Westminster Hall

Tuesday 23 January 2001

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Aviation Policy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.--[Mr. Mullin.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Before the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) addresses us, let me make the point that, as there is excessive heating in the Room, I am prepared to relax the normal rule on dress. Jackets need not continue to be worn if Members feel uncomfortable.

9.30 am

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that ruling. We will have read in the newspapers today about the advance of global warming; it has certainly arrived in Westminster Hall.

Thank you also, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for agreeing to this Adjournment debate on aviation policy. This is the first opportunity that hon. Members have had to express their views in the Chamber on the Government consultation paper "The Future of Aviation", which was launched outside the House on 12 December 2000.

I thank those who have helped me to prepare for this debate. The views now expressed are mine alone, but I hope that they are shared by many Putney residents and other Members of Parliament. I have already passed a copy of my speech to the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), so I hope that he will be able to respond to my questions and comments.

The consultation document is comprehensive, and I commend two of the Government's proposals in particular: first, the polluter pays principle has been applied to the aviation industry; secondly, the Government are advocating the taxation of aviation fuel on an EU-wide basis. The Minister may be able to bring the Chamber up to date on the meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in Montreal last week. The United States rejected the EU proposal for such a tax in September. Has it now been agreed and, if not, will the EU decide to go it alone?

The need for action on pollution, especially on emissions from aircraft, was made even more urgent by the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, announced in Shanghai, China yesterday, which stated that the panel's previous reports had gravely underestimated the extent to which the world may heat up. It calculates that that could now happen almost twice as fast, with a rise of 5.8 deg C by the end of this century. It is the first report to conclude unequivocally that global warming is taking place and that pollution is to blame.

23 Jan 2001 : Column 184WH

In my Adjournment debate on 21 March last year, I drew attention to the culpability of the aviation industry and to the need for action by Governments, airlines, aircraft manufacturers and airports. The call by Mike Hodgkinson of BAA plc for a sustainable aviation forum should be heeded. Perhaps the Minister can state whether he will set up such a forum, with all of the stakeholders involved? On what basis could that be done and when? What success did my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister have in ensuring that aircraft emissions were discussed and incorporated at the sixth conference of parties to the Kyoto protocol, at The Hague in November 2000 and subsequently? If that has not been achieved, will the Minister confirm that such incorporation remains UK and EU aviation and environmental policy?

The other pollutant from the aviation industry is, of course, noise. I welcome the Government's decision, announced last month, to impose lower noise limits for aircraft departing from Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted--and cut by half the number of night flights over Putney. Those changes start to recognise the concern of our constituents who live under flight paths about the impact of noise on their daily lives--and even, as research has clearly shown, on the learning ability of their children.

However, the situation remains unacceptable for my constituents and, I am sure, many others. I have tried, as the Minister knows, to remove all night flights from Heathrow. The current regime of 16 flights runs out in 2003, and I hope that a night flight ban can be imposed. I took that matter up in debates on 28 October 1997 and 10 March 1999. I hope to take it up again in the new Parliament, if I am re-elected, well in time for a ban in 2003. In the meantime, the airlines concerned have agreed a ban on flights before 4.30 am and I am persuading them to move to a curfew before 5 am. I have yet to find a single flight that cannot be moved to an arrival after 6 am.

It has been said that if the Government agree to terminal 5, a condition could be that a ban on night flights could take place. Mr. David Radcliffe of the Putney Society states this week in the Wandsworth Borough News:

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): My hon. Friend mentioned the prospect of terminal 5. Does he, like me, find that the timing of the consultation paper is rather odd, as it is too late to influence the conclusions on terminal 5 and too early to reflect the findings of the inquiry?

Mr. Colman: I agree with those sentiments entirely. That is one reason why I called for an aviation policy debate today. It is a source of great regret that the White Paper did not come out earlier; I shall deal with issues to do with terminal 5 later.

To return to night flights, I agree that nothing less than a ban will do for the people of Putney. However, I do not wish to see or hear of such a ban coming as a result of terminal 5: there should be a ban anyway. Any

23 Jan 2001 : Column 185WH

day now, the European Court of Human Rights is due to pronounce on the case of Ruth Hutton et al v. the United Kingdom Government on the human right of an individual to have a good night's sleep. Conjoined with Ruth Hutton are Tony Anderson, Richard Bird, John Cavalla, Philippa Edmunds, John Hartley, Peter Thake and Jeff Thomas, all of whom I praise for their initiative and purpose. The case started in 1994 and the court decided in 2000 that the UK Government had a case to answer. I regret that the Minister has not accepted the justice of the case. There is a Europe-wide swell of opposition to night flights, and the European Parliament has twice supported a ban. Will the Minister call a meeting of his EU counterparts to establish one? I intend to take a UK delegation to meet the Swedish ambassador to see whether such a ban could be advanced during the Swedish presidency of the EU.

On page 44, paragraph 157, the consultation document states:

Given the fact that the document was issued on 12 December, would the Minister give an indication of what date is signified by "soon"? Was he disappointed that the ICAO meeting in Montreal on 17 January only agreed a new noise standard 10 decibels lower than the current chapter 3 standards, which will become effective only in January 2006, rather than the minus-14 target advocated by the Airport Operators Association? Does he agree with Keith Jowett, chief executive of that association? He said:

Yesterday, The Times reported:

The new limits are planned for 2006. New aircraft can be phased in to meet the 14 decibel reduction and more without large bills to the airlines or the ultimate payers--the passengers.

The last study on noise impact around Heathrow was in 1982. Very close to the airport, noise from each aircraft may be better, but the approaches to Heathrow that now cover practically the whole of London--and particularly the dreadful noise-polluted stretch from Putney and Fulham through Richmond and Barnes to Hounslow--have had an increase in noise, as the rising tide of complaints clearly shows. Will the Minister commit himself to renewing and reviewing the LEQ index and monitoring around Heathrow and its approaches to ensure that updated figures can be made available on an unbiased basis?

23 Jan 2001 : Column 186WH

The consultation document is light on the other aspects of aviation that impact on noise. My constituents, for example, suffer badly from flights in and out of Battersea heliport. The flight path is along the Thames as far as Barnes and duplicates, at even lower levels, the Heathrow flight path over Putney. A much more convenient location than Battersea for London's heliport should be proposed, preferably outside London and with a high-speed public transport link. There is also no discussion in the document of airships, which can have great lifting capability, are silent and do not require long glide paths prior to landing. I believe that the new, safe gases could be used for them. Could the Minister look into why helicopters, heliports and the use of airships have been largely discounted in the consultation document?

Current trends in air travel have been plotted in the consultation document, but no one has contradicted Nick Nuttall, the environment correspondent of The Times, who wrote last June:

The mainstream forecast is that the number of passengers using London-area airports will increase from 109 million passengers per annum in 2000, to 250 million in 2020, and to 320 million by 2030.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): My hon. Friend will be aware that, because of those projections, some people in the south-east business community have advocated that RAF Northolt be developed as another terminal for Heathrow. Does he recognise the concern that that suggestion has created among my constituents? Does he agree that the proposal should be flown into the dustbin of history and parked there?

Mr. Colman: I totally agree with that comment. I also believe that the Prime Minister's commitment not to proceed with such a proposal should assure my hon. Friend's electors that there is no commitment in any shape or form on a sixth-terminal development at RAF Northolt.

I have outlined the forecast for huge growth in the number of passengers using London-area airports. One question is whether such growth is in the interests of the United Kingdom economy. The industry-funded report by Oxford Economic Forecasting, entitled "The contribution of the Aviation Industry to the Economy", makes no mention of environmental and social costs, the lack of contribution in VAT or fuel tax, or the cost of each aviation job to the economy. I support the view of John Stewart, of the Heathrow Action Committee Against Noise, that there should be a move to a demand-management strategy along the lines of that being proposed for the rest of the European Union, rather than the predict and provide approach of the Tory years.

Even with modest growth, there is a need for expansion to the north and east of London. The Deputy Mayor of London, Nicky Gavron, has made plain her

23 Jan 2001 : Column 187WH

support for such expansion. She points out the benefits to the Lee Valley regeneration corridor of expansion of Stansted airport. However, she says:

Nicky Gavron continues:

She also remarks:

That brings me to my key point, which hon. Members have already mentioned in interventions--the planning application for terminal 5. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that the inspector's report is with the Deputy Prime Minister, and say when he expects a decision to be announced. Although I realise that the usual time for consideration of such a report is at least six months, if not a year--which has been my experience with similar planning applications--in this case, it is important that we have a decision before a general election to avoid the charge that a decision was delayed for political reasons.

I was disappointed to learn that the Mayor of London, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)--I have informed him that I would be making this point--has decided to be silent on the issue. ln chapter 41.8 of the document "Improving London's Transport System: London's International Link", he states:

He goes on to say that, if T5 goes ahead, certain conditions should be met; and I agree. However, it amazes me that, on perhaps the most important planning issue before Londoners today, the Mayor believes that he has no role. I suggest that leaders of London local authorities such as my own Wandsworth council should call on the Mayor to state where he stands on the issue. The planning inquiry has clearly finished, but no decision has yet been made. I want to know where the Mayor of London stands on the issue and I call on him to come off the fence. I agree with the Mayor on many public transport issues, but I cannot understand why he is unwilling to provide a lead on the issue.

If I may unequivocally state on which side of the fence I stand, I oppose terminal 5. I do not believe that any of the conditions on terminal 5 can control major expansion of the airport in the future. The fact is that--as I have made clear to BAA and to the planning inquiry inspector again and again in the past five years--existing terminals can be redeveloped to deal with larger aircraft. The last thing that London wants is another mega-shopping centre, but that seems to be the only justification in terms of airport capacity for T5.

23 Jan 2001 : Column 188WH

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who represents a neighbouring constituency to mine, is unable to attend this debate, but she asked me to register her opposition to terminal 5.

My last point concerns the accountability of the aviation industry to the public. I welcome the proposal for a statutory consumer body for air transport. Currently, the Air Transport Users Council represents the views of air travellers and is financed by the airlines through the CAA. Any new body should ensure that the consumer's voice is heard across the full range of aviation policy, not simply on matters concerning passenger rights.

Health issues have suddenly come to the fore--particularly concerns about deep vein thrombosis. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) for their work on those issues. However, before hon. Members conclude that dealing with the concerns is merely a matter of spreading out the economy seats, I should point out that a report in Saturday's Financial Times stated that the chief executive officer of J. Walter Thompson--one of the world's biggest advertising agencies--has quit at the age of 45 after being stricken by DVT, and certainly not travelling in economy class. The article states:

I was pleased to read the Minister's comment, in reply to last week's Adjournment debate, that

Yesterday, on the "Today" programme, Professor John Whitely of Liverpool John Moore university and Transport 2000 was interviewed about a new study of US airports, particularly Chicago and Seattle, and the increased rate of cancer registered among those living near airports. Apparently no such epidemiological survey has been carried out in the UK, and Professor Whitely was calling for one. Could the Minister add that concern to the list?

Will my hon. Friend confirm reports that he will be meeting the airlines for an aviation summit, on 20 February, to discuss EU regulations that would also force operators to publish figures on punctuality, cancellations and--more important--complaints? Would he support the publication of league tables on customer complaints--as is done by the US Department of Transport following an aviation summit held by ex-President Clinton in January 2000, when all airlines operating in the US agreed to provide such information?

The consultation on aviation policy--the first since the 1985 White Paper--is to be welcomed. It could be comprehensive. I welcome its support of the polluter pays principle and its emphasis on taking into account the environmental and social costs of aviation. Emission and noise pollution must be dealt with. I look forward to a total ban on night flights for UK airports and--with residents' pressure--across Europe. I hope that the new Swedish presidency will take on the issue.

23 Jan 2001 : Column 189WH

I am appalled that the decision on terminal 5 is to be taken without reference to the issues raised in the consultation paper and without waiting for the White Paper. I am also amazed that the Mayor of London has decided not to become involved in the most important planning decision in London. I also support the moves, outlined in the consultation, for a consumers' voice in aviation policy, and for action on the health issues that must worry all air travellers. I have been told time and again when preparing for this debate that I must realise how important the aviation industry is to UK plc. However, any industry must convince the public that it should have a licence to operate. We cannot simply say that anything goes if it ensures competitiveness with the rest of the world. Those were the arguments that were used against the minimum wage and the abolition of child labour.

One airline representative told me that he was disappointed with the consultation paper because it concentrated on what he called consumer issues. He felt that those issues were already being dealt with by EU Transport Commissioner Mrs. de Palacio, and he wanted to know why the UK Government did not deal in their consultation paper with what he believed to be the real issue: options for capacity, such as an additional runway for Heathrow. He implied that the most important question was how to continue future expansion unchecked. For him, the issue at Heathrow was not terminal 5, which was going to happen anyway, but an additional runway to enable use of the additional airport capacity that terminal 5 would provide. Of course, that runs totally in the face of the evidence given to the T5 inquiry.

There is a perception that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and, more precisely, the transport department, bend over backwards to satisfy the airline industry and do not listen to the needs of the electorate. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has shown in his time in his current role that he is willing to listen and act. I look forward to seeing him ban night flights, refuse permission for terminal 5 and ensure that aviation policy for the future takes account primarily of the views of the people as a whole and not simply of aviation industry aggrandisement.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): I admire my hon. Friend for representing his constituents' views, but does not UK aviation policy mean policy throughout the country?

Mr. Colman: I agree with my hon. Friend, but one of the issues at Heathrow is the grandfather rights of particular airlines on the slots that they can use there. Many of the regional airlines are desperate to access Heathrow. Any review of airport landing slots should ensure that regional airlines can access the capital. The value attached to the slots is unhelpful in terms of ensuring that the industry works for the interests of consumers throughout the country, rather than for its own aggrandisement.

Mr. David Taylor: My hon. Friend makes valuable points about the economic contribution of the aviation

23 Jan 2001 : Column 190WH

industry. We know that two thirds of all flights depart from the south-east, and that three quarters of all airport and airline jobs are based there. Does he acknowledge that far tighter regimes should be established in regional airports before any expansion is exported to them? Should not they learn in some way from the regimes at Heathrow and elsewhere?

Mr. Colman: I am sure that other hon. Members will want to put the case for areas outside the south-east. I feel strongly that the overheated economy in west London and the overbearing noise and pollution to which I have referred are such that a cap should be placed on development at Heathrow. We should move away from the predict and provide method and towards a more sane situation, especially given the information on global warming that has been revealed in the past 24 hours. For the first time, we have been shown that the Tory way of rushing willy-nilly into development for the sake of airlines rather than of the consumers or the electorate, and into unbridled development in the south-east, should be challenged.

I have taken two interventions at the end of my speech and I now want to give other hon. Members time to participate.

9.54 am

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on initiating a debate that is timely both in terms of the consultation paper published just before Christmas and in terms of my constituents' interests. Of course the hon. Gentleman did not know that the latter were involved. I apologise for missing the first couple of minutes of his speech, but I think I have got the thrust of it from listening to the interventions and to the substantial part of his comments.

It will not surprise hon. Members to learn that I do not want to speak about Heathrow. I should like to mention two other issues: first, the environmental impact of growth in air traffic; and, secondly, the proposal for a regional airport in my constituency--indeed, the hon. Gentleman referred at the end of his speech to the regional aspects of aviation policy.

It is a pity that aviation is currently outside the Kyoto protocol. We know about the environmental effect of aviation in terms of fuel use, growth and especially freight traffic. Kiwi fruit and all sorts of exotic vegetables are flown in at various times of the year. Such products are often cheaper than those produced here, partly because there is no tax on aviation fuel. We are facing a 70 per cent. growth in freight traffic. Furthermore, it is estimated that fuel use will increase by 3 per cent. a year for the next 15 years. That will lead to an increase in aviation emissions of at least 75 per cent. by 2015, despite improvements in fuel efficiency.

The hon. Member for Putney referred to the American report--I think that it was made public yesterday--that makes a link between cancer and fuel use and storage, with special reference to the carcinogenic substances benzine and toluline. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have no way of saying whether the same is happening in this country, as we have no studies on the matter. We must, however, consider human and public health as well as the environmental impact of aviation growth.

23 Jan 2001 : Column 191WH

On 31 October, when the Deputy Prime Minister had just released a report on flooding, I asked him about aviation fuel tax. In reply, he said that

I think that we agree on that. The right hon. Gentleman added:

I have had only a brief opportunity to read the consultation paper on the future of aviation, but I cannot see in it any suggestion that the Government are pressing hard on the question of aviation fuel tax. It is mentioned as an optional way forward for controlling the growth in air freight and traffic, but it is not identified as a Government priority or objective. Will the Under-Secretary make it his priority objective for the Government to adopt the international proposal to agree on some form of aviation tax? Allowing the consumption of such a huge amount of fossil fuels to be outside the Kyoto agreement is remiss in modern society and should be addressed.

If aviation tax were introduced and the cost of flights were similar to that of other forms of transport--or at least on an level playing field with them--the growth being experienced by the south-east in particular might be limited and more realistic. Such a tax is not by any means an answer to all the problems, but surely the noise and environmental and social impacts of the growth of air traffic should be paid for in some way by those who use aircraft. That means the operators themselves and also passengers. It is currently much cheaper for me to fly to Dublin from Wales than to travel to London or Cardiff. Clearly there is a strange relationship clearly in that respect.

Of course I have to go to Cardiff to get the flight to Dublin, which brings me to my next point: the proposal to develop a regional airport in my constituency, at what is now the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency base in Aberporth. DERA has been privatised and the Under-Secretary has no responsibility for these matters. However, there are one or two related issues for which he may be responsible. The change from military to civilian use means that the airport in Aberporth has to meet Civil Aviation Authority guidelines. That means a larger runway. Consequently, according to planning proposals that are currently before the local authority, the airport will become a class 2 airport. That means that it will be the second largest airport in Wales after Cardiff Wales, which is our main regional airport.

Any hon. Members who have visited Aberporth or Cardigan or that area of the west Wales coast may think it somewhat strange that there is a need for a regional airport where there is no major centre of population. However, there is a proposal, which is linked with DERA, for a technology park. The idea is that the regional airport and the technology park will work together in a cluster development. That is an interesting and exciting proposal. However, my constituents have raised one or two questions.

First, it is clear that there will be a policy on regional airports. The consultation document states that a series of regional airport studies will be made. Will there be a separate study for Wales, or one study for Cardiff Wales airport? How will the proposal for Aberporth fit in with the putative regional airport studies?

23 Jan 2001 : Column 192WH

The flight path is the second aspect that worries my constituents. As the Ministry of Defence range will continue to exist down to the sea, flying in over the sea will not be a feasible or safe approach. That means that the main approach will be over land. I echo some of the comments of the hon. Member for Putney about noise and night flights.

I ask the Minister and hon. Members to consider carefully how we can encourage regional airport growth when 80 per cent. of the traffic that flies into Gatwick and Heathrow is destined for the south-east. It is not easily transferred elsewhere. That is a difficult consideration. If a regional airport is to be developed in Aberporth, we will have to create a completely new market. It could not compete with Cardiff Wales airport because it is two hours away.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech on behalf of his constituents. Does he acknowledge that Cardiff Wales international airport has a much greater capacity than is being used? Only 1.5 million passengers a year go through the airport, but it has the capacity to accommodate 4 million. The real challenge is to improve surface access to regional airports. I am pleased that the Welsh Assembly is doing that--indeed, it has announced the opening of a railway line which could connect directly to the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Thomas: I strongly support the rail link, although I am not so enamoured of the road link that some people advocated. I accept that Cardiff Wales is capable of expansion to meet the needs of the whole of Wales, not only south-east Wales. That is analogous to the pattern in England.

I ask the Minister to produce the regional airport studies as soon as possible so that we can ascertain the way in which the proposal for Aberporth fits into the bigger picture, how Cardiff Wales airport can develop for the benefit of the whole of the Welsh economy and how my constituents can be assured that they will not have to tolerate the jumbo and Concorde flights which they assume will come as a result of the development of the regional airport.

Regional airports are different from airports of the kind to which the hon. Member for Putney referred, but they have an environmental and social impact none the less. It is important that Government documents take that into account. I welcome the consultation paper and the Government's moves. I hope that the debate will assist the Government in including even more environmental considerations in their consultations.

10.3 am

Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on securing this important debate. I was interested to hear about the legal action on the human right to a good night's sleep. If it is successful, we look forward to its extension to Members of Parliament.

I want to make a few comments about the role of regional airports, especially Manchester airport. As hon. Members know, passengers regularly vote for Manchester as one of the best airports in the world. Last year, it handled 19 million passengers--1 million more

23 Jan 2001 : Column 193WH

than the previous year. Some 85,000 full-time equivalent jobs, mostly in the north-west, depend on Manchester airport; 19,000 of those people work at the airport.

Manchester airport has three terminals. In the next few weeks, its second runway will open. That will give it the capacity to handle 40 million passengers a year. The airport aspires to handle that number by 2015. However, the existing pattern of the United Kingdom aviation industry is fixated on London and the south-east. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) pointed out, two thirds of all UK air travel originates from the three London airports.

If Denmark, which has a smaller gross national product than the Manchester catchment area, can have an international hub airport at Copenhagen, and if Milan and Frankfurt, as regional capitals, can also have such airports, why not Manchester? There are two barriers: the first is the cultural mindset in the UK, which prioritises the interests of London and the south-east over those of other regions, and the second is the system of negotiating air service agreements, especially between the UK and the United States, which always places a higher priority on the scarce slots at Heathrow and Gatwick than on the spare capacity in our regional airports.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (in the Chair): Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I know that another hon. Member is anxious to speak, and the Minister will have to rise at 10.15 am to reply to the debate. I should be grateful for brief speeches.

Mr. Goggins: Thank you, Mr. Sayeed. I will be brief.

I applaud British Midland's commercial decision to open new transatlantic routes from Manchester. However, we will ultimately need a fully liberalised system of air service agreements, which puts the consumer's interest first.

Mr. Donohoe: My hon. Friend mentions British Midland. He knows that it has applied to run the service not only from Manchester but from Heathrow.

Mr. Goggins: Indeed. I believe that that can be a win-win situation. It is a significant development for business at Manchester airport.

Mr. David Taylor: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Goggins: I am reluctant to do so because I have been given a fair warning that I need to be brief. I have only a few more comments to make.

Those who disagree with full liberalisation say, with some logic, that there is a danger of the UK giving something for nothing. I fear that the consequences of not liberalising are that international passengers will go not via London but via other European hub airports such as Paris and Amsterdam. A third of all transatlantic passengers who start their journeys in the north-west already travel via a European hub airport rather than via London. The answer to the capacity problem is to increase regional capacity, and especially to develop Manchester as an international hub airport.

23 Jan 2001 : Column 194WH

I want to ask the Minister to deal with a specific, urgent point about Manchester in his winding-up speech. The aviation consultation document includes a section on integrated transport and deals with the need for airports to develop as transport hubs. As part of the planning agreement for the second runway at Manchester airport, there is a commitment to ensure that 25 per cent. of all passengers travel to the airport by public transport by 2005. That aspiration has been supported enormously by the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement last year of the development of the Metrolink system, which will reach Manchester airport.

There are ambitious plans to develop a ground transport interchange at Manchester, which will co-ordinate the trams, buses, coaches and trains. The shadow Strategic Rail Authority has backed the scheme and work is due to begin in March. So far, the expected contribution from Railtrack--between £9 million and £13 million--has not been forthcoming. Given the urgency of the circumstances--the work needs to begin in March--I ask the Minister to respond to the point, and more important, to pursue it vigorously with Railtrack so that it makes a speedy public commitment to providing its full and proper contribution to the important project.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (in the Chair): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his help. I call Mr. John McDonnell.

10.9 am

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I welcome this timely debate, and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on securing it.

The debate is timely because of the publication of the White Paper and because of the delivery to the Deputy Prime Minister of the inspectors' report on terminal 5. Heathrow is in my constituency, so I naturally take a great interest in the matter. Heathrow has made my constituency a logistical centre not only for the south-east and for the rest of the country, but for Europe.

There is a definite need for a new policy approach. I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister's foreword to the White Paper, which states that there is a need for a long-term framework to ensure that we maximise the beneficial effects of the aviation industry and minimise the negative effects. I agree that that needs to be a long-term strategy over 30 years, and I look forward to the publication of the regional consultation papers, because there has to be a genuinely national policy that takes into account the impact on the regions.

The decision on terminal 5 will be the defining moment for the Government in determining whether they are truly pursuing a national policy based on sustainability. It will be a genuine test of whether they are going to break with the policy of demand-led decision making. Over the past half-century, there has been an incremental expansion of airports without control by central Government. However, we now have the opportunity to take a planned approach, and Heathrow will provide the best example of how we can tackle the unrestrained free-market airport expansion of the past.

Heathrow has developed over the past 70 years from a row of tents in the subterfuge of the second world war into a military base, and then into a major airport for the

23 Jan 2001 : Column 195WH

country. There have been pretences of Government planning, but we have also been faced with Government cowardice in the past, and no attempt has been made to control the expansion of Heathrow in a way that benefited not only the local community and London but the country as a whole. There was no real discussion about an integrated transport strategy for Heathrow until this Government arrived on the scene to insist on that debate taking place.

I attended the terminal 4 inquiry, which forced the Government of the time to recognise that there had to be some form of control over Heathrow. A decision was made at that inquiry on a potential terminal 5. Mr. Justice Glidewell made it clear at that time that there should be no further expansion of Heathrow. Unfortunately, six years later, the Government of the day tore up the agreement. There has been a doubling of air traffic movements since then: hence the demand for terminal 5.

If the terminal 5 project goes ahead, it will inevitably mean a third runway. Terminal 5 would involve a virtual doubling of the airport's capacity. It would not be just one more terminal. It would introduce a new airport the size of Paris Charles de Gaulle into the area. Even in BAA's own terms, that would increase noise pollution by 50 per cent. It would increase environmental pollution in my area, which would add to the tragic cases of respiratory disease, from which my constituents already suffer. The report published yesterday demonstrated the carcinogenic effects of airports on local communities. That is a serious matter which must be investigated urgently.

If we build terminal 5, there will be a third runway. To my constituents, that would mean the loss of 1,100 houses in three villages, and the desecration of some of the most rural areas of west London. British Airways is already buying up land. It has made two public statements over the past year calling for a third runway as a result of terminal 5. It has such confidence that it has the Government in its pocket that it believes that the terminal 5 decision has already been made. We need to achieve a genuinely sustainable aviation policy for the country, starting with Heathrow and with a commitment to the development of a regional airport strategy.

The chief executive of BAA made a major speech in which he invited us all--environmentalists, politicians and the aviation industry--to work together. I agree. The start of that collaboration could be BAA's announcement that it no longer requires terminal 5, and that it will bring into line the aviation industry overall. From my constituency's point of view, that collaboration could also start with BAA and its partners, including Railtrack, building the Hayes hub for rail transport into Heathrow, which they have been promising to do for five years.

There is a duty on the Government to recognise that we have to set environmental limits on airports. The White Paper contains that idea as a suggestion. Setting in advance the environmental limits to the expansion of airports would give confidence to the communities living near them. Those limits in terms of noise, pollution and transport problems in the area, should not be exceeded. In that way, we would inspire confidence

23 Jan 2001 : Column 196WH

that the Government were tackling the unrestrained growth of airports by introducing a national policy for the benefit of the whole country.

I agree with the proposals on the need to put pressure for technological advance on the industry, and tax incentives would be an important way of achieving that aim. We must tax the polluters. We should lead the world in ensuring that we gain the international agreements that we would require to do that. In that way, the Government could lead the way in tackling the key environmental issues that are having such an effect on the ozone layer and on global warming.

10.15 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) raised some important issues, and I commend the intelligent interest that he has taken in aviation policy over a long period. He has been a tireless advocate on behalf of his constituents' interests in relation to noise and night flights. He and I have had a number of interesting discussions on those subjects, and I look forward to more in the future.

The debate has provided a good illustration of the competing pressures involved. Some hon. Members spoke about the national interest, and about wanting to expand their local airport, while others rightly drew attention to the effect of environmental pressures on the lives of their constituents who live close to an airport. National interests have to be reconciled with local and environmental interests.

The contradiction that I have just mentioned is reflected in all our constituencies, including Putney, Richmond, and Hayes and Harlington. I imagine that the constituents of those areas make as much use of airports, if not more, as my constituents or others who live further away. Some people demand greater access to air travel and an end to delays, while others are rightly concerned about the environmental aspects. Sometimes, the same people have all those concerns. That is one of the difficulties with which politicians have to grapple.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins) mentioned the development of regional airports, particularly Manchester. That is part of the Government's strategy. One way of relieving the undoubted pressure on airports in the south-east is to develop regional airports, and we are encouraging that. My hon. Friend also mentioned our desire to encourage the use of public transport in getting to and from airports. I welcome the progress that has been made so far on that, but in my view there is still considerably more to be done, in terms not only of passengers but of those who work at airports, the overwhelming majority of whom, I notice, travel by car to their place of work. My hon. Friend also asked about Railtrack, and I will chase up the point that he raised.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the continued expansion of aviation will pose a major challenge to the Government in the years to come. The Government are well aware of that, which is why we are preparing carefully for the aviation White Paper, which will be published early next year and will set out our policy for the 30 years ahead.

I entirely endorse the suggestion made by my hon. Friends the Members for Putney and for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) that demand will have to

23 Jan 2001 : Column 197WH

be sensibly managed, and that predict and provide is not the answer. It did not work for roads or for housing, and it will not work for aviation. Had my hon. Friend the Member for Putney been present at the launch of the Oxford Economic Forecasting report--perhaps he was--he would have heard me make precisely that point. Indeed, I make it whenever I am faced with an audience of movers and shakers in the aviation industry, and I believe that many of the key players, certainly the more responsible ones, recognise my argument.

I endorse the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and other hon. Members that further expansion must be sustainable. We have made it clear from the outset that aviation should meet its external costs, including environmental ones, and we shall take seriously Mr. Hodgkinson's call for a sustainable aviation forum.

My hon. Friends the Members for Putney and for Hayes and Harlington raised a number of issues, and I shall do my best to address them in the time available. They will understand, however, that, for good legal reasons, I am unable to comment on terminal 5 or on the current case involving the European convention on human rights--

Mr. McDonnell: Go on.

Mr. Mullin: Hon. Members know that this issue is crawling with lawyers; it is more than my life is worth to express a view on it now. Nor am I able to comment on the ECHR case--beyond saying the only thing I can say: I note the interesting suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Putney that any go-ahead for terminal 5 should be linked to a ban on night flights.

Mr. Donohoe: Does my hon. Friend understand that, as well as the environmental impact, safety is of paramount importance to Heathrow and the surrounding area, and that the question of who should be awarded the air traffic control contract is therefore a live issue? Does he agree that the best option is the consortium proposal that is before the Government for consideration?

Mr. Mullin: No, that is another area that is crawling with lawyers. My hon. Friend has raised the point at a very late stage and I shall not get involved in it now. A decision will be forthcoming, probably in the next couple of months or so, and then we shall know.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney mentioned helicopters, which were covered in the consultation paper announced on 12 December. He may like to know that a stricter noise standard was agreed last week at the ICAO. So far as I know, however, there are no plans to relocate Battersea heliport. In any case, that would be a matter for local planning authorities.

My hon. Friend referred to capacity issues. We have been carrying out individual regional studies of air services across the United Kingdom, which examine those and other issues specific to each region. A series of regional consultation documents will be published later this year and those will include an appraisal of the economic, environmental and social impacts. Options in

23 Jan 2001 : Column 198WH

the south-east of England are being considered separately. The south-east study, which was announced in March 1999, continues to examine options for the sustainable development of airports and air services in the area over the next 30 years. That is a major exercise.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Mullin: Forgive me, but I have only a few minutes left and have to answer rather a lot of questions, to which I shall try to do justice.

We are considering scenarios that incorporate additional capacity and those that do not--nothing has been ruled in or out. As regards the aviation summit on 20 February, which my noble Friend Lord Macdonald and I shall attend, just over a month ago my noble Friend challenged airlines and airports to improve passenger standards in 10 key areas. Those include better information on health issues, prompt information about delays or cancellations and improved complaint procedures, all of which will be discussed on 20 February.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney asked me to bring him up to date on the outcome of the ICAO meeting in Montreal last week. The polluter pays principle is central to our policy. The UK has been arguing strongly--not just last week, but for many years--for better noise and emissions standards. Reducing environmental impacts at source is the most effective way to reduce their impact on people and on the global climate. More recently, we have also been in the lead in arguing at the ICAO for economic incentives for aviation to reduce its impact on climate change.

My hon. Friend referred to the recent confirmation of the global warming temperature effect. We have known for some time that aviation is an important contributor and, although that contribution is relatively small, high growth is forecast. Almost two years ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report on aviation--the first such report on an individual sector--with major contributions from the UK. That is one reason why we have argued for action within the ICAO.

Unfortunately, it is not always clear that the Rio principle of polluter pays is shared by all the interests in the ICAO. There are strong national and industrial interests there, just as there are in the climate change discussions themselves, as we saw at The Hague last year. There is very strong resistance among leading states and developing nations to an aviation fuel tax. Without international agreement, the imposition of a tax--perhaps limited to within the EU--would be liable to provoke strong sanctions.

The more forward-looking parts of the industry recognise that some system of charging for emissions, perhaps along the lines proposed in the EU, is inevitable and perhaps a more practicable alternative to a tax. However, we shall not know the final outcome of the ICAO discussions on fuel tax or emissions charges until all the ICAO states meet in the autumn. We shall continue to work with our European partners to ensure that there is action to reduce emissions in the shorter term. It is not enough to look forward to emissions trading, which cannot be implemented quickly, as the answer.

23 Jan 2001 : Column 199WH

On noise, there is similar opposition from some Governments and some sections of the industry to any measures--for example, a new standard or phasing out older aircraft--that would impose costs on manufacturers and airlines. Like my hon. Friend, I agree with the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association that quieter aircraft are vital to the future of air transport in the UK. Again, I give some credit to those European airlines that have recognised that they need to reduce the environmental impact, but their voice, I regret to say, was not heard at the ICAO last week.

I share my hon. Friend's disappointment that the proposed new standard is only minus 10. That is not enough to achieve the continuing and long-term noise reductions that we need. Almost all aircraft in production already meet that standard, yet it was doggedly opposed by the industry. We shall certainly continue to argue for a standard that ensures improvements in future designs, especially the workhorse medium-sized aircraft. We also need to phase out the noisiest aircraft, which are often the oldest, including those with hushkits. Although there are relatively few of those operating in the UK, they make a disproportionate contribution to noise impacts.

It was clear from the analysis presented at the ICAO that action on noise is urgently needed at European airports. Arguments that a phase-out would be unreasonably costly were disputed on economic and policy grounds by the UK, by other European countries and by Australia, but without success. We shall have to consider our options in the light of the expected further negotiations involving the ICAO, the European Commission and the United States on action to resolve the current dispute procedure invoked by the United Stats on the hushkits regulation. However, it is clear to me that controlling noise at source through ICAO agreement is at best likely to provide only part of the answer on the reduced noise impact that we need around our airports in the UK.

The second plank in the Government's policy on noise is to maintain and improve the framework within which the noise from aircraft landing and taking off is controlled and its worst effects mitigated. A wide range

23 Jan 2001 : Column 200WH

of measures are in place at Heathrow and we have taken steps to improve their effectiveness--hon. Members will probably know about that. On 18 December, I was pleased to announce new lower noise limits and better monitoring arrangements for aircraft departing from all three London airports. We expect that the lower limits will lead to a small but worthwhile reduction in noise.

My hon. Friend touched on the announcement of 21 December, which I was pleased to make, that changes would be made to the use of Heathrow's runways at night. Those will achieve a fairer and more equitable distribution of aircraft movements and noise between midnight and 6 am. Under the current arrangement, approximately 90 per cent. of Heathrow's night flights overfly the densely populated areas of London, including the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Putney. That is a legacy of the westerly preference introduced in the 1960s, which reduces take-offs over London where routes cannot be designed to avoid the main built-up areas. That contrasts with the position to the west.

We consulted extensively on that in two stages over two years and concluded that it makes no sense to continue to operate the westerly preference at night now that there are few or no departures most nights. Instead, there will be a weekly rotation between westerly and easterly operations. I hope that that brings some comfort to the constituents of my hon. Friends, although I appreciate that it is not as much as they would like.

On night flights, in June 1999, the then Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), announced tough new night restrictions for the London airports. For Heathrow, we reduced the noise quotas by 20 per cent. in summer and 17 per cent. in winter to increase incentives for airlines to use quieter aircraft. The restrictions at Heathrow are more stringent than those at any other major European airport. I regret that I do not have time to deal with all the questions that have been raised, but I look forward to pursuing some of those other matters with my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and his colleagues in the near future.

23 Jan 2001 : Column 201WH

Next Section

IndexHome Page