Labour backs Heathrow expansion – Norman and Susan lead Lib Dem opposition campaign

by Stephen Tall on January 29, 2009

As BBC News reports:

The government has won a vote over plans for Heathrow’s third runway – but saw its majority cut to just 19. … The Lib Dems supported the [motion urging the Government to “rethink” plans] but the ministers argue scrapping the plans would seriously damage the economy. More than 50 Labour MPs had previously expressed concerns about the plans in other Commons motions but only 28 of them voted for the Conservative motion on Wednesday.

It’s an all-too familiar scenario – Labour MPs queue up to sign Early Day Motions criticising their own party, then use their threat to withold support as bartering chips. All of which would be commendable if they didn’t then cash their chits for ridiculously small concessions, such as ‘a pledge to initially cap flights on the new runway’ [my emphasis].

Lib Dem shadow secretary of state for transport Norman Baker, and local Richmond MP Susan Kramer were among those leading the campaign against the Heathrow expansion. Extracts from their Commons speeches below, with links to the full Hansard transcripts, follow:

Norman Baker (full speech here):

We must ask ourselves the reasons for the Government’s policy. It is electorally unpopular, economically it does not make sense and it is environmentally damaging, so what is the policy for? The Department for Transport seems to have been influenced far too much in recent times by BAA, which seems to decide what the Government’s aviation policy is. Let us not forget that BAA half-wrote the consultation, set up a joint body, the Heathrow Delivery Group, to steer the plans through the consultation process, and provided the data for calculations of noise and pollution that formed the premises of the consultation document. Opposition groups were not permitted to challenge the data. The Department for Transport and BAA set up a risk list, a list of threats to the building of the third runway, which includes the 2M campaign representing 2 million people.

I will not bore the House by elaborating on the revolving door, but there are a huge number of people in government who find themselves connected with BAA, and a huge number of people connected with BAA who find themselves rather close to Government. That explains why the Government have got their position completely wrong on the matter. …

I ask Labour MPs to think very carefully about how they will vote this evening. If they go through the Lobby with the Government, which is the easy way of dealing with the matter, the way of least resistance, they will have to answer to their consciences. They will have to answer for the inconsistencies with the Climate Change Act 2008, and they will have to answer mostly to their constituents if they happen to live anywhere near London or the flight path.

This is the one opportunity that we all have to get it right. I ask Labour Members to think about the environmental impact of a third runway, and about the local impact. If they cannot do that, I ask them to think about their own political prospects. If they think of those three things, they will vote to reject a third runway at Heathrow. It does not really matter what the Government do; I think the third runway is dead in the water and it will not go ahead.

Susan Kramer (full transcript here):

I will briefly raise two last issues. One of them is the economic argument, which is always presented in discussion on Heathrow. One would think that Heathrow was disappearing, instead of having more passengers than any other airport in Europe. It has 69 million passengers; there are 59 million at Charles de Gaulle and 54 million at Frankfurt. Heathrow is by far the largest airport. As others have said, if we think about all five London airports, the aviation option available to people who base themselves in London for business or leisure is completely out of scale.

People say, “There are so many runways at other airports.” They will be conscious, as I am sure the Secretary of State for Transport is, that at any one point in time, those airports cannot use their full selection of runways. The typical number that they can use is two. There may be four runways at Charles de Gaulle, but only two can operate at any one time, so although there is slightly more runway capacity there, the reality is not significantly different. We never hear that point made in discussion.

… if decision makers were serious, they would go around businesses across London finding out in detail what their needs were, where they needed to go, and what the constraints were. We would build the economic case from the ground up—but that fundamental, simple work has never been done. …

Let me finish on the issue of democracy, because I think that it matters. I have constituents here today, and constituents of mine have come to these debates before. They are utterly disillusioned with the Government, and they are becoming disillusioned with Parliament. They say to me, “This is only the beginning of the fight for us. We’re not going to lie down.” I say to the Secretary of State and others that if they will not allow MPs to speak on the Floor of the House, and go through the Lobbies, in Government time, and with a clear opportunity to say yes or no to the third runway, they will drive people to direct action—possibly sometimes illegal action, but never, I hope, damaging action. The Government will drive people to that if they do not allow democracy on an issue that is central to people’s understanding of a sustainable future for their communities and for this country.