The Department for Transport received almost 70,000 responses to the "Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport" consultation, which closed on
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will know that the Liberal Democrats were the first party to oppose the third runway and to support a high-speed rail link. Does he accept that many of the hundreds of daily short-haul flights that go to Heathrow from constituencies such as mine could be replaced by a north-south high-speed rail link, which would be good for the environment, good for the economy and would remove any need for a third runway?
As I have made clear, this is not an alternative—we are not posing expansion at Heathrow as an alternative to high-speed links. It may well be that, on economic grounds, both are required. That is why I have taken forward urgently work in the Department for Transport to look precisely at how we can develop new capacity, new rail links and, if necessary, high-speed rail links. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have regard to the views of the chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, who clearly represents the views of Scottish businesses. He said:
"Heathrow's international route network is a national asset that is therefore every bit as important to Scotland's future as it is to London's."
The Environment Agency made a submission to the consultation. That, of course, will be taken fully into account alongside the other submissions that were made during the relevant period.
Will the Secretary of State be able to give us a definite idea that the decision will be announced before Christmas? Once that decision is made, will we be able to vote on it in the House?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Cabinet Minister best qualified to judge whether the third runway will reach air quality and noise standards is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and will he take his opinions particularly into account?
My hon. Friend will be well aware that the Government in this country operate on the basis of collective Cabinet responsibility, and I am sure that all my colleagues will express their views in their usual fashion.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the controversy surrounding the so-called fantasy plane that has been used in the modelling essentially to force-fit the environmental tests and make them met? From which aircraft manufacturers and jet engine turbine manufacturers has he had confirmation that that plane will ever be in existence?
Of course, I am aware of the controversy. I know that the hon. Lady has researched these matters assiduously, so she will be aware that the assumptions made about that particular aircraft were not helpful in relation to any argument about noise or air quality. It was not a particularly noisy aircraft.
Every single plane that flies from London to north America flies directly over the north of England. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that if they landed, say, at Manchester, they would save half an hour of flying time, 400 miles of fuel on a round-trip and, if a north-south fast railway were built, passengers could be in London as quickly as if they had landed at Heathrow and had to fight their way in from the suburbs of London? Is it not time to think about that seriously as an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow?
How many children will have their education affected by a deteriorating noise environment if the Government press ahead with their plans for a third runway and mixed mode at Heathrow?
The hon. Lady knows full well that a number of schools are in the immediate vicinity of Heathrow. Action has been taken to provide noise insulation at those schools. Clearly, in the event of there being any decision to expand Heathrow, further action would have to be taken to ensure that those schoolchildren were able to attend and participate in lessons in the way that they do already.
According to the local authorities affected, 114 schools and around 100,000 children will suffer from serious noise problems if a third runway goes ahead. Meanwhile, around the world, air traffic is falling, Stelios is telling the easyJet board that the days of exponential passenger growth have gone, and yesterday's pre-Budget report predicted a fall in demand for aviation. Is it not time that the Secretary of State revised down his aviation growth forecasts and scrapped his plans for a third runway and mixed mode at Heathrow?
Unfortunately, the statistics that the hon. Lady quotes are not additional to any decision to build an extra runway. She simply gives the number of children currently affected. I anticipated that in the answer that I gave a few moments ago. She needs to ensure, when she is putting forward this case, that she has her statistics right and that she deploys them accurately as far as the House is concerned, so that we can have a proper debate about these matters. As I made clear at the outset, no decision has been taken on the matter. Any decision that is taken, will be taken in the light of air quality, noise and public transport arrangements.