I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, but frankly, if this is the result of the great row in the Cabinet, his colleagues did not get a very good deal out of it. Let us be in no doubt: this is a bleak day for our environment and for all of us who care about safeguarding it. Labour's plans for a third runway at Heathrow would inflict devastating damage on the environment and on quality of life, and the Conservatives will fight them every step of the way.
I begin with the Secretary of State's commitment to restrict the initial use of the runway, and that at this stage he would give the go-ahead for only 125,000 more flights, rather than 222,000. When does he propose to lift that cap? How long is that tenuous guarantee going to last?
The Secretary of State has admitted again today that Heathrow is already in breach of the EU air quality directive, which will become binding in a year's time. Will he explain how an airport with a massive increase in flights and car journeys to support another 55 million passengers can possibly comply with the directive? Why does he continue to be deaf to the Environment Agency's warning that pollution from a third runway will increase the risk of serious illness and early death around the airport?
Is the Secretary of State concerned that in the debate in the House last year, Members from as far apart as Reading and Greenwich expressed concern about the impact on their constituents of aircraft noise from Heathrow at its present size? Is it not recklessly irresponsible to compound an already serious problem with a new flight path over a densely populated area?
I welcome the Secretary of State's apparent retreat on mixed mode. He says that he will not proceed with it, but again, how long will that guarantee last? How long will residents have that protection?
The Secretary of State claims that only low-emission planes will be allowed to use the new slots generated by a third runway. Which planes will qualify for the green slots that he talked about? Will he admit that there are no planes on the market that are clean or quiet enough to meet the environmental promises that he has already made, never mind the vague pledges on green slots that we have heard today? Will he admit that his Department's expectation of future compliance with the environmental preconditions depends heavily on fantasy green planes that no manufacturer has plans to produce?
The Secretary of State's apparent conversion to high-speed rail gives us little more than warm words and the possibility of a link to Birmingham. Why does he still refuse to accept that high-speed rail could provide an alternative to a third runway by providing an alternative to thousands of short-haul flights? Why will he not admit that the economic arguments for a third runway have been conclusively rebutted, and that there is no convincing evidence that Heathrow will go into a spiral of decline without major expansion?
Frankly, no one believes what the Secretary of State has to say about a limit of 125,000 flights. How does he propose to reconcile a massive increase in flights every year, the equivalent of bolting on to Heathrow a new airport the size of Gatwick, with Labour's legally binding commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent.? Does he really want his political legacy to be the bulldozers rolling out to construct a runway to blight the lives of millions, when instead he could have gone down in history as the man who finally put the brakes on the relentless outward expansion of Heathrow, and demonstrated that the political class has at last woken up to the compelling urgency of climate change?
The Secretary of State has given us assurances on flight caps, on green slots and on a 2050 date for restricting aviation emissions, but the Government's credibility is wholly undermined by their record. They have made every effort to dodge their environmental promises by reverse-engineering the data to get the answers that they wanted. They are seeking a derogation from the EU air quality rules, which are a fundamental pillar of Labour's environmental safeguards. They are the Government who were pushing to lift the terminal 5 flight cap less than a year after Mr. Byers stood at the Dispatch Box and pledged to impose it. They are in disarray over Heathrow, their consultation has been a sham and their aviation White Paper is no longer fit for purpose.
The world has moved on when it comes to Heathrow, but Labour just has not moved with it. The Government are on the wrong side of the argument and their environmental credibility is in tatters. It is time for Labour to scrap its plans for a third runway. If it will not do that, it is time for it to call a general election so that the country can elect a Conservative Government who will prevent this environmental disaster from going ahead.
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