Andy McDonald – 2020 Speech on Airport Expansion

Below is the text of the speech made by Andy McDonald, the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, in the House of Commons on 2 March 2020.

I welcome the Minister to her place. Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government’s Heathrow expansion plan was unlawful as it failed to consider their Paris climate agreement commitments. I would like to thank those who fought the case, not the least of whom was the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. That we must rely on environmental campaigners and the courts to protect us from illegal and environmentally destructive policies is clear evidence of the Government’s lack of real concern about the climate crisis.

The Court’s ruling was the right one. At the time of the Airports National Policy Statement, Labour warned that the plans would cause the UK to miss its climate targets. We said that the Government were failing to take account of their commitments and that this would result in legal challenges—we were dismissed, but we were right. Why did the then Transport Secretary fail to consider the Paris climate agreement in his plans for airport expansion? What legal advice did he receive? Was the advice flawed or simply ignored? The Government said that they will not appeal the decision but will focus on “overall airport expansion”. What does that mean?

If the Government accept the ruling, they should rule out airport expansion. It would be unacceptable to amend the national policy statement to include a reference to climate commitments while simultaneously paving the way for policies that will cause them to be missed. The Government should not hide behind the courts or industry; they must say what their policy now is. It is their NPS, not Heathrow airport’s. Will the Government indemnify Heathrow Airport Limited and its backers for their wasted investment if runway three does not go ahead? What are the implications for the Government’s planned almost £30 billion road building programme, which also fails to consider the UK’s climate commitments? Those plans will significantly worsen emissions, at a time when there is a legal requirement for them to fall. What legal advice has the Minister had as to whether those astronomically expensive and environmentally destructive plans are not similarly unlawful?

It is already clear that the Government’s transport policy of road building, cutting aviation tax and airport expansions, will put the UK even further off track to meet its climate targets. This is morally indefensible, and last week’s ruling means it is likely to be legally indefensible too. Will the Minister take this as a wake-up call, by ruling out climate-busting airport expansion; introducing a frequent flyer levy; and investing in public transport, electric vehicles and active travel? The future of the planet is at stake.