HC Deb 14 October 1976 vol 917 cc700-40

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr. Johnson Smith

So that the Minister may be under no misapprehension about the effects of the Bill or consider that those who write the newsletter for the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign are exaggerating, I quote from the Financial Times of 11th November last year: So far as Gatwick is concerned, the fact is that what was once a rural and comparatively peaceful part of southern England is likely to change significantly in character as the airport develops". That is what we have foreseen, and the growth rate now expected, because the terminal facilities are being planned is to expand passenger movements from about 5 million a year now to about 16 million by the middle of 1980. That is a tremendous increase in passenger movements. It will entail a tremendous increase in noise. We know that, far from improving, the situation will deteriorate and we shall be in the 1990s before the noise situation improves at all, partly, of course, because many of the older type of jets will continue to use airports such as Gatwick.

We are not a pushover in this part of the world. We do not want it to be turned into a concrete jungle. We do not want our environment destroyed, in this way, and it is not just a question of noise, either, though I shall come to that in a moment.

We recognise that the airport has brought benefits. Of course, it has. It has brought jobs to the area. It has brought wealth to the area, and we recognise also that it has brought wealth to the country. We take some pride in the fact that the Gatwick airport terminal is well designed and, I think, the most modern in this country. It is certainly the best we have, and it compares well with those abroad.

Therefore, my comments are not based on the standpoint of someone who wants to turn the clock back and say that we should never have had an airport. I realise the value to modern commerce, and I admire the entrepreneurial skills of people such as Mr. Adam Thomson of British Caledonian and the young men and women who play their part in keeping the aeroplanes flying. I recognise also that they believe that the future of their airlines and the prosperity of our country depend upon our having a flourishing civil airline business.

Nevertheless, one must take a balanced view of all these matters. I believe that we can meet some of the increased demand that we are asked to meet by the early 1980s, which assumes a through- put of about 16 million passengers a year. There are those who would not like it to go as high as that, but, so far as I can judge, there is no serious objection by the local authorities to an expansion of that kind. There are those who, as I say, would like slightly less, but I think that we can probably just about wear it.

The problem begins after that, and I want the Minister—I see that he is having certain matters brought to his attention at the moment—to pay close attention to this. We have had two important documents from the Department, and we are grateful for them. I draw his attention, however, to the tone of the documents, and I think it of particular importance tonight, before we leave the Bill, that he should give the assurances we seek.

I quote first from page 55 of the document "Airport Strategy for Great Britain—Part 1", which deals with the London area. There is a reference to the increase in population, which will be about 45,000 if we have a throughput of 25 million passengers, and there is then this statement: This would be well within the levels envisaged"— that is, the population increase— in the sub-regional study. Some drainage problems are expected in the area, but there are no identifiable abnormal infrastructure costs. Generally, only land of lower agricultural quality would be affected. However, experience of the growth of employment and housing in this area suggests that the rate of expansion at the airport should be matched by the provision of housing to keep pace with both natural growth and the movement of population into the area. Those are very bland words, and the refrain is taken up in almost identical words in Part 2 of the Airport Strategy for Great Britain, the consultation document on the regional airports, which is part of the Airport Strategy series for Great Britain. I quote from page 122: In developing capacity up to 25 million passengers a year the most likely problems would appear to he labour shortages and housing, both of which might be aggravated by unduly rapid airport expansion. Again, those are bland words, more or less—I mean no disrespect—from the same stable.

Let us now come closer to home, to those who know the area well. I now quote from a report issued in March 1976 by the Standing Conference on London and South East Regional Planning, paragraph 144 on page 37 of which tells us: First, to date the catchment areas of Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton have experienced prolonged labour shortages which have created problems for other economic activities, particularly manufacturing industry and the public services. It should be remembered that there is a new town in the Gatwick area, and part of the concept of that new town was to develop manufacturing industry there. Even in the current economic recession, unemployment rates are well below the regional and national averages in the Heathrow and Gatwick areas. Prima facie, therefore, a recovery of the economy is likely to see a renewal of serious labour shortages in these areas. There is a difference of tone there. I come next to the evironmental aspects of the matter, and I quote from page 44 of the same report: In environmental terms, there must be concern about the concentration of so large a part of the air transport industry in such a small part of the region, let alone the country as a whole. Even though the noise situation is forecast to improve dramatically by 1990—and we do not necessarily share the optimism shown in the November 1975 consultation document—the heavily built-up nature of the Heathrow area means that far more people will still be adversely affected by aircraft noise in that area than in the whole of the rest of the country. Gatwick adds to the problem. It must surely be a major objective to improve environmental conditions for people living near and under the main flight lines to and from Heathrow and Gatwick. I could make other quotations, but I now quote the conclusion in this part of the report: We have concluded that there are similarly powerful regional planning arguments against the building of a second terminal at Gatwick. That terminal is the terminal which would lead to a throughput of 25 million passengers, and those quotations come from the document produced locally. The matter was examined most carefully by the local authorities, and there is no one in any authority at any level who does not endorse those findings, and some put the matter in rather stronger language, as is clear when one talks to them and reads their documents.

Therefore, with all respect to the Minister, I beg him to note that, much as we value the strategy documents from the Department of Trade, it must be recognised that they vary considerably in tone from the document produced locally.

I think that that is all I can properly say at this stage, especially since there are other hon. Members who wish to speak. I urge the Minister to recognise that many of us have serious misgivings about the passing of Maplin, and we hope that, as he discharges his duty, he will not for one moment think that those of us who live in the shadow of these airports, much as we value the profit that they bring to this country and the jobs which they provide locally, are not seriously concerned that we may find ourselves with a growing environmental and human problem of monumental scale.

7.10 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I shall be brief. In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) I have noticed that the green eye shines not only on us but on both Front Benches.

I make no secret of the fact that I have a deep constituency interest in this matter. The Minister is aware that my constituency is probably the worst affected in the country. I shall endeavour to keep within the compass of the Bill, which itself is narrow, but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have been generous in allowing some of us to develop the reasons why we believe the Bill should not be given a Third Reading.

Aircraft noise in my constituency is already unreasonable both by day and, despite the Minister's efforts, by night, to such an extent that work in schools, hospitals and public institutions is interrupted. People cannot sleep at night. Those who work at night are unable to get proper rest during the day.

I remind the House that Windsor and Maidenhead is one of the fastest growing areas in East Berkshire. Maplin, which was a long-term project, at least gave light at the end of the tunnel in that people could see some alleviation. Therefore I ask, what are we to get in replacement? It is no use saying that we can sweep the whole matter under the carpet and refer to the "Airport Strategy for Great Britain". The matter is becoming increasingly urgent almost every day.

If we pass the Bill, we shall lose one of the greatest opportunities we have had, first, to divert the more noisy type of aircraft from Heathrow and the other main airports, and, secondly, to have a great seaport and airport side by side—the seaport financed almost entirely by private capital.

There are opposing factors. I respect the views of hon. Members who support the Bill. Their constituents have pressed them very hard. Over the last seven years my constituents have pressed me very hard. They ask, "What are you going to do about the aircraft noise'?" No doubt the constituents of other hon. Members have pressed them in the opposite way.

None of my constituents has ever believed that Maplin was the panacea, but it was at least something to which they could look forward. They could say "It is hell now, but if we hold on for long enough the time will come when the noisier aircraft will be diverted to another airport where the noise will principally be over the sea, not over highly congested areas."

I said that I represented an area more affected by aircraft noise than anywhere else, but I should remind the House that people in surrounding constituencies are also affected by this serious problem. Maplin offered a possibility of some relief from aircraft noise, if it could be achieved and the necessary communications constructed without a great deal of difficulty. I shall not go into that matter because we dealt with it on an earlier occasion.

I am sure that the Minister has studied the "Airport Strategy for Great Britain". In all fairness, I must say that he has always given me straight answers to the questions that I have put to him and has considered the points which I have made. Therefore, it is in a spirit of inquiry, not contention, that I put this point to him. This document has been widely circulated for comment and possible suggested alternatives. I always find that people are more likely to comment than to propose sensible alternatives. If the proposals in this document are followed, I cannot but see that an additional runway for Heathrow will be constructed. The "Airport Strategy for Great Britain" quotes that the projections for Heathrow include the current expansion programme which would raise the capacity from 21 million passengers in 1975 to 30 million. That is a considerable increase. It would mean, as I am sure the Minister would be the first to agree, another runway.

Another point of equal importance is that, if that happens, the Minister will have to reconsider the whole question of the level of noise created by aircraft. I do not believe that it is acceptable for the so-called quieter aircraft to be allowed to land at night at Heathrow because the noise from those aircraft is still very serious for those who live under the flight path.

I ask the Minister to resist the demands which are being made for a further increase in the flow of traffic into Heathrow. I am glad and honoured that he is listening. I suggest that the whole question of night flights must be thought out carefully.

One, two, three, or four flights at night can cause an immense amount of damage. Of course, in an emergency, one must accept that situation, but a few flights at night can be extremely annoying, because they wake the unfortunate sleeper. If he cannot get to sleep again he has lost a night's sleep. That is the pattern of life. Therefore, I ask the Minister to resist the natural commercial desires of operators to use Heathrow at night on the basis that they are employing so-called quieter aircraft.

The definition of "quieter" aircraft requires revision. What was considered quiet at one time certainly is not quiet now.

There are many aircraft operators. I admit that I was with one the day before yesterday. He said "You see before you—I will get you as close as I can—Windsor Castle and the lovely town of Windsor. I must not get too close." But they get so close that they almost blow the roofs off the houses. That illustrates the routes in and out. They get so close to the town that the noise becomes an unbearable burden to those who live within the area.

I was pleased to hear what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). I do not often make party points. However, in all our deliberations so far, the Liberals have been prominent in supporting the abolition of Maplin. We ought not to forget that, because they apparently believe in personal freedom and liberty. To my mind, personal freedom and liberty can be completely destroyed by the level of aircraft noise, because it is far greater and worse than ordinary traffic going down a main road.

If this plan goes ahead and a fourth runway is installed at Heathrow how does the Minister propose to cope not only with the noise problem but with the traffic on the roads to the airport? One of my hon. Friends mentioned the Piccadilly Line. I do not believe that that would be capable of absorbing the additional amount of traffic that would be going into and out of London.

What is the estimated percentage increase in noise which will result from the increased number of aircraft going into and out of Heathrow? I quoted 21 million to 30 million passengers. That does not necessarily correspond with the number of aircraft, knowing, as we do, that not all aircraft carry their full passenger loads.

Furthermore, if the Minister finds that it is quite impossible to avoid inflicting further sorrow and misery on the unfortunate people who live under the flight paths, be they for Heathrow, Gatwick or any other airport, what proposals do the Government have for the creation of another airport?

Finally, I believe that Maplin was an imaginative project that could have been carried out. It would have been better than the Charles de Gaulle airport, at which I landed the other day, although that is a very modern, highly efficient airport. Maplin would have been better because it would have been combined with a seaport. There would have been no question of noise over built-up areas, because the environment is open sea.

The Government have lost a very great opportunity. It would have been far better to allow this project to remain in limbo at a very small cost. If it had remained in limbo for two years, I believe that the costs would have been very small—that is, given that we would be going ahead with the project under per- haps more auspicious financial circumstances.

In those circumstances, the right course for the Government would have been to state honestly "We cannot afford to build this airport at this time but we shall leave this plan on the table because we have done so much work on it and it is such a suitable project. Let us go ahead with the ground work, the less costly part of the work, but let us look ahead and, finally, let us build an airport worthy of Britain and one that can relieve a very large number of people of a great deal of noise." If necessary, when the airport had been finished, why could we not have sold London Airport for a very large sum of money for the building of a housing estate? That would pay fort housing estate? That would pay for almost any airport in the world.

7.23 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I want briefly to depart from the somewhat complacent obituary notices that have been offered by some of my hon. Friends on the demise of the Maplin Development Authority. If the Bill is passed today, it will be a very sad day indeed. As many of my hon. Friends have said, we shall have missed a great opportunity. Instead of legislating that the Maplin Development Authority should "cease to exist"—the exact wording in the Bill—I believe that tonight we should be discussing granting the authority greater and further powers.

The Maplin project was, anyway, too small and limited in its original concept. Insufficient attention was given to the much larger proposals put forward by certain consultants and others about reclaiming the entire Thames estuary—nothing less than that. Had we planned to do so, this would have provided three things.

First, it would have provided an absolutely admirable airport. All the discussion has tended to be about airport and aircraft noise. However, it is a much bigger concept that we should be discussing in the Maplin project had we done the very big job of reclaiming the estuary.

Secondly, we could have also had a seaport adequate for Britain's present and future trade and we should have seen something that was set to rival the Euroports, which are taking away much of our trade by their ability to take deep draught ships while the Port of London is dying on its feet and falling into a state of disrepair that it has not seen for centuries.

Thirdly, apart from the seaport—and we must remember that a huge proportion of our trade with other countries, inwards and outwards, goes by sea rather than by air, which accounts for a tiny proportion—we could have had huge areas of reclaimed land. As I understand it, such land would have been reclaimed at far less cost than the value of prime land in the area concerned. We could have had a canal running up through those broad acres as far as London. The Dutch, who have done this sort of thing on a very big scale, and who think big, are laughing at us for missing this opportunity.

Had the financial resources that the present Government are allocating to unnecessary nationalisation of perfectly satisfactory industries been put into this project, we should have been on a course leading to success. We should have had an imaginative and ongoing scheme and something of which Britain could be proud.

The proposal to abolish the Maplin project and to put the whole thing into limbo is a further indication of the Government's posture—that is, they are sitting like giant welfare state figures gazing at their own navels.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

I regret that I find myself in almost total disagreement with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), and, regretfully, I support the Government on this occasion. I do so having for 18 months lived and breathed the arguments about Maplin.

The last case that I undertook at the Bar, after 20 happy years at the Bar, was to take part in the four local inquiries and the final inquiry by the Roskill Commission. Looking back on it now, having forgotten most of the arguments and, mercifully, all the evidence, only one lasting impression remains with me that I seek to convey to the Government. A gross series of errors was made. That led, inevitably, to the Third Reading of this Bill. We are now about to write off just over £1 million. It is still a large sum of money, but it will be a cheap price if we learn the lessons of the errors that we made over the years leading to the Maplin decision.

The House will know that after hearing all that evidence and having tested it for so long—better brains than mine, those of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and some of the foremost planning silks and experts on this subject were engaged on this task—it was eventually decided that the Bedfordshire site was the least of the four evils.

However, that was the negative approach, and inevitably the Government of the day, in fixing the terms of the inquiry, forced the Roskill Commission to think negatively. When one requires a commission to assess evidence in that way, rather than positively, one is almost inevitably goading its members into making a faulty decision. Sir Colin Buchanan entered a minority report of one, and he described the Cublington site as an environmental disaster. However, all the other evidence and all of the other members of the commission would have said unhesitatingly that Maplin would have been economic nonsense.

I agree to some extent with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester. The airport would have been economic nonsense, but there may well have been some success, had the money been available—many hundreds of millions of pounds—if we had been able to extend it into a seaport and reclaim the available land that could be reclaimed there, and possibly to develop a new town or even an industrial area.

Dr. Glyn

The point is that the seaport would have been financed largely by the Port of London Authority and by private capital. Therefore, it would have involved very little expense to the Exchequer.

Mr. Body

Those arguments were well and truly deployed by two groups. One must not call them pressure groups. They were two organisations that were put together on an ad hoc basis to advance that case. I should be reluctant to push that too far because all this was long ago and I do not pretend to have any accurate memory of the evidence or of what we discussed at the time.

I make just one point about the error which was made—and this is the only matter about which I can speak with the slightest authority. We never had the opportunity of posing the question whether a third London airport was necessary. In fact, we were forced to regionalise a national problem because whether this country is to have another major airport is not a question to be looked at just in the light of what is needed in London and South-East England. It is something which must be looked at nationally and the evidence must be on a national basis.

It was extremely regrettable that the Government of the day did not enable the question to be posed whether, firstly, we needed another major airport in this country and, secondly, whether that airport could not have been better placed either in the North or the Midlands. Considerable evidence was available that a Midlands site would have been desirable. Nor did we have any opportunity of assessing the way other and smaller airports, such as Birmingham, could have been extended. If my memory serves me right, evidence was available, but it was irrelevant and could not be called, that the Birmingham Airport was under-used by 60 per cent. at that time and could easily be extended given some expenditure of public money.

Those questions were not put, with the result that the Roskill Commission, after spending 18 weary months assessing all the evidence, was inevitably driven into the corner by choosing Cublington. That was a site from which the Government of the day dissented although it is reputed that there was only one man in that Government who really dissented, and for reasons other than economic ones.

I shall say no more about that. The fact is that a series of errors has been made and the result is that we are not only writing off more than £1 million but we shall have for many years to come—at least 10 years—the kind of speeches that we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn), who never misses an opportunity to make these points on behalf of his constituents. I am glad that he does because I live only a few miles beyond Windsor and I also suffer from the flight path, although not as badly as my hon. Friend's constituents. The other complaint we heard was put forcefully by my hon. Friends who represent areas which are afflicted by what goes on at London airport, Gatwick and elsewhere.

Some time in the future we will again have to face this question. We will have to ask ourselves—indeed, it will not be this House which will have to answer the question because I do not think that we in this House are qualified to reach conclusions—about where another London airport ought to be sited and other questions pertinent to the need for a London airport.

We will have to look at this matter again one day. When that day comes I hope that we will remember the errors which were made—the way the Commission was set up, narrowness of the terms of inquiry, and the way political issues were allowed to intrude so that a decision which was inevitably economic nonsense was made. Perhaps next time we shall remember the lessons about how these errors were made. If that is done, the expenditure of £1 million or more will have been worth it.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

This is one of the most excellent Bills I have ever seen presented to this House. It is short, comprehensible, saves public money and carries into effect one of the few—perhaps the only—enlightened actions of this Government. I give it a very warm welcome.

It has been said this is rather like the last rites—a final funeral oration—over the Maplin project, and I welcome that. It is perhaps improper to welcome a funeral, but on this occcasion I do so. It seems to have taken a rather long time dying, but, having got to the Third Reading of the Bill, let us make sure that it is decently buried.

For my constituents, and for the people of North Kent and Essex, it is important that it stays dead. I hope that my hon. Friends who have been trying to resurrect it almost indecently tonight will understand the damage which could be done by continuing the uncertainty in those areas if one revives the speculation about airport projects of this kind, particularly when one recognises that there is no chance whatever of its happening.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

I do not follow that.

Mr. Moate

My hon. and learned Friend probably did not follow that because he has a vested interest in trying to—

Mr. Bell

What I did not follow was the logic of the statement that those people will be highly disturbed by the uncertain future if they realise there is not the slighest possibility of this happening.

Mr. Moate

It is the local residents who become disturbed by the uncertainty created by politicians who in their minds know full well that the project is not likely to be commenced on another site. If that was not clear before, I hope that explanation clarifies the point for my hon. and learned Friend.

I described this as the only enlightened action of this Government. Thank heaven they took that clear and courageous decision. If they had not done so, I would ask the House to think what the position might be today were the Maplin project proceeding. We would now be in the middle of creating an environmental disaster in Essex and North Kent because of the noise of the flight paths going over the north Kent area, and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), who fought so long and hard in the campaign against Maplin. This would have been a major environmental disaster in our area and would now be under way.

I would also ask the House to consider the economic consequences. We would have been launched on one of the most uncontrollable white elephants in public expenditure terms that we have ever commenced. I do not know what the position of the Conservative Party would be today in respect of our pledge to make major cuts in public expenditure. We might have to say that we would cut public expenditure with the exception of defence, the police and Maplin. It would be crazy to have started this project and then suddenly to stop it.

In fact the cost, even a couple of years ago, was in the order of £1,000 million. Heaven knows to what it would have escalated by now—£2,000 million or more perhaps. Thank heavens that the Labour Party had the foresight in this one isolated, but welcome, action to cancel the project and prevent the Conservative Party from having to do the same when rather more damage had been done.

When I and my hon. Friends in Kent and Essex fought against this environmental disaster, it was not without a full understanding of the problems for the people living around the other major airports in the South-East. What I ask my hon. Friends who have spoken tonight, those who live and represent areas near Gatwick and Heathrow, to remember is that by creating yet another environmental disaster in another part of the South-East I do not believe we would have relieved their constituents of any major aspect of aircraft noise. It was quite clear that the capacity of Heathrow and Gatwick had not been fully utilised. Even allowing for the construction of Maplin it would have allowed for a continued growth and traffic in Heathrow and Gatwick over and above even what is being experienced today. What we would have seen is a greater problem of noise and traffic at Gatwick and Heathrow than we have even today, not just the vast development in Essex and all the problems associated with that as well as the immense public expenditure involved.

It is no way out of the problems of Heathrow and Gatwick simply to find what people believed would be an environmental escape hatch by creating a new airport at Maplin. It might have given hope to people around Heathrow, but it would have been a false hope, created at enormous public expense. It would have been not only environmentally and economically damaging, but inefficient and unpopular. Even if one were to have another London airport—that is not the right question that we should have been asking—Maplin would have been a bad site. It was too far from the capital to be popular. For the foreseeable future, people will still prefer to go to airports by car. Maplin is a long way from the capital.

But an even stronger argument against Maplin was illogicality of investing that sort of money in the South-East at this time. It would create far greater regional imbalance. I am not one who sees great merit in the stimulation of regions by Government subsidy, but one of the few investments, particularly in infrastructure terms, which can produce genuine spin-off is airport investment.

How illogical it would have been to put thousands of millions of pounds into what we then described as the overheated South-East—it is not so overheated at the moment—by way of new airports, new towns, roads and railways; it made far more sense to consider the matter nationally and decide where best to put an airport or further expanision.

My one major criticism of the then Conservative Government is that they made this decision in isolation. In earlier years we always said that no decision about a new airport in the South-East should be taken until a full national airport strategy had been evolved. But then we went ahead before any such strategy had been made and a national strategy evolved. I therefore particularly welcome the fact that this Government have launched these airport studies and that any future decisions can be taken on a national basis.

It seems to me that the long-term answer must lie in expansion of the existing regional airports where there is under-capacity, where economic investment will probably do far more good than in the South-East and where the environmental effects can be spread and absorbed.

In recent weeks and months, there has been talk about the revival of Maplin. One county council even started to talk again about the Isle of Sheppey in my constituency. That sort of talk is irresponsible and meaningless except to the people who live in the area. I urge people to stop this type of speculation.

In order to do that, I wrote to the Government asking for a plain statement that there was no question of building Maplin or of an airport at Sheppey. In his reply, the Under-Secretary of State wrote: Finally, speculation that the Government is reconsidering the Maplin project or a new airport site elsewhere is unfounded. I welcome that, but he took a long time to get to it and made a whole series of qualifications—

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

It was a long letter.

Mr. Moate

There would have been more political benefit to be gained by saying plainly, "Maplin is not going to be built and there is no question of the Government starting the search for a new London airport."

Earlier in his letter, the Under-Secretary said: All the views expressed during the consultations will be considered but in the current economic situation and in the light of the assessments contained in the consultation document speculation was unfounded. With that qualification, the implication is that perhaps when things change people might start talking again about this sort of site.

The Government have made a difficult and courageous decision and they should continue to reap the benefit. Heaven knows, they need some small compensation for their disastrous record. Let them take it in this one small instance. Let them say that Maplin is killed off and it is killed off for ever.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)

As I represent a constituency to the east of Heathrow, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) will understand that I do not agree with many of his arguments. I want to speak briefly tonight, particularly since I am anxious that the Public Lending Right Bill should get a Second Reading.

It is sad that the bold and far-sighted reclamation project of Maplin should be killed. It is a sad and dismal decision. As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) said, the number of passengers using Heathrow is bound to increase—probably quite considerably. The odds are that much of that increase will seek to travel by road along a corridor which is already densely used.

The suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge of another tier on the M4 was so outrageous that I had to intervene to express resentment and total opposition. In Brentford, people live as near to two roads as the Minister is to me at the moment. The people in Adelaide Terrace already must be living in one of the worst areas in terms of road proximity, with the A4 at their front door and the M4 at their bedroom windows. The thought of still another tier on top is outrageous and I hope we shall hear no more about that.

Traffic pours densely into the Hogarth roundabout, which is the centre of holdups. The thought of any more traffic on that route or on improved roads in the area is totally unacceptable and I hope that the Minister will understand the deep feelings on those grounds.

As for noise, the implication of the Bill is that the nuisance suffered by people around Heathrow will increase. I underline the sensible and restrained comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). He did not exaggerate in what he said about the tremendous pollution of the environment suffered by his constituents and mine and those of other hon. Members caused by traffic using Heathrow.

We cannot let this occasion go by without making known what increasing the present noise nuisance—or even holding it at the present level—means to so many of our constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) mentioned night flights. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Trade present. I have always found him to be courteous and concerned, although he has not always reached the decision I should like. We welcome the assurance that there will be no increase in night flights, and we hope that it will not be long before a substantial decrease will take place.

Another problem posed by increased use of Heathrow was highlighted by the recent tragic air crash in Bolivia. That accident occurred in a crowded urban environment with a tremendous death toll among people living around the airport, and not just among the people in the aircraft. As I represent a constituency that is so close to the runways at Heathrow, I have great feelings of horror when I think of the carnage that could occur in such a densely populated area. There has already been one great tragedy near Heathrow, and but for the grace of God the incident might have been a great deal more serious. It so happened that the wind was in a westerly direction, taking the aircraft over open land. Had the wind been blowing in another direction, goodness knows how serious that tragedy would have been. Therefore, any thought of an increase in the density of aircraft movements around Heathrow fills me with grave concern.

I regret that the Bill could lead to an increase in the use of the air space and flight paths around Heathrow. I hope that ways will be found to reduce and deal with the noise and nuisance that may flow from these provisions.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) referred to this Bill as "the wake of Maplin". I believe that is an accurate description. The trouble is that we have now to consider who is to pay for the funeral, because the cost will not automatically disappear.

I believe that the cost of developing Heathrow and Gatwick will be at least as great as would have been the cost of developing Maplin. This is a problem the Government must face. Although it is difficult to make any concrete assessment of the costs, I know from my knowledge what will be required in infrastructure terms.

I shall not deal at length with that topic because I am sure that we shall have an opportunity to do so in due course. I am concerned about the immediate effects of the cancellation of Maplin, and especially about the expansion of the Gatwick complex.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who is to reply to the debate, will be aware that the majority of Gatwick workers live in my constituency, and a large proportion of them in Crawley New Town. The presence of Gatwick is beneficial to the employment prospects of my constituents and a moderate expansion of Gatwick is welcome. I emphasise that it is "moderate" when compared with the eventual throughput of 25 million passengers at Gatwick in the 1990s or certainly by the turn of the century. The present throughput of passengers there is 5 million and it is proposed to extend that figure to 16 million by 1985. That will mean a threefold increase in the present level of passenger movements at the airport.

The Minister is aware of the predicament in the Crawley area because of a severe shortage of labour. Crawley New Town must be the only town in the country that is still suffering a labour shortage. The situation is not as severe as it was but, surprising as it may seem, a shortage still persists. This has occurred largely because of the expansion of Gatwick, but also because a natural extension of industry has taken place in Crawley over a period of years and it is a scientific or technological-based industrial complex with a high level of exports.

Ministers know that in the last two or three years I have tried to exert great pressure on behalf of my constituents to bring more resources into housing in my constituency. If Gatwick is to be expanded to a total throughput of 25 million passengers by the addition of a second terminal at Gatwick, how is the housing problem to be handled? The Minister well knows that because Crawley is a new town it has no stock of old housing on which to call. It already has a housing programme of 500 dwellings per year, but expansion of Gatwick on the lines suggested will certainly exacerbate the situation. How is the situation to be contained? Who will provide the houses, who will build them and who will pay the costs? My constituents would like answers to these questions.

Some of my hon. Friends may feel that Crawley is enjoying an embarras des richesses in terms of employment prospects, but we also suffer considerable problems of infrastructure. The Government will need to deal with these problems in due course. I am wholly in favour of a moderate expansion of industry at Crawley, but it would be fatal if the airport were to grow to such an extent as to force the present firms in Crawley to move out of the area because they could not find the workers they required in Crawley.

Sir G. Sinclair

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the drag of employment to Gatwick is so heavy that it distorts other industrial claims on the labour forces and imposes almost an airport monoculture on the area which can be greatly to the detriment of the wide balance of industry that is built up in an area?

Mr. Hordern

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was about to come to that point. There is already evidence that skilled craftsmen in Crawley are leaving their jobs to sweep out aircraft at Gatwick. There is a danger that Crawley might one day become a one-industry town. That would be a sad day for the industry of Crawley and of this country, but there is already evidence that firms are considering leaving Crawley and some have moved their expansion plans to other areas. If the expansion of Gatwick proceeds, with a second terminal and 25 million passengers a year in the 1990s, it poses a serious threat to the future employment of my constituents.

I do not know how the Minister is going to manage the housing problem. It is a matter for him, Crawley Council and the West Sussex County Council, but it is likely to be very much more expensive than any development at Maplin would have been.

The Under-Secretary for Trade shakes his head. He can have no idea of the expense of land and development at Gatwick. I hope that the developments of Gatwick Airport and Crawley New Town will go ahead together. If there is any undue strain, the future expansion of industry at Crawley is likely to be threatened and I should not like to see that happen.

Mr. Ronald Bell


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) to speak, may I take it that he appreciates that we are not now discussing the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill?

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

I am keenly aware of that fact, Mr. Deputy Speaker, though I look forward to the opportunity of discussing that Bill.

At the moment, I speak in the sorrowful role of the hon. Member for the Beaconsfield constituency. I do not wish to argue with my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) about who suffers most from London airport, but I fear that my constituents share the worst position with those of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe).

Because of my very great interest in these matters I have started two groups in the House—the Conservative Party group and an all-party group on aircraft noise, of which I have been chairman for some time. I should like to say on behalf of all the members of those groups that we have found the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary for Trade most sympathetic, co-operative and understanding when we have put difficulties before them.

Of course, this is an insoluble problem. I would that it were not so. I cannot support the Bill. I am aware of the practical difficulties of the Maplin project, but it will not have evaded the attention of the House that those opposed to the Maplin development are those whose constituents would be affected, to some degree, by aircraft noise if the new airport were built.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is naturally concerned about the north Kent area, and my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), with whom I usually agree in our debates, lives in Berkshire and has said that the planes would pass over his home. I do not think that anybody who has spoken in this debate or any hon. Member active in this field who is affected or whose constituents are affected by the noise from Heathrow would disagree when I say how happy our constituents would be if aircraft from Heathrow passed over them at the height at which aircraft from Maplin would be passing over North Kent.

I was not able to be here when my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) spoke earlier. He is a constituent of mine. He lives in the village of Horton and knows what aircraft noise can mean. Aircraft taking off from Heathrow go over his village, climbing at full power, sometimes at a height of 400 feet. When there is a westerly wind, planes seem to be passing over every 70 or 80 seconds during the day—though if I am told that it is every 100 seconds or every two minutes, I shall not argue. This is something dreadful to put up with.

No words of mine can exaggerate the experiences of people living in areas of London immediately adjacent to Heathrow or in the green belt villages immediately to the west of the airport which I represent. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead represents communities similarly affected, though they are not so close.

I am constantly in correspondence with the Under-Secretary for Trade and Lord Boyd-Carpenter with complaints from constituents about aircraft noise. Once people become conscious of noise, they quickly become hyper-sensitised and are driven almost to the point of neurosis.

People come into my area knowing its position relative to London Airport, but thinking that they are steady, stable people who will be able to live with aircraft noise. After a few months they find they cannot. It really gets on their nerves and spoils the pleasure of living in their homes and gardens during the summer.

When the Secretary of State announced the dropping of the Maplin project, he made two relevant statements. The first was that by the time the first runway at Maplin would have come into service, quiet aircraft would have taken over from the noisy planes from which we suffer at present. We know that the Tridents, 707s and 1–11s particularly rip on the consciousness of people who are susceptible to aircraft noise.

The other statement by the Secretary of State was that in consequence of the cancellation of Maplin it would be necessary to expand massively the utilisation of the other London airports. That sent a frisson of horror down the backs of those already suffering from noise at Heathrow.

Economic circumstances have changed so that the replacement of the noisy type of planes by the quieter—not quiet—types has slowed down because of the enormous cost of the aircraft and the difficult period through which airlines have been passing.

I know that aircraft traffics have been looking up a little. The economic outlook may be a little better. But it is already clear and not disputed that the introduction of the quieter types of aircraft and the replacement of the noisier types will be deferred by, it is rumoured, something like four, five or six years, beyond what was expected.

I used to be able to say to my constituents "It is awful, but there are two hopes. First, the noisier types are being replaced, and this will gradually bring you a degree of relief. Secondly, Maplin is coming and the noisier types can be diverted to Maplin, and so can the night and weekend take-offs." This added up to a prospect that was liveable with. But now Maplin has gone and the replacement of the noisy types has been deferred. So what am I to say to my constituents?

My constituents are now able to read that the number of passengers going through Heathrow will increase by 50 per cent. We are told that, as more passengers will go in wide-bodied aircraft, there will not be any more aircraft movements. I hope that is true, but we have had many disappointments in the past. I must make the point to both the Ministers listening to the debate that when a certain intensity of aircraft noise and a certain frequency of aircraft passing overhead has been reached, a mitigation which takes the form of a 707 being replaced by a Jumbo Jet is welcome, but it is not enough.

There are extrapolations which show that the number of aircraft movements, as distinct from passenger movements, at Heathrow, will be going down over the next 20 years. What does this mean to somebody living in Halton, Datchet, Wraysbury, or Windsor? It means that instead of having an aircraft passing over their homes every two minutes, they will have one every three minutes, and so the change hardly matters to them. An aircraft takes quite a while to approach, pass overhead and go away. If the interval before people begin to hear the next aircraft is increased from 90 seconds to 130 seconds, there is not, psychologically speaking, any relief in that. I am reminded of the old story of somebody upstairs taking off one shoe and throwing it on the floor, and then remembering the person down below, who almost wants to go upstairs and say "For God's sake throw the other shoe on the floor".

We are able to debate this Bill in the Chamber of the House of Commons, where all is quiet except for the noise that we make, and hon. Members tend not to live in the areas worst affected by aircraft noise. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher is an exception.

We do not realise with sufficient starkness the way in which this nuisance of aircraft noise gets hold of people. Once it goes beyond a certain point, they are sensitised to the noise and a diminution of 10 or 15 per cent. is no answer to their difficulty.

What, then, is the answer? For me, still, the answer is Maplin and therefore I must oppose the Bill. People talk about the escalation of costs. Costs do not escalate with the passage of time. The number of pounds increases because the value of a pound goes down, but the cost in real terms does not escalate. It is an arithmetical escalation and not an escalation in true cost.

My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) made an excellent point to which not nearly enough attention is given. I think it was the present Foreign Secretary who made the statement about the massive increase in the use of the existing London airports, and no one seems to have costed what that meant. The cost of extending Heathrow and of extending Gatwick will not exceed the cost which would have been incurred by building Maplin. The public expenditure incurred will be just the same.

The Maplin project was to proceed gently at first. There was not to be very heavy expenditure in the first years. It is the years that we are now in that are critical. Later on, this expenditure could, I think, have been sustained, and it would have been the right and, indeed, the only solution.

In addition, it should be remembered—I hardly dare mention it because my own constituency interest in aircraft is so strong—that Maplin was a double project with a seaport also involved. The Port of London, plainly, is ageing, and we have lost nearly all our entrep6t trade to the Dutch ports because of the poor service that we are giving. There was a time when London was the port for entrepôt trade. Everyone knows that today it is Rotterdam. We have been outclassed. We have sat back and accepted it, saying that we cannot afford it these days. It is a very strange approach and not one with which I can possibly agree.

My hon. Friend the Member fox Holland with Boston spoke of the environmental disaster of the Maplin proposal, and so did my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham. I do not think that Maplin would have been an environmental disaster at all. It might have been for the geese, but I cannot evaluate that.

Mr. Body

I think it was Colin Buchanan who was the first to use that phrase in respect of Cublington. I went on to say that although Maplin might be environmentally the least of the evils, it would prove to be an economic nonsense. I think there was abundant evidence adduced at the Roskill Commission to bear that out.

Mr. Bell

I accept what my hon. Friend said as to the phrase being used in relation to Cublington, but two other hon. Gentlemen used it in relation to Maplin, and it was to them that I should have been referring.

I do not think that Maplin would have been an environmental disaster at all. A major airport is not an agreeable project wherever it is put. There is no question about that. It will inevitably cause trouble. But why have our greatest airport not so much on the edge of but actually in the biggest community in the whole country—London? As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth said, it is a miracle that we have not had a major disaster with a large aircraft crashing in London. Aircraft fly over Kensington and over Westminster continually. It is just sheer luck that none of these crashes has occurred over a densely built-up area.

I speak for my constituents. Other hon. Members speak for theirs. But do not let us forget the people of London. The assumption seems to be made that there is so much noise in London that they do not notice it. However, most Members of Parliament spend a good many nights in London, and the noise over Kensington and many of the western boroughs of the capital strikes me as almost intolerable. I cannot think why people put up with it.

I come back to where I was when my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston quite rightly interrupted to put me right. I see no solution except, in the end, the restoration of Maplin to the programme. If there is another provision, I ask the Minister to let us know what it is.

I think that every hon. Member who is concerned with this problem from the constituency point of view tries to be moderate, tries to moderate the complaints which come to him, and tries not to transmit the more hysterical reproaches which reach him. I think that we tone them down, and we try to be reasonable because we recognise the difficulties which the Ministers face. But do not let them underestimate the magnitude of the suffering—I think that that is the right word—and of the representations which are made to Members of Parliament by their constituents because of this aircraft noise. It is spoiling the quality of life for between I million and 2 million people.

I do not know what the answer is, but I know that somehow an answer has to be found, whether it is scaling down the number of night movements, stopping movements on Sundays when people want to be in their gardens, or putting a ceiling on the totality of movements at Heathrow and Gatwick. All these have to be looked at.

But it is not just that it must not get worse. It cannot go on as it is. There is no light at the end of the tunnel any longer. When this Bill goes through tonight—we shall not stop it; we shall try to, but we shall not succeed—there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Therefore, something has to be done, and the Ministers who put forward this Bill must accept the responsibility to do something about it, because the noise now is intolerable in the strict sense of the word.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

I have considerable sympathy for the Under-Secretary of State. What appeared to be, when it started on its passage through this House, a fairly short and easy Bill which would not occupy him too long has on a couple of occasions occupied him for much longer than he had hoped—and, to be honest, for longer than some of us had hoped, too.

This evening's debate was not totally unexpected in that almost no one turned up for the funeral other than the friends of the deceased. A number of my hon. Friends, mostly friends of the deceased, have spoken, and the Chair has been very tolerant as the debate has strayed perhaps from the narrowest interpretation of the Bill.

I am sorry, as I think a number of people outside this House will be, that there has not been a word said on behalf of the residents of Eton and Slough, of Feltham and Heston, of Ealing, North, of Southall and of either of the two Luton constituencies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] They are all constituencies very much affected by the demise of the Maplin project. They are affected by the problems of aircraft noise and of airport development. Nothing has been said from those constituencies. I have no wish to make a partisan point by drawing attention to which party has the allegiance of those hon. Members who have not turned up—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] No doubt their constituents will know. It is not for me to say.

But if Maplin is dead, it has left us with a legacy of problems, just as if it had been born and not just aborted as we have aborted it now, which would have given rise to a great many problems.

I do not want to rehearse the arguments and the comments of many of those who have spoken, but there has been an interesting trend in this debate. It is that, whereas people used to speak about nothing but the problems of aircraft noise in relation to airport development, a great deal more has been said tonight about a variety of problems on the ground. In fact, the problems seem to be coming home more as round environment than as air environment problems. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) said about the problems of M4 traffic. Those of us who drive that way, let alone live that way, know them all too well. However, my hon. Friend said that aircraft noise round Heathrow would increase. I believe that he was wrong. This is not just an off-the-cuff judgment; it is based on the best judgments which can be made.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) should not despair. There is a delay in the introduction of quieter types of aircraft because of the recession. However, he can assure his constituents that the Over seas Division of British Airways has ordered nothing but quiet aircraft, with the exception of the Concordes, of which there will not be very many, and very soon will operate nothing but the quieter types of aeroplane. The situation is not so good in the European Division, but there is no doubt that that, too, will come before long.

My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern), like others, was very keen on drawing attention to the problems of development round about Gatwick. He was right to do so. Unless they are dealt with, all that is being done by the aircraft designers and operators to reduce aircraft noise will be set at nought beside the additional noise from the inhabitants and the vehicles round the airport. It is a curious fact that some of the measurements now show that there is more noise on Sunday afternoons in the summer quite close to major airfields from lawnmowers than from aeroplanes. It may be that we should think about how many lawnmowers there are likely to be operating rather than thinking all the time about how many aeroplanes there will be—[Interruption.] I hear one of my hon. Friends commenting that there are not many low-flying lawnmowers. However, there are all the problems of noise associated with the additional developments round our airports. I said lawnmowers facetiously, but I had in mind factories, motor cars and everything else associated with other development.

Now we face the fact that this Bill ties up the end of the Conservative Government's strategy for dealing with these problems. One may agree with it or not, but at least it was a strategy. Now we need not only to wrap this up but to say something about the strategy which must flow from this Bill. We need to know what the Government intend to do about the control of development near airports. We need to know how they intend to restrain development on the ground both by not allowing residential development under flight paths and by limiting the amount of other development so as to avoid what has been referred to as the possibility of an urban sprawl from Gatwick to the South Coast.

We also need to know something about the incentives to be given to increase the rate of introduction of quiet aeroplanes. I do not mean financial incentives in terms of the Government handing out money, but the incentives the Government have in mind, not just to stop the operation of noisy aeroplanes at night, but to encourage their replacement with quiet aeroplanes. We have in mind ideas such as total aircraft noise limits, aircraft fleet limits and so on. The Government must have an idea of what they plan to do to help people living around Gatwick, Luton and Heathrow, particularly now that they are not going ahead with the Maplin strategy.

In the debates we have had on this Bill the Government have given no alternative strategy to control the problems of noise or development around existing airports. We were promised a debate on airport strategy as long ago as 17th March when the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes), the Minister then in charge of the Bill, said on Second Reading: I think that the proper time for a full debate on airport strategy would be as soon as the Leader of the House could arrange it, after the regional document which comes out shortly after Easter."—[Official Report, 17th March 1976: Vol. 907, c. 1509.] Here we are in October, and we have to use the Maplin Development Authority (Dissolution) Bill as a vehicle for such a debate, with considerable tolerance from the Chair. I hope the Government will find time soon for this long delayed debate. We must assume that they do not want a debate because they do not have a strategy and they would have nothing to say to those who are affected by airports.

We have heard nothing about Government thinking on the Maplin seaport. They have been asked on many occasions whether they have an opinion on the need for the seaport. If there is such a need, should we be dissolving the Maplin authority? We have no idea whether the Government believe there should be a seaport at Manlin; they merely mutter that this is something about which the Port of London Authority will advise them at some time. The Government have no right to let this matter drift.

In opening this debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said that we on this side accept the logic of public expenditure in this issue, and we do not intend to vote against the Bill. The Minister may have persuaded his own Back Benchers, who are supposed to represent constituencies near London's existing airports, to go away and shut up, but I warn him that he will be pursued by my hon. Friends, who take their duties much more seriously, until he satisfies us that he has a strategy, and that he will take action to deal with the problems of London's airports which stem from the aircraft overhead and the associated developments on the ground.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. Guy Barnett

I echo the words of the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) about the great tolerance shown by the Chair in this debate. As a result of this concession we have had an interesting and useful discussion on airport strategy in general, even though we are in fact discussing, and I hope approving shortly, the Third Reading of the Maplin Development Authority (Dissolution) Bill.

One general point which has come out of this debate is that there are no votes in airports. As I listened to speaker after speaker, this became increasingly obvious. I do not wish to be facetious about this, because in a large number of the speeches there was a clear recognition of the basic problem. It would have been easy for hon. Members to repeat representations from people in their constituencies about noise and congestion, but they did not do so because they recognise the difficult dilemmas facing anyone who tries to design an airports policy.

I shall say a few words about the Bill itself before speaking on airports policy generally and answering the points made by hon. Members in their speeches. There are certain points which I am not in a position to answer immediately. However, where specific questions have been put to me I shall see that hon. Members receive answers by correspondence in due course.

First, I should emphasise the point we made in Committee that it had been the Government's pronounced intention since the Maplin airport project was abandoned in July 1974 to seek powers as soon as convenient to dissolve the authority. We believe that the authority has no useful function and no means of ever repaying its debts, upon which interest continues to accrue. Therefore, we shall lose no time in appointing the day on which the liabilities and any property and rights of the authority will pass to my right hon. Friend. Its debts will then we written off. In due course the authority will cease to exist and the Maplin Development Act 1973 will be repealed.

I know that certain hon. Members have good reasons, which they have argued, for regretting that process. They see the possibility of a new Maplin project at some time. I cannot comment on that, but I can say that even if it came about the House would then have to take a new decision. The legislation now on the statute book would almost certainly be irrelevant; the existing authority would not be relevant to those circumstances. Therefore, it seems to me right, in the light of the airport statement made by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Trade, that the Bill should be passed.

The authority's final report and audited accounts will be laid before Parliament as soon as possible after the transfer date. It may help hon. Members to know that the authority's assets amount to no more than a few pounds in a bank account, whilst its accrued debts of £2½ million will be increased to £2.6 million by the end of this month because of further interest charges.

I said earlier that it was clear that there were no votes in airports. Nevertheless, any Government must face the issue and try to work out a rational airports policy. I think that it was the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley)—he has apologised to me for not being able to be here at this stage of the debate—who recognised that this Government were probably the first to seek a national airports policy. Although I take no personal credit, I think that it is a credit to the Government that they are attempting to do that. The means by which they are attempting to do it also deserve some credit.

The hon. Member for Chingford referred to the previous Government's policy as a strategy, but not a national strategy, because it was not. Whatever Maplin may have been, it was not that. The fact that we have set our hand to trying to work out a national airports strategy is a great credit to this Government.

In working out that strategy, we have gone to great lengths to consult as widely as possible. Many compliments were paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) on the degree to which over the years during which he has occupied his present office he has been prepared to listen to representations by hon. Members, particularly when they speak with the authority of Members representing constituencies directly affected by airports policy.

Mr. Raison

Will the House as a whole be consulted on the new strategy? A number of my hon. Friends and I have asked whether we may have a debate on the matter in the near future. Can the Minister give us an assurance on that?

Mr. Barnett

In my position, I can give no assurance about the business of the House. I should very much welcome such a debate, just as I welcome tonight's debate. One assurance I can give is that when the Government come forward with their strategy, presumably in the form of a White Paper, there will be a debate, but the best I can offer—

Mr. Raison

That is not good enough. It is insulting the House to say that everyone else is allowed to make comments on the consultative document but that we shall not be able to do anything until we have the White Paper.

Mr. Barnett

The hon. Gentleman might have waited until I had finished my sentence. I have said that I am not competent to make a promise on this matter. I was about to say that I shall put the views that he has expressed to my right hon. Friend, the Lord President. My right hon. Friend will decide whether such a debate can take place. I accept and agree that it is highly desirable that there should be such a debate. I should very much welcome that possibility. However, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are considerable pressures on the parliamentary timetable.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that it was the Government's aim to consult everyone but Members of Parliament. That is not so. A number of Members have rightly and properly used the opportunity of this debate to present their views. We have received deputations from local authorities and a wide range of other bodies, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central, and I will be more than delighted to receive deputations from individual Members irrespective of whether they are accompanied by their constituents. The hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends could well take advantage of that opportunity, because that is the way in which the consultative process is being conducted.

Mr. Raison

It is not good enough to say that Members should be expected to make their representations through delegations. The place for discussing a consultative document of this sort is this House. The previous Under-Secretary of State said on 17th March that that was the intention. I hone that the Government will not slip away from it.

Mr. Barnett

Indeed it was the intention, but sometimes Governments who express such hopes are not always able to fulfil them. Sometimes the Governments are dependent upon the generosity of the Opposition in giving them Supply Days. Such a move would assist us in arranging the debate for which the hon. Gentleman is asking. I shall put the views that have been expressed in this debate to my right hon. Friend the Lord President, but my right hon. Friend will undoubtedly take cognisance of the fact that we have had a considerable and useful debate in which a wide variety of points have been expressed.

The House will recognise that I am in no position to make any promise or anything of the kind about a debate, but I shall make the strongest representations to my right hon. Friend in asking him for a debate.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith

I shall not press the hon. Gentleman on that matter as I understand his difficulty, but when he makes representations to the Lord President I ask him to bear in mind that some of us are aware of the rules of the House on Third Reading procedure. I said earlier that there were a number of matters arising out of the strategy document that I wanted to make but that I knew I was unable to do so.

Mr. Barnett

I recognise the justice of the hon. Gentleman's comment. In the light of that, I shall make representations to my right hon. Friend. I am sure my right hon. Friend will read everything that has been said in this debate, quite apart from taking note of what I may say to him personally.

A great many justifiable views have been expressed about the way in which airports affect individual constituencies. Many hon. Members have shown an understanding of the dilemmas that the Government face. Attention is drawn to one of the dilemmas in paragraph 2.11 of the first airport strategy document at page 10. It illustrates exceedingly well one of the arguments against the Maplin project: In terms of the service provided by the industry, airports should be developed as near as possible to the potential user, which normally would require airports to be sited near the centre of major conurbations. The expansion of existing airports also provides economies of scale both to airline and airport operators, improved facilities for interlining and the avoidance of airlines having to split their operations between a number of different airports. I commend that to hon. Members. It illustrates the difficulties which a Government face when trying to design a national airports policy. If one of the priorities, for sound economic reasons, is that so far as possible one should ensure that airports are placed close to those who will use them, inevitably one is likely to need to place airports near to conurbations or near the places where people live. This creates the tensions and dilemmas with which we have been concerned this evening. It was an argument, a perfectly respectable one, which could be used, and, indeed, was used, against the Maplin project. It explains why the creation of an airports policy is bound to cause difficulty and bound to cause hostility among people wherever decisions are made for the expansion of a particular airport.

I come now to some of the points made by hon. Members during the debate. From the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), who apologises for not being able to be here at this stage, we had a welcome for the Bill. He pointed out that one of its consequences will be to end planning blight in his area. Therefore, he benefits as a consequence of the decision which has been taken, and I am sure that his constituents will welcome the end of uncertainty as a consequence of the Bill becoming law.

I again took full cognisance of what was said by the hon. Members for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) and for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith), both of whom made powerful speeches about the effects of Gatwick on their constituencies. Both referred particularly to noise, and the hon. Member for Dorking spoke of urban sprawl. I should make clear to the hon. Member for East Grinstead, in case it was not clear to him, that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central, the Under-Secretary of State for Trade, has placed a quite clear limit on jet movements at night. I think that the figures for Gatwick will illustrate this. In 1972 there were 5,152 night movements. In 1975, as a result of the quotas which my hon. Friend set, the number fell to 3,100. That is an improvement. That is all one can say, but I wish to emphasise also that my hon. Friend and I both recognise that this matter has to be seriously considered, and it is in fact being seriously considered with a view, possibly, to seeing what further may be done.

The hon. Member for East Grinstead and his hon. Friend the Member for Dorking both referred to the effects of any possible expansion of Gatwick—the effects that it might have on congestion and the development of urban sprawl in their areas. I recognise that the South-East Standing Conference document expressed misgivings about what could result from a second terminal at Gatwick. Those misgivings were put to my hon. Friend and myself when representatives of the standing conference came to give evidence to us a month or two ago.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) took a very balanced view of the situation in the sense that he recognised the pride which Hillingdon takes in Heathrow Airport, although he raised again, as he did in Committee, the problem of ground congestion resulting from the increasing use of Heathrow.

In view of what was said by the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), who also apologises for not being with us at this stage, I ought to point out—I think he is probably aware of it, though he did not mention it—that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central has tried to alleviate the problem affecting his constituency by splitting the Mole Valley route. The hon. Gentleman asked what alternative strategy the Government have in the light of the abandonment of Maplin. At this stage we have no alternative strategy as such, and certainly not one that we could announce in the middle of a consultative process. It would be wrong for the Government to prejudice that process or, indeed, to anticipate the results and the decisions which will finally be made.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) objected to that part of the Bill which states that the authority should cease to exist immediately. Clearly he saw part of the solution to the problems in his constituency in the continued possibility of Maplin. The hon. Gentleman also said that he was worried—other hon Members have expressed this concern—that, with the fall in aircraft traffic, one consequence would be a slower move to the quieter type of aircraft. Our evidence is that, although operators may be buying the older type of aircraft, quieter engines are being installed in those aircraft. I hope that that is some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) referred particularly to night landings at Heathrow. We are looking at this problem. We agree that it needs to be considered. I ought to reassure the hon. Gentleman on one matter. If I understood him correctly, he thought that there was the possibility of an additional runway being built at Heathrow. That does not appear in the plan as we understand it.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) referred to the seaport. I ought to emphasise, because he may not be aware of it, that this legislation does not affect the possibility of the development of the seaport. It is possible that any proposal would be outside the area referred to in the 1973 Act. Therefore, the possibility of the Port of London Authority developing the seaport need not necessarily be affected by this legislation.

I was interested in the speech made by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), who criticised the way in which the Maplin decision had been made. I hope that the House can learn a good deal from that experience and that the Government, too, can learn to design a national airports strategy on positive principles rather than upon negative principles which may have informed the decision on Maplin to much too large an extent.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) welcomed the funeral of Maplin and expressed the hope that we could, as it were, move airports to other parts of the country. I re-emphasise the point I made earlier: some 80 per cent. of traffic is generated in South-East England. This is the basic problem with which we are faced. I wish that it were otherwise. The fact is that those are the figures, and they are bound in some degree to influence the national airports strategy regarding the location of airports.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) said about the M4 and the effect that this has on his constituency. I wish that there was an easy answer to this problem. We shall take that matter very much on board.

The hon. Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern), in an interesting speech, raised arguments that I well know, because we have both considered in Committee the New Towns (Amendment) Bill. Regarding his arguments about the pressure of the development at Gatwick on Crawley New Town, it is fair to remind the hon. Gentleman that if one had gone ahead with the Maplin project the pressure and the cost would have been all the greater, because one would have had to start a new town almost from the beginning. Therefore, in national terms, though perhaps not in local terms, that may be a fair answer to his point. We are well aware of the point and I should like to write to him about it at some stage.

The hon. and learned Member for Beconsfield (Mr. Bell) referred to what he thought was a remark made by my right hon. Friend when he made the statement about the cancellation of Maplin. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he thought my right hon. Friend had said that this would imply a massive increase in traffic at other airports. I can find no such reference in my right hon. Friend's statement, which I have in front of me.

The other point that I ought to make to the hon. and learned Gentleman is that I was little surprised by the suggestion that he appeared to be making that in some ways the diminuation of noise that might come as the result of fewer aircraft or quieter aircraft was no answer to people's problems. I would give up any hope of trying to please the hon. and learned Member's constituents, or any others, if I thought that that were true.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not get me wrong. I said that it was gratefully received but that there was a level above which people remained sensitive to aircraft noise and that, while a diminution down to that level was a mitigation, it did not solve the psychological problem of extreme aircraft noise.

Mr. Barnett

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for explaining that. At the same time, I think he would recognise, as I would—I think he did so in his speech—that the problem of aircraft noise is not easy. At present the Government are dependent upon the NNI contour in decisions, but nevertheless, the factors that both my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and I would want to look at very carefully relate to the sort of issues that the hon. and learned Gentleman was raising and the fact that from many points A view noise is not an easily objectively measured factor in people's lives.

Towards the end of his speech, the hon. and learned Gentleman asked for a solution. As I have already explained, we have not yet reached that stage. What the Government have set their hands to is the designing of a national airports strategy. In doing that, we are consulting as widely as we possibly can interests that are directly involved. Ultimately a strategy will have to be announced. That strategy will involve the development of certain existing airports, without doubt.

Whatever that strategy is, one result which we must learn from this debate is that it is bound to be unpopular in many quarters. However, ultimately the Government must take a brave decision, though perhaps a difficult decision. That decision must be taken for positive reasons and, indeed, it must be related to the environmental issues which are being raised, very rightly, by those who come to see my hon. Friend and I which have been raised by hon. Members in this debate.

That is all I can say in respect of the variety of issues which have been raised. I hope very much that in the light of

Question accordingly agreed to.

what I have said I can commend the Bill to the House, and I very much hope that the House will give it a Third Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 115, Noes 4.

Division No. 321.] AYES [9.00 p.m.
Anderson, Donald Hardy, Peter Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Archer, Peter Harper, Joseph Richardson, Miss Jo
Atkinson, Norman Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Roderick, Caerwyn
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Hooley, Frank Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Horam, John Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Roper, John
Bates, Alf Hunter, Adam Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bidwell, Sydney Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Ryman, John
Body, Richard Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Cartwright, John Kinnock, Neil Silverman, Julius
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Lamborn, Harry Skinner, Dennis
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Lamond, James Small, William
Cohen, Stanley Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Snape, Peter
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Leadbitter, Ted Stallard, A. W.
Corbett, Robin Lipton, Marcus Stoddart, David
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Litterick, Tom Stott, Roger
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Strang, Gavin
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) MacFarquhar, Roderick Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cryer, Bob MacKenzle, Gregor Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney) Maclennan, Robert Tinn, James
Deakins, Eric McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Tuck, Raphael
Dormand, J. D. Madden, Max Urwin, T. W.
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Magee, Bryan Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Duffy, A. E. P. Mallalieu, J. P. W. Ward, Michael
Dunn, James A Marks, Kenneth Watkins, David
Dunnett, Jack Marquand, David Wellbeloved, James
Eadie, Alex Moate, Roger Whitehead, Phillip
Faulds, Andrew Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Whitlock, William
Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) Newens, Stanley Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Noble, Mike Winterton, Nicholas
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Oakes, Gordon Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ford, Ben Ogden, Eric Woodall, Alec
Freeson, Reginald Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wrigglesworth, Ian
Gilbert, Dr John Palmer, Arthur
Golding, John Parker, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Pavitt, Laurie Mr. John Ellis and
Grant, John (Islington C) Penhaligon, David Mr. Ted Graham.
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Perry, Ernest
Fookes, Miss Janet Jessel, Toby TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fry, Peter Montgomery, Fergus Dr. Alan Glyn and
Mr. Ronald Bell.

Bill read the Third time and passed, with an amendment.