Speaking in support of a Conservative motion calling on the Government to rethink plans for a third runway at Heathrow, Nick Hurd questions how expansion at Heathrow can be compatible with Government targets on carbon emissions.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): It is a privilege to follow two speeches by my senior and southern Hillingdon neighbours. They made great speeches on behalf of their communities.
I should like to salute two brave speeches in this debate. The first was that of my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, who had the courage to go to the Dispatch Box and say that she had thought things through a little harder and come to a different view. She was met with derision from the opposing Benches, where a lot more people should have done exactly the same thing. I salute my hon. Friend. The other brave speech was from the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who is not in his place, so I will not shower him with praise. He appears, for today at least, to have overcome a lifelong loathing of the Conservative party so as to do the right thing. Those were brave speeches.
The least courageous speech this afternoon came from the Secretary of State. He came here with a stinker of a speech on 11 November, and he has followed it with an even worse one today. He did not even have the courage to make a case to the House for his decision. I wish that he had been in the Beck theatre in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) at a public debate facilitated by Boris Johnson. An empty chair was left up on the stage for a member of the Government to participate, but no one appeared. We had a fantastic debate. If he had turned up, he would have heard, as one would expect, genuine anger from local people whose houses are going to be demolished and who are going to have to dig up their relatives in the cemetery. He might then have come to the House in more sensitive mode. He should have been particularly concerned about the expression of a complete breakdown of public trust in how this process has been conducted and in the democratic process of decision making in this country.
The public have lost faith. They know what has happened in this process. They know that there has been a steady stream of broken promises or lies by BAA, and they can see a Government who have got far too close to that organisation. The Secretary of State’s speech included lots of new announcements on additions to rail capacity in the Heathrow area that were not part of the original consultation process, which is now invalidated. People see a really bad decision-making process and ask why we are doing this, because they can see the facts. They can see that this decision will materially affect the quality of life of millions of people in west London living under the flight path. They can see that it will destroy communities, and they care about that. They can see that it will increase emissions. A lot of people care passionately about that and do not understand why a Government who take pride in leadership in this area are driving a coach and horses through their own climate change strategy with this one decision. They can see the impact on air quality in the Thames valley. They can see all these things, and they ask why we are doing it. The answer from the Government is no more than a series of assertions—that Heathrow is full, that the concept of the hub is a sacred cow that cannot be questioned, that it is inevitable that Heathrow will decline and that that carries mortal consequences for the state of the British economy, and that we therefore have to take this enormous decision in the national interest.
What is shocking is the lack of rigour in testing those assertions. As the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) powerfully observed, how can Heathrow be full when the Government and the Department accept the data in BAA’s own consultation document about an enormous increase in passenger flows through Heathrow over the next 20 years because the market will respond to capacity constraint by flying bigger planes? Those are not the statistics of an airport in decline, so why is decline considered inevitable? Heathrow has not declined over the past 10 years. While other airports have expanded, has London suffered any loss of prosperity? No, because decisions on where people invest and do business are not restricted to the quality of the airport. Everyone knows that Heathrow is shockingly bad as a passenger experience, but people still come and do business here. A host of other factors determine business decisions. What I hear from business people is not, “I can’t get to place A from Heathrow”, but “This is a shockingly bad experience, and what are you going to do about it?” They want a better Heathrow, not a bigger Heathrow.
As other speakers have said, we have enormous airport capacity around London. London has five airports. We move many more people than our so-called European competitors. We have the best connections in Europe, and that will be the case for the foreseeable future. The Government talk sombrely about the decline of the hub model, but where is the modelling to support that assertion? Where are the data? Where is the research? Where is anything on which we can pin evidence to test this assertion? There is nothing—just really lazy decision making by a Government who were content merely to jointly commission with the industry research that underpins a business case that has been exposed over time to be entirely inadequate.
Where is the debate about the future of the hub as the sacred cow of the industry? Is it conceivable that consumers might want a different experience in future, and that they might want fly direct to places? They might not want to spend hours wandering around huge, impersonal airports. The consumer and the industry might change, but we are nailing our colours to the mast and signing up to BAA’s game of “My airport is bigger than your airport.”
That seems to be the limit of the Government’s vision, but will not our European competitors be subject to exactly the same constraints as we are in a carbon-constrained world? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said, now is exactly the time to show genuine leadership in Europe and to say that this game is unsustainable. We should take a lead in saying, “Pause and rethink.” Have the Government engaged with those matters at all? No. There has been absolute silence, and they have bought the BAA argument hook, line and sinker.
The truth is that for the foreseeable future, London will have the best air connections in the world. Surely the trick is now to think much more cleverly about what will change in the future and, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, to consider how we can connect the five London airports more effectively. We must consider the 25 or 30 per cent. of Heathrow’s capacity that could be served by rail and give passengers a genuinely compelling alternative. We must consider how to harness the new technology that is coming on stream to give people a better alternative to flying, or to accelerate the industry’s progress in finding more environmentally friendly methods. Those are the big policy questions, and we should not adopt a passive, predict-and-provide approach in tame submission to an extremely effective corporate lobby.
Now is the time for real leadership. I will be interested to hear what the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has to say. I simply cannot see how a third runway at Heathrow is compatible with achieving an 80 per cent. emissions cut by 2050. He has placed only one policy chip on the table, which is emissions trading, despite the fact that it has been proven only as a concept and a theory. It has not been proven in practice to reduce emissions, because cap and trade schemes are only as good as the cap that is set, and caps are set by politicians who, as we well know, are subject to intense corporate lobbying to make them as soft as possible. The caps that he has set up are no more than aspirations, and the debate has only just started. We have no guarantee at all that they will be effective in reducing emissions on a scale compatible with our target of an 80 per cent. drop by 2050.
A really big Government, a Government who genuinely took the tough decisions, would say, “We may have got this wrong. We have listened to the people who share our concerns about climate change—the Environment Agency, the millions of residents, the businesses that are thoughtful about the matter—and we recognise that we may have got this wrong.” This Government will not do that, because they are not that sort of Government. The matter will therefore be decided at the next general election.
It is perhaps worth my ending by echoing the voices of two of my constituents. One of them wrote to the Prime Minister, and is a Labour supporter—some still exist in Northwood, the Secretary of State will be encouraged to hear. He wrote:
“If the government is serious about lowering the UK’s emissions why is this proposal even being considered?…There’s no denying that Heathrow is an important airport for the UK but I do urge you to look again at the planned expansion proposals from a humanitarian (traditionally Labour) perspective and ask again whether the UK can live without this expansion. I and many other Labour supporters believe it can.”
Another constituent wrote to me:
“I trust that when the Conservatives win the next election the Conservative Government will rescind this awful decision and bury this scheme forever. Perhaps I will then start to believe again that I am still living in a democracy.”
Nick Hurd speaks out against the further expansion of Heathrow highlighting the social and environmental cost. He tells MPs “People want a better airport, not necessarily a bigger airport”.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I am the third Hillingdon MP to speak. My constituents are not being thrown out of their homes and they are not losing their churches, schools and cemeteries, but Hillingdon speaks with one voice on this issue. My constituents’ quality of life will be affected, by the new flight path and by an increase in traffic on the roads—but stronger than that is the real sense that Heathrow is big enough and that the social and environmental costs are too great to proceed. A voice says, “We were told that terminal 5 was the end of it. That was a lie, so why should we believe anything else that is said by this Government or by anyone involved with this process?” The message from Hillingdon is that enough is enough.
That is the local view, and I make no apology for stating it, but, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) also acknowledged in his brilliant speech, there is a big national decision to be taken. The Secretary of State drew himself up to his full height at the Dispatch Box and talked about a long-term strategic decision—what a way to go about it. What a shambolic process. If this is how we take long-term strategic decisions, shame on us. This decision is rooted in an out-of-date White Paper—life has moved on a long way since then—and in a consultation document that was condemned by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who is also my neighbour, as a dodgy dossier with no credibility, and it all stands and rests on a business case that the Government are not even prepared to make or to commission. The work is being done by outside bodies, financed by the industry, and the best that they can come up with is that there will be, at present value, benefits of about £5 billion over 70 years. In this process, which has been so badly managed by the Department for Transport, the Government have left themselves open to accusations of collusion with BAA plc. It has got that bad. What a shambolic process. That is no way to make a long-term strategic decision of this importance.
The Secretary of State is right to say that there is a capacity issue at Heathrow to address, and we have reached crunch time for a decision on it. We must decide whether to adopt the predict and provide approach to accommodate demand. He says that that is not what the Government are doing. We are now told, because the Labour briefing to Back Benchers says so, that no decision has been taken: you could have fooled me! It feels very much as though this Government have taken a decision and have subscribed to the myth that a nation’s status is judged by the size of its airport, so we are condemned to continue playing a game of “My airport’s bigger than yours”.
Mr. Gummer: Not only that, but the Government are excusing what they are doing by saying that doing it makes us good Europeans. That is the really depressing thing.
Mr. Hurd: It has been a depressing afternoon, and not solely for that reason.
The Government appear to have made their mind up, despite evidence that the social cost will be enormous in Hillingdon, in Hayes and Harlington and across west London. Their sensitivity to this issue is reflected in the fact that although they pride themselves in carrying out the most “comprehensive” consultation—I think that was the adjective used by the Secretary of State—we are yet to be given an assessment of the health impact, which is probably one of the biggest issues for my constituents, and an equality assessment, which is also important. A health impact assessment is not considered important enough to be in the mix to help us with this decision and this debate.
The environmental cost has been touched on late in the debate, and I wish to say a word about it. Although we take pride in the process of the Climate Change Bill, in which I was heavily engaged, we remain in the business of setting and monitoring targets, and the mechanics of all that. It is time for an “emperor’s new clothes” moment, because we are failing and our emissions are rising. We are failing not only in this country, but across Europe. We have raised the bar to 80 per cent on emissions, but in the context of failure, we must acknowledge that the transport sector is the most stubborn one, and that within it, aviation is the fastest-growing source of emissions.
The problem is that we will not get help from technology. Whereas we can just about see that car technology is on the brink of major change and that our children and grandchildren will drive something very different, fuelled by something very different, from what we drive, aviation is not the same, because we cannot see an alternative to kerosene. The fact that stock takes 20 years to pass through the system means that no technological solution is in sight, which gives us big policy challenges in managing this problem and in the degree to which we are prepared to manage demand. The Government have done really well on climate change on so many levels, but there has been a failure in their response in this area, because they are prepared to place just one chip on the table—emissions trading. That is so despite the evidence, which suggests that emissions trading, for the time that we have had it, has improved the mechanics of how the process works, but has been a failure in doing what it is meant to do, which is to reduce emissions. It has been a failure because there is so much political risk in the process; it is a haggle and a negotiation. It is a cap-and-trade scheme that is only as good as the cap, and that is the function of a political process.
For the Secretary of State to stand up and say that things are going to be all right because the emissions trading scheme will sort them all out is not good enough. The Commission has set out its stall on the parameters and the kind of cap that it is imagining. It is quite demanding and there will be costs to consumers, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the industry will pass them on to our constituents. The price of flying will rise, as will the price of carbon credits, because aviation will start trying to buy them in the market, and that will have implications for other industries. The point is that the negotiation process has not even started yet. The mother of all lobbies is about to be unleashed and it will take real political courage, which I do not see as evident either here or on the continent, to assure us that the cap will be set at a meaningful level to help genuinely curb the growth in aviation emissions.
The Government can slap themselves on the back for everything that they have done on climate change, and they can talk about how they are prepared to consider aviation within the targets, but it counts for nothing in the minds of our constituents when set against the decision to give a green light to the fastest-growing source of emissions. People simply do not understand that decision, and it makes a mockery of the whole climate change strategy.
In that context, there needs to be a fantastic overwhelming business case for taking such a decision—but there is not one. The case being made is pathetic. Even the advocates put forward only a small number of benefits, and the Government have not even bothered to do their own work. We hear long lectures about the importance of the hub model, without any reflection about whether that is the economic model that will survive for the next 10 or 15 years. My constituents do not understand what the national economic benefit is of a passenger arriving and then sitting in Heathrow airport waiting to catch another plane—although they can see the benefits to BAA. We are given a long solemn list of destinations that have been cancelled, but what my constituents and I are saying is, “Help us to understand just how important it is.” Where is the Government modelling to help us understand the erosion of the hub and when it will bite in terms of affecting our competitiveness? Again there has been silence, and no evidence has been provided.
One thing that does matter in terms of the economic case is foreign direct investment, and whether companies will change decisions about whether to relocate in the UK in the light of the capacity of Heathrow. What matters is whether they will relocate because they cannot fly to where they want—but where is the evidence to suggest that that is happening? Other airports on the continent have grown during a period of fantastic prosperity for London, so where is the evidence that we face an abyss in terms of this business risk? We all know that the airport is not the only factor in business decisions. Many other factors shape business attitudes towards staying or locating in London, such as the tax environment, the regulatory environment and the quality of life. It is ironic, but many business executives are thinking about relocating their business because of the impact of noise pollution from Heathrow, let alone concerns about where they can or cannot fly.
The voice of business that I hear does not say, “I can’t get to where I want to go.” It says, “Heathrow is a terrible airport, with an awful passenger experience.” People want a better airport, not necessarily a bigger airport. In the light of that, we are forced to conclude that the Government’s decision is rooted in the worst possible reasons, and is politically motivated. We can be confident in that judgment, because we had the most ridiculous political and partisan speech from the Secretary of State, which did neither his Department nor himself any credit. The decision is based on inadequate data, a discredited consultation process and a tremendous insensitivity to the reality of the climate change agenda, and it drives another nail into the coffin of public trust in our public institutions and the way in which we are governed. We have to be able to do better. I wholly support the call from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington to step back and rethink.
NICK’S PREVIOUSINTERVENTION IN THESAMEDEBATE
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): The Secretary of State has been on his feet for 40 minutes or so—it has felt longer—yet the words “climate change” have not fallen from his lips. Does he not understand that there is profound concern in the House that an emissions trading scheme that has so far categorically failed to reduce emissions will be inadequate for the task of controlling the fastest-growing source of emissions? Does he not appreciate that for many of our constituents the decision to give a green light to Heathrow’s expansion makes a mockery of the Government’s climate change strategy?
Mr. Hoon: I do not accept that for a moment, and I shall deal with the environmental arguments in due course. Although I have been on my feet for a while, I have been answering questions as well as making a speech. Given the hon. Gentleman’s implicit criticism, I shall make some further progress.