Third runway rebels hear from the whips

14.1.2009   (Guardian)

by Nicholas Watt and Dan Milmo

Government whips have embarked on a “ring round” to put pressure on rebel Labour MPs not to join forces with the Tories in a Commons vote opposing a third runway
Heathrow airport.   As the cabinet discussed the expansion of Heathrow at its weekly meeting
yesterday, the rebel MPs said they were prepared to ignore a government three-line
whip and vote with the

David Cameron is expected to devote one of the Tories’ opposition day debates
in the Commons to government plans to allow a third runway to be built
at the west London airport. Votes are held after such debates, giving the Tories
a chance to embarrass the government by enticing Labour rebels to their side.
The vote would have no force in law.

The Conservatives are expected to hold the Heathrow debate after Geoff Hoon,
the transport secretary, has formally announced the government’s plans. Hoon is
expected to give approval to the expansion of Heathrow by the end of this month.
His announcement could come as soon as tomorrow, although this may be delayed
as ministers wrangle over the details.

Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, is leading an 11th-hour push in the cabinet
to wring guarantees from Hoon that the third runway will not breach the government’s
environmental obligations.

Benn is concerned that expanding Heathrow will exceed EU guidelines on nitrogen
oxide, a noxious compound emitted by vehicle engines.   However,   Benn has been
assured that any air pollution breach will largely come from cars on the M4, not
aeroplanes, and can be mitigated by improving public transport links.

Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, has also voiced concern about the plan, which is opposed by John
Denham, the skills secretary, and Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader.

Government sources say that Hoon, a strong supporter of the third runway, will
attempt to allay the concerns of the cabinet’s environmental lobby by addressing
three key issues: air, noise pollution and access.     Lord Adonis, the transport
minister, supports the construction of a £4.5bn high-speed rail hub at the airport.

Hoon’s approach is failing to win over backbench rebels who confronted Brown
at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party on Monday. They said they were
prepared to vote with the Conservatives in the Commons if they resist the temptation
to table a “stupid, tribal” motion. In a letter to the Guardian, John McDonnell,
Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, writes: “The opposition will … not be subdued,
and if anything is growing.”