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Transport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:02 pm on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 6:02 pm, 5th February 2020

I thank the Labour Front-Bench team for moving this motion, and I welcome the unanimity across the Chamber, and the growing sense of urgency among the public, on taking tougher action on the climate emergency. The question arises as to whether the political rhetoric matches the reality in terms of policy and action.

So the two areas I wish to focus on briefly are rail and aviation. The motion calls for a cut in rail fares while the Government fix the mess that is the railways. Sorting out that mess has to start with the travesty of a “service”—if we can even call it that—that is South Western Railway. SWR dominates my email inbox and my Twitter feed. Commuters in my constituency are reliant on SWR and they are at their wits’ end, as not a day goes by without problems: lost income; lost working hours; lost time with loved ones; missed medical appointments; and just the general stress of not being able to get a rail service that is not constantly delayed or cancelled. This is just not acceptable. Those who live on the Shepperton line, which serves Hampton, are disproportionately affected, because it is a branch service, which is often cut. On other lines, such as the Teddington loop, there are regularly skips of stations when trains are delayed. Residents are telling me that as a matter of course they are driving part of their journey, which is not helping to cut emissions. All that is coupled with the 27-day strikes we saw in December, where there was no proper compensation, and the financial situation the company finds itself in. As the Secretary of State has said, the situation is unsustainable. I have written to him to ask for a meeting to discuss this matter, and I hope he will get back to me, granting me and other colleagues a meeting to discuss this important issue.

We need to do much more to expand our railways if we are to tempt people out of their cars and away from domestic flights, in order to reduce emissions. So I particularly welcome the motion’s call to bring aviation emissions within the UK’s climate targets. It is therefore somewhat surprising—no, negligent—that neither this Opposition motion, nor anything we have heard from those on the Government Benches today calls for the cancellation of a third runway at Heathrow.

I am disappointed that the amendment that I tabled with Liberal Democrat colleagues has not been selected for debate. Heathrow is the UK’s biggest single source of carbon emissions, and a third runway would increase carbon emissions by up to 9 million tonnes, making achieving net zero significantly harder. Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change said in 2016 that the construction of a third runway might break the Government’s own climate change laws. How can the Conservatives or Labour be serious about their commitment to tackle climate change unless they join my Liberal Democrat colleagues and me in calling very clearly for a third runway to be cancelled?

Heathrow expansion is projected to increase the number of flights by 300,000 annually. My constituents and many other people across south-west London already have their lives blighted by noise and air pollution, and over half a million people in the area surrounding Heathrow suffer noise levels above World Health Organisation standards. There is air pollution from surface transport, as well as particulates from flights, which go well beyond the airport boundary, despite the claims of Heathrow and, indeed, the Department for Transport. According to some studies, particulates travel up to 16 to 22 km downwind.

The Prime Minister does not even have to keep his promise of lying down in front of the bulldozers to stop a third runway. He has the power to cancel it at the stroke of a pen, and it is time that Labour came off the fence. Its spokesperson suggested that it might be shifting its policy. Heathrow expansion is bad for climate, bad for our health and wellbeing, and—