HC Deb 11 March 2004 vol 418 cc1677-711


[Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2002–03, on Aviation, HC (2002–03) 454—I, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 6047; and The Department for Transport Annual Report 2003, CM 5907.] Motion made, and Question proposed, That further resources, not exceeding £1,377,992,000, be authorised for use during the year ending on 31st March 2004, and that a further sum, not exceeding £41,854,000. be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund for the year ending on 31st March 2004 for expenditure by the Department for Transport—[Mr. Heppell.]

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

When a country neglects one of its most important weapons for economic development— transport—it gets into considerable difficulty. For well over 20 years, this country has ignored the fact that its aviation industry is vital to our development. It is not only a multinational industry, but one that brings in large numbers of people, their money and their interests. It also provides for the British an essential means of developing their industries and their relationships with other countries of the world.

The estimate that we are debating today is one of the most important, and the Government are to be congratulated on having produced a White Paper after so many years of drift and indecision on the part of successive Governments. It is therefore disappointing that their response to the Select Committee's report on aviation was mildly grudging. There are many aspects of aviation policy that need to be debated in considerable depth, but this afternoon I would like to concentrate almost entirely on the gap that the Select Committee has identified in the thinking of Her Majesty's Government.

Let me make it clear that I sympathise with a Government who are seeking to undo 20 years of neglect across the transport system. They are continually being asked to come up with new ideas and new investment on a large scale for the whole industry across the United Kingdom. The reality, however, is that aviation now needs some pretty clear decisions and, above all, some very clear leadership at Government level, not least because we have reached the point at which what we do now—or, even worse, what we do not do—will dominate our economy for the next 10 to 20 years.

I turn first to the development of airports. Whether we like it or not, people are going to continue to move around, and they are going to continue to use aeroplanes to do so. The development of the airports in the south-east of the United Kingdom is directly relevant to our economy. Without an efficient means of moving industrialists, those working in industries and those contributing to our tourist industry, we are going to suffer economically.

The Government seem still not to have faced up to a number of awkward political decisions. We have to decide which of the airports in the south-east are going to be developed, and who is going to develop them. We also have to decide—when I say "we", I mean all of us—who is going to pay for that development. We have to accept that, if we run away from those decisions, a state of happy neglect will not deal with the chaos that will ensue, and the whole of the United Kingdom's economy will pay a very high price.

I want to address one or two simple points. The first is the ownership of the major airports in the south-east. My Committee has considered, in a number of reports, the complex situation that now exists in relation to the remains of what were state-controlled agencies. The Government are in an odd situation, because BAA—formerly the British Airports Authority—which controls the major airports in the south-east is a private company with a need to respond to the interests of its shareholders. Its decisions will be taken on the basis of its relationship with its shareholders, yet it is required to advise the Government on how we should develop our airports and which developments we should push to the top of the queue.

That represents a basic conflict of interest, as my Committee has highlighted, not least because if BAA is not prepared, for its own internal economic reasons, to make clear how it is going to fund the development of airports in the south-east, it will almost inevitably be taking decisions, by default, that will affect the United Kingdom at every level. If, on the other hand, it bases its decisions son where it wants to see development purely on its own economic interests and on the charges that it can level on the airline industry, it will almost inevitably not be capable of handling the advice that it gives to the Government impartially or independently. That is inevitable; it is built into the system.

My Committee suggested that we should consider the existing ownership of BAA and whether the need to produce results for its shareholders had influenced its decisions on where future development should take place. We also suggested that we should consider whether the taxpayer is best served by allowing BAA monopoly control of all the major airport machinery in the south-east. Whether we like it or not, those of us who are concerned about the future of regional airports know that if anything goes wrong with the slots at the major south-eastern airports, the first people to suffer will be those who are flying from the regions of Britain. BAA has a responsibility to maximise the profits that it receives from its airports in the south-east, but it also makes decisions about slot control, about how particular runways should be developed and about whether that would restrict access for regional air traffic. Inevitably, its interests will not be the same as those of the people outside the south-east.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con)

Before the hon. Lady moves on from the reasons why BAA might or might not want to take particular decisions, does she accept that there is another consideration that BAA must take into account—namely, the interests of the people who work for it? More than 25 per cent. of my constituents who are in jobs depend on Heathrow. Surely it is not selfish of BAA to say that it is vital to protect the jobs not only of our employees but of all those who use Heathrow.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I accept that totally, but the reality is that there is no problem with protecting jobs at Heathrow. Many of us would say that it is a viable and developing economic asset to the country, and that it ought to be protected simply because of the amount of business that it generates, alone and unaided.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend also recall the evidence that the Committee took from the hon. Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Stewart)? He made it plain that, unless there was a continuation of the route served by jet from Inverness to either Gatwick or Heathrow, many of the businesses in the highlands would be badly affected and would relocate as a consequence of not having that direct route.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Indeed. We were told time and again that in taking a business decision about where a new factory should be built or where a new business should be expanded, transport—almost inevitably—was one of the first priorities of any of the managements concerned. We took evidence that showed that in some instances, the ability of foreign managements to get to a regional destination not just by changing planes—even though that might be a convenient system—but by flying direct, would influence their decision about where their developments should go. We were constantly told of Japanese managements who, when faced with the alternatives of a site that could be reached easily and a site that could be reached only after experiencing certain difficulties, inevitably chose the site that had mainline connections and offered easy ways of flying in and out of the region. So it is terribly important that we understand the absolutely direct link between access to airports in the south-east for those in the regions, and the decisions that are taken about where developments will be located in future.

I do not want to take too long as I know that many Members want to speak, but I want to consider the hazards that will arise if the Government appear to be influenced by some of the decisions being taken by the European institutions. At the request of the European Commission's transport commission, a study was undertaken of the feasibility and impact of adopting market mechanisms to allocate slots at congestion category 1 airports. Even though most people are not interested in the minutiae of airport administration, they understand that there is no use in having the best and most comfortable plane in the world if it cannot actually be landed at the airport of one's choice at the time when one wants to arrive.

So the allocation of slots at airports, particularly in the south-east, is not only a very fraught matter but an absolutely vital one for airline passengers. The European Union—for reasons that are fairly acceptable in theory, but which will cause enormous difficulty in practice—seems to be moving towards a system through which the only way of deciding whether airline passengers can land at a congested airport will be the price that the airline in question is prepared to pay for the slot, or pairs of slots, on offer.

There are those in this House who believe very strongly that capitalism red in tooth and claw is the only way to plan our transport system. Having looked at the results of some years of that total lack of overall guidance, I beg leave to differ very strongly. But more than that, in a congested island the decisions that are taken about airline slots become even more vital. My Committee has produced a detailed report on the effect on the regions, but we should think about the report produced by National Economic Research Associates, in conjunction with Leiden university and Consultair Associates. That report appears to conclude that, although planned investments may ease the situation, there will be more and more congestion in the next five years, and that the only way to deal with it is to open up the slots to market forces. That is not only very dangerous; it will have an immediate knock-on effect on all regional passengers who want to get to the south-east.

It is extraordinary that I should have to ask Parliament not to accept a policy that will make it virtually impossible for people who live outside the south-east to travel easily and efficiently to their capital city, yet that is what we are talking about. We are not talking simply about ways of expanding the profits of a private company called BAA, but about the right of people who do not live in the privileged south-east to access the city in which most decisions—whether we like it or not—are still taken. Be they decisions in government, law or commerce, such decisions are almost inevitably determined by what goes on in the capital city of the United Kingdom.

We seem to be saying that it is not necessary to plan to ensure a sensible allocation of resources for regional airports; instead, we can just leave it to the market. But the market has already demonstrated that the control of slots at Heathrow, for example, is an absolutely stunning money-maker. We are talking about not £1 million or £2 million, but £ £5 million and even £10 million. We are talking gold bars. To those who seriously think that we can say to regional airports, "Don't worry about it. Your local authorities will have the right, if they so choose, to subsidise transport that will get you to even the most congested south-east airports", I can only say that that is the most unlikely scenario that I have heard, even in this Chamber.

The reality is that the Government are being advised on airport development by a private company that is committed to making an enormous profit. As far as I can see, such decisions will be governed not by the political, economic and demographic interests of the UK regions, but by a series of political decisions that are all about making money and applying the simple measurement of money to a vital asset.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

I am slightly disappointed that the hon. Lady's Committee was unable to address the issue of business aviation, which has a contribution to make in relieving prime slot times at our major hub airports. Here, I am making a small plea of behalf of Farnborough aerodrome. It is Government policy, as the Minister has reiterated, that Farnborough should be the business airport serving the south-east. There has been huge investment in Farnborough, and such business airports have a serious contribution to make in relieving congestion at the major hubs.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I do not in any way disagree with the view that business aviation will not only be a burgeoning field, but will provide very real support to some industries at certain times. But the hon. Gentleman is surely not seriously suggesting that the question of access to major airports for large planes that seat perhaps 150 to 200 people is quite the same as that of offering opportunities for smaller aviation elsewhere in the region. I agree that that issue is vital, but it is not comparable with access to major congested airports.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Lady seems to have completely misunderstood my point. Farnborough has the capacity for up to 28,000 business aircraft movements per annum, and taking such movements away from Heathrow and Gatwick, for example, would relieve some of the congestion on the very regional access routes that the hon. Lady is keen to defend.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am glad that I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, because that gave him a further opportunity to advertise the facilities available at Farnborough. What happens in general aviation at large airports must affect the amount of movement and the opportunities for using other aircraft.

I hope that the Government will come out fighting on a number of fronts. We are up against a fairly tight time scale. If we do not decide which airports in the south-east are to be expanded, it will not simply be a question of airports becoming full, because they are already filled to their upper limits. We cannot deal with the expansion in passenger numbers simply by pretending that they are not there. We shall find that many people are inconvenienced, and start trying to avoid the London airports and taking their business and money elsewhere. We must also resolve to protect the interests of the regions, and ensure that people have the right to fly into the south-east. Those decisions muse be made, and made public, as soon as possible.

We must tell the European Commission that we are not clear about its reasons for taking this line in its research, or about the weight that the document carries. If after five years there has been no major development of the south-east airports and regional airlines have been squeezed out of their areas with a significant impact on the number of people who can fly in and out of the south-east, we shall be left with the worst of all worlds. I do not doubt that a great deal of profit can be made from the buying and selling of slots, although it is extraordinary that we do not even admit that they have a monetary value. It is clear to the airlines concerned that they do.

The Government have started well. They have set the parameters, and have begun to deal with difficult questions from which people have run away for more than 25 years. Unfortunately, we cannot allow the situation to continue. We certainly cannot allow a lack of decision-making to decide where we are to go in aviation. Aviation is a number one industry, capable of producing jobs, money and economic demand. We need to be in the lead; we need to be number one among European countries in deciding how best to serve the interests of our constituents. I think we can do it, but let us understand that we do not have a long time in which to make our decisions.

1.52 pm
Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (LD)

On 11 February, I told the Minister in Westminster Hall: I also hope that he will deal with the demand for a much wider debate to be held on the Floor of the House as soon as possible."—[Official Report, Westminster Hall,11 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 447WH.] I realise that today's debate is probably being held thanks to the Select Committee on Transport rather than the Minister, but I welcome it none the less.

Following the formidable performance of our Chairman, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), let me say that I understand how important it is to jobs, the economy and tourism that the air industry should cater for future demand. In the short time available to me, however, I shall concentrate on the environment and on sustainable development of the industry, which are issues all too often overlooked. Liberal Democrats believe that airport expansion should be a last resort, and we mean a last resort. There may well be demand for another runway by 2017, although some environmental groups would argue that that should not happen before 2030, but there are many options for us to try before then in an attempt to limit and manage demand.

The problem is that the Government are simply following the last Tory Government's predict and provide policy. They have tried to deny that in Westminster Hall debates, but the White Paper makes it clear that it is precisely what they are doing. They are estimating the probable number of passengers and the volume of goods to be shifted, and trying to build more and more capacity. We must take a stand. If the Government are right in their prediction that by 2030 there will be 500 million passengers and prices will be cut by up to a third, more runways will spring up over the south-east. That would be a disaster for the environment.

What have the Government's experts said? Sir Tom Blundell, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, said on 16 December: The White Paper fails to take account of the serious impacts that the projected increase in air travel will have on the environment. Earlier this year the government published an Energy White Paper setting out its strategy for tackling global climate change, and set challenging but necessary targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)

The tenor of the hon. Gentleman's remarks suggests a restriction, or indeed a reduction, in air travel. Does he deny the importance of increasing air travel opportunities for the regions, particularly the Liverpool area of the north-west?

Mr. Marsden

Absolutely not. I was going to point out that expanding regional capacity was one possible solution. Too much is funnelled through the south-east at present. As one born and bred not far from Liverpool, I agree with what the hon. Lady said about that part of the country.

Sir Tom Blundell continued: Today's White Paper undermines those targets and continues to favour commerce over vital carbon dioxide reduction measures. Baroness Young of Scone, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: The Government has committed to a 60 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. That seems a long way off, but if we do not make progress soon, we will not meet those vital targets when it comes to climate change. Lady Young went on: The Government's own forecasts suggest that by 2030 aircraft fuelled at UK airports could have a global warming impact equivalent to at least 30 per cent."— one third— of current CO2 emissions from all UK domestic sources. This is a massive growth", and it will pose a serious problem for the future.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the so-called irradiative forcing effect, whereby chemicals released into the atmosphere by aviation engines do much more harm to the ozone layer at altitude than they would if released at ground level? In fact, the problem is even more serious than many people realise.

Mr. Marsden

I entirely agree. The White Paper acknowledges the achievement of technological advances, for which the industry should be praised, but, as the hon. Gentleman says, serious effects in the stratosphere have yet to be fully recognised.

I should like to know the Government's response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. It wants the Government to impose climate protection charges for aircraft taking off and landing within the EU; restrict airport development to encourage greater competition for available take off and landing slots…develop major airports into land-air hubs…support technological development to lessen the damage done by air travel". Another important suggestion is that international aviation agreements should include an amendment to the Kyoto protocol in regard to the emissions trading scheme.

We must look to the future. The White Paper speaks, worryingly, of a wish to maximise the economic benefits whilst minimising/mitigating the environmental impacts". That does not sound to me like protecting people and the environment first, which is what, in the knowledge of the consequences, I think we should aim to do.

There have been many criticisms from a number of environmental organisations over the last few months. I hope that the Government will begin to address them. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has said it recognises that aviation has contributed beneficially to the economic development and social life of the UK. However, this was not without considerable costs to the environment … Adverse impacts include: Climate change"— through greenhouse gases— stratospheric ozone reduction leading to increased surface UV radiation; local pollution—both noise and decreased air quality and, obviously, the effect on the ground. That includes the impact on wildlife of expansion, airport construction and related infrastructure". Friends of the Earth has been extremely critical of what the Government have been saying. According to Tony Juniper: The Government has sacrificed its environmental responsibilities to satisfy the demands of the aviation industry. Today's announcement, which is based on the White Paper is yet another missed opportunity to put the air industry on a sustainable course.

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab)

Will the hon. Gentleman define "sustainable"?

Mr. Marsden

It is that which is not to the detriment of the environment and which can be planned for the future in terms of growth. In relation to managing demand, it is something that balances against demand that is to the detriment of the environment. The Government are not approaching the matter in that way. They are accepting from the outset that there must be a massive expansion in passenger growth, and they are not even beginning to offset that in terms of environmental taxes

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)

While the hon. Gentleman is on the subject of growth, do he or his party envisage any growth in employment in civil air transport? Is that an aspect of his party's policies to which he attaches any importance? Is not civil air transport a major source of jobs and prosperity in many parts of the country?

Mr. Marsden

I agree totally. That is why I started my speech by recognising its importance for employment, which is recognised particularly in the regions of this country, and perhaps in the highlands and islands. That is the point of trying to find ways to expand regional capacity rather than just increasing capacity in the south-east. As I was about to say, Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth, with whom I concur, said: If the aviation industry was taxed fairly", and we are not talking about punitive taxes, rather than letting it pay no fuel tax"— although some Labour Members seem to favour giving such advantages to the aviation industry— and no VAT, then we would not need any new runways anywhere in the country. But it seems that for this Government and the aviation industry, not even the sky is the limit". I hope that the Government will rethink their policy, as it will be our children and our children's children who will pay the penalties, if we get it wrong.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

Will the hon. Gentleman outline the tax proposals that he has in mind?

Mr. Marsden

Certainly, and I am glad to have taken that intervention. Rail operators pay about 3p a litre in duty on fuel. Private motorists pay about 45.8p a litre in duty on their fuel. Currently, airlines pay no such duty. I suggest, as recommended by the Government's experts, that 3p a litre would not be an unfair tax.

Mr. Donohoe

Having examined this matter in some detail, I think that one of the differences between an aeroplane and a train, a car, a bicycle or any other form of transport is the extent to which an aircraft goes abroad. If it goes far enough abroad, it can pick up fuel, and in those circumstances, it would be able to avoid the consequences of the hon. Gentleman's proposals. What he says does not therefore make an awful lot of sense.

Mr. Marsden

At the end of the day, the reality is that long-haul jets arriving at Heathrow or Gatwick are pretty unlikely to try to hop over the channel to refuel. Yes, some airlines may well try to avoid any fuel tax duty. We must make a stand, however, put our environment first and say that there are times when the polluter should pay. We believe in that for other forms of transport, so why do we let airlines off the hook?

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)

Is it not a flaw in the hon. Gentleman's argument that he is against further runway development? Is it not the case that one of the current difficulties is that airports are being used at a level above their efficient capacity, which causes problems? Does he accept, for example, that the scheduled block time on the flight between London and Edinburgh was 60 minutes 10 years ago and is now 90 minutes? Planes are therefore circling airports, adding extra pollution to the environment. If we do not build extra runways, that can only increase.

Mr. Marsden

I totally agree, but a Conservative Government were told about 20 years ago that there would be serious expansion and serious environmental problems in the future, and they did nothing. They continued with predict and provide, with which this Government are also continuing. Had they responded differently, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's argument would have a little more validity, but we must try to tackle the problem now and manage the precise demand to which he refers. That is why I believe in various environmental management methods, including considering tax increases, that would enable us to do that.

As for the Government saying, "Well, this is what people want," let me quote to the Minister what the Campaign to Protect Rural England says on its website: The aviation industry's own figures show that the poorest 10 per cent. of people rarely fly. In terms of trying to open up the adventures of this world, therefore, it seems that the poorest are the last to be able to benefit. It continues: Most of the growth predicted for 2030 by the Department for Transport is by the wealthiest 10 per cent. flying overseas at weekends.

Mrs. Dunwoody

With the greatest respect, I must say that the hon. Gentleman is talking an awful lot of nonsense—and I do not want to be unkind. He is worrying about the wealthiest 10 per cent., but frankly they will not be using congested airports. They will be doing precisely what the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) suggested: they will have their own planes, or lease or part-lease their own planes, they will fly from small local airports, and they will not be a bit worried about facilities at our major airports. If the hon. Gentleman genuinely thinks that working-class people do not travel on planes, he is more out of touch than I realised.

Mr. Marsden

With the greatest respect to the Chairman of the Select Committee, on which I sit, I may say that if she is seriously suggesting that 6 million out of the 60 million people in this country fly by private, chartered plane, she is sadly mistaken. The figures demonstrate that even Posh and Becks fly occasionally from normal airports like the rest of us.

The point is that I am quoting not my party's figures but the Minister's. He must explain why the bottom 10 per cent. of people—another 6 million in this country—rarely fly. [Interruption.] In response to the remarks shouted across the Chamber, I say that nothing will be solved by lowering prices. When it comes to expanding current capacity, every citizen in this country will be extremely concerned about the damaging impact on our environment. To those who mock, I say that we will reap the impact for generations to come unless we start to do something about it.

2.8 pm

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab)

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden), my colleague on the Transport Committee, shares with the Secretary of State for Transport, Dr. Jonathan Porritt and every other person whom I have asked, an inability to define what is sustainable in relation to aviation. If we look at the original consultation document, we find "sustainable" on almost every page. In the White Paper, however, I found "sustainable" only once, although it may be hiding on other pages. The reason for that is that the Government have realised that "sustainable" cannot be applied to aviation. One simply cannot burn tonnes of kerosene in a huge machine and pretend that that is in some way sustainable, if sustainable means that one will regenerate at the end of the process what one started with. It is not a word that should be used. We can talk about "environmental improvement" or use other words, but it would helpful if we omitted "sustainable" from the debate and concentrated on aviation. I was not going to say that, but I do so having listened to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, who, having sought asylum in the Liberal Democrat party now seems to be seeking it in cloud cuckoo land, as far as understanding what is happening in the world of aviation is concerned.

A good definition of predict and provide is to assess capacity and build to it. If the Government had used predict and provide in aviation over the last 60 years, there might have been something in the fantasy of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, who spoke of the Government building runways all over the place. Not a single new runway has been built in south-east England, and only one has been built in the whole of the UK—at Manchester airport, for which I was partially responsible. What he described simply will not happen. The Secretary of State provided a good definition of why predict and provide did not apply and set out a framework in which the commercial parts of the aviation industry would take decisions about whether to invest in new infrastructure.

I have a final criticism of the speech made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, and it goes to the core of the false arguments underlying much of the environmental debate. Members must decide whether we get a better environment in a richer country than we do in a poorer country. If we invest in wealth-creating industries such as aviation, which support other industries, will we get wealthier? If we do, will we get a cleaner, better environment? I believe that we will, and I do not believe that the environment—I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about it being a global problem—will be improved by forcing aeroplanes out of the UK so that they have to fly further to European hubs, which will burn more kerosene, more aviation fuel and put more CO2 and NOx into the atmosphere.

Mr. Paul Marsden

The US has been one of the fastest-growing and wealthiest nations on the planet. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously telling me that it has the most environmentally friendly policies to reduce the environmental damage it has done over the past 50 or 60 years?

Mr. Stringer

I would say that a poor country such as Russia or China does not even have the potential to improve its pollution and environmental mess. The United States is a huge country and some of the environmental responsibilities rest with state and city governments. Some of the toughest environmental legislation anywhere in the world can be found in California and all the way down the west coast, including Washington and Oregon.

Mr. Marsden

In that case, the hon. Gentleman would surely join me in castigating the current American Government for refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)


Mr. Stringer

I would like to continue with my speech; I know that other hon. Members want to speak.

I wanted the White Paper to respond to two major questions, the first of which is how London—by which I obviously mean Heathrow—is going to maintain its premier position as a major international hub. The second is how we should deal with the obvious imbalance in this country whereby 20 per cent. or more of traffic originating from the regions is forced into the already overcrowded south-east system. Those are the two questions that I wanted answering more than anything else. We have had 20 years of silence in respect of transport policy, so I congratulate the Government on introducing clear proposals in the White Paper, although I do not believe that they have answered those two difficult questions.

I believe that a third runway at Heathrow airport is absolutely vital for the economy of London and the UK. Heathrow is in direct competition with Frankfurt, Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and, increasingly, with Brussels and Copenhagen. As a result of overcrowding, the number of destinations that Heathrow serves is already reducing. As passenger numbers go up, the number of destinations goes down. Connectivity within Heathrow—some hon. Members will not like that word, but it has become current—and the punctuality of passenger transfers are worsening. Heathrow has been the premier European hub, but in five or 10 years' time it will not be the premier hub either for destinations or for passenger numbers. Indeed, it is no longer the premier airport for destinations within the UK, because about half of the destinations that it used to serve have gone.

Why is that important? It is vital because of the City of London, which forms the core of the UK economy, and because of tourism in London and the rest of the UK. If people cannot get into London, they will choose to do their financial business in Frankfurt—a major competitor of the City of London—or start their travels around Europe in Paris, Copenhagen or somewhere else.

I am often accused of being too pro-Manchester and too anti-London—I have been accused of worse things in my political life—which is rather unfair, because I believe that London should have all that is appropriate for a capital city to have, and one of its major needs is to maintain its position as having the premier airport. It cannot do without a third runway, and I am afraid that the decision had bee n dodged on a very strange basis— pollution and NOx figures. If the Minister considered the evidence seen by the Transport Committee, he would find that various professors cast doubt on the objective basis of the evidence. They pointed out that the NOx measurements were a worst-case scenario— they were taken some way from where most people lived—and that all the other projections were done by modelling and calculation, not by direct measurement. The third runway is crucial.

I will not move on from London and the south-east without making two other points. First, the Government—I mean all Governments over the past 60 years—bear the responsibility for not having provided runway capacity in the area, but since privatisation BAA has been a regulated monopoly. If Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow had been separate and competing airports, there would have been more pressure on the Government to take more sensible decisions about runway capacity. The fact is that BAA can make a profit by providing a worse service by flying bigger and bigger aeroplanes to fewer places. That is not good for London or for UK plc.

The regulation of London airports is also perverse. When many people want to use a scarce resource, it is a perverse regulatory system that charges less and less for that resource. Passengers went to Heathrow because the internal financing of the major airlines meant that, until the funding requirements of T5 came along, it was cheaper to land there. That cannot be a sensible way to proceed.

London is congested and needs another runway, so how can we use the capacity in the regions? That is a difficult question. The Government no longer have the power, as they did when the previous White Paper was written, to direct where aeroplanes land and take off, but I believe that two things can be done.

First, the infrastructure of the major regional airports at Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow can be improved. Increasing from four to six the number of tracks leading out of Manchester Piccadilly station to Manchester airport by way of Oxford Road station would benefit the airport and allow more heavy rail access to it. It would also remove one of the 16 or 18 pinch points from the national system, with the result that the system would be improved. That is good, sensible politics in respect of the environment and transport, which I commend to the Government. Such an approach would give people more incentive to use the capacity available in the regional airports.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for allowing me to discuss privately with him the possibility of extending the light rail link to Manchester airport. I hope that some positive announcements will be made about that, but ground transport to the regional airports needs to be very good if we are to promote extra use of their capacity.

My second point is more controversial. The industry has been privatised and in Europe operates in a deregulated environment, yet the Department for Transport retains a protectionist approach when dealing with airlines whose ownership is based in the UK. However, I see no reason why the skies should not be opened up for any of the regional airports, if that is what they want. Although it is unlikely that those airports will get many intercontinental routes, I think that aeroplanes from the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere should be allowed to land there, pick up passengers, and take off again. In that way, those regional airport routes for which there is relatively small demand would be able to become more substantial and thus work in commercial terms.

I understand that the only reason why the Government do not adopt that approach is because BMI, Virgin and BA do not like it, but they have nice protected slots at London Heathrow. Opening up the skies would be a good way to ensure that the economic benefits that accrue from aviation go to the regions and that some congestion is taken out of the south-east.

I do not like to refer to good behaviour by the previous Conservative Government, but when the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) was a transport Minister he opened up the skies from the regional airports to north America. That helped a little bit: some services have arrived here that would not have done so otherwise. The changes that I propose would not be so dramatic that BMI, BA or Virgin would go bankrupt, but they would ease the congestion a little and help the economies of the regions.

I turn now to an example of how the Department is not being very helpful, and I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), would agree to a meeting on this matter if he cannot reply directly today. Pakistan International Airlines has applied for fifth freedoms to all the regions. That would allow them to fly from Karachi, or elsewhere in Pakistan, stop at Manchester, Glasgow or—most likely—Birmingham, and then fly on to Toronto, Chicago and Houston.

I do not think that that would inflict much competition on BA. Most of the passengers involved would originate in Pakistan. One or two people would get on and off when their plane landed at one of our regional airports, and then the flight would continue on to north America. That would not amount to competition in BA's market—partly because PIA does not serve alcohol on flights—but it would mean that more destinations could be served from airports such as Manchester.

I have spent a long time on my feet, but it is good to have this debate. Aviation is vital to this country, and it is very important that people understand how it works. We are not at the 12th hour today—we are past that. Heathrow is losing its position in international aviation, because the regional connections do not go there. People are going to the European hubs—probably causing more pollution in the process—and they are taking their money with them.

When he came before the Select Committee, I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport whether an analysis had been made of the negative economic impact resulting from those passengers being lost to the UK economy, and the lack of capacity. I understand that no study has been done. It would be useful for us to understand how much past the 12th hour we are. That would provide an incentive to investing in runways and giving the planning permissions necessary to support the transport infrastructure and the country's economy.

2.25 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)

The House is most grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), whose magisterial influence made this debate possible. I regret that we are not having a full debate on the aviation White Paper, which is long overdue. I trust that the Government have not delayed that necessary debate for any considerations stemming from the forthcoming mayoral and European elections.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Wilkinson

Heaven forfend: I see the pained look on the Minister's face. Even so, the debate is welcome, and I especially approved of the statement by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich that there was a need for clear decisions on the part of the Government. That is true. We need clear and urgent decisions, but we also need them to be correct. In that regard, I am not over optimistic.

The first of the Government's decisions that I bewail is the decision to allow the EU to be responsible for air service agreements. The right to conclude such agreements with other countries is one of the aspects of national sovereignty that a country such as our own, with so many overseas connections, should hold most dear. I fear very much that our continental partners—if that is the right word—will be very glad that we have handed the British golden goose over to Brussels, so that it can be carved up in their interests, and so that we, and the goose, can be thoroughly stuffed.

The UK is the premier destination in Europe for north Atlantic transatlantic travel. Our economy and our airlines have benefited immeasurably from that. However much the Prime Minister may hobnob in Berlin with the federal German Chancellor and the President of France, I suspect that they and their friends in the European Commission will ensure that there is a more equitable—in their eyes—distribution of air services across the north Atlantic that would favour Frankfurt and Paris.

The main problem then would not be congestion at Heathrow, but the direction of the European Commission. We would have no redress against that, and I hope that the Government will reflect on what they have done. In addition, I ask my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), the shadow Minister on the Opposition Front Bench, to consider the possibility of a manifesto commitment to reverse the evil that the Government have done.

However, I shall not be too scathing about of the Government. At least they have adopted a gradualist approach in the White Paper, which I think is wise, as none of us knows how civil air transport will develop. We cannot predict the oil price, and we do know the full impact that ultra-wide bodied aircraft such as the A380 will have on the patterns of air transport. On a day when we mourn with our Spanish friends a horrific terrorist outrage on the train system of Spain, who knows what the consequence of another terrorist episode directed towards air transport would have upon the industry? We cannot preclude that possibility.

The gradualist approach is right and the Government are correct to make the best use of existing runways. Although the second runway at Manchester is necessary—and I would not argue against another runway at Birmingham and another runway is certainly required at Stansted at an early date—we should nevertheless make the best use of the existing airport system.

We have not yet made the best use of Stansted, which has the greatest potential in the medium to long term. Heathrow is in an ultra-over-congested part of London, where there are serious environmental considerations, which cannot, as the Liberals suggest, be addressed by 3p on a litre of aviation kerosene. Stansted is nearer than Heathrow to the Thames gateway and the East Anglian corridor of economic development, and low-cost carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair have been able to expand there. We should put most of our future development at Stansted and not at Heathrow.

Mr. Stringer

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wilkinson

No, I will not because I want to be brief. I appreciated the hon. Gentleman's speech, which was serious—unlike that of the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden)—but I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak.

Since the Crossrail project is not yet envisaged for Heathrow, surface transport access will remain poor. The Government admit that a sixth terminal will be required, which will cause ever more congestion to the surface transport system in that area. Although we may have mixed-mode operations, which will help to get more utilisation out of Heathrow, there is a risk that Heathrow's development may be somewhat diminished by a slot auction imposed by the European Union. I hope that the Government will think again about Heathrow.

There is the possibility of air traffic conflicting with traffic out of Northolt, and the Government admit that this is a debateable point. We saw with the arrival of the former detainees from Guantanamo bay in a C-17 how important Royal Air Force Northolt is for the security of the country, and I would not want the development of a third east-west runway at Heathrow to preclude that.

If there is further runway development, it should be at Gatwick. Gatwick has two terminals, and its full potential has not been utilised. The Government are correct to consider the possibility seriously and make preparations by safeguarding space for a new wide-spaced runway at Gatwick. I hope that another runway at Gatwick has priority over any question of another runway at Heathrow.

Finally, I echo the wise sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), whose constituency includes Farnborough. In using existing facilities, the Government emphasise the importance that the White Paper places on using airports for regional development. It is noteworthy how far point-to-point services, rather than services out of hub airports, have grown in recent years. That tendency will accentuate, particularly with the fuller utilisation of Luton, which we look forward to, Southampton, Manston, London City and all the airports in the midlands and the north—a new one is starting at Finningley. Further developments are envisaged in the north of England, Scotland and Wales, which are all to the good.

In that process, I hope that Her Majesty's Government recognise the benefits of business aviation. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot pointed to Farnborough, and I say to him that RAF Northolt's primary function is its critical RAF role, and therefore if there is any overspill of business aviation, it should go to airports such as Farnborough, Biggin Hill and Luton. If the Government continue with their gradualist approach but take the key decision to go ahead with the second runway at Stansted as soon as possible, we can get the balance right. The worst thing that we could possibly do is not only to put the golden goose at risk by handing it on a platter to Brussels, but—this is what the Liberals would do—to actually kill it off with over-taxation.

2.35 pm
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)

I, too, welcome the publication of the aviation White Paper after a gap of 20 years. I particularly welcome the parts of the White Paper that dwell on the points highlighted by the Transport Committee report on aviation, which examines the connection between the development of regional economies and transport in general, and aviation in particular.

I note that the estimates refer to Promoting a modern integrated and safe transport system but I wonder whether the references to resources for aviation services take account of regional aspects, whether the Department for Transport links up with other Departments to examine joined-up action to enable regional economies to develop to their full potential and whether the Department recognises the importance of transport links in general and aviation links in particular.

The Select Committee report stresses the importance of air links to regional development and discusses the inadequacy of spending billions of pounds on regional development without making that link. Indeed, the report states: There has to be cohesion between regional economic policy and transport policy. It is absurd to put billions of pounds in the regional aid budget and yet not to give any assurance to provide guaranteed air access". There is nowhere to which that is more relevant than Liverpool and Merseyside in general.

Liverpool and Merseyside are objective 1 areas. That means that they receive large amounts of European funding, which is then matched by public and private sector funding from this country, to promote the regional economy. That funding has already achieved some success: the economy of Liverpool in particular and Merseyside in general is indeed being transformed. We have a major opportunity because Liverpool has been designated European city of culture for 2008, which is a tribute to Liverpool's achievements and recognition of its potential. In fulfilling that potential, it is vital that in the years up to 2008 and beyond we facilitate easy access to Liverpool for the many tourists and business visitors from not only the rest of this country and Europe but, indeed, across the world.

Liverpool John Lennon airport has already shown how to bring success to air travel It is the fastest-growing airport in the country and has served 3.18 million passengers in the past year. I know that in comparison with other airports, including Manchester International, that might seem a relatively small number of passengers, but the dramatic increase in business is a great tribute to the work of the management and owners. Those numbers are destined to increase significantly to 5.5 million by 2015 and 8.6 million by 2030.

The airport's success has been built on the great increase in its scheduled flights as well as in its charter flights—there are scheduled flights to destinations such as Dublin, Alicante, Geneva, Amsterdam, Madrid, Paris and Barcelona. I say to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) that the rapid expansion of John Lennon airport has opened out the opportunities for air travel for people from middle and lower-income groups, which is welcome and should be built upon—it should not be penalised and seen as something detrimental. That increase in opportunities is welcome and should be encouraged

During the past month, Liverpool has restored a direct flight to our capital, London, with a VLM Airlines flight to London City airport. That is a success, but it is a shame that Liverpool lost its access to a hub airport in London when British Midland withdrew its flights—for the very reason set out in the Committee's report and mentioned in the debate—not because they were not profitable, but because it was more profitable for the company to use its aircraft for other European flights.

John Lennon airport has shown what it can do to develop the local, sub-regional economy, to bring visitors and to encourage business. What Liverpool now needs, to enable us to make that major leap forward and grasp the opportunities provided by the city's designation as European capital of culture, is access to a huh airport, which would provide interlining, direct bookings and no repeat check-ins from airports all over the world. People could then come to Liverpool easily, from Shanghai to Sydney, New York to New Delhi, Los Angeles to Lagos—in other words, from throughout the world. It is essential that we have that link with a hub airport.

The Government's response to the Committee's report suggests that they recognise the importance of linking regional airports with hub airports in our capital and it suggests some measures to try to make that possible. While I welcome those measures, I do not think that they go far enough. The White Paper mentions public service obligations—PSOs—and the possible introduction of such measures to link up airports such as Liverpool with London hub airports. The White Paper mentions consultation on the detail of what would enable an airport to qualify for a PSO, but there has been no consultation so far. Nor has any guidance been issued on what the criteria might be. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could say when such consultation might start and when the criteria will be issued.

I welcome the reference in the White Paper to the role that regional development agencies might play, including the route development fund, but that is not enough. We need to know more about the resources available, and I would like to see the Bill on the powers for the anticipated directly elected regional assembly for the north-west, which will be published shortly, include some clearer transport powers, so that the assembly would be able to facilitate a direct link.

It is clear that the Government have recognised the points that have been made by the Committee and others about the importance of transport and aviation to regional economies, and the Government have made some suggestions. It says in the White Paper: Airports are an important focus for the development of local and regional economies. They attract business and generate employment to open up wider markets. That is an accurate statement for many regions, especially Liverpool. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can say what further steps the Government will take to make their aspirations a reality and enable John Lennon airport—and other regional airports—to play a full part in developing the local economy, to support jobs and prosperity for the people of the region.

2.44 pm
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con)

I am delighted to be able to participate in this debate on aviation services, as I wish to raise several issues relating to aviation in the county of Essex. Since the Committee published its report, we have also had a reply from the Government and the subsequent White Paper on air transport, published in December 2003.

I am pleased that in the White Paper the Government abandoned plans to build an airport at Cliffe, on the Hoo peninsula. As someone who campaigned against Cliffe from the outset, I believe that that was the correct decision. I was always opposed to Cliffe on environmental grounds, particularly because of the potential adverse effect on my constituents from 24-hour operation of the so-called crosswind runway, which could have taken night flights directly over my constituency. In addition, I was also opposed because of the effect on wildlife habitats in the Thames estuary, including the bird populations in the area and the related risk of bird strike for aircraft safety. The right decision was reached on Cliffe, and I hope that the matter is now closed.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend share my concern at reports in the press recently that suggest that the campaigners against expansion at London Heathrow and Stansted now threaten to take the Cliffe decision to the High court to have it reopened? Would not that be a retrograde step? Indeed, it would spoil the arguments of those campaigners, because we in Essex should stand shoulder to shoulder against the inappropriate expansion of our airports.

Mr. Francois

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He was also an active campaigner against any development at Cliffe. I have some sympathy with the protestors against Stansted, and I shall give them some support later in my speech, but reopening the issue of Cliffe is not the way to solve that problem. The right decision was taken, and we should accept it and move on.

The White Paper also encouraged development of smaller regional airports, including Southend. Southend airport is actually located at Rochford, just over my constituency boundary. It has a proud history, having served as a forward operating base for Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, something that I know will be close to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). The airport has developed more peaceful uses over the years and now specialises as a repair and maintenance centre for aircraft, which accounts for more than 80 per cent. of the airport's turnover.

Southend airport's owners, Regional Airports Ltd., and the airport director, Roger Campbell, have done a good job of turning the airport round financially in the last few years, and I pay tribute to them for that. Southend operates a small number of passenger flights, domestically and to the continent, but that may be curtailed in future by new Civil Aviation Authority regulations governing safety zones at the end of runways. Southend's runway has a medieval grade I listed church—St Laurence's—at one end.

To put it mildly, that is a complicated situation, but to cut a long story short, the airport operators applied for planning permission to pick up the church and relocate it several hundred metres away, in order to try and comply with the new regulations. The airport owners insist that the technology is available to do that. However, the idea has not proved popular with the local population and the planning application was resoundingly turned down by Southend council. After careful consideration, the airport operators have subsequently decided not to appeal against that decision, which is a welcome development. However, it raises the question of where we go from here.

Given Southend airport's relative proximity to Stansted, I cannot see it ever becoming a major passenger hub. Realistically, the bulk of the airport's future business is likely to remain in the repair and refurbishment of aircraft, which is already its core business. However I hope that it may be possible to achieve some compromise that does not involve relocating the church, but would allow passenger flights to continue from Southend. One option, which I suggest directly to the Minister, might be to utilise passenger aircraft such as the BAe HS146—the so-called whispering jet—and the later generation RJ series of aircraft. Those aircraft are already used at London City airport, because they can operate from a short runway and they also have the added advantage of being relatively quiet. If the CAA can interpret the new regulations sensibly and without risking safety, then RJ series aircraft might be able to provide passenger services from Southend without the need to relocate St. Laurence's church. That would be a classic British compromise and I hope that it may yet come to pass.

The Government's proposal for a second runway at Stansted, theoretically available from 2012/2013, would increase the airports capacity from 20 million passengers per annum to 80 million—a gigantic fourfold increase. The White Paper is extremely prescriptive about the location of the second runway, some distance from the existing one. Consequently, the expanded airport would have a massive footprint, equivalent to the size of Heathrow or larger but deposited in the heart of rural Essex. Expanding the airport's footprint that way would cause severe environmental damage—which, even though my constituency lies south of the county rather than to the north—greatly concerns me. As my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) remarked, it is incumbent on all Members of Parliament for Essex constituencies to stand shoulder to shoulder on this issue.

If a second runway were to be developed at Stansted, Essex would lose a number of beautiful villages for ever and there would be severe consequences in terms of noise and pollution. The proposal is linked with plans for building a large volume of new housing in northwest Essex. Although we are not debating housing—Madam Deputy Speaker would rapidly call me to order if I attempted to do so—there is considerable anger in Essex at the scale of the new housebuilding proposals— which would eventually bring about the concreting-over of large swathes of countryside around Harlow and Saffron Walden. I commend our excellent parliamentary spokesman for Harlow, Robert Halfon, for speaking out strongly against the proposed over-development.

BAA estimates that the cost of expansion—including the new runway, additional terminal space, hard standing, fuel facilities and the panoply of buildings that go with airport growth on that scale—would be between £3 billion and £4 billion. The Government have repeatedly said that there will be no significant public subsidy, so the cost would have to be found from the private sector—chiefly by the BAA itself. However, as many so-called budget airlines use Stansted, they are unlikely ever to pay the higher landing charges that realistically would be, needed to recoup the massive cost of expansion. The major carriers, which might in theory be able to afford increased landing fees at Stansted, have made it plain that they wish to remain at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Moreover, the CAA is opposed to any BAA proposals to allow cross-subsidy from Heathrow or Gatwick to fund expansion at Stansted. The major airlines would understandably be angry if they had to pay even higher landing fees at Heathrow and Gatwick to fund Stansted's expansion for the benefit of their competitors. An article in The Daily Telegraph today, headlined "BAA may fight for cross.-subsidies", quotes Sir Roy McNulty, chairman of the CAA: It seems entirely reasonable that the working assumption should be that the CAA will continue to regulate BAA's designated airports on an individual—or standalone—basis, both up to 2008 and beyond. Already the proposals seem to be in financial trouble and the business case on which they are based is in danger of unravelling before a single tonne of concrete has been poured.

Partly because of the weakness of the financial case for the expansion, partly because the White Paper is so prescriptive about the second runway's location, and partly because of fears that as the two runways would be so far apart, at some point in the future there might be an attempt to add a third runway between them. Essex county council—supported by other local authorities—spearheaded an attempt to subject the matter to judicial review. I hope that the application will be successful and that, as a result, a second runway at Stansted will not be built.

Mr. Stringer

I basically agree with the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but does he agree with the Select Committee that a solution would be for the BAA to be broken up—so that the three airports would be freestanding commercial enterprises?

Mr. Francois

I will not comment specifically on the BAA's commercial future but leave that for others. My belief is that it is not feasible for the BAA as currently constituted to redevelop Stansted in the way proposed, for all the reasons that I have attempted to elucidate.

There is a way out. Stansted currently accommodates 20 million passengers per annum. Not long ago, permission was granted to increase that number to 25 million. The BAA is currently working on a proposal to increase the figure to 35 million passengers per annum. The maximum capacity of Stansted's existing single runway equates to 40 million passengers. Although there would have to be some expansion of the terminal and other supporting facilities, good design would make it possible to accommodate that number of passengers without the airport's current footprint. Capacity at Stansted could be doubled without building a second runway, so the people of Essex could play a part in helping to expand the overall capacity of UK airports.

I am not suggesting that people who live around Stansted airport would be overjoyed by an increase in passenger capacity from 20 million per annum to 40 million, as that would still present them with a number of challenges—but I believe they would find that preferable to the building of a second runway, with an increase in passenger numbers from 20 million to 80 million.

I accept that, as the Government have said repeatedly, doing nothing is not an option, but facilitating a growth in passenger numbers at Stansted from 20 million to 40 million using the existing runway would be far from doing nothing. It would involve the people of Essex paying an environmental price but not such a tremendous price that they would find it impossible to accept. The compromise solution would mitigate the environmental impact by allowing some economic development around Stansted—but not to an extent that would be unacceptable to people living in Essex and across the border in Hertfordshire.

I repeat: there is a way out. The people of Essex are not being NIMBYish in any way. I hope that the Minister will take my suggested solution on board, so that expansion can occur at Stansted with one runway— without despoiling the Essex countryside in such an awful way.

2.58 pm
Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). He and I have spent many Thursday afternoons in each other's company. It is nice to continue our association, even though the Higher Education Bill has finished its time in Standing Committee.

I want to praise the Transport Committee, of which I am not a member, for its report—which provides a comprehensive analysis of the challenges facing the Government in addressing the future of aviation. I congratulate the Government on their White Paper, which is a brave undertaking. It offers a strategy and framework for addressing aviation's future that was previously sadly lacking. The Transport Committee was entirely right to ask the Government to present a strategic view of managing growth in aviation, to think long term, to avoid piecemeal development, to make the best use of existing facilities, to assess existing airports on a case-by-case basis and to reject new airports on greenfield sites.

I was pleased that the Select Committee report referred approvingly to remarks made by the Secretary of State for Transport in 2002, in the run-up to publication of the White Paper. He said that people living near to possible airport development or existing airports want to know where they stand…and do not want to be in a position where their uncertainty is prolonged any longer than necessary". On behalf of my constituents, I wholly endorsed that sentiment, so when the consultation process started, my constituents reacted with some consternation to the inclusion of an option to build a new airport on a greenfield site near Rugby. The effect of that suggestion was to produce blight and much worry and uncertainty, which lasted for about 18 months. The proposal was opposed vigorously by everyone in the local area. There was thus a sizeable measure of relief for my constituents and those in surrounding constituencies when the White Paper declared that the option would not be pursued and that the Select Committee's recommendation to avoid greenfield sites would be accepted.

That experience confirmed exactly the Select Committee's forecast: Identifying sites where development is possible in the next 30 years may be unpopular in the short term but it will remove blight and uncertainty for many areas. The House might thus have expected that my constituents and I would be rejoicing at the removal of that blight and uncertainty. We are not. The climate of concern that prevailed during contemplation of an airport at Rugby has returned in full measure. All the doubts and worries about the long-term strategy, which were supposed to be dispelled by the White Paper, are back in force for many of my constituents, thanks to the activities of Coventry airport.

On the very day the White Paper was published, Coventry airport announced the launch of a budget airline operation. It was claimed that the announcement was coincidental, but some of us doubt that. In a debate in January, I had the chance to raise with the Minister the concerns of my constituents about the airport, so I do not need to rehearse all of them now. However, I point out to my hon. Friend that we are but 20 days away from the commencement of the Thomsonfly operation at Coventry airport. It will use Boeing 737s and there will be 150 flights a week, on a schedule that includes night flights.

There is a range of concerns, including noise, the increase in the number of night flights and conflict over airspace, due to increased activity at both Coventry and Birmingham airports. I have already reminded the Minister that the runways at those airports are at right angles. Surface connections with Coventry airport are poor and there is already road congestion around the airport. There is a considerable lack of facilities at the airport to cope with the passenger movement that is envisaged; for example, there is no car parking. The issue that continues to vex us is whether that development is necessary at all, given that Birmingham airport is only 13 miles away in one direction and East Midlands airport is only 30 miles away in the other.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)

My hon. Friend refers to East Midlands airport, which is in North-West Leicestershire. Would he be surprised to learn that at regional airports frameworks for environmental controls over night flights barely exist? A rapidly growing airport such as East Midlands, with 5 million passengers—albeit mostly during the day—has no such framework. Does my hon. Friend support the national pressure for an environmental framework for regional airports with equivalent designation to that for the London airports in terms of CAA control?

Mr. Plaskitt

My hon. Friend is right and I am grateful for that contribution. He puts his finger on one of the issues that causes my constituents grave concern—the problem of trying to ensure that there is any control over what is happening at Coventry airport. I shall come to that point later in my contribution.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con)

The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) has lighted on an important point for those of us representing Leicestershire constituencies. However, I hope that the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) will remember that Leicestershire Members were instrumental in assisting those in Warwickshire to resist the worst effects of the expansion of that county's Rugby airport. I trust that we can rely on his assistance as we try to mitigate the worst effects of the expansion at East Midlands airport, especially of cargo night flights.

Mr. Plaskitt

I am inclined to answer "Only one miracle at a time", and not to intrude in another debate that will, I suspect, take place shortly.

When the new service was proposed, Coventry airport submitted a planning application to build a new terminal and appropriate car parking facilities, but as the Minister knows, the airport intends to get the service under way before any of those developments are in place. Things are even worse than that. Although the planning application had still to be determined, the owners extended the runway and erected a new terminal building, both of which are outside their permitted development rights.

When I discussed the matter with the Minister previously, he rightly pointed out that it was up to Warwick district council, as the local planning authority, to determine the application in the first place. However, since our debate, a major development has changed the situation. Back in January, the then airport owner, Air Atlantique—losing a large amount of money—did a deal with Thomsonfly to offer a cheap platform for its budget airline operation. However, Air Atlantique was unable to deliver its side of the deal; it appears to have suggested to Thomsonfly that it could run roughshod over planning constraints, but is now finding that it cannot do so.

Last month, in only a few hours, Thomsonfly purchased the airport, so the airport operator and the airline are now the same entity. The planning application is still in place, but determination is repeatedly deferred owing to the complexities involved. The unauthorised development on the site is being reversed and a new environmental impact assessment is being drawn up. However, the intention of the new owner, backed by plenty of cash, is entirely clear. The new owner is the TUI group, which also owns Lunn Poly, Britannia Airways and other commercial operations. The company has an annual turnover of €15 billion and it made a profit of €500 million last year—a very different proposition from the previous owner.

Representatives of the group visited the House yesterday to meet me and Members representing adjacent constituencies. The new managing director of Coventry airport is Bill Savage. There is a slight irony in his arrival on the scene as the new promoter of the scheme, because he worked with the Government on the consultation paper and helped them to assess the responses to the consultation process.

The new owner clearly has it in mind to build activity at the airport up to an operating level of 2 million passengers a year. The existing freight operation might be expanded, as might business usage. Taken together, the whole operation would be close to the scale of that at East Midlands airport at present, which would be a complete transformation in the historical nature of such a small rural airport. After all, the White Paper says that Coventry airport has a niche role catering for airfreight and flown mail". However, under the new owner, backed by that company's resources, the airport will go from a relatively placid rural airfield to a semi-East Midlands in only a few years.

The Select Committee said: Creeping development over the last two decades has increased uncertainty for people living near airports. It has led to uncoordinated, piecemeal development. The Committee said that such creeping development had to stop, and I understood that to be the purpose of the White Paper. Indeed, the White Paper claimed to provide greater certainty for all concerned in the planning of future capacity". I suggest that the Coventry airport development as envisaged would be contrary to the White Paper strategy. It has a seemingly unrestricted operational licence. It is not designated. Section 106 agreements can do little more than to ameliorate its impact. Therefore, at present all that stands between my constituents and a semi-East Midlands airport on their doorstep is the planning department of Warwick district council, which is understandably overwhelmed by the scale of the task and the growing level of public opposition. I expect that bigger forces will have to become involved at some point to help us resolve this matter.

In my area and region we recognise the pressure for more air travel throughout the midlands. The White Paper does, and it is absolutely right, but it sets out the strategy for dealing with it: expansion at Birmingham with the possible second runway in due course and some expansion at East Midlands airport. It does not envisage significant expansion at Coventry or indeed any other small airfield in the region.

The Select Committee report says that publication of the aviation White Paper will only be the beginning. When the decision not to proceed with the Rugby option was announced, my constituents felt that that was the end of our beginning. Now, with the Coventry proposals looming large, we feel as though we are facing the beginning of our end, unless it can be stopped. The question is "How?" The airport has an unrestricted operating licence. Its ownership can change hands within a few hours, and completely in private. It seems able to launch a budget airline operation with no consultation whatsoever. Indeed, the first that I or any of my constituents knew about it was seeing advertisements on our regional television.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) urged us not to use the word "sustainable", but I would say to my hon. Friend the Minister that these circumstances are not sustainable, and they are not compatible with the planned growth of air travel.

I am grateful for this opportunity to put my concerns to my hon. Friend again. I urge him to take note of what is happening at Coventry, to assist us and to assess what is going on in the context of the aviation White Paper.

3.12 pm
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD)

The islands and other remote communities on the west coast of Scotland have suffered population decline for centuries. In order to reverse that decline, we need to increase the frequency of transport and cut costs, in order to improve economic activity and public services in the area. Clearly, aviation has a central role to play, since getting to an island means either using aviation or taking the very slow ferry journey.

That is why I want to use the opportunity of this debate to speak in favour of proposals by HITRANS—the Highlands and Islands Strategic Transport Partnership—to create a network of frequent and affordable integrated air services throughout the highlands and islands and to other destinations, such as Glasgow and Edinburgh. The proposals would also mean improvements in the infrastructure of airports in the islands and new construction work to provide, for the first time, scheduled air services to Oban and from Oban to the small islands of Coll and Colonsay. The market alone cannot build up and sustain such a network. Clearly, Government financial support is required. The scheme already has strong support from local government throughout the highlands and islands, and HITRANS will submit its proposals to the Scottish Executive.

I have high hopes that the Scottish Executive will support the proposals, but, because they will require public service obligations to be put on the routes, they also need the support of the UK Department for Transport. That is because the decision to apply to the European Union for permission to impose PSOs on routes is a reserved power, vested in the Department for Transport. I hope that the Government here will support this exciting new initiative. I stress that it will not cost them a penny; all the costs will be met by the Scottish Executive and local councils, but Government support is necessary when the proposals are submitted to Europe.

The use of PSOs to secure regional air services at affordable fares is commonplace throughout the rest of Europe. France, Spain, Portugal and Norway use them for that purpose. Given that the highlands and islands is the most sparsely populated area of Europe, surely we can do the same here. I believe that the scheme will do a great deal to regenerate the economy of the highlands and islands and reverse centuries of population decline.

Given this exciting new proposal and the need to reduce costs, it is very depressing that exactly the opposite will happen on 1 April, when air fares to the small island airports and to Campbeltown, on the Kintyre peninsula, will go up. Return fares will rise by almost £20 from Glasgow to Tiree and by almost £12 from Glasgow to Campbeltown.

The increase is to pay for security at those small airports. Government policy is that security costs must be met by the aviation industry itself. Clearly, though, if the industry then passes the costs on to the passenger, the increase on each ticket will be far higher at small airports than at large international airports. For each of the airports at Tiree, Campbeltown and Barra the annual cost of security is about £50,000. Until now Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd has absorbed the costs, mainly by putting them on to landing charges at its largest airport, Inverness, thus avoiding putting the costs on to the small airports. However, the big airlines that use Inverness—British Airways and easyJet—have complained about that, so HIAL is being forced to apply the costs to each individual airport, with the result that passengers using them are forced to pay the full cost of security there. The increasing costs will be disastrous for the economies of the island of Tiree and for the Kintyre peninsula, because £20 extra on a return ticket to Tiree and £12 extra on a return ticket to Campbeltown will put a tremendous extra burden on those airports and on the local economy.

I was pleased that the Minister told me on Tuesday, in answer to an oral question: We propose, however, to introduce a regime tailored for smaller and lighter aircraft and the airports from which they operate, commensurate with the nature of such operations and the risk that they pose. We shall consult the industry shortly."—[Official Report, 9 March 2004; Vol. 418, c. 1374.] That is a welcome step forward, but the matter is urgent. The economies of Tiree and Campbeltown will suffer if the higher costs are in place for long. I urge the Minister to ensure that the review goes forward urgently, and I hope that he can tell the House when he expects it to be completed.

Of course, it is vital that security be stringent and that nothing slip through the net at small airports. I am sure that the promised consultation and investigation will result in a less costly security regime, though one that is still stringent. However, I am concerned that even if there is a small reduction in security costs, passengers at the small airports will still be paying a very high cost for security, far higher than passengers at big airports will pay.

It is important to remember that baggage loaded at Tiree or Campbeltown can subsequently be loaded on to international flights at Glasgow airport, and the security of the whole network is therefore at stake. Accordingly, it is only fair that the cost of security should be spread across all air passengers, rather than the brunt being borne by those who enter the system at small airports. All passengers benefit from security at small airports, because of the baggage put on to onward flights.

My suggestion to the Government today is that the proceeds of air passenger duty should he used to pay for the cost of security at small airports. Only a minuscule amount of the proceeds would be required. Air passenger duty brings the Government £800 million a year, yet, as I have said, the cost of security at small airports is only £50,000. Since the whole airline system benefits from that security, my suggestion would be fair and greatly beneficial to small, remote communities. I hope that the Government will seriously consider it.

3.19 pm
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)

I shall be very brief, as we are short of time.

We were absolutely delighted by the Government's decision to permit the expansion of Luton airport. We have lobbied for that for a long time, and we think that that decision is very sensible. Luton airport could accommodate 30 million passengers in time, as opposed to 7 million now, with an extended runway and parallel taxiway and better access to the airport.

I want to emphasise that there are problems with access to the airport. The eastern corridor route is already planned and will be built, but I ask the Government to give serious consideration to pressing for the northern bypass route to be built right round from the A5, across the M1 and the A6, to the A505 and around to the airport. That would enable traffic to come from the north on all those routes direct to the airport, thus taking a lot of traffic off the southern M1 junction in particular.

Another aspect of Luton airport is that it could be developed as a kind of satellite to Heathrow, with a rail link. There is a possibility of an electrified rail link between Luton Airport Parkway station and Heathrow. An existing line goes off at Cricklewood, joining the midland to the western regions. All it needs is a little electrification to become a Luton-Heathrow flyer.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, to get the, best from all our airports, it would be a good idea to link Gatwick, Heathrow and Luton to ensure that we get the best capacity from the existing runways, thus moving aviation forward?

Mr. Hopkins

I agree entirely. Indeed, I support Gatwick second after Luton. We need a planned approach. We have had problems because of BAA's dominance, and the Government have resisted the pressure from BAA and produced a good solution, putting Luton first.

Luton airport can be developed quickly, easily and cheaply. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to press him not just to permit, but to urge the expansion of Luton airport as soon as possible. Such things cannot be done consecutively—we cannot just expand one airport, see how it goes and then look at the other options—but they could cascade, with Luton being the first. We could then take account of the possible downgrading of passenger forecasts for the future.

The forecasts may not be quite as large as we expect, although there will be substantial expansion. If Luton is expanded quickly, we could get some measure of how far we need to expand the other airports, while we are still in the planning stages. That is essentially what I want to say. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister, who has been so helpful, will urge, not just permit, the expansion of Luton. so it can expand very quickly in the near future.

3.23 pm
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con)

As a member of the Transport Committee, I know exactly what we are talking about when slots are being squeezed out, so I shall speak very briefly. I thought it a great privilege to be appointed to that Committee, until I found that it was a bit of a poisoned chalice because we were discussing aviation. Having Heathrow in my backyard and Northolt in my front garden, I found myself surrounded by people who were advocating doing all sorts of terrible things in my immediate vicinity. I tried very hard to listen to the evidence in an even manner, and it was very interesting.

The Minister, who has been very kind to all the groups around Heathrow and listened to what we have to say, has said that there will be a debate on the aviation White Paper. That will be the time for me to argue why Heathrow should not be developed. He probably knows a lot of the points that I will make, and I do not envy his position one bit.

It is a shame in a way that we have not been able to discuss in depth a lot of what is in the Select Committee report. Perhaps the Minister could consider consumer protection—the bonding of scheduled airlines—as it does not exist at the moment, the principle of fining off-track aircraft, which is still to be looked at, BAA ownership, which we discussed earlier, and air traffic control. All those matters are vital, but we unfortunately tend to get sidetracked, naturally, as they mean a great deal to our constituencies and us, into talking about individual airports and their needs. We have to face up the real problems. Although I would love to live in the never-never land of Peter Pan—the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden)—we have, unfortunately, to live in the real world and the fact is that people want to travel by air. I would love to restrict that in some way, but we cannot do so by taxation.

3.25 pm
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)

I welcome this debate and thank the Select Committee for producing its report. I compliment all hon. Members who have taken part for the high quality of their contributions.

I emphasise to the Minister what my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House said at business questions earlier: we look forward to an early debate on the aviation White Paper. If the Minister finds that he cannot answer some of the questions that have been asked today, we hope that we will hear the answers from him during the debate on the White Paper.

It is right to remind the House that we have recently celebrated the centenary of powered, sustained flight, and I congratulate the UK aviation industry on playing a major role in both civil and military aviation during that period. We believe that aviation is crucial to the UK's prosperity. We recognise that air travel is essential for business and economic success, and we appreciate that almost 180,000 people in the UK are directly employed by the industry. Moreover, well over 500,000 jobs depend on UK aviation, and much of our tourism depends on the availability of air travel. Many people in the more remote parts of the country, which we have heard about in the debate, require air services for essential journeys. I therefore applaud the industry for competing successfully in a deregulated market in recent years and opening up air travel to all through lower fares.

The Committee's report is welcome and poses many pertinent questions for those developing our aviation policy. As the Committee reminds us, the UK is the second largest aviation market, after the United States. If that position of strength is not to be threatened, we need to ensure that we make the right decisions.

A number of hon. Members have rightly referred to the environment, and emissions trading is possibly the way forward. The airline industry has accepted the need to look at the environmental costs involved in flying. As the Committee's report makes clear, emissions trading has the support of a number of environmental groups and the Government's technical advisors. Emissions trading would allow airlines to buy and sell permits to a capped quantity of greenhouse emissions, and the Government should certainly continue to pursue the development of such a system. Indeed, with the UK's upcoming European Union presidency, this would seem an opportune time for the Government to push for EU-wide support in that respect, and I hope that the Minister will grasp that opportunity.

I disagree completely with the comments made about taxation by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden). In our view, a system of taxes and fines introduced unilaterally in Britain without international agreement would be catastrophic for the industry and one of the worst examples of gesture politics that I can think of, so I hope that the Minister will join me in dismissing that possibility. The Conservative party agrees with the Transport Committee that a fuel tax on aviation could be imposed only internationally, and the likelihood of that happening is extremely remote at present, and it looks as though it will remain remote for the foreseeable future.

The report highlights the importance of striving for better air transport management. As I said in an intervention, it should not he assumed that doing nothing is the answer. As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, a shortage of capacity can in itself harm the environment. The pollution costs of aircraft having to wait in stacks or on airport aprons must be taken into account. The Government must constantly ensure that existing capacity is used efficiently.

We should appreciate that the airline industry, like the motor industry, has made use of developments in new technology to improve efficiency. I understand that the fuel efficiency of aircraft doubled between the 1960s and the 1980s. That trend must continue. There must always be incentives to encourage investment in research and in new aircraft design to help new technology to bring about savings and more environmentally friendly aircraft.

The White Paper accepts that noise from aircraft operations, particularly at night, is widely regarded as one of the least acceptable aspects of those operations, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Gamier) is concerned about that. The Government say that their aim is to reduce the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise, but that any night restrictions must be considered in accordance with a balanced approach. A commitment has been made to introduce new legislation to clarify and strengthen noise controls powers, and I hope that the Minister will say something about the time scale that he envisages.

The report questions the reliability of air quality assessments at Heathrow and other sites. The current assessments may not be sufficiently sound to enable the Government to make crucial decisions about future expansion plans.

Mr. Randall

I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that the comments of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) about the environmental reasons at Heathrow being dubious were in themselves extremely dubious.

Mr. Knight

I agree. The hon. Gentleman should buy a house near Heathrow, and see whether he still takes the same view after living there for a year. We need to take such issues seriously, and the Government time scale may be a little over-ambitious. It assumes full implementation of a tough package of measures to improve air quality, and the Government also talk about road charging. I am not sure that they will achieve that.

Before consideration is given to constructing new airports, it is surely common sense to concentrate on making better use of existing facilities. It is a matter of great concern to a number of us that the number of slots at Heathrow and Gatwick allocated to regional routes has been drastically reduced, a problem was mentioned by the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Liverpool. Riverside (Mrs. Ellman). In the past few years, regional services have certainly been curtailed from various regional airports, including Plymouth, Norwich and my local airport, Humberside. I find that distressing, because services were economically viable, but were dropped because of capacity constraints. Scarcity of slots at the major airports has led to more profitable routes pushing them out. We cannot allow that to continue unchecked, and I would like to know what the Minister is doing about it. Is he having discussions with the industry to see whether progress can be made, either without recourse to using the law or ahead of any use of the law?

The Select Committee report questions the entire structure of the industry, and the Committee was highly critical of the position taken by BAA, which strongly denies all arguments of that kind, although some would say, "It would, wouldn't it?" It stresses the high levels of investment that it brings to the industry, but it is right that there should not be an automatic assumption that BAA, in its present form, is the correct arrangement for all time. I can see why many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that there is a case for a constructive review.

There are many other things that I would like to say, but I shall have to leave some of them to another occasion because of the shortage of time. However, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) made important comments about security. It is obviously crucial that all airports, large and small alike, maintain and combine high security with efficient procedures to reduce delays. We will support anything that the Government seek to do on that. The need to keep an eye on security has been brought home to us by the tragedy that has occurred today as the result of an act of terrorism.

I would like to ask the Minister some questions before I conclude. What judicial reviews have been notified to the Government about airport expansion plans since the White Paper was published? Are any discussions taking place between the Government and the bodies involved? Does the Minister accept that demand for slots at Heathrow and Gatwick has exceeded supply for the last four years and that, under his proposals, there will be a wait of another 10 years before anything is done to alleviate the shortage? Does he accept that the loss of access from the regions that I have mentioned could have a damaging effect on the UK economy if speedy action is not taken?

In some ways, air travel has provided a refreshing contrast to the growing problems that have beset surface transport, largely because it has the freedom to respond to increases in consumer demand that Government direction or inaction has denied elsewhere. The air travel industry has shown the fastest growth of any type of travel in recent years, with dramatic reductions in fares and charges. Those improvements have been the direct result of the increased competition made possible by liberalisation of the European air market.

Whatever the Minister says when he addresses the House, I am sure that we all wish the industry well in facing the challenge; that need to be addressed as it goes towards its second centenary.

3.37 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport(Mr. Tony McNulty)

It will be nigh on impossible to address all the serious issues raised by all hon. Friends and most honourable colleagues in the 10 or so minutes that I have to speak. However, I shall do my best to do justice to many of their comments.

As I think the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said, I would welcome a full day's debate on the White Paper. There are several reasons why it has not yet been held. The House may be assured that I am at the front of the queue of those exhorting the business managers—of whom I was once one—to hold such a debate.

I welcome the Committee's report. Although it predated the White Paper by some months, many of the issues in it are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, as germane today as they were when it came out. In fact, they are even more germane after the White Paper.

As others have said, the White Paper starts from the premise that the best starting point is the greater utilisation of existing capacity. That must be the right and logical place to start. We will work from there to see where we need to go beyond that. I am heartened by the response to the White Paper, which sets out the framework for the next 25 or 30 years. I agree about the importance of aviation not just to our economy and to regional development, but, in the broadest terms, to the whole country and not just to the south-east.

Although the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) is not in his place, I shall say in passing—I did not want to forget this—that the White Paper recognises the importance of the smaller sectors of aviation, such as business aviation. I was going to tell the hon. Gentleman that I was grateful to him. I have lost count of how many times I have read the stuff, but this is the first time I have noticed a mistake in it. He exhorted us to remember the importance of Farnborough to business aviation, but paragraph 11.101 on page 132 states that we recognise that there is additional capacity to cater for business aviation demand: Farnborough, Biggin Hill, Blackbushe, Fairoaks, Farnborough, Northolt and Southend. To paraphrase the song, Farnborough is so good they named it twice.

Much of what my hon.. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich said about the aspects of where, who and who pays is important, and it is addressed in the White Paper, as is the importance of regional airports and of route development, which many hon. Members mentioned. We can consider how that could be based on the Scottish model, with public service obligations, and how it fits within the European context. The interconnectivity—another fashionable word that we probably should not use—of all our regions with the economic hub of London is terribly important and is also recognised in the White Paper. I was not sure about what my hon. Friend said about coming out fighting, saying which airports will expand and balancing that with protecting regions' interests. Perhaps I shall discuss that with her later because I think that we have probably done that. She rightly said that there would be no major development in the next five years. The new runways and additional capacity identified in the White Paper will certainly not happen within five years—a time scale of 10 years has been indicated. However, to pursue the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), that does not mean that existing capacity cannot be optimised in a shorter time, so I wish Luton airport well in that regard, as I have before.

It is unusual in such an important debate for two Liberal Democrats to express about four different views. I take seriously the point raised by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid)—as I did in Question Time on Tuesday—on the connection of what is such a peripheral region with the rest of Scotland, let alone the rest of the United Kingdom. We tried to address such points in the White Paper. Both the Scottish Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport are speaking to HITRANS and others involved with the highlands and islands.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about security at smaller airports seriously. To be perfectly honest, I do not have on me the details of the time frame for the consultation that has just started, but I shall write to him about that. We are considering tailoring a package for smaller aircraft that use smaller airports to take account of some of the cost aspects that he mentioned. Security must be absolutely paramount, in the first instance, but there must be scope for tailoring the package to the size of the airport and the planes that utilise it. That is an entirely fair point and I shall write to him about it.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's point that someone other than the aviation industry should pay for security. I also disagree with a further point that he blithely put. He suggested that given that there is cross-integration among security measures, we should use air passenger duty to pay for them. However, not two weeks ago, on 1 March, the hon. Gentleman's leader—if I may use that phrase—said that the Liberal Democrats would abolish air passenger duty. The hon. Gentleman would spend it on his local airport, but his colleague, whose constituency is not a million miles away from his in the north of Scotland, would abolish it. That does not really make sense. When the White Paper was published on 16 December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that it was apparent—this is certainly true of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden)—that "Liberals are in favour of air travel but not airports."—[Official Report, 16 December 2003; Vol. 415, c. 1441.]

Mr. Paul Marsden

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty

I shall not, given the time constraints.

The environment is a serious matter. The environment is taken seriously throughout the White Paper and the balance between the environment and the growth of aviation is mentioned constantly and clearly throughout it. However, the way in which the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham developed his case was so flawed, simplistic and empty-headed in all regards that it is not worth debating at all. [Interruption.] Well, here is the real nub of it. The hon. Gentleman cited serious organisations that we hold in high regard and with which we work closely, but he misquoted them. He then made simplistic extrapolations from their cases in such a fundamentally flawed way as to harm and undermine the environmentalist case. He made probably the weakest and most flawed contribution to the debate, which is a shame because the debate was otherwise useful.

I did not agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) said—I am sorry about the other night's Porto result, but that is by the by. There is a goal called sustainable aviation towards which we can work. We must mitigate impact, even though that cannot be totally absent, but the goal is worth pursuing. I agree about the need to open up skies more readily for some of our regional airports—that is clearly set out in the White Paper—and I shall happily meet him to talk about Pakistan International Airlines, fifth freedoms, Manchester airport and everything else. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) bewails the EU—well, the EU full stop. I was sorry that he bewailed the EU air service agreements. We are moving toward a stage at which there will be a massive break up of the national carriers—a national carrier is the model of the past. I do not agree with what he said about sovereignty. Given that there are now trans-national and trans-European families of airlines rather than individual families, it must be right to move towards EU designation while retaining the bilaterals until that comes into play. I accept the points that the hon. Gentleman made in his constituency capacity. The hon. Member for Uxbridge also made such points. As he kindly said, there is an ongoing ménage à quatre —me and the "Three Johns from Hillingdon"—in which we discuss Heathrow at length.

The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) made some interesting points about Southend airport. Happily, or otherwise, I was on top of Southend town hall the other week to have a look at Southend airport, among other things. I know that Freddie Laker ran flights from the airport to the Channel Islands back in the 1960s. I flew on one of the last Laker flights to America, but then the company went bust, so I could not fly back by Laker—that is by the by. His point about the further development of maintenance and other refurbishment facilities, which are the strength of Southend, was well made.

The hon. Gentle man asked me to comment on judicial review—that also goes back to what the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) said. He asked whether we had spoken to anyone and how many reviews were ongoing. With the greatest of respect, I will not go there in any way, shape or form. People are fully entitled to put forward cases for review. They need to be taken seriously, but I say "No comment", and move on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) has already made good points about Coventry airport that need pursuing. In the first instance, the points are matters for the planning authority, but if we need to discuss the situation further with him and other hon. Members, we will. Before the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Gamier) starts flapping about, I am still happy to meet him and my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) to talk about East Midlands airport and the way forward on capacity and a new voluntary local network, and the options for full designation such as that of the airports in London and the south-east.

Mr. Garnier


Mr. McNulty

I will not give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman; I said that to obviate giving way to him at all.

David Taylor

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty

I will not, with the greatest of respect, but having said that, I will—briefly—because I will then sit down.

David Taylor

When the Secretary of State for Transport launched the White Paper several months ago, he used the phrase stringent noise and environmental controls on several occasions in the context of growth at regional airports. Is the Minister now able to tell us what shape those stringent controls will take? Will they be based on a national framework, or will they emerge from the fog of some Dutch auction with airports and planning authorities underbidding each other to ensure that the greatest growth takes place in their areas?

Mr. McNulty

It is very rare that I regret giving way to a colleague, but I do on this occasion, as my hon. Friend's question was far too long. It is a question of balance—we must consider whether we are satisfied with voluntary noise restrictions at East Midlands airport, whether we are happy with arrangements if it expands and whether we need to legislate for noise within a national framework, as has been suggested. Those are all in the mix, but it is only two or three months since the first real White Paper—other documents have been called White Papers, but they are not—which strives to achieve a balance between the interests of business, the community, the aviation sector and, crucially, the environment, and goes far beyond the Mickey Mouse suggestions of the Liberal Democrats. We want a substantive package at national, European and international levels so that, contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley said, the goal of sustainable aviation over the next three years is achievable and the country can go forward with a proud aviation record. "Debate concluded, pursuant to Resolution [3 March].

Question deferred, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(4) and (5) and Order [29 October 2002], until 6 pm.

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