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Kramer fights for MPs to get final say on airport expansion

February 25, 2009 2:38 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat MP proposes Airport Expansion (Parliamentary Approval) Bill under the '10 minute rule'

Should Parliament have to approve proposals for the building of new airports and runways? That was the question posed by Susan Kramer's '10 minute rule' bill debated on Tuesday (24th February).

Susan argued that it should, saying that, on an issue as crucial as this to tackling climate change, MPs could not shirk their responsibilities and shift the decision to someone else. "When the cost of a wrong decision is so high, we cannot say, "Oh, the Climate Change Committee will decide." We cannot say, "The Infrastructure Planning Commission will decide." We cannot even say that the Government should decide, unchallenged and unchallengeable by any vote. Our constituents expect us to shoulder crucial responsibilities, and on that basis, I ask hon. Members to support this Bill."

Susan said that although her introduction of the Bill had been triggered by proposals for a third runway at Heathrow and the Government's refusal to let Parliament decide on that, the legislation would be highly relevant elsewhere too. An additional runway is being mooted for Stansted airport. The constraints on an additional runway at Gatwick expire in 2019. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has proposed new 24 hours a day estuary airport. Outside the south east, Manchester, Bristol, Bournemouth and Birmingham airports have all proposed expanding their capacities to varying degrees.

The contradiction of one of the biggest expansion plans for aviation capacity ever considered in this country, being proposed exactly when climate change is supposed to be at the top of the political agenda, was highlighted by Susan. She reminded MPs that, at the moment, some 13 per cent. of the UK's contribution to climate change emissions comes from aviation. That figure will rise to 25 per cent. by 2038, she said, "unless we drastically change the direction of policy. Given the role that aviation plays in climate change, are we really saying that we will never again allow Members of Parliament to have a vote on such a significant issue?"

Susan criticised the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change for saying that aviation was a special case and would not bear as big a burden in tackling climate change as other sectors in the economy. "Must we really accept that without knowing the impact on other industries, on our regions, and on jobs in our constituencies?" she asked.

Despite having cross-party support, with sponsors including Conservative, Labour and Plaid Cymru MPs, as well as other Lib Dems, the Bill was opposed by a Conservative, David Wilshire, who spoke against it. He said that the Bill would threaten the speedy expansion of Heathrow he wanted to see. 203 MPs, mostly Labour, voted against the Bill, but 247 MPs from all parties voted for it, and the Bill passed its first hurdle. It is scheduled for second reading debate on March 20th, after David Heath's Fuel Poverty Bill. However, as a '10 minute rule' bill, it comes behind the 'ballot bills' in the queue for private members' time so, so long as the Government continue to oppose it, its chances of becoming law are slim.

Read the full debate here