HC Deb 03 March 1982 vol 19 cc378-84

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. David Hunt.]

11.33 pm
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I am grateful for the opportunity, at only a few hours' notice, to raise a matter of great concern to thousands of my constituents. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade—again at a few hours' notice—for the fact that he has changed his arrangements in order to reply to this debate about the number of terminals at Heathrow Airport.

Heathrow Airport already has three terminals. The airport is crowded. Every day there are 600 or 700 flights. Each year between 27 million and 28 million passengers pass through the airport. Now a fourth terminal is under construction. That terminal, when completed, will increase passenger capacity to about 40 million persons annually. Yet, before that fourth terminal has been completed and we have had time to see how it works in practice, some people are suggesting that there should be a fifth terminal as well. My object is to ask for a further clear assurance that it remains Government policy that a fifth terminal at Heathrow should not be built.

Over the years, as the Member of Parliament for Twickenham, I have had to strive to find ways to mitigate the impact of airport noise and congestion upon our quality of life without harming employment and prosperity in the area. It has not been easy. Successive Administrations, through the Department of Trade, have helped, and local pressure groups in my constituency and at other places near Heathrow have had much to say about the matter. Local Members of Parliament have also played a part and we have had most of the night-time jet take-offs stopped. We have pressed successfully over the years for the introduction of quieter engines in bigger aircraft, and we have given frequent attention to the angle of take-off and to flight paths.

For all that, however, aircraft noise remains a major nuisance and in spring and summer, when windows are open, it causes a great deal of human suffering; it ruins people's quiet enjoyment of houses and gardens; it interrupts the work of schools, churches, hospitals and offices; and it interferes with people's private lives, with their telephone conversations, and with their opportunity to listen to records or to watch television.

It must be said that some people do not mind aircraft noise very much, but to a large proportion around Heathrow, perhaps upwards of a million people, it is a considerable nuisance, to many people a major nuisance, and to some it causes actual suffering, even mental ill-health, as has been shown by Dr. Herridge, consultant psychiatrist to the West Middlesex Hospital. It is a major social evil in the communities affected by it.

It is not enough to say, as British Airways does—British Airways advocates the construction of a fifth terminal at Heathrow—even if it is true, which I doubt, that a fifth terminal would not increase noise. The present noise level is unacceptable, and what my constituents and others around Heathrow require is a substantial and permanent reduction in the volume of noise. I make no apology for dwelling on that aspect.

I asked for a form to be sent round my constituency. It contained the question "Do you want a fifth terminal at Heathrow? Yes or no?" Seven hundred and seventy nine people took the trouble to post me their replies: 764 were against a fifth terminal and 15 were in favour. That ratio of 50:1 is all the more remarkable since all Members of Parliament know perfectly well that people write to one usually when they disagree with one's views. My constituents and I, however, are of like mind and, at a public meeting that I held on this subject in my constituency on Monday 8 February, 350 people attended and they were overwhelmingly against a fifth terminal at Heathrow. Some 40 of those present offered to give evidence at the public inquiry when it moves to the western side of London during the summer.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend says, particularly on noise; he says it very well and it applies to my constituency. However, there is one point on which he perhaps has not touched. The Government said in answer to my question The Government have stated their view on a number of occasions that a fifth terminal at Heathrow should not be provided."—[Official Report, 23 July 1981; Vol. 9, c. 195.] That was in answer to a question I put down in this Parliament and I trust that the Government are not going to change their minds in the same Parliament.

Mr. Jessel

I am very grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend, who is second to none in his determination to fight against aircraft noise. He has received that assurance in reply to his question, I and other hon. Members have also received assurances, but I am asking the Minister, when he comes to reply, to reiterate this tonight, because some interests, including British Airways, have been floating the idea that, after all, a fifth terminal should be provided. Therefore, we want to be clear, time and again, what Government policy on this matter actually is.

If I could go back to the public inquiry into the fourth terminal, at the end of it, in his report, the inspector, Mr. Ian Glidewell, QC, now Mr. Justice Glidewell, wrote: … it is in my view essential that, if they decide to permit Terminal Four, the Secretaries of State … he means the Secretaries of State for Trade and for the Environment should at the same time reiterate that it is the Government's policy that there will be neither a fifth terminal nor any other major expansion at Heathrow …

The former Labour Government in a White Paper in the latter part of the 1970s, expressed their opposition to a fifth terminal at Heathrow. As to the present Government, the present Secretary of State for Defence, when he was Trade Secretary two years ago, both in his statement in the House in December 1979 and in the airport policy debate in February 1980, stated a similar conclusion: 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."—[Official Report, 17 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 36.]

On 30 July last year, I formed part of a delegation of five hon. Members to see the present Secretary of State for Trade—who had, since the date of that quotation, taken office—and he wrote to me a few days later, on 4 August 1981, confirming the same position. He said in that letter: In his letter to you of 13 November 1980, which was issued as a press notice by my Department, Norman Tebbit, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, for Trade, confirmed that the Government's view remained unchanged; and in reply to a Parliamentary Question by Kenneth Carlisle on 13 May 1981, I reaffirmed the Government's view that a fifth terminal at Heathrow should not be provided. I do not think this can leave you in any doubt about the Government's views on the matter.

So the position is that both the Government and the Labour Opposition have officially expressed views against a fifth terminal. But that is not so of the Liberal Party, whose official spokesman in the airport debate in February 1980 reiterated that a fifth terminal at Heathrow should be considered.

Hon. Members for other constituencies than mine around Heathrow—my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), who is sitting on the Front Bench tonight, my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Mr. Mellor), for Fulham (Mr. Stevens), for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), for Windsor (Dr. Glyn), whom we have just heard, for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe), for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and other hon. Members have over the years expressed their concern at different times and their hostility on behalf of their constituents to the construction of a fifth terminal at Heathrow.

Apart from the problems of noise and congestion, we need to ask this question. If a fifth terminal is built on the Perry Oaks site—which, incidentally, would require some land for building in the Green Belt—what will happen over the re-siting of the sewage works at Perry Oaks? That sewage works is the property of the Thames water authority. Where will the Thames water authority re-locate that sewage works? It would have to be done if a large building were put there.

I understand that the Thames water authority has said that the site would have to be within 20 miles of Mogden sewage works in Isleworth, just to the north of my constituency. Several different places have been suggested as sites for such a sewage works, but it has not been fixed at any point. I hope that it never will be, because I hope that a fifth terminal will not be constructed thus causing the re-location of the sewage works.

My hon. Friends who have constituencies near Heathrow and I would all fight like tigers—we would fight implacably—to stop a sewage works from being put in our own constituencies. No one wants a sewage works as a neighbour. No one wants to look over his hedge or his fence and see a sewage works. If either British Airways or the Thames water authority imagine that they wound have an easy task in re-locating the Perry Oaks sewage works, they had better think again.

Although I have not given the Minister notice of this question, I shall be grateful if he will consider it sympathetically. When the public inquiry into both Stansted expansion and the idea of a fifth terminal—which were taken together for planning inquiry purposes—comes to the west side of London for hearings some time in the summer, I hope that the principal evidence of British Airways and other proponents of the fifth terminal will be heard again in full, so that my constituents have the opportunity to listen to and question that evidence. That was not possible during the first months of the inquiry, which took place at Quendon in Essex. The journey there was too difficult, and unless the evidence is given again on the west side of London, my constituents and others around Heathrow will be placed at a disadvantage.

11.45 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Iain Sproat)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) on his parliamentary nimble-footedness in seizing this opportunity, relinquished by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who would no doubt have astonished the listening world with what he originally hoped to say, and for bringing before us this extremely important and topical subject of the fifth terminal at Heathrow and related matters.

In answer to my hon. Friend's final point, I am sure that Sir John King and his colleagues will take careful note of what he said. I undertake to see that my hon. Friend's speech is drawn to the attention of the chairman of British Airways so that he may, I hope, do what my hon. Friend suggests.

As my hon. Friend is well aware from previous Question Times and speeches, my ability to respond to the points that he has raised in this debate is severely constrained by the fact that the proposal for the expansion of Stansted airport, which the Government invited the British Airports Authority to bring forward, the alternatives put forward by objectors to that application, including proposals to develop airports at Maplin and Severnside, and the planning application submitted by the Uttlesford district council for the development of a fifth terminal at Heathrow are all matters which are currently before the inspector, Mr. Graham Eyre QC, who was appointed by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Trade and the Environment to hold inquiries into these planning applications. When the inspector has heard all the evidence given at the public inquiries, he will prepare a report and submit his conclusions and recommendations to my right hon. Friends, who will then take the necessary decisions.

In view of my Department's quasi-judicial role in this matter, it would be wholly wrong for me to offer any comments on the detailed merits of the proposals currently before the inspector, or by anything I say to fetter or influence his judgment or to pre-judge his conclusions. I therefore apologise in advance to my hon. Friend if in my reply I appear to be more guarded than I would like to be, and if I fail to respond to all the points that he has made.

However, I do not wish to be unhelpful to my hon. Friend. I am well aware that my hon. Friend's constituents have suffered more than most from aircraft noise at Heathrow. He has always been a valiant defender of his constituents' interests in this matter, and I can therefore well understand his interest in raising the matter of the proposed fifth terminal, which is a matter of legitimate concern to him and to hon. Members from neighbouring constituencies. It may, therefore, be helpful if I explain the position regarding the planning inquiry procedures now under way.

Hon. Members will recall that the 1978 airports policy White Paper had laid out a framework for airports policy in the South-East. It had concluded that limits should be placed on the growth of existing airports and that Heathrow's ultimate development should be limited to not more than four terminals. The White Paper did not, however, deal with the problem of how the longer-term demand should be met in the London airport's system. This problem was left to the present Administration to deal with.

In his statement of 17 December 1979, the then Secretary of State for Trade set out the Government's conclusions regarding the provision of airports capacity for the South-East. He said that the Government had decided to invite the British Airports Authority to bring forward proposals for the expansion of Stansted airport, that these proposals would be examined at a wide-ranging public inquiry before final decisions were reached, and in a later debate in this House in February 1980 he made it clear that it would be open to objectors to the Stansted proposals to canvas alternative solutions.

One of the local authorities around Stansted, the Uttlesford district council, subsequently submitted a planning application for a fifth terminal on the Perry Oaks site at Heathrow with the support of British Airways. The application was called in by the Secretary of State for the Environment and referred to the Stansted inspector for examination. The result is that concurrent public inquiries are now being held into the Stansted application and ancillary proposals such as road access and compulsory purchase orders, and the planning application for a fifth terminal at Heathrow.

I understand that on current expectations the "Stansted phase" of the inquiries will be completed in the summer. The inquiries will then move to a venue local to Heathrow to hear the case for and against a fifth terminal. The Government's intention is to provide those most affected by the Heathrow proposals with a full and fair opportunity to make their views known to the inspector. The inspector will make recommendations on all the applications before him and the Secretaries of State will reach their decision in the light of his report and all the evidence before him.

Dr. Glyn

Surely this is a complete waste of time. On 23 July 1981, the Government said in answer to my question that they would not allow a fifth terminal. Why must we now go through all this procedure when we know that the Government will not permit a fifth terminal, unless they are going back on their word?

Mr. Sproat

If my hon. Friend will listen to the pitiless logic with which I shall deploy my case, I hope to persuade him of the reason why we are doing what we are.

I cannot, of course, anticipate what these decisions will be. The purpose of the inquiry is to examine all the evidence, which the inspector will weigh in reaching his conclusions. I must stress that the inspector brings an entirely open mind to the issues. He will have the benefit of hearing all the relevant evidence presented and tested in cross-examination. He is free to form his own views on that evidence and to reach his conclusions as he sees fit.

Against this background, I cannot anticipate either the conclusions that the inspector will reach or the decisions that the Government will reach in the light of his report. All I can do at this stage—I hope this will gratify and satisfy my hon. Friends—is to refer them to the views the Government had formed on the provision of a fifth terminal before the current inquiries had opened and which have been restated on a number of occasions since December 1979.

In the airports policy debate in another place, Lord Trefgarne said: We have carefully considered this option but have come to the conclusion that a fifth terminal at Heathrow would strain the ground facilities, and would impose a significant extra noise burden on an area which already suffers heavily—1½ million people are currently affected by significant levels of aircraft noise around Heathrow. Moreover, it would take perhaps 11 to 13 years to build, bearing in mind the need to relocate the Perry Oaks sewage works and drain the land before construction, and its use would be constrained by runway capacity (bearing in mind, in particular, the limit of 275,000 air transport movements, which will apply when the fourth terminal is in operation) and it would not provide a long term solution".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 February 1980; Vol. 405, c. 327.]

In the airports policy debate in this House on 21 February 1980 my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State restated the reasons that had led the Government to conclude that a fifth terminal should not be provided. He confirmed that the public inquiry into the Stansted proposals would be wide-ranging and could consider the case for a fifth terminal, but added: I have made clear the Government's position. We do not favour a fifth terminal, and that is also the view of the inspector."—[Official Report, 21 February 1980; Vol. 979, c. 694.]

In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) on 3 November 1980, my right hon. Friend the then Under-Secretary of State for Trade said: The Government's view remains as set out in the statement made on 17 December 1979 by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that a fifth terminal should not be provided. "—[Official Report, 3 November 1980; Vol. 991, c. 411.]

On 13 November 1980, my right hon. Friend the then Under-Secretary again confirmed the Government's view on a fifth terminal in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham. This letter was then issued as a press release by my Department.

In his reply to a Parliamentary Question on 13 May 1981, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the fact that the proposed 275,000 limit on the number of air transport movements at Heathrow which will be introduced when the fourth terminal opens at Heathrow will require a further increase in the average number of passengers per air transport movement at Heathrow if the additional capacity provided by that terminal is to be fully utilised, as well as the continuation of the present restrictions on new airline operators and the ban on whole-plane charters at Heathrow. The statement also made it clear that the Government had not ruled out the possibility of using their powers to transfer services at present operated at Heathrow to another airport should the need arise.

In reply to a question on 23 July 1981, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade said: The Government have stated their view on a number of occasions that a fifth terminal at Heathrow should not be provided."—[Official Report, 23 July 1981; Vol. 9, c. 195.] In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham, dated 4 August 1981, my right hon. Friend set out the position regarding the public inquiry, reiterated the Government's statements on a fifth terminal at Heathrow, and said that a statement on this matter had been submitted to the inspector.

Finally, I should like to refer to the letter of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of 19 October 1981 to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), in which she referred to a statement made by counsel acting on behalf of Government Departments at the inquiries, and said: The Government's airports policy was announced by John Nott in the House of Commons on 17 December 1979 and has been repeated since. Nevertheless, the Inspector was concerned that people should be aware at the outset of the Inquiry where the Government stood and indeed this is essential if participants are to make their case effectively. If they support the Heathrow or the Maplin proposals it will be for them to indicate why such an alternative should be pursued notwithstanding the reasons given in December 1979 for rejecting them. In effect it will be for them to show why Government policy should be modified. A copy of this letter has been placed before the inspector as an inquiry document.

Therefore, my hon. Friends can be in no doubt about the Government's present airports policy, and can be assured that the inspector is also well aware of that policy.

Mr. Jessel

Would it then be fair to say that my hon. Friend has made quite clear the Government's views against having a fifth terminal at Heathrow, but that, as an application for planning permission was put in by the Uttlesford district council in Essex, that application must be dealt with, like other planning applications, either by the local planning authority or by a public inquiry, as in this case? Is he saying that the fact that the planning application must be dealt with has no implications as to the position that the Government took from the start, because airport siting considerations—that is, where one has an airport—go beyond questions of mere planning permission, with which the public inquiry has to deal?

Mr. Sproat

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. The inspector is, of course, fully aware of the Government's views; they have been set out time and again and I have also reiterated them this evening.

In conclusion, I must stress that there can be no question of the Government seeking to fetter in any way the inspector's independent judgment or treating any particular proposal as out of the question simply because it conflicts with Government policy as put to the inquiry. The inspector must be entirely free to form his own conclusions on the basis of the evidence placed before him and submit whatever recommendations he thinks fit to my right hon. Friends. They will reach a final decision on this difficult issue only when they have carefully considered his report.

I hope that the constituents of my hon. Friend truly appreciate the hard work that he does. Nobody could have a Member of Parliament who does more for them on this issue.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twelve o'clock.