§ 3.53 p.m.
§ That this House takes note of the Fifth Report of the Estimates Committee in the last Session of Parliament relating to London's Airports and of the Fifth Special Report of the Estimates Committee.
§ Before coming to the substance of the Report, I should like, on behalf of the Estimates Committee, to thank all those in the Ministry of Aviation staff, both at headquarters and the airports of the London group, for their co-operation and help in this inquiry. It was a particularly involved and intensive inquiry and the Committee would like to put on record its appreciation of the outstanding spirit of co-operation, courtesy and, indeed, friendliness which it received throughout the course of the inquiry.
§ We realise that we made some very severe criticisms which were reflected in many of our recommendations, but we hope and believe that we were not only critical but also gave praise where it was due, and it was due over many important issues. We also hope that we were constructive and fair and we believe that that has been appreciated, not least by the Ministry itself.
§ We hold that belief because, out of 34 recommendations included in the Report, no fewer than 21 have been accepted definitely by the Minister and only three have been definitely rejected. The balance are still under consideration, or have been accepted in principle. That is a very high percentage of acceptances of our recommendations, a percentage which would have been high even in a non-controversial report, and it is an indication of the co-operation of which I have spoken and of what we hope was the fair and constructive nature of our criticisms and recommendations.
§ The cost of airports to the taxpayer has long caused much concern to Parliament. The Estimates Committee held an inquiry into the airports in the 1947–48 Session and again in the 1955–56 Session. The subject has also been a regular feature of Reports of the Public Accounts Committee over the last ten years and the most recent and perhaps most categorical criticism came in the Second Report of the Public Accounts Committee in the 1959–60 Session.988
§ It was as a result of the continued poor financial results that the Estimates Committee concluded, about two years ago, that yet another examination of the finances and managements of the airports was urgently required. In this case, we concentrated our inquiry on the London group of airports, because the London group handles more than 60 per cent. of the terminal passengers who use the airlines in Britain and, therefore, represents the bulk of trade and business. We felt that if the London group of airports could not be run at a profit, there was little hope for the others managed by the Ministry.
During the last meeting of the Estimates Committee in 1955–56, the then Controller of Ground Services stated in evidence:
It is a matter of traffic. Given the traffic you can do anything. A rise in traffic means a rise in revenue but a much less rise in costs.
Since that time, London airports have had a rise in traffic. They have had a rise in revenue. But, unfortunately, they have also had an almost equal rise in costs. Therefore, the prognostication given in evidence which I have quoted from six or seven years ago has not come to pass.
§ Between 1955–56 and the time of our inquiry in 1959–60, the revenue of London airports rose by about 125 per cent. while the loss at the airports remained approximately constant. During that period, the increase in traffic is shown by the fact that the number of passengers using the airports in the London group increased by about 60 per cent. On the revenue side, one must also bear in mind that the landing fees charged by the Ministry almost doubled. Other charges, such as rents and passenger service charges, were also substantially increased during that period. Yet we still found that the losses remained about the same.
§ In this inquiry, which the Committee concluded a year ago, we came to four main conclusions. First, we strongly endorsed the opinion expressed by previous Reports, from both the Estimates and Public Accounts Committees, that these airports should pay their way, including all proper capital and depreciation charges. We felt that they ought to be a national asset to the taxpayer and not a liability.989
§ Secondly, we came to the conclusion that the standard of local management of the airports and their technical efficiency is very high indeed. We have nothing but praise for those standards.
§ Thirdly, we concluded, unfortunately, that the central direction of policy by the Ministry—it must be remembered that until October, 1959, the Ministry concerned was the old Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation—had been lacking in decisiveness, speed of execution and commercial approach. I want to make clear that in expressing this opinion the Committee was not criticising individuals, and I also want to emphasise that in What I shall say this afternoon I shall not be criticising individuals.
§ The officials of the Ministry, as one would expect, were clearly men of first-class ability. It is the system which the Committee has been criticising. It seems to us that a Government Department and Civil Service procedures are not suitable for the management of a highly commercial and rapidly changing undertaking such as a major international airport. Nor, we believe, should they be suitable for this purpose. Hence our main recommendation was that the management of the London group of airports should be handed over to a separate public authority.
§ Our fourth main conclusion was that there had been a serious omission by the Treasury in permitting for far too long a system of accounting and cost control hopelessly inadequate to the task of ensuring effective financial control. Here, I should like to say, in passing, that I mentioned to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury last week that the Report contained criticisms of the Treasury and warned him that I should he raising the matter today. He said that he hoped to be here. But at the last moment he has sent me a message to say that he may be prevented from coming here owing to some important meeting of, I believe, Ministers, and he has asked me to apologise to the House for his absence. Particularly perhaps in view of our recent discussion, it is important that I should make that clear.
§ Having outlined the four main conclusions at the outset of my remarks, I now want to deal with each of them in turn in some detail.990
§ As to our first conclusion, that London's airports should pay their way, the air transport industry is no longer a fledgling in need of support, at least so far as its use of international airports is concerned, nor are the people who make use of these airports a section of the community notably in need of any personal subsidy. Moreover, it seemed to us that air transport has now established itself as a formidable competitor to other and older forms of transport, not only in terms of speed and convenience, but actually in terms of fares from one point to another.
§ Therefore, if international airlines are making losses, perhaps because they cannot fill all the modern aircraft that, in their wisdom or otherwise, they have acquired in recent years, that is no reason why the British taxpayers should subsidise the airports which they use. The Committee was not impressed by the argument that this is done in other countries. We recognise at the same time—I should like to make it quite clear on behalf of the Committee—that there may well be a case on social grounds for directly subsidising some airports other than the main international ones, such as, of course, those situated in outlying areas of the country. But these arguments do not apply to the great international airports with large and growing volumes of traffic.
§ There is one other point which I ought to make before leaving the question of the airports paying for themselves. I think that it is only fair, in view of the criticisms which have been made by airlines about the high level of landing fees at British airports compared with those abroad, to stress that the Committee's insistence on the principle that our airports in the London group should cover all their own costs inevitably means that their charges will be higher than in other countries where airports are subsidised in one way or another.
§ We cannot have it both ways. If it is our policy—and the Committee thinks that it should continue to be our policy —to make these great international airports pay their way, then the charges must be higher than in countries where that policy does not apply. In criticising our charges compared with those in some other places abroad, that point should be borne in mind. So much for the first of our main conclusions.991
§ I now come to the second of our main conclusions, namely, the high quality of the airport management and technical services. The Committee was greatly impressed by the efficiency and the approach of the local staff at the airports in the London group, which were, of course, the only ones with which we were concerned. We are in no doubt that the appointment of a general manager for the London group of airports as a result of the 1955–56 Report of the Estimates Committee was clearly an important advance. I am glad to say that the Committee's favourable view of the local airport management was endorsed by all the airline operators, even though they were strongly critical of the basic system which is at present adopted for managing our airports. Nevertheless, as I say, they endorsed our praise of the efficiency of the local management.
Also, the technical efficiency of British airports has always had a very high reputation. The Committee was pleased to have this confirmed unanimously by all the airline operators and the organisations which gave evidence to us. The Director General of the International Air Transport Association, who was, as the Minister will know, not uncritical of airport matters in this country, said this about the technical service:
The facilities that matter most—air traffic control and navigation—are superb.
§ This is something of which the House and the country can be confident and proud.
§ The Committee was left in no doubt at all that the Ministry was determined to ensure that the very high standard of air traffic control in the London area would not only be maintained, but would, indeed, be further improved. The Committee welcomes the fact that its one recommendation dealing with the subject—namely, that the air space available to civil flying in the London terminal area should be increased—has been accepted by the Minister.
§ I now pass to the third of our main conclusions. Here, I move from the part of our Report which contains mainly praise to that part of it which contains some rather severe criticism. This concerns the central direction of policy by successive Ministries. As I have already 992 stated, our severe criticisms under this heading are directed against the system and in no way against the people who have operated it. However, we could not have avoided the conclusion that the unsatisfactory position of the finances of London's airports is to a major extent due to a lack of effective forward planning and of a sufficiently commercial approach in the central administration.
§ I should like to give some examples and arguments relating to what we had in mind. First, I would mention the question of accounting and costing procedures. If one is to run a commercial undertaking with success, the first need is surely to have adequate accounting and costing data. The new systems which the Ministry is using, which became operative in April, 1961, appear to the Committee to provide this condition for the future, but it was frankly admitted in evidence by the Permanent Secretary that without the improvements in accountancy which are now being made it is impossible effectively to control the performance of an undertaking such as London's airports.
§ It seems incredible to the Committee that the archaic, ineffective system was allowed to continue for so long, and that the taxpayer has a just cause of complaint, first, against the old Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for allowing it to continue, and secondly, and probably even to a greater extent, against the Treasury, who failed to bring them to book.
§ Secondly, I should like to say something about what we believe to be the failure in planning by the Ministry. The Committee found that the criticisms against the present organisation were most clearly justified in this sphere of forward planning. The policy of dealing with problems by appointing committees has been a conspicuous feature of recent years, and, we believe, has led to harmful delay.
§ Take, for example, the Millbourn Committee. This was appointed in 1955, and reported in, I think, 1957—not an unreasonable time for a committee to sit—but during those years major decisions were held up pending the Report of the Committee. It might have been reasonable to wait for the Committee's Report if action was quickly taken when the Report was published 993 and produced, but in our view action was not quickly taken. When the Report came, one of it recommendations was that a new long-haul terminal at Heathrow should be completed by early 1961.
§ There was then a six months' delay "to test public opinion"—we were not quite sure what that meant—before a decision was taken. We are now in the middle of 1962 and the building is not yet fully operational. It is being used, but when I used it not many weeks ago I could scarcely describe it as fully operational. Meanwhile, for all these years this great London airport has had a long-haul passenger terminal which is a disgrace by comparison with that in any of the other major countries.
§ Take another of the Millbourn recommendations, namely, the one that a system of piers connecting the 'building with the aircraft stand should be put into operation. Four years later a Ministry witness said that the Ministry had reached the stage of discussing details with the airlines.
Similarly, we did not consider that sufficient urgency had been given to the extremely important matter of providing adequate freight accommodation. There was much complaint about this by the airlines, and although the Committee did not by any means accept all their complaints, we felt that there was substance in part of them, and we were given indications that other major European airports were getting ahead of us in encouraging this important commercial development. For example, we were told by the International Air Transport Association that
the amount of enterprise and work going into preparing for a new revolution in cargo in other countries was not taking place here.
§ The important point to realise is that this sort of development needs to be promoted and encouraged by the advance provision—and I emphasise advance provision—of modern facilities. The attitude of the Ministry, repeated in the Minister's reply to our recommendation on this subject, indicates an outlook which requires a certain demand for facilities to be proved before a decision can be taken. This seems to us to be a negation of the enterprise which leads to commercial success, which is 994 largely achieved by forestalling demand, not chasing after it.
§ We felt that this failure of planning, precision, incisiveness, and speed of action had also been illustrated in the history of Gatwick. In 1946, again in 1947, and yet again in 1949, the Ministry gave assurances that this airport would not be developed. In 1951, only two years after the last of those assurances, it was stated that it would be developed as a bad-weather alternative for Heathrow. In 1953, there was a White Paper which confirmed, in essence, this diversionary purpose for Gatwick. Then in 1954, following a public inquiry, there was another White Paper, which this time described the object of Gatwick as a second main civil airport for London. It is not surprising that there is now a lack of faith by the public in assurances giving by the Ministry about Gatwick and the local amenities in that area. The present concept may be right, but, if so, it only emphasises the previous lack of decision and proper planning.
§ Gatwick Airport finally opened in 1958, having cost about £8 million. Utilisation is still very low except for a few weeks in the summer. In 1953, the Ministry stated that the investment of this large sum at Gatwick would be a sound investment. We hope it may still be in the long run, but it will be a very long run indeed, because according to the evidence given to us it is estimated that Gatwick will show a loss until 1970.
§ We therefore ask whether the priority of this expenditure was right. Compare the expenditure of this large sum on relatively palatial even if also relatively small terminal facilities at Gatwick, with the inability, presumably, although not entirely, through financial stringency, to provide decent, let alone economic, long-haul facilities at Heathrow, or adequate freight facilities there. We ask ourselves whether this is the right order of priorities, and the answer that we give ourselves is fairly obvious.
§ Take another example. Consider the question of fuel leases, the terms under which the main petroleum companies operate at London's airports to supply fuel to the airlines. The story of these fuel leases is an almost classic example of lack of commercial approach by the Ministry and its agents in this matter, 995 namely, the Air Ministry. Leases of thirty-five years were granted to the oil companies on an annual rental based entirely on land values, at a flat rate after the first seven years. In other words, they are at a flat rate from 1963 to 1991, and they are entirely irrevocable.
§ These leases take no account of the value of business done by the oil companies as the air traffic rises. Thus, the Ministry has lost a legitimate and important method of raising an increasing revenue as the use of the airports increases year by year. In our Report we describe this agreement with the oil companies as deplorable, and I do not think that this is too strong a word to use. We recommend that in future leases should be based on the throughput of fuel, and we are glad that this has been accepted by the Minister. But this is a poor consolation for what has been irretrievably lost for the next thirty years at Heathrow and Gatwick.
§ Let us next consider the passenger service charge rebate. When the passenger service charge was introduced the Ministry eventually agreed to give rebates to the airlines for the trouble and expense of collecting it. We found a similar lack of commercial approach in the way in which this rebate was granted. The rebate costs the Ministry 6¾d. per passenger leaving the airports for abroad, which amounted to £50,000 a year at the time we were making our inquiry.
§ To B.E.A. alone it brings in £20,000 a year, which surely must be in excess of the cost to B.E.A. of collecting this rebate. It is noteworthy that in the ease of the airport at Paris the passenger charge is collected without any rebate to the airlines. The 1955–56 Report of the Estimates Committee recommended the abolition of this rebate. Unfortunately, that recommendation was not accepted. In the latest inquiry we recommended at least its reduction, but all that the Minister has said is that he will bear this in mind. I press him to say something more about it. We believe that this rebate, at its present level, is totally unjustified in the taxpayers' interests.
§ I now come to the question of the landing charge policy, which is central to the financial position of the airports. If they are ever to be put upon a sound financial basis it is of tremendous im- 996 portance to make sure that the maximum return should be obtained from the existing capital invested. That depends as much as anything else on the economic utilisation of the airports. We included in our Report a number of recommendations designed to give incentives to airline operators to use the airports as economically as possible.
§ The problem at Heathrow is different from that at Gatwick. At Heathrow—which everybody calls London Airport, but which is only one of London's airports—the problem is of a kind which is already familiar in other forms of transport—the problem of peak hours. There are only two peak hours of the day, but the airport has to be staffed to meet peak requirements. The problem is to get traffic, as it grows, spread as widely as possible over the whole day.
§ At Gatwick, the problem is not that of one or two peak hours; there are merely one or two peak weeks in the year. The general problem is one of under-utilisation. The Committee made a number of recommendations for a more flexible landing charge policy. We suggested that at Heathrow a rebate should be offered to airlines in respect of scheduled services using the airport outside peak hours, and in the case of Gatwick we suggested that a rebate should be offered for a general frequency of use.
§ We thought that we had made it clear in our Report—and if we did not I want to make it clear now—that we were not recommending any reduction in landing fees, which would mean an immediate loss of income to the Ministry. We were recommending a rebate to be paid to airlines only if certain conditions came about—if certain traffics developed at off-peak hours at London Airport or generally at Gatwick. That possibility should be closely looked into. I know that the Minister has not turned it down, and we believe that it is perhaps a more important question than we felt the witnesses believed.
§ Financial incentives of that kind do not produce an overnight effect, doubt whether, if such rebates were offered, it would be possible to identify a certain action of B.E.A. to put on a particular timed service from London to Paris, but we believe that this is a 997 sensible arrangement, and that in the long run we shall be able at least to get economic pressures working in the right direction. To offer rebates based only on performance could do no harm, and might, in the long run, do some good.
§ We also recommended, to encourage a greater use of Gatwick, that some relief should be given to airlines which have to fly aircraft for positioning or maintenance purposes from Gatwick to Heathrow or vice versa. One of the difficulties of achieving a greater use of Gatwick arises from the fact that if a big trans-Atlantic jet is diverted to Gatwick the runway there is not long enough to enable it to take off fully loaded, which means that it has to fly back to Heathrow to pick up passengers before starting out on its next commercial flight. It did not seem fair that when, through no fault of its own, an airliner had to be diverted to Gatwick and then had to go to Heathrow to pick up passengers, it should be involved in double landing charges.
§ Similarly, it would be expensive to set up servicing facilities at Gatwick and Heathrow, and aircraft might have to be serviced at Heathrow and then fly back to Gatwick. Previously, such aircraft were charged the full landing charges every time they did this, and we therefore welcome the Minister's decision to abolish landing charges for flights between London and Gatwick. We hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to our general recommendation for a more flexible landing charges policy.
§ I now turn to the question of the non-aviation income of the airports. In the 1955–56 Report considerable importance was attached to this matter. We want to put on record how much has been achieved since then. At Heathrow, the non-aviation income, which was only £190,000 in 1956–57, rose to nearly £450,000 in 1960–61. In earlier years there had been a net deficit of about £70,000 on the services, but by 1960–61 this had become a net profit of about £126,000. We welcome this progress. We feel that it reflects great credit on the Ministry, and particularly on the General Manager and the staff of London Airport.
§ But there are still some points which cause us concern. Car parking is a notable 998 example. There seems to us to have been a very late awakening on the part of the authorities to the importance of car parking both as a source of income and as a matter of convenience to passengers. The result was that either last summer or the summer before passengers wishing to come to London Airport had to be charged punitive charges to persuade them to keep their cars away. We realise the necessity for this in the short run, under present conditions, but we do not think that these conditions should ever have arisen, and we hope that the Ministry will take note of this. There is evidence that it is now getting down to a study of the question of a multi-storage car park, and we hope that the matter will be put right, both to the profit of the airport as well as to the convenience of the passengers who use it.
§ Next, there is the question of duty-free shops. We suspect that the Treasury and the Customs and Excise are the chief culprits. The absence of a duty-free shop at London Airport is exceptional by comparison with the situation at major airports throughout the world. It is true that duty-free liquor has been obtainable at the old North Terminal for some time, and even from this limited source a net income of £30,000 was obtained in 1960–61. The Minister has stated that he is considering this matter further, but we want to know how much longer we have to wait for London Airport to be able to do what the major airports of other countries do. We believe that this will help to reduce the burden borne by the taxpayer.
§ Then there is the question of the opening hours of shops at London Airport. I welcome the fact that the Shops (Airports) Bill, sponsored by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans), recently received its Third Reading. We think that it is right that airports should be treated exceptionally in the matter of shop opening hours, and for that reason we welcome the acceptance by the House of this principle in giving a Third Reading to the Bill.
§ Finally, on non-aviation income, the question of Customs and Excise office accommodation. H.M. Customs and Excise occupy about 34,000 sq. ft. of office accommodation at London Airport. Office accommodation at airports 999 is a very scarce and extremely valuable commodity, and other people pay upwards of £2 per sq. ft. for it, but the Customs and Excise pay nothing for it. If this is an example of the principle of common services between Government Departments, we think that it is a very bad one as applied to a commercial undertaking such as London Airport. People who use scarce and valuable facilities should, we believe, be subjected to the discipline of payment for them.
§ We are not making any specific charges, because we have no evidence that the Customs and Excise is specifically extravagant in its use of office accommodation, but we wondered whether, if the Treasury had to carry this rent every year, there would not be more pressure to see whether something less than 34,000 sq. ft. could be managed with.
§ It is not only a question of discipline which we want to impose on Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, but we also think it unfair to the airport management to be deprived of such an important source of income. If, on the one hand, we say, as we want to do, "You must pay your way by normal commercial standards," it is only right to say, on the other, "You shall have access to legitimate income of a normal commercial standard." Therefore, we very much regret the Minister's present inability to accept the Committee's recommendation on this point, and we ask him to look at it again.
§ There was also the last major conclusion of the Committee on the omission of the Treasury. I have already expressed the Committee's criticism of the accountancy and costing systems which, until recently, applied at London Airport. It seems to us most unfortunate, to put it mildly, that such a conspicuous defect had not been appreciated at a much earlier stage. When we asked one Treasury witness whether the Ministry had been prodded over this matter, he said "'prodded' is too strong a word. The Ministry came forward with their plans, which the Treasury warmly welcomed." But what is the Treasury there for, if not to prod in the interests of the taxpayer on important matters of this kind? We simply could not understand why the Treasury 1000 had failed to take an initiative over all this time.
§ Therefore, in the conclusion of our recommendations, we felt that we had to criticise the Treasury strongly for this failure to perceive and to correct what is in our view an elementary major deficiency in financial control, which went on, let the House remember, for a period of nearly ten years. It seemed to your Committee to be a startling failure in the execution of the Treasury's proper managerial function.
§ There are many other points in the Report, for example, the apron services, and the rôle of Stansted, which I should have liked to have dealt with. I have already taken up the time of the House for too long, but I felt that it was right to stress what were the Committee's main conclusions on these important matters.
§ Let me conclude rather as I began. We realise that we have made very severe criticism, but we also believe that we have given a considerable amount of praise where it should be given, and that our criticisms and recommendations are fair and constructive. I wish to add our thanks to all those who helped us in our inquiry, and to say how encouraged we are in our belief that our recommendations will be accepted in the spirit in which they were made by the fact that so many of them have already been accepted.
§ Finally, I urge my right hon. Friend to look carefully and quickly at those which he has not yet accepted and, especially, to get on as quickly as he possibly can with the recommendations which he has accepted, particularly the major recommendation that our international airports should be run by an independent public authority.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)
It is an unexpected pleasure for me to be able to speak directly after the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr), because I have been a member of the Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee, of which he is Chairman, which allows me to pay tribute to the unfailing skill with which he conducts our activities. The hon. Gentleman has skilfully presented to the House practically every recommendation in the Report produced by the Committee, and 1001 some of the things that I shall have to say will be no more than an added emphasis on the points that he has already made.
Perhaps there is one obvious point that ought to be made at the beginning, in case it is overlooked. It is that we were dealing exclusively with London's airports, and that it does not, therefore, follow that our conclusions about particular airports and their operation would apply to every airport in the rest of the country. I make that qualification right at the start, because I want to say something later about the White Paper on Civil Aerodromes and Air Navigational Services, which was published just after the Estimates Committee's Report in August, 1961.
The hon. Member for Mitcham said that one of the main questions he had Ito decide was whether we should continue to subsidise civil aviation in this country by allowing our major airports to run at a loss, and the conclusion which he reached, after a considerable amount of deliberation, was that we should not. Obviously, there were a number of ways in which the revenue at London Airport could be increased. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the apron services, rents concessions and a number of other things, and it is fair to say that the Ministry and the local management at the airport have made very considerable efforts over the last few years, particularly since the appointment of a general manager and the new arrangements for running the airport, to increase their revenue in every direction.
It is possible to go a little too far. Personally, I draw the line at those monstrous whisky bottles, which, I understand, attract considerable sums of money. At the risk of making London Airport slightly more uneconomic, I would get rid of those whisky bottles altogether. I think it is perhaps an over-exuberant commercial outlook which has given rise to that form of advertising, but there certainly have been signs that the Ministry has been doing a great deal more during the last few years to increase the revenue above what it was before, and that is obviously to be welcomed.
Despite the apron services, the fuel leases and the rest, the basic question is that of the landing fees. It was particu- 1002 larly appropriate for the Estimates Committee to deal with this matter, because, in the middle of our deliberations, the landing fees were increased by 33 per cent., to the great discomfiture and annoyance of the airline companies. We had a considerable amount of evidence about the landing charges, and comparisons were made between those at London Airport and those at other major airports in other parts of the world.
I think it only fair to say right away that, with the new landing charges in operation, there is no doubt that Heathrow is among the most expensive airports in the world from which airlines have to operate. At the same time, it is important to get the question of landing fees in perspective, because for a long haul the landing charges amount to only about 3 per cent. of the total operational costs. Therefore, even an increase of 33 per cent., which is what we had in April, 1961, is a comparatively small increase for the airlines to bear when one considers the total operational costs although, naturally, the airlines consider it serious, particularly in these days when competition is becoming more and more intense.
Despite the difficulties of the airlines over the last two or three years, I find it hard to resist the conclusion that there will continue to be a considerable upward trend in air movement over the next five or ten years and a good deal beyond that time. In those circumstances, it seems to me that the civil aviation industry is no longer a new industry and it is difficult to see why we should continue to subsidise it, either directly, or, as we have been doing, indirectly, in this way by allowing our airports to run at a loss. This is despite what is happening in other countries, the United States for example, where expenditure is borne by the State, the Federal authorities, and where certain technical services are provided by the Government.
Despite that, I think that the balance of argument is in favour of allowing civil aviation to go unsubsidised; particularly so when we consider that, after all, it is in direct competition, internally at any rate, with rail services. We are already subsidising the railways to a considerable extent and it would be rather peculiar economics to subsidise 1003 the rail services and the air services which are directly in competition with them.
I should, therefore, think that the Estimates Committee and the Ministry were right to take the view—however difficult it may be in the short run for some airlines, and however much the airlines may object to it—that they should pay the full costs of running our major airports, and that, if that means increasing landing charges, they will have to be increased.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I do not entirely disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but is it correct that airlines should have to pay whatever is the amount when it has been said that the airport is badly run?
§ Mr. Millan
We did, of course, make recommendations for improving the running of our major airports. To say one thing without the other may not be legitimate or fair, but the recommendations of the Estimates Committee have to be to read as a whole. Even with that I think that, in fairness to the Ministry, it is rather exaggerating the position to describe London's airports as having been run inefficiently. I consider that to be a gross exaggeration of the position, not only from the technical point of view, because, of course, tributes were paid to the technical efficiency of London's airports—tributes which I imagine we should all wish to endorse —but also from the commercial point of view.
As I have said, there were some improvements during the last few years. In any case, one has to take that recommendation about landing charges and subsidisation with the other question which I wish to discuss now, namely, what form of authority should run the airports? Here, as the hon. Member for Mitcham has said, our conclusion was definitely that there should be an independent public authority for the running of London's airports. I think that we came to that conclusion because we were not satisfied that the Ministry was running the airports as efficiently as they could be run. This, I repeat, is not because of the people involved in running the airports, but the Civil Service system under which the airports are being operated.
1004 The hon. Member for Mitcham has mentioned many aspects of what we considered to be inadequate planning and in some cases just bad planning. I do not want to repeat the points which the hon. Member has covered already, but there are particular points I should like to mention. First, there is the question of fuel leases. This is not a case of being wise after the event. I find it extremely difficult to appreciate why the Ministry should ever have had these fuel lease arrangements, or thought that they were reasonable commercial arrangements from the point of view of the Ministry.
I have some difficulty in resisting the conclusion that in this matter the fuel companies "pulled a fast one" on the Ministry's negotiators. I repeat, this is not being wise after the event. This was an extremely bad decision by the Ministry and must be taken in conjunction with other decisions and examples of bad planning. With that combination I think that we could only come to the conclusion that there should be this independent authority.
The second point I wish to mention relates to Stansted. There is a considerable section of the Report dealing with the vacillation of the Ministry regarding Gatwick and the way in which decisions about the kind of airport that Gatwick should be were changed over the years and about the cost which that obviously involved for the Ministry and the taxpayer. We ought to be very careful to see that the same thing does not happen with Stansted. Certainly, at present, the figures of cost are quite small, comparatively speaking, but only comparatively speaking. After all, Stansted was running at about £200,000 loss per year. That is a great deal of money and it is important that a decision should be taken about London's third airport as urgently as possible.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
When examining this matter, would the hon. Gentleman consider the necessity for a diversionary airfield comparatively near London? My own experience is that frequently Stansted has been of great value for diversionary purposes when it has been impossible for aircraft to get to Heathrow.
§ Mr. Millan
I am not attempting to underrate the value of Stansted as it operates at present. But the number of movements that go through Stansted in a year is, of course, completely inadequate from an economic point of view. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that Gatwick was originally intended to be a diversionary airport for Heathrow, though in fact, things have not worked out like that. So Gatwick has, to a small extent, been used as a diversionary airport. But it is urgent that we should have a decision about London's third airport.
I agree that it is an extremely complicated matter and that there are a lot of technical considerations to be taken into account. I should not for a moment think of trying to come to a conclusion on the matter myself. I have no idea whether Stansted will eventually be the choice for a third airport. The important thing is that we should not have with Stansted the same sort of indecision as occurred over Gatwick, because that was an extremely costly affair.
The Ministrys' proposals for an independent authority are, naturally, slightly different from the proposals of the Estimates Committee. The Minister brought the other international airport, Prestwick, into his proposition for an independent authority. But I think that it was only the fact that the Estimates Committee was dealing with London Airport exclusively which prevented it from coming to the same conclusion, and I think that Prestwick should be included with the other international airport under some independent authority.
I am not quite so happy about other proposals in the White Paper. For example, I should like to know exactly what kind of agency arrangements the Minister has in mind for the smaller Scottish airports. The White Paper was not clear about that. I hope that the Minister will give us more information today. More important, I am not happy about the proposals for the transfer of the intermediate-range airports to local authorities. I understand that not all local authorities have welcomed this with enthusiasm.
The reason they have not welcomed it with enthusiasm is that running through the White Paper there is the strong 1006 implication that the transfer to local authorities is being done not so much to get more adequate running of those airports as to avoid the Minister being involved in continued financial loss. That may be all right from the point of view of the Minister, but it is not a very happy situation for the local authorities. Although one might sympathise with the Minister's desire to be rid of these airports, or his proposition that they should be decentralised, one also feels considerable sympathy with the point of view of the local authorities.
The White Paper is not absolute about this—there are certain qualifications under which a local authority could get financial assistance. I hope that in the debate today the Minister will be able to say something more about that. Local authorities in Scotland—Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen—are not exactly rushing forward to take the burden off his shoulders and put it on to the ratepayers' shoulders. That subject is slightly away from the Estimates Committee Report. I hope, nevertheless, that the Minister will be able to say something about it.
Naturally, we are extremely pleased that the Minister has felt able to accept many of the recommendations of the Report. That, of course, is because those recommendations were so transparently reasonable that a Minister could not reasonably reject them. The Minister, however, has persisted in being unreasonable in turning down one or two of the recommendations. I hope that today he will be able to say that he is able to accept those recommendations.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) for the speech that he has made and the time he gave in serving on the Committee. I am sure that the House also wishes to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) on his chairmanship of the Committee and the trouble he has taken in dealing with this matter overall.
I thought that my hon. Friend's speech was first-class. He presented a very fair case and did not overstress the strictures on the Ministry, although they 1007 were fairly severe. One of them rather surprised me. I thought that the point made by my hon. Friend about the Treasury was a particularly good one. It is good to bear the Treasury criticised for once in a while. I hope that we shall have a full explanation on that point.
Imagine a Department having that accommodation at London Airport and not paying for it. The Post Office has telephones there, but why the Treasury should get a free service I cannot understand. A number of its officials occupy 30,000 sq. ft. of space. It is a small factory in itself. I hope that my right hon. Friend, who has had some experience of dealing with the Treasury, will look into that matter and see that it is put right at an early date.
This debate is very timely. I have been concerned about this matter for years. I remember going to London Airport—I think it was on 1st January —on a cold, icy day in 1946, when the late Lord Winster, the then Minister, was turning over the first sod of earth and the work of building the airport was started. The Government of that day bore a great deal of responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves today. At that time they were full of enthusiasm for the pamphlet "Let us Face the Future". They had hardly got into office before they started building this enormous airport, with very little experience behind them. Even the Americans were behind us in this.
Had that Government gone about the matter rather more slowly and investigated what was happening in other parts of the world they could have learned a great deal. An airport cannot be constructed purely on imagination. One has to learn what others are doing and couple that with imagination.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)indicated dissent.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Member says that we would be behind, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for 1008 Mitcham said, to some extent the "shanty-town" is still with us. They went ahead far too quickly with other things.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I do not know about Hong Kong.
One example of this is the system and layout of the runways, not the buildings. I am sure that everyone recognises that the staff of London Airport, both Government officials and others, are doing their very best under difficult circumstances. They work under most trying difficulties, but one receives courtesy from everyone there.
Reference has been made to the control which probably is as good as, if not better, than at any airport in the world. One will put up with inconvenience on the ground if aircraft are brought in safely and landed in bad weather.
Nevertheless, the general layout and domestic arrangements for a great international airport are a poor advertisement for Britain. Do not let us tell ourselves that they are anything else. I remember talking to my right hon. Friend a few days after he had taken over his present office. I do not think that he will mind my saying what we were talking about. We were discussing his new job. I said that I thought London Airport would be a millstone round his neck after three years in office. I do not know whether ha recalls my saying that. I said that he had a difficult job on hand to rectify all the mistakes of previous Ministers and their staffs.
One of the most irritating things at London Airport is the lack of accessibility for motor cars. It is all very well to talk about revenue obtained from sightseers, but the airport is there to serve the travelling public and they ought to be considered first. Sightseers ought to be segregated in such a way that people who are travelling to the airport and want to get out from their cars quickly are not hindered.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
Would my hon. Friend be surprised to learn that to my certain knowledge the Ministry has been dickering about on the question of garaging at London Airport for the last six years, and so far 1009 as I know they have not yet come to a conclusion?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Had the buildings not been placed in the centre of a triangle of runways there would have been space for expansion outside for car parks. There are acres of land, but the buildings have been concentrated in the centre of a triangle. All the traffic has to come in and out through two tunnels and that forms a bottle-neck. This will show itself more in the next two or three years, especially when a separate tunnel is made for the handling of freight.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
Will the hon. Member make it clear that there would have been plenty of space outside the triangle for development if the buildings had not been concentrated inside? Where is that space now?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I shall come to that as I go along.
It is very difficult to describe the airport in detail when speaking on the Floor of the House. It employs 30,000 people. We have not a model in the Chamber, but if the hon. Member looks at a model of the airport he will find that one or two runways, which have been built at great cost—£1 million or more—have been abolished. The space is there, I can assure the hon. Member. If he flies to Scotland and does not always go at night, he will see that there is space there. No doubt, however, he wild be able to develop his argument if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker.
It is the little things which add up and irritate passengers at London Airport. One is that when a passenger arrives in a taxi or car, in order to go to the central buildings he has to get out in the middle of the road under a shelter. When he has got his baggage out he has to go from the shelter in the middle of the road to the main airport building through on-coming traffic, often in bad weather.
That is quite intolerable. I do not know what can be done about it at this stage, but the point is that the baggage travels up an elevator and then down again—and this is multiplied tens of millions of times a year. Surely all the baggage ought to be on the ground floor. I do not know what can be done now 1010 to put this right, but it is only a question of time before an old lady, unable to get a porter, and struggling across the road with her suitcase, is knocked down. It is a dangerous operation.
Only yesterday afternoon, when I arrived back in a rainstorm from my constituency by air—one-and-a-half hours late from Manchester, which happens invariably between Manchester and London—I was drenched in moving to a vehicle from the domestic building. I do not know what foreigners think about our airport buildings. I ask my right hon. Friend to look into these things and to see whether anything can be done about them, even if it means spending £1 million to £2 million to reorganise the central buildings into a workable proposition.
Over the years the Ministry of Aviation has shown very little commercial imagination. I heard a story not long ago, which I know is true, that an airline official wrote to the management and asked whether a few more signposts could be put on the airport because it was difficult to find the way round, as I can well imagine it is. The matter could not be settled by the general manager without referring it to the Ministry, where it was in the "In" tray for two or three months before a decision was taken. That is what happened, instead of the manager telling the carpenter to make some signposts, have them painted and have them put up. There were months of delay. That is why we should have a separate authority.
There has been a reference to the airport charges. I agree that if we make a direct comparison between the charges for landing a Boeing 707 at London and Idlewild at New York, the charges at London can be exceeded. But even if we add all other costs, including fuel and cleaning, London's charges are generally still very much in excess of other charges. I believe that except for the Sudan, Britain's landing charges are the highest in the world. We have no reason to congratulate ourselves that London Airport is making a modest profit; it is bad luck on the airlines if they have to paying landing fees commensurate with bad methods. I am told that the present charges are double those in Europe and six times those in the 1011 United States. If all Governments applied the same charges as the Ministry have applied here, the annual bill for the international air operators would be increased by £10 million.
§ Mr. Millan
I do not dispute all the hon. Member's figures, but he ought to take account of the fact that the quotation from one of the airlines that Britain's charges were double those of Europe and six times those of the United States was disproved, as the Report makes clear. It is nothing like as bad as that.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Up to a point that is so, but there is something in the comparison the figures are not very far out.
Reference has been made to the rents for office space at these buildings. It seems that the rentals asked for the south-eastern passenger building and the Queen's Building were at one time 55s. 4d. per square foot. The Report says that in Wigmore Street—I do not know why Wigmore Street was taken—it is 33s. 10d. per sq. ft. I understand that my right hon. Friend agreed that an arbitrator should go in and that some reductions were made. May we have more information about this and know the result of it? If we are trying to attract business people as a commercial enterprise, the rents must be reasonable.
Another point mentioned is the passenger surcharge of 7s. 6d. Most countries now do this. In Switzerland, it is three francs, or about 4s. 6d., and in London it is 7s. 6d. At Zurich Airport you pay three francs, and it is dealt with by the airline cashier. In London, you arrive and present your ticket, and you are given a slip and told to go to the cashier's box to pay the 7s. 6d. charge. Only a week or two ago, when going abroad, I found myself in a queue of about 30 people at the cashier's box trying to deal with my 7s. 6d. charge.
While the airlines may not like doing it, surely an arrangement should be made whereby they handle this at the same time as they handle the ticket, so that the two operations are done in one movement. The present system delays people, and I can well imagine that someone will miss his connection as a result.
1012 Will my right hon. Friend tell us what is being done about piers from the airport building? It is very difficult at the moment for many passengers to get in and out of the buses and aircraft; they have to wait while the slowest passengers disembark, and they may to wait while someone who is crippled with arthritis gets down the steps of the aircraft and into the bus. There is an interminable delay. The right thing would be to have a number of piers going out to the aircraft. The passengers could go direct to the pier, as is done at Gatwick on a much smaller scale. Provision is being made to get on with that work at an early date.
The facilities at Gatwick are extremely good, but could not more use be made of Gatwick? The airlines do not like going there, but B.E.A. is allowed to fly only to Le Bourget and not to the main airport at Orly. The French keep Orly very carefully to themselves. My right hon. Friend, in negotiating with the French, should say, "If you allow B.E.A. into Orly, well and good, but otherwise you must send some of your services to Gatwick."
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Is there anything in the point that if a passenger travels from Orly to Gatwick and then wishes to transfer, he would have to go into London and back again before he could do so?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
My hon. Friend has made the point which I was about to make. If a passenger by B.E.A. lands at Le Bourget and wishes to travel on via Orly, he has exactly that problem. My right hon. Friend has been rather too kind to the French in this matter.
If we could have had a circular building in the central London Airport with piers, it would have saved a lot of expense. I imagine that the airlines have to pay for these buses, although I do not know. I do not know how the drivers find their way in and out of aircraft and down these narrow roads. It is only a question of time before an accident takes place. The buses do not always confine themselves to the little roads running parallel to the buildings; they go in and out of the aircraft, and at times it is rather frightening.
Will the new international air building be big enough to do its job in five years' 1013 time? The number of passengers passing through London this year will probably equal the estimate made four years ago for 1965. Very little imagination has been shown by whoever was looking into the growth of air traffic. It will be seen that the graph of passenger traffic has been going up by 15 to 18 to 20 per cent. per annum, and the yearly increase of freight today is about 20 per cent. It seems that in 1961 6,200.000 passengers used London Airport, which is 800,000 more than the previous year. On those figures, for 1962 there will be 7 million and for 1963 there will be 8 million. The Millbourn Committee in 1957 estimated that there would be 7¼ million passengers in 1965.
It has been said that last year was one of the worst years for traffic growth because of plastic bombs in Paris and President Kennedy's request that Americans should stay at home. It was certainly not a good year for some airlines. Nevertheless, the increase was considerable. The Government must not delay. They must grasp the problem and show some courage in the expectation of growth. While Gatwick may have better facilities than London, it is essential to have an airport which can land a large airliner in fog. I am sure that safety must be put first. It is very important that London should have not only a second airport which can take traffic in fog conditions, but which can take it under any conditions.
We shall reach a period when London Airport, at any rate at peak periods, will be congested and then we shall need a second airport. It is not good enough to say that in the years to come the Brighton Road will have to be diverted and that we cannot afford to do this. The matter must be looked into a great deal more than it has been up to now. The estimates have been wide of the mark in almost every case. It was said that aircraft could only take off with a 12-knot crosswind, but it has been shown that modern aircraft can take off in a 20-knot crosswind. That has a very big bearing on the layout of runways.
The Millbourn Committee recommended the obliteration of two runways. No. 4 was built at a cost of £1 million. It has already disappeared to provide parking space for aircraft. As if Britain had not enough runways scattered all over the country we had to build one at 1014 London Airport which is not being used. This is a disgraceful matter. On Friday, I was begging for £1 million for service widows' pensions. I know that it would be out of order for me to pursue that matter now, but the figures happen to coincide.
I hope that we can be told something about Stansted and its future, assuming that congestion takes place at Heathrow and that Gatwick is not in a position to take the additional traffic fully loaded.
Then we come to the question of Ringway Airport, which, I know, was not a matter for the Estimates Committee, but 10 million people are living in the vicinity of that airport. I hope that my right hon. Friend, whose Committee has provisionally turned down the extension of Ringway, will look at the matter and that something will be done to provide a timetable. Who can say what vertical take-off aircraft will be doing in a few years' time? I know that we may not need the concrete then, but something must be done now to examine the position.
Are we quite certain that the rules are being insisted upon and that those about aircraft taking off from London Airport and attaining a certain height in a given time are reasonable? I have no doubt that they are, but we have read with some concern that there is a suggestion that the recent accident at Idlewild may have been caused because the aircraft had to climb so steeply to get over a given place at a certain time. It is said that operators are being asked to do too much in this respect. I should like an assurance on this. Northolt, which was Transport Command, is only five miles away. Does it interfere with the control of London Airport and is it used sufficiently? We should like to know what happens there.
Finally, on the matter of executive aircraft; I do not think that executive aircraft, which are on the increase for industrialists, the Coal Board and other bodies, are given sufficient encouragement to come to London. They would bring in additional revenue.
It is obvious to every hon. Member that an independent authority should take over the operation of these airports. I hope that time will be found to pass the necessary Measure in the next Session. I do not blame my right hon. 1015 Friend the Minister or my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the many mistakes which have been made. Successive Ministers since 1946 must bear a great responsibility, but my right hon. Friend has a tremendous job to do to try and clear up what is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
I intervene in this debate to raise a different matter from that so far raised by other hon. Members who have spoken so well on this subject. I wish to put one or two points to the Minister, to which I hope he will give an answer tonight.
Most of my constituency, like the constituencies of some other hon. Members, is around London Airport, and if there is to be a change of management and if an independent authority is to be set up to run the London airports, which, of course, include Heathrow, we should like an assurance of certain points. At present, the Minister is the landlord, and during the last seven years or so that I have been in the House we have always had a direct approach either to the Minister or to the Parliamentary Secretary on points of local grievances, on the question of noise to mention only one. We have always received great courtesy from the present Minister and Parliamentary Secretary, and also, indeed, from their predecessors.
Will the change of authority at London Airport mean that the Minister will no longer be the landlord of the airport, and, therefore, will not be responsible to answer Questions in the House on any points of local grievance —noise, safety or transport—that may arise? If the Minister can give some guidance on those points I am sure it would be a great help not only to the local authorities around London Airport but also the residents in the area.
Any future development or new authority, of course, raises such matters as the question of aircraft noise, whether the Minister will still be responsible for research into this problem, the number of night flights and whether the Minister will have control concerning how many aircraft are allowed to take off or land at London Airport. At present he has that power, and occasionally he has banned a certain aircraft 1016 from coming to London Airport if its noise exceeded a certain level. These are some points to which I hope the Minister will be able to reply.
I agree with the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) that London Airport has a good air safety record. I think that its air control is good, and except for one unfortunate accident near Southall in 1958 there have been very few accidents connected with the airport. Air safety is an important matter, just as important as that of people arriving at the airport on time and the matter of their luggage. If an aircraft crashed near London Airport, which is mainly in a residential built-up area, it could create disaster, damage and misery to many people. Therefore, I very much hope that whatever change of management there may be of the airport the matter of safety first will be enforced upon all the airline companies operating there.
Another point I wish to raise is the question of local authorities and the London Airport Standing Consultative Committee. At present this Committee includes representatives from the local authorities around Heathrow airport.
My urban district council at Feltham is concerned over the proposed change, as is the Middlesex County Council. The Middlesex County Council has written to the Minister. I will read a letter setting out the Middlesex County Council's view so that it will be on record and so that the Minister will know the position. This letter is from the urban district council of Feltham to me:My Council have had under consideration a letter from the Middlesex County Council enclosing a copy of a letter which they have sent to the Ministry of Aviation on the subject of the future management of London (Heathrow) Airport and they have decided to support the following resolution passed by the County Council:' That the County Council reiterates its concern at the nuisance and discomfort caused to Middlesex residents by noise and vibration from aircraft using London Airport, appreciates the efforts made by the London Airport Standing Consultative Committee to reduce this nuisance, but recognises that the problem is still far from any satisfactory solution; in this connection the County Council takes note of the Government White Paper on "Civil Aerodromes and Air Navigational Services", and further notes with concern that the effect of the proposals in the White Paper may be to reduce the voice and influence of local 1017 authorities in the management of London Airport; the County Council therefore requests Her Majesty's Government to secure that this and other local authorities are represented on the Board or executive committee of any new Airport Authority in which the ownership and management of London Airport may be vested.'I am instructed by the Council to ask you to give your support to the decision of the County Council and the District Council on this matter and hope that you will find it possible to do so.I very much hope that the point made not only by the Middlesex County Council, which represents all Middlesex, but also by the urban district council of Feltham, will be favourably considered. I am sure that their point of view is sup-ported by the other borough and other urban district councils in the area.
The Minister has done something to help to solve this problem by certain changes which he has made. Earth banks have been erected to baffle ground noise. Further, definite instructions have been given to the airline corporations regarding the height of aircraft. The Minister has been strict on weight. Will the same control still be invested in the Minister? These are some of the points to which I should like replies.
I can well understand some of the criticisms which are made of the airport as a whole. After all, it was planned directly the war was over. There was no civil airport in this country of a size to operate air traffic which was bound to increase after 1945. The airport was a post-war effort. If it had been built later and if the supply position had Peen better, bigger plans would probably have been put into effect. If the growth of air and road traffic could have been foreseen, Heathrow would probably have been planned on a bigger scale.
We can be proud of some of the buildings there. The Queen's Building is very good. The restaurant is quite as good as anything I have seen in some cities abroad. The staff canteen for those working in London Airport are equal to anything I have seen at other airports. I hope that the Minister will get rid of the huts on the Bath Road side, the north side, and provide permanent buildings.
Car parking at the airport is an urgent problem. Both sides of the House have pressed the Minister on this for the last six years. I have raised the sub- 1018 jest, as has the hon. Member for Macclesfield. We have pressed and pressed. I quite agree that there is no excuse for the delay in providing a proper car park. At first the scheme was for an underground park. That scheme was abandoned. The present scheme is for a multi-storey park. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the park is supplied for the benefit of the travelling public at London Airport without further delay.
The future of the airport is important. The hon. Member for Macclesfield said that 30,000 people worked there. It is a gigantic undertaking. In future air traffic, both passenger and freight, will expand. There may be temporary setbacks and expansion may not be very great in some years, but in other years it may leap ahead. Heathrow is an international airport of great importance to this country. It is near London. We have always been told that it must be near London. I hope that the Government and the Minister when making changes in management will ensure that they make London (Heathrow) Airport a credit to this country also one of the best in the world, and its record for air safety maintained.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I want to begin, as other hon. Members have, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) and his colleagues on the Sub-Committee for the work they have done and the recommendations they have put forward. I only hope that the other recommendations they have put forward but Which the Minister has not accepted will soon be considered and accepted.
Incidentally, why has the debate been so long delayed? The Report of the Sub-Committee was printed on 21st June, 1961. It is now nearly 21st, June, 1962. Even the observations of the Ministry on the recommendations are dated 11th December, 1961, five months ago. That may not be the fault of anybody in the Chamber at the moment. I know that much work is involved in arranging debates, even on a subject like this.
I want to make a few remarks, more from the point of view of a passenger 1019 than anything else, because being a member of the delegation to the Council of Europe and the Western European Union I suppose I go abroad through London Airport as much as anybody in the House, with the possible exception of some of the Ministers. I therefore come across some of the drawbacks and disadvantages at the airport.
The first matter to which I wish to direct attention is the congestion there. Why is it that when one is going on an outward flight one nearly always gets directed through Channel No. 5, as if there were only one channel to go through? Occasionally I have been directed through Channel 4. I know the Channels 1 and 2 are for internal services, presumably leaving only Channels 3, 4 and 5 for outward flights. Yet one is nearly always directed through the same channel.
I remember one occasion when there were at least three flights at the end of a channel waiting to move towards the aircraft. All the passengers were congested in one lounge. There were not enough seats for everybody who wanted to sit. I dare say that is a rare occurrence, but at some time some use must be made of Channels 3, 4, 6 and possibly 7. I am not sure whether Channel 7 is a departure channel or an arrival channel. They seem to be little used, although they are usable. Everybody seems to be congested in one channel.
Secondly, what is the policy of the Ministry on the parking of aircraft and the question whether a passenger has to walk to his aircraft or go by coach? It seems to be a gamble as to which one does. I know that jet aircraft seem to be parked some distance away behind a baffle wall, although that does not necessarily occur at other airports, like Basle or Zurich. Is there any policy here? Is it merely that if an aircraft happens to arrive when one of the parking places nearest the passenger building is free it stops there all night? What is the system?
I should like to endorse what has been said already about duty-free shops. It seems ridiculous that other airports such as Paris, Basle, Brussels and Shannon have duty-free shops and we have not. Why are we so backward and have to be set examples by foreign countries? 1020 The question of hours of opening of shops has been dealt with by a Private Member's Bill which has received a Third Reading. I should like to be assured that when the Bill becomes law everything possible will have been done to enable shops at the airport to keep open longer. This will depend, of course, also on whether the custom is there to make it worth while, but we are behind other countries in Europe in many ways in the matter of shopping hours not only at airports but at railway stations as well.
I remember that in the middle of the summer, either last year or the year before, I was directed at London Airport to Carpark No. 7, which is ten minutes' or fifteen minutes' walk from the passenger building. It is true that this is exceptional, probably because it was mid-summer and there were more people than usual at the airport. I know also that since then the parking charge has been increased to discourage people from parking for a long time. A multi-storey car park should be provided there as soon as possible to handle the increased traffic.
The question of noise resulting from low flying is of more interest to many other hon. Members than it is to me, but even I have a slight constituency problem in this respect. I had a complaint last week from a constituent who said that during almost the whole of last Sunday week part of Wembley was subjected to a great deal of noise and vibration from low-flying aircraft. Presumably they were flying into London Airport as distinct from flying out, because Wembley is on the route from the Watford stack to the airport. I believe that I am right in saying that 2,000 ft. is the minimum height at that point. Do aircraft occasionally fly below that limit and in doing so presumably disobey regulations? If so, what steps are taken to stop that practice and thereby to minimise noise?
Aircraft noise is probably greater in other constituencies because aircraft have to fly at a lower altitude over them as they come in to land. I hope that something will be said about this problem when we have a reply to the debate. Even in St. John's Wood where I live jet aircraft seem to pass overhead fairly low quite frequently. Judging from the noise 1021 and the direction, they are leaving and not coming into London Airport. I should like to support the recommendation that the difficulty in connection with outward flying aircraft could be overcome by their taking off in a westerly direction. I should like to know whether discussions have been completed with the Royal Air Force in connection with this matter and the possible difficulty at Northolt. I hope that take-off by aircraft in a westerly direction, particularly by jet air-liners, will become practicable very soon. I understand that with modern techniques in aviation it should be perfectly possible.
I should like to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) has said about the refusal of the French Government to allow B.E.A. to use Orly Airport—
§ Mr. Russell
Yes, and B.E.A., and the possibility of our retaliating against Air France. A short time ago my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield and I flew to Strasbourg one evening. As the flight from Paris to Strasbourg was from Orly we had to travel from London by Air France. There is a sanction that if one uses a flight which passes through Orly one must fly by French aircraft from London as well. I hope that the Minister will consider this and use retaliatory measures to compel the French Government to allow our aircraft, whether of B.E.A. or B.U.A. or any other line, to use Orly, which is one of the most modern airports in Europe, instead of Le Bourget.
I should like to support recommendation (34) of the Estimates Committee Report that an independent authority should be established for the London group of airports. I hope that this will be put into effect as soon as possible, more particularly as this is a recommendation from both sides of the House, but all the Committee's recommendations are valuable and I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider them all.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
There was good sense in all that the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) said. He referred to the great problem 1022 of aircraft noise. It is bound to increase as time goes on. It is a problem of which a growing number of people not only in the immediate proximity of our airports but much further afield complain about. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about the experiments and research work now being carried out on this subject.
The hon. Member for Wembley, South was also on good ground in emphasising that Gatwick is not receiving anything like its fair share of patronage from the French airlines. I should have thought that what was good enough for our aircraft was equally good for the French, but I like to be constructive in these matters and rather than ban the use of both Orly and Gatwick I would prefer to see aircraft using them both. The hon. Member was right, however, in drawing this anomaly to our attention.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) was in some trouble in that he emphasised the responsibility of the Government in 1946 for the layout of Heathrow. I was not sure whether he was criticising the Government of 1946 for going too rapidly or the Government of 1962 for going too slowly. I ventured to interrupt to suggest that had we at that time merely sat back to see how other great industrial nations would conduct themselves in this affair, we certainly should not have had the huge input, as it were, to London Airport which we now have in 1962. It may well be that one can criticise the layout—I am sure that there are grounds for the criticisms which some hon. Members have advanced—but to complain that, within a year of the end of a war which had left us practically bankrupt, the foresight of the Government was such that they began the construction of what is now the greatest airport in the world is a rather negative form of criticism. I was in that Parliament at the time. I am sorry to criticise the hon. Gentleman in his absence, but although he has always been interested in this subject, I cannot remember his criticising the Government at the time for being too precipitate in beginning the evolution of this great airport.
There are so many aspects to this comprehensive Report that if one were to chase them all one would take an 1023 inordinate amount of time. I commend the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) on the way he presented the Report. He did the House a good service. He was Chairman of the Sub-Committee, and as I go through the evidence I am struck by the ability which he displayed in leading what I thought was a very good team. He had to cover a great deal of ground in introducing the subject to us. Those of us speaking after him have to sort out our priorities and confine ourselves to a few subjects which we regard as of prime importance. For my part, I attach great importance to the possible growth of freight traffic which Heathrow will be quite unable to handle. I ventured to say something about this in our last debate on the subject, and I emphasise it again as one of the principal issues confronting us.
The Report of the Estimates Committee deals with 1960–61, and the Special Report in which the Minister's observations on its recommendations appear is confined entirely to the recommendations in the year 1960–61. It may well be, since activities in this connection are developing so rapidly, that very many of the figures contained in the Report before us are out of date. Although I know that the Minister will have to be careful in keeping within order when he answers the debate, I hope that he will, as far as he can, come a little nearer to the present position in regard to finances and that sort of thing and give us the latest figures rather than confine himself to discussing the Report as we now have it.
In paragraph 15 of Cmnd. 1457, the White Paper on Civil Aerodromes and Air Navigational Services, published in August, 1961, it is said:In the present financial year the revenues of Heathrow are expected to cover all the operating costs and also interest on capital and depreciation.I am fairly certain that we are showing something of a return at Heathrow now, and we shall he indebted to the Minister if he can give us precisely what the present financial position is there.
It is interesting to note that in the issue of Flight, published on 4th January this year, there is the comment made that the basis of compilation of the Ministry of Aviation's airport accounts 1024 is highly suspect. Flight suggests that the depreciation periods are absurdly protracted and that a prudent accountant would be justified in halving them and, in the process, doubling the present depreciation charge from £1½million to £3 million. This refers, incidentally, to all the airports, but as London takes such a large proportion in the accounts naturally the major weight of that observation is directed at London. If this is so, we had better assess the strength of that observation. We are all discussing what is to happen in the future in considering the establishment of an independent authority and so on, and, if we are to have a fair appreciation of the conditions in which such an authority would take over, we had better put this kind of financial problem in correct perspective.
The expansion of the number of passengers handled is going on at a terrific pace. It is said in the Report that 6 million terminal passengers were handled by the London group in 1960, the vast majority at Heathrow, of course, and this figure is expected to reach the colossal total of 14 million by 1970. This presents a great challenge to Heathrow. When one realises that there will be bigger and faster airplanes discharging this huge number of people, one realises that the present basis of calculation will go completely awry and planning to cater for expansion of that kind will have to be minute and detailed.
In addition to the enormous expansion of our passenger traffic, there will be a large expansion of freight traffic. As the Report shows, there has been criticism in this respect already, and there is much speculation about whether there is sufficiently rapid expansion in the provision of accommodation to handle the freight. I know that there is the great problem of air space limitation, and this is bound up with the question of whether we can expand rapidly enough to handle the freight. We know that a committee of the right hon. Gentleman's Department is meeting with the Air Ministry to consider Northolt itself, and in this matter, too, we should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could give us more information.
One finds in the evidence that every one a the large operators was very 1025 critical about the freight situation. They argue that the rate of progress has been nothing like rapid enough to take care of the increase which they foresaw. Has the Minister considered whether it is merely a matter of increasing facilities for freight in London? I have a vested interest here. Length of runway and matters of that kind are important. In my constituency, there is a huge former airport at Burtonwood, with runways 10,000 feet long, which is now rotting. We are in the middle of a great industrial conurbation there, and I should have thought that, while Heathrow may be our first consideration in this context, it would be very wrong, since we are facing what may be insurmountable difficulties, to neglect the possible enlargement of facilities in other parts of the country.
In 1957, the Millbourn Committee estimated that, by 1970, freight traffic of about 300,000 tons a year at least was to be expected. Having regard to the increases we already know about, I should be very surprised if that was not a gross under-estimate of the freight we shall have to handle by 1970. Sir William Hildred, representing the International Air Transport Association, said things in his evidence to the Committee which, I thought, disclosed a real danger of our being by-passed on the ground of high charges and lack of enterprise in London for what he called—I think he was quite right—" a new revolution in cargo". I think that he was absolutely right in stating what he thought to be the dimensions of this great problem.
In answer to Question No. 1552, Sir William Hildred, after giving details of arrangements being made to handle enourmous amounts of freight in Germany and New York, said:London is the biggest port in the world. If it was done properly, it could be the entrepôt for millions of tons of cargo. That is for the future. These ships are going to carry enormous cargoes.…; There is a future for it, and London ought to be stuck right in the middle.That is good proletarian language which, I think, sums up the position which we now face. The large increase in this traffic, about which we are all agreed, will also produce a rich harvest, or perhaps I should say an even richer one than at present, for the two oil companies which provide fuel at Heathrow and Gatwick. The House should give a 1026 great deal of consideration to what has happened. The terms on which Shell Mex and B.P. and Esso are doing this are nothing short of a public scandal. The Public Accounts Committee have also drawn our attention to this problem, and I do not think it is good enough for the Ministry simply to say that there is nothing now that can be done about it and that we have to live with the problem.
These two companies possess a thirty-five-year lease on land at Heathrow on which they have built fuel installations and provided pipelines. The agreements do not terminate until 1991. It is just possible that some of us may not be in a position to offer our advice on new leases at that time. We should, therefore, perhaps better ask the Minister what he proposes to do about it now.
To me one of the rather annoying peculiarities of this is that hon. Members are not even allowed to know what are the conditions of these two leases, what the payments are and what conditions obtain. All these facts are carefully starred in the Report and we have not the slightest idea what the payments really include. In paragraph 76 we are told:A fuel levy of a halfpenny per gallon would have provided an income at Heathrow alone of over a quarter of a million pounds last year, which would be at least doubled by 1970 if the anticipated increase in traffic materialises.From there we could go on doubling it every few years.
Paragraph 73 states:… the return to the Ministry at Heathrow per gallon of fuel sold to the airlines is negligible.Paragraph 77 describes the agreement as "deplorable". I know that it is too bad if one makes a bad bargain in these matters. It has been said that the aviation world in those days based itself on leases of land of that kind, but it is the fact that many countries were already getting their agreement on a throughput basis even then. It seems to me that we have not as yet had a sufficient explanation why such an agreement which will cost the taxpayer £20 million to £30 million before it is finished was at that time considered a good agreement to make.
In arguing this I am not saying that this. has been done merely because it was agreed by a Ministry. I do not 1027 accept that. I have read of one or two bad bargains made by private enterprise from time to time. I do not accept that this is merely because a few poor, innocent, unsophisticated civil servants were grabbed by the throat by some grasping oil magnates with the inevitable result that accrues from that sort of thing. I have great respect for the capacity of our senior civil servants. I agree with the Committee that it is a deplorable arrangement. The Minister's advice is that the leases are irrevocable and that he has no legal right to impose a fuel levy on the two fuel companies. We know that in 1960 the throughput was nothing short of 120 million gallons. Can the Minister give any explanation of what he proposes to do about this? As I have said it is a public scandal.
The agreement for Heathrow was concluded in 1955, and it may well be that other agreements in other parts of the world were based on the method adopted in 1955. If that were so—if indeed they were all based on ground lease and rental at that time—how long are we in this country to keep on with that kind of approach, because in fact the same kind of agreement was made for Gatwick two years later in 1957? Surely by that time the people responsible for negotiating this kind of arrangement should have been aware that on an ever-increasing scale the criterion was throughput of fuel and not ground rental. They should certainly have known this by 1957.
In 1960 the throughput of fuel at Gatwick was 4.9 million gallons and the companies estimated that this had risen to 8 million gallons in 1961. According to the evidence of the manager given in the Committee, a very conservative estimate for 1970 is 23 million to 24 million gallons. This is fantastic. I have a great respect for the shrewdness and ability of many of the lawyers who advise various Departments of the Government. I refuse, however, to believe that there is no way in which the nation which is now being virtually held to ransom cannot find a way out of this dilemma until 1991. I urge the Minister quite seriously to look at this again and try to devise a way of getting round this complete anomaly, as I see it.
When Mr. Edwards was giving evidence about Gatwick on the question of 1028 how this had come about, he answered "It is a departmental policy position." He used the present tense. I know from the Minister's answers to these recommendations that it would appear that he agrees that from now at any rate we should get our leases on a throughput basis. I am not certain from the words he used—I am alarmed by the way Mr. Edwards put this in his evidence—that the Minister wholly agrees that from now on there will be no other method than the throughput basis on which we shall get agreement. I have given figures and the hon. Members who were Members of the Estimates Committee know the exact figures, but I doubt whether they will give them. I have given figures to show the enormous loss which the nation is now sustaining as a result of this kind of agreement.
If we look at the figures of capital expenditure of public money, by the end of 1959–60 £43 million had been invested in the London group of airports, nearly £32 million on Heathrow and £8½ million on Gatwick. The forecast of expenditure from 1960 to 1970 is £18¾ million on Heathrow and £7¼ million on Gatwick. While the public has been investing on this scale and incurring losses from such colossal expenditure and at the very moment when we are all critical of the high level of landing charges we find that a huge source of revenue, such as I have described, is apparently not to be open to us until 1991. I am not satisfied that we should leave it in that way. We have given these two companies virtually monopoly rights—I do not know whether the Monopolies Commission can do anything about it—because of the limitation of space and it is impossible to get a new agreement with any other company or for the Ministry to do anything about it.
I know to my sorrow that the Pipelines Bill is at present before the House. We are meeting tomorrow for five and a half hours. I do not like retrospective legislation, but is it not possible for the Government to table an Amendment to that Bill so that the authority, which I understand we are to set up, is bound to put in a pipeline system to Heathrow and Gatwick so that it could provide the fuel for the planes using those two airports rather than that these two companies should have a monopoly until 1029 1991? It appears from the Report that there is no hope of introducing that element of competition because of the limitation of space. There is no room for further oil installations, and that kind of thing.
I hope that, rather than be annoyed about the fact that these arrangements are in existence, the right hon. Gentleman will exercise his not inconsiderable ability to deal legitimately and fairly with this matter. We have not said that no other company shall be given an agreement. If there is room for another company, a corresponding agreement could be made with it. I am trying to find a way by which we can introduce a proviso to the effect that the authority which is to be set up will be responsible for producing a pipeline system as an alternative to these two companies. Perhaps the two companies would be prepared to be reasonable and to consider whether the agreement was not as irrevocable as they thought if there were the possibility of such a thing as that happening.
It is shocking that visitors to Britain, as soon as they leave Heathrow, should run smack into the biggest collection of whisky bottles in captivity in order to provide a little revenue and that the oil companies should make enormous profits, not out of anything which they have done, but out of public enterprise.
I have referred to recommendation No. 34 of the Committee that an independent authority should be set up. We know that legislation for this was fore-shadowed by the Minister in a White Paper even before the Committee made its recommendation. Two or three hon. Members have commented favourably on this. We know from Cmd. Paper 1457, published in August, that the Government intend to act on these lines and that the necessary legislation will shortly be introduced. I do not know whether the Minister can tell us if it will be introduced next Session, but this debate presents him with an opportunity to give the House more information about his ideas in this respect. This may well be the last chance that we shall have to discuss it before the legislation is introduced.
The Committee appreciated that the creation of an independent authority of this type would materially reduce Par- 1030 liament's control over the management of our airports, but it is argued that, if the setting up of such an authority would lead to more efficient and economical management, Parliament would be prepared to agree to a reduction of its control over this sector of public service. That may well be. Who am I to prejudge that? The point which stands out is that we must take that kind of argument on trust. In other words, we cannot find out whether it will lead to more efficient management until Parliament has relinquished its control over our airports.
In paragraph 132, the Committee stated:The fundamental argument in favour of an independent authority, however, is that the whole airport management should be self-contained and autonomous and that this is not possible under Ministry control".The counter-argument to that is that the Ministry should be adapted to this purpose and that there is nothing basically inappropriate about a Ministry controlling airports. We are rather conservative in a great many ways in this country —[Interruption.] I do not preclude the possibility of another Tory Government by the time the lease has run out in 1991. There is no saying how foolish people may be. We can be extremely conservative in our approach to the need for change in Government Departments and in the methods by which the Civil Service works. I should not have thought that it was conclusive to say that a Ministry, as at present constituted, is inappropriate for controlling a great airport and therefore that the matter must be taken out of the hands of the Ministry. As time goes on and as we have more intelligent Governments in power, we can adapt Ministries to this purpose After all, the Post Office does not do too badly. We do not have to set up independent authorities to run the Air Force or the Army and public institutions of that sort.
The Committee deals in a somewhat cavalier manner with the very great importance which we in the House attach to the vital question of Parliamentary control over these great undertakings. A tradition has grown up in this House of hon. Members on both sides questioning the Minister on the day-to-day events at airports. The hon. Member for Wembley, South spoke of the noise 1031 factor. A number of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite often, and rightly, refer to the nuisance being caused to their constituents by this ever-increasing noise problem. Since we now have more and more night jet flights, this nuisance will become greater. I take it that once Parliament accepts that an independent authority should be set up to control these things, the rules which apply in this case—in other words, the limiting factors which debar us from asking questions about day-to-day administration—will apply to this independent authority.
§ Mr. Burden
Surely the hon. Gentleman should not object to that, since Parliament was deliberately debarred from asking questions by the terms of the charter for the nationalised industries introduced by his own party.
§ Mr. Lee
I know that, but the Government have been in power for twelve years. Why have not they changed the rules if there is something wrong with them? I understand the basis on which the nationalisation Measures were drawn up. My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth argued this during the passing of those Acts. There was the problem that it was unfair to the management of great nationalised industries if people could use this place merely to carp and criticise about day-to-day events. I understand that very well, and it is a sound point. On the other hand, we should evolve our own systems as conditions change. I recognise that it can be said that the Labour Government of 1945–1950 enshrined more wisdom in five years than any other Governments have done in 500 years. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) should not, however, reach the stage of saying that because that great and wise Labour Government did this, that and the other there can be no paint in making further changes.
Instead of merely saying that the Ministries are not suitable for this kind of work, we should begin to analyse whether we can make them suitable for it. If hon. Members are to be debarred from asking questions which are of great importance to their constituents and to themselves, should they not think again before they willingly surrender 1032 that kind of power into the hands of an independent authority?
There might well be an argument to show the virtues of an independent authority. Certainly, to my way of looking at it, the Report does not argue convincingly that any increases in efficiency will arise merely by taking these powers from the Ministry and giving them to an independent authority. In any event, the balancing factor of the loss of authority by Parliament is an overwhelming argument, given that the existing argument goes the other way, why at this stage we should not accept the change.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
It is difficult to follow the hon. Member's argument. Over all the years, Parliament has had the right to ask Questions, but this has not prevented the oil companies from getting the monopoly situation to which the hon. Member has referred.
§ Mr. Lee
The hon. Member does not know what those oil arrangements are. He has taken more interest in the subject than anybody else in the House since 1945. Why should I criticise him because in 1955 his Government were making a hopeless hotch-potch of the agreement? I do not criticise the hon. Member when he could not even know of it. He could not possibly know of the existence of the agreement until after it was an agreement. The fact that hon. Members have not made a great song and dance about the agreement is irrelevant to my argument that if we are willingly to sacrifice our rights and sovereignty to supervise and to control institutions such as this, hon. Members will need better arguments for so doing than any we have yet heard.
We are all conscious that industrial relations at some of our great airports are nothing like as good as some of us would wish. Questions on these matters which have been brought to the notice of the public have had a fairly good effect from time to time. I take it that all this will be outside the possibility of question and answer in the House once control passes into the hands of a private authority.
I know that all the great operators were in favour of an independent authority. Even publicly-owned undertakings might not be keen to retain a 1033 great deal of Parliamentary control. We are, however, moving into a phase in which, irrespective of whether the undertakings are public or private, we come more and more into monopoly or semi-monopoly conditions. As we go forward into that stage, it becomes more vital that Parliament should have a substantial degree of control over the monopoly, whether public or private.
I do not believe that this House as at present constituted can control these great monopolies unless we consciously examine the position in which we are putting ourselves and insist that where monopoly rights prevail, in either private or public enterprise, Parliament must have a great deal of control over them. I do not say that we on this side agree or disagree; I am arguing the case before the legislation is introduced. The time might have arrived, however, when we are beginning to set up this kind of enterprise when we should consider the rules of order of the House of Commons so that we ensure that hon. Members have the opportunity of maintaining some kind of control over an authority of this kind.
Public authorities of various types are spreading in all countries, irrespective of the colour of their Government. I read the other day that the United States of America has a bigger extension of this kind of thing than any country outside the Communist world. This is not, therefore, a question of the colour of one's Government, but is an economic necessity. I hope that Parliament will look clearly at matters of this kind before relinquishing control.
In any event, the new authority may well take over at a time when our airports are not paying their way. I take it that the usual statutory formula of paying their way, taking one year with another, would be applied. The existing losses, I understand, are written off each year, whereas with the type of authority that it is proposed to set up they would accumulate.
We all want to see our great airports made into economic propositions, instead of being dependent upon public money. We also want to see the great structural changes which are necessary to cater for the future. The proposed type of authority might well apply the brake to many necessary capital projects 1034 merely because the balance sheet shows the finances to be "in the red".
Although I have been fairly critical, I am not necessarily opposed to the conception of an independent authority. If, however, such an authority is to be instituted and is to take over at a time when London's airports are "in the red"—
§ Sir A. V. Harvey indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Lee
Taking Gatwick as a separate entity, apparently it will not be a paying proposition until 1970. Stansted is on merely a care-and-maintenance basis. Therefore, judging the airports separately, they cannot be economic propositions for a very long time.
I do not even know whether the new legislation is drawn up, but on what lines is the Minister thinking? There are differences of opinion about who should control and pay for the technical services. I read in the Report that if the new authority was to be charged with providing such technical services, this would entail a debt of £2½ million for many years. I attach great importance to the first-class safety provisions now to be found at London's airports. They are second to none among those I have seen anywhere in the world. The very efficient team of research people who have been responsible are much to be congratulated on what they have accomplished.
The Committee spoke of handing over the technical services to the authority, who would pay for them. The American Government, I understand, does not treat American airports that way. This would mean saddling the new authority with a debt running into £2½ million, which inevitably would lead to restricted research and technical services. For this reason, I am not too happy about this proposal. I hope that the Minister will let us know his thinking concerning the provision of the technical services and the like.
The Civil Estimates, 1962–63, Class IV, itemising the three London airports for that year, shows Heathrow to have an expenditure of £6,577,000 and an income of £8,272,000. In other words, income as a percentage of expenditure is 125, which is very good. At Gatwick it is merely 50 per cent. of expenditure, at Stansted it is 77 per cent., and at Prestwick, I regret to say to my hon. Friend 1035 the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), it is 85 per cent. of expenditure. Therefore, it is not the case that we are as yet clear, or anything like clear, in a great many of these enormously important airports.
I have spoken too long, but I wanted to itemise the kinds of objections which I feel must be stated in a debate of this type. I have said I am worried about whether we are to minimise the great work of our research people, work which leads to such very fine technical accomplishments at our airports. Economic considerations are always the natural enemy of this kind of un-remunerative research, and will be, indeed, for many years to come. The greatest advertisement we can have—much better than the whisky bottles outside Heathrow—is our reputation for safety, ability and technical efficiency.
I have been critical of some aspects of our London airports, as have hon. Gentleman opposite. On the whole, I think that in safety we probably lead the world, and I want to see us going on not only maintaining but improving this reputation. I believe it is quite possible provided we do not bring economics in as the criteria against which we minimise technical achievements. I congratulate the Committee on many of its recommendations and I am glad to see that the Minister has accepted some of them. I have been critical of the lack of accommodation for freight. I have been somewhat critical about the independent authority. To me, these are the priorities which I have selected out of this Report.
I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies to the debate he will indicate to us his thinking on these matters, because it may well be that his ability to show that the independent authority would be a substantial advance over anything which his Ministry can produce will determine our attitude towards the legislation when it comes. At any rate, whether it is an independent authority or the Ministry itself, we all wish the authority well in creating bigger, better, more prosperous airports for London. I think I have said that there is some danger that we may be by-passed, especially in freights. I hope that by the time we have another 1036 opportunity to debate this we shall have much better information from either the Estimates Committee or the Ministry as to the progress made.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
It is clear that the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) has done his homework, but it seems to me that, on all the important issues which the Estimates Committee investigated with such care, if he was not perched on the fence he was at least straddling the pipeline. This afternoon, I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Newton into his rather murky pipelines, nor do I want to follow those hon. Members who have put forward constituency interests. I have some constituents who work at Heathrow, mostly in an aircrew capacity, and they are very cross at the Ministry's decision to increase the cost of renewing their air licences. I think that they have got some justification for that feeling of anger.
However, this afternoon I wish to speak as a consumer of airports—[An HON. MEMBER: "Difficult".]—as one who has travelled in and and out of London Airport six times this year alone. Here, I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), and with other hon. Members who have done so, in the tribute which he paid to the air traffic and control staff. Certainly, when I approach London Airport I feel that I am in the best hands in the world.
When the weather is right and the aircraft are flying on time, then, from a consumer's point of view, the test of an airport's efficiency is really the speed with which the staff handle the passengers' luggage. It has seemed to me odd in the past that we should be ever anxious to give millions of pounds, what sometimes seems like giving millions of pounds, to, say, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) for development of great new aircraft which will speed us into Paris—
§ Mr. Goodhart
—ten minutes faster than was done before if, at the end of this time, we waste ten minutes of 1037 precious time in waiting for the passengers' luggage through administrative inadequacy and inefficiency.
It seems to me that the Estimates Committee was absolutely right in the decision, which, I am glad to see, has been accepted by the Ministry, to hand over the apron services to the airline companies themselves, because if there are delays it is the airline companies which do stand to suffer most. They have the greatest interest in seeing that baggage is handled efficiently, so I am glad to see that in future they are to have the full responsibility for this.
Sometimes, of course, the aircraft do not fly on time and we have passengers clogging up the various channels at the airport and having to sit there for hours. It seems to me that very little attention is paid to the interests of the passenger who has to spend a certain amount of time at airports in transit, as I certainly have had to spend many hours in airport lounges in transit while minor repairs were done to the aircraft. There is the problem of what to do with the passengers. In the air they are seated on seats and given fruit juice and coffee and magazines. When there is a delay on the ground, what happens? We seat them in seats, and give them fruit juice and coffee and magazines. There seems to be nothing else that can be done.
I wonder whether it would not be possible to institute a gymnasium at London Airport. After all, we have had various gymnasia—top rank saloons, I think they are called—starting un in London. It is at the airport where one is sitting about tired from one journey and waiting to go on another journey that one needs to get a masseur with his hands on one's muscles, and I should like to see a gymnasium put at the top of this new parking building which we are at long last to have, and also a newsreel cinema—
§ Mr. Hunter
London Airport did build a cinema, which was not used by the public, and the owners had to close it.
§ Mr. Goodhart
Then we do not have to build the building at all; we merely have to reopen a sound, commercial cinema which is already there. I am delighted to hear of this.
One thing common to all passengers at London Airport is that they have to 1038 get away from it. Much attention has been paid to parking facilities, and it is right that the Estimates Committee should have gone into that with some care. But not everybody goes by car. Many people depend on other forms of transport. In recent weeks we have heard a great deal of the racketeering by some taxi drivers on Pakistani immigrants, who have received much sympathy. But ordinary passengers are also being held up to ransom by the taxi drivers.
The last time I had to leave London Airport in a great hurry was on the last Budget day but one. I arrived at London Airport at just about the time that the Chancellor was opening his Budget statement. I caught a taxi and arrived at the House of Commons in time to record my vote. But the cost of hiring that taxi was just about one day's salary of a Member of Parliament. The charges at London Airport for taxis are quite excessive. Perhaps it would be possible for the new authority to reach an agreement with some minicab proprietors for the provision of an adequate taxi service from Heathrow to Central London or the outskirts.
I support the recommendation of the Estimates Committee that the operation of London's airports should be handed over to an independent body. The arguements put forward by the Committee are exceptionally convincing in favour of a new organisation. I doubt whether the hon. Member for Newton is right in arguing that all details of the airport services should be open to Parliamentary Questions. I doubt whether any Parliamentary Questions about labour relations there in recent years have been of much value. Indeed, looking at the present organisation of the management of the airports, the surprising thing is that those in charge of them have been able to do as well as they have done.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
listened with interest to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and agreed a good deal with what he said just as I agree with much that is contained in the Estimates Committee's Report, though not with all of it. I appreciate what the hon. Member said about the ancillary services, and I think that everyone agrees that, if an airline is responsible for flying the machines 1039 and for seeing that the luggage is properly and efficiently loaded, it should have full charge of such services. As is pointed out in the Report, this should be done from the point of view of essential economy as well.
I was interested in the hon. Member's reference to gymnasia. I do not know why he omitted mention of a swimming pool. How the independent authority would view these demands before it even began to function is a matter of some interest, but I do not think that it would be an encouraging opening.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) forgot to mention the very many attractive air hostesses walking around the airports.
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) is trying to lure me into a field which is full of dangers, and I shall avoid that.
The hon. Member for Beckenham surprised me by saying that he wanted a cinema. As has been pointed out, the magnificent Queen's Building was opened four years ago, with a cinema in it. Recently, being stranded—as he has been —I thought I would pass the time watching a film, only to discover that the cinema had closed through lack of support.
The hon. Gentleman said that he approached this debate from the point of view of a consumer and I, too, wish to devote some attention to that. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) said that many little things about London Airport irritated, and I agree. One matter that continually irritates me is the four avenues as one approaches the central building. Time and again I have found myself taking the wrong turning. I am not the only person who has suffered that misfortune.
There is one avenue for the taxis, and I think that the disarray one sees in the taxi arrangement is a matter for protest. Just a week ago I had to protest about the terminal arrangements. Sometimes a bus is arrested in its progress to its stopping place 'because of taxis blocking the way. That happened today, and it is the sort of thing that almost tempts, at times, many of us who are strong sup- 1040 porters of the nationalised industry to give a little more support and a little more thought to the idea of an independent authority—more thought than normally I, at any rate, would choose to give.
Then, another little irritating thing to me—apart from the sight of the bottles which we protested about during Question Time some months ago—concerns the journey into London. This morning, for example, when we left the airport, instead of turning towards London after leaving the tunnel, we went towards Slough. Whether this is within the discretion of the driver or not I do not know, but now that the North Airport has ceased to function, it seems absurd not to take the turning towards the North Airport, so shortening the journey to a small extent.
I have said that I do not look with a very friendly eye on an independent airport authority. I suspect the Tories. May be that is wrong, but I am always suspicious when they make what they call a "necessary improvement" in things. My first reaction is to wonder what lies behind it. It is only two years since the introduction of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, 1960, whose purpose was to attack the operational side of the nationalised corporations.
§ Mr. Burden
The recommendation for an independent authority was a unanimous decision by the Estimates Committee and, being unanimous, was also the opinion of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Rankin
That sort of "guff" does not deceive me in the least. I serve on the Estimates Committee and I know how these things are done. Sub-Committee B, consists of three hon. Members from each side of the House. I do not dispute that there may be three of my colleagues who agree with hon. Members opposite—they have the right to do so— but I do not accept that the view of three hon. Members is the general view of either side of the House. The great mass of Members on this side of the House have still to express themselves about this attack on the nationally owned airports.
What happens is that the recommendations of the Sub-Committee come before the full Estimates Committee. Hon. Members will appreciate the speed— perhaps the necessary speed—with which 1041 the Chairman of the Committee goes through the Sub-Committee's recommendations. The lion. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) will appreciate that decisions like this do not permit him to say that unanimous support comes from either side of the House. I am not criticising what happens, but merely explaining how these things come about. As I was saying, two years ago we had a direct attack on the operational side and new we have what appears to be at least a suspicious move for the control of the airports.
In spite of all the criticisms, with many of which I agree, the numbers using the airways have been constantly increasing. I travel regularly and have been doing so for nearly sixteen years. I can say that I hear remarkably few complaints. I am not saying that I do not hear any; but I hear remarkably few. As one who has been to most of the main airports of the old world—Berlin, Paris, Rome, Athens, Ankara, Peking, Moscow and so on—it is my view that none of them gives the traveller better value than London Airport. I admit that there is sometimes chaos, but that is almost a natural occurrence in an airport at certain times. It has been decreasing over the last eighteen months, for reasons which are not altogether pertinent to the debate.
This morning, I flew from Glasgow, Renfrew Airport, to London Airport. My colleagues and I were airborne at 10.30 a.m. and at 11.30 prompt we—[Interruption.] Has the hon. Member for Macclesfield anything coherent to say?
§ Mr. Rankin
To inquire in public into one's private habits is not in keeping with the high level of debate which one expects in this Chamber. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) knows, I had an orange juice.
§ Mr. Rankin
At 11.30 prompt we touched down at London Airport—one hour to cover 400 miles. But from London Airport to London central we took 1 hour 20 minutes to cover 25 males 1042 —I am calling the House the centre of London.
§ Mr. Rankin
That makes it worse. I am surprised to hear that it is only fourteen, because it has been generally accepted for a long time that London Airport is twenty miles from London central. However, now we know the exact distance. We took 1 hour and 20 minutes to travel fourteen miles. Allowing for waiting time, we took 1 hour and 55 minutes from Glasgow Terminal to London Airport, but 1 hour and 20 minutes from London Airport to London central.
The important aspect is not the time but the fact that while the air services, the methods of travelling, have been revolutionised since 1946, in speed, types of machine and services provided, the pattern of ground services has not greatly changed. I am not referring to their quality but to the pattern which has prevailed since I first came down to London from Glasgow by the D.H. Rapide which took three and a quarter hours to do the journey which is now done in one hour.
It is that gap to which we ought to give our attention. I am not making a criticism of any servant engaged in transporting passengers from and to the airport. It may be that the time cannot be greatly diminished, but in the dichotomy between the air and ground services lies the problem of London airports, and particularly Heathrow. It has cropped up because speed and weight in the air raises the problem of air space. More and more aircraft are crowding the air above London Airport, and this has meant that some Members have been landed in very dangerous predicaments at times. I remember one occasion particularly. This change has made passenger and freight handling a more onerous job, and has made many of us think that instead of getting out of the aircraft into a bus and then journeying in the bus to the point where we leave it at the terminal —luggage being loaded and unloaded during both journeys—the aircraft ought to run right to a pier, where passengers could walk off, with their luggage being taken along with them if they were unable to carry it.
1043 The idea of piers has been applied at Gatwick, but it has been canvassed for a very long time. One of the weaknesses in the pressure applied by Members for this reform is the fact that no sooner have we begun to apply that pressure, and no sooner do we begin to make some impression on the Minister —at least, as we believe—he departs to another job. This means that we have to start all over again with a new Minister. It is a genuine criticism that no Minister of Aviation has remained sufficiently long in his job to be able to carry out many of the things that most Members on both sides of the House want to see put into effect. The present Minister has not been too long in this office. I hope that his commendable aspirations will be satisfied in his present post for a little longer than was the case with his predecessors.
When we have machines weighing 70 tons landing at a speed of 100 m.p.h. at our airports it is obvious that there is a continuing liability to increasing costs through excessive wear and tear on the runways. Added cost arises from the fact that the aircraft-stand may be well away from the terminal building, and buses have to be used to bring passengers to the starting point for London.
My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) referred to another problem, which we debated earlier in the year—the problem of noise. It is a very serious one, and it raises the question why so much house building was allowed round London Airport. The hon. Member for Macclesfield said that more space was required, and that we were getting it by putting two runways out of use. We all know that more space could be used at London Airport. I interrupted the hon. Member because I think that we want the space outside the triangles as well as inside them, and that may well have been prevented by the development of houses adjacent to the airport.
This basic problem of the great increase in speed and weight has finally forced us to face the question of ownership and management. It has been suggested that Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick should be run by a single authority, like the New York Port 1044 Authority. Why we should take New York as a comparison and as a justification for this suggestion is something that the Minister may choose to explain. What specific quality lies in the New York Port Authority that it should provide a pattern for us to follow?
Although we are dealing with London, since the suggestion of a single authority has been made from the international point of view Prestwick is also included, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have other thoughts about that. If it were suggested that Glasgow docks should be incorporated in the London Port Authority I wonder how many Ministers would be prepared to defend the proposal. It seems just as ridiculous to take Prestwick out of Scotland and put it in with three airports whose problems, administratively and managerially, are not the same as those of Prestwick. Prestwick finds its identity and home in Scotland. To bring it into an alien area would be quite wrong.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Does the hon. Member realise that under the arrangements suggested the losses made at Prestwick would be paid for by London?
§ Mr. Rankin
There is nothing startling in that. It certainly would be startling if the losses made in London were paid for by Prestwick. That would terrorise me a great deal more. The hon. Member is assuming that losses will be made at Prestwick—
§ Mr. Rankin
Losses may be made at the moment, but it does not follow that they will be made in the future. The only justification that the hon. Member and his colleagues have for suggesting a new airport authority is that it would prevent, in future, the losses that now exist. The hon. Member asks us to believe that this new authority would not incur the losses in the future which are now made at Prestwick.
Prestwick has an identity and common interest with Scotland. There is not really much difference between running an airport like Prestwick and one like Renfrew. The White Paper says that running an international airport is quite a different business from running a small airport in the Scottish Islands. That 1045 may be true in many ways; but there is not much difference in the running of Prestwick and Renfrew airports. The problems are much the same. There would be identity of purpose in keeping Prestwick, Renfrew, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and the Scottish Islands airports together as a complete unit, but less in taking one of them out and putting it in effect into an alien territory, far from home.
We have been hearing a lot today about losses and costs, and this morning, at Renfrew, I made some inquiries about how these losses could be met. I suggest that the business of management ought to be wider and more comprehensive than it now is. For instance, the car park at Renfrew is hired out to a private company. That car park holds 250 cars, and 7s. 6d. is paid by every car owner who leaves his car there for twenty-four hours. Over the year, nearly £25,000 of clear profit is made by this company from that car park.
The galling thing about it is that the company operating the park is one of which the chief is Mr. Victor Brittain, a London business man, who has formed a London company to run this car park at Renfrew. He has brought in one Scotsman, however, so that he can call his company the Caledonian Car Company. That is near deception, and he is making £25,000 a year out of it. That is £25,000 that should be going to the airport, and not into the pockets of a private individual who is exploiting a public investment. This is one way of getting more money.
Then, there is the catering side. This is also hired out to a private company, I think on the usual basis of 2½ per cent. on the first £5,000 and a bigger percentage on the next. I do not know what he makes; I had not the time to find out, but it should not be too hard to do SO. [An HON. MEMBER: "IS he an Englishman?"] I did not inquire into his ancestry. I am not very sure, and though names are sometimes a guide, I do not think this one would guide me towards Scotland. I think he also has the contracts at London Airport, so he must be an Englishman.
There is the catering side, the cocktail bar and these other adjuncts, all making thousands of pounds a year, which might go towards providing the 1046 facilities mentioned by the hon. Member for Beckenham, but which instead go into private hands. We also have the Menzies bookstall people in the airport, who are making about £12,000 a year clear profit from a very lucrative "let". If the right hon. Gentleman wants more money, then he can get it from sources within the airports, at present being exploited for the benefit of private individuals. If we take that as a guide to what is happening, obviously, the £50,000 or £60,000 being made now by private firms at Renfrew is only a fraction of the vast sum that is being made at London Airport from similar sources.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield, who always speaks in a most acceptable manner on this topic, spoke about the need for long-term planning. Immediately we talk of long-term planning, we are bound to think of the supersonic airliner which is involved in our long-term planning, and about which I asked the Minister a Question some months ago. Is he thinking about it? Where is he going to land it; where will he take it off? Obviously, if he is thinking of London Airport—and he said on that occasion that he did not see much reason why we should not be able to use London Airport for the supersonic machine—my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham may have an answer on that aspect of the matter which it might not be advisable to use in public. Clearly, it presents problems concerning space, runways, and those who live round about the airports.
When we talk about an airport authority, we must realise that the suggestion is deficient in that respect, because, in my view, the development which has taken place at London Airport was possible only because the nation, as represented by the Government of the day, was behind it. If we are to destroy that nationalised set-up and introduce a separate independent authority—which we will not be able to question, as we can the right hon. Gentleman—I wish there were more Questions to him on Monday; and I am sure he would like to see more—then we will retard the whole development of aviation in this country. I think that that would be a completely wrong thing to do.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
Undoubtedly, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) is a much-travelled Member, but I have not had the somewhat doubtful experience of visiting Moscow and Peking, nor have I even been to Renfrew Airport, so I will not follow him in those directions.
It seems to me that some of the criticisms which have been levelled at the Estimates Committee's recommendation that an independent public authority should be formed to run London Airport have been made groundlessly, and that no sound reasons have been adduced. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) —I am sorry that he is not in his place, for he could correct me if I am wrong —said, I think, that the present system was not yet making a profit, and that it would be unfair to hand it over to an independent authority. At any rate, he implied that. I think that it can be said with some certainty that the London group is likely to make a profit within the coming year, that is, 1962–63, and that it is likely to be between £500,000 and £1 million.
The hon. Member also said that he would resist the technical services, the safety services, and so on, being handed over to an independent authority, but it has been made quite clear in the Government White Paper (Cmnd. 1457), in paragraphs 11, 12 and 13, which deal with the technical services, that there is no intention on the part of the Government to hand over these services to an independent public authority, but that they would remain in the Government's hands, and be run as efficiently as they are today.
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. and gallant Member will recollect that it is not an independent public authority; it is an independent authority.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
The hon. Member is quite right. The recommendation was that it should be an independent authority. In their White Paper the Government call it an airport authority. To my mind the word "public" makes very little difference.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
Very little difference indeed.
1048 The other criticism was that if it were an independent authority, or an independent public authority, it would not be answerable to Parliament and the Minister could not be questioned on the various aspects of its business. That is so. But I should like to ask the Minister—I am sure that it will be easy to give an answer—whether such an authority would be subject to scrutiny by the Monopolies Commission. I should think so, and that would meet the objections of most people.
We have heard the inevitable criticism of the whisky bottles—
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
They have cropped up from time to time. I am glad that the hon. Member for Govan, like myself, deplores the fact that the bottles must be empty. I think that we like to present to the public the idea that there is a queer, puritanical streak in our characters. Probably very few of us actually have such a streak. I certainly have not got it, and I hope never to acquire it.
I dislike all forms of advertising. I dislike reading newspapers or magazines which are filled with advertisements. I dislike advertisements in the open air more than anywhere else, because I think that they tend to spoil our beautiful countryside. But I recognise that in the world in which we live advertising is necessary and that we have to put up with it. I put it to hon. Members: would they object so strongly if the Milk Marketing Board erected a massive model of a cow with swinging udders in place of the whisky bottles? I do not think so. I think it is merely that these whisky bottles raise our puritanical hackles from time to time.
§ Mr. Rankin
To offset the cow surely there should be a barley field. Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman accept a barley field instead of the liquid which is made from the barley?
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
I have no doubt that if the independent authority is given the opportunity it may be able to grow barley between the runways. But we had better wait to see what it does.
Another point which was raised, and with which I thoroughly agree—although I certainly do not agree with 1049 the conclusions drawn—related to the fuel contract agreements. There is no doubt that a very bad bargain was made at the time those contracts were drawn and I think it deplorable that that should be so. There is no point now in going over the past and trying to find out who was responsible. All we know is that a bad bargain was struck. Search as we may, I do not think that we can find any legitimate way of getting out of such a contract. I should deplore it if the Minister took the advice which has been offered to him and broke a contract freely entered into some years ago, however bad it might be from the point of view of the public purse.
The hon. Member for Govan—if he would pay attention for a moment to what I am saying—suggested that the finger and gate system was preferable to what has been arranged at London Airport. This is an arguable matter. There has been a lot of controversy about it in flying circles all over the world. It is a question either of concentrating passenger traffic so that it passes through comparatively narrow channels, with the acceptance that there is bound to be congestion at peak periods, or erecting a vast factory-like building—there are several in America and at least one in Canada—where passengers must walk probably for miles, certainly for considerable distances, carrying their light baggage. That makes things very difficult for elderly, disabled or invalid people, although I believe that bath-chairs or similar vehicles are provided. There must be a happy medium between those two systems,
The difficulty about the present system is the congestion of aircraft having to go to a central place to load passengers and freight. I do not think that the finger and gate system is ideal.
I wish to refer now to the much-criticised landing fees. Since the landing fees in this country were increased fairly recently there have been a number of unfair comparisons between what is done here and overseas, particularly in the case of comparisons between London Airport and Idlewild, in New York. The Committee found it extraordinarily difficult, almost impossible, to make true comparisons of charges. There were certain hidden charges at foreign airports about which it was not possible to get 1050 definite information. To give one example, at Idlewild certainly and, I think, at most American airports, no local government rates are paid, as is the case in this country.
A feature of landing fees which I consider unfair is the 100 per cent. surcharge on aircraft landing after intercontinental flights. We recommended that this should be examined again. The Minister gave us a fair answer, that consideration was being given to it, and he hoped to let us have information in due course. Recommendation No. (4) in the Report is that the 100 per cent. surcharge on landing fees for aircraft landing after inter-continental flights should be reduced. The present charge makes an unfair discrimination against aircraft which start or finish a journey outside the Continent of Europe. I cannot see why, because their journey is so much longer, that they should have to pay double at one Particular airport en routeThis has always puzzled me and I should like to have an answer about it tonight.
Another aspect of this surcharge at the London group of airports will be its effect upon air freight when air freight swells to the size which the experts tell us it is likely to reach in the next few years. It is hoped that the London group of airports, just in the same way as the Port of London itself became, will become a base for an entrepôt trade in Europe and that air cargoes will come across the Atlantic to be sorted, shifted and distributed from London.
We very much hope that that will be the case, but the fact that 100 per cent. surcharge is put on the landing fees at London Airport will be likely to make those air freighters by-pass London and go to a Continental airport where the business of distribution and sorting of cargoes can be done just as efficiently. That is a very large consideration when thinking about reducing this surcharge.
That takes me to the question of cargo facilities generally. I understand that quite a lot is being done at Heathrow, but that is not enough. There will come a time when an alternative airport will have to be developed, very largely for freight services if this large freight business through the air develops as fast as the experts predict. I should have 1051 thought that Stansted would be ideal for such a project. The difficulty about Stansted is that, from an air safety point of view, it is sited almost due east from Heathrow, but we have been told today that the modern jet aircraft is not so affected as might have been thought by cross-winds. I should have thought that the modern aircraft taking off from Stansted could get clear of the main access lines to Heathrow very much more quickly than was the case formerly. Plans must be put in hand—I think much more quickly—for the development of the third airport of the London group, whether that is to be at Stansted or not.
Lastly, I mention Gatwick. It seems that there again we have been too indecisive. I understand that the second part of the air terminal building at Gatwick is shortly to be put in hand and built. Surely Gatwick must be made available for the most up-to-date aircraft of the future—aircraft which, as far as we know, for a considerable number of years to come will require long runways capable of carrying very heavy aircraft on landing and take-off. If we reach a vertical take-off age later, we shall just have to bear the loss of those many tons of concrete which will have to be laid. In the meantime, we must have these additional facilities. I urge the Government to get on with the development of Gatwick.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
I do not wish to comment very fully on what the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) has said. I will make one direct reference and I may take up other points he made as I go along.
I thought that he might be encouraged to take a different view about the sanctity of contracts which have been freely entered into, as he said, in relation to fuel. One of the glories of the English law, as exemplified by the court of equity, is that where there is a harsh bargain or a bargain which, for some reason, accords ill with the public good, equity recognised that and was prepared from time to time to suggest modifications. That has been one of the great glories of English law. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will not be too concerned about the purely commercial 1052 aspect and suppose that a contract freely made can under no circumstances be broken or altered.
In view of the danger hazards which have been adduced about the present fuel, I hope that in the interests of the public the Minister will have second thoughts about this matter. The interests of public safety ought to have overriding priority to commercial or even legal considerations. That is one of the reasons why, on the whole, I shall find myself expressing a view not sympathetic to the recommendations of the Estimates Committee.
Before making the point in detail, I should like to express my admiration for the work which the Chairman and members of that Committee carried out, the labours they undertook on behalf of us and of the whole country and for producing such an interesting and in many ways stimulating Report. It is clear that they thoroughly examined many of the complicated aspects of the problem of the London group of airports and most competently examined witnesses and memoranda. Reading some of the evidence, I was delighted and surprised by the kind of forensic dexterity which the hon. Members displayed in their examination of witnesses. It was something which, in some cases, I would never have suspected they were capable of doing in the devastating way that they seem to have done it.
I also thank the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), who introduced the Report today in such an excellent and agreeable speech. The proposals of the Estimates Committee and the Government's White Paper 1457 propose a constitutional change of very great significance by their recommendations that the London group should be formed into a group operated by an independent authority. I imagine that there will not be very much doubt as to the status of that authority, although there was some discussion between my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) and the hon. Member for Wembley (Mr. Russell).
I take it that the Government accept that part of the Committee's proposal No. 34 that there should be an independent authority which, to use the words of the Report, wouldpresent annual Reports and Statements of Accounts to Parliament.1053 That would mean that we would have some opportunities, although very limited ones, for debating the work of the authority and making comments and suggestions. This is a change of considerable importance. There is not much doubt that a very strong case can be made for what I prefer to call a public corporation. That, I think, is in everyone's mind and is the term commonly accepted.
It is under distinguished patronage and would be supported by hon. Members on this side of the House. If one judges purely by commercial results—and this is one of the criticisms I make of the attitudes of the Estimates Committee because that seemed to be its chief concern—a public corporation has a very distinguished history and record to put before the country. From the early days the Port of London Authority has operated very efficiently and profitably. It is a very good example, which has been followed in the case of the electricity industry, which, since it has been a public or nationalised authority, has made profits of no less than £168 million.
I am glad of the opportunity to put in these figures, because we are often reminded only of losses. There is a public corporation which I think no one doubts has served the country well and whose commercial standards are very good. The Gas Council, also, has made cumulative profits of £32 million and has given good service.
Even road haulage, although the most profitable part of it was sold off by the Government, has managed to accumulate profits, which have gone to the benefit of the nation, of £22 million. Cable and Wireless, a very similar type of corporation to that which the Estimates Committee had in mind, has so far produced a profit of £32 million. This is after all capital has been written off and investment made and interest paid. Even the Docks Executive has made £20 million, and the hotels more than £19 million accumulated profit. I do not know whether Richard Thomas and Baldwins can be included as a public corporation; certainly it is not a private concern, and it has made over £70 million for the nation since nationalisation.
1054 There is also the Bank of England. Nobody knows its profits, because they have been at a constant figure for the last 150 years, but there is no doubt that it is a sound and going concern, and even the most bitter opponent of public corporations opposite would not suggest to the contrary. From a purely commercial point of view, there is a strong case for a public corporation which is independent of Parliament, except in the way which has been specified by the Estimates Committee, a procedure with which all hon. Members are familiar.
One reason for the concept of the public corporation was the fact that in 1945–50 it was felt that if one had proceeded with the old type of nationalisation instruments, then the opponents of a nationalised industry could use Parliamentary procedure to sabotage it. We had visions of the Order Paper flooded with hostile Questions and with Motions, and visions of all the Parliamentary devices which the opponents of nationalised industry would have been free to use. I think that those fears have been greatly exaggerated. It would be possible for every hon. Member to flood the Order Paper with Questions to the Postmaster-General about every post office in his constituency, but this is not done. I suspect that some of my hon. Friends not only use the pens but also use the ink in the post offices to fill their fountain pens. Anyway, we do not have that kind of campaign. The House of Commons has its own way of rationalising its procedure if it feels that it is being abused.
I am, therefore, not very impressed by the advantages of the public corporations, great as they may be commercially. There is a lot to be said for hon. Members having fairly frequent opportunities of raising the grievances of their constituents and of the public in a much more direct way than would be possible if we had this independent authority for the London group of airports. I am inclined to think that in this matter the question whether a concern is efficient—one of the reasons given all the way through by the Estimates Committee—arises not so much from whether there is a Civil Service type of control or some other more commercial type of control; in the end it boils down to a question of size. 1055 If we have a very large undertaking which is not broken down into units of such a size that one man can know about and control the unit, I believe that there is inefficiency. Certainly, the Harvard professor of business methods, who was in this country recently, making an investigation into a number of undertakings, publicly stated his belief that the British Post Office was the most efficient system he had seen in the world, far more efficient than anything which the United States had. Yet it is subject to all the difficulties which the Estimates Committee thought hindered London Airport and the administration of other airports.
I have my doubts about the criticism of the Estimates Committee. Certainly, Boyer and Nosk, two researchers of the United States, who carried out an investigation into a number of large undertakings there, reached the conclusion that General Motors and Du Pont and others have the same sort of difficulties as other large organisations, such as lack of immediate response to a particular problem when it arose. They believed, as I believe, that this is very much more a question of size than of administrative method.
No doubt if some types of public or private corporation are prepared to ignore the public to some extent, they can act more quickly. But I do not think that this is necessarily a recommendation for the proposed set-up for the London group of airports. I notice that the manager of London Airport, in answer to Question No. 175, said that sometimes he had to consider a matter and the follow-up in a way which would not be adopted in a commercial undertaking. This may be true, but I am not sure that it is not in the public interest.
No doubt if sombody complains that he has had a bad three hours because there has been testing of an aircraft, then an independent authority, not subject to Parliamentary inquiry, could ignore the complaint and say, as could any commercial undertaking, "Go to hell. What does it matter?" But a public undertaking with some responsibility, in respect of which the Minister can be questioned, has to take a different line. This is a precious thing, and great advantage and we should think 1056 carefully about it before we throw it away.
I completely disagree with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who doubted whether Parliamentary Questions over the years had made much difference to London Airport. As The Timessaid, following its own investigation, if a fuss had not been kicked up by Members of Parliament and residents outside, the conditions in respect of noise for those living around the airport would be a good deal worse than they are.
§ Mr. A. Royle
Is the hon. Member aware that there is no redress through the court to members of the public? I agree with him that it is very important that hon. Members should be able to continue to question the Minister on the subject of aircraft noise.
§ Mr. Skeffington
This is a very important question, to which I shall refer later.
As a result of the present system, I have found that all the occupants of the office of Minister of Aviation and Parliamentary Secretary have given considerable co-operation and great help. In the matter of noise, we have been able to keep at any rate the worst kind of excess nuisance from the public. I very much fear that we shall lose this opportunity and that under an independent authority the public will lose what protection we can give them.
Another example which the Parliamentary Secretary knows well concerns an employee at the airport who I felt had been rather unjustly convicted of an offence. I took the matter up and, as a result, the ban on this man was removed. It may be possible to do this with an independent authority, but I doubt it. I certainly have no right to do it, and if I felt dissatisfied I should have no right to raise the matter in the House. I have a parallel case in which I could not do what I wanted, because it was a public corporation.
Some months ago, B.O.A.C. had a Boeing 707 which needed repair, and for some reason the management decided that it could not be done by the local engineers and that a team must be flown over from the United States. This was at a time when there were more 1057 men available than jobs, and the engineers regarded this decision as very serious. But I could not put down a Question because the day-to-day management of B.O.A.C. is not a matter for the House. The result was that the House could not intervene in a situation which seemed rather absurd—bringing men from the United States when engineers were idle at London Airport.
These are some of the things which I think we shall lose, and I do not therefore view the Government's proposals or the Estimates Committee's conclusions with enthusiasm. I think that the Estimates Committee has been too much influenced by commercial considerations and not enough by all the other factors in a modern society which ought to be taken into account, particularly where the rights of the public are liable to be infringed by the nature of the operation.
That appears from paragraph 87 of the Report dealing with noise, which is quite unsympathetic with those who live around London Airport. Perhaps it was not primarily the Committee's job, but it expresses some disapproval of the restriction on jet flying at night and says that this may affect the profitability of the concern in future.
I believe that the Committee reported in this way partly because it was so constantly desirous of trying to make the airport profitable and partly because I believe that very few of its members have any idea of the real horror of night jet flying for those who live near the airport. It is bad enough for those who have to suffer it outside the check points. The hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) referred to jet aircraft as far away as St. John's Wood. I saw a recent complaint in The Timesfrom somebody in Westminster. I agree that these are examples of bad interference with people's quiet enjoyment of their homes, but what is it like for the 50,000 people inside the check points, who get the full effect of the noise of jets taking off at night?
§ Mr. R. Carr
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to be unfair to the Estimates Committee. I hope that he will accept my assurance that the Committee was by no means unsympathetic on the question of noise. It was somewhat outside our terms of reference, hut we refer in paragraph 87 to 1058the urgent necessity for dealing with the problem.In the next paragraph we refer to the research work being undertaken. We conclude the part of the Report dealing with noise with a practical recommendation for reducing the menace.
I should not like the House to think that I the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, and the members of the Sub-Committee, were anything but extremely sympathetic.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I am very glad to hear it. I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's statement, especially as he was the Chairman of the Committee. However, this bald phrase appears:From this standpoint "—that is, of financial development—any limitation of the use of the airport by airlines is to be regretted, and although there has never been a complete ban on jet operations at night, these have been restricted.That is a fairly strong expression of regret for what the Minister had felt bound to do because of all the representations we had made.
I still think that it may well be that some members of the Estimates Committee have not very much idea of what the horror is like inside the checkpoints. As I have estimated on previous occasions, about 50,000 families nightly suffer this very serious inconvenience and interference with normal living conditions. I shall not weary the House again by quoting what the Daily Expressreporters have said when they have spent time there. It is something which has to he experienced night after night before one has an idea of what we are condemning many thousands of families to suffer.
The situation was made a good deal worse, though from the very best of motives, by the visit paid by the Parliamentary Secretary. He deserves our thanks for being so conscientious as to go so soon after he was appointed and spend a night listening to this noise. Unwittingly, I think, and because of a series of circumstances, he conveyed a very unreal picture of the situation. By dint of a certain amount of detective work and by the hon. Gentleman's own confessions we have fairly well reconstructed what happened on the night of 8th/9th November, when he spent the night at London Airport.
1059 First, we understand that he spent the night in the flat of the general manager and that he had his windows open. These windows open out on to a sunken garden with high walls, which certainly prevented the noise of any night maintenance work from reaching that room, at least with any force. The walls are a barrier to sound, as we all know, because we are always asking for earth walls for this purpose.
Secondly, wind is a very important factor in the assessment of noise nuisance. I want to suggest something to the Minister about that later. On the night that he slept there the wind was actually blowing from his bedroom, so that any noise would be taken away. The Minister said that not only he had an excellent sleep, but that he thought that the landing and take-off were about average. We checked that and found that there was only one jet take-off that night. That was at 11.21 p.m. It may well be that the hon. Gentleman was still having his nightcap then and had not even gone to sleep. There was only one arrival that night. That was at 4.43 a.m. I assure the hon. Gentleman that this was untypical, certainly untypical of what it is like now that excessive numbers of jets have been permitted to operate.
The schedule which has now been proposed for the August holiday season will be eleven take-offs on Sunday night, eight on Monday, thirteen on Tuesday, seven on Wednesday, eleven on Thursday, fourteen on Friday and eleven on Saturday, with the corresponding night landings. This is a considerable amount of violent noise to inflict upon any community.
One interesting sidelight is that Swissair was one of the first companies to obtain permission to operate its jets at night from London Airport. Again, by dint of detective work we found that Swissair printed its schedules and timetables before it received the Ministry's permission. We understood from the present Minister's predecessor that he had not given permission when the timetables were printed. I hope that is so. At any rate, Swissair was very quick off the mark.
Curiously, I am informed that Swissair is not allowed to operate, or does not 1060 operate, one jet aircraft from any of the Swiss airports at night. It is an astonishing thing that this company can inflict this nuisance on my constituents and the constituents of other hon. Members, but does not do it in its own country. Any hon. Member who goes to Switzerland knows that the country is covered with placards of a blonde lady holding her ears and saying, "Less noise". The Swiss Government obviously put that into operation as regards jet flying.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)
As I shall not be seeking to catch your eye later in the debate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way now.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to be guilty of any misrepresentation. I should like to take the opportunity of reminding him of something I said in the debate to which he has referred because, so far as I have seen, it was not reported in any newspaper. It was actually misrepresented in a letter from an indefatigable letter writer, who, I believe, is a constituent of the hon. Gentleman, who juxtaposed two sentences from my speech which were juxtaposed only in his own imagination. What I actually said, after referring to my night's sleep at the airport, was this:That is not to say that I do not attach the greatest importance to the problem. I think that the only thing my researches have established so far is that, wherever one goes, on whatever occasion, to sample the problem, somebody will always say that one ought to have been somewhere else to experience the full agony of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 1364.]I am quite sure that, however many times I may sleep at London Airport in future—I have done so since the occasion to which the hon. Gentleman has referred—I shall never have occasion to alter that, which was the only conclusion which I drew from my experience.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I am very happy to have listened to that intervention by the Parliamentary Secretary. I think that that can be put right, because the next point I intended to make in my own speech was that I have been inundated with requests that the Parliamentary Secretary should spend the night in 1061 a Harlington house close to the runway when there is a south-westerly wind, so that he can under normal test conditions know what it is like to live there. I very much hope that he will add to his other labours by spending a further night there under what I think are more typical conditions, and when there will certainly be more than one jet taking off. I think that that will help him to appreciate what many of our constituents have to suffer.
§ Mr. A. Royle
We could assist in this experiment by offering the Parliamentary Secretary hospitality in Richmond, if he wished to accept.
§ Mr. Skeffington
s: The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) referred to the loss of legal rights. Though I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary's intervention will have helped to clarify the matter, it was thought that too light a view of some things have been taken by the hon. Gentleman. Indignation has always been expressed because our constituents do not have the ordinary common law or statutory rights that others have in the matter of noise.
Last year a Mr. Halsey, who lived in Fulham, complained that night after night he was disturbed by an infernal noise in the Esso filling station and storage depot close to where he lived. There had been some negotiations and all the arguments which we now have about aircraft noise were put forward by Esso Petroleum. It was unavoidable, it was profitable, it made good use of plant, it did not go on all the time, and so on. But Mr. Halsey was a man of some determination, because he took this great corporation to the High Court and Mr. Justice Veale had no doubts about the merits of the case. He held thatNight is the time when the ordinary man takes his rest.and thatA man is entitled to sleep during the night in his own house.My constituents think the same.
They ask why, if Mr. Halsey could obtain an injunction, they should be not able to obtain one. I have to tell them that the House, in its collective wisdom, took this common law right from a large number of people who 1062 might be inconvenienced by various noises and nuisances caused by the operation of aircraft. This is one of the additional reasons why I am very much opposed to the establishment of an independent authority. Where are the opportunities to protest and take up quickly, personally and directly with the Minister the difficulties which our constituents are suffering? It cannot be done with a public corporation of this type any more than with a private corporation.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
As the hon. Member knows, as things are, citizens in his constituency and mine have no legal remedy against noise. Would they be worse off and might they not be better off when this independent body is created? Might they not have against that independent corporation rights of redress which they do not now possess?
§ Mr. Skeffington
I should be interested to hear if, legally, it is possible to put the clock back to the Civil Aviation Act, 1956. All my information is that it is not possible and that the case that the Government will make and the operators and the Minister are making is that one cannot operate an airport if there is this kind of legal remedy for the individual. In the case of Esso the judge proved otherwise and, as far as I know, Esso is still carrying on business and is not in danger of bankruptcy.
I agree that in the case of an aircraft corporation it is a more difficult problem. I do not think that we can restore common law rights. I wish that we could, and for that reason Ministerial responsibility in this matter is all the more important. This is why I hope that when the time comes, and we can put the matter to the test, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) will join forces with us.
I am sure that the Minister realises that he has not heard the last of this matter. The residents' associations are preparing a petition. They want to make a recommendation, which we have made before and I make again, that in the operation of London Airport much more notice should be taken of the northerly and southerly components of the wind. If No. 1 runway is used and the wind is blowing from the houses the sound of take-off will be considerably 1063 minimised because it will go right across the airfield before it reaches houses on the other side. If No. 5 runway is used when the wind is in the opposite direction, blowing from the houses, this, also, will considerably reduce noise. This is a practical matter, with no objections to it, which I hope, will be considered.
In addition to complaints of noise, I now receive complaints, from people who live up to three or four miles away from the airport, of the appalling smell from paraffin, particularly in summer evenings when they have their windows wide open and spend more time in the garden. The use of the wind to get noise away from the built-up area would also get the smell away. Apart from this smell being extremely obnoxious, there is some evidence that it might well be dangerous. It is stated in paragraph (c), on page 209 of the Estimates Committee Report, in the course of comments by B.A.O.C. 's H.Q. Medical Branch that:The odour from burnt kerosene fuel is aesthetically very objectionable and the absence of carcinogens from these fumes has not, in the Corporation's opinion, been fully proved.I make no exaggerated emotional point about this, but there may be some danger to health—I put it no higher. I therefore hope that wind use on these runways will be seriously considered.
Apart from the rights of the public, there is the question of the special opportunities of the local authorities to make representations about London Airport through the Standing Committee. What is to happen to that committee? It has proved extremely valuable in the ventilation of grievances and it has put forward some useful suggestions which I have heard the Parliamentary Secretary raise on a number of occasions and has conveyed useful information to the local Councils and public. It is not just another committee but a body which has performed a useful function. Is this committee to come to an end, or will some recommendation be made for local authority representation in the new set-up?
I believe that the Estimates Committee has been too much concerned with commercial considerations. It may possibly warrant Oscar Wilde's comment that it knew the price of everything but the value of nothing. That might be putting it a little strongly, but there is 1064 something of that element in the Committee's recommendations.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
I will not attempt to discuss the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). I agree with him that the noise question is important and I hope to refer to it later, but I should like to bring hon. Members down to earth a little, because I want to talk about the more practical things that go on at an airport. I think that I should be in order in referring to the Cromwell Road terminal as part of London Airport. Frankly, I think that it is jolly inadequate at the moment. The amenities of the airport are also completely inadequate.
I was travelling with my wife to Manchester not long ago when we found that owing to there having been a slight delay in the departure of another aircraft there was no room to sit down in the waiting room. If more people are to be asked to travel by air we should seek to give them more amenities at airports. I understand that the catering at London Airport is done by a private firm. I hope that the Minister will tell me the terms of this firm's contract and whether it is on a flat rental, a percentage based on turnover, or a combination of both. I should like to know also for how many years the contract runs. I am not satisfied with the way in which the catering is being run at present.
I have had various representations made to me about this matter. I have had a letter about a lady who flew from London to Malta in August, 1960. At Kensington air station, she asked for some Horlicks at roughly 12.15 a.m. and was told it could not be served at the table. She moved to the counter and waited for ten minutes, and was then told that it would cost ls. 6d. She said that she did not mind but she would like some Horlicks. After again waiting ten minutes, she was told it would take another ten minutes to make, whereupon she gave up. Service of that kind is not good enough.
Here is another instance. A Service man's wife put 2s. in a cigarette machine which did not work. The waitress disclaimed any responsibility, saying that the machine belonged to the bar which was not then open. She suggested that 1065 the poor woman should put in a claim downstairs, but there was no time for this, and, in any case, she had her small child with her and could not go downstairs.
I have had many instances brought to my attention. I shall not deal with them all. Things like this do happen. This is not good enough. Such complaints may sound trivial, but if, at the same time as we try to impress foreigners with how efficient we are, people find this sort of thing happening when they arrive, the consequences will not be very helpful to our reputation.
There is another example of lack of service, and this, I am sorry to say, does not apply just to the airports. I do not want the House to think that I am getting at the airports only just now. I am a director of a racecourse company and have had experience of this sort of thing myself. I do not understand why caterers never have sufficient staff to clear away dirty glasses, dirty cups and saucers and dirty plates. They do not do it, and the results both look revolting and are revolting.
§ Mr. Skeffington
These are important points which the hon. Gentleman is making and they affect the reputation and standards of any airport; but does he realise that, when the Government's scheme comes in, he will not have this opportunity of making his complaints?
§ Mr. Dance
I do not think that we shall need to do so. I hope that there will be more comipetition among private enterprise. I do not decry private enterprise, and I should like to see more competition between caterers applying for these services.
I come now to a more important matter. In my view, passengers travelling on our airlines or, for that matter, on other airlines, should be able to enter and leave their aircraft under cover. At Templehof Airport in West Berlin, one goes out of a nice warm waiting room under cover; the aircraft has been towed into place by a tractor, and one can step conveniently into it, There are no such arrangements here. I refer again to the Manchester trip which my wife and I made. We went through the usual process of going down miles of passageways, eventually reaching a yellow bus. This is the way one 1066 always has to do it. One steps into the yellow bus and off it drives—as one of my hon. Friends said earlier, missing other buses by inches—and, ultimately, one arrives somewhere near the aircraft. One steps out of the bus and then has to climb a ladder up to the aircraft. There is no cover at all. On the occasion I am referring to, one of the passengers was an unfortunate crippled man, and it took him some time to climb the ladder. It was pouring with rain and blowing a gale, and everyone who had to wait behind was soaked to the skin.
With the speed of air travel nowadays, the climate of one's surroundings may change fairly rapidly. A person who changes his climate as quickly as that, going from hot to cold, is apt to find himself wearing a tropical suit or thin clothes at the wrong moment. Someone travelling in light clothes, when there is a cold wind blowing and rain falling as he gets into his aircraft, may quite easily catch a severe cold, which does not help his holiday much when he gets to the other end, even though the climate there may be nice and warm. If we really believe that flying is the best way to travel, as indeed it is, then, for heaven's sake, let us ensure that the amenities are better for people when they do fly. In my view, this is extremely important.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington spoke about the problem of noise. I believe that, if we had proper covered entrances to aircraft, baffle boards might be erected so that the noise could be reduced substantially when the aircraft had to warm up. Covered in places for access to aircraft properly constructed could provide a way of reducing noise, whereas, with things as they are now, aircraft being warmed up all over the airfield inevitably create a good deal of noise.
I live very close to Gaydon aerodrome where quite a number of jets operate. Luckily, my house is at right angles to the runway. If one goes down to the back end of the aerodrome, behind the aircraft as they are warming up, one realises that they make a most appalling noise. As I say, it does not worry us because we are at right angles to the aerodrome. Normally, the jets take off straight down the aerodrome, using the main runway, and this makes me think 1067 that something could be done to baffle the noise by taking into account the direction of take-off and landing. If attention were paid to this and to the proper covering of the places where people embark before the aircraft taxi away, I feel that some of the noise could be reduced. The type of covered canopy one finds at Templehof Airport could, I believe, be adapted for this purpose.
Although I am delighted to know that London Airport is starting to make a profit, we should not sit back and feel satisfied at making a small profit but we should look forward with a view to ensuring that better amenities are provided for air travellers. Above all, we must remember that, although one can fly very rapidly from A to B, it takes the devil of a long time to get from the starting point in London—or in Paris—to the place where the aircraft takes off. It is the non-flying time which must be cut down, and, in addition, we must provide for the travelling public the amenities which the modern air traveller expects and deserves.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Will Owen (Morpeth)
s: I think that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) will find that many of the complaints he has submitted about social and travelling amenities are of necessity related to the progress and development of the airport itself. He will find it less easy to raise issues of that kind if the view expressed in the White Paper Cmnd. 1457 is implemented. The House should take warning at this stage that it may be in danger of losing some of its major powers of control if it decides wholly to accept a narrow interpretation of what an independent authority might be.
We have now been discussing the Report of the Estimates Committee for more than four hours. This in itself can be interpreted as a compliment to the work undertaken by the Committee and to the submissions it has made.
The Minister has elected to accept twenty-one of the Committee's recommendations and to make some cautious observations about the remainder. While Members of the Committee and of the House may feel graciously disposed to the Minister for having examined the Report and come to some 1068 satisfactory conclusions on its major recommendations, we should not, I submit, feel that our job is done. To do so would be to ignore the challenge and make a great mistake. It is one thing to make recommendations and another for the Minister to indicate his approval. The major question now before the House is, with what speed will the Minister implement the recommendations which he has endorsed?
We learned during the course of the deliberations of the Committee how time and time again proposals to improve both the finances and the services of London Airport were constantly frustrated by the lack of executive decisions. The hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), in opening the debate, comprehensively surveyed the main features as they presented themselves to the Committee. Although some criticism has been levelled against the Committee for devoting too much time to, or placing too great an emphasis upon, commercial considerations, may I remind the House that one of the responsibilities of the Committee was to make an assessment of the use that had been made of the taxpayers' money in the development of London Airport? The question arose as to how far it was possible, from an examination of the existing services, to improve the financial stability and progress of the airport itself.
To me one of the essential and initial stages in an approach to the development of a successful economic unit at London Airport is to ensure an expansion of its passenger services. In that respect, emphasis was rightly laid upon the opportunity for using the facilities of the airport outside peak periods and extending an appeal to the travelling public to use this new medium of transport and, by so doing, provide the airport with an additional source of income. I believe that with the guidance of the manager of London Airport at the moment this has been adequately recognised and that a major effort has been made by way of publicity to interest a wider clientele to use the services, apart from the peak periods, so that it will be possible effectively to use the whole of the accommodation and facilities at London Airport in a manner that will 1069 add to its revenue and the subsequent progressive development of the airport itself.
§ Mr. Curran
I have listened to the hon. Member with great interest, all the more so since he was himself a member of the Committee. May I ask him, since it is not clear from the Report, whether the Committee, in seeking to magnify the attractions of the airport, examined any suggestions about improving transport to the airport. Did it examine the possibility of extending the tube line from Hounslow West Station into the airport itself? Did it consider any such possibilities, or that of a monorail?
§ Mr. Owen
That is an important point on which I should like to make comments later. If the hon. Member will permit me to proceed with my assessment of the suggestions made by the Committee for the improvement of the financial stability of the airport, I shall come back to surveying its potentialities for the future.
We have listened to some criticisms from hon. Members about the contract entered into over the past years for the supply of fuel at the airport. I say quite frankly, not as one who is engaged in business activity, that it seems to me to be an exceedingly bad business venture to have elected to make a contract over a period of thirty years, without anticipating normal developments during the ensuing years in terms of revolutionary progress in the aircraft industry. So London Airport finds itself inhibited from taking advantage of a considerable source of revenue by virtue of contracts entered into in the early stages of the airport's development.
Hon. Members must have been impressed by what was said about the legal implications. The Minister may be able to take appropriate guidance to ascertain whether or not it is possible to secure some amendments to the contract so that the nation may take advantage of the progress of time in order that increased revenue may be secured for the development of this public service.
Throughout the whole of the debate, I think that everyone has paid tribute to the efficiency of the services at London Airport. I was privileged to listen to the comments of the international airlines and I must say frankly that it gives 1070 one a degree of pride to find that those experienced in administration proclaim that the services of London Airport are the best in the world. We might say of London Airport that out of small beginnings there has emerged an international airport worthy of this land of ours and offering amenities and services second to none.
There has been singularly little industrial strife over the years. My hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), speaking with considerable experience of the trade union movement, was naturally concerned about the maintenance and development of good labour relations. This is a factor that is vital for the continuity of good service. Unless we can harness the good will, skill and enterprise not only of those who are porters and carriers but of those engaged in the various fields of administration within the airports, we shall not succeed in the venture that we are trying to develop in the later days of the twentieth century.
I turn briefly to the controversial issue that has arisen—the White Paper and the recommendations of the Estimates Committee for the establishment of an independent authority. In the recommendations of the Committee there are precise words indicative of a line of thought or policy the presentation of an annual report and a financial statement submitted by the independent authority to the Minister of Aviation which should, in my judgment, present the opportunity for an annual debate in the House. We should then have an annual appraisal of the progress made in the preceding twelve months and an opportunity to comment on and to make suggestions for the development of future policy.
I recognise the vagueness, inevitable perhaps at this stage, of the White Paper and we shall be in a position better to judge what is meant by the independent authority when the issue is before the House. I ask hon. Members to note what has been said in commendation and in criticism of the proposal.
I now take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran), namely, the accessibility of the airport for the general public. This did not come precisely within the terms of reference of the Estimates Committee, 1071 but it is relevant to the successful development of the airport. In this age of rapid change, there is a great deal of speculation about the development of a helicopter service. There is even speculation about the development of a hovercraft service. Thought is being given in a germane way to the development of a monorail system. The Minister cannot ignore what is emerging in this respect if we are to build up an efficient service between the point of embarkation and people's destination. In this city of ours, where the transport problem is becoming increasingly difficult, new thought obviously must be given to this matter if we are to link London Airport with the people.
Finally, I pay my personal tribute to the hon. Member for Mitcham for his tireless devotion to the work of the Committee throughout its sittings, and to his wisdom often in the examination of witnesses. I also pay tribute to the Clerk who served us exceptionally well during the long period of our deliberations.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Owen) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks. I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the Estimates Committee for this Report, and I add my words of congratulation to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), particularly for the manner in which he opened this debate.
The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) said that London Airport was the greatest airport in the world. Certainly, it is a great national asset and it is the channel through which many visitors first set foot in Britain. It is essential that we should remember that at all times and should take steps to ensure that their first impression of Britain is a thoroughly good one. I do not think the Americans would go all the way with the hon. Gentleman in his claim that London Airport is the greatest in the world. In 1961, there were 256,182 movements of air transport at Idlewild and 146,700 movements of air transport at London Airport. There was a passenger turnover of 10 million at the 1072 American airport and 6 million at London Airport.
I should like to deal with matters which I believe are important to the travelling public and, naturally, to the airlines. I must declare my interest. I am a director of an airline company. That gives me the opportunity of appreciating some of the problems which often are not appreciated nor understood by people outside.
My company has not used the No. 3 passenger building, which opened only this year, but I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the restriction notice exhibited there which prohibits the entry to that building of all people other than passengers and their friends. I have never seen such a prohibition at any other international airport, and I am wondering why it has been imposed here. If the restriction on the general public is purely to obviate congestion, clearly the accommodation is already inadequate to cope with any reasonable traffic growth in future years.
The statisticians tell us that the turnover of 6 million people last year will probably reach 14 million by 1970. At most airports, the general public are encouraged to come and go as they please. They bring revenue to the airport by patronising the shops, which are generally under a concession, and by using the restaurants, snack bars, and so on. There is also the intangible advantage of welcoming the general public to an airport, by which interest is stimulated in the airline industry as a whole.
My company has been operating from No. 1 passenger building. Despite certain changes in accommodation layout last year, there is still much overcrowding during the peak hours. The resultant congestion not only annoys passengers and makes the work of airline traffic staff more difficult when trying to shepherd passengers to aircraft, but it also causes delays to aircraft because, unfortunately, even in these days, passengers frequently get lost and frequently misunderstand their instructions and get mixed up with other flights. In addition, the layout of the central area and its aprons makes it imperative that 1073 air-side coaches be used to take passengers from departure stairways to the aircraft which are positioned on the exterior stand of the tarmac in the central area. This operation can also delay departure.
Some of my hon. Friends have mentioned coach delays and difficulties in getting through to the airport. This happens in conveying passengers from the stairways to the departure points. They are frequently held up by other traffic which seems to mount up at peak hours with amazing rapidity. Extra time is required to guide passengers from the lounges to the aircraft. All this causes inconvenience to passengers, and extra expense is incurred by the operators because of the delays to aircraft which could have been eliminated by the finger, or pier, system which has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey). This is the most sensible way of ensuring that passengers get on to the aircraft speedily and without being subjected to our frequent weather problems. They can walk straight under cover to board the aircraft. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the possibility of developing this system at London Airport.
Undoubtedly, I will be told that these deficiencies are unlikely to be remedied in the near future. If that is the case, I hope that my right hon. Friend will give serious and urgent thought to the possibility of allowing operators to construct their own terminals from which they can make their own arrangements. This would enable them to give personalised service to passengers and, by processing and despatching their own travellers, they could eliminate many of the annoyances to passengers and delays to aircraft.
Another aspect which has been mentioned during the debate is cargo facilities at London Airport. I have always had great faith in the future of air freight. Now, more than ever before, there is likely to be a great upsurge in the amount that will be carried in the next few years. Undoubtedly, with many of the consumer goods sent abroad, people overseas, particularly in America, are not prepared to place the long runs and give the early orders that they have done in the past. They now place much 1074 smaller orders, they want quicker deliveries and they wish to be able to order repeats quickly during the season so that they can be sent out to them by air.
We must make it possible for the airline companies to go ahead with the development of their freight business. If my right hon. Friend will look into the possibility of allowing operators to construct their own terminals, they would be prepared, within those terminals, to make arrangements not only for the better handling of their passengers, but also for the development of the air freight business, which is becoming much more important to them now that the big aircraft like the Boeing 707 have such a large freight capacity in addition to their passenger complement.
I wish to refer to the question of landing fees. The Estimates Committee referred to the statement by the then Controller of Ground Services, who said:It is a matter of traffic. Given the traffic, you can do anything.That statement was in relation to the revenue that could be earned. The Fifth Report of the Estimates Committee also stated thatEvents since 1955 do not entirely confirm this and show that costs and revenue have arisen by approximately the same amount.Landing fees at London Airport are still very high. However we may argue the case and whatever may be the extras on top of the initial landing fee in some of the world's airports, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield hit the point when he said that only in the Sudan are landing fees higher than in this country. We should remember this. Operators here naturally consider that landing fees are too high. I gather that the Estimates Committee endeavoured to assess the variation between London and various other airports. Idlewild always springs very much to mind. It was assessed that including all the extras, the total landing cost for a Boeing 707 is £361 at London, but £269 at Idlewild.
The excellent suggestion made in the Report that operators should be encouraged to use the airports in off-peak periods has not, I understand, so far been commented upon by my right hon. Friend the Minister. It is well worth his attention. I have no doubt that if airline operators were given the 1075 opportunity of a reasonable rebate—and it must be a reasonable one—for subjecting their passengers to landing and take-off times that were not the most desirable from the passenger's point of view, they would do so only if there was a reasonable concession. Naturally, if this density difficulty arises in the two peak-hour periods during the day, it would seem to me to be common sense to try to spread the load in the interests of everybody concerned. I believe, too, that it would result in more landings and, in turn, would certainly increase the revenue, despite any concession that might be made during the off-peak hours.
Above all, whatever the independent authority might do, I suggest that it should not plunge straight in and talk about still further raising the landing fees at London Airport, where they are already very high.
Earlier this afternoon, we were informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham that Customs offices occupy no less than 34,000 sq. ft. of office space at London Airport. My hon. Friend assessed the value of that space at approximately £2 per sq. ft. In other words, the Customs authorities get free office accommodation to the value of £64,000 per annum whilst the airline companies have to pay for it through high landing fees. Nor do the Customs authorities pay a penny in rates, which the companies have to pay. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consult the Treasury to find the reason for this and to ensure that the Customs authorities pay the proper amount for the accommodation they occupy.
That might well provide a salutary lesson in getting the Customs authorities to cut their accommodation and to ensure that they do not occupy space unnecessarily.
§ Mr. Burden
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.
As anybody who goes through London Airport knows, there are frequently big hold-ups for passengers going through the Customs. If 34,000 sq. ft. is occupied as office space, it 1076 might well be a good thing if some of those occupying the offices were transferred elsewhere and if Customs officials engaged in the clearing of passengers and baggage were to replace them.
In any case, when my right hon. Friend is looking at this question of Treasury responsibility for the office accommodation which is occupied by the Customs authorities at London Airport, it would be very interesting to find out what the Treasury takings through the airport are, and why some of these are not applied to paying for this accommodation.
The adverse reactions of the passengers arriving in this country to the many hold-ups and the slowness in getting through the Customs are too obvious to mention, but, after they have had a long, tiring journey that is not the best way to start them out visiting Britain—and many of them, of course, are making their first visit to this country.
Car parks, too, are a very big problem, and those of us who have had to suffer the problem of trying to leave and park a car at London Airport for any reasonable time know how bad it is, particularly during the peak summer season. Not only are the passengers and their friends in great difficulty, but there is also completely inadequate car parking for the staff working in the central area, and any plans for improving the car park facilities should be pressed ahead with the greatest speed. I hope that my right hon. Friend, in any steps he may take to ease the position for the public generally, will not forget the position of those who go to London Airport to work. Many of them go by car because the facilities of public transport are quite inadequate.
I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend, and, perhaps, some other Members, will be surprised to hear that there is not one public bus service between London Airport and Staines, although a great many of the people working at London Airport have to travel to and from Staines. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will look into the possibility of providing some alleviation of their difficulties, by means of a direct bus service to and from Staines.
In general, it is perfectly obvious that a great deal of forward thinking and planning must go into the future of 1077 Heathrow Airport, and the London airports generally. It is no good suddenly being caught out and overtaken by events. It is just not on. There are assessments as to what the growth is likely to be in the years ahead, and, indeed, we have been told today that by 1970 the number of passengers using London Airport is likely to be twice that of the number using it today. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend is now planning at least for 1970.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I should like to speak briefly on one subject which my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) did not cover, although several of my hon. Friends and several hon. Members on the other side of the House have covered it. It closely affects my constituents. It is the old subject which comes up fairly regularly in the House, the subject of aircraft noise. It is, of course, covered in the Report, and I shall come to that in a minute.
First, however, I would say that I hope my right hon. Friend is looking very carefully at the recent comments which have been made by foreign airline pilots regarding safety factors at London Airport. I hope that this has not been overlooked. Although many of us are concerned about the noise of aircraft approaching and leaving London Airport the safety factors must be paramount. They are absolutely vital. I am sure that there is no one on either side of this House, and no one among my constituents, who would like to have noise reduced at any cost to safety which not only would affect the pilots, the crews and the passengers of the aircraft using London Airport but thousands of people living below the glide path on to the runway who could be involved in a catastrophe. I would like an assurance that my right hon. Friend will be absolutely certain that safety factors remain paramount in any decision regarding operating procedures.
Since he took office, my right hon. Friend's efforts to assist those hon. Members who have a very serious constituency problem caused by the noise of aircraft using London Airport have been welcomed on both sides of the House. He has always been most sympathetic both to hon. Members personally and also to 1078 deputations of residents. I offer him my thanks for the visit he has arranged for hon. Members to the Gas Turbine Establishment to see the efforts being made by his Ministry to get engine noise reduced at source. That is very important research.
My constituency covers the Boroughs of Richmond and Barnes, and we are affected mainly by landings. Eighty per cent. of the aircraft noise in this area—which is eight to nine miles from the airport itself—is caused by aircraft approaching to land. My right hon. Friend has set up a height check system in my constituency. This checks the height of aircraft passing over at various times, unbeknown to pilots and airlines, to test whether they are keeping to regulations. What are the results? Is it possible for him to publish them?
I have only one important point to make on the Estimates Committee Report. This concerns paragraph No. 89, which reads:The Foreign Airlines Association put forward a suggestion that the noise problem could be improved at Heathrow if the traffic could be kept flowing to the west…where there is more room for aircraft to climb before reaching the first built-up area than there is to the east.This aspect has been mentioned by several hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) and Feltham (Mr. Hunter). On page 8 of the Fifth Special Report of the Estimates Committee, it is stated:Agreement has been reached with the Secretary of State for Air on the control of operations at Northolt which will permit the preferential use of runways at Heathrow.This concerns only taking off. Would it be possible to extend it and have more landings taking place from the West rather than from the East? I know many of the issues involved—including the direction of the runways laid down and prevailing winds, particularly those affecting No. 5 runway—but I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend would consider this carefully. Approach from the West means that the built-up area underneath is far less. I realise that another important factor is the stacking at Watford and Epsom while aircraft are waiting to come in.
I realise the vital importance of London Airport. As I said in an Adjournment debate earlier this Session, I 1079 want to put forward points which I hope are constructive, and I appreciate that, in any decision by my right hon. Friend, the safety factor must come first.
I emphasise that, despite the comments which I make about aircraft noise and the letters I write on behalf of constituents—and I am sure that I carry other hon. Members with me in this—I am personally most anxious that Britain should continue to play a leading part in international aviation. I appreciate the importance of London Airport as an international air terminal. Some disturbance to my constituents is inevitable. We must balance against that the need for first-class communications, which have an important rôle to play in the nation's economy.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle), I have a constituency interest in the debate and I want to be quite plain about it. I am one of those Members whose constituencies include a part of London Airport, and there are several questions of fact which I want to put to the Minister concerning my own and neighbouring constituencies. I begin with the question of rents, which is examined at great length and very interestingly in the Estimates Committee's Report. I do not want to repeat what has already been said, but I am very impressed by the skill and persistence of the Committee in finding out the facts about the rents which the Minister charges at London Airport. He is in the position of someone who enjoys a monopoly. He is able to fix rents without any reference to the market mechanism. As the Report points out, he is able to charge operators at London Airport rents of about 40s. per sq. ft. of land.
The Estimates Committee suggests that, as the market mechanism does not control the Minister, the rents should be subject to' some sort of arbitration procedure. I am sorry to see from his observations that the Minister is not prepared to accept arbitration, and I should like him to tell us why. This is a matter of great importance not only to the airport operators, but to the people who live around the airport, because the price level which the Minis- 1080 ter fixes inside the airport tends to set the pattern for the price of land outside the airport. The population pressure around the airport is very great and the price of land rises in the ordinary way. I hope that we shall have some explanation of why, when there is no market mechanism to keep him in check, my right hon. Friend refuses to accept arbitration although the Estimates Committee itself appears to think that he should, as do the operators.
Secondly, I should like the Minister to give us more information about his thinking on the structure of this independent authority. We have heard many remarks about what sort of pattern a public corporation ought to take. I think that I am speaking for some hon. Members opposite as well as many on this side of the House when I say that we have not yet worked out a satisfactory pattern of public ownership which would give the public anything like the kind of control which we should like. How far is this independent authority to be answerable to Parliament and how far will it be representative of local authorities around the airport? Does he intend that it shall include representatives of the public or of local authorities?
The people who live around the airport—and there are many of them—have a considerable interest in the policy of the airport. For instance, they are especially interested in the problem of noise. I can assure my right hon. Friend that no matter what changes he may make in the administrative pattern of London Airport, the noise of the jets will continue to be drowned by the noise of the protests. He must find some method by which, under the new administration, people who want to make protests about the running of the airport, or the noise, should have at least as good opportunities of doing so, under the new administration, as those which they have now.
I hope that the Minister will also say something about the future administrative pattern of London Airport as it will affect the people living around it. We have been told—and the Estimates Committee has underlined it—that the airport is constantly expanding, and that by the end of this decade its passenger traffic will amount to about 14 million a year. Any such expansion will create 1081 many problems for people living around the airport—problems of roads, space for moving about and demands for hotel accommodation. When the Minister looks forward to this sort of expansion of the airport, what sort of changes does he expect to see in the pattern of living of those around the airport?
If the number of people arriving at London Airport multiplies over the next decade it will be necessary for them to get away from the airport reasonably quickly. Various speakers have referred to the fact that one of the difficulties about flying in this country is not the difficulty of travelling from A to B by air but of getting to A in order to do the flying. It sometimes takes a great deal longer to do this than it does to fly several hundred miles.
Has the Minister examined the question of extending to the airport the tube line which now terminates at Hounslow West? This proposal has been made time and time again. If this were done—and I am not saying that it should be done, because I do not know what the cost would be—it would undoubtedly mean that people would be able to move into and out of the airport a great deal quicker than they can now. Another suggestion which has been going around for some time is that of building a monorail. When a Member of the Estimates Committee was speaking I did my best, by way of intervention, to discover whether the Committee had examined these questions, which are becoming of increasing importance. If the airport expands, what expansion is intended in travelling facilities to and from the airport? This question concerns both users of the airport and people living around it, and I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy the legitimate curiosity about it.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Colin Turner (Woolwich, West)
I shall not attempt to follow the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) owing to the lateness of the hour and to the fact that many other hon. Members wish to speak. I want to know what we are going to do about Stansted. The Estimates Committee's Report shows that there has been a considerable amount of delay in coming to decisions about this airport. Although the Committee had said that it 1082 felt that a decision about Stansted was of great urgency, in reply to the recommendations of the Committee, the Minister, on 20th December, said that the question nevertheless involved a considerable amount of discussion.
As we heard earlier from an hon. Member opposite, Ministers of Aviation tend to come and go fairly quickly, although the Ministry and the Civil Service remain. In the four months since my right hon. Friend replied to the Committee's recommendations, what progress has been made towards reaching a decision about Stansted? In my view it is now a matter of great urgency. As far as I understand the picture, at the moment Stansted is heavily dependent on trooping contracts for what little traffic it has. Therefore, there seems to me to be a matter of urgency in reaching a decision whether or not Stansted is to be the third London airport.
We have already heard that the air transport of freight is likely to be developed to a very considerable degree. If we take Heathrow Airport itself, it seems to me that in the air freight side of operations we are likely to go more and more for freighters, that is, machines in which no passengers fly, in this and every other country. It therefore seems to me that the freight aircraft, as such, should not be dealt with in the central area of the airport, but that a freight aircraft servicing section should be developed on the northern edge or on the perimeter round the airport itself, and that the centre should be devoted more and more entirely to the handling of passengers in the most efficient way.
I should now like to turn to a subject which has already been mentioned, but which, I think, requires greater thought and a greater sense of urgency. That is the question of car parks. It seems to me that the only efficient way of handling cars in the central and outer areas of London Airport is by a system in which a contractor, or some authority, is entirely responsible for the car parks. I should have thought that if a passenger is going to the central area and arrives with his car, he should be able to hand it over to the garage authority, and that an attendant could then take control of the car and drive it away to the car park which could well be on the perimeter of the airfield and not in the centre.
1083 This does not seem to me to be impossible. In fact, this system works at other airports throughout the world. Once a passenger brings his car in, he should be able to hand it over to the car parking authority, which will take it away and look after it, and, in the reverse direction, on arriving, he should be able to surrender his ticket to the central control of car parking, and have his car produced from the outlying area. This should be able to be done quite speedily. I think that this suggestion should be looked at as a matter of urgency.
I now wish to turn to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) on private and executive flying. Here, I think that the Minister and the Secretary of State for Air are to be congratulated on having decided that Northolt may be used for such flying. Because of the congestion which we now have at London Airport, private and executive flying should not be encouraged there. I believe that, following our possible entry into the Common Market, there will be far greater use of private and executive aircraft to and from the Continent, as well as from London to the North, to Scotland and Ireland. It seems to me that, as we will have to have airfields for private and executive flying on the south as well as on the north side of London, Gatwick and Northolt are the best possible places for the extension of this private an executive flying.
I believe that this is a very important factor which we in this country have tended to ignore. Nobody since the war, in any Government or any Ministry, appears to have had any real interest in the development of this type of flying, which, I believe, will play an even greater part in the future than we can imagine at present.
I wish to ask about the central flying control for civil and military aircraft. When will the new control building, which is mentioned, come into operation? I understand that joint control is exercised in a temporary building, but I should like to know when it is hoped to have the new headquarters for this joint control.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Collard (Norfolk, Central)
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) will 1084 forgive me if I do not follow his argument with the exception of the last point to which he referred, namely, air traffic control. That is the one aspect upon which I wish to speak. It is true that the subject of air traffic control is far wider than just the management of airports; but it is vain to consider management or ownership of an airport unless, at the same time, air traffic control is considered.
The matter is referred to in what 1 think is the most important recommendation of the Estimates Committee, Recommendation (34), which states that an independent authority should be set up to manage the London group of airports. The Recommendation states:The Minister should continue to be responsible for the provision of Divisional Air Traffic Control…I will refer to what is stated further in the recommendation in a moment. But, first, I wish to remind the House of the enormous strides which have been made in the technique, or the art—call it what one will—of air traffic control over the last ten or twenty years and, most emphatically, during the last thirty years.
I am certainly not the only hon. Member who was flying as a pilot thirty years ago, but for those who were it is easy to appreciate the extraordinary strides which have been made in this technique, which is absolutely basic and fundamental to safety. I think it right to say that in the world generally, and particularly in this country—where the air is so crowded because our country is so small, the airfields are so close and so many aircraft want to come here—were it not for the high standard of the techniques which have been developed and the ability of operators and the efficiency of equipment, air travel would be so dangerous that it would have no future.
The Estimates Committee, having recommended that the Minister should continue to be responsible for the provision of divisional air traffic control, continued:…the cost of providing all other technical services necessary for the operation of the airports should be borne by the Authority.The Minister implied that the Government largely accepted that recommendation and it was set out in the White Paper, Cmd. 1457. That White Paper 1085 goes a good deal wider than the subject that we are discussing, but it deals specifically with the group of airfields which includes the London group, and, therefore, no doubt it is in order to refer to one or two of the matters which appear in it.
In dealing with air traffic control a distinction is made between what is called "en route"technical services, which are air traffic control, organisation for aircraft en route—navigation, control areas, technical and navigational aids—" met "—and so on. It draws a distinction between these "en route"services, as it calls them, and the aerodrome technical services, which it describes as the services necessary for the approach, takeoff and landing of aircraft.
From what the Committee said it would be possible to deduce—I am sorry to use rather dreary jargon, but I am quoting from the White Paper and am particularly concerned with air traffic control—that, whereas en routeservices should be the responsibility of the State, the aerodrome technical services, those air traffic control services which involve approach, landing and take-off, should be the responsibility of whoever is owning or managing the airfield.
The White Paper does not quite bear out that recommendation. I deduce from the White Paper that in certain airfields —and one gets the impression that the main airfields are meant—the State should operate not only the en routetechnical services, but also the local aerodrome technical services, the approach, landing and take-off parts of the air traffic control. I certainly hope that will be the case concerning the main international airfields.
I question whether it is a good idea to divide air traffic control at all. I apologise to my right hon. Friend if I have made the wrong deductions from these two documents, but I question whether it is right in theory or practice to divide air traffic control into en routeservices and aerodrome services. As has been mentioned in this debate, aircraft somewhere over this building are turning into London Airport. They certainly go over Knightsbridge and Kensington quite low. When they get there they are already in the pattern because of the flat approach of modern aircraft. So the local technical services of Heathrow extend well into the middle of London.
1086 On the question of whether it is right to divide air traffic control in this way, I maintain that it would be wrong to divide it in the case of international airfields. It may have worked in the past, but I doubt whether it is sound now. I very much question, with the increased air space required for an airfield and its pattern, whether this would be justified in future. I make no apology for dealing with this one aspect and none other of the matters we are discussing. That is because it is of tremendous importance. I applaud the recommendation by which the Committee says that en routeservices should remain the responsibility of the State. I am glad to see from the White Paper that it seems to be the intention of my right hon. Friend to make the local airfield technical services at the main airfields also the responsibility of the State.
I invite my right hon. Friend to consider, in the business of planning the future management of the main airfields, whether it would not be a good thing not only now, but essentially for the future, to cease to draw a distinction between the two forms of air traffic control and retain all of it under the control of his Department.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I am sure that the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Collard) was not the least valuable speech in what I consider to have been a valuable debate. I hope that the House thinks that it has been a good debate. I am sure that every Member of the Estimates Committee is gratified at the reception which the Report has received, and pleased that it has been the peg on which many excellent technical speeches have been hung, and has given a number of hon. Members with local interests an opportunity to ventilate the grievances of their constituents.
The House will allow me, I am sure, to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) and to echo a great deal of what he said about the thanks which he gave to the witnesses. I also echo what has been said about the invaluable services which the Clerks of the Estimates Committee give to the full Committee and the Sub-Committees, and I thank my hon. Friend for the work 1087 which he has done on this Committee. I believe that it is a good Report and that the Committee was well justified in choosing it as a subject for inquiry.
I want to explain why I think that it is a good Report. The Estimates Committee is always faced with a great difficulty. Its terms of reference are distinctly narrow. We are confined to recommending definite economies in expenditure, but we often find ourselves bound to trespass very close to the field of policy, which for us is forbidden ground. On the other hand, it is clearly of great value to the House and to the country that many questions which are really policy, but which have no party content, should be examined fairly and impartially by an all-party committee. The skill involved in conducting an inquiry and drafting a report which goes just far enough and not too far is considerable. I believe that this Report is a model of what that sort of report should be, and that is why I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham, as I hope is the House, that this subject has been dealt with in the right way. I feel that the Report has brought forward aspects of policy and administration which could have been brought forward in no other manner.
But that very thought makes me uneasy. I do not like to say that the Estimates Committee chooses its subjects at random, because that would not be the literal truth and it would give the wrong impression, but we have a vast field of subjects to consider, and a limited number of Sub-Committees, which means that only a limited number of subjects can be investigated in any year. It is not a matter of luck or chance, but fortune is perhaps slightly capricious; it might well have happened that this subject was not investigated for several years, and I wonder whether there is some gap or lacuna in our Parliamentary system which leaves this sort of question to be investigated by a Committee at its own sweet will, without any direction from Parliament and in a manner which may mean that some important questions are overlooked.
I turn to the debate. I want to get back to the remarkable and devastating speech of my hon. Friend the Mem- 1088 ber for Mitcham. The House will recall that he started with four main points. He laid down the axiom that London airports should pay their way and be come a national asset, and I think that the House was with him on that. He said—and we were all gratified to hear it—that the airports provided a most efficient service and received praise from all quarters, at home and abroad. We were glad to hear that. He spoke of the central direction by the Ministry lacking speed and efficiency, and he recommended the appointment of an authority. We can congratulate him on having attained that objective in the White Paper. He then embarked on certain criticisms of the Treasury.
The debate which ensued may be divided into two parts—speeches which dealt with technical questions and speeches which covered general points. I do not propose to touch on the technical questions. I am certain that in the years to come there will be scores of debates covering the technical aspects of running and managing airports and their effect on the surrounding population, because these problems are, if not insuperable, at any rate of a permanent nature.
I want to refer briefly to the two general criticisms which were made, one of the Ministry, and one of the Treasury. The terms used by the Estimates Committee could not be more severe. In one sentence in paragraph 140 this tremendous indictment of the Ministry is made:Your Committee consider that the unsatisfactory condition of the finances of London's Airports is principally the result of a failure until comparatively recently to regard them as commercial undertakings.I cannot imagine a severer criticism. If I go into it for a few minutes it is not because I wish to indulge in witch-hunting or to hold an inquest but because we must find out what has happened, and why it has happened, if we are to avoid similar blunders in the future. The Minister has some very awkward questions to answer. I hope that he will try to answer them tonight. I am not putting only the Minister in the dock. I am putting every hon. Member on both sides of the House in the dock, because the whole House has knowingly allowed this state of affairs to go on without raising a protest. But 1089 the Minister and his immediate predecessor are the principal culprits.
The blunder is that we have allowed an undertaking which is obviously commercial, and which must have been seen to have been obviously commercial from its very inception, to be run by civil servants. It is very easy to make cheap sneers at civil servants, but I do not believe them. I believe that the British Civil Service in this Department and in every other is by far the finest in the world. It is disinterested, utterly incorruptible and intelligent, able, and imaginative. However, it is rot fair to expect men who have been trained as civil servants to run a comercial undertaking. We might as well expect an archbishop to run a friend fish shop or a major-general to be a midwife. It just does not make sense.
I do not lay the blame for what has happened on the servants of the Department but upon us in the House for having allowed such a state of affairs to continue. The fact is that there has been a marked failure or breakdown in the conduct by us politicians of London's airports. I welcome the prospect of the appointment of the authority, but why did it not come long ago? Why under successive Governments has this issue been burked and this vital decision been postponed?
It raises many problems, naturally. Several hon. Members questioned whether we as Members of Parliament will have the same chances of raising our constituents' grievances to an authority as we have to a Minister. I share their anxieties. One of the great problems which must be worked out is how the individual citizen can have redress against a nationalised industry or what is called an authority. We must not burke those issues. If we accept the first axiom laid down by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham, that London's airports must be run as a commercial concern and become a national asset—that means as a paying commercial concern—I do not see how we can get away from the fact that they cannot any longer continue to be run by a Government Department as if they are a branch of the Civil Service.
Even now it seems to me that my right hon. Friend does not admit that a blunder has been made. I was shattered 1090 to read in paragraph 15 of the White Paper what is apparently a claim that this method of management has delivered the goods. It is there stated:The financial prospects have been now changed. Direct Departmental management and development have brought the aerodromes to a position in which it is possible to consider transfering their ownership and operation to other hands.In other words—" what a good boy am I!"
I do not think that we have been good boys. The White Paper was published in August, although the criticisms and strictures of the Estimates Committee were published on 21st June, 1961. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not think that I am unkind when I say that it was a little smug of his Department to pat themselves on the back and say how clever they had been after reading, as they must have read, the Report of the Estimates Committee.
I now turn to the criticism of the Treasury. I am a great supporter of the Treasury. I regard it as the greatest ally that the House has had in securing a proper and efficient management of our economy. I therefore hate to say it, but we cannot get away from the fact that this Report criticises the Treasury strongly for not having arranged for adequate financial data.
I first started to study the whole system and theory of Treasury control several years ago. Since the First World War there has been new thinking about the relationship between the Treasury and Government Departments. In the old days I picture the Treasury as looking over the shoulder of every Department in every transaction. This was so up to 1914 and. indeed, for some time afterwards. Then there was a reaction, and it was laid down that that was stupid, as it clearly was, and the objective to be attained was that the Departments themselves should develop a sense of financial responsibility and be their own controllers in the exercise of prudence and economy.
This meant that the only direct statutory influence that the Treasury had over Departments was in the original allocation of Votes voted by Parliament and in the approval which in most cases had to be given to capital expenditure over a certain level. So far so good, but this meant that in effect the Treasury 1091 regarded itself as no longer responsible for what a Department did or for its methods of procedure. I believe that the relationship of the Treasury to the Departments should be that of the elder brother. [An HON. MEMBER: "Big brother."] No, anyone who has had an elder brother knows that that relationship can be one of the most wonderful in the world.
The Treasury should not be there to jerk the reins in a nagging manner but to guide and advise in the spirit of friendship of an elder brother. It is not right that it should be left to the Estimates Committee or to any other Committee to find out what is wrong with the way a Department is being run. This is something which we should be able to look to the Treasury to do.
I am well aware that it is an instinct in all the human race to look for a Messiah, or for somebody upon whom to cast responsibility. We may well be doing that in the House and I may be saying to the Treasury, "You are the people who should do the work" when we in the House ought to be doing it. But even allowing for that, I think that the Treasury has let us down in allowing London Airport to be administered without sufficient accounting data and in allowing the whole system to go on without making a marked protest. I do not know whether some protest was made, but I strongly suspect that it was not.
The Plowden Report on the Control of Public Expenditure opened a new epoch in the history of Treasury control. This is now in a formative period. I feel that not the least valuable consequence of this Report of the Estimates Committee may be that it will show us what is wrong in the relationship between the Treasury and a Department. As a member of the Estimates Committee, I thank the House for its reception of the Report and I hope that good may come of it.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Aviation (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
We have had an extremely useful and valuable debate. The House is indebted to the Estimates Committee for its Report. I think that it is important that there should have been an all-party Committee reporting 1092 on this matter, which raises no intense party differences. The House is also indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), who put the arguments with great restraint. He offered some criticisms, but Ministers are accustomed to criticism, particularly in these days. My hon. Friend put his criticisms with great moderation, and with all the more force in so doing. As he rightly said, we agree with three-quarters of the recommendations, and we may have a sneaking understanding even for those with which we disagree. When the Estimates Committee sets about the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury, all of us feel the old Adam rising within us. However, I must not be drawn too far along that road.
Rumour has it that my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) has abandoned airports altogether and nowadays lands by parachute. We are glad to welcome him, safe and sound, among us. He said that I would have to answer, as, indeed, I shall seek to answer, the criticisms about the financial state of London Airport. I shall try, in terms of becoming modesty and not patting myself on the back, but answer I promise that I will.
The danger with a Report like this, of course, is that, being compiled by many men of independent judgment, it tends to be a little self-defeating in its criticisms. One can say of a Government that, if they fail to consult with all those concerned, they are being pigheaded. If, on the other hand, they do consult, they are wasting time and doing everything through committees. If they provide money for a particular facility, then, as in paragraph 108, they can be said to be laying out capital without a very quick return in revenue. If they do not provide the money, they are slow, unimaginative and hardly worth while. All these things can be made of almost any Report of this kind.
Taking the Report as a whole, I must say that, when it goes beyond the details, about which anyone can differ—the length of the runway at Gatwick and questions like that—it is often at its most fair. When the Committee gets down to realities, perhaps even trespassing—though that may not be the right word—a little beyond the bounds of 1093 what it ought to do, and touches on policy, I find its Report most interesting and in many ways most valuable.
This is notably so when it deals with the two largest matters on which it touched. Should London Airport be a commercial proposition? This is a big question which needs to be studied and debated. Should London Airport be run as it is being run now, or should we find some other way, by adjustments within the Ministry or under some independent public authority, for operating it? These are the two big questions that have formed the main themes on which the debate has turned. Though I shall say something about other matters, I wish to say something first about these two main themes.
First, I take the question about London Airport being commercial. Is it to pay? In my judgment, it should pay. Not everyone agrees, of course. There are powerful voices raised against this view. The airlines do not believe that it should pay. Let no one here imagine that the great airlines think that it should pay; they think that London Airport ought to be run for them at a loss. I.A.T.A., a very powerful and useful body, but one of the biggest price rings in the world, does not think that London Airport ought to pay. I hope that the Estimates Committee will not think that I.A.T.A. is on its side in this matter.
I.A.T.A. thinks that London Airport should be run as a sort of charitable institution. I do not take that view. I share the view of the Estimates Committee. Its Report has greatly strengthened my hand in the policy that I would wish to pursue. I do not believe that airports should be run as charities, nor do I believe, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham said, that aviation is a kind of infant industry that ought to be nursed on its way. More people arrive in this island by air than by any other method, so one cannot say that it is an infant industry. It has grown up and is adult, and if it is adult it ought to be possible for it to carry its own terminal charges, both managerial and technical. At least, it ought to start to move towards that position as soon as possible. In all that I agree.
I am happy to say—and here I turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham, and I now put it with becoming 1094 modesty, and I know that it will gladden his heart, that last year the London Airport group broke even after paying all its managerial costs and technical costs, all its interest on capital and proper depreciation. I know that this will give my hon. Friend saitsfaction, which is what we want to see in the Estimates Committee and, I think, on both sides of the House. That was on a £9 million turnover. I shall not be precise about the actual figures, because these accounts can vary as one draws them up, but within £50,000 either way, I can say that last year, on a £9 million turnover, the group broke even. This next year it will show a modest profit. The cost per passenger handled, which was commented on by the Estimates Committee, was 26 per cent. lower in 1960 than in 1955, so it is not only paying its way. This is not simply due to increases in revenue, though those were proper to make.
Again, I say with my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham that it is no good saying, on the one hand, that the group must pay and, on the other, that one can never charge enough to make it pay. That is a contradiction in terms and one must face the realities. But allowing for all that, the cost per passenger handled has gone down by about 26 per cent. in five years. I have been considering how best to celebrate this and I have come to the conclusion that we had better remove the whisky bottles at Heathrow. I would not say anything against our national wine or the fine company that put them up. I have been very keen to see this airport pay. That seems to be a modest and reasonable way of indicating that we are not "in the red"
That does not mean that we have not to study every way of increasing the revenue and balancing our accounts in our main fields of activity. I am glad that it has broken even, because it is a prerequisite to handing it over to any form of authority. It is no good handing over a bankrupt concern. That is merely to make a present of it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and, of course, we all love the Chancellor and the Treasury. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham is particularly deep in his affection for my old Department. I was very glad to hear his words, but it was not the 1095 purpose of the Estimates Committee to hand it over to the Treasury. If it was to hand it over to anyone, it was to a new independent public authority. For that purpose we had to have it on a paying basis to start with. We now have it on a paying basis and we have to keep it there.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Heathrow made a profit of about £750,000. The main part of the losses in the London group was at Gatwick and a small part at Stansted.
May I say a word about the individual airports. Heathrow is not the biggest airport in the world, but it handles the largest amount of international traffic in the world. It is no good comparing it with airports in America, which are living under a lush subsidy of one form or another, or with smaller airports on the Continent of Europe. Heathrow is in a different category. It has all the complexities and frustrations of an international airport, with the Customs and immigration authorities—never mind who pays for them—which are an essential feature of an international airport and which bring certain complications in their train.
Heathrow has grown enormously over the past fifteen years. The movements have gone up seventeen times— from 9,000 in 1946 to 157,000 in 1961. The number of passengers has increased ninety times and the amount of freight has increased eighty times. There is a slight misunderstanding about our freight position which arose from some evidence which Sir William Hildred gave. We are the largest freight airport in Europe. We are 100 per cent. bigger than Frankfurt and 40 per cent. bigger than Paris.
I was glad to read the tribute paid in the Report of the Estimates Committee to the management of the airport, particularly at local level. I think that the Committee was right in saying that it is conscientious and competent. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) indicated that we had been overtaken by a sudden upsurge in the number of passengers. As a matter of fact, we have not. This is an illusion. It is a legend which is 1096 going about, and I am glad that my hon. Friend referred to it. In 1956, the Millbourn Committee forecast that the number of passengers in 1960 for all London's airports would be 5,670,000. The actual figure was 5,800,000. It forecast that by 1960 the busy-hour traffic figure for Heathrow would be 1,800. The actual figure is 1,756. We have, therefore, known exactly what would happen and we have tried to plan stage by stage to meet the growth of traffic, which remains remarkably close to our estimates.
The problem at London Airport is not the growth of traffic or, indeed, the passenger buildings. The problem is what traffic the air traffic control will be able to grapple with in future years.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
What my right hon. Friend has not said is that the traffic obtained this year will achieve the 1965 figures. I gave the figures—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am giving my hon. Friend the figures. The figures are virtually exactly, or within 10 per cent. at any rate, of what the Millbourn Committee forecast. The figure for busy-hour traffic, which is the critical one, is a little lower. I am glad to have the opportunity of stating these facts.
The question of safety at London Airport has been raised. We are satisfied that the take-off procedures for noise, and, indeed, all other procedures, are absolutely safe and satisfactory. We have had no representations from any pilot or pilots' association or from any airline operator on this matter. This is only what I have read in the newspapers. Naturally, if recommendations were made to us, we would consider them very carefully, but no recommendations have been made to us.
Executive aircraft are allowed to land at Heathrow. They are also allowed to land at Northolt and at Gatwick. The General Manager can put up signposts anywhere he wishes. We have had no application for the erection of signposts, but there may be one in the files. However, we have not traced one up to this moment. I assure my hon. Friends that even under our arrangements, it is possible for the General Manager to put up signposts if he wishes.
An important point concerning fuel was raised by a number of hon. Members. Let us be frank about this. The 1097 fuel agreements were very bad ones. I cannot pretend that they were remunerative to Her Majesty's Treasury. They are, however, agreements. They cannot be ignored or abandoned. If an agreement is entered into, whether by the Government or an individual, it must be adhered to.
What I can do, and am doing, is to take all reasonable steps to ensure that there is not a monopoly. It is no part of the agreement to give a monopoly to these fuel companies. What we are doing is to put out to tender the right to supply fuel in competition with the existing companies and on a gallonage basis. I have every reason to suppose that this will he done and I have every intention that it should be done. This is the right way of tackling the problem and it answers the main point made by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee).
I come now to work at Heathrow and the things we do there. The Millbourn Report has been widely referred to during the debate. It was never intended that everything that the Millbourn Committee recommended should be followed out just like that. It was a long-term Report. There was to be orderly development as the traffic grew over the years.
I wonder whether hon. Members realise how much development is going on all the time. Even since the visit by the Estimates Committee in March, 1961, a whole range of things has been happening. The new central heating station has been completed; it was then under construction. The No. 3 passenger building is in full operation. Block 1 of the new freight building, totalling 60,000 feet, has been erected. At that time, it had not been begun. The North Terminal fire station has been completed. The extension of the No. 5 runway of 11,000 ft., plus 2,000 ft. overrun, has been completed. The apron hut for the use of the executive aircraft, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield is interested, has been erected. There has been a whole range of other matters.
§ Mr. Burden
Has my right hon. Friend seriously considered the enormous growth in freight that will undoubtedly take place if and when we enter the Common Market? This is 1098 something that must be planned well ahead. What is my right hon. Friend doing about this?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the point concerning freight. It happens to be one in which the Ministry of Aviation has been absolutely right throughout. The Ministry has refused to build or to attempt to build a big freight reception centre in the central area of London Airport. The Ministry was opposed to it. I know that such a proposal was recommended and that the airlines pressed us to build it "on spec". That was the evidence that the airlines gave to the Estimates Committee.
Within two months of giving that evidence, they came round to us and said that we were right and that the correct thing was not to build for the freight that would come off the passenger aircraft, but to start making provision on a much bigger scale outside the central area—as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) mentioned, in one of the maintenance areas—where we could grapple with the problem on a proper scale and deal with it as it grows. That is what we shall do. I am sure that the Ministry was right throughout in the attitude that it took. This is another example of not rushing one's fences in development of this kind.
We should study just a little further what sort of development is required, particularly when we are dealing with an airport like London Airport, which is quite different from Idlewild, and where space arrangements are peculiarly difficult, because they all happen to be concentrated in the centre. We cannot afford to throw away land like that. We cannot start putting up freight sheds for each different airline, and I am sure that new arrangements for a freight reception area outside will be extremely valuable.
So much for the moment for Heathrow. At Gatwick, the number of passengers increased by 70 per cent. last year. It is expanding, and it undoubtedly will expand. It is estimated that there will be 1.6 million passengers in 1965 and probably 3 million in 1970. Its rôle, as has been stated, is that of an alternative to Heathrow. It has also the rôle for short and medium-range transport going to the Continent and 1099 mainly to the South. We could not do without it. That is the simple answer about Gatwick. We really could not do without it.
If we had not got Gatwick to expand into now we should be getting progressively into very serious difficulties at Heathrow. We contemplate between 1962 and 1967 about £4½ million of capital expenditure at Gatwick, mostly on the second half of the terminal building, and we are drawing up the plans for a possible second runway, but it is not designed to carry fully laden long-range jets. Indeed, it would be a vast addition to capital expenditure. It may conceivably be done, but it would be a vast addition to capital expenditure when we consider all we have to do at Gatwick, at Prestwick, and possibly Stansted if it comes to be the third London airport. We are putting first things first and concentrating on the really urgent and important work we have to do.
As for Stansted, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craig-ton (Mr. Millan) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West, we are studying this very hard now. We are considering with the airlines, with the Ministry of Transport, because it is very much concerned, with the airline associations and others whether Stansted will prove to be the most suitable aerodrome as the third airport for London. Or there may have to be two more. We do not know, but I should like to complete these studies before making any final statement about the matter.
Let me turn now to the other main point which was raised, the question of the future of the London airports group. This is an important matter and one which I think we ought to study together, as this Committee studied it, on not too partisan an approach. In any event, these are great airports. They are great examples of public enterprise, and there is no question whatever of abandoning what we have done. All we would be suggesting is how best to build upon it. In my view and in this I agree with the Committee, there is room for great activities both by the Ministry itself and by any airport authority which is set up.
1100 So far as the Ministry is concerned, of course it must go on being responsible for the air traffic control. I am sure that anything else would be most unwise. This is something which has got to be dealt with on—I was going to say a national basis—an international basis. One cannot just build an airport here or an airport there. The whole air traffic control and the subject of safety—in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West and other hon. Members who raised the point—will undoubtedly remain fairly and squarely in the Ministry's hands. I was very grateful to the Committee for drawing attention to the record and reputation which the London airports have throughout the world, amongst pilots who really understand these matters, for the way in which this particular aspect of its affairs is carried on.
But, in addition to the air traffic control side, there is the actual management side. I do not want anyone to jump to conclusions, but I ask the House to consider that there are some aspects of airport management which require rather quick policy decisions. Those decisions have to be dealt with in an area where close personal relationships are particularly important, especially as this is a complicated situation, as anyone who knows an airport is aware, where many people are moving about, rather agitated, having either just arrived or being about to go. In these circumstances, there is something to be said for decentralising a little the responsibility for decisions.
I agree with the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) that it is always possible to improve the way in which the Ministry does its work. I concede that to him. But he has been in this House a long time, and was also a member of the Government. He knows how these things work. I have great respect and admiration for the Whitehall machine, but when it 'comes to decisions there is a tendency for these to go back to three or four Departments to consult each other, and then to the Treasury. Meanwhile, the people seeking decisions at London Airport have a rather frustrating time.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The signpost did go up, which proves that there was a slight exaggeration. But that story had a moral lesson. People believe that these things happen, and some do happen from time to time.
I suggest, therefore, that we consider this matter on the basis of there being rôles both for the Ministry and the new authority. The Ministry would retain air traffic control and the control of noise—for it cannot divest itself of responsibility for all these matters—and the independent authority would have responsibility, to a large degree, for day-to-day management.
If the job were done that way, there would still remain a large measure of parliamentary control. Hon. Members have mentioned the London (Heathrow) Airport Consultative Committee. I, too, value the work of that Committee, which included representatives of the local authorities. It does extremely valuable work. I feel confident that, in any authority we set up in the future, there must be proper arrangements for consultation with the local authorities and others. I am sure that consultation will go on.
These, then are the problems which confront us. I am grateful to the Estimates Committee for its Report. I am grateful to it for having emphasised the need to have these airports on a commercial basis, and I am happy to report that they are now breaking even and that we are in a position to take a further step forward in policy, should parliamentary time permit and the House of Commons agree. I am grateful to the Committee for submitting the idea that the Ministry, while retaining full responsibility for the technical side of air traffic control, should contemplate the possibility of setting up a public authority for the airports
This authority would be a public body. We are not handing this over to the first bidder. If we approach the problem in this way, I believe that we shall be able to maintain airports of which, despite all the criticisms which can be made—and criticisms can be made of almost any organisation of this type—we can be proud. Each year, 6 million passengers pass through London Airport. Last year, we had only 127 written complaints. That is not a great number out 1102 of 6 million. I hope that we shall be able to co-operate well in future developments.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House takes note of the Fifth Report of the Estimates Committee in the last Session of Parliament relating to London's Airports and of the Fifth Special Report of the Estimates Committee.