HC Deb 18 November 2003 vol 413 cc222-46WH

2 pm

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for agreeing to my request for a full-length debate on sustainable aviation policy. That subject is close to the hearts of my constituents. For that reason I have returned, with the Speaker's help, to the subject of aviation and its impact on Putney on several occasions, notably in Adjournment debates in October 1997, March 1999 and January 2001. Hon. Members who were present at the 2001 debate will recall that it took place immediately after the meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the UN agency dealing with the sustainability of aviation. That body will meet again in February 2004.

Again and again, Ministers have told me that the UK Government cannot go it alone on regulating for sustainable aviation and that if they did, it might be not only unenforceable, but disastrous for the UK. I hope that, among other things, we will be able to use this debate to set the UK agenda for the ICAO meeting in 2004 and ensure that the EU agenda is brought alongside. Perhaps it is not beyond our capability to ensure that the Commonwealth is brought on board, and perhaps the world's single superpower—the United States—could also be prevailed upon to embrace the principles of sustainability in aviation, which it failed to embrace at the world summit for sustainable development in Johannesburg in 2002.

I am indebted to many sources in preparing my speech, including HACAN ClearSkies, the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, the aviation environment federation, Wandsworth council and its leader, Edward Lister, who went through a conversion to sustainable aviation in May 1997—I am, however, no less appreciative of his changed views.

I remind hon. Members that there is a meeting today at 6 pm in Committee Room 18, the subject of which is London against the third runway at Heathrow. It is sponsored by HACAN ClearSkies, co-ordinated by the London borough of Hillingdon and hosted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton)

Order. I have to draw the attention of hon. Members who are concentrating on the debate to the fact that there is a Division in the main Chamber. I look to the co operation of the House. I should like to resume in precisely 10 minutes if that is agreeable.

2.3 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

2.12 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Colman

As I was saying, the meeting this evening will be hosted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and by the hon. Members for Uxbridge and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), all of whom are present in the Chamber and may wish to contribute to the debate. I also draw attention to the new all-party group on sustainable aviation, chaired by Lord Faulkner of Worcester and made up of the hon. Members for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and for Uxbridge, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) and the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk).

Clearly, there is overlap with other all-party groups, such as the group for Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, which does excellent work on parliamentary environmental concerns. However, the new APPG for sustainable aviation has a narrower focus. Its mission statement is to inform the UK Government about the range and scale of the local, national and global environment impacts that the air transport industry causes and to participate in the debate on how best to control and reduce them, creating an environmentally sustainable future for those who work in, use, and are affected by the industry's everyday operations.

The Government's definition of sustainable aviation in the consultative paper on air transport policy of December 2000 is wider. The new air transport White Paper should establish a framework that will ensure that the long-term development of aviation in the UK is sustainable. The consultative paper states that aviation has implications at four levels and there are four aspects of sustainable development, the first of which is the maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment. The UK has a strong aviation industry, including airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers and supporting industries. They make a significant contribution to the national GDP, as well as to facilitating growth in other industries. The aviation industry also provides many jobs, both directly and indirectly.

The second element of sustainable aviation is that there should be social progress that recognises the needs of everyone. Aviation brings benefits for employment, cultural exchange and opportunities to travel. Foreign travel and holidays are now within the reach of a broad cross section of the population for education, leisure and visiting friends and family.

The third element is the protection of the environment. Aviation affects climate change, local air quality, noise levels, biodiversity, energy use, waste and water. The environmental effects associated with travel to airports and any associated health effects also need to be considered.

The final element is the prudent use of natural resources. Aviation consumes many natural resources, in particular fossil fuels and the raw material necessary for producing aircraft. Airport development can involve significant land use and urbanisation of the surrounding areas.

I regret to say that the response of the Airport Operators Association added two other concepts to the definition of sustainable aviation. One was that we should deliver airport capacity, and that aviation policy should ensure at all time the effective provision and use of airport and airspace capacity in all regions of the UK. It said that that should include a decision on where and when additional runway capacity is provided in the south-east of England.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Is my hon. Friend disappointed by that addition? Many people who live in airport communities believe that the White Paper is merely an exercise in meeting the ever-exploding demand of the aviation industry while making a token effort to mitigate its environmental impact.

Mr. Colman

I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. I hope that this debate—held in good time before the White Paper is published in some four weeks—allows the Minister to take on board the mood of the House on these issues.

The second aspect that the Airport Operators Association added is that it wants to see a reform of the planning process. It said that aviation policy must be supported by a modern, more effective and swifter system for determining major airport development in the national interest, and must promote an approach characterised by consensus rather than confrontation. I am concerned that those two aspects could drive decisions that would not be sustainable.

Following the AOA's comments, we have had the joint HM Treasury and Department for Transport consultation paper, "Aviation and the Environment", and subsequent commentaries from the UK Sustainable Development Commission, the Transport Committee, the Environmental Audit Committee and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. We await the White Paper on air transport before Christmas, and the decisions on new runways. I hope that we have joined-up government, that the economists are talking to the environmentalists and that both are looking at the impact on the poor and the most marginalised in our communities.

My speech today will be from a west London, Putney viewpoint. I recently received literature by the Manchester airports group entitled, "Supporting Aviation in the Regions". However, the need for sustainable aviation must be the same throughout the United Kingdom. Unless the problem is solved at source, the problems of unsustainability that afflict the south-east will soon hit elsewhere.

I shall now explore the key issues that I would like to underpin the pre-Christmas decision and the United Kingdom's agenda at the meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in February 2004.

I am not a hypocrite. I fly, as do many of my constituents, at least the better-off. We choose to live in Putney in part because of its closeness to Heathrow and other airports. We want to continue flying for our work and holidays. The essence of sustainable aviation is not no aviation or very little aviation, but that which is needed for international competitiveness and that which can be afforded within sustainability.

Airlines and airport facilities employ thousands of local people. That is what makes the impassioned campaigns by hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who is not able to be here this afternoon but who is very supportive, so important. Our constituents feel that the balance has shifted too far in the wrong direction. We want the jobs and the convenience, but we also want the politicians in charge—Conservatives before 1997, and now Labour Members—to regulate airlines and airports, stop night flights, which my earlier debates have shown are not needed for the UK economy's competitiveness, and stop excessive noise and pollution.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is an appropriate time to announce that there is another Division in the main Chamber. I ask hon. Members to be back to recommence proceedings at 2.29 pm. I am grateful for their co-operation.

2.19 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

2.30 pm

On resuming

Mr. Colman

Large numbers of people are already employed at Heathrow and at other airports. I do not believe that the concept of sustainable aviation would lead to their losing their jobs. The question is, would the expansion of unsustainable aviation lead to a gain in jobs?

The Department for Transport still refuses to look at the evidence, in the round, on job creation. It places undue reliance on the Oxford Economic Forecasting report, which was largely paid for by the aviation industry. It has downplayed the roads consultation called "Transport and the Economy", produced in 1999 for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. That authoritative research found that in a developed economy such as that of the UK, transport infrastructure is only important in regional regeneration and job creation if other factors—such as the availability of a suitably trained work force—are in place. It found that those other factors are usually more critical. Professor John Whitelegg published a report for the Campaign to Protect Rural England earlier this year on the effect of expanding Manchester and Liverpool airports on the economy of the north-west. It found that if the money were invested in improved rail links to London and improved surface level transport in the region, that would be more beneficial to the economy. I look forward to hearing hon. Members from that area contribute to the debate.

David Taylor

One of the nonsenses about the balance of transport in the United Kingdom is that such a high proportion of journeys of up to 1,000 km are still made by air rather than by an improved rail network. If those journeys were taken by rail, there would be much less environmental impact and they would take less time.

Mr. Colman

I agree with my hon. Friend and will develop that point later.

A seminar held by sustainable development charity Forum for the Future in June, on the economic benefits of aviation, raised question marks over the methods and assumptions used to calculate those benefits. First, it asked whether the resources and labour used in expanding airport capacity are additional, as the Treasury would define them, or whether that labour and those resources would be bid away from other sectors and provide little or no net economic benefit to the UK economy. Secondly, the seminar asked whether foreign passengers, a significant proportion, would be excluded from any assessment of the benefits of expanding airport capacity to the UK economy and its citizens, as recommended by the Treasury guidance set out in the Green Book. Thirdly, the seminar asked whether the offsetting transfer to UK airlines' profits from the higher passenger fares resulting from constraining capacity would be factored into the calculation of the economic benefits of aviation. Fourthly, it asked whether extra aviation capacity would boost productivity growth elsewhere in the UK economy and, particularly, how important that extra capacity would be for attracting investment, generating knowledge spillovers and allowing the economic specialisation that produces wider economic benefits. Fifthly, the seminar asked whether higher fares resulting from capacity restriction would make any significant difference to the competitiveness of the export and financial sectors. As far as I know, none of those questions has yet been answered.

In the briefing that it sent me for this debate, the London chamber of commerce and industry states that London needs a third runway at Heathrow, at least one more runway at Stansted and further options at Gatwick, London City and Luton airports. There is not a single word in that briefing about sustainability or about the environmental impact that such huge expansion would cause. This time I do not agree with the London chamber of commerce and industry. I hope that the Minister will answer those questions either during the debate or subsequently.

However, the underlying question is whether, if we did not expand capacity, other European airports would and we would lose our role as an international hub for transfers—largely for business men and women. We need to co-operate across the European Union on such policies. The Minister's predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), pursued such a Europe-wide regulatory framework in discussions. Does the Minister appointed in September see a key role for co-ordinating sustainable aviation across the European Union, rather than the "predict and provide no matter what the consequences" that has so bedevilled previous aviation policy? May I also make the case for the development of Eurostar routes, which would make inter-European travel more economic and far less intrusive? So far, the Department for Transport has been dismissive of the potential role of rail as an alternative to many short-haul flights.

There are indications that the Government and the aviation industry are defensive as they are aware that they are vulnerable on this issue. The White Paper examines the role of aviation over 30 years, so it should consider rail alternatives over the same time scale. Some 45 per cent. of the flights made in European-controlled countries are 500 km or less. Germany and France are actively developing high-speed rail as an alternative to internal flights, and I refer the Chamber to early-day motion 1860 on the aviation White Paper and rail travel and to early-day motion 1903 on aviation and rail travel, which reinforce my points.

That brings me to the second issue in the debate on sustainability: social justice. Much has been made of the need to cater for aviation expansion to provide cheap flights, thus enabling poorer people to fly. Of course, the young and adventurous already use InterRail and cheap, swift buses to move around Europe and, in the past 20 years, the travel industry has opened up the Mediterranean and the world to package holidays. Ryanair and easyJet are, however, in a different league altogether—one that is almost free because of the subsidies from receiving airports, hotels and car hire. However, the facts seem to disprove the idea that current policy supports social justice. It is important to reflect that those on high incomes have benefited most from cheap flights, as they are the ones who fly there most. In a typical year, less than 50 per cent. of the population flies, only 11 per cent. of whom come from social classes D and E. The poorest 10 per cent. hardly ever fly.

Even on budget airlines, people from the top three social classes take more than 75 per cent. of all flights. Only around 45 per cent. of the population of the UK falls into those social classes. People in those top three social classes take four times as many flights a year than those in the bottom three social classes.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Gentleman rightly referred to aviation and the social progress that ensued. He cited greater mobility for holidays and so on. Does he therefore advocate no further additional taxation on aviation, such as an increase in passenger duty or any application of fuel duties, to ensure that those from the lowest social classes have a greater opportunity to fly?

Mr. Colman

I shall come to that point later. The external costs of aviation should be internalised, as they are in rail and road travel. Aviation should not be made separate.

On current growth rates, an extra 1 million people are likely to have bought a second home overseas by 2012 and could take 12 million flights a year to visit those second homes—the same number of flights that Stansted handled in 2000. Those people are clearly not the poorest in our community.

Between 1984 and 1999, bus fares, which are more important for those on lower incomes, rose by 42 per cent, and rail fares rose by 35 per cent. In the past 10 years, however, air fares fell by 42 per cent. BAA's annual report boasts that 85 per cent. of passengers are high-spending ABC1s, compared with 50 per cent. throughout the UK.

The comments reported in The Daily Telegraph today lead one to doubt the importance to the UK economy of expanding airport capacity. Mr. O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, is reported as saying: We are so crazy, we'll pay people to fly with us. However, a city spokesman says: They still make money on commissions if people book cars or hotels where they land.

How does that benefit the UK economy as opposed to Charleroi hoteliers? It is even more extraordinary that Ryanair, an Ireland-based airline, is asking the Secretary of State for Transport to continue to support Ryanair in various European countries, although the same state subsidies enable easyJet, MyTravelLite and Flybe to undermine unsubsidised airlines such as British Airways.

If there are no economic or social justice arguments for unsustainable expansion, what has the industry done to ensure that the environmental impact is contained? In 2000, Hotham school in Putney put on a celebratory play in their playground to honour the millennium. Despite microphones and loudspeakers, which were turned up to the maximum volume, no one in the playground could hear a thing as a plane roared over every 20 seconds, flying so close that one could see the passengers. Why has the industry not developed planes that produce no noise? I raised that issue in 2000. Why was the Airbus A380's design cost of £500 million underwritten by the Government with no requirement for decreased noise or pollution, or for fuel improvement? We learn from Dominic O'Connell in The Sunday Times on 16 November that in the production of the Airbus A380: There have been hiccups along the way, the biggest of which came in 2000, when the wing had to be completely redesigned. Singapore Airlines, which was lined up as launch customer, decided it would not buy the A380 unless it was quiet enough to use Heathrow airport at any time. Heathrow operates strict night-noise levels, and any aircraft breaking the noise limits faces heavy fines. I wish there were more fines. The problems meant that an emergency reworking of the A380 took place, particularly at the front of the wing, where traditional slats were replaced by a 'droop nose' device that would meet the Heathrow targets. But the solution brought more problems in the shape of extra weight, which meant more exhaustive scrutiny of the rest of the design. Williams"— that is Tom Williams, Airbus UK's managing director— now says that Airbus UK is happy with the weight of the wing. 'Weight is always a challenge, but we are now very pleased with where it is.' That is an important example of a situation where what could have been done was not going to be, until the purchaser required it. The Government should have insisted that the A380 produced less noise.

On 12 November, I read in the Financial Times: An ambitious project to design a silent passenger aircraft has been launched by … Cambridge university and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If successful, the researchers could solve one of the biggest problems facing policymakers the world over as they struggle to plan for the growth in air travel … Ann Dowling, professor of mechanical engineering at Cambridge and one of the silent aircraft project's leaders said that the aim was for 'a radical change in noise levels so that beyond the perimeter of the airport, the noise of aircraft flying would be imperceptible to the public.' Incidentally, the world dominance of Boeing and Airbus means that those two companies could choose simply to provide aeroplanes designed to operate in a sustainable manner. Why did the Government not insist that the work was done years ago? I have asked similar questions in my previous debates, but have still received few answers. I believe that the development of a new generation of aero-engines based on renewable sources, at least when the plane is at cruising altitude, is possible. Is dual fuel a concept for only earthbound vehicles?

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

On a technical point, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that most noise comes from the engines rather than the airframe. It is traditional for aircraft manufacturers to allow choice of engines, so we shall have to appeal to engine manufacturers, above airframe manufacturers, to deliver noise savings.

Mr. Colman

I fully accept that. However, work has been done on aero-engine design at Cranwell, which I quoted in my previous Adjournment debate, that will deal with the hon. Gentleman's point.

May I now raise some points concerning the Kyoto protocol? I hope that Russia finally signs up to the protocol.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the topic of pollution, does he feel that the Government have taken on board the fact that most of the pollution that affects air quality in Heathrow constituencies emanates not from aeroplanes, but from cars accessing and passing Heathrow on the M4?

Mr. Colman

I will address part of the hon. Lady's question as I proceed, but the simple answer is no. I believe that the Mayor of London, who has so far refused to be drawn into the issue of sustainable aviation and the future of Heathrow, should clearly be involved. That is particularly important when it comes to congestion charging, which will be inevitable around Heathrow given its success in dealing with traffic levels in central London and the drop in pollution levels as a result.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is the hon. Gentleman advocating that his Government—or rather the Labour mayoralty—institute congestion charging for access to Heathrow? Could he clarify? That is of great concern, not only to the Londoners who work at the airport, but to the many people who travel there and to visitors, such as tourists, from other countries.

Mr. Colman

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you must tell me whether I stray beyond the point of the debate, which is on sustainable aviation. However, the sustainability of the life chances of the people who live around the airport is clearly impinged on by the high level of people who travel there using private vehicles. They should be encouraged to use public transport more. A lot of people working at the airport are bussed in from outside areas by BAA to restrict the number of vehicles approaching the airport. I should also say that the Mayor of London is currently an independent candidate for that position. He is not the Labour Mayor of London, but that may change.

I now return to the Kyoto protocol. I hope that Russia will finally sign it in the next few days, thereby triggering its coming into force. Aircraft emissions from international flights are outside the protocol, which requires the UK and other developing countries to cut their CO2 emissions. The UK has voluntarily included those emissions within its target on CO2 emissions. However, I must make a point about the Kyoto protocol. It is often prayed in aid of arguments over food miles and the sustainability of flying vegetables or flowers to the UK from countries such as Kenya. Kenya is a developing country and does not have the same CO2 restraints. We should fly in its produce in the name of sustainable development. It is also worth noting that the amount of CO2 used in Europe to heat greenhouses or polytunnels to provide such vegetables or flowers is higher than that emitted by flying the produce in from Kenya. Sustainability is attained when using aeroplanes for short-shelf-life produce.

As I said, the UK includes its airspace emissions in relation to the Kyoto protocol, but very few countries do. Such a world move would lead engine manufacturers to move, as with Singapore Airlines and the A380 wing. Financial instruments can make aviation sustainable. However, emissions from domestic aviation are included. The Government should act now.

The dumping, combustion and venting of fuel, which gives rise to pollutants and other obnoxious substances, is not simply a Kyoto protocol issue. It directly affects my constituents' health. Nitrogen oxide levels around airports are a problem, with local people in danger of being exposed to levels that are above the European Union legal limits, even before expansion. That led to the BBC story last week about the third runway for Heathrow being abandoned. I read in The Sunday Times that Rod Eddington of British Airways, Richard Branson of Virgin and Michael Bishop of BMI are appealing directly to the Prime Minister, over the Minister's head. I do not expect the Minister to comment on that.

I note from an article in the Financial Times on 8 November that BAA is running a shadow pricing scheme at Heathrow airport to test ways of encouraging airlines to operate less-polluting aircraft. The article states that BAA operates a scheme of landing charges at Heathrow that penalises airlines for flying noisier aircraft and that it hopes that a similar scheme could help to reduce emissions. A crucial factor in the Government's consideration of where to site new runways in the overcrowded south-east of England is whether Heathrow can meet tougher European Union air quality standards by the end of the decade. The chief executive of BAA, Mike Clasper, said that there were technically feasible runway options at Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick. He added that air quality is important at Heathrow but that there are ways of solving the problem. I hope that that does not mean moving people out of the area. I would not wish a further runway on Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick.

In autumn 2002, the Department for Transport was asked to rerun its sketch-planning analysis spreadsheet model—known as SPASM—a demand model of the need for airport expansion in the south-east with externalised costs internalised and tax exemptions removed. The CPRE, the Aviation Environment Federation and Friends of the Earth requested that the model should be rerun using the following assumptions: that aviation fuel should be taxed at the same rate as motor fuel; that air travel should be subject to VAT at 17.5 per cent.; and that duty-free on all flights should be abolished. It was also assumed that air passenger duty would be abolished and that those changes would be phased in gradually between 2005 and 2025. The total value of those tax measures was £9.2 billion at 2002 levels. The Department agreed to rerun the model using those assumptions and the results were produced in February 2003. The results show that the total number of passengers using United Kingdom airports would increase at a much slower rate, from 200 million in 2000 to 315 million in 2030, compared with the official forecast of 501 million. Crucially, there would be no need for any new runway in the UK in the period to 2030.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the largest non-governmental organisation in the United Kingdom, supports the view that the rerun demonstrates that demand management could be made to work without causing a massive hike in ticket costs. Thus there could be no new runways, no effect on the economy and no impact on poorer members of the community. I look forward to the same conclusions being reached in the White Paper next month.

I return to where I started: the Deputy Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) led the world in setting sustainable development policies and negotiating the Kyoto protocol in 1997. I ask the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister who is here today to take a similar world-leadership role and set the agenda both for the International Civil Aviation Organisation environmental meeting in February 2004 and for the regional debate that will no doubt take place in Europe, so that a way forward can be agreed beforehand.

I hope that there will be full consultation of parliamentarians, and that parliamentarians will be included as members of any UK delegation, as happened at the world summit on sustainable development and at the recent World Trade Organisation ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico.

Sustainable aviation is not an oxymoron. It can be achieved. It just needs politicians and aerospace engineers to decide to work to ensure a sustainable world. In the case of global warming, we have set out our stall and persuaded the rest of the world to follow. Could the Minister therefore set out the following items in the Government's agenda for ICAO in February 2004: first, no night flights between 11.30 pm and 6 am; secondly, silent aircraft—airframes and engines—by 2025 and, on the way, progressive 20 per cent. and 50 per cent. cuts in noise below 2003 levels for all planes using UK airports; thirdly, major expansion of research into the use of non-fossil fuel for aircraft propulsion; and fourthly, total internalising of all external costs into plane fares, including fuel tax and climate change levy?

I believe that that agenda could be agreed across Europe, and could be the basis of a UK agreement at ICAO. I look forward to the Minister's response today and in Montreal at ICAO in February.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I want to help the Chamber. Very many Back Benchers want to be called. If they are self-disciplined and speak for no more than three minutes they will all have a turn. I am sorry, but it is three minutes. This is perhaps going to be a pattern not only in this Chamber but on the Floor of the House if more Back Benchers want to contribute to a debate with a single point that may sometimes be more relevant than a speech covering wide ground.

2.52 pm
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I shall try to stick to your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should not like any hon. Members to be bumped off this debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on bringing up the matter, providing us with a chance to debate it. My starting point in considering this question is to wonder what we mean by sustainable. Not being terribly bright—I think that earlier today I may have been described as a lesser person—but searching after learning, I went to Transport questions and asked the Secretary of State what he meant by sustainable development. I was told to wait, because the answer would be in the aviation White Paper. Perhaps the Secretary of State does not think that I can cope with that amount of knowledge at this stage; I am waiting to see what will be revealed.

As I like to learn about matters of this kind, I wondered where I could go for intelligent discussion about it. I found that a former Aviation Minister is now serving in the Government. He is the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). Some of his comments on this issue are fascinating and I would recommend anyone to read an article of 14 January 2003 in the London Standard.

A couple of little points give us a valuable insight into Government. The previous Minister said: There is a long history of undertakings being given in return for controversial airport expansions which are either quietly forgotten or cynically abandoned once they become inconvenient. I think that my constituents and those of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) would agree with that. The previous Minister also said that during his 18 undistinguished months—he was being very modest—as a Minister whose responsibilities included aviation, he learned two things: first, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable and secondly, that successive Governments have usually given way to them. Although nowadays the industry pays lip service to the notion of sustainability, its demands are essentially unchanged. It wants more of everything—airports, runways and terminals.

The hon. Member for Putney has already flagged up the fact that we are to have an excellent meeting later today in Committee Room 18 to discuss why everyone is against a third runway at Heathrow. I shall not rehearse the arguments here, but I can recommend the meeting; we shall have a full house. Echoing the hon. Gentleman's comments, if we do not want a third runway at Heathrow, I can understand why no one wants it at Gatwick, Stansted or elsewhere. If that is the case, why should the people in particular areas have to put up with airport expansion? The country has to take a radical look at aviation issues. If that means not allowing continual expansion to satisfy the demands of an industry that, although it has given a lot to the country, cannot be seen to be the only force in the equation, we must mean what we say by sustainable and put the environment and the quality of life of all our constituents before the ability of some people to have cheap flights.

2.55 pm
Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on securing a debate on this matter. He made reference to the true cost of aviation, which is the nub of the debate on how to find a way in which the aviation industry can pay the true costs of its impact on the wider community and on the environment.

An imaginative and comprehensive approach must be taken to the problem, because the aviation industry enjoys tax concessions amounting to about £10 billion a year. Setting against that the £900 million raised from air passenger duty brings it down to just over £9 billion—comprising such things as VAT exemptions on tickets and aircraft fuel, exemption from excise duty on fuel, and other tax concessions. That is relevant to the debate about airport capacity, because if one links a low-tax framework to the increased capacity that the White Paper foreshadows, air travel prices will continue to reduce in real terms, leading to increased demand, so demand for more capacity will also continue to increase. The right tax policies are essential if the right sustainable aviation strategy is to be advanced. If the tax concessions to which I have referred were to be removed gradually, over 25 to 30 years, air travel would not increase in real terms but it would keep pace with inflation. The way in which those tax concessions should be addressed cannot be restricted to this country. The issue has both European and international dimensions.

We should not expect too much from some of the international aviation bodies that are dominated by airline industry interests, but we can look to the European Union to take a major role in addressing the issue. The idea of an emissions trading scheme for air travel is gaining support in many quarters. That could certainly be introduced on a European Union basis, and it would have an impact on some of the scenarios outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney. It has been suggested that an emissions charge introduced on an European Union basis would reduce aviation's carbon dioxide contribution to global warming by up to 13 per cent. That would clearly have a significant effect on the overall picture. Such an emissions trading scheme might also allow us to move away from air passenger duty, which is a blunt instrument and takes little account of a journey's environmental consequences, which depend on its length, and the type and size of aircraft. Emissions trading would allow a much more comprehensive approach.

Finally, alongside a taxation policy to ensure that aviation bears its true costs, there should be investment in high-speed rail capacity, as my hon. Friend said. Such investment would allow many journeys in the UK to be transferred from air to rail, and would benefit areas such as mine very much. Auctions for slots at airports, for example, might allow funds to be raised to develop rail lines over the next 10 years, and not only contribute to solving the problem, but improve transport links to areas with the greatest need for urgent improvement.

3.1 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)

I too would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on securing this debate. As we await the publication of the Government's White Paper, the importance of the issue will only increase. In debates on aviation, the focus is often on developments at Heathrow, Stansted and Cliffe, but we are having a vibrant debate north of the border, too. I shall not mention air rail substitution in my shortened speech this afternoon, however, because although it is important, it has already been addressed.

Since 1993, the annual number of passengers at Edinburgh airport, in my constituency, has risen from 2.5 million to almost 7 million and, with additional flights and new international flights, the figure is certain to rise further. There are global, national and local aspects to sustainable aviation. We should consider how to expand and develop our airports in a sustainable manner that minimises pollution.

Not all environmental improvements are obvious. The extension to the taxiway at Edinburgh. for example, is due for completion next year, and will reduce the taxiing time of aircrafts, thereby cutting emissions of carbon monoxide, while un-burnt hydrocarbons and PM10 particulates should also be reduced. The extension to the existing runway is crucial from an economic perspective, as it will allow different aircraft to use the airport for international flights. Similarly, it will have an environmental benefit. The short length of the runway forces aircraft to land at a steeper descent than would otherwise be necessary, and they have to take off with greater thrust. The combined result is more nitrous oxide and volatile organic compounds than would be produced if there were a longer runway.

A crucial issue that relates to air traffic and airport expansion, but which is often overlooked, is the environmental impact of traffic travelling to and from airports. If we are to have a truly sustainable aviation policy, we must think about the sustainability of the infrastructure that supports our airport. The road traffic on the western side of Edinburgh is grinding to a halt, partly owing to increased numbers of air passengers at Edinburgh airport. That is because buses and taxis are the only means of public transport that serve the airport. A recent survey showed that only 16 per cent. of those travelling to and from Edinburgh airport do so by public transport. That is why Margaret Smith, the MSP for Edinburgh West, and I warmly welcome the Scottish Executive's recent commitment to introduce a rail link to Edinburgh airport. It is critical that the project is made a reality as soon as possible.

Finally, I want to say a few words about noise. If the airports are to be developed in a sustainable way, plans need to involve local communities and allay any concerns, which are often about noise. I accept that it is not easy to do that. However, minimising the noise, which can cause misery to communities living around the airports, can play a big part. Indeed, my constituents in Kirkliston, Ratho, Newbridge, East Craigs and Cramond would want me to highlight that fact. Although official evidence on the impact of airport noise is inconclusive, the letters and e-mails that I receive from constituents who are disturbed and woken by late-night flights are far from inconclusive. The evidence is certainly conclusive that pupils studying at schools close to airports, including the five nursery and primary schools near Edinburgh airport, are adversely affected by the noise of arriving and departing aircraft.

We have seen advances in fuel efficiency, and in the dampening of aircraft noise by some 20 dB. However, further improvements, particularly to the noise of landing and taking off, are required so that local communities can benefit further. Meanwhile, we should seriously consider legislative proposals restricting nighttime flights and requiring authorities to provide sound-dampening insulation at schools and other community buildings.

The provision of a sustainable aviation policy should concern us all. Some Members may have a specific constituency interest, and others a purely environmental interest; but whatever his reason, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) has done us a service by allowing us to debate the issue. I look forward to the White Paper with eagerness and trepidation. However, one thing is clear: a basic predict-and-provide approach will not work. We must develop an aviation policy that is not only respectful of the global environment but considerate of local communities.

I hope that the Minister will reassure all those who travel, who live close to airports, who get caught up in the traffic around them, or who just breathe the air polluted by the many forms of transport, that a sustainable aviation policy can and must be delivered.

3.6 pm

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on securing this debate.

The consultation document on the future development of air transport in the north of England has a number of important implications for the local development of air transport. However, because it contained only outline information and generalised options, it raised far more questions than it answered. Without clear details of the time scale and the implication of developments, it has been impossible to engage in meaningful debate. I therefore hope that the Government's consultation document and questionnaire were just a start. We need a continuing localised debate between local people and the airport authorities, and I hope that the White Paper will allow debate on future proposals.

For those reasons, I strongly urge the Government to require local airports to draw up some form of development plan. The plan should involve public involvement and participation—and I hope that it will be done democratically. Local airport development plans should deal with a number of key issues on planning and sustainability. They should be underpinned by an independent environmental impact assessment, which would include the prevention and minimisation of air and noise pollution. It should deal also with climate change and other associated issues such as operating hours. As my hon. Friend said, it is crucial that those issues are addressed in the context of effective national and EU standards.

The key in an area such as mine, which is covered by Leeds Bradford airport, is how to manage growth in a sustainable and sensitive way. Even though several options in the consultation document envisaged a quadrupling of air passengers, no attempt was made to quantify the wider implications. It may be outside the broad, national strategic consultation, but identification of such matters is crucial to local communities. A coherent attempt must be made to say in advance what the effects of growth will be, and at what point the effects of such growth—in terms of pollution, congestion, road safety and the physical environment—will place too great a burden on local communities. In other words, we ought to determine here and now what is sustainable for local communities. I hope that the Government will address those key issues in the White Paper.

3.9 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I thank the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) not only for introducing the debate but for revealing so clearly socialist thinking on the future of air transport. [HON. MEMBERS: "Socialism!"] If an industry is a successful industry, and if it brings huge prosperity to the country and a large inflow of foreign exchange, the instinct of some Labour Members is to tax it, and then tax it more heavily. One wonders whether they are applying the right cost-benefit analysis. For example, extending the Channel high-speed rail link has cost hundreds of millions of pounds, and it has also had severe adverse environmental impacts along the route. It is simplistic to suggest that it is air transport alone that has a negative environmental impact.

It must be recognised that not all aviation fuel is without duty. Aviation gasoline is, paradoxically enough, subject to duty. Turbine fuel—kerosene—is not. The idea of imposing a value added tax and a higher level of passenger departure tax could be gravely prejudicial to the prosperity of marginal carriers and certainly would nullify the beneficial social impact of air transport on lower income groups to which the hon. Member for Putney referred. Notwithstanding that, one must also take into account the benefits for regional development of air transport.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wilkinson

No, I will not.

Air transport is an economic lifeline for such remote and far-flung parts of this kingdom as the highlands and islands. To suggest that there is a viable alternative is just fanciful. The Government's decision to relinquish the UK's sole power to introduce bilateral air service agreements and to hand over that area of national sovereignty to the European Union could clearly endanger the future prosperity of air transport in this country. The United Kingdom is the premier gateway for transatlantic services and it is far from certain that the EU will be so keen for the United Kingdom to have such a preferential position.

One must not fail to take into account the environmental impact. That is why my two colleagues from the Hillingdon borough and I are sponsoring the meeting tonight and why we are so resolutely opposed to the third east-west runway at Heathrow. Civil air transport need not be inimical to the environment. There are certain sites that are clearly impossible from an environmental point of view, such as Cliffe and Maplin sands, but the incremental development of existing single runway airports in the south-east and the better use of regional airports offer a sensible way forward and that is the one that the Government should adopt.

3.12 pm
Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree)

I will endeavour, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to follow what I might call the Macclesfield directive and keep my speech strictly to three minutes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) not only on the learned way in which he has presented the debate but on his evenhanded approach. He has not argued that the extra runway should be put somewhere else but that it may not be needed at this stage. I was also impressed by the remarks that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) made about sustainability. I am never quite sure what that means. I can understand what "sustainable" means when we are talking about fishing or timber, because fish stocks might run out and trees will go if we do not replace them. Clearly in economic terms the aircraft industry is sustainable within itself. It will go on growing, because there is no inherent check, but the price has to be paid by the communities around those airports, which suffer the consequences.

I shall plead localism because it may be my last chance before this report. My constituency is close to Stansted. I was particularly grateful that no one here urged that the second runway should go there. Stansted is one of the most beautiful parts of the eastern counties: it is full of historic and listed buildings, and is an area of small villages and rolling hills. One can well imagine the consequences of a second, third or fourth runway being planted there. I pray in aid—indeed, I can do no better—the 1985 inquiry, which looked ahead and almost contemplated the present situation. The inspector damned in the most poetic terms any prospect of having a second runway at Stansted. It would be superfluous for me to mention the pollution consequences, because they will affect any site that will be so named. The traffic to Stansted would multiply many times, as it would anywhere else.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying about Stansted, but he must beware what inspectors say after public inquiries, because no notice has been taken of them whatsoever.

Mr. Hurst

In concluding, I shall say that the comments of the 1985 inquiry were so comprehensively against what is now being contemplated that we do not need to go any further to conclude that the Stansted option should not be followed. I am sure that the same arguments will apply elsewhere.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope to call two further speakers before the winding-up speeches. I shall first call the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and then the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I ask them to be brief.

3.15 pm
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

I speak in favour of small airports and of a sustainable airports strategy. I fly aircraft and even contemplated setting up an airline until I realised that in order to end up with a small fortune in aviation, one has to start with a large one.

The British Airports Authority is an effective organisation, and Mike Clasper has a strategic focus on what is required of it. The same is true for easyJet and Ryanair, and we cannot blame them for running the best businesses they can. However, the Government are responsible for ensuring a strategy that does not overly focus on a few super-large airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and, as threatened, Stansted, but instead eases the infrastructure pressure by making use of the many runways that are underused throughout the United Kingdom.

On environmental improvements, it is in the interests of aircraft manufacturers to make aircraft as environmentally friendly as possible, as noise and pollution both cost money. As such, there is a natural pressure in the system to improve in those areas.

The Government could improve the usage of existing runways by considering a hub and spokes strategy, in which airfields as small as Welshpool in my constituency are used to feed into the larger airports. It does not matter where international flights go from if passengers can get to the airport easily. It would be simpler for people to fly from Welshpool to Cardiff and on to New York rather than having to go to Heathrow to start the journey. I urge the Minister to build into his strategies positive support for scores of small airports like the one in my constituency. The Government could significantly ease the flow into the large airports by using regional and potential international airports as alternative feeders into international routes.

Air travel does not inherently have to be environmentally unfriendly or annoy local residents. A coherent use of what we already have will allow us to shift from building more runways at a few large airports to using more of the runways at the airports that already exist.

3.18 pm
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

As you suggested, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall stick to one point.

In all the speeches so far, the central point is one that my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) has made in every speech over the past four years in dogged pursuit of the issue. It is that although in almost every other policy area we have a rational policy debate and decisions are reached with which we may not agree but for which we can understand the reasons, in airport policy reason goes out the window. We have years of planning inquiries that produce recommendations with which, again, we might not agree but which we appreciate are based on detailed analysis and made after everyone has had their say. However, successive Governments have overturned those recommendations or, at worst, accepted them for a limited period—two or three years or, for terminal 5, only 12 months—before overturning their own decision and the strictures put on their policy making.

We want rational policy making, and we hope that it will come from the White Paper, but I doubt it. Academics who study policy making no longer talk about presidential government or ministerial decisions, but about policy networks around Ministers that advise on decision making. In this policy network there are no countervailing forces to the main force, which is the industry itself. BAA and British Airways know that they have overwhelming influence in the circle around the Minister and the Prime Minister. We need balanced policy making in this field, as my hon. Friend set out.

We cannot even get to first base on independent information. Various competitors put their information forward at planning inquiries, but much Government decision making is based on information provided to them by the industry alone. I recommend that we establish an aviation policy commission, in which we bring together all the partners in the industry, including suppliers, environmentalists, local authorities and those who have a specialist interest. At least that would provide us with independent, if not consensual, information on which we can judge decisions.

I hope that future Governments adhere to the decisions made by planning inquiries. I do not want to go through another terminal 4 inquiry, where I am told that there will be no further developments, only to find that terminal 5 comes along, followed by another inquiry at which I am told there will be no further developments. Then there was the third runway—and now I am told that there will be a sixth terminal there. We need rational, consistent policy making.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I make a plea to the spokesmen for the Liberals and her Majesty's Opposition to allow the Minister adequate time to reply.

3.21 pm
Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

I will try to keep my remarks short. This has been an excellent debate, which demonstrates that there is widespread concern at this crossroads in aviation policy. I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on securing the debate. He has a distinguished record in leading the debate on such matters and has demonstrated from the beginning that there must be international solutions as part of the complex proposals that the Government advance in the White Paper.

I appreciate the difficulty that the Minister is in. There is nothing easy about this subject. Any Government would struggle to accommodate the conflicting arguments. However, we do not want to see lip service paid to the policy of sustainable aviation—that is the danger. There has, in recent years, been a massive expansion in air travel, which is to be welcomed in terms of expanding free and fair markets, but there is a danger that it could become unfettered in this marketplace, which is in need of urgent reform and more regulation.

Runways may be required as a last resort, but we are a long way from that position at the moment. I believe that there would have to be another runway in 2017, at the earliest. Before then, however, there are so many options available in trying to curtail the demand. The problem is that the Government have simply pursued the old failed Tory policy of predict-and-provide. It is no use trying to work out the number of passengers and the amount of goods to be shifted and building more and more capacity. We have to make a stand at this moment. If the Government were correct in saying that we are heading for 500 million passengers by 2030, with prices being cut by a third, and that more runways would have to spring up all over the south-east, that would be an absolute disaster for the environment.

By 2030—if we continue as we are—aviation could be contributing 20 per cent. of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions and 15 per cent. of the greenhouse emissions. That would totally undermine many of the Government's targets. Similarly, there is currently a fundamental problem with noise, which we are not addressing in accordance with the World Health Organisation's recommended levels. The existing noise levels are supposed to be sustainable and acceptable to the general public, but they are not. It is a blight on people's lives that they have to put up with the levels of noise generated not just by the traffic moving in and out of airports, but by the planes. As the hon. Member for Putney said, the technology is there for a quieter aeroplane and a quieter engine. We need a Government with some backbone to start to impose quieter solutions for the sake of the public.

As the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: At the start of the 21st Century, we believe the case for further growth in aviation to be questionable; the marginal economic and social benefit of additional growth in aviation is outweighed by its environmental and social costs". Likewise, many other organisations, including the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, have said that, without a demand management approach to aviation policy, the Government run the real risk of surrendering their quality of life and environmental ambitions for the many, for a few cheap flights.

Part of the solution must lie with more investment in the railways. Depending on which figures we look at, the conservative figures for railways demonstrate that they use only a third or less of the carbon dioxide that air travel uses. One example is the Paris to Marseille highspeed rail connection. It is hugely successful and has helped to switch about 4 per cent. of passengers who previously travelled on short-haul flights back to the railways. We need to update the Kyoto protocol and I hope that the Minister will consider how it will include international aviation.

We must introduce a fuel duty. A zero duty is placed on aviation kerosene compared with 50p a litre for motorists. We must consider airport landing charges. At present, the busier the airport the more rental income from terminal buildings, which is allowed to be subsidised against landing charges. We must also compare passenger departure duty with aircraft departure duty. Surely it is far better to give an incentive to fill empty places on existing planes than to tax those passengers who are currently using what is already there.

In conclusion, will the Minister please fight for an amendment on international aviation to be made to the Kyoto protocol? Will he introduce at European Union level fuel duties for airlines? Will he decouple the rental income from subsidised landing charges? We look forward to the White Paper, but we do not want to pay lip service. We want action.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his co-operation.

3.27 pm
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on inspiring an excellent and timely debate this afternoon. I wish to declare an interest in such matters. Until January this year, my husband had worked for 34 years in the airline industry in various capacities. I have a modest interest in British Airways, BAA plc and BAE Systems, Railtrack, Eurotunnel and the Royal Automobile Club. I also represented Essex North East, Essex North and Suffolk South at the European Parliament for 10 years.

I wish to help my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and others who wanted a definition of sustainable development. I attribute the following definition to Brundtland in 1987. It states: Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". It prompts the question whether the Government have their policy right. The debate is about whether to give priority to the sustainability part of the balance and have strict controls on future atmospheric pollution from aviation, either by forcing cleaner technology on the industry or by reducing the number of flights—or should the focus of the debate be on development in order to let aviation grow and let more people fly, with all the inherent economic and social benefits?

We recognise the huge importance of aviation and airlines to national, local and regional economic development in the United Kingdom. They allow business and leisure travellers to access their chosen destination and contribute development and jobs to the economy. What assessments has the Minister made? Does he believe that no-frills carriers will continue to grow, expand and develop routes at the recent rate? All the evidence points to the contrary. Has the hon. Gentleman read about the new structure that Ryanair, for example, is considering? It might deprive people in this country from accessing their second homes in, say, France to the same extent that they have over the past two or three years.

What assessment has the Minister made of the ability to which several hon. Members have referred this afternoon? I refer to the ability of alternative modes of transport, especially high-speed trains on domestic and short-haul European routes, to compete with planes on distance, cost and reliability. One example is the not-so-fast train from Strasbourg to Brussels. That train takes four and a half hours, which is exactly the same as the journey time from Edinburgh to London, yet it costs less than half the first class price.

What assessment has the Minister made of the scope for development at regional airports in the north of England and Scotland to find direct routes to Europe, and to allow international traffic through European hubs, including Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt? What assessment has he made of the environmental costs of the present rate of aviation development? As many hon. Members have said, EU pollution rules are already being breached. Noise and noxious pollution from planes taking off and landing, and pollution from cars travelling to and from airports and those using major routes such as the A4 near Heathrow, all contribute. What comparative assessment has the Minister made of less harmful damage to the environment caused by developing alternative airports such as London Luton rather than other London airports?

Does the Minister accept that international aviation has been in decline since the 1990s, as shown by the evidence taken by the Transport Committee for its aviation report? There has been a downturn in the US and other economies. The industry has also been affected by the impact of 11 September and the SARS virus, and in this country by floods, rail disasters, the foot and mouth crisis and other factors.

The Government must put all modes of transport on a level playing field. The Minister has tough questions to answer. Is the aviation industry paying its external costs? How are those external costs identified? Has the Minister considered the response from the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK to the Government's consultation paper on economic instruments? Does he agree that the Government should be able to make an informed proposal on the basis of those instruments to take account of the environmental impact and to have regard for the principles of the International Civil Aviation Organisation? BAR UK wants the proposals to be environmentally beneficial, economically reasonable and technically feasible. Does the Minister support that view or does he believe that it is wrong?

Is aviation passenger duty an environmental charge or a stealth tax? It raises between £800 million and £1 billion a year, but none of that goes to defraying the environmental costs of the aviation industry. The aviation industry is prepared to enter emissions trading negotiations, but while making a financial contribution, how will it reduce pollution, or be seen to create a sustainable aviation transport sector? The Government must answer a simple question. Given the collapse of the no-frills carrier networks, and the fact that aviation carries more of its share of transport through environmental charges such as the aviation passenger tax, do the Government believe that the present growth rate of aviation is sustainable?

Is the Minister prepared to support the call of the hon. Member for Putney for the Government to take a lead role in the EU on trading emissions, and to press ICAO and other European unions? Will the Government take the lead and commit themselves today to introducing proposals within the next two years? Are the Government in favour of the introduction of emissions charges at EU level as an interim measure, pending inclusion of aviation in those international trading schemes?

Does the Minister agree with the conclusions given in the Environmental Audit Committee report entitled "Budget 2003 and Aviation", produced under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth)? In paragraph 10 of the conclusions and recommendations, it is stated: The net present value associated with the increase in the cost of aviation emissions amounts to minus £18 billion. Does the Minister agree with the Committee's conclusion that including this amount would entirely wipe out the economic case for an expansion in runways"? If not, what is the true cost of aviation emissions?

Before the publication of the White Paper is announced, the Minister has one final tough question to answer. Does he believe that the environmental pollution caused by the aviation industry is clear for all to see, and underestimated, and that therefore any case for expanding or proposing to expand runway capacity in the south of England or elsewhere is outweighed by the economic case for such expansion? If that is the Government's position, when will they make the economic case for such expansion?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call the Minister to reply to this interesting debate.

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

I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on the timeliness and the substance of this debate. I fear that it will be the first of many debates on this area, both before and certainly after the publication of the White Paper.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) on her new role, which, if I have understood the machinations of the Conservative reshuffle correctly, is in the same group but speaking with a different voice from a different part of what is now a joint group rather than a single group.

I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I concentrate on the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, many of which were mentioned subsequently. I believe that that will be the easiest way to progress.

However, I shall first make a few opening remarks. I was struck by the fact that, until the tail end of the debate, much of the discussion was focused on London and the south-east, although I understand why that was so. The White Paper is meant to be, and will be, concerned with national aviation and airports policy. As some hon. Members said, whatever happens in London and the south-east, there is still a massive role for regional airports. Regardless of the situation in London and the south-east, we have said that we shall, and we will, address the important question of accessibility from the regions to the London and south-east hub, I am sure that those issues will be followed up in subsequent debates.

I shall now pick out some of the points from my hon. Friend's speech to address. If I miss any of the comments that he made, or those made by anyone else, in the slightly expanded but none the less Macclesfieldish declaration speech that I have to make, I apologise to them. If they write to me about those points, I will follow them up. Early in his speech, my hon. Friend said that broadly, and repeatedly, Ministers have told him that the UK Government cannot go it alone nor regulate in isolation for sustainable aviation. That is an absolute truth but is not, as he said subsequently, a recipe for doing absolutely nothing. I shall return to that point, because there is much that we can do on a national, European and international level. However, if we were to devise a marvellously purist package all on our own, focusing only on the UK without recognising either our economic and environmental place on the European and world stage, or aviation's role and interdependency in the European and world dimension, that would not do anyone a favour, on whatever side of the argument they found themselves.

Secondly, I offer, not necessarily in flippant terms, my apologies for not being able to make the meeting at 6 pm in Committee Room 18 on opposing the third runway at Heathrow. It might not be in order for me to attend such a meeting before the publication of the White Paper. However, I hope that I have a reasonable excuse, which is that I shall be ensconced at the time with the Aviation Environment Federation, examining its concerns in relation to the White Paper. Please do not push me as to whether, had I not had that engagement, I would be at the meeting about the third runway. I suspect that I would not.

My hon. Friend said clearly that the new air transport White Paper should establish a framework that would ensure the long-term development of aviation in the UK and that it should be sustainable. That is what drives us; if the White Paper is about nothing else, it must give some definition to the notion of sustainable aviation and proving that that is not an oxy-moron or oxymoron, however one wants to say it, but it is—it must be—the way forward for aviation in future.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) has gone—not in a nasty way, but if we struggle with sustainable aviation, God knows what a debate on socialist aviation would be like! I am glad that we are not pursuing that line. As my hon. Friend the Member for Putney said, aviation has global, national, regional and local implications for the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development, as well as for the prudent use of natural resources. Nothing that will be brought forward in the White Paper will be in isolation. It sits, and will sit, within the wider context of Government policy.

Whenever the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill is enacted—I brought the Bill to the House last February, ostensibly on a fast track, and it has been stuck in the Commons ever since—the far stronger sustainability argument and ethos, both at regional and spatial strategy level and local development framework level, will root far more readily in our planning framework than ever before. It was developed in the context of the energy White Paper, not in isolation. I would not be as sniffy as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney about reform of the planning process. We do not want to repeat T5 inquiries but we do not want to tear down the entire edifice of democratic participation in the process. We think, for major infrastructure projects, that it is entirely appropriate to have concurrent inquiries, led by an inspector under a lead inspector. However, it is not essential for every single item of evidence before an inquiry of such magnitude to be heard by the one inspector, which was part of the delay to T5. We want to keep the crucial dimension of democracy in play.

I want to return, towards the end, to explain what will and what will not be in the White Paper in terms of process; I am not talking about substance but about progress. As I said, the regional dimension is important, as is the question of where passengers will go if there is no expansion in capacity. It is far more complex—with respect to hon. Members who have intervened—than people first think. If it were as simple as shifting much of the demand northwards, we could all pack up and go home. Many of the passenger movements in the London and south-east hub will not—with the best will in the world—go to the midlands or the north, if they cannot get to London and the south-east. As various hon. Members said, they will go to Schipol, Frankfurt or Paris, not to other parts of our own aviation network—

Lembit Öpik

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty

I shall not, actually.

It is not entirely like for like in that respect. At the other end of the scale, we must fully understand not only the environmental dimensions but how, for many regions, small airports are key economic drivers. We do not want to upset that balance. I know that I had a summer holiday, as did everyone else, but my hon. Friend the Member for Putney will want to know that I was appointed in June, not September. Perhaps it is a portent for the response and the lynch mob that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State alluded to at Question Time, but I was appointed on Friday 13th and was told that my brief included aviation.

I take the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and other hon. Members about rail substitution, but I fear that all the evidence suggests limitations to that. I had the great delight this morning, after tootling down to Waterloo for 9.30 am, to meet a greatly surprised and bemused woman who was taking her husband to Paris for the day for his 65th birthday treat. She happened to be the millionth passenger on Eurostar since the new part of the channel tunnel rail link opened two months ago. There have been a million passengers in two months. I cannot remember her name, but I am sure that they had a great time in Paris, after they were bumped up to first class and were given another first-class return and a week in a hotel courtesy of Eurostar. The huge success of the engineering feat of the channel tunnel rail link—let alone the public and private sector partnership and investment—will make an enormous difference to that sort of short haul. I take what people say about getting most of our high-speed links, not least the west coast main line, up to scratch, so that there can be some alternation and substitution in that regard, but it is not always as simple as "provide the alternative and people will use it," not least because of pricing mechanisms and other things.

I take note of my hon. Friend's comments about the Airbus A380, but we do a disservice to the aerospace industry if we say that it has done little or nothing to ameliorate the situation or to make engines quieter, as there have been huge advances. Since 13 June I have had to plough my way around 10 or a dozen airports to look at some of these matters in detail, and people are embarrassed when they say, "Oh yes, we still have a couple of 200s flying here every now and then but we are trying to get rid of them." When the 200s were introduced, they were state-of-the-art; it was the quietest and stealthiest of all aeroplanes, a brand new dawn in terms of aviation. Now, the 200s are the ones that embarrass everyone because of the advances that have been made since they were introduced.

I note the research being done in Cambridge. Last week, I had the pleasure of going to Duxford and speaking to people about it, not least those from Marshall. We will welcome the advances should they come to fruition. We are very aware that there is more we can do at European level. To be fair to BAA, it held a seminar on the trading of emissions. The Commissioner was present, and the Commissioner and the EU generally were very positive that there could be some advance in that area.

I look forward with some trepidation to the next ICAO meeting because ICAO—not IKEA: that was part of my previous portfolio—needs a kick up the proverbial backside to push things on far more than it has done. I think I agree with what my hon. Friend says about advancing more in terms of the European dimension. We can act as an exemplar to ICAO to pull its finger out and get things done more readily.

Some comments seem to suggest that the White Paper was simply rooted in a process of listening to what the industry said would be the untrammelled, unconstrained demand for the next 30 years, asking how we could meet that demand and deciding to meet it—in which case the industry would get everything that it wanted. But that will not be what prevails; what will prevail within the context of sustainability is that there will be a demand for unconstrained growth and whatever the details of the numbers, everyone agrees that the quantum projection is upwards. What can be achieved in terms of the sustainable framework? Crucially, how can we fully optimise existing capacity more readily than we have done? That must be part of the process. Given all that, how can we develop a provision for new capacity within the sustainability framework? What is the necessary package for that new capacity in terms of noise mitigation, mitigation in terms of the environment, service access elements and so on that go into the process? We are not simply having a raffle, picking an airport that wants expansion and saying, "Ah, there we are. You can have it. Off you go." It is about building up sustainable packages.

It may also be necessary to put things in context and say, "Yes, but over this time frame not that time frame." We are keenly aware that past White Papers have been a waste of time in terms of policy, and I agree in part with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that until now the policy network has been flawed and immature. Those days are over. For the first time, this is a proper, detailed White Paper that seeks to achieve sustainable aviation over the next 30 years and will give everyone what they are screaming out for—some clarity and understanding of where they fit into the equation, whether they are part of the industry or the local communities or are simply travellers and passengers, and what the future is for aviation in this country over the next 30 years. The debate has aided that process, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Putney on securing it. I repeat that if there are any issues that I did not cover in the little time that I had, I shall be more than happy to write to hon. Members about them once they have written to me to pursue them.

I fear, happily—if one can fear things happily—that the publication of the White Paper is the next phase of an ongoing debate, rather than the end of the debate. For that, everyone in the country should be grateful, whatever side of the argument they come from.