Salter Speaks in Parliament Again, 28 Jan 09

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Gummer, as I did in the debate that we had on 11 November. The fact that Mrs. Villiers, who speaks for the Opposition on these matters, did not make one of her finest speeches today does not make the Government’s case any stronger for forcing through a third runway at Heathrow airport.

My starting point is the 2003 aviation White Paper, “The Future of Air Transport“, which contains commitments that I and every other Labour MP were elected on. It is worth reminding the House what it said about air quality, noise and surface access—three of the key tests for all of us who represent constituencies under the Heathrow flight path. It was fairly clear:

“To tackle local impacts around airports, the White Paper prescribes a range of measures to be applied nationally and locally. These include new legislation and economic instruments as well as improved technology and stringent planning conditions attached to airport development. The Government’s under-pinning objectives are to limit”—

to limit—

“and, where possible, reduce noise impacts over time”.

I welcome the announcement on mixed mode—that was not limiting noise impacts; it was not making them worse immediately, which is an entirely different thing. The White Paper continues with the phrase,

“to ensure air quality and other environmental standards are met, and to minimise other local environmental impacts.”

On surface access—these issues are linked—the White Paper was again clear. Paragraph 4.55, on access to and from airports, states:

“Ensuring easy and reliable access for passengers, which minimises environmental, congestion and other local impacts, is a key factor in considering any proposal for new airport capacity. All such proposals must be accompanied by clear proposals on surface access which meet these criteria.

Increasing the proportion of passengers who get to airports by public transport can help reduce road congestion and air pollution. We expect airport operators to share this objective, and to demonstrate how they will achieve it in putting forward their proposals for developing new capacity”.

We have heard from the contributions today that BAA‘s management do not accept that responsibility—in fact, they butted it back. It is “not their problem”. BAA’s problem is to provide landing and take-off slots. Its problem is to run an airport; it is not interested in the chaos that it causes around the airport. Its track record and believability, for any of us who represent constituencies around Heathrow airport, is shredded. It lied. It lied to the people of this country, to this House, to the Government. It said whatever it had to say to get terminal 5, and now it has the bare face to admit that it was deceitful all the way through. And we are supposed to believe the assurances that it is going to give us.

Photo of John GummerJohn Gummer (Suffolk Coastal, Conservative)

Could the hon. Gentleman tell me of a single occasion on which a solemn promise made by BAA has actually been carried forward—except those where it has not had time to break them?

Photo of Martin SalterMartin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

I do not think I need detain the House in racking my brains for an instance when BAA may have kept a promise. The whole House knows the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument and my argument, and I concur entirely with what he is saying.

So we have a solemn commitment to do something about air quality, which was pretty bad in 2003 and is a lot worse now. Air quality is the big one—certainly for me, representing a Thames valley constituency. The Thames valley suffers from very high levels of asthma among its children and young people, which is an issue that I will return to.

We know that, in common with nine other European Union countries, we are about to be in breach of the European air quality directive. That is why the Government are about to apply for a derogation, which can last for only five years. I have to tell the House that there is no guarantee that that derogation will be successful. I have been passed a letter from the Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, which makes the situation clear. Article 4 of the directive

“sets a limit value of 40 micrograms/m3 for NO2 and requires this limit to be achieved by 1 January 2010.”

The letter says that it is possible to derogate, but

“States wishing to do so must notify the Commission and bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that the conditions for the postponement are met. If the Commission decides that the conditions for a postponement or an exemption have not been met, it may raise objections within nine months of receipt of the notification.”

Photo of Susan KramerSusan Kramer (Richmond Park, Liberal Democrat)

rose—

Photo of Martin SalterMartin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

What that means, effectively, is that if a Government have good reason and need time to establish measures to improve air quality, a derogation may follow. Building a third runway moves in exactly the opposite direction: a child of three could see that. Now I give way to Susan Kramer.

Photo of Susan KramerSusan Kramer (Richmond Park, Liberal Democrat)

I thank the hon. Gentleman, but it was precisely that point that I wanted to underscore.

Photo of Martin SalterMartin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

You can have too much of a Liberal Democrat. I am sorry; that was uncalled for.

What is causing the problems for people living around Heathrow and under the flight path? I know the area well. I was brought up in Bedfont, moved to Ashford and now represent Reading, and all those communities are under the Heathrow flight path. To some extent, they benefit from the economic activity generated by the airport; let us make no mistake about that. Let us also be under no misapprehension about the fact that the economic case presented for a third runway is predicated on increasing airport capacity across the piece. It is not predicated on increasing airport capacity in the very place where it is causing the maximum damage: that is where the analysis falls down.

In the time that remains to me, I want to focus on the damage caused by nitrogen dioxide, a lethal pollutant which causes much of the high incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases in my constituency. During the debate on 11 November, the Secretary of State dismissed concerns about nitrogen dioxide. Perhaps “dismissed” is too strong a word, but he certainly appeared not to give those concerns the emphasis that we felt they should be given. He claimed—it is on the record—that the prime cause of nitrogen dioxide emissions was vehicle exhaust fumes, and that only 20 to 25 per cent. of such emissions were caused by the movement of aircraft.

That does not justify building a third runway. If nitrogen dioxide is indeed a problem, it certainly does not justify increasing the appalling gridlock and traffic congestion that exists in the area, primarily because Heathrow is already operating at capacity. The envisaged increase in the number of flights per year from 480,000 to 605,000 raises the prospect of millions of extra vehicle journeys, with more gridlock, more pollution, more nitrogen dioxide and more young people put at risk of asthma.

I congratulate Justine Greening both on her research and on her speech, in which she demolished the Department’s plans by citing its own figures. Her analysis was devastating, reflecting my concerns and many of the concerns of my constituents.

I worry about how the House is ever likely to be taken seriously on the issue of climate change, and on broader environmental issues. There is a real problem with issues such as the third runway, which has become a totemic issue. We can do good things in this House. We can present good legislation, we can use the levers and mechanisms available to us to encourage councils to recycle more, and we can introduce landfill levies. We can change human behaviour. We can lead on an issue about which many of us care passionately, and which was identified and evaluated so effectively in the Stern report, which I think all parties welcomed. But we have to walk the talk. I cannot stand up in front of audiences of, in particular, young people and say, “We are taking your future seriously: we do care about the future of your planet,” if our fingerprints are on this decision.

When moments such as this happen in Parliament, people ask, “Are you prepared to go into the Lobby with the Opposition?” Normally I am not. I detest the Conservative party as much as anyone on these Benches does. I have spent my life fighting the Conservative party. However, no one political party has a monopoly on truth, and no one political party is always right.

What makes this occasion different is that what is actually before us is a House of Commons motion, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Grogan and signed by 57 or 58 Labour Members. It is a sensible, bipartisan motion. I would rather the Opposition had picked the one that I tabled a few weeks later, but as it praised the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I understand their reluctance to do so. This is not a Tory motion; it is a motion calling for a rethink, raising important arguments and recognising that we need a new aviation statement.

Photo of David TaylorDavid Taylor (North West Leicestershire, Labour)

My hon. Friend is referring to early-day motion 2344, which was tabled in the last Session. There is no doubt that it is a bipartisan motion, but does my hon. Friend not realise that some of those 57 or 58 will not be in the Lobby with us tonight—for I plan to be in the same Lobby as my hon. Friend—because of the charge of political opportunism?

When the Conservatives were last in power pre 1997, they were even closer to the aviation industry than the present Government are. They were in bed with the industry, and refused to implement reasonable and decent environmental frameworks at airports such as East Midlands airport in my constituency, which has more night flights than Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick put together. Their track record—

Photo of Sylvia HealSylvia Heal (Deputy Speaker) this

Order. That is a very lengthy intervention.

Photo of Martin SalterMartin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

I think I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

At the end of the day, we cannot look the parents of a young child with breathing problems in the eye and say, “When I had an opportunity to do something about this, I walked away from it; I didn’t walk into the Lobby because my political opponents were in that Lobby.” There comes a point when such an argument carries very little credibility.

I agree that on these issues we in this House are all on a journey. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal understood the climate change issue before many of us. A lot of us have been slow to wake up to the dire predictions that were being made, but we know that climate change is happening and that we in this House have a leadership role to play. Frankly, I do not think I would have credibility in the job I seek to do if I was—

Photo of Sylvia HealSylvia Heal (Deputy Speaker)

Order. The hon. Gentleman’s time is up.

I have now to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. On the Question relating to section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, the Ayes were 261 and the Noes were 214, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.

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Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 1:36 am  Leave a Comment  

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