December 12, 2007
Nick Hurd criticises plans for the expansion of Heathrow and outlines residents’ concerns about the impact of new take-off flight paths.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on securing the debate. The brief time that I have available will allow me to register three messages with the Minister.
First, Hillingdon speaks with one voice on this issue through its elected representatives in Parliament and in the council. The community that I represent is not losing houses, schools or churches, but it feels tremendous solidarity with the outrage at the putting of business before people, as my hon. Friend put it. My constituents are worried about the impact of new take-off flight paths over Harrow and Northolt. They are worried about what the expansion means for the future of RAF Northolt, because there have been mixed messages about that in the past, and they are worried about what it means in terms of the costs that they will have to pay.
In the interest of joined-up government, the Department for Transport should be aware that the expansion of Heathrow presents the people of Hillingdon with a real issue, because a bigger airport means more unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. That is not an issue that affects every constituency in the country, but the numbers are big and the economic reality is that Hillingdon supports those unfortunate people and pays for them. The numbers run into hundreds, and the costs into millions of pounds. Hillingdon takes enormous pride in the service and support that it offers, but is deeply disappointed by the Government’s reaction to its need for funding support. The reality, of which the Minister should be aware, is that this year Hillingdon council tax will rise 3 per cent. to fund those costs, which the Government do not meet. That problem touches people in their pockets and we in the community are concerned that it will begin to affect what have been, up to now, very good community relations. I give that example to show the many facets and angles of the debate that the Government need to think carefully about.
Secondly, the process may drive another nail into the coffin of public trust in the political process and the Government. Other hon. Members have made that point adequately, but it is a simple one: promises have been broken, so why should anyone believe what the Government say on the issue in future?
Thirdly, I want to reinforce the point that the process is in danger of driving a coach and horses through the Government’s climate change policy. Are we serious about that or not? If we are, why do we continue to adopt a predict-and-provide approach for the fastest-growing source of emissions? We should remind ourselves that aviation is the fastest-growing source of emissions in this country: it has grown 90 per cent. between 1990 and 2004 and is expected to double by 2050. On some models it will represent 100 per cent. of Britain’s carbon budget by 2050 if it is left unchecked, yet we continue to give a green light to further expansion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge pointed out.
What on earth are we to say to our constituents when they say, “Hang on, the Government are telling us that climate change is the most important challenge we face, but they are expanding Heathrow.”? The Minister may talk about emissions trading in his reply, but I sat on the Environmental Audit Committee for two years and we examined emissions trading exhaustively. It is a cap and trade scheme, and cap and trade schemes are only as good as the cap. The history of the emissions trading scheme should not, if it is the only tool in the box for controlling aircraft emissions, give the Government any of the comfort that we desperately need in the face of the threat.
My final point is that the Government argue that the expansion is in the interest of national competitiveness and the national economy, but I seriously doubt whether that proposition has been tested adequately. The growth in aviation is due not to business, but to cheap leisure. With the growth of sophisticated video conferencing technology, I do not expect that trend to change. What proportion of the new passengers will be interchange passengers, who contribute nothing to the national economy? What consideration has been given to the tourism deficit-the difference between what British tourists spend overseas and what overseas tourists spend here-which is calculated to be about £15 billion annually? How has the London economy suffered during the time when Heathrow has not grown as fast as other international airports? I have not noticed such suffering.
Have the Government really caught the genuine voice of business? The last British Chambers of Commerce survey that I saw said that 70 per cent. were not in favour of Heathrow expansion. The last Institute of Directors survey showed that only 1 per cent. of directors considered the expansion of Heathrow to be a priority. The voice that I hear says that people want a better airport, not a bigger airport.
We have an opportunity to stop the rot. The Government have an absolutely golden opportunity to take a lead and stop the nonsensical game of, “My airport is bigger than your airport,” as if it were a significant symbol of a nation’s status. The Prime Minister has billed the issue as an example of his ability take a tough decision; the truth is that the only brave and visionary decision would be to say no.