Ruth Kelly (Secretary of State, Department for Transport; Bolton West, Labour)
The hon. Gentleman knows that the 2003 White Paper stated the Government's position. One of the things that we are considering in the consultation is whether that cap should be lifted. Indeed, the mixed-mode proposal—ending the alternate use of runways, as he may prefer to put it—contains two options to be considered: one within the existing cap and one raising it. The Government have an open mind on those issues. We want to hear what local people have to say, particularly on how noise would affect them in the intervening years before a third runway could come into operation.
The sad fact is that, no matter what changes are made in the short term in terminals at Heathrow, it will count for little unless we really tackle the fundamental problem of capacity on Heathrow's runways—and the truth is that those runways are nearly full. Indeed, Heathrow is falling behind because its runways are operating at 98.5 per cent. capacity, compared with 75 per cent. at Paris. Our most important international airport has lost a fifth of its routes since 1990 and has fallen from second to fifth in the EU for routes served.
China is building 60 new airports over the next five years but, as things stand, Heathrow will have no extra capacity to serve emerging markets, which has clear implications for our economic competitiveness and for the passenger experience in the future. At Heathrow, which still has the same two runways it had when it was built in the 1940s, even a small amount of fog in the early morning can disrupt services for the rest of the day. Of course, operating at peak capacity gives its competitors abroad a huge advantage.
So there is a clear need for additional runway capacity at Heathrow—a point recognised even by Mrs. Villiers at the launch of the consultation, when she said that the Conservatives
"recognise that the economic arguments for expanding Heathrow are much stronger than any other airport in the South East".