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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches very much share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. In the light of the latest report by the International Federation of Human Rights that torture, arbitrary arrests and other violations of human rights are being carried out with impunity, will the Government ensure that Cameroon is now monitored by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is closely engaged with Cameroon. We are aware of the great concerns about torture. We have not been slow in raising these concerns with Cameroon and we will continue to do so.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, are the undertakings given by Cameroon to the special meeting on 31st October compatible with the closure yesterday of the independent Christian radio, Veritas, and the impounding of Insight magazine, which had the temerity to refer to historical events surrounding the federation that my noble friend was so instrumental in organising 40 years ago? Does not the noble Baroness consider that the Commonwealth should put its requirements in writing and that there should be a timeline which can be monitored not only by the international community, which will fund the reforms she has mentioned, but also by the people of Cameroon who want to be assured that in October 2004 they will have a fair and free election?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we are doing all we can to ensure that fair and free elections take place in late 2004. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the work that he does as chair of the Cameroon Campaign Group. We know of the restrictions on press and media freedom and we are aware of the case raised by the noble Lord. We continue to raise issues of human rights abuses with Cameroon and we will continue to do so.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has made it clear that he would consider all serious proposals for new airport capacity submitted in response to the consultation paper. A number of proposals that are alternatives to, or variants of,
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Will he confirm that there are no serious technical problems associated with building an airport in the Thames estuary, as it is quite shallow? Will he also confirm that many fewer people would be affected by noise if the airport were built in that location, although one must accept that more seagulls would be affected?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there are advantages with a number of the additional submissions that have been made as a response to the consultation paper. The Secretary of State is in the process of considering those matters on a factual basis, taking into account all issues. The White Paper will be published before the end of the year.
Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, before I ask my question, I should say that for many years I have been on the board of the Thames Estuary Airport Company. I was grateful to hear the Minister's comments. The company has twice submitted our plans for the area.
I hope that the Prime Minister's meeting with the CBI yesterday may have caught on with the House. He suggested to the CBI the need to find new ways of attracting private finance into transport infrastructure improvements. Our offer to fund privately and build an offshore airport in the Thames estuary, together with the cost of all supporting infrastructure, to a sum in excess of £33 billion, surely provides an excellent opportunity to take up the advice of the Prime Minister. It would be almost folly to ignore private investment on that scale. Is it not essential, therefore, that the proposal should be accepted in principle and included as a valid and possible option in next month's White Paper?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as I have said, all serious proposalsthat is a serious proposalin addition to the ones contained in the consultation are subject to evaluation at present. As the House will recognise, the extension of airport capacity is not an easy issue. It involves the interests of a very large number of people, and there are disadvantages attendant on any solution, as well as a very real need to provide additional capacity. I assure the noble Lord that the proposal that he has advocated with strength today is fully under consideration.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if the Government were to accept the airline industry's forecasts of the doubling of passenger numbers by 2020 and a trebling by 2030, we would have no chance whatever of meeting our Kyoto targets or reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Would it not be more appropriate for the Government, while they carry out their review of airport capacity, to consider seriously the role that
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, undoubtedly, one advantage with rail, as opposed to internal airport capacity for internal flights, is its lower level of pollution. However, my noble friend will recognise that, even if it were believed that the capacity necessary in 2020 or 2030 was exaggerated by the airlines, it is still the case that airline travel, including overseas and internal flights, is increasing by a very significant factor. We must take account of the pressure of demand.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, is it the Government's intention that the White Paper, which as the Minister said is due by the end of the year, or perhaps even by Christmas, will be their final view, or will it be a consultation paper? Will the Minister accept that, if it is the latter, he will have a lot of extremely worried people coming to him on the subject of Gatwick? The destruction of the surrounding countryside, were another runway to be built there, is almost impossible to imagine unless one has actually been there and seen what would happen.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness seeks to draw me into debate on the White Paper in circumstances in which I am not prepared to be drawn in detail. However, she is right that we cannot conceive of an expansion of Stansted without considering the question of infrastructure and transport. That is true of all the other airport proposals as well. The noble Baroness is also right when she suggests that there are disadvantages to any expansion of Gatwick. The simple fact of the matter is that, with any proposal, there are manifest disadvantages. However, there is also a very real need.
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, what weight do the Government give, in considering the capacity for future airports, to an airport being able to operate 24 hours a day, as I believe will be done in other countries? We need to keep up with that.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, if there is one way to upset those who live near airports, it is to suggest that the plague that they suffer from frequent flights during the day should continue at the same level overnight. That is a path down which I would not want to commit the Government at this stage. However, as all noble Lords will recognise, if we do not increase airport capacity, we will not only cause a severe reduction to our economic capacity in this country but disappoint the very large number of people who increasingly use air flights for their holidays abroad. We would certainly affect the capacity of London to be the finance capital of the world.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness has a point, in that we may see the build-up of regional airports in order to reduce the use of Heathrow for on-flights by passengers. That puts very considerable pressure on all the south-east airports, and not only Heathrow. However, the noble Baroness will also recognise that the airline industry and the airports are a very significant contributor to the economy and a major form of employment for a large number of our fellow citizens.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that merely to refer to the demand for air transportation is only one side of the argument? Historically, the provision of roads on a demand basis only has resulted in a policy that has run out of roadif I may be allowed a small pun. Would it be possible at least that, in thinking about the expansion of airport capacity, the Government might consider that merely meeting demand is not necessarily the way forward?
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