Heathrow Terminal 5

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 31st March 2008.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 3:31 pm, 31st March 2008

: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on the problems occurring for passengers at Heathrow terminal 5 and the security measures in place at the terminal.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank Mrs. Villiers for providing the opportunity to make a statement on the problems occurring for passengers at Heathrow's terminal 5. The Secretary of State sends her apologies for being unable to respond to the question herself, but she is on a pre-arranged regional visit; I believe that the hon. Lady and Norman Baker are aware of that.

Heathrow's new terminal 5 opened to the public on Thursday 27 March. The terminal is operated by BAA plc, but British Airways is the sole airline using it. On 27 March, BA moved to T5 the majority of its short haul operations, which accounts for about 400 flights per day and some 34,000 passengers.

The management of terminal 5 is an operational matter for British Airways and BAA, but that does not mean that the Government are not taking a keen interest in seeing that the difficulties T5 has faced since it opened last week are addressed and resolved as quickly as possible. On its first day in operation, T5's bespoke baggage system was affected by a number of issues. First, there were technical software problems, but more significantly BA's challenge was integrating teams of staff, and it has been addressing this as a priority.

After 27 March, the baggage system became clogged as more bags were checked in than were being placed on aircraft. On a number of occasions, the system stopped functioning, which led to planes taking off without some or all of their luggage. BA has had to cancel short haul flights to ease the pressure on the baggage system. By the end of the weekend, some 28,000 bags had been placed in temporary storage. BA drafted in 400 volunteers over the weekend to help sort those bags and estimates that it will take up to a week to get them back to their owners.

The issue is mainly a problem for departing passengers. BA has advised that the incoming arrival bag times have been coming down steadily over the past few days and the average first bag time is now seven to eight minutes. That is as good, if not better, than for other Heathrow terminals.

As the Secretary of State has made clear, we expect BA and BAA to work together to ensure that solutions are found and that there is as little disruption as possible to passengers. Department for Transport officials have been in touch with BA and BAA at a senior level throughout. The Secretary of State spoke to the chief executive of BA, Mr. Willie Walsh, and to Mr. Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, on Saturday, and I visited the airport on Sunday to see the situation at first hand.

We have also been assisting BA, where appropriate given the necessity of maintaining effective security, in optimising all its security screening options, to help it tackle the backlog of bags that have yet to be reunited with their owners.

As our discussion document "Towards a Sustainable Transport System", published last October, makes clear, we want a much greater emphasis on the needs of transport users. Passengers should expect airline and airport operators to deliver a good standard of service; so, although we recognise the considerable challenges in opening a major new terminal, we agree that it is extremely regrettable to say the least that passengers using T5 have had to suffer an unacceptably poor travel experience. Although I am convinced that T5 will ultimately prove to be a significant benefit to the passenger, there is no denying that delivery so far has fallen well short of expectations. What struck me on Sunday was just how devastated individual staff members were, from chief executives through to staff on the shop floor, that this had gone badly wrong. They were working hard to restore their own pride, as well as that of the operation, as was shown by, among other things, the number of volunteers who were helping.

The important thing now is to put things right. BA's and BAA's focus must not be deflected from resolving the problems affecting T5 and ensuring that the passenger experience improves significantly as a matter of urgency. That includes ensuring that those passengers who have been affected by disruption receive, at the very least, the assistance and compensation to which they are legally entitled. It is in both BA's and BAA's interests to work effectively together to deliver the necessary improvement. The travelling public are not mainly interested in who is to blame for which particular failing, but rather in being treated properly when things go wrong and in seeing real progress towards the high standards of customer service to which both BA and BAA aspire. Once T5 is on track, we will press both operators to identify the lessons learned and to explain their plans for ensuring that good service standards are not only delivered but maintained.

Before concluding, I must comment on security at T5. As one would expect, I am unable to go into detail on the specifics of issues raised in the last few days, but I would like to reassure the House that the Government enforce a sophisticated airport security regime, which delivers many layers of protection to the travelling public. The Department works closely with airport operators to ensure that standards are met, and officials have worked particularly intensively at Heathrow in recent weeks, given the opening of T5. That is normal in respect of security when a new terminal comes on line and helps to identify any areas that require improvement. The Department then works with the operator to ensure that swift action is taken to ensure that appropriate mitigation is in place. The process has been no different with T5. Let me assure you, and the House, Mr. Speaker, that aviation security is of the highest priority for the Government.

In conclusion, we accept the reality of the problems facing passengers using T5, we are monitoring the situation very closely to encourage BA and BAA to address the issues and we stand ready to assist in any way if it is appropriate to do so.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing this urgent question.

Since terminal 5 opened for business in the early hours of Thursday morning hundreds of flights have been cancelled, thousands of bags have been delayed or have gone missing, and thousands of passengers have suffered severe inconvenience and frustration. Both BA and BAA have let down their customers badly and, yet again, the state of Heathrow is a national embarrassment.

Even more worryingly, yesterday's newspapers reported that Department for Transport inspectors had managed to bypass security checks on nine occasions during trials of the terminal's new systems and that the terminal's alarm system was not working properly. Will the Minister tell us what tests were carried out in relation to T5's security systems in advance of the opening? Will he give us the results, including details on the number of times inspectors were able to bypass security checks? What steps were taken to remedy the problems revealed by the tests carried out? Were the tests re-run and, if so, what was the result? Is it true that the fingerprint checks were dropped shortly before the terminal's opening to switch to a photographic recognition system? It is hard to believe that there would have been enough time to test that system appropriately in the short time available.

The Secretary of State said of T5 that "this building exhausts superlatives." At the launch, she said:

"Terminal 5 is a bold statement of intent for Heathrow's future."

She continued:

"It sends out a message that together we are working to make Heathrow a world-class airport again."

Given the impact of the project on our image overseas, to what extent did she or the Minister challenge BAA and BA about the adequacy of their preparations before the opening of T5? Did the Secretary of State or her officials scrutinise the plans that those two companies had for the first week of operation of such a crucial project for our national interest? How confident is the Minister that the problems will be resolved by the time terminal 4 flights switch to the new terminal? Is he confident that BA and BAA have kept passengers adequately informed during the crisis and given the best advice on the right compensation? Is he sufficiently confident that BAA's renovation of Heathrow's other terminals will be completed on time? What steps are being taken to ensure that the problems of the past week will not recur when the terminals reopen?

What steps are being taken to ensure that BAA and BA plan properly for the huge influx of passengers during the 2012 Olympics? A repeat of the fiasco of the last few days would be a disaster for the 2012 games and would leave the country a laughing stock around the world. Surely a company faced with real competition would be less likely to make basic and complacent mistakes such as leaving staff without an overflow car park facility on the most important day for Heathrow for a decade.

Does the Minister agree that the calamitous events of the past few days have strengthened the case for breaking up BAA's monopolistic grip on airport capacity in the south-east? Does he agree that the time has come for the Competition Commission to proceed with the break-up? Finally, will the events of the past few days give the Government any cause to reconsider whether BAA is capable of managing the project to construct the third runway and sixth terminal that the Government are dead-set on building regardless of whether crucial environmental questions are answered or not?

How can the Minister or the Secretary of State possibly hold BAA to account effectively on all the critical questions that I have asked? How can they get tough on BAA's performance on T5 when the Department has actively colluded with the company to fiddle the figures on Heathrow expansion? The cosy relationship between the Labour establishment and BAA on a third runway is notorious and means that the Government cannot possibly be objective in judging BAA's lamentable performance during the opening of terminal 5.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Lady has asked a series of questions and I shall try to respond to as many as I can. First, I rebut the allegation of collusion. The consultation that the Department recently concluded in respect of the expansion of Heathrow was based on the 2003 White Paper that followed years of examination of whether we could meet the strict environmental standards that we laid down on noise, emissions and access. We were confident that those standards could be met and that is contained in the consultation documentation—the matter is out for consultation. Of course, the hon. Lady will have the opportunity to discuss the issues on Wednesday afternoon, when the Liberal Democrats have a half-day Opposition debate on Heathrow. I suspect that we will deal with the issues in more detail then.

Fingerprint checks were not dropped as a matter of security, but there were questions about the system's efficacy and BAA decided not to proceed with it at that time. That was not a matter for the Department for Transport or for TRANSEC. We had no reason to believe that the plans for T5 would not work. The building—I believe that we all monitored its progress over recent years—is an exemplary, of British engineering, architecture and construction. It is a magnificent structure. Officials of the Department for Transport, BAA and BA are always in regular contact and we had no reason to believe that it would not work. We were confident about that and we were sure that the terminal would operate effectively.

This has been a great disappointment. As the hon. Lady said, national pride has been dented. Her Majesty opened T5 to national fanfare and delight in early March. The following week, when the A380 arrived for its first flight, many of us believed that Heathrow had turned a corner and that the bad publicity of recent years would turn into positive publicity, notwithstanding the importance of scrutiny as regards the expansion. Clearly, that was not the case.

The hon. Lady asked about compensation. The European Union's denied boarding and cancellation regulations set out an airline's responsibilities to passengers in the event of long delays on departure or the cancellation of flights. It is the responsibility of British Airways to comply with that regulation with regard to the delays and cancellations experienced at terminal 5 in the past few days. From our discussions with the airline, it is clear that it is aware of its responsibilities under those regulations, and is endeavouring to comply with them. The Civil Aviation Authority is monitoring the situation to ensure that that happens.

The 2012 Olympics will be a matter of great national pride. We are very confident that we will be able to deliver the Olympics as outlined, on time, and we have no reason to believe that that will not be the case. Incidents such as T5 serve only to reinforce our resolve to ensure that we redouble our efforts and that the 2012 Olympics are a huge success.

I believe that ultimately, and within a short period, terminal 5 will be a source of great national pride. It is a magnificent building; the services within it are top of the range in terms of passenger experience, and we believe that BA and BAA will be able to show that off to the world in very short order.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Will the Minister join me in congratulating my constituents who work at Heathrow, who, despite the job cuts in recent years and despite BAA trying to attack their pension fund before Christmas, nevertheless loyally turned out in large numbers, many of them volunteers, to help the travelling public? May I ask him to start thinking again about the future expansion of Heathrow, given the grotesque incompetence of BAA in managing the terminal 5 project in recent weeks and given that all the Government's policies have been based upon the advice of BAA?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am very happy to acknowledge the role of all those working at Heathrow, who have tried to put the situation right. As I said earlier, one thing that struck me in speaking to staff members at all levels within BA and BAA was the damage to their self-esteem, and the fact that they were taking it personally that the systems had failed them. They were working extremely hard to try to correct the situation, as was evidenced by the number who volunteered to come in and do so.

The role of BAA in the consultation exercise was that it advised and supplied information. We set out in the 2003 White Paper that, for the economic interests of UK plc, we needed to increase the capacity at Heathrow, and that BAA had a role to play in that exercise. We did not accept all that it sent us without checking it. We have our own experts and officials in the Department who ensured that what BAA supplied was double-checked and that the evidence that we produced in the consultation exercise was Department for Transport information, not BAA information.

On BAA and its competence, I believe that we all know that the Competition Commission is to report on the operation of BAA in 2009. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on that matter at this point.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The events of the past few days represent a disgraceful inconvenience to passengers, reflect extremely badly on BA and BAA and are a national disgrace. I notice that the terminal 5 website still shows BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh, describing it as

"an extremely sophisticated baggage system with a terminal built around it."

It reminds me rather more of the legendary sign at Oslo airport, which says:

"We take your luggage and send it in all directions."

How could the new terminal open with cancelled flights, parking problems, staff shortages and non-functioning escalators on day one? Will the Minister contrast that fiasco with the smooth opening of St. Pancras International, and perhaps conclude that members of the public, when they can, might be better taking the train, particularly given the lower carbon emissions associated with rail?

The Minister mentioned compensation. Is he aware that the CAA has indicated that it believes that British Airways has breached EU legislation on passengers' rights by limiting compensation and expenses? What action will he take to ensure that BA provides its passengers with the compensation to which they are entitled as soon as possible?

What guarantee can the Minister give us that when there is a big surge in people wishing to travel by air this weekend, with the school holidays coming up, people will not be subject to cancelled flights, long delays and lost baggage at terminal 5?

On security, how did BAA and the Government get themselves into a position where their plans to implement the fingerprinting of passengers were criticised by the Information Commissioner and had to be withdrawn at short notice? Why were they not checked in advance? Will the Government ensure that we have good security at Heathrow without resorting to the type of police state measures that some of the Minister's colleagues are all too keen on?

Finally, does this not show that the Government are wrong to accept the word of BAA and BA and their assurances when it comes to major infrastructure projects of national importance? Will the Government learn that lesson and commission independent research into the proposals for a third runway rather than relying on BAA to write their consultation paper for them?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

In my past few answers I tried to rebut the allegation that BAA wrote our consultation document for us. That is patently not the case; it is a Department for Transport document and we stand by that. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the British Airways website. I am sure the company heard it too and is no doubt correcting the website at the moment. I shall not criticise BA for that being the last thing it is paying attention to, because the company is trying to make sure that the operation at T5 is corrected and improved to serve passengers. That is where the focus ought to be.

I believe I answered the point about compensation; the CAA is monitoring the situation and British Airways is clearly aware of its responsibilities under the EU's denied boarding and cancellation regulations and is endeavouring to comply with them. Obviously, members of the public will be able to check on various websites for advice on how best to proceed.

On the hon. Gentleman's advice that people choose rail rather than air, we see rail as a major success story for the country. The Government are investing £88 million a week in rail travel, as we know. The public make their own decisions, and as rail operation has improved respective percentages for Manchester to London travel via rail or air have been reversed. However, that does not obviate the need for air travel to different parts of the world, or indeed different parts of the country, if necessity arises.

We are disappointed about what is happening at the moment, but we are confident that ultimately terminal 5 will be a massive addition to Heathrow and a matter of national pride. We all acknowledge that it is not there yet, but people are working hard to try to make sure that it is as quickly as possible.

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Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

While I sympathise with Her Majesty's Government's efforts to get those two private companies to run their businesses efficiently, is it not true that in fact the United Kingdom's reputation suffers from such a major fiasco? Will the Minister press both BAA and BA to answer some simple questions? How much training was given to baggage handlers? What facilities were available for people to get to work efficiently and on time? What is the real timetable for putting things back into operation after these disasters? If we do not have the answers to those questions soon, not only will the problem continue but it will continue to make Heathrow a disaster area.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend, who as we all know chairs the Select Committee on Transport and is held in high regard throughout the whole House, identifies the fact that damage to Heathrow is damage to UK plc. That is the very reason why we support expansion at Heathrow; running at 98.5 to 99 per cent. capacity it does not serve the UK as well as it should. Without expansion the UK will continue to suffer and that will affect our economic ability to compete on the world stage.

My hon. Friend raises absolutely appropriate points in respect of analysis and a post-mortem into what went wrong. As I said in my original remarks, the priority at present is for BA and BAA to continue to work hard to correct what has gone wrong, but we shall want to see the lessons, to know why things went wrong in the first place so that we can be assured for the future. I know that my hon. Friend and her Committee will take a keen interest in these matters, and we will share as much information as possible with her as it arrives.

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip (Commons)

The Minister did not answer the questions asked by my hon. Friend Mrs. Villiers about security, which, of course, is a Government responsibility. Will he confirm that his officials were able to bypass security at terminal 5 on a number of occasions? What weaknesses did they discover, what has been done about it, and were they tested again?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I apologise to the hon. Lady for not responding to that specific point. I tried to note down her questions, and I accept that I missed that one.

There have been reports of weaknesses in the security system, which were identified beforehand. I can assure the House, notwithstanding the fact that I am not likely to go into the detail of security arrangements from the Dispatch Box, that TRANSEC and the Department would not have given the green light to T5 to open if we were not satisfied that the security arrangements in place on 27 March were adequate to protect members of the public. We are proud of the security and protection that we afford the travelling public, and those issues that were identified as requiring attention were either addressed or being addressed, but they were not a reason not to proceed with the opening.

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Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas PPS (Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, Attorney General), Law Officers' Department

My hon. Friend will be aware that Heathrow is the busiest international airport in the world bar none, and that that project constitutes a £4.2 billion investment. I stand to defend my engineering colleagues involved in the project: they have done an outstanding job, and we draw on the best in the world. I accept the inconvenience that the problem has caused passengers, but does my hon. Friend accept my point, on behalf of the industry that I am proud to represent, that this is a teething problem that will pass? Lessons will be learned, and the technology that we have developed in relation to Heathrow will be sold to other parts of the world, which regard T5 as a major flagship project for avionics.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend's professional background and expertise are well known in the House. I fully agree with her enthusiasm and confidence that these are teething problems but, none the less, they are serious for those individuals who have been delayed, whose flights have been cancelled, and who have lost their luggage. Notwithstanding the confidence of BA and BAA that they can sort the matter out given time, those problems ought not to have arisen, so they are trying to address them as quickly as possible.

I certainly hope that what we all believed and expected to be the case will come to pass, and that T5 will be the jewel in Heathrow's crown. T3's frontage and reception area have improved beyond recognition while this has been going on, and there is a new Virgin reception area, too. There have already been improvements at Heathrow, and they continue to be made. What happened in the past week is disappointing, but everyone is working hard to make sure that it is corrected as quickly as possible.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

May I, too, pay tribute to the front-line BA staff whom I saw at Heathrow terminal 5 on Thursday? They were operating in exceptionally difficult circumstances, with little information and absolutely no sign of any senior management at that stage. Staff demoralisation is nothing new—it has been happening for years—and last week's shambles was just a consequence of that.

Will the Minister impress on BA the fact that there is tremendous frustration, particularly in Scotland, that every time BA gets it wrong, it is always the domestic services, especially those to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen that are cut first? That is bad for Scotland, it is unfair treatment for Scottish passengers, and it must not be allowed to continue.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Gentleman outlines the fact that the situation is unacceptable both generally and to his constituents in particular, and I fully agree I have said repeatedly in the past 27 minutes that we are doing everything we can to assist and ensure that the situation is rectified. I would quibble with him, however, over one small point. Notwithstanding the efforts and endeavours of front-line staff, to whom I paid tribute, both when I replied to my hon. Friend John McDonnell and in my opening remarks, senior managers are working hard. When I was at Heathrow, I met Colin Matthews, Gareth Kirkwood and Mark Bullock, who had been working extended hours with ordinary staff members. They are responsible—they are the management—and were expected to be there, but they were working shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues, including volunteers, doing everything they could to put the situation right. I have no reason to doubt that that stretches through all levels and ranks in the organisations.

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Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

I was there last Thursday, and I think we should get a badge saying, "I survived T5". Unlike Mr. Carmichael, I, luckily, managed to get on a plane and take off. It was delayed by only an hour and a half, and I now realise how lucky we were. Notwithstanding all the problems with the baggage, there were other problems last Thursday, and I hope my hon. Friend will look into them. I must have been the first wheelchair passenger to enter the lift that takes passengers from to the gate down to the side of the plane. I know that I must have been the first, because when I asked the wheelchair services lady who came to pick me up where we had to go, she replied, "How would I know? This is the first time I've ever been here and you're my first job." That lift did not work, so we had to find another. There are obviously problems across the whole terminal that need to be looked into. I hope my hon. Friend will get it sorted. We had great hopes that terminal 5 would sort some of the problems that we have been facing from British Airways. That is why we are so disappointed and upset about what happened last Thursday.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am disappointed to hear of my hon. Friend's experience. A great deal of effort has gone in from the Department, BA and BAA to deal with mobility issues and to address the challenges that will be faced by people who have disabilities. To hear that there was a lack of preparedness is extremely disappointing, and I will make sure that I communicate that personally to the appropriate senior management.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Shadow Minister (Treasury), Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party

Does the Minister accept that the shambles at terminal 5 raises serious questions over the further expansion of Heathrow? The issues that have been raised by Members across the House are ones that can be fixed, but they highlight wholesale problems—not just with the baggage system, but with lifts, the car parking system and a range of other things. What if BAA has got its calculations wrong not just about lifts, but about air pollution, public health or congestion? Those cannot be fixed by expanding the airport. Will the Minister assure the House that he will look at the post mortem and pause to consider whether he should plough ahead with the expansion and carry on regardless?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As I said, I am sure that we will look at the issues in depth on Wednesday, although that does not in any way make the hon. Lady's question anything other than appropriate. I assure her that any information that was fed to us was checked by the Department. As I have said on several occasions today and previously, the documentation that was published by the Department for Transport as part of its consultation exercise is our documentation; we stand by the figures that we have published.

We fully recognise that the experience at T5 over the past few days does nothing to inspire confidence in the aviation sector, and we will have to work very hard to repair the credibility and the damage. However, as I have also said, the expansion of Heathrow is of fundamental importance to the economy of the United Kingdom. We believe that we have demonstrated that. It must take place and we have demonstrated how it can take place with the environmental protections that we have laid down in respect of emissions, access and noise. We are confident that, when we analyse the consultation—which, as the hon. Lady knows, is being undertaken at present—and publish our findings in the summer, our validation will be proved to be correct.

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P

The Department for Transport's own economic analysis published with the consultation on expanding airports in the South East of England showed that there was greater economic benefit to be derived from a second runway at Gatwick than a third runway at Heathrow. In the light of this, the Minister's assertion that 'the expansion of Heathrow is of fundamental importance to the economy of the United Kingdom' is demonstrably wrong.

Submitted by Peter Carpenter Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Eric Joyce Eric Joyce PPS (Rt Hon John Hutton, Secretary of State), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

I was one of a number of Scottish colleagues who had the privilege of looking at the interior architecture of terminal 5 last Thursday. Once we had finished doing that, we did it again, because there was plenty of time. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows how terminal 5, when it is fully functioning, is a vital economic asset to the whole of the UK—Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England, including London?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am grateful that my hon. Friend admired what he saw last week, perhaps at greater length than he had anticipated. I, sadly, missed the official opening over which Her Majesty presided, as I was here, waiting to debate the private Member's Bill promoted by Justine Greening, but we did not get that opportunity. Sunday was the first chance that I had to see T5 open and completed since I went to see it when it was still a bit of a building site some three months ago. My hon. Friend is right; it is a magnificent building. As my hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas and others said earlier, it is a feat of engineering. It ought to be something of which we are extremely proud. I am sure that we will be proud of it in due course, although, sadly, we are not able to express that admiration at present.

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Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Fortunately, I fly to Dundee from London City airport, and I am truly grateful for that. However, I understand that one in six of all air journeys from Scotland—more than 3 million passenger journeys a year—go to Heathrow. It is a vital business gateway. I am sure that the Minister has the quotes from the business community immediately when the chaos happened. The Federation of Small Businesses Scotland said:

"It is an open secret that flights to and from Scotland are the first to be scrapped in order to clear the backlog".

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce added:

"It seems once again that services to and from Scotland are suffering disproportionately."

These things happen from time to time, so will the Minister make representations to BA and BAA that, should events such as these occur again, essential business services to Scotland from whatever airport will not be disproportionately affected in favour of other flights?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I should declare an interest; as the hon. Gentleman knows, London City airport is in my constituency. I am pleased that he was using it and I hope that he enjoyed the experience.

The question of flights and routes from Scotland to London airports is raised fairly regularly by hon. Members on the Government Benches, as well as by Opposition Members. I know how important those routes are, particularly to the business community in Scotland. Obviously, they are a matter for commercial decision, although there are some protected routes by virtue of criteria that are laid down. We will always listen to representations when concerns are raised, and the hon. Gentleman has stated that of which we are all aware.

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Several hon. Members:

rose —

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Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

You are very kind, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful, although slightly bemused—but thank you.

Last year, I raised this very issue with the Prime Minister. I said that it was absolutely necessary to cut delays at our national airports, particularly at Heathrow.

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Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

I see the Minister nodding, and I am grateful that he remembers that occasion. The Prime Minister said that he would take on board all the points that I made. In particular, he said that he would pass on to BAA his

"desire for proper staffing at Heathrow to make it easier and more convenient for people to undertake their journeys."—[ Hansard, 14 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 686.]

How was the promise kept? Why did it have so little effect? Will the Minister assure me that he will now get involved, on a detailed and regular basis, to stop this immensely harmful incident from doing any more damage to Britain's industrial and commercial interests?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Like everybody else in the House, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Prime Minister is a man of his word. That promise would have been kept by the PM; I am sorry that I have not spoken to him directly about it. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister was no less disappointed than he or I at what unfolded at Heathrow last week and was no less embarrassed than those who were working at and operating Heathrow.

The matter is of national significance and importance; as many right hon. and hon. Members have said, Heathrow is absolutely pivotal to the UK's economy. It is our major international hub and the gateway through which many of our business partners travel. If Heathrow is not functioning, the UK suffers. That is why we are committed to expanding at Heathrow; operating at 98.5 to 99 per cent. capacity is just untenable. I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism. The Prime Minister is personally involved, to make sure that the matters are addressed as quickly as possible. Furthermore, as I outlined previously, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also been involved.

On the question of the Heathrow consultation, I should like to clarify that although, as I have said, we are confident of the analysis in the consultation document, no decisions have been made. The responses are being analysed and will inform final policy decisions. That is exactly what we have been saying since the consultation process started. The analysis is ongoing. We will report back to the House in due course, once the analysis has taken place. We hope to report by the summer, because Heathrow is far too important to Britain.

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Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

I have listened to my hon. Friend's responses to the points raised by Members from Scottish constituencies, but there is a more serious issue in relation to some of the northern English airports. There is no competition between Newcastle and Heathrow. Air travel is vital for the economy nationally and even more vital for our regional economy. Can we have some competition, or better regulation, to ensure that flights between Heathrow and Newcastle are not disproportionately affected? At the moment, any time there is a problem, as with Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and, sometimes, Manchester, Newcastle flights are cancelled or badly delayed.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I can only sympathise with the points raised by my hon. Friend. I do not think that I can add to what I said to Stewart Hosie. I understand and I am sensitive to the position, and I fully empathise, but these are operational matters, and airlines and airport operators obviously need to take account of customers' feelings when problems arise.

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I wonder whether the Minister recognises that the shambolic opening of T5 is just the latest in a series of operational mismanagement experiences from BAA and BA and other members of the aviation industry. In the past, they have used the excuse that lack of runway capacity has caused trouble at Heathrow. Does he recognise that it is time to be less gullible and not to take those statements, or the information that has been provided to him by the industry, at face value, and to understand that that is not the cause of the problem and that the whole expansion project needs to be thought through again?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thought that Her Majesty performed a magnificent opening of T5 on 14 March. The terminal's going live last week was obviously a completely different occasion. I have tried to answer the points raised by the hon. Lady in respect of the information, data, evidence and science that we have published in the consultation documents. It is our information, and we stand by those publications. This is a matter not of being gullible but of trying to protect UK plc.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister will be aware that for transit passengers from the north of England and Scotland this whole scenario is an unmitigated disaster. I think that he said that 26,000 bags were still to be reconnected to their passengers. International legislation does not permit those bags to travel by passenger plane unless they are accompanied on the same flight by the passenger. How does he propose to get round the problem of reuniting the bags with the passengers?

The Minister did not respond to the question about rolling out the next set of improvements with the closure of terminal 2. Passengers using terminal 2 will be filled with horror by the prospect of having to go through terminal 5 when that happens.

I entirely endorse—

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Lady raises an appropriate point. There is an additional security complication by virtue of passengers having been separated from their bags. As I said in my opening remarks, arrangements are in place to ensure that those bags can be reunited with their owners at the location to which they have flown. I am afraid that I cannot go into further security detail as to how that is being accomplished, but I can assure her that it is being done.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

Since BAA is in a financially precarious position following the acquisition by Ferrovial, what are the Government's responsibilities at Heathrow in the event that the situation should deteriorate further, leading to possible insolvency?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We are confident that Ferrovial and the investment in Heathrow is secure. We do not believe that it will go into insolvency or that there will be difficulty in its fulfilling the investment plans and the improvements to Heathrow to which it is committed.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Is not what we have here, as with Network Rail and the disastrous overrunning of the new year engineering works, the inability of managers at middle and senior management levels to manage projects effectively? Given that the Government will not have a second chance with the Olympics, may we have a major Government inquiry into why project management skills for some of our flagship projects have proved so woefully inadequate?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Gentleman raises the obvious point that we need to identify why these situations happen, what went wrong, and how we can prevent such situations from happening in future. As I said to my hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas, we will be asking for those lessons to be communicated to us, and we will discuss the matter with BA and BAA in due course. I am sure that, as always, the hon. Gentleman will take a keen interest in these matters.

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