indeed a subjective feeling that people have: one partner of a couple might feel affected while the other did not.

Pollution, surface transport, the transport infrastructure—all these issues are hugely complicated; I accept that. I also accept what my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Energy and Climate Change and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have done in getting mitigation of these measures. No mixed mode, what they say are stringent and binding controls,
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and a gradual expansion are substantial mitigating effects, but if the existing airport is in the wrong place and we accept that, that is not a reason to build what is effectively another airport in the wrong place. One has only to look at the maps—even the maps that BAA provides—to see where those flight paths go, and to ask whether a massive increase in aircraft movement across the largest conurbation in the country is sensible.

That brings me to the motion, which is a Labour motion; that is why it is so reasonably written. It sets out the environmental case and asks the Government to look again at the case for a third runway, using the planning legislation process that we agonised over so much to get in place. It is the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), and I did feel for my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) when she was putting questions about the motion to the Opposition Front Benchers, who clearly have not read it. They should have asked my hon. Friend. He knows what it is in it.

It is the Tories who should have a problem voting for this motion, because as we have heard, over the course of a year they have turned from being qualified or unqualified supporters of a third runway at Heathrow into—well, what? I am not talking about the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), who has always been consistent. I am talking about people such as the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), part of whose peroration to the citizens of Hounslow within the last year we heard quoted. He went on to say the following about the third runway at Heathrow:

Within the last year to 18 months, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and the hon. Members for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) have all endorsed, even with weasel words, the third runway and expansion at Heathrow.

It is the abandonment of that position and its replacement with a policy vacuum that has allowed, where angels fear to tread, the Mayor of London to step in with his proposal, which, according to The Times last week, is now not just a policy of supporting the Thames estuary airport. It said:

So what we have from the Tories at the moment is six runways in London. This is the party of the environment. This is the party that believes it has the answer to airport expansion in the south-east. The Tories may believe that this is clever politics and that by tabling a motion, they have successfully lured me for the first time into what they think is their Lobby—although I maintain it is a Labour motion that we are voting for. I take comfort in doing that for this reason. I believe that the third runway will never be built, because of the sheer illogicality of it and the fact that time has moved on. All that is being asked for in this motion—certainly from the Labour Benches—is for the Government to look again at the aviation and rail strategies for the south-east and the country as a whole and to come up with a better solution, which is there.

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In due course, this debate will prove to be a complete figment, and I will continue, just in case I am being complacent about this, to campaign against the third runway. But the debate will also expose the vacuity and hypocrisy of the Opposition, and the fact that they are doing this for pure political advantage. It will not be clever politics; in the end it will be stupid politics, because already, and more quickly than they think, the country and opinion-formers are seeing that they will say anything. Somebody used the phrase “student politics” earlier today, and that is exactly what we have here. The Tories will do anything at all to get into power, but they cannot go on doing that; eventually, their chickens will come home to roost. These chickens will indeed come home, and if the airport is built in the Thames estuary, they may have a problem with bird flights, as well. They should think about that as they vote tonight; I will do so with a clear conscience.

6.9 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter). This has become a truly cross-party occasion, with a series of Labour speakers sustaining—admittedly from different perspectives—the remains of an Opposition day.

I reflect on the fact that, although I still hope that one day the Government Whips will recognise my modest political talents— [Laughter.] The Whips have been speaking to me rather more today than they usually do on Wednesday afternoons.

Although I still live in that hope, I should be honest with myself and accept that this is probably the only occasion on which I shall be the author of a motion that will be voted on by the whole House of Commons. Before I give the reasons for which—after a great deal of reflection and consideration—I shall vote for my own motion, let me make one thing clear. Some Members have said that voting for my motion will mean voting in a Conservative Lobby. Well, long may it be remembered in this House that there are no Conservative Lobbies and no Labour Lobbies: there is an Aye Lobby and a No Lobby, and we must all make our own judgments on what it is best for us to do.

It was clearly a very exciting Cabinet meeting that decided the policy on the third runway, but those of us who were not privileged to be there could only go by what we read in the newspapers. The Daily Telegraph told us that Lord Mandelson banged his head on the table in a

I am a great admirer of Lord Mandelson’s political talents, but there are some on these Benches who are not so appreciative: one of them even suggested that he did not bang hard enough.

Perhaps Lord Mandelson was cruelly provoked by some of the other comments going around the Cabinet table. Another newspaper reported the Secretary of State for Transport as saying that climate change was

Apparently, my two very distinguished right hon. Friends with Yorkshire seats—the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Secretary of State for
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Children, Schools and Families—also became quite excited. The headline in the Daily Mail was “Balls wins as he goes Ed-to-Ed”. Apparently,

I consider both those descriptions to be desperately unfair—

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