With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about airports policy.
Aviation is a British success story. Today we have the third largest aviation network in the world, second only to the US and China. But with that success comes challenges. Heathrow is full; Gatwick is filling up. If no action is taken, the entire London system will be full by 2040. Yet we need new connections to new cities in new economies. There are other challenges too. Airports create jobs and opportunities. Technology is changing. Planes are becoming quieter and more efficient, but there is still inevitably an environmental impact. For some, the argument seems simple: oppose all expansion anywhere, or back it, but always somewhere else. Yes, there are opportunities in the network of national airports, with global connections from cities such as Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle, but growth there will come alongside growth in the south-east, not instead of it.
That is why in September 2012 Sir Howard Davies was asked to lead a commission on the issue. The Airports Commission’s final report was published less than six months ago. It made a strong case for expansion in the south-east, and we have considered that evidence. The Government accept the case for expansion, and the Government accept the commission’s shortlist of options for expansion. We will begin work straight away on preparing the building blocks for an airport national policy statement in line with the Planning Act 2008. Putting this new framework in place will be essential groundwork for implementing the decisions we take on new capacity, wherever it is to be built.
Sir Howard Davies and his team produced a powerful report. The Heathrow Airport Ltd scheme was recommended by the commission, but all three schemes were deemed viable. We are continuing to consider all three schemes, and we want to see action, but we must get the next steps right, for those keen to push ahead with expansion and for those who will be affected by it.
We will therefore undertake a package of further work. First, we must deal with air quality. I want to build confidence that expansion can take place within the legal limits, so we will accept the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendation to test the commission’s work against the Government’s new air quality plan. Secondly, we must deal with the concerns about noise. I want to get the best possible outcome on this for local residents, so we will engage further with the promoters to make sure that the best package of noise mitigation measures is in place. Thirdly, we must deal with carbon emissions, so we will look at all measures to mitigate carbon impacts and address the sustainability concerns, particularly during construction. Fourthly, we must manage the other impacts on local communities. I want people who stand to lose their homes to be properly compensated for the impacts of expansion, and I want local people to have the best access to the opportunities that expansion will bring, including new jobs and apprenticeships. We will therefore develop detailed community mitigation measures for each of the shortlisted options.
We expect to conclude that package of work by the summer. Critically, that means ensuring that delivery of the timetable for the additional capacity set out by Sir Howard does not alter. The commission reported that an additional runway would be required by 2030, and we intend to meet that requirement. In saying this, I am fully aware that some will wish that we would go further, and others will wish we were making no such progress at all. We are prepared for that, because I want to get this decision right. That means getting the environmental response right and, in the meantime, getting on with the hard work to build the new capacity to the timetable set out by Sir Howard in the commission’s report. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, but it should not have fallen to him to announce that the Prime Minister has broken the clear promise he gave to the House in July, when he said:
“The guarantee that I can give…is that a decision will be made by the end of the year.”—[Hansard, 1 July 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1473.]
So, my first question is simple: why is not the Prime Minister explaining his own U-turn?
My time to respond is very limited due to the brevity of the Secretary of State’s statement, but I want to register our protest against the Government’s decision to announce their new position in the press. The Secretary of State said that,
“when an announcement is to be made, I will make it in the House.”—[Hansard, 10 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 1135.]
Instead, we got a last-minute note from our essay-crisis Prime Minister explaining why he could not meet his own deadline. That shambolic announcement on Thursday has rightly been condemned by businesses and by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
We need a new runway in the south-east, but the environmental concerns have been known since July, so what has the Secretary of State been doing in the past six months? The Government’s announcement was such a shambles that he could not tell us basic information about the new environmental and mitigation work. What are the areas he believes still need to be addressed and were not adequately covered by the Airports Commission? Who will be leading that work? What are the terms of reference and when will it report?
If the Secretary of State cannot answer those basic questions, is it not confirmation that the Government have abandoned everything but the pretence of following due process and that the Prime Minister broke his promise because he has put avoiding a by-election in Richmond Park ahead of the national interest?
Turning to another issue raised by the statement, the Government have always said that the Sub-Committee’s recommendations would be subject to a full Cabinet discussion. Has that discussion taken place or have the Secretary of State’s colleagues been left as much in the dark as the rest of the House?
Finally, what steps will the Secretary of State now take to address the blight and uncertainty that this latest politically motivated delay will cause?
I find it rather hard to accept from the hon. Lady that we are somehow taking too long over this matter. I will go over a little bit of the history. In 2001, Labour Ministers were reported to be seriously considering building a third runway at Heathrow, to relieve the increasing congestion in London. In December 2003, the then Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, published a White Paper on plans for a third runway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow, to be completed within 12 years. In 2007, the then Government published a public consultation document weighted firmly in favour of Heathrow to accommodate a new runway and 220,000 extra flights a year. In 2009, the then Government approved a third runway, taking the number of flights handled by the airport from 480,000 to more than 700,000 a year. It is not worthy of the Labour party to complain about the time we are taking to come to a decision on a very thorough report.
Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition seems to think so as well. He gave an interview on Sky Television last Thursday, during which the correspondent asked him:
“I think people are a little confused at the moment about exactly though what Labour’s policy on Heathrow specifically is. Can you clarify it for us, what is Labour’s position?”
“The position is that we’ve put these questions on how we go ahead with airport expansion on the basis of capacity across the south-east, on the basis of the need for a hub and of course the effects on neighbouring communities and the environment and noise. Those answers have to be given before any decision can be taken about where the expansion should take place.”
It gets better. The correspondent said:
“So, at the moment you do not have a position on Heathrow specifically?”
The Leader of the Opposition replied:
“At the moment that is our position”.
I do not think I will take too many lectures about getting the timescale right.
I stand by what I said in my statement, which is that Sir Howard said there needs to be a conclusion and a runway available for operation by 2030. Even on the timetable I have announced today, that is well within the range of possibilities of the programme about which we are talking, particularly in the light of the Planning Act 2008, which was of course passed by the previous Labour Government.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that the recommendation of a previous commission, led by Lord Justice Roskill, was not accepted by the Government of the day? Is it not right to take time to consider two aspects of Davies? One is the very weak section on the environmental aspects of developing Heathrow, and the other is the need to address the fundamental contradiction that if it is right to have a hub airport in London, three runways simply do not suffice.
My right hon. Friend has covered and followed this issue for a lot longer than anybody else in the House. He makes valid points that we need to address. There is no doubt about what is happening to overall capacity as far as aviation and aircraft movements are concerned. I am incredibly grateful not only to Sir Howard Davies but to the rest of the members of the commission for the work that they have done to produce a very valuable report, on which we will be able to reach conclusions in due course.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. In Scotland, 90% of international visitors travel by air, of whom more than a third come through Heathrow as a hub, and traditional exports of salmon, shellfish and whisky are vital to the economy. Air access determines our ability to attract investment, grow jobs and grow the economy, so a decision on capacity is vital.
The UK Government have known all the environmental issues all along. They could have chosen Heathrow, Gatwick or somewhere new, all with environmental conditions. They could have chosen nothing at all: they could have ruled that out and allowed others to get on: indecision stops everyone from taking action, and keeps people and communities in stasis.
That is being said not just in Scotland and not just by me. Let me quote the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Goodwill, at an Association of British Travel Agents conference in June 2015. He said that
“we cannot afford to stall on making a decision any longer. A thriving travel industry indicates a thriving economy; government policy must support the growth of the travel industry.”
“as the Prime Minister—the head of the Government—has made clear, by the end of this year, that is 2015.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 7 September 2015; Vol. 764, c. 1218.]
Indeed, in October 2012, the Secretary of State said that the Davies commission would make recommendations
“in 2013. Although some people say that it will take rather a long time, it will not take that long once it gets under way.”—[Hansard, 18 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 476.]
In his speech to the Conservative party in October 2012, he said:
“There’s another area where we have got to help businesses too. And that’s to compete internationally…But in the south east the runways are filling up. And the jets are circling in our skies. That’s hitting our prosperity. It’s bad for the environment. It’s putting off investors. It’s costing jobs. And it’s holding Britain back.”
In his speech to the last Conservative conference, he said:
“On Airports in the south east. I don’t hide the challenge.”
I could go on. As the Secretary of State said, “It gets better.” The Prime Minister has twice told this House in Prime Minister’s questions that we would have a decision. Let me ask this—
As my hon. Friend says, he was in a holding position, because one thing he did not tell us was which scheme, or indeed which airport, he supports. He failed to do that. As I have said, it is right that this is a very big issue, and it has dogged Governments for many years. We will take a decision, but we want to do some further work on some of the environmental impacts, bearing in mind some of the recent developments. Bearing in mind the report published on
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a need to reach a decision on airport expansion, but that it should not come at the expense of environmental considerations? We have to get it right. As he said in his last answer, even Sir Howard Davies has accepted that since he published his report, the issue of air quality has moved on and that those changes must be examined to ensure that our decision is based on a like-for-like comparison and that we are not just hoofing it on the wing.
I thank my right hon. Friend, who took a great interest in this issue when he was in the Department. He is right that we have moved significantly further by accepting the case for more airport capacity in the south-east and the three recommendations in the report. That enables us to look at the specific issues that have come about as a result of events since the publication of the report, as well as at how the decision will affect communities and what kind of mitigation we can put in place for those who will be affected to make the decision more acceptable in the longer term.
More than two years ago, the Transport Committee supported the expansion of hub capacity in the national economic interest and backed Heathrow, with environmental safeguards. The Davies commission, which reported six months ago, came to very similar conclusions. It appears that the Government have done no work or very little work since that time. We are six months on and, according to the CBI, the UK economy is losing out to the tune of about £1 billion a year because of the lack of long-haul hub capacity. Will the decision ever be taken?
In fairness, the hon. Lady, who chairs the Transport Committee with distinction, was part of a Government that failed for many years to take a decision on where the extra capacity should be. Sir Howard says that it is very important that the new capacity is available by 2030. What I have talked about today will be within that timetable. We are just taking a little longer. If we had not done the work on air quality that we are embarking on, we might have slowed the process down, rather than sped it up.
I remind my right hon. Friend, in all possible friendliness, that what the Labour party may or may not have done is completely irrelevant. It is of no interest to any of us and is unlikely to be so. Does he agree that this decision not to make a decision is truly lamentable? This is absolutely no way to run what he is pleased to call
“a world-class transport system to support a world-class economy.”
As the Davies commission reported absolutely clearly what its preferred decision was, without any prevarication, what exactly was the point of it?
I will make a number of points. I am very sorry that my right hon. Friend thinks that the fact that there was no action from a previous Government is completely irrelevant to the situation we find ourselves in. I do not accept that. The simple fact is that the Davies commission has identified, in a thorough report, that extra capacity is needed. It has said that three options can be considered, and we are right to consider those three options. I hope very much that, by the summer, we will be able to tell the House which one carries the most favour with the Government.
The Secretary of State knows that I hold him in high regard, even when I heckle him, but it took the Conservatives 18 months to get past the Liberal Democrats’ red line on increases in aviation capacity, they used the Davies commission to buy three more years to get them beyond the general election and they have bought another six months by avoiding making a statement until today. Why does the Secretary of State not just admit that this is a political fix to get us past the mayoral election in London? Given his integrity and honesty, why does he not own up to the fact that this has nothing to do with the national interest?
I do not mind the occasional heckle from the hon. Gentleman—indeed, I am quite used to that by now. He says that this is just a fix to move past the mayoral elections, but we have always known when those elections were, and if it had been a fix we would have simply said when the Davies report was published that we were not going to respond for 12 months. My hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith has been perfectly clear about where he stands on this matter, unlike Sadiq Khan who, when he was Minister of State and attending Cabinet in 2009, said that he was firmly in favour of Heathrow expansion.
My right hon. Friend has held office since the Airports Commission received its instructions in September 2012, so he will know that the forward to its report states:
“The Commission urges the Government to make an early decision on its recommendations. Further delay will be increasingly costly and will be seen, nationally and internationally, as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected open trading economy in the twenty first century.”
My right hon. Friend is a decent and loyal team player, and he is loyally presenting the team position today. Does he understand that when the Conservative team imitates the Labour candidate for Mayor of London by putting personal and party interests ahead of the national interest, we all lose?
As a distinguished Chair of a Select Committee, my hon. Friend expects his Committee to be listened to with the respect that should be given to a Select Committee. The Environmental Audit Committee recommended that the Government take more time to address air quality, and stated:
“On air quality, the Government will need to re-examine the Commission’s findings in the light of its finalised air quality strategy.”
That report was published on
The Government have made one hell of a mess of this, which does not bode well for a swift resolution for this or any other future infrastructure decision. In many respects, the Davies commission was a template for the National Infrastructure Commission, and the Government have completely ridden roughshod over it. What reassurances can the Secretary of State provide that in matters of airport capacity and other infrastructure, the NIC will be able to take essential long-term decisions for the competitiveness of our nation, and not be thwarted by short-term, partisan considerations?
Even the National Infrastructure Commission will be subject to decisions taken in this House and by the Government of the day—that was even the case in the way the NIC would have been set up by the Labour Opposition, had they been successful at the general election. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that these are big issues, and setting up the NIC is a fundamental way forward that will help to address some of them. It will still be for the House and the Government to ensure that other legal requirements—such as those on air quality—are abided by, and we must consider other issues when making such decisions.
I commend the Secretary of State for his statement and I applaud the Government for making the environmental impact an important issue. As part of that work, will the Government also investigate current noise and air pollution problems with two runways at Heathrow?
I understand the conditions faced by my hon. Friend’s constituents. I mentioned in my statement that noise is one of the considerations we have to get right. The advance of technology means that planes are becoming quieter, but she is absolutely right. She represents a constituency very closely affected by this decision. It has to be taken after looking at all mitigation measures expected to be put in place by any of the three promoters of the scheme.
The Secretary of State is a very honourable gentleman, particularly as he is my constituent. I am sure that deep down he is not particularly happy today. In his statement, he talked about the best possible outcome for local residents. Does he accept that my Vauxhall constituents may not be considered as local residents to Heathrow, but that it is crucial that their views are taken into consideration? They live under early morning noise pollution that is absolutely shocking. An extra runway at Heathrow will make it much worse.
One suggestion for alleviation in the commissioner’s report is an end to night flights and the flights to which the hon. Lady refers. These things always have to be taken into account. Although I live in her constituency, I do not exercise my vote there.
Either the Government have decided to go ahead with Heathrow expansion but are delaying the announcement to avoid embarrassing their candidate for London Mayor, or they need more time to massage Heathrow’s terrible record on noise and pollution. If it were to be Gatwick, we would have been told today. Is this not a cowardly and pathetic way to decide an issue that will blight the health and lives of millions of Londoners?
The hon. Gentleman has taken a view on the Government’s decision before the Government have made the decision. That is fairly typical of what he does. I have been very open with the House on the reason for the extra work that needs to be done. There are people on the Government Benches who have been incredibly consistent on this matter and there are people on the Opposition Benches who have been less consistent. I went through the whole programme of where we got to on the timetable, and if there has been a deliberate wasting of time, it was by the previous Labour Government.
Does my right hon. Friend understand the dismay and frustration in the south-west as a result of this latest delay? Our infrastructure comes to the west of London. He himself has been responsible for massive rail investment, including electrification and the spur line to Heathrow. As this latest delay will have an impact on potential inward investment in our region, what confidence can we have that a decision will finally be arrived at next summer? This is not a London issue; this is a national issue.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a national issue. I am grateful to him for pointing out the amount of infrastructure investment the Government can proudly point to. We are increasing investment in infrastructure by 50% in this Parliament, something I am immensely proud of. He says that the delay will not allow us to meet what the commission report says, but I disagree with him. Even on what I am saying at the moment, which is that there will be a decision by summer next year, we will be in a position to meet the timetable for extra capacity by 2030, which is when Sir Howard says it is desperately needed by.
This dithering is disgraceful. It puts the political career of Zac Goldsmith above the national interest, and he could not even be bothered to be in his place for the Secretary of State’s statement. [Interruption.] He was not in his place at the beginning; he came in late. I do not believe—perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us—that there are any new environmental considerations that were not known to Davies and have not been known to the Government over the past 10 years or so.
I very much regret the position the hon. Gentleman takes. He served on the Transport Committee for a considerable time. The position of my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith on the expansion of Heathrow has always been perfectly clear. I do not think anybody can be in any doubt about it.
The hon. Gentleman said that my hon. Friend was not in the Chamber, but of course he is, which is more than can be said of Sadiq Khan, who said in 2009 in the Evening Standard that he was firmly in favour of Heathrow expansion. At that time, he was a Transport Minister attending Cabinet.
At least my hon. Friend has always been very specific about where he stands. I think the hon. Gentleman’s question was unworthy of him.
My right hon. Friend is right to seek to nail down the environmental issues first, because, as the House knows, if he does not, we will be in judicial review for the next generation and nothing at all will happen. That said, last week on BBC radio, the chief executive of Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd clearly indicated that he thought Heathrow was full for freight purposes. Even today, we are losing business to Schiphol, Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle and Dubai. We have to take action now. It will be 15 years before there are wheels on new tarmac anywhere in the south-east. Will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to get Manston airport open again so that we can turn it into a freight hub, relieve the pressure on Heathrow and take Britain forward?
My hon. Friend has led this campaign and never misses an opportunity to mention Manston airport, not only in the Chamber but every other time I meet him. He mentioned John Holland-Kaye’s comments on the “Today” programme last Friday which I think were about current capacity for flights from Heathrow for the movement of freight, but my hon. Friend is talking about setting up a completely new operation at Manston, and I wish him well in his campaign.
I believe that the delay is not merely political expediency; I believe that the Secretary of State has come to realise something I have known for 15 years: expansion at Heathrow is just too difficult. As well as air quality and noise, will he address the business case, over which the Airports Commission’s economic advisers seem to differ? Will he properly assess the ground-based security and crash risks of the different options—they were not so assessed in the commission’s report? Will he force Heathrow airport to declare where the flight paths will be, particularly the approach paths, and the differences between what the commission recommends for Heathrow and what Heathrow is prepared to accept?
As one who publicly supported increased air transport movements in Farnborough in my constituency, may I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that the Government have not ruled out additional runways at both London Gatwick and London Heathrow, given the importance of this matter to the entire economy? Does he think that the Heathrow hub proposal by Jock Lowe, which would be far less destructive, stands a much better chance than it previously did?
As I have said throughout my answers, all three options—a third runway at Heathrow, a Heathrow hub and a second runway at Gatwick—are under consideration. That remains the position, but my hon. Friend, who is a keen aviator himself, will know of the difficulties that have to be addressed. That is the right thing to do.
I admire the Secretary of State’s chutzpah in explaining that the Prime Minister has decided to be indecisive, but if he is keen to give further consideration to the serious environmental considerations of air pollution, why have the Government been lobbying heavily in the European Commission against the air quality package?
The hon. Gentleman tells us that we have been indecisive, but he was a member of a Government who could make no decision whatever on this matter. As for where we stand on various things in the European Commission and the European Parliament, this is about a whole range of issues, not necessarily one individual, small item.
My right hon. Friend justifies the additional delay by saying, quite rightly, that he wants to get the decision right. It just occurs to me that if we had done the same with HS2, it could have been cheaper and less environmentally damaging. May I say that that is an observation and not a question? No reply is needed.
It is like something straight from “Yes Minister”. “What do we want?” “Airport expansion!” “When do we want it?” “At the appropriate juncture, in the fullness of time” —after umpteen inquiries, reports and working groups, and a cost of millions of pounds to the taxpayer, all for a by-election in Richmond Park. “He used to be indecisive, but now he’s not so sure.” Will the Government get on with it, as the country expects us to?
I am still waiting to hear—it should be such a simple, easy answer—what the SNP’s position is on this matter. Which scheme do SNP Members support? They are silent on it. They want everybody else to give their answers, so that once the decision is made they will attack it and say they would go down a different route. That seems to be the only point of the SNP in this Chamber: to wait for a decision to be made, then attack it. No wonder SNP Members are in such a difficult position today.
The effect of a hub airport in the United Kingdom stretches to all parts of the United Kingdom, including up in the Leeds area. Those travelling transatlantic who want to get airside at Leeds cannot do so because the first flight out of Leeds is around midday, so capacity is vital to the economy. However, I believe that all the options before us are wrong and I would like my right hon. Friend take to this opportunity to look further at what I think is a better option, a fourth: two more runways at Stansted.
Order. Before I call the Secretary of State, I remind Members that we are asking questions, not making statements, and those questions should be a lot shorter.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, but the call from most Members in the Chamber is to make a decision. If we reopen the whole question and go back to his suggestion, it might take rather longer.
Given the high risk that the work that the Secretary of State has announced today will not bring the Heathrow plan any closer but will just reinforce the idea that it is far too hot a political potato, why does he not revert to the Gatwick option, safe in the knowledge that, under his stewardship, HS2 will be ready well before 2030, thus allowing Birmingham to complement Gatwick?
I mentioned in my statement the importance of seeing other airports in the United Kingdom grow and offer more services. I think I mentioned Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow—I will be told off for the ones I failed to mention—but the point is well made by the hon. Gentleman: services from other airports are also very important indeed.
The Secretary of State said that the Government accepted the case for expansion. Presumably that is why they set up the commission in the first place, so it did not need three years to tell them that. He also said that the Government accepted the Airports Commission’s shortlist of options. Increasingly, he presents the case as though there are three equal options from the Airports Commission, but has the commission not made an unequivocal recommendation? Should not the Government at least be open about that? Is he aware that last week the chief executive of International Airlines Group, Willie Walsh, while expressing concerns about the cost of Heathrow, said that there was
“no business case for expanding Gatwick,” and:
“Very few airlines support the proposal and no one would move there while Heathrow remains open”?
I could also cite quotes from Willie Walsh which would put a question mark over the Heathrow proposals. If we are getting into the game of quoting Willie Walsh, we will find many that could be cited on this subject. The correct thing for the Government to do is to look at all three options in light of the environmental work and the mitigation circumstances that we would like to see, and then return to the House once we have decided with which option we will go forward.
The Secretary of State has let himself down in the way he has responded to questions, making it an issue of party ping-pong and who is responsible for what delay. Let us be absolutely clear. I welcome his remarks about air quality, which is very important for Heathrow. However, he has heard me speak about the fact that there are more European headquarters of multinational companies in Slough than in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. What research has he done on how few such companies will remain in the UK—anywhere in the UK—as a result of the ongoing delays in making this decision?
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady was so disappointed with the way I have responded. I responded partly in view of the way in which the Labour Front-Bench team attacked the Government for their indecision. I realise that the right hon. Lady has presented a petition to No. 10 Downing street in support of the expansion of Heathrow airport. This is an issue that divides colleagues in political parties, and I think it right for the Government to make sure that the proper environmental work is done before any move forward is taken.
As a member of the Transport Select Committee, I have to observe that the Government have got themselves into a rather big hole on this issue. At least, however, they have my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, a former miner, to dig them out of it. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that this decision will be taken in the early summer and that it will look favourably at the Davies commission, which made a clear recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow?
Oh, that was a good one; I will put that in my book.
As for the point made by my hon. Friend Mark Menzies, the important part of the Davies commission recommendations was having the extra capacity in place by 2030. I believe, given what I have said today, that we are on schedule to be able to deliver that extra capacity by 2030.
As somebody who supports the expansion of Heathrow, let me indicate my frustration that progress has been caught up in an internal Conservative holding pattern. The Secretary of State has on three occasions this evening reiterated the commitment to the 2030 timescale. Will he assure us that in six months’ time a decision will not be taken to kick the can further down the road?
I have said that I hope to come back to the House in the summer. I am not going to say exactly when that will be from today’s date, but I fully accept the point that services to Northern Ireland are incredibly important. Northern Ireland is already well connected to London. There were around 17,000 flights between Belfast and London in 2014, of which about 6,000 were to Heathrow. I do not underestimate the importance of connectivity to London for Northern Ireland or indeed for Scotland.
If the decision on the new runway were made on the basis of environmental data that are seen not to be robust, it would lead to delays and legal challenges that would last far longer than if we waited for more reliable data. London Gatwick has already briefed me on its concerns about the quality of the Davies commission data. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he will look at all the data over the next few months and get them as robust as possible, so that when a decision is made, it can be enacted straight away?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If any lesson has been learnt from the preparations for HS2, it is the need to ensure that all the processes are gone through diligently and properly. There were a number of attempts to secure judicial reviews in relation to HS2, and nearly all of them failed.
The Secretary of State has come to the House today to try to hoodwink us all into thinking that he is the most incompetent and indecisive Secretary of State that there has ever been, but no one is fooled by his attempt to take a hit on behalf of Zac Goldsmith. This is a fix for next year’s mayoral election, and nothing else. It certainly has nothing to do with anything that is in the national interest. [Interruption.]
Let me say to Clive Efford—who has been present for all the exchanges—that it is not my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park who has changed his position on the question of Heathrow, but Sadiq Khan, who, when he was a transport Minister, said that he was firmly in favour of its expansion. As for the date of the mayoral election, if we had initially wanted to put off the decision until after the election, we would have simply said that there would be no decision for 12 months, and would then have considered it for 12 months. The fact is that we are making progress. It is important that we make more progress by 2030, and that is what we shall do.
No matter how skilfully the Secretary of State tries to pretend otherwise, we all know that this rather grubby little announcement—if I may say so—is all about trying to get the Conservative party and my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith over next May, and to cross that particular line. This is no way for the Government to make decisions and announcements. They talk about the northern powerhouse as if they really believed in it—which, indeed, I am sure that they do—and the Secretary of State must know that expanding Heathrow is essential for the northern powerhouse, so will he please act in the national interest rather than just making a grubby little announcement to benefit London and our excellent mayoral candidate?
I am glad that my hon. Friend is showing support for the northern powerhouse. It is very important to me and very important to the Government, and we are backing it with huge amounts of investment in electrification and new train services. The two new franchises that were announced last week will have a very beneficial effect on transport connectivity between our major cities in the north. That is vital, as is getting the whole question of future aviation capacity right.
What a pathetic way to make decisions about infrastructure in our country! Is the Secretary of State not a little bit shamefaced over what is an excruciatingly painful example of political procrastination, although it is obviously in the national interest for him to get on with it at Heathrow? On a scale of one to 10, just how embarrassed is he?
Political procrastination? In 2001,
“Labour ministers are reported to be seriously considering building a third runway”.
“The government publishes a public consultation document” in favour of expanding Heathrow. 1n 2009,
“The government approves a third runway, taking the number of flights handled by the airport from 480,000 to more than 700,000”.
I will take no lectures on ducking big issues, because the ducking of big issues was done when the hon. Gentleman was a member of the last Labour Government.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. While he talks about Manchester, I also talk about Birmingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. I think it is absolutely essential to try to get more connectivity from airports so that people do not necessarily have to travel to Heathrow or to Gatwick to get the flights they want. That is very important.
I like the Secretary of State, so I feel for him, as he is like a sheep snagged on barbed wire: the harder he tries to extricate himself, the more firmly entangled he becomes. To help the Secretary of State, may I suggest he takes this opportunity—no ifs, no buts—to abandon environmentally unsustainable plans for a third runway at Heathrow and pledges instead, first, to improve surface access to Luton and Stansted airports to make better use of spare capacity there, and, secondly, to deliver HS2 on time so that we can see far more people travelling by rail, instead of taking short-haul flights?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and remind him that the Davies commission was set up by the coalition Government to make and examine the case fully for what we should do for the future. I was proud of serving in that coalition Government, and I was proud of a lot of the things they achieved. The Davies commission and setting it up was just one of them, and now the right hon. Gentleman is wanting us to back away from the difficult questions it poses to us.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the independent and impartial Airports Commission clearly stated that Heathrow was the best option? If Governments in the future decide against that and wish to expand Gatwick, may I have a guarantee that the significant investment that will be required in housing, highways, the rail network and healthcare and all other public services will be forthcoming?
There are already significant commitments with regard to Gatwick; improving the infrastructure for Gatwick is already taking place and further such schemes will be coming on board over the next few years. It is vital that we get the surface access to our airports correct. That is something we are dealing with over a period of time. My hon. Friend asks whether there would be other consequences if the decision should go towards Gatwick. That will be the case for any option we choose, and of course we want to look at those options and see which ones we would want to take forward.
The Government are developing some capacity for hot air balloons in the process of trying to get to this decision. Rather than just talking about the issue and waiting, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Birmingham has current hub capacity and a brand new runway now?
I wholly concur with the way in which Birmingham has gone about its expansion both of the runway and the airport overall, and I think HS2 will have a very important impact for Birmingham airport as well, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
As I have said to the House, I think it is very important that we stick to the timetable of Sir Howard Davies’s report, and that is having extra capacity available by 2030. I will want to follow that timetable.
In order to demonstrate that this is not a political fudge, can the Secretary of State clearly state what additional work is going to be undertaken to refine and reassess air quality and noise considerations, who is going to do that work, who is going to assess it, and how the final decision is going to be made? Lastly, as a Scotsman, can I just ask the Secretary of State please to explain exactly at what time of year is summer? I would also point out that not once today has the Secretary of State said in which year—which summer—he is going to report, so can he pin down the year, or is that another fudge?
To try to reassure the hon. Gentleman, who is yet another Scottish nationalist to get up but not to say which option he supports, let me point out that what I have said and been clear about is that we will stick to the timetable that gives the extra capacity that is needed by 2030.
I normally try to support my right hon. Friend, but I must admit that I am struggling somewhat on this occasion. Can he give an absolute assurance that if results of the further work on air quality and noise were to go against Heathrow, the default position would be to accept Gatwick and not waste more years by setting up yet another commission?
If my hon. Friend looks at my statement, he will see that I made it quite clear that the Government accept that the three options put forward by the commission are the right ones for providing extra capacity, so the answer to his question is that I do accept that.
We all accept that we find ourselves in a difficult political spot, but the Secretary of State is right that we are talking about a national infrastructure project that will affect runway and aviation capacity throughout the country. Will he commit to meeting me and representatives of regional airports—he did not mention East Midlands, Speke and Durham Tees Valley, so perhaps he can squeeze them in as well—to ensure that we plug the 15 to 20-year gap before we get extra capacity in the south-east?
I did not mention every airport in the country, but I tried to mention the bigger airports outside London—I will get in trouble for saying that—such as Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Glasgow. I did not mention East Midlands, which is just down the road from my area, but would I like to see more services from East Midlands airport? The answer is clearly yes.
I welcome the decision to delay the final decision until the environmental concerns have been resolved. Colleagues and I are in negotiations with the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS to control noise from aircraft coming in to Heathrow over the Thames valley. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the resolution of that issue is crucial to our future support for Heathrow?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Aviation capacity does not only affect the areas directly involved but has a wider impact across the rest of the economy and the rest of the country.
In light of the Paris conference, which we have just heard a statement about, what recent discussions has the right hon. Gentleman had with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Committee on Climate Change about how increased airport capacity will affect the UK’s ability to meet its emissions reduction targets?
One of the people who served on the Airports Commission was a member of the Committee on Climate Change, Dame Julia King, who has since been ennobled, so we and the Davies commission took that matter into account. There have obviously been further developments since then, such as the Volkswagen scandal. As the Environmental Audit Committee said, it is right that we should judge our response based on the new information that has become available. Sir Howard Davies also said that in his evidence to that Committee, and I want that to be done. As I have said, I still believe that we can deliver on the 2030 timetable set out in the commission’s report.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decision is important for our regional airports, such as Birmingham International airport, which I recently visited to see its increased capacity and success? Will he acknowledge that we may see a second runway in Birmingham in the future, along with High Speed 2?
My hon. Friend never misses an opportunity to promote Birmingham airport. The only thing I slightly disagree with her about is that I do not regard airports such as Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, East Midlands, Glasgow and Edinburgh as regional airports.
I thank my right hon. Friend for confirming that the Government will not outsource key policy decisions to unelected commissions and will not be rushed into making a decision about a runway that will not be operational until 2030. Will he confirm that if the third runway is still to be considered, it will only be with the three caveats that Davies placed on it, about a fourth runway, night flights and meeting EU air quality limits?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, in that whatever decision is finally taken—three options are still being discussed—we must get the best mitigation deals possible for the people affected. The three points he mentioned would certainly be important considerations in any decision, including if the decision should be taken for Heathrow. As I say, we are looking at three options.
The Government seem to have one of two positions, and I would be interested to understand which one it is. Either we have accepted the Davies commission, subject to sorting out these environmental issues, and therefore we will go down that route if we are able, or we have now decided that there are three equal options and we are looking at all three from scratch. Which of the two routes are we going to go down?
We have accepted the Davies report as far as the need for capacity by 2030 and the three options are concerned, and it is those three options that we are looking at. I know the Davies commission supported one in particular, but the Government have to look at all three of the options available.
In the Secretary of State’s defence, we have not built a full runway in the south-east of England since 1946 and so I am not sure whether another six months will make so much difference—so long as he does make the decision in the summer of 2016. When he decides, will he make his decision in the interests of the whole country, including the 9.5 million residents of the midlands, whom he and I represent, and not just in the interests of the denizens of west London?
If one looks as the record of this Government, one sees that we have always acted in the national interest. We have done that on extra railway capacity and we are going to do it on the other big infrastructure investment proposals. They are always controversial and it is right, in this day and age, that we take every measure we can to mitigate the environmental impacts of any decisions we take.
Job prospects in the south-west and in the rest of the country outside the south-east would clearly be best enhanced by an expansion at Heathrow, but it needs to be legally secure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that sometimes it is best to have a thorough look at these things and that a stitch in time might in this case save nine?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. One thing I have learned from taking through some of the big infrastructure projects that I have been responsible for is that it is right to make sure we can prove on all the possible challenges we will face that we have done the right amount of work in preparation for whatever decisions we put before the House.
What drives air quality is car emissions. Heathrow has far superior and far more rapid public transport links, including four rail links. Gatwick has the one rail link, which, as the Secretary of State is well aware, is not the best one in the country. Will he assure us that in any analysis of air quality, a full understanding will be taken of the impact of the extra car journeys that would inevitably result from the vast increase in passengers and from the employees required, none of whom would be local, were Gatwick to be chosen as the option?
Those are all points that have to be put forward and addressed in the work that we are going to do in the coming months on air quality. As I say, a lot of this work has been covered by Davies, but a lot more is still to be done. My hon. Friend is right to show his concern and also to point out that there is no easy or straightforward answer on aviation capacity. We must also accept that aviation is a very important industry for this country, employing many thousands of people, including right across the supply chain and the delivery chain. On that basis, I hope that he will accept my assurances.