HC Deb 15 July 2003 vol 409 cc131-3
1. Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

What recent representations he has received about airport expansion. [125434]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

The national consultation ended on 30 June. We estimate that at least 300,000 responses have been received from across the UK. We are analysing all these and, as I have said, we will set out our decisions in the air transport White Paper later this year.

Mrs. Gillan

Does the Secretary of State recall that when the Government granted permission for terminal 5, they said that they would strictly limit the growth of aircraft movements, which so badly affect my constituents in Chesham and Amersham? Do the announcement of the widening of the M25 and yesterday's announcement of permission for Crossrail to go ahead with consultation on the Heathrow route imply tacit approval for a third runway at Heathrow—and does that not make a mockery of the assurances that the Government gave my constituents?

Mr. Darling

No, I do not think that it does. The Crossrail proposal, to which we shall return if we reach Question 6, has merit in its own right. It will provide links between east and west London, including Heathrow. If it gets the final go-ahead, it will bring the advantage of removing traffic from the roads because more people will be able to go to Heathrow by rail. I should have thought that that would be thoroughly good for everyone who lives in west London. The hon. Lady will be aware that when my predecessor gave terminal 5 the go-ahead, he made it clear that he was aware that the Government were about to consult on the future capacity requirements of airports, including Heathrow, so I do not accept the premise of her question at all.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

When my right hon. Friend has a look at the 300,000 responses, will he bear in mind the fact that air transport in the UK alone benefits from some £7.5 billion of tax concessions each year? Will he consider the fact that if the concessions were phased out, that would reduce some of the pressure for airport expansion and provide additional financial resources for transport, of which I am sure he would make good use?

Mr. Darling

As for the 300,000 responses, the House might be interested to know that half of them came from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

It has a bigger membership than the Labour and Tory parties put together.

Mr. Darling

As my hon. Friend says, the RSPB enjoys a very high membership that must be the envy of all political parties—although I doubt whether we are likely to emulate that membership just yet.

The Government have always made it clear that the aviation industry should be responsible for meeting its costs. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) will also be aware that the reason why air fares have reduced so dramatically is not so much because of taxation but because the no-frills carriers—the low-cost airlines—have stripped out much of the costs of selling their tickets. My hon. Friend might also be interested to know that unsurprisingly, people in London have the greatest propensity to fly, but those in Scotland are the second most likely to fly.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), replied at column 24W of yesterday's Hansard that the total cost of the consultation was £4.2 million? Will he explain why he has set a 30-year frame for airport consultation but only a 10-year transport plan for road and rail? Does he accept that he got his sums wrong on at least one aspect: the road and rail links to Stansted airport?

Mr. Darling

Let me try to answer the hon. Lady and find out whether I understand her correctly. Naturally, the consultation documents on air travel that we have published examine the situation over a 20 to 30-year time horizon because of the time that would be taken to plan and build extra capacity. It is sensible to consider such things over a long period. The 10-year plan is essentially related to the Government's spending programme, and the hon. Lady will recall that annual programmes existed in the days of the Conservative Government. All spending Departments now have their spending fixed three years ahead so that they have greater certainty, which allows for better planning. However, we have fixed transport spending on a 10-year time horizon. Fixing the spending of any Department on a 30-year time horizon would be problematic, because the figures would become less reliable as one went further on in time. I say in the nicest possible way to the hon. Lady that she is not comparing like with like.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the strong case for expanding London Luton airport. He will also be aware that with very modest investment, passenger throughput could be quadrupled from 7 million to 28 million, and with a little more investment, it could be expanded to more than 60 million passengers a year. Will he consider giving Luton an early go-ahead before the more difficult options elsewhere are considered?

Mr. Darling

I am well aware of the arguments that my hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), have advanced on Luton airport. However, I have made it clear many times that I intend to make the decisions and the announcement on air travel at the same time, at the end of the year. No announcements will be made in advance in respect of a particular proposal or airport.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

Perhaps I can return to the subject of birds. Given that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has given a licence to BAA to cull Canada geese in the vicinity of Heathrow, within, I think, a 15 km or perhaps a 15 mile radius, what representations has the Department had on bird strike at Heathrow, bearing in mind that a few years ago a flock of Canada geese hit a Boeing jet?

Mr. Darling

I am aware of the fact that some years ago a Boeing 767 hit 20 or 30 Canada geese. The Department, the Civil Aviation Authority and the airport operators keep bird strike under close review. They are aware of the issues and receive a number of representations. Unfortunately, bird strike is a feature of most airports, for obvious reasons. The key is to manage the problem as best we can by controlling the number of birds around an airport. Most people would agree, however, that the matter is under control at British airports.