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Greg Clark: The hon. Gentleman intervened earlier with a similar question, and I shall make our position very clear. The motion that we are debating is about a third runway at Heathrow, but if he is asking whether
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the Opposition will say no—for ever, any time, any place or anywhere—to airport expansion, that would clearly be ludicrous. Of course we are not suggesting that.

By my assessment, 26 speeches have been made this afternoon. It is difficult to respond to each argument individually, but I believe that seven clear reasons have emerged as to why we should follow the precautionary principle. The first has to do with climate change, which featured in the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and the hon. Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) and for Lewes (Norman Baker). It was also referred to by the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) and the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), for City of York (Hugh Bayley), for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) and for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter). They and others all emphasised the climate change case.

It was only last October that the House came together to pass the Climate Change Act 2008, which commits us to 80 per cent. cuts in greenhouse gases by 2050. However, passing an Act and setting a target are only the beginning of the process, not the end. If the 2008 Act is to mean anything, surely there needs to be a plan about how that target can be achieved. Decisions need to be taken that will advance us towards that target, rather than take us further away from it. As the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) said, we have to walk the talk.

It is extraordinary that, so soon after the Act was passed, almost the first decision of the Government is to approve a plan that would result in Heathrow becoming our biggest single source of CO2 emissions. By 2050, Heathrow—one single airport—would consume one fifth of the UK’s entire carbon budget. In fact, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton said that the figure could be as high as 30 per cent. As the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) said, that cannot make sense, not least because emissions from aviation, as a result of the phenomenon of radiative forcing, are widely thought to do two to three times the damage that ground-based emissions do.

I turn now to the question of concessions. Ministers claim to have done a great deal to remove the third runway’s negative consequences for carbon emissions with some eleventh-hour concessions, but sadly they do not stand up to scrutiny. Many hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), pointed that out.

The first idea was that there would be an initial restriction ensuring that the runway used only half its capacity. Of course, we are not told just how “initial” that would be. It is simply absurd to imagine that private investors will pay for capacity and accept that they cannot use it.

As many hon. Members have mentioned, BAA wrote a “dear neighbour” letter in 1999 to everyone around Heathrow. It said:

The letter went on to say that, subject to permission being given for terminal 5,

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There is therefore form for these assurances being overturned.

So unconvinced are the Government of their own commitment that they have already devised a scheme to allocate the additional capacity—the so-called “green slot” principle, which is their second mock concession. Once again, the Department for Transport can say only that the detail on green slots will be worked up in the future, but the idea is that only low-emissions aircraft would be allowed to use the new runway.

Yet that simply means that the new aircraft will use the new runway, while all the most polluting planes are left to feel free to use the current runways. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) pointed out, that would mean noise for people who currently do not even have it.

The third mock concession is the announcement that aviation should reduce its carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 2050. When will Ministers understand that a target is meaningless without a plan to attain it? Have they taken into account the consequences for other industries? If 30 per cent. of the carbon budget is taken up by aviation, where does that leave the rest of our industry? It is almost like the old game of Pacman, with the contribution from other industries being gobbled up by the single monster that is Heathrow.

We know that the more environmentally friendly Cabinet members did their best to extract genuine concessions. However, they failed, and we should not delude ourselves that the third runway proposal would be anything other than catastrophic for our commitment to reduce emissions.

I turn briefly to the question of air quality, a matter raised by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) and by the hon. Members for Reading, West and for Hayes and Harlington. Nitrogen dioxide is already at levels that are likely to breach the EU air quality directive, which becomes mandatory next year. Many hon. Members pointed out that the Environment Agency, whose chairman is Lord Smith, a former member of the Government, has warned that a third runway would cause increased morbidity and mortality—in other words, that people would die needlessly.

One of the contributors to poor air quality and CO2 emissions in dense residential areas is emissions from motor vehicles taking people to and from the airport. Hundreds of thousands more flights a year will mean millions more journeys by car through congested areas of London. Do we really want to turn London into the Mexico City of Europe—notorious for crawling traffic, blighting the lives of residents and travellers alike?

Noise levels were mentioned by the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Sunderland, South and by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham. Two million people from Windsor to Brixton are already affected by the noise from London Heathrow. A third runway would make that worse. When the Government commissioned a study of noise, saying that it underlined their commitment to underpin policy with substantial research, they set aside the very research that they commissioned. The study was published and showed that the problem would be deepened, but its results were trashed. As my hon.
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Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham said, new areas such as north Westminster will be exposed for the first time.

Many hon. Members urged the Government, in the words of the motion, to explore more fully the provision of high-speed rail to other major cities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, my hon. Friends the Members for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and for Henley (John Howell) and the hon. Members for City of York and for Selby all mentioned high-speed rail. While other European countries have invested in high-speed rail networks, Britain has been left behind, with the channel tunnel rail as our only high-speed rail line.

In France, before the TGV linked Paris and Marseille—a distance of 660 km—22 per cent. of passengers travelled between the two cities by rail; now 69 per cent. of them do so. Yet in Britain, 32 flights a day link London to Manchester, despite it being only 260 km away. A high-speed rail network linking London, including Heathrow, with the cities of the midlands and the north, and we hope Scotland in due course, could save thousands of flights, not only at London Heathrow, of course, but at other UK airports, including Gatwick, Stansted and regional airports, thus unleashing significant spare capacity.

The economic case was questioned by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton and the hon. Members for Selby, for Richmond Park, for Hayes and Harlington, for Sunderland, South and for City of York.

A report by the international consultancy CE Delft has suggested that the number of extra visitors to Britain was overestimated by a factor of 12 and their contribution to the economy by a factor of four in the paper on Heathrow expansion. There are flaws in the Government’s case. For example, the net present value of the Government’s proposal assumes that airport passenger duty counts as a positive value, when, of course, it is merely a transfer from the private sector to the public sector. As many hon. Members have mentioned, the idea that Heathrow, which is currently Europe’s largest hub airport, will somehow wither away is not credible.

The seventh theme that emerged from hon. Members’ contributions was that of democracy. I respect the record of the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) as a former Transport Minister, but he said that there was something strange about voting on an early-day motion that was signed by so many colleagues. I do not think that people outside the Chamber will understand the logic that hon. Members can sign to say that they agree with a motion and then vote against when it is debated. The idea that there is some sort of unwritten convention that that should not happen will strike people who listen to the debate as precisely the kind of murky practice that brings Parliament into disrepute. If we sign a motion, we ought to stand by that if it comes to a vote, especially when it is a balanced motion.

Martin Salter: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of us find it slightly bizarre that some Labour Members will go through the Lobby with members of the Democratic Unionist party who deny the existence of climate change? The argument cuts both ways, does it not?

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Greg Clark: I noticed the contribution, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is content with the company that he will keep in the Lobby.

By my reckoning, 21 of the 26 speeches that we have heard supported the motion, which asks the Government to think again before committing irrevocably to a third runway at Heathrow. Almost all the speeches have been constructive. It would be wrong to say that the House had reached a consensus, but I hope that the Secretary of State will reflect on the repeated guidance that has emerged.

Listening to the debate, it seemed to me that three broad principles could be discerned for a policy on aviation that reflects the mood of the House. First, plans for runway capacity in Britain should be predicated on what is needed following the building of a high-speed rail network, rather than in the absence of one. Secondly, given that we are committed so stringently to reducing CO2 emissions, runway capacity should be built only if it can demonstrably reduce the total volume of CO2 emissions from the UK, not if we just hope vaguely that it will do so in future. Thirdly, any new runway capacity should be allowed only if it improves the quality of life of the people who have to live with it, including in relation to air quality, noise pollution and local transport connections.

That, I sense, is what the House would like to see, and with the right will, it may be possible to achieve those objectives, but not at Heathrow, not now, and not with the plans that are proposed. The Government’s proposals for the third runway fail on each of those counts—on rail, on climate change, and on quality of life. In the words of the hon. Member for Selby and 166 colleagues from across the House, the Government should think again.

6.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): I, too, pay tribute to right hon. and hon. Members who spoke in the debate, and I want to pick out two contributions in particular. One was by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who spoke with passion about his constituents, and the other was by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall); he began his contribution by saying that he was not going to make an eloquent speech, but he then did so. In a way, he summed up how difficult the decision is.

My argument tonight is that we can reconcile the economic and social case for aviation expansion, including at Heathrow, and our duty to the environment. That is the nature of government—finding a way through difficult dilemmas, and not ducking them. That is an important lesson for Opposition Members. What is the way through the dilemma? The answer lies not in unlimited aviation, which would not be environmentally credible, but in limited aviation expansion—limited by conditions on carbon dioxide emissions, on air quality, and on noise. That is the proposition before the House.

Let me turn to the carbon argument, which a number of right hon. and hon. Members brought up, including the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who has a long record on such issues, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), for
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Eltham (Clive Efford), and for Reading, West (Martin Salter), my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), and my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), for Selby (Mr. Grogan), for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones).

On the carbon argument and the 80 per cent. target for 2050, the heart of the question is this: in trying to achieve an 80 per cent. target, do we think that the cuts should be across the board—that is, should there be a cut of 80 per cent. in every sector, including aviation? This is what the Committee on Climate Change said on the subject in its report in December:

that is, in aviation. Is that the right position? That is the question for the House today. I believe that it is, because an 80 per cent. cut in aviation would mean going back to 1974 levels of flying. We must all accept the principle that aviation will not bear as big a burden as other sectors in the economy.

Norman Baker: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Edward Miliband: I will in a moment. The question then is, what burden should aviation bear? At times it has been hard to tell what the Opposition Front Benchers’ position on the issue really is, but some people in this House have implied that perhaps we should have a freeze in aviation. [Interruption.] They say no. The truth, revealed by this debate, is that we are seeing opportunism from the Conservative party—the worst sort of opportunism, environmental opportunism.

Mr. Gummer: Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is not opportunism to suggest that as a result of the extra emissions that would result from the proposal, aviation would have not just a special place, but so large a place that the effect on the rest of industry would be devastating? That is not opportunism; it is sensible management.

Edward Miliband: I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I disagree with him on this point. I do not believe that 2.7 million tonnes of carbon from the half third runway proposal that has been allowed is devastating to our climate change commitments. I believe something even more important. When we think about aviation expansion and about people watching the debate in the House, they are asking a simple question: is tackling climate change consistent with economic growth and the way the world is moving? Our position is that it is, and I shall explain why.

Norman Baker: This is an important matter. The Government’s target is to keep aviation emissions in 2050 at the same level as they were in 2005. Does the Secretary of State accept that if that target is realised, the rest of industry will have to make cuts of 89 per cent. in order to meet the Government’s overall 80 per cent. target?

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Edward Miliband: The rest of industry would have to bear a bigger burden. That is true, but I have explained to the hon. Gentleman why the Committee on Climate Change thinks that is right.

We are the only party in the House that has a clear position—an internationally leading position on aviation emissions. We say that by 2050, aviation emissions must be back to current levels. That is a target consistent with the 80 per cent. target. Why is that significant? Because for the first time we are saying that aviation expansion is conditional on improvements and reductions in carbon emissions. That is a significant commitment. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal thinks that we will have trouble at the international negotiations on the matter, but we will be in a world-leading position in the international negotiations when we enunciate our policy. I will have trouble though persuading other countries to sign up to the target, because it is such an ambitious target.

Colin Challen: The debate has been about aviation expansion per se, not just about one runway. Regional runways and every possible form of expansion need to be discussed. Will that be the case when we consider the national planning strategy? Will the House have a substantive vote on the issue when we come to consider the NPS?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend knows that the procedure is that when the national policy statement is set out in 2011, it will go to the Select Committee, which can recommend that the House debates a motion on these matters.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): How seriously can my right hon. Friend take the Opposition’s position on carbon emissions and climate change in the aviation debate when the most senior elected Conservative politician in the country is planning a major expansion of airports in east London? Does that not destroy the central plank of their argument?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is right. The best mate of the leader of the Conservative party wants a whole new estuary airport.

In the debate the shadow Transport Secretary, sadly, had to disown her own words from only 15 months ago on the case for Heathrow expansion. In politics, when someone has to disown words that they said only 15 months ago, they know they are in trouble. If they cannot agree with themselves, that does not speak well for their position.

John McDonnell: Further to the reply that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen), can we be clear? What the Government have said in the context of the new planning legislation is that a national policy statement will be produced as a result of consultation, there will be a Committee examination of that, and there will be a debate in the House on the motion. But no guarantee is given by Government that that resolution will determine the national policy statement. It could be a debate on the Adjournment of the House, not to determine the policy. May we have an assurance that it will determine the national policy statement?

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