HC Deb 17 December 1979 vol 976 cc35-55
The Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. John Nott)

With permission, Mr. Speaker I will now make a statement about airports policy.

I am publishing today the reports of the Study Group on South-East Airports and the Advisory Committee on Airports Policy. I recommend these reports to the House, and I should like to thank the members of these two bodies, which include representatives of the local authorities, for their conscientious and painstaking work in preparing them.

The Government have decided not to build a major new international airport of the kind considered by the Roskill Commission report in 1971; nor do they intend to resurrect the Maplin project, even in a revised form. Instead, the Government's policy is, first, to encourage the fullest use of regional airports and, secondly, to provide additional airport capacity, as the traffic develops, based on the existing airports in the South-East, particularly Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. The Government's more detailed proposals are as follows.

In the future we will adopt policies designed to maximise the potential of the English regional airports and those in Scotland and Wales, and thus shift the burden away from the London area airports.

My Department will look with particular favour upon proposals for the expansion of capacity to meet demand at airports such as the East Midlands. Birmingham and Manchester.

We propose, as opportunity arises, to negotiate new rights permitting services between overseas cities and British provincial towns. This is in accordance with the new policies contained in the Civil Aviation Bill, which is now before Parliament. On the initiative of my Department, the EEC Council of Ministers has recently invited the Commission, after consultation with member States, to present specific proposals early next year for developing routes within the Community to serve the regions.

However, even with a more effective use of regional airports the advisory committee makes clear that there is an urgent need for additional airport capacity in South-East England. On current forecasts, taking account of the uncertainty about future oil prices and world economic growth, it is estimated that there will be a demand of between 69 million and 81 million passengers a year in London and the South-East by the late 1980s, against existing airport capacity of 50 million passengers. This leaves a large gap.

We have considered whether it would be right to ignore the likely demand so that traffic became increasingly stifled or diverted to the Continent. Such a decision, or lack of a decision, would lead to developing chaos at our existing airports. A modern Western society, heavily engaged in international trade and with a major stake in the airline business, can hardly fail to provide for consumer demand, both for leisure and business. But given the inherent uncertainty of any forecast, the solution that we need is one that meets the demand in London and the South-East only as it develops and that avoids the massive expenditure implications of developing a green field or coastal site.

At Heathrow capacity is virtually exhausted, and that is why we must continue to divert traffic to Gatwick, as already announced in my statement on 9 October. In order to provide additional capacity the Government have decided to accept the inspector's recommendation for a fourth terminal at Heathrow. The details of this decision are being announced separately today and will include certain restrictions designed to mitigate the noise nuisance to local residents. We have also given careful consideration to the possibility of constructing a fifth terminal at Heathrow, on the Perry Oaks site, in order to increase still further the capacity of that airport. However, we estimate that it would take at least 12 years to complete such a project, and it would impose added burdens on the surrounding area; these considerations have led us to the view that a fifth terminal should not be provided.

At Gatwick a public inquiry will be held next year into a proposal for a second terminal at the airport. The Government will reach their conclusions on this matter in the light of the inspector's report. We have also considered whether further capacity should be created by constructing a second runway at Gatwick but have decided not to pursue this possibility.

At Stansted the previous Government anticipated development of the existing airport to 4 million passengers a year by the late 1980s. Stansted airport already has a suitable runway, which could carry, if necessary, many more passengers than this. There is good road access, and we believe that the addition of a new terminal building at Stansted, which could eventually handle up to 15 million passengers a year, together with the appropriate access improvements, could be carried out by the purchase of fewer than 1,500 acres of additional land and with the minimum commitment to public expenditure. The Government therefore believe that this expansion is the best way of providing extra capacity before the end of the next decade.

However, we believe that the time is long overdue for a settlement of the airports question for a much longer period, so that the demand can be met if it develops into the next century. Years of indecision, decision and counter-decision reflect no credit on this country's capacity to make difficult but necessary choices. If air traffic continues to grow at anything like the rate forecast by the advisory committee, additional capacity could be needed in the 1990s.For this reason we have given careful consideration to each of the sites examined by the study group. Airports, road and rail access, the relocation of defence establishments all use up agricultural land, affect property and cause changes to the environment. The best solution must be one that avoids any premature expenditure and leaves future Governments with the maximum degree of flexibility—dependent on the growth of demand.

Our view on the evidence so far available is that none of the green field sites meets these requirements. We recognise that Maplin has certain advantages, but the provision of additional road and rail links, the preparation of the site and the relocation of defence establishments, all of which would require a commitment of over £1 billion, involve very serious risks, which are unjustified when we cannot be certain that an airport of such a size will be needed. Moreover, an airport at Maplin could not be ready to meet the expected shortfall in capacity in the late 1980s.

The British Airports Authority will therefore be invited to bring forward proposals for the construction of a single terminal building at Stansted based on the existing runway facilities, capable of handling about 15 million passengers a year. But it will also be invited to define and apply for the safeguarding of an additional area of up to 2,500 acres, sufficient to provide for a possible second runway and further terminal capacity should this be needed in the 1990s or beyond. Our aim would be that the owners of residential and agricultural property in this wider area should have the opportunity either of continuing to live or farm there, pending any possible requirement for this additional land, or of selling their property at an unblighted value to the BAA.

These proposals will be examined under appropriate planning procedures, which will include a wide-ranging public inquiry, and a final decision on them will then be taken. This will provide a full opportunity for all those concerned to express their views on these proposals, and for the wider social and environmental implications to be explored and assessed.

I am making arrangements for the Vote Office to make available now to hon. Members full background information.

I am sure that the House will wish to debate these issues as soon as hon. Members have had a reasonable time to consider the reports and the Government's conclusions. I have, therefore, asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to make provision for a debate after the Christmas Recess.

Mr. John Smith

Is the Secretary of State aware that for some days now reports about his proposals have appeared in the newspapers? Indeed, as liable forecasts have appeared in the it turns out, prior to last weekend re-newspapers. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is a desirable way in which Government policy should be announced to Parliament? Has his Department given any briefing to the press prior to the announcement being made to the House?

As, at least to some extent, the Government appear to be basing their decision on the reports to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, which, as I understand it, are now being made available in the Vote Office, the House will no doubt wish to study those reports before reaching any final decisions on these matters. In that context, I welcome the debate that has been promised will take place after the Christmas Recess.

The Secretary of State referred to the development of regional airports. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House would wish to see greater use made of some of the excellent airports that have been developed out with the South-East corner of the United Kingdom. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us precisely what he proposes in that regard? In particular, are there any proposals to develop regional airports, and airports in Scotland and Wales, beyond those that were announced by the previous Government in the White Paper of February 1978? The right hon. Gentleman also referred to licensing policy. Is it not the case that there is not very much in the Civil Aviation Bill to encourage the development of regional airports, in that it depends entirely upon the CAA for the civil aviation policy that will be adopted, and it looks as though the Government have retreated from formulating policy in that area?

The statement contains only a fleeting reference to Scottish airports. In view of the concern expressed in many quarters about the future of Prestwick international airport, I should like the right hon. Gentleman to say something about the factors that have given rise to that concern. What is the Government's intention with regard to the long-term future of Prestwick?

With regard to Stansted, does the Secretary of State's decision mean that all future development, beyond the first terminal to be built at Stansted, will be located in the Stansted area? Does it mean that in addition to development at Stansted increasing capacity to 15 million passengers a year, it is likely to reach a much higher figure, in the light of future developments? As there are various forms of planning inquiries, what kind of planning inquiry will be used? Will that inquiry be asked to make recommendations about the two phases of the proposal—that is, the proposal for up to 15 million passengers a year and at the same time a decision on the wider and more ambitious plans for Stansted?

Mr. Nott

I shall try to answer each of those points in turn, but it may take me a few moments to do so. It goes without saying that I am not in favour of leaks. However, the two study groups included representatives of eight or nine outside bodies who, of course, would have consulted their constituent bodies, so that several hundred people would have seen the draft of the reports in the past few weeks. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that some of the contents have found their way into the press. My Department released these two reports to the press this morning. We have given no briefing to the press prior to this morning, when these reports went out for the first time.

A number of new aspects to the question of regional airports have arisen since the previous Government were in office. First, I think that we have seen most favourable developments within the community following the council meeting attended by my hon. Friend, to which I referred in my statement. I think that there is a genuine desire to increase services between provincial cities in this country and cities and towns within Europe. We are pursing that vigorously.

Secondly, it is proposed in the Civil Aviation Bill that there should be a specific clause requiring the CAA to give account to the needs of regional airports. I think that I am right in saying that previously this was left to ministerial guidance. We intend to put that into an Act. A number of public inquiries are going on, and some are mooted, into the questions of additional terminal capacity and greater runway capacity at regional airports. At present, rights for about 1,500 routes have already been negotiated for services between the regions and overseas cities. We want the demand to build up so that the airlines will make full use of those rights that we have already negotiated.

I turn finally to the question of Stansted.

Mr. John Smith

What about Prestwick?

Mr. Nott

I am aware that there is concern in Scotland about the proposals of British Airways to transfer its long haul services from Prestwick to Glasgow. If other transatlantic operators followed suit it would lead to the closure of Prestwick, and demand for the expansion of facilities at Glasgow and Edinburgh would certainly build up. My hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland are due to meet the chairmen of British Airways and the British Airports Authority this week to discuss the implications of such a step, and the Government have reached no decision on the issues involved.

As to Stansted and the public inquiry, it will, of course, be up to the inspector to decide precisely how the inquiry takes place. Our view is that the British Airports Authority might be invited to apply for detailed planning permission for the building of the additional terminal based upon the existing runway and for the purchase of an additional 1,500 acres of agricultural land. In addition, it will be invited to apply for outline planning permission to safeguard the wider area of about 2,500 acres in case that additional second runway should be needed in the 1990s or in the years approaching 2000. That is something that we cannot possibly predict now. There would be detailed permission for the new terminal, and outline planning would be applied for for the wider area.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Instead of saying "Order", I nearly said "Help". I propose to call first those hon. Members who had a question on the Order Paper but were asked by the Minister and by myself to wait.

Mr. McCrindle

Is not today's announcement tantamount to saying that the case for a third London airport is not proven, because of the uncertainty of future passenger demand? Is the seemingly high figure of 15 million passengers, as a first stage at Stansted, negotiable? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that as a result of his statement he expects that the planning blight on the five sites—apart from Stansted—outlined by the advisory group in May, will now cease to afflict those sites?

Mr. Nott

I was anxious to give early expression to the Government's views because of the blight that exists on so many sites resulting from a perfectly proper set of procedures that were proposed by the previous Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) is right. We do not, consider that the case has been proved for a major new international airport. The Government are therefore looking towards the expansion of existing facilities, rather than towards building a major new international airport. That is why we are adopting this flexible approach.

Mr. Madel

I welcome that part of my right hon. Friend's statement that states that for the second time in eight years Cublington has been saved from the threat of becoming the third London airport. When considering the proposed alterations to Stansted, will he bear in mind that any alteration must be limited by the proximity of Luton airport, because there is not enough air space to go round?

Mr. Nott

Luton will continue as at present, because it is an important airport, providing useful services. The traffic at Stansted would have to grow to a considerable level before any problems of air traffic control arose for Luton. I assure my hon. Friend that Luton will continue as it is. I cannot foresee what air traffic problems may arise if traffic at Stansted builds up to a considerable amount in future. However, that is a long way ahead.

Mr. Speaker

In order to solve any problem, I shall allow questions to be asked until 4.30 pm. The number of hon. Members called will depend on how short the questions are.

Mr. Jay

Is the Secretary of State aware that the right solution to the main problem is, as it always has been, a gradual expansion of Gatwick and Stansted? Will the Government, having made a decision, have the courage—unlike some other Governments—to stick to it?

Mr. Nott

I agree that the answer is a gradual expansion in order to provide facilities to meet demand as it develops. That is why we intend, in the foreseeable future, to use the existing runway at Stansted. Gat wick now handles approximately 8 million passengers. Inevitably, that number will build up to 16 million passengers. I do not wish to go into further details, as a public inquiry is due to consider the wider question of a second terminal at Gatwick next year. I do not want to prejudge the inspector's recommendation.

Mr. Johnson Smith

I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend's words and I am particularly pleased to hear his reassurance about the second runway. Bearing in mind that he proposes to allow a substantial expansion at Heathrow and Stansted, and to encourage the expansion of regional airports, why do we need a public inquiry to decide whether Gatwick should go beyond 16 million? That figure virtually doubles Gatwick's present passenger handling capacity and the BAA's proposals will treble Gatwick to the size of Heathrow airport. Should my right hon. Friend not tell us, either today or within the next few weeks, that that is not on from an environmental point of view, or from the point of view of the airlines?

Mr. Nott

I know my hon. Friend's views and I understand his point about Gatwick. A public inquiry is being held, because that is the most democratic way of hearing objections that will undoubtedly arise about the building of a second terminal at Gatwick. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to represent the views of his constituents, and all those living in the Gatwick area, when that public inquiry takes place.

I fear that there will be considerable problems from 1981–82 until the fourth terminal at Heathrow comes into operation in 1985. There is no way in which that demand can be met unless Gatwick is allowed to take the additional traffic. Whether it should go beyond 16 million passengers is a matter for the public inquiry, and all views will be heard.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Liberal Party supports the accent that he has put on the need to make greater use of our regional airports? There are other airports that are not mentioned in his statement that could be looked at. We also support the Government's decision that there must be extra capacity in the South-East and that Stansted appears to be the most logical choice. Will he assure us that if Stansted—expands, public transport to Stansted—particularly, perhaps, a rail link from Bishop's Stortford—will be given the utmost priority at an early stage of development?

Mr. Nott

Yes. Some work will need to be done on the road and rail links to Stansted. We estimate that about £12 million will provide a sufficient amount to link the M11 with Stansted. We foresee that the existing Liverpool Street to Bishop's Stortford line will provide the rail link, although subsequently a rail line going right into the airport may be needed. That line would come off the existing main railway line just north of Bishop's Stortford. In due course consideration will have to be given to extending a link from the main railway line into the airport, and we estimate that that would cost about £85 million.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people will regard the package announced today as having expediency written all over it? Is it not transparently obvious that the Government's decision means that if demand increases Stansted will, in the end, become the third London airport? Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the cost estimated in the reports published today is upwards of £1 billion, especially if the infrastructure of two new towns is taken into account?

Mr. Nott

My hon. Friend must feel very strongly about our choice of developing Stansted. I appreciate that he must be disappointed with the Government's views. However, it is a question not of expediency but of providing capacity to meet the demand as it develops. There is an existing runway at Stansted, which should be used to the full. There is no question of considering a second runway at Stansted, unless traffic in the 1990s makes it desirable. The new terminal and the total cost of that phase of Stansted's development can be met out of the existing self-financing revenues of the British Airports Authority. We do not anticipate that any taxpayers' funds will be required in addition to the money that the BAA will generate from additional revenue arising from that terminal. Therefore the project is not expensive.

Mr. Spriggs

Is the Secretary of State aware that serious environmental problems exist? By increasing the load on the London airports he is making life almost impossible for those who live beneath the flight paths. Is the Secretary of State aware that the Merseyside metropolitan county council has proposed to his Department the upgrading of Liverpool airport? Why not use some of the provincial airports and thereby share the ensuing environmental problems over the whole country?

Mr. Nott

First, I am aware of the dissatisfaction that has been expressed in some quarters about Liverpool's categorisation as a local airport. We have made it clear that we shall interpret flexibly the categorisation of airports that we inherited from the previous Government—a policy with which we do not disagree. I have no doubt that it must be our first priority to develop a full range of air services from Manchester, but we have a perfectly flexible attitude to the development of Liverpool, and as demand builds up there it can play a greater role.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about environmental problems. If one must make a choice on this very difficult series of issues, one cannot but be aware of the environmental problems, which arise wherever one seeks to meet the extra demand. However, when this country has airline revenues of £2,000 million a year, when 70,000 or so people work in the airline business, when 18 per cent. of the country's trade, by value, goes through our airports, and when we are a major trading nation, I just do not believe that we can say that we shall not meet the demand. This is a growth industry. We have to meet the demand. I accept that it has environmental consequences, which make me no happier than they make the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I, for one, am delighted with this sensible and realistic decision, and that since our constituents have lain far too long under the shadow of the Maplin proposal I am sure that it will also be warmly welcomed by my hon. Friends the Members for Maldon (Mr. Wakeham) and for South end, East (Sir S. McAdden)?

Will my right hon. Friend carry his realism a little further? As a very high proportion of the air traffic from southeastern airports is short-haul to the Continent, will he give an indication that he is ready to give encouragement to the early provision by private enterprise, in this country and in France, of a Channel tunnel?

Mr. Nott

I have always been interested in and attracted to the idea of a Channel tunnel. The traffic forecasts that we have taken into account in coming to these views assumed the building of a single-track rail-only link, now under consideration. This was assumed—it is embodied in the forecasts of traffic—to take 6 million passengers in its first year of operation—that is 1988—and 8 million by the end of the century. Diversion was considered to be mainly from shipping services, and the forecasters say that the loss to air services would be well below one year's growth, so that even with the Channel tunnel it really would not affect the need for some expansion of capacity in the London and South-East airports. But certainly I am an enthusiast, too, although the Government have not yet, I think, pronounced a policy on this subject.

Mr. Palmer

In his reference to the development of regional airports, the right hon. Gentleman referred to Birmingham but omitted Bristol, Lulsgate, which is within easy reach of London by road and by rail, and where the Bristol corporation is now actively considering an extension of the runway.

Mr. Nott

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. If I had mentioned every regional airport by name my statement would still be continuing. I am a West Country Member of Parliament, and I am interested in the scope for the development of Bristol. The present capacity of Bristol is 350,000, and in 1978 terminal passengers amounted to 230,000, so there is scope for development at Bristol. It would require considerable expenditure on new terminal facilities and some extension of the runway. Given the modern facilities available at Cardiff and the ease of access to the London area, I do not foresee major developments at the hon. Gentleman's airport, but if he wishes to persuade his local authority to make approaches to us about additional runway capacity and additional terminals, I am sure that we should be prepared to look at them sympathetically.

Mr. Adley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that successive Governments have merely responded to, rather than sought to act to influence, the patterns set by the travel industry, and that, particularly, the creation of part charters has put enormous pressure on south-eastern airports? It is cheaper to bring people down by coach from Newcastle, Manchester and Birmingham. Is it not rather silly in the national interest to consider spending further huge sums of money in South-East England in order to make it cheaper to sell package tours from Newcastle or Birmingham to Ibiza, via London, when they should be flying from the regional airports? Will my right hon. Friend consider again banning charter and part-charter flights from Heathrow and Gatwick?

Mr. Nott

We are doing our very best to encourage charter flights direct from the regions to overseas cities. The more we can persuade airlines and the travel industry to operate direct flights from the regions to overseas holiday areas the happier we shall be. But the Government cannot force the travel industry to fly from airports that it does not wish to fly from.

Mr. Adley

They could be banned.

Mr. Nott

I do not think that my hon. Friends are really asking the Government to impose mandatory sanctions against the travel industry. But when there is so much uncertainty about the growth in tourism, about world growth, about international travel and about oil prices, it must be right not to build an enormous expensive airport at a coastal site. It must be right to respond to demand as it is created. I think that this is the correct policy and not the wrong one.

Mr. Sandelson

Is the Minister aware that his statement and his decision to abandon thoughts of a fifth terminal at Heathrow will be warmly welcomed by my constituents and by all the residents in the borough of Hillingdon? Does he take account of the need for developing the road infrastructure throughout the area, even with the construction of a fourth terminal? Will he bear in mind the need for Government finance and funding for the Hayes bypass scheme?

Mr. Nott

I seem to be getting a warmer welcome from Opposition Members than I am getting from many of my hon. Friends, but that is not entirely unexpected. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will be asking an announcement today about the M25. I cannot comment on the particular road that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I am not personally very knowledgeable about the road network at Hayes. However, if the hon. Gentleman cares to address these questions to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be happy to respond to him. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the fact that we shall not be building a fifth terminal at Heathrow.

Mr. Jessel

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour Party and the Liberal Party showed a reckless disregard for the quality of life and for the environment of people living around Heathrow when in 1974 they combined to drop the proposal for a coastal airport at Maplin, which could have been in operation by 1981 or 1982, so that we would not now have needed a fourth terminal at Heathrow? What hope can my right hon. Friend offer for people suffering from aircraft noise in the Heathrow area?

Mr. Nott

In the Heathrow area, noise affects about 1½ million people. We estimate that the increased use of the single runway at Stansted will affect only about 17,000 people. That is much too high a figure, but I am afraid that these are the facts of life. In the Heathrow area about 1½ million are affected by the noise.

Therefore, there are a number of things that I can say to my hon. Friend. First, we are moving speedily to the phasing out of noisy aircraft. We are going rather faster than the rest of the Community, but the Community now has at least agreed a date.

Secondly, I hope to bring forward—I am not sure whether I shall bring them forward, or whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will do so—orders to improve our noise insulation arrangements. They will be coming forward.

There are a number of other matters that we can consider at Heathrow. We have put some restrictions on noise with regard to the use of the fourth terminal. My hon. Friend will learn more about them later today.

Mr. Newens

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the manner in which he has ridden roughshod over the recommendations of the Roskill Commission on Stansted will be seen as a complete travesty of democracy by everyone who lives in the area? According to the Energy Conservation Council, the amount of fuel to be used for aviation purposes by the year 2000 will be two and a half times the present level and 90 per cent. of journeys will be for leisure purposes. Therefore, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a ceiling should be set for the maximum use of Stansted? Other parts of the country have already been destroyed through lack of planning and it would be wrong to destroy this area as well.

Mr. Nott

The proposal for greater use of the existing runway at Stansted bears no relation to what the Roskill Commission considered, which was a four-runway airport, on the basis of much noisier aircraft. I have placed some background briefing in the Vote Office, which the hon. Gentleman can see and which sets out the noise contours as we think they would have been on the basis of the Roskill report and on the basis of the present arrangements. We are considering use of an existing runway, and that proposal bears no resemblance to Roskill. I hope also that there will be jobs available for the hon. Gentleman's constituents. We have the demand, and we have to meet it. The Government believe that it is best to meet it while we can on existing runways, and that is what we are doing at Stansted.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

I welcome decentralisation, but does my right hon. Friend appreciate the fact that my welcome does not extend to his U-turn on the main issue? Would it not have been preferable to follow his predecessor in the Heath Administration and conclude that if, in principle, a substantial increase of airport facilities is required in the South-East, having regard to such things as world recession and escalating oil prices, the airport should be placed on the coast, where economic advantages could be combined with imaginative development? That would also overcome the environmental disadvantages so powerfully and authoritatively expressed by Professor Sir Colin Buchanan, who is one of the most eminent town planners of the day. Will my right hon. Friend think again before embarking on a course of action in regard to Stansted that is wholly inconsistent with good planning principles and would cause what the professor called a gross intrusion into a desirable inland tract?

Mr. Nott

I followed the views of Professor Buchanan closely, and particularly so in the past few months. I believe that I correctly quote him when I say that he thinks that the best way of dealing with this problem is to meet the demand as it develops. I am not for one moment saying that Professor Buchanan would choose a build-up of traffic on the existing runway at Stansted—I do not want to put those words in his mouth—but his general view is that we should meet the demand as it develops, which is what I am attempting to do.

Our estimate—I do not think that it is far wrong—is that it would take 17 years to build a major new international airport at Maplin. I went into the matter with great care. The present problem is that we still do not have the remotest idead where we can put the Ministry of Defence establishment at Shoeburyness. We originally tried to get it into Wales, but that proposal was rejected by the planning inspector. We just do not know where the defence establishment will go, but wherever it goes it will cause major concern for the environment.

Secondly, such a proposal would require about 40 miles of new road and rail links through Essex, which would cause great environmental distress. The lead time makes it now impossible and the costs are simply huge. One could not contemplate putting a single runway at Maplin. It would have to be a two-runway airport, and we simply do not know that the demand is there for a two-runway airport.

I, too, am unhappy about taking up 1,500 acres of agricultural land at Stansted, but there is also grade I land at Maplin, which would have to go. Comparing the environmental problems in both places, I believe that the problems of Maplin are much greater than the proposal to use the existing single runway at Stansted.

Mr. Alfred Morris

The Minister's proposals to encourage more international flights from Manchester will be greatly welcomed by the airport authority, but what level of expansion is he looking for there? It will be our foremost airport outside London over the next 10 years. What action will he take to help bring about such expansion?

Mr. Nott

Manchester at present has a capacity for 6 million passengers, and in 1978 only 3,400,000 passengers used the airport. It was designated by the previous Government as a category A airport, and it is the policy of this Government to encourage more international flights from Manchester to serve the whole area. We do not see any obstacles to its speedier growth, but we need more demand for Manchester airport, which means negotiating more services. We should like to see Manchester grow, as I believe the right hon. Gentleman would.

Mr. Steen

Is the Minister aware that the people of Liverpool will be disappointed that he has not announced a new terminal for Speke airport? We have two of the safest and best runways in the country and there are no environmental problems, because take-off and landing are over the Mersey. There is enough land for a free port and a third or fourth terminal without taking agricultural land.

Mr. Nott

At present, about half the capacity of Liverpool airport is being used. It has a capacity for 700,000 passengers and in 1978 only 300,000 passed through there. If my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) and other of my hon. Friends can encourage more traffic out of Liverpool, I shall be happy sympathetically to consider expansion. However, while its existing facilities are not fully used, it is hardly the occasion to agree more expenditure. We shall do so as soon as there is a justification.

Mr. Dalyell

If Prestwick closes, to which airports will aircraft be diverted if fog suddenly blankets the North of England and Scotland?

Mr. Nott

It is much too soon to make such hypothetical assumptions. I know that the hon. Gentleman was here during questions, but before he came back into the Chamber—

Mr. Dalyell

I heard the answer, but ministerial meetings do not disperse fog.

Mr. Nott

Glimpses of the truth are seldom thrown across the Floor of the House in such an accurate way. I am conscious of the problems at Prestwick. We are aware of British Airways proposals and will look into them as soon as we can.

Mr. Bright

Luton corporation has just announced a new £6 million terminal, which will provide 6,500 jobs and make a profit of £1½ million. Is it therefore possible to give Luton some assurance that it will be able to keep its existing capacity and that the lucrative charter trade that it has built up will not be creamed off by Stansted?

Mr. Nott

At present Luton has a capacity for 3 million passengers, and in 1978 2,100,000 passed through, so there is scope for additional traffic. We do not intend to see the services at Luton diminished, but it is only right to tell my hon. Friend that if Stansted built up to many millions of passengers air traffic control problems might arise. In the foreseeable future such problems will not arise. We are happy for Luton to go on expanding its facilities.

Mr. Urwin

Will the Minister accept my firm assurance of support for much of what has been said about placing greater accent on regional airports—if only in order to remove some of the great congestion and noise nuisance in Heathrow and Gatwick? However, will the Minister pay much more attention to the problems of Newcastle and Teeside airports? In response to a question from one of his hon. Friends, let me tell the Minister that we in the North of England would welcome greater investment in Tyneside and Teeside, and the jobs that would go with that.

Mr. Nott

Newcastle airport has a present capacity of 1½ million passengers. Over 700,000 passengers used the airport in 1978. I confirm Newcastle's position as the regional airport for the North-East. The airport authority has come forward with plans to expand the terminal's facilities and we are giving sympathic consideration to the proposal. I am aware of the dissatisfaction that is felt on Teeside about its categorisation as a local airport. While Newcastle develops as the major airport of the North-East we shall not interfere with that development. At the same time we shall not stifle any demand on Teeside.

Mr. Speaker

Order. In view of the fact that, inevitably, the answers have been longer than I expected, I will call four more Conservative Members to try to retain the balance—as I often do, in the same way, for Opposition Members.

Mr. Emery

Does my right hon. Friend realise that his statement is one of those in which a Minister can never win? Whatever the decision, there is bound to be criticism. He deserves congratulations for being willing to grasp the nettle and come to a decision rather than pussyfoot about. Will he confirm that, when his Department receives applications for expansion or improvement of regional airports that have been held up waiting for his statement, the authorities can expect to have a rapid answer in order to proceed to meet the requirements that he is setting on regional airports?

Mr. Nott

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. A friend is always welcome in these circumstances. My Department hopes to discuss the matter with representatives of the local airport authorities in the new year, with a view to agreeing new arrangements that will come into effect in April 1981. There is a need to discuss the arrangements of regional airports in the future with regard to their financial structure, and we shall be doing so shortly.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has another friend? I congratulate him on taking a firm decision on a matter about which there has been dithering for far too long. Did I understand him to say, in answer to an earlier question, that there is to be more than one inquiry at Stansted? In any event, will he ensure, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, that the planning procedures and the public inquiries are not abused as excuses for delay? That will only increase uncertainty and anxiety among those who live close by.

Mr. Nott

We will ensure that those living in the area will have sufficient time to prepare their case. Subject to that, my right hon. Friend and I would like the inquiry to take place as soon as possible. There will be only one wide-ranging inquiry, in which all views can be heard.

Mr. W. Benyon

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's desire to settle the matter once and for all. Will he reconsider the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley)? Without a certain amount of direction, the operators will always continue to use London. London will continue to be swamped, and it will become worse than it is now.

Mr. Nott

I have taken note of that point and, of course, I will look into it. About 78 per cent. of all people going in and out of the country have their destination or source in South-East England. An overwhelming proportion of those travelling in and out of the country derive from the South-East. However, I take my hon. Friend's point. I want to see more use made of the regional airports by the charter operators.

Mr Eldon Griffiths

As one who announced on behalf of the Government of which my right hon. Friend was a member—certainly a supporter of the decision—that Stansted was the wrong answer and Maplin was the right answer, may I, with great respect and affection, counsel my right hon. Friend not to assume too lightly that the Government will necessarily get their way in this matter? Why is it better, in an island, to put aeroplanes down over the homes and the land of the people, instead of over the sea?

Mr. Nott

I answered that point earlier. I do not know whether the Government will get their way, but that is not the spirit in which I have entered into the matter. I have offered a wide-ranging public inquiry, and we will see what the inspector recommends. When my hon. Friend was in the Department of the Environment he did not propose or even consider the policy that I am now proposing.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Yes, I did.

Mr. Nott

If he did, the proposal of the previous Government—of which we were both members—was for a major international airport at Maplin. That is not what I am proposing for Stanstead. I propose the building of a new terminal to make full use of the existing runway. That is quite a different policy from the one that was considered in the early 1970s.

Having looked into the matter as objectively as I can, I believe that the environmental consequences of finding somewhere else for the Ministry of Defence installations would be too great. The previous Conservative Government did not succeed in that matter because the public inquiry in Wales turned down the proposal that the defence installations should be sited in Wales. When I consider the 65 kilometres or 40 miles—askprefer to describe it—of road and railway that would be required, and all the other environmental problems that would arise at Maplin, given that we do not know whether we want a two-runway airport and the fact that it would cost £1,000 million of public expenditure—whereas my proposals can be financed from the resources of the British Airports Authority without any accesss to the taxpayer—I ask my hon. Friend to reconsider his view. Also, I will look again at mine.