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16 Jun 2009 : Column 13WH—continued

10.16 am

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I shall try to keep my remarks short in order to ensure that we hear at least one person from the other side of the argument.

It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I was glad to hear him say that he will stand on a different manifesto, because standing in his constituency on the manifesto that the Government will put forward would, I am afraid, be dramatically difficult.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate, because we need to be constantly updated. One of the great shames of the last reshuffle is that we now have a Secretary of State for Transport who is in the Lords. When we actually have a debate on the subject on the Floor of the House—they are relatively few but have been forced from time to time by Opposition parties, and there has been the odd statement—we will not be able to question the Secretary of State to find out what is happening. I know that the Secretary of State is an honourable man, but it will be difficult for us to explain to our constituents, many of whom are bitterly opposed to the expansion, that we do not even have the democratic right to question the person who will ultimately take the decision.

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Mr. Slaughter: I agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. He is right to say that the noble Lord is an honourable man; he is also known as a rail man. He has been kind and courteous to me in visiting west London whenever I asked him to visit schools in the area. Perhaps we could make a joint approach to get him to make the kind of visit that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington described and to see the sites of devastation that his policy is creating.

Mr. Randall: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the Secretary of State. He was always courteous and helpful when he was a Schools Minister, and he is very much a fan of rail travel. I find that encouraging, particularly as that seems to be the way in which the argument is going.

There is no need for me to repeat in the limited time left all the arguments that we have heard. All I will say about the situation is that it is exactly the same in my constituency. My constituents, particularly those in West Drayton, are suffering exactly the same problems.

I just cannot get my head around the fact that we are constantly being told that climate change is the greatest threat facing the planet, yet here we have a Government who are proposing something that will not reduce emissions but actually increase them. I can never get an answer from the Government on how they can justify that. It is absolutely appalling.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) has done his usual trick of making an intervention and whizzing off, but I would say to him that I am opposed to any development in the Thames estuary. I have said from the outset that if we oppose in our area the expansion of Heathrow, the traffic should not go somewhere else—for example, to Gatwick or Stansted. It is not fair to dump the problem on somebody else. We as a nation have to tackle the problems of aviation, including its increase, because nobody wants an airport in their back garden. We have had that happen in Heathrow. I have to say to the Minister that I get fed up with people—not necessarily the Government—saying, “People who move there know it was there.” That does not apply to lots of my constituents, including my family. My mother was born in the constituency a long time ago, when Heathrow was just a market gardening area. So it is wrong to say that we knew what was going to happen. We have lived with it in our back garden and now it is at the back door. That is what is really so galling for us.

The Government keep talking about listening to people and going on about how they want to change everything and get people involved. This is an ideal opportunity for them. The argument is falling away rapidly. If they could bring themselves to be brave and courageous enough to say, “This is not the time. We cannot go ahead with it. We got some of the arguments wrong,” I would salute them. But, unfortunately, I know that they will not, because I can see that, given the way they have run this country for the last 12 years, they do not listen to the people.

There is one message. We should have an election and let people make their own minds up about whether they want this Government and whether they want this third runway.

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10.21 am

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): Having 51 minutes versus nine minutes is a bit of an imbalance when putting such cases. May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate? Had he been a bit more astute he could have got the second debate, in which case I would have been in the Chair and therefore silenced. I am sorry about that.

The House knows my views, Mr. Taylor, so I will not bore you by repeating them. I will just say that they are the same as they always have been. I shall, as I always do, see if I can agree with hon. Members, first of all. I agree with my hon. Friend on three things. First, some of us will not be here in 40 years. At my age, I think that that is a fair assumption and I agree. Secondly, he said that Heathrow is in the wrong place. Yes, it is, but we cannot say, “I wouldn’t start from here.” We must start from where Heathrow is. But I agree with him. Thirdly, he said that he welcomed the disappearance of the Cranford agreement. I agree with him on that as well.

I like to call the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) my friend, because he is my neighbour and we have never argued with each other nastily and I appreciate that. I agree with him. He has problems with his party line and I am in the same position, so we have something in common.

I also agree with my genuine hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—a real friend—who says that the Secretary of State should be in the House of Commons.

As far as I am concerned, the position remains the same. Provided that the real environmental issues can be overcome, I am still of the view that Heathrow needs another runway; the need is now more urgent than it was. I accept that there have been changes since the last debate. The economy has made life more difficult for everybody. I realise that the amount of air travel is decreasing. I am conscious of the issue of whether Ferrovial will be able to finance the project in the current climate; but I do not know about that. The forced sale of Gatwick and Stansted has come into the equation and will have some impact. In addition, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, any legal challenge could slow the process.

I am a realist. I see what is going on. But my views are not just mine; they are the views of the majority of my constituents, which is probably not surprising, because of all the boroughs around Heathrow mine has the highest percentage of people working directly at the airport. My view is also shared by my local council, which is not represented by the 2M group, despite its claim to represent everybody around the airport.

The reasons are fairly obvious, but in the little time that I have may I comment on one or two things that my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor said? He started by saying that there were 70,000 jobs at Heathrow, directly and indirectly. With the greatest respect, that is not so. There are 70,000 jobs inside the boundary fence and at least as many again outside depend on the airport, directly or indirectly. So the number of jobs is probably double the figure that he gave us.

My hon. Friend suggested that destinations do not matter, but they do. People only have to talk to the airlines to get an answer on that. It is not surprising that
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the airlines will not put in the public domain the routes that would be under threat if Heathrow declines, because if they were to announce that routes were dodgy, people would go somewhere else and it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My hon. Friend also said that there can be growth without another runway, but one of the big arguments about another runway at Heathrow is not about growth. I know and accept that growth is involved, but growth based on the existing runways is related to the larger-aircraft issue. It is not just about the growth of the other airports, but about the need to solve the problems of delays, circling and lost baggage, all because the two existing runways are vastly overused and any delay produces lots of cancellations. There is an opposite argument to be made in that regard.

My hon. Friend also mentioned a five-airport hub. I do not think that there will be many volunteers to fly into Gatwick to get a bus to Heathrow, en route to somewhere else. Instead, people would go to Schiphol, Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle and save making a bus journey between airports.

A lot is made of the economic case and much is said about the Oxford Economics report, which is now out of date. I have Oxford Economics’ new report, which has just come into my hands, although I must be honest and say that I have not had a chance to read all of it. But, again, it is new information and it deserves study. I think that we will find, from what I have seen so far, that it reinforces the economic case for another runway.

My hon. Friend said that he did not want to close Heathrow, but also said that there is a need for a new airport somewhere else. One only has to look at the experience around the world.

Adam Afriyie: I am not sure that I said quite that. In fact, I am not sure that I said quite what my hon. Friend said I did in respect of the other points that he made. I was not arguing for an airport elsewhere; I was arguing for the alternatives to be looked at seriously.

Mr. Wilshire: Okay, if one looked at the matter seriously and decided that it would be a good idea to have another airport elsewhere—I take my hon. Friend’s point that he did not say that he wanted one—the idea presumably would be to have one. Looking at the rest of the world, in Montreal, for example, where they have done just that, the new airport is now being closed because the old one is still open and everybody uses it. In Hong Kong, which I have mentioned, and in Denver, the old airports were shut and the business was transferred. That is the way that a new airport can be made to work. Let us not hop about. A new airport somewhere else replaces Heathrow: it does not complement it.

On using runways to full capacity, we did not get a definition of “full capacity”. At the moment, we are running at 99 per cent. capacity, which is causing problems. The airports elsewhere, which are Heathrow’s competitors, are running at about 75 per cent., which they think is about the capacity that is justified to offer a decent service. The same argument applies at Heathrow.

Carbon emissions are mentioned regularly. Yes, if the world can come to an agreement that everywhere will do something about carbon emissions, that is a case to follow. However, if one says, “We unilaterally will do
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something that will harm the British aviation industry while everybody else doesn’t bother,” why should we want to undermine our own economy and watch other people benefit from that point of view?

On high-speed rail, the best figure that I have, which is recent, shows that no more than 11 per cent. of transfer passengers using Heathrow are domestic passengers. If we take 11 per cent. as the only number involved, not all of them will use a high-speed rail link, so not many people will not take flights and instead get there by train. That would be an awfully big investment to make to solve nothing much of a problem.

Mr. Randall: Many people who currently fly into Heathrow from other parts of the country and are not in transit would be coming by high-speed rail.

Mr. Wilshire: That is highly unlikely. These figures are the best one has in respect of passengers in the domestic market coming into Heathrow. That market is not big. Almost all the flights are international. The number of regional flights is declining as ever more people go from regional airports to Schiphol, Amsterdam and Charles de Gaulle. That is another reason why not much is done about carbon emissions, because somebody makes the same flight but goes to a different destination. In addition, the great bulk of transit passengers is not from the United Kingdom, as I have just said. Those are the brief responses that I can give in the time available.

We are in an economic downturn, which is hurting all of us and includes hurt to Heathrow and the airlines that use it. Instead of putting off the runway issue, that is an argument for bringing it forward. Unless the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is correct, no public money is involved. If there were I would rethink the matter, but at the moment, no public money is on offer. The project would provide 6,000 or 7,000 construction jobs when we desperately need jobs, and Heathrow would be ready to benefit before anyone else when the upturn comes.

10.30 am

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate. I speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, and also my constituents in Richmond Park, who are utterly determined to continue to resist the third runway. They are glad that Members of Parliament are continuing to find different mechanisms to ensure that the matter remains on the public agenda, and that Ministers continue to answer their questions.

We have had a change of Secretary of State for Transport and the complete ministerial team, and I hope that that will be an opportunity to rethink past decisions, particularly as some key members of the team have a track record and expertise in transport, which could not be said of the previous Secretary of State, whose speeches about Heathrow were described as disgraceful, and rightly so. I hope that the change will be a new opportunity.

I am glad that we have had a statement from the Conservative party on its policy on a Thames estuary airport. The local prospective parliamentary candidate in my constituency has written to the papers arguing for the closure of Heathrow and its replacement with an
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estuary airport. That would definitely be a wrong decision. An estuary airport would have four runways, the climate change implications would be phenomenal, and the impact on the surrounding area and the loss of jobs would be dramatic. I am glad that we have had clarification on that.

Several hon. Members referred to financing and it was pointed out that the recent economic recession has changed the picture. Obviously, the impact of BAA’s financial condition on its parent company has raised genuine concern. The recession has hit the aviation industry extremely hard, but I hope that the new administration that is examining transport issues will consider the financing issue more closely. The various statements to justify rejecting most of the comments and protests during the Heathrow consultation suggested that environmental safeguards had been put in place to limit use of the third runway to half capacity or, if the appropriate aircraft were not available, to prevent it from opening. I see no way in which any financial institution would fund around £16 billion in construction and financing costs with that possibility on the horizon without Government guarantees or letters of comfort plastered all over it.

I have received letters from the Department saying that that has not been discussed or even contemplated, and that it would never happen, but we need reassurance. All those issues are reinforced by the current financial pressures that the aviation industry and BAA specifically are facing. I was interested to hear that our one voice so far in support of the third runway is concerned about public money and resources being pumped into the third runway proposal.

Many of the comments that have been made, particularly those from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), covered the issues that I would like to cover, so I shall limit my speech and align myself with those. The blight that faces the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is totally unacceptable. There is great anxiety among my constituents after suddenly learning that the national policy study for aviation will not appear in draft before 2011. My constituents fear that that will leave a period in which BAA may make an application and ask for it to be dealt with under a different regime, which might be much more favourable to a yes answer, rather than raising even the relatively weak questions that would arise in an aviation national policy statement.

Residents living under the flight path need a lot of clarification on the process. The timetables that we have been able to download from various Government websites seem to be completely irrelevant to trying to understand what the procedures will be. Serious local concerns arose from the residents’ meeting with the former Secretary of State for Transport, and the current Secretary of State in his then role as Minister with responsibility for railways, which failed to address local traffic issues. That contributes greatly to air pollution in the area, but the answer in every case was, “We are not considering that; it is for local authorities to do so.” That was extremely disturbing because we will almost double the number of passengers at Heathrow, and consequently the number of people trying to reach Heathrow, many of them by road. Business leaders have been courageous in finally coming forward and exposing the hollowness of many of the arguments, and I associate myself with all those.

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I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak, and I am anxious to hear the Minister. I reiterate my party’s ongoing opposition on grounds of climate change, and the impact of noise and air pollution on local communities. A final request to the Minister is that he tells us at some point what will happen with the application for derogation from air quality. I again congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor on raising the issue.

10.37 am

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate, and on his excellent contribution on a matter of great concern to all hon. Members here. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on their typically robust comments about their constituents’ concerns, which were echoed by the Liberal Democrats’ spokesman. If there were a contest between the bulldozers and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, I know whom I would back in a straight contest.

I shall endorse rather than repeat the various plaudits for the environmental groups, trade unions, and business men who have stepped out of line with what was briefly consensus among the business community and are speaking out against a project that we believe will inflict devastating damage on the environment and the quality of life of millions of people in London and the western home counties. The Conservative party plans to make Heathrow a better airport, rather than a bigger one.

Three arguments are usually made in favour of a third runway at Heathrow: the UK plc argument and two aviation-specific ones. Despite a number of voices, including that of the CBI, the UK plc argument is extremely weak. It has been heavily based on one study—the Oxford Economics study, which has nothing whatever to do with Oxford university, whose transport unit takes a different line. The study is full of one-sided assumptions. It prices none of the downside of expansion, apart from carbon, and even ignores road congestion. It centres its calculations on assumptions mostly at the extreme favourable end of each scale. It bizarrely includes aviation tax as a net gain to the UK economy, and it assumes that BAA will be allowed to continue to operate one of the stingiest schemes for noise insulation in the world. However, that document is still the only major study behind the UK plc side of the argument.

Even before the recession, BAA admitted that only 36 per cent. of passengers travelling through Heathrow were business passengers. If we remove the transit ones, barely one quarter of the passengers going through Heathrow are British business men or people coming to do business in Britain.

Mr. Wilshire: My hon. Friend mentions the Oxford Economics report. Has he had a chance to read the new one?

Mr. Brazier: I have not been through the new one in detail yet. I look forward to doing that, but if the quality of the work compares to the quality of the work in the last one, it will not add very much to the argument.

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