Heathrow

Deferred Division – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 2nd April 2008.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means 3:45 pm, 2nd April 2008

I must advise the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister, and that there is an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches in this debate.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 4:28 pm, 2nd April 2008

I beg to move,

That this House
recognises the urgent need to curb carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change;
condemns the Government for following policies that will instead lead to significant growth in emissions from the aviation sector;
particularly condemns plans to allow a third runway at Heathrow;
believes that the consultation paper Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport was deeply flawed and is concerned at the undue influence BAA played in the drafting of the paper;
notes that the paper significantly overstated the economic case for a third runway while greatly underplaying the serious environmental consequences, including, as well as the extra emissions from flights, the increase in intensity and distribution of noise for those living under the flight path through runway alternation and the threat of forced relocation for the inhabitants of Sipson village;
and calls on the Government to withdraw permanently plans for a third runway at Heathrow, to keep the present cap of 480,000 flights per year as opposed to the 700,000 envisaged in the consultation document, to rule out any further increase in airport capacity in the South East, and to indicate to the aviation sector that it will have to live within its existing infrastructure capacity.

We are starting the debate marginally later than I thought we would. I can conclude only that the Conservatives have some reason for delaying its start—perhaps they do not want to talk about their chaotic policy on Heathrow and aviation. I note that an eight-minute limit on speeches applies, so it was rather unfair to take 15 minutes away with an unnecessary Division.

The Government's policy on aviation is described in their amendment to the motion as a

"balanced and sustainable aviation strategy".

I wonder whether the person who wrote that had any shame—I do not know whether it was written by a Minister, a Whip or an official in the Department for Transport— whether the Government are past that stage or, indeed, whether, as with much of the consultation paper, it was in fact written by someone from BAA plc, with glee rather than with shame.

As far as aviation is concerned, it seems that the Government live in a sort of bubble, in which climate change does not exist. The rest of Government policy is designed to drive down carbon emissions, making a 60 or 80 per cent. cut by 2050, but aviation somehow does not come into that picture and has to live on its own. I am interested in the comments made by Mr. Mullin, a former Environment Minister. He said:

"During my 18 undistinguished months as a minister"—

I think he was being ungenerous—

"whose responsibilities included aviation, I learned two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, that successive Governments have usually given way to them. Although nowadays the industry pays lip service to the notion of sustainability, its demands are essentially unchanged. It wants more of everything—airports, runways, terminals."

That is still the case.

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Photo of Alan Keen Alan Keen Labour, Feltham and Heston

I might have been tempted, because of my constituency interest, to vote for the Liberal Democrat motion. Unfortunately, it seems to have got mixed up. Lines nine and 10 refer to

"the increase in intensity and distribution of noise...through runway alternation".

In fact the increase in intensity and distribution of noise for my constituents and those who live in the neighbouring constituencies to the east would be caused by the end of that runway alternation. I am afraid I shall have to vote against the motion.

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

Noise will increase because of the ending of runway alternation; that is quite true.

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

The Lib Dem motion calls for the end of the thing that my constituents value most, which is the half-day respite from aircraft noise that results from runway alternation, which the motion says is a bad thing. Furthermore, the motion does not call on the Government to rule out that problem, although it calls on them to rule out a third runway. That leaves the door open for flights over my constituency all day, every day.

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

That is not the intention of the motion, as the hon. Lady knows very well.

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

I have already given way twice; I must make some progress. [ Interruption. ] All right, go on.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

The hon. Gentleman has admitted that one bit of his motion is a load of rubbish. Will he tell us which other bits are a load of rubbish?

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

I knew I should not have given way. That intervention is not worth responding to, I am sorry to say.

I quoted the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. It is worth mentioning that in 1995 BAA put in an application for a fifth terminal, as we know, which opened with all the chaos that we saw last week. At the time, it promised that that would not lead to a third runway. Permission was given on that basis. Whenever the aviation industry says, "This is all we want," it always goes further. It always comes back for more. It is never the final line.

BAA is like some kind of fiendish drug addict and the Government are its willing dealer, and they do not even charge a decent price or the market rate. I shall come on to the consultation document in a moment, but there are serious questions about the Government's independence in relation to the aviation industry and whether it is subject to regulatory capture.

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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

I am rather alarmed by some of the descriptions of BAA. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that BAA's expansion plans for Heathrow are a direct result of its being the largest international airport in the world and the unprecedented demand, which produces a significant number of jobs in the UK and provides us with a robust industry that we want to support?

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

I do not agree with all that. For a start, I do not agree that that is a cause. BAA has continually asked for expansion, and the Government have followed the predict-and-provide policy. Of course, if space is provided it fills up. The Government recognise that with roads. They abandoned the idea of predict-and-provide for roads but not for aviation. However, I shall come on to the economic case later.

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

I must make some progress. I have taken, I think, six—[Hon. Members: "Come on!"] All right.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this is a debate. Why does the Liberal party believe that if we restrict capacity at Heathrow that will reduce aviation? Those on the continent would be massively grateful. Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and all the rest would expand their capacity and we might end up with more emissions rather than fewer. Surely the solution to the emissions problem is to press for a new generation of more fuel-efficient and quieter aircraft, which are what we need, rather than trying to hamstring our industry at home.

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

I note the unholy alliance between the right hon. Gentleman and Government Front Benchers, who agree on that point. That is part of the problem. Of course we want improvements in aircraft design and want to limit emissions per aircraft if we can do so. However, providing extra capacity generates more flights. That is the point the right hon. Gentleman refuses to accept. The flights generated will partly be short-haul flights, the need for which could be met by long-distance, high-speed rail. The right hon. Gentleman, who does not like railways, refuses to acknowledge that point.

The right hon. Gentleman also refuses to acknowledge the serious impact of climate change, which nobody has so far mentioned. The impact of aviation on climate change is quite clear. It contributes about 6 per cent. of the UK's carbon emissions, compared with 24 per cent. from road traffic, but since 1990 the proportion of carbon emissions from aviation has more than doubled. Emissions from air travel are due to rise by 83 per cent. from 2002 levels by 2020, and could amount to a quarter of the UK's total contribution to climate change by 2038. How does that significant increase in carbon emissions from aviation square with the Government's stated policy of securing a 60 per cent. cut in carbon emissions by 2050? Why is aviation exempt from that target?

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

I am slightly perplexed, because the Liberal Democrat motion mentions ruling out any further expansion in the south-east. It therefore seems to suggest that a plane taking off from Manchester somehow emits less CO2 than one taking off from Gatwick. Is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying, or is it another mistake in the motion?

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

The reality is that the motion does not mention flights from Senegal, but that does not mean that we are not interested in flights from Senegal. That was a ridiculous intervention by the hon. Lady.

I shall move on to other aspects of the environmental impact of the proposed third runway.

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

I will not, because I have given way on eight or nine occasions and I am six minutes into the debate.

Let us consider the other impacts of the third runway, apart from the impact on climate change. The Government admit that air pollution at Heathrow will exceed the EU legal limits if a third runway is built. They have had to get BAA to try to massage the figures to find a way of getting round that problem.

There are particular issues in relation to road transport. The Department for Transport estimated in a parliamentary answer I received the other day that a third runway at Heathrow would create an extra 1.2 million journeys on the underground, 2.3 million journeys on heavy rail and 10.2 million journeys by car and taxi. The assumptions made in the "Adding capacity at Heathrow" document—a loaded title if ever I heard one—are simply not credible. It estimates that the public transport annual mode share will increase from 36.2 per cent. in 2004 to 41.7 per cent. in 2030, more than doubling the number of passengers. Where will that capacity on public transport come from? There are no plans to provide it in the Government's expansion plans.

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

Crossrail is very welcome, but it will not provide sufficient capacity to enable more than double the current number of passengers to be transported to Heathrow airport. That increase is in addition to the anticipated growth in demand for London underground services, which is estimated to be 50 per cent. by 2020.

The consultation document also states that a third runway would require the provision of rail services to manage 1,600 passengers an hour—two thirds of the current capacity available on the Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect services. Those calculations are based on actual passenger numbers and do not include a consideration of the additional journeys to be made by people accompanying friends and family to the airport. It is perfectly plain that the Government are making no plans to take properly into account the extra journeys that will be made to the airport, whether by road, underground or heavy rail. There are no plans for investment to meet the predictions of the journeys that will be generated.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

The hon. Gentleman has got some facts wrong, and clearly some of his research has not gone very far, either. Has he not come across the proposal to build a brand new railway, AirTrack, through my constituency, which will go a long way towards solving the problems he is talking about?

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

I maintain my point that the more than doubling of the number of people expected to travel by public transport cannot be accommodated by one project.

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government have not committed the funding that would enable AirTrack to be built in such a way that it did not completely close off most suburban commuter services through south-west London, including by bringing down level crossings for 45 minutes of every hour at peak time?

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

That point is very relevant, and of course the Conservative party has not committed itself to that project, even if it did have the beneficial effects to which Mr. Wilshire referred.

There is also a problem with air pollution. The 2003 aviation White Paper stated that air quality levels must remain consistently within EU limits coming into effect in 2010. Of course, that would represent an improvement in air quality in residential areas compared with what obtains today.

How is it possible for that target to be met, if the Government are anticipating yet another expansion of Heathrow? It seems to me incredible that the Government can imagine that more flights, runways and terminals will lead to less pollution, lower emissions and fewer environmental problems. However, that almost seems to be what the Government's consultation document claims.

Another problem is the impact on the local area. If plans for a third runway were to go ahead, BAA has estimated that at least 700 homes in the area would have to be demolished, affecting some 1,600 people. In addition, the village of Sipson would disappear off the map by 2020, and many ancient buildings would be destroyed. Residents at Harlington and Harmondsworth would be evicted, and thousands more would be seriously hit by the increase in noise and air pollution. Other villages such as Cranford and Longford would also be affected.

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Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

I have some sympathy with some of the hon. Gentleman's points about the aviation industry, but is he aware that the union Unite has said that a cap on the number of flights such as the one proposed in the motion would cause as many as 20,000 jobs to be lost in the local area?

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

I should like to say something about Unite, of which I am a member. Employers always find the unions that they need when it suits them, and unions always foolishly swallow it. It was always claimed that there would be social and political armageddon in south-west London when duty-free finished, but that was nonsense. By the same token, it is utter rubbish to suggest that there will be employment implications if the Heathrow expansion does not go ahead. Moreover, accepting that proposition on employment for terminal 5 means accepting it for terminals 6, 7, 8 and so on forever. I love the Unite union very much, but that suggestion is complete rubbish.

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

I am grateful for that intervention, and for the hon. Gentleman sharing his knowledge on the matter.

I deal now with noise pollution in particular. There is no doubt that the expansion of Heathrow will result in extra noise pollution for local residents. The key figure quoted by the Government is 57 dB, as that is the level at which community annoyance sets in. BAA has estimated that more than 250,000 people now live inside the 57 dB contour. They are therefore affected already, but the proposed expansion will make the problem much worse.

In fact, the problem is even more serious, as the World Health Organisation has challenged the Government's view on noise thresholds. It has argued that 50 dB is the appropriate level for determining annoyance, and that 55 dB constitutes serious annoyance. Therefore, even according to the BAA figures, it is clear that all the people in the immediate area are experiencing serious annoyance, according to the WHO definition.

In November 2007 the Government published a study entitled "Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England", and Ministers will know that it reinforces the WHO's argument very strongly. Although there are "only" 250,000 residents in Heathrow's 57 dB area, another 2 million people live within the 50 dB area. Adding those figures together gives us the total number of people the WHO believes are being affected by noise pollution at the present time, so what will the total be if the planned expansion goes ahead?

The Government said that they would not go ahead with Heathrow expansion if the number of people living in the 57 dB area increased. How will the Government square having a third runway with that pledge on noise? We have heard nothing about that.

In addition, the new flight path will pass over such places as Heston, Chiswick, north Hammersmith, Kensington and Chelsea, Langley, Slough and Maidenhead. A total of 150,000 people live in those areas, but do the Government believe that they do not count?

On top of all that, Heathrow expansion would have significant impacts on health. The 1999 study into public health impacts at large airports that was carried out for the Dutch Government found evidence to suggest that exposure to the air pollution levels observed within an airport's operations system—and in that sense Heathrow is the largest airport in the world—was linked to higher mortality rates, and to more frequent hospital admissions as a result of the aggravation of respiratory and cardiovascular problems. The study also found that air pollution was linked to decreased lung function, and an increase in chronic respiratory conditions. What assessment have the Government made of the current health implications for people who live near Heathrow, and what assessment have they made, seriously, of the implications if a third runway is given the go-ahead?

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

I have given way to the hon. Gentleman twice, and the last time it was not worth doing so, so he will forgive me if I do not give way now.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I was going to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

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

The hon. Gentleman said that he would be helpful last time. On the issue of children and education, I refer the Secretary of State to the European Commission's RANCH project on road traffic and aircraft noise exposure, which found a clear link between aircraft noise and delays in reading age. A 5 dB increase in noise level was linked to children being up to two months behind in their reading age. Those are serious issues for people who live in the Heathrow area, and they are not being addressed; they are being skated over. The Government are not taking into account health or the environment; they are considering only BAA.

A third runway would increase flights at Heathrow from 477,000—we were promised that that would be the maximum—to 720,000 a year. That is a huge increase, and it is contrary to a statement made in 2001 by one of the Secretary of State's predecessors, Mr. Byers, who said of terminal 5:

"we are making it a planning condition that there will be a limit of 480,000 flight movements a year."—[ Hansard, 20 November 2001; Vol. 375, c. 183.]

That pledge was made firmly by her predecessor less than seven years ago, but it is being torn up, and the Government apparently anticipate a virtual doubling of flights into Heathrow.

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, because it touches on the sense of betrayal that my constituents feel. Not only did the Government agree that they would cap flights at 480,000, but Sir John Egan, chairman of BAA, said that BAA would urge the Government to rule out an additional runway at Heathrow if permission were given for terminal 5. On the basis of that trust, approval for terminal 5 was given, only for that agreement to be torn up three weeks after the planning inspector's decision.

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we can draw three lessons from that. The first is that the aviation industry is insatiable, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South has said; the second is that Governments always give way; and the third is that when it comes to aviation, they do not keep their promises. In fact, they forget their promises and pretend that they have not made them. Another issue—the number of issues to do with Heathrow is almost endless—is the question of whether expansion is safe. That is an important and serious consideration.

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Photo of John Horam John Horam Conservative, Orpington

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that he has not mentioned in his motion, although it is very much on my mind following the tragic air crash in Farnborough in my constituency on Sunday, in which five people died in a plane. It is a miracle that more people were not killed in the residential area that abuts Biggin Hill. When planning airport expansion, the Secretary of State ought to pay attention to the question of how close expansion should come to built-up residential areas with hospitals, schools and houses. It is a serious issue.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; he makes an important point. Of course, because we are expanding Heathrow incrementally and constantly, the expansion will come up against existing settlements; some will be demolished, but others will be left very close indeed to runways. That is worrying and needs to be considered.

Another safety issue is the question of how much traffic we can accommodate in the skies around Heathrow and over London. Will we have a system of stacking, which is environmentally unsustainable and churns out huge amounts of carbon emissions for no benefit? It is also suggested that stacking will result in a greater number of planes attempting to land at Heathrow than air traffic control can deal with. At the last Transport Question Time I put that point to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Jim Fitzpatrick, who is responsible for aviation, and who is present today. I quoted to him a report in The Sunday Times that said that NATS and the CAA were of the view that there was insufficient airspace to accommodate the scale of predicted traffic growth, according to current predictive technology. In his response, the Minister said:

"The CAA has examined our White Paper proposals and believes that the necessary airspace capacity can be provided safely."—[ Hansard, 4 March 2008; Vol. 472, c. 20.]

I wrote to NATS, because I am a suspicious sort of person, and I got a letter back from it only yesterday. It is from the corporate and technical centre, so I suppose that the writers of the letter know what they are about. It says:

"NATS has not yet carried out detailed work as there has been no requirement for us to do so. We are not therefore able to advise at this stage on any specific airspace changes that may be required in support of any change in Government policy to permit expansion at Heathrow".

NATS has not carried out detailed work, and it has not been asked to carry out detailed work. How does that square with the assurance that the Minister gave me in Transport questions? More to the point, why has it not been asked to carry out that work? I should have thought that that was one of the first things that the Government ought to do.

Let us move on to the economic case. If there are all those environmental downsides to Heathrow, which there undoubtedly are; if there are concerns about health, which there are; and if there are concerns about safety, which there are, what are the overriding benefits that suggest that we should go ahead with the proposal? The Government keep saying that it is terribly important for Britain's economy, so it seems that in the equation they have set out for themselves we have the economic benefits on one side and virtually everything else on the other. Are those economic benefits so strong and so enormous that they outweigh all the disbenefits that I and many others have identified in the last weeks and months?

A couple of days ago, the Aviation Minister dealt with the urgent question on terminal 5 and told the House that

"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...We are confident that, when we analyse the consultation...and publish our findings in the summer, our validation will be proved to be correct."—[ Hansard, 31 March 2008; Vol. 474, c. 434.]

That does not suggest that there is much of a consultation exercise going on, as the Government have already concluded that they will be proved right.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, whether we like it or not, the situation with Heathrow is as it is, that it is important to protect the landing slots from Scotland and, in particular, that there should be an expansion of landing slots from Inverness? We should have direct access to Heathrow from the highlands of Scotland, which is a large area. I hope he supports that.

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

I understand the position of those remote communities in particular, which have a stronger case for aviation links to London than do, dare I say it, those who are rather nearer to London but still arguing for expansion.

We have heard the arguments about Heathrow being important to the national economy, but how important is it? On the question of who uses Heathrow—this comes from another parliamentary answer that I received—26 per cent. of those passengers are international-to-international transit passengers. Apart from the benefits to BAA's airport shops, I am not clear about exactly what benefit is brought to the UK by 26 per cent. of passengers transferring from international airline to international airline. I say to the Minister that if all those people went to Schiphol, I do not see what the impact on the British economy would be.

There is a further contingent of passengers, which is those who transfer from domestic to international—a substantial number of people. Those passengers, of course, could be better served if there were perhaps more flights from places such as Manchester out to international destinations, rather than flights always going from Heathrow. But it suits BA to use Heathrow as a hub, moving planes into Heathrow and passengers—

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

I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman again in this debate. I am sorry, but I have already given way to him two or three times.

It very much suits BA and BAA to move passengers into Heathrow and then move them out again, because it means that those people can stay at Heathrow and use BAA's shops, spending lots of money. It does not much suit passengers, who would benefit from more direct flights. Nor does it suit the environment to have two flights instead of one. Does the Government's consultation paper consider whether there is a prospect of moving flights from Heathrow to other UK airports, which would obviate the need for a third runway?

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Unfortunately, I am a frequent traveller to Heathrow and, unfortunately, I had the largest travel expenses of any Member of this Parliament last year, given geography and the many flights that I have to take each week. I am often struck by the fact that, after coming down from Glasgow at high speed, flights end up stacking at Heathrow. Is there any way to slow flights down so that the need for stacking would be reduced and people could arrive in some sort of sequence, rather than spending their time stacked up over London, which, believe me, is very frustrating for passengers?

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and what he refers to is a fault of the current system. We could eliminate some carbon emissions if we had better planning of flight arrivals. Trains do not all arrive at Victoria at the same time and have to wait outside the station for a platform to become vacant. There is a timetable, which brings those trains in at the appropriate time. That works most of the time at least. It ought to be possible for NATS to introduce a better system to avoid stacking. I am disappointed that the Government have not progressed that satisfactorily. If there are so many downsides to Heathrow environmentally, on health grounds and economically, what is the Government's amendment about? What is their consultation paper about? What is the motivation behind what they are trying to achieve? One must look carefully at the links between BAA and the Government to try to find some rationale for the position that the Government have adopted.

People in London particularly have been badly served by the consultation process so far. The Minister will know that the consultation form, which was eight pages long, was widely regarded as full of jargon and technical language and difficult for the average person to understand, so already people were excluded from the consultation process. My hon. Friend Susan Kramer reported the consultation process to the Plain English Campaign, which described it as "atrocious" and stated that

"no ordinary person with an interest in the plans could be expected to read and understand this".

BAA had a significant role in the consultation document. I notice that it even has the copyright for the photograph on the cover. The Government came out in favour of a third runway in 2003. They insisted that strict environmental targets should be met on air and noise pollution. That was a sensible policy, but what happened?

We found out from an article that was published recently in The Sunday Times that a senior civil servant, David Gray, was tasked with showing how the runway could be built without negative impacts, and showed that an additional runway would mean a lot more air pollution. How could that be avoided? That was his task. He was not tasked with receiving the data and producing a neutral report; he was tasked with fiddling the data and producing a report that was skewed towards BAA and produced the right result at the end.

I congratulate Justine Greening on her freedom of information request, which showed that the unsatisfactory initial results led to executives from BAA being given unrivalled access to Whitehall and confidential data so that they could select alternative input data for environmental predictions until they got the right results. That is a disgrace and it shows that the Government concluded in the consultation paper that a new airport the size of Gatwick, effectively, could be bolted on to Heathrow as a new runway without any adverse environmental impact. It is astonishing that they could have reached that conclusion.

We know from BAA that it now has as its director of public affairs Tom Kelly, Tony Blair's former Downing street spokesman, who famously called Dr. David Kelly a "Walter Mitty" character. It is perhaps Tom Kelly who is a "Walter Mitty" character living a fantasy life where there is no pollution from aircraft, where clean cars exist so there is no impact from the road movements to Heathrow, and where international flights can be discounted in the calculations of the air pollution that will result from any third runway.

Even the Government's advisory body, the Environment Agency, has unpicked the Department for Transport document and concluded that it is not sufficiently robust to support the construction of a third runway. It states:

"There are arguments for postponing irreversible investment decisions in the face of uncertainty".

I have not heard that uncertainty from the Government or from BAA. They appear to be quite certain that the environmental impact will be negative. They seem to dismiss concerns about health. They appear, however, to be sure that the economic benefits will be substantial. Is it not curious that the position that they have adopted is very similar to that adopted by BAA?

We know from BAA's previous predictions that they are unreliable. In the mid-1990s, BAA predicted that smaller aircraft would disappear, and when it lobbied for terminal 5 it said that there would be 453,000 flights at Heathrow by 2013. That is what BAA said in 1995. That figure was reached by July 2000. What it predicted would take 18 years took only five years.

Can the Minister answer one specific question? Why was it thought appropriate to exclude international flight arrivals from any calculation of the environmental impact arising from the third runway?

There is a revolving door between the Government and BAA; not only Tom Kelly is involved. Joe Irvin was a special adviser at Downing street and went on to become a director of public affairs at BAA. Another former BAA public affairs director is Stephen Hardwick, a former policy adviser to Mr. Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister. That new revolving door syndrome is a new version of Labour spin that goes round and round between BAA and the Government.

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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

I am concerned about the notion that BAA, which at the height of the construction project for the new terminal had 60,000 employees on site and a budget of £4.3 billion, might operate on its own without any reference to the Government. Frankly, I am delighted that it went to the Government and sought consultation on the exercise. Any investment of that scale, employing such numbers of people, should be of interest to the Government.

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

It is perfectly proper for any institution in this country to seek investment, and it is appropriate that a consultation exercise is undertaken. It is perfectly normal for large corporations, bodies, pressure groups or others to engage with the Government at the appropriate juncture; there is nothing wrong in that.

What is wrong about this issue is that a line has been crossed because BAA has been involved in writing the consultation paper. It has not simply provided facts and figures, as it maintains—the memos that the hon. Member for Putney helped to secure show that it went much further than that. They show that BAA was helpfully redrafting and suggesting to the Government how particular information could be eliminated and how particular environmental outcomes could be redrafted. It was sending memos to that effect to the Government.

That worries me, because the Department for Transport appears to be subject to regulatory capture by BAA. That should worry Mrs. Curtis-Thomas; she is getting a response not from her Government, but from BAA. BAA is perfectly within its rights to lobby and make its case, but not to take over the aviation policy of the Department for Transport, although it appears to have done that to a large degree in respect of Heathrow.

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip

I would like clarification on where the hon. Gentleman's party stands on runway alternation, bearing in mind the text of its motion.

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

We are in favour of ending— [Interruption.] No, I mean that the motion should have said "ending".

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State

As Mr. Randall will undoubtedly have noticed, a cap of 480,000 is permanently and firmly placed on flights at Heathrow. Ending runway alternation would add another 45,000 flights; it is therefore impossible for the motion to be read in any other way than that runway alternation should be preserved and that mixed mode should not be introduced.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I referred to the word "ending"; I concede that, unfortunately, it is missing from the motion. I accept that it is missing, and I am sorry about it. That one word is missing. I suggest that Conservative Members will have their own explaining to do in a moment about their own policy. The motion leads to no interpretation other than our total opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. We are clear that a third runway there has to be stopped at all events and under all circumstances. The House should be in no doubt whatever about that.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman repeat what he said a few minutes ago—that the Liberal Democrats support ending runway alternation at Heathrow?

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

I have already answered that. Let me read the sentence from the motion:

"the increase in intensity and distribution of noise for those living under the flight path through"— the word "ending" is missing—"runway alternation". Our policy could not be clearer. [Laughter.] Well, let me tell the House what the policy is in one sentence: it is to oppose any third runway at Heathrow under any circumstances. I challenge the Government and the Conservative Front Bencher to match that pledge. We would not build or support any third runway at Heathrow under any circumstances. I invite Mrs. Villiers to make a similar pledge when she speaks in due course.

Voters in London will have to look at three parties in the local elections, the mayoral election and the general election in respect of policy on Heathrow. We know that the Government have been captured by BAA in terms of policy, and we will find out where the Conservatives stand with their chaotic policy on Heathrow. We are the only party in this House that will oppose the third runway at Heathrow under any circumstances.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport 5:04 pm, 2nd April 2008

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"recognises that the Government's policy on airport expansion is consistent with its long term, balanced and sustainable aviation strategy as set out in the 2003 White Paper The Future of Air Transport, that its support for emissions trading represents the most effective way of tackling climate change concerns, that the Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport consultation is a robust document that is the product of a lengthy period of comprehensive analysis, that the consultation process followed best practice as set out by the Cabinet Office, that the economic case for the expansion of Heathrow Airport, as set out in the consultation, accurately reflects the Government's current understanding of all the relevant costs and benefits, and that Ministers should base their forthcoming decisions on the future of Heathrow on all the evidence available, including the responses to the consultation."

Let me start by congratulating Norman Baker on securing this debate. As is already clear from his characteristically robust speech, we are not going to agree on much today, but at least we agree on the importance of the subject, which, as he knows, raises strong passions. I understand that, and I also understand that the decision that we make on Heathrow, and indeed our wider aviation policy, will have a major impact on the continued prosperity of our country, our quality of life and our freedom to travel.

I find it a little odd that the successors to the Liberal party now appear to see it as their role to tell millions of people how and when they can travel, but that is the result of the decisions made by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. As he clearly stated, they have set themselves against any expansion not just of Heathrow but of any airport in the south-east. They clearly want the growth in air travel in the UK to be thwarted, and at least they are consistent in their opposition. They do not, of course, want to be quite so clear in telling millions of people in the UK that they intend to make it much more difficult for them to enjoy a holiday abroad, and neither are they quite so clear in explaining that one of the key factors in a global marketplace is good links with the rest of the world and that their policy would worsen those links, with a serious impact on jobs and prosperity. Nor do I recall the hon. Gentleman clarifying the point that restricting capacity at Heathrow would merely mean that passengers who want to use a hub airport would continue to use other hub airports in Europe, damaging Britain but with zero impact on the level of carbon emissions.

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State

Can I take it from what the Secretary of State has said that she backs "predict and provide" and that the principles she has outlined will guide aviation taxation and other green tax policies provided by the Government—in other words, that priority will be given to meeting demand, not to dealing with emissions?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

No. I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, but "predict and provide" is not the policy of this Government. She should look back at the 2003 transport White Paper, which makes it clear that even with the expansion of all the airports that were supported in that document we would not meet predicted demand for air travel in future. We need a tough approach that recognises the impact on the environment as well as the genuine concerns of local people. We have put forward a balanced approach.

I am not surprised by the opposition of Susan Kramer or by that of her Front Benchers, but I find it remarkable that the Conservatives have reversed their position and adopted the Lib Dem policy as their own. A party that once stood for choice and for a strong economy is now in favour of restricting choice and ready to put the economy at risk in the cause of short-term political gain. I am sure that many Tory Back Benchers will be horrified at that change of position.

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

Before we can take a responsible decision on the future of Heathrow airport, we want the Government to answer the key environmental questions and to produce objective, trustworthy data on the key environmental tests that have to be met.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

That is precisely what we are committed to doing, and it is not in the wording of the Conservative amendment.

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

How can the Secretary of State possibly say that she is answering the questions on, for example, NOx—oxides of nitrogen—with legally binding limits applicable from 2010? The Environment Agency has said that her evidence is not sufficiently robust, so even her own advisers on environmental matters do not believe the Government's case.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

We need to examine the local environmental conditions that we said are necessary to be met in order for us to decide, if that is indeed the case, that this should go ahead. We have put these proposals and the scientific evidence out for consultation to be publicly tested and scrutinised by the Environment Agency and others, and I will not make a decision until all the responses have been analysed.

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

The Secretary of State mentioned the decision. Can we have clarity about how it will be made? At the end of the consultation process, will the decision be made through a vote on the Floor of this House before we move to any future stage—if we do so at all?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

It will be important for the Government to take a decision and for the proposals to go through the planning inquiry. One of the options for the House to consider is how planning procedures should be speeded up in future, and we will have to consider a national policy statement on aviation, and the point at which that comes in. Those decisions are yet to be determined.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I give way to the hon. Lady, who is obviously desperate to join the debate again.

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

I am grateful to the Secretary of State; she is generous in giving way so many times. How can she possibly say that decisions have yet to be made when she stands at that Dispatch Box month in, month out, expressing fulsome support for building a third runway at Heathrow? She has already made up her mind. The consultation is a complete sham.

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Hon. Members:

Absolutely.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

Absolutely not, and in the course of my speech I intend to set out the arguments that were expressed in the 2003 air transport White Paper for more capacity at Heathrow. At the same time, however, we have always said that we would not go ahead unless the strict local environmental conditions were met. We promised then—I shall return to this point—that we would present the detailed modelling evidence for public scrutiny in order to test the robustness of the case before any decisions were made.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman rise to his feet. I am sure that he is distressed by the U-turn on the part of those on his Front Bench.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I think it is time for me to ask questions, rather than answer them. Will the Secretary of State tell us how long she thinks it will take to reach a decision, assuming the accelerated planning processes are approved? People on both sides of the argument would like to know when we will get a decision on this crucial matter. Were the decision to be in favour, could she promise generous compensation for those adversely affected?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I am afraid that it is not possible for me to predict the length of the planning process because decisions have yet to be taken. It is important that the planning process is robust, and that all considerations, such as the health impact, which was raised by the hon. Member for Lewes, are taken properly into account. If there were a decision in favour, of course it is right that BAA would compensate individuals and communities that were affected. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman got to his feet. He has been brave in taking on these arguments in his own party, like Mr. Willetts, who valiantly confronted the sceptics at Hounslow, no less, when he said that

"no responsible party can simply say that we can put up the shutters and there's not going to be any more runways anywhere in the South East if we want London to remain a serious global city".

The Conservative amendment demonstrates the lack of leadership and the short-term political opportunism of a modern Conservative party that is prepared to put short-term political gain ahead of the long-term national interest of the country.

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

The Secretary of State says that she has put the detailed environmental data in the public domain. She has not; that is simply not true. I have been trying since May last year to get the Government to release detailed environmental modelling data under the Freedom of Information Act. What I have got are memos, minutes and board meeting minutes, just as Norman Baker described. What I have never been given, and am still prevented from getting, are the environmental data. If the Government are so convinced of their case, why will they not give me those data so that we can all be convinced?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I certainly congratulate the hon. Lady on her tenacity. She has been a brilliant campaigner on these issues. The Department has already given her much material to peruse at her leisure, but the fact is that the experts have been out there with work—peer-reviewed in many cases—that has involved some of the most eminent scientists in this country. That process has been led by the Department, and we have presented our evidence.

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

On that point, will the Secretary of State confirm that the peer reviewer was the company WS Atkins, which was sought, employed and then paid by BAA?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

It is certainly the case that Atkins has peer-reviewed some of the work, but it was not responsible for peer-reviewing all of it. Much of the work was peer-reviewed by the Civil Aviation Authority and independent experts. Noise modelling, which I know the hon. Lady is interested in, was carried out by the CAA, whose expertise is internationally respected. Air-quality modelling followed a two-year programme of research that drew on panels of eminent experts in the field, and a peer review found its conclusions to be

"justified in the light of the current state of knowledge" and "fit for purpose". BAA's air traffic forecast, to which the hon. Lady may be referring, was also subject to careful quality assurance by the Department. I shall deal shortly with the local environmental tests, but I want to cover some of the other points that the hon. Member for Lewes raised.

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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

I am worried that the reputation of WS Atkins could be besmirched. The implication of comments today is that WS Atkins can be bought. As a member of the profession, I stress that engineers, who make up the vast majority of WS Atkins, cannot be bought. We offer impartial advice and judgment because we are reviewed by our peers and, frankly, we take no notice of politicians' views. Our job is to offer advice—that is it.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her point. Every hon. Member should listen carefully to those comments. It is important that we do not cast aspersions on the integrity of those—some of the most eminent reviewers in the world—who have done the work.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I promised that I would make some progress and I am going to do exactly that.

I shall deal with the comments of the hon. Member for Lewes in three parts. First, I shall tackle his point on the Government's overall aviation policy and the case for additional capacity. Secondly, I shall set out the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that we have a sustainable aviation policy, which is compatible with our climate change goals. Thirdly, I want to tackle some of his specific points about the consultation.

Let me begin by tackling the hon. Gentleman's claim that we should rule out any further increase in airport capacity in the south-east. Air traffic is hugely important for this country. As a global centre for finance, trade and culture, this country's competitiveness relies on good international links. Our recognition of the economic and social benefits of flying is precisely why we support the sustainable growth of aviation, as set out in the transport White Paper in 2003.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

Not yet.

Given the title of the debate, let me focus on the importance of Heathrow. If the hon. Gentleman's point is about capacity there, I will gladly give way.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Perhaps some of the pressures on Heathrow are due to the lack of a high-speed rail link. I have already flown four times this week in relation to my parliamentary duties. On some of those occasions, I have flown over water, although when I land in Glasgow, I would be more than happy to take a train to London, but it is not practical. A few years ago, I had cause to go to Seville. The journey from Seville to Madrid is an equivalent distance to that from London to Glasgow. One can travel from Madrid to Seville in less in two hours. The Secretary of State would find it difficult to travel from Glasgow to London in two hours. Lack of a joined-up transport policy is part of Heathrow's problem.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman feels passionately about the points that he makes, and he makes them well. Unfortunately, he is wrong. I have not considered a high-speed rail link from London to Glasgow, but I have examined in detail the case for such a rail link from London to Manchester. There may be a case for high-speed rail, but it is not the one that he makes. If we introduced a high-speed rail line between London and Manchester, the energy consumed would increase by 90 per cent. Indeed, we would get nearly two thirds of the carbon emissions of a domestic jet on a short-haul flight between London and Manchester. High speed does not necessarily equal green. Some people who oppose aviation expansion often propose high-speed rail as an easy way out. There may be arguments for it, but that is not one of them.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

On travelling from Scotland, would the Secretary of State prefer to travel from Glasgow to, for example, Los Angeles directly, perhaps changing at Schiphol, or travel all the way down to a London station, get the underground or a taxi and struggle out to Heathrow to catch another plane? Which is more likely?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the importance of a hub airport. All short-haul domestic journeys by air will never be replaced by rail. It is important for the regions and the nations of the United Kingdom to have access to Heathrow.

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

Is the right hon. Lady aware that flights between Paris and Brussels have been eliminated as a consequence of high-speed rail, as have many other flights in mainland Europe? How can aviation and road capacity be expanding in this country, but railways be constrained within the existing lines?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I was not making a case against high-speed rail per se; I was just saying that it is not necessarily a green form of travel. It can be a green form of travel, depending on the energy mix, which is different in France from in the United Kingdom, for obvious reasons. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman supports the energy mix and production in France—

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. There may be a case for putting more investment in conventional rail—indeed, we are doing that—but high-speed rail is not a panacea. There will always be a need for short-haul flights.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

No, the hon. Gentleman has had his chance.

We rely on good international connections to support our national and regional economies, and we need to plan ahead, so that Heathrow is in a position to continue supporting economic growth in 10 or 20 years' time.

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Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are many Labour Members, including me, who accept her argument about the country's economic need for continued expansion and the importance of a hub, but who nevertheless do not agree that Heathrow is the right location for it? That is not least because of the clear decision of the inspector, who sat for a disproportionate amount of time considering the previous proposal for Heathrow expansion, which led to the terminal 5 decision, and who, having considered all the evidence, including the importance of a hub, concluded that there should be no further expansion at Heathrow beyond terminal 5. Is it not time to accept that logic and begin work on planning for the one location where a suitable hub airport for the United Kingdom could be established, in the Thames estuary?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. Indeed, I read with interest his article on the issue at the weekend and I know that he has considered such matters in depth. However, let me remind him that in the course of preparing the 2003 White Paper, more than 400 different airport locations were examined, some in great depth. Indeed, the Government actively considered the possibility of an offshore airport, and the preferred site was Cliffe.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

The preferred site for a new airport, an offshore airport having been considered, was Cliffe. All the relevant factors were taken into consideration, including the distance from London, the up-front cost in infrastructure investment, the labour supply that would be able to work in the airport and the impact on the local environment, particularly the ecosystems, including birds and wildlife, yet none of the sites was considered suitable.

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Photo of Alan Keen Alan Keen Labour, Feltham and Heston

Does the Secretary of State regard the birds as more important than my constituents in Feltham and Heston who live adjacent to Heathrow airport? Also, does she accept Lord Soley's argument that if Heathrow does not expand, it will become a desert? However, if it expands dramatically, where will the fourth runway go and how many thousands of houses would have to be knocked down?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I know that my hon. Friend feels passionately about the subject and has championed his constituents' interests with force and tenacity, in this place and elsewhere. No, it is not the case that the birds have priority. In fact, the presence of so many birds is a safety hazard for planes. That was one of the issues taken into account when examining different locations.

I understand that my hon. Friend refers, too, to commitments that BAA made at the time of the previous planning inquiry. The Government then did not commit themselves to a decision at that point, but we considered all such matters afresh in the 2003 White Paper. I know that he disagrees with the Government's position, and he is entitled to his views, representing his constituents.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I must make some progress, although I will take one intervention from the hon. Member for Lewes, whose debate this is, after all.

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

On commitments made in the past, I referred in my contribution to Mr. Brown, who promised in 2001 that the number of flights was capped and that there would be no further increase, but now the Secretary of State is proposing to go back on that. Will she stick to that pledge?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

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".

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

The point that I was making was that the Government's misconceived plans for expanding Stansted have no justification whatever— [Interruption.]

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Lady is clearly flip-flopping on this issue, like so many other Opposition Front Benchers. Perhaps she would agree that, for London to be a world capital, it needs excellent links with the rest of the world.

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Several hon. Members:

rose —

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I will not give way at the moment.

Our analysis shows that a third runway at Heathrow would provide net economic benefits of about £5 billion, even after taking account—full account—of climate change and noise costs.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

Let me turn to my second theme and make some progress, as I know that many Back Benchers want to speak in the debate. I must set out the steps that we are taking to ensure that we have a sustainable aviation policy that is compatible with our climate change goals.

There are, of course, huge challenges in how we enjoy the benefits of air travel while still meeting our climate change objectives. We all know that climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the global community today and that if it were left untackled the implications for our way of life would be catastrophic. There are no easy answers, but when Sir Nicholas Stern looked at the question of how to tackle climate change without putting economic growth at risk, he suggested a three-pronged approach: making sure that carbon costs are reflected in prices to consumers; promoting greener technology; and offering consumers information and choice. Those three elements are clearly applicable to aviation. Let me take each briefly in turn.

First, it is clearly important that the cost of air travel reflects its impact on the environment. I turn here to the point raised by the hon. Member for Richmond Park in an earlier intervention. We consulted on the emissions cost assessment, which was specifically designed to consider how far aviation was meeting its external climate change costs. The consultation document used figures that pre-dated the increase in air passenger duty, on which the Treasury is currently consulting. Since APD was doubled, aviation will meet its climate change costs, taking account not just of carbon dioxide emissions, but of the other aviation greenhouse effects such as NOx emissions and contrails.

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State

I thank the right hon. Lady for her generosity in giving way. Just on that issue of the shadow cost of carbon, to which I assume she is referring, will she confirm that it is based on an assumption, first, that the Government have the right target for emissions and, secondly, that they will hit that target? The calculation is, therefore, that there will be only modest carbon costs because the risk of climate change will have been mitigated by those other measures. In other words, the pricing used in this calculation depends on a perfect world scenario rather than being within the range of pricing that most of us would consider prudent at a time when we are debating even what climate change targets should be. It is, in other words, inadequate.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I may be out by a pound or two, but I think that the price that we are putting on carbon is about £25 per tonne of CO2, increasing by 2 per cent. in real terms year on year. As Nicholas Stern pointed out, there is a range of carbon prices that could be used, but when he was asked on the "Today" programme whether we could view our current policy on aviation expansion and road building as compatible with meeting our CO2 targets, he said, "I believe we can". Not only that, the figures that we have put forward are robust to different scenarios for the shadow price of carbon. We have estimated the net economic benefit to be about £4.8 billion, and it would clearly be possible to increase the shadow price of carbon significantly without cancelling out that benefit.

Ultimately, however, the international nature of the aviation industry means that action to tackle environmental impacts is most effective if it is delivered on an international basis. We have been pressing for greater worldwide progress on the environment in the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation, but perhaps most important is the fact that we have been leading negotiations in Europe to include aviation in the European Union's emissions trading scheme. If that happens from 2012, as is currently proposed, any extra carbon emissions from an expanded Heathrow will be balanced by a reduction in emissions from other, more cost-effective parts of the economy. In effect, net carbon emissions would be stabilised at 2004 to 2006 levels, which would constitute a significant improvement on the position today.

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

As has already been mentioned, the carbon cost was calculated on the basis of just half the total number of flights that would depart from Heathrow and the extra capacity that would be created. The calculation also left out the emissions from the new terminal, and those resulting from any of the journeys of the 40 million-plus non-hub passengers who would have to travel to and from the airport. How can the Secretary of State claim that the figures are "robust" when she has gone against DEFRA's own guidelines in calculating the emissions for this policy?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

We have not gone against DEFRA's guidelines at all. In fact, terminal 5 will be one of the greenest airport buildings in the world. It would be ludicrous—the hon. Member for Lewes asked me to respond to this point—to include flights leaving London and flights arriving there for the purposes of a trading scheme, as it would be double-counting the impact of carbon dioxide emissions.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I will not give way to the hon. Lady again. I have already given way to her several times.

The second important issue is technology. We must continue to press for greener planes, greener airports and greener skies, but we are already seeing progress. New aircraft today are typically 20 per cent. more fuel-efficient than the aircraft that they replace, their noise footprint has been more than halved, and they carry more passengers.

We can improve the way in which we manage air traffic. The single European sky proposals will harmonise air traffic control across Europe, streamline routes, and reduce the need for stacking of planes on the approach to airports. I am also keen to examine the potential of "green slots". If there is additional capacity at Heathrow, why should it not be used to try to encourage a new breed of more environmentally friendly planes?

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip

Climate change issues are of course very important, but there is one issue that the Secretary of State has not mentioned so far. I have a feeling that she is not going to mention it, although I may be wrong. Will she tell me what consultations and discussions she has had with local authorities, or with anyone, about where she will house the people whose homes have been destroyed? Where will those communities go? It is not just people in Sipson who will be affected, but those in all the surrounding areas: Harmondsworth, Harlington, Longford and West Drayton. The area is already overcrowded, and there are an incredible number of housing problems. What thought has the Secretary of State put into that?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick, the Aviation Minister, has met all the council leaders and residents' groups who have expressed concern, and rightly so. We would never make such decisions lightly, because people's houses and livelihoods are potentially at stake. We cannot make a decision that is based purely on the impact on the local community—we must balance that against the impact on the nation as a whole—but it is right for those people to be compensated, and the issues will be examined carefully as part of the planning process. We expect the compensation to be generous, and I think that BAA has been assiduous in providing information for local people.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I must make some progress. I have already been speaking for more than half an hour.

The third point raised by Nicholas Stern is how we can give people real information and choice in how they travel. I have already dealt with the issue of high-speed rail, but let me say now that we are investing in rail. We have the fastest-growing railways in Europe, and we plan to accommodate a doubling of capacity over the next 30 years. Far better than my giving that promise to the House is for me to give the facts, which speak for themselves. Whereas in 2004 two thirds of journeys between London and Manchester were made by air, two thirds are now made by rail, thanks to the £8 billion that we have spent on modernising and upgrading the west coast main line.

That brings me to my third and final theme. Of course, none of our ambitions on aviation can be realised unless we meet the strict local environmental conditions on noise, air quality and transport access set out in the White Paper.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham PPS (Mr Mike O'Brien, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

So far in the debate no Member has mentioned the aircraft engine manufacturers. Rolls-Royce, for example, has invested heavily in cleaner engines and reducing fuel consumption. Have the Government had any discussions with the manufacturers, because it is worth noting that that is a major factor in encouraging manufacturers to invest more in research and development in this area?

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I know that the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in particular has been looking at these issues and talking to manufacturers of aircraft engines and other industrialists. Despite there being almost three quarters more aircraft movements in 2005 than in 1975, the number of people affected by noise has fallen by almost 90 per cent., which shows how much quieter aircraft are becoming—and they have also become much more fuel efficient.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

No, I must make progress.

The White Paper announced a programme of work to consider how further capacity could be added, or how to make best use of the existing runways, while meeting critical local environmental tests. It committed to consulting on the outcomes of this work, once complete. The air transport White Paper made it absolutely clear that the Government did not intend to conduct this further work on their own. Indeed, it would not have been sensible, or even possible, to attempt it without the technical and operational expertise both of the airport operator and of other key stakeholders. The White Paper explicitly stated, in paragraph 11.63:

"We will therefore institute immediately, with the airport operator and relevant bodies and agencies, a programme of action to consider how these conditions can be met in such a way as to make the most of Heathrow's two existing runways and to enable the addition of a third runway as soon as practicable after a new runway at Stansted."

The consultation that I launched last November, and which closed in February, met that commitment. In it, we presented our evidence that the local environmental conditions could be met at Heathrow, and we invited scrutiny and comment from any interested party or individual.

There has been a lot of comment in the debate on these specific tests. However, the facts that I have quoted on noise show that over time it is perfectly possible to have a quieter fleet of aircraft, with fewer people affected by noise and with more fuel-efficient engines. The key question is whether over time we can have more aircraft within that same 57 dB noise contour without infringing the European limits on air quality, and with sufficient transport access.

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. She will be aware from her conversations with aircraft manufacturers that all the quick and easy gains on both noise and fuel efficiency have been captured, and that there are no immediate major technological breakthroughs on the horizon. In terms of noise, is that not confirmed by her choice of a benchmark year when Concorde was flying? Because of the averaging techniques she used, we will be talking about keeping noise not at today's levels, but at levels as they used to be if we were able to take Concorde's allocation of noise, as it were, and average out—even if we agreed on how to measure noise.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

Unfortunately, I disagree entirely. That was the latest available year, and the Concorde issue is not significantly relevant to the calculations. The hon. Lady is right that there is no step change in technology—as there may be in car technology—which could within the next two, three, five or 10 years transform the way aircraft fly, but year by year there are significant improvements in the efficiency of the fleet. Even more important than that, the fact is that we will have a cap at European level on the amount of carbon that can be released, and trading will take place beneath that cap. That will be at the level of 2004 to 2006, which is below where we are today.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I shall give way one last time, and I shall do so to my hon. Friend Martin Linton.

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Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea

Does my right hon. Friend accept that she should be looking at not only the 57 dB contour but the 54 dB contour, and that under mixed mode, which is one of the proposals she is considering, that 54 dB contour would be increased enormously by more than 130,000 people right across south London? At present, it ends in Stockwell; it would go right over to New Cross and bring hundreds of thousands more people in south London into the 54 dB contour.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend is certainly right to draw attention to the fact that the noise impact with mixed mode, or the potential better use of existing runways, is very different from the noise impact with the third runway. Over time—by 2030—far fewer people than at present would be affected by 57 dB, or indeed, I think, by 54 dB. The question that we are consulting on openly is whether we should try to bring forward capacity in the intervening years, which could help both to support the economy and improve the passenger experience at Heathrow. We are asking for views on whether that different distribution of noise level would be acceptable to the local—

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I have said that I am not going to give way any more.

As in many areas of national policy, we face vital long-term decisions over Heathrow and air travel in this country. They require the Government to consider carefully the long-term needs of our country and to balance often conflicting interests. Even the hon. Member for Lewes would find it difficult to describe his party's position as balanced. Through policies that I believe are both balanced and effective, we can meet our economic needs and environmental obligations. This Government will put into place those balanced and effective policies, which, as this debate has already underlined, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories are determined to oppose. I therefore urge my hon. Friends to support the Government's amendment.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 5:40 pm, 2nd April 2008

The truth is that the Government are determined to press ahead with Heathrow expansion, regardless of whether hugely important environmental questions are answered and even before they have considered the consultation results. Their consultation is simply a sham, because Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box month in, month out expressing their support for a third runway at Heathrow. The Prime Minister is also a strong and vocal supporter of expansion.

The Opposition believe that the Government have failed to make the case either for a third runway or for an end to runway alternation at Heathrow. We will therefore vote against their amendment. Our position is set out in the amendment that we have tabled, but because it has not been selected we will not have the chance to vote on it. We shall abstain on the Liberal Democrat motion. As my speech will show, we agree with elements of it, but we do not believe that it is possible for airport policy in the south-east to be set in stone for ever in all circumstances.

Moreover, I am deeply concerned that the Liberal Democrats will go through the Lobby to support a motion that condemns runway alternation and asserts that it increases noise annoyance for residents. For thousands of people across the capital, runway alternation gives a welcome respite from aircraft noise. The Government's proposals to introduce mixed mode are deeply controversial with those who wait every day for the 3.30pm switchover of runways. The Liberal Democrats have got this matter badly wrong, and that is one reason why we will abstain on their motion.

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State

Does the hon. Lady agree that because a process of consultation is under way and the Government are going to make a decision, this is the day to draw the line in the sand and permanently to say no to the third runway? Will she refuse to join us in that stand simply because of a typo?

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

As I have just said clearly, we do not believe that the Government have made the case either for a new runway at Heathrow or for mixed mode. They have failed to make the economic case for expansion. A recent study by CE Delft for the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise throws into question the analysis in the Oxford Economic Forecasting report, which has been the foundation for the economic case since its publication.

The consultation document published by the Secretary of State last November includes increased tax revenue from air passenger duty as a benefit to the economy, but of course it is only a transfer from the private to the public sector. Crucially, neither the consultation document nor the OEF report puts a credible price on the impact of expansion on local air pollution or noise. Those who live under the flight path tell us clearly that noise has an obvious economic impact, not least on the value of their homes.

The Secretary of State has simply failed to address the four key environmental tests that we set for her when she published her consultation document. The Opposition believe that they must be met before a responsible decision can be made on Heathrow's future. The tests are: whether expansion is consistent with meeting EU rules on oxides of nitrogen emissions, which will become binding from 2010; whether expansion is consistent with ensuring that there is no increase in the overall noise footprint in the airport and with a progressive reduction of that footprint in the medium term; whether expansion is consistent with meeting our climate change targets on CO2 reduction; and whether all the alternative ways to free up capacity at Heathrow have been fully considered, including serious and urgent consideration of high-speed rail. The Government have failed to meet those tests and to produce the objective and reliable data that would allow a sound judgment to be made on the pros and cons of expansion.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If the hon. Lady receives satisfactory answers to her four questions, will she confirm for the avoidance of doubt that in some circumstances the Conservatives will approve of a third runway at Heathrow?

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

We have had no satisfactory answers to the questions, and that is my point. The Government have failed to produce objective and reliable data and the documents obtained by my hon. Friend Justine Greening under the Freedom of Information Act demonstrate the Government's efforts to fix the figures to suit the case that they want to make. They show close involvement by BAA in the data and modelling used by the Government in those critical environmental issues, despite the fact that the company's direct and obvious commercial interest in the outcome of the debate means that it cannot possibly be disinterested.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I would be delighted if the hon. Lady could confirm that she disagrees with the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition last Friday to a business audience. He said of Heathrow that it

"should go through the planning system in the proper way".

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

I do not know whether the Secretary of State thinks that cosy meetings at BAA headquarters to "reforecast" and fix the figures to get the answer that is wanted are a proper way to conduct the planning process, or indeed any other process. I do not think it was proper for the Secretary of State to make up her mind before the planning process even started.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

A further question sprang from the one intervention that I managed to make on the Secretary of State. It seemed from her answer that she prefers to fly between Glasgow and Edinburgh rather than using high-speed rail. Of course, she is free to clarify that point if she wants to. What is the Opposition Front Benchers' preferred form of travel between mainland cities in the UK? Is it air or rail?

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

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has brought up that issue. Frankly, I was enormously disappointed by what the Secretary of State had to say about high-speed rail. It was astonishing. At the end of my speech, I shall talk in detail about how we think we should progress with that issue.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I am really confused. The Leader of the Opposition said to a business audience—we know that the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and London First all support the expansion of Heathrow—that once the consultation process the Government are carrying out is complete the policy should proceed through the planning process. I do not know whether the hon. Lady understands that we have not gone through a planning process but, rather, consultation on the evidence. Does she disagree with the Leader of the Opposition that it should now proceed to the planning process and go through that detailed level of inquiry?

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

I have already answered that question, so I shall go back to my speech.

Let me take each of the four issues in turn. NOx pollution probably provides the greatest practical hurdle for the Government's expansion plans.

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

No. The hon. Gentleman has had his chance.

As we have heard, NOx pollution can worsen bronchitis, asthma and respiratory problems. It is a serious issue. Heathrow's proximity to the M4 and the M25, which are some of the busiest roads in Europe, means that there is already a significant problem with NOx emissions from cars travelling to the airport. As we have heard, tough new EU limits on NOx emissions will become legally binding from 2010. Already, the combined emissions from air and surface traffic see limit values regularly exceeded around the airport. The Government simply have no credible plans for how to meet the limits in the EU directive with an expanded airport that will have nearly 50 per cent. more flights and a possible increase in the number of passengers a year from 67 million to about 135 million. The only hope of dealing with that problem would be to secure a major modal shift on to public transport, yet Government targets set eight years ago to increase public transport use for travel to Heathrow have not been met. BAA has actually reduced its targets in that area.

The Government have effectively abdicated responsibility for the issue, leaving it to BAA to solve. That, of course, leaves open the possibility that cheaper options such as M4 congestion charging or a £20 airport drop-off fee might be the preferred commercial solution, regardless of the views of local people and the impact on local business, as opposed to more imaginative, but I would have thought, more expensive proposals such as that from Ove Arup for a Heathrow northern hub to link in with the national rail network.

On NOx, the Government are making an enormous leap of faith. They are banking on a major advance in vehicle technology providing the headroom to allow the number of cars to increase significantly without an overall increase in NOx emissions. Astonishingly, they are basing their optimistic assumptions at least partly on data and analysis supplied by BAA. Even the Environment Agency, the Government's own environment adviser, stated that the Government had not produced robust evidence on dealing with that serious problem.

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

I will in one moment.

The agency also highlighted the morbidity and mortality impact of such pollution on a dense local population around Heathrow. If the hon. Lady can give me the answer to the NOx question, I shall happily give way.

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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

I suspect that I am one of the very few Members who has actually done NOx emission testing, as well as SOx—sulphur oxides—emission testing, for more than 18 months, so I think I know what I am talking about. On NOx emissions, I was fortunate to be one of the first people in the country to implement Tory legislation on NOx emissions. It was immensely difficult, because the legislation was passed but there was no instrumentation to measure the level of NOx emissions. There is always a dispute between technologies when we come to measure NOx emissions. There will be a dispute here, and we should surely seek a correlation of opinion that satisfies the majority. All companies that produce the equipment could be prosecuted by Europe, and I hope that they would be. They are striving to achieve the emission levels that we are seeking.

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

Of course it is essential that we have reliable measurement, but that still does not explain how the Government will deal with the NOx problem and achieve the shift on to public transport that is needed to deal with it.

Secondly, we all know that aircraft noise is hugely important in terms of its impact on the quality of life of thousands across the south-east who live under Heathrow's flight paths. The Government assume—we have heard it again today from the Secretary of State—that by the time a third runway becomes operational, a whole new fleet of quieter aircraft will be in the air. I certainly hope that there will be significant improvements in the fleet mix and a shift to quieter engines, but again the Government's predictions depend at least partly on data supplied by BAA, and Ministers have wholly disregarded the "Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England" report, which they themselves commissioned. It concluded that annoyance from aircraft noise starts at a much lower level than is set out in the criteria that the Government are using. Furthermore, after their shameful bid to lift the cap on night flights, the Government still refuse to give long-term guarantees that that vital protection will be retained. Frankly, the obligations that they place on BAA to pay for noise insulation for schools and homes affected by Heathrow are wholly inadequate.

Thirdly, the Government have simply made no proper effort to explain the impact that a projected increase to 702,000 flights at Heathrow will have on the fight against climate change. Even if they promised to cap flight numbers, which they have yet to do, who would believe them? They were, after all, the Government who started pressing ahead with proposals to dispense with the 480,000 limit set for T5 before the terminal had even opened for business. Controversially, as we have heard, the Government's carbon calculations failed to include the impact of inbound international flights, but they also failed to include the impact of thousands of cars arriving at the airport every day to drop off passengers.

Fourthly, and finally, the Government have failed to look with any real seriousness at the alternatives to a third runway or mixed mode. HACAN ClearSkies, which has campaigned on the issue for many years, has highlighted the significant number of flight movements at Heathrow to destinations where there is a viable rail alternative. As the Aviation Minister told the House on Monday, the experience with high-speed rail in France has shown that, where a good rail alternative is available, consumers will frequently choose it over flying.

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Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I have a simple question for the hon. Lady: does she support aviation expansion in the south-east? Yes or no?

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

We need answers to the environmental questions about the future of Heathrow.

Even conventional rail can help to deliver modal shift, as the Secretary of State has pointed out. That has been demonstrated by the reduction in flights between London and Manchester as a result of even the limited improvement to the west coast main line in recent years.

If we could find a way to make progress towards building a north-south high-speed rail link to Heathrow and the channel tunnel, we could dispense with hundreds of the flights now clogging up the airport. On the eve of the launch of the channel tunnel rail link, I called on the Secretary of State to work with me in taking forward the case for more high-speed rail in this country, but she declined. The Government have set their face against high-speed rail, and the right hon. Lady made that even clearer today than she has in the past.

The Government have missed a huge opportunity to transform the debate on airport expansion. I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the Government's position and to make a full and proper assessment of whether high-speed rail could provide solutions to a very difficult problem.

In conclusion, the Government have fiddled the figures on Heathrow, and they have failed to address the key environmental test or to give proper consideration to the viable alternatives to Heathrow expansion. They have also failed to make the case for expansion, and that is why we shall vote against the Government amendment this afternoon.

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Several hon. Members:

rose —

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Speaker imposed an eight-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches. However, because of the limited amount of time, I am going to impose a six-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions in the hope that all those who wish to speak will be able to do so.

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Photo of Alan Keen Alan Keen Labour, Feltham and Heston 5:56 pm, 2nd April 2008

I shall be as brief as possible, although even eight minutes would not have been enough for me to make a proper argument about the important issues that we face.

The Secretary of State said that I was passionate about Heathrow airport and air transport. I used to be very proud of Heathrow, and in fact 45 years ago this week I first started work only a few miles away from the airport. I have lived and worked within six miles of it ever since, and I understand the air transport industry very well. More than anything else, however, I am passionate about my constituents who suffer from the noise. Improvements to aircraft engines may lead to greater quietness, but that is irrelevant: unless engines become completely silent and planes are able to take off and land vertically, many thousands of people in west London will still be affected to their detriment.

I shall put a very simple argument on behalf of my constituents, but if I get time I shall also read out some of the comments that I have received from them. I shall then leave it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to stop me.

If I seem a bit shaken, it is because a note from my office was passed to me a few minutes ago. The note said that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Ann Keen—who has campaigned against a third runway for five years—would be unable to attend the debate because she was on a maternity visit. I only hope that she is making the visit in her capacity as a Health Minister. If that is not the case, I hope that the House will wish me well—and that it is a girl. [ Laughter. ] She will kill me later.

In the short time available to me, I shall concentrate on the two main problems facing my constituents. The first is the Cranford agreement; the consultation asked whether people wanted it to be scrapped. The agreement has existed since the 1950s. It has never been written down, but it ensures that planes always take off from the southern runway when the wind is blowing from the east. The agreement does not suit everyone, but it means that people in the village—which is very close to the airport fence—do not have to suffer the dreadful roar of engines when a plane takes off. If the agreement were done away with, life for the people in Cranford ward would be absolutely unbearable. We would have to give them money to move—an awful lot of money.

If the continued expansion of Heathrow is so desperately important for Britain's economy, where would a fourth runway go? I can tell the Secretary of State that no such proposal is going to work. If we are to expand the air transport industry, we will have to look for a site for a new airport, where the noise will not affect people. The industry is very short of sensible, long-term planning, and we cannot trust the people who lead it. They lied during the terminal 5 inquiry, as has been noted in the debate already. I previously always supported expansion at Heathrow. I supported terminal 5 because we needed extra capacity in Heathrow. It is relevant to note that three Members of Parliament who previously supported expansion—my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth, John Wilkinson who was a previous Member for Ruislip-Northwood, and I—changed our minds. It is significant that people who always supported expansion changed their minds when it came to expanding outside the present boundaries, and I support my hon. Friend John McDonnell. It is a desperate situation.

To return to my constituents, I have mentioned the Cranford agreement, which prevents planes from taking off on the northern runway when the wind is from the east, as the noise is absolutely unbearable. For 13 years, I worked under the flight path half a mile from the touchdown point on the southern runway—half a mile from where a plane crash landed a few weeks ago. The mixed mode is absolutely unacceptable; I could read quotes from constituents who say that they cannot enjoy their gardens at all when planes are landing or taking off. That problem extends a long way—to Richmond Park and even further east. If mixed mode comes in, it will be the end of runway alternation. I do not need to explain that to people on the Liberal Democrat Benches; I am sure that Susan Kramer will get her own back on colleagues later this evening. If we bring in mixed mode, thousands of people will never again be able to enjoy their gardens. We are not talking about 1,000 or 2,000 people, but many thousands, and that is not acceptable.

Let me address the Ministers. I know how the system works. Ministers are suddenly transferred into a new Department. The technology on air transport is not straightforward, but there are civil servants who understand it, and obviously the air transport industry understands it pretty well. People like me are never asked for advice by Ministers. Only one Minister has asked me for advice, despite the fact that I have lived under a flight path for 45 years. I understand the position, and things are very difficult for Ministers. It is difficult to come into a new Department determined to change the policy that is already in place. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Jim Fitzpatrick, and the Secretary of State have a chance to show that they have guts and determination—that they are politicians who will work for the people of the United Kingdom. By that I mean that they will look at the long-term future of air transport. I care about the industry, and so do the people in my constituency who suffer its noise. They care about it because it is they who built up and worked for the industry.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's time is up.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 6:02 pm, 2nd April 2008

May I start by declaring some interests? I represent 70,000 people who live right up against the boundary fence of Heathrow, and a work force 26 per cent. of whom depend directly on the airport for their jobs. I represent a constituency in which the majority of residents support another runway, and I represent a borough council that formally supports another runway. Heathrow has serious problems, and those problems are already costing it business and will soon cost us jobs.

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Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South

Am I right in thinking that there is more or less full employment around Heathrow, and therefore that the creation of more jobs is not part of the case for continuous expansion?

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I have never argued for more jobs at Heathrow; all that I have argued is that there should be no redundancies in Spelthorne. That is the job-related issue that bothers me.

Before terminal 5 was built, there was a lack of terminal capacity. Heathrow's capacity was 40 million people, but 60 million were using it. Hopefully—I stress hopefully—terminal 5, the replacement of terminals 1 and 2 and the renovation of the other terminals will solve the terminal problem, but it will not solve the problem of the lack of runway capacity. Solving the lack of runway capacity at Heathrow is crucial and urgent, and I advance that argument not only for economic reasons. I accept the environmental problems, but there are, curiously, further environmental issues that we should consider.

For example, another runway would mean that those living under the flight paths of the existing two would have fewer flights overhead. If we end up with mixed mode operation—I oppose but fear we will get it—another runway would mean that we could bring back alternation. That would stop fuel being wasted as aircraft queued at the end of runways. It would stop fuel being wasted by aircraft going round and round and round until somebody found them a runway slot. It would stop some minor events, such as bad weather, causing enormous local Heathrow problems, which again, damage the environment.

Add to that little list the advent of much quieter, far less polluting aircraft and the new rail link, which the Liberal spokesman, Norman Baker, did not seem to know anything about, and we have the beginnings of a case—a much lengthier case, which I cannot make in six minutes—that the environmental issues can indeed be overcome.

I want to discuss for a moment the details of the Liberal Democrats' motion and their spokesman's ill-researched speech. He began by admitting that there is a mistake in his motion, but the mistake is what he will vote for. That is extraordinary. He spoke about alternation, but when challenged he demonstrated that he has no idea what mixed mode and alternation are. He went on to say that transit passengers are irrelevant. That proves that he does not even begin to understand what the significance of a hub airport really is. Without those transit passengers, many long-haul routes at Heathrow, irrespective of which airline operates them, would no longer be viable and the UK would suffer from the lack of international communications through a major hub airport.

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State

In relation to a hub airport, will the hon. Gentleman not concede that increasing the number of transit passengers has a diminishing return? The requirement is an adequate number of destinations with an adequate number of flights. An ever-increasing number of destinations with an ever-increasing number of flights brings nothing additional to the economy. That is the point that has been missed in the economics of this farce.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

The hon. Lady fails to point out to the House the fact that the problem is that Heathrow is losing routes. It is a question not of gaining them, but of stopping the haemorrhage and getting back the ones we have lost.

The hon. Member for Lewes went on to show even more clearly that he did not have the slightest idea what he was talking about when he said that a new high-speed rail link was an effective alternative. In an intervention on the Secretary of State, I rather made the point that the choice of flying to Amsterdam or of catching a train to London and then a tube is a no-contest. People would simply fly somewhere else. High-speed rail is essential for people who want to travel to London from the north, but not if people want to go to Tokyo.

The Liberal Democrat motion claims that the consultation is "deeply flawed". The justification advanced for that is that the Department for Transport has consulted with BAA. I should have thought that we would condemn the Department for not consulting BAA, because when, tragically, there is a crash, I have never yet heard anybody say that the crash inspectors must not consult the airframe and engine manufacturers. It is common sense to talk to those people.

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

That is a gross distortion of what I said. I said that there was nothing wrong with BAA talking to the Government and that it was perfectly proper that it did so. My concern was that BAA had influenced the Government to an unnecessary and unhealthy degree.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I do not have time to get locked into a debate. I will happily answer him afterwards.

The Liberal Democrat motion claims that the economic case is overstated. It is not. Heathrow is this country's only hub airport. Its continuing success is essential for the future of the British economy and for the UK's ability to compete internationally. It is essential for Heathrow to see off foreign competition. It is essential to safeguard tens of thousands of jobs, many of which are those of my constituents.

A Labour Member raised the question of a brand new hub airport somewhere else. Yes, if the map was blank, we could have a discussion about whether Heathrow was a sensible place for our hub airport, but we are where we are. If we built a brand new airport somewhere else, the first thing that would happen, as happens at any other new airport, is that people would build houses next to it. It would require the most massive subsidy from public funds. It would result in a huge number of jobs in west London and in my constituency disappearing, even if all they had to do was move across to the Thames estuary. It would lead to a serious loss of foreign business and foreign investment. If the foreign people round Heathrow were forced to go somewhere else, my guess is that they would go to Paris or Frankfurt rather than scuttle out to the Thames estuary.

My case is simple. Solving the runway problem at Heathrow is essential for my constituency, for the Thames valley, for London and for the whole of the United Kingdom. I beg the House not simply to take my word for it. Listen to the majority of my constituents. Listen to the formal opinion of Spelthorne borough council. Listen to the trade unions, which also want to protect their members' jobs. Listen to local, regional and national businesses, and then listen to the passengers. Heathrow urgently needs another runway, provided we can overcome the environmental problems.

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Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea 6:11 pm, 2nd April 2008

I am grateful for a six-minute chance to explain my difficulty. I certainly cannot support the Liberal Democrat motion, which is deeply flawed and appears to want to abolish runway alternation or, as Norman Baker called it, runway alteration, which might be a better idea. I have sympathy with some of the other points, such as keeping the cap on flights at 480,000.

I could not have supported the Conservative amendment if it had been selected. The Conservatives are deeply divided on the fundamental issues. I also cannot support the Government amendment, because it refers to the economic case for expansion, presupposing that there is an economic case for expansion at Heathrow. The title of the consultation document, "Adding capacity at Heathrow airport", also presupposes that the outcome of the consultation will be additional capacity.

I want the present limit, 480,000 flights, to be maintained. That is about 40 planes an hour. I have confidence that Ministers will approach the consultation with an open mind. I hope that they will have the courage to say no to British Airways and to the British Airports Authority and come up with the answer that I think is the right one, which will not allow any expansion of Heathrow or any added capacity.

I shall make two short points in my brief contribution. First, I reiterate the point that I made to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the 54 dB contour. People who live within the 57 dB contour suffer far more. I understand the difficulty of the constituents of my hon. Friend Alan Keen, but they are only tens of thousands. People who live within the 54 dB contour are hundreds of thousands. The end of runway alternation and the imposition of mixed mode would increase the number of people within the 54 dB contour from the present 633,000 to 750,000. That is almost 120,000 more people being subjected to aircraft noise.

People may think that 54 dB is nothing. I had a public meeting in my constituency with 250 people there complaining about 54 dB noise. I can promise my hon. Friends in the rest of south London that if mixed mode comes in and the 54 dB contour goes right across south London, they will have public meetings full of exactly the same kind of people protesting about the amount of noise above their heads. The maps provided by the Department for Transport show that the 54 dB contour, which currently reaches as far as Battersea, would extend as far as New Cross, so a whole new slice of London will be subjected to it.

I have taken a group of nine Battersea residents to see my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick, the Minister, who has been understanding and co-operative. I have written to him with the bones of a solution to the problem; it lies in the part of the consultation about westerly preference. It is a huge anomaly that of every 40 aircraft that land at Heathrow every average hour, 30 land over London and only 10 land going east. Almost all those 10 land over Windsor rather than the southern runway.

There is a flight path into Heathrow that crosses Windsor great park, reservoirs and farm land; hardly anybody lives under it at all. An aircraft using that path to land would disturb only deer, fish and cattle. There is only one village under that flight path and it has a population of 1,609. I am not saying that it should get something that we do not get, but if there were fairness and equal numbers landed from each direction, that would be a huge improvement for the long-suffering residents of south London. I am advocating not that that village should bear the brunt of the noise, but that there should be a fair share through the ending of unnecessary westerly preference.

There is a huge snag, which is the Cranford agreement; I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend Alan Keen, in whose constituency there is a small pocket of streets right up against the fence near the northern runway. Clearly, people living in them should not be subjected to aircraft taking off above their heads. As my hon. Friend said, the answer is money for them to move. That would unlock the potential for aircraft to land at Heathrow going east and save a huge amount of disturbance.

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Photo of Alan Keen Alan Keen Labour, Feltham and Heston

I did not say that those people should be given money to move. They do not want to move; they work at Heathrow airport and are proud of it.

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Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea

There should be compensation of some kind because unnecessary agony and pain is put on residents around Heathrow because of this problem. I could go on to talk about the longer-term problems of Heathrow. No other capital city in western Europe has an airport situated to its west, with the prevailing winds implying that practically every aircraft has to land across the capital. However, that is a long-term problem.

As far as this consultation goes, there is every possibility of finding a way through the problems and reducing—not just capping—the impact on the whole of south-west London of noise from aircraft landing. I look forward to the Minister's finding a way to announce such a measure in respect of the consultation.

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Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Cabinet Office, Shadow Secretary of State 6:17 pm, 2nd April 2008

I am very conscious of the time available and the number of people who want to speak, so I shall take as read my very strong views on a lot of issues—climate change, the negative impact of the third runway, the damage to Sipson, the impact on schools, learning, air quality and traffic congestion, and the huge potential loss for the air-rail hub at Heathrow.

I shall also say little about the quality of the consultation, but it so offended my constituents that Richmond council put out its own survey that had almost 10,000 responses, of which 90 per cent. opposed expansion. That gives an idea of the strength of feeling locally. Furthermore, we did our own little survey, to which there have been 850 responses. Having tabulated the first 450 of them, we know that 99 per cent. of those oppose expansion at the airport.

Noise is the issue mentioned over and over—people who cannot have weddings outside or sit in their gardens whenever aircraft are overhead. There was a wonderful little letter from a certain young William, who cannot hear "Thomas the Tank Engine". The impact on kids and families is very significant. The very thought that we would end up with mixed mode makes life unbearable; a phenomenal number of people in my area have said that they would simply have to move.

I want to focus on what seems to be the heart of the Government's argument: their economic case, which I find very specious. Listening to those arguments is like listening to the people who argued once upon a time that the way to develop London's economy was to bring motorways criss-crossing through the city to meet the demand for cars. It is exactly the same now with air travel. Of course Heathrow is a hub airport but, as I said earlier, the point about hub airports is that constantly expanding them has diminishing returns. It is attractive to the aviation industry to bring more transfer passengers into Heathrow—BA and BAA love that, because it serves their narrow business interests extremely well.

The former chief executive of BAA, Stephen Nelson, said that he thought that 35 per cent. of the expanded number of passengers would be transfer traffic. All continental airports compete for transfer traffic, not destination traffic. Having additional flights to more destinations when all the key destinations are already being served to virtual saturation point brings very little economic benefit. The Government have not absorbed that, and Heathrow is the obvious example. As the Secretary of State said, the number of destinations served at Heathrow has dropped by almost a fifth over the past few years. Passenger numbers have stayed steady and London has gone through its strongest period of economic growth, with more companies coming to London and this area than ever before. There is a complete disconnect in the thinking.

The very complex booklet on UK air passenger demand that has been part of the consultation is conceptually utterly naive, looking merely at a linear relationship between the number of passengers and gross domestic product. It is mathematically complex but has very little understanding of actual behaviour and economic drivers and of the fact that here in London business is changing. Business people do not want to be put on a flight every 10 minutes by their employers—they used to accept that, but no longer. Businesses are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. New technologies are coming through for video conferencing and other ways of communication. High-speed rail is increasingly a preferred option. We are in a period of dynamism and change, and the Government are clinging to an old technology and an old strategy just when they need not do so. The logic of what they say is that we must constantly grow and grow. If there are six new runways in Beijing, then my goodness, we must have more runways here in London. That is utterly unsustainable. If we say that at some point we must draw a line in the sand, let us draw it now before we do additional damage to London's economy and quality of life.

What brings people to this city is in large part the quality of life that is on offer. Expansion means that parts of London and the south-east that have never been affected by noise will be greatly affected by it, including the City and Canary Wharf and, may I say, Kensington and Chelsea. The minute the spouse of a major executive of an American bank says, "I'm damned if I'm going to go and live in that city, because it's bloody unbearable", is the point at which the economic change begins to be delivered in London and we start to lose out. Anyone who thinks that the number of destinations is key should take a look at Frankfurt. It has the most destinations of any of the cities in Europe, but it is not attracting businesses from the UK or anywhere else because people do not want to live there. That is the important underlying issue.

In my last seconds, I say to the Conservatives that this is the day when they must stand up for stopping this expansion now and for ever. Never mind the typo—this is the day to show true colours, stand together and bring an end to this absolutely idiotic plan to expand capacity at Heathrow.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 6:23 pm, 2nd April 2008

I abhor the nature of this debate. I am unhappy that it has become party political knockabout. [ Interruption. ] I am not being pompous. This issue is too important to most of us. To be frank, all those of us opposed to a third runway should have got together and even helped to draft the motion.

For many people out there, the message that comes across loudly is that this place is becoming good enough only for climbing on the roof and hanging their banners, and useful for nothing else. Many people think that the third runway is already going ahead because the Government have made up their mind about it. We cannot blame them for that. As my hon. Friend Alan Keen said, they have been lied to and deceived for decades. On the fourth terminal, they were told there would be no further expansion by a Conservative Government; on the fifth terminal, an inspector says no, and BAA writes a letter to promise no further expansion; and a Labour Government then cap that, but within six months the cap is under contest.

Even during the current process, the White Paper referred to a third runway, but did not mention a sixth terminal in any detail. It referred to one village, but it is not just one—as has been said, more than six are involved, including Harmondsworth, Harlington, Longford and Cranford Cross. First of all it was said that just under 100 homes were at risk, but we then learned that it was to be 700, affecting 1,000 people. We then discover that it is actually 4,000 homes and 10,000 people. We are told that an objective analysis has gone on and that detailed discussion has taken place based on the free flow of information. It has not. I pay tribute to Justine Greening for the work that she has done under the Freedom of Information Act to extract information.

All the way through this process, people believed that the Government sought to deceive them because they had already made up their mind. The consultation process has been a farce. The exhibitions have been meaningless and the distribution of materials has been chaotic. I say to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick, that it is unacceptable for the Secretary of State not to come to my constituency and meet people who will lose their homes when she has taken the time to visit Heathrow airport to meet aviation companies instead. That does not respect the standards of decency of any Government whatever.

As far as the discussions on collateral costs are concerned, there has been no planning and no meetings with any authority, or any of us, about what will happen to our constituents if they are forced out of their homes. Let us remember that three schools, a community centre and a hospice are affected, and now we have discovered that the road network goes through the cemetery in my local community—Cherry lane cemetery, in which we are still burying our dead. That is what is happening at the moment.

There has been no financial analysis. During the discussions on the original White Paper we were told that alternatives were looked at. They were not looked at in any detail and my right hon. Friend Mr. Raynsford raised the point that there had been inadequate discussion about alternative sites. There was inadequate discussion about rail alternatives. Today, HACAN ClearSkies has submitted a letter to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary outlining the options available to relieve Heathrow through further rail investment.

As far as economic analysis is concerned, we have not been told what the overall costs will be and what the burden will be on the public exchequer. We all know about the state of Ferrovial and the high leverage buy-out it made of BAA. Even given the increase in landing charges allowed by the CAA recently, we know about the financial problems that that company has, and we know that it is running into difficulties in other deals. I say to my hon. Friends that I resent paying public money to subsidise the profits of a company that was founded by a fascist who made his money out of his relationship with Franco and his dealings behind the scenes through Opus Dei.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman will withdraw those remarks.

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

I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am referring to the company, which was founded by a fascist who had a relationship with Franco. That is who I condemn. If that is out of order, please advise me.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I understand. You are saying the company; I thought that you were referring to an individual.

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

Can I just explain, then, that the individual was a fascist? He fought on the side of the fascists against the republicans in the civil war. He made his profits as a result of his relationship with Franco. I understand if there has been a misinterpretation.

I return to the point that people out there feel that the decision has already been made. I shall give some examples. People have referred to the fact that the Prime Minister, when Chancellor, made statements in favour of the expansion of Heathrow. He has also made such statements as Prime Minister. We had the gaffe on Monday on terminal 5, when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary referred to the consultation and said:

"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."—[ Hansard, 31 March 2008; Vol. 474, c. 434.]

Three minutes later, he is passed a note by the lawyers, and has to correct the statement.

I also refer hon. Members to what has happened in my own borough. The London borough of Hillingdon received a notice from the planning inspectorate and the Department saying that it had to amend its local planning framework to take into account a third runway and a sixth terminal, pre-empting the consultation on the development of the framework.

I refer to what happened to the Mayor of London, whom one of my constituents contacted because he came out against the expansion and the third runway—as have all the other candidates, on which I congratulate them. My constituent wrote to ask the Mayor why he had not included his opposition in his development plan. We received the following response:

"When the Authority published the proposed alterations to the London Plan for public consultation in... 2006, they set out firm opposition to expansion... ('additional runway capacity at Heathrow is therefore opposed'). However, the Government objected to this wording and asked that these words be removed. The Plan cannot be published without Government approval and the Authority has therefore reluctantly agreed to delete these words so that Government would allow the plan to be published".

That is why people outside believe that the decision has already been made. The Government have fixed the White Paper and the consultation process. They are bullying local authorities and even the Mayor of London to try to undermine the opposition throughout our communities, and, thereby, the decision-making process of the House.

I therefore demand that the matter be brought to the Chamber for decision.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Shadow Minister (Treasury), Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party 6:30 pm, 2nd April 2008

I am pleased finally to be able to contribute to the debate. All I ever wanted was to have a fact-based discussion about the right decision on the matter.

The issue is clearly important in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields. We are especially concerned about the proposals for runway alternation. The current half day of respite that we get from aircraft noise is massively valued. Families live in my area and love the open space and all-day flights would fundamentally undermine our quality of life. When we held a public meeting to consider the proposed expansion, more than 700 people turned up at St. Mary's church in Putney. There were not more only because the church was full. We had to hold a public meeting because, in spite of a direct promise from the former Minister with responsibility for aviation in 2006 to hold a public exhibition in my constituency and in the borough of Wandsworth, it did not happen. Since I became a Member of Parliament and before that, I have emphasised that aircraft noise is a genuine problem.

We know that all-day noise will have an impact on not only residents but our local children. I am a governor at Hotham primary school in Putney, and it will be affected, as well as All Saints and Brandlehow schools. Those children's education will be fundamentally disrupted by the all-day noise overhead.

I am disappointed and frustrated that the Liberal Democrat motion has not been designed to gain broad support in the House. Obviously, it contains a glaring error and a mistake about runway alternation. I also believe that it is in error because it does not call on the Government to get rid of mixed mode as well as the proposal for a third runway. I cannot support it because having all-day flights over Putney would put my constituents at risk, and that would be wrong.

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

I am afraid that I do not have much time. I understand the concerns of the Liberal Democrats, and our amendment states that the expansion proposal cannot and should not go ahead.

The freedom of information results that I have obtained clearly show that BAA was so involved with modelling the air pollution and noise that there was a BAA forecasting team. BAA also sat on the Heathrow project board. I do not remember being invited to sit on that board as a key stakeholder and local Member of Parliament. That applies to hon. Members of all parties. BAA was involved in writing the consultation document and was actively asked for input. Meeting minutes show that it was not only asked to do that but that, a couple of months later, it provided some input, which has been incorporated.

BAA was involved with the Department for Transport in developing joint lines to take to deal with media and press inquiries—and, no doubt, Members from the south and their constituents. That is fundamentally wrong. BAA had to seek out and employ WS Atkins to conduct part of the peer review. Again, that is wrong and gives an impression of a review of whether the environmental tests could be overcome that is led not by the Department for Transport but by BAA. The Secretary of State shakes her head, but that is exactly how the minutes come across.

As I said in my intervention on the Secretary of State, if she is so happy that the environmental case has been made, why will she not release the detailed data, after nearly a year of my trying to obtain them through every possible method? Why do the minutes say that the fleet mix used to estimate noise and air pollution was still being modified right into September last year, just weeks before the consultation?

I have notes in which BAA is asked by the Department for Transport to redo the modelling. Those notes say:

"Given the urgent timetable to which my colleagues on the Heathrow team are working, would it be possible for you to provide the required tables by the end of this week please?"

That does not sound like a DFT-led proposal. Interestingly, the people at BAA said in response that they were concerned that the re-forecasting scenarios

"would not provide you with data which is sufficiently robust to be cited in the consultation document."

I do not have e-mails from after that, however, so I do not know what eventual decision was taken, but I know that BAA was heavily involved, to an inappropriate extent.

I will wrap up. We have talked about the fact that CO2 emissions have not been properly accounted for. It is ridiculous for the Secretary of State to say that half the flights should have been excluded. "How to use the Shadow Price of Carbon in policy appraisal", a document issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says that the impact on greenhouse gas emissions

"should be net change from an assumed baseline rate of emissions. The assumed baseline are emissions in the absence of the policy."

There would be 220,000 fewer plane movements every year in the absence of the policy, yet they have not been included at all.

The reality is that the consultation has been a sham. It has let Londoners down and shown that the Government are out of touch. It is absolutely right that we are tabling a motion to say—

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton 6:36 pm, 2nd April 2008

I am not a local MP to Heathrow, unlike others in the Chamber tonight, but I have a strong interest in two aspects of the debate. The first is the evidential basis for the forecast of air quality and noise impacts, and the second is the status and weight—or perhaps the lack of them—given to climate change considerations in the final judgment.

On the first issue, the conclusion reached—that one can bolt a new airport the size of Gatwick on to Heathrow without any adverse environmental impacts—never commanded any credibility and, frankly, has attracted a great deal of derision. However, what was so disturbing about the story in The Sunday Times on 9 March is the exposure—uncovered by the excellent work of Justine Greening—of just how deceptive and manipulative Departments can be in pursuit of a pre-determined objective.

The documents show that BAA gave directions to Department for Transport officials on how to strip out data in the consultative document that showed that the expansion would cause unlawful levels of pollution and extra noise. The documents show that BAA repeatedly selected alternative data for the consultation, which were devised in order to secure the result that showed an insignificant impact on noise and pollution. The documents show that the Department for Transport apparently gave unprecedented access to confidential papers and allowed the company to help to rewrite the final document.

The documents also show that the final document significantly reduced the likely greenhouse gas emissions of the third runway, by excluding incoming international flights. We also know that one official closely involved in Project Heathrow, which researched the environmental impacts of the runway, said:

"It's a classic case of reverse engineering. They knew exactly what results they wanted and fixed the inputs to get there. It's appalling."

If all that is true—I am not aware that any of it has been denied—it indicates that a line has been crossed that is not acceptable. The era of spin and manipulation in this country has done untold damage to our political culture. Politics in this country will not recover until people are confident that they are being given the truth, however hard the truth is, and that it is not simply being massaged in order to suit the interests of the powers that be.

I say all that much more in sorrow than in anger, but certain implications follow from it. Frankly, the consultative document should be withdrawn and replaced by a much more honest and accurate one, before it is legally challenged in court, which I expect it will be, and before a judge requires it to be withdrawn.

I think that there must be accountability for such behaviour. I assume that no Minister was directly involved in the massaging of these data, but I believe that leading civil servants—including, as has been mentioned, David Gray, who appears in all the documents—should be disciplined and, if necessary, removed, which is what I believe would occur in any other sector of employment.

It pains me to agree with the Opposition motion, but I believe that the Government have got to stop going through the motions of consultation, when it is clear to everyone that they have already made up their minds. It happened with GM foods; it happened with nuclear power; it happened with Trident; and now it is happening with the third runway. The Government should listen more to the voices of the people—in this case, the long-suffering and much put-upon people of west London—and listen less exclusively to the big financial and industrial barons. I simply say that what is good for BA and BAA is not necessarily good for the UK.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton

I have no time.

The second fundamental issue that I wish to address—in a minute and a half, or, actually, even less— [Interruption.] I wanted to talk about the relationship between aviation and climate change, but I shall save that for a future occasion.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:41 pm, 2nd April 2008

I shall start by picking up where Mr. Meacher left off, as the link between aviation and climate change provides the context for this debate. The right hon. Gentleman will know that only last November the Department for Transport projected emissions growth from aviation. It said that, even taking account of the radiative forcing effects, 9 per cent. of our current emissions come from aviation; by 2020 it will rise to 15 per cent.; and by 2050, 29 per cent. That means huge potential growth in the emissions from aviation, and here we are looking at expanding a major airport. The two simply do not sit together, and if we are serious about tackling climate change, we have to say no to the third runway at Heathrow.

This has been a debate of contrasts. We have had some very clear contributions, and it is noticeable that all four Back-Bench contributions from Labour Members were opposed to the Government's position. Alan Keen provided a knowledgeable and passionate defence of his constituents and their interests; Martin Linton, who is no longer in his place, raised the issue of those just below the top decibel threshold and the many more who will be affected by the noise impact of Heathrow; John McDonnell talked about the growth in promises, and the dodgy consultations that we have already seen on nuclear power and we are seeing now with Heathrow; and the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton highlighted, as have others, the role of BAA in all this. No one doubts that it has to supply information; no one doubts that it is an interested party, but it has to be open and transparent.

I echo the tributes paid to Justine Greening for her perseverance, which should not have been necessary. The information should have been in the public domain. If the Government have nothing to hide, why will they not— [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says "It is" from a sedentary position, but I strongly suspect that there is a long list of information that the hon. Member for Putney has requested that has not been put in the public domain—environmental information, for example, which needs to be in the public domain now.

Before moving on, I should also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Susan Kramer, who has been absolutely unambiguous about her position on the third runway and has been a doughty campaigner. The contrast between her position and that of the official Opposition could not be more acute. The House has the right to know the position of each of the major parties. The Secretary of State is clearly pro a third runway, as she said earlier that there is "a clear need" for "extra runway capacity" at Heathrow. She did not say that it was subject to anything. The record will show that she said that— [Interruption.] The Minister may wish to qualify it, but that is what the Secretary of State said.

In contrast, the shadow Transport Secretary said that there were four tests, but the implication of that for another runway is that if the tests are passed, the runway goes ahead. When I intervened to ask her whether the runway would go ahead if the tests were passed, she said something to the effect that the tests were not being passed and it was all very difficult. But it is not very difficult. Either the runway should or should not go ahead or it is conditional on passing the tests. If the Conservatives are saying that it should go ahead subject to the passing of those tests, they should make that clear to the voters of London. The Conservative leader sent an e-mail to a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park on that very issue. One gets a slight sense that the Conservatives—though it pains me to use the expression—say one thing to one set of people and something else to another set of people— [Interruption.]

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Several hon. Members:

rose —

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The leader of the Conservative party said in an e-mail:

"The economic case for expanding Heathrow is now stronger than for expanding any other airport in the South East."

That is one of the official Conservative positions.

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

Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman supports the building of another runway at Stansted?

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, we do not support that.

Where do we go from here? I shadow the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who said on 13 March that

"aviation emissions in Europe will be capped at the 2004 to 2006 level".—[ Hansard, 13 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 406.]

To be fair to the Ministers who are here tonight, that is not what they are saying. They are saying that the aviation industry will just buy carbon emissions above the cap.

The Government are trying to give the impression that extra runway capacity at Heathrow does not matter because the emissions are capped, but of course they are not capped. All that will happen is that the aviation industry will buy carbon credits from other sectors of the economy. If Heathrow is allowed to expand and aviation expansion goes ahead, other sectors of the economy will not just have to meet the carbon reduction targets that we think they should meet anyway but will have to go even further, which means that the British industry will have to go even further and householders will have to go even further. Why should constant attempts be made to satiate what my hon. Friend Norman Baker rightly described as the insatiable appetite of the aviation industry?

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip

Could the hon. Gentleman explain again why his party thinks it is such a great idea to end runway alternation?

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

For the avoidance of doubt, the Liberal Democrats oppose the ending of runway alternation. [Interruption.] That is absolutely clear. Anyone who reads the motion as a whole can be in no doubt about that.

In the few minutes remaining to me, let me pose this question: what is the alternative strategy? At the beginning of her speech, the Secretary of State criticised us for suggesting that not everyone should be able to go on every holiday they want, and that not every business should be able to take every business flight. She criticised us for suggesting that there should be constraint. She also said, however, that she did not favour predict and provide, and that the growth would be less than the predicted demand.

There is no difference between our position and the Government's—we both accept that the growth of airport traffic will be rationed—but, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, the Liberal Democrats have stated explicitly that that should involve substituting high-speed rail for air travel, which is far more relevant, and also demand management, which means raising the cost of flying through carbon taxation and rationing. If the Government are serious about meeting their carbon emission targets, they must accept the need for measures of that kind.

The Climate Change Bill, to which reference has been made, does not even mention aviation. It is not included in the targets. Only carbon dioxide emissions are capped by the trading scheme; other aviation emissions are not capped in the same way. It is not the case that there is no problem with emissions as a result of airport expansion. It is clear that there is a problem, even given the trading scheme. The next phase, which applies to aviation, will not be introduced until three or four years from now, and in the meantime the emissions will continue to increase. That is the key point.

As we have heard from Members representing constituencies in the area, this is predominantly a local issue, but it is also a national and a global issue. Important issues have been raised by Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, but we are in danger of losing sight of the bigger picture: the soaring contribution of aviation emissions to climate change.

One of the problems with tackling climate change is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not control transport policy, so Heathrow gets expanded. It does not control energy policy, so we get new coal-fired power stations. It does not control the rules on new houses, so no effective action is taken on emissions from housing. Regrettably, we have a weak Department responsible for the environment and a powerful Transport Department, with powerful friends alongside it, shaping the consultation. That is why, on an environmental basis and on a transport basis, this is a fundamentally flawed prospectus.

To conclude, there have been two clear positions in this debate: that of the Liberal Democrats, who oppose the third runway at Heathrow, and that of the Government, who have clearly made up their mind already. What we have had from the Conservatives is fudge and bluster, and the electorate will find them out.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 6:50 pm, 2nd April 2008

This has rightly been another lively debate on the issue of Heathrow. That reflects the importance not only of the airport to the economy and as the UK's aviation hub, but of the need to balance that with proper concern for the environment.

Before trying to address some of the points that Members have made, I would like to comment on the recent consultation exercise. Several Members criticised the "Adding capacity at Heathrow airport" consultation. By any standards, it has been a major democratic exercise: summary documents were mailed to more than 217,000 households; consultation documents were sent to more than 700 stakeholder organisations; it was widely publicised, in both the national and local media and elsewhere; 13 public exhibitions were held in communities around the airport and in central London; the consultation materials were available on request and online; and a dedicated call centre was in operation throughout. Almost 5,000 people visited the exhibitions, and we have received more than 70,000 responses. That explains why the consultation has met, and in some aspects exceeded, the Cabinet Office guidance on the conduct of such exercises.

The lengths to which we have gone to inform the public and others about our proposals is a clear statement of our determination to ensure that final policy decisions are fully informed by the views of as many stakeholders as possible. So despite the criticisms of some, I am firmly of the view that this consultation—albeit on a subject that many feel passionately about—has been conducted in an exemplary manner.

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

Against my better instincts, so as not to run the risk of appearing rude I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip

The hon. Gentleman is always very courteous. Can he tell me why I did not receive a consultation document when I was only four miles way, whereas people in west London—miles and miles away—did?

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

I knew I should have listened to my instincts and not given way to the hon. Gentleman. He was fully aware that the consultation was taking place, and he could have downloaded the document. As I have said, it was sent to 217,000 households.

The analysis of the consultation responses will be used to inform final policy decisions on a third runway, on mixed mode, and on other operational procedures. As the House will appreciate, until this analysis has been completed it would be premature for Ministers to comment on the outcomes. What I can say is that we expect to make final policy decisions later this year.

The hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) made accusations of collusion, which we refute entirely. We refute the accusations that the Department has behaved improperly in its relations with BAA plc and in managing the consultation exercise.

The 2003 air transport White Paper made it absolutely clear that we expected the aircraft operator, working with the Civil Aviation Authority, NATS and the Government, to develop proposals to form the basis of consultation. It would not have been sensible, or indeed possible, to attempt this work without the technical and operational expertise of the operator.

I must also say that it is outrageous of my right hon. Friend Mr. Meacher to suggest that civil servants should be disciplined on the basis of an article in a newspaper.

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R

The Minister knows perfectly well that every household in the immediate vicinity should have received the consultation document through the letter box.

Yes, John Randall could have downloaded it but, as the Minister also knows, not everyone has access to the internet.

As it happens, the document was extremely dificult for readers to understand and if it hadn't been for a local council, Hillingdon's mail dropped simple questionnaire, most local people would have have been unable to comment.

Submitted by Roger Dewey

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

The article in The Sunday Times is important, as Members of different parties have raised it this afternoon. Does the Minister believe there are factual inaccuracies in that report, and if so, what are they?

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

I do not have time to go into the detail of the factual inaccuracies in the report in The Sunday Times. What I can say is that we refute the allegations of collusion, and that we stand by the information, the evidence and the data we published in our consultation material, which is edited by, and under the control of, the Department for Transport. I have faith in the professionalism and integrity of the officials at the Department for Transport.

The hon. Member for Lewes raised the issue of airspace availability to support expansion and my response to him at Transport questions. As he knows, safety is the Government's top priority. The Department for Transport has worked with both the CAA and NATS to ensure that proposals for a third runway at Heathrow are fully workable.

NATS has undertaken a feasibility study—I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Lewes has received a letter, but if I could explain the information that I have, perhaps we could compare notes afterwards outside—on the airspace for a third runway and mixed mode. We have published reports for both, along with the consultation document, that show that an expanded airport is operationally feasible in air traffic control terms. Naturally, further detailed work would need to be done if the proposals are taken forward, and consultation would need to take place on final designs under established CAA procedures.

Justine Greening has been raising the question of the release of the environmental data. We originally withheld partial and preliminary results ahead of the consultation, as we are permitted to do under freedom of information legislation. We have published the finished material in depth, in the consultation and the supporting documentation, and it is on the Department for Transport website.

My hon. Friend Alan Keen raised the question of Cranford. The Cranford agreement was introduced when the noise from departing aircraft was significantly higher than it is now. Although it benefits some residents, it is disadvantageous to other communities around Heathrow. The consultation asks for views on whether that is equitable.

I find it staggering that the Liberal Democrats intend to press their motion to a Division even though it has a word missing. That is the type of error that we would not expect from a sixth-form debating society. Forgive me; I am not comparing the Liberal Democrats to a sixth-form debating society, as to do so would be to demean sixth-form debating societies. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for Lewes and colleagues, the words on the Order Paper are not what they meant to say and if they had any integrity they would not press the motion to a vote. They have had their say and stated their position, and they should withdraw the motion when they get the opportunity to do so at the end of the debate, rather than pressing a flawed motion to a vote.

I hope that the hon. Member for Lewes does withdraw the motion, because in my view, and that of the Department for Transport, it shows that the Liberal Democrats are in denial. The motion does not seem to acknowledge that aviation is growing, has been growing and will continue to grow. We must balance our need to provide for that expansion while addressing the challenge of climate change. We have clearly outlined our support for benchmarking emissions at 2004 to 2006 averages, and we have been leading internationally on aviation being incorporated into the emissions trading scheme. Responsible policies are the way forward. We do not have to choose between being rich and dirty or poor and green. The Government have set out their climate change strategy and the Department for Transport has published our policy document "Towards a Sustainable Transport System".

On the contribution by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, I must tell many of her colleagues that although she may not be persuaded that the case has been made for a third runway, the business community has not just been persuaded—it has been actively lobbying for it through most of its organisations. No one is saying that these are easy decisions, but they are important and they are in the wider economic national interest. I suspect that, to a certain extent, the Conservative amendment is partly about getting the name of Mr. Johnson on today's Order Paper, as much as anything else for the sake of the London elections.

In conclusion, the Liberal Democrat motion is plain wrong. It is wrong in its wording, wrong in respect of what is happening in the real world of aviation, wrong in attacking this Government's international efforts to tackle climate change and wrong in its basic conclusion that we can ignore the capacity constraints at Heathrow. In contrast, the amendment standing in the names of the Prime Minister, our right hon. Friends and myself restates how we will address the issue of emissions and climate change, acknowledges the economic importance of Heathrow and refers to the consultation exercise and how we will take this issue forward.

I commend the amendment to the House and ask the hon. Member for Lewes to withdraw his motion. If he does not do so, I ask the House to vote for our amendment and against the motion, which he and his colleagues have accepted is flawed, wrongly worded and does not say what they want it to say.

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Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 66, Noes 265.

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Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No . 31 ( Q uestions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 257, Noes 193.

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Question accordingly agreed to.

Madam Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House recognises that the Government's policy on airport expansion is consistent with its long term, balanced and sustainable aviation strategy as set out in the 2003 White Paper The Future of Air Transport, that its support for emissions trading represents the most effective way of tackling climate change concerns, that the Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport consultation is a robust document that is the product of a lengthy period of comprehensive analysis, that the consultation process followed best practice as set out by the Cabinet Office, that the economic case for the expansion of Heathrow Airport, as set out in the consultation, accurately reflects the Government's current understanding of all the relevant costs and benefits, and that Ministers should base their forthcoming decisions on the future of Heathrow on all the evidence available, including the responses to the consultation.

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The Economic Case for expansion of Heathrow only compares the costs and benefits of expanding Heathrow with those of not expanding Heathrow. If it compared the costs and benefits of expanding Heathrow with a third runway of those with expanding Gatwick with a second runway it would show a net benefit of expanding Gatwick (as shown in the economic modeling published with the Government's consultation on expanding Airport capacity in the South East of Engalnd). The statement on the economic case for expanding Heathrow is therefore disingenuous.

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