HC Deb 14 July 1969 vol 787 cc26-8
27. Mr. Berry

asked the Minister of Transport when he will make a decision about rail and underground links with Heathrow Airport.

31. Mr. Ronald Atkins

asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a further statement on the various proposals he has received for a rail link with Heathrow Airport.

36. Mr. Whitaker

asked the Minister of Transport when he will announce a starting date for the construction of a fast rail link between Heathrow Airport and Central London.

Mr. Carmichael

We have received proposals for a surface rail link from Victoria to Heathrow and for an extension of the Piccadilly Line west of Hounslow. The traffic will not justify both. There are points still to be cleared up about the links and about the future of the airport coaches. My right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade are studying these and will reach a decision as soon as possible.

Mr. Berry

Although that represents a slight improvement on previous replies, does the hon. Gentleman realise the urgency of the problem? Within 10 years 30 million travellers will be using Heathrow Airport and it is vital to have this rail link as soon as possible, particularly bearing in mind that many people who today use London as their entry to Europe will very soon switch to Paris if proper facilities are not provided for them when they arrive at Heathrow?

Mr. Carmichael

We appreciate the urgency, but there are several interested parties—the British Airports Authority, the airlines and British Railways, as well as the Ministry of Transport. We must get agreement among them all, because only one link would be financially viable and, therefore, we must settle for one. I agree that it is a very difficult problem. It is also a very difficult decision to take.

Mr. Atkins

Would not my hon. Friend agree that a British Railways link with Heathrow would be the best means of dealing with large numbers of passengers during rush hours and also provide means of carrying goods by rail?

Mr. Carmichael

The second part of that question would appear to some extent to defeat the purpose of the first part—that is, an exclusive link between Heathrow and Central London. The British Railways link would just be viable if an agreement could be reached to withdraw the airport coaches. If, however, the airport coaches continue to be used, as many airline companies wish, the link would not be viable. Unfortunately, our examination shows that no juggling of fares between coaches and rail would make the link viable unless there were fairly exclusive use.

Mr. Whitaker

Can my hon. Friend say when the talking will stop and when the action will start, in view of the fact that travel between the terminal and Heathrow takes longer than many flights and traffic congestion will become immeasurably worse during construction of the link?

Mr. Carmichael

I would be only too pleased if I could announce that the talking had stopped, but there are real problems. I have tried to indicate that a number of parties are involved. The decision on the link is so vital that we must have agreement with the parties. It would be all very nice if my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade could come down one way or the other, but they must satisfy the people involved.

Mrs. Thatcher

We all agree that the link is vital. Can the hon. Gentleman therefore give some hope of a date when a link will be completed? Can he also say how the finance will be done? Would it have to be done off British Railways' very slender investment budget?

Mr. Carmichael

In reply to the last point, an allowance has been made in the recent investment figures of British Railways for work on this link. In reply to the question about a date, I should say also that London Transport has, as the hon. Lady will be aware, put forward a scheme for the extension of the Piccadilly Line. These two schemes must be examined. Both of them have certain points in their favour and certain disadvantages. I repeat that we must get agreement with the people who would be using the link.

Mr. Whitaker

In view of the less than usually satisfactory answer which I received, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter again.