Clive calls for Heathrow to have the highest environmental standards in the world

Clive Efford (Eltham, Labour): Almost all the people who contacted me about today’s debate believed that it was about climate change and the impact on it that airport expansion has, not just at Heathrow, but in general. However, we are talking about an early-day motion in the name of my hon. Friend Mr. Grogan that the Conservatives adopted to entice as many hon. Members as possible to follow them into the voting Lobby. The idea was that Members would feel duty-bound to do so because they signed that early-day motion, believing that that was the right thing to do. It is a mere device not just to bring the issue to the Floor of the House, as some people have suggested was the intention, but to use it as a political football.

When I began to think about what I might say in the debate, I expected to see an Opposition motion setting out what, if anything, we should do about airport expansion and laying out the criteria by which the Opposition would measure whether they would introduce any airport expansion and where that might be, but we do not have that. What we have is a motion that is purely about the third runway at Heathrow. Many of my colleagues feel that, because of their constituency situation, they have to state their position in relation to Heathrow and support the early-day motion that has been presented as an Opposition motion today.

Adam Afriyie (Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills; Windsor, Conservative):
I recognise some of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about whether party politics are involved, but does he regret the fact that his Government will not give the House of Commons a vote on the third runway?

Clive Efford (Eltham, Labour): I will come to that.

We heard from Mrs. Villiers a refusal to give any commitment at all about where we might see expansion, how she might measure expansion if she were ever a Secretary of State for Transport in future, and what criteria she would use. None of those questions was answered. She spoke about expansion at Heathrow, and expansion alone.

When my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore asked the hon. Lady about mixed mode, however, she welcomed the statement from the Secretary of State that there would be no mixed mode at Heathrow, but when pressed about whether she would approve mixed mode across London, she refused to give a commitment that a future Conservative Government would not introduce mixed mode. If her position is that she would not introduce mixed mode given the chance, why did she not take the opportunity to refuse to introduce it? [Hon. Members: “She did.”] She did not. I challenge hon. Members to check Hansard. The hon. Lady said that she welcomed the commitment from the Secretary of State, but that she hoped he would stand by it in the future. I suggest that Conservative Members check Hansard.

Julian Brazier (Shadow Minister, Transport; Canterbury, Conservative): May I lay this one to rest? On several previous occasions in the House and at press conferences, my hon. Friend Mrs. Villiers has made it clear that we are profoundly against allowing mixed mode.

Clive Efford (Eltham, Labour): I am sure that people are listening, but they will go back and check Hansard. The hon. Lady, who opened the debate, refused to give a commitment on the issue. Last October she was asked whether she would approve a second runway at Stansted. She made an unequivocal statement then that if BAA were to pursue that option, she would advise them not to do so because a future Conservative Government would stop it in its tracks. There was no mention of Stansted today.

The motion says no to a third runway at Heathrow, but let us look at all the other options. Right across the south-east now, anyone who lives near an airport might have the Tories coming down their way to expand that airport. That is what the motion says. In the absence of any policy— [Interruption.] I am sorry if they do not like it, but they are going to have to sit there and listen to it. In the absence of any policy of their own, the Conservatives have adopted an EDM in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Selby. It has fixed them now with a policy of airport expansion, potentially right across the south-east. Let us look—

Stephen Hammond (Shadow Minister, Transport; Wimbledon, Conservative): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Clive Efford (Eltham, Labour): I have already given way twice and there are others who wish to speak. I am sorry if I have rattled the hon. Gentleman’s cage, but that is how it is.

Let us have a look at what the Tories are saying where they are in power. Let us look at Mayor Boris and the island, for which my right hon. Friend Mr. Raynsford made a powerful case. But it does not represent the position of the Conservative party in the House. The Conservative party has got into a schism about airport expansion. It does not know whether to go one way or the other. The Mayor, who actually has power and influence, is pushing for a new airport in the Thames estuary. The Conservative party does not know which way to go on any airport—all it knows is that it does not want Heathrow to expand. Much as I have misgivings about airport expansion, I will not join the Conservatives in the Lobby today.

I turn to the position of the Government. Labour Members have made some reasonable requests today, most notably about the national policy statement. Heathrow is totemic in environmental terms, and it will be made so whether it is talked about in this bubble of the House of Commons or elsewhere. The matter should be brought back to the Floor of the House; let us have a vote on it in the near future. That would be a test of our commitment on climate change. We passed the Climate Change Bill, which is now an Act. There is the Committee on Climate Change, and we intend it to consider the measures that we have put in place for airport expansion. We are also going to give powers to the Civil Aviation Authority and the Environment Agency. Labour Members have questioned whether we are earnest in our commitments in relation to those measures. I believe that they should be brought back to the Floor of the House for debate so that people can question, amend and alter them if they need to be strengthened. That is an essential role that the House can play in future on the issue—an issue to which we will return, as others have said.

I want to mention the high-speed rail link before I sit down. I do not believe that it will ever be built. I support it and want it, but according to the Conservatives’ own figures it would cost £17 billion to introduce. I have always felt that we could make much more efficient use of our resources by building a dedicated freight line and taking freight off our passenger rail network. That would be cheaper and would not require all the engineering that a high-speed rail link would need. It would allow us to create more capacity and improve timetables on the existing passenger network. We could deliver it much more cheaply and, in addition, take a great deal of freight off the road. Currently, 12 per cent. of our freight goes by rail; that represents a significant increase in the past 10 years, but if we could create more freight capacity the figure would rise further. One freight train is the equivalent of 50 heavy goods vehicles; an aggregate freight train is the equivalent of 120 HGVs. Building a dedicated freight line rather than going for a high-speed rail link, which would knock off only marginal amounts of time from journeys up and down the country, would make an enormous contribution to the environment.

In conclusion, I hope that the Government are listening to what we on the Labour Benches are saying. There is great concern that past promises on Heathrow have not been adhered to. This issue is a major test of our commitment on climate change, and that means that the House, the Committee on Climate Change, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Environment Agency must have a role, to ensure that we deliver on the commitments that we have made.

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