HC Deb 21 October 2003 vol 411 cc493-5
5. Mr. John Taylor (Solihull)

When he expects to publish his White Paper on airports. [132964]

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

We plan to publish the White Paper before the end of the year.

Mr. Taylor

Will the Secretary of State hasten the relief from blight that has afflicted people in the east of my constituency by virtue of uncertainty and hasten the day on which I may reassure them that there will be no second runway at Birmingham airport?

Mr. Darling

I can only repeat what I said: we intend to publish the White Paper before the end of the year. I appreciate that hon. Members on both sides of the House want the Government's views as quickly as possible. The consultation has been completed, we are evaluating the responses and, as I said, we shall publish our conclusions.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is considerable enthusiasm for expanding Luton, which contrasts with resistance to expanding other airports, especially those in the south-east. I am sure that he knows that there is the possibility of developing a rail link between Luton and Heathrow—I call it the Luton-Heathrow flyer service—which would mean that Luton could become a satellite feeder airport for Heathrow and take some pressure off it. Will he take that into account when making decisions about future airports in the south-east?

Mr. Darling

I indeed know that there is enthusiasm in Luton to extend the airport. I am also aware of the plan to build the rail link—it is one of many in different parts of the country. However, hon. Members will have to wait until we publish our conclusions, which we intend to do before the end of the year. Of course, the conclusions will cover Luton as well as other airports.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I warmly endorse what has just been said about Luton. Will the Secretary of State assure me that my 11,500 constituents who wrote to him to protest about Halfpenny Green becoming an international airport and the 12,500 letters on the same subject that have been forwarded to him by my parliamentary colleagues will all be taken most carefully into account?

Mr. Darling

Yes, all the views will be taken into account.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

When my right hon. Friend considers the White Paper on future airport provision, will he give serious consideration to the contribution that regional airports can make? Local companies are investing substantial sums in them to improve services. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that those regional airports can make a valuable contribution to air transport across the United Kingdom and will extend services to areas around the world. We should consider further the development and work of regional airports. Will he assure the House that that will be part of the White Paper?

Mr. Darling

The importance of regional airports will figure prominently in the White Paper. It is not just low-cost flights that have experienced an increase in patronage at local airports. About 7 million people travelled on low-cost airlines in 1998; this year, the figure will be 45 million. That has contributed to much of the growth in regional airports, with more direct flights. Regional airports will not, however, provide the network that can be found at a hub airport such as Heathrow. Although regional airports can and will play a part not just in the development of air travel but in economic development in the areas they serve, they will not be the whole answer.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

The consultation on the White Paper mentions sustainable aviation. What does the Secretary of State understand sustainable aviation to mean?

Mr. Darling

That will be spelt out in the White Paper, which we will publish later in the year.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)

Will there be anything in my right hon. Friend's aviation report on the monopoly of large airports and the variation in landing fees?

Mr. Darling

All matters raised with us, and they have been many and varied, will be dealt with in the White Paper. I understand hon. Members' anxiety and their enthusiasm for getting me to anticipate what will be in the White Paper, but as its publication is in the not-too-distant future, I can only provide a general assurance that it will deal with all the points raised.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Before the Secretary of State publishes the White Paper, will he find time in his very busy diary to see for himself all those blighted communities near airports where the runways may be expanded as a result of his proposals, which have invited him and his ministerial team to visit, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) has done with my humble support? Will he also assure the House that he will publish in full all responses to the consultation before he publishes the White Paper?

Mr. Darling

On the latter point, no. The logic is that the White Paper should be published and, at the same time, the report on the consultation exercise will also be made available, as we made clear. That is what has happened before.

I have visited a large number of airport sites over the past few months. To repeat what I said earlier, it will not be long before the Government publish their conclusions, which will set out a framework for development over the next 30 years.