HC Deb 01 February 1978 vol 943 cc456-70

3.31 p.m.

The Secretary of Stale for Trade (Mr. Edmund Dell)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on airports policy.

The White Paper "Airports Policy" is published this afternoon. Its main objective is to establish a framework within which airport developments throughout Great Britain should be considered. It assesses the future demand for airport capacity and how this might be met during the period to 1990 and outlines the airport options to be considered for the longer term. The White Paper also considers the noise and other environmental effects of airport development.

Forecasting the future demand for air transport is inherently uncertain How ever, the forecasts suggest that airport capacity presents a problem only in the South-East. In the London area the range is from 66 million to 89 million passengers a year in 1990, with the most probable outturn in the lower half of the range, compared with 31 million passengers in 1976.

Our policy for the London area envisages the provision of a fourth terminal at Heathrow, which is to be the subject of a public inquiry later this year, but the rejection of a fifth terminal; the construction of a second terminal at Gatwick, subject likewise to planning procedures, but the rejection of a second runway; improvements to the terminal at Luton to increase capacity to 5 million passengers a year, but no development beyond that point; and additional terminal facilities to cater for 4 million passengers at Stansted.

Elsewhere, I believe that our efforts to shift the balance away from the South-East will be assisted by a policy of concentration which should make it more economic for airlines to provide services away from the South-East and make it more attractive for passengers to use them. The White Paper identifies Manchester as the major international airport outside the South-East. It identifies Newcastle, Leeds-Bradford, East Midlands, Birmingham and Cardiff as principal regional airports. Other airports will continue to cater for local needs and to meet the demand for general aviation.

In Scotland the Government's devolution proposals place responsibility for airports on the Scottish Assembly. Decisions in respect of these airports will be left to the Assembly.

Environmental considerations, including especially aircraft noise, are a vital factor in the development of airports policy. The White Paper announces two decisions about subsonic jet aircraft which do not meet the requirements for noise certification. United Kingdom operators will not be allowed to use newly acquired aircraft of this type after 30th September this year. All such aircraft on the United Kingdom register will be banned from 1st January 1986. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will emphasise to local authorities the need to avoid the building of houses in those locations experiencing most noise. He will also be proposing modifications to the Town and Country Planning General Development Order designed to bring major developments at British Airports Authority airports within the normal planning controls.

For the longer term, additional capacity will almost certainly be required for the London area, but no decisions have been taken on how this might be provided.

The options include a new airport and major development of Stansted beyond the 4 million passenger capacity indicated in the White Paper or the conversion of a military airfield to a civil airport. It is proposed that all three options should be examined within an appropriate formal structure which will be discussed with the local authority associations.

I believe that the White Paper provides a sound framework for the future development of our airports. Of course, we are dealing with a fast-moving industry, and the Government will continue to develop the policy in consultation with those concerned.

Mr. Nott

Is the Secretary of State aware that we have had up to two years now to consider the consultative documents instead of the six months that was originally intended and less than an hour in which to read the resulting White Paper? It seems to us, at a very first reading, to be nothing more than a restatement of the consultative documents. As the White Paper takes us into the 1990s, I think that we need rather more than an hour to give a considered judgment on it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that our first impression is that the proposals may suffice to meet traffic demands until about 1984–85, but that the White Paper begs the major issue of what happens beyond that date when the problems of accommodating international traffic will begin to tell? Once again, it looks as if the major decision will fall to us.

Mr. Dell

I understand perfectly the hon. Gentleman's wish to have time to study the White Paper. His main point is that the White Paper begs decisions after 1984–85. I emphasise that the White Paper takes the situation up to 1990. It is not sensible that, in the light of the rapidly changing forecasts in a downward direction that we have seen over the past few years on the amount of traffic that is likely to be generated to the South-East, we should commit ourselves to vast public expenditure before it is necessary. According to our estimates and judgment, the decisions taken here suffice up to 1990. Certainly further decisions will have to be taken beyond that time, but it is better that they be taken in the light of firmer information regarding traffic trends.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call anyone at all, I remind the House that there is another major statement, two applications under Standing Order No. 9 and a Ten-Minute Bill before we get to the business that is controlled by a timetable motion.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Will my right hon. Friend agree to look again at the proposals for a fourth terminal at Heathrow? Will he further agree, after a suitable lapse of time for the White Paper to be digested, to listen to representations from local opinion, which is very hostile at the moment?

Mr. Dell

The proposed fourth terminal at Heathrow is the subject of a planning inquiry. Subject to that, I must emphasise the necessity for the fourth terminal. However, we reject a fifth terminal. I think that that will be of some comfort to the public opinion to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Pardoe

Does the Secretary of State accept that the consultation process started with a major part of the purpose being to shift the balance of traffic away from the South-East to the regions and that the White Paper indicates that that purpose has not been achieved? Will he confirm that the proportion of total traffic coming to the South-East in 1990 on present forecasts will be about the same as it is now and that, if so, and no further shift is made, all the options beyond 1990 will be deeply unattractive?

Mr. Dell

It is certainly true that we are assuming that there will be the same balance between the South-East and the rest of the country in 1990 as there is now. To that extent we have certainly not succeeded in finding ways of achieving major shifts of traffic away from the South-East. However, it is our judgment—this is argued in the White Paper—that the best hope of developing traffic outside the South-East, and therefore enabling people to travel from airports outside the South East, is to concentrate development on a number of specific areas. The White Paper declares those decisions. In that way we maximise the hope of increasing the amount of traffic outside the South-East, but I do not pretend that that will be an easy achievement.

Mr. Ifor Davies

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his references to Cardiff Airport will be well received throughout Wales? Will he continue to give consideration to the services that are available at Swansea Airport, which is in a key position?

Mr. Dell

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about Cardiff. I am sure that many people will welcome these decisions. I emphasise the importance of the principle of a concentration of services. That does not mean that other airports will not serve important local needs and have expanding traffic.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Does the Secretary of State accept that there will be a general welcome of his desire to shift the emphasis from the South-East to the regions? Is he further aware that the people of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire cannot under take to accept, let alone support, his decision of a 4 million expansion at Stansted or a 5 million expansion at Luton? For the long term, may I respectfully invite the Secretary of State to eliminate Stansted from his options and to read and read again the authoritative and convincing minority judgment report of Professor Sir Colin Buchanan in the Roskill Report?

Mr. Dell

That was certainly an eloquent minority report. Although an expansion to a capacity of 5 million is projected for Luton, the White Paper states that that is the limit. In those terms it is likely to be acceptable to many people in that area. It is sensible to use the resources at Stansted. I believe that that is the view of the South-East Economic Planning Council as well as of others. Developments beyond that point are in no way foreclosed by my statement today. There are other options which will be seriously considered.

Mr. Palmer

Can my right hon. Friend say why Bristol Lulsgate is treated so shabbily? After all, it is the Bristol Channel and not the Cardiff Channel.

Mr. Dell

I do not think that my hon. Friend is right to say that Bristol Lulsgate is treated shabbily. There will be an expansion of passenger capacity at Bristol, but Cardiff has better facilities and there were certain objections about noise in the Bristol area. I should have been delighted to come to the House with a statement which chose all the available airports for maximum development. But if we are to have a sensible airports policy, choices have to be made.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be great satisfaction in the Highlands and Islands airports and the regions around them that the proposal to transfer administration to the British Airports Authority has been dropped in favour of the sensible idea of leaving it to the Scottish Assembly? Is he aware that there will be great regret in Scotland that the excellent international airport at Prestwick does not seem to get a look-in? In view of the facilities that exist there, what status does the Secretary of State envisage for Prestwick?

Mr. Dell

When the right hon. Gentleman has had time to read the White Paper he will find that decisions about the future of the Prestwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh complexes are left to the Scottish Assembly.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Has not my right hon. Friend abrogated his responsibility for Scottish airports? Is he saying that essential development, particularly of Aberdeen, which is the fastest-growing airport in Scotland, is to be left until after the setting up of an Assembly? Does he not realise that there will be complaints that he should be acting now, because airports are his responsibility until devolution takes place?

Mr. Dell

I am not ignoring my responsibilities. Aberdeen has already been transferred to the British Airports Authority. It is an airport which is in increasing use. There is no question of an abrogation of responsibility. If the House decides to set up a Scottish Assembly, it is sensible that these other decisions relating to the development of Scottish airports and which are outstanding should be made by the body that will have responsibility for these airports under the legislation.

Mr. Tebbit

Am I correct in saying that the decision to limit Heathrow to a four-terminal airport will effectively limit the passenger capacity to about 53 million? Am I correct in assuming that that will make inevitable a rapid development of Gatwick up to its single-runway, twin-terminal capacity of 25 million but that beyond there for future development in the 1990s—which is only 12 years away—there is only one option—a new airport which could not be ready in time, or the substantial expansion of Stansted beyond the 4 million mark? Has not the Secretary of State chosen London's fourth airport in this White Paper, and is it not Stansted?

Mr. Dell

The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) has obviously not had time to look at the White Paper. The fourth terminal limits the capacity at Heathrow to 38 million, not 50 million. It is true that a second terminal at Gatwick, which will raise its capacity to 25 million, will he needed. Beyond that the White Paper states three options—a major development at Stansted beyond the 4 million capacity, a new airport, or the conversion of a military airport. The hon. Member says that an entirely new airport would be ruled out by the time factor. We do not accept that. In any case there is the other option of converting an existing military airport.

If the hon. Member looks at the forecast for air travel in the London area, starting with Roskill down to the forecasts in this White Paper, and considers the changes in economic circumstances and fuel prices since Roskill, he will be by no means persuaded that the forecasts are of a kind which should commit any Government to development anywhere in the London area by way of a new airport or by a major development at Stansted or anywhere else. At this time that would be an unwise commitment in the light of the information at hand.

Mr. Clemitson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that any suggestion that the ownership of Luton Airport should be transferred to the British Airports Authority would be fiercely resisted by the local council, all political parties and myself? May we have an assurance that there will be no such transfer of ownership in opposition to the wishes of the local authority?

Mr. Dell

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I am against compulsion in this respect. The White Paper makes perfectly clear that any such transfer would take place with the voluntary agreement of the local authority concerned. That also applies to other airports which are not in the possession of the BAA.

I remind my hon. Friend that the Government are limiting their financial commitment. We are saying that beyond existing commitments—for example at Birmingham—in only exceptional circumstances will the taxpayer he asked to make a contribution to the development of airports.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is not this a case of government by stealth? Is it not likely that if the limits are accepted, the Secretary of State's successor will come to the House and say that the most reasonable thing for the 1990s is to breach the limits set in this White Paper?

Mr. Dell

The hon. Member can interpret it in any way he likes, but the point is that it would not be sensible in the light of current forecasts to make now the sort of decision he seems to think ought to have made. It is better to make that sort of decision on the basis of firm information, and I invite him to do what I invited his hon. Friend to do. He should look at the changing forecasts over the years and then consider whether he would commit himself to the sort of major development of which he is thinking.

Mr. Heffer

Since the White Paper speaks in paragraph 113 of Manchester being faced with a difficulty over the runway and of Liverpool airport having a very good runway, and since at the same time it is predicted that Manchester will have between 2.5 million and 6 million passengers while Liverpool Airport will have only 1 million, is it not disappointing that Liverpool has not received greater support in the White Paper? Will he take another look at the proposals to improve Liverpool's position?

Mr. Dell

There will be expansion at Liverpool as a local airport. One cannot escape the fact, however, that Manchester has chosen itself as the major international airport in that part of England over a period of years. It is from there that the major international services have developed. I do not think that anyone on Merseyside—and my hon. Friend will know that it is a subject in which I am interested—should ignore the fact that it is a major advantage to the area to have this international airport so close to it and linked by motorway.

Mr. Steen

Is the Minister not ashamed, as a Merseyside Member, of downgrading Speke Airport to C category? Why was it not made a B category airport?

Mr. Dell

The answer is that one has to make choices. One makes the most sensible choices one can, and in this case Manchester was the obvious choice. I do not believe that more balanced people on Merseyside—I recognise the hon. Member's long fight to have Speke graded as a category B airport—will think that the decision I have made is unreasonable.

Mr. Corbett

Will the Minister accept that the decision he has announced on Luton and Stansted represents a double kick in the teeth to the people of Hertfordshire, especially those in my constituency who live under the flight path from Luton? As his White Paper acknowledges that Luton Airport has the largest number of night flights of any airport in the kingdom, will he toughen up the statement of intent rapidly to reduce the number of night flights from Luton? Did he not consider using the stick on the charter operators who bring in the largest number of such passengers arriving in the South-East, to compel them, if they will not do it voluntarily, to make better and fuller use of regional airports, as much to help local industry as to spread tourism?

Mr. Dell

I shall be disappointed if my hon. Friend's views turned out to be those of the majority of the people in that locality. Decisions restricting the development of 5 million at Luton will be very well understood.

As for night flights, the White Paper makes an announcement about phasing out noisy aircraft at night. In addition, I have announced in the White Paper a major decision on aircraft noise relating to the phasing out of non-certificated aircraft after 1st January 1986. The general noise picture for the country as a result of these decisions will substantially improve over the next few years, and certainly by 1990.

Sir W. Elliott

Will the Secretary of State accept that the selection of Newcastle as an airport which can considerably, in its future development, ease the strain on the South-East of the country is most welcome and sensible? Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the considerable representations made to him on the urgency of the development of the terminal building and runways there?

Mr. Dell

The terminal building is a matter for the airport authority. As for the runway, although I have to give loan sanction, the hon. Gentleman should remember what I said about Government finance. However, I note his welcome for the selection of Newcastle and I understand why he welcomes it.

Mr. Dalyell

May I ask my right hon. Friend a question to which the answer is either "Yes" or "No"? Was the technical advice of the Civil Aviation Authority in favour of hiving off responsibility for the Scottish airports to the Assembly?

Mr. Dell

I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend a "Yes" or "No" answer. I do not know what the technical advice was. The decision was a political one.

Sir G. Sinclair

Is the Secretary of State aware that his forecast that passenger traffic at Gatwick will be multiplied by four by 1990 will cause grave anxiety in my constituency? Will the right hon. Gentleman promise far more stringent measures to try to divert traffic to the regional airports and at the same time make a far more robust attack on the increasing aircraft noise that is bound to spread all over my constituency? Does he accept that the expansion of Gatwick to this figure will mean the urbanisation of that part of the green belt and a complete urban sprawl from Croydon down to the coast?

Mr. Dell

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about Gatwick and the concern of the people in the area. Undoubtedly these decisions will have an adverse effect on noise at Gatwick in the short term. However, as a result of the other decisions—in the White Paper and elsewhere—we are making about noise, the noise position at Gatwick should certainly be improved by 1990. I recognise that that is a long time off, but the development of Gatwick has to be an element in this programme. However, Gatwick also has the assurance of a limit on development there, imposed by one runway and two terminals.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Why were the recommendations of the Stratford Report regarding Teesside Airport rejected? Is my right hon. Friend aware that people in South Durham, North Yorkshire and Cleveland will be very disappointed by this decision? Will he tell those people what the White Paper means when it talks about Teesside and the South Durham area being significantly closer to London than Newcastle?

Mr. Dell

I was advised by one of my right hon. Friends that Teesside is closer to London than is Newcastle. If my hon. Friend looks at the map, he will find that to be true. This is, again, a matter of choice. We do not agree with the Stratford Committee, which avoided the choice. It is more sensible in the light of facilities available and of the developments that have taken place so far, and given the presence of British Airways at Newcastle, to select Newcastle for this purpose.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Having gone so far with regard to Cardiff Airport, will not the Secretary of State now agree to upgrade that airport from a regional airport to the national Welsh airport and to ensure that Government investment, which has been lacking in the past, is available to meet that status?

Mr. Dell

Control of Cardiff Airport is also to be devolved under the legislation that is before the House. It may be, therefore, that that choice will lie elsewhere in any case. The question of what an airport is named is not significant. The significant factor is the services that use it. We expect growth at Cardiff, but not the sort of growth that the right hon. Gentleman seems to have in mind.

Mr. Terry Walker

Will my right hon. Friend appreciate that the White Paper will be received with great concern in the city of Bristol, where Lulsgate Airport is being seriously downgraded while Cardiff is being upgraded? Is it not time that we considered building a regional airport at Severnside, in view of the road and rail links that meet at Bristol?

Finally, will the new airport at Cardiff come under the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Dell

The answer to the last question is "Yes".

I do not think that there is a justification for further airport development at Severnside. I think that Cardiff Airport has the facilities required for a regional airport for that area. My hon. Friend should not ignore the fact that nothing that is said in the White Paper will prevent further developments at Bristol, which is an important commercial centre. On the contrary, the anticipation is that there will be an increase in traffic at Bristol over the period from now until 1950.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I will call three more hon. Members from each side. Mr. Monro.

Mr. Monro

Will the Secretary of State appreciate that those in the third-force airlines and general aviation will welcome his decision concerning the airports in Scotland which are not under the British Airports Authority? Will he make every effort to retain those airports under the control of the CAA, and, further, make every effort to encourage the smaller airlines in Scotland, whose value for communications is tremendous?

Mr. Dell

The airlines are not the subject of the White Paper. As for my encouraging the Scottish Assembly to leave these airports with the CAA, I think that this is a matter which the Scottish Assembly, when it is set up, should consider rather carefully. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find, if he examines the matter, that there are strong arguments the other way.

Mr. Newens

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the suggestion that a major expansion of Stansted to a capacity of 16 million passengers per annum is one of the options to meet long-term demand will be widely regarded not only as utterly wrong on planning, environmental and noise grounds, but as a travesty of democracy, in view of the extensive examination and the Roskill Commission, which took many years in going over this issue?

In these circumstances, does not my right hon. Friend realise that those of us who support an expansion of the passenger throughput of Stansted to 4 million per year cannot possibly continue their support unless an absolute and fixed ceiling is placed on that development thereafter?

Mr. Dell

I know my hon. Friend's views on this, because I read what he said during the debate that we had on this matter. The decision in the White Paper is for a capacity of 4 million at Stansted. There is no decision for further expansion to 16 million. Certain options are stated for development beyond 1990, and I cannot add to what I have said in that respect.

Mr. Paul Dean

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I welcome his conclusion that Bristol Airport should not be used as overspill for the South-East? This would have meant intolerable disturbance to the growing residential area around Bristol Airport. But, equally, will he give an assurance that Bristol Airport will not be denied adequate resources to maintain an efficient local service?

Mr. Dell

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has referred to the disturbance at Bristol, which was one of the factors which had to be taken into account in making the choice that I have announced today.

As for the availability of resources, I remind the hon. Gentleman of the decision to which I have already referred—that, apart from existing commitments, it will only be in wholly exceptional circumstances that the taxpayer will be asked to pay for local authority airport development. Bristol, together with other local authority airports, should bear that in mind.

Mr. Spriggs

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of his hon. Friends believe that the cost of the provision, maintenance and security of provincial airports should be met from central funds?

Mr. Dell

I note my hon. Friend's view. We have decided against that view, I think rightly. I think that the cost of air travel should be met by the air traveller.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on grounds of noise and safety, many of us still believe that the best place for our main national airport would be a coastal site where the aircraft do not need to fly over people's homes?

The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of a military airport. Will he say whether he has in mind Lakenheath or Mildenhall? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there will be very great resistance in East Anglia concerning Stansted?

Whatever decision the right hon. Gentleman reaches, will he make it quickly? It is a national scandal that our biggest airport, Heathrow, is still regarded as an aviation slum and as a place where the concrete never sets?

Mr. Dell

As to Heathrow, the decision on the fourth terminal must await the planning inquiry. The decision I have announced here is that there will be no fifth terminal.

There are many military airports but I shall not select any for special examination today. Local authorities have put to us that we should examine the availability of military airports. We shall do this as part of the formal structure to which I have referred today.

There are very few matters in airport policy about which one can be absolutely sure, but I am absolutely sure that it was right to cancel Maplin. The effect of the White Paper, and the decisions made in it, is that we shall be providing, at a cost of £150 million, capacity which, in the first phase of Maplin, together with the necessary road works, would have cost about £1 billion. The difference between those figures speaks for itself.

Mr. James Lamond

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision to make Manchester Airport a gateway international airport will be very warmly welcomed in the area, as it recognises the importance of the North-West region and also the excellent work carried out by the Manchester International Airport Authority in developing, improving and extending the facilities at Manchester Airport?

Will the designation of Manchester, as one of the only two gateway international airports outside the South-East region, be regarded as a wholly exceptional circumstance, which will mean that taxpayers' money will be available to assist with the cost of improving the standards still further, so that they may meet the new requirement?

Mr. Dell

Manchester must for the moment be satisfied with the decisions that I have made today. It should not imagine that I shall alter the statement of financial policy made today. Only in wholly exceptional circumstances will taxpayers' money be available.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

The Front Bench, to conclude.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that Scottish Members are fed up with being told repeatedly that important decisions affecting Scotland will have to be made by an Assembly which may never be established? Does he think that it would make sense to have a separate Scottish airport strategy? Does he think that it makes sense, in relation to having an integrated transport policy, to devolve Scottish air ports but not to devolve Scottish railways?

Mr. Dell

It is certainly true that it is inconceivable that there should be a Scottish airport strategy separate and different from that of the United Kingdom. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It is obviously impossible to ignore the fact that airport strategy within the rest of Great Britain has significantly influenced airport development in Scotland.

Mr. Madel

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? I realise your difficulty when you have a huge list of people with constituency interests in a matter such as this, but as the Leader of the House is in his place, may I, through you, ask him to organise an early debate on the White Paper? He will be announcing the business tomorrow—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am very sorry that a number of hon. Members were not called, but I have to be fair to the House. There is another statement yet to be made, and those who are interested in the business covered by the timetable motion, as the whole House is, may also complain later. As it is, that business will not start until 5 p.m.