HC Deb 16 December 2003 vol 415 cc1433-54 12.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the future of air transport.

Today, I am publishing a White Paper that sets out the strategic framework for development for the next 30 years, against the background of wider developments in air transport. It is necessary to look ahead over a 30-year time scale. It is essential that we plan ahead to meet the pressures that we know we will face as a result of a growing economy, and in a world where people can, and will want to, travel more for business and leisure. Only the Government can provide such a framework to enable everyone to plan ahead.

First, let me set out the context. Air travel remains crucial to our growing economy. Some 200,000 jobs depend on it directly, and some 600,000 indirectly. There has been a fivefold increase in air travel in the last 30 years; indeed, half the population flies at least once a year. The growth in passengers travelling in the low-cost, no-frills sector has been dramatic. Five years ago, just 7 million people flew on low-cost airlines; this year, we expect the number to reach 47 million. A third of the goods that we export by value go by air, and that figure is increasing. Indeed, the amount of air freight at UK airports has doubled since 1990.

The Government recognise the benefits that the expansion of air travel has brought to people's lives and to this country's economy. Its increased affordability has opened up the possibility of travel for many people, and provides the rapid access that is essential to many modern businesses. But we have to balance those benefits against the serious environmental impact of air travel, particularly the growing contribution of aircraft emissions to climate change, and the significant impact that airports can have on those living nearby. That is why the Government remain committed to ensuring that, over time, aviation meets the external costs that it imposes. The White Paper sets out proposals to tackle aviation's greenhouse gas emissions by bringing it within the European Union emissions trading scheme. And the Government will continue to play a major role in seeking to develop new solutions and stronger actions by the appropriate international bodies.

The White Paper also makes it clear that we will legislate to strengthen and clarify the powers to control noise at airports, and to allow us to direct airport operators to levy higher charges on more polluting aircraft. Similar charges in relation to noise have helped to bring about significant noise reductions at the major London airports. But we can, and will, do more to reduce both noise and air pollution.

Some of our major airports are already close to capacity, so failure to allow for increased capacity could have serious economic consequences. But that must be balanced by the need to have regard to the environmental consequences of air travel. Simply building more and more capacity to meet demand is not sustainable. Instead, a balanced approach is required that recognises the importance of air travel to prosperity, but which seeks to reduce and to minimise the impact of airports on those living nearby and on the natural environment.

I should also make it clear that the White Paper cannot, by itself, authorise any particular development, but it does set out a policy framework for future decisions. In the light of the White Paper it is for individual airport operators to bring forward proposals that will then be subject to the usual planning process. The White Paper sets out a strategic framework for the development of airport capacity. It sets out our conclusions for every part of the country and copies will be available from the Vote Office in the usual way; and I have also written to every Member setting out our proposals in more detail.

Let me set out the Government's conclusions. First, in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, there has been a rapid increase in air travel. We support the development of Belfast International airport within its existing boundaries to serve forecast demand. The Northern Ireland authorities should be prepared to review the planning agreement affecting traffic volumes and operational hours at Belfast City airport. They will also want to consider with the Irish Government the future of the City of Derry airport.

In Wales, in conjunction with the Welsh Assembly Government, we have concluded that Cardiff should remain the main airport for south Wales. It has experienced rapid growth, and extra terminal capacity will be needed as well as measures to improve access to the airport by both road and public transport. We also want to see the development of centres of excellence for aircraft maintenance work both in south Wales and the west of Scotland, as well as in the north-east of England and elsewhere.

We received proposals for a new airport in south-east Wales, but we have concluded, for the reasons set out in the White Paper, that they would not be viable. Instead, we prefer to see development at Cardiff and Bristol. Domestic air services make a major contribution to economic development, so the Welsh Assembly Government are to consider new internal services within Wales, potentially supported by public service obligations. They are also looking at setting up a route development fund, similar to the one operated by the Scottish Executive, which could support new services from Wales. We are asking some English regional development agencies to consider similar funds for regional airports.

Because services to London airports, particularly Heathrow and Gatwick, are so important to Northern Ireland, Scotland and the south-west and north of England, we are setting out proposals for imposing public service obligations in well-defined circumstances, to protect landing slots for services that are vital to the continued economic development and prosperity of those areas.

In Scotland, we and the Scottish Executive anticipate that additional runway capacity will be needed in the central belt, probably around 2020, so we propose to safeguard land at Edinburgh for a second runway, together with the associated expansion of terminal buildings. We also recommend that consideration be given to protecting land at Glasgow for a possible new runway; and we also support safeguarding land for terminal expansion. The Scottish Executive have published plans to improve surface access to both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. The White Paper also sets out proposals that would allow for continued growth at Aberdeen, Prestwick and Inverness. We see no case for a new airport in central Scotland.

In the north of England, we support the development of additional terminal capacity at Manchester, provided that the noise impacts from increased use of the airport are rigorously controlled. We agree that the airport at Liverpool should expand as projected and the runway be lengthened in the future, subject to the conditions set out in the White Paper. We also support plans for expansion of terminal facilities and runway extensions at Newcastle, Teesside and Leeds-Bradford.

In the midlands, we consulted on the option of a new airport to be built between Coventry and Rugby. I can tell the House that, for reasons set out in the White Paper, we do not support developing that new airport. The Government believe that we should make the best use of existing airport facilities and support the growth of existing regional airports, given their importance to economic development and prosperity. Birmingham airport provides an important regional base for a number of airlines and has an expanding long-haul market. Traffic is set to grow, and we support the case for a second runway at Birmingham, to be built probably around 2016, subject to stringent limits on noise.

East Midlands airport is the third largest freight airport in the United Kingdom and is rapidly establishing itself as the largest dedicated freight airport. We therefore support the projected expansion of both passenger and freight traffic at East Midlands airport. We see no need for a second runway at East Midlands, but we will keep it under review in the light of growth in freight and passenger traffic at the airport. As with other airports, we have set out proposals to establish stringent noise controls and to provide mitigation and compensation in relation to noise, and also to deal with blight.

In the south-west, we support the development of Bristol International airport, including a runway extension and new terminal when needed. However, we do not support the option of a new airport north of Bristol. We also anticipate the need for development of more terminal facilities at Bournemouth, as well as future development at Exeter and Newquay.

In Plymouth, the options, including the case for a new airport east of the city, need to be explored further by the local and regional authorities. Proposals for development at a number of smaller airports throughout the country are also dealt with in the White Paper.

I now turn to the south-east of England. The issue of airport capacity in the south-east is significant for the whole of the country. Although the vast majority of travellers using the main London airports are travelling to or from the south-east, the whole of the United Kingdom depends on the range and frequency of services from those airports.

The pressure on existing capacity is already more severe in the south-east than in the rest of the country. At the same time, it is the most densely populated part of the UK. As a result, the pressures from competing land uses and the likelihood of airport growth affecting people are greater too.

Therefore, we must strike a balance between the undoubted importance to future prosperity and the local environmental impact of development. Again, our first priority is to make the best possible use of existing runways that will provide some much needed capacity. That is why we support proposals to make best use of the existing runways, including development to make the maximum use of a full-length single runway at Luton. However, this will not be enough to meet the pressure that will arise over the next 30 years.

In line with the balanced approach that I have already set out, the Government believe that, over the next 30 years, there should be two new runways in the south-east. The first new runway will need to be completed within a decade, but work also needs to start on planning for a second runway, to be built probably around 2015 to 2020.

I shall now set out our conclusions. First, we consulted on the possibility of building a new airport at Cliffe. I have concluded, taking all relevant factors into account, that we do not support an airport there.

Stansted has seen very substantial growth in passengers in recent years. This year, it is expected to handle nearly 19 million passengers, compared with fewer than 7 million only five years ago. Despite that growth, the number of people significantly affected by noise fell by 70 per cent. between 1998 and 2002. There is likely to continue to be strong growth in demand at Stansted and, at current rates of growth, its runway capacity would be used up within a few years. A second runway at Stansted would provide very substantial runway capacity in the south-east, and generate large economic benefits. However, like any such development, it would have significant local environmental consequences.

The local economy is already set to grow strongly. We believe that the Government's objectives for regional economic development would be complemented by an expansion of Stansted. On balance, we have therefore concluded that the first new runway in the south-east should be developed as soon as possible at Stansted airport, expected to be opening around 2011 or 2012. Surface access will need to be improved and, of course, there will need to be strict environmental controls as set out in the White Paper.

Heathrow is the UK's major hub airport. It competes primarily with major continental airports such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris. It enables London and the south-east to compete for investment and growth. In addition, London has one of the strongest local catchment areas for international air travel in the world, especially in the finance and business services sector, which rely on global markets and good international communications. Moreover, Heathrow directly or indirectly supports nearly 100,000 jobs. It is a prime driver of the west London and the Thames valley economy.

Without additional capacity, Heathrow's route network will tend to reduce over time, most likely to the advantage of other international hub airports in northern Europe. There is, therefore, a strong economic case for securing the large economic benefits through the addition of a new runway at Heathrow. However, at the same time, that has to be balanced against the substantial environmental impacts at Heathrow.

Although today's jets are 75 per cent. quieter than in the 1960s, and although the number of people affected by severe noise has reduced over the years, noise impacts at Heathrow are many times worse than at other UK airports. The most difficult issue confronting expansion at Heathrow concerns how to ensure that air quality nearby is kept at acceptable levels, and to achieve compliance with the mandatory air quality limits for nitrogen dioxide that will apply from 2010.

That is why we said last year that development at Heathrow could be considered only if the Government were confident that levels of all relevant pollutants could be consistently contained within EU limits. Having considered all these matters, the Government have concluded that there is a strong case for a third runway at Heathrow, once we can be confident that that key condition in relation to compliance with air quality limits can be met. We judge that there is a substantially better prospect of achieving that condition in the 2015–20 period, provided that we take action now to tackle the nitrogen dioxide problem, which is work that should be done in any event.

Our support is also conditional on measures to ensure that the total area within the 57 dB noise contour should not increase from last year, as well as on improvements to surface access. We will therefore institute immediately with the airport operator, and relevant bodies and agencies, a programme of action to consider how those conditions can be met to enable the addition of a third runway. For the meantime, the White Paper sets out proposals to work up measures to increase capacity at Heathrow using its existing runways, subject to further consultation and strict environmental controls.

At Gatwick, the Government will not seek to overturn the legal agreement that prevented the construction of a second runway there before 2019. However, land will continue to be safeguarded for possible further development at Gatwick in case the conditions attached to a runway at Heathrow cannot be met. The White Paper also sets out stringent environmental conditions that we expect operators to meet and other proposals to limit and mitigate the impacts that aviation has on the environment, including its impact on global warming.

We are setting out proposals for the development of air transport for a generation. It is essential that we plan ahead now: our future prosperity depends on it. The policies set out in the White Paper will support economic prosperity throughout the United Kingdom; will enable people to make flights at reasonable costs; and will control and mitigate the environmental impacts of aviation. I commend this statement to the House.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con)

I thank the Secretary of State for prior sight of his statement. This is an important day for the future of our aviation industry, and he is right that important decisions must be taken to set the framework for the industry's future if it is to continue to contribute successfully to the UK economy. But decisions taken today are also crucial for those millions of people who live close to an airport or underneath a flight path, and for the quality of our environment. A difficult balance has to be achieved between competing needs. That is why the Government's decisions need to give clarity and certainty for all involved.

Far from setting a clear way forward for air transport in the UK, today's announcement is a fudge from an incompetent Government, which will deliver only blight to millions of people living around airports across the country. Indeed, anyone living around any of the airports in the south-east is now faced with indefinite uncertainty.

Let us look at the Government's incompetence. They have already been forced by the courts to extend the consultation because they failed at first to include Gatwick in their proposals. The Environmental Audit Committee, noting that the airports consultation did not include a formal environmental impact assessment, went on to say: We regard the absence of concise, transparent and strategic integrated appraisals as a major weakness in the consultation documents. The Department's failure in this respect conflicts with its own guidance. As a result it is impossible to assess the overall benefits of different degrees of expansion—or the relative benefits and disbenefits of regional expansion vis-à-vis expansion in the South East". When Birmingham Airport proposed a new short runway, the Department refused to re-issue consultation documents and include the plan in its public consultation, so the voice of local people on that proposal was not heard. Today the Secretary of State has announced precisely the proposal on which the people of the midlands were not consulted. Does he accept that the Government's failures in the consultation process now make it certain that there will be legal challenge to their decisions, thus blighting the lives of millions of people with years of further uncertainty?

The Government's incompetence is all too clear elsewhere. The Secretary of State says that Heathrow will expand when the emissions problem is solved. But there is nothing in this statement that explains how the Government propose to solve that problem. On page 122 of the White Paper, he says that he has no plans for further motorway widening"— in that area. He also says:

The solution will need to be based on improvements to public transport. Can he confirm that he is announcing no improvements to public transport to bring that about?

The Eyre airports inquiries 1981–83 reported on a possible second runway at Stansted, concluding that it

would be an unprecedented and wholly unacceptable major environmental and visual disaster". Is the Secretary of State now reversing that judgment and, if so, what has changed to make him do so? [Interruption.] On page 115 of the White Paper, the Secretary of State said that Stansted enjoys—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members are unfair to the hon. Lady. She is entitled to put her case to the House—[Interruption.] Order. The Secretary of State was heard; the hon. Lady must be heard.

Mrs. May

On page 115 of the White Paper, the Secretary of State said that Stansted enjoys good transport connections by road and rail. Has he tried them recently?

The Government support a new runway at Stansted where the growth has been in low-cost airlines, yet building the runway would mean putting up charges, thus driving away those low-cost airlines. The Government have said that commercial viability is a hurdle that must be cleared by developments on new or existing airport sites, yet the British Airports Authority has told the Government that an extra runway at Stansted would not be commercially viable without cross-subsidy from Heathrow and Gatwick. BAA may well find either that it cannot fund or that it cannot afford a new runway at Stansted in the near future. Given that the Government are making expansion at Stansted a pre-requisite for expansion of capacity in the south-east, what do they propose to do if the funding is not available?

The Government are proposing a new runway at Stansted which local people do not want, large airlines do not want to use, and low-cost airlines may not be able to afford to use. Just who will use a new runway at Stansted?

Not only have the Government not made the proper assessments on which to base their decisions, but it is clear that their right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. At the same time as the Secretary of State for Transport is proposing a new runway at Stansted, the Deputy Prime Minister wants to build tens of thousands of new homes in the Stansted-M11 corridor. One Department says that it is okay to build a runway because there are not many people in the area, yet another Department says, "Let's put people there".

Lack of joined-up thinking between Departments is one thing, but lack of joined-up thinking within a Department is quite another. Today, the Department for Transport announced plans to increase passenger numbers at Stansted, Birmingham, Heathrow and possibly East Midlands and Gatwick. That will need better roads and railways to get people to and from the airports, yet the same Department for Transport has made no provision for building those roads and railways.

In Birmingham, the Department has shelved plans for an expansion of the M42—the very road that will have to take traffic to and from an expanded Birmingham airport. At peak times, the hard shoulder already has to be put into use. Getting to Birmingham by rail depends primarily on the west coast main line, yet only last week the Government shelved some of the planned improvements on that line. That is not a 10-year transport plan; it is not even a 10-day transport plan.

We need railways before runways. Will the Secretary of State confirm that no provision was made for that work in the 10-year transport plan, that the work needed would cost a total of £30 billion and that the Strategic Rail Authority does not have the money?

We were promised joined-up government; what we have is disjointed government. We were promised an integrated transport policy; what we have is a disintegrating transport system. We were promised decisions for the future of air transport; what we have from this incompetent Government are years of uncertainty and serious blight on the lives of millions of people.

Mr. Darling

I am sure that I cannot be the only Member of the House who wonders what Conservative policy on airports actually is. I shall not labour the point as I expect that we shall have many occasions to debate those things, but it occurs to me that if the hon. Lady is serious about being in opposition and about providing a credible alternative, she needs a policy on airport development.

The hon. Lady said that we made fudged decisions, yet she then criticised the detail of the decisions that we announced. She cannot have it both ways. This is the first time for about 30 years that a Government have looked at the long-term requirements for air travel, covering the whole country. We held consultations and listened to what people said and then we had to take difficult decisions. As will, I suspect, become apparent in the next hour or so, the decisions are difficult and controversial.

The hon. Lady mentioned Birmingham. I conclude from what she says that she is against expansion there, as she is against a second runway. However, looking ahead to about 2016, we believe that the airport will need a second runway to help it to develop and to help people living in the midlands who fly just as much as people elsewhere.

It would appear that the hon. Lady is against development at Heathrow, too. I listened to what she said about motorway widening and public transport; but at least we are actually spending money on improving public transport. She is against every penny of it.

On Stansted, it is perfectly true that in 1981 fewer than 1 million people were using the airport. Even five years ago, only 7 million people were using it, but this year it will handle 19 million passengers. Anyone who has ever been to Stansted, and I have been there by both road and rail—incidentally, we have just finished major improvement of the road into Stansted airport—will know that the airport is extremely crowded. That brings us to the nub of the hon. Lady's problem, which is, indeed, a problem that we must all face up to. Of course, increased air travel has environmental consequences, especially for people living close to airports; but at the same time, her constituents, my constituents—all our constituents—are, because of their increasing prosperity, choosing to fly more.

I do not say that we should meet all that demand—indeed, we are proposing less than is actually needed according to some views—but we cannot have a situation in which the Government take the easy option, as successive Governments have done in the past, of doing absolutely nothing and hoping for the best. The decisions are difficult and, yes, I have no doubt that there will be legal challenges—lawyers up and down the country will be rubbing their hands even as I speak—but it is the job of the Government to make decisions and to set out a clear strategy for the next generation. That is what we have done.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for letting me have an advance copy of the statement.

The aviation industry is an important and successful contributor to the British economy, both in its own right and as a key driver of economic growth. However, we live in an age where we all accept that the commercial Imperative must be balanced against environmental costs and social disruption. I therefore give the statement a very cautious welcome, albeit with considerable reservations, because it accepts that approach. I welcome the recognition of the importance of regional airports, especially their ability to take some of the load from the south-east and to help to manage demand.

Will the Secretary of State confirm the Government's commitment to ensuring that aviation meets its external costs, but will he tell us what "over time" means? Are the Government actively working to achieve that aim and when will the Secretary of State set a target date for its achievement? Will he also confirm his acceptance of the polluter pays principle with higher charges for aircraft that pollute more? What is he doing to extend the principle? For example, what is he doing to promote aviation fuel tax, as opposed to air passenger duty? That duty on passengers is equivalent to approximately 10p in aviation tax, yet it provides no incentive for operators to improve environmental performance.

I welcome the announcement that there is to be no airport at Cliffe, although as that was always a non-starter, I suspect that the proposal was a red herring to divert the attention of the environmental lobby. Does he accept our welcome for his statement that simply building more capacity to meet demand is not sustainable? I hope that he will confirm that that commits predict and provide as a policy to the dustbin.

As the Secretary of State said, it is necessary to plan ahead over a 30-year time scale, but has he not missed an opportunity to consider the long-term vision across all modes, particularly with regard to high-speed rail links? Does he accept that the growth in budget airlines is unsustainable and that the budget airline model is fatally flawed until such time as its costs are properly externalised?

Finally, on Heathrow, what assurances can the Secretary of State give that no development will be entertained until a sustainable environmental case has been made? Does he accept that further noise and pollution cannot be imposed on long-suffering residents of the surrounding area? My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) would have made that point had she not been giving the eulogy at a funeral as we speak. Will the Government accept that more could and should be done to manage demand as the essential tool for achieving sustainable growth for our aviation industry?

Mr. Darling

It would have been helpful—although perhaps it is not surprising in the case of the Liberals—if the hon. Gentleman too had a policy for dealing with the problem. The Liberals are in favour of air travel but not airports.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments about regional airports, which are important. On airports in the south-east, it is worth bearing it in mind that about 80 per cent. of people travelling to and from them live in the south-east, so many of their customers are local. He is right that airports outside the south-east are important. That is why we support development at Birmingham, for example, because if people can fly from Birmingham and not London, that will take some of the pressure off London airports.

I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about aviation meeting its costs, which I mentioned in my statement. The polluter pays principle applies to aviation as much as it does to any other sector, but, as he ought to know, aviation fuel taxation is governed by international treaties. The Government have been arguing for some time that aviation ought to meet its costs, and we will continue to do so. Some of the measures that I announced today, such as giving power to airport operators to charge higher landing fees for more polluting aircraft, will be an incentive to airlines to clean up engines. I agree that predict and provide is complete nonsense—bearing it in mind that runways will be built by commercial operators and no one will build a runway on spec, just in case—and it has never been a policy that I have supported.

On rail links, the hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly good point. The channel tunnel rail link has carried 1 million passengers since the first high-speed line was opened in September—thanks to us rescuing it in 1998— and the CTRL now has more than half the travel market between London and Paris. That is an example of how it can help. He should be clear about managing demand, about which we may hear more. I am clear that, over time, aviation must meet its costs like any other sector, but when people talk about managing demand, in many ways they are talking about pricing people off aeroplanes. In that regard, he is getting himself into tricky waters, unless he proposes to march down the check-in queue at Inverness airport saying to people, "I can fly, but you can't."

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)

This is the first time in 25 years of representing my constituents at local or central Government level that any Government have said no to the automatic expansion of Heathrow airport that has been demanded by the aviation industry. I thank my right hon. Friend for that. Many of my constituents will feel that we have won a decisive battle but not the war. What mechanism will he put in place to ensure the independent assessment of any aviation industry claims that it may have met the environmental conditions that he set out today for further expansion at Heathrow? What process does he envisage for undertaking the review of alternation at Heathrow?

Mr. Darling

There are two points in that. My hon. Friend will know that, following the terminal 5 inquiry, the airport operator, BAA, is already obliged to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels, and that work is in hand to do that. In relation to our evaluation methods, the Department uses a model that is widely accepted as accurate. In any planning inquiry— one would have to take place on a third runway at Heathrow— all the arguments and counter-arguments would be fully tested and explored.

I note my hon. Friend's comments, for which I am grateful, but there is a difficult balance to be struck at Heathrow. Clearly, there are big environmental problems, which is why I do not believe that we can authorise a third runway there now. He will be acutely aware, as a west London Member, that Heathrow dominates the west London economy and is critical to the whole of UK aviation. That is why it is a difficult decision. In contrast to what the Opposition said, I believe that the Government must face up to such decisions and take them.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)

The decision to build at Stansted before Heathrow is perverse and will prove unworkable. It will be bad for aviation, bad for the country and bad for the environment. Given that, in 1985, the Government's own inspector concluded that a second runway at Stansted would, to use his words, be an environmental catastrophe, on what evidence is the Secretary of State now reversing that judgment?

Mr. Darling

In 1985, Stansted was used by a very small number of people, and I do not suppose that the inspector, Mr. Eyre, could possibly have foreseen that Stansted would this year handle 19 million passengers—[Interruption.] Hold on. The hon. Gentleman will know, because he knows Stansted airport, that the rise in use of that airport has been dramatic. When I made my statement, I told the House that, looking at the south-east of England, over the next 30 years, it needs two runways. Work needs to start on one now, as, on any view, it would be the end of the decade before the runway was available, and work also needs to start on the second one. If we do not do that, we will end up with increasing pressure to fly that we simply cannot meet. I remind the House that, if only Governments 20 years ago had had the sense to realise the pressures on our road and railway system, we would not have some of the problems that we have today. We need to plan ahead, and if he asks what the grounds are, they are set out in the White Paper.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North) (Lab)

I congratulate the Secretary of State on having the courage to take the long-term view on aviation. In relation to central Scotland, however, he proposes to safeguard land at Edinburgh airport for future runway and terminal expansion but only recommends that consideration be given to the same at Glasgow. That flies in the face of evidence taken from the CBI, Scottish business, BAA and anyone who was consulted on it. Can he tell me what the terms of that consideration will be? Who will make that consideration, and what is its likely time scale?

Mr. Darling

The position in relation to Glasgow is that Renfrew council, the local planning authority, will be asked to safeguard land for a possible second runway there. In the central belt of Scotland, there will be a need for one additional runway. All the evidence is that pressures will arise at both Edinburgh and Glasgow. On Glasgow, it has become evident since we started consulting that the use of Prestwick has increased dramatically, and that, in effect, the west of Scotland already has two runways, because Prestwick airport is taking traffic away from Glasgow. Whether Glasgow needs a second runway—we are talking about 2020—we do not know. It is sensible to safeguard development there because it would be foolish to rule it out. In any event, terminal development will be needed at Glasgow because its traffic is likely to grow.

All the signs are that the pressure on Edinburgh airport, which has increased dramatically in the last few years, will grow and grow. Clearly, BAA, which owns both airports, will have to decide what it wants to do. We have arranged in the White Paper that there is facility for expansion at both airports. I do not believe that we need two runways in the centre of Scotland—there is no justification for that—but we do need one. The position in Glasgow is being safeguarded, but what is happening with Prestwick and Glasgow means that there are effectively two runways operating in the west of Scotland now. That was not the case even four or five years ago.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con)

The one thing that we were entitled to expect out of this lengthy and painful process was an end to doubt. Does the Secretary of State realise that he has produced a recipe for confusion and blight? What does he have to say to my constituents near Gatwick who will now not know for possibly a decade whether the airport will be expanded? If he has made a decision about Redhill aerodrome, I would be grateful to hear it because he appears to have ducked and dodged decisions on almost everything else.

Mr. Darling

I will forgive the hon. Gentleman because he cannot possibly have read the whole White Paper in the 40 minutes that it has been available. He will find that the Government do not think that Redhill should be expanded.

The hon. Gentleman will know that land to the south of the existing runway at Gatwick has been safeguarded for some time. That safeguarding must be continued and amended slightly in case there is development, but I made it clear right from the start that I did not think that the 2019 agreement should be overturned, and I confirmed that today. That is pretty certain.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne) (Lab)

How much extra protection will be provided for the residents of Devon and Cornwall by today's announcement, given the economic importance of air links to Newquay and Plymouth?

Mr. Darling

I think that my hon. Friend is asking about PSOs—public service obligations—and as I said in my statement, the White Paper sets out the fact that the Government are prepared to step in to safeguard routes from the parts of the United Kingdom, including south-west England, that are further away from London.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con)

It is disappointing that the Government have ruled out the long-term serious option of building new airport capacity on the coast, which is happening in most countries where that possibility exists. I am doubly disappointed that they have not removed the blight and uncertainty from any of the existing London airports—in fact, the problem is being compounded. Although the decision not to overturn the 2019 agreement on Gatwick is welcome, how long will it be before the Heathrow issue is resolved? Our constituents in West Sussex need the land that is being safeguarded for the housing that is being imposed on West Sussex by the Deputy Prime Minister. How long will it be before the uncertainty can be resolved?

Mr. Darling

The right hon. Gentleman is not exactly clear whether he wants the housing or not—I rather get the impression that he does not. He will know that the land is safeguarded now, that it has been safeguarded for some time and that it will continue to be safeguarded. I am grateful to him for welcoming the fact that we are not going to overturn the 2019 agreement, which would have been wrong. We have examined proposals for the development of coastal and estuarial airports, but, for the reasons set out in the White Paper, we do not think that we can proceed with them.

Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree) (Lab)

I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that I am one lawyer who is not rubbing his hands with glee at today's announcement about Stansted. He will be aware of the disappointment and dread caused by the announcement of the expansion. He has already indicated that he is aware of the findings of the public inquiry, which unreservedly damned any second runway. What assessment has he made of the potential profitability of Stansted with a second runway without cross-subsidy from Gatwick and Heathrow?

Mr. Darling

As with any airport development, the private operator must finance airport construction, and, in the case of Stansted, BAA must make such a commercial judgment. I understand that it will say something further in the next few days, but it must decide whether it thinks the figures stack up commercially, and the Government will not step in and do that for it.

On my hon. Friend's first point, I accept what was the case in 1985, but aviation has changed dramatically in the past few years. As I said to the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk), even five years ago Stansted had very little traffic; now 19 million people use it. I also repeat the point that, after examining the southeast as a whole—one must examine it as a whole— one sees that it needs two runways in the 30-year period. For the reasons that we have set out, our judgment is that the first runway ought to be at Stansted and the second at Heathrow, provided that Heathrow can meet the conditions that we have set out.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)

Mr. Speaker, your Deputy, the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), and his constituents have, like mine, fought tirelessly against the Stansted expansion. Does the Secretary of State accept that his decision will cause great misery in Essex and east Hertfordshire? How can he explain it to my constituents? It is not a commercial decision—the airlines and BAA have made that clear. It is not an environmental decision—the expansion was described as a catastrophe by the last inspector to examine it—and there is nobody to pay for the infrastructure. Who will pay for the necessary roads and railway links? He gives no answer. It is not good enough for him to talk about the new slip road because that was promised 10 years ago and it is just a catch-up.

Mr. Darling

The airport will be a commercial decision because BAA is responsible for financing and building it. The Civil Aviation Authority regulates cross-subsidy and similar issues between the London airports. I know what was said in 1985, but I have said to the hon. Gentleman and other Members that a lot has changed in the past 20 years. On surface access, the Government have a responsibility for both road and rail.

The hon. Gentleman raised a general point, which we shall return to time and time again, about what he should say to all his constituents. We must balance the fact that airport development has an environmental impact with the fact that more and more of us, including his constituents, are flying more. Such problems are difficult. When I started this process and said that we must pres ahead, my senior officials told me that all my predecessors had backed off because the issue is difficult. I can well see why previous Secretaries of State have run a mile from this issue, but I would have been shirking my duty if I had not faced up to the difficulties and set out firm proposals to enable people to plan ahead.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)

The whole House will share with the Secretary of State the much-guarded secret of the expansion of airports in the south-east and welcome the expansion of the regional airports in particular. The reality is that those airports will require flights into Heathrow, which they regard as their lifeline. How will they be protected, will the passenger service obligations be used to ensure that they can fly to Heathrow and what estimate has he made of the cost of not developing Heathrow in the next 10 years? The commercial loss of business to continental airports will be very large. Would he like to tell us what it will be?

Mr. Darling

First, I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks about regional airports. I note that she has been entirely consistent because in 1985, which was the last time a Secretary of State came to the Dispatch Box and said anything about airport development, she said the same thing, and she is absolutely right.

The position on Heathrow is that, because of the mandatory requirements relating to nitrogen dioxide, we could not now authorise, approve or support the building of a third runway there. It is clear that, at the moment, a third runway would breach the mandatory NO2 requirements, which is why we believe that work should start on reducing NO2. It should start anyway because we should do everything that we can to reduce it. However, we should keep open the possibility for precisely the reasons that my hon. Friend set out and supports. I made it clear earlier that a third runway at Heathrow could be built provided that we can overcome the problems with air pollution. It would have been wrong for the Government to have said, "Yes, just go ahead now", while ignoring the environmental problems that undoubtedly exist at Heathrow.

On my hon. Friend's general point, nobody should be under any illusions: Heathrow is vital not only to the UK but internationally. It is one of the world's leading airports, which is why, no matter what the difficulties, we must do our level best to resolve those problems.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con)

Does the Secretary of State accept that, on Heathrow, "wait and see" is the worst possible answer? My constituents want someone with the courage to say yes or no now. If he were to say yes, he would please just over half my constituents and if he said no, he would satisfy the rest, but instead he will upset them all, especially if he pursues the argument on runway alternation. Uncertainty on Heathrow is bad news. Those who believe that a new runway would safeguard their jobs will worry about redundancy and those who paid a high price for their house will worry that property values might fall. Those who want a better environment will wonder whether they will ever get it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Many hon. Members want to speak, so they should ask only one question.

Mr. Darling

I am not sure which side of the great argument the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is on. The White Paper says unequivocally that the Government will support the development of a third runway at Heathrow once we are satisfied that it could meet our environmental obligations. That seems pretty clear to me.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab/Co-op)

Speaking on behalf of the 42 members of the west midlands regional Labour parliamentary group, I congratulate the Secretary of State on his firm rejection of a new airport in Rugby, which we opposed unanimously during the consultation. I warmly welcome his decision on Birmingham International airport because the group believes that that will assist the region to meet demand more locally, to generate benefits for economic development and to minimise environmental impact. Will he acknowledge our thanks from the west midlands and may I wish him a happy Christmas?

Mr. Darling

Let me see if I can answer that difficult question. I think that I find myself in total agreement with my hon. Friend.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con)

Does the Secretary of State realise that his proposal for Birmingham airport was not one of the four options on which my constituents were consulted? The consultation was therefore a sham and an insult to them, and the decision will be challenged.

Mr. Darling

As I said earlier, I am sure that there would have been the possibility of legal challenges up and down the country whatever we did, so we have to accept that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the expansion of Birmingham airport will be required at some point in the long-term interest of the west midlands and Birmingham itself. It will probably need a second runway some time after 2016, so the questions will be where that should be and what should be proposed. The proposal that we are prepared to support has the advantage that it suggests a shorter runway than that originally proposed.

Mr. Taylor

It was not one of the options.

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman must contain himself. The proposal represents a better solution, and surely we must all be in the business of providing better solutions for our constituents. If something better is on offer, that is worth looking at.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's support for regional services to Heathrow. He knows that many regional airports have lost their links, so will he consider how to restore links to airports such as Liverpool?

Mr. Darling

Yes, I am aware of that. The Government's first preference is for all services to be provided on a commercial basis because that represents the best way of ensuring their long-term success. As I said earlier, the Government will consider using PSOs, and the White Paper sets out the criteria under which we would decide whether they would be necessary.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP)

I welcome the Secretary of State's comments on Belfast's airports but may I press him again on Heathrow, because we all recognise its importance? How much of the air quality pollution at Heathrow is due to long taxiing and the fact that planes must fly around for half an hour waiting for a slot?

Mr. Darling

There is no doubt that taxiing, aircraft circling Heathrow and aircraft having to wait a long time to take off contribute to pollution, but they are not the major source of the problem. There is an argument that additional runway capacity would mean that there might be less need for aircraft to run their engines when not taking off, but most of the pollution comes from the airfield itself and associated traffic movement around Heathrow. That is why we need to do more not only to get cleaner engines but to improve public transport links to Heathrow. The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) criticised me for not widening the M25 further, but I do not think that it could be widened much further there —for all I know, that is her policy. We must ensure that we bear down on pollution on all fronts, but we should do that anyway for the good of people living in west London.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) (Lab)

I welcome today's deliberate and sensible statement, especially the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow eventually. May I urge the Secretary of State not to allow any slippage and to ensure that the runway is built as soon as the conditions laid down are met, otherwise the UK as a whole will lose out further to Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol as a result of Heathrow's limitations? I also welcome the protection of slots at Heathrow for Anglo-Scottish services, but will he assure the House that any final decisions on Edinburgh and Glasgow airports will be made on the basis of an absolutely level playing field?

Mr. Darling

Certainly, on the last point, yes. The point that my hon. Friend makes about links between the airports and London is important, so I am sure that he and others will welcome the fact that BMI British Midland yesterday announced a direct flight from Heathrow to Inverness, which British Airways took out of service several years ago, and more flights to Aberdeen. He is right about the risks relating to Heathrow. We have set out our proposals in the White Paper. People have every right to make their views heard on the planning process but I hope that we can make progress quickly for once in this country because otherwise we will pay a heavy price. That has happened with other transport modes, so I do not want it to happen on this matter.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)

I do not know whether the Secretary of State's decisions about Stansted and Heathrow are right, but he has certainly got the decision on Rugby right. Many of my constituents will be absolutely delighted that the proposal will not be imposed on them, because it would have ruined many aspects of their lives. May I tell him that all of us want a major international airport close to where we live, but not too close, so Birmingham will do just fine?

Mr. Darling

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and agree with him.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab)

If evidence emerges to show that the increase in capacity foreshadowed by my right hon. Friend today is insufficient to meet demand for long-haul passenger and cargo traffic, will the Government be willing after all to examine open-mindedly and seriously— without prejudice to the outcome— the benefits for aviation, the economy and the environment of creating a new international airport in south-east Wales complementary to the regional role of Cardiff airport?

Mr. Darling

We looked at the two proposals on south-east Wales and, as I said in my statement, the Government did not feel able to support them for the reasons that are fully set out in the White Paper. The White Paper sets out our view of what is necessary and it would be a trifle premature for me to revisit it only an hour after making my statement. I understand my right hon. Friend's point about development at Llanwern but, based on the information that we have, it is not a realistic option.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)

The Secretary of State made much play of the economic advantage of air travel and of the numbers at Stansted. Surely the growth at Stansted is due to point-to-point travel and highly subsidised flights. Are we really going to tear up two public inquiries and a royal commission to preserve the economic importance of £7 flights to Prague or Eindhoven? Surely the economic case could be made for a hub operation in the United Kingdom. Given the difficulty that was experienced with establishing a hub at Gatwick, what makes him think that Stansted would be able to cope? Surely it is more likely that British Airways will decide to move many of its operations to Charles de Gaulle.

Mr. Darling

In relation to the hon. Gentleman's first point, we do not "highly subsidise" airlines. It is interesting that a Conservative Member should criticise the entrepreneurial flair shown by airport operators, and even more surprising that he should call for higher taxation for his constituents. We note that point and no doubt will return to it often.

There is a lot of point-to-point flying at Stansted, but it is increasingly being used as a low-cost hub, with people flying to it and then flying on to other places. I have made my position clear. South-east England needs two runways. The first should be at Stansted for the reasons stated in the White Paper. We also need to consider Heathrow, again for the reasons that we stated.

Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)

I, too, thank my right hon. Friend for taking note of the environmental impact that a third runway would have on my constituents. I acknowledge the work that campaigning groups, in particular the London borough of Hounslow, have done on that. Does he agree that we need to consider the noise impact on schools in the London borough of Hounslow? I would appreciate it if he could meet me to consider ways in which BAA can assist those schools.

Mr. Darling

My colleagues and I have always made it clear that we are happy to meet our colleagues on both sides of the House. That remains the case and I am happy to meet my hon. Friend, who has already expressed her concerns to me about the environmental impact on the area surrounding Heathrow. She recognises that there is a difficult balance to be struck between the importance of Heathrow to her constituents as an employer and economic driver, and the environmental impacts. She has also raised with me the problem of noise, especially as it affects schools and hospitals. Proposals are set out in the White Paper and we are due to consult generally next year on the noise regime at Heathrow.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP)

I welcome the announcement that no one Scottish airport will be favoured over any other, but surely many Scottish air services, especially those that go beyond Edinburgh and Glasgow, will be dumped at Stansted. What reassurances has the Secretary of State received that that will not be the case?

Mr. Darling

If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not use the term "dumped". The last time I was at Stansted, many of our fellow countrymen seemed only too happy to be there, not necessarily because they were bound for Essex, but because they were bound for sunnier climates.

The hon. Gentleman would have been better off making a point on PSOs. He will know from his constituency that there is concern about those. The Government have set out proposals to ensure that there are maintained links and adequate levels of supply between the north and the west so that people there can get access into the London airports. I am seized of that point, but the hon. Gentleman should be cautious in what he says about Stansted. I know he and his colleagues have a problem with things south of the border, but they are not all bad.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

What are the Government doing to bring about international agreements on the liberalisation of long-haul traffic to reduce the number of unnecessary international connecting flights, which constitute a large proportion of the throughput at Heathrow airport? Although my right hon. Friend is correct in saying that the taxation regime on aviation fuel for international journeys is subject to international agreement, that is not the case for domestic flights. Will he consider imposing a taxation regime to raise the revenue stream to enable much bigger investment into high-speed rail links?

Mr. Darling

I welcome my hon. Friend's commitment to liberalising markets. I had not realised that that was where she was coming from. I am slightly taken aback, but I think we can all agree on that approach.

The Government are supporting talks between the European Union and the United States to get a genuine open skies agreement across the Atlantic, because that would be hugely beneficial for people on both sides of the ocean. I suspect, however, that it will take time.

My hon. Friend is right that fuel taxation is dealt with by international treaty. We are taking a lead in trying to ensure that aviation does, over time, meet its costs. On domestic flights, my hon. Friend is right up to a point. We charge air passenger duty, for instance, which brings in about £900 million. However, she is no doubt aware that if we acted unilaterally, airlines would go to a more benign regime, from their perspective, to fill up their aircraft and come back. I am not sure that that would be a desirable outcome.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con)

The Secretary of State said that the proposals are for a generation, but for those of us living under the shadow of Heathrow, they will be a blight on another generation. Does he agree that the air quality limits will probably be more stringent in 2015? Will the amber light that he gave to a third runway at Heathrow be for a short runway, as suggested in the consultation, or will it be for something else?

Mr. Darling

It is for a shorter runway. During the consultation process, BAA produced proposals to ensure that the runway does not take as much land as originally planned. On Heathrow itself, more stringent environmental conditions may be in place in future, but I do not know what they will be. I do, however, know what they are for 2010, which is why we have to be cautious.

Like many MPs who represent areas around Heathrow, the hon. Gentleman has to balance the environmental impact with the fact that Heathrow is the major employer in west London. The prosperity of west London and the Thames valley depends on it. Given that Heathrow is in competition with Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, we must do everything we can to ensure that that airport continues to compete in the future. It is a difficult balance to strike, but we have tried to strike it. I appreciate that the decision will be controversial, but we are doing the right thing both on the environmental front and with regard to the future economy of west London.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr) (Lab)

I thank the Secretary of State for listening and for recognising so clearly that Glasgow has two airports, one of which is Glasgow Prestwick international airport, which has spare capacity that can and should be utilised. I also welcome his comments on aircraft maintenance. He knows that that is creating many jobs in my constituency and I hope that it will create many more in the future. Has he given consideration in the White Paper to the important role of freight at Glasgow Prestwick international airport?

Mr. Darling

On the last point, I have considered freight. My hon. Friend will know that there has been substantial growth in freight transport at Glasgow, Prestwick and Edinburgh. The three Scottish airports are developing quite a big freight trade.

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to something that is a problem on the west coast for some of our colleagues. The west of Scotland already has two runways, which is why I said what I did about Glasgow airport to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams). There is no doubt that part of Prestwick's increased traffic is coming out of Glasgow airport. We have to face up to that. It is a quite good thing. My hon. Friend's work, and that of others, in promoting Prestwick has been worth while. The House will remember that not so long ago Prestwick was threatened with closure. It is now doing very well, although the strength of its case has resulted in its being a genuine second west and central Scotland runway.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD)

I thank the Secretary of State for his announcement on Gatwick, which will be popular in my part of the world. He also mentioned a big expansion of air travel in the UK. On the anticipated effect of his proposals on greenhouse gas emissions, he will know that emissions were expected to double between 1990 and 2010 and, before long, 25 per cent. of CO2 emissions will be from air travel. Will CO2 emissions go up or down as a consequence of his proposals? He says that he wants to ensure that the full environmental costs are met over time. Why is that time not now? What time scale is he applying? Why have the discussion proposals in the aviation and environment paper of March 2003 been kicked into touch for the foreseeable future, on page 41 of the White Paper?

Mr. Darling

In relation to the international discussions, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman when they will he finalised because they depend on international agreement. In common with just about every other country in the world, we are signatories to the convention and have to reach international agreement. In relation to reducing emissions, I said that we will make it a priority in our presidency of the European Union to bring aviation within the European emissions trading scheme. That will be a significant help. I also said that we will introduce legislation to enable airport

operators to impose higher charges for the more polluting aircraft. That will help as well. It has helped with noise already in the London airports. A number of things are being done that I think will reduce aircraft emissions.

The hon. Gentleman and others are right that we must balance the need to ensure that people can travel, because our economy will depend upon it, and the need to ensure that we are alive to the environmental consequences.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)(Lab)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his clear and categoric statement in the White Paper, at page 92 of which he clearly acknowledges that full account has been taken of the almost uniform opposition to the proposal for a new airport at Rugby, as well as a number of concerns raised in the consultation document. In addition, he refined the options during the consultation, taking into account the concerns of the people of Birmingham. We thank him for his support of Birmingham airport as well. Will he say once again that the Government rule out once and for all the option of that new hub airport in the midlands? Thank you.

Mr. Darling

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thanks. I do not think that I could have made the position any more clear than I did in my statement. I know that he has worked tirelessly against the proposal. Having examined all the evidence and having considered what people had to say, I am clear that the right thing to do was to ensure that we allowed for expansion in the west midlands, but that it should be at Birmingham.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con)

Is the Secretary of State aware that his thought-provoking statement deals with making better use of runway space at Heathrow—not building a new runway but perhaps opting for mixed-mode use, pioneered by British Midland in 1990, which will give much more opportunity for airlines to land without the building of a new runway? Is that what he is proposing in his White Paper? Will he confirm that he will not allow cross-subsidisy from Heathrow to Stansted to finance what Stansted wants to do? Will he ensure that BAA opens to competition any new building of terminals?

Mr. Darling

Cross-subsidy is a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates these matters. On the mixed-mode operation at Heathrow, the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware that there is a limit on air traffic movements. If mixed mode were to be pursued and if the limit were to be breached, there would have to be consultation. I think that a limit was laid down of 480,000 movements. Mixed mode, depending on whether it was peak hour or all the time, would have an impact on that. It would need to be discussed.

Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab)

I thank my right hon. Friend and the Government for embarking on a planning exercise. It is a long time since a major industry saw Government involvement in planning. May I thank my right hon. Friend for listening to my constituents, and remind him that there were no page numbers for the Opposition spokesman to quote last time there was a major expansion at Heathrow because there was no Government involvement, no planning and no consultation? I much appreciate what my right hon. Friend has done this time.

If there is any thought of mixed mode at Heathrow airport, I ask my right hon. Friend to listen to us before deciding to use the northern runway for take-offs to the east for the 25 per cent. of the time that takes place. The Cranford agreement has prevented that for the past 30 to 35 years. It is unacceptable for my constituents in Cranford to have planes taking off over the top of them when they are so close to the end of the runway.

Mr. Darling

As I was saying to the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) a few moments ago, partly because mixed mode may well result in an increase in aircraft movements, it will be necessary to consult. I am also aware of the Cranford agreement, which has been in place for a long time. I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said. He, like many others, has made representations arising from his concern about the environmental impact. I welcome what he said about the importance of the Government being clear as to where they stand—who knows, we might one day find out where others stand.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)

I thank the Secretary of State for his unequivocal rejection of Redhill and the claims made for it by the promoters, including the claim that local people were indifferent. Is he aware that that means that I shall not have to pass on to him 6,000 letters, on behalf of about 10,000 of my constituents, which are sitting in my office as part of the consultation process?

May I ask the Secretary of State about the position of Gatwick as the reserve if development at Heathrow cannot go ahead? Has he not opened up the possibility that he will end up with three two-runway London airports as the end product if development at Heathrow is not possible? Will he answer two specific questions? Would it not have been better for that reserve position to be a third runway at Stansted, given that he will in any case have to build the infrastructure to get a second runway at Stansted? Secondly, how long will the people around Gatwick have to wait before they know whether a third runway at Heathrow is feasible?

Mr. Darling

If the hon. Gentleman had had a mirror he would have been fascinated to see the expressions of some of his colleagues sitting behind him. No, we do not think that there should be a third runway at Stansted. As for Gatwick, our position is that we think that in the south-east of England over the next 30 years there needs to be two new runways. That remains our position. In relation to Redhill, I will be extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he keeps the 6,000 letters. I think I speak on behalf of my staff at the Department for Transport when I say that they will be even more grateful than me, given that they have already dealt with many thousands of letters. If the hon. Gentleman can see his way to storing the 6,000 letters in his office, I think my staff will be very grateful.