HC Deb 21 May 1979 vol 967 cc686-9
15. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects to be able to take a decision on the question of a third airport for London.

Mr. Tebbit

This decision will not be needlessly delayed. I have decided that the work of the advisory committee on airports policy and the study group on South-East airports should continue. Their reports are expected in the autumn. The study group issued a progress report on 18 May and, while this does not commit the Government, I have arranged for a copy to be placed in the Library.

Mr. McCrindle

If it is already too late to consider the development of a virgin site, such as Willingale in my constituency, for the third London airport, and if, for public expenditure and environmental reasons, Maplin is unlikely to be taken up again, will my hon. Friend consider recommending to the bodies he mentioned the suggestion that a moderate increase in the use of Stansted, allied to the development of a second runway at Gatwick, may render it unnecessary to have a third London airport at all?

Mr. Tebbit

I am not in the business of making recommendations to these bodies—they are in the business of making recommendations to the Government. Those recommendations will be considered and action will be taken, but it is difficult to believe that London could continue without a considerable expansion in airport capacity over the next decade.

Mr. Spearing

Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that these bodies look at the genuine demand, since it is cheaper to send people by coach or train from the North or the Midlands to London than it is to fly them there? Will he look into the demand and perhaps consider some of the airport sites in the Midlands instead?

Mr. Tebbit

Again, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I am not in the business of sending people, whether by air or coach, to places to which they do not want to go. We are in the business of seeing whether there is a genuine demand and providing for it if it is shown to exist.

Mr. Madel

On the question of the six sites mentioned in the report, will the committee hear evidence in public from those affected? Will my hon. Friend tell the advisory committee to stop wandering around the Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire border looking for sites since the Roskill inquiry, after a great deal of discussion, turned down flat the idea of having the third London airport in that area?

Mr. Tebbit

I understand well enough what my hon. Friend says, but these committees have on them representatives from the local authorities concerned and, indeed, all the other interests concerned, and, although they have issued their list of possible sites, that is as far as the matter has gone at present. Sooner or later a decision will have to be made, and, in my belief, it must be made relatively soon.

Mr. Heffer

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, whatever decision he takes in relation to a third London airport, he will run into great difficulty with Members on the Government side of the House? Therefore, is not he aware that there are other airports—for example, Liverpool airport, which is under-used and which has very large runways which can take all the great traffic possible, and if it was linked up with the railway it would be a great asset to the country? Will not he take that into consideration?

Mr. Tebbit

I am aware of the existence of Liverpool airport, but I think that there are major difficulties in persuading people who want to come from America to London to do so via Liverpool. On the other hand, no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be as pleased as I am by the fact that since British Midland Airways, a private enterprise airline, took over the provision of services from Liverpool, traffic has increased and the deficit on running the airport has considerably decreased. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to pay tribute to that private enterprise airline for providing the services.

Mr. W. Benyon

Does not my hon. Friend consider that this situation shows the tragedy of cancelling the Maplin project? What form will the final recommendation of these committees take? Will it be one site or two sites, or will they present all the options to the Secretary of State for his decision?

Mr. Tebbit

The cancellation of the Maplin project is water under the bridge. As to the question of how the committees report, that is a matter for them. Personally, I would be somewhat surprised, considering the make-up of the committees, if they were able to come to a single recommendation. I think that that will be left to the Government.

Mr. Rooker

Did the Minister understand whether his hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) was acually asking for the third London airport to be in his constituency?

Mr. Tebbit

I would be extremely surprised if my hon. Friend was asking for it to be in his constituency. No doubt the hon. Member is aware that my constituency is not very far away from that area, either.

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