§ [Relevant documents: The Sixth Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2002–03, on Aviation (HC 454) and the Government's response thereto (Cm 6047). The Third Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2003–04, on Pre-Budget Report 2003: Aviation Follow-up (HC 233) and the Seventh Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2003–04, on Aviation: Sustainability and the Government Response (HC 623).]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Derek Twigg.]2.11 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty)
The White Paper entitled "The Future of Air Transport", which was published on 16 December, is recognised by many people as breaking new ground. In the history of policy papers on aviation, it is the first to make a comprehensive and integrated attempt to put in place a strategic framework with a 30-year horizon. Other White Papers, whatever the nature of the Government who produced them, were largely concerned with catching up with prevailing conditions. They did not look to the future or the 30-year vista established in the present White Paper, which shows that the Government are prepared to take difficult decisions and see that they are followed through. It shows the Government's commitment to modernising Britain's communications infrastructure to allow us to compete properly in the global economy. It recognises the importance of aviation in our economy and shows that we understand fully the critical balance between aviation and the environment. As I said, it provides the first strategic vision for our airports in nearly 30 years, and includes a programme of action to ensure that key policy objectives are met. As the Secretary of State for Transport said when the consultation was introduced, whatever policy prevails, doing nothing is not an option when it comes to making things happen.
People who would make sloppy, rather than intellectually rigorous, criticisms of the White Paper might dismiss it for taking a predict-and-provide approach. That, however, is an easy canard, as early drafts of the White Paper gave three graded demand curves on future aviation ranging from 400 to 600 million passenger movements. Total capacity will be nowhere near the higher end of that demand structure. Unless people have degrees in futurology or far-sightedness, they should not dismiss the White Paper for taking a predict-and-provide approach. That is not helpful, and we need a mature debase about the future of our air transport industry and aviation in general.
We have already had the opportunity to debate specific recommendations in the White Paper, including those on Scotland and the midlands. On an estimates day we had a useful but limited debate on the document itself, and I am pleased that we have a chance to debate it again today. I should like to paint a picture showing where we are six months after its publication and update the House on the way in which the Government and others are developing some of its recommendations in advance of the progress report that we intend to publish in 2006.
176 I am delighted that there is a great deal of interest in our debate. Even with the extended time now available, there is still a limit on Back Benchers' speeches. It is important that the Government hear people's views six months after the publication of the White Paper, when they have had time to reflect and resist any early knee jerk reactions.
Our priority is to focus on realising the objectives set out in the White Paper; to ensure that the best use is made of existing airport capacity and that regional airports, where appropriate, continue to grow; and to follow up the commitment to increase capacity in the south-east of England. We have not been idle in the six months following 16 December, and work is already in hand. I shall set out what has been achieved so far and, more importantly, what we expect to happen next. I have been encouraged by the airport operators' positive response to the White Paper and their quick reactions in taking the policy forward. I hope that that will continue. I fully accept that communities close to all airports, not simply those earmarked for expansion, should have clear information about their development in the next 10, 15 or 30 years. We have asked every airport to produce a master plan by the end of the year, and we will consult on their form and timetable. Airports that will undergo lesser expansion, as well as those seeking to achieve significant increases in capacity, should explain how they might expand and, within their region, grow in spatial and economic capacity.
§ Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con)
The hon. Gentleman said that he had asked every airport to produce a report. Does he agree that we can prevent misunderstandings and knee-jerk reactions by keeping local communities close to airports up to date with what is happening at all times? My experience is that that helps to get the truth across. If he is already doing so, is he prepared to give a step-by-step explanation of progress?
§ Mr. McNulty
On balance, I agree, with the exception of the phrase "at all times." It may not be appropriate to tell communities that certain meetings or processes are unfolding if there is not a tangible end product. With that minor quibble, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and shall look at specific issues affecting Heathrow and Stansted, as well as larger projects discussed in the White Paper. Broadly, communities should have information about how their local airport is going to develop. There has been much discussion about development, not simply in London and the south-east but in other areas where people are troubled by the lack of information about the future of their airports. We are trying to facilitate the provision of such information—that is the essence of master planning, whether of larger airports in London and the south-east or of smaller regional airports. It is in the interests of operators and others to ensure that, even if they cannot take their communities with them as they develop, people are kept informed.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
Apart from the big three airports, there is no statutory planning process for approving airport expansion or, indeed, verifying the plans. Given what the Minister has just said, will he consider instigating a procedure whereby he adds his imprimatur to an airport's plans 177 and verifies them, so that there is recourse and redress if there is a complete collapse of trust, as there is with Nottingham East Midlands airport, and people do not believe what the airport says?
§ Mr. McNulty
I suspect that however eloquently put, the hon. Gentleman's question is slightly mischievous. He knows as much as I do about the legislative framework for planning, and he knows that his suggestion could not be implemented without a radical—even more radical than we have already carried out—change to planning legislation.
We are seeking master plans for every airport, including Nottingham East Midlands. Those master plans, as I understand it, will not have the status of development documents with the consequent implications for planning legislation, but they will be material planning matters that need due consideration under the planning legislation. I hope that in all cases there would be a good deal of consultation between the airports and their local communities about at least some elements of the master planning process, or at least some education about why the master plan goes in one direction rather than another.
In the end, those are commercial documents and part of the commercial growth and general plans of an airport. Clearly, as the hon. Gentleman says, knowledge will be important. The local community's trust and cooperation will not be forthcoming if the plan is perceived as distilled and imposed from on high, rather than being subject to consultation, but as to whether we will change the law so that my legalistic imprimatur is on the plan and everything comes back to me if it all goes pear shaped, I suspect that the answer is no. However, I will check whether that is correct.
§ Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
Given the previous question, can the Minister tell the House in what way the plans will be accountable to the local community? They are business plans—commercial proposals—yet they are to be introduced into the quasi-legal process that is planning. How will BAA's proposals for Stansted, for example, be accountable to my constituents and those of the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst)?
§ Mr. McNulty
As the hon. Gentleman knows, ultimately the proposals will be accountable—if that is the right word for a business document—through the planning process and the democratic input into it. The hon. Gentleman evidently does not have the confidence in Uttlesford district council that others have. That is the most appropriate place for development applications and processes to unfold. Those are essentially commercial documents. We are insisting on them because it is important that each and every airport ensures that its local community knows how the airport will develop.
In some cases—including Stansted, one would hope—planning applications will follow rapidly from the issue of master plans, because of the time frames laid out in the White Paper to which BAA is committed. In other cases the process will unfold over the long term. The hon. Gentleman knows that local and regional 178 airports, especially those outside London and the south-east, will be at assorted stages of progress and development as entities, from Finningley, if I may use that shorthand description of the newest one in South Yorkshire, all the way through to Manchester, so their master plans and how they evolve will be markedly different.
§ Mr. Duncan
To assist the Minister in developing the argument, I think he is speaking about the planning proposals that attach to an airport as its footprint expands on the ground. My point was about the volume of flight in the air. That is where there is a big planning deficiency.
§ Mr. McNulty
I apologise if I misled the hon. Gentleman. I mean all that. I do not mean simply precursors to planning applications. As will be clear from the consultation, when we speak of master plans we mean the growth and development of the airport in terms of noise, blight, footprint and possibly aspirational expansion into areas that are not part of the current footprint. Where such detailed planning applications are further down the line, we hope that that will promote the debate, discourse and information that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) seeks.
The master plans are at various stages of development, and I accept that they should include many of the considerations that apply to Nottingham East Midlands, in terms of an expansion of capacity for flights and passenger movements that will take place within the existing footprint but will have noise implications and affect various other public amenities.
The master planning process is right. We will continue to support the work of others on a wide range of issues, while respecting the ultimate backstop, or endgame: the planning process. We will continue to work closely with the regulator, airlines and airport operators to ensure that the right capacity is provided at the right time, at the right price and in the right locations. We will ensure that the elements of the White Paper for which we are directly responsible are provided on time and in conjunction with work carried out by others, and that they provide value for money for taxpayers. But that does not mean that we have stopped listening and learning. We want all stakeholder groups—I apologise for that phrase—to be involved in the continuing work, to assist us and, no doubt, to challenge us.
The first priority purely in terms of timing, as outlined in the White Paper, is a second runway at Stansted by 2012. We look to BAA as the airport operator to develop the detailed design for a new runway and associated development. BAA is working closely with local communities, airport users and all relevant agencies in taking that forward—not by any means with the full support of local communities, but working closely with them.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister so early, but what does he imagine will be the immediate effect on the growth at Heathrow between now and the expansion that he envisages at Stansted?
§ Mr. McNulty
Between the development at Stansted and any subsequent decision to develop or otherwise a third runway at Heathrow, my hon. Friend knows that there are various matters to be considered, such as Heathrow maintaining its existing capacity or considering with an open mind the notion of mixed mode and other operations at Heathrow, and ways of optimising, with all the caveats relating to strategy and the environment, the development at Heathrow between now and the development of the first new runway in the south-east at Stansted, as discussed in the White Paper. There is much work to be done at Heathrow before any decision is taken about whether, particularly for environmental reasons, a third runway is feasible. But that does not mean that nothing will happen at Heathrow till then. My hon. Friend's point is well made.
We expect BAA to bring forward two planning applications to the local planning authority in due course, the first for an increase in capacity to 35 million passengers per annum, and the second for the construction of the new runway. As a first step to delivery, BAA has assembled a team to take forward development of the airport. It has also launched a home value guarantee scheme for about 100 houses within the airport boundary. The scheme allows home owners to sell to BAA at an appropriate time for the full market value of the property and entitles them to an additional payment once planning permission is obtained. I understand that BAA has agreed to purchase about 20 such properties so far. For those living very close to the airport boundary affected by noise, BAA has consulted on a home owners support scheme and is currently considering the responses received.
In line with our White Paper commitments the Government today laid before Parliament the draft statutory instrument to change the regulation of the aircraft movement limit at Stansted so that in future it will be managed by the local planning authority. Hon. Members will know that thus far the limit has been set by the House, rather than the local planning authority. There will be an increase in the movement limit, which has been agreed between BAA and Uttlesford district council.
The White Paper recognised Heathrow's central role in the UK aviation industry. Our efforts focus on considering ways of meeting the key environmental conditions for a third runway. I have said this before but it bears repetition: the environmental dimension to what the White Paper says about Heathrow is not intended as a sop to the green lobby while we let Heathrow do whatever it wants, nor is it intended as an impediment to development at Heathrow if those environmental concerns cannot be met. They are real concerns that must be met in full, as outlined in the White Paper, before we advance. Work is needed on those and other concerns before 2010 or 2012, as my hon. Friend suggested.
A substantial programme of work is under way to inform the White Paper progress in report in 2006. Air quality is one major focus of the work, and development 180 at Heathrow depends on our ability to comply with EU air quality standards, including the nitrogen dioxide limit, which comes into effect in 2010. We will re-examine the assessments of impacts made before the White Paper, and three technical panels have been set up to review the data and help to develop an accepted scientific basis for further assessments. New research and data collection are also planned for later this year.
§ Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD)
On air quality, will the Government be solely guided by the European Union statutory limits on NOx emissions, or will they also take account of ground level ozone, which, as the Minister knows from the King's College London studies published this week, already reaches dangerous levels across west London on 70 days in the year?
§ Mr. McNulty
The three technical panels will review all the data. It is hard to discern where aviation-related impacts stop and car-related impacts start. The EU directive and the elements that come into effect in 2010 are important, but an environmental assessment will be made in the round—those elements must be factored in to determine the environmental dimensions appropriate to a third runway.
§ Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab)
The Minister mentions a possible European problem. Have studies of environmental impact been undertaken at Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt or other international airports?
§ Mr. McNulty
I shall return to that point shortly, but I want to continue my little run through Heathrow and some other airports—the point is, of course, germane.
To ensure transparency, independent experts have been invited to sit on the panels, and we are considering a peer review of the panels' work. Again, the airport operator has been quick to react: BAA is currently examining the operational aspects of mixed mode under a range of possible scenarios, including the existing 480,000 air transport movement limit. National Air Traffic Services is carrying out work on the airspace design implications to help BAA develop scenarios that can then be tested for air quality and noise impacts.
I shall return to the point made by my hon. Friend at a more appropriate point in my speech. I am standing at the Dispatch Box two hours before I anticipated that that would happen, but I am sure that the House will indulge me and allow me to fill those two hours.
I shall stop here momentarily and discuss NATS. The public private partnership now handles record numbers of flights, and NATS has a consistently high safety record. Last week's events showed us how skilled NATS is in maintaining a safe and efficient air traffic system in this country. Upgrades to the old flight data processing system at West Drayton were first tested extensively in simulation. Crucially, they were then tested offline on the real system on last Wednesday night. When NATS started to turn the system back on, the system locked, so it shifted to the back-up manual system and imposed flight restrictions to ensure that safety was not compromised.
Those restrictions ensured that all incoming flights could land and that all flights in UK airspace could be handled normally—the only delay was to outgoing 181 flights. The system was closed for rebooting at 6 am; it was running well by 6.40 am; it was fully operational at 7.5 am; and all flight restrictions had been removed by 8 am. Flights, some of which were cancelled, were then rescheduled by the airlines.
Although the system is serviceable and is widely used elsewhere, it is not new technology, and the PPP is bringing £1 billion of investment to NATS infrastructure over the next 10 years. The replacement for the flight data processing system is one of the key elements of that new investment. The new CASPIAN system, which will be introduced at Prestwick in 2009 and at Swanwick in 2010–12, will be vital in ensuring high safety standards across the UK and in the London area in particular. Just in case anyone thinks that that is a coded message, I emphasise that any proposal to introduce mixed mode at Heathrow would be subject to full consultation and environmental assessment—recent newspaper headlines about a "secret plan" are just daft.
The White Paper recognises that surface access solutions for Heathrow must be based around improved public transport and demand management. We have had an initial discussion on that point with key personnel and interested parties, and further discussions will follow. A series of work streams flows from the points about Heathrow outlined in the White Paper.
I have met a number of MPs for whom Heathrow is an immediate local concern. Following those meetings—this point relates to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Spelthorne—the key point is that I am struggling, but we will reach a stage where we can implement a mechanism to allow local communities to receive more significant feedback. These are still early days, and we have not been able to implement such a mechanism over the past six months, as I have said once or twice to hon. Members whose constituencies are in the area, but when time frames and deadlines have been implemented on mixed mode or other consultation processes, I assure hon. Members that I will seek to implement a device to keep the MPs concerned involved, if not some wider device to allow people access to clear information.
§ Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD)
The Minister must know that the very suggestion of mixed mode makes my constituents feel that they will never have any peace—even with half a day's respite, they already suffer a great deal of noise. How long will the consultation on mixed mode take and when is a decision likely?
§ Mr. McNulty
As and when there are stories to tell and timelines and processes to unfold, I will let those hon. Members with a clear constituency interest in Heathrow know about them. We are not about to consult on mixed mode. The related work is complex and important and it must be carried out in full, so that the consultation has some substance and so that people are not led up and down the hill on more than one occasion. If I receive more information over the next day or so, I shall gladly write to the hon. Lady, but I suspect that I will not receive any such information.
The impact of such a change requires much technical investigation on, for example, whether the change occurs within the existing movements limit and what 182 form it should take, and such issues must be examined in detail before we put the matter out to consultation. I take the point that people are unclear about what will happen, but I would far rather that they achieve clarity by a proper consultation process rooted in research analysis and based on firm proposals rather than by a Liberal Democrat referendum that asked, "Do you want mixed mode? Yes or no?"
§ Mr. McNulty
With respect, I shall not. I was joking when I mentioned filling up the extra two hours of debate, but if I keep taking interventions liberally—no pun intended—other hon. Members will have no chance to speak.
In this debate I am keen to hear from Back Benchers, but I am also keen to hear from Conservative Front Benchers. The last speech made by a Conservative Front Bencher on aviation policy was 20 pages long, but it said exactly nothing, and it will be interesting to see whether Conservative aviation policy has advanced.
Environmental issues are particularly important for the UK, because of our leading role in international aviation and the success of the London airport system—the matter is not only an issue for Heathrow. The White Paper recognises that it is vital that the environmental impacts of aviation are adequately addressed, and, again, work is in hand.
The climate change impacts of aviation are a serious concern. Greenhouse gas emissions from aviation are rising, which is a global problem that requires global solutions, and the UK is showing leadership in addressing that challenge. Many sceptics and climate change-deniers exist around the world, and we must work hard to win them over. In February, the UK and other European states succeeded in persuading the rest of the world to develop guidelines on incorporating aviation in a future global emissions trading scheme, and we intend to press for the inclusion of intra-EU air services in the EU emissions trading scheme around 2008, and we will pursue that goal vigorously during next year's UK presidency of the EU.
A new international standard for NOx emissions from new aircraft engines comes into effect in 2008. It is 12 per cent. tougher than the current standard—we wanted more than 12 per cent., but 12 per cent. is better than a lower increase—and will help to slow down the absolute increase in global NOx emissions. We are also examining working practices and the potential for new technologies to minimise climate change.
It is fair to say that airport operators, too, are taking the environment seriously. For example, BAA is pursuing a rang of policies to reduce emissions, including greater use of public transport, restrictions on the use of private vehicles, use of fixed electrical ground power, and the introduction of an emissions-related element in Heathrow landing charges.
On 15 January 2004, we announced our decision to continue existing right flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted for a further year—to 30 October 2005. We have also undertaken to consult on a new night noise regime for those airports to apply thereafter. We aim to publish the first of two consultation papers in the near future. Furthermore, we will, when 183 parliamentary time permits, seek powers to require greater use of noise charges, new mitigation and compensation packages for noise, and new legislation on the control of noise.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con)
The Minister will be aware that the Office for National Statistics recently produced documentation showing that greenhouse gas emissions from aviation rose by 85 per cent. between 1990 and 2002. Will he take this opportunity categorically to deny that his Department sought to intervene in the press release that the ONS intended to issue in connection with those statistics?
§ Mr. McNulty
I categorically deny that, as have colleagues and others in the Department on numerous occasions. In the report produced by his Committee—the Environmental Audit Committee—the hon. Gentleman said that he was appalled by recent reports that the Department interfered with the publication of ONS environmental accounts. If he had rung me up to ask about that, I could have saved him from being appalled, because it never happened in any way, shape or form. That is what the chief statistician says, as does everybody involved in the process. As statisticians of some repute, they chose not to publish any information for which they could not reconcile figures from various sources. In fact, the figures on aviation were not a million miles away from each other. The aspect about which the ONS statisticians had serious concerns was the reconciliation of the impact of freight traffic on the environment. I can categorically and 100 per cent. deny that there was any interference of any description. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was so distressed that he had to mention it in his Committee's report, but I can gladly put his mind to rest.
§ Mr. Donohoe
Does my hon. Friend believe that we are on a level playing field with European airports such as Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle?
§ Mr. McNulty
I understand what my hon. Friend is trying to suggest. Certainly, much of the competition that the London airports—Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick—face is not from other regional airports, but from Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle, and others in the golden triangles surrounding London and the south-east and the equivalent areas in France and the Netherlands. Although we should bear that in mind, it is important that any increase in the capacity of airports in London and the south-east takes place in a firmly British policy context in terms of our legislative planning framework. Many people say that if travellers do not fly out of the London and south-east airports, it is not their natural second choice to go from Manchester or Birmingham, although it may be in some cases, so there is key competition from Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and others. Equally, some airport operators claim that the planning framework and assorted other frameworks, not least those relating to the environment, are much more liberal—in the true sense of the word, not that hijacked by the Liberal Democrats—elsewhere, so it is far easier to expand Charles de Gaulle or Schiphol.
I take my hon. Friend's point, but I am not seeking a level playing field in the sense of moving towards greater liberalisation, because we understand that although 184 those airports compete with those in London and the south-east, any further substantive development of capacity in London and the south-east must take place within the consensually-based legislative and environmental framework that prevails in British public policy.
In fairness to other hon. Members who wish to speak, I will deal with some other elements when they arise in the course of the debate—particularly the development of several regional airports and cross-regional concerns such as public service obligations and route development funds, which relate to the connectivity of London with the rest of the country. I do not skirt round those matters because they lack importance—they are extremely important for people in the regions—but to allow other hon. Members to speak.
§ Mr. Wilshire
I wholly agree that aviation policy and planning should be kept within a British context, but would the Minister extend that sentiment to keeping British control of the negotiations with the Americans rather than allowing the Europeans to sell us down the river to other airlines across the Channel?
§ Mr. McNulty
We were doing very well in getting through a debate of such sensitivity with reasoned, common-sense remarks from Opposition Members, even the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), but the hon. Gentleman's comment is as ridiculous as his tie. [Interruption.] It is more a case of Piglet than Winnie the Pooh. In terms of the relationship between Britain and the US, the future of aviation lies in our developing open skies policy between us. That process is better served by EU-US talks than by bilateral talks. That position is held by all European countries, including Britain, and by the US—by everyone, it would appear, except the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. McNulty
And, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)—I should have remembered that in view of the Adjournment debate that took place the other week.
The air transport White Paper sets out a long-term vision for the future of air transport in the UK. There is much to be done by 2006, when I promise the House that we will carry out a substantive progress review of what has happened since the publication of the White Paper. That review will show that we have made a good start. We are determined to get on with the job of delivering the White Paper's objectives—firmly within the framework of developing an aviation sector that can continue to make a vibrant contribution to our economy, but only within the clear and well understood environmental constraints that all hon. Members would broadly share and are outlined in detail in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)
I am delighted that we are having this debate. I should start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), who has doggedly asked for such a debate week after week at business questions. His doggedness has been rewarded, and I am glad that Ministers listened to him.
185 I agree with the Minister that this is a good opportunity not only to discuss the White Paper, but to take stock of what has happened since its publication. The House will be grateful to him for the information that he conveyed, particularly in the early part of his speech before his pugilistic instincts got the better of him as he drew to a conclusion. I want to deal with the serious issues that are raised by the White Paper and I hope that he will be satisfied by my attempts to give the Government some helpful advice about the policies that they are pursuing.
In the course of the next few minutes—I shall try to be briefer than the Minister, because I am aware that many Members on both sides of the House want to speak—I will make some comments that the Minister will not like. I therefore preface them by saying that I fully recognise the difficulties that face any Government who find themselves in the position of having to produce a White Paper on aviation.
We should have a grown-up debate. We all know that the opponents of any project for expansion are likely to be more vociferous than its supporters and we know the passions that proposals for new runways arouse. I expect that many of them will be expressed today, not only about Heathrow and Stansted, but about Gatwick, Luton, East Midlands and Manchester airports—and possibly airports at all points east, west, north and south of those. However, hon. Members should acknowledge that aviation has been the transport sector's most obvious success story in the past 20 years, not least because it has been properly subject to competition and consumer choice. We want that success to continue.
I shall deal with the main issues in the White Paper and others that have arisen. They include some environmental considerations, thoughts on state aid for airlines and, most topically, the subject of the Transport Council later this week. The Minister considered that briefly in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). The Transport Council could make decisions that have far-reaching and damaging effects on the future of British aviation. It is therefore timely for the House to consider it today.
I shall take the White Paper on its own terms. It sensibly sets out a list of balanced criteria against which we should judge it. They are the need to expand capacity and people's desire to travel by air alongside a wish to minimise the effect of airports on those who live near them and a requirement that aviation should pay the cost of its activities' impact on society. It is impossible to argue with any of that. Does the Government's policy live up to their laudable stated objectives?
When the White Paper was published, we said that the problems with it were twofold. First, it fudged some key issues and would therefore cause blight around airports as legal battles were fought. Secondly, there was little sign of the joined-up thinking that we are always promised, either between aviation and the rest of the Department for Transport's responsibilities or between the Department for Transport and other arms of Government. Six months later, both initial fears have been shown to be completely realistic.
186 Much of the debate about the White Paper inevitably centres on runway capacity in the south-east of England. The problems of fudging and incoherence are illustrated by events around Stansted. Some sort of legal challenge to whatever the Government proposed was always likely, but it is significant that the challengers are seeking judicial review on the ground that the development of the policy in the White Paper was fundamentally flawed. There were four flaws: lack of commercial justification for a second Stansted runway; the potential for mixed-mode use of runways at Heathrow; the failure to allow comments on proposals to extend the runway at Luton; and the failure to give proper consideration to other options in the south-east.
I am sure that others will want to deal with those matters in more detail and I shall therefore not detain hon. Members by developing the individual complaints. However, they show the disappointment in a White Paper that was a long time in gestation but, when it appeared, seemed to have missed some basic points and had been produced in a way that would not allow policies to be implemented without long, difficult and expensive legal challenges for those involved in bringing them and for the taxpayer.
It is legitimate to ask whether the Government's favoured option of an early second runway at Stansted will ever come to pass. Most of the recent growth at Stansted has been in low-cost flights that have done so much to increase people's opportunity to travel. A new runway would mean higher charges, which may well drive away the low-cost operators. If BAA tries to fund it with cross-subsidy from the airlines that use Heathrow, another round of bitterly contested court cases will take place. It is therefore reasonable to question the commercial viability of a second runway at Stansted.
The other issue starkly illustrated by Stansted is the apparent lack of communication between Departments. The Secretary of State for Transport says that he wants a second runway at Stansted in a few years because the surrounding area is thinly populated. Meanwhile, the Deputy Prime Minister wants to build thousands of new homes around Stansted. One can have a larger airport or more housing, but not both, without severe environmental problems. Page 33 of the White Paper speaks of discouraging or prohibiting inappropriate developments around airports. I hope that a copy has reached the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister by now because there is no evidence that he had one before it was published.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con)
Has my hon. Friend noticed a further contradiction in Government policy? The rural White Paper states thatprotecting the countryside from further intrusion of noise is not a luxury. It is about preserving and promoting a feature that is genuinely valued by residents and visitors alike.Yet the transport White Paper states that the intrusion of noise in rural areas "is inevitable".
§ Mr. Green
My hon. and learned Friend makes an extremely good point, which extends my point that the lack of joined-up thinking and consultation is clearly not confined to the Department for Transport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but extends to the 187 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The aviation White Paper illustrates that, because a successful aviation industry will affect millions of people who have no direct responsibility for it or perhaps derive no direct benefit from it. That is why I said at the outset that I recognised the difficulties that Ministers faced, but the least that people and. indeed, the House can expect is some coherence across Government. No Government in history have talked about joined-up government more than the current Administration, yet few Governments have practised it so little.
Stansted is not alone as an example of the failure to bring Government thinking together. Birmingham airport is the Government's preferred location for an additional runway in the midlands. So it is surprising—I put it no more strongly—that the Department shelved plans for an expansion of the M42, which would serve the airport directly. We are all aware of the delays and frustrations of the west coast main line development. It is as though the aviation White Paper was produced in a vacuum, with no input from other parts of the transport planning process, let alone the wider land use planning process. Perhaps that is best illustrated by the White Paper's attitude to the third runway at Heathrow. That is another proposal that inevitably arouses strong passions on both sides—I daresay that we will hear them expressed in the debate.
Whatever attitude one takes to the proposal, it is undeniable that it cannot proceed until we solve the emissions problems that would break EU permitted limits on NOX—oxides of nitrogen—by 2010, as the Minister said. It is equally undeniable that the main cause of the undesirable emissions around Heathrow is the cars that are stuck in queues on the motorways that serve the airport. The White Paper is silent about the way in which the Government propose to solve that.
It would have been useful to use the White Paper to start a debate on the merits of ideas such as the Airtrack scheme or a spur to the Great Western main line, but the chance was missed. The truth is that two thirds of the emissions problems at Heathrow are caused by difficulties with the road and rail infrastructure. Unless those problems are sorted out, all the good efforts by BAA and the airlines to clean up their act will not have much material effect.
In the past few days, we have seen a report that throws doubt on another part of the White Paper: the proposal for mixed-mode use of the runways at Heathrow. The Minister dismissed the report as simply "daft". I should like to explore that further and ascertain whether he meant that the report's contents were daft or whether perhaps the author was daft. The person who wrote it was Professor Peter Brooker, a former adviser to the Department for Transport on aircraft noise. He says that 42,000 people would be exposed to noise above the acceptable threshold under the mixed-mode proposal.
It is possible that, after the debate, not just in the House but elsewhere, the mixed-mode proposal will still be thought desirable and necessary, but it would be better for all concerned if the Government were to lead the debate on this issue and to try to get all the factual information as soon as possible, rather than trying to delay the consultation about which the Minister had an 188 exchange with the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), in which he said that it would be held all in good time. It is inevitable, at a time when people do not necessarily trust everything that the Government are saying, that people will make their own calculations.
§ Mr. Wilshire
As my hon. Friend rightly says, there are conflicting views around Heathrow. Is he aware, however, that the one thing that probably unites most, if not all, of us with an interest in the airport is that we are implacably opposed to mixed mode?
§ Mr. Green
I was aware of that, and I dare say that the House will be made fully aware of such views by the end of this debate.
The Minister will know that, for good environmental reasons, we need railways before we can build runways. In a few weeks' time, we shall see the revised version of the 10-year transport plan, and I can only hope that it will demonstrate more effort to integrate surface transport with aviation than the White Paper did. There are, of course, wider environmental matters involved. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, will no doubt have much to say on this if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall not tread on his turf, but I will say a word about emissions generally.
All of us who wish to see a flourishing aviation industry that is able to innovate and create new markets, in the way that it has in recent years, need to take this problem seriously. No national Government can solve it. Indeed, striking the right balance between a flourishing aviation industry and the need to control emissions is something that cannot be done effectively even at European level, welcome though the idea of a European emissions trading scheme is. In the end, we need countries from well beyond Europe to sign up either to minimum standards or to the use of economic instruments to cope with these issues, and we need to be realistic and to recognise that this is not going to happen in the near future. So any British Government will have to do what they can.
We can and should apply increasingly stringent standards on emissions and noise, leading to the withdrawal of the noisiest and dirtiest aircraft. I think that I heard the Minister say that he would be introducing proposals to do that and, assuming that they are practical and sensible, we shall welcome them. If we are going to develop usable and fair economic instruments—which I hope is one of the Government's long-term aims—we certainly need something less crude than the present air passenger duty. If we are going to allow more night flying, we need much more responsive attitudes towards local communities from airport operators and airlines, involving insulation schemes and the purchase of the worst-affected properties.
Much of this is for the longer term, but there is a vital issue to be decided at the Transport Council over the next few days. The Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State will be asked to sign up to a deal between the Commission and the United States Government that is supposed to provide a much more liberal regime for airlines in Europe and the US. I hesitate to intrude on the debate between the 189 distinguished Chairman of the Transport Committee and the Minister about whether those negotiations should be taking place at national or European level, but the fact remains that they are taking place between the Commission and the US, and that is what we need to deal with.
The Minister ought also to be aware that the deal that the Commission has negotiated is a bad one for large parts of the UK aviation industry. It will open up Heathrow to all US carriers, and give US carriers unlimited access to carry passengers and cargo within and beyond the EU. It does not give rights in return for our airlines to fly within the US, to buy a controlling stake in a US airline, or even to change the rules that prohibit by law any US official from using a foreign airline.
Other countries, with less to negotiate with, may well feel that an imperfect deal is better than no deal at all. However, it is very important that the Secretary of State resist this deal. Even if he is isolated, he should stand his ground. With an election coming up in the US, this is the perhaps the worst possible time to hope for flexibility from the American side. Waiting six months to get a better deal would be much better than rushing this one through.
§ David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP)
I want to support the hon. Gentleman's point by saying that American airline chief executive officers tell us that the best deal negotiated in the 1940s in Europe was the one negotiated by Her Majesty's Government on behalf of the British airlines in the bilateral negotiations with the United States. That is why the American airlines target this country more than any other in the European Union.
§ Mr. Green
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right about that, and I am grateful for his words of support.
The Conservatives want to see a more liberal regime on both sides of the Atlantic. I am aware that some UK airlines would love to see the slots at Heathrow freed up, and I sympathise with them, but that has to be done alongside a better deal from the Americans. If we miss this chance, it will damage the British aviation industry for years to come. The Secretary of State has a heavy responsibility this week, and if he fails in it he will rightly be castigated. I hope that he does not fail. That is particularly important given the continued and increasing worries about state aids.
In the wake of the terrible events of 9/11, it was perfectly reasonable for the American Government to support their aviation industry, but some years on, there is now a clear disparity between the subsidies being given to American airlines and those in this country and other parts of Europe. The issue of relative levels of state support for airlines is often presented in terms of the UK being virtuous and other European Governments being less virtuous, and that is quite right, but the difference between those levels of subsidy and those being given to American airlines at the moment is quite stark. For instance, the US Treasury recently announced that some $1.8 billion will go to meet pension commitments. I hope that such figures will provide a background for the Secretary of State when he is considering the so-called open skies agreement.
190 As I have said, I do not wish to make a tour of the country in this debate to talk about every airport mentioned in the White Paper, because other hon. Members with particular constituency concerns will wish to speak later. However, I will mention White Waltham in Maidenhead—which has been given encouragement to expand—as an example of a location at which the local people do not feel that they have been properly consulted. It is a recreational airfield, but in the White Paper the Government have deemed it ripe tooffer potential capacity in the longer term for business aviation".My hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has pointed out thatthe noise nuisance to local people is bad enough today. Just think what it would be like with business flights landing at White Waltham. The Government can't simply ignore local people's views.I am sure that similar sentiments will be expressed on both sides of the House about various proposals in the White Paper.
As I said at the outset, I recognise the conflicting pressures on Ministers. We have an aviation industry that we can be proud of, but everything that it does impinges on people who have nothing to do with the industry and also on the environment. Ministers therefore have to strike the right balance. The White Paper tried to do this, but failed in too many respects. This reflects the deeper problem that aviation policy is not integrated with the rest of transport policy, or with the Government's ideas on land use planning. This causes unnecessary distress in communities around the country, as well a promoting uncertainty among airlines and airport operators. The White Paper has been a missed opportunity, and we will need to put that right in the future.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. I should remind the House that there is an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which applies from the next speech.
§ 3.9 pm
§ John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
Six months on from the publication of the White Paper, my constituents and I are not much clearer on the process that we will have to undertake in future to protect our communities from the development of Heathrow. I thank the Minister, however, for his courtesy and co-operation in meeting Members of Parliament from the areas surrounding Heathrow, and for undertaking to meet us and local community representatives on a regular basis.
Reference has been made to the difficulties of keeping people informed and it is important to establish some mechanism by which we can keep the information flow going directly to our constituents. The meetings that have taken place, and any future meetings, have not produced and will not produce answers to questions unless the work streams associated with tackling those questions are well under way. I have some doubts about how far some of those have been progressed. If it is a matter of resources being applied within the Department, I ask the Minister to look again at the prioritisation of some of those resources so that the work streams can be undertaken more thoroughly and effectively.
191 The White Paper concluded that Heathrow could be allowed to expand if the significant environmental problems were overcome with regard to air pollution. The first question that came to mind for my constituents was whether the White Paper was already out of date when it was published. Within the White Paper proposal for a third runway, BAA had slipped in a proposal for a sixth terminal. A sixth terminal would obliterate Sipson village. We would lose hundreds of homes, churches, community centres and a primary school. None of that was consulted on throughout the process of consultation leading up to the White Paper. It was referred to in only one submission by BAA, and in one paragraph in the White Paper. Slipping in a proposal of that magnitude undermined for many of my constituents the view that this was an open and transparent process undertaken by both the Government and BAA, and that undermined their confidence in the overall process.
The second question for my constituents is: what is the Government's approach to tackling not only the threat of air pollution from a future third runway, but the air pollution that my constituents are suffering now and that they are predicted to suffer over the next two years? If we examine the different scenarios facing my community, it is clear that many of my constituents are increasingly facing the prospect of being poisoned by air pollution, most of it resulting from Heathrow, from both aviation movements and the associated car traffic.
In relation to the scenarios given by the Government in their consultation papers, with terminal 5 built and a cap remaining at 480,000 traffic movements, it is predicted that by 2015, some 5,000 of my constituents will be poisoned by nitrogen dioxide, which will exceed the European limit set for 2010. Even without a third runway, that is the magnitude of air pollution poisoning that my constituents are facing. If we maximise the use of existing runways, however, as suggested in the White Paper, by a mixed mode operation, the traffic movements limit will be increased to, say, 515,000—which is a reasonable projection—and 22,900 of my constituents will be poisoned by nitrogen dioxide pollution within the local atmosphere. Those assessments are drawn from the Government's own figures. Even using the most aggressive assumptions in relation to potential future technology improvements, the south-east region airports study predicted that at least 5,000 of my constituents will still be exposed to levels above the EU limits if a third runway went ahead, and if the technology fails, 35,000 of my constituents will be poisoned by nitrogen dioxide. That is the prospect for the next two years that my community faces, and the prospect that it may face in the next 15 years.
On the basis of all that information, my community declared an air quality management area in 2001. We have started work as a local community and local authority. Since our latest report, which was published three years ago, and despite all our efforts, nitrogen dioxide pollution has not improved—it has got worse. The predictions for 2005 are that it will worsen further. We need action immediately. I know the commitment that the Minister has given on environmental issues. The decision was not a sop to environmentalists, but a real decision that the third runway would not go ahead if environmental targets were not met However, we need action now.
192 We call on the Government to undertake an immediate, urgent dialogue with the local authority, the primary care trust and local community organisations on the mechanisms, strategy and funding, if necessary, that can be put in place not only to monitor air pollution levels in my area and the health effects, but to start to reduce the air poisoning of our community. It is not an exaggeration to say that unless immediate action is taken, we are moving ineluctably towards a major air poisoning crisis in west London. The figures are horrendous and the health effects are dramatic already. Those figures have not been drawn by campaigning organisations; they are in the daughter and sister documents published by the Government in December, and in some of the work produced subsequently. We need to construct a programme of measures to reduce air pollution. If funds are required, let us consider what financial contribution BAA, the airport operators and others associated with the industry will need to make to that work.
In the light of future air pollution levels, I do not believe that the environmental conditions will be met and I do not believe that a third runway will go ahead. In the meantime, my community suffers from some of the severest blight that can be expected around any major development. People cannot plan for their futures. They cannot even plan for the education of their children because three primary schools will be demolished if the third runway goes ahead. Already, 2,000 families are homeless and in temporary accommodation. If a third runway goes ahead, 4,000 families will lose their homes. They cannot plan for their futures.
People cannot comprehend the process of planning from here on in. We do not understand the status of the master plan for Heathrow airport. Although the Minister has tried to make clear today what will be the approach in developing master plans for each airport, BAA told us in a document sent only last week that it will produce an interim master plan based on existing runways and operating restrictions. Therefore, it is not even revealing its hand on the final location that it proposes for a runway and on the development of the terminal. That means further blight and uncertainty inflicted on my community, and we are not even sure of the process by which we can engage in that dialogue to ensure that we are protected. If not today, then in future dialogue with my community, I hope that the Minister can make clear that process and ensure that our environment is protected in the long term.
§ Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (LD)
May I start by apologising for arriving slightly late? I received a telephone call saying that my wife had wrapped her new car around a concrete pillar. Fortunately, she is not injured. However, we will no doubt be having further discussions later today about what exactly happened.
I make no apology for the fact that I want to confine my remarks generally to the environment. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made clear his personal concerns about his constituents, but we must take into account a much more serious global problem that will affect the skies and the planet for years to come in terms of global climate change.
193 We recognise that the aviation industry is extremely important, providing 180,000 jobs and about 8 per cent. of the United Kingdom's national income—about £7 billion a year. Some 50 per cent. of the population travel by air at least once a year, and most people, on the face of it, thoroughly enjoy those journeys without always thinking about or appreciating the environmental pollution problems that result from air travel. There are serious problems in west London, as Heathrow has 15 million passengers per annum and about 1 million people live under the airport's flight path. That will create huge potential problems with health risks and environmental damage over the coming years.
§ Mr. Marsden
I accept what my hon. Friend says. She is absolutely right to flag up the problems now.
I welcome what the Minister said about raising the bar to prevent a further runway if standards are met, but it is almost inevitable that figures will somehow be found to meet the target and that the runway will go ahead. That results from the Government continuing with the Conservative Administration's edict of predict and provide. It is a first resort to say that capacity has to be expanded and that demand will therefore be found to meet that new supply. To me and my hon. Friends, that is patently wrong. Expansion should come as a last resort, not a first resort. Nevertheless, I give credit to the Minister for placing on the record his concerns about the environment and future problems and for saying how seriously the Government take that.
Only this year, the Prime Minister told the climate group that we weretalking about climate change, which is I think, probably long term, the single most important issue that we face as a global community.Yet in spite of that rhetoric, the Select Committee on Environmental Audit said in July 2003:We regard the proposed growth in emissions into the atmosphere by the aviation industry as unsustainable and unacceptable. Were such growth to occur, it could totally destroy the Government's recent commitment to a 60 per cent. cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.That Committee has been in ongoing dialogue with the Government and the Department for Transport. Ministers refuted a number of the points and recommendations made, but the Committee followed up in its pre-Budget report for 2003, saying thatas the DfT's own forecasts in Aviation and Global Warming suggest… by 2050 we will be in a situation where aviation emissions alone will comprise 70 per cent. of the UK target.The Government disagreed with that, but even Department for Transport figures state that emissions will be responsible for 33 per cent. of the UK impact on global climate change by 2050—almost three times the present figure. That is the seriousness of what we face.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
I may have misheard the hon. Gentleman, but I think that he said that the Government had refuted some of the figures produced 194 by the Environmental Audit Committee. Surely he meant to say that they had attempted to refute them, unsuccessfully.
§ Mr. Marsden
I am happy to abide by what the hon. Gentleman says. Obviously, there is a dispute over the figures, but I am concerned that the Government's estimates err on the lower side of predictions and do not meet what the Environmental Audit Committee says.
Passengers—certainly Ministers—do not realise the actual effects of pollution. It is easy simply to take off without seeing what comes out of the back of jet engines or understanding the impact it will have. Pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and dioxide have a huge impact on air quality. Already, a Select Committee has established, from estimates from the scientific community, that there are between 12,000 and 24,000 deaths every year from air pollution. Aircraft currently contribute 3.5 per cent. of global carbon dioxide emissions, and that will rise to about 15 per cent. over the next 50 years. We can look forward to sea levels rising by perhaps 0.9 m, so the fens and the coastal arms of this country will suffer. Alongside the health and environmental impacts across the country, we will see the real effects of global warming.
According to the 2000 report, "Aviation and Global Climate Change", which was launched by the Aviation Environment Federation, the National Society for Clean Air and the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, air travel produces some 0.17 kg of CO2 per kilometre travelled, as against 0.14 kg per kilometre for car travel. What that means in figures that people can understand is that for every kilogram of air kerosene that is burned, about 3 kg by weight of CO2 is produced out the back of, for example, an Airbus A300.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan
Given that technological advance is not reducing emissions from aircraft in the way in which, during the past couple of decades, it has successfully done for cars, the only way in which the emissions that the hon. Gentleman so dislikes can be reduced is to have fewer flights. What exactly is his party's policy to bring that about?
§ Mr. Marsden
I shall deal later in my speech with precisely what we would recommend.
Because numbers of aircraft are rising by between 4 and 6 per cent. each year, noise pollution has a detrimental health impact. Cornell university in New York monitored the reading, memory, attention and speech perception of schoolchildren, and found that noise had a real impact. Over a two-year period, long-term memory, reading and speech were impaired in children newly exposed to noise near a new airport. Furthermore, it was found that reading and memory deficits in the group were more pronounced 18 months after the opening of the new airport than after the first six months. In other words, the problem was getting worse and worse.
This is where the British Government have failed. For seven years, we have had apologies. Lip service has been paid to what should happen but fundamentally, the "predict and provide" ethos has continued.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if we had a predict-and-provide policy in this 195 country, we would have another runway at Heathrow, another one at Gatwick and at least one other at Stansted? Will he please introduce just a tiny element of common sense into the debate?
§ Mr. Marsden
For the benefit of the Chairman of the Transport Committee, I am happy to reply. The precise point is that it is not only I and the Liberal Democrats who are saying that—umpteen organisations, such as environmental organisations, scientific bodies and other very astute people, are saying exactly the same thing, that—[Interruption.] I heard what the hon. Lady said, but if we continue as we are the Government's present plans in the White Paper will simply not be enough to meet the demand, which is going to treble during the next 45 years.
§ Mr. Marsden
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the hope for the future: that common sense will prevail, that there will be a greater responsibility for the environment and the effects on people's lives, and that we will not get into that situation. If we continue as we are, however, that is what will ultimately happen.
As the royal commission on environmental pollution said on 16 December 2003:The White Paper fails to take account of the serious impacts that the projected increase in air travel will have on the environment. Earlier this year the government published an Energy White Paper setting out its strategy for tackling global climate change, and set challenging but necessary targets for greenhouse gas emissions.It says that, unfortunately, theWhite Paper undermines those targets and continues to favour commerce over vital carbon dioxide reduction measures.
The Government recognise the problem, there is no doubt about that. However, as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said, although it recognises that aviationcontributes beneficially to the economic development and social life of the UK… this was not without considerable cost to the environment.That is the pay-off. Are we prepared to accept it? The Liberal Democrats would say that expansion is perhaps the way forward as a last resort, but that it is not the first resort.
English Heritage has recently said, in a briefing to hon. Members:To protect the historic environment, measures to manage demand—and therefore reduce the need for increased airport capacity—are crucial.We have to manage that demand—that is what the Government's own watchdog on cultural and historical sites is saying.
The Woodland Trust was particularly scathing in its recent briefing.
It said: 196In the last century, nearly half of our remaining ancient semi-natural woodland was cleared and replanted with conifers or lost forever to agriculture or development. If the White Paper on air transport is anything to go by, it seems that we are starting the new century having learnt nothing and are heading down a similarly destructive route.Those Members who say that this is not a problem and that we can continue to expand and everything will be all right should reply to those environmental organisations, which are particularly concerned—[Interruption.] I am quite happy to come to the solutions.
We have to start at a global level. We need to amend the Kyoto protocol to include an emissions trading scheme. In particular, we must press the US Government to sign up to Kyoto. On sustainable transport, we must strike a much greater balance by replacing short-haul flights with long rail journeys. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) has continually campaigned for high-speed rail links throughout the country, which would reduce the number of internal flights.
We must continue to examine environmental standards on all modes of transport in order to reduce pollution. We must also consider regional airports. Such schemes should be dealt with through devolved powers, so that local people can decide whether they want such airports. A case in point is Bristol, where there are two sides to the argument. It can be argued that the trebling of capacity is not required, but there is a very good case for arguing that expansion is needed in the interests of commerce, and that such expansion should be located away from the south-east so that we can bring more jobs and greater economic development to the regions.
Finally, we need an EU agreement on tax. It is clearly wrong that the aviation industry does not pay the costs associated with the noise and pollution that it creates, and it pays no tax on aviation fuel and no VAT on new aircraft. Liberal Democrats argue that the departure tax—the air passenger duty—simply is not working. It is another stealth tax and it should be scrapped. Instead, we should be working extremely hard—this Government certainly are not—to introduce a new form of tax on kerosene, which will begin to impact on airlines. The airlines must realise that they need to be far more efficient in the number of passengers that they carry and that they must invest in further new technology to clean up their planes. We have to get away from predict and provide and to say that enough is enough. We should put the environment at the centre of this agenda, rather than regarding it as a bolt-on.
§ Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
Before offering any criticism, I want to make a point that I have made before in this place. There is a massive difference this time, in that—thank goodness—we have a consultation process. The terminal 5 protestors—on that occasion, I was not one of them—had to defend themselves and to pay legal fees after the planning application was made for the terminal. But at least we have a consultation process this time, and despite the fact that neither my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) nor I are happy about the current situation, it is at least good to discover that the Minister is listening. That is a massive improvement on what used to happen.
197 I have lived within six miles of Heathrow for more than 40 years, and for 13 years I worked only half a mile from the touchdown point of the southern runway, directly underneath the flight path; so I understand what it is like to suffer such noise in a stressful situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has explained what will happen if there is a third runway. We have all seen the television pictures of planes that look as though they are touching the chimney pots of houses, and the constituents in question are mine: they live in Waye avenue and Berkeley avenue in Cranford. To live under that is absolutely appalling. Even people who live two or three miles away from the touchdown point cannot go into their gardens in the summer for half the day—so no barbecues—because the situation is absolutely impossible. We cannot continue to ignore this problem.
I am opposed to the third runway, but I should point out that this is the first time that I have opposed expansion of Heathrow. I was pleased to note that one Opposition Member who has always supported expansion is also against the third runway.
I know at least one other Member who has changed his mind on the third runway. I regard myself as a friend of air transport and I was not happy when the Secretary of State launched the White Paper and sarcastically asked whether my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington understood the economic benefits of Heathrow airport. We have lived among people there for such a long time that we certainly do. We were not pleased to hear that question. It raises people's tempers when these issues are dealt with in that way.
We have always been told that it is critical for Heathrow to compete with the Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and Frankfurt airports, for example. Over the past 18 months, however, we have been told that Heathrow should not be a major hub, but a second-level one. I am not satisfied that that position is based on logic. It may be a form of words designed to persuade people that we do not need a brand new airport where planes can land and take off over water. It is a form of words intended to persuade us that the policy has not changed. We are now faced with the Government apparently backing short-termism—not looking far enough ahead—which we always used to criticise British industry for. I was able to secure agreement from someone in the airline industry that I was right on that issue, but no one is admitting it at the moment.
I am a friend of British Airways, which I believe has done its best for local people, but it is always governed completely by shareholders. If the Department for Transport listens to BA, it needs to know that BA will never say that it needs to look well ahead and provide a new airport with less environmental damage to residents. BA is continually criticised for having a virtual monopoly in the south-east. If we had a new airport in the south-east, I am sure that BA would not be the operator because there would be too much opposition. We need to understand that BA is bound by its duty to shareholders and we need to take that into account as we consider the issues.
In my remaining three minutes, I want to focus on local people. I have already mentioned Cranford. The Cranford agreement has existed for many years; it goes 198 back to the 1950s. There is no legal reason for it to remain. If there were no people living underneath the flight paths, mixed-mode operation would be quite acceptable.
Before going any further, I want to make it clear that colleagues on both sides of the House often express two fallacies. One is that the footprint has got smaller, so that must mean progress. However, the planes would have to take off and land vertically for Cranford to be outside the footprint For the people that I am talking about, it makes no difference, however the aeroplanes are modernised. The second fallacy is that the planes are quieter nowadays when they take off than when they are landing. That fallacy is often perpetuated by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) and colleagues in the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise. I have praised HACAN many times and do so again. The reason that take-off seems to be quieter is that by the time the planes are over Richmond Park, Sheen and Putney, most of them have already turned away, so people do not even hear them.
Under the Cranford agreement, aeroplanes taking off to the east do not use the northern runway, so people living in Cranford do not hear such planes taking off over their houses.
That is why the television always shows aeroplanes coming in to land, rather than taking off. We cannot afford to allow the Cranford agreement to be destroyed by a mixed-mode solution that would mean that the people there had to suffer from even more noise. That would not be acceptable, as they already suffer enough.
I was pleased to hear that the poor quality of the air had been proved, but one does not need to be a scientist to know that the air is bad. One has only to stand with my Cranford constituents in their gardens, or even inside their houses, when a plane is taking off to realise that the conditions are not acceptable. No hon. Member would be prepared to live like that.
We must look at all aspects of the problem. My constituents have been happy to put up with what has gone on at Heathrow because of the economic advantages that the airport has brought, but things have gone far enough.
§ Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
I welcome this debate, but I want to preface my remarks by expressing my disappointment that the Government have allocated only half a day to this very important matter. Does the Minister really believe that this short debate is sufficient to consider 30 years of air travel? I doubt that he does. People will conclude that the Government are not very interested in dissenting views or fresh ideas.
Given the limited time available, I shall confine my remarks to the impact of the plans in the White Paper on Stansted airport. The decision to allow an additional runway there is both perverse and unworkable. It is perverse, not just because it runs counter to the original views of the inspector and the local community, but because it goes against the views of many people in business and in the aviation industry. The White Paper ignores the views of more than 60 local bodies, from parish councils to county councils, and the petition signed by 35,000 people that I presented to the House 199 some months ago. It also overlooks the opinion expressed by the 89 per cent. of people who voted against the runway in the referendum organised a little while ago by Uttlesford district council.
Yet the opposition to the new runway goes far wider even than that. The National Trust, the Council to Protect Rural England, the Woodland Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds all oppose it, as do many leading voices in the world of business. In a detailed survey by the London chamber of commerce and industry, 80 per cent. of the businesses that responded made it clear that they preferred Heathrow to Stansted.
Even in the aviation industry, it is clear that many airlines do not want to use Stansted. British Airways has stated:A runway at Stansted would not get built. Nobody wants it. Nobody would pay for it. The tarmac wouldn't even get laid.If businesses, many airlines and the vast majority of people in my community do not want the runway, why do the Government want to press ahead with it? The answer lies in the Government's intimate relationship with BAA.
When BAA was first privatised, that close relationship was perhaps understandable, but it now clouds Whitehall's judgment. The result could be a runway to which no one wants to go, and for which no one is prepared to pay.
My concern about the new runway is that it will prove unworkable, both logistically and financially. As the House knows, our rail service struggles already to meet the demands of the 12,000 or so daily journeys from the airport. The new runway would generate over 20,000 daily rail journeys, but the Government have no plans or proposals to increase capacity. and no funds have been allocated for that purpose.
The Government plan that a new runway will be in place in eight years, but many people may not be able to get there. That is a bizarre scenario. When he replies to the debate, will the Minister say how passengers from central London will be able to get to the new runway, given that the 10-year plan for rail contains no proposals to make that possible?
I said that the decision was unworkable logistically, but it is also unworkable in financial terms. BAA plc estimates that the project—runway and infrastructure—will cost some £400 million. As always, that is an initial estimate, and the figure will undoubtedly rise considerably. Who will pay? The White Paper appears to give a clear commitment on that, when it states:The Government will not promote or pay for the development of Stansted. New airport capacity should be paid for by airport users.That would appear to mean that Ryanair and easyJet, which represent 93 per cent. of Stansted's business, would have to stump up the vast majority of the costs through higher landing charges. But both companies have made it clear that they are not prepared—or, indeed, even able—to support a rise in landing charges.
A commercial reality underpins that viewpoint. The market for low-cost air travel is very cost-sensitive, and the profit margins are tight. Therefore, unlike the mobile phone sector, for example, the money is not there to invest in long-term infrastructure projects. That is why 200 the Government are now planning to seek cross-subsidies from Heathrow and Gatwick to help pay for a new runway at Stansted. However, it is clear that such subsidies may prove commercially and legally unenforceable. One leading airline has said of cross-subsidies:Virgin Atlantic is totally opposed to cross-subsidisation. Airlines operating from Heathrow and Gatwick should not be expected to fund an airport for which they did not ask and will not use, or equivalently, to subsidise their competitors.In my opinion, that is entirely right.
Ministers should be under no illusion. Attempts to cross-subsidise will face challenges both in the courts and from the competition authorities. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House what will happen if an agreement cannot be reached, or the policy is successfully challenged in the courts. After all, the development programme will probably be under way. Planning permissions may have been granted and contracts let. Who will pick up the tab then?
The Government say that they will not promote or pay for the development of Stansted. What exactly does that mean? Does it include, for example, the road and rail infrastructure outside the airport area? Does "promote" mean that the Government would not be willing to grant planning permission to enable BAA plc to enjoy commercial development rights on its site? Does the policy of non-promotion extend to all arms of Government, including the eastern regional office and the East of England Development Agency?
Those are crucial questions that will determine the viability of the proposals at the heart of the White Paper, but it fails to answer them. I hope that in his reply the Minister will do so. The proposal is neither commercially nor logistically viable. The original inspection said that a second runway at Stansted would be "an environmental disaster". That is true. The danger is that we will end up with a runway that nobody wants, few can get to and even fewer can afford. That is the reality of this misguided decision, and that is why I genuinely urge the Minister to think again, even at this late stage.
§ Mr. Tony Colman (Putney) (Lab)
I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on sustainable aviation. The group is especially pleased that we are having this debate on the Floor of the House, and we look forward to hosting the launch of the response to the White Paper by the Sustainable Development Commission later this month. I particularly wish to thank Jeff Gazzard, of the Aviation Environment Federation, for his work in providing information to Members on both sides of the House to better inform this debate.
I have spoken on aviation in the House on several occasions, because Heathrow airport, aircraft noise and pollution remain the No. 1 issues for my constituents. It is always good to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) in such debates, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) will also seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The link between our constituencies is that we all suffer under the flight path.
Two weeks ago—the Minister will note that this is, as he would wish, six months on from the White Paper's publication and not a knee-jerk reaction—the Putney 201 Society arranged a public meeting at the Putney Methodist church to bring its members up to date. The meeting was packed. Gerald Jones, the chief executive of the London borough of Wandsworth, spoke of his and the council's concerns. John Stewart of HACAN spoke about the forthcoming challenge to the White Paper, given that it is under judicial review in the High Court. I expressed my deep concern that the Government are not listening to my constituents, as is evidenced by the White Paper. Three key questions come from that meeting, and I should like the Minister to respond to them. I realise that there were perhaps clues to the answers in parts of his opening statement, but I should like to go through the questions quickly. The first question concerns the cap on traffic movement, the second is on night flights and the third is on mixed mode.
First, will the 480,000 cap on air transport movements still be the legal limit for Heathrow? That figure compares with 457,027 air traffic movements in 2003. The Minister has said that a draft statutory instrument has been laid before the House today to allow local authorities around Stansted to decide whether any removal of the cap or any change in the number of air traffic movements is necessary. I hope that he will consider introducing a similar statutory instrument to cover air traffic movements at Heathrow, which should perhaps be under the control of the Mayor and the Greater London authority.
Secondly, the Minister has announced—if I heard him correctly—that a new consultation on the 16 night flights at Heathrow that are the bane of my constituents' lives will be held in the very near future. Perhaps he could say what that means, thus enabling us to question him on the nature of that consultation, before the House rises for the summer recess. There are rumours that the definition of any possible new regime would relate not to the number of flights, but to the overall noise level during the night. Could the number of flights be increased beyond 16? Will the consultation allow for the banning of all night flights to and from Heathrow? Will it take account of the new World Health Organisation community noise exposure guidelines that have now been brought into play? I was concerned to hear the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), speaking for the Opposition, use the phrase—if I heard him correctly—"if we are going to allow more night flights". I would be interested to hear whether the Opposition are therefore in favour of more night flights, as that would be of great interest to my constituents.
Thirdly, there is concern about mixed mode—the end of alternation on runways at Heathrow. Those at the meeting in Putney were concerned that the White Paper was ambivalent on the subject. I received a letter from the Minister in which he said that, as yet, there is no proposal to end alternation and that, if there were such a proposals, there would be full public consultation and environmental impact assessments, which could not be completed before 2007. Only then could consultation take place. Perhaps he can confirm that. Again, for the record, I wish to say, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, that I totally oppose the end of alternation. The Minister said that the press reports to date have been "just daft". I hope that he will keep us informed of the issues and ensure that the MPs who live under the flight path are fully involved.
202 We meet three days before the elections on Thursday. I understand that the Labour party mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone, opposes the third runway and any night flights. The Mayor's significant planning powers must come into play on those issues, as they did not on terminal 5. Given the European elections, I should mention that Robert Evans, the current lead Member of the European Parliament for London on aviation, has also opposed the this d runway and night flights. If he is re-elected—I am sure that he will be—he will continue to work with the European Commission and the European Parliament for united opposition to night flights into major cities across Europe and to fight for new, more stringent noise and pollution standards. It is very important to bring together all the concerns that are equally expressed by those who live under the flight paths to Schiphol or Charles de Gaulle airports.
I have previously begged the Minister to attend the International Civil Aviation Organisation meeting in Montreal this September, but he said that it is for civil servants only. Last month, I met Sharon Pinkerton, assistant administrator of the United States Federal Aviation Administration, and she is certainly going. She is lobbying Ministers for a voluntary emissions policy, not a mandatory one as the European Union wants. I ask that, at the G8 meeting in Georgia and the follow-up meetings, the impact in terms of global warming of uncontrolled aircraft emissions and the need for mandatory controls be on the agenda. Let me point out that the G8 meeting is literally "The Day After Tomorrow."
The United States Minister pointed out that aviation fuel for domestic use is fully taxed in the United States, that tax being hypothecated to deal with environmental damage due to the aviation industry. I know that the Minister has met with his US counterpart: he might want to put on record his wish to follow that US lead in the taxation of aviation fuel.
I note the Minister's commitment to meet local groups and MPs on whom changes at Heathrow will have an impact. To date, such meetings have not taken place with the Putney MP or Putney groups. It is extremely important that the BAA and all those involved in the debate, including the Minister, ensure that all those affected by the potential changes at Heathrow are involved and consulted at every stage. Sustainable aviation is possible, but it needs leadership from my Government beyond that which they have shown so far.
§ Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con)
I have only a few points to make—indeed, that is all I have time for. I accept the need for greater runway capacity in south-east England. I am not one of those who believes that capacity should be controlled, restricted or capped: the free availability of air travel is an undoubted good. In addition, I am a Kyoto sceptic who doubts that reducing air travel will do much to alleviate the effects of global warming. I am not a luddite—I accept the need for expansion. I have said many times that my preference is for the Government to make long-term, serious investment in a new airport, preferably on the coast so that flight paths can be over water and not over people's houses, and where 24-hour operation is therefore possible. That seems to me to be the long-term way to 203 build a secure future for Britain's important aviation industry, but I concede that that argument is over—at least for the time being.
I am not opposed to expansion at Gatwick—the airport with which I am most concerned from a constituency viewpoint. There are about 30 million passenger movements a year at Gatwick, and there is scope with a single runway to increase that number—an increase that I support—to 40 million or 45 million, if that is what the infrastructure can sustain. All of us whose constituencies are near Gatwick appreciate that it is an important economic motor for the area. We support the airport's continuing expansion, but that is a far cry from supporting either a second runway there, or the option of a second runway being allowed to remain open at this stage.
Gatwick MPs might, at first sight, be thought likely to appreciate the Government's perhaps not so surprising commitment not to seek to overturn the legal agreement between West Sussex county council and the BAA that no new runway will be built before 2019. One might have assumed that that commitment would be taken as given, but it was not. However. our confidence in the commitment has been shaken somewhat by the lack of consistency in the Government's pronouncements on the subject of Gatwick in the past few years. In their original consultation paper, published in July 2002, the Government stated, in very clear terms:The Government has concluded that an option for a new runway"—at Gatwick—that could not be available until very late in the 30-year period of the forthcoming White Paper would create unnecessary blight and anxiety.Hurrah to that, we thought at the time. We all know that that decision was overturned by the High Court and the Government were forced to look again at least at the decision-making process that they went through, but we thought that the substance of the decision, which must have been carefully thought out before the Government put it in print in a consultation paper, would remain solid.
Not a bit of it—when the White Paper eventually saw the light of day, that decision was changed in substance, and the Government proposedto keep open the option for a wide-spaced runway at Gatwick after 2019.That is the Government's fall-back position, to be used if it is impossible for airport operators and developers to overcome the environmental hurdles against a third runway at Heathrow. One might expect that option to be bottomed out and a conclusion reached soon, but that has not been the case. I think that the Minister said—he will correct me if I am wrong—that it will be 2010 or 2012 before the issues relating to a third runway are resolved. In response to a parliamentary question in which I asked whether the Government would release the safeguarding of land at Gatwick when a decision was made on Heathrow, he said:The situation at Gatwick will be reviewed at the stage when any planning application for a new runway at Heathrow has been decided."—[Official Report, 7 June 2004; Vol. 422, c. 1W.]Again, that postpones a decision on Gatwick. It took two years just to write the report on the inquiry into a fifth terminal at Heathrow, and the whole planning 204 process took seven or eight years. If we add seven or eight years to the date on a decision on overcoming environmental objections at Heathrow, we approach the time when the legal agreement on Gatwick comes to an end anyway.
The position is unsatisfactory for many reasons. When the Government published their initial consultation nearly two years ago, they said many splendid and bold things that I applauded. In section 1.3 of the introduction, entitled "Why are we looking 30 years ahead?", they said:A long-term framework will provide greater certainty both about those developments that are likely to happen and those that are not. This will help reduce the anxiety that uncertainty causes.None of that anxiety has been removed. A maximum amount of long-term blight has been created, and the Government have done nothing to reduce it.
A second runway at Gatwick would have a devastating effect on the area. It is already highly developed, with increasing pressure for development. The Deputy Prime Minister has instructed that 50,000 houses should be built in West Sussex over the next 15 years or so. The economists hired by the two county councils affected by Gatwick concluded that a new runway would require the building of housing equivalent to another Crawley. We all love Crawley dearly, but the prospect of building another Crawley on top of the development that is already being imposed on West Sussex is not viewed enthusiastically in my constituency or in the environs of Gatwick. The maximum amount of uncertainty and blight has been created, not just around Gatwick but around all the airports in the south-east. I hope that the Government will think again, and do what they can to accelerate the decision-making process so that the uncertainty, blight and anxiety, to use the words that they themselves use, can be lifted from as many people as possible as soon as possible.
§ 4.3 pm
§ Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude). Gatwick is wholly within my Crawley constituency, and I must be one of the few Members to travel through an airport every day to work at the House of Commons. It is a fantastic airport that not only provides air travel but offers an excellent interchange for a fast and efficient bus service, coaches and trains. It is therefore a valuable resource that we very much treasure in Crawley.
I have not come to these issues lately, as I grew up with the airport and the new town of Crawley.
I have been a member of the consultative committee for some nine years and chaired the environment committee that put in place noise and track-keeping schemes and penalty schemes to make sure that our airport functioned properly and did not cause enormous trouble for the people around it. I consider myself to be a critical friend of Gatwick airport and continue to be so.
It is important to recognise what a valuable asset the airport is, particularly as development goes on. The new bridge that has just been erected is a wonderful feat of engineering. Gatwick supports 26,000 people on the airport and many thousands more around it. The 205 conclusions that I reach differ from those reached by the right hon. Member for Horsham. On expansion, there are serious concerns about the way in which Gatwick has been left on what Sussex Enterprise inventively calls the subs bench.
Listening to the debate, I thought how poignant it was that hon. Members were speaking about consultation. We as Members of Parliament have a crucial role to play. That is why on two occasions I have held major consultations with the people of Crawley—not just those who come to me to complain—about what they feel about expansion. In the first consultation we had a large seminar in our town centre that brought together all sorts of people who had an interest in our airport—in noise issues, employment and all the features that make an airport part of a community.
The debate in Crawley has been much more finely balanced than elsewhere. It was important that people were able to express their views about airport development. As in the debate today, there was complete consensus that the use of our airports must be maximised at each site. It is good to hear that. I am keen to pursue surface transport issues, because with a fast efficient service between Gatwick and Heathrow, we would get much more out of those two airports. We could use the two airports as a combined London hub, as is done in the United States, although I entirely understand that the principle of a single hub is the only one that succeeds, sad as it is for me to admit that.
The continuing success of our airports is vital. The outcome of the consultations, e-consultations and debates around my constituency was finely balanced. A small majority felt that there should be no further development. Many of those people were closely associated with the airport. It is important that we take on board the views of those who will bear the brunt of expansion. In other parts of the town, the views were different. People wanted Gatwick to be part of the development of air transport.
If we had time, we could have a long debate about whether the aviation industry should grow. I firmly believe that it should, and that Gatwick should be part of that growth. I want it to be at the heart of future plans, but it is clear from the White Paper that we are in a difficult position. If there were to be expansion at Gatwick, my preference would be for a close parallel runway, because that would mitigate noise and disturbance for many more people than would a wide parallel runway.
We are faced with the enormous dichotomy of environment v. expansion.
It is no good MPs saying that the environment is important, but that we should move ahead and ignore it, and it is no good their saying that the industry is important, but that the environment is paramount. We must find new ways in which to move forward, and I have no doubt that the series of debates on the subject in the House will continue. New technologies can be used—they have been implemented at Gatwick, and I have seen how they can reduce noise in simple ways, such as ensuring that pilots fly their planes properly.
Few people in Crawley criticise the Government's approach, which is a brave move forward on one of our most successful industries. Wherever I go, people 206 acknowledge that the Government have tackled the issue. Under the last Government, who ducked the issue, I sat through endless debates on the development of runway capacity in the south-east and on the south-east and east of England regional air services study.
I understand the White Paper's objective. I want the Minister to tackle issues such as air passenger duty and fuel, but I also want him to think carefully about how we can ensure that all air passengers travelling abroad receive the same protection as those who travel as part of a package.
The White Paper contains a raft of interesting and vital issues. The debate will continue, and, as MPs, it is our duty to ensure that our constituents understand that point—I will certainly ensure that the views of people in Crawley are brought to the House. The debate will continue until we reach a conclusion, but at last we have a Government who are tackling it.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), whose constituency borders mine.
As the Minister knows, the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am the Chair, yesterday published the Government response to our report, "Aviation Follow-up". In doing so, we took the opportunity to take issue with the Department for Transport about numerous aspects of its response, which we considered superficial and inadequate. We are therefore happy to invite the Government to have a second go. Next time, I hope that they address some of the issues that we have raised, rather than seeking to avoid them.
In particular. I hope that the Government will resist the temptation wilfully to distort the Committee's views on aviation. For example, the Government response implies that we advocate that the growth of aviationshould be stopped in its tracks",which is simply untrue. For the record and for the benefit of the Minister, our position is neither that the Government should halt the expansion of aviation nor that they should set out to satisfy inflated predictions of future demand, but that, bearing in mind aviation's impact on the environment, which nobody doubts, and the current and likely future state of the industry, it would simply be responsible to plan for a reduced rate of growth. If that course were adopted, the Government would save itself a major headache, which they are hearing about this afternoon, and millions of people would be spared from blight and environmental degradation—it would also help to reduce the disturbing acceleration of climate change.
As I said, the environmental impacts of aviation are hardly disputed. Equally, I do not dispute the economic benefits that aviation can bring, and I listened carefully and with some approval to the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) on that point. My constituency borders Gatwick, which is an important source of jobs for thousands of my constituents, and Gatwick is generally recognised as a key driver for the local economy. Although the overwhelming majority of my constituents are broadly content to see Gatwick reach its maximum use, they emphatically do not want another runway.
207 Turning to the White Paper, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and I were delighted by the unequivocal rejection of the frankly ridiculous proposal to turn Redhill aerodrome into an international airport, but I share the concerns expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham about Gatwick.
The White Paper creates the invidious position whereby after 2019, Gatwick's fate is left entirely dependent on circumstances beyond its control—namely, whether pollution at Heathrow can be reduced to acceptable EU levels. The uncertainty of that was demonstrated when the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said that there was no chance of Heathrow meeting those targets and the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) suggested that it was likely to do so.
Where does that leave people who live around Gatwick, whose future environment depends on the decisions that are being taken? Gatwick has been given a conditional sentence but left with no control over how or whether those conditions can be met. That is a classic recipe for blight. Local people are rightly concerned about that. They are also extremely anxious about the profound and irreversible impact that a second runway would have on the local environment. Their concerns extend beyond noise and pollution to embrace the huge demand for extra housing that would be entailed, the loss of more countryside and the massive extra pressure on our infrastructure. Those concerns are not only for hon. Members and other people located around Gatwick—they apply equally to Stansted, to Heathrow and to every area where new runways are proposed. I regret that the Government have so far failed to place a monetary value on the impact of their plans on the landscape, tranquillity, heritage sites and biodiversity; they should do so as a matter of urgency.
I hope that I can bring hon. Members some good news. The approach advocated by the Environmental Audit Committee is very clear and offers a solution to problems such as those described by the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington, for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) and for Putney (Mr. Colman) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk)—even by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham, if I could persuade him to be slightly less Kyoto-sceptical.
We need to look again at whether expanding runway capacity on anything like the scale proposed in the White Paper is really necessary, bearing in mind the existing underutilised capacity. I urge hon. Members to look carefully at the Government's forecasts. Two critical interrelated assumptions underpin the White Paper and all that follows from it. The first assumption is that demand for air travel will continue to grow at an average of 4 per cent. a year to 2030. That implies a threefold increase in air travel over the next 30 years, which must be highly questionable. There is every reason to believe that at some point, probably quite soon, the industry will conform to the usual law of economics and mature into significantly lower growth. It is important to understand that that 4 per cent. per annum increase over the next 30 years would lead us to a position in which by 2030 we will need a new airport the size of Heathrow every three years. That is a ludicrous proposition, but the White Paper asks us to accept it.
208 The other basic assumption in the White Paper concerns the cost of flying. The Department is assuming that the cost of air fares will fall by around 40 per cent. over the next 30 years. That was hard to believe even before the recent rise in the price of oil. We should note that for forecasting purposes, the White Paper assumes that the price of oil will remain at an average of $25 a barrel—right now, it stands at more than $40 a barrel. That seems challenging, to put it mildly.
The Government also appear to believe that the voracious competition at the low-cost end of the industry will be sustained. It is more likely that many of the competitors will disappear from the market and that the industry will consolidate and gradually try to increase fares. Some hon. Members have also referred to increased landing charges. All that is supposed to happen without any new fiscal measures, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) was right to mention as a possibility.
It is beyond doubt that a policy that predicts a massive increase in demand for aviation and subsequently sets out to provide for it is a predict-and-provide policy. The environmental consequences are potentially devastating and I urge the Government to think again.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), but it will come as no surprise to him that I do not altogether agree with his arguments either in the Chamber or in the report for which his Committee is responsible.
Let me make it clear: aviation will grow. It is like a child who is lolloping around in short trousers one day and the next day appears to be a full size male. That will happen whether we like it or not. We therefore have a choice—we can begin to face up to the responsibilities that that presents or run away and pretend that somehow it can be left to the forces of capitalism to decide our future.
There is no question of predict and provide in the Government's policies. Were that the case, we would be considering the construction of a new runway at Heathrow almost immediately, a clearly delineated plan for a second runway at Gatwick in the foreseeable future, and growth in regional airports. That is not the Government's position. Some of us believe that it might have been better if they had chosen one of those three and decided to concentrate on future development there for the time being. However, such a position is not outlined in the White Paper and Ministers have not displayed such an attitude in debates.
There is an immediate problem—much of our economy is directly tied up with aviation because we are considering the movement not simply of people but of goods. That constant movement is intimately involved in the development of aviation and we must therefore make several difficult decisions. It would be far better if we made them now rather than by default. Default is never a good decision maker.
§ Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that although the debate has centred mainly on the south-east, any decision on that 209 area impinges on other countries in the United Kingdom—Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales—and on the regions of England? The economic benefits or consequences of the decisions could seriously impinge on the rest of the UK. Does my hon. Friend share my hope that when the Secretary of State makes a decision, it will be in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, not only that of specific localities?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I confidently expect that that will be the case. Airports in the south-east, which are becoming increasingly congested, will, in the next five years, have to decide their policy on transatlantic flights and regional flights. At governmental level, we will have to decide whether we can protect the interests of regions or whether we shall simply allow circumstances to develop in which those who have the money and can bargain for slots at busy airports will be the only ones capable of getting into the south-east.
I want the Government to state plainly that they not only understand the need of regional airports for access to the south-east, but are prepared to protect that. It is noticeable that the Crown dependencies have not even been mentioned. Guernsey was faced with the prospect of losing its slots. It believes that it is essential to have such access and was therefore prepared to purchase an airline. Even so, access is not protected in the way in which it should be in future. The problem will arise in relation to Scottish airports, some Welsh airports and those in the south-west.
We have to deal with these questions now; they will not go away. The chaos will not only cause great costs to fall on the taxpayer, but complicate and confuse our transport planning.
The Airport Operators Association has stated plainly that it understands the need for sustainable development and the need to take the populations around airports with it. It says that it believes in an emissions trading scheme and that it will undertake the responsibility of consulting the populations that are most affected, in order to develop some important plans. However, the reality is that unless the Government are prepared to use the development of master plans to sort out certain priorities, we shall simply drift, over the next five or six years, without a clear idea of where we are going to expand. Given the conflict of interest between the British Airports Authority and the commercial needs of the industry, it is impossible to accept that the BAA should be the only people deciding on the development plans in the south-east. This situation presents us with a real difficulty, and it will present the Government with a real problem if it is allowed to continue.
A number of important decisions will be taken this week at the Transport Council. I hope that the United Kingdom Government will stand up not only for the interests of the UK traveller, but for all those who want to see the planned and sensible economic development of aviation within the Community. Heathrow is a vital hub—it does not matter how we present that fact—and Gatwick must automatically be the second airport to be of concern. But unless their interests are looked at in terms of the United Kingdom economy, and not simply as a bargaining pawn for the European Commission in 210 reaching some kind of second-rate agreement with the United States, we shall all suffer. The House would then have to debate as a matter of urgency the decisions that had been taken.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
The hon. Lady is making a most cogent speech, as usual. Is there not a grave danger that the United Kingdom, which has premier status on the north Atlantic route in particular, could lose that position in the longer term through its extraordinary decision to allow the European Union to negotiate on its behalf air service agreements that should properly be the interest of our country alone?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
That is exactly the case. This is frightening because, of course, the interests of mainland European airports will not be the same as those of Heathrow. How could they conceivably be? Nor will the negotiation of individual slots or services at both our major airports be capable of any simple solution involving half a dozen other national airlines. That would not only produce great confusion, but place considerable pressure on the Government.
The production of the White Paper represents the first step towards a sensible appreciation of the fact that, as with so many other forms of transport over the past 30 years, we decided that we did not have to take clear planning decisions, and that they would somehow all look after themselves. The results of that lack of determination are plain to see in all the other forms of transport. In the one form that is really successful—aviation—the last thing that we should do is repeat the policies of chaos and indecision that have got us into such difficulty elsewhere.
The Government have begun to confront that issue, but they must go further. They must accept that many unpopular decisions will have to be taken. We have heard hon. Members today expressing their genuine concern to protect the interests of their constituents, but we cannot allow this to become an esoteric argument based solely on some rather iffy science regarding what may or may not happen. We know what will happen: the economy of this country will suffer; people will continue to travel; and we shall not manage to restrict the development of aviation in the United Kingdom in any way. All that we shall do is damage the interests of the British people. The Government have the right idea, but they had better come clean and say that they are prepared to follow it up.
§ Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Crewe arid Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) on a powerful speech, but I hope that she does not regard all environmental science as iffy science. It is the science of the future, and extremely important.
This year is my 30th anniversary: the 30th anniversary of me campaigning against the expansion of Heathrow airport. That is 30 years of trying to hold back the tide of air traffic movements and the noise and pollution that they cause, and 30 years of broken promises. After the terminal 4 decision in 1979, we were promised no more expansion at Heathrow, and a limit was set of 270,000 211 air traffic movements a year. The Ministers of the day and the executives at the British Airports Authority must have been laughing all the way back to their offices. Almost before the ink was dry on the terminal 4 inquiry, plans for terminal 5 were announced. We now have the joy of a third runway to look forward to, and a sixth terminal will follow as night follows day.
Heathrow is there, our hub airport, and the shops are lovely—"Airside Bond Street", as it was described in GQ magazine some time last year. Heathrow is there, so people come, so more facilities must be provided, so more people come—and it is spreading. As the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) and the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) have pointed out, Stansted and Gatwick are also in the south-east, and they are suffering the same fate. We, who have lived around Heathrow for the past 30 years, do not want the same thing to happen to Stansted and Gatwick. Why is it always the south-east? Other parts of the country need economic development and want more jobs. We are a tiny country. Why must it always be the south-east, and, of course, why Heathrow in particular?
First, let us consider air traffic movements. I remind the Minister that the inspector, when giving the go-ahead for terminal 5 at Heathrow, limited air traffic movements to 480,000 per year. That was confirmed to me when I asked a question of the then Secretary of State. Some of my constituents were reassured, but others, including their MP and the redoubtable Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, were sceptical, knowing the betrayals of the past. Sure enough, when I challenged the present Secretary of State about saying that there would be 655,000 air traffic movements a year, I was told that that was with a third runway. But, of course, the previous Secretary of State had neglected to mention the third runway—economies of truth indeed.
A new report from the Civil Aviation Authority in December 2003 admitted that numbers were underestimated—[Interruption.] I do not know what the Minister is saying from a sedentary position, but I know that among his many attributes, gallantry is not one. It was admitted that numbers were underestimated and that a third runway would mean 700,000 air traffic movements per year. Were mixed mode introduced, having already got a third runway—I do not put that past them, as they have betrayed us in the past—another 35,000 planes could use Heathrow, making a grand total of 735,000 planes a year, which boils down to 84 an hour. If we take into account daytime hours being more popular, that is about 100 planes using Heathrow every hour. That is ridiculous, but it could happen.
Has the Secretary of State worked that out—as the Government have tried to do in the White Paper—in terms of global warming and adherence to the Kyoto protocol? A fuel tax is rejected on the ground that it would have to be international and that could not be achieved. The report talks of getting aviation included in the European emissions trading system. There seems to be no evidence that he will get any support for that. If he does not, where does his flagship policy of the polluter pays go?
Why are the Government not making the aviation industry more responsible? We may think that it is tremendous to have extremely cheap flights. A friend of 212 mine recently flew to Milan for £1, but is having to save quite hard for the return flight, which will cost £5.99. Is that really responsible pricing by an airline that is polluting the environment to such an extent?
Air pollution is a serious problem about which we have heard a great deal this afternoon. I just say thank God for the European Union. Long may it prosper and continue to set limits on our environment, make us look to the future of our children and stop the appalling pollution. The Government are looking at the third runway like Mr. Micawber and hoping that something will turn up so that everything will be all right in the end. However, the White Paper admits:on the basis of the evidence available, we cannot be confident that air quality limits at Heathrow with a third runway will be met, even with aggressive mitigation measures.Those are the Government's words.
Most of the complaints that I receive from my constituents are about noise. People who are hard of hearing cannot hear at all in my constituency. Teachers cannot teach and children do not learn properly because of the noise. Sunday afternoons in the garden are ruined, which can be a problem if it is one's only day off. We are constantly told that an average noise level of 57 dB marks the approximate onset of significant community annoyance—that is a nice phrase. However, aircraft noise is not average, and it is disingenuous of the Government to exclude from consideration early morning hours during which the bulk of the night flights disturb my constituents.
Page 33 of the White Paper recognises thatnoise from aircraft at night is widely regarded as the least acceptable aspect of aircraft operationsand says that the Government willbear down on night noise accordingly"—so why did the Government challenge my constituents in the European Court of Human Rights after they had won the right to a decent night's sleep? We are all worried that having won the appeal in Strasbourg, the Government will try to increase the number of flights at Heathrow at night. I beg them to defend my constituents' rights to a decent night's sleep.
Those of us who live near Heathrow have been promised much over the years, but we have been betrayed over and over again. Will the Government please stop the expansion of Heathrow airport before the south-east in the 21st century is turned into the equivalent of the noisy and polluted dark satanic mills of the 19th century?
§ Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab)
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) cares passionately about her constituents, and I shall try to answer the question, why Heathrow and why London? The answer is simply that Heathrow is one of the world's premier airports. It is losing out competitively to Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol, and that is important not only to her constituents in Richmond Park, but to every single person in this country and our economy. The issue is not only local, and I may return to that point.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in our second debate on the aviation White Paper. In the first debate, I was moderately and constructively critical of 213 the Government's policy. They could be doing more and achieving that faster, and I agree with many of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). However, after I read the report by the Environmental Audit Committee, I went scurrying to the barricades to protect and support the Government because at least they understand the essential importance of aviation to the country. The Committee has not even grasped the basics that would allow it the benefit of criticism. Its report reminded me of annoying undergraduate conversations that one can have in which after three or four hours of arguing, one suddenly finds out that the participants have been using completely different definitions of whatever they have been arguing about.
I do not know why so few of my hon. Friends on the Environmental Audit Committee are here to participate in this debate, but I want to say to them that providing accurate definitions would be useful in taking forward a difficult debate involving hon. Members with constituency interests to look after and a Government who have the country's interests to consider. I ask for three definitions. I have yet to receive from anyone a clear definition of sustainability. Everyone is in favour of it but nobody uses the same definition. It would be helpful for future debate if we could agree on that.
Secondly, the leader of the Green party in the European Parliament said today that we should not subsidise aviation. It would be helpful if we agreed on a definition of subsidy. Actually, the aviation industry gets next to no subsidy by comparison with buses and trains, but in the mad world of the Green party buses and trains are considered not to be subsidised and aviation, which supports itself commercially, is considered to be subsidised.
Thirdly, the Government have been accused of taking a predict and provide approach. Let us define that. The Committee's report also accuses the Government of promoting growth. Excellent, say I: growth in aviation is growth for the economy. I want more of it, not less. I am amazed that hon. Members on the Committee are against growth, which is an excellent thing.
§ David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)
My hon. Friend makes a crucial point. At the centre of the debate is the tension between a standard of living and a quality of life. The standard of living is for the 7,000 people who work in and around East Midlands airport and the quality of life is that damaged for many thousands by night flying and other things. The same applies at other airports. How are those things reconciled in my hon. Friend's equation?
§ Mr. Stringer
The aviation world has an excellent record on mitigating and dealing with such problems. Compensation can be made. Double glazing can be put in. Houses can be knocked down and people moved. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) said earlier that noise causes problems, and so it does, but he forgot to mention that around Heathrow about a sixth as many people are now affected by noise as were 25 years ago. That is the reality of improvements. I am not saying that the issue is an easy one, but that is the reality.
214 On predict and provide, if the Government really were providing, there would be a mass of new runways in this country. In fact, one new runway has been built since the second world war. There is no provision out of public funds. The Government are not predicting what will happen; they are saying, "If this happens, individual airport operators should, commercially, be able to expand to meet demand." That is a completely different point from the one made in a phrase that came from the anti-road movement about predicting and providing, and completely different from the odd theory, on the basis of Rocasta reports, that that would induce extra traffic, which is only the case in specific circumstances. There is no direct comparison between road movements and what is happening in aviation, and the Government are right to deny that there is.
§ Mr. Paul Marsden
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's bulldozer diplomacy: sort out noise pollution by getting those pesky constituents out of the way. May I draw his attention to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which said three days ago that, in effect, the Government had abandoned their declared intention of adopting a sustainable aviation policy in favour of predict and provide? Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that the RSPB is a respectable organisation, which knows what it is talking about.
§ Mr. Stringer
In previous debates the hon. Gentleman has failed to tell me what "sustainable" means. When he does so, I will answer that part of his question; I have already answered his points on predict and provide.
§ Mr. Stringer
I have relatively limited time and would like to move on.
I hope that the Environmental Audit Committee will take my points on board. I should use the last half of my speech to mention something often mentioned in passing but not discussed as often as it should be; that is the air cargo industry and, in particular, the express part of that industry. I congratulate the Minister and the Secretary of State on not giving in to pressure to designate East Midlands airport so that there would be control on its night flights. It is not as well understood as it should be hew fundamental the express cargo industry is to industry in this country. Increasing numbers of businesses require widgets and machinery parts within 24 hours and for that, they need to have access to air freight that can get in and out very quickly. There are increasing restrictions on the London airports, and if East Midlands, Edinburgh and other airports are not allowed to have those night flights, businesses will move because if the cargo is not flown at night, they cannot carry out a 24-hour service. A CBI survey showed that if businesses could not have that night service, one sixth would remove and one third thought that they would lose business.
To return to the position taken by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, more cargo is now going through East Midlands airport, but there are fewer planes. The airport has moved from chapter 2 to chapter 3 planes, so there is less noise. That is very good for the east midlands economy.
§ Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op)
As someone who lives under the flight path of East Midlands airport, experiencing that particularly at night, I can assure my hon. Friend that the noise of aircraft still disturbs many of my constituents. I agree with him on the importance of air cargo and the future use of East Midlands airport, but to return to his views on sustainability and noise problems, how far would he go in giving powers to local authorities and others to restrict noise without stopping evening flights?
§ Mr. Stringer
There must always be a balance in such issues. The 57 dB limit is a good one, but to try to contract that, or to reduce the number of people within the noise footprint or to get support to them for noise insulation are among the ways of achieving that balance. Basically, the question is whether we mitigate the effects of economic growth on those people who suffer bad effects from it, or whether we throw economic growth into the rest of Europe. That is what some of the constraint policies in this country have done. Schiphol, Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle, Brussels and Copenhagen are all benefiting because there is not sufficient capacity in the UK system.
Transport in national policy is a Cinderella service. Over the past 10 or 12 years, what has been spent on transport has changed from 2 per cent. to 1 per cent. of gross domestic product—although that is partly because of economic success, and it is not a great measure. The real task of the Ministers in the Department is not only to fight for aviation and to ensure that our industry is competitive with Europe, but to get the resources needed to give those airports the ground transport system that will make them as efficient and effective as possible. Without that, the airports will not work. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department have a tough job because they have to compete with education and health, but aviation is vital to the future of this economy.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con)
I was interested to listen to the words of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) because I, too, want to speak about East Midlands airport. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) is here, as are the hon. Members for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) and for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor). We all have constituency interests in the thriving of East Midlands airport, but we also have constituency interests in ensuring that as it expands—as it no doubt will—it does so in a sensitive and co-operative fashion, without damaging the rights and interests of our respective constituents.
It is interesting that the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley thought it appropriate to mention East Midlands airport, and I accept that the cargo industry is of national importance. But what Members might not realise is that Nottingham East Midlands airport, as it is nowadays called, is part of the Manchester Airports Group, which, even though it is a public limited company, is wholly owned by the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester.
The former leader of Manchester city council has just addressed us. He, as a Manchester councillor, had more influence over the governing policies of the airport that 216 affect my constituents and whether they can sleep at night than I have as the Member of Parliament for Harborough. My constituents cannot even buy shares in Manchester Airports Group and attend the annual general meeting in order to sack the board, because the board is controlled by, and its appointments are made by, the leaders of the 10 local authorities in Manchester.
§ Mr. Stringer
The hon. and learned Gentleman is completely right about the governance of Manchester Airports Group, but he is completely wrong in saying that I had any influence over East Midlands airport. At the time of my membership of the board, Manchester Airports Group had not acquired East Midlands airport, so I hope that he will accept that I was debating this issue in the interests of the United Kingdom economy.
§ Mr. Garnier
I absolve the hon. Gentleman of any personal responsibility for the damage that is going to be done to my constituents; I was using him figuratively. A Manchester councillor has greater influence over the direction of Nottingham East Midlands airport's policies than I have as a Leicestershire MP, or any local authority councillors have, be they councillors in the city of Leicester, in the district councils or in the county council; still less is the influence of the voters and individual residents of Leicestershire who will be affected by the increase in the number of night flights into and out of East Midlands airport.
Nottingham East Midlands airport says in its publicity material that it isthe largest pure freight airport in the UK and a hub for DHL and UPS",which are probably the two biggest freight-forwarding companies operating in this country. It continues:It is also now the ninth largest passenger airport in the UK, largely thanks to the introduction of low-cost services from carriers such as bmibaby and easyJet.None of us wants the economy to be damaged, and we all want jobs to be drawn into the east midlands. If those jobs are at the airport, all well and good, but a balance has to be struck between the rights of a company controlled by the 10 local authorities in Manchester—operating in Leicestershire—and the rights of my constituents, those of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, and those of the hon. Members for Loughborough and for North-West Leicestershire.
It is estimated that in the next few years, if the Government do not control Nottingham East Midlands airport's expansion—they show absolutely no sign of getting a grip on this issue—the continuous disturbance that night flights cause to my constituents will become intolerable. At the moment, flights come into the airport predominantly from the west. As I understand it, there are few if any approaches from, or take-offs in, an easterly or south-easterly direction. The proposal is that the airport's capacity to take in freight be expanded, particularly at night. Of course, although cargo does not mind at what hour of the day it flies, the freight customer does. They like it to arrive first thing in the morning, so that when the office opens, it is there. That suggests to me that there will be a great many more night flights over Leicestershire.
The Civil Aviation Authority was invited to conduct a noise assessment, and it did so on the basis that most of the flights would come in from the west. It now 217 transpires that it was basing its calculations on a false premise, because there will now be two additional approach and departure routes. One route will fly over Market Harborough, and the flights will be so numerous that a stacking procedure will be needed over Market Harborough and the villages just outside it. What that will do for emission pollution, let alone noise pollution, time alone will tell.
The other route will be from a slightly further north direction towards Melton Mowbray and between there and Nottingham. We are now going to be hit by an additional number of flights at all hours of the day and those flights will be completely beyond the control of the Department for Transport and, I have to say, beyond the control of the residents and elected politicians of the county of Leicestershire.
I want to see the East Midlands airport designated under the Civil Aviation Act 1982. Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow are so designated, and the circumstances on the aviation scene in 1982 will soon apply to the East Midlands airport. It is growing to the size that those other airports were then, and it seems logical to translate the regime that applied to those airports in 1982 to what is about to happen to the East Midlands airport. If we do not, the only control over the adverse expansion—adverse to my constituents—of the airport will be the planning procedures that are available to the North West Leicestershire district council. If that council is similar in its financial dimensions to the Harborough district council, it probably has a revenue budget of about £7 million a year. I dare say that the East Midlands airport shop will shortly—if it does not already—take in that amount of money pretty well every week of the year. The imbalance in weaponry, power and political influence between a district council planning authority and the airport company only has to be described for one to see the consequences.
§ Mr. Reed
The hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right to say that a balance has to be struck between the expansion of the airport and the controls necessary to deal with the noise problem. What impact does the hon. and learned Gentleman believe that designating the airport would have, and what does he believe is meant by the White Paper's reference to "stringent" noise controls? So far, I have seen no definition to help us understand what that means. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman enlighten us?
§ Mr. Garnier
The first advantage that designation will bring is that the number of flights and the level of noise caused by them will be controlled by the Government, who are accountable to the House rather than to any number of councillors in and around the city of Manchester. I have no idea what "stringent" controls means; nor does the hon. Gentleman. I do not suppose that the Whip or the Minister with responsibility for aviation—he has temporarily absented himself, no doubt for good reasons—knows either.
Both I and the campaign group, East Leicestershire Villages Against Airspace, of whose committee I am a member, are anxious that the East Midlands airport is brought to realise that it must behave as a responsible neighbour rather than—I say this quite deliberately as a 218 Conservative MP—as a capitalist marauder. Unless it begins to realise that it must find a sensible and cooperative space in Leicestershire, it will lose out in respect of public appreciation and political support. I want the East Midlands airport to thrive, but I also want it to thrive in a sensible and agreeable fashion.
The airport has produced a noise policy "10-point plan", but I want it to come up with some concrete proposals that can be enforced at the say-so of either local authorities or the Department for Transport. The intervention of the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) highlighted the point. We cannot trust the organisation to produce a system that will operate to the benefit of the residents of Leicestershire.
§ David Taylor
I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman on the campaign that he is leading in south Leicestershire. Is he aware that consultants for the North West Leicestershire district council drew up the so-called Rupert Taylor—no relation—proposals, but they were not taken seriously?
§ Mr. Garnier
I wish that they would be taken seriously.
I have 25 seconds left in which to ask the Government to invite Nottingham East Midlands airport and the Department for Transport to behave like the Ministry of Defence. On 4 June, the Minister of State with responsibility for the aimed forces wrote to me to warn me that the Royal Air Force was to conduct exercises over Leicestershire. We get no warning at all from the managers at East Midlands airport. They do not even consult the county council, which used to own the real estate on which the airport stands.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree) (Lab)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I make no apologies for devoting most of my time to Stansted airport, which of course lies in your parliamentary constituency. I concur almost entirely with the remarks made earlier in the debate by my near neighbour the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk). It is no surprise that hon. Members of different parties should agree about the proposal for Stansted. In north Essex and Hertfordshire, opposition to the proposals enjoys tripartisan support
The county councils of Essex and Hertfordshire share the same approach as do the local authorities in Braintree and Uttlesford, even though those bodies have been under the control of all three main political parties over the past few years. That unanimity was described in a poetic prologue by Mr. Eyre, the Queen's counsel who chaired the 1985 inquiry, when the proposal was to raise the volume of passengers beyond 25 million a year. The inquiry concluded that the target would be an environmental disaster, but the present scheme would go even further.
People are worried about the preferred option in the White Paper, which is not the somewhat easier possibility that a new runway could be squeezed inside the present boundaries. The current scheme amounts 219 almost to a gratuitous insult to local people, as the proposed site for a new runway lies well beyond the airport's present boundaries. If adopted, the proposal would mean that a much larger area of countryside would be destroyed, many more houses would have to be removed, and a much larger number of historic monuments and buildings would be lost.
Does the proposal have any economic vitality? It may seem contradictory for people to be worried about what will happen if the scheme goes ahead, and also for them to ask if the scheme has any economic common sense but, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford said, Stansted at present is a cross-subsidised airport. Most of the flights from Stansted—well over 90 per cent. of them—are cheap flights at giveaway prices that do not make real economic sense.
In an earlier speech on this matter, I mentioned the half-forgotten figure of Freddie Laker. People of a certain age will recall that this is not the first time that cheap flights have been available. It has happened before, and essentially it came to nowt.
The worry for people in the Stansted area is that schemes are sometimes begun but only half completed. The result is desecration: monuments are pulled down and land acquired, but the scheme does not reach fruition. I do not suggest that airport companies are engaging in a cynical ploy, but it might be more profitable for them to acquire valuable land that can be used for other purposes after a time than to go ahead with an airport scheme that appears to be a pure loss-maker in economic terms. That will certainly be the case if cross-subsidisation from Heathrow comes to an end, as will surely happen.
The shareholders of the major airlines will not put up with cross-subsidy on a scale that means that they pay high charges at the airports from which they fly, when companies such as Ryanair and easy Jet can offer flights at giveaway prices. One does not need to be a corporate lawyer to see the potential for lawsuits in that area. Therefore, it does not seem sensible, in economic terms, for the BAA to go ahead with the proposed scheme. However, it could become the master of vast swathes of potentially very valuable land as it went about the process of implementing the proposals.
Local people would find that equally difficult. They would lose all the things that they treasure—countryside, buildings and communities—and, even if the airport does not expand as much as is anticipated, the acquisition of land for commercial and other purposes would detract from the beauty of the area.
One might argue that compensation would have to be paid, but under the Land Compensation Act 1973 only those directly affected—at least to begin with—would be fully compensated. The BAA would be required, under the terms of the White Paper to bring forward compensation schemes for those who suffer from more general blight. Indeed, it is fair to say that the BAA has produced two such schemes, but they cover a very limited number of properties and the hurdles that have to be surmounted include proving a loss in value or a certain level of noise.
It is estimated by the anti-expansion groups that the fall in property values in the Uttlesford district is already some £28,000 for the average property, compared with the rest of the region. Properties in that part of the world 220 are fairly expensive, but that leads to the other unanswered question on expansion for Stansted: where will the people who work at an expanded airport live? We do not have an overabundant supply of economic housing in Braintree or Uttlesford. The only way for the necessary labour force to reach the area, which has almost no unemployment, is up the M11 or along the A 120, which is about to be dualled. They will almost exclusively have to travel by private transport, and therefore the benefit of the road improvements that we have seen recently will be lost, because the weight of traffic will increase manyfold.
The railway connection does not have the capacity to bring in the numbers of passengers contemplated. The White Paper says that all the issues connected with the expansion will be a matter for the airport operators, but I cannot imagine that the BAA will say to its shareholders that they will need to pay for an expanded rail link—or for expanded road capacity, for that matter. If the expansion goes ahead, the burden will fall on the taxpayers to make it even halfway economically viable. For that and other reasons, which time prevents me from elaborating, I oppose the expansion of Stansted, and I think that my constituents share that view.
§ 5.8 pm
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
I apologise to the Minister for not being here for his speech, but I had to attend a civic funeral in my constituency. I also apologise to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but I am sure that I would endorse his remarks.
It was notable that Members from both sides of the House who have constituencies near Heathrow airport opposed the building of a third east-west runway there. Some hon. Members who have always supported the full development of the airport, including the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen) and myself, believe that a further runway would be unacceptable on environmental grounds. To locate a runway to the north of Heathrow, between the A4 and the M4, in an area of green belt with no proper surface access—or tube access, where an additional terminal and parking facilities would be necessary—is wholly unacceptable. It would also cause great damage to Harmondsworth village and its historic sites.
The Government have rightly adopted stricter criteria for engine emission pollution when considering whether a third runway should be built. It is not acceptable, for all Londoners, and I hope that the Government will bear that in mind. The White Paper is half sensible, although I am in serious disagreement with one of its suggestions.
The Government are correct to take a gradualist approach. The future of air transport is exceedingly uncertain. We are correct also in trying to make the best use of existing facilities, rather than going down the predict and provide route, which many hon. Members have described.
It is noteworthy that those who really understand aviation—such as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who chairs the Transport Committee and whose authority on these matters we applaud, and the hon. Members for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) and for Crawley (Laura 221 Moffatt)—all spoke eloquently about civil aviation's economic benefits to this country. We are all deeply saddened that, during our political lifetimes, we have seen great industries virtually disappear from the United Kingdom—shipbuilding, textiles, whole swathes of engineering, and much of motor and motor-bike manufacture too to a large extent—but civil air transport is a great provider of jobs. It brings prosperity to whole regions of the country that otherwise would have been passed by, and it brings in a great deal of foreign exchange to Britain, which we so badly need.
The Government also need a measure of commendation for stressing the regional development aspect of civil aviation. One has only to consider the crucial factor of air access for the highlands and islands and air access to important airports from the Crown dependencies, alluded to by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. I chair the British Manx group, and the fact that airlines from the Isle of Man no longer have access to Heathrow is regretted on the island.
There are many considerations, and I wish to put before the House some of the uncertainties. Given the current oil price rise, there is a possibility of a serious reduction in the profit expectations of the low-cost carriers, Ryanair and easyJet. Big airlines, such as United and US Airways have been under chapter 11 protection in the United States. Swissair and Sabena went bankrupt after the 11 September tragedy. Alitalia is now in trouble. The conjunction of the effect of the 11 September atrocities and the rise in oil prices poses a serious challenge to the industry, as does equipment: whether major carriers will go down the A380 route—ultra-large, jumbo-sized airliners—or something like the 7E7 ultra-economic airliner, which is better suited to point-to-point operations.
Another key question is whether hub airports are of prime importance or whether, in the new civil air transport environment, there will be further development of point-to-point services. I rather incline towards the latter, but if we want to develop civil aviation in Britain, we must also take into account the social and economic changes in the south-east of England. With the Thames gateway developments and the likelihood of further growth in population, business and economic activities in the corridor from north-east London, to Stansted and on towards Cambridge, the Government are correct to go for a second runway at Stansted. That is where much of the growth in civil air transport movements has occurred because of the burgeoning of the low-cost carrier sector.
It would be sensible in the longer term to start the further development of Stansted, which could be a better location for a major hub airport than Heathrow in the decades ahead, although the Government disagree. If there were, for example, further al-Qaeda terrorist outrages, people would question the wisdom of building a further runway at Heathrow, in the middle of a very densely populated area. I doubt the wisdom of that.
There is still further potential—is there not?—for high-speed rail in Europe, and we have only started to see the beginning of its development in this country, with the eventual extension of the channel link to St. Pancras.
222 The Government are on the right track, especially in terms of the development to the full of existing airports. As the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), who is another aviation authority, might tell us, Luton airport offers immense potential, with the extension to the runway foreseen in the White Paper and the development of a parallel taxiway and other infrastructure and services. Birmingham, too, has potential with another runway, as does Edinburgh. We are, by an large, getting it right. What pleases me most is that we as a country are acknowledging that aviation is a golden goose for Britain. We must not let the Liberal Democrats kill it with crazy tax impositions.
§ Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)
I rise to praise the Government for their wise decision to give the go-ahead to the expansion of Luton airport, making the maximum use of its single runway—extended, of course. That is a significant development, which will quadruple the number of passengers going through the airport and make a serious contribution to passenger numbers in south-east England. In addition, the airport is a major economic boon to my constituency. Although situated in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), my constituents look to the airport for jobs following the decline in manufacturing in my area. The Vauxhall and Electrolux plants have closed, as have many smaller companies, so Luton airport is important to us and I applaud the Government for their decision.
We would like the Government to encourage and facilitate Luton airport's expansion at an early date, because Luton could solve some of the problems that we have been hearing about this afternoon. A green light to growth at Luton could alleviate, at least in the medium term, some of the tensions and difficulties at Heathrow and Stansted. Initially, we thought that BAA was pushing for its own airports to be expanded and that Luton was being marginalised—indeed, I think it was on no one's radar screen but ours. The decision is testimony not only to successful lobbying by us, but to the fact that the Government listened to the arguments. We made the case and, in the end, the Government acknowledged that it was a sensible one.
We have heard talk of forecasts of the growth in air passenger traffic over the next 25 or 30 years. Forecasts are always hazardous. Passenger forecasts for the channel tunnel proved to be overblown—its construction was predicated on forecasts that never came to fruition and seem unlikely ever to do so. The salvation of the channel tunnel's economics lies in pushing a lot of rail freight through it, not in passenger numbers. We can make the trains faster and encourage as many people as possible to travel by Eurostar, but there will never be enough passengers to make the channel tunnel economic; vast quantities of freight are needed to do that.
The White Paper sets out a range of forecasts. Some may prove to be overblown, but whether or not they are correct, Luton's case will remain strong. If the high forecasts prove to be accurate, Luton will clearly be needed, but it will he needed even if the lowest forecasts are not realised. We can then make a case, not for having additional runways at other airports, but for maximising the use of existing runways at those airports 223 and maximising Luton's expansion on the single runway solution. I have here some figures, drawn from the White Paper and elsewhere, which state that maximum use of existing runways at Heathrow could result in an extra 26 million passengers passing through that airport, at Gatwick an extra 11.5 million passengers, and at Stansted an extra 10 million passengers; and developing Luton could result in an extra 23 million or 24 million passengers passing through the airport. Therefore, even if no new runways were built, airports in the south-east could accommodate an extra 70 million passengers a year. If serious problems arise in relation to oil or terrorism, or if we encounter economic problems that we cannot predict, or if we face serious environmental problems with which the world has to deal, there might be less demand for air passenger transport than we have come to expect.
I suspect that those additional 70 million passengers will not be enough, but Luton can make a great contribution even at the lowest forecast. Moreover, if expansion of other airports proves unacceptable to this Government or a future one, there is the option of a second runway at Luton, which would make the airport ten times its present size. That option was rejected as unfeasible by the White Paper, but it remains a possibility in the longer term. Even in difficult circumstances, Luton might provide solutions.
We need economic expansion locally to compensate for job losses in manufacturing. We have a ready-made work force, in contrast to other airports, who are experiencing labour shortages. There is significant unemployment in parts of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South, even though Luton is in the south-east of England, so we can provide workers for jobs. I can say without fear of contradiction that we have the best further education college in the country, as it was the first one to be awarded beacon status. We have the capacity to train people locally in every possible skill, and have a work force who need work.
There is everything to be said for expanding Luton and giving it the go-ahead as soon as possible. My only qualification concerns the master plan. Yesterday, I spoke to the airport management, who say that the time scale for its completion is too short. It is a time-consuming exercise that they want to get right, so I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to allow a little more time for the plan to be completed properly.
Finally, to strike a note of current interest, I am pleased that yesterday the England football team flew from Luton. As an English person, I hope that they will win, and I hope that the Scots, Welsh and Irish will support us—but that is another story. The team flew from Luton in a British Airways aircraft, and we were pleased to see that aircraft there.
§ Mr. Hopkins
Indeed. We could offer Luton as a base for some British Airways services, as we have the capacity and workers. We would welcome the company, should it choose to fly from Luton, which has a great future, and I hope that the Government will continue to support it.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
May I risk shocking the Minister by paying him a compliment? Since the war, successive Governments have been extremely bad at planning. When Ted Heath was Father of the House, he was asked what was the longest period for which he had planned as Prime Minister, and he said, "Oh, about 10 years." I can therefore extend some measure of congratulation to the Government for at least trying to take a 30-year view or even longer. People might take a view of only 10 years when building a motorway, tunnel or airport, but time flies by, and when work is completed everything is out of date.
Such a long-term view, however, throws up stark projections. The statistics that affect Nottingham East Midlands airport are of most concern to me, as they are to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). Paragraph 9.25 of the White Paper says thatour consultation document forecast that there could be over 60,000 cargo flights a year by 2030, and a substantial proportion of these are likely to be in the late evening or the night.At a rough estimate, that could involve 100 or 200 night flights that, unlike Heathrow, would grow from a base of almost nothing. Because of current flight path routes and the volume of flights, there are almost no night flights to disturb our constituents. They are just beginning, and are beginning to annoy people. The projections in the White Paper, however, are massive.
That throws up a serious question of policy. Does the current policy or any policy in the White Paper properly cope with the magnitude of the issue described in it? Is there a control or planning process that can redress grievance and adjust, tweak or change what is predicted so as best to balance the environment with the economy? The answer at present is no. There is no planning process for freight volumes. There is a planning process for the expansion of an airport apron, but there is no planning process for where those flights go and how many of them will be permitted.
The Minister has yet to answer the question how great the scale and impact of such a change must be before it triggers some sort of formal approval regime. I cannot think of any other area of activity that has such widespread detrimental consequences which is not subject to some sort of control. Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow, the three big airports, are subject to control, but no other airport is. Nottingham East Midlands airport, which will have 60,000 cargo flights well within our lifetime, is subject to no regulation whatever. There is nothing contractual or statutory that is able to govern its growth.
The Minister spoke about master plans. I am not familiar with master plans and I do not know much about them, but I do not see that they have the force of law, compulsion or influence that a growing number of our constituents are demanding. Perhaps the Minister would tell me that there is a process of consultation. Our experience of that so far is pretty bitter. Apparently it has been going on for a year—no one knew about it. A letter to a council provoked a letter back, and it is only in the past two or three months that people have begun to comprehend the consequence of the changes being proposed. Our constituents are shocked. They did not know that that was happening, and they are shocked by 225 their lack of power as individuals through their representatives and through the process of government, consultation, appeal and planning to do anything about it.
§ Mr. Duncan
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not. I want to see the point through, if I may.
We were told at first that there would be a few night cargo flights coming in down the A47 towards the south-east of Leicester, and that they would be at about 8,000 or 10,000 ft so we would not hear a thing. We are suspicious that the flight path has been shifted from west-to-east to east-to-west, so they are now coming over all of rural east Leicestershire, that the numbers are enormously higher than anyone has ever been prepared to admit, and that the altitude of the flight path is nothing like that described to us by Nottingham East Midlands airport.
We have no confidence in what we are being told. We do not trust what we are being told. In the White Paper there is nothing that describes a process whereby we can invoke our power as representatives to reflect our constituents' concerns. In fact, matters are worse. Paragraph 9.28 states:At the same time, given the particular importance of air freight to the future national and regional economy, and of East Midlands Airport as a centre of these operations, we consider that the projected expansion of air freight operations at East Midlands should be permitted.
§ Mr. Stringer
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman making a good case for consultation and for regulation. I am sure the House listens to that with sympathy and understanding. Does he accept the case that the country needs night flights for express cargo somewhere in the country?
§ Mr. Duncan
Yes, I do, but I am perturbed, because it seems that established patterns of flight are about to be turned on their heads. Those who are used to flights going over their houses will suddenly find that flights—potentially 60,000 flights a year within 30 years—are moved to areas in which people have no experience or expectation of them, which is what I object to. The process by which flights are apparently being switched on the sly causes severe upset for my constituents, the constituents of my neighbour, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, and others. We are suspicious of the process—in fact, a process is not apparent, and the White Paper does not contain one.
Returning to my earlier intervention on the Minister, we must try to find a way to bridge the complete gulf in trust between the management of Nottingham East Midlands airport and MPs, councillors and parish councillors representing constituents in east Leicestershire, who are concerned not to be cheated or deceived. We need a means to join the facts with the administrative process of approving or amending the apparent proposal.
I should like the Minister to invoke his authority and verify the proposals at Nottingham East Midlands airport, which would allow us to hold the airport to 226 account. We must record what the airport says and monitor what subsequently happens. We cannot identify culprits 8,000 ft up in the air from ground level, and we need administrative co-operation and honesty to link the concerns and observations of people on the ground with the noise in the air.
On noise, although 57 dB might be okay in a busy urban area with a lot of background noise, it is not good in a rural village in east Leicestershire.
§ Mr. Garnier
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way at this late stage in his remarks. If 60,000 cargo trucks were to move down the A47 or the A6, the Department for Transport might do something, but it seems utterly careless about 60,000 cargo aeroplanes flying over the A47 or the A6.
§ Mr. Duncan
I totally agree with my hon. and learned Friend.
In the few seconds that I have left, I ask the Minister in a spirit of co-operation to establish a process that goes beyond the White Paper to engender trust, which is severely lacking at the moment, on NEMA's planned expansion. Trust has not been established and the facts have not been verified. My constituents are suspicious that thousands of planes will suddenly start flying over their houses at relatively low levels in the middle of the night and that they will have no statutory opportunity to amend the proposal or to object to it.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to confirm that he will work with all of who are involved in the matter to ensure that the threat that unfairly looms over our quiet rural environment does not turn into reality.
§ Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab)
I shall concentrate on the Welsh dimension to air travel. Indeed, I am the first Member from the Celtic fringes to speak in this debate, although I see that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) is trying to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The White Paper is important for the future of aviation in the United Kingdom, and it is also important for the future of integrated transport per se. True integration means road, rail, sea and air, and as someone who represents an island constituency I am conscious of the needs of all those modes of transport. The White Paper is comprehensive and it contains the first forward planning for many decades.
Historically, principal towns grew around seaports, and rail and road links followed much later. The challenge for the future is that we plan to integrate extended airports into the modern transport system. Regional air services in general, and in Wales in particular, are important and new. I shall concentrate on the maximisation of the economic benefit to periphery areas that are served by conventional modes of transport.
Aviation makes a great contribution to employment, trade and the economy in general, but that does not detract from the important issues of the environment and the planning process that hon. Members have mentioned.
227 The White Paper acknowledges the importance of links with the south-east and other regions of England, as well as the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, it suggests increasing the capacity of the major airports and possible enhancements to the highlands and islands. I have travelled from Campbeltown to Glasgow on several occasions—that model could be repeated in many parts of Wales. In Northern Ireland, the White Paper focuses on the international and city airports of Belfast, but also on more regional airports in terms of linking and working with the Irish Republic Government.
In Wales, the White Paper correctly concentrates on the south-east in the shape of Cardiff International airport. Cardiff is a vibrant European city—one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe—and it needs that attention. However, it is important to acknowledge the importance of an intra-Wales air service that links the north and the south of the country. The White Paper notes that Wales relies a great deal on English airports. Although it is true that Manchester and Liverpool serve a great proportion of north Wales, Birmingham serves the middle of Wales, and many people travel to Bristol from the south. So there is a standard London-centric view that all Welsh roads and rails lead to England. In fact, the nearest international airport for my constituents is in Dublin, which is some two hours away by fast ferry.
The advent of devolution offers new transport opportunities for the people of Wales. I welcome the cooperation that has already taken place between the National Assembly for Wales and the Government. Co-operation on transport matters is important in planning integrated systems and dealing with the reserve and devolved matters that lie in Cardiff and London. Last night, there was a debate in the Procedure Committee on the draft Welsh transport Bill, which is an experiment whereby the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs will work with the National Assembly to achieve a properly integrated system.
The White Paper has allowed the Welsh Assembly Government to work out a network of intra-Wales air services linking north and south Wales, thereby reducing road journeys. Anyone who travels down the A470 or takes the rail journey from north to south Wales—as I am sure that you have, Madam Deputy Speaker—has to go via England, and the journey takes four to five hours. The Welsh Labour party included the new air link in its manifesto for the Welsh Assembly and is now committed to developing it. I am pleased that the White Paper gives close attention to that idea.
North-west Wales has suffered economically as a result of being on the periphery both of Wales and of the United Kingdom. Many potential investors have cited travel as a barrier to relocating to the area or setting up businesses there. A regional airport would help to remove that barrier, enhancing the railway and the links between my constituency's principal port of Holyhead, which could in future cater for large cruise vessels.
Since the White Paper was published, I have worked with the business community, the unions, the RAF, the Wales Tourist Board, the Welsh Development Agency and the county council to put forward a plan to make RAF Valley in my constituency the principal north Wales airport. As it already has the, infrastructure in place, that would very much reduce any environmental 228 damage caused by building new runways. It is used to noise, because it is the main RAF Hawk training school, and it is close to the A55 Euro-route, the main line and the sea port, with the potential for offshore gas and oil installations.
The RAF has been very supportive and I led a delegation to the Ministry of Defence. That shows that we have genuine joined-up government on transport issues. Consultants are working on a business plan with the Welsh Assembly Government. The north-south link from north Wales to Cardiff has the potential to provide another link to Dublin, thereby connecting two vibrant European capitals. The Welsh Assembly recently debated intra-Wales services and was supportive in principle. I want to put it on the record that RAF Valley is the top candidate for such a service. The catchment area is wide and some 200 public sector workers travel along the route from north to south every day. If only a third of them were encouraged to use a new air service, they would provide the core for the future.
There are working models. I have already mentioned Campbeltown to Glasgow and there is also the service between Newquay St. Mawgan's airport to Stansted. Three quarters of it is full through the new demand for tourism and windsurfing. I hope that the public service obligation matter can be sorted out and that route development will shortly be established. Airbus in north Wales has provided the air industry with a great structure and I want north-west Wales to be part of that.
Irish success shows that regional airports work and have spread economic prosperity throughout the Republic. I want that to happen throughout the United Kingdom. I want Wales to be an integral part of that and my constituency to benefit.
§ Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con)
My starting point is the wish for Heathrow to continue to flourish. Some 26 per cent. of my constituents in work depend on it for their jobs; many of my elderly constituents derive their pensions from it; many of my local businesses owe their profit to it; many national and international firms choose to be in my constituency because of the airport; and local house prices are high because Heathrow is successful. I therefore make no apology for approaching the debate with the best for my constituents at the forefront of my mind.
There are two questions. What would happen to Spelthorne's economy if all new runways went elsewhere? What would happen to Spelthorne's environment if Heathrow got one of the runways? The answers lead in different directions and the challenge that faces my constituents is how to strike a sensible balance between those considerations.
Early public debate was led by environmental campaigners. Much of it was based on exaggerated claims, a few of which we heard again this afternoon. As the Minister said, most of it was knee-jerk. However, I am ready to admit that if the worst predictions of the anti-Heathrow campaigners are true, the price to be paid for a new runway would be too high.
I therefore welcome the research that is being undertaken and the commitment of BAA and the airlines to do their best to solve those problems. Until the research has been completed, we need to keep our 229 minds open. In the meantime, it makes sense for BAA to start its planning and I welcome its open and honest dialogue with my constituents. However, the chances are that the final decision will flow from a planning application. Please God we do not have a rerun of the stupidity, waste and delay of the terminal 5 inquiry. It has been incredibly difficult to persuade those with strong views about Heathrow to consider the possible economic consequences of its not getting another runway. They could be catastrophic for the airport and for local business and jobs.
To keep its place as Europe's No. 1 hub airport, Heathrow needs to stay ahead of the competition. No airline wants to leave Heathrow for Stansted or Gatwick. Indeed, airlines are queueing up to get in. If they are to go elsewhere, we must have new traffic distribution rules to force them to move. If forced to move, some airlines would move most or all their operations elsewhere and some would probably move to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris rather than to Stansted or Gatwick.
If that were to happen, and without another runway, Heathrow would, at best, decline and, at worst, close. No other airport in the world has two neighbouring, flourishing hub airports.
I realise that some people consider me to be alarmist when I claim that Heathrow is under threat. They tell me that it is bound to survive, whatever happens. My response is to invite them to join me at my favourite Thai restaurant overlooking the Pool of London—a port that many said would survive, whatever happened—and if they can spot a docker while having lunch, I will pay for the meal. If they cannot, they pay. To date, no one has taken me up on that offer.
There are others who accuse me of wanting to help the airlines only to help their shareholders. That is utter rubbish. Trade unions are not noted for putting shareholders first, yet they accept the economic case for another runway, as do the local and regional chambers of commerce. In addition, national and international businesses say that a flourishing Heathrow is absolutely essential to the success of UK plc. But however worthy these supporters of the economic case are, the opinions that I respect most are those of my constituents. The majority of those whom I was elected to represent do not support the anti-Heathrow campaigners who keep claiming to speak on their behalf. I shall give the House an example. I recently came across a press release on the proposed new runway issued by one of my local councils, which stated:We will continue to support our residents in resisting these developments".When challenged, the council's chief executive told me:I can confirm that we have not carried out any recent opinion research on the third runway proposal.Well, I have.
Since the White Paper was published, I have distributed to my constituents more than 40,000 questionnaires that include at least one question about the possible new runway. The results in 2002–03 showed that between 50 and 55 per cent. of them were in favour of the runway, and that 40 to 46 per cent. were against it. After the period of reflection that the Minister 230 mentioned earlier, two recent large surveys have suggested that support for the runway in 2004 is higher. They reveal 63 and 66 per cent. in favour, and 43 and 28 per cent. against. That might come as a surprise to those who knock Heathrow, but it does not surprise me. That is because my constituents want not only to live in a pleasant environment, but to keep their jobs. They want to support their families, pay their mortgages and protect the value of their homes.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)
In the surveys that my hon. Friend carried out, was there a way for people to express the view that they were more interested in seeing a decision being taken, so that the uncertainty could come to an end?
§ Mr. Wilshire
My guess is that that is absolutely true. By the end of the farce known as the terminal 5 inquiry, even those among my constituents who were against the proposal were almost on their knees begging for somebody to take a decision, to put them out of their misery. That was the stupidity of the matter, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point.
I started by saying that I was going to speak up for my constituents. Before I finish, there is one other group of people for whom I want to speak up: air travellers. I understand the anxieties of the environmental campaigners, but I see no need to apologise for supporting cheap and easy access to air travel for as many people as possible. I do not believe that air travel should be the prerogative of the better-off who can afford to pay the extra tax and duty being called for by the people such as the Liberal Democrats.
I am glad that we are having this debate and I am pleased that the Minister said earlier that he was keen to hear what my constituents thought after a year of thoughtful reflection, even if he does not like the ties that their MP wears wears comes to the House to tell him about it. I would add in passing that the choice of some of my ties is down to the Minister goading me all the time to go out and buy more. He is therefore to blame for them, not me.
In Spelthorne—this is the message that I want the Minister to take away with him—a huge majority of my constituents want Heathrow to flourish. A smaller but growing majority accept that that will probably mean another runway, provided—it is a big "provided"—that the real environmental problems can be overcome.
§ David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)
First, may I apologise to the Minister and the House for not being present for the whole debate, despite having put my name down to speak? I was at the funeral of my friend Jim Marshall, the former Member for Leicester, South, who was a magnificent ambassador for his adopted city, an effective voice for the dispossessed in that city, and a powerful champion for the friendless in all parts of the country. I felt that that was a priority.
To the north of the North-West Leicestershire constituency lies East Midlands airport or, as we must now not call it, Nottingham East Midlands airport, a former local authority initiative and enterprise, owned jointly by Derby city and county councils, Nottingham 231 city and county councils, and Leicestershire county council, in shares of ninths. At the point at which its expansion was halted because of difficulty of access to capital, it was sold to National Express.
Prior to that sale, the population in the vicinity at least had access to elected members, who indirectly operated the airport, who were able to respond to the concerns that they might have from time to time. The key concern then and during the ownership of National Express—it remains so under the more recent ownership of Manchester Airports Group—was night noise, which is linked predominantly to freight flights. A history of difficulty has worsened over the years. I can only agree—unusually, perhaps—with my county colleague, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), in urging the Minister to look for designation under the Civil Aviation Act 1982 as an appropriate way ahead.
When the Secretary of State for Transport launched the White Paper, there were frequent references in that speech, and since, to stringent controls on noise and particularly on night flights—an elusive phrase. The detail on that is lacking. I hope that the Minister, in summing up today, or in the months that follow, will direct the efforts and energies of his experts and civil servants to putting some flesh on the bones in relation to what is meant by stringent night noise controls. Designation has something to offer in that regard.
My other county colleague, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), talked about community involvement, although he did not use that phrase, and the fact that when new directions and flight paths were introduced, those populations who were affected had hardly been consulted and had received very little information. That is all of a piece with what has happened in recent times, sadly, under the ownership of the Manchester Airport Group. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) has said, one would hope that the 10 local authorities would be more sensitive to community concerns. Their very raison d'être is to listen and respond to the communities for whom they are responsible. Their normal way of working is to respond to the concerns that are raised, but that is not happening. I know that my hon. Friend chairs the relevant parliamentary group, and I hope that he will use his influence to get Manchester to listen much more closely to the communities that lie around East Midlands airport.
Night flights are the problem. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton has pointed cut that within his lifetime, as he is a relatively young man, but perhaps not within mine, we shall see something like 60,000 freight flights a year—200 a night—within what is an almost unrestricted environmental framework.
That is the problem. Under local authority ownership, rigorous control of the pattern of usage and the timing of flights was, perhaps, not considered a high priority, since local authorities could respond to concerns that emerged. We now have the largest dedicated freight airport in the country working with almost no control framework.
We have heard a bit about low, cost airlines. The White Paper sets out growth for the industry to 2030, and much of it is allocated to the low-cost sector. About 232 36 million passengers fly with the likes of Ryanair and easyJet, to name but two who, when this speech started, were still in business. The Government foresee about 103 million people flying with low-cost airlines by 2030. I am pleased to see the Minister back in his place, and I ask him whether he really thinks expansion is likely to continue at that rate. In his in-tray, filled by appropriate civil servants this week, he will find the authoritative industry magazine Flight International, which has a clear article analysing the battle in the skies between low-cost carriers and charter companies. In essence, the charter holiday market is being hit very hard by low-cost operators. One can only agree with the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) about some of the lunacies of the low-cost market, which can function only because of the special low-taxation status that the aviation industry has learned to enjoy in recent years.
Will the Minister discuss with the Secretary of State the Department for Transport's and the Civil Aviation Authority's route licensing policy, which currently seems not to take environmental considerations into account, such as the extra impact of noise and road traffic around East Midlands airport, caused by air wars that mean airports vying to outdo each other in how much subsidy they give to airlines? Can the Department take more effective action in that regard?
I travelled today to Leicester and back through St. Pancras station, where the huge investment into high-speed rail to our continental near neighbours is clear. Will the Minister use the DFT-CAA route licensing system to discourage air routes to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, and to divert that traffic to the effective intercontinental rail system that is being built in north London and the area around it? It would be economic and environmental lunacy not to ensure that the new framework was used to greatest effect, discouraging some of the hugely environmentally damaging and unnecessary short-haul flights to certain European capitals.
§ John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD)
I have a direct interest in the debate and the Government's policies on aviation. The White Paper, "The Future of Air Transport", contains extensive plans for the development and expansion of Edinburgh airport, which is in my constituency. The plans come on top of existing, ongoing developments, such as the extension to the taxiway, a project that is well under way. I have watched the airport grow over the past 30 years from a small regional airport into a major international link.
Even if I did not have that specific constituency connection, however, I should, as someone concerned about the environment, be keeping a close eye on the words and actions of the Minister. It is clear from the debate, and the debate going on outside this place throughout the country, that I am not alone. As a number of Members have said, the debate, the White Paper and the issue are very important. They have an impact on business and communities the length and breadth of the country.
Four months ago I secured a Westminster Hall debate on this issue, and I shall not repeat what I said in February. One very important addition to the discussion on air transport since then, however, has been the publication of the report by the Select Committee on Environmental Audit.
233 That report has to be one of the most critical that I have read. It is not the longest report produced, but it presents a serious case for the Government to answer. For that cross-party group to provide such criticism in a parliamentary report only confirms what many of us had feared: that the Government have no idea of what they mean by sustainable development. In a spirit of helpfulness to the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), I suggest this definition of sustainable development: development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Is there anything wrong with that definition?
The question now is what can and should be done to mitigate the considerable impact that an expansion in air travel will undoubtedly have. Whether we listen to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the Institute for Public Policy Research or the House's own Environmental Audit Committee, there is wide consensus that the White Paper, if implemented, will run every risk of wiping out all the Government's progress on reducing carbon dioxide emissions and could undermine their entire climate change strategy. It is important not to forget the nitrogen oxide and water vapour pollution produced by air transport, emissions that make a considerable additional contribution to global warming. The White Paper makes no mention whatever of those.
The Government have, of course, consulted extensively on the fiscal measures that can be exploited to ensure that aviation pays for the damage that it causes, yet for all the consultation there seems to be precious little progress. The Government have, to all intents and purposes, put all their eggs in the emissions trading basket. They must look again at the issue of aviation fuel taxation, because there are without question enormous disparities between how we tax different modes of transport. It seems that the air transport sector is getting off pretty lightly at present, a situation that is simply not sustainable in a sustainable aviation policy.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Before the hon. Gentleman waxes even more eloquently in favour of the Liberal Democrat policy to put further taxation on aviation, will he tell us his view of the White Paper proposal to safeguard land at Edinburgh airport for the possible construction of a second, parallel runway?
§ John Barrett
It makes sense to protect the land, but no decision needs to be taken yet. There might be no requirement for a second runway—a subject that I shall come to later.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the White Paper is how little it says on air-rail substitution. I find it extraordinary that a Government who espouse the importance of an integrated transport policy seem to view air transport policies as separate—almost in isolation—from other modes of transport. The fact is that short-haul flights, which make up an enormous amount of the traffic arriving at and departing from Edinburgh airport, are the most polluting. By providing good, reliable, affordable high-speed rail links between north and south, we would create an alternative, much 234 more environmentally friendly, way of connecting Scotland with London and the south of England. Approximately 50 per cent. of all flights into and out of Edinburgh are to and from cities in the UK that could be reached by rail. Back in February, the Commission for Integrated Transport produced a thorough report on that very issue. As the Secretary of State and the Minister will know, it argued that Edinburgh to London journey times could be cut to as little as two and a half hours. At present, it takes much longer to get from the centre of Edinburgh to the centre of London, a journey that I do every week by four separate modes of transport.
As I have said, about two thirds of flights arriving at Edinburgh airport come from other UK airports accessible by rail. Just think of the pollution that could be prevented if the passengers on those flights were transported by rail instead of air. Yet, for such a long White Paper, relatively little is said on the importance of investment in the development of rail routes. That is yet another example of this Government's mistaken priorities.
The Minister will know that, without question, the most controversial parts of the White Paper from an Edinburgh perspective are the statements surrounding the second runway
The debate rages about the degree to which projected capacity can be accommodated at Edinburgh by the one existing runway. Surely such a question would not even arise if the short-haul flights that take up so many of the existing slots were redundant because of high-speed rail. High-speed rail would also help to free up airport capacity for the direct international flights that so many of us in Edinburgh want to see expanded, and it would be good for local tourism and for business.
The current construction of the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters next to the airport will create 3,000 new jobs in the constituency. But given the location of a major airport in my constituency, and coming as I do from a city that is heavily dependent on tourism, I recognise the importance of air transport to Edinburgh and to the wider Scottish economy. The airport acts as a gateway to Scotland. It employs thousands of people directly and indirectly, it is increasingly providing my constituents with a greater choice of direct international holiday destinations, and it offers a greater number of potential foreign visitors a direct link to Edinburgh and Scotland. In the past year alone, new direct flights have been established to Prague, Moscow and New York.
These developments are to be welcomed. I am not against all expansion of air transport, but I am not in favour of uncontrolled expansion, which is almost what the Government are proposing. It is vital to get the balance right. A balance must be struck between economic interests and the environment, and it is clear to me and to many of my constituents that the Government have a long way to go before that balance will be struck.
§ 6.6 pm
§ Mr. McNulty
With the leave of the House, I shall bring this extremely interesting debate to a conclusion. I want to start by associating myself fully with what my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire 235 (David Taylor) said about our friend, Jim Marshall, the former Member for Leicester, South. He will certainly be missed.
The contribution of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) is a timely and useful place to end our deliberations. There have been some extraordinarily useful and thoughtful contributions but he was the first to argue that, as I understood it, he wants a runway but does not want it. He wants to tax aviation far further, but he wants to welcome tourists to Edinburgh. He wants significant investment in even more high-speed rail links—without recognising the investment that has been made thus far—but he wants tourism in Edinburgh to flourish. That sums up the Liberal Democrats, a point to which I shall perhaps return shortly.
§ John Barrett
Will the Minister complete his summary by saying whether he agreed with my definition of sustainability?
§ Mr. McNulty
If that was the best definition of sustainability that the hon. Gentleman could come up with, we had best leave the matter there. [Interruption.] It was not a broad definition of sustainable aviation in the context of the White Paper, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) was seeking.
This has been a very useful debate and, as I said, Members on both sides of the House have made thoughtful contributions. Some contributions rightly focused on national policy, and others focused on economic and environmental issues, as is equally right and proper. Yet others rightly focused on local issues and raised specific concerns about local airports. I shall try to deal with as many of the contributions as I can.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) struggled to find fault with the White Paper. Reference was made to fudges and a lack of joined-up government, and there were some frilly bits around the edges, but his heart really was not in it. I am extraordinarily grateful to him for repeating a speech that he made to the aviation club on 1 April, which I missed. It is quite useful to have the advantage of simply reading out a speech, which one often does for the benefit of one's own colleagues. It was not a bad little speech and I am grateful to him for sticking to it; consistency is surely to be admired. However, its bare substance showed that he found little to disagree with in terms of the White Paper's thrust. Indeed, not many Members found much to disagree with, save for their concerns about their local airports, which I fully recognise.
Like other assorted panaceas offered in a simplistic fashion during the day, rail substitution has been mentioned, but it is not necessarily the full answer, and the notion that the Government have no policy on rail at all belies the experience of the last couple of years. That will be made more than clear by the time we get to the rail review.
236 The notion that, simply because there has been significant investment over the years in high-speed rail in France—whereas there has not been in this country—there are suddenly no short-haul domestic flights is absolute nonsense. The best part of 250 domestic flights are made in France every single day. The notion that, if there is more high-speed rail and more encouragement for people to operate on rail, lo and behold, they do and there is no longer a need for shorter-haul domestic flights is simplistic nonsense, which does not add any substance to the debate.
As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West will know, about 93 per cent. of business trips from Scotland to the south-east are by air. I suspect that, whatever happens to the west coast and east coast main line, that will still prevail. I glory in the fact that that is partly why there is such substantial investment throughout the curtilage of Edinburgh airport. That is why—it is not because of rail links.
§ David Taylor
I am disappointed that the Minister uses the old debating tactic of summarising what people have said in a wholly inaccurate way and then knocking the argument down. No one has suggested that substitution to fast rail services would remove the need for internal flights. We are talking about containing growth and securing the best benefit from the welcome investment that the Government have made in the St. Pancras to Ebbsfleet line and elsewhere. Could the Minister please be a little more accurate in his summing-up speech?
§ Mr. McNulty
My hon. Friend would have been better served—I know the reasons why he was not—had he been in his place for the whole day and listened to the whole debate and the whole of the rail substitution arguments advanced today, rather than just part of them. With the best will in the world, I understand why he was not—I said that at the outset and I respect that—but to enter the debate belatedly and to make comments about the course of the whole debate is not entirely fair on my hon. Friend's part. I say no more than that.
It is the same when we come on to taxation. Saying that we should scrap air departure taxes paid by passengers and that it would be much fairer if airlines paid a duty on every plane—passenger or freight— taking off from a British airport, as though that were a new way forward that would solve all our environmental problems, is again short-sighted nonsense. The proposal to tax the aeroplane and not the passenger is based on the principle of the polluter paying, but that is not the case. It does not take a genius to work out that those charges would immediately be passed on to business, commercial and personal flights. It will not be the polluter that pays.
That idea is simplistic and crude, at best. It does nothing about providing incentives to cut back on emissions, as we are proposing, either in respect of landing charges or the EU emissions trading scheme. It does nothing to incentivise people to reduce noise through noise charges or to bring about compensation and mitigation measures, which already apply to freight rather than passenger flights. It makes no allowance for discerning qualitative differences between aircraft—both this and the last Government have recognised the importance of that—and it takes no account of the 237 economics of an industry that already creates incentives to obtain high load factors. Of itself, the idea is crude and it is not necessarily a panacea, which is the usual context in which it is offered. It comes from the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy). It does not go far enough and it is in no way a substantive contribution to the debate: it is entirely knee-jerk.
The comments of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West and others, including the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, on the EAC's report are entirely right. It is one of the most critical reports ever made of the Government, but it is equally, as I said earlier this morning, one of the most flawed reports that a Committee has ever produced. The EAC persists in comparing aviation total climate change impacts with CO2-only impacts of other non-aviation sources. The figures are simply wrong. We have made the offer in substance, and I repeat it now, to sit down with members of the Committee and anyone else and go through the figures in detail.
The EAC report is manifestly wrong. It does not acknowledge that figures for international aviation emissions include all emissions from flights departing from the UK, even though the Kyoto protocol does not allocate those emissions to states. I suspect that that will be news to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge).
The UK is the only country in the world to produce figures that allocate international aviation emissions in this way. There is much noise about Kyoto and the attempt to sort out emissions, but the White Paper's provisions, if they came to fruition—
§ Mr. McNulty
Of course it is, but would the hon. Gentleman prefer us to do nothing? The White Paper's proposals, if they came to fruition, would go way beyond Kyoto. They include emissions that are not mentioned in Kyoto, and in an environmentally managed system. That must be good for everyone.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
The Minister is being more than usually patronising. He is also incorrect in his analysis of the EAC report, with which he disagrees. He knows that we have calculated—using the Government's own numbers and forecasts, and the policies announced in the White Paper—that aviation will account for about 70 per cent. of all UK CO2 emissions by 2050. We discussed this matter on the radio this morning, but he did not explain then why the Department has assumed that there will be no decrease at all in non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions for the next 50 years. Will he explain it now?
§ Mr. McNulty
I did deal with that this morning. I said that those figures were simply modelling constants that 238 statisticians tell me are factored in, in a standard way, to provide a description of prevailing conditions in 2030 and 2050. However, I repeat that the EAC report compares apples and pears—that is, two distinct sets of figures.
We have dealt with the national and regional dimensions of this matter, but the international dimension is also important. The EAC report quotes selectively from the Johannesburg declaration, which makes it clear that sustainability involves a range of economic, social and environmental measures. The declaration rightly deals also with the need for efficient and affordable transportation and access to markets. It recommends that transboundary pollution should be dealt with through international consensus and not unilateral action.
How can we penalise smaller third-world and developing countries that want to grow by imposing on their aviation systems the standards that prevail in the developed world? The question has arisen before, and the answer is that a balanced approach is required.
§ Mr. McNulty
I will, as long as the hon. Gentleman answers one key question to do with his report. He exhorts the Government to deal with "unnecessary" air transport. I should be grateful for a short definition of what "unnecessary" air transport might be, and how it might be policed.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
It is for the Government to respond to our report, not for me to respond to the Minister. He will know that the Government signed up to a sustainable consumption policy as part of the Johannesburg commitments. How does he square that policy with the fact that air traffic is to treble over the next 50 years?
§ Mr. McNulty
Again, the hon. Gentleman selectively quotes the Johannesburg declaration. I agree that the declaration talks about sustainable consumption, but it also talks about efficient and affordable transportation, access to markets. and about dealing with transboundary pollution by international consensus as opposed to unilateral action. The Johannesburg declaration dealt with all those elements, which are all very important when it comes aviation's international role, especially in respect of developing countries. It is not sufficient to focus on one line of the declaration.
The EAC report contains no suggestion as to what "unnecessary" air transport might be, but I forgive the hon. Gentleman for that. I am sure that "Is Your Journey Really Necessary?" posters will be put up at all airports. The suggestion in the report was ridiculous, and remains so.
§ David Taylor
I sense that the Minister is about to leave the topic of missions trading, so will he confirm that there will be a stringent cap on emissions under the emissions trading scheme? Will he assure the House that that cap will be progressively lowered, that the process will be transparent and that alleged reductions will be independently verified?
§ Mr. McNulty
If my hon. Friend reads the ICAO—International Civil Aviation Organisation—report on emissions trading, which was partly funded by the Government, although the Committee suggested that it does not exist, he will see that the mechanisms involved are discussed. That work has been repeated by both OXERA and DG ENV. Appendix B of the White Paper contains some of the early work on a possible emissions trading scheme for the European Union. I cannot confirm that the system he has just described will be the one that prevails but it sounds not dissimilar to a system that I would intuitively be happy to accept.
Someone said earlier that there was little support for an emissions trading scheme in the EU, but they were profoundly and utterly wrong. The support in the EU for a trading scheme grows by the day and the month. I freely admit that there is some resistance to the scheme, which is why we want to get some impetus behind an EU scheme at the ICAO level—not least from some of the larger member countries. It is no accident that the larger members of ICAO who are resistant to such a scheme are not unlinked to those who have yet to sign up to Kyoto, let alone ratify it.
The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) and my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) will have to forgive me but I shall not discuss Stansted when we do not even know whether the legal challenge permitted by the High Court will be successful.
§ Mr. McNulty
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt attempt to draw me further on that issue, and I can assure him that if he does, I will not reply.
§ Mr. McNulty
The sensitivity relates to the legal dimensions that I must respect as a Minister. On the issue of cross-subsidies, I say simply, as I have said before, that the day after the White Paper was published, Sir Roy McNulty—no relation—said that the CAA, as the regulatory body, had no plans to change the system that prevails, and the Government have not demurred from that statement.
Some hon. Friends asked about the master plan in detail and when the guidance would be published. I will seek to ensure that the guidance for the master plan is published before the summer recess.
§ Mr. Hopkins
I made a specific point about the time scale for the delivery of the master plan, because I know that London-Luton airport is concerned about that. We do not want to rush it, because we want to get it right.
§ Mr. McNulty
That is why we will insist, as someone else mentioned, that all airports with traffic movements above a certain level should submit at least an interim master plan by the end of this year. We will then discuss 240 the approach to a finalised master plan, and that will be in the guidance when it is published. I understand the concerns. Whether one supports the master plan or not, clarity is important.
§ John McDonnell
I raised the issue of interim master plans. It would be helpful if the guidance clarified the relationship between the master plan and other planning guidance or mechanisms, and what impact the master plan will have on those.
§ Mr. McNulty
The master plan will not be a statutory planning document. It will not be part of the package of development documents that will prevail under the new system. Nor will it be statutory planning guidance under the existing system. However, it will clearly be a material planning matter.
What is in the master plan will need to be duly considered in subsequent planning processes. For those hon. Members who do not know, a material planning matter is an item that does not have statutory force, but must be taken into account in any subsequent planning inquiry.
§ John McDonnell
I am sorry to persist on this point, but is it therefore open to people other than the airport operator to develop the master plan for any airport site?
§ Mr. McNulty
In one sense, strictly speaking under the law, yes, of course it is, in the same sense as I am entirely free to submit a master plan and a planning application for the house owned by the hon. Member for Ashford, although I have no desire to do so. People are allowed to submit such plans, but they would not have the same force rooted in the requirement for the master plan in the White Paper, so such plans sit between statutory documents and material planning matters.
The White Paper makes clear the importance of clear guidance on considering the public service obligations and route development funds, and we are considering those details at the moment. We will issue draft guidelines for consultation shortly. Some regions have made considerable progress in respect of RDFs—not least Northern Ireland, where quite significant route development support seems to have been developed during the past couple of months, which is encouraging. Taken together, RDFs and the public service obligations—my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) mentioned them in relation to the periphery—will seek to protect both the viability and the development of regional airports, as well as the crucial interconnectivity to London.
I am grateful to those hon. Members—clearly, not everyone—who suggested that this is not about predict and provide. It simply is not about that. I can be certainly nowhere near as eloquent in that regard as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). Clearly, to use predict and provide as a charge against the White Paper is nonsense. If predict and provide were used and things were determined purely on economic and demand-led criteria, there would already be a rush to build a third runway at Heathrow, at least a second at Stansted and certainly a second at Gatwick, without real discussion. If just economic criteria drove the final policy decisions, the White Paper would take a very different shape.
241 I half take the point about the notion of drift. The master plan process does not equal drift; it starts to provide at least some direction. I take the point made by my hon. Friends and others, including the hon. Member for Ashford, that some serious and far-reaching decisions need to be made, at least in some regards, during the forthcoming Thursday and Friday meeting of the Transport Council, including on the EU-US talks, flight-time limitations, training and other issues. We will report the outcome of those discussions to the House in due course.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The slot system currently operated in the UK has worked well, by and large. Airport committees have reached consensus agreements in the end, after much haggling and bargaining, thus ensuring grandfather rights and the right of new entrants to fly services into those airports. Will the EU take over total power to allocate slots in the EU? Is that the EU's objective? Would Her Majesty's Government accede to such an idea?
§ Mr. McNulty
I will certainly not speculate about what may or may not be the objective of the Commission or anyone else in the EU. We have said before that we want a slot allocation system that encourages the more effective use of scarce capacity, and we are considering in some detail the report that came from the Commission in January. The hon. Gentleman's interpretation of that report may differ from the Government's, but we are considering it in some detail, and I am sure that that will help to inform the UK's negotiating position. As has been said, we start from the premise of recognising Heathrow's importance not just to London and the south-east, but to the whole economy.
I think that I have had three full meetings with hon. Members to discuss Nottingham East Midlands airport, and at least one with the Manchester Airport Group at which I conveyed local MPs' concerns in respect of night noise and plans for the airport. Provided that the largest group possible is involved., not little groupuscles, I am more than happy to meet all the MPs involved again to try to build a bridge of trust between local MPs and Manchester Airport Group and to introduce a little clarity into the process.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan
At the risk of being seen as someone who is even smaller than a little groupuscle, may I ask the Minister to consider whether in our planning procedures there is not quite a gap between extreme regulation and no regulation? Does he not think that the White Paper offers scope to reconsider the guidelines and procedures that govern a change of such magnitude, which is currently totally unregulated?
§ Mr. McNulty
There might be something in what the hon. Gentleman says. At present, all we have is informal local agreements, or planning inquiries at which all matters can be revisited, or designation, which, as he implied, is the nuclear option. Perhaps there is scope to look at that matter. However, within current 242 parameters, I am more than happy to meet the group of MPs concerned about Nottingham East Midlands airport to see whether we can make progress. As I said, I have raised the matter with Manchester Airport Group, so it is aware of my concerns and everyone else's.
§ Mr. Reed
I am grateful to the Minister for that offer. I am sure that many MPs present today, especially those from Leicestershire, will take him up on it. I accept his comments about the choice being between the nuclear option and no restrictions whatever, but I hope that he will discuss the term "stringent noise controls". We shall be happy to work with him to achieve a clear definition of such controls. Perhaps some form of regulation based on that will offer a way forward in which we can all work together.
§ Mr. McNulty
We can discuss that when we meet. The White Paper says that, among other things, we shall consider legislating in that respect. However, when we meet, I do not Want to discuss recent history and opportunities missed to get more rigour in the control relationship between the airport and the locality. I could go on about that now for another 20 minutes, but I shall not.
Any change to Heathrow's 480,000 air traffic movements limit would require planning permission. It would be for BAA to make a planning application, which would be considered through the normal planning process. There are rumours and speculation about night flights. I want to ensure that the first consultation in that respect takes place before the summer recess, so that we can at least get started.
Mixed mode has to be considered. As my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen) said, it would require the cessation of long-standing arrangements, such as the Cranford agreement and runway alternation agreements. We are at a very early stage of consideration and, despite what the hon. Member for Richmond Park suggested, there is no on-off switch—it is not a simple alternative. There are huge technical, environmental and other issues to take into account. As we said in the White Paper, between now and the taking of a decision on a third runway, it is incumbent on us to examine optimisation of capacity at Heathrow, as we are doing at all other airports through the master planning process. Revisiting mixed mode is part of that process, but I assure the House that we have an open mind. There are no secret deals and no hidden theories—incidentally, it is the latter that are daft, not the individuals concerned, as I made clear in my opening speech. However, I shall be very surprised if we have anything on which to consult the public before early 2006.
§ Mr. Wilshire
In my 17 years as an MP I have been trying to find a copy of the Cranford agreement. Does the Minister have one?
§ Mr. McNulty
I have lots of paper about my person, but not a copy of the Cranford agreement. It is not an illuminated manuscript kept under glass in the Department, but if I find it, I will certainly give it to the hon. Gentleman.
243 It is important to keep an open mind on the mixed mode option, and the technicalities mean that we will consider it later rather than sooner. The first phase of consultation on night flight guidance, however, will be issued in summer. These are serious matters, and the publication of the White Paper is far from the end of the process. Huge work streams at a national, international, regional and local levels spring from the document. Different progress has been made on each one depending on the position of each airport. I repeat that we are determined to get the balance right between, on the one hand, the significant economic contribution that aviation makes throughout the country, the importance of airports as key economic drivers, access and links to London and, on the other, as everyone would agree to some extent, a genuine concern with environmental issues, including emissions, CO2, noise and the impact of airports on the locality, about which the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton spoke. Environmental considerations are extremely important, but they are not served, to conclude on a happily discordant note, by simplistic panaceas offered up to satisfy the green lobby and make everyone feel good. In fact, they achieve nothing and, paradoxically, do not serve the environmental cause. Simplicity is not in anyone's interest in public policy, whatever side of the fence one sits on. I thank hon. Members for the it contributions in the main, and I am sure that we will have another debate on the White Paper, which deserves more than only seven or eight hours of debate. I look forward to everyone being here next time.
§ Mr. Maude
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that this is difficult matter for you and other occupants of the Chair to manage, but this is an important debate, both nationally and for many of us with specific constituency matters. The Minister spoke for 40 minutes in his opening speech—I am not criticising him, as he was subject to frequent interventions—and 30 minutes in his winding-up speech. I believe that there are 22 minutes left for debate, yet Back Benchers were subject to a severe eight-minute limit on speeches—a discipline that I was perfectly happy to accept, but the debate was unduly skewed away from Back Benchers, and that might have been avoided.
§ Mr. Speaker
There are two ways of looking at it. If there had been no time limit, a Back Bencher might have taken 20 or 30 minutes, and put other Back Benchers at a disadvantage. I think that I did the right thing by imposing a time limit—I do not have a crystal ball and do not know what is going to happen. In the Minister's defence—I do not often defend Ministers except this one—on such a subject hon. Members tend to intervene 244 on Ministers to make a point. I believe that everyone in the Chamber has been able to make a contribution, which makes me very happy indeed.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.