Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I accept that this is an important decision to have made. But it seems extraordinary that it has taken a year since the inquiry finished to come to this point of a decision being made today. In the future, could these important inquiries have a slightly shorter time-scale? Six years is a long time in reality.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, an application for permission to go ahead with Terminal 5 was made by the British Airports Authority in 1993—so the decision has taken eight years. The time-scale is much too long. That is why the Government, in parallel with the decision announced today, are proceeding with a consultation process on how to shorten the period in which decisions of this kind are taken. That is the consultation paper to which I referred in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that there will be considerable disappointment at today's announcement among people living around Heathrow and around the London approaches and the western approaches? There will be a considerable increase in the number of passengers. An increase of 38 per cent, or 25 million, means that there will be an extra 80,000 movements of people each day. Furthermore, I am not sure that the figures tie up with an increase of only 20,000 in the number of flights. The increase in passenger numbers is given as 38 per cent, and in flights 4.5 per cent. People will need to examine those figures.

Is the noble and learned Lord further aware that, unless there is a radical alteration in transport facilities to Heathrow, the congestion on the M4 and in west London will be more than people can bear—and it is

20 Nov 2001 : Column 1035

unbearable now? The decision having been made, I urge the noble and learned Lord to put as much pressure as he can on the Heathrow authorities to bring forward a transport plan which will not bring about those increases in traffic, fumes, noise and general additional environmental pollution. Also, will he give those people the assurance that this is not the run-in for a third runway at Heathrow?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the answer to the first question is yes. I am aware that there will be significant numbers of people for whom the decision will cause considerable dismay. Those views were expressed during the course of the inquiry. The inspector and my right honourable friend in another place have considered them extremely carefully. As has been made clear, the decision seeks to provide a balance between the benefits of a fifth Terminal and the consequences for those in the vicinity who will be affected by it.

I shall not attempt to address the specific figures raised by my noble friend in his question. However, I assure him that those issues were considered by the inspector.

So far as concerns congestion on the M4, surface transport to and from Heathrow after Terminal 5 is built was considered in considerable depth by the inspector and again by my right honourable friend in considering the inspector's report. The issue has been fully taken into account, both in the inspector's conclusions and by my right honourable friend in his detailed decision letter.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, following on from the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, does the Minister realise that hardly a thing that he has said today gives any comfort at all to the general travelling public? It is hell getting to Heathrow with suitcases and perhaps with children; and doing it by public transport is virtually impossible, particularly for more elderly folk. Nothing that the Minister has said indicates that it will become easier. Using public transport is not the answer, given the difficulty of trans-shipping luggage from trains to platforms, to airport check-ins and so on. What the Minister wants to think about is making life easier for the passengers, not easier for the planners.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the purpose of the decision in building a fifth terminal at London Heathrow is to facilitate in particular the comfort and convenience of passengers at Heathrow. There are specific public transport aspects to the decision, in particular connecting London to Heathrow, which the decision specifically deals with. It is to be hoped that the travelling public will find greater facilities as a result of this decision.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, now that the Government have come forward with a decision on this important issue, no one should under-estimate the complexities or the controversial nature of the decision. I, for one, fully understand why it has taken

20 Nov 2001 : Column 1036

the Government some time to digest the very full report from the inspector. What the decision does provide is clarity for all concerned, particularly those in the airport and airline industry—clarity against which they can make their investment decisions.

Perhaps I may briefly ask the Minister about a point of detail. Having praised the length of time and the diligence with which the report was studied before a decision was reached, perhaps I may ask about the announcement itself. Last night, the media were full of the fact that this decision was about to be made and gave some impression of what it would contain. This morning's press carried fairly full details—which miraculously coincided with the Minister's announcement this afternoon. Given that BAA is a publicly quoted company, and given that some 3 million shares in it have been traded this morning on the Stock Exchange, first, did the department, or Ministers, authorise the disclosure of any information whatever about the decision in advance of the Secretary of State's announcement? Secondly, what does the Minister believe the effect would have been on the stock market of this period of limbo?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his characteristic understanding of how long it took before the decision was made, although, as I have made clear, such decisions need to be made more quickly in future. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it clear that Parliament would be given the announcement first. That is what has happened today. I am not aware of any earlier disclosure. It is not surprising that there will be great speculation about the result when such a decision is about to be announced. That is inevitable. I am not sure what the noble Viscount means by the period of limbo. If he means the past six years when the decision was in gestation, that is the nature of such projects.

European Communities (Amendment) Bill

5.11 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 23:

    Page 1, line 9, after "10," insert "other than Article 2, paragraph 22, revising Article 214 (2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community,"

The noble Lord said: This amendment may superficially appear the same as Amendment No. 22, but it raises very different issues, although they were touched on in the previous debate. The central concern is the application of qualified majority voting to the appointment of the President of the European Commission, which is a highly significant role. The process—which has been changed, for reasons that are not totally apparent to us—is germane to the appointment.

20 Nov 2001 : Column 1037

As I understand the technicalities, the Commission President is now to be nominated by the member state governments acting by qualified majority voting rather than unanimity. The Council would also adopt the list of nominees for members of the Commission by QMV and by common accord with the nominee for president. The European Parliament would still approve the Commission as a body, but the final appointment by the Council would be by QMV instead of unanimity.

Some of your Lordships may be keen to point out that past procedures for finding the best person to be President of the Commission have not been entirely happy. That point has already been made. One might say that the results have been mixed—not all bad and not all good. The views of member states on the best man or woman for the job reflect their concerns and interests on the future shape of Europe.

The proposition that the system is bad and ought to be changed will not stand up by itself. The system has produced some great figures who have performed their role superbly. My earliest memory is of the widespread approval in the EEC, as we then called it, for the work of Walter Hallstein, whom Jean Monnet greatly admired. Walter Hallstein fulfilled the role that Jean Monnet saw for the Commission in its early days: he should be a low-profile individual with not too large a dose of political ambition and not too high a profile on the political platforms of Europe, but dedicated to sewing together the European unity that Jean Monnet sought and of which he was the magnificent and visionary architect. Other great people followed: Jean Rey, Franco Maria Malfatti, Sicco Mansholt, Francois-Xavier Ortoli, who was most impressive, then the superb Roy Jenkins, now the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who acted as president from 1977 and is universally regarded as having done an excellent job, then Gaston Thorn, Jacques Delors, Jacques Santer and now Romano Prodi.

Latterly, there has been increased unhappiness. That may be because larger accumulations of power appear to be in the hands of the president. Perhaps that is an illusion, but it may still be why people have become more jealous and concerned about how this important role should be fulfilled. I would not like to say. The unease is there and after Mr Delors left there was a great deal of in-fighting.

It could be argued that qualified majority voting would cut out all the in-fighting, but I doubt whether it would. Those of us who watch these things closely—and I know that there are people in your Lordships' House who have been much closer to the issue than I have—could not sustain the argument that bringing in qualified majority voting will clean up and swiftly refashion the entire procedure. There will always be jostling for the job. The answer of the true Europe-builder is not so much to reform how the job is sought, but to be a great deal clearer in defining the purposes and limitations of the role of President of the Commission.

20 Nov 2001 : Column 1038

I worry more for the future because people talk now about electing the President of the Commission, not just through QMV, but maybe, under a new constitution, by a Europe-wide poll. In other words, the aspiration exists to turn the job into a presidency more along the American political lines than anything that was intended by Jean Monnet. That is a great worry and should on its own cause us to be very cautious about tinkering in any way with the methods by which the succession of presidents have found their place in the job.

Then there is a worry that is particularly associated with the Nice Treaty and the Bill. It covers areas that we shall come to in later debates: how QMV will work under the new weighting systems. The new arrangements are significant and involve a pretty hefty advantage for the big states and some difficulties for the smaller states, should they wish to hold out for their own candidate against whoever was wanted in Berlin or Paris—or maybe in London.

My view—I do not necessarily claim that it is universally accepted by my party—is that our nation is at its best and pursues its true longer-term interests best when it is looking after the smaller countries of Europe. There is an inclination for us to be gung-ho and claim that we have fixed Britain's interests and made sure that we cannot be outvoted by the smaller countries, but I do not think that that is a healthy way for European democracy to develop. There should be strong circumscribed limits on the powers of the central institutions so that the arrangement of rules at the centre can be more democratic and less of a threat to the interests of individual states.

I do not want to compare the European Union with the United States, but I have always been fascinated that from the start the United States has managed a system that has full population-weighted representation in the lower House, but an upper House with two senators from every state regardless of size. Some of those states are so vastly different in size as to make any differences of size in Europe look quite modest—unless we consider Luxembourg. The difference between Rhode Island and California is colossal. So it is possible to have a fair and balanced democracy without huge weightings here and there. If such weightings are to be applied, I should tremble at what may be in prospect if I were a citizen of a smaller state.

That is a worry, but our broader worry is that we see no reason why QMV is necessary in the matter, despite the ups and downs and bumps of previous appointments. We are not convinced by the usual efficiency argument. Every time that I hear high officials talk about more efficiency and momentum in Europe, I check myself, because in a democracy we need checks and balances, and they often lead to inefficiency and loss of momentum. Perhaps the other side of the coin from momentum is more democracy, argument and tiresome disagreement. Perhaps those who are so eager to have momentum, efficiency, rapid appointments and rapid moves forward in Europe-building should occasionally pause, after the great success of the past half-century in building Europe to

20 Nov 2001 : Column 1039

realise that once democracy is introduced, everything will—and ought to—slow down. That is why I move Amendment No. 23, with which Amendments Nos. 28 and 31 are grouped. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page