Heathrow third runway vote passed

29.1.2009   (Independent)

Second MP resigns from Government as rebels cut Labour majority to 19.

By Michael Savage, Political Correspondent

Gordon Brown suffered a second resignation from his Government and an embarrassing
rebellion among Labour MPs last night over his decision to approve a third runway
and sixth terminal at Heathrow Airport. The Government narrowly won a vote on
the third runway forced by the Conservative Party, although its majority was cut
by two-thirds to just 19 after 28 Labour MPs rebelled.

Virendra Sharma, an aide to Home Office minister Phil Woolas, immediately resigned to fight
the decision to approve the expansion.  Mr Sharma, the MP for Ealing Southall
in west London, said his constituents fiercely opposed the proposals.

Speaking outside Parliament last night, he added: “I profoundly regret the need
to resign, but I had no option. The Government’s decision to expand Heathrow will
seriously affect many of my constituents, and my first priority is to represent

He is the second Labour MP to quit over the issue. Andrew Slaughter, a former
Government aide who resigned on Tuesday, said expanding Heathrow would have a
devastating impact on the quality of life in west London. The size of the rebellion
confirmed fears of Mr Brown’s aides, who said the result would be “closer than
previously reported” in the run-up to the vote. A defeat would have had no effect
on the decision to build the runway, but the small margin of victory will be embarrassing
for the Government and the Prime Minister, who supports the expansion.

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace, said the size of the rebellion
showed that supporting the third runway was “political suicide” for Labour MPs
in constituencies near Heathrow. “This is the largest Labour rebellion on an opposition
motion since the party took power in 1997, and will have alarm bells ringing in
No.10. Gordon Brown has got a problem on his hands here,” he said.

More than 50 Labour MPs signed a parliamentary motion opposing the runway. But
Government concessions on air quality, noise and carbon targets together with
its abandonment of an immediate increase in flights on the two existing runways
meant enough Labour MPs changed their minds to help the Government win the vote.

A number of pro-expansion Tory MPs, including Ian Taylor and David Wilshire who
have led calls for their party to change its position, ensured they were not in
the chamber for last night’s vote. The Government faced fierce criticisms from
within its own party over the expansion during the four-and-a-half hour debate.

Martin Salter, the MP for Reading West who has led opposition on the Labour benches,
said the project would cause “more gridlock, more pollution, more nitrogen dioxide,
and more asthma for young people”.

Labour’s former transport minister, Chris Mullin, said the Government’s relationship
with the aviation industry had become “far too cosy”.

Norman Baker, the transport spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, accused the
Government of being “muddle-headed and wrong”. He predicted problems and opposition
to the new runway meant it was already “dead in the water”.

The Conservative Party was accused of performing a U-turn after admitting it
would not rule out expanding airports in the south-east, despite opposing the
Heathrow expansion.