Page last updated at 20:24 GMT, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Government wins third runway vote

The government wins the vote over proposals for Heathrow's third runway

The government has won a vote over plans for Heathrow's third runway - but saw its majority cut to just 19.

After the vote Labour MP Virendra Sharma quit an unpaid government post to fight the plans. Ealing MP Andrew Slaughter also quit his post earlier.

The Tory-led motion urging ministers to "rethink" plans was beaten by 19 votes - Labour has a working majority of 63.

The Lib Dems supported the move 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.


Some are thought to have been won over by restrictions the government has promised on air quality and noise pollution, new carbon emission targets and a pledge to initially cap flights on the new runway.

But others like Labour MP, Alan Keen, whose Feltham and Heston constituency neighbours Heathrow, said that despite opposing expansion he would vote against the motion because it was "party political".

The government's decision to expand Heathrow will seriously affect many of my constituents and my first priority is to represent them
Virendra Sharma

However the debate before the vote saw a series of protests from Labour backbenchers - including from Andrew Slaughter, the Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush MP who resigned from his junior government post earlier to fight the plans.

Labour rebel Paul Flynn claimed government whips were piling pressure on Labour MPs and were flying some of them back from Strasbourg, where they have been attending a Council of Europe plenary session, to vote for a third runway.

After the vote Virendra Sharma, MP for Ealing Southall, announced he was also stepping down as private parliamentary secretary to protest against the expansion.


He said: "I have enjoyed my time working as a PPS to Phil Woolas and I profoundly regret the need to resign my position, but unfortunately I have no option.

"The government's decision to expand Heathrow will seriously affect many of my constituents and my first priority is to represent them."

During the debate Labour MP John McDonnell, who was suspended from the Commons for five days after the last Heathrow debate for grabbing the ceremonial mace in protest, said his constituents regarded the third runway as "devastating".

The decision by the Conservative Party is political opportunism of the lowest kind
Geoff Hoon

He warned they would not allow their communities to be bulldozed out of the way for it.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said she wanted a "better not bigger" Heathrow and said ministers had lost the argument over the economic case for expansion.

She said proposed environmental safeguards did not "stand up to scrutiny" while the economic arguments for expansion were "wholly unconvincing".

'Dodgy' arguments

But Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said the Tories' proposals lacked coherence, would do "serious damage" to Britain's economy and accused the party of "political opportunism of the lowest kind".

When it gave the go-ahead for the runway earlier this month, the government said it would impose tight conditions on further expansion to limit its environmental impact.

There will be a cap on the number of flights initially allowed to use the new runway and "green slots" will only be given to airlines with the newest, least-polluting aircraft.

But the development would result in the demolition of 750 homes and the disappearance of the village of Sipson.

Norman Baker, transport spokesman for the Lib Dems who, like the Tories, favour new high speed rail links over the third runway, told MPs the case for expansion was "dodgy" and there was "overwhelming opposition" to the plan.

The "massive" increase in flights being proposed could not be reconciled with the government's target of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, he added.

The government had refused to put the issue to a Commons vote, saying MPs never voted on "quasi judicial planning matters" and that the plans would have to go through the planning process.

But the Conservatives used their "opposition day debate" to put the issue to a vote.

No Conservative MPs voted against their leadership but it is understood some did not take part in the vote. Eight Democratic Unionist MPs supported the government.

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