My Lords, the Government are absolutely committed to delivering the infrastructure projects the country needs, including delivering runway capacity on the timetable set out by the Airports Commission. It is vitally important we get the decision right. As noble Lords will know, the Government commissioned extra work looking at the three options shortlisted by the commission. Ministers are carefully considering all the evidence, and will be in a position to announce a preferred scheme shortly.
It sounds as though we are getting closer. Would it not be wonderful if this were the last time I asked the same Question about a third runway at Heathrow? Would it not be even more wonderful if it were the last time I got the same answer?
I suspected this question might come up, so I have been thumbing through my thesaurus, which is quite well read. All I can say is that perhaps “shortly” will also mean “imminently”.
My Lords, what is the current status of the Conservative Party pledge in 2009: no ifs, no buts, no third runway at Heathrow?
As the noble Lord is aware, the previous Prime Minister made that statement when he was looking at a very different proposition. Since then, as the noble Lord is also aware, the commission has reported and presented three viable options. The Government will be looking to make a call on south-east capacity shortly.
My Lords, will the Minister give consideration, apart from all this metropolitan stuff, to the interests of regional airports in this country, particularly Birmingham, which, when we have HS2, will be as close to London as is Heathrow or Gatwick? This is the sort of thing that is stalking up and it is likely to be ready before the runaway at Heathrow.
The noble Lord raises an important issue about regional connectivity and regional airports. I had the opportunity to visit Birmingham last week and I saw its plans. The noble Lord is quite right that, once HS2 has been built, it will take 30-odd minutes to go from London Euston to Birmingham. That underlines the importance of ensuring that our national infrastructure supports the general infrastructure of aviation. The regional connectivity of airports will be in my review of the airport policy framework.
The noble Lord raises the important issue that a decision needs to be made. I assure your Lordships’ House that the Government are looking to make that decision. They also fully appreciate and understand the importance of making a decision in this respect to ensuring the continuing viability and growth of the British economy.
My Lords, would the Minister confirm whether, in making this decision, the Government will consider the possibility of one of the two Heathrow options and Gatwick? We probably need both of them as, if one of the Heathrow options is chosen, the legal objections might drag on, and at least we would be able to get on with one airport in the meantime. Could the Minister also confirm the rumours that the current Foreign Secretary is going to go back on his promise to lie in front of the bulldozers if Heathrow is chosen and spare damage to the bulldozers?
My right honourable friend has a very important job as Foreign Secretary and is doing a sterling job in that respect. As far as expansion is concerned, the commission reported back on the need to increase capacity by 2030 with the addition of one runway in the south-east, and that is where the Government’s decision is focused.
The important issue is that, once the Government have taken a decision, there is a set process to follow for the proposal which is given the green light. A formal process will then be initiated, and we have already agreed that there will be a national development framework through which this will be presented. After that, there will be a development consent order by those who have successfully got the green light for this. During that process, if there are legal challenges to any decision or any element of that, the Government and those who are putting forward the proposal will deal with them according to the planning process which has been determined.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that British industry has almost completed two airports in Rosyth naval base, which will enable people to go around the world and which have been built in less time than the various debates about this runway at Heathrow have taken. Does the Minister not agree that perhaps some more orders to British shipbuilding would be appropriate, considering how well they have done in doing this in such a short time?