HC Deb 06 June 1939 vol 348 cc373-81

Order for Second Reading read.

1.14 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

At this late hour I do not wish to detain the House long, but I think the House would wish for a brief explanation of what this Bill proposes to do. The purpose of the Bill is to provide the extensions to the Royal Air Force aerodrome at Kenley and to the civil airport at Heston. The need has arisen largely from the requirements of present-day and future aircraft in regard to airports. High-powered and high-speed aircraft and the use of navigational aids necessitate longer runways than those of the present size, built when the aerodromes were constructed. In a Measure such as this various interests of local authorities, corporate bodies, and individuals are affected, and if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading we propose to move that it go to a Select Committee, where all those affected will have ample opportunity to have their rights safeguarded and interests represented in the usual and approved manner.

As regards Kenley it is intended to extend the aerodrome and this will involve the stopping up of two roads and the construction by the Air Ministry of a road in their place. The position is somewhat complicated because of the conditions under which the land of the present aerodrome was acquired. The Air Ministry (Kenley Commons Acquisition) Act, 1922, sanctioned the purchase of land forming part of Kenley Common and held by the City of London under the Corporation of London Open Spaces Act of 1878. This provided that the Air Ministry should not stop up a particular lane or a road called "Hayes Lane" but this will now have to take place and therefore a new agreement with the corporation is necessary and is attached to the Schedule. The Schedule provides that if land at any time is not required in the future, the corporation have the option to purchase the whole site, and if this happened the land would continue to be held by the corporation under the Corporation of London Open Spaces Act, 1878.

The Bill preserves the right which has been enjoyed by the public to have access to the Air Ministry site, subject to the necessary regulations, and this applies to the whole of the new aerodrome. Roadways are to be constructed to the satisfaction of the highway authority, and the Secretary of State has agreed with local authorities—although this is not actually in the Bill—that the means of access shall not be affected as regards any residents around the aerodrome, in that the roads will not be stopped up until the new road is constructed. The total cost of carrying out the work with regard to Kenley should not be more than £15,000.

I now pass to Heston, the second airport. This airport was acquired by the Air Ministry in September, 1937. It is at present operated and managed by the original owners, Air Work, Limited, but the agreement expires in September, after which the management will be carried out by my Department. The future of civil aviation requires a ring of terminal airports in which Heston is designed to play a leading part as one of the chief airports. The House was informed on the Air Estimates of the new types of civil aircraft being ordered with Government support, and while these are air liners of great technical advance, nevertheless they unfortunately need two thousand yard runways if the facilities are to be considered safe and adequate. Therefore we wish to get the airport ready for the new air liners which should become available in 1941.

I am sure the House will appreciate that we are working to a close time-table with regard to getting the necessary facilities available by the time they are ready for service. As in the case of Kenley, certain roads have to be closed and two new roads are being constructed in their place. The new roads are being constructed by the Middlesex County Council on behalf of the Air Ministry, which is paying for the initial cost, including land. All local authorities or any other individuals will have oppor- tunities of making representations before the Select Committee.

I would point out that the Bill is not really necessary for the purpose of acquiring land for Heston because it could be acquired under the Military Lands Act of 1892. This was extended to cover the acquisition of land for civil aerodromes by the Air Navigation Act of 1920. The reason for the illogicality in applying to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the rights which he already enjoys is because the Military Lands Act involves a long procedure of a Provisional Order, and one Bill, and a second Bill would be necessary for stopping up these roads. The local town-planning authority has agreed with the proposals contained in the Bill. I would like to tell the House of one difficulty which we have been facing, although I am hoping that reasonable arrangements for all parties concerned may be arrived at. The difficulty is as regards the tenants who are being displaced by the demolition of certain properties necessary for the enlargement of the aerodrome. These come under two categories. The first lot do not, strictly speaking, come within the terms of the Bill, because they are affected by property which we have purchased by agreement for demolition, and of which we require -early possession in order that the aerodrome work may proceed. The second lot are affected by properties which are being acquired compulsorily under the Bill.

The extent of the problem under the Bill is 24 working-class tenants to be displaced, and in addition 80 or 90 will be affected by the voluntary purchases which we have made under agreement with owners of property. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Air, is anxious that there shall be no undue hardship on tenants. Consequently I discussed with the representative of the local authority the present condition of housing accommodation in the district. The position is such that special measures will have to be taken to provide alternative accommodation for dispossessed tenants, and we intend to keep in close touch with the local authority and consult them with regard to finding ways and means of satisfactorily solving this problem. I cannot say how many of the 24 tenants mentioned will need special treatment. Dispossessed tenants will have all reasonable claims for compensation attended to by my Department. As regards ways and means for tenants who are unable to make their own arrangements for accommodation, no conclusion has been reached, but I should like to repeat that my right hon. Friend is anxious that no undue hardship shall be entailed, and the responsibility of my Department will be fully discharged. I trust after the explanation I have given the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill and so enable very necessary enlargements in the advancement of military and civil aviation.

1.24 a.m.

Mr. Montague

At this time of night it is undesirable to go into all the details of this Measure. The Bill is going to a Select Committee and that will give an opportunity of examining the details thoroughly. We on this side certainly intend to apply a very thorough examination in due course. On the principle the House, I imagine, is unanimous. We all understand that with the increased tonnage and size of aeroplanes and the developing requirements of civil and military aviation this problem of the extension of aerodromes applies not only to the two present cases but to nearly every aerodrome in the country, and I hope that the Government will apply their minds to the future of aviation in regard to the value and acquisition of land and so forth.

The Bill is divided into two parts, one of which confirms an arrangement made with the City of London Corporation in respect of one of the commons. The Labour Party is associated, so far as Greater London is concerned, with the responsibility for the Green Belt, and we are very much concerned about this chopping, changing and swapping of land, which, after all, is common land and represents amenities which we desire should be enjoyed by the people of Greater London. Those who know Epping Forest, which is also under the Corporation of the City of London, will know how precedents have been established in the past by encroaching upon -land which should have been for all time the common property of the people of London and the surrounding counties. It is all very well to say, in respect of Coulsdon Common, that there are to be alternative roads. We shall desire to know exactly what that means, because there is not only the question of the best alternative roads but the question of general amenities.

We are even more concerned about Heston, because I see from the second Schedule that there are no fewer than nine roads and footpaths which are to be stopped up. Two alternative roads are to be made. There again the question of general amenities needs to be examined. We note the anxiety of the Minister that everyone shall be given a fair deal in regard to compensation. Compensation is to be paid according to the provisions of the Lands Consolidation Act. That is all very well, but does that compensation cover all the possible injury and the interests of everyone concerned? The Minister has mentioned the displacement of working-class. tenants. His anxiety is all very well. We shall want more than just an expression of anxiety. We shall want to know whether adequate alternative accommodation will be provided before anything is done. That should be insisted upon.

There are also questions relating to businesses. I imagine there are some small businesses that will be affected. There may be allotments and questions of that kind. I hope that when the Bill gets to a Committee the Minister in charge will be able to satisfy us upon the question of fair treatment not only for those who own the property at Heston and Kenley, but also the general public and the people who are to be displaced from their homes and possibly from their modes of living. With regard to the general principle, we are as much concerned in the future of aviation as the Under-Secretary of State, but we are also concerned in these questions and I hope we shall have them adequately dealt with in due course.

1.29 a.m.

Sir Hugh Seely

I certainly agree that this Bill will require detailed examination before it goes to another place. With modern aeroplanes coming in, many of the aerodromes that were arranged to deal with older types of machines will have to be extended. After all, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and on the committee on which I was appointed we had to consider the question of Croydon Aerodrome and the people who lived round about. We had a great deal of evidence brought that the value of land and houses had become absolutely nil because the land was required for an aerodrome. They gave staggering figures which they said represented money invested in the building of houses, and how, because of an aerodrome nearby, these houses were worth nothing and the rateable value had gone down.

Now that the Air Ministry are going to take more land, rather high figures are going to appear and no doubt very many claims are going to be put in as to the value of the land to be taken. I hope the Ministry will pay great attention to the report presented to them and to the view of those people who brought to us very convincing evidence that when there was an aerodrome near there was absolutely no value in the land at all. After all, this is the State's money and the taxpayers' money, and if that argument is to be used in one way, it must also be taken into consideration when you are out to buy this land. I press this point. I hope that every consideration will be given to the taxpayers' point of view.

1.31 a.m.

Mr. Rathbone

There is only one very small point I think should be put. In the original Bill there is a Schedule which, I cannot help saying, is an extraordinarily artistic piece of work and full of every kind of description of colours and so on, according to certain deposited plans. I have searched the Library and the Vote Office and the Tea Room for those deposited plans and can find no sign of them.

Captain Balfour

May I suggest that perhaps if the hon. Member renews his search he will find a copy of both the Heston and Kenley plans in the Library.

Mr. Keeling

As I have the honour to represent Heston in this House I would like to support the plea of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) that the claims of residents who are going to be ejected through the enlargement of the Heston Airport should be carefully considered. I understand from the Town Clerk of Heston and Isleworth that he is quite satisfied with his interview yesterday with my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State, when a promise was given to that effect. What results from that promise is of course a matter for consideration later.

1.33 a.m.

Mr. Ede

I want to ask one or two questions about the Kenley and Coulsdon Commons. I am bound to say that the history of Kenley Common since the War, and its relationship to various Government Departments, is not such as to give one very much ground for confidence with regard to its future. These were commons around London that were saved by the energy of the City Corporation in the 'sixties and 'seventies of the last century, when the Lord of the Manor, who is mentioned in this agreement, did his very utmost to prevent the public access to them. The Under-Secretary has said that people would have rights of access to the aerodromes. I do not quite understand what that means, because clearly these commons at the present time are some of the best roaming spaces around London, over which people have secured, through the activity of the City Corporation, the right to wander in every direction without let or hindrance, whereas now public access must be severely circumscribed.

I believe it is usual, when land is taken for any purpose of this kind, that land in substitution for that enclosed shall be thrown into the common and shall be subject to all the rights of access to the land which is being taken away. I find nothing in this agreement—except for a somewhat obscurely-worded paragraph at the bottom of page 8 of the Bill-—which indicates that any land is being thrown into the commons in substitution for the land that is being taken. I share the view of the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Rathbone) that this is an important matter, because this Bill is the first, undoubtedly, of a series of Bills that will have to be passed with regard to the provision of aerodromes in the country in view of the expansion of the Air Force and the greater size and speed of aircraft now using them. It is, therefore, essential in the public interest that this old-established principle, in regard to the utilisation of land, should not be departed from in this first Bill.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to clarify this very wordy agreement, which it is quite impossible to follow without having plans in front of one and without knowing which is now common land and which is not. Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman give an assurance that no interference with common land and right of access to the great recreation grounds established by the City Corporation will take place without adequate compensation being made by the Air Ministry for the land that is taken or interfered with? I am bound to say that I regard that as being very important in the near neighbourhood of London. I know for a positive fact that in 1921 and 1922 when the last agreement was entered into with the City Corporation there was a very strong feeling in the Kenley district that certain promises which had been made during the War were not fulfilled in the final arrangements made, and I am quite sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman would desire that no feeling of that kind should arise in connection with the present arrangements.

1.38 a.m.

Captain Balfour

It is only by the leave of the House that I can reply to the questions which have been raised. I think the fears of the last speaker were not well-founded because the Air Ministry has come to an agreement with the City Corporation in regard to these open spaces. As regards the exchange of land, I will not go into the details, which can be seen on the plan, and the merits of such exchanges can be thrashed out in the Select Committee. I need only add that paragraph 4 of the Schedule will show the hon. Member that the rights at present enjoyed by the public in the case of aerodrome sites are preserved and this applies to the whole of the new aerodromes.

Mr. Montague

What do those words mean?

Captain Balfour

Such rights as the public can enjoy of access to common land, subject to the necessary Regulations as regards the safety of the public when walking across the aerodromes, are preserved in respect of the enlarged aerodromes. These are matters of great importance, but they are matters which are more particularly applicable to the Select Committee stage, when the various bodies and individuals can make their own representations.

1.39 a.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

I would not have intervened but for the speech made by an hon. Member opposite. This aerodrome is not very far from my own constituency. A considerable number of my constituents are in business in Croydon and live in the Kenley district, and all I can say is that I have not received a single communication from one of them. Therefore I think we are reasonably entitled to assume that they take no particular exception.

Mr. Montague

There is just one other question. Is anything being done in connection with the extension of Heston aerodrome as regards the gasometer there? It is a very big problem.

Captain Balfour

That raises an entirely different question.

Bill committed to a Select Committee of Seven Members, Four to be nominated by the House and Three by the Committee of Selection.

Ordered, That all Petitions against the Bill, presented at any time not later than live clear days after the Second Reading of the Bill, be referred to the Committee.

Ordered, That Petitions against the Bill may be deposited in the Committee and Private Bill Office, provided that such Petitions shall have been prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of this House relating to Petitions against Private Bills.

Ordered, That the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard against the Bill, and Counsel or Agents heard in support of the Bill.

Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.

Ordered, That Three be the quorum. —[Captain Balfour.]