Heathrow Expansion (Implications for Scotland)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th June 2018.

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Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the result of the United Kingdom Parliament’s vote on Heathrow expansion and its implications for Scotland. (S5T-01174)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government welcomes the fact that the third runway project is now moving to the stage of Heathrow applying for a development consent order, but notes that some members of Parliament across all the political parties were not persuaded to support the UK Government’s national policy statement. It is now incumbent on the UK Government to build more confidence in the process and to set out more clearly the economic benefits that a third runway at Heathrow can deliver throughout the UK.

The Scottish Government’s position remains that Scotland should benefit proportionately from the new runway capacity and that that should be subject to guarantee. We note the Secretary of State for Transport’s commitment to 200 additional weekly flights for Scotland, which was made during last night’s Westminster debate. However, we await the detail of that. The UK Government’s aviation strategy, which is to be published later in 2018, will have a significant role to play in setting out how the UK Government intends to deal with issues such as slot allocation for services to Heathrow from the nations and regions. The Scottish Government will work constructively with the UK Government on the new strategy.

I note the concerns conveyed during last night’s debate on the potential environmental implications of the new capacity. Although we are not responsible for the third runway, as a leader in tackling climate change the Scottish Government is not divorced from the potential environmental consequences.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Presiding Officer,

“Expansion at Heathrow offers significant job creation, major investment opportunities” and we

“look forward to working with Heathrow to bring the significant benefits of a third runway ... to Scotland.”

Those are not my words, or even the words of the UK Government—they are the words of Keith Brown and the Scottish National Party Government.

Nowhere in Mr Yousaf’s answer did he explain why the SNP has reneged on the memorandum of understanding that it signed with Heathrow on a third runway, and nowhere did he answer why his party did not support the creation of the thousands of jobs that expansion will create or the hundreds of new flights that it will bring to Scotland. Let me ask the minister a simple question: does the Scottish Government whole-heartedly support Heathrow expansion—yes or no?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Yes, we still support the third runway at Heathrow. I made that position clear in my opening answer. I know that Tory MSPs are used to rolling over and doing whatever Theresa May tells them whenever she wants. Our MPs are absolutely right to demand that they get cast-iron guarantees around the 200 additional flights.

We also need confidence on the climate considerations.

Why on earth did the UK Government push forward with a vote days before an important report from the independent Committee on Climate Change on aviation emissions was due to be published? Why on earth was the vote not held afterwards?

With the greatest of respect, I will take no lectures from Jamie Greene when he is a member of the party of the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who said that he would lie down in front of the bulldozers. He was not lying down as much as flying away.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The minister says that the Scottish Government somehow supports a third runway at Heathrow, but it begs the question why his MPs at Westminster did not support it. The new runway was backed by the First Minister, the finance secretary, the economy secretary and even the transport minister himself yet, when it came to the crucial vote, the SNP abstained. It ducked out in another grievance-stoking stunt at Westminster. The question is: who gave the order and why? If we are to believe reports, the First Minister herself ordered MPs not to back it. Does that not all go to show that, given the choice between stirring up an argument or boosting jobs and the economy in Scotland, for the SNP, it is always party first and everything else second?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

That is quite unbelievable. I have already explained that the MPs do not have the cast-iron guarantees. If the member can stand up and tell me how the 200 slots will be allocated, I will be all ears. He absolutely cannot do that.

When it comes to the environmental consequences of the third runway, our MPs are absolutely right to demand the detail on that. Yes, in principle, we support the third runway, but that is conditional. Unlike the Tory MSPs, who will roll over and do whatever Theresa May and the UK Government tell them to do, we will not. That is why we will stand up for Scotland and demand those guarantees. I will leave the member not just to complain about this from the sidelines but to do whatever the UK Government tells the Tory party to do.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I want to pursue that. Until this morning, it was Keith Brown who was supposed to answer this question. I know that the minister is now in the hot seat and he may not be as prepared, but does he agree that for Keith Brown to have—I quote him—“engaged extensively” with Heathrow, signed another memorandum of understanding, as we have heard, talked up the deal that he had negotiated for almost two years and then had SNP MPs abstain in the vote is an unmitigated embarrassment for him and the Government?

To pursue the other point, I ask the minister whether it was the First Minister who instructed SNP MPs to abstain.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

That is unbelievable, again, from Mike Rumbles. I note—there may be a very good reason for this—that not all of the Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs voted in favour of the third runway.

I say to Mike Rumbles that we are taking an evidence-based approach and are not simply believing what Theresa May has to say. I know that, previously, the Lib Dems accepted what the Conservatives said without standing up to them, when they were in coalition in the UK Government, but we do not take that approach. We are demanding assurances on the 200 additional flights and on the environment, which I would expect Liberal Democrats to join us in demanding from the UK Government.

We will continue to take an evidence-based approach. This Government has the MOU with Heathrow, which is of course different from the actions of the UK Government. What we are demanding is action from the UK Government, and I would expect Mr Rumbles, instead of siding with the Tory MSPs on this one, to be more on side with us.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

Does the minister agree that the UK Government should have ensured that MPs were able to take a fully informed decision on expanding Heathrow by holding the vote after the publication of the independent UK Committee on Climate Change emissions report?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Yes—absolutely. I cannot for the life of me understand how politically tone deaf this UK Government continues to be.

Although we have no responsibility for the information that was provided to MPs beforehand, given the importance of the decision, we would have expected MPs to receive sufficient information along with the appropriate time to consider it. The fact that the independent UK Committee on Climate Change emissions report was due within days but the vote was held before that is, I am sure, one of the reasons why our MPs abstained, but I have a feeling that it is also the reason why some Tory MPs and some Labour MPs voted against or abstained.

The UK Government has made a mistake, and we look to it for assurances about climate change and the emissions from the third runway.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The UK Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, was widely pilloried for making a statement on Heathrow expansion without once mentioning the issue of climate change. The SNP’s position is equally risible. What on earth does the minister think that he will read in the Committee on Climate Change’s report when it is published that will overcome the objective reality that more flights mean more emissions? In particular, more short-haul flights between Scotland and London are completely unnecessary when we have surface alternatives, including rail alternatives, to use. Is it not clear that the proposal blows a hole in the UK Government’s and the Scottish Government’s climate change policies and leaves them without a shred of credibility?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

No. That is a ridiculous assertion. The Scottish Government has, of course, brought forward world-leading climate change targets, which it is meeting, and radical action—for example, in my transport portfolio in relation to low-emission zones and electric vehicles.

It is worth mentioning that the Scottish Government has ensured that aviation emissions and other transport emissions are included in the climate change targets.

The independent UK

Committee on Climate Change report is hugely important and vital to us, and MPs and the Scottish Government will look for assurances from the UK Government. I am afraid that Patrick Harvie’s saying that we have no shred of credibility on the matter simply does not match with reality.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am afraid that that concludes topical question time. I apologise to members who wished to ask further questions. There is not quite enough time for them this afternoon.