HC Deb 01 July 2003 vol 408 cc33-56WH

2 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton)

I make a plea from the Chair, as it appears that a large number of Members want to participate in the debate. If each and every Member is disciplined in their comments and as succinct as possible, I hope to get all of them in to speak in this debate, which is clearly very important to the constituencies in the area.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise this afternoon the important issue of airport development in the midlands. First, I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) to his new position as Under-Secretary of State for Transport. One has to crawl to the boss. I am sure that, given the importance that Members of Parliament attach to transport, he will be a familiar sight in this Chamber during the coming weeks and months. I note that my debate is one of four during the next few days to which he and his ministerial colleagues will respond. I wish him all the very best.

I pay tribute to Warwickshire county council, other organisations and my constituents for working with me to promote the interests of Rugby, Warwickshire and the midlands as a whole. I thank my parliamentary colleagues across the whole of the midlands for their welcome support. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) has had to attend an important meeting in his constituency today. He wishes us all the best and gives us his full support this afternoon. I see that representatives of Warwickshire county council are present, too. The fact that the council has sent a cross-party delegation to London this afternoon on the day of its full council meeting is a clear indication of the importance that it attaches to airport development, which is felt across the whole of Warwickshire.

As many hon. Members know, yesterday was the closing date for comments on the Government's consultation exercise on the future of air transport, so this debate is timely and relevant. The Government first launched the consultation in July last year and published a series of detailed consultation documents containing a wealth of information, the accuracy of which has generated considerable debate in the communities affected. I am sure that those concerns have been brought to the Minister's attention throughout the exercise.

I shall not dwell on the fact that the consultation arrangements have been the subject of more than a little controversy. Furthermore, the extension of the closing date for comments has served to prolong the distressing effect of the proposals on the midlands. Suffice it to say that the consultation has prompted a huge amount of interest, and I speak from the experience of having a postbag that has been overflowing throughout the past 11 months. I understand that the Minister, even in the very short time for which he has been in his current post, has felt the effect of the volume of correspondence that the consultation has generated against the option of the airport in the midlands. I have also followed with interest the inquiry carried out by the Select Committee on Transport under the excellent chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). However, I hope that we can today concentrate on issues that affect the midlands.

I read the Government's consultation document relating to the midlands with great care and interest. It rightly acknowledges the contributions made by the aviation sector to the economy and general prosperity of the United Kingdom. Birmingham International Airport is the very cornerstone of development of air services for the West Midlands". Those are not my words, but those of the Birmingham chamber of commerce and industry in its response to the consultation exercise. I am convinced that with sensible and sensitive expansion, Birmingham airport would be fully able to cope with the projected demand—and, importantly, in a way that is consistent with other economic and planning objectives.

East Midlands airport's existing and continuing role as a freight airport is important.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the sensitive way in which he has handled the potential impact of Birmingham airport on my constituents. May I say to him in a spirit of reciprocal good will that the people whom I am representing do not want an airport in his constituency in Warwickshire either? We support him and his constituents; in the vernacular, we are not dumping on them.

Andy King

I fully appreciate that support, which has been apparent throughout this painful time.

These two important airports form the basis of a sensible and sustainable strategy for aviation in the midlands and for the United Kingdom economy as a whole.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough)

East Midlands airport is in the constituency next door to mine, and the planes continually fly over my house. Is my hon. Friend aware of the specific problem with night flights? There are currently no restrictions on the number of night flights, and although we accept that there has been growth at East Midlands airport, that point must be borne in mind when the Minister develops the plans.

Andy King

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. The issue is, of course, also of great concern to my constituents, who are close to a freight airport in Coventry. There is the potential threat of ever-increasing night flights. The threat is real and we fully understand it. I hope that the Minister bears it in mind and will work with the industry and Parliament to resolve these concerns for all the communities across the United Kingdom affected by freight.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

You are no stranger to matters Warwickshire, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you served on Warwickshire county council for a number of years. I congratulate my hon. Friend on not only securing today's debate but on speaking to many people in the Rugby area about the proposed airport, which would affect my constituency. I say to the Minister that the proposed airport would affect every midlands MP because it would drastically affect East Midlands and Birmingham international airports. Not only those airports—I hope that my hon. Friend touches on this later in his speech—but the surrounding infrastructure would be affected.

Andy King

I fully appreciate the comments made by my hon. Friend, with whom I have relentlessly discussed these matters. I will touch on the issues that he raised later in my speech.

It makes much more sense from a sustainable development point of view to meet the demand for air travel in the regions, where it arises, instead of exporting it elsewhere. Currently, around 50 per cent. of passengers who live in the midlands travel outside the region to catch a flight. The midlands must have sufficient capacity in its own right. It was therefore with some astonishment that I realised the full impact of what the Government are saying in the consultation document, which is that if a new airport was built at Rugby, Birmingham international airport would close.

I appreciate that the consultation has just ended and that the many thousands of representations must be analysed and assessed, but I should be interested to know how many representations the Minister and his Department have received about Rugby, and how many of those supported building an international airport there.

It would not have taken him very long to count those letters and consultation forms.

I am conscious that the consultation has only just closed, but I wonder whether the Minister could clarify some important issues in his closing remarks. Would he tell us how the closure of an existing, successful international airport could be a solution to aviation requirements for the future of the midlands? It strikes me as somewhat bizarre to go to all the trouble of a lengthy planning exercise, followed by the disruption and cost of building a new airport just a few miles down the road from an established, successful international airport.

Once the new airport is built, there will be further uncertainty. There will be disruption and blight as the existing airport is demolished, terminals and hangars dismantled and runways dug up. That will leave a vast tract of land that will take many years to redevelop, leading to further uncertainty and blight during the lengthy planning process. Does that make any sense for the economy of the midlands, or for the local people?

Another aspect that puzzles me is that the Government seem to suggest seriously the closure of one airport in favour of a brand new one. The only other new airport proposed in the consultation is at Cliffe, but there is no suggestion that the development there would mean the closure of London City airport, for example.

Perhaps of more immediate concern is the effect that the consultation and the uncertainty have had on the area close to the proposed development sites. That is an all-too-common theme in a large proportion of the very well-informed representations of my constituents, and those in the surrounding area. Representations have been made to the Secretary of State from the Strategic Airport Co-ordinating Group, the Church Lawford and King's Newnham Action Group and, of course, Warwickshire county council, which have all played a major role in engaging the community in this important debate.

It goes without saying that no one wants any development in his or her back yard. We can all recognise the anguish felt when changes are proposed that might adversely affect our quality of life. The people of Rugby and Warwickshire have the greatest sympathy for those living near Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick who are very concerned indeed that any additional runways or further development could have a detrimental effect on their local environment. I know that the Minister—and indeed the Secretary of State—is acutely aware of the need to ensure that such impacts are treated with care and sensitivity, and that decisions are taken to minimise the disruption in people's daily lives.

It is important to stress that none of my constituents chose to live near an international airport, and until last summer no one was aware that there was any prospect of there ever being one. The threat of other infrastructure developments—those that come to mind immediately are the M25, the channel tunnel and some trunk road developments in London was on the cards for decades before they came to fruition, and the effects of the uncertainty on the local areas were manifested in low property prices, run-down neighbourhoods, poor residential facilities and a lack of investment in the area. I would contend that there is not a single town in this country that has not been the subject of decades of blight, in one form or another, and where there is a proposed development, the effect of that blight is all too apparent.

We must not overlook the effect of the economic blight that would be caused by the closure of Birmingham international airport. I am sure that that point is not lost on the Minister, bearing in mind his planning responsibilities during his time at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. To develop an airport at Rugby would fundamentally shift the centre of economic gravity in the west midlands. The continuing uncertainty around the future of Birmingham international airport could put businesses off locating or investing in the area, thereby hindering much-needed regeneration for deprived areas.

Despite some of its social difficulties, Birmingham has come a long way forward in recent years, but that hard work would be in vain if business goes elsewhere. There is also the question of the regional planning guidance, which would need to be ripped up and started again if the development at Rugby were to go ahead.

I would also gently suggest to the Minister that the international reputation and image of Birmingham—Britain's second city—stands to be irrevocably damaged by the prospect of its international airport being closed down. I believe that it would be the cause of great embarrassment were this Government to embark on such a bizarre enterprise. I do not know of any other second city in the developed world that does not have its own international airport, or has had that airport closed. I understand that today, as we speak, Mr. Michael Cashman, a West Midlands Member of the European Parliament, is raising that very issue there.

One vital aspect of the equation, which I have not yet mentioned, is cost. The Government have said that any future airport development would have to be undertaken by the private sector. According to the consultation document for the midlands, the cost of building a new airport at Rugby would be around £7 billion. I repeat: £7 billion. The expansion of Birmingham international, on the other hand, would cost approximately £1.8 billion. Given the difficulty that the Government have in delivering major transport infrastructure projects on time and to budget, is the private sector really likely to want to stump up £7 billion—and no doubt several billion more on top of that—for a brand new airport that no one wants?

The whole of the midlands, from the regional development agency and the regional assembly all the way down to the smallest parish council, has made clear its view.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

To that long list of objectors to the proposal for Rugby airport, I think that my hon. Friend could add the west midlands group of Labour MPs, 42 in number, which took an unprecedented step in voting unanimously to recommend to the Minister that the idea of a new airport at Rugby be dropped from any consideration and from further Government thinking.

Andy King

I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of that important debate that the group had.

The midlands has made clear its view that the long-term economic and environmental well-being of the midlands and the United Kingdom as a whole is best served by the retention of Birmingham and East Midlands airports. Wiser and better use of existing airports, together with the development of regional airports, is the only sensible way forward. The proposal for a new Rugby airport and the associated closure of Birmingham international airport is an option that shows signs of having been designed to provide an escape route for a projected growth in demand in the south-east. I hope that I am wrong, and that the Government will not use the midlands as a solution to the problems of the south-east. Decisions in the south-east will be hard, there is no getting away from that, but for the sake of the UK's standing in the global economy, it is imperative that those decisions are taken, and quickly.

I look forward to the forthcoming White Paper, which I hope the Minister can confirm is to be published before the end of this year. Before then, I hope that the Government will be able to bring some closure to the concerns of the midlands, rule out an airport at Rugby and retain Birmingham international airport. Making an early decision to rule out Rugby at this stage would not be unprecedented.

The Minister might not admit it, but I think that it is clear that the Government have all but ruled out an airport at Cliffe on safety grounds, because of the potential seriousness of bird strike. We in the midlands, too, have a significant problem with bird strike. At the end of the site of the proposed runways for Rugby airport is a large reservoir where, each winter, 40,000 black-headed gulls roost. The situation is equally dangerous as that at Cliffe, so why has bird strike at Rugby not had an equally full, detailed examination? I do not expect the Minister to be in a position to give me this assurance this afternoon, but the development of a major new international airport, which the Government's consultation shows has no support whatever, must be a dead duck.

Having got that off my chest, I will give other hon. Members a chance to speak. I very much appreciate the tremendous attendance in this debate. The Minister and his officials have a considerable amount of work to do before the White Paper is produced, and I do not envy them the task of wading through the responses to the consultation. However, I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify some of the points that have been raised this afternoon.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. I hope that this is the last time that I will need to get to my feet this afternoon. I usually encourage, or welcome, interventions in a debate, but I hope that those who wish to intervene are doing so because they do not wish to catch my eye and make a speech. If hon. Members keep their remarks to five minutes, everyone will be able to speak, and it will give Front-Bench spokesmen adequate time to reply.

2.20 pm
Mr. John Taylor (Solihull)

In view of your request that hon. Members speak for five minutes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not propose to take interventions. I hope that hon. Members will not take that badly.

When the Government issued their initial airport strategy consultation document in July last year, it was based on a presumption that they could suppress or contain civil aviation demand in the south-east of England—broadly, that meant at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Whether it is grown-up economics in a free market to try to suppress demand in one place and predict its consequences elsewhere is open to doubt, but that is what they did.

In the midlands regional consultation document, two consequential considerations were offered that were clearly barmy: a new international airport amid Warwickshire villages near Rugby, and the suggestion that Birmingham airport should close. An immense amount of money has recently been spent by the Highways Agency on the cloverleaf roadway connections between the A45 Birmingham-Coventry roadway and the Birmingham airport campus, and even greater sums have been spent on the overhead railway interconnector between Birmingham International railway station and Birmingham airport. Any consideration that that airport should close ought to result in someone going to prison or to a madhouse. I recall from my legal training that it was said that if a material witness, in this case the Government, can be so wrong or perverse about one thing, how can they be trusted with the rest?

I am unashamedly here to speak for the people of my constituency, especially those in the eastern part of it, in villages such as Catherine de Barnes. Visitors from outside the UK want to go to the south-east, to London, and that is the truth of the matter. My American friends who visit Britain want to arrive in London, although I realise that that is disobliging of them.

Since the Gatwick decision, the presumption of suppressed demand in the south-east is out of the window, and the Government's latest consultation on the south-east even admits the possibility of one more runway at Heathrow and two more at Gatwick.

The original premise on which the midlands consultation was based-namely, that demand in the south-east would have been suppressed—has gone. It will not have been suppressed. A second runway at Birmingham is wholly unnecessary; it will be ruinous to people in the east of my constituency, damaging to the environment and economically unnecessary.

Birmingham airport is a success story; it does not need to take overflow from the south-east, as it can make the most of its substantial facilities. It has been argued that the runway could be extended, and I would not stand in the way of that proposal, but I am an opponent of a second runway.

Last autumn, I flew from Birmingham to Chicago and back. Chicago is not on the eastern seaboard of America, but in the midwest. I flew there in a fully-laden plane, which used about half the length of the runway at Birmingham airport. Birmingham can make the most of what it has, within its existing perimeter, particularly now that there is no longer the presumption of suppressed demand in the south-east.

Meanwhile, there is a serious blight on people who are waiting to find out what will happen. The people in the east of Solihull have now waited a year, not knowing whether they can sell their properties. I urge the Minister to give us an answer as soon as he reasonably can, once the matter has been properly thought out. The property blight is something that people did not expect or want, and it is profoundly uncomfortable for them.

I am mistrustful of statistical linear extrapolation—taking a set of figures, such as that on the graph, and continuing the dotted line. In one of my public meetings, one of my constituents walked the length of the graph, extended the line up to the ceiling, and said, "If it goes on like this, there will be nobody left on the ground." That is the sort of bogus thinking behind the airport consultation.

2.25 pm
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) for securing the debate. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) will support me in some of what I am about to say.

Although we fully support, through the west midlands group, the opposition to the new airport at Rugby, one of the great fears of people in Coventry is that if the Rugby proposal fails, the fall-back position could be Coventry airport. If that were to happen, it would have the same effect on the area as that outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth: environmental impact, blight, traffic problems and noise pollution.

About eight or nine years ago, there was a serious air crash in the Willenhall area of my constituency. I remember the well-attended public meetings, and was struck by the impact that that event had on the community at the time and ever since. The flight path into Coventry airport is not very high above the houses, when observed from the main road. The noise is tremendous, and consequently there is noise pollution. Some years ago, I tabled a Bill in the House of Commons that would have dealt with the noise pollution and safety aspects in the area, but it was defeated.

There is a proposal for Coventry airport to process 1 million passengers a year. The owners say that they do not need to extend the runway, but they require a new terminal. I find it difficult to believe that the passenger numbers can be increased to 1 million a year without a runway extension, because that would be needed for the additional aircraft. To be fair to the owners, they conducted a number of public meetings in my constituency to present their proposals, which my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West and I attended.

There have been massive objections in Coventry to any further extension of Coventry airport, and great support for my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth in his objection to the proposal for Rugby airport. However, the owners of Coventry airport now say that if they do not get their way about the extension, they want to extend night flights. I hope that the Minister will take account of the threats that have been bandied about when the public in Coventry expressed their view on the development of Coventry airport.

I know that we are short of time, but I would like to reiterate my support for my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth. I hope that the Minister will take account of hon. Members' comments, because the issue is serious. In addition to the tremendous costs and social disruption that would occur if the Rugby proposals went ahead or Coventry were further developed, one of the nicest parts of Britain would be destroyed. If the proposals were to go ahead, it would be an act of vandalism. Frankly, it would be a disgrace to allow that. I hope that the Minister will take seriously what we have to say, and will reject any proposal affecting the midlands.

2.29 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) on initiating the debate, and associate myself entirely with what he said. He has my total support, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), who spoke movingly on behalf of his constituents.

I want to talk about another proposal, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth for making this a debate not just on Rugby, but on the west midlands and airport needs. I have been in the House for just over 33 years, and I have never had so much mail as I have had about the proposal to develop a major airport from the old Halfpenny Green second world war airfield. I have received more than 11,000 letters in the past nine weeks, and many more letters before we started counting. I have addressed meetings attended by hundreds of people. Indeed, the hon. Members for Ludlow (Matthew Green) and for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley)—for these purposes, I may call them my hon. Friends—and I addressed a meeting attended by some 800 people in one village in my constituency a few weeks ago.

There is an enormous upsurge of opposition to the proposal that the Halfpenny Green airfield, known and loved from the second world war, should be developed into a major international airport so that people can take cheap flights to the sun. It would destroy a glorious part of England. I will not enter into any competition with the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) about the glories of his part of the country, but if he comes to South Staffordshire and the Shropshire border, he will find another part of England at least as lovely. He will find a part of England served by country lanes, where there is nothing of the infrastructure that a great international airport needs. The acres of tarmac for car parks, the roads that would have to be widened and all the other facilities that would have to be created would do one thing: devastate and destroy for ever the lovely part of England that we have the honour to represent and that many people from throughout the west midlands come to enjoy at weekends.

That is why I already have the support not only of the two hon. Members whom I mentioned, but of my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Lull), and the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Sylvia Heal), for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) and for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson). That is to name only some who asked to be put on the list of supporters.

Ours is a great country, and it is right that any great country should have proper airport facilities. Those facilities should exist so that people can discharge their business duties and, yes, go on holiday, but not at the expense of the finite land that makes up our beautiful countryside. Although I understand what has been said about what my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull rightly called this barmy idea, I urge the Minister not necessarily to read each of the 11,000 letters that I have been sent and the other 11,000 letters sent to my hon. Friends and others, but at least to recognise the overwhelming strength of local feeling and opinion. I have received only six letters in favour of the proposal, compared with the 11,000-plus against.

I ask the Minister to come to see what the area is like—I would be delighted to provide him with a meal and, if necessary, a bed for the night. He should be able to understand what is making local people so agitated and annoyed, and whatever he does, he should not make a judgment without coming to visit. I suggest that if he looks at Halfpenny Green airfield, he will recognise immediately that no site in the United Kingdom is less suited to providing extra airport facilities for the new and remarkable city of Wolverhampton. I am delighted that two Wolverhampton Members are present, and that their town now has city status, but the airfield in question is not particularly near Wolverhampton and would not provide what is required.

Whatever else is needed in the west midlands, an airport on Halfpenny Green is not it.

Mr. Dennis Turner

I concur with what the hon. Gentleman said about letters of protest, because I have received many letters telling me that people in my constituency do not want that development.

If there is a case for any expansion or development on the west side of Wolverhampton, and accepting that Halfpenny Green is not the choice, is Cosford a possibility that we could jointly put to the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence to see whether that could be developed?

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am sorry to respond churlishly to such a seductive proposal, but my answer is no, I do not think so. Although Cosford might be preferable, neither site is suitable for a major international airport. When it achieved 1 million passengers, the process would continue inexorably. There was once a lovely little village called Elmdon, but there is now a great international airport there. Let it stay there and serve people as it does—

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

For the record, I would like my hon. Friend to include the residents of Hagley and Belbroughton, who share his strong opinions about the development of Halfpenny Green airport.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am delighted to do so. On that note, conscious of your admonition, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and being within the five minutes allowed, I conclude my comments.

2.36 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) on initiating this debate, and the Minister on his new appointment. I am pleased to see the councillors from Warwickshire and take this opportunity of assuring them that the desecration of that lovely central area of England with Church Lawford and other beautiful villages is as utterly unacceptable to us as to them. I say the same to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright). There is no case for it.

I can say categorically that in all my years in the House I have never come across a barmier proposal than that which would turn the whole area around Rugby into an airport. At the same time as doing that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth said, at a cost of £7.8 billion, Birmingham airport would be pulled down. Have those people lost their minds? Are they so careless of money that they do not know what they are doing? We have had report after report from enormously expensive consultants, but we are prepared to consider something to which no one in their right mind would give a moment's thought.

My hon. Friend the Minister may not have the figures to hand, but I would like to know—the information should be a matter of public record, but if it is I have missed it—exactly how many millions of pounds were spent on those stupid reports. They are serious and professionally compiled reports and show the enormous scale of the work that would be involved. The £7.8 billion plus another billion or so for the losses associated with pulling down Birmingham airport takes us to £10 billion. Wherever anyone thinks those resources will come from, I can assure them that they will not come from my good friend in No. 11 Downing street.

It was a good idea to have a planning exercise—I believe that it was called the regional air services coordination study, or RASCO—but it has now finished and I hope that we are about to look at the sensible alternatives. Two—Rugby and South Staffordshire—are likely to disappear. I would have thought that as a country we should consider providing for the medium-term growth strategy that the consultation outlined. It referred to no growth, medium growth and high growth. We do not want to turn this country into a permanent airfield where there is never a moment's rest because of aircraft and fuel spill-outs, but there will be growth, and we must plan sensibly to meet that growth. We can do that, and I hope that the policy that evolves from the consultation will be for growth in the medium range and will provide for that on a balanced incremental basis, regionally and at existing airports.

We could do that without the desecration of countryside and the destruction of villages. The programme is entirely feasible—the more so now that the constraints in relation to Gatwick have been removed.

2.39 pm
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) on securing the debate and on the campaign that he has been so active in. Like everybody present, I support him in that. He has reflected great local feeling in the area. I know that from personal experience. My mother-in-law and father-in-law live in his constituency, so they keep an eye on him. He has been accurately reflecting local feeling.

My hon. Friend is also right to object to what has been described as the barmy idea to develop a new airport at Rugby. I go along with that objection entirely. The scheme would cause great environmental damage and, as he rightly pointed out, severe economic damage.

More than 6,000 jobs are directly dependent on Birmingham airport. About another 900 people are directly employed off site. There have been some estimates that approximately 41,000 jobs in the west midlands are supported by the airport. The airport brings approximately £192 million of income into the region. At least, that was the position according to the figures for 2001. If Rugby airport went ahead and Birmingham airport closed, there would be real and severe economic damage to the region, which is not acceptable.

If Rugby airport is not to go ahead, we must answer the question, what then? Are we saying that we should do nothing? We must take seriously the real concerns outlined by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor). People who live anywhere near an airport suffer environmental damage and reductions in their quality of life. There is no doubt about that. Those concerns lead me to the conclusion that a second full-length runway at Birmingham would not be the right option.

Should we, however, conclude that no expansion at Birmingham is the right way to go? I have some difficulty with that as well, because there would be an environmental cost. It has been estimated that there may be 5 million unnecessary journeys to airports in other parts of the country as a result of people not going to Birmingham. Even though I think that the hon. Member for Solihull is right in his concerns for his constituents, I have to say that I have not come across a great wish in the midlands to make a scenic journey down to Gatwick or Heathrow.

There is an extra demand at Birmingham and it can be met. We need, at least, to give serious consideration to the proposal for a shorter, but wider-spaced runway at Birmingham. That should not be without conditions. There should be no blank cheques for Birmingham airport. The West Midlands Local Government Association had it about right when it said that a second runway should be supported only when fully justified and designed sustainably to minimise the environmental impacts on people, property and the natural environment. If a second runway satisfies those tests, we should not rule it out.

I think that everyone is unanimous in their opposition to Rugby, but we may have different views on how far Birmingham should be expanded. One thing that we will all be united on is the need to minimise uncertainly, because that is the worst thing of all for causing blight. I was worried by the comments made by the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, Sir Roy McNulty, who, as far as I know, is no relation to my hon. Friend the Minister—the mind boggles as to where that could take us. Sir Roy McNulty has indicated that the White Paper should identify where additional runways should be built only when they are in the south-east, and not necessarily do the same for the regions. That seems a recipe for disaster. We need to be clear about where we are going.

That point has been put to Sir Roy by Brian Summers, who is the retiring managing director of Birmingham airport. It is right that Parliament should mark the retirement of Brian Summers. Not only has he been an excellent managing director of Birmingham airport and really put it on the map, but during what are always difficult discussions about the development of airports, he has always been courteous. He has seen his role as involving a partnership with the local community and the region. He has made a great contribution to putting the west midlands on the map, and is a great participant in the regional assembly and elsewhere. We are losing him from the airport. I wish his successor, Richard Heard, well, but it is important that we pay tribute to Brian for the work that he has done at Birmingham. I look forward to his continued participation in the regional assembly and the west midlands as a whole.

2.44 pm
Matthew Green (Ludlow)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) on securing the debate, and the Minister on his new post. He probably thought that he had got away from me in Westminster Hall debates. I am sorry to turn up in a Back-Bench role.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and I are here to talk about Halfpenny Green, about which I have received just over 4,500 letters, as of today. It is just on the edge of my constituency. We should consider where the proposals came from. In the 202 pages of the Government's west midlands consultation document, Halfpenny Green is given two paragraphs and a photograph, and that is it. It was not included in the Government's ideas. The consortium that owns it seized on the consultation as an opportunity to submit a proposal for an airport that is twice the size of the current Birmingham airport and that ultimately will deal with up to 8 million passengers a year.

The word "barmy" was mentioned earlier. It is equally apt in this instance. We need studies to show whether an airport is needed west of the conurbation. So far, insufficient work has been done on that. The only study that has been carried out—a brief one by Advantage West Midlands—recently concluded that neither Halfpenny Green nor Cosford were viable airport sites.

If a study were to show that we need a regional airport west of the conurbation, we might then start to talk about sites. We should consider sites on the basis of their suitability. In order of suitability, Halfpenny Green would almost certainly come bottom of the list. It has very poor transport links: it can be reached only by country lane. It is smack in the middle of the green belt, and is completely surrounded by rural areas. Indeed, it is not particularly accessible from any of the major business centres, be it Telford, Wolverhampton, Dudley or Birmingham. It is not an easy place to get to at the moment. One would probably have to spend billions on a transport infrastructure to make it accessible.

I do not want to detain the Chamber any longer. The Government were not considering Halfpenny Green in the first place, and I hope that the Minister will rapidly conclude that the 22,000 letters of objection are a very good reason why the Government should not take seriously the developers' application.

2.47 pm
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) on securing the debate, and on the leadership that he has shown in the campaign against the proposals for an airport development in Warwickshire.

I am glad that the Government have embarked on the consultation. Too often, we have avoided discussions on crucial issues such as this. Over the years, forward planning in transport has not been a notable British success, so at the least the Government are trying to recognise that there is a problem and tackle it. Expanding passenger numbers mean that, ultimately, we will need increased airport capacity.

Some people will say that all expansion is bad. I suppose that they are the people who never fly, never take low-cost flights, and never travel by car to other regional airports hundreds of miles away. I am happy to take lessons from them. Weak-willed individuals such as myself behave differently, and if we want to travel, we will have to realise that some facilities will have to be expanded. That will mean making some hard choices and taking some hard decisions.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), I recognise that that could involve the loss of some green space. There could be some increased noise for those living in the immediate vicinity of an expanded airport. However, we must think of those things as trade-offs. For example, what reductions would there be in CO2 emissions if we cut the number of inter-regional journeys made by people who travel in excess of 100 miles simply to get to an airport?

We also have to think about the consequences for those who already live near an airport. We have some sense of the difficulties that airports cause. In my experience, such people are relatively adept in negotiating with the local airport about how to make the best of the situation, and as far as I can tell, Birmingham airport is always anxious to work with its neighbours and to live up to its environmental and social responsibilities. It is worth observing that the likely growth in travel will mostly be taken up by the new generation of chapter 3 aircraft, which are significantly quieter than their predecessors.

It is very important to recognise that airports create jobs and contribute to the wealth of a region. Birmingham airport is expanding some 10 per cent. a year more than any other regional airport in the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield said, it directly employs some 6,500 people on site, and probably supports another 8,700 jobs in the immediate area and more than 40,000 in the region. It derives 10 per cent. of its business from foreign business travel and has been voted the best business airport in the country five times in the past nine years. In fact, it serves 11 of the top 12 European business destinations.

I say with all due respect to my neighbour, the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), who is trying to defend the immediate interests of his constituents, that if we have to have expansion, having it at Birmingham airport would be good for the airport and for jobs in the region. The airport itself is well placed to work with Advantage West Midlands to help to regenerate not only east Birmingham but the north of Solihull. He knows as well as I do that the airport has been so successful in such work in recent years that last year a jobcentre was opened there to attract more staff for the expanding number of jobs.

My point is simply that we have a successful airport in Birmingham. It has the capacity to expand, within limits, if necessary, and it would be tantamount to madness to demolish it and build a new airport in Warwickshire.

2.52 pm
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak in this debate, although strictly speaking I am not from the midlands. I entirely support my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) and congratulate him on securing the debate. He spoke extremely well, and I agree with every word that he said.

We appreciate that there are demands for additional airport capacity, but we ought to question how much. In the past, there have been overblown forecasts of passenger demand, particularly for the channel tunnel. Those forecasts were way over the top and proved not to be true in the fulness of time. It is possible that the forecasts of growth of airport usage may be overblown. Indeed, if one takes into account the possibility of changes in economic growth, changes in the costs of oil and fuel, a different tax regime, environmental resistance and so on, one can see that there may well not be the kind of growth in airport passenger traffic that we have seen in the past.

I wish to bring to the debate an offer of assistance, to which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth will listen carefully. There is an airport in Luton—I hope that I speak as well for my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), in whose constituency it is situated. Luton is not technically part of the midlands, but some might describe it as part of the southeast midlands. It is certainly very close to the midlands, and it can offer a solution to the problems of additional airport capacity, at least for the south-eastern part of the region.

Luton airport is less than an hour from the midlands by train. Indeed, it has a dedicated railway station. A motorway passes very close to the airport, and direct bus services run from Milton Keynes. It can provide extra capacity for the midlands, particularly the south-east midlands not far from Rugby. It can make a contribution, and unlike most other areas, people in Luton are keen to see our airport expanded. It has tremendous possibilities that are not fully recognised by the Government. They are being lobbied by very powerful groups in the aviation industry, and we have a small voice, but I want to ensure that the Government fully recognise that Luton can make a tremendous contribution.

Luton caters for about 7 million passengers with very little investment. I am glad to see that the Liberal Democrat council has now done a U-turn and come out in favour of a re-angled runway, which if slightly lengthened would enable the airport to expand its capacity to between 28 million and 30 million passengers a year. There is scope to go beyond that and have a much larger capacity. Luton can make a major contribution to passenger traffic, not very far from the midlands, and close to the south-east midlands.

Luton has a great deal to offer, and unlike in other regions in the country, there is no resistance to such development. There will be voices raised—someone is bound to be affected by increased air travel and flights—but the numbers would be small, and the environmental impact would be much less than elsewhere. I urge the Minister to think seriously about giving Luton the go-ahead to expand in order to provide greater passenger scope for the future.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Before I call the Liberal Democrat spokesman, I congratulate all those who have participated on their self-discipline, and thank them. It has been an excellent debate, and everyone who wanted to say something had that opportunity. That is what Westminster Hall is all about.

2.56 pm
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) on securing the debate. He did a good job of putting across the concerns of his constituents about the impact that a new airport in Rugby would have. I also congratulate the Minister on his new role, and I hope that he will suffer no more than light bruising from the friendly but collective mugging that he has received from his hon. Friends today. I am certain that they have made the point that Rugby airport is not desired in the midlands.

We have had an interesting debate. I have attended many debates in Westminster Hall, and this was probably the best attended. It certainly had the largest number of speakers. That conveys the importance of the issue. One thing noticeable in this debate, and the wider aviation debate, is the fact that groups are sticking together. Individual campaign groups are not being picked off and coming out in favour of someone else getting the development. That is a significant point, because it might suggest that we are reaching the sort of critical mass in the expansion of aviation that exists in relation to road-building programmes. There is now a recognition that the expansion has to be handled very carefully.

One issue that most hon. Members did not touch on—I appreciate that they were short of time and wanted to put across their constituents' concerns—was the framework in which a decision will be made about whether there will be a new airport in Rugby, or expansion at Birmingham, Coventry or elsewhere. We need to look at that framework, and I am sure that the Minister will touch on that in his response. We cannot look at aviation separately from other forms of transport in the UK, such as rail. Equally, we cannot look at Rugby in isolation from Luton, because there are clear links between them. We need an integrated approach to the issue.

The Government must confirm that their policy will not be one of predict and provide. I have heard several Ministers say that they were not going to predict and provide. They were not going simply to provide as many runways and airports as the figures suggest will be needed. I hope that that is true, but the Government have not given so far any demonstration of the measures that they will use to ensure that those figures are adjusted downwards. There are many tools and levers that they can use to adjust the figures so that the midrange prediction of 500 million passengers by 2030 is not reached.

Mr. John Taylor

The hon. Gentleman may have been in Westminster Hall when I suggested that linear extrapolation had never been proved, and could never be proved, to be correct. Would he care to comment on that?

Tom Brake

That is a good point. Interesting studies have considered whether, if we adjust slightly the figures relating to, say, the predictions about what will happen to ticket prices, there will be a huge difference in the number of passengers flying by 2030. We need a steer from the Minister as to what measures the Government will introduce so that their policy is not simply predicting and providing.

Notwithstanding that point, we must concede that in all probability, whatever measures are introduced by the Government, at EU level or at international level—that is less likely—there will be a growth in demand, so measures will have to be taken sooner or later. I ask the Government to do everything that they can to try to secure international agreements on emissions from aircraft, so that that can play a role in reducing the demand for aviation. It is illogical that aviation fuel is the one fuel that is not taxed. I am not necessarily suggesting that it should be taxed at the same level as the fuel used in a private motor car, but even if it were taxed only at the same level as the fuel used for other forms of public transport, that would make a difference. I appreciate that such a measure requires international agreement and that that will be very difficult for the Government to achieve, but I hope that, in international forums, they will press for it.

Mr. Taylor

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not least because he has given way twice. He has largely answered the point that I wanted to make, which is that the Government can raise fuel duties only within our jurisdiction. A great deal of international co-operation will be needed, will it not?

Tom Brake

I have already answered that point, but I am happy to repeat that securing an international agreement, whether on aviation fuel tax or on emissions trading for the industry, will be extremely difficult. Nevertheless, I hope that the Government will give that some priority.

To try to redress the balance with regard to the concentration in the south-east, the Government must consider the dual till arrangement. That allows BAA, for instance, to subsidise its landing charges and drop them to unrealistic levels because it makes lots of money in its shops, thereby making those airports, which are already heavily congested, even more attractive to other operators.

The Government must also consider landing slots, which are probably the most problematic issue internationally and nationally. If we can identify who owns the slots, there is the possibility, particularly for any new slots that become available, of allowing an auction process in order to maximise the revenue. That could be invested in public transport or rail schemes surrounding airports. Again, I accept that the issue is hugely complex. I am a member of the Transport Committee, and so far no one has been willing to go on the record as to who owns those slots, but one hopes that a legal agreement on ownership will be reached. Significant revenue could then be generated from the sale of slots and usefully deployed in other ways. I enter one small caveat: certain reserved slots would need to be available for lifeline flights. It would be important to maintain that.

I have outlined a framework, or at least given an idea of the levers that the Government have or could have at their disposal to influence the final outcome. I shall make a couple of comments on Rugby. We have heard the strength of opposition to the proposals from all those who have spoken today. Although it is true that most requests for consultation documents came from the south-east, the most e-mails and letters were received from the midlands. Given the concentration of airports in the south-east, it is significant that as at 31 May the greatest number of responses had been received from the midlands.

I understand that not one democratically elected local body has been willing to speak in favour of the Rugby proposal in public. In a recent BBC Midlands poll, 96 per cent. of respondents voted against the new airport option. I have visited the site, and it is clear that there are concerns, which are acknowledged in the site appraisal, about flooding in the area and how it might affect a new airport. Hon. Members have also referred to the risk of bird strike.

The issue of cost, whether for Rugby or Cliffe, will determine, we hope, that those proposals will never be implemented, because no private airport operator will invest the money to build a new airport when there is no guarantee that airlines will want to fly from it. That will put the kibosh on the proposals.

A sustainable approach must give extra credits to any proposal that builds on existing infrastructure, whether it be airport or associated transport infrastructure. It should not give credits to proposals for major developments on new greenfield sites where there are poor transport links, sites of special scientific interest or no infrastructure on which to build. The sustainable approach suggests that tough measures will be needed to control noise and emissions at any airport that undergoes expansion. Compensation will also be needed for those affected. We cannot bury our heads in the sand, because expansion will certainly go ahead in certain parts of the country. We must ensure that effective mitigation is implemented, and that, for instance, the airlines are required to use the most modern and up-to-date aircraft to minimise the impact on local residents.

3.7 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

It is a great pleasure to contribute to such a fruitful debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) on his work and the excellent representation that he has given to his concerned constituents. I also congratulate those Members who have participated in this excellent debate. I wish the Minister a warm welcome on what I am sure will be the first of many exchanges. I am delighted to see that he has got broad shoulders because a great weight is about to bear down upon him given the volume of replies to the consultation.

I shall declare my interests in air transport: my husband has worked for 34 years in the airline business. I also have personal interests in BA, BAA and BAE. I should also like to know whether the Minister is related to Sir Roy McNulty of the Civil Aviation Authority, whom we know and love.

As a number of hon. Members have said, the consultation exercise has been flawed. What is the Government's timetable? As the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, who eloquently opened the debate, said, the debate is both timely and relevant because the consultation exercise finished yesterday. Is the White Paper still expected at the end of the year? What will happen after that? Can we expect a Bill or a draft Bill by the spring? Will there be the usual pre-legislative scrutiny to which one is becoming accustomed in the House?

This was not widely referred to in the debate, but we must accept that the major challenge that we face is balancing the social and economic benefits with the significant environmental impact. It is that impact that has been particularly discussed this afternoon, especially for those living at or near airports. We talked about Luton airport, but not much mention has been made of the rapid rise in low-cost carriers. We must accept—I hope that the Minister will recognise this—that they make little contribution to the local economy, but one reason why they have expanded so rapidly is the inadequacy of the railways. I shall return to that.

Mr. Hopkins

I dispute the hon. Lady's point about job creation. In Luton, we estimate that for every 1 million extra passengers there are 1,000 extra jobs. Of course, a lot of engineering work is also going on at Luton, supporting the airlines that operate from there.

Miss McIntosh

In my humble experience of representing Stansted airport in the European Parliament for 10 years, every time that I went to knock on the airport's door to ask whether the people who worked at the airport would vote for me, none could afford the housing nearby. Perhaps Luton is different, but that was my humble experience. I then retired, and could not call on those people to vote for me on a regional list.

The environmentalists have highlighted the main points in the debate. Are the Government trying to fly a kite? [Laughter.] I am pleased that hon. Members are following me so closely this afternoon. Are the Government proposing a new airport at Rugby purely to secure the acceptance of a second runway at Birmingham international airport?

Mr. John Taylor

Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Miss McIntosh

I am short of time, so I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who spoke at some length, said that the airlines, airports and air passengers are not paying the environmental costs. Although I carry no brief for the airlines and airports, I know that it is a source of some concern to them that they pay a hefty whack of airport passenger tax that, so far, the Government have refused to hypothecate. Perhaps the Minister would like to respond to those points this afternoon and confirm that the Government will hypothecate that tax in the future.

What is missing from this debate is the development of direct links, region to region, particularly regional airport access to Europe—something for which we have argued for a considerable time. This Government pride themselves on having joined-up thinking for an integrated transport policy. One major flaw in the whole airport consultation process was the lack of regard to developing the railway network as an alternative transport infrastructure to the airport network. What has emerged from most Members who have contributed today is the improvements that need to be made to surface access.

I am sure that hon. Members will have read with interest the note prepared by the Library in preparation for this afternoon's debate. Page 37 includes an executive summary of a report produced by Arup Transport Planning for the Department of Transport, entitled "Midlands New Site: Option Appraisal Report." Paragraph 5 talks at some length about the lack of surface access that would connect to any new proposed site at Rugby, Coventry, or anywhere in the east midlands. The Government have lost sight of that in today's debate.

The 10-year transport plan sets targets for road and rail, yet we have a 30-year period of consultation in the airports policy. That smacks of rather less than joined-up thinking.

Many of the issues raised in today's debate have a lot to do with the environment and surface access by road and rail to airports. Surely it is better for rail targets to be considered as part of an holistic, integrated transport policy, rather than piecemeal as an investment in access to new airports, especially when many of us want proper rail access to airports, particularly northern ones such as Newcastle, Leeds-Bradford and Teesside. All that is set against a background of investment in existing rail improvements being jeopardised by the profligate spending by Network Rail.

Rail and air transport should be considered together and rail should be seen as an alternative to air transport in cost, comfort, safety and convenience in terms of punctuality and reliability. The challenge that we leave the Minister with this afternoon is what will happen after the White Paper. When can we expect a Bill, and when will there be a degree of certainty for the constituents who have been so well represented this afternoon?

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

Save for the last two more partisan contributions, to which I will return later, this has been a good and timely debate, not least given that the consultation finished yesterday, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) said.

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend, not only on the timeliness of the debate, but on the manner in which he opened it. He put it firmly in a regional context, starting from the premise that it is right to acknowledge the contribution made by the aviation sector to the economy both locally and regionally and to the general prosperity of the United Kingdom. Unless I heard him incorrectly, he offered a regional solution, as he feels clearly that some greater development—we can return to the question of its magnitude—for Birmingham is preferable to doing anything at Rugby. That is a proper approach, for which I commend him.

All the other contributions, save the later partisan ones that marred the debate somewhat, were sincere. All hon. Members represented the thrust of opinion in their constituencies, and they are to be congratulated. As some have suggested, I fear that this will not be the last time that I am on my feet to discuss the consultation document. When I walked through Westminster Hall itself and saw the many chairs lined up, I thought that you knew more about who was turning up for the debate than I did, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that there would be a video screen link for the overflow, or we would have the debate outside.

That is right and proper, because as some hon. Members have said, this has been one of the most substantial and far-reaching debates on the future of a mode of transport that we have ever had. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth for his kind words and congratulations, and I will take his points seriously.

I make no apologies for the length, breadth or depth of the consultation because, as hon. Members have said, these are serious matters. Even in his rather vacuous and partisan contribution, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) managed to say that these were serious matters that need addressing. He did not offer a solution, but he at least suggested that matters needed addressing, before going on about a bunch of things that, as he well knows, we are already doing on the international dimension.

Before I forget, I should tell the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) that Sir Roy McNulty is a lovely fellow, but he is no relation of mine. It is pure coincidence that we share the same name.

I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth that we intend to publish the White Paper by the end of the year. This has been a huge consultation process, and we have received about 140,000 to 150,000 contributions, and counting, from various groups and members of the public. The closing date was only yesterday, and given that I sign most of the letters that are sent out, I would love to think that because there was nothing on my desk this morning, there are no more contributions to come, but I fear that there are. Plenty of hon. Members, not least those present, will be getting more letters from me in the near future.

As things unfold, we may go into greater detail, but I cannot tell the hon. Lady what will happen immediately post-White Paper as that would prejudge and pre-empt what it will contain. The point of a consultation process is partly to determine, or to colour, our view of what should go in the White Paper. It may say, "Lovely exercise, but we're doing nothing", although I doubt it, given what hon. Members have said. I cannot imagine any legislation that would follow from such an analysis, but I ask hon. Members to bear with us. Having conducted such an extensive consultation, it would be churlish, if not downright inefficient, if we did not take the submissions seriously and carry out a proper analysis of them, and we intend to do so.

I hope that the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) was not implying that I should go to prison or to a madhouse or both, but he is entitled to his view—rhetorical or otherwise—of the suggestions in the consultation paper. I should be disappointed if at least some options in the range of consultation papers were greeted not in that fashion but at least with a shudder or jolt.

The consultation process is supposed to be extensive and expansive. If it contained only one solution to the country's aviation expansion difficulties it would not be very useful. I will not comment on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, as that is not my job the day after the consultation process, but I accept that he has the right to be concerned about the matter and to express his views. It is right and proper to move to a sustained, sustainable and comprehensive decision on the White Paper after the consultation process.

People are concerned; they take the matter seriously. We can debate the extent and manner of things such as blight and uncertainty, which my hon. Friend mentioned, but we need an expansive, analytical and comprehensive appraisal of the consultation exercise.

I understand the point about statistical linear extrapolation, albeit it was expressed in unnecessarily simplistic terms and was a little unkind. The last time I spoke in this Chamber, in another capacity, I accused a colleague of the hon. Member for Solihull of the casual empiricism of aggregates, a charge that can also be made about statistical terms. Taken to extremes, statistical linear extrapolation is not terribly helpful, but I hope that he will understand that it is done in the context of making informed judgments about the future, not just for the sake of it.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) that I am here to take note and to listen to what hon. Members say, not least the west midlands group of Labour MPs. I fully understand, knowing most of the comrades in that group, that unanimity is a rarity; when it is achieved, it should be cherished, and certainly fully noted by the Department.

Miss Kirkbride

The Minister is being too nice.

Mr. McNulty

I said that only because my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South alluded to the west midlands group of Labour MPs. If there were an equivalent group in the Conservative party, I would say nice things about it, too—although it would meet in a smaller room.

As the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) said, it is right and proper for constituency Members to express in stark terms the strong feelings of their constituents. In parliamentary terms, the unfolding of this and similar debates in Westminster Hall and on the Floor of the House are part and parcel of the ongoing process of wider consultation.

I also accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), that the nature of the expansion, if that is appropriate for Birmingham, is important. The question is whether to extend the use of existing runways, including extensions, new taxiways and additional aprons and terminal capacity, or to build another runway. I certainly take those points on board, as well as the points made by my other hon. Friends.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty

Yes, because I have forgotten what I was going to say about my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Robinson

I am very willing to await the Minister's remarks, but if I anticipate or provoke them, there will be no harm.

Everyone agrees that this consultation process is absolutely vital and proper—and that it is costly. Democracy of this kind does not come cheap. My specific point is that I have never seen such a technically detailed case. A feasibility study is one thing, but this study has been worked out in such detail that my immediate reaction was, "Gosh, this is the one that they will go for, because it has been examined in such detail." If the Minister does not know the costs of the exercise—consultants do not come cheap, either—will he undertake to ascertain them for us?

Mr. McNulty

I will certainly look into that matter for my hon. Friend. I have no difficulty at all in doing that.

The consultation has been comprehensive. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) welcomed it and highlighted the difficulties. To be perfectly honest, the exercise was long overdue. It probably should have happened on a cyclical basis since the expansion of aviation not long after the war. That was a failure of past Governments of both parties. I would characterise the past as being not even predict and provide but a sort of splodge: there is an airport there and another one there—we will see what happens as they expand.

We need to grasp the nettle and deal with the matter properly. It is about balance, as has been suggested by all hon. Members, and jobs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green said, but it is also about the environment. I am grateful that someone mentioned the fact that newer generations of aircraft are far more environmentally friendly. They are not as noisy and have been improved in various ways.

I shall keep in mind the comments of the lone voice from Luton, which were greeted with equanimity by everyone. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) said that Luton would have the expansion if no one else wanted it. That suggestion certainly should go into the pot, along with the others. It is important that we have had the exercise.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does the Minister recollect the saying that a willing hand is worth 20 pressed men?

Mr. McNulty

With the best will in the world, I shall pass on that, because my comments may be seen as an exhortation for or against a particular expansion plan. I note the point but shall pass over it gently, if I may.

Many of the comments that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington made in his little partisan bit at the end concerned matters that the Government are already dealing with through various international forums.

Mr. Reed

The Minister said something about environmental impacts. Would he discuss night flights, particularly to and from East Midlands airport, and their impact on my constituency? Will that issue be included in the consultation?

Mr. McNulty

I certainly accept that night flights are an important dimension in the balance between economics and the environment in the east midlands, and indeed elsewhere.

As I said, we seek to produce a White Paper by the end of the year. It will not be about predict and provide. I have been in the role for only two weeks and the Liberal Democrats are already throwing clichés at me. If the exercise were about predict and provide, we would not have undertaken the consultation process. We would not have changed the planning agenda in this country so that it is underpinned entirely by a sustainability framework. I remind hon. Members that every application subsequent to the White Paper will have to go through that process. Happily, the planning Bill will be in place by then, if not sooner.

Yes, the concerns and points have been well made. Yes, elements have been mentioned that we shall include in the consultation exercise. Yes—I say this very strongly—I shall be here again or in other forums having the same debate with the same or other colleagues. It is a serious debate, which is why we have had a serious consultation process.