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The proportion of business passengers is likely to fall still furtherindeed, it has already done soand not just because of the recession, but because of the growing sense of corporate responsibility and the active steps by businesses to reduce the amount of flying that they do. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor referred to the letter in The Times last month, from which I shall quote just one sentence:
We recognise the business need for air travel and that strong air links between the UK and the rest of the world are required, but the business case for the third runway simply does not stack up.
I shall now consider the general capacity argumentan aviation-specific argument. Many regional airports have plans for more capacity. Since 2001 the percentage of passenger traffic going to regional airports has increased from 39 to 48 per cent. and, despite the recession, many have plans for further expansion in the medium term. Of course, regional plans must be considered on a case-by-case basiseach on its own meritsbut far too much emphasis has been placed on the big three London airports and not nearly enough on regional development, which boosts local economies and, crucially, reduces ground-based emissions and congestion on the traffic infrastructure in the south-east.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) while he made his typically courteous and well argued speech. He argued that somehow a large part of the extra capacity that would come out of a third runway would go into reducing overstretch, rather than extra flights. That would have been a difficult case to make even a year or two ago, but let us consider it in the light of the current financial strains and the difficulties that Ferrovial will have in putting this package together. If that assumption was worked into it, it would be impossible to finance in the private sector.
The last argument in favour is the hub argument. Refusing to allow the third runway at Heathrow will mean that other aviation hubs continue to grow larger than Heathrow. That is unavoidable. We have lost a few thinner routes already, but with 180 routes from the airport and a transaction just over a year ago of £30 million for two slots, Heathrow remains an important hub. The focus should be on making it a better airport.
Let us remember the environmental price of a third runway. There is no time for me to restate the very strong arguments advanced by all three major partiesarguments on noise and the fantasy aircraft that the Government are arguing will protect the footprint and on nitrogen dioxide. Frankly, even with the derogation, there are question marks over whether the 2015 target can be met, let alone the 2010 one.
We want Heathrow to be better, not bigger. It is true that many of its problems are related to runway overcrowding, but there are many other issues too. That is why we supported from the beginning the idea that BAA should be broken up by the Competition Commission, although we accept that the recession makes BAAs welcome decision to sell Gatwick immediately harder to implement. None the less, we will keep pressure on BAA to improve the quality of service that it gives customers in the airports that it retains. That will help to address the Heathrow hassle. Baroness Neville-Jones is carrying out a comprehensive study on security, which,
by learning lessons from best practice abroad, should show how to improve security and reduce unnecessarily burdensome queues.
However, the most important issue for passengers, especially business passengers, is the wretched ongoing links from Heathrow. Most modern airports allow passengers to get off an aeroplane and straight on to a train to go to a range of destinations. From Heathrow, passengers have two choices: to climb, with all their bags, on to an underground train, crushed between commuters at many times of the day, or to take the link to Paddington to transfer on to the underground to transfer again to a station that takes them somewhere.
A Conservative Government would give the go-ahead for a high-speed rail line linking Heathrow with the channel tunnel, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Our proposals for a Heathrow rail hub, linked into several existing rail arteries, as well as HSR, would give us a Heathrow with links to be proud of. Experience in the rest of Europe shows that HSR provides an attractive alternative to short-haul flights. We believe that the link that we propose could replace virtually all flights between Heathrow and destinations such as Manchester, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Flight figures published by the Government for 2007 suggest that trains to those destinations could replace up to 30 per cent. of the capacity of a third runway. That figure could rise further as HSR expands in this country and on the continent.
By relieving overcrowding problems at the airport, our proposals would do a great deal to make Heathrow into a modern airport of which we can be proud. Our plan would also leave a lasting legacy for the future, freeing up capacity on the existing network for more commuter services. It would contribute to a more balanced UK economy, providing growth for the midlands and north and reducing the pressure on roads, land and housing in the south-east. It is a long-term project and would start in the most challenging economic circumstances, but our transport system has suffered from short-termism for far too long. Sometime in the next 12 months, the British people will have a clear choice. A Conservative Government will cancel the third runway and instead take steps to make Heathrow a better airport.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): I congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing the debate and allowing an opportunity for the issues to be raised again; no doubt they will be raised in further debates in the ensuing months. We are talking about the important issue of meeting the aviation demands of our country, whether that relates to private travellers, travelling for leisure purposes or to visit friends, or to travel that is necessary to have a successful and thriving economy as part of UK plc.
I have been particularly interested to listen to all the comments that have been contributed to the debate by the hon. Member for Windsor, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), and to the interventions from the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), the right hon. Member for West
Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush (Mr. Slaughter). I have listened particularly to the comments of Front-Bench spokesmen and women with regard to meeting the challenges and making the hard decisions that have had to be faced by those in government. I shall run through some of those points now.
First, let me make it clear that although there may have been a change of team to an extent, I was present in March when the hon. Member for Windsor accompanied a delegation from his constituency, along with other representatives, including in this Chamber today, to discuss the issues with the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon). I noted the comments from the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) that the contributions by the former Secretary of State were outrageous. I suspect that the reason for her saying that was that his comments did not find favour with her view. As I said, I attended that meeting with hon. Members and other representatives and I listened with interest to many of the views that were expressed by local residentsviews that were clearly held firmly and expressed robustly. I am happy to confirm that information on a number of the points raised at that meeting has now been posted on the Department for Transport website. I am talking about issues that were raised at the meeting but could not be fully answered in that forum. I want to make it clear that those are on the Departments website.
Mr. Randall: I am pleased to hear about the continuity in the Department because the Minister will be able to confirm or deny the persistent press reports that it has been collating information about those who oppose the third runway.
Paul Clark: The continuing work of listening to the views that are raised across the boardby those who are for or againstin this important debate is absolutely essential for any Government worthy of their name.
I welcome the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government, but I preface my remarks by noting that the decisions that we announced on Heathrow in January are subject to an application for judicial review, which was brought by a number of local authorities, including the royal borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, as well as by other parties. That application relates to a number of the issues that right hon. and hon. Members have raised, including noise impacts.
The decisions that we have taken and announced on Heathrow, as well as the reasons for them, have been clearly spelled out, including in the documents published on 15 January, which are freely available. You will be pleased to know, Mr. Taylor, that I do not propose to go
over all of those this morning, but I can say that the Government are happy to defend those decisions in court if permission for judicial review is given.
One issue that has been raised in the debate is that people do not understand how the Government can make such a decision when climate change is meant to be the most important thing that exists. Of course climate change is critical, which is why the Government commissioned studies by Stern and Eddington, and those are the driving forces behind the Departments work. However, although we must recognise that climate change is fundamental, we cannot make decisions by looking at one part but not the others. The needs of business, the UK and, indeed, the residents of all the constituencies that are represented here are equally important in this framework. A hard decision has to be taken in the light of all these important issues, and none is more important than climate change and getting the balance right.
The further development of Heathrow has been debated in Parliament on many occasionsmost recently on the Opposition day on 28 January, shortly after the Governments decision was announced. At the time, we were told that Heathrow was the wrong decision, that the world had changed and that the Government should delay their decision for three or four years, and that argument has been made today. We have also heard that some of the alternatives should be considered, and that, too, has been repeated today.
Although the office holders in the Government who took the decision that was announced on 15 January may have changed, the arguments have not. The fact has not changed that the transport system is the lifeblood of Britains economy. The fact has not changed that Heathrow is our only hub airport, that it is a vital international gateway for us, that it is vital to our economy and that it connects us to the growth markets of the future. The fact has not changed that Heathrow, as the hon. Member for Spelthorne said, is operating at near capacity and losing ground to international hub airports in competitor countries. Those are still the issues with which we have to deal, whether the Governments transport team is led by the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) or Lord Adonis. We are talking about a Government decision, and it has to be taken on the basis of facts and information. We have to reach a decision, but not at any price.
John McDonnell: I want to return to the serious point made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. I do not expect the Minister to answer today, but we would welcome a letter on the issue. There have been reports in the press recently suggesting that the Department has provided BAA and others with information on opponents of Heathrows expansion. I would welcome confirmation or nothopefully notof whether that has occurred. If the Minister could write to us, that would be helpful.
I want to deal now with some of the substantive issues that have been raised. As I was saying, there is the economic side, the demand and the capacity issues, and we clearly said that we believed in principle that
there should be a third runway. However, we said that that should not be at any cost, which is exactly why we set criteria on the issues of noise, air quality and surface access. In that respect, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who represents Her Majestys Opposition, made a fascinating statement about the investment that he would make in surface transport. I do not know whether he has discussed that with the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), who may have different ideas about the amount of public investment that his party would put in if it ever came to power.
Mr. Brazier: The short answer is yes. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition are committed to the high-speed rail link. In fact, only the first stagethe stage that links into the fast link to the channel tunnelis needed to achieve nearly all the aspects of flight replacement.
Paul Clark: I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says. He will be well aware that the Government are getting on with the job of making sure that there is a robust case for a High Speed 2 link that meets the requirement of linking into an expanded Heathrow. There are also the investments that we have put into the Piccadilly line to increase capacity, as well as the commitment that we have given on Crossrail, and the hon. Gentleman would no doubt wish to put on record that he is totally committed to that scheme.
In terms of industry and business, I accept that individuals have made a number of statements arguing one side of the case. Equally, however, I can quote from the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and the TUCwe must be the only Government to have got everyone on side in that way, because they recognise the importance of our announcement on the Heathrow expansion.
Paul Clark: They were already there. However, he said that hardly anything was operating, and that was, indeed, the case. That is why Heathrow is fundamentally important. Some 70 per cent. of foreign businesses locate their headquarters within an hour of Heathrow, as right hon. and hon. Members will be well aware.
In the last couple of minutes, let me bring in some of the other issues. The hon. Member for Windsor said that international routes had declined marginally. There were 227 international destinations in 1990, but 180 in 2006, which is not a marginal decline. Heathrow now serves only nine domestic airports, but it served 18 in 1990. Some 21 domestic airports are served by Amsterdam alone. Hon. Members will therefore recognise the issues involved.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset referred to High Speed 2. We are going down that line because we have witnessed a 40 per cent. increase in the demand for rail and we are planning ahead to make sure that Britain remains competitive.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr. Taylor. This is my valedictory address as chairman of the all-party group on drugs misuse. I hope to hand over the groups chairmanship this very afternoon, after serving in that capacity for 10 years. I am sure that I will leave it in good hands.
I am introducing this debate on addiction to and physical dependence on prescription and over-the-counter medicines in the hope that the Government will take the issue on board when they make policies in future. It is now recognised by many that the war on drugs has caused displacementsubstance displacement, geographical displacement and even policy displacement. The press kit for the United Nations 2006 International Narcotics Control Board annual report states, at page 11:
The abuse and trafficking of prescription drugs is set to exceed illicit drug abuse, warned the International Narcotics Board in its Annual Report released today.
The Board added that medication containing narcotic drugs and/or psychotropic substances is even a drug of first choice in many cases, and not abused as a substitute. Such prescription drugs have effects similar to illicit drugs when taken in inappropriate quantities and without medical supervision. The high they provide is comparable to practically every illicitly manufactured drug.
Why should a person risk a fine or prison sentence when perfectly legal substances can give them a buzz equal to that obtained from street drugs such as heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine? As we increase the penalties for those who use controlled drugs, as we have done, again, for cannabis users, or increase the number of classified substancesperhaps it will be khat or other legal highs nextpeople will seek alternatives to give them a buzz. Stronger enforcement merely leads to what I and others term substance displacement.
Concerns have been rising in recent years about the number of people who have become physically dependent on or addicted to legal substances, even overdosing on them, which has sometimes resulted in tragic deaths. The high-profile death of the famous Heath Ledger was only one example of very many. Soon after my election to Parliament in 1997 I came across a former policeman from Dumfriesshire, called David Grieve, who had been addicted to cough mixture containing codeine. He had been drinking litres of it every day. As a result he lost his job in the police force, and he started a charity, called Over-Count, which he still runs today, to give online advice to those who have become addicted to over-the-counter medications. Young Americans who are keen to avoid the risks associated with taking controlled, or street, drugs, have been pharming for several years now, which means that they have been taking cocktails of prescription and over-the-counter medicines to get their high.
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