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I have always thought that one of the many contributions made by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to Yorkshire politics is sophisticated political argument, and that was certainly in evidence during that Cabinet meeting.

Let me very briefly—because I have only a few minutes left—rattle through a few arguments in favour of the motion. Its centrepiece is that we should think again, and take a step back. These are momentous issues involving the future of the planet and the future of transport in our country—both aviation and high-speed rail—which, presumably, is why the Government wanted a planning policy statement. That appears reasonable to me, and incidentally, it appeared reasonable to the Sustainable Development Commission, backed up by the Institute for Public Policy Research. According to the IPPR’s report, much of the aviation data is disputed, and the Government should re-examine the policy.

I make no apology for trying to secure consensus across the House. If we are to go forward as a nation, we will need consensus on aviation policy, climate change policy and high-speed rail policy. We cannot allow those policies to change every two or three years, and I think that achieving such a consensus is a noble ideal.

I feel passionately about high-speed rail, and I do not think the Government have gone nearly far enough in that regard. High-speed rail is as important to the north of England, and to Scotland, as the Olympics and Crossrail are to London. I think that, in both England and Scotland, it could be an important substitute for air travel. According to evidence from Eurostar, KLM and Air France, for goodness’ sake, are thinking of running a rail service from London to Paris, because they realise that it is a case of “If you can’t beat them, join them”.

Before the TGV came along, only about 20 per cent. of traffic on the Paris-to-Marseille route was rail traffic; the rest was air traffic. Now nearly 70 per cent. is rail traffic. Perhaps as many as 100,000 of the 470,000 flights to Heathrow could be replaced by high-speed rail. As we have already heard, particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), once high-speed rail makes it possible to travel from London to Birmingham in 40 minutes, from London to Doncaster in about an hour and from London to Leeds in an hour and 20 minutes, Doncaster and Birmingham become as close to London as some of the five London airports are to the centre of London. For the first time, it proves possible to have some long-haul flights. It changes the economics—an issue which my hon. Friend the Member for City of York addressed in some detail.

Many Members have talked about the economic case. My hon. Friend mentioned The Economist. Its conclusion was that the Government’s case on economic grounds was

It joins a host of newspapers— The Sun, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Observer and many others—who are all ranged against the Government’s decision.

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Let us look at the Government’s economic case, as they put it forward. They say the economic boost from the third runway will be about £3.3 billion over 70 years, whereas many calculations have suggested the boost from high-speed rail would be about £30 billion. Also, the Government’s calculations are very suspect; if the price of carbon is changed to bring it more in line with the Stern report, or if oil is priced at $100 a barrel rather than $50 a barrel, that economic benefit completely disappears. As The Economist points out, there is also the Competition Commission report. BAA will be broken up, and some of the airports that will be independent might make suggestions. Since the early 1990s the number of transfer passengers at Heathrow has dramatically increased—it has gone up by almost 20 per cent.—while the number of direct routes served from Heathrow has fallen from about 230 to 180, so there is no direct link there.

A promise is a promise in politics. On the local environment and air quality, about which many hon. Members have spoken passionately, we made a promise as a party and a Government that we would not go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow if we could not guarantee that European level air quality standards and noise quality standards could be met. Our own former Minister, Lord Smith, is making it clear from his role at the Environment Agency that that cannot be done. On those grounds alone—let alone the arguments about climate change—Labour Members should have real pause for thought.

I appeal to all Members to remember that there is not a Conservative Lobby and a Labour Lobby, but an Aye Lobby and a No Lobby. There are many reasons to go into the Aye Lobby tonight—on environmental grounds, on economic grounds—that should appeal to Members in all parts of the House. I urge Labour Members to go into the Aye Lobby because this is about the heart and soul of our party as well; it is about keeping our promises—about keeping faith with the north of England, with Scotland and with the environmental movement.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. It seemed almost cruel to stop the hon. Member who tabled the motion.

6.18 pm

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I declare an interest, in that I am a member of the Transport and General Workers Union, which is now part of Unite, which I understand supports the third runway at Heathrow.

We have had a great debate today, as we often do on such controversial matters. In my brief remarks, I shall not address the issue of what I call the concrete footprint of a third runway—the destruction of the village of Sipson and other surrounding areas—as that is primarily, although not solely, a matter for the MP representing the people who live in that area. Instead, I shall focus my remarks on the environmental issues and what I regard as the mish-mash of the Conservative Opposition motion before us today.

On the three primary environmental issues relating to local residents—air quality, surface traffic and noise—I take heart from the statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made to this House on 15 January. On noise, he said:

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He then went on to set out some safeguards, which he reiterated to the House today, in respect of the following understandable question that people ask: can these promises be relied upon, in the light of what has happened in the past in terms of Heathrow and airport expansion? He said:

I take great heart from that.

The Secretary of State also said:

He also referred to the important safeguards that

the matter would be for

I take heart from that.

On the procedures and processes that this matter involves, I take a different view from many in this Chamber, because I think that they have been putting on the Government the sorts of things that would be done by a planning inquiry. Surface transport, the overdevelopment arguments often put forward in our constituencies, and the air quality and noise arguments are very important issues, but they are also ones for the planning process. On surface traffic, the Government have not been given credit for the battle they fought in Brussels—in the European Union—to have tighter controls on emissions from passenger vehicles; this Government stood up for the 137 g per kilometre provision, which is a step forward. It will indirectly affect the air quality on the ground around Heathrow, whether or not it has a third runway, because the cars delivering people to and from Heathrow will be less polluting.

Another issue that has been mentioned today is the economics, and there are two ways of looking at that factor. The first is the economics of what the runway will do for the economy and so on—and I understand the scepticism that I have heard about the figures. The other aspect is whether it will be economic to build a third runway at Heathrow. Some hon. Members seem to be trying to substitute the decision of this Chamber for a commercial decision made by the owners of Heathrow—currently Ferrovial, a Spanish company. I think that a third runway at Heathrow will never be built, because of the following things: high-speed rail; video links; the price of oil; the opprobrium associated with flying; and the question of whether hub airports make any sense, given that, as we all know, the big expansion in recent years has been undertaken by carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet—point-to-point carriers that do not go for the hub.

I understand that from this Government and previous Governments there is no direct subsidy for Heathrow. Indirect subsidy is provided, particularly through the lack of excise duty and tax on aviation fuel. The Government ought to end that unilaterally, rather than wait until there is an agreement within the European
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Union. The emissions trading scheme will clamp down, and I think that, in view of the entire context, a third runway will not be built.

What I object to strongly on the part of Conservative Members is, to use an old-fashioned biblical phrase, the whited sepulchre—although in this case it is a green sepulchre: fancy on the outside, but a pile of bones on the inside. That is what this motion is, because it tries to have it both ways. With all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), I suspect that he never believed in his wildest dreams that this motion would be debated on the Floor of the House. It is a contradictory motion that has been adopted today by the Conservative party, particularly in respect of the environmental stuff. It is like the old Canadian saying from the first world war, when people were trying to get Quebec to decide to stay in the confederation—they said that there would be conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription. That was a great political point made by their Prime Minister at the time, and although it was pretty nonsensical, it convinced the Canadian people. The approach here is that we will clamp down on air traffic if necessary, but we will not necessarily clamp down on air traffic. That contradictory, fake position faces both ways.

The Conservative motion is also hypocritical. I suspect that many Members of this House fly moderately frequently for leisure purposes, let alone for business; they may fly to go on holiday in Iceland, to go yachting in Corfu or to go birdwatching in Paraguay. I regard it as hypocritical, and an insult to my constituents, that they are being told in terms, “We want to restrict flights so you can’t fly. We’re rich, and we’ll carry on flying.” If they were really being intellectually honest about it, they would say, “Let’s ration flying. Let’s not do it through a price mechanism so that poor people can’t fly.”

The Liberal Democrats have just as much of a hypocritical position, and they should back off it. It is the kind of position that we face in our constituencies all the time from some people—I stress the word “some”—who say, “I don’t want a mobile phone mast on my street.” When such people are asked whether they have a mobile phone, they reply that they have, and when they are asked whether they use it, they again reply yes, but they do not want a mast on their street. That is the kind of hypocrisy that we face from people who are flying around the world on their holidays. The Conservative motion is contradictory, and I urge hon. Members to vote it down.

6.24 pm

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I agree with every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), and I will support the motion in the Lobby tonight. I agree with him about the need for consensus across all the political parties if we are truly to tackle this major global issue of climate change. We came together not so long ago and passed the Climate Change Act 2008, and only two hon. Members voted against it. We imposed on ourselves strict targets that must be met by 2050, and as a result, the Government have been able to claim global leadership in tackling climate change.

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It is one thing to have targets; it is another to achieve them. We achieved our Kyoto targets, but that was on the back of a temporary phenomenon—the dash for gas and the closure of coal-fired power stations. We are, even now, contemplating building a new coal-fired power station, and we are increasing our greenhouse gas emissions in this country, as are our partner countries in Europe. So when it comes to competition between Heathrow, Paris, Schiphol and Frankfurt, we are all in this together. We will all have to take difficult decisions about whether we can continue with the predict and provide policy in aviation.

We must also consider the science. When the Climate Change Act was first considered, we had a target of 60 per cent., but that was based on out-of-date science. We then realised that we needed an 80 per cent. target, based on the report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change, which is now some four years out of date. The latest science tells us that even that target may not be sufficient. It is not even the target that we need to consider, but our trajectory, and how we meet it. We cannot put action off. The latest science tells us that we are probably already at the tipping point. Predictions show that the melting of the Arctic ocean and ocean acidification, which were not expected to take place for another 50 or so years, are taking place now. The target that we must aim for if we are to reduce the increase in global temperature to the 2° C necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change is now more like 350 parts per million—and that is the level that we are at today.

We have to take urgent action. We cannot wait one or two years: we have to start now. We cannot look just for energy efficiencies and otherwise carry on as we are. We cannot look to some technological fix, as yet undiscovered. We have technologies that will enable us to tackle climate change, and we can be optimistic, but only if we start now. That means that all sectors of our economy have to participate. As the chief scientific adviser has said, the UK’s target means that all sectors must make a major contribution and achieve step changes in past performance. That applies to the aviation industry perhaps even more than to other emitters of greenhouse gas, because its emissions are made in the atmosphere and have a greater impact than those on the ground.

It is therefore inconceivable that we will meet our climate change targets with a target for aviation that says that we will not get back to 2005 levels of emission from the aviation sector until 2050. Even if that were achievable in the scenario painted by the Government, it is still not good enough. If we do not get it right, and if we do not take a lead in this country, as is absolutely necessary if we are to reach agreement at Copenhagen, that could have an impact on unemployment and on our economy. It will also have a global impact, through the water wars that will take place and the refugee problem. What happened in the early 1990s—with the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the consequences that followed for refugees seeking asylum, and the impact that that had here, as well as the impact that the wars in places such as Somalia and Darfur had here—will be as nothing compared with the impacts of dangerous climate change, which we are now embarking on.

If we are embarking on such change now, we cannot contemplate going ahead with a third runway at Heathrow airport. It is as simple as that. If this country wants to offer global leadership, it must not go ahead with the
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project, which makes a mockery of all our claims that we are serious about meeting the targets and tackling climate change.

We can tackle climate change—but what will happen if we do not? I sometimes wonder whether I did the right thing by bringing children into this world. I am from the luckiest generation. I was born in 1951, after the second world war. I had the benefit of the post-war welfare state: health care, free education and a good pension scheme from the public sector and from my current employment. When I look at our children, I see that they have a lot less opportunity and a lot less to look forward to than I had. If we are going to be true to our children, and to children all over the world, we must take climate change seriously. That means that we must not go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow.

6.32 pm

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): It is a pleasure to respond to a debate that has been serious, heartfelt and broadly positive across the whole House. That owes much to the motion that we are debating today, tabled originally by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), whose balanced and responsible early-day motion provided the words used. As we might expect from the hon. Gentleman, the motion is constructive rather than partisan in both its tone and effects. He made a wonderful speech that we all enjoyed, and it is a shame that we could not hear more from him.

The motion simply calls on the Government to rethink their plans for a third runway at Heathrow and to give full consideration to alternative solutions. The original early-day motion was signed by 167 Members, with support drawn almost equally from all the main parties. It is right to make a careful, cool-headed assessment, because it would be wrong to pretend that the decision does not entail difficult choices.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change reminded me last week that some years ago I co-authored a pamphlet entitled “Free to Travel”. I am glad that he did, because I have since reread it and I was delighted to discover that I agreed with it. Not all of us can say that all the time. In it, I said:

I stand by that, and that same point was made by the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly). However, I also stressed the need to

It is the question of where to strike that balance that we have been debating today. It is clear that considering the plans that have been proposed and given the alternatives, a sensible balance would favour thinking again, as the motion suggests.

Colin Challen: For the record, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his party is in favour of aviation expansion?

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