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I bet Members must wonder why all this has not already happened. Very simply, the UK Independence party-run local authority was elected on a single strong policy of promising back-to-back compulsory purchase orders, but it has given up and backed out of the deal. There we are: a huge runway sitting idle. It is well connected and can take any size of aircraft, but it is doing nothing.

Robert Neill: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. From my experience as a Communities and Local Government Minister, I am aware of the benefits that Manston would bring. Does he not also agree that, fortunately, Conservative-controlled Kent County Council takes a much more progressive and sensible view of the value of economic growth in this area? In fact, the development of Manston would be entirely consistent with our devolution of economic powers to our regions and shire counties.

Craig Mackinlay: I thank my hon. Friend, and I tend to agree that Kent County Council is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to supporting Manston, but it could be a key driver for economic development.

Bob Stewart: As my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and I both know, Manston was an emergency airstrip in the second world war. It was a very long one, and the biggest aeroplanes are capable of landing there, so this is quite a good idea.

Craig Mackinlay: I thank my hon. Friend for his useful comments.

To conclude, I am making an appeal from this Chamber for potential operators to come and look again at what Manston has and what it can offer as a regional airport that can provide for the next 10 years some immediate relief from the lack of capacity that we have on our doorstep at both Heathrow and Gatwick. Whatever decision is made—whether it be Gatwick or Heathrow—this country’s economic growth and survival as a major global player need solutions. Whatever the solution is, please let us get to that decision quickly; let us make it, and start building.

4.16 pm

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, as it is a very important one to my constituents. I thank my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) for speaking so passionately on this subject. She has done so for many years, and today has been no exception.

I need no persuasion that we need another airport in the south-east, that we need one soon and that we need to get on and make the decision. I am afraid that I am entirely unconvinced by the hypothesis—it has not been presented in this House today—that Britain will not lose out if we do not build a new runway soon, because we will. The question for me, then, is simply where—not whether—we are going to build the new runway.

This is plainly a difficult political question, so the Government were right to seek an independent report on it. There is no requirement, however, for the Government

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slavishly to follow the conclusions of that report. I know that they will consider it very carefully. We are elected politicians: we do not outsource things to so-called experts; we consider the evidence and we make decisions in the interests of the country and our constituents.

I want to pick up on three things in the Davies report, and these are essentially the three brakes that Davies put on expansion at Heathrow, all of which significantly undermine the case for adding a third runway there. The first is the ban on night flights. Noise pollution from Heathrow already disturbs more people in west London than any comparable airport in Europe. To get around that problem, Davies has suggested a partial ban on night flights.

Leaving aside the scepticism of local people that any such rule would be honoured in the breach, this makes little sense if the idea of a new runway is to allow us to increase airport capacity and allow flights from more destinations. Banning night flights would reduce the number of connections with places such as Hong Kong, Singapore and China, as well as deter some low-cost carriers.

Davies’s second predicate on expansion at Heathrow is the meeting of air-quality targets, which he said must be met before any aeroplanes are allowed to take off from the third runway. Air pollution already kills an estimated 10,000 Londoners every year, so it is right that reducing air pollution should be one of the caveats on allowing additional flights from Heathrow. This is a caveat, however, that cannot possibly be met any time soon. It is certainly not a caveat that can be met in the next few years, even on the basis that Heathrow stands still and there is no expansion, so how can it possibly be met if we add a third runway? I cannot see how a third runway, with more flights and more pollution, would do anything to reduce the current levels at Heathrow. By contrast, Gatwick has never breached EU or UK annual air-quality limits. We have heard of political decisions that would have led to “bridges to nowhere” and “roads to nowhere” in Alaska. What we do not want is a runway to nowhere at Heathrow, because that would not solve the urgent need for additional airport capacity.

The third predicate is that Parliament should legislate against a fourth runway at Heathrow. I have to say that, for my constituents, the fact that Davies says that we must legislate against the runway being built rather underscores the risk that that is what would happen if we did not. Besides, legislation would give no comfort to my constituents, because it would merely mean that the issue of the fourth runway would have to be debated in the House before the runway was ever built.

My constituents are already quite badly affected by noise from Heathrow, although they are not even under one of the flightpaths. What I am concerned about—particularly on behalf of my constituents in New Malden —is that one of the flightpaths from a new third runway would go directly over their houses, as is clear from the plan.

Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con): The effect of noise disruption has been raised regularly by Members who represent constituencies near Heathrow as an argument against the third runway. May I put on record the disruption experienced by my own constituents, who are hugely affected by flights to and from Gatwick? Hundreds of them came to a public meeting that was

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held recently to discuss this very issue. There may be fewer flights, but there is less ambient noise, so the effect of the flights is magnified.

James Berry: I thank my hon. Friend for that information. I am sure that when my hon. Friend is up in London, she will welcome the fact that the third runway will not go ahead—for, like other Members who are present, I feel that the legal challenges are so great that even if Parliament approves the runway, it will not go ahead.

I do not forget for one moment that a number of my constituents work at Heathrow airport, but the fact is that if a third runway is not built at Heathrow, the airport will not close down. It will not go away. It will still be one of the busiest airports in the world, and it will still be a big provider of jobs for people in London and people in my constituency.

People agree that we need more airport capacity. Nearly everyone agrees that we need to get on and make a decision. I do not demur from the proposition that choosing a major international airport hub is something that we need to get on with, but the solution is not a third runway at Heathrow.

4.22 pm

Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) on securing the debate. Its timing is fortuitous, given that it comes the day after we were reminded so starkly, in the autumn statement, of the importance to the UK of a growing and successful economy.

If we are to ensure that our economic legacy to future generations is not just billions and billions of pounds of debt—if we are to ensure that the future prosperity of our country is not trapped in the south-east of England, but embraces all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom—we shall have some very difficult, but necessary, decisions to make. As we were reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham, the Government have made commitments in the past, as they have also about Gatwick, and Ministers are fully aware of the intense passions that the debate will incite, as was so eloquently noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). I think that the Government acted with great foresight in setting up an independent commission and giving it the funds, the resources and the time that it needed, as well as access to every conceivable expert, thus enabling it to produce a report that had been fully worked through. The result of that work is a clear, unequivocal and unanimous recommendation in favour of expansion at Heathrow.

The economic case presented by the commission is overwhelming. It estimates that Heathrow expansion would result in a two-thirds better solution than expansion at Gatwick. According to analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers, there is a £50 billion gap; according to other analyses that have used the best possible results for each expansion, the gap could be as wide as £90 billion. Heathrow expansion would also result in a far superior increase in the number of long-haul routes, with a 20% increase in the number of long-haul destinations.

Ruth Cadbury: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the £147 billion figure that is given in the report has been challenged by the Airports Commission’s own economic

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advisers? The difference between the benefits of expansion at Heathrow and those of expansion at Gatwick is very small.

Jeremy Quin: I have seen letters from the commission, dated 7 September and 28 September, rebutting several points, including that one.

We are talking about a 28% increase in the number of long-haul destinations. Of course it is important that we entertain President Xi and Prime Minister Modi in this place, but if we are to take part in the global international race we hear about so much, we need UK CEOs boarding planes daily and weekly to the cities and areas those leaders represent. We will know we are winning that global race when we have Chinese, Brazilian and Indian CEOs gracing the streets of Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow, Belfast, Newcastle and, indeed, Newquay.

Domestic flights into Heathrow have been crowded out in the last 25 years, as Davies sets out, but his report also states:

“Our discussions with stakeholders in the nations and regions revealed very clearly the importance that they attach to direct links to Heathrow because of the access provided to its substantial long-haul route network.”

Boris Johnson: I hesitate to remind my hon. Friend of what has already been said, but the Davies commission itself admits that the number of international long-haul flights will increase by only seven destinations by 2030 and by a further seven by 2050, while the number of domestic destinations will actually fall from seven to four.

Jeremy Quin: The letter of 28 September to the chair of the Greater London Authority mentioned

“10 to 12 additional long-haul routes at the airport in 2040, an increase of 20%”

and defines

“a ‘daily destination’ as one seeing more than 360 services a year”.

These are the types of services required by CEOs regularly going to visit their clients and bringing them back to the UK.

I accept that today’s debate is not just about economic arguments—one third of the report details the environmental and local community concerns. Those issues were due to occupy a third of my speech, but, taking my lead from the Chair, I do not think that that would be welcomed. None the less, I would welcome the establishment of an independent noise authority, which could bring huge benefits to places all over the country that suffer from aircraft noise, including rural areas, which have less ambient noise and can be particularly badly affected.

Despite the remorseless and gallant campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), air quality in parts of our great capital is not what we would desire and must be improved. I believe that the Davies commission treated this issue seriously, and I recognise that, as stated by the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), the most troublesome points are those by the M4 and the M25. I take it from the report that practical measures can be taken to improve air quality. I thank the Davies commission for its comprehensive and convincing report, and I look forward to the Government’s response.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. If we can shave a minute off each Front-Bench speech, Adam Afriyie will get his five minutes.

4.28 pm

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I shall try not to use the five minutes, to give the Front-Bench speakers time to respond.

I would like to make some remarks about competition and markets, and this weird belief that Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd, a private limited company owned 100% by overseas shareholders, is still part of our national state-owned infrastructure. It might perform part of that function, but it is not a state-owned enterprise.

First, however, a quick word on noise: Heathrow airport is currently the noisiest airport in Europe. Sixty-eight times more people are affected by noise around Heathrow, south-west London and Berkshire than are affected by Gatwick. If the Davies commission assumptions are correct, in 60 years’ time—I am not sure how we can say with any accuracy what will happen 60 years from now—27 times more people will be affected by noise and pollution from Heathrow than if there was an expansion at Gatwick.

Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd is a privately owned company. I thank the Minister for his answer to my question about the infrastructure required as a direct result of expansion, but the Government have said they will not spend taxpayers’ money on this. Were they to do so, it would probably end up involving £15 billion or £20 billion, which would equate to a £300 subsidy to a private company from every person in the United Kingdom, so I am glad that that is not happening. On the other hand, Heathrow seems to be thinking, “Hang on, the taxpayer should subsidise us, a foreign-owned private company.” That is unacceptable; I do not think that the public would accept that kind of behaviour.

I hope that we will not decide on Heathrow, because that would not be in the national, regional or local interests, or in our economic interests. Were we to do so, we would be further entrenching an existing market-dominant player. Conservative Members, and probably most others as well, feel that that is not the kind of monopolistic practice that we should be entrenching.

Let us look at the economics. At the moment, it already costs £26 per passenger to land at Heathrow, which is not very competitive. The cost at Gatwick is £8.63. The cost following the construction of a new runway at Heathrow has been calculated at about £30 per passenger, which is not particularly economically viable, given that the price in the rest of Europe is generally between £18 and £20. So let us not assume that an extra runway at Heathrow would be cost-effective or economically beneficial, because that is not necessarily the case.

As I have said, Conservative Members would certainly not wish to entrench semi-monopolies. Let us look at the evidence on competition. When Gatwick put on a flight to Moscow, the price dropped from £700-plus to £350. Surely we believe in that kind of competition. I have a long history in business, and some might argue that business people such as chief executive officers are desperate for expansion at Heathrow. Utter nonsense! What CEOs and other business people are interested in is being able to get on a flight and get to where they want to go, whether from Gatwick or Heathrow. They

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will choose to fly from wherever the price is lowest and the connection the quickest. So I think those objections can be put to one side.

I want to return to the point about projecting 60 years hence. We cannot predict tomorrow’s weather, so the idea that we can predict what the economic consequences of this decision on Heathrow will be 60 years hence is quite bizarre. I should like to quote the former director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, John Kay, who rubbished the entire methodology, saying:

“The Commission purports to describe in immense detail the evolution of air transport over the next 60 years, even which routes airlines will choose to fly.”

Anyone with an economic or business background will know that that is simply not possible.

The judgment that we need to make today is also about the type of model that future aviation will adopt. We keep talking about a hub. I have written to British Airways, to Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd, to the Ministers and to several authorities connected to aviation to ask what constitutes a hub. I asked them to show me some sort of model, but none has been forthcoming. This idea that the hub will continue to operate exactly as it does now is a comfort blanket. And even if we do require a hub, like the one with two runways that we have at the moment, no one is arguing that Heathrow should close. The two-runway hub will continue as more modern forms of transport, such as point-to-point transport, arrive. Now, 90% of all the aircraft being ordered by airlines are suited to point-to-point transport and not to the old hub and spoke model.

4.33 pm

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): This is the issue that will not go away. Ever since I was elected to this Parliament, everywhere I go people want to know what we think and what will happen—not on Scottish independence, although that issue might not go away for some time, but on the extra runway at Heathrow or Gatwick. I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) on securing this debate. She made a forensic case in her opening remarks, and she is a credit to her constituents for doing so. She focused on the economic issues, noise and environmental questions, and she spoke very well as she made her case.

I cannot mention all the speakers who contributed to the debate, but I would like to focus on a few of them. It would be remiss of me not to begin with the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who has now rejoined us. This was the second mayoral hustings that I have sat through; the first was in a Westminster Hall debate on London taxis. I expect that both of them will be debating this issue for some time over the coming months. They highlighted a number of concerns with the report, and it is obvious from their statements that they are both equally passionate about London. I wish them both well as they seek to deal with this in more detail.

During the speech of the right hon. Member for Tooting, the most amazing thing occurred: the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who is no longer in his place, broke out as an ally of the Scottish National party—it surprised me probably as much as this will surprise him—when he used the line, “Why is it all about London?” That is the point from which we come at this. Although

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we understand that London is Scotland’s closest global financial hub and that we have to have a relationship with it, whether Scotland is part of the UK or not, we must not lose sight of issues relating to regional airports, to which I will return.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) raised serious concerns on behalf of her constituents, and did so excellently. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), whom I met on my first day in this House, when he gave me a few hints and tips on how to deal with some Members, said that Stansted will be “engraved” on his heart. As it is him, I will avoid the obvious joke about Tories having hearts and instead say that he gave a thorough and historical analysis of the wider airport expansion debate, and that this debate was all the better for it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), who has had to leave us early, rightly stands up for and praises Glasgow airport, which has become my second home over the past six months. I am sure the whole Chamber will wish to join me in congratulating it on being crowned UK airport of the year. He rightly asks the Government to clear up any confusion as to whether this will be deemed an English-only matter, and I hope the Minister will do that.

The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns), who kindly gave us new Members our induction in this very Chamber when we were first elected, gave an excellent speech. He illustrated the frustration, clear among Members from all parts of the House, that plagues this whole issue, and of course did so authoritatively, as a former Transport Minister. The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), for whom I have great respect, also spoke with authority, demanding that we treat this as a national issue, and saying that that should be what guides us, as opposed to local concerns. I have to say that local concerns must be given consideration, although I agree that the issue is of national importance.

It was of course over this very issue, in the last Labour Government, that the shadow Chancellor protested in this Chamber by using the Mace. We may be the noble savages, but I have no ambition to do that this evening. We will of course hear the Labour spokesman’s remarks in a few moments, but I want to give some comfort to the shadow Chancellor, who, unfortunately, is not in his place this evening. I found a quote from one Chairman Mao, who once said, “To rebel is justified.” [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), who sits on the Treasury Bench, still has his copy of the book.

As for the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), where do I begin, Madam Deputy Speaker? He spoke with his usual passion and authority in a good-natured but rather surprising contribution. I am delighted that he believes, along with the SNP, that this is not an English-only matter, and we should have a say on this; he has aligned himself solidly with the interests of the SNP and the people of Scotland as far as this debate is concerned, so for that we are grateful. My fellow Transport Committee member, the hon. Member for Flyde—

Mark Menzies: Fylde.

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Stewart Malcolm McDonald: I will get there one day; it is normally hon. Members from south of the border who struggle with these things, rather than those from the north of it. The hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) is a strong and staunch supporter of Blackpool airport in his constituency, and I know he has spoken out in other debates in the House on that, as he did today. He again mentioned the importance of securing regional connectivity. That is something the Government could do, and we will be pressing for that through public service obligations. I would be grateful to the Minister if he addressed that this evening. That is a concern not just for us in Scotland, but in other parts of England, such as the north-east.

Earlier this year, in their “Programme for Government”, the Scottish Government announced the setting up of three innovation and investment centres across Europe—in Brussels, Dublin and London. That gives Scottish firms an opportunity to do business on a world stage, which we have not always been good at, right here in London. As I have said, London is our closest major financial centre, and we will examine this decision forensically. At the moment, we remain agnostic, and we will seek to get the best possible deal for Scotland and for our constituents. The frustration is there, and the Government must make a decision.

4.40 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) on securing the debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to take place. I thank, too, all the Members who have spoken today, but I will not attempt to go through all their contributions. If I had done a scorecard, I think we would have seen that 12 Members were broadly against Heathrow, and 10 were broadly in favour—I am not including those on the Front Benches. I wish to make particular mention of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who will be debating this issue a lot more in the coming months.

It is always a pleasure to see my opposite number, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), and I look forward to hearing what he has to say. We had hoped to hear from the Transport Secretary, as he is a member of the mysterious Government sub-committee considering this issue. We would have appreciated a report from him, but it looks as if we will have to wait for that.

The aviation sector is a key pillar of our economy. I hope that the House will forgive me if I say that it is also an industry that makes our world a smaller place. It fosters direct face-to-face contact and understanding between peoples across the globe in a way that no other industry or mode of travel does. It is for that reason that aviation is a central target for those who want to kill, terrorise, undermine that understanding, and spread fear among those going about their daily lives. We were reminded of that with the Sharm el-Sheikh tragedy just a few weeks ago. It underlines why the decisions that our Parliament was wrestling with this morning are so profound, not only for our country as a whole, but for those working in aviation. It is why it is right that we pay tribute today to all those who work in the civil aviation sector, on the ground and in the air.

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As I said at the outset, the aviation industry is vital to the economy, generating around £50 billion in GDP, around a million jobs, and £8 billion in tax revenue. In 2014, UK airports handled 238 million passengers. We also know that aviation accounts for around 6% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and that there are issues of noise. The Volkswagen emissions scandal originated in the automotive industry, rather than in aviation, and the public are increasingly demanding transparency and action on air quality issues, too. That is why the work of the Sustainable Aviation Network is so important. Bringing together airlines, airports, airspace managers, aircraft manufacturers, unions and so many more, it is already making a big contribution to the challenges that aviation faces in the years ahead.

The introduction and development of sustainable fuels could make a major contribution to reducing emissions. Aircraft technology is another issue. We have heard about the lighter, smaller aircraft, such as the 787 and the A350, that could take long-haul flights. There are also new initiatives in airspace management. Even though airports have seen their passenger numbers increase by more than 5%, their carbon footprint has fallen by almost 3%. Continuing with the sustainable aviation agenda is fundamentally important not just for this debate, but for jobs and skills in the UK.

Turning to the issue of airport capacity, we were promised a response to the commission before Christmas, and we await to hear from the Minister when we can expect it. Our job as the Opposition is to scrutinise the response, and we have been clear about the four tests against which we will measure it when it comes. Two of those are about the environmental challenges posed by the different options put forward for additional runway capacity at either Heathrow or Gatwick: first, how far the UK’s climate change obligations can still be met; and, secondly, how local noise and environmental impacts can be managed and minimised. Davies said that the expansion of Heathrow had to be contingent—his word—on the latter point being addressed. Gatwick and Heathrow have both told me why they believe their plans meet those tests. But both rely on scenarios that require action from the Government, and Davies himself emphasised that the choices made by the Government will make the difference to what can be achieved.

On noise, for example, airports and airspace managers need to know whether the framework is to concentrate noise geographically or to disperse it. Whatever they decide, why cannot the Government now agree in principle with the Davies commission’s proposal for an independent aviation noise authority, with statutory consultation rights? That could be agreed now.

If the expansion of Gatwick or Heathrow is to help rather than hinder the UK in meeting our carbon or air quality targets, we require a big modal shift, with a transformation in the way that greater numbers of people and goods travel to and from those airports. What actions will the Government take to ensure that their conclusions on airport expansion, whatever they are, are compatible with our environmental obligations?

As for our other two tests, we will be looking for clearer answers from the Government on how their decision on Davies will meet the capacity challenge. Everyone agrees that the capacity in the south-east needs reviewing; that

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is why Labour supported the establishment of the commission. But there are very different answers from Heathrow, Gatwick and others about the kind of additional capacity needed, and how that will inform where any new runway in the south-east should go. What are the Government’s conclusions about the differing impact that different decisions will have on short-haul capacity, long-haul capacity, regional air connectivity, transfer traffic and the relative growth of point-to-point and hub traffic?

That brings me to the fourth test that we ask the Minister to address. This cannot be simply about how well or badly air travel serves the south-east. The issue of connectivity to other parts of the UK is vital, as too is seeing this as an opportunity for rebalancing growth across the regions. While the question of a new runway at Heathrow, Gatwick or neither is a key decision for UK aviation, it is not the only one. Whatever decision is made on Heathrow or Gatwick, it will take eight, nine or 10 years to implement—longer, if there are legal challenges.

Kelvin Hopkins: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Richard Burden: I would like to, but there is not time.

Aviation will not stand still in that time. Businesses will still need new routes to connect with existing and emerging markets. New aircraft such as the A350 and the B787 offer new possibilities for the economics of expanded point-to-point travel. If we are serious about rebalancing our economy, we must ensure that those routes are not simply dependent on what happens in the south-east.

Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, and—for freight— East Midlands are all international gateways to the UK in their own right and deserve to be treated as such. Will the Minister put the upgrading of rail links for the west Anglia lines in the next rail investment control period, to allow Stansted to achieve its potential in the south-east? Will he confirm that Manchester airport will be linked directly to HS2?

Having accepted the sense of Labour’s plan to create a National Infrastructure Commission, will the Minister endorse the call from my hon. Friend the shadow Transport Secretary for it to examine the long-term road and rail needs of airports and other transport gateways throughout the country, not simply in the south-east? Finally, when can we expect the promised review of the future of air passenger duty, looking at its purpose and how options for reform can improve the competitiveness of different airports in a devolved environment?

4.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury)—my one time cycling partner—and the Backbench Business Committee on securing this debate. We have heard some remarkable and passionate speeches—indeed, I look forward to the mayoral hustings next year. In contrast, my speech will be unremarkable, because at this point in the process the Government are engaged in dispassionate, clear-headed analysis of the Davies report.

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The coalition Government set up the Airports Commission to take a fresh, independent and comprehensive look at our current and future aviation needs. I thank Sir Howard once again for his diligent work, which covers not only new airport capacity but how to improve our existing airport infrastructure, including in the regions. The future of our aviation industry is of immense importance to this country and to many of our constituents, as we have heard, so I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate.

The UK aviation sector employs about 230,000 people directly and many more indirectly—for example, in the supply chain. Tax revenues from the industry are £8.7 billion per year and air freight carries goods worth over £100 billion a year between the UK and non-EU countries—that is more than 40% of our non-EU trade by value.

What is often overlooked when we discuss aviation in this country is that we are incredibly well connected: we have the third-largest aviation network in the world, after the USA and China; the number of passengers using our non-London airports has increased by over a third since 2000; and London remains one of the world’s best-connected cities, with at least weekly connections to over 360 destinations. In comparison, Paris serves about 300 routes and Frankfurt about 250. Air connectivity is one of the major reasons three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies have offices in London. The airport capacity constraints we are seeing today are in fact a symptom of Britain’s success and the aviation industry’s success in attracting new business.

Maintaining our international and domestic UK connectivity is critical if we want to continue growing as a country and as an economy. We are focusing on a wide range of issues—not only capacity—that support our aviation sector. Airspace, for example, is a critical piece of our national infrastructure. That is why it is vital we work to optimise capacity, maintain air safety, reduce air traffic delays, and mitigate aviation’s impact on the environment. The CAA’s future airspace strategy is designed to do this, and the Government support that important initiative. The Government are also providing support to our airports through improving surface access.

The Airports Commission worked for two and a half years and consulted widely before coming to its conclusions. As we are all aware, it recommended that additional runway capacity is needed in the south of England. What Sir Howard called the “optimal” solution was that that should take the form of a new north-west runway at Heathrow. The commission also recommended a package of mitigation measures, including a night flight ban, a noise levy and a community engagement board, to name a few. The full list of mitigation measures is on pages 10 and 11 of the final report. The Government have been reviewing the commission’s findings, but we have not yet made any decision, which, the House will be aware, limits what I can say today.

Several colleagues were critical of the Airports Commission’s report. The Department has received a number of representations critical of the way in which certain issues are addressed in the commission’s final report, including air quality, noise, surface access, economic benefits, deliverability, financing, and capacity and connectivity. We have taken the matters raised into account as part of the wider programme of work considering the commission’s recommendations. My Department has considered and continues to consider carefully the

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representations submitted, to identify whether the issues they deal with have already been examined by the commission or affect the overall validity of the commission’s evidence and recommendations.

Noise is, of course, a contentious issue, and the commission has taken into account the noise impacts of each scheme, including potential mitigation measures. We need to recognise that aircraft are becoming less noisy and more fuel efficient, particularly those that adopt Rolls-Royce engines. None the less, we understand local communities’ concerns about noise and we are carefully examining the evidence provided to the Airports Commission, including on potential environmental mitigation.

The Government take seriously the issue of air quality. It is a complex issue and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has just consulted on its draft action plan. As we know from our discussion on Volkswagen, a number of issues in connection with other transport modes also impact on air quality. Many of the problems around our major airports are as much due to the traffic as to aviation activity. We are considering the detailed analysis contained in the Airports Commission’s final report and any decision regarding future airport capacity will take into account the Government’s overall plan to improve air quality and our commitment to comply with EU air quality standards.

The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) raised the issue of CO2 emissions. The Government take UK climate change commitments very seriously and are committed to meeting them. The commission engaged with the Committee on Climate Change when undertaking its extensive work on greenhouse gas emissions, including considering the impacts of expansion under two different policy frameworks, both carbon capped and carbon traded. The Government are carefully examining the evidence. Any decision on future airport capacity will take into account the UK’s climate change policy and the 2008 climate change obligation. I am hopeful that we can get agreement globally on a global market-based mechanism for trading carbon, which would be the ultimate goal to ensure that aviation plays its part in reducing carbon emissions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth raised the issue of mitigation measures. The Airports Commission recommended that should the Heathrow north-west runway scheme be taken forward, a package of measures be put in place to limit the impacts of expansion on communities, including the introduction of a noise envelope, a predictable respite regime, a ban on night flights between 11.30 pm and 6 am, and a commitment that no fourth runway be built at Heathrow airport. If it is decided that there is a need for additional capacity and that there should be a new runway, whatever its location, we will ensure that there will be a package of measures to balance the benefits of expansion with the interests of communities.

I am sorry I have not been able to touch on every point that was raised in the debate, but let me stress again that many of the issues raised here today are the priorities and concerns of the Government. I thank all those who contributed to this excellent debate. It is clear that we live in an ever-changing world. We have to get this decision right, recognising its impact. We have heard a wide range of views representing a wide range

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of people. We do not want to hide the challenge on airport capacity. People rightly have strong views, but Sir Howard Davies’s commission has produced a powerful report that has earned the right to close scrutiny and analysis.

4.57 pm

Dr Mathias: I thank every Member who contributed to the debate. The subject is indeed of national interest. I especially appreciate colleagues from Scotland making very worthy points. I appreciate the Secretary of State taking time from his busy schedule to listen to our debate. I take heart from that. I thank the Minister for the points he made.

Yes, the UK’s aviation industry is very important to our economy. I point out, though, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) said, that the report of the Davies commission ruins its own logic. I thank the Minister for saying that connectivity is important and I am sure he heard, as I did, Members talking about regional competition and the importance of connectivity for us.

If an additional runway is needed in the south of England, I greatly appreciate what the Minister said about mitigation measures, but if they can be put in place for a third runway, I ask the Minister, as other Members have done, to put them in place now for the two-runway system, please, because it is not tolerable. A quasi-night ban is not enough—not six and a half hours. It must be at WHO levels.

If we are to attack climate change and have an internationally recognised aviation industry, our pollution levels must be set at higher standards, not at that recommended by the report with all its faults. I appreciate the South Thanet relief valve because I agree that this is a long-term programme, whichever option the Government choose, and we need to think about our capacity now.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who contributed to the debate. I remind the Government of the promise made in 2009—no ifs, no buts, no third runway.

Question put and agreed to.

Business without Debate

Joint committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill



(1) Valerie Vaz be discharged from the Joint Committee on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill and Shabana Mahmood be added; and

(2) this House concurs with the Lords [Message of 25 November] that the Joint Committee should report on the draft Bill by 11 February 2016.—(Simon Kirby.)

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Royal Agricultural University (Funding)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Simon Kirby.)

5 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to raise this important topic so that I can highlight the inequity and inappropriateness of, and real damage caused by, a decision made by the Higher Education Funding Council for England with respect to the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, which is based in my constituency and of which I am an alumnus.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Skills for being here tonight. In his previous guise as Planning Minister, he and I did successful and fruitful business. I hope that tonight’s debate will be equally fruitful. I am particularly grateful to him for being here since this debate is not a matter of his ministerial responsibility. He is standing in for my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science.

HEFCE has deemed that the RAU is no longer eligible even to apply for specific funding based on its role as a specialist higher education institution. In the next few minutes, I want to outline the extreme damage that that will do to the institution in my constituency. The impact on the institution will be substantial and potentially highly damaging. It will lead to the precipitous loss of £1.45 million per annum in 2016-17 and subsequently, which is more than 56% of its grant funding from the funding council. That represents 50% more than the RAU’s current surplus, which was just over £1 million last year. If the cut takes place, it will throw the university into deficit, with inevitable impacts on its staffing, investment, student facilities and services. For obvious reasons it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further on that tonight, but it is safe to say that the impact of this funding decision on what the RAU is able to do could be catastrophic. A 56% reduction will be huge, and will undoubtedly have a massive impact on the world-class teaching that it delivers. The knock-on effect on the teaching of agribusiness around the world will be significant.

The Government have been looking for diversification in the higher education sector, to provide students with opportunities that are different from the traditional, academic university route. The RAU provides a different option for school leavers to develop skills in agribusiness and other agricultural sectors. The cut may well lead to a reduction in the diversity of higher education opportunities in this country.

That is compounded by the different decision that the funding council has made for comparable and competitor institutions, which may continue to apply for specialist funding. I will name them—they are Harper Adams University and Writtle College. The RAU will therefore have to compete against those rivals on a potentially very different funding basis, which will make attracting students to courses provided by the RAU very challenging.

To give a bit of history, the RAU is the oldest specialist agricultural college in the English-speaking world, having been established in 1845. Initially a private college, it entered the public sector as a university college in 2001 and became a full university in 2013 under the changes

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that the coalition Government introduced. It has a strong and long-standing national and international reputation. Indeed, I have personally been involved in furthering its formal links with three Chinese universities—Shandong Agricultural University in east China and the China Agricultural University and Tsinghua University in Beijing. It also has formal and informal links with many other educational institutions across the world.

Since the RAU has been in the public sector it has, like a number of prestigious specialist institutions, received institution specific funding—ISF—from HEFCE in recognition of the particular costs associated with providing facilities for such specialist education. The university provides higher education in agriculture and food, land management and agribusiness to an increasing number of students. Numbers have more than doubled since it entered the public sector and now stand at about 1,200. Applications rose again last year, as they have done over a number of years, and in 2014 the RAU was the third highest performing UK university for student employability, with more than 98% of its graduates entering the workplace. This year it was named by The Sunday Times as the university of the year for student retention. Employability and retention are two of the key criteria that the Government set in their recent Green Paper as measures of teaching excellence.

This year, HEFCE reviewed the criteria for eligibility to apply for ISF. Eligibility now rests on the percentage of students at an institution studying the defined speciality. The percentage chosen by HEFCE was an arbitrary 60%, and the consequences were pointed out by the RAU during HEFCE’s consultation. Eligibility of students for the relevant speciality is based on the coding of courses offered—something that was dictated to the RAU by HEFCE when the RAU joined the public sector in 2003. On this basis, HEFCE has deemed the clearly specialist RAU to be ineligible for ISF, while immediately comparable and competitor institutions are allowed by HEFCE to code their students differently and to remain eligible for consideration. The RAU is being put at a disadvantage compared with its competitors simply because its similar range of courses is required by HEFCE to use different HESA—Higher Education Statistics Agency—codes. This seems to be an anti-competitive and oppressive decision by HEFCE, and one that is counter to Government policy.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this is that HEFCE has decided not only to withdraw the funding but to prevent the RAU from even applying for it. Naturally, ISF funding remains a decision-making process. The RAU would be more than happy to bid for funds in this competitive process, but it has been denied the opportunity to do so. Entirely ruling out the RAU from this process from the beginning seems contrary to all the rules of natural justice.

In the updated grant letter to HEFCE on 21 July this year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills wrote:

“I would like you (HEFCE) to do this (manage the reduction on overall HEFCE grant) in ways that protect as far as possible high cost subjects…widening participation…and small and specialist institutions”.

He also specifically instructed HEFCE to

“ensure that no institution faces a disproportionate reduction in their HEFCE allocation”.

I put to my hon. Friend the Minister that this is totally contrary to what my right hon. Friend had said.

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The decision by the board of HEFCE to change the criteria will, as I said, result in a reduction in grant funding to the RAU of some £1.45 million, or over 56%. I believe that the person on the Clapham omnibus would surely recognise the RAU as a small and specialist institution, and 56% as a disproportionate reduction in its HEFCE allocation. That same person would also wonder at a decision that endangered a specialist institution in the field of agriculture, food, land and environmental management at a time when food security and the environment feature so high on the Government’s agenda, not only in this country but internationally. Removing the funding will have potentially very significant consequences for agricultural education in this country.

I appreciate that HEFCE is an arm’s length body and that Ministers should not usually intervene on individual decisions. However, I believe that the Minister has a role to play in this situation. Government, after all, set the parameters of what they wish to achieve for higher education and provide HEFCE with the funds to do so. When the organisation then makes a decision that is so unfair and that will have such far-reaching effects on an individual institution, and on the realisation of Government ambitions, I would have thought that the Minister would want to intervene. Indeed, the work of the RAU also contributes to the Government’s international development aims, by helping some of the poorest countries in the world, such as those in Africa, to grow their own food.

The RAU has made a much-appreciated effort to make agriculture one of the key British exporting industries, with the aim of getting British food exported around the world. This cut will make that function much more difficult.

HEFCE has offered to discuss what transitional funding might be available. Although that may be better than nothing and may alleviate things in the short term, it does not detract from the fundamental unfairness that undermines the principles of this decision and its long-term implications.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science will visit the RAU in the near future. I will be pleased to accompany him, to show him the important role the institution plays in preparing students for the increasingly important work in agricultural production, the food supply chain and the management of the land on which we all rely. When he visits, I hope we will be able to reassure the university that this Government and their funding council, HEFCE, are committed to ensuring that the work of the last 170 years, which is literally being harvested in the UK and around the world, will continue to be supported in a fair and appropriate way.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Skills for listening to me, and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity.

5.11 pm

The Minister for Skills (Nick Boles): It is a pleasure to answer this debate on behalf of the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) cares passionately about the subject, and rightly so, because the Royal Agricultural University is a fine, ancient and distinguished institution. It is an adornment to his constituency and he is one of its former pupils, so he is right to represent it as passionately as he does.

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I know that my hon. Friend will agree that the United Kingdom’s university sector is one of the glories of our education system. It is respected and admired around the world. It has within it ancient and modern institutions, very large universities and very small specialist universities. It is not the size of an institution that determines its repute, but its quality, and the quality of the RAU is undisputed. It is admired and known around the world. There are farmers in Africa and estate managers in south America who will share stories of what they learned when they were at the Royal Agricultural University. My hon. Friend is therefore absolutely right to say that this is an institution that deserves the full support of everyone in Government who is involved in supporting higher education.

My hon. Friend also knows, however, that one of the key ingredients in the creation of a university sector that is as admired as ours is its independence, by which I mean not just the independence of the individual institutions, but that of the funding council that grants them public money. He was right to recognise that it is, therefore, a very important principle that Ministers do not intervene in the individual decisions that HEFCE makes about specific grants to specific institutions. Nevertheless, he is also right to say that Ministers do have a role in setting the policies and giving guidance and advice to HEFCE, through grant letters, on how it should make those decisions about funding for individual institutions.

My hon. Friend was right to quote what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to HEFCE in July 2015, but I will repeat it. He asked it to protect as far as possible the funding for a range of things, including “small and specialist institutions”. Whether or not it meets the criteria of the new formula, the Royal Agricultural University is unquestionably both small and specialist, and it is very important that it is treated fairly.

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for pointing out that although the proposed withdrawal of the grant would represent a very significant drop—he cited a figure of 56%—in the funding of the Royal Agricultural University, it is important for the House to understand and for the record to show that, as a percentage of its overall income, the fall will be 8%. That is significant, and no institution wants to lose 8% of its income—it certainly does not want to lose it if it does not believe that it is being treated fairly—but, to put that into context, it is important that the House understands that it is losing not 56% of its total income under the proposal, but 56% of its grant funding.

Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to argue that it is important that there is a level playing field and that HEFCE does everything it can to ensure that similar institutions offering similar courses are treated—shall I say?—similarly, and that no institution is singled out. Although, as I am not the Minister with responsibility for this subject, I am certainly not sufficiently expert to judge on the question of the coding of particular courses, I think it is very important for HEFCE—and HEFCE will itself want everybody to believe this—to be scrupulously fair in its decision and that no perversities arising from historical decisions about coding and the like have led to its decision. He is right to point to natural justice as an important set of principles that any institution doling out the public’s money on behalf of the public should very much take to heart.

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I wanted to quarrel with just one thing that my hon. Friend said. He seemed to think that the man or woman on the Clapham omnibus would have a view. I have to say that Clapham is not perhaps a place in which people have a close and intense understanding of the important work done by the Royal Agricultural University. I can assure him, however, that in the Grantham omnibus or the Stamford omnibus—or, indeed, in those in the constituency of my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris), in Devon—there is a great deal of familiarity with its work and a great deal of sympathy for his arguments.

I will conclude by taking this opportunity at the Dispatch Box—not as the responsible Minister, but on behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science—simply to ask HEFCE to do all it can to ensure that no institution faces a disproportionate funding reduction and to avoid any threats in the short term to institutional viability. In asking it to do so, we do not seek to interfere in its independence or require it to make a different decision from the one it has set out, but simply to ensure that the principles of natural justice are indeed adhered to.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what he is saying. He is being very helpful. May I take it from what he is saying that, as a result of this debate, he would expect HEFCE to enter into further discussions with the RAU authorities to see how the coding of the courses works and whether the 60% figure on which it made this arbitrary decision can be reviewed?

Nick Boles: I understand that HEFCE is already having discussions with the university about the consequences and implications of the funding cut. I am sure that those will continue and provide an opportunity for all parties to review whether the decision was taken on the basis of a fair assessment of the respective institutions’ activities. Those discussions will also allow the parties to reflect on whether removing 56% of anything is proportionate, when compared with other examples.

I do not want to go further than that because it is ultimately for HEFCE to make these determinations. However, I know that, as a fine institution at the heart of one of the world’s greatest university sectors, it will want everyone always to see that it is fair and impartial and that it does everything it can to support quality institutions.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: It seems to me and to the RAU, my constituent institution, that ruling it out of the bidding process altogether is completely unfair. Nobody would object if it could make a bid and put forward a case comparable to those of its rival institutions, but not to allow it even to make the case is pretty unreasonable and contrary to all the rules of natural justice.

Nick Boles: My hon. Friend has made that point eloquently. I would not want to comment on the processes that led up to the decision, but it is important that justice is done and that it is seen to be done. I know that he will go on fighting vigorously for this institution until he is satisfied that that is the case.

Question put and agreed to.

5.21 pm

House adjourned.