HC Deb 26 July 1979 vol 971 cc1120-41

3.13 a.m.

Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

I want to raise the question of delays to holiday flights, including charter flights, particularly from northern airports. I want to raise in the Estimates expenditure on the Civil Aviation Authority and, through it, Euro-control, the EEC, the Council of Europe, the Western European Union and even, perhaps, NATO.

I want to review some of the reasons for these delays and to discuss what politicians and Governments can do to eliminate or reduce some of the causes of all flight delays. By way of introduction, I welcome the fact that the procedure of the House is to be changed. I hope that a sub-committee made up of representatives of the new Select Committees concerned with trade, transport and the European Community will look very closely at the international implications of air traffic control. This is the key to improving the efficiency, time-keeping and safety of flying and easing the plight of holiday-makers, let alone schedules airline passengers, particularly during June, July, August and even September.

The business traveller is no less concerned than the holidaymaker about the expertise and complexity of the technology that enables a scheduled or charter flight to go through congested air space, involving many national air traffic control systems, efficiently and reasonably punctually. One can follow the dictum "Out of sight, out of mind". It is only when a flight is delayed, for whatever reason, that the business traveller and the holidaymaker begin to question what goes on behind the scenes to make the journey possible. I hope that the debate will give those who travel an insight into what has been built up to make commercial flying possible.

I have tried to raise this issue in the House on a number of occasions. If I had been lucky enough to be able to move a Private Member's motion, I should have preferred the whole problem to be examined in a half-day debate than to keep my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade up at this hour of the night. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend, who has responsibility for these matters, is to reply. I do so because of his expertise as an ex-airline pilot and his work as chairman of the Conservatives' aviation committee in the House. I know that he has a deep understanding of the problems that I am raising and the international implications which go well beyond his desk.

My hon. Friend's predecessor, the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis), gained considerable experience in his office of the operation of Euro-control and the need to look at air traffic control as an international, rather than a national, issue. I had considerable correspondence and meetings with the hon. Gentleman, but I never regarded him as a strong European, although it would be unfair to accuse him of being a little Englander, particularly in this matter.

I hope that my hon. Friend will seek out the facts now that he is in office, that he will make his own judgment, and not be too dependent upon the officials in his Department. This debate will give him the opportunity to acquaint himself with what has happened during the previous Government's period in office, and give him a chance to do his homework during the recess, so that he can take suitable action to remove some of the complaints of holidaymakers who have been subject to delays.

It seems that already the holidaymaker departing from Manchester and other North of England airports, on charter flights in particular, is being exposed to considerable inconvenience. There have been recent press reports of passengers being moved from Manchester to Liverpool. That could happen in bad weather conditions as well.

I have been in touch with the air traffic controllers at West Drayton and Prestwick. I gather that at weekends now the normal delays to flights from Spain and elsewhere in the Mediterranean are at the most two to four hours. But I have heard of holidaymakers spending half a day or six to eight hours and even 10 hours at those airports.

From the North of England, particularly from Manchester, flights to Spain, for example, are routed by Devon, Brest and Bordeaux. On the other hand, some of the restrictions that have been affecting the Paris air controllers are not now too severe. But there are the Barcelona restrictions—two flights every 20 minutes, six per hour, between 4 a.m. and 9 p.m.

This affects journeys to many destinations, including Barcelona, Palma and Ibiza. Today, travel agents have developed rebate schemes and compensation in connection with hotel accommodation. It could be that the public now accept that these delays are inevitable at this time of the year—this time being at the mercy of the French and Spanish controllers. Perhaps the position this year is not as bad as it has been in the previous two years, despite the increase in tourist traffic.

Hon. Members may ask why flight delays should be a political issue at all and may say that this matter should be the sole concern of civil aviation authorities and the airlines. The aeroplane is an example of a highly sophisticated advanced technology, developed in this century It is only 70 years ago this year that Blériot crossed the Channel. A flight involves flight planning, traffic flow management and all the sophisticated technologies of communications and radar.

Flight today is international. The jet airliner flies at 10 miles a minute. The supersonic aircraft flies at 20 to 25 miles a minute. The unified air traffic systems which serve the United States cover seaboard to seaboard flight times of four to five hours. In the Soviet Union, if I am right, Leningrad to Vladivostok is eight to 10 hours. A modern jet aircraft crosses the Channel in about two minutes, it covers small countries such as Holland and Belgium in 10 to 15 minutes. Flight over European air space covers 26 countries. Each country tends, because of its history, to regard its own air space as sovereign and the control of air traffic a national responsibility. Each country has its own Minister and Ministry of Defence, its own Civil Aviation Authority or equivalent, and each country has its own Minister with responsibility for civil aviation. I warn my hon. Friend that functionaries like to have command over their own domain, including the national air space.

A flight from Stockholm to Ibiza, for instance, has to obtain clearance from five or six different air traffic control authorities. The forces of nationalism in Europe impose immense restrictions upon smooth air traffic flow. They can be overcome; they are being overcome. Surely the problems of the fare-paying passenger over European air space demand international co-operation and cry out for a European solution, rather than a series of national solutions and, when things go wrong, national inquests.

It is in this area of technology that a good case for European co-operation and co-ordination can best be made. I have been concerned with this problem for a number of years and I seek the indulgence of hon Members while I tabulate how I have been concerned with meetings and discussions in this sphere.

In the early 1970s, as chairman of the Conservative transport committee, I became involved in the pattern of airline services as part of a transport pattern not only of Britain but over Europe. Subsequently, I was able to attend a colloquy on aviation in 1973 in Paris, organised by Count Pierre de Montesquioa, who was president of the Science and Technology Committee of Western European Union. At that meeting those with different interests gained a much better understanding of the role that each had to play. There were Members of Parliament from all over Europe, heads of airports, members of the International Civil Airports Association, the civil aviation authorities, and representatives of aircraft manufacturers and of the electronics and avionics industries. Even if no conclusion was reached, that conference brought about a better understanding among those attending it of the issues involved.

Going a stage further, there was an air collision over Zagreb on 10 September 1976, which took place just before a joint meeting in plenary session of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. This was a collision between a British Airways Trident and a Yugoslav DC9 which had been routed as a charter, with German tourists, from Split to Cologne. At the time it was a matter of concern to hon. Members in the House of Commons and of even more concern to German Members of Parliament in the Bundestag. The report on the causes of the Zagreb air disaster is well known, and it gave rise to an excellent film "Collision Course" which was presented on Independent Television a few months ago.

Arising out of a debate in the European Parliament in October 1976 the Regional Planning, Regional Policy and Transport Committee—I emphasise the transport aspect of its work—the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and the Energy and Research Committee were given the task of looking into the whole question of air traffic control over Europe. I was able to present the technical opinion for the Energy and Research Committee. A rapporteur, an Italian senator N[...]e, produced document 49/78, published on 20 April 1978, and that was debated on 9 April last year. We were then at the European Parliament debating an essentially European problem in a European forum.

In the meantime, the Council of Europe had a report on air traffic collision avoidance—document 4028 of 21 September 1977—prepared by another Italian, senator Treu, and there was a subsequent debate in which reference was made to the work being done by the European Parliament.

Last summer, because I was anxious that hon. Members should know of international political thought in this House, I managed, as a member of the parliamentary and scientific steering committee, to arrange for that committee to have a seminar evening meeting on air traffic control, followed by a visit to West Drayton. That enabled hon. Members to see what was going in this country and to acquaint themselves with the complexities of the problem.

Two summers ago there was the British air traffic control assistants' dispute, and that presented immense challenges to the British travel agents and tourist industries. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will reveal the extent to which insurance and compensation schemes are placating travellers at present.

Last summer there was the French air traffic controllers' dispute, in sympathy with the problems facing the Spanish, and that caused delays to holidaymakers. If British holidaymakers were inconvenienced last summer, it appears that German and Scandinavian holidaymakers were even more inconvenienced. That problem gave rise to debates in the Bundestag and to special debates in the European Parliament.

The outcome was that President Columbo of the European Parliament agreed to promote a hearing in Paris, and that was held under the chairmanship of Lord Bruce of Donnington on 19 and 20 March this year. That was a public hearing to promote efficient air traffic management and control. I hope that my hon. Friend has read in detail the substance of that hearing and studied the subsequent report, published on 2 May 1979, just before our election—document 106/79—and debated immediately after the election on 7 May, when I was able to give my views.

I urge that all the work that has been done in the Council of Europe and by other expert bodies should be made known to Members of this House, as it affects our aviation industry and passengers, and I hope that suitable specialist Select Committees will next year review what has been done in the international sphere.

I am convinced that the directly elected Members of the European Parliament, including those from this country, who must examine the role of the EEC in this area, will realise that air traffic control is an issue crying out for a European solution. I am even more convinced that this conviction is equally strong amongst those from this House who go to the Council of Europe and to the Western European Union. What tends to happen is that each country regards delays as a problem peculiar to its own systems and airline and charter companies. Too many Members of national Parliaments close their eyes to the international implications which are so essential for the solution of the problems of the citizens represented by those Members.

I have also sensed a changing attitude among airlines. I have been impressed over the past three years by the extent to which airlines regard air traffic control as an international problem involving Governments and politicians, not only in regard to European air space but throughout the world. Since I have been concerned with air traffic and the problems facing Britain, particularly the North, I have realised that the problem cannot be left to experts alone. In involves politicians, not only in national Parliaments, but in international forums.

Mr. Hammarskjöld, the president of IATA, wrote to me in September. I apologise for quoting a speech at this late hour, but I should like to refer to what he said at the hearing in Paris. He said then, as he has said repeatedly: Let me say quite frankly that, at the present time, the air traffic system in Europe is not performing effectively. It is afflicted by an almost continuous, endemic, series of strikes, go-slows, and other impediments initiated by the personnel directly involved. Moreover, even when all the staff are working at normal levels the system is inadequate to deal with traffic demands during the summer. Consequently, during most of the year, airlines operating within and to Europe are suffering serious, expensive delays and disruptions which threaten the economic health not only of the airline industry but also of tourism and trade and, hence, the economy of Europe itself. These issues are of concern not only to European airlines members of IATA but also to the large number of non-European airlines who operate long-haul services. Europe is the natural hub of long haul services from all over the world: from the Americas, from Africa, and from the Middle and Far East. In past years, economic penalties resulting from inadequacies in the European air traffic system have been severe. Moreover, our members anticipate a problem of crisis proportions in the summer of this year as a result of anticipated industrial problems. … It is the considered view of IATA that the poor performance of the European air traffic system—apart from the problems of industrial unrest—results from its fundamental fragmentation in both overall planning and management. He pointed out that one airline described the process as being similar to driving down an autobahn until one reaches a national boundary and finding that traffic is then funnelled into a country lane. The situation is further complicated by the large amount of European air space reserved for military use.

There are some obvious facts to be considered. Air traffic control is subject not only to political constraints but to the defence needs of each country. It is too complicated in a debate such as this to outline the extent to which civil flying is confined to narrow corridors between airports and the extent to which air traffic control of the air forces of European countries—military ATC—is separated from, but co-ordinated with, civil ATC.

Safety considerations and defence requirements over European air space are costly and have to be paid for by the fare-paying passenger. Air traffic control accounts for about 10 per cent. of the cost of a flight, while fuel bills vary between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. of that cost.

I have mentioned the Soviet Union and the United States having unified, integrated air space. When I went to the United States I was impressed by the fact that there are 20 identical air traffic control centres, with one co-ordinating centre in Washington. I hope to see again the developments of the last five years when I go to Washington next month.

This year, when Europe mourns the death of Jean Monnet, one of the founders of the concept of a federal Europe, it is appropriate to apply some of his precepts to the problem of air traffic control. He perceived the need for a Europe whose whole would be greater than the sum of its parts, as far back as World War I. He evolved the method of decision-making by States in full possession of their sovereignty, basing themselves on the advice of expert committees in which national considerations were subordinated to technical ones. Does not this apply to the control and movement of aircraft today?

This century has seen, rightly or wrongly, the growth of political power, whether at local level, county, department, regional or State level, let alone national or European level. That is why I believe that the safe and economic movement of freight and passengers by air involves political considerations and criteria. In this aspect of air traffic control, I accept that technology can adapt itself within the political, diplomatic or administrative parameters, whether these are determined by independent international organisations, of which IATA is an example, or by compromise between national Governments, of which in one area Euro-control is an example, and the European Space Agency is another.

Those two bodies have representatives on their controlling boards from the national Governments who support them but are not really subject to international parliamentary scrutiny, and certainly not by the European Parliament. This is certainly true of Euro-control, if not the European Space Agency, which has been monitored by parliamentarians in the Western European Union. Euro-control is a responsibility of national Governments, national Ministers, and, of course, is not the responsibility of the European Economic Community.

A matter that has impressed me is that IATA and others consider that there is an urgent need to establish a centralised tactical air traffic flow management system in Europe. In a submission at the conference they referred to co-ordination between individual national units with the objective of integration into a centralised system with functional authority. On the other hand, when talking to the French Minister of Transport—I have spoken to the Under-Secretary of State and certainly his predecessor—I have had, as I have from discussions with Euro-control, confirmation that there is a continuing desire to maintain national sovereignty over air space in Europe because, above all other reasons, of a separate defence requirement.

There is a lack of political will in the European sense to achieve technically what has been achieved in the United States of America. I am hopeful that my hon. Friend will have a stronger will and sense than his predecessor, because this Parliament and British Ministers, let alone, for instance, those in other countries—the Bundestag and German Ministers, for instance—without a stronger participation in international activities, are powerless to deal with the complexities and idiosyncrasies of air traffic control and the delays that they impose on our citizens.

There is a need to crystallise and direct this political will to do something about the European scene. I accept that this will must be European and must transcend national Parliaments, but it is important that each national Parliament—and I include the House of Commons—looks much more deeply into the issues than can be done at this hour of the morning. Fare-paying passengers want someone to define what are the logs causing the blockage, so that they can once again flow freely. I have tried to identify national stances and suggested these to the European Parliament. It is only by patient international negotiation that these so-called national stances can be integrated into a more cohesive whole.

Of importance, therefore, is the concept of air traffic flow management and repeating part of what has been seen in the United States of America. Secondly, the EEC has an important role to play, and Commissioner Burke has been involved, but the Commission now can move forward only with caution. Thirdly, in research and development there is the immense momentum of the big companies in America such as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed. To match that effort in research we need co-ordination at EEC level, and that is where the Community and the Commission have a role to play.

There are defence limitations, particularly over Germany. The EEC excludes defence, and that is in the articles of the Treaty. One can ask whether too much provision is made for defence at present, but I shall not elaborate on that tonight.

I have been impressed by the fact that the civil aviation authorities in Europe, at the time of the grounding of the DC10, came together in Geneva under ECAC to challenge the veto of the FAA. The Civil Aviation Authority has most competent machinery for ensuring the safety of our aircraft, but at the hearing in Paris I backed the suggestion that there was a good case for a European aviation administration to carry out many of the functions of the FAA over European air space, not only in air traffic control but in integrating the needs of the airlines with the capacity of the industry to meet them. The first step in bringing about an international air traffic control system in Europe that has already been taken could have that ultimate objective, and that step was the convention of 1964 that set up Euro-control.

I have visited Karlsruhe and Maastricht, which are the most advanced units of their type in Europe. By 1984 there will be a new Euro-control convention. If the operation of air traffic is to become a national responsibility—which to a large extent it is already with the exception of Karlsruhe and Maastricht—what role should Euro-control take?

Air traffic flow management is technical and involves radar control of aircraft and pre-flight planning for the year and the month ahead as well as on the day. It is essential that on any one day the limited air traffic corridors are not overcrowded by too many charter flights that would far exceed the capacity of air traffic controllers and equipment. Let us hope that the delays to the vast number of holidaymakers leaving for the Mediterranean sun will not this year be as bad as is feared, or as bad as in the previous two years. There is much that can be done to improve the situation. The Under-Secretary of State invited me to discuss the work that has been done in the EEC and elswhere, and I take this opportunity of raising the debate so that frustrated holidaymakers may realise that there are immense complexities to overcome and that some Members of Parliament are aware of the problems.

I hope that what I have said tonight will illustrate that the solution to many air delay problems requires political will and cries out for a European solution. I hope, too, that the representatives of the House of Commons in the Council of Europe and the Western European Union will continue to examine the position. I further hope that our new directly elected Members of the European Parliament will consult the appropriate committees of national Parliaments to determine what can be done to overcome some of the difficulties that stand in the way of progress.

The operation and maintenance of air traffic equipment is important. If it represents problems in the United States and over European air space, perhaps because of the desire to exercise sovereignty over national air space, it poses greater challenges elsewhere over the traffic lanes of the world. The problems there are more complex because of the need to maintain and operate sophisticated equipment in areas where expertise and technical training might be lacking. ICAO has a responsibility, and the situation could be monitored by the United Nations. I shall be attending a meeting of the IPU in Caracas in September, and perhaps it would be better for the international implications to be looked at at IPU level first rather than by the United Nations.

I raise this matter because important decisions have to be taken. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has only just taken office, but I would welcome his views on how we in this country, the British Government and the House of Commons, can go forward to eradicate some of the problems that the airlines have to face.

3.45 a.m.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)

I must crave the indulgence of the House if my few remarks bear little relation to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn), but it would seem more prudent to speak now, if only to allow my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to have an earlier breakfast than he would have had otherwise.

We are facing a problem all over Europe of a choking of our airports and tremendous pressure on our existing facilities. The situation has changed considerably since the early 1970s. There have been some dramatic rises in oil prices, which obviously have affected the traffic, there has been a changing pattern of tourism in the last 12 months, with the stronger pound and the decline in the number of tourists from the United States, but the business traffic in the air seems to be increasing over both the long and the short-haul routes.

One begins to wonder whether there is an economic need for another United Kingdom airport and whether the case is perhaps not being coloured by the fact that such an airport would bring an improvement in our employment situation. But at what cost? It is important to talk about choice of site, about whether the proximity of a site to London is as important as some people are saying, and whether it is really necessary.

We must also ask where all the tourists are going to go now, and whether London itself, which seems at this time of year to be choked with tourists, is proving quite as popular as it was. Indeed, in the assessment of population in this country we are fairly evenly balanced, with the South holding about 17 million residents and the Midlands about 18 million. I wonder how long the South can continue to take the extreme overcrowding that we have experienced over the last few years.

We must ask ourselves what is needed for the country as far as a new airport is concerned. The proposition that has been put forward is that we should build a two-runway airport covering some 5,000 acres. That is not as large as the one envisaged by the Roskill Commission in the early 1970s, but that would mean a town of some 150,000 people and possibly more and a vast complex of roads and railways and massive service facilities.

It would also mean that the noise level would cover an area of at least 25 miles around the airport, causing great distress to a lot of people. We are told that the airport itself would be every bit as big as Heathrow, and would probably grow. I am rather suspicious of the intentions of planners once they have their pencils working on a drawing board. The cost is put at at least £1,000 million but would probably be greater. We are told that if we use a green field site it would take 10 to 12 years to develop, and that if the development was on an existing site it would take at least a further seven years. The people are beginning to ask how costly a new airport would be.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam said, we are experiencing some terrible delays in some of our flights, and we are suffering from overcapacity at our major airport at Heathrow. In a report published only last week it was said that by 1980 Heathrow would be full. A new terminal has been planned, of course, but this will not help the tremendous road congestion around Heathrow, and it will be no consolation to the residents round the airport to know that a new terminal is planned for the additional passengers that Heathrow is expected to take over the next few years. Conditions are fairly bad there now, and passengers are subject to delay and disruption in the approaches to the airport. I feel that a large number of additional passengers will make the position even worse.

The situation is better at Gatwick where, again, a new terminal is planned. But there is a far greater potential for growth. The noise factor is beginning to become a problem, however, in surrounding counties, and I know that some of my good friends in Kent are complaining already about the amount of traffic that is coming over them, and that, obviously, is intended to increase. Gatwick has the other disadvantage that, being south of London, passengers coming from the north have to travel across London by road or rail, causing further delays to often weary travellers.

Some growth could be made at Stansted, and there is talk of pushing the number of passengers there up to a maximum of 4 million, although I believe that even that would run into very fierce local opposition. At Luton, which is near my constituency, a little more than 3 million passengers are being handled. It is probably the fastest growing airport in the country, used mainly by charter flights for holidaymakers. It is thought that the total capacity could go up to 5 million passengers as an absolute maximum.

When one considers some of the other local airports, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Norwich and even possibly Manston in Kent, one begins to realise that a vast increase in the capacity of those airports on the scale of a third London airport would bring terrible environmental problems to them, as well as problems of access.

It is against that background that protests have begun again. The groups which were active in 1970 have begun to reactivate themselves and are beginning to raise money by jumble sales, fetes, public meetings and so on. Today I was talking to the chairman of the Wing Airport Resistance Association, who told me that in 1970 its costs were about £70,000 and that it is estimated that it will have to spend £250,000 to mount exactly the same operation. That will take a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money from a lot of people, and, who knows, it may be completely fruitless at the end of the day.

The opposition to these airports is far more bitter than it was in 1970, and I believe that it will be far more intense. We are all far more conscious of our environment than we were, and far more aware of our heritage. The opponents of environmental change are probably the fastest growing protest party in the land, and the moderate success of the Ecology Party at the last general election gives some hint that people are more concerned about their environment than they used to be. The people in Wing and Yardley Chase and those across in Essex are beginning to feel, as Professor Sir Colin Buchanan put it, like the condemned man who was reprieved but who now, of course, is being condemned again.

It is up to our Government to protect the countryside which we all enjoy. A large international airport would change the whole character of a county. It would result in the building of a new town the size of Sheffield and bring a vast complex of roads and railways which would change the area. Two or three of these areas have been through it before, and I suggest that it is a disgrace that they should have to go through it again.

Current airport developers seem to be no respecters of history. We know that if this large airport came to a green field site some churches would be flattened and even some graves destroyed, which would bring its own human misery. Vast acres of tarmac would take up good farmland which we can ill afford to lose when we still import half of our food. Our agriculture industry is very prosperous. To go on like this would mean that in another 200 years the country would be an entire block of concrete. The threat to life is sad for those who are affected. They cannot plan ahead. Those who are thinking of schools or an extension to their houses, and those with a business interest in a particular area, are forced to stop while we shilly-shally and wait to make a decision. In places like Wing, Yardley Chase and now at Willingale, England's green and pleasant land would be green and pleasant no longer under 5,000 acres of concrete.

I worry about the effect of action by protest groups if we go ahead with an inland site. It could mean that little old ladies will remain in their houses, with bulldozers all round them. We have only to recall recent experience in Japan. These protest groups are led by some powerful and some very professional men. They include QCs, planners, surveyors and are even well supported by some Members of Parliament. Of course, they are selfish for their own ends. One cannot blame them. But they are also selfish as protectors of the countryside.

The alternative is no airport at all. There would be no delays and, presumably, if all the traffic was sent away, no problem. I should like to suggest a brave new venture, one that is now completely unheard of but one that could be taken up with our EEC partners on the lines described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam.

The site is within easy access of the United Kingdom. It is a major inland international airport where the staff, from the waitresses to the pilots, speak perfect English and where our airport would be welcomed. The venture, I believe, would attract Belgian, French, Dutch and English money. The site is under-utilised and there is plenty of scope for expansion. That site is at Schipol in Amsterdam, which could serve as a truly international airport, with EEC backing. Those of us who avidly support the Common Market must consider it. Such an airport could attract the foreign investment that we need.

A basic advantage is Schipol's keenness that the airport should be sited there. A campaign advertising the airport as London's third airport has recently been concluded. The environmental problems are small—nothing like those that face proposals for a new airport in this country. Air Anglia, an excellent company, is the third largest airline flying into Schipol, after KLM and NLM, the two domestic airlines. Domestic flights from East Anglian airports have increased by 100 per cent. since last year.

Schipol is operating at 50 per cent. below capacity and could take another 9 million passengers without altering any facilities. A new terminal is planned, which will take another 18 million passengers. Another runway is planned, which would take the figure to 27 million passengers—the number travelling through Heathrow last year. The facilities are excellent, with the largest duty-free shop in the world, excellent conference facilities, family facilities and facilities for VIPs. The airport handles 25 per cent. of transfer fights. There is great potential for handling more. The rail link is new and first-class, and the road links are excellent.

Thirdly, there would be great advantage to United Kingdom airports. We could run from our provincial airports a scheduled shuttle service into Schipol very easily, with easy Customs clearance and great convenience to all travellers. For people throughout the United Kingdom, including those of us in the northern part of the Southern region, an enormous amount of time would be saved by going to this airport rather than struggling through to London.

Another small bonus is that if we began to ferry tourists between Schipol and the regions, it would help tourism in such places as Norwich, the Norfolk Broads, Cambridge and some of the East Coast beauty spots. A small plus, for Schipol, of course, is that it has suffered no industrial action in the last few years.

This could be an exciting development. The Schipol authorities also have an idea for a brand-new airport at Ysselmeer, just north of the present site, on reclaimed land that is more than adequate for our purposes, with room for all the houses and other facilities needed. It has little noise nuisance, few housing problems and easy air connections.

The Dutch Government have held this project on one side. I suggest that we get in touch with them and consider it for the 1990s. Such an airport could be a viable proposition for this country.

4.1 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Norman Tebbit)

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) has done the House a service in raising this matter, although I would rather he had done so at a more sociable time. However, perhaps this time of morning is a reasonable time to talk about delays.

There is nothing new about air traffic control delays. I recollect that in the early 1960s, while I was flying 707s to New York, I was occasionally asked to slow down on my way across the Atlantic because the New York area air traffic control system could not cope with the demands being made upon it. So we are not suddenly into a problem which has not been experienced before or solved before.

There are few flights, even from northern British airports, which do not experience air traffic control delays. In general, my constituents who face every day the battle to find an uncancelled railway train on the route from Chingford to Liverpool Street would think that the average air traveller received excellent service and rather fewer delays, frustrations and cancellations than they did.

However, I regard the present problems of air traffic control as extremely serious. It is possible that in future it will be air traffic control services, rather than the runways and terminals at our airports and the roads leading to them, which represent the limits to the extent to which the industry can expand. The delays are frustrating and expensive, and this problem affects the whole of Europe. I have noted the concern of various members of the European Assembly with air traffic control problems and I read with interest the record of the part played by my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam in the debates and committee hearings in Europe on this matter.

The main problem of congestion of traffic from the United Kingdom and other northern European countries across the centre of Europe to the South arises from the sharp peak of demand when capacity is fully used as everyone wants to go on holiday at the same time of year to the same parts of Europe. The situation has been exacerbated in recent years by a series of industrial disputes by air traffic controllers and others in many of the countries which are most involved in the routing of traffic.

Britain has experienced fewer such problems than many other countries. Apart from the unhappy dispute involving the air traffic control assistants, we have experienced few industrial disputes which have affected our air traffic control services. I express my thanks to the air traffic controllers, who often work under difficult conditions and are subject to industrial relations problems, not unconnected with outbreaks of incomes policy. I thank them and the travellers for their patience and forbearance. Unfortunately, industrial disruption has been aimed at creating the most havoc at the least expense to those who indulge in it. Outright strike action is not always involved. There have been go-slows, the withdrawal of co-operation and all manner of industrial relations warfare.

I do not condemn out of hand those controllers in Europe who have participated in industrial action. In many cases they have real problems. Some of them have problems about their civilian or military status. Some feel that their equipment undermines their professional standards. Some feel that they are grossly overworked. It is not for me to say how much substance there is in those complaints. However, the controllers feel deeply about these matters.

Our northern airports do not suffer unduly in comparison with airports in the South. There are no major air traffic control problems within the United Kingdom's air space which affect traffic flowing from the Continent towards the northern airports. The problems exist and they will cause trouble in future years. The technical remedies are, in the short term, to improve the rationalisation of demand to keep it within the constraints of supply. That is a heavy-handed way of saying that the airlines must accept that if they schedule aircraft to meet passenger demand in peaks over a few holiday weekends in the summer, as surely as there will be queues for other facilities by holidaymakers, there will be queues for the air traffic control facility.

I hope that we can devise systems that will meet those peaks. I am not sure whether there is an absolute right for everyone who wishes to travel at a particular weekend to be able to do so, regardless of the costs that that imposes on the system.

On many occasions when we have investigated to find out how the delay arose, we find that there was capacity in the system but that it was not used because of the inability of controllers and managers to fit the aircraft into the spaces that existed.

Air traffic control capacity depends not only on finance but on expertise. Both are still in somewhat short supply in many parts of Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Hallam mentioned Euro-control. It certainly has a wealth of expertise. It has assisted the European countries where it is based and those such as Greece, Spain and Portugal on which so many flights converge. However, the Euro-control partners seem unable to agree to a renewal of the present type of Euro-control convention, and that underlines the difficulties of multinational systems.

We have found it extremely difficult to get agreement, even among a limited number of partners, on the manner in which we should charge the airlines for the services which they enjoy through air traffic control. That has represented a considerable problem for Great Britain, although some other countries seem to have taken it rather more lightly.

Our national air traffic service, which through the participation of the CAA provides the ATC services in United Kingdom air space, is doing all that it can to improve matters, but it must be appreciated that most of the problems, whether technical or arising from industrial action, arise in areas outside the United Kingdom's responsibility.

Of course, we shall do our part to improve the liaison between our ATC services and those of our friends in Europe, but I question whether at present the all-singing, all-dancing, all-embracing all-European air traffic control system would necessarily solve more problems than it would create, or exacerbate. For example, would we move only at the pace of the slowest? Would industrial disputes be fewer? Or, indeed, when they occurred, would they be any less damaging if all the air traffic controllers in Europe had a common employer? I doubt it. Are we ready to move to a neo-federal solution whilst in some countries controllers are civilians and in others they are military personnel, whilst in some countries priority is given to military considerations and in others to civil considerations?

Our systems do not necessarily have to be common, but should be compatible technically and in volume capacity. Therefore, I intend to consider what we need in Britain in terms of our domestic air traffic control system, and what we hope will be provided by our partners to whom our traffic goes to take business to their countries. I hope that if each national State will consider its own programme to meet the demands likely to be made upon it we can get together to decide how we can make our systems compatible. We shall all draw upon a similar well of statistics. It is remarkable how often the aviation experts working independently can come to similar conclusions about the size and timing of the market for the air transport product.

I hope that we shall be able to look at these matters independently, consider how we each wish to finance those systems, and then consider how we can make the systems work together to the satisfaction of the air traveller.

Let me comment briefly upon some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle). It was interesting that while to a large extent my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam was advocating a programme of meeting demand without any restriction, my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West was suggesting that it might be right not to meet the demand.

I am not willing to prejudge the work being done by the two committees appointed to consider airports policy in Britain generally, and in the South-East especially, by the previous Government. It is noteworthy that that Government did two things about airports policy. They stopped us building Maplin to answer the needs of air traffic in the South-East, and they set up two committees. I have to wait to read what the two committees report, as they will report fairly shortly—I hope before the end of the Summer Recess. When we have received their reports we shall consider what the Government are to do to provide the facilities that our predecessors decided they would not provide.

It may help if I briefly remind the House that I have taken no decision yet on where provision should be made if it is needed. Six proposed sites have been indicated by one of the committees. I hope that it will be remembered that five of them will not get an airport. I suggest that some of those who are now engaged in raising money and spending money to the benefit of very few except printers and lawyers consider holding their fire until they see whether their area has been selected as a possible site for the airport.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hallam said that there should be no shilly-shallying over making a decision. There will be none. We shall not delay over making a decision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West, should not believe all the propaganda that he reads about Schipol. It is an airport that has hardly more traffic than Gatwick, which is our second airport at London. It has about as much traffic as that which is contemplated for the fourth terminal at Heathrow airport. That puts it into perspective. As 85 per cent. of the passengers that arrive at London's airports wish to come to London or the South-East, even if they all arrived at Schipol first they would all demand services to fly into London's airports. I do not think that my hon. Friend would remove the need to provide that capacity by insisting on passengers travelling via Schipol at great inconvenience rather than coming directly to London.