HC Deb 05 July 1968 vol 767 cc1966-71


  1. (1) This section applies to any aerodrome which is managed by a person other than the British Airports Authority and is designated for the purposes of this section by an order made by the Board of Trade.
  2. (2) The person having the management of any aerodrome to which this section applies shall provide for users of the aerodrome, for any local authority, (or, if the person having the management of the aerodrome is a local authority, for any other local authority) in whose area the aerodrome or any part thereof is situated or whose area is in the neighbourhood of the aerodrome, and for any other organisation representing the interests of persons concerned with the locality in which the aerodrome is situated, adequate facilities for consultation with respect to any matter concerning the management or administration of the aerodrome which affects their interests
  3. (3) Any order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and may be varied or revoked by a subsequent order under this section.—[Mr. William Rodgers.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. William Rodgers)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This is the first occasion on which I have had the pleasure of meeting with this Bill. I am aware that I shall need in even more generous measure the goodwill which was shown towards it and towards my predecessor during the course of the Bill through Committee.

I do not believe that either the new Clause in its present form, or the Bill itself, is fundamentally contentious. I can see from reading the debates in Committee that the objective of each member of the Committee has been to work together to improve it. So I approach this stage in a spirit of goodwill and I hope that I shall, perhaps, find the same spirit on the Opposition side. There is no need for me to speak at length about the new Clause since hon. Members will be familiar with the events in Commit- tee and how the new Clause came to be put before the House this afternoon. There was full discussion on the principles involved on the eighth sitting of the Standing Committee. At that time, an Opposition new Clause was resisted as being unnecessary for the less-used aerodromes and unduly oppressive if applied to all aerodrome owners, whether or not a need for consultation existed. My predecessor undertook to consider a new Clause on the same lines, with the mandatory requirement omitted, and the present new Clause is the result. It limits the requirement for consultation to aerodromes designated for the purpose by the Board of Trade.

I hope that the Clause will win general approval.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Saffron Walden)

Although the Minister in his new capacity made a statement to the House a few days ago concerning an unfortunate air crash, this is the first time that he has taken part in this legislation and it is, therefore, appropriate for me, as the first Opposition speaker, to express our welcome to him, and also to express the hope that he will be as conciliatory and as kind as was his predecessor. Since I have been in the House, I have never known a Committee which functioned so well as the Committee on this Bill. We virtually rewrote the Bill from top to bottom, and are still engaged in doing so.

The new Clause, as the Minister said, is one which his predecessor kindly promised to reconsider. It appears on the Notice Paper with little or no change from the one put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) in Standing Committee.

I want to reiterate a point that I made in the Standing Committee, that there is not much point in having powers of this kind unless they are used. The point that I made in Standing Committee was, by analogy, to draw attention to the situation at Stansted Airport. I know that it is not covered by the new Clause, but I think that the experience gained there may be helpful in considering the Clause.

Under the British Airports Authority Act power was granted to the Authority to set up consultative committees and facilities for consulation of this kind. That has been done with considerable success at Heathrow. It has not been done at Stansted for reasons which I will not go into, although certain undertakings were given, to which my hon. Friend referred in Committee, which would appear to make it necessary that it should be done. The consequence of its not having been done is to create a very serious situation, about which I have corresponded with the Minister's predecessors, and I am now in the process of corresponding with and speaking to the Minister about it.

It is essential for the Board of Trade to bring home to the operators of airports the very real need for good public relations with local communities. What has happened at Stansted has been a denial of any kind of good public relations on the part of the Authority, and it has led to endless problems. None of us wants to see the problem again at municipal airports or private airports.

During the Committee stage the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) suggested that for municipal airports the power was unnecessary because the general public could sack their local councillors every three years to show their displeasure at the way in which they were running the airport. I never thought that a strong argument, and I am glad to see that it has not been accepted by the Government. Not only do local elections take place over a much wider field than airport management, but in many cases the people disadvantaged do not live within the area run by the Corporation, and many municipal airports are outside the area affected. This is all the more reason why airport managers should have good relations with local authorities.

So I welcome the new Clause. It is excellent that this procedure is being extended to airports other than Authority airports. But I hope that the Minister and his officials will draw to the attention of everybody who runs airports the disastrous consequences that we have seen at Stansted of not carrying out the procedure which is laid down in this way.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)

I welcome the new Clause. Those who live in constituencies with aerodromes in them or adjacent to them are well aware of the need for appropriate consultative machinery to be in operation.

I should like to ask one or two questions about the Clause. Subsection (2) states: and for any other organisation representing the interests of persons concerned with the locality in which the aerodrome is situated". Does that include such bodies as residents' associations? Many of us have had letters of protest from residents' associations and individuals complaining about aircraft noise, and so on, and I consider it very important that residents' associations in the neighbourhood of airports should be brought into this in a very real way.

Secondly, the phrase "adequate facilities for consultation" is used. I should like the Minister to explain a little more clearly what that means, particularly where an aerodrome is privately owned. For a municipally-owned airport there are all sorts of methods of consultation; one can approach one's councillor or members of the appropriate committee. But in the case of privately-owned airports—Southampton Airport is privately-owned—I should like some clarification of what is meant by "adequate facilities for consultation".

What does the phrase with respect to any matter concerning the management or administration of the aerodrome mean? Does it mean consultation in respect of flight paths, the construction of runways, and so on, which are vital factors from the point of view of noise for residents in the area?

I welcome the Clause, but I should like answers to those questions to get the position clarified.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. Cranky Onslow (Woking)

It might be convenient if I were to add one or two questions so that the Minister has an opportunity to consider them at leisure.

I add my welcome to that which has been expressed to the Minister on his new appointment, and on appearing before us in charge of the Bill. I hope that he Las read the Committee debates. If he has not, I recommend that he does so, because certain aspects enshrined in the reports of those debates are pure Parliamentary curiosities which it would not be in order to expand on now, but which we may be able to revive in our memories when we come to the Third Reading debate.

I am particularly grateful to the Minister for doing what has never occurred before, namely, accepting a proposal which I made and incorporating it in the proposed legislation. The original suggestion that a similar Clause should be added to the Bill originated from my side of the Committee, and I am naturally glad that my judgment that it was unnecessary to use the majority which we enjoyed at that point in Committee to convince the Government that the legislation was needed has been borne out by experience.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my hon. Friend remind the Committee that no fewer than 23 undertakings were given by his predecessor in Committee? Perhaps the Minister will use the time available to look at all 23.

Mr. Onslow

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the Minister's weekend. I am sure that that knowledge will hearten him when he goes home tonight.

I admit that the wording of the Clause is much better than originally proposed. That is merely a reflection on the inadequacy of the Airports Authority Act from which I lifted nearly all the original wording. I have no doubt that the wording is much improved, and I welcome it, but there are one or two points which I hope the Minister will clarify for the benefit of the House.

First, we want to know his view of the Amendment which my hon. Friends and myself have tabled to the Clause. We also want to know how far he intends to apply the powers in the Clause in practice. What type of airfield does he consider will qualify for designation? What does he consider are adequate facilities. I recognise that these may not be the same in every case. If there is an airfield where traffic is relatively heavy, there will need to be a more elaborate system of consultation than will be necessary at other airfields which may come on the margin of designation.

I hope that in the application of the Clause the Minister will err if possible on the side of the interests of the general public, and not be deterred by representations from aerodrome owners. It is for this reason that our Amendment seeks to apply the Parliamentary intervening process where a burden of this kind might be taken away from aerodrome owners.

I am convinced, and I think the House will be, that the problems arising from airport noise cannot wholly be solved, but people must be as happy as they can be in the knowledge that if they have a grievance and a grouse there is someone to take it to. It may be of marginal benefit that they will not automatically bring it to us first, that there will be a consultative committee with which they can discuss their grievances. It would be helpful if the Minister could give us an idea of what he feels should be the consequence of consultation. In his view, will it be enough to have a safety valve? Should there be some onus on the aerodrome management, after consultation, to alter—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.

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