HC Deb 21 November 1984 vol 68 cc299-384

Order for Second Reading read.

3.36 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a short Bill with three very limited purposes. I had expected that it would even be non-controversial. However, one of its purposes has aroused considerable controversy and it might be best if I discuss the other two issues briefly and spend most of my time on the question of limiting air transport movements. I fear that that involves taking the clauses back to front.

Clause 5 provides for the writing down of the Civil Aviation Authority's debt to the national loans fund by the difference between the proceeds from the sale of its Scottish aerodromes and their book values. This will be less than £6 million. The Government transferred the aerodromes to the CAA in 1972, when they were valued, not at market values, but at higher figures based on the assumption that the CAA would continue to own and operate them and that losses would be met by subsidies. The CAA has continued to value them, and subsequent investment, on this basis, depreciating them over their estimated useful lives. As a result the current book values are substantially higher than the probable net proceeds.

Faster depreciation would have produced book values closer to market worth, but this would have meant larger deficits and subsidies. lh view of this close relationship between book values and subsidies, the write down amounts to a rationalisation of the subsidy. New operators will buy the aerodromes at market values and will thus have lower financing costs and require smaller subsidies.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)


Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)


Mr. Ridley

I shall be happy to give way to both the right hon. Member and the hon. Member.

Mr. Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is grave and widespread disquiet about the timing of the Bill? It is seen as a softener for a decision on Stansted, on which I hope he will say a word. Is he also aware of the concern that it further prevents a comprehensive review of airports policy? Is it not time that there was an end to ad hoc policy making?

Mr. Ridley

The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I am now talking about later clauses in the Bill, which I wish to dispose of quickly before coming to the main burden of the legislation. I shall answer his points then.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Can the right hon. Gentleman bring us up to date on how far he has got with the sale of CAA airports in Scotland? Are there any buyers? Is it true that the British Airports Authority wishes to buy Sumburgh?

Mr. Ridley

There are various possibilities. It is possible that some of these airports may be sold before the Bill becomes law. A provision to cater for that possibility is contained in the Bill. There is a considerable amount of interest, though no deals have been done so far.

In addition, we expect that the privatisation of the Scottish airports will bring savings from efficiency improvements. We expect that new operators will reappraise the way in which aerodromes meet the needs of the remote communities which they serve, and meet those needs at lower costs. In some cases it may be possible for the aerodromes to be operated without subsidy.

Clauses 3 and 4 cover the second issue. In its past licensing decisions the CAA has frequently been able to take full account of airports considerations. Recently its decisions have reflected the impending imposition of the limit on air transport movements at Heathrow, but the 1982 Act made it difficult for the authority to take the effective use of airports into account when it regarded that as inconsistent with its other duties under the Act.

Clause 4(1)(b) amends section 68(1) of the 1982 Act so that the CAA is given a clear duty, along with its others, to secure the most effective use of airports in the United Kingdom, rather than, as is currently the case, simply being required to have regard to that. Clause 4(1)(c) places a fresh duty on the CAA to facilitate, in its licensing decisions, compliance with any limits imposed on air transport movements under clauses 1 and 2.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

My right hon. Friend knows my views about the Bill, so I shall not weary him with them, but I direct his attention to clause 3. Are we to assume that the reference to effective use of aerodromes within the United Kingdom means just those at present owned by the CAA, or will it apply to those which it might acquire in the future?

Mr. Ridley

I have not had an opportunity to check this, but I think that it refers to aerodromes owned by the British Airports Authority—not the CAA—and not to any others.

Clause 3 gives me reserve power to direct the CAA in cases where I believe that airports policy considerations should be given greater weight in a licensing decision. At present I cannot do so.

Clauses 1 and 2 provide me with powers to limit aircraft movements at aerodromes. These powers are needed in relation to our current problem at Heathrow, and it is in respect of Heathrow that I currently seek to justify them.

I cannot go further in defining airports policy, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) asked me to do, because, as we are all aware, we await the inspector's report on the future of Stansted and the decisions which my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction and I will have to take upon that. Following that report, those decisions will determine airports policy and the future provision of airport capacity in south-east England.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

If we are awaiting the outcome of this inquiry into Stansted, why did my right hon. Friend not await it before introducing the Bill?

Mr. Ridley

If my hon. Friend will allow me to complete my remarks, he will discover that I shall be answering his question in the course of them.

These decisions will be major and important ones, but they are decisions for the future, and the Bill does not affect them in the least. It will be necessary to have the powers in the Bill to control movements at Heathrow, whatever decision is taken about the future of Stansted.

I wish to emphasise that. Whatever long-term decisions are taken about airport capacity in the south-east, it will be necessary to have powers to limit the take-offs and landings of aircraft at Heathrow in the near future. In 1979 the Government gave a pledge that air transport movements at Heathrow would be limited to 275,000 movements a year. We would be wrong to go back on that pledge, first, because those who live around Heathrow expect us to honour it. It seems straightforward to me that a pledge should be honoured. It is they who have suffered the noise and disturbance and we are right to seek to limit it for their sakes.

Secondly, we have given evidence to the inspector at the Stansted inquiry that we intend to impose the limit. To fail to do so would be to prejudice that inquiry. If we did not proceed with the limit, that would contradict the evidence that we put forward to the inspector.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)


Mr. Ridley

Let me put the argument first and then I shall give way.

That could lead to the reopening of the inquiry and a further substantial delay before a decision is taken. That would not be in anybody's interest.

There is no deep-seated plot here to box ourselves into a position where we have to develop Stansted. We have made it clear since 1979 that that limit would be imposed on environmental grounds. The House has known that since 1979. The Government have repeatedly told the House that they intend to implement the limit. We published a consultation document in July this year which made it clear that we intended to do so. There can be no question of a plot. We have been entirely open about this ever since 1979.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the undertaking on the movements at Heathrow was endorsed on 22 February 1984 in Hansard, at column 948, when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell), said that it would be in response to my speech that the undertaking would be honoured. That was as recently as 1984, not 1979.

Mr. Ridley

I agree with my hon. Friend that when a Government give a firm and unequivocal pledge of that sort it behoves them to seek to implement it by presenting legislation to the House. Those of my hon. Friends who differ from that must think of the consequences to those hon. Members who live and represent seats around Heathrow. They would have to explain a breach of that pledge to their constituents.

Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)

My right hon. Friend says that the House has always known that the pledge has been given, but the pledge was not given to the House. The then Secretary of State for Trade said on 17 December 1979: The details of this decision are being announced separately today and will include certain restrictions". The announcement was actually made in a press notice. It was never made to the House.

Mr. Ridley

That does not alter the nature of the pledge.

Mr. McCrindle


Mr. Ridley

We had better have a surgery.

Mr. McCrindle

Will my right hon. Friend accept that some hon. Members would concede that an undertaking has been given? Some of us would equally concede that that undertaking was repeated to the Stansted inspector. Will he, in turn, concede that there was an additional part to the undertaking that there should be a review? Why, rather than press ahead with the legislation now, should we not have the review, and if the situation remains as it was, by all means proceed with the legislation?

Mr. Ridley

I was coming to that point, but I shall give my hon. Friend the answer now, because it is important. At the time that the pledge was given in response to a planning decision it was stated that it was known that quieter aircraft would come in at the beginning of 1986 and that the limit was fixed at 275,000—I paraphrase—on the basis that those quieter aircraft would be in place at that time. That was the situation that was contemplated when the limit was first set. The review clearly related to the situation after some experience of the limit had been achieved. Nothing has changed that since then.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)


Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)


Mr. Ridley

I have given way several times and I should like to continue.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that there can be a point of order about the fact that the Minister is not giving way. The Minister gives way as he wishes; I cannot intervene in that.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point of order is for you and not for the Minister. The Secretary of State has given way eight times to Conservative Back Benchers. Surely courtesy requires that he should give way at least once to an Opposition Back Bencher.

Mr. Speaker

I am not the arbiter of courtesy.

Mr. Ridley

We were not able to fit the Bill into last year's crowded Session. We must have the scheme in place before next June, when the international scheduling conference of IATA will meet to allocate slots at about 50 of the world's most important airports. Without the information about the scheme in the Bill, the conference will not be able to do its job properly. If we work back from June, the time scale requires us to get the Bill started now.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ridley

I think that I should be allowed to make some points. I shall give way to my hon. Friend later.

Even if I broke the Government's pledge to implement the limit of 275,000 air traffic movements at Heathrow, that would not make the Stansted application and inquiry go away. I do not say that we propose to do that, but, either way, we need the powers.

Our commitment on 275,000 ATMs does not constrain the Stansted inspector in any way. If he wishes, he can quarrel with our pledge and recommend a higher or lower limit. Many who have given evidence to the inquiry have urged him to do so. I have no idea what he will say, because I have not received his report, but he is not constrained in his recommendations. We shall have to take any recommendations that he makes into account when reaching our decision.

However, as I have said, there are further reasons for the powers in the Bill. Heathrow is running out of runway capacity. Even if there were no environmental limit, there would still be a physical limit on its capacity. I am sure that hon. Members with greater knowledge than I will argue that it is possible to accommodate, say, 330,000 movements, but the House should note that there are already 20,000 movements—positioning flights, air taxi and business aviation flights—which are excluded from the limit, but which take up physical capacity.

Hon. Members seem to hope that the problem at Heathrow will somehow just go away. I must tell them that it will not. There are already limits at the peak times of the year and the peak times of the day. The growth of traffic is such that it will not be long before there are problems with annual capacity. In addition, it will not be too long before Gatwick also runs into capacity problems. Therefore, we must have powers to limit movements at airports in general and at Heathrow in particular.

Mr. Churchill

Where does the arbitrary figure of 275,000 come from? Is my right hon. Friend aware that Los Angeles airport handles 165,000 more movements than his intended limit and that O'Hare airport at Chicago handles 205,000 movements above his intended limit?

Mr. Ridley

The number comes from the pledge given by the Government to people living near Heathrow that that would he the limit. I am not responsible for what happens in Chicago. I do not know the conditions there and it is nothing to do with me. When the Government have given a pledge, it is not right for my hon. Friend to say, now that it does not seem to suit his purpose, "Go back on your pledge. Sweep it away."

Mr. Campbell-Savours

If the Secretary of State keeps to his 275,000 movement limit, what protection will he give to small regional airports, such as Carlisle airport, which will, in effect, close if they lose their access to Heathrow? Unless those airports can retain that movement of traffic, there will be no future for them. The right hon. Gentleman should be outlining the methods that he will use to secure the future of airports such as that at Carlisle.

Mr. Ridley

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. If he had been more patient he would have heard me explain how the interests of such airlines will be protected. I have no quarrel with his basic premise.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ridley

I shall, but then I shall proceed without interruption.

Mr. Wells

My right hon. Friend has been patient. I agree that the Government must seek to keep their pledge and I commend my right hon. Friend for doing that. The Stansted inquiry and the possible opening of a fifth terminal implies that the limit can be extended, lifted or increased. Will the Secretary of State have power to increase that limit if the Stansted inquiry results in the Government accepting a recommendation to build a fifth terminal at Heathrow?

Mr. Ridley

I agree with my hon. Friend about the two hypotheses. If the inquiry results in the suggestion that there should be an alteration in the limit, and if the Government agree with that., it will be possible under the Bill to lift the limit. The House would then have to judge whether the Government were entitled to change their mind and go back on their pledge. The Bill contains powers for the limit to be set at any level needed. The limit is not specified in the Bill.

It is clear that hon. Members want to look beyond this minor, technical Bill to consider airports policy in a wider context. I cannot contribute to the debate, because if I express my views that will prejudice my position when I eventually have to make a decision on the Stansted report. I am sure that hon. Members will accept that.

The Government have accepted legal advice that it will be necessary to publish the inspector's report on Star sled before privatising British Airways early in 1985. We have not yet received the report, but when we do we intend to publish it, although there will be a short delay while it is being printed.

The House will wish to express its view and to discuss the major issue of airports policy in general when it has seen the report. This will be a major departure from normal practice in relation to a plar.ning inquiry. The House has always accepted that such reports should be published at the same time as a Minister's decisions. We propose early publication in this case because of the relationship with the British Airways prospectus. For the reason that I have given, this is an exceptional case and will not create a precedent for planning or any other inquiries. Ministers will listen, no doubt with rapt attention, to the views of the House, but their lips will be sealed, because they must not prejudice their eventual decision.

Such issues are for the future. I must deal with the unglamorous Bill and the need to control an excess of demand over supply at a particular airport. Whatever the decision resulting from the Stansted and Heathrow fifth terminal inquiry, we need the powers in the Bill, whether we are to limit movements at Heathrow to 275,000 a year, or whether we are to limit movements only to the physical capacity of the airport. I repeat that we are committed to impose the environmental limit, and I hope that nobody is seriously suggesting that we should break that commitment.

It will be suggested that we should review the limit before it is imposed. It has been pointed out that the decision letter on BAA's application to build terminal 4 at Heathrow, which committed the Government to the air transport movement limit, mentioned that the limit would be subject to review and that aircraft are now much quieter than when the commitment was made in 1979. However, the Government set the limit in the full knowledge that noisier aircraft would be banned in 1986. So the fact that noise levels have fallen in line with expectations, as airlines have re-equipped with quieter aircraft in preparation for the forthcoming bans, was anticipated and is not an argument for scrapping or reviewing the limit now.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I remind my right hon. Friend that when the so-called pledge was made the Government undertook that the limitation on air transport movements would be subject to review in the light of progress on the prohibition of noisier aircraft and the introduction of quieter aircraft. No review has yet been undertaken. Why are the Government only halfheartedly carrying out their pledge? Is it not strange that just at the time when T4 is coming into operation, with all the additional passenger-handling capacity, and when the statutory noise regulations have been imposed, an arbitrary limit should be imposed on bases which are already out of date?

Mr. Ridley

I answered that question once directly to my right hon. Friend and then again a few moments ago. I shall answer it a third time, because I do not want to be accused of a lack of patience. At the time that the pledge was given, in response to a planning inquiry—which, which, therefore, makes it a matter of some status before the present Stansted inquiry—it was based on the knowledge that aircraft would be quieter and on the fact that any review should be after there had been some experience of the operation of the limit. Those circumstances have not yet occurred.

All sorts of changes may be made to what is appropriate for the future in the light of the Stansted report, because of decisions by the House or because of who knows what. However, at this time we need the power to impose whatever limit may be necessary—whether an environmental or physical limit—and I have said that many times. Nothing that has happened so far causes us to review the limit at this time.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

Will my right hon. Friend give way on a technical point? I assure him that I shall not intervene again.

Mr. Ridley

Very well.

Mr. Steen

Why is the 275,000 movement limit so important to my right hon. Friend when there are 20,500 additional movements—the general aviation movements—of which 15,000 are of noisy jets? Some of them are noisier than many of the quiet aircraft now flying into Heathrow. How can my righ hon. Friend exclude 15,000 noisy jets?

Mr. Ridley

I have already answered that point. I have been tolerant of hon. Members asking questions about matters to which I am about to come, and I hope to be equally tolerant towards those who ask questions about something that I have said.

The figures quoted by my hon. Friend make the figures worse, not better. They mean that on top of the existing 275,000 there are already another 20,500 movements which contribute to the noise and disturbance around Heathrow. That means that the tolerable limit set at 275,000 may be more onerous on the inhabitants of that area, as some of my hon. Friends have already said. However, all those facts were known when the pledge was given.

I want to say a word about how the limit might be implemented. We issued a consultation document in July about how it should be done. We indicated then that the Government favoured the maximum use of pricing mechanisms to limit demand, although some regulatory action might be needed. One option might be to raise landing fees, on the assumption that the airlines prepared to pay the most for slots would be those that would make the most productive use of them. However, we believe that landing charges would have to be more than doubled to produce a significant reduction in demand, since they form a relatively small proportion of an airline's operating costs. That would be very hard on small airlines and commuter airlines, which have a part to play. Another method, which would have the advantage of matching supply and demand exactly, would be to auction take-off and landing slots. A futher possibility would be to allocate slots to existing users of them and then allow airlines to trade slots among themselves.

A number of measures for excluding or restricting services were also described in the document. Small aircraft below a certain seating capacity might, for instance, be excluded. Another possibility was the exclusion of all cargo services. An alternative to excluding categories of traffic was the exclusion of services to particular destinations. The consultation document suggested that the most suitable services for transfer would be those with a low interlining content and which, therefore, carry a high proportion of passengers who, unless their destination or point of departure is close to Heathrow, could generally use another London airport without any serious loss of convenience.

Another option—which was favoured by a number of those responding to the consultation document—would be to restrict the number of daily flights on the densest routes. In doing that, passengers' interlining opportunities at Heathrow would be substantially preserved while other London airports would stand to gain services to some of the most important domestic and European destinations.

I have received a large number of responses from airlines, airport authorities, amenity groups and other interested organisations. Strangely, in view of the great interest in the Bill, there has been virtually no response from hon. Members. I very much want to hear their views. I hope that this debate will be an opportunity for them to express their views. I have reached no decisions on which measures might be employed to implement the limit.

The powers in the Bill will enable me to adopt any of the measures outlined above. As I said, I want to hear the views of the House on these matters. The particular measures which will need to be taken will depend on the size of the excess demand. We clearly would not wish to take measures which would restrict demand unless it is necessary to do so. Our perception of the likely excess demand changes over time. At present it seems likely that, with the discontinuation of the Heathrow-Gatwick helicopter link, air transport movements will be only slightly above the limit by the time it is introduced next year.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Will my right hon. Friend pay special heed to the views of the smaller regional airports such as Humberside, to which landing slots are precious? They are concerned that if the BAA is allowed to consider commercial criteria alone the small airlines—some of which have only 36-seat aircraft—will be frozen out.

Mr. Ridley

I have already responded to that point, which was made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I have more to say on that matter, but would like to do so in my own time.

The Bill provides for the BAA to prepare a scheme for the implementation of the limit. In directing the BAA to prepare a scheme I shall tell it the features that I want it to incorporate if the scheme is to receive my approval, as it must do under the Bill. I shall have a power of veto. I shall want to lay down firm guidelines quite soon, in the light of the consultations, the views of hon. Members and of my obligations under international air service agreements.

Although airlines must realise that the limit means that they will not be able to operate every service they might want to, I shall also want to ensure that those which are established at Heathrow have a fair and equal opportunity to operate there to the extent that the environmental limit allows. Every effort will be made to ensure that within the constraints of the limit Heathrow is used as effectively and as commercially as possible, that it continues to serve the domestic market and is compatible with our wish to promote competition on domestic services, while not changing Heathrow's importance as an international hub airport of great importance to the economy. It must remain available to people wishing to visit London as well as retain its position as the world's busiest international airport.

I expect to be able before the House rises for the Christmas recess to tell BAA the features I would expect it to incorporate in a scheme. My aim would be to announce this before the House considers the Bill on Third Reading. Full details of the scheme need to be known by the time of the IATA scheduling conference next June at which the detailed allocation of slots—not only at Heathrow but at some 50 busy airports throughout the world—takes place.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

May I make what I hope is a helpful suggestion—perhaps the first this afternoon from Conservative Back Benchers? When my right hon. Friend comes to give those instructions to BAA, will he include, as a possibility, the use of short take-off aircraft—which have considerably added to the capacity of many United States airports—on smaller runways at an angle to the larger ones? The aircraft which would use those runways are quiet and should not cause any environmental disturbance.

Mr. Ridley

I shall certainly take note of what my hon. Friend said. One must be careful to ensure that no proposal will require a new planning consent. We all know that when planning consents are required for airport development the process takes some time and generates a certain amount of interest, if not controversy, in the House and elsewhere.

I hope that I have been able to assure the House that the Bill seeks to impose a limit at Heathrow and to give me the power to do so. The Bill seeks to do nothing else in the first two clauses, and is not connected with Stansted or the furture of airports' policy. The House will have an opportunity to debate those matters when, as is now inevitable, the Stansted inspectors' report is laid in the Vote Office for perusal by the House. I am sure that hon. Members' views on the wider matters that were raised will be most interesting, and we shall listen to them with the greatest care. In the meanwhile, I hope that the House will give the Bill its Second Reading

4.12 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Is it not truly extraordinary that the Secretary of State for Transport should come here today to seek to dismiss an important measure as a minor piece of legislation of technical quality? It is interesting to note that, although this is only a slim Bill, the Secretary of State may find that he has created a Frankenstein's monster, because Conservative Members as well as the Opposition have understood one thing that he has not wanted to make plain. At the heart of this measure there is a basic inconsistency. The right hon. Gentleman is making major changes that strike at the heart of the airline industry, and that has considerable implications, beyond the simple enabling measure that the right hon. Gentleman would have us believe we are debating.

The reality is that this is a panic measure. It has been created by the Government's policies. The sudden decision to solve the capacity problems of Heathrow without proper thought will plainly not take account of either the Stansted report—a report which I would have assumed even this Secretary of State would have waited for—or, for example, the Scottish lowlands airports consultation, both of which measures will have a great effect, provided this legislation is allowed to go ahead.

The reality is that the Conservative Government's deregulations are a direct contradiction of their attempts to put limits on movements at Heathrow. There is a capacity problem, and there would have been a capacity problem at Heathrow irrespective, because the airport has existed for a long time. This measure will pre-empt the Government's statements on Prestwick and the inspectors' report on Stansted. At the same time, the privatisation of British Airways is still undecided. It was interesting to note that the IFS report this week seemed to put even more question marks over that matter.

This is an extraordinarily bad time to bring forward a piece of legislation of this kind. That the Government are legislating now seems to be a sign of their desperation in the face of their mismanagement. The Government have still not decided their attitude towards regional airlines or regional airports. After the deregulation measures, one would have assumed that there would have been more understanding of their problems, but this Bill could reverse the whole of that policy.

Is British Airways to be the only really large airline in the United Kingdom? If not, how is it that, on the one hand, the Government say they want at least two major airlines but, on the other hand, they seek to create difficulties in the form of aircraft movements? Let us be clear about this—nothing affects the viability of airlines as much as the control of airports policy. That policy is fundamental to everything that happens to any airline—independent or state.

The Government's response to the CAA review implied that they wanted only one big airline, but now the Government keep talking about competition. British Caledonian still does not know whether it is expected to compete in the same league as British Airways; yet, if that is the intention, it is clear that there will have to be a considerable change in the situation at Gatwick. Exactly what do the Government have in mind—provided, of course, they have reached any kind of clear decision? If British Caledonian is to compete equally with British Airways, why is British Caledonian not to have a second Gatwick runway? It is true that that possibility was blocked when the second terminal was agreed, but in 1982 the Government took decisions which apparently made it impossible for Gatwick to go ahead in the way that would be necessary were it to form an alternative hub.

Are the limits proposed at present meant to apply for a certain limited period? If I were involved in the aircraft industry, I should be worried about the commitment of the Secretary of State to pledges. On the one hand, the right hon. Gentleman says, "We have to do this, because we gave this pledge as a Government a considerable time ago," and, on the other hand, he appears to say, "Well, of course, it may be that we shall have to alter the pledge at some point in the future".

Gatwick currently has 12.5 million passengers, compared with Heathrow's 26.5 million. Gatwick officially has a capacity of 25 million, once the second terminal is built. Since Heathrow has two runways and will soon have four terminals, and its capacity is probably only 31.8 million, it seems difficult to accept that the claims for Gatwick are accurate. Without a second runway, British Caledonian can hope for little more than to move British Airways out of Gatwick without improving its own facilities. Moving out the 6.7 million non-scheduled or charter passengers would give a great deal more room to British Caledonian. Neither of those options has been discussed in any sense in the speech by the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman says to the House, "I could do this, or I might do that. Of course, I cannot make it clear what I am going to do, because I shall be the one who takes the final decision." That is an outrageous way to treat the House of Commons. The Secretary of State should have thought of that before he brought forward this piece of legislation.

There are three crises in relation to airports in the southeast, and this Bill is so general that it would close any one of those airports to a major airline. The Secretary of State is taking enormous powers but he has not made that clear. He was astonishingly cavalier in the way in which he suggested that the Bill is a minor measure. However, he is seeking to limit aircraft numbers and he must know that aircraft movements represent the most important factor. There is no sense in the policy that the right hon. Gentleman is putting forward. It is not a competition policy, it is not especially efficient and it will not serve the environmental needs of anyone who is most affected.

Regional airports are relevant to what happens in the south-east. The right hon. Gentleman must know that if he were to bring forward a sensible and planned policy on regional airport expansion he would begin to deal immediately with some of the problems at airports in the south-east. I am told by the Manchester International Airport authority that if the Government were to move 5,500 aircraft movements immediately to Manchester the pressure at Heathrow would be relieved without delay. If further movements were agreed by the Government, the right hon. Gentleman would have a breathing space in which to decide what he wants to do about airports in the south-east. It is clear that many of his right hon. and hon. Friends are far less concerned about environmental consequences at Heathrow than the Stansted airport inquiry. It is extraordinarily arbitrary of him to have taken a decision before the inspectors' report.

I should like to see regional airports developed in relation to domestic airlines. Heathrow is suffering especially from congestion because the Government's policy of deregulation has increased the number of domestic flights by about 5 per cent. I should like them to begin to offer genuine planned advancement for regional airports without suggesting that the issue will be solved by privatisation. Irrespective of who controls the airports, the problem of aircraft movements will not be satisfied by the arbitrary sale of the assets of basic and important facilities.

It is interesting that the Government do not attempt in the Bill to give the British Airports Authority the means to obtain money to produce an efficient airport service. Unlike authorities in other countries, the BAA funds itself from charges which it raises. Sometimes the moneys come from franchises but they come largely from charges. It is clear from the Secretary of State's remarks about the Bill that it is his view that some of the charges may have to double. This is certainly planning of a sort. In fact, it is planning by the purse. It is important that we should understand exactly why the Bill is necessary and what its effects will be.

We are changing the legislation on air transport movements because of the limit at Heathrow of 275,000 air traffic movements per annum. However, there are already 270,000 movements, with only three terminals. By the mid-1990s, the capacity is bound to fall because larger aeroplanes will need more room when landing. Noise and vibration limitations following the 1982 legislation apply to Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted. It is obvious that action on capacity is needed now.

If the Government are genuine, they will allow development at Stansted to go ahead. If we limit movements at Heathrow, we shall do nothing to develop facilities at the regional airports. By definition, we are expecting the extra movements to take place at Stansted airport and it is clear that Stansted cannot cope now. The Government have been caught on the hop as a result of their own policies.

Despite the Bill's narrow origins, the Government have reacted by giving themselves the widest possible powers. They are so wide that they will allow them to control individual airlines through detailed control of airports policy. They are giving themselves an enabling measure to allow them to think of ad hoc solutions to the mess that they have created.

Clause 1 will insert two new sections into the Civil Aviation Act 1982. It gives the power to increase by number but not by percentages. This means that, as soon as the upper numbers are reached, there will be increasing pressure to increase the number rather than the percentage. The definitions are absurd. Section 75A(2) would allow a limit by reference to any matters or circumstances whatever. What could be more precise parliamentary drafting than that? In future the Secretary of State will be able to decide limits by reference to any matters or circumstances whatever. The power is boundless.

Section 75B(2) means that, if the BAA is privatised, any private operator will be subject to the same level of control as the BAA is now. Is that what the Conservative party means by freedom? The section is likely to cause some interesting situations to develop in future. The authority feels that there is no need for the limitation rule to apply outside the south-east. It says that there are no capacity problems elsewhere.

I use Manchester airport frequently and it is efficient. It is developing extremely well. That is one reason why the Secretary of State wants to sell it. The problem at Manchester and at other regional airports is that there is too much capacity and they need extra movements brought to them. The new section 75B(3) appears to give powers to the CAA to decide whether to enforce limits which will imply that the Government may have reversed their decision on the ninth recommendation in the CAA's review of airline competition. The CAA will be able to act more specifically in the interests of policy.

When we read clause 2, we begin to realise that some of the other provisions in the Bill are as important as those in the proposed new sections. Clause 2(2)(b) provides for special charges. It is important that these charges are further defined. There is no clarity in what is intended. Clause 2(3)(a)(i) provides for charges to vary for equal rights. The Secretary of State explained that many of these decisions will have to be pushed through before the IATA conference next year. He did not explain that clause 2(3)(a) breaks article 70 of the air navigation order, which stems from article 14 of the Chicago convention. Therefore, international negotiations are required before clause 2(3)(a) can be put into effect.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Where in the Bill is there a reference to the selling of Manchester airport?

Mrs. Dunwoody

I did not suggest that the proposal was to be found in the Bill. However, for the past three weeks, the newspapers have been carrying what I can only describe as inspired leaks. As the Secretary of State so rarely clarifies his transport policy, it is not entirely surprising that we rely on what we read in the newspapers. It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman would like to see more privatisation. He would like airports such as Manchester to be handed over to anyone who feels that he can get the cash together to buy them. The reason is simple. It is that Manchester is efficient. It is that Manchester has a large local authority input. It is that the Secretary of State has a basic, dogmatic and fundamental objection to any sort of state service. That is why the absurdity of the Bill is so clear. On the one hand, the Secretary of State says that he will use state powers to limit the movements at Heathrow and on the other he says that the Government are giving people a great deal more freedom.

Mr. Adley

The hon. Lady knows that I do not support the Bill. She referred to things that are not in it. She talked about the privatisation of BAA. Am I being imaginative or unfair in suggesting that one of the attractions of the Bill for the Government, presumably, is that by taking the powers that make Heathrow more or less a dead duck for growth, increasing the attractions of Stansted and making the argument for Stansted stronger for BAA, there is a useful by-product for the Treasury of making BAA a more profitable animal when it is sold?

Mrs. Dunwoody

I would never accuse the hon. Gentleman of being unfair. I am sure that he is exactly right in his interpretation of events. It is wise that the House should understand the implications, which are far-reaching. This is not a simple Bill; it will affect airports and aircraft policies, not only things such as the privatisation of BAA, but every other aspect of airport policy for many years to come.

In Committee I shall ask the Minister exactly what is meant by some of the wording in the Bill, because it appears that the money that will be raised will not go to the airports themselves, but In effect will be an extra tax. Will the extra cash that is generated go to the Chancellor or to the airports?

We must be clear that the sale of slots will have a direct effect on every airline that has to participate. The large airlines could buy out the competition, so it would be rationing by the purse. It would solve the problems of the small domestic airlines taking up space because they would be totally squeezed out. The idea that there is free competition is not only bizarre, but totally unacceptable.

Innumerable questions are raised by the Bill and there are few answers. The Secretary of State sought to confuse rather than clarify the issue. Today he should have made it clear that in rushing the Bill before the House, before major and relevant decisions have been taken elsewhere, he is seeking to block basic decisions that relate to airports not only in the south-east but throughout Great Britain. The Secretary of State's hon. Friends have taken that point quickly. There is no justification for the Bill, with its wide powers and arbitrary provision for major decisions to be taken without consultation, as far as I can gather, unless the Secretary of State has boxed himself into such a tight corner that he can no longer go ahead with the things that he regards as his policy.

It is true that Heathrow is close to its top limit. but the Secretary of State knew that. Does he genuinely imagine that we think that his pledge will stand for all time? If that is his view, why has he not come to the House today with the Stansted inspector's report? Why has he not been prepared to talk about what the CAA and BAA wanted? Why has he not made it clear where the interests of the general public lie? Nowhere in his speech was there any sign that he wanted an expanding, efficient and far-reaching revision of aircraft and airports policy.

It is a disgrace that the House should be asked to accept this extraordinarily opaque piece of legislation. We are no clearer about the Bill now than we were when the Secretary of State stood up. I shall ask my colleagues to vote against it because it is a totally unsatisfactory piece of legislation. The Secretary of State may find that, if his hon. Friends are genuinely concerned, many of them will join me in the Lobby. That would show their commitment to their constituents' interests, which I am sure they will be delighted to demonstrate.

4.35 pm
Sir Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) started her speech by saying that she thought that the Bill was a panic measure. I venture to suggest that she forgot or did not know that several of us, including myself, have been pressing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for years to bring it forward. We hoped that he would bring it forward sooner, but he has done so now. There is no question of panic.

I should like to explain why I and several other Conservative Members have been pressing my right hon. Friend. The House probably knows that I represent the constituency of Spelthorne, but perhaps, because the name Spelthorne appears on no map, some hon. Members do not know where it is. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is it?"] The northern boundary of my constituency runs straight through the middle of Heathrow airport. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] I do not know why my hon. Friends say "Ah." I was chosen to speak for my constituents, and I propose to do so.

Many of my constituents live south of the airport, and are not much disturbed by the noise, but a great many live to the west, in places such as Staines, which I have no doubt is known to many hon. Members. Others live in places such as Stanwell, Stanwell Moor, Poyle and Colnbrook—names that I suppose no one knows. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people live there, many for a very long time—and certainly before Heathrow was the place that it is now.

If one lives—I do not suppose anyone here does—within a furlong or so of the western end of the runway at Heathrow, one knows that it is a different place from anywhere else. Aircraft thunder at hundreds of feet over one's head, using full power to take off or, alternatively, using less power, but with a different and just as penetrating noise, to land. I freely agree that successive Governments have been good about providing grants and so on for double glazing. Double glazing is all very well, but it is not much use in the summer when one has to have the windows open, because it is too hot to sit indoors with all the windows shut, or when one is working or sitting in the garden, if one is lucky enough to have a garden. Generally, when aircraft go over one's head using the power that I have described, one has to stop saying whatever it is one is saying. I would have had to stop speaking twice since I began my speech.

We talk about 275,000 aircraft movements a year. Let us work out what it means. It means 753 aircraft movements a day. If a day is confined to the hours of 6 am to 11 pm, that means 44 aircraft movements an hour. Certainly half the number of aircraft will be landing and the other half will be taking off, so if one lives at one end of the runway one hears only half that number. That is 22 aircraft an hour going over one's head, causing one to stop speaking every three minutes of every day throughout the year—weekdays, weekends, public holidays, Christmas day, every day. Of course, it does not work out precisely like that, but it means that at certain times of the day, particularly in the summer when double glazing is no use, one has an aircraft over one's head probably every two minutes.

Understandably,. my constituents have been pressing for years for less noise. I have been doing what I can on their behalf to ensure that that happens. How can there be less noise? There are only two ways—quieter aeroplanes or fewer of them, or both. With regard to quieter aeroplanes, it is undeniable that the present generation of aeroplanes is quieter than the one that it is replacing. However, anyone who has stood underneath a 747 at full load that is taking off knows that it still makes a great deal of noise.

We hope that as the years go by the noise will diminish. It should be remembered that my constituents, and others, have suffered increasing noise for about 37 years. The most effective relief would be a reduction in the number of aircraft movements. The number of movements at Heathrow has increased year by year. It reached a peak of about 280,000 in 1979–80. It then diminished, mainly due to the recession, and my constituents were pleased at that small reduction. The total then began to climb again and is just reaching 275,000, which is as high as it has ever been, with the exception of that one peak year. That being so, there is no question of the Bill making life easier and better for my constituents. It will merely stop things getting worse.

We have to recognise that there is a limit to what it is reasonable to expect people to suffer for our convenience. Many of the people whom I represent work at the airport, but many do not. All, however, are entitled to an assurance that the problem that they have suffered and with which they have lived and brought up their children will not get any worse. The Bill gives the Secretary of State power to impose the limit that he mentioned, which is roughly the current level of activity. We have been pressing for that limit for many years, and the Government committed themselves to it several years ago.

It will be noted that my comments have nothing to do with terminal 4, terminal 5, Stansted, Gatwick or anything else. I am referring to a limit on the amount of noise and disturbance at Heathrow. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on introducing a Bill which will enable him to impose and enforce that limit. I can only speak for my constituents, who will certainly be pleased, but I am sure that the constituents of a number of my hon. Friends will feel the same.

Dr. Glyn

I endorse all that my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) has said. With the possible exception of his constituency, my area is by far the worst affected by aircraft noise. I congratulate him on the work that he has done in leading the fight for a number of years. I remind him that as recently as 22 February 1984, in response to my speech, the Minister endorsed the restriction to 275,000 movements. That is reported at column 948 of the Official Report. It is thus no idle promise. It was made in 1979 and endorsed earlier this year.

Sir Humphrey Atkins

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. I know that his constituents suffer as much as mine. I am not entitled to speak for other Members' constituents, but my conversations with Members who represent surrounding areas suggest that they will be as pleased as I. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take some comfort from that support from Members who know what they are talking about. I hope that the Bill will go through, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing it forward.

4.43 pm
Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) and the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) on bravely stating the difficulties faced by their constituents, but I have other fish to fry. I believe that this measure should be called the Promotion of Stansted Bill, strongly influenced by Mr. Norman Payne and the BAA.

On the last aviation Bill I gave the Secretary of State a friendly warning, and I do so again today. On that occasion, the Secretary of State got into a rather complicated situation. The Prime Minister said that British Airways should be privatised, so Lord King was told to reorganise the corporation, under instructions from the Cabinet and directly responsible to the Secretary of State for Transport. In the meantime, the Secretary of State had a rush of blood to the head and decided that he wanted competition, so he instructed the CAA to produce a document on competition.

The interim report that was produced should have alerted the right hon. Gentleman to the dangers ahead, but he carried on and a document duly appeared in which the only element of competition was in the title. The CAA reported that there was no competition. The Secretary of State was then in a serious dilemma. British Airways said that he was doing the wrong thing—I note that the right hon. Gentleman has now left the Chamber—and he was warned that privatisation of British Airways would have ruinous consequences. At that time, there was a peculiar atmosphere in the House. With certain exceptions, Back Benchers on both sides agreed that British Airways was getting a raw deal and that the CAA had produced a highly embarrassing report. As a result, the Secretary of State was forced to back-track.

The reason for that preamble is simple. The Secretary of State has not learnt his lesson. He is doing the same thing all over again. He says that we are waiting for reviews—he is always waiting for Godot, a report, a review or something or other. Currently, he is waiting for reviews on the fifth terminal and the inspectors' report on Stansted, but he wishes to make decisions in advance. As a consequence, he is likely once again to find himself in an extremely difficult position. The Cabinet will be heaving and sighing. There will be special meetings and big discussions about whether this should be done to British Airways or BCal, whether we should go ahead with Stansted or the fifth terminal and what the legislation has done. Complete turmoil will be created.

I advise the Government to withdraw the Bill until its implications have been carefully considered in the light of the reviews that the Government themselves have requested. What is the use of calling for a review and legislating in advance of it? It is bureaucracy gone mad. It is a good way to keep civil servants in employment. Perhaps that is the object of the exercise.

In my day, an aircraft coming in to land was told to "stay at angels 35, skating 152, angels 35, turn 6". Shortly afterwards it would be "skating 152, angels 3", and so on, and down the line one came—unless there was a panic on, in which case one reached for the Very pistol, fired a red and belted in quick. Alternatively, if one had time, one went to the lame duck aerodrome at Manston. Those were the choices. Things have improved since then, thank God. In my day, it was two minutes in one direction, change course, two minutes in another direction and two minutes later one had a wind speed and direction. Nowadays the skipper simply presses a button and has it in an instant.

I say all that for this reason. People have not realised the rate at which aircraft movements can now be handled. The figure of 275,000 is based on safety, not environmental considerations. The right hon. Member for Spelthorne and the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead have my sympathy, but I believe that the rate of landings at Heathrow can safely be increased quite substantially. If that causes hardship to the people living there, we have an obligation to pay them adequate and realistic compensation. They should not have to suffer 100,000 movements per annum of the kind that have been described. Even that is too much. Something must be done to improve their lot. However, what we must do is to organise the landings safely and increase their number.

I declare an interest. I am the hon. Member for Eccles. I therefore have an interest in Manchester airport—a deep and abiding interest. During our last debate on aviation, I was very critical of the report of the Civil Aviation Authority. On this occasion, I should make it clear that I believe the CAA to be the best judge of matters concerned with the handling of aircraft in the air

Mr. Bill Walker

But not the only judge.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Not the only judge, but better than the Secretary of State. If a judgment is to be made about the safety of landings, it must be made not by the Secretary of State but by someone with high professional skills.

Whether or not we like the idea of developing Stansted airport, we have to acknowledge that it will be a long time before Stansted is a real international airport. Why does the Secretary of State not consider the potential of the regions? The regions are sick and tired of the Government sucking wealth into the south-east. Some of the gravy should go to the north-east, the north-west and Scotland. More movements should be directed to the north. I think that the British Airports Authority has a standard print-out which is permanently set up. It runs as follows: "If we do not have the third London airport at Stansted, it is Schiphol which will benefit." That will be the end of the world.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carter-Jones

I will give way for an old friend.

Mr. Jessel

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for describing me in that way. The hon. Gentleman and I have served for 12 years as joint secretaries of the Indo-British parliamentary group.

We all believe that more traffic should go to Manchester, and that it would be a good thing to help the north in that way. Why, therefore, does the hon. Gentleman not agree to limit the number of flights at Heathrow?

Mr. Carter-Jones

The reason is straightforward. It is that there will be no movements in this area unless the number is stepped up at Heathrow for a while. That is the justification for the Bill. The Bill is about building an international airport at Stansted. As a Welshman, my heart beats at the thought that Twickenham is at last supporting the Welsh and the north-west—the Welsh for their rugby facilities, and the north-west for its aircraft handling facilities at Manchester.

We need more traffic in the north, for this reason. This country has produced three new aircraft which are very important in connection with regional airports. There is the HS146 and the Super 748, and we are about to produce the ATP. Those are the ideal aircraft for hub and spoke activities. [Interruption.] I was choosing the aircraft which I knew about.

If Manchester and Birmingham have the chance to develop hub and spoke activities, there are distinct possibilities of increasing the amount of international movement from those airports. I do not accept the BAA' s preoccupation with building another airport in the southeast.

Mr. Adley

They are empire builders.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I must not comment on that. The BAA may well be an empire builder. However, we have airports such as Manchester and Birmingham which are ready for expansion and capable of absorbing much of the pressure from which the south-east is now suffering. The Secretary of State should comment on that fact.

Another factor should be borne in mind. There is a tendency nowadays for aircraft flying international routes to land at smaller airports. For example, British Airways planes sometimes land at Brisbane and then do a quiet leg back to Sydney before taking off back to Hong Kong. That is a reasonably cheap option. It is possible that Qantas, flying to Frankfurt or Schiphol, will be prepared to go on to Manchester occasionally, thus helping Manchester to achieve international status.

As much as everything else in the Bill, I dislike the fact that we are to limit movements by price. Only one factor should limit the number of movements—not money, but safety.

4.56 pm
Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for announcing that we are to have a debate on Stansted after we receive the inspector's report. Many of us who represent constituencies in the north have fought for that over the past few months. It is essential that the House should have some say about the report before any decision is reached.

Having said that, I shall not say much else that will please the Government Front Bench. I join the chorus of protest from both sides of the House about the speed with which the Bill has been presented. It was printed on 9 November, and on 21 November we are debating its Second Reading. The Minister knows all too well that many hon. Members are suspicious—our suspicions have already been voiced today—about what lies behind the Bill.

The Bill imposes a limit on air traffic movements at Heathrow. I do not oppose that, but it will affect the development of regional airports and the expansion of Stansted. We have been told that the inspector's report on Stansted should appear at about the end of the month. I do not see why the Bill could not have waited, at least until the report had been published.

Those of us who represent northern constituencies have fought for some time for a better deal for provincial airports. Some of us fear that the Bill may be the thin end of the wedge, giving the green light to a massive expansion at Stansted. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) rightly paid great tribute to Manchester international airport, as did the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). Many of us are very proud of the achievements of that airport. We constantly draw attention here and elsewhere to the glories of Manchester international airport, but we often feel that the true significance and potential of the airport is still not properly understood in some quarters.

Manchester international airport is not a little airstrip with a few huts. It is this country's only international gateway airport for long distance flights, apart from London and Prestwick. It handles about 5 million passengers a year, and it is still growing. It makes a substantial profit, with no cross-subsidisation and under the most rigorous accounting criteria. It has a catchment area of about 20 million people, and that area includes much of the United Kingdom's manufacturing industry. It already services 40 British and foreign airlines.

Manchester international airport is a substantial enterprise and a major asset. It is a potential generator of jobs, trade and prosperity, all of which the north-west needs. In spite of that major potential and the permission that the Government graciously grant us to be able to spend our own profits or the borrowings that are negotiated by Manchester airport on the strength of its profits—the Government then claiming credit for there being more money to develop the airport—I am convinced that Manchester is still being held up by this Government, as it has been by previous Governments. I am speaking of specific opportunities that are being offered to Manchester airport by airlines and that are being blocked by the Government.

Mr. Adley

By way of confirmation, has my hon. Friend also read clause 3 of this little Bill which contains a proposal which is to be tacked on to section 6(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982? What my hon. Friend is saying is confirmed by section 6(2)(a) to (e), as it refers to national security, relations with the United Kingdom, obligations on the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom's membership of international organisations. Paragraphs (a) to (e) concern national security or international obligations and paragraph (f) concerns noise, vibration and pollution. The Bill sticks in paragraph (h), which is absolutely irrelevant to the rest, as it says: in order to secure the most effective use of aerodromes within the United Kingdom". The Bill will therefore enable traffic rights or anything else to be taken away from Manchester or other airports without defining what "most effective use" means.

Mr. Montgomery

My hon. Friend has made a fascinating speech, but I am grateful to him as he has reinforced my point.

With few exceptions, the interests of Manchester international airport have been subordinated to the interests of the state-owned British Airways, the state-owned British Airports Authority and the south-east of England by successive Governments. However, I have noticed a slight change in the past few months. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote a letter to the leader of Manchester city council on 14 September in which he said: When I come to make up my mind on the Civil Aviation Authority recommendations I will do so on the basis of what is best for the airline travellers in the North-West, people whose interests seem to have been overlooked recently. I would have said that it has been much longer than "recently". My right hon. Friend was absolutely right and I congratulate him on seeing the truth. I only hope that he will now build on those words by giving us action on the basis of those excellent sentiments.

The second encouraging sign came in the White Paper on airline competition policy. I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the splendid and refreshing principles that are unambiguously enshrined in paragraphs 2 and 3 of that White Paper. Paragraph 2 says: Airlines are complex businesses, using advanced technology and sophisticated communications and marketing. But the only reason they exist is to carry people and goods. The pattern of services and the fares charged should be decided by the market. The best test of what people want is what they will pay for. Those airlines which provide the right service profitably at the lowest price should thrive. But they should be continuously open to challenge by competitors. The barriers to new services and airlines who can provide a safe and reliable service should be lowered. Paragraph 3 says: Historically, most sectors of air transport have been heavily regulated and protected by the State. That is still so in many overseas countries and the Government has to take account of that in its bilateral relations. Regulation is clearly needed in the case of safety where high standards must be maintained; the case for regulating the commercial activities of airlines is much less clear. The Government will move as far and fast as it can from the world of regulations to one where airlines compete for the customer's attention. In doing so it will release the energies of an industry whose growth since the second world war has enriched the lives of many. Nothing could be clearer or more welcome.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the fact that the Government. who espouse the views of which he so heartily approves, have recently refused an application by Singapore Airlines to fly into Manchester international airport?

Mr. Montgomery

The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my speech. I shall have much to say about that. I do not think that what I shall say will displease the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, he might even shout, "Hear, hear."

Mr. Snape

I should not go that far.

Mr. Montgomery

The hon. Gentleman should be a little more adventurous and do it this time.

In a letter to the leader of Manchester city council, my right hon. Friend put it in writing that passengers using Manchester airport, and therefore Manchester airport itself, have not always had a fair crack of the whip.

Secondly, we had it in writing in October that in aviation matters, given proper safety standards, competition and freedom of choice for the passenger are not the only but paramount criteria in deciding policy.

The third thing that gave me some encouragement was my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport's visit to Manchester airport last week. I have to declare an interest. My wife is a member of the Manchester airport committee, so if I do not say nice things about the airport in the House I am in terrible trouble when I go home. I am told that the questions he asked and his initial responses to officials at the airport left a strong impression that he might prove to be more liberal minded and less bound by the traditional restrictive regulatory protectionist policies of the past.

The principles that the Government have enunciated are therefore clear and, I believe, correct. However, practise has been very different from principle. We have a Secretary of State preaching competition and freedom of choice while the Department seems to practice old-fashioned protectionism.

One of the consequences of the Bill would be the diversion of flights to Stansted. That would involve considerable expansion at Stansted. The expansion would have to be paid for. Once that happened, the British Airports Authority would want even greater revenue from Stansted. There would therefore be a knock-on and spiralling effect of further expansion at Stansted. That is the danger for Manchester and other provincial airports.

Another effect of the Bill, which the hon. Member for Eccles mentioned, is that traffic movement limitations at Heathrow, combined with the high cost of peak slots as envisaged in clause 2, will create problems in the provision of sufficient slots at Heathrow for flights from provincial airports. I wonder how the Bill will affect passengers who use the shuttle from Manchester to Heathrow and then continue abroad. Will the Bill make interlining by passengers from Manchester more difficult?

I sould have thought that the answer to all this—it would be welcome to Manchester and take much pressure away from Heathrow— is to allow Manchester international airport to have more international flights. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) drew attention to that. Two airlines have recently said that they would like to fly to Manchester. The first is Malaysian Airline System and the second is Singapore Airlines. At the moment, Malaysian Airline System flies four times a week each way between Kuala Lumpur and Heathrow. It wants to increase the number of flights to perhaps seven a week. Primarily, it wants to increase its frequency to Heathrow, but it said three months ago that it would be interested in taking in Manchester. We should have preferred it to fly direct to Manchester, but that is a matter for negotiation. The essential fact is that we have here an efficient and well-run world airline that wants to fly to the United Kingdom and is prepared to fly to Manchester and to grant equal reciprocal rights to British airlines. It would create more jobs in Manchester, give passengers more freedom of choice and give more encouragement to industry and commerce in the northwest, yet the Government have refused the Malaysian application.

The case of Singapore Airlines is even worse. Apparently it cabled the Department of Transport on 25 September saying essentially two things. First, Singapore Airlines wanted to fly direct three times a week each way between Singapore and Manchester. Secondly, it would be happy if, in straightforward competition, a British airline, whether British Airways, or British Caledonian, or another, wanted to fly the same route. It was and remains a wonderful opportunity for Manchester, because it fulfils exactly the principles of competition and the increase of passenger choice which the Secretary of State holds so dear.

Mr. McCrindle

Considering all that my hon. Friend said about the desirability of opening up Manchester to various airlines, does he agree that one of the effects of doing so would be to add competition to British Airways on routes between Heathrow and Australia? Does he agree that that might conceivably be a reason why Manchester is not being favoured for additional services?

Mr. Montgomery

A good airline should not be worried about fair competition. It should be prepared to compete with another airline fairly. During the recent battle over the CAA report, one of the points constantly made by British Airways was that it did not fear competition, provided that it was fair. That is precisely in line with the liberalising of flight policies, which the Secretary of State has been promoting domestically, within the European Community and especially Holland. It would promote more jobs in the north-west, which we need, and genuine and psychological encouragement to industry and commerce there, and ease pressure on traffic movements at Heathrow, which is the central point of the Bill. Despite those substantial benefits, the Department of Transport refused the application. The House may ask why an offer which conforms exactly to the Secretary of State's beliefs should have been rejected by the Department.

The Department of Transport says that there are not enough potential passengers to justify more flights. That is a bit of an old chestnut. If Singapore Airlines, which may be in the top half dozen most efficient airlines in the world, thinks that it makes commercial sense to fly to Manchester, who in the Department of Transport thinks he knows better? That general argument of the Department was spectacularly knocked on the head by the fact that when the Glasgow to London monopoly route of British Airways was opened to competition from British Midland two years ago, the number of passengers increased by 30 per cent., prices fell and service improved.

The next shop-soiled argument against accepting the Singapore Airlines offer is that that airline is subsidised by the Singapore Government and therefore would present unfair competition. I understand that that is completely untrue—that Singapore Airlines is not subsidised. The matter can be easily settled, because the accountants for Singapore Airlines happen to be the same as those used by British Airways. It would be simple and proper, with the agreement of Singapore Airlines, to ask them to say whether it is subsidised.

The next argument against Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airlines System is that extra flights are not allowed for in existing agreements. In that case, agreements can be changed. If the British Government agree, no one else will disagree.

Another argument is that if Singapore Airlines or Malaysian Airlines System flies to Manchester, it may damage the present Qantas services from Australia by siphoning off passengers. No one is more aware of that than the people running Manchester airport. If they decide that the risk is worth taking and that the new services will mean more business, they do not want the Department of Transport telling them that it knows what is best for the people of Manchester.

The Department of Transport seems to fear that if Singapore Airlines or Malaysian Airlines System is allowed to fly more frequently to the United Kingdom, and especially to Manchester, it might hurt British Airways. I cannot see why British Airways should fear fair competition from such airlines.

British Airways, under Lord King, has made enormous improvements and smartened up its domestic and European flights enormously—I congratulate it on that—but some of its long-distance flights have not been improved. Part of the reason for that is that about five years ago, before Lord King became chairman, British Airways concluded a pay and conditions deal with its cabin crew, which restricted the number of cabin crew to 13—unlucky for some. Other airlines, such as Malaysian Airlines System and Singapore Airlines, and, for that matter, British Caledonian, have a considerably higher ratio of cabin crew to passengers and, therefore, offer more attentive services. Malaysian Airlines System has 18 cabin crew on its flights. Of course, cabin crew numbers and conditions are matters for British Airways, but it is intolerable that less-than-the-best service standards by British Airways should result in Manchester airport and passengers in its catchment area suffering.

Manchester is keen to get new traffic from across the Atlantic as well as from the far east. We are delighted that British Airways has announced that from next year it will fly to the United States from Manchester. There is however, an additional point. Although the Minister, in his reply to an Adjournment debate recently, said that Manchester airport was specifically mentioned in the Bermuda 2 aviation agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States, he did not say that Manchester was mentioned only as a point of origination for a British airline and not as a point of destination for an American airline. We should like to see the latter added to the agreement.

It would greatly help Manchester to attract an American airline to fly from the United States to Manchester if my hon. Friend, when he replies, will say that the Government will look sympathetically at and be glad to receive an application from an American airline to fly to Manchester. That would bring great pleasure to the people responsible for running Manchester international airport.

Finally, nothing in the Bill gives serious consideration to encouraging greater use of non-London airports when restricting airport capacity at Heathrow. I am unhappy that money which is raised by the auctioning of slots should accrue to the British Airports Authority general reserve and, consequently, facilitate the development of Stansted. Indeed, I disapprove of that. I do not like the idea of BAA developing its own airports with excess profits at Heathrow, without regard to a national airports policy. The Bill does not do much to benefit Manchester. It concentrates on the south-east and makes the development of Stansted more likely. Therefore, I cannot support my right hon. Friend in the Lobby tonight.

5.18 pm
Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

So far we have had a good lobby for Manchester. As I believe that undertakings should be fulfilled, I can hardly object to the part of the Bill which proposes a limit on air transport movements at Heathrow when terminal 4 comes into operation. The undertaking was given in December 1979 and has been repeated since. However, life has moved on since then. We now have larger and quieter planes, and still more are promised. Moreover, the limit which we are being asked to accept in the Bill conflicts with the evidence given to the Select Committee on Transport, of which I am a member, by Mr. Hewson, chairman of the Heathrow scheduling committee, only last summer.

On 5 June 1983 Mr. Hewson said: all my discussions with the Deputy Director of the Department of Operational Research and Analysis of the CAA, who is the acknowledged expert in such matters, indicates that the ultimate capacity in terms of total movements as opposed to ATMs, is unquestionably around 330,000 movements. It could be as high as 350,000. He has said the rock bottom minimum, assuming all pessimistic assumptions would be 300,000. The theoretical maximum is 420,000. He was then asked: Does that include small aircraft and feeder services? He said: Movements of every description. He was then asked: And helicopters, short landings and take-offs?", to which he replied: He was talking about runway capacity. Therefore it technically excludes helicopters. He was asked whether he would agree with that evidence and he said, "Yes." He was questioned again and asked, "Would you?" He said: Undoubtedly … I am quite sure that the scenario from the noise point of view that was envisaged at the time of the Terminal 4 Inquiry is quite different nowadays. That is all to be found on page 457 of the minutes of evidence, volume II of the Transport Committee report.

The first page of the Secretary of State's consultation document states: The Government accepted that there should be a limit and in its decision approving the development of Terminal 4 prescribed a limit of 275,000 ATMs, set close to what was then estimated to be the capacity of the runways. The announcement of the limit which was to come into effect from the opening of Terminal 4"— we are talking about a date in October next year— mentioned that it would be reviewed in the light of progress on the prohibition of noisier aircraft and the introduction of quieter aircraft.

The consultation document puts into question whether 275,000 is the limit for all time or whether it can be increased in the near future. On page 3 the proposed approach is mentioned. It states: The facilities at Heathrow (runways, terminals, parking areas and other infrastructure) should be used as effectively as possible; as much freedom as possible should be left to the preferences of passengers and the commercial judgment of the airlines. … compatibility with the Government's desire to encourage competition in the provision of domestic services must be taken into account and Heathrow's importance as an international 'hub' airport should be maintained by minimising the restriction on interlining opportunities; and insofar as intervention is required, the range of services available at Gatwick should be increased, so that it can develop similarly as an international hub.

The Bill seems to be somewhat controversial if all those comments are taken into account. Moreover, we have had firm promises for some considerable time that there is to be no second runway at Gatwick. That was an undertaking given to Surrey and Sussex county councils and by the Secretary of State recently. That effectively limits the traffic at Gatwick, so we are told, to 25 million passengers. I accept what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said. That sounds a high figure, and I suspect that it will be somewhat less than that.

One begins to suspect that the Bill is a preliminary to an announcement about Stansted. That should have come first. The Secretary of State's whole civil aviation policy is in disarray. He should have held this measure back until we had had time to see the inspectors' report and debate it in the House. It is only fair to say that his airline policy is in complete conflict with his public transport policies and the White Paper on buses. Everything seems to take second place to the privatisation of British Airways. Even President Reagan has been cajoled into falling into line, such is the fear that he has of meeting the Prime Minister. The power of Lord King and the Treasury seems to know no bounds.

Competition among our airlines is now a travesty. The Secretary of State was right to set up the CAA inquiry. It is a tragedy that he did not accept the report's recommendations. They seem to have been borne out by the report which we have had recently on British Airways' efficiency.

The Bill places a limit on slots and provides for the possibility of auctions. That must inevitably lead to a rise in charges, which are already high enough. Fortunately, in a recent press release, the British Airports Authority said that it thought that the use of quotas was the fairest answer to Heathrow's capacity problems. I hope that it will not be overruled on that by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Jessel

Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of a limit of 275,000 flights a year through Heathrow, or is he sitting on the fence as usual?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman wants to send a press release around Richmond and Twickenham, which I gather he did at the last two elections, about my being in favour of a fifth terminal at Heathrow. I am not in favour of that at this time and I have never said as much. I am opposed to the massive extension of Stansted. If he will be patient, I shall outline what I am in favour of. I know that in Richmond and Barnes there were only 75 votes between the Liberal candidate and the present Member.

How do increasing costs and the possibility of auctions, which will price out many of the smaller operators, help them and the regional airports? I am in favour of the expansion of our regional airports. I support everything that has been said about Manchester.

Why has the Secretary of State turned down the People Express application to go into Stansted? Why has he refused, as was repeated several times by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery), the Singapore Airlines' application to go to Manchester? What is to happen to the Highland Express application to use Prestwick, because it could be the saviour of that international airport? If he believes in freedom and free competition, what is wrong with someone using Prestwick?

It is only fair—I accept the question that has been put to me—to put on record what I believe should be the alternative to what the Secretary of State is proposing. First, I believe that we should proceed with a STOL port, in docklands, which has been recommended by an inspector. That decision has not yet been taken. It is not in the hands of the Secretary of State for Transport. The Secretary of State for the Environment will decide. Quiet aircraft will be used—for example, the Dash 7 and the Twin Otter. Such an airport would take some pressure off the other London airports.

I hope that we will encourage, in every way that we can, greater use of our regional airports, not just Manchester, but Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds and probably Cardiff. Those regional airports must have ready access to Heathrow and Gatwick at least unless they can establish hubs of their own. I suspect that Manchester is about the only regional airport that can do that.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

I suppose that when the hon. Gentleman talks about the only regional airport that can do that he means in England and does not exclude the possibility of Prestwick expanding in that way.

Mr. Ross

I do not exclude Prestwick. I have been to all these airfields, and Prestwick is a lovely airport. However, there is the challenge of Glasgow and the fact that British Midland, which could operate out of Prestwick, has turned it down.

It may well be Manchester that we are talking about, but if a company can establish itself at Prestwick.. as People Express did in Newark, New Jersey, I wish it well, and I see no reason why that should not happen. I make one proviso, however. Public transport services into those airfields must be improved. There must be a rail link into Prestwick and into Manchester. That can be done, and it need not be too expensive.

We should proceed with the disposal of Farnborough. I am talking about the airfield, not about the research establishment. That has been on the cards for a long time. It should be used as a business executive airfield. Some of the small aircraft which go into Heathrow at the moment could probably use Farnborough.

I would allow limited expansion of Stansted. I believe that 2 million to 3 million passengers at Stansted would be acceptable. There are 500,000 passengers using it now. That has increased from 250,000. It was almost up to 1 million at one time. I cannot see how that limited expansion would conflict with the request from People Express to use that airport. If it can make a go of it, why not let it do so? When the Government talk so much about competition, I cannot understand why there is this restriction on these new routes. We can only assume that it is all to do with the privatisation of British Airways.

I asked the Secretary of State what the present position was about the sale of the CAA airports. I should be surprised, but I should be delighted to learn, that there are private buyers for these airfields. I suspect that there will not be. I do not know who will buy Benbecula. At the moment, Sumburgh is losing money. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to hand these airfields over to the British Airports Authority for it to operate them if there are no buyers? If so, how can the BAA finance them if it cannot use cross-subsidisation? Is the right hon. Gentleman expecting the local authorities to take part? If he is, he had better have a word—I must be careful heie, because the Secretary of State for Scotland is just as tough on local authorities as the Secretary of State for the Environment— with the responsible Ministers, because the local authorities have no cash. The idea that something like £6 million will come in from these airports may be pie in the sky. We shall watch that with interest, because if the Secretary of State manages to dig up buyers for those airfields he will be a magician.

Mr. Ridley

The figure of £6 million is the maximum that might be written off under the Bill. It is not the value of the airports.

Mr. Ross

I am grateful for that clarification. I believe that the Bill is premature, but I accept that the right hon. Gentleman is honouring a pledge. We must give him credit for that. However, this pledge was probably mistakenly given. Almost certainly the Bill will be unfair to the smaller operators, whom in his heart of hearts the Secretary of State must want to help. It will not be particularly helpful to our regional airports, and in my view it is unrealistic in respect of the CAA airports. For those reasons, we should vote against the Bill tonight.

5.30 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I take part in this debate out of a strong constituency interest, as the airport at Heathrow provides the greatest source of employment for my constituents. I also take part as the re-elected chairman of the Conservative party's parliamentary aviation committee, whose remit is to maximise the opportunities for British civil air transport with the aim of benefiting the economy and the travelling public.

I hope that this also is entirely the objective of my right hon. Friend, because to be candid this measure seems inimical to the interest of British civil air transport. I am sure that hon. Members will have noticed how critical and sceptical was the questioning of my hon. Friend during his opening remarks. That was entirely justified, because I believe the measure to be premature and ill-considered. I do not even believe that it is necessary. It has been parachuted into our legislative programme for this Session. There was no mention of such a Bill in the Gracious Speech, and if we were surprised by the absence of such a measure in the Gracious Speech it was because there was no mention of any proposal to denationalise or privatise the British Airports Authority either. That was in our manifesto. Its absence caused me to smell a rat.

The Secretary of State enjoins us not to be too Machiavellian and not to adduce links and connections where none exist, particularly any connection there may be with the decision which the Government will have to reach, sooner rather than later, about whether to approve the development of Stansted as proposed by the BAA.

It would be foolish and wrong to suppose that the obtaining of legislative powers to permit the Government to carry through what they regard as a pledge to impose a limit of 275,000 air traffic movements a year for Heathrow would not have a relevance to the Stansted issue. It most certainly and manifestly must, because, as the number of ATMs is already creeping up towards that limit, and as Lord Trefgarne expects it to be exceeded some time towards the end of this year or next, if such a limit is imposed aircraft will have to be shunted out of Heathrow. If those aircraft serve the London area, they can be shunted to Gatwick, or alternatively they will be shunted to Stansted.

It is noteworthy and instructive for the House to bear in mind that no airline—with perhaps the sole exception of British Caledonian, which has its own interests as Gatwick is its hub airport—favours this measure. I said that the Bill should benefit British civil air transport, but if the airlines are against it, who are its friends? I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) is a friend, and without wishing to pre-empt his remarks, I imagine that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) is also favourably disposed towards it. However, among those of us who take a serious professional interest in these affairs, I doubt whether anyone favours it.

I must declare a further interest. Before I was returned to this House I was a chief flying instructor of a flying school at Stansted and acted as a sales manager for an air charter operation out of Stansted. I therefore know the airport well, and I am also professionally familiar with the south-eastern airports. I did what I thought to be the only reasonable and right thing and made a submission not only to the T5 inquiry, both written and oral, but also to the consultative process which my right hon. Friend initiated to consider the so-called pledge of 275,000 movements a year.

We must look at that pledge fully and the context within which it was made. Apart from noting the limit in the press statement of 17 December 1979, we should also bear in mind that the second part of the relevant paragraph states: The Secretaries of State have noted that the inspector's proposed limitation was substantially below Heathrow's runway capacity and could thus prevent the effective use of the airport's resources at a time when the London airports are likely to be under considerable pressure". That summarises the position exactly. By this measure we are effectively inhibiting the development of Heathrow, which is a national asset of immeasurable price, value and worth. It is a huge national investment and will be an even larger one when terminal 4 comes into service. How paradoxical, perplexing and strange that, just when this additional capacity is available— in which we all invested as the BAA built it— we should prevent additional air transport movements into Heathrow!

The so-called rationale was noise, but, as the serious specialists will know well, noise is a very different issue from what it was when we had the big debates about Maplin. We may still carry our battle scars, but we recall those debates. We won then and I predict that we shall win again over Stansted. It shall not be developed to phase 1 as predicted, because I do not believe that there is parliamentary support for that development.

With quieter aircraft coming into service, the whole rationale for basing an airports policy on noise criteria has altered and dramatically changed. It will change even further when we have the statutory imposition of a ban on noisier aircraft from 1 January 1986.

I ask the Secretary of State to think again. The submissions that I have received are heartrending. I do not want to over-egg the pudding, but I have received a letter from the chairman of British Midland, the domestic airline of the year for the second time, in which he states: We are faced with very real hardship if there is an implementation of any unnatural restriction on air transport movements at Heathrow. He ends by saying: the capacity of the runways and the terminals are far greater by virtue of improved technical and working practices than the British Airports Authority were prepared to concede. Indeed, the Civil Aviation Authority have now determined that the capacity, on equipment currently available and not allowing for any improvements which may subsequently take place, is now 330,000 air transport movements per annum. If implemented, this latter figure could see the problem through for at least five/ seven years.

I do not dissent from that view. It was, in short, the view of all the private sector independent carriers operating into Heathrow—not only British Midland but Air UK, Dan Air, Manx Airlines, Air Ecosse and Brymon. These are the independent carriers that the CAA's policy of enhancing competition, especially among domestic services, has encouraged to go to Heathrow. The travelling public has benefited. Those in the provinces have benefited. It would be crazy if these enterprising people among the private sector carriers, which the Conservative party is supposed to be encouraging, were the first to be victimised, as they would be if the British Airports Authority had its way. The BAA is the chosen instrument of the Bill because it will be imposing the limit, athough ultimately it will have to be sanctioned by the Secretary of State.

I refer right hon. and hon. Members to the BAA's press statement of 19 October: A quota on domestic flights into Heathrow Airport would be the fairest way of dealing with the difficult problem"— it is difficult in the eyes of the BAA— of restricting air transport movements to 275,000 a year.

Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why Genair, the small company operating from, amongst other places, Blackpool airport to Heathrow, was put out of business was that its slot into Heathrow was removed and as a result it lost a great deal of business and eventually went under? Does not that enhance my hon. Friend's argument?

Mr. Wilkinson

I am sure that it does, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention.

Lest the House should think that I am less than fair-minded and that I am obsessed with the independent carriers, I quote a letter from the managing director of British Airways of 25 October, long before the Bill appeared even in print. He gives four reasons why he suggested on behalf of British Airways that a limit of 275,000 air transport movements was not in the interests of BA: (i) There would be no difference discernible to the public in aircraft noise around Heathrow if unrestricted ATMs were permitted. (ii) The proposed, arbitrary limit would 'waste' Heathrow's runway capacity by holding operations below the level of 330,000 ATMs—recently assessed by the CAA as a wholly practicable level. (iii) The ATM limit is incompatible with HMG's airline competition policy. (iv) There is insufficient capacity at Gatwick to absorb an artificially created overflow of movements from Heathrow.

I thought, and I hope that it is still the case, that the first objective of our Government's policy was to facilitate the privatisation of British Airways. How remarkably strange and what perverted logic it is that, just before flotation, the Government introduce a measure that could hobble and inhibit British Airways. That is extraordinary, and it is another reason why we should not give the Bill a Second Reading.

The British Airports Authority itself has doubts. It might be instructive if I quoted from a letter from the director of Heathrow airport, a man known to me arid a man of the highest professional competence. He said: The BAA was not consulted at all during the drafting of the Bill. As a result we have a number of major concerns. For example, the Bill provides for schemes including 'special charges to be payable by operators.' This would include slot auctions which we do not believe to be an appropriate solution to Heathrow's capacity problem. Such a scheme might permit, for example, the large airlines to act in a predatory manner, which would not be in the best interests of the air traveller.

I know that there is no mechanism in the Bill for imposing a limit, but that is a deficiency in the Bill. It means in effect that we are writing a blank cheque. We do not know the mechanism, and that is a fundamental deficiency which should have been rectified.

With the best of intentions, my right hon. Friend and his team have sought to justify the Bill on grounds of noise. I hope that I have demonstrated that the grounds of noise have been overtaken by events. British Airways has conducted a careful scientific assessment of the levels of noise disturbance to communities around the airport which can be anticipated at various levels of air transport movements a year.

I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne is no longer in his place, because the outcome of the survey is extremely interesting. I see the present figure for Staines, which my right hon. Friend mentioned. The noise and nuisance index for 1980 is 37. With 275,000 ATMs it is 29 in 1986, after the noise ban That is considerably lower. With 330,000 ATMs a year, the figure would be only 31 after 1986 when the new noise regulations come into force. So even with the 330,000 air transport movements a year which the CAA believes in its professional competence to be possible within the current constraints of Heathrow airport, and with existing air traffic control equipment, the noise level would be very substantially lower.

This is an unworthy Bill. It has not been thought through. It pre-empts the decisions ultimately to be made about Stansted and terminal 5. It is damaging to the interests of my constituents and those who work in the civil air transport industry not only in Heathrow but perhaps further afield. For those reasons, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against Second Reading.

5.48 pm
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

I am glad to be called immediately after my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who put forward a most succinct general argument against the Bill. Obviously I speak in the sense of defending the interests of my constituents. Most right hon. and hon. Members will recognise that. However, I remind them, as I did a previous House of Commons in an airports debate, that the core of my beliefs, such as they are, about airports matters was formed when I was Member of Parliament for Middleton and Prestwich and never dreamt that in a few years I might be the Member for Saffron Walden.

I hope that the House will accept that I have never adopted an "Anywhere but in my patch" approach to the resolution of the airports problem. I have always tried to find an objective way out of the problems which I hope can combine the protection of the interests of my constituents with the factual problems facing the civil air transport industry. I have never attempted to duck the need argument, to the extent that it has been proved.

Apart from being the Member of Parliament who represents Stansted, I try to remember that, in the Burkean sense, I am also a Member of Parliament. In conjunction with my constituency interests, I have to try to adopt an objective approach.

Today is not the day for discussing the details of airports policy. However, it may be that the only compliment that I can pay my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is that I am grateful for his announcement today assuring the House that the inspector's report will be published and that there will be a debate in the House before the decision is taken. We have sought that, and we are most grateful for it. We did not expect otherwise, did we?

It is not so much the Bill's contents but its timing and effect that I want to deal with today. The rush with which it has appeared before us is unseemly. I am uneasy in my mind that civil aviation policy is being formed at the charge. A consultation document was published in the summer, but there has been no debate. A White Paper was published during the parliamentary recess but there has been no debate. There was no intimation in the Gracious Speech, but a few days ago, that the Bill would come before us, yet here we are being asked to assent to what my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood has so justly described as a blank cheque. It is very suspicious indeed.

In representing the interests of my constituents in Saffron Walden and the surrounding area, I have tried all along to say to the Government that I cannot in the end deny the possibility that they may wish to come to a conclusion on airports policy which my constituents find hostile to their interests. Naturally, I hope that that will not happen, but I recognise it as a possibility. Because of that, I have tried to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that they should have the greatest care in the way that they handle the approach to that final decision. There is a lot of suspicion and there are many ruffled feathers in the Saffron Walden area. That is not, necessarily because people believe in plots but because Stansted has the uncanny capacity to keep reappearing as an issue, whether it is because civil servants thrust it before Ministers with such determination or because Ministers find themselves independently persuaded. It keeps coming back. People suspect that there is a determination somehow in the machinery of Government that it should happen. Therefore, the handling of the matter is important. To avoid political difficulties among the Government's friends, it should be beyond reproach.

I thought that that point had been well accepted, but then the Bill came along. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that he cannot see any connection between clause 1 and Stansted or the general airports problem. I find that difficult to understand. I do not doubt my right hon. Friend's personal sincerity for one moment—let that be clear. But did no one suggest to my right hon. Friend or to his right hon. Friends that someone might see a connection between the Bill and the resolution of the airports policy? That possibility is utterly fantastic. I can only say that the Government were extraordinarily badly advised.

When policy was initiated I was given assurances about the nature of the inquiry. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), when he was Leader of the House, said of the inspector's inquiry: I expect that he will wish to examine relevant alternatives to … Stansted."-[Official Report 18 December 1979; Vol., c. 391.]

On 21 February 1980, Mr. John Nott, the then Secretary of State for Trade, said: I must make it clear that the Government will reach their final decision only in the light of the inspector's recommendation. In 1980 I can simply set out clearly the constraints which surround our choice of action and then provide through this wide-ranging public inquiry the opportunity for the widest expression of views. The final decision must come at the end of that process."—[Official Report, 21 February 1980; Vol., c. 696.] The inspector was most concerned about exactly what all that meant to him. In the meantime, the words and reassurances that I was receiving were becoming ever more generous and coming from ever more authoritative sources. The last word I took to be that of the Prime Minister who, in a letter to me in 1980, said: The inspector brings an open mind to the issues and has the benefit of hearing all relevant evidence presented and tested in cross-examination. I can assure you that, when the inspector has reported to me, the representations made and his conclusions on them will be carefully considered, and there will be no question of treating any particular alternative proposal as out of the question because it conflicts with Government policy as put to the inquiry.

Mr. Michael Barnes QC, representing the Government's point of view, addressed the inspector on the second day of the inquiry in the following terms: He said: I wish, at this stage, to comment on the Government's view of the status of its policies and their relevance to the Inquiry. The Government's view may be stated as follows. The issues which are before this Inquiry are so wide ranging that it would be nonsensical to assert that because an issue has been the subject of a statement of Government policy that issue cannot be open to question at the Inquiry. He went on later to say: They"— the Government— see the prime purpose of the Inquiry as being for all parties to deploy their argument and evidence and to enable all aspects of the issues and proposals to be considered in detail. It is only in the light of your recommendations that the Government will reach its final decision. That perplexed the inspector a little, and on the 13th day Mr. Michael Barnes had to return to assist the inspector. He said: You will have the benefit of all the evidence being advanced and tested before you and you are in a position to judge afresh and independently the arguments advanced. The Government does not ask you to take any matter for granted and, within the normal rules which apply to these inquiries, does not seek to confine your consideration to any particular areas. He went on: No argument which may be advanced to these inquiries will be ruled out from proper consideration by the Government merely because it runs counter to some aspect of Government policy. The decision on each of the three called-in applications is in no sense a foregone conclusion. The Government has done and will do everything within its power to ensure that the inquiries are as full and wide ranging as it has promised.

I do not want to weary my hon. Friends, nor my right hon. Friend, but the quotations could go on. Mr. Harris from the Department of Trade was also closely questioned by the inspector. The clear implication was that all those matters were sub judice within the inquiry. Even as recently as 24 November 1983, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell), Under-Secretary of State for Transport, said: I can assure you that the Government will not be influenced by the outside lobbying of any of the parties. What will matter to us is the Inspector's report on the evidence which was actually presented to the inquiries, which was properly tested by examination and cross-examination.

The point that I am trying to make, I hope not at wearisome length, is that from all that was said and made clear to me, and then to the inspector at the inquiry, no one could have imagined that the 275,000 ATM limit was anything other than one of the factors in the inquiry. Her Majesty's Ministers assure us that they are in a quasi-judicial position in relation to that inquiry. I should have no more imagined that a Bill would have been brought forward today to implement the immediate expansion of Stansted than that there would be a Bill to impose the 275,000 ATM limit at Heathrow.

If in the light of that the Government say that they never realised that there was a connection, I can only say that my hon. Friends see the connection and my constituents will all too clearly see the connection. If the 275,000 ATM limit is imposed by the Government using the machinery of the Bill, the prospects of having a fair and free decision on Stansted become negligible. That is what is at issue. That is why hon. Members are concerned tonight. I am astonished that my right hon. Friend and the Government cannot see that.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

My hon. Friend properly and forcefully put the point that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in a quasi-judicial position and therefore cannot reply to the debate on Stansted airport. In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend agree that the most decent, proper and sensible thing for our right hon. Friend to do would be to give the House a free vote on the matter?

Mr. Haselhurst

My hon. Friend's support is valuable and I hope that the Government will weigh his words.

The Secretary of State advanced in his defence the argument that if he did not have the Bill he would put himself in legal difficulties with the inquiry inspector. He suggested that the inquiry might have to be reopened. I do not follow that argument and I do not think that my right hon. Friend has any evidence for that claim. In the light of the quotations that I have given from exchanges at the inquiry, I do not believe that that argument stands up.

If we are being asked to believe that that is the Government's legal opinion, I remind them of another legal opinion that, until a short time ago, they assured us could not be overturned. We were told that it was impossible for the inspector's report on Stansted to be published before the Government made their decision. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction told me in a letter of 17 February this year: I cannot accept your suggestion that in the case of Stansted/T5 the report should be published before a decision is made. When I asked my hon. Friend about that, he told me that his decision was the result of the overriding legal opinion given to the Government. Happily, the Government have found another legal opinion that has enabled them to make an announcement today. I strongly recommend that they consult their lawyers again and I hope that they will not find it necessary to reopen the inquiry simply because they do not implement the 275,000 ATMs limit at Heathrow.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said that he had to act in this way to honour a pledge. I do not say to hon. Friends who have different constituency interests that I am careless of those interests, but a pledge is a pledge is a pledge and it does not help the reputation of the Government if they appear to be picking and choosing between pledges. Why does this pledge have to be honoured at this time? I do not deny that at the end of the inquiry process the pledge might be implemented, but why now? Why this pledge? Why not the other pledges given by the Government?

When I was asked to justify to my constituents the fact that the Stansted issue could be raised again, I was taken on one side by Ministers—arm around the shoulders—and advised, "It's the constitutional point, old boy." I was told that the Government could not be bound by previous decisions and that they had to look at everything afresh.

I told my constituents that it was a hard decision, but that there would be a public inquiry at which everything would be tested. Now that same Government ask me to tell my constituents that some pledges from the past can be retrieved and regarded as part of the Holy Grail. That is unacceptable. If circumstances have changed for the people of Stansted, they have changed for everybody.

I understand why my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) feel strongly about the pledge that they were given, but I ask them to accept that pledges were also given to the people of Stansted, and not once, but twice. They were told in 1967 that the development of Stansted would be an environtental catastrophe. What has changed? The late John Davies said in 1971 that the development of an inland airport would do "irreversible damage" to large tracts of countryside. People take these matters seriously and they are entitled to some consistency from the Government.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is putting himself in the position of Humpty Dumpty in "Through the Looking-Glass". Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone: When I use a word,"— in this case the word might be "pledge"— it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less. The Government are not helping themselves if they are trying to defend their honour in respect of one pledge while denying their probity in terms of their whole approach to this difficult and complicated matter.

The Bill is not necessary, it is not necessary now, it is not fair and it will prejudice the outcome of the Stansted inquiry. The Government may get their Bill, but they will not do so with my help. I fear that they will sour the atmosphere in which we shall have to address ourselves to the substantive matters behind the Bill.

6.5 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

After that tremendous, rousing speech by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), it would be churlish of me not to congratulate him and many other Conservative Members on their spirited and almost unanimous opposition to the Bill. We look forward to seeing them in our lobby.

I noticed that the new chairman of the 1922 Committee was here earlier assiduously doing his job of listening to views, but I fear that, in spite of all the spirited and knowledgeable opposition of conservative Members, the Government will not withdraw the Bill. However, perhaps hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Saffron Walden will have assured themselves of a place on the Standing Committee where they can find other ways of ensuring the Bill does not get anywhere.

I wish to talk about Prestwick airport, Scotland's international airport and our transatlantic gateway. However, I should like first to mention airports policy in general.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) was generous in describing the Secretary of State's airports policy as being in disarray. I served on the Standing Committees on every civil aviation Bill in the previous Parliament and I know that, under the present Secretary of State, airports policy in the United Kingdom has degenerated from confusion into total chaos.

First, confusion was created because of the rivalry between the options of a fifth terminal at Heathrow and the development of Stansted. On top of that we have seen piled the additional uncertainty of the proposed privatisation of the BAA, the crazy suggestion that CAA airports in the Highlands and Islands might be sold and the unbelievable decision to set up another review of Scottish lowland airports policy.

I think that I can fairly claim to be an unbiased observer of the rivalry between the Stansted development and the fifth terminal at Heathrow. My eccentric view is that I am against both. I do not want a fifth terminal or more development at Stansted. I want all the efforts and resources of the BAA put into regional airports and Scottish airports, and more direct flights from those airports.

With that unbiased view, I find it incredible that the Secretary of State cannot understand that there is a direct link between the Bill and the Stansted inquiry. Surely one of the most material pieces of information at the inquiry would be an Act prescribing a statutory limit on the number of aircraft movements at Heathrow.

The proposed privatisation of the BAA is unbelievable. I disagree with the privatisation of British Airways, but I can at least understand the motivation behind it—competition between BA and British Midland and British Caledonian and so on. However, I find it impossible to understand the logic behind the privatisation of airports.

I live in Ayr. If I did not like the way in which Glasgow airport was run, would I choose to go to Manchester to fly to London? It is unrealistic to talk about such competition. I do not understand why an additional factor should be introduced to cause such confusion.

The Civil Aviation Authority proposal to sell off the highlands airports stretches credulity to impossible lengths. Even some Scottish Conservative Members find it difficult to understand what is behind the proposal. Only one highlands airport has ever made a profit. The others provide a vital lifeline for the highlands and islands. The suggestion is that a private operator should take them over and receive a subsidy from the Scottish Office. That will result in not a totally private operation but a subsidised service. The Secretary of State will tell us that he has had a large number of inquiries about the privatisation of the highlands and islands airports. I should be surprised if any of them materialised into real interest. Such airports cannot be run at a profit. Operators will be interested only in the subsidy from the Scottish Office.

The Government's airports policy is in chaos. I was deeply concerned when the Scottish lowlands airports review was established, but I was not surprised. There was no need for such a review. It was begun only because British Midland was rightly refused permission to fly transatlantic services into Glasgow airport. The review was set up as a sop to British Midland. I found that deeply offensive. It is also deeply offensive when officials at the Department of Transport say that the review must be completed within a particular time because they cannot keep Mr. Bishop waiting. For my part, Mr. Bishop can be kept waiting for as long as it takes to complete the review. The fact that he is having difficulties with his accounts and in keeping the airline running is none of our business.

The problem has been investigated by previous Governments. The present Government have rightly reaffirmed that Prestwick should remain Scotland's transatlantic gateway. Prestwick has tremendous facilities. A huge investment has been made in it. If the airport were closed, that major capital investment would be abandoned. Prestwick has a superb fuelling facility which is available at no other Scottish airport. Because of its underground tanks, aircraft can be refuelled efficiently and speedily. At Glasgow airport 12 separate tankers are needed to refuel a 747.

Prestwick has road and rail connections. They need to be improved, but when the A77 missing link with the A8 is built there will be a direct dual carriageway connection between Prestwick airport and central Scotland's motorway network. Prestwick also has a rail link. All that is needed is a railway station at Prestwick airport similar to that at Gatwick. Many people are fed up with Prestwick being given second best. Prestwick receives nothing like the investment of airports south of the border.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the charter airlines which fly thousands of people across the Atlantic to Scotland prefer Prestwick to Glasgow because of its superior terminal and refuelling facilities which are more effective and more efficient?

Mr. Foulkes

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is a user of Prestwick airport and knows about aviation. His views are particularly welcome. The hon. Gentleman knows that Prestwick also has a magnificent fog-free record. Only the other week 747s were diverted from Heathrow, which was fog-bound, to Prestwick. When the Queen returned from Canada and the United States there was some question about whether her aircraft should be diverted to Prestwick because of weather problems at Heathrow.

Mr. Bishop would like Glasgow to be used instead of Prestwick, but that is unacceptable not just to the people of Ayrshire, who are worried about employment and want Prestwick to be developed, but to the people living around Glasgow who are affected by noise. They are worried about noisy aircraft passing over a heavily populated area 24 hours a day. Prestwick's main flightpath is over the sea. A subsidiary flightpath is over the countryside.

To convert either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports to take transatlantic aircraft would mean spending £50 million or more— money which could be spent in better ways. That sum should not be spent because the facilities already exist at Prestwick.

Some say that having three airports in the Scottish lowlands does not make sense. If we were starting from scratch, we would not build three airports in the Scottish lowlands, but we are not starting with a clean sheet. Three airports already exist. Glasgow and Edinburgh make a profit. Prestwick used to make a profit, but it is now losing small amounts. It could still make a profit. If we can sustain three profitable airports, we should do so. The situation in the Republic of Ireland is similar.

If Prestwick airport were closed, the British Aerospace project there would be put in jeopardy. Jetstreams are being sold to small commuter airlines throughout the world. Jetstream production is a success. If the runway is not open to civil aviation, British Aerospace will have to pay for it to remain open. It could not do that commercially.

Two recent events which should have influenced the Government make the review nonsensical. The first is the decision by the Government to establish one of the few new freeports at Prestwick. The success of the freeport depends on the airport being a 24-hour-a-day transatlantic gateway. If there is a question mark over the future of Prestwick airport as a passenger airport, the whole future of the freeport will be in jeopardy. It would be crazy for the Department of Transport to put in jeopardy a decision taken by the Treasury to establish a freeport at Prestwick. It would also be catastrophic for the area.

The second influencing factor is the decision by Highland Express not only to apply for a licence to fly from Maastricht airport in Holland to Prestwick from Stansted to Prestwick and on from Prestwick to North America—to both Canada and the United States—but to show its confidence in the future of Prestwick and its belief that it is a great airport by deciding to establish its headquarters there.

Prestwick is a popular airport with the airlines. Both Air Canada and North West Orient like it and would move only very reluctantly if British Midland's application is successful. It wants to stay at Prestwick. British Emerald Airlines has applied for permission to fly out of Prestwick, and British Airways Charter wants to fly out of Prestwick.

I hope that the Highland Express application will be considered quickly and sympathetically. We would be extremely concerned if it were refused. I know that the hon. Member for Altrincharri and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) was concerned about the refusal of the application by Singapore Airlines to fly to Manchester. With the regrettable exception of British Midland, which has commercial and internal reasons for not wanting to fly out of Prestwick, the other airlines are anxious to ensure that Prestwick is developed. It would be crazy to decide other than to keep Prestwick as Scotland's transatlantic gateway.

Clause 1 limits the movements at Heathrow. It has a contradictory effect for Scottish airports. We want the Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen services into Heathrow to be continued. However, we do not want them to be developed as feeders for the European and long-haul flights out of Heathrow. That would take away from the potential for direct flights from Scottish airports, both transatlantic and to Europe. We are in a cleft stick.

It was surprising to hear Conservative Members say in a spirited way that they could not support the Bill. It is perhaps less surprising to the House to hear that I, too, cannot support the Bill. I urge not only my hon. Friends but Conservative Members to vote against the Bill if they are genuinely concerned about its effect on regional and Scottish airports.

6.23 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), the chairman of the aviation committee, I had an interest in aviation before coming to the House and I am still involved in it. Obviously, I am concerned about the future of the aviation industry. We cannot look at the airports in isolation and not realise the impact that the Bill will have.

Like the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), I have been involved for many years in attempts to find a more rational approach to aviation in Scotland. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not find all aspects of the Bill unacceptable.

I see nothing illogical in the Government's policy to sell the civil aviation airfields in Scotland, and nothing illogical in their being purchased by local authorities. In future, subsidies should come from the Scottish Office. It is a sensible way to handle the matter. Where social responsibilities are involved, the Scottish Office, which has such immense power and responsibility, should be concerned about such a vital part of our infrastructure.

I look forward to the day when the airfields will be operated for the benefit of the people by the people. I have been concerned for some time that the Civil Aviation Authority has closed some of the runways at some of the airports that will be sold. Anyone who has attempted a cross-wind landing in the Western Isles will know how fraught it is if the runway that allows one to land into wind has been closed. It means a cross-wind landing, sometimes with winds gusting at 30 or 40 knots.

The majority of dissent about the Bill centres on Heathrow. I cannot understand how anyone can think that an arbitrary figure for the number of take-offs and landings can be set at any given point in time, and then must last for ever. The changes in technology and the continuing improvements mean that safety, which is the paramount factor, can be incorporated into the new techniques. Therefore, many more aircraft will be able to take off and land in future.

When I began to fly, the separation for aircraft was minimal. It might surprise hon. Members to know that I flew Tiger Moths. Forty or 50 aircraft would operate off a small grass airfield. There were no modern aids, and the air traffic controller was assisted only by a Very pistol and a light. With those two delightful pieces of equipment, he managed to keep the aircraft flying safely. We moved on into the age of the piston aircraft that flew passengers immediately post-war. In those days, Prestwick was the favourite airport in the United Kingdom. Anyone who has attempted to land an aircraft with passengers on board in some of the appalling conditions at airfields in Britain, knows that it is better to land at Prestwick. Of course, that airfield is on the great circle route, which means that it is closer to North America than airports in the south.

Heathrow is a massive public airport, where there is tremendous investment. We should be imprudent if we did not enjoy the maximum number of take-offs and landings possible with modern safety standards. We are a long way short of that, and the arbitrary figure is a long way short of that.

The encouraging aspect of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—I understood him quite clearly—was that he and his Department would make the decision. It will not be made by a quango. Hon. Members who have heard me talk about quangos, in which we invest so much power, will know that I am no great lover of them. It is important that decisons should be made in the House if they affect such vital matters as whether to increase the number of take-offs and landings at Heathrow. I was grateful for my right hon. Friend's assurance that he is prepared to review that aspect of the Bill, so I will give him my support, even if reluctantly.

My support is reluctant because I have listened carefully to the speeches of my hon. Friends who serve on the aviation committee. I wholly agree with much of what they said. However, I want the Scottish airport problem to be dealt with.

We must recognise that at some stage the Government will wish to privatise the British Airports Authority, although this measure was not included in the Gracious Speech. I am in favour of that move. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the most sensible and logical way of privatising that authority, assuming that the southern airports will be privatised as one trading bloc, would be to privatise the Scottish airports as one trading bloc. It would be possible to have a holding company with two trading companies underneath. The trading company for Scotland should be chaired by a Scot and the people involved in its running should be Scots. I would like more and more of these vital and important decisions to be taken by Scots. Some of the decisions that must be taken will be difficult. Individuals will be called upon to make unpalatable decisions. That is another reason why I believe they should be made by Scots. That point does not in any way weaken the case for privatisation.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be much better if Scots who were elected by Scots within a Scottish assembly made the decisions on behalf of the people of Scotland?

Mr. Walker

It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I refuse to accept that idea. I have never thought that the things I wanted to do for Scotland in this unitary Parliament were in any way prevented. In fact, the opposite is true. One gets much more done in this unitary Parliament, so Scotland benefits substantially. I have never believed that it was sensible to break up this marvellous unitary system that we enjoy. It would be criminal and stupid to do so. I hope that no one ever thinks that my suggestion that decisions affecting Scottish local authorities should be made in Scotland contradicts my views about this unitary Parliament and the way we do things here.

It will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to hear that I should be happy to chair any future inquiry into aircraft noise, just as I chaired an inquiry into noise problems in my right hon. Friend's constituency where the airfield posed problems to the constituents. The Ministry of Defence invited me to chair that inquiry. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that we came up with a solution that satisfied those who complained and everyone else. I am confident that the same can be done if this matter is approached sensibly and reasonably. I think my hon. Friends feel that way.

There are differences between the noise footprints of modern jet aircraft and previous aircraft. No one should doubt that there is technical evidence, showing that modern aircraft are quieter and that the noise problems are fewer. Decisions on the use of runway facilities and capital investment in our airports should not be taken arbitrarily by putting limits on movement that have nothing to do with the primary criterion, which is safety and nothing else.

6.33 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

If this enabling legislation is passed without any amendment, two principles of Conservative policy as enshrined in the manifesto and the Gracious Speech—denationalisation and support of private enterprise—could fly headlong into each other. The Bill must be viewed against the background of 18 months' debate about the privatisation of British Airways which resulted in a win for British Airways, a £17 million consolation prize for British Caledonian and a kick in the groin for the independents.

This debate provides an important opportunity to assess the Government's commitment to private enterprise. I speak for Air UK Ltd., Manx Airlines Ltd., Brymon Airways, Dan Air Services Ltd. and Air Ecosse, and I must declare an interest in British Midland Airways Ltd. Those are all British-based independent airlines linking the provinces with Heathrow and all have remarkable growth records.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving the long list of airlines for which he is speaking. I shall not ask him how much he is paid for doing that. Was the hon. Gentleman not elected to represent in Parliament the interests of the electors of South Hams?

Mr. Steen

I have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said. I have managed to do that as well. As he knows, South Hams has Plymouth airport within its curtilage.

Because the private airlines believed that the Government would pursue their open skies policy, during the past 10 years they have sunk investment into aircraft and personnel. They have relied on the Government to provide the climate within which private aviation and enterprise could flourish with the minimum of rules and regulations. I am afraid that it looks as though those airlines are being proved wrong. The Government are intervening in more aviation matters than any previous Administration did, and this Bill is another example of that.

The Bill contains the ingredients which could distort opportunity for the independents. They are already prevented from flying out of Heathrow to Europe in competition with British Airways. They are prevented from flying from Heathrow internationally in competition with BA, and now there is a real danger that they will be weakened domestically. The Bill, if enacted without any amendment, could erode the viability of the independents, which will be left wide open to predatory action by airlines such as the national flag carrier, which has a good track record for doing just that. The legislation will prevent the independents from operating on profitable routes and so cross-subsidising the marginally profitable routes in this country. The independents are, therefore, facing legislation which, unless positive discrimination is shown at Heathrow, could mean their decline and ultimate demise, leading to redundancy of aircraft and staff.

This enabling Bill gives enormous additional unrestricted and unfettered powers to the British Airports Authority. It gives unrestricted powers to the CAA, with more rules and regulations and more red tape. In effect, the Bill introduces a new tier into the aviation machinery. Just when the Government wish to take away one tier of machinery in local government, they want to put another tier into the aviation machinery. The only proviso is that the Secretary of State has the last word.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believes that he can take this hydra-headed quango into his domain. I am sure that he is just the St. George to take that action, but will his successors be able to do that as well? The British Airports Authority has already spoken out against domestic flights. It is one of those hydra-headed monsters, and it has suggested a quota specifically angled at domestic flights as an answer to Heathrow's problems, seemingly oblivious of or uninterested in the fact that this dramatic growth area is bringing new life and wealth to our ailing regions.

Let us look at British Midland Airways' achievement—a company which I perhaps know best—and consider, for example, the transformation of the Anglo-Scottish trunk routes. The competition that British Midland has provided has increased the traffic by 20 per cent. and provided lower fares and far better service for the consumer. Both British Airways and British Midland have benefited. British Airways abandoned its Heathrow lead route on the basis that it would never be profitable. British Midland has turned that round, so much so that next March it will introduce a jet on that service.

Mr. Maxton


Mr. Steen

No, I shall not give way. I must get on.

One of the difficulties which the Government face is that they have to rely on information that is given to them by the British Airports Authority. The authority said that the maximum capacity at Heathrow in 1979 was 275,000 air traffic movements. It says now that the figure is wrong in 1984 and that it is 350,000. Since 1979 there have been technological advances which have improved landings, turn-rounds and take-off speeds. These improvements mean that many more aircraft can be handled safely. The authority says that technically there could be 440,000 air traffic movements a year. It is agreed that there could be 71 movements for 17 hours of the day every hour times 365 days. The maximum capacity of Heathrow is nearer 440,000 ATMs than 275,000.

On the basis of the authority's figures, the Government pledged themselves in December 1979 to limit air traffic movements to 275,000 when the fourth London terminal was opened. The figure seems to have been plucked. out of the air. There is no reason why it should have been adopted, save that the Government said, when they agreed to 275,000 ATMs, that it created a balance between the utilisation of runways and terminal buildings and the noise nuisance to local residents.

It is the noise element which makes the Government believe that they cannot go back on their pledge, yet millions of pounds have been spent by the airlines since 1979 on reducing their noise profiles. Most of the aircraft that are handled at Heathrow have a noise factor that is lower than that of the aircraft that were operating in 1979. The case is so powerful that one wonders why the Government are considering introducing legislation that is based on out-of-date figures and ignoring quieter aircraft. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will explain whether the limit of 275,000 ATMs has been fixed because of noise, and would be so fixed even if the noise issue was not in question and planes were silent.

The authority argues that as the growth of movements has been in the domestic sector—59,920 in 1979 to an estimated 76,400 this year—it will be appropriate for reductions to take place in the domestic sector. Is my hon. Friend aware of the make-up of the 76,000 movements? Is he aware that 23,000 of them consist of the shuttle flights of British Airways? Is he aware also that 10 per cent. of the shuttle flights are back-up services? If we add to the shuttle flights the other British Airways services, we find that they account for 40 per cent. of all domestic flights. That means that 40 per cent. of domestic flights are operated by British Airways.

The number of domestic flights has risen artificially as British Airways has tried to drive out its principal domestic competitors. If there is to be a reduction in the number of domestic flights, will my hon. Friend discriminate positively in favour of the private independents, rather than merely reducing each airline's quota pro rata?

Mr. Snape

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman must earn the fee that he receives from British Midland. However, it will not do for him and other Conservative Members to profess to espouse the principle of competition except when it has an effect on their direct commercial interests. The hon. Gentleman's proposal is outrageous. He knows full well that it would not be accepted even by the present Secretary of State, with his well-known eccentricities.

Mr. Steen

The hon. Gentleman does the independent sector a disservice. If 40 per cent. of domestic movements are by British Airways and there is a pro rata reduction for each airline, some of the independent airlines will not he able to continue. If that were to happen, they would be unable fully to utilise their aircraft. In effect, the hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants to kill off the independent airlines to ensure the survival of British Airways.

The Minister must discriminate in favour of the independent airlines if they are to survive. How does the limit need to be imposed on domestic airlines, and why? At present, 275,000 ATMs excludes 20,500 which are part of the general aviation pattern. They were excluded from the 275,000 in the 1979 inquiry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the 20,500 had been excluded. Is he aware that 72 per cent. of movements—14,897—were made by private jets? Those aircraft were taking up slots and using the runways when they could have been used by scheduled services. The BAA was at pains to say that the slots could not be used by scheduled services. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will explain why they cannot be used by scheduled services.

As the noise nuisance to the environment is at the heart of the debate, perhaps my hon. Friend will ask the authority for full details of general aviation movements during the past year and the noise profiles of the aircraft involved. He might have an uncomfortable surprise when he learns that many private jets have a noisier footprint than the aircraft used for scheduled domestic services.

The Brymon Dash 7 flies from Plymouth to Heathrow and it is one of the quietest aircraft now in operation. Indeed, it is far quieter than any private jet. If domestic growth is curtailed in favour of private jets, the Government will be favouring the international playboy and the middle east potentate. Is he aware that Adnan Khashoggi flies pretty regularly in a private jet with a noise profile two and a half times greater than that of the Short 360, which carries 36 business men to and from Birmingham five times a day, linking the national exhibition centre with our national airport? Will my hon. Friend confirm that he will not follow the authority's recommendation of curbing the growth of domestic flights, which have created and sustained jobs and introduced new prosperity?

If the limit of 275,000 ATMs is, in effect, a noise limit, there can be no case for favouring rich men's private jets over scheduled domestic flights which link the capital with provincial cities and whose continued operation is vital to the revival of regional economies. It is not enough for the Secretary of State to say, "Leave it to me and I will fix it." He has not fixed it up till now. The independent airlines have not been given any public money and none of their debts has been written off. They have not been given any preferential routes, unlike British Caledonian. They are now being told that they will have to reduce their flights or take punishment at Heathrow. Having won through and secured an arrangement whereby they can fly alongside the national carrier, they find that their movements may be curtailed, and with that their profitability. Private independent airlines cannot absorb under-utilisation of aircraft and a reduction in flights.

There is a suggestion that airlines could be moved from Heathrow to Gatwick, Luton or Stansted. In no way are airlines like the pieces on a Monopoly board. They cannot be moved from Park lane to Bond street. It is like saying that British Rail should re-route train journeys from Manchester to Euston to Manchester to Waterloo, over the bridge. There is no way that that could work.

The future of the independent airlines is extremely precarious. They are operating an extremely high-risk business. They can survive through their own ingenuity and imaginative management, but they will not do so if they are expected to survive in a market distorted by Government legislation.

My message to the Government is that they must be aware of the likely consequences of their actions. British Airways will be privatised; British Caledonian has been saved. It would be an indictment of our party and our country if the six independent airlines which fly to Heathrow went into decline or, worse, out of business.

6.50 pm
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My point of order is about something that came to light this afternoon via a press release from the Government. Can you advise me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on how, at this late stage, I can apply for a debate on the fact that the Government have issued a press release to say that they will withhold £1 of supplementary benefit from families of striking miners in Britain? I should like to question the Government on why that was done, and why it was not in the normal circumstances. Why was it not done in last week's autumn statement? I should like you to make a judgment on that and see whether we can immediately have a debate in the House on this urgent matter regarding the suffering of miners' wives and families.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to support strongly the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] This is an extremely serious matter. It has been sneaked out without being brought properly to the attention of hon. Members and in a manner specifically designed to rule out debate by the House. I am told that the press release was made at about 5.30 pm. The first that we knew about it was on the radio. Neither the press release nor the written answer is yet in the House of Commons Library.

It is perfectly clear that the information has been given in that way to ensure that the matter is not debated. I understand that the measure is to be implemented under the very unusual device of a Privy Council order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I believe that that is almost without precedent. I understand that it is for implementation on Monday, at the very shortest possible notice.

I appeal to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when the measure has clearly been long contemplated by the Government. Mention of it was omitted from the statement by the Secretary of State for Social Services on the uprating in July and, much more recently, from the Chancellor's statement only last week. It is clearly extremely provocative that it has been introduced in the middle of the strike. The reason for its timing can only be conjectured, but it is difficult to believe that it is not connected with the end of the Christmas bonus offer that is being made to miners. In view of the manner of its introduction, its provocative nature and the way in which the Government have designed it to prevent proper debate and a proper vote by the House, I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to protect the rights of the Opposition and Back Benchers, and to ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to come to the House at 10 o'clock tonight to make a full statement of his intentions and to justify the means that he has chosen to introduce this highly provocative measure.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

I realise that the hon. Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who have raised this matter, feel strongly about it, but I am sure that they and the House will recognise that it is not a point of order on which I can help them. However, I am sure that what has been said has been heard and that both hon. Members will use their ingenuity to raise the matter on another appropriate occasion.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect, the points raised concern the Chair more than the Opposition. I put that to you with the point in mind. The Chair is there to protect the rights of Parliament. Whatever political controversy may be raised and whatever depth of feeling there may be—and I share it—at a decision to take £1 a week out of the mouths of people on strike, this is a parliamentary matter, in that you must know very well that arrangements for financial statements are always made in the House. It would be unprecedented for a major statement involving £7 million a year to be made through a written answer. Further, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West said, if the Government have chosen to use a Privy Council mechanism for that purpose, they are using the Royal Prerogative to prevent a parliamentary debate.

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is a matter for you. It is not for those engaged in the controversy. You are here to protect the House. I respectfully invite you to ask Mr. Speaker to consider the matter, because it is for Mr. Speaker and the House. Only when that aspect is dealt with is it a matter of controversy within a debate. I ask you to give careful consideration to it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman will know that I have no power to alter the business of the House, but he will know equally that there is a well-established procedure in the House for drawing attention to matters that any right hon. or hon. Member feels are urgent—that is, by writing to Mr. Speaker. That is the correct procedure to be followed.

Mr. Benn

Further to the point of order. I am sorry to come back to the matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I cannot have made myself clear. The Chair is there to protect the House. This issue is about the rights of Parliament in respect of financial legislation. As you know very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, until quite recently Mr. Speaker left the Chair during the Budget debate because he was thought of as a King's man. That is why he was not there. We have now changed the rules.

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you speak as if this was a matter of political controversy that should be raised through the normal procedure by which political controversy is brought to the Floor. My point is that it is your concern, and yours primarily and alone, to see that the prerogative is not used to allow the Government to deny a debate on a matter of major financial concern which, incidentally and very importantly, will affect 140,000 families at this time of the year.

I beg you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to consult on that point because I believe that if Mr. Speaker is brought into the matter now it will be seen to be a parliamentary matter, not only a matter of indignation at the Government's meanness in the way that they have announced the measure.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already said to the right hon. Gentleman that I have no power to interrupt the debate. However, I have advised him that if he feels that there is an urgent matter to be debated, the correct procedure is to write a note to Mr. Speaker, who will of course consider it.

6.58 pm
Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

I have good news for my hon. Friend the Minister in that the tone of my contribution will be considerably less strident than that of some of my hon. Friends. The bad news is that the content of my remarks will be as critical of the Bill as any contribution so far.

My concern about the Bill stems from three sources. First, I do not believe that the undertaking of 1979 needs to be implemented now without a further review of developments in relation to aircraft noise. Secondly, I do not believe that it would be sensible to implement the measures outlined in the Bill in advance of other developments in airport policy, decisions on which are known to be imminent. The third source of discontent is the mechanism for implementing the limit which lies at the heart of the legislation.

In my view, this measure is anti-customer and anti-small-airline. I believe that I am the first Member to refer in this debate to that very important person, the customer. In my opinion, any artificial limit at Heathrow would be wrong. First, it is not good for British Airways. A common strand in all the dissent expressed by Conservative Members today has been that we wish British Airways well as it approaches privatisation and we want it to be in a position to maximise its opportunities. The corporation's own opposition to limiting air traffic movements at Heathrow must make it clear to the Government that the limit cannot be in the interests of British Airways. To that extent, one aspect of the Government's aviation policy flies in the face of another.

I declare an interest as a consultant to British Caledonian— [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will contain himself, I shall be happy to answer interventions. British Caledonian has no direct interest in the limit on movements at Heathrow, but it has a considerable indirect interest, as I shall explain later.

A decision at this time is not necessary because the undertaking of 1979, on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State placed great emphasis today, included the promise that there would be a review of the situation. We understood that that would take place before the undertaking was implemented. My question to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has the unenviable task of replying to the debate, is quite simple: why does the limit have to be imposed without the review first being carried out? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seemed to be saying that the legislation must be passed and air traffic movements limited now and that only when the legislation was in operation would he fulfil the second part of the undertaking and carry out the review. That sounds suspiciously like the grand old Duke of York marching his men—in this case, those who live around Heathrow—to the top of the hill, only to run the risk of having to march them down again. He does not deny that a review was part of the undertaking. Surely it is infinitely preferable that that review should be undertaken in advance of any decision to impose the limit which lies at the heart of the legislation.

I am concerned that this measure is not in the interests of the customer who wishes to travel from Heathrow. First, a substantial reduction in flights is almost inevitable. Just as terminal 4 is about to open, giving the impression that there is to be more comfort and opportunity for flights from Heathrow, the limit will prevent that improvement. Secondly, the operators forced to transfer from Heathrow will be mainly small airlines— and small domestic airlines at that. If foreign airlines are told that they must stop using Heathrow, there will be threats of retaliation. Any reduction in air traffic movements at Heathrow will thus have to fall almost entirely on British domestic airlines. Those airlines will clearly suffer most.

Even more insulting to the domestic airlines is the fact that they will be pushed out, at least in part, by the price mechanism. Such a policy sits oddly on the shoulders of a Government who are at pains to say that they believe in free enterprise and competition as it is precisely the practitioners of free enterprise and competition who are likely to be the victims of this legislation. It is also against the interests of the customer in that the flights most likely to be affected are those serving provincial centres. At the moment business men can fly from a provincial airport to Heathrow and on to a foreign destination. The legislation will prevent that, at least to some extent.

If those airlines are forced to leave Heathrow, where will they go? Will they go to Stansted? Surely it would be wise for the Government to wait for the very short period involved before the report on Stansted is received so that they know whether the alternative destination is to be Stansted. The other possibility is Gatwick, but the only runway there is already close to capacity at peak hours. Moreover, the Government's competition policy outlined in the White Paper of 5 October envisaged the use of Gatwick for the development of new services. I wonder whether the Minister recalls the lip service paid in the summer and early autumn to the great advantages of "dual designation" in terms of competition among British airlines. If those services are to be expanded at Gatwick, how can that airport cope with surplus movements transferred from Heathrow?

How will the Secretary of State decide which flights can no longer go into Heathrow? Will he require British Airways to transfer any of its services? There would certainly be strong opposition from British Airways if he tried to do that. Moreover, according to the recent White Paper, British Airways is to be permitted to transfer back to Heathrow some of the services that it now flies from Gatwick. That being so, British Airways will clearly not be the victim. Foreign airlines will not be asked to transfer from Heathrow because of the threat of retaliation. Therefore, it must be the domestic airlines. If I have missed something and there is some other way of achieving the objectives set out in the Bill, I hope that the Minister will explain it when he winds up the debate.

We do not know the mechanism whereby the legislation will be implemented. In effect, we are asked to take the Secretary of State on trust. I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber as I should like him to know that, despite all this criticism, I am really rather well disposed towards him. In personal terms, I think that he is a very agreeable man.

Mr. Snape

That is more a comment on his judgment than on his kindness.

Mr. McCrindle

I am sure that the Secretary of State will pay suitable attention to the respective remarks of the hon. Gentleman and myself.

We are asked to take all this on trust. In an ideal world, we might well do just that. The Secretary of State, however, having given full approval to an investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority into the future of British aviation, did not quite carry through that policy. I think that most people would concede that the White Paper which eventually emerged was a pale imitation of what the CAA had originally proposed. I doubt whether we can take it on trust as we are being asked to do.

I might be asked: what has changed since 1979? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take my answer on board. Runway separation standards for aircraft have changed. Forecasts of the maximum capacity of runways have been raised, so that the latest estimate for Heathrow is now 330,000 movements per year. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether that figure is correct? Does he agree that only a review such as the one I am calling for will show whether the figure is correct or not?

I readily endorse all measures to restrict the noise nuisance around Heathrow, but some consideration must also be given to the national economic requirements of millions of passengers and cargo shippers. If the Government agree with me about that, they must also agree that hasty action would be wrong.

Mr. Jessel

My hon. Friend blithely mentioned a figure of 330,000 movements a year—about 900 a day. How can he expect people living near the airport to tolerate that situation?

Mr. McCrindle

With respect, my hon. Friend has listened to only part of what I said. I made it clear that I understand the difficulties of his constituents, but I pointed out that standards have changed to some degree since 1979 because of the improvement in the design of aircraft and the reduction in the amount of noise emitted. The suggestion that 330,000 is a more appropriate figure is not mine; it was made by people who approach these matters from an infinitely more specialised and technical standpoint. Should we not be imposing tougher restrictions on noise rather than on movements? I feel that, in his assiduous defence of his constituents, my hon. Friend sometimes confuses those two matters. They must be kept in separate compartments. Have we been using the wrong yardstick? If so, it would be folly to pass the legislation and to tie our hands for a long time ahead.

I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I say only that the proposals in the Bill are unnecessary, because, first, the emphasis should be on noise control rather than the control of air traffic movements. Secondly, a full-scale review should be undertaken before restrictions are imposed. Thirdly, the Government should dovetail their policy on air traffic movements with the decision which follows the appearance of the Stansted report. Fourthly, I point out that the pledge can be honoured without resorting to rushed legislation. The Bill is unnecessary, untimely, and opposed to the interests of the small airline and the consumer. The Government should rethink their policy.

7.14 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Unlike the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) I have no particular interest which I should declare. I do not speak for "Air Wales", Air UK, Dan Air or any other company.

The Secretary of State has said that he is taking powers to limit landings and take-offs at Heathrow. I am in favour of that, because for the past five years I have had to use Heathrow two or three times a week, although I live only 10 minutes away from a regional airport with excellent facilities, except flights to most European cities.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there is no deep-seated plot to box ourselves in over Stansted. In my view, there should be no development at Stansted and no further development at Heathrow. Heathrow cannot cope with the level of traffic which it handles at present. Those who have to use it frequently find it an unpleasant airport. Most services in this country suffer from the problem of over-centralisation. That is especially true in the case of air transport. Air traffic demand has remained overwhelmingly concentrated on four airports in the London area— Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted. Those airports account for about two thirds of all terminal passengers using airports in the United Kingdom. Heathrow alone handles about half the total number of terminal passengers and over 60 per cent. of the international passengers using airports in Great Britain.

Outside the south-east, the problem has been one of over-provision of airport capacity and an inability to generate traffic. If there is ever to be an efficient use of the country's resources and an encouragement of the development of viable air services in the regions, we need to reassess and rationalise the future role of the regional airports. The only White Paper on air transport published in recent years appeared in 1978. According to the White Paper, the consultations that took place at that time confirmed what some Conservative Members have said today—that of all the problems associated with airports, the disturbance caused by aircraft noise remains the most serious". The consultations also reaffirmed the particular severity of the problem around Heathrow. The White Paper states: By 1990 the number of people affected around Heathrow is forecast to decline to less than 300,000". That decline would be brought about mainly by the development of quieter aircraft. However, the White Paper warned: even so the problem will still be greater at Heathrow than elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Jessel

Is the hon. Lady aware that that assessment of the number of people affected is based on the noise and number index, which is under review as the formula of the measure of aircraft noise? Many people question the assumptions on which that formula is based. The review may lead to the devising of a different formula, which might produce different figures.

Mrs. Clwyd

Until that review takes place, the figures that I have quoted will stand. I shall be interested to hear the results of the review when they are published.

The transfer to other regions of some part of the growth in air traffic which might otherwise take place in the southeast would have two main benefits. It would help to relieve pressure on resources in the south-east, and it would contribute to the Government's regional development policies— such as they are. Unfortunately, there are further disincentives to an expansion in the number of flights using regional airports. For example, there are the charges levied by the CAA on carriers using small regional airports. Those charges are sometimes four times as high as those levied at the main airports. We should try to equalise the charges.

Air traffic could be decentralised to airports such as Cardiff and Bristol. Those airports both handle a similar volume and type of traffic. They concentrate mainly on charter services, scheduled domestic flights and a few international scheduled services. It appears that south Wales, the Bristol conurbation and the south-west of England in general could sustain only one category B regional airport. However, there is a significant difference between the facilities obtainable at the two airports. Furthermore, expansion of traffic at Cardiff would support the Government's regional development policies since the airport is in a development area, and close to a special development area. In south Wales and the south-west of England, the catchment areas of the various airports are small. Cardiff airport, with its modern but under-utilised facilities, should develop as the category B airport in this area.

I was disappointed in a reply given by a Minister last week. When I reminded him of the policy in the White Paper, he said that policy and investment were two different things. As that policy has apparently not been changed, it should be backed up by Government investment.

As a result of Labour Government policy, Cardiff airport was designated the airport for the south-west region and £5 million was spent on bringing it up to international standard. It would require a vast amount of money to bring Bristol airport up to the same standard and the money would be wasted as Cardiff airport already meets the area's needs. Moreover, Bristol airport is 200 ft higher than Cardiff and is therefore more likely to be out of operation because of bad weather or fog. Indeed, it is frequently out of operation for those reasons.

Cardiff-airport is fully operational to a high standard. It plays a role in the economic viability of south Wales which cannot be ignored and it could help in the regeneration of the region. When industrialists look for suitable sites, they always impress on us the importance of good airport facilities. Although we have one of the highest rates of unemployment in the United Kingdom, we do not have such facilities providing for international flights. If Bristol were designated the south-west region's airport, a great deal of money would have to be spent to bring it up scratch and its use would affect the viability of Cardiff airport and the regeneration of the south Wales economy.

As in many other matters, it is vital that there should be further decentralisation of airport provision. Unlike other countries, we still concentrate the bulk of our air traffic in the London and south-east region. If we had Scottish and Welsh assemblies, I am sure that those two bodies would have implemented a vigorous air transport policy. Unfortunately, the Government seem unready and unlikely to do that.

7.21 pm
Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

East Midlands airport lies in my constituency, and several domestic airlines operate from it. I cannot help asking what there is in the Bill for domestic airlines such as British Midland. Such airlines already feel that the Government have let them down. The one opportunity which the Government had to provide real competition arose from the Civil Aviation Authority report of 1984, but the opportunity was lost in the scramble to privatise British Airways. Indeed, the opportunity turned into a cosy conspiracy, just as I foresaw, in which the two giants shared the spoils. The true independence of domestic airlines has not been enhanced and now we see from the British Airports Authority report and the Bill that the number of movements is to be limited.

What does the future hold for the domestic airlines? I cannot think that the Bill gives them much room for manouevre among the national airlines, as so many of the decisions emanate from the Foreign Office rather than from any other Department. Moreover, British Airways, like a petulant child, appears to be able to make a demand, and the Government just give in. There is no room for domestic airlines to expand. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) said, Heathrow is vital for independent domestic airlines. Already a domestic airline has lost its slot into Heathrow, and that was the end of the company. Gatwick would be hopeless for domestic airlines, and Stansted would be even worse.

Another consideration is the business executive using non-scheduled flights. I do not agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams said about that because, in addition to the 275,000 scheduled movements, there are 20,000 non-scheduled movements of executive jets and the like. They pose no threat to anyone. They wait patiently for a gap in air space to enable them to land or take off. There is a maximum of 37 movements an hour into Heathrow. I can vouch for the patience of nonscheduled airlines, having sat for 35 minutes yesterday waiting to take off. Such flights are important, as business men have to travel all over the country. Time is often vital to them and they fly to many minor airports where scheduled airlines do not go. It is therefore crucial that they should continue to enjoy the service.

Field Aviation Services, which handles 60 per cent. of non-scheduled movements, has invested a great deal of money in its jet centre at Heathrow on the assumption that non-scheduled aircraft will be able to continue operating at present levels. It is not asking for any more movements, but it wants no fewer. It has done well and should be left alone. Such airlines cause no trouble and are of great benefit to everyone.

I cannot see that the Bill helps domestic independent airlines, and I therefore shall not be able to support it. I shall not vote against the Bill receiving a Second Reading, but I shall certainly not vote in favour of its doing so. I should like domestic airlines to be given much more protection.

7.27 pm
Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

I am the hon. Member with Heathrow on his patch. Despite what has been said about it, Heathrow is the world's major international airport, and I hope that it stays that way.

I must be honest and say that I am suspicious about what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. It will take some convincing to persuade me that the Stansted inquiry does not lie behind the Bill. Nor do I accept the argument about the pledge. Too many Governments have made pledges and been only too keen to renege on them when it is convenient to do so. It is nonsense that we must stay with the pledge.

My right hon. Friend said that the figures could increase anyway. Even if it were necessary to maintain the 275,000 flights limit, we do not have to rely on giving the Secretary of State extra powers which he can use when he chooses, especially when he does not have to tell us why or when he will use them. How will he use those powers? Will they affect domestic or international movements? It is not good enough that we have not been told.

Some background information about Heathrow is necessary. Estimated air traffic movements for 1984 show 195,000 international movements, which is 73 per cent. of all movements, and 70,000 domestic movements, which is 26.5 per cent. About 12,000 of those domestic movements, or 18 per cent., relate to aircraft with a maximum passenger load of about 40, and they are not always full. Aircraft with a maximum of 60 passengers represent 18,000, or 26 per cent., of all domestic movements. Aircraft with a maximum of 80 passengers account for 21,000, or 41 per cent., of domestic movements.

I do not believe that there should be a limit. There should be completely unfettered movement in and out of Heathrow. However, if we must have a limit, it is crazy to suggest positive discrimination for domestic flights. By definition, that means that there will be less freedom for international aircraft. Government interference will cause more problems than it will solve. My right hon. Friend should not seek any powers under the Bill.

I suggested to my right hon. Friend how there could be a limit without imposing legal constraints. I told him of four options which he could consider before he made his decision. He told me in response to each of those options that he did not have the necessary powers and that the Bill was therefore essential to make a limit. The Civil Aviation Act 1982, in section 68(1)(b), states that the Civil Aviation Authority shall have regard, to the need to secure the most effective use of airports within the United Kingdom. Under that general power the CAA could, if it so wished, reduce the ATMs of smaller aircraft— for example, aircraft which carry between 40 and 80 passengers. The Secretary of State could act on that without taking additional powers under the Bill.

Section 68 also applies to the reduction of domestic movements as international demand increases. Such an approach allows for a more flexible reaction than simply banning all small domestic movements, which will still have an impact.

My most important suggestion was to extend the ban on night flights without interfering with domestic movements—indeed, while allowing them to increase. Section 78(3) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 gives the Secretary of State power to adjust the times of airport use. If we extend the ban at Heathrow from 11.30 pm to 11 pm and ban all night flights, we should at the same time have no restrictions on day-time flights. That would be to the benefit of all international airlines and some domestic airlines. I cannot see why that cannot be done. There would be an environmental advantage.

Many people living in and around my constituency are more worried about test-bed activities at night than about movements during the day. Five or 10 extra movements in an hour may make such a small difference that people will not notice it. That is a reasonable proposition. My right hon. Friend should consider it and could bring it into operation without taking new powers under the Bill.

We can use the price mechanism to reduce domestic ATMs. The British Airports Authority already has powers to introduce landing charges. I hope that in future the House will discuss the monopoly powers of the BAA. The way it treats its concessionaires at airports needs to be fully discussed in the House and made known to the public. It is no wonder that the BAA can make such large profits when it uses and abuses those who want to ply their normal trade in the airports' precincts.

At present the cost of landing an aeroplane is weight-based, and smaller aircraft pay much less than larger ones. A Shorts 360 pays about £80 to land and a B747 pays about £552. Both aircraft use the scarce resources of the runway and runway time. Why should they not pay the same price—the market price—to use them? Why should bigger aircraft pay more than smaller aircraft for using the same facilities for perhaps the same time? A flat rate landing fee would be fairer and reduce some of the domestic demand, which will please those who feel that it is necessary for it to be limited, although, as I said earlier, I do not. Landing fees on average account for only 5 per cent. of the costs. My right hon. Friend told me that the impact would be marginal. For smaller domestic flights over short distances the landing cost could be increased to 10 per cent. of the cost. The effect would then be greater than he suggested.

I thought that the Government believed in market forces. It is completely wrong for them to suggest that market forces could not work in this case. I am aware that some of my hon. Friends take a different view about domestic flights, but, as Heathrow is in my constituency, I know that the international aspect of the airport is of paramount importance. If we do not have the limitation suggested in the Bill and allow movements to increase, which my colleagues say can be done and which some hon. Members believe should be done, there is no reason why the international aspects of and the domestic feed into Heathrow should not continue side by side. The night ban would be a reasonable compromise with the environmentalists.

There is no justification for the Bill. Given my right hon. Friend's attitude, I have no choice but to vote against it. He is asking us for a blank cheque, but he has not told us why he wants it. I cannot believe that he is so naive as to enter the Chamber and say—as he said—that he is surprised at the interest or the potential outcry about the matter. How could he be surprised if he had been advised? He has an array of advisers. Are they all so naive that they could not anticipate our feelings? They must have known that the Bill would have an impact and that hon. Members would see the connection between the Secretary of State's actions and the Stansted inquiry.

It may be, as was suggested, that my right hon. Friend has a cavalier attitude, or that that was an aside to make us laugh, but I cannot believe that either. If he thinks he can lead us like sheep through the Division Lobby, he has got it wrong. The Government's policy on civil aviation is a dog's breakfast. I do not know where it is going or why, and I do not believe that the Secretary of State knows either. There is no unity in the Government's approach to civil aviation. The sooner the Government consider the entire picture instead of picking up bits and pieces, the better for everyone.

7.37 pm
Mr. Graham Bright (Luton, South)

The Civil Aviation Bill is one of the shortest and, apparently, most straightforward measures which we shall consider this Session. Its provisions are simple, and the motives which prompted the Government to introduce it have been explained. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has shown his determination to consider the environmental commitment at Heathrow, and we understand that.

The powers sought in the Bill are extremely important. They have important implications for the major air transport policy decisions which must be taken shortly. The Government must determine whether extra passenger handling capacity is to be provided in the London area, and, if so, where it should be located. Is there to be a fifth terminal at Heathrow, another runway at Gatwick, or a major expansion at Stansted in Essex? What is to happen to services in the regional and Scottish airports?

Any of the developments which have been canvassed in the south-east will affect the distribution of air traffic services throughout the United Kingdom for decades to come. A decision on this issue will go a long way towards resolving the form in which the airports are owned by the British Airports Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority. Some local authority airports may be transferred to the private sector. Because the Bill deals directly with the distribution of air traffic, all those matters inevitably arise for consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) and I produced a booklet some three years ago called "Airports U.K.". It set out, I believe for the first time, an overall airports policy for the United Kingdom. With the Bill, I believe a policy is encroaching upon us almost by default. I accept that the Government have been committed to limiting air traffic movements at Heathrow to 275,000 a year since the decision to build a fourth terminal was taken. The growth in the number of domestic services since 1979 plainly meant that pressure to enforce the limit would soon arise. I fully appreciate the environmental considerations which the Government have had to bear in mind.

Mr. Jessel

Is my hon. Friend aware that the inspector reporting on the fourth terminal recommended a limit of 260,000, and yet the Government went above that to 275,000?

Mr. Bright

I believe that the Government did the right thing. It is possible to go even higher, as I shall explain. Those are not the only considerations. The runways at Heathrow appear to be capable of taking up to 330,000 air traffic movements each year. That was the consensus of the evidence given recently to the Select Committee on Transport.

Furthermore, the new noise regulations, in effect from January 1986, and the replacement of aircraft such as the B707 and the DC8 by the wide-bodied quiet jets means that by 1990 a drop of 85 per cent.— that is an incredible figure—in the number of people affected by noise intrusion will have occurred. Leaving aside the question of whether quiet, small aircraft such as the Dash 7 and Short 330 should be counted at all— I do not think they should be; I believe that we can slot them in as they have done so successfully at the Washington national airport—there is no doubt that Heathrow's true capacity will be under-utilised and the noise problem will be substantially alleviated, whatever the limit.

The difficulty is that throughout the public inquiry into the proposed expansion of Stansted airport and, more recently, in its evidence to the Select Committee on Transport, the BAA has consistently argued that a limit of 275,000 ATMs a year at Heathrow rules out the development of a fifth terminal there. If that is so—I know that the major airlines, including British Airways, dispute that— the House will be closing one of the options before it has had a proper chance to consider it. It is vital to know the Government's view on that matter.

The BAA believes that no runway development at Gatwick is practicable and therefore Stansted's expansion is inevitable. I look to my right hon. Friend for a categorical assurance that the limit he is proposing for Heathrow does not preclude the development of a fifth terminal there.

Mr. Steen

Is my hon. Friend aware that if the movements at Heathrow are increased from 275,000 to 295,000—an increase of 20,000—that is only 0.03 of the NNI?

Mr. Bright

I am aware of that. If my hon. Friend had been listening he would have heard me say that towards 1990 there will be a substantial lowering of that figure, even with an increase of up to 330,000.

The House must be able to discuss these issues freely in the future. That is important. It would be intolerable to find that Stansted's expansion was the only available option as a result of decisions that we had taken under clause 1. It has been official policy for some years to prevent new international services being introduced at Heathrow. For the London area, they must go to Gatwick. Differential landing charges at the two airports are meant to encourage the process of transfer, just as the much lower charges at Stansted are intended to stimulate the movement of charter services from Gatwick to the Essex airport. Clauses 1 and 2 will undoubtedly buttress that policy by obliging many of the new and competitive domestic services—they are competitive—to leave Heathrow. The policy at least has the merit of consistency.

What has been overlooked, however, is that Heathrow's range of international services and its interlining facilities have given it a monopoly in the United Kingdom's airport system. Gatwick's network is far too restricted to offer domestic airlines any alternative. The major international airlines have the resources and protection of their countries' air service agreements to ensure that they will be relatively unaffected by the overall limitation of air movements at Heathrow or by the allocation system suggested in clause 2. It will be mainly our domestic carriers, whose movements at Heathrow have grown so dramatically over the past five years as a result of increased competition, which will be forced to move to Gatwick. Their development will be hindered because Gatwick's network of international scheduled services is so much poorer. That is a high price to pay for adjusting our pattern of air traffic distribution to suit the BAA.

The policy ignores the fact that there is a fourth airport situated in my constituency of Luton, South which already plays an important role in the London system. There are four times as many passengers going through Luton airport as Stansted. We have a nice new terminal, and we make a profit. We have the capacity now to handle up to 5 million passengers a year. With new access and additional terminals and landing facilities, which could be constructed at a fraction of the cost of the proposed Stansted development, we could take up to 10 million passengers a year.

Luton airport, having escaped a takeover by the BAA in the 1970s, is now having to resist the heavily subsidised incentives offered by the BAA to attract traffic away to Stansted. There is nothing fair about that competition. It exists because the BAA can cover its losses at Stansted and offer cut-price landing and apron charges by cross-subsidisation from Heathrow. Airlines and passengers are over-charged for the services which they receive at Heathrow to cover the losses at Stansted and in Scotland and to enable the financial targets set for the authority to be met. The BAA's strategy involves discrimination against the one south-eastern airport of any appreciable size which it does not own—Luton—which undermines entirely its claim to be the disinterested guardian of the national or even the south-eastern interest in airports policy.

For that reason, I am worried about the method of allocating air movements outlined in clause 2. It opens up the possibility that the monopoly element in the BAA's revenues at Heathrow will be even more vigorously exploited. The only rationale for that would be to fund a major investment programme of the kind necessary for the development of Stansted. The fact that air traffic movements will be below their technical limit, and that it is proposed to auction them, suggests strongly that airlines and passengers using Heathrow are to be milked once again. The penalty will be paid at Luton, Manchester and elsewhere in Great Britain. The existing discrimination by the BAA against Luton is unacceptable. If Stansted is chosen for major development, Luton will have to face the prospect of closure. About 7,500 jobs are dependent upon it.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise why anxiety about the pattern of air traffic distribution runs deeply. The powers which he now seeks will have to be exercised to accommodate decisions on the future expansion of our passenger handling facilities. That is why I ask him for clear and unequivocal assurances that none of those issues has yet been settled. It is also the reason why the House needs to be extremely careful before accepting a mechanism which would increase the BAA's power to exploit passengers and airlines using Heathrow to fund the development of other airports.

Those points must be clarified before our support can be given tonight. Provided that we have those assurances, we can debate the major policy issues freely when they arise, without binding commitments. Nothing else will be fair to the House and the country.

7.50 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I apologise for not being present for the whole of the debate. Unfortunately, I had to attend a Select Committee meeting, and I am sure that Conservative Members will appreciate the difficulties of being in two places at once.

Those parts of the debate to which I have listened have been interesting. We have heard fierce and severe criticism of the Government from the Conservative Benches. The hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) will forgive me if I do not comment on his remarks, but I recognise the validity of many of the points he made. Many of them are parallel to the points which would be put forward in respect of many other airports outside the south-east.

The Government's present airports policy is one of almost total confusion and lack of consistency. We recently debated the CAA report and we now have an airline policy almost by default. However, that has not been integrated in the context of an airports policy. Even at this stage we should be considering such integration. It is important to recognise the need for a consistent airports policy, but that will not arise through piecemeal measures such as this Bill.

The Bill kicks into touch the possibility of a proper review of airports policy on a national basis. In any case, whatever the Government's airports policy is, it is undoubtedly contentious. It is almost exclusively concerned with the south-east and almost totally ignores regional airports such as Manchester international. The status of that airport seems to have diminished considerably from the days when it was given gateway recognition. It is as if the Government now see it as almost irrelevant to their airports policy.

We in the regions deeply resent the marginalisation that has taken place in this respect, and should like to know how airports such as Manchester figure in these plans, given the worries arising from the Bill.

The Secretary of State said that this was an innocuous measure which we should not fear. He told us that it was merely the delivery of a commitment made some time ago in connection with Heathrow airport. But the Bill is not innocuous. It is extremely dangerous, particularly for airports other than Heathrow and Stansted.

I personally would not argue against the principle of a limit on the number of movements at Heathrow. There may well be ways of defining such limits, but that should be done in the context of an overall review of airports policy. By doing so, such limits would take account of the national interest and the need for an airports policy. Such limits should also have regard to operating a technical capacity within air transportation during the last five or six years. The limit of 275,000 movements for Heathrow was established in 1978, and the CAA is now on record as stating that in any case it could be increased to 330,000 movements to maintain consistency. But seemingly there is no recognition of that.

The fact that no limit is written into the Bill makes some of us suspicious. We do not know what limits the Secretary of State in his wisdom might set or operate. Our great fear is that the Bill is an attempt to use the limits as a way of justifying Stansted in advance of the inspector's report—the simple argument being that with Heathrow limited it is necessary to expand Stansted to allow any adequate flow of air traffic.

We welcome the announcement that there will be a debate on Stansted. I deeply regret that that debate will be purely consultative and that the House will be unable to make a decision, given that the development of Stansted is so contentious. There is a fear that limits may be reduced at an early stage to justify Stansted and that once Stansted is established they will be lifted. That will allow Heathrow to expand even further—a move that would be grossly detrimental, if not disastrous, for the regional airports, particularly Manchester international.

Many hon. Members from the north-west are also suspicious of the activities of the BAA. We have all seen the sweeteners from the BAA, such as car parking passes and so on, as well as the publicity justifying its advocacy of Stansted. However, none of this has been concerned with the real worries of Manchester. Consequently, most of us in the Manchester region feel that the BAA is hostile to Manchester international airport on the ground—perhaps logical— that the BAA does not control that airport, which is a successful example of municipal enterprise.

The BAA will shortly be privatised. Given its hostility to Manchester, we are naturally concerned that its major objective will be to make money. To make the maximum amount of money, the BAA might simply decide to give preference to the large international carriers at Heathrow—a decision which will have a number of detrimental consequences for the regions, and specifically for Manchester.

Whether that advantage is given to the international airlines, either by a quota system or price system, it will inevitably be disastrous for the smaller regional airports which, for example, depend on the Carlisle-Heathrow service as their main service. That service could be killed off because the regional airports will not be able to operate on price or other grounds.

Although Manchester airport is big enough to withstand such a decision, even it would be seriously and detrimentally affected. If more space at Heathrow were given for international services, there would be less incentive for the international airlines to go to Manchester. Much as I regret it, I appreciate that Heathrow is more attractive to the international airlines.

The Secretary of State has recently spoken about Manchester being allowed to expand its international routes if the international carriers are at the same time prepared to forgo services from Heathrow. Naturally, we know that no international carrier will give up a service from Heathrow in order to have a service from Manchester. I regret it as a Mancunian, but recognise that that would be the reality. Therefore, an expanding Heathrow would mean less capacity to develop international services from Manchester airport, and that would be bad for the travelling public within the Manchester catchment area.

The BAA's development of Heathrow for international services would either squeeze out the shuttle service from Manchester to Heathrow or increase the cost. An increase in cost is more likely, thereby establishing a poll tax on those who wish to travel from Manchester to Heathrow. That again would not be in the interests of the public in that area.

All hon. Members will be aware that the recent CAA report on airline competition was contentious. We saw especially the way in which the report had to be overridden by the Secretary of State as a result of the pressure from right hon. and hon. Members who felt that the CAA had made a mess of it. Yet, with this Bill, once again we intend to trust the CAA with powers, granted with some regulation by the Secretary of State, which in the past the House has been unhappy to see the authority exercise.

Those who come from the Greater Manchester area are suspicious and deeply unhappy about the Bill. We argue that from Manchester's point of view and from that of the air travelling public's need of an overall national airports policy we want to see a positive decision to transfer airlines to Manchester before any decision is made about airports policy. The Bill sabotages both a proper review of airports policy overall and any arguments in favour of the transfer of those routes.

The justification has been made before today of the ability of Manchester airport to generate additional services which could and should be given to Manchester. I have details of the 5,500 additional movements at Heathrow which could be saved. Their transfer would allow Manchester to carry to 24 destinations, many of which it is unable to offer at present. It would also involve domestic savings at Heathrow. It is in the interests of relieving the present congestion at Heathrow and the future development of Heathrow for Manchester to be given the additional services.

We know that the market exists. The minimal surveys which simply look at the travelling public who already go by domestic airlines to Heathrow and then travel on to other destinations are sufficient to justify the existence of direct services from Manchester. We also know from previous experience that when new services have been introduced from Manchester, such as the Qantas service to Australia, the estimates have been exceeded four times over because the market has proved to be massively bigger than the original estimates.

Should the Secretary of State allow airports policy to develop in the anarchic way that it seems to be going at the moment, the result will be the further development of services between Manchester and Amsterdam which at the moment are totally unregulated. The result is that Amsterdam will become Manchester's international airport and not Heathrow. That is worrying from the national point of view, but Manchester would be forced into accepting that if the Secretary of State was not prepared to reconsider the Bill and the need for a global review of airports policy.

We urge right hon. and hon. Members who have grave doubts about the Bill to vote against it to ensure that we have an adequate debate on Stansted and a proper review of our airports policy.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. Perhaps I can help the House. I am anxious to call those hon. Members who have been present throughout the debate and trying to catch my eye. I appeal for brief speeches from those hon. Members whom I am able to call.

8.4 pm

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and assure him that, although he has not been present for the entire debate,. his remarks were consistent with those of other hon. Members on both sides of the House.

In my innocence I thought that one way of improving my chances of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be to say that I was opposed to the Government's proposals. In this case that has proved to be somewhat counter-productive. Yet it must be almost unique that in such a debate only two hon. Members have spoken in support of the measure. However the voting goes at the end of the debate, I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench will have got the message.

I make one remark in support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is somewhat short of support. The Government have been accused of a lack of consistency in their airports policy. I assure the House that that is not the case, because the Government do not have and never had an airports policy. That is why I was obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for drawing attention to the document "Airports U.K.", compiled by us, which we felt might give the Government a few ideas. I am afraid that it is out of print, but copies are still available at £2.50.

I am pleased to say that some of the recommendations in that document have been picked up and are now Government policy. Possibly the most prominent suggestion was the one that the British Airports Authority should be denationalised. I, too, noticed the absence of that undertaking in the Queen's Speech, but it is in the manifesto upon which we were elected in 1983. I hope that that omission will be put right at a later date.

I do not want to cover ground already gone over by my hon. Friends, but I endorse what they have said in summarising my view of the Bill, that it is unpopular, premature and unnecessary. I have a certain sympathy for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in having stirred up this hornets' nest when he felt that it was an innocuous measure and also for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, making his first appearance as a Government spokesman on a Bill, who no doubt thought that he had an easy measure on which to cut his teeth but has got stuck with a very tough nut.

This has happened because the Government are a bit out of touch. There has been no shortage of messages from Back Benchers over the last four years that the drift of Government policy on airports was in the wrong direction. There have been endless early-day motions, Adjournment debates, letters to Ministers and pamphlets from hon. Members and people outside the House. Consistently the Government have failed to recognise the message. It may be, of course, that we change our Ministers too frequently. That is always an accusation that can be made of any Government. The minute that a Minister begins to develop knowledge of and expertise in a subject— shipping, overland transport and civil aviation are technical subjects—he is moved to another job.

It may be that we missed the opportunity to say more about airports during our debates on civil aviation in the summer. Perhaps we were diverted by the battle between British Airways and the private operators about licences and routes. However, that accusation cannot be levelled at my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Haselhurst), who has always made very spirited speeches on airports policy. Although he represents Saffron Walden, the constituency containing Stansted, his speeches have not by any means been parochial. An hon. Member who speaks about his airport, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South did, is not being parochial. All the speeches made by hon. Members in this debate have taken the wider view.

When we debate our airports policy we are discussing not just parochial matters, but the overall policy for our civil aviation industry. It is not our airports which are at stake. What is at stake is the future of our civil aviation industry if we fail to get our airports policy right.

Civil aviation is a success story. It contributes tremendously to our balance of payments. It is the one industry in which Britain is highly successful. Yet the Government are doing their best to kick the ball through their own goal. It is the one industry that we should be doing everything to support.

I am a little sceptical when I see the White Paper on airline competition policy prepared by the Department of Transport—it came out rather late during the recess and should have been published before the House rose for the summer so that it could have been debated—in which our airports policy comes in as a bit of an afterthought in paragraph 32. It is the last point made before the conclusion. In its White Paper the Department of Transport says: The Civil Aviation Authority recommended that the Government review its airports policy particularly in order to give airlines more opportunities of using Heathrow for domestic services. That is a bit of an understatement because in its final report the CAA made recommendation No. 7: The Government should look again at the possibility of increasing available capacity at Heathrow and Gatwick". That could not be a firmer recommendation. Yet the Government already seem to be diluting that in their White Paper. That is not wise or consistent.

There has been much talk about the so-called pledge on movements at Heathrow. The paragraph from the White Paper on airports policy, part of which I have already quoted, says: The Government has reaffirmed the intention announced in 1979 to impose an annual limit for environmental reasons on air transport movements at Heathrow, when Terminal 4 comes into operation next year. Terminal 4 does not come into operation until October or November, so I cannot see what the hurry is.

Nevertheless, it is debatable whether that limit is a real pledge. It is much more a planning condition that was made at the time by the then Secretaries of State for Trade and for the Environment. It was cooked up as a sweetner for the opponents of terminal 4 which became a condition for the planning consent. I do not accept that the Government are honouring a pledge in bringing forward this enabling measure, which is all it is.

We are for ever making the point that one Administration cannot bind a successor. That is a constitutional point. Yet there is a much more important principle at stake in the legislation, which is that one does not set up a public inquiry and then prejudge its outcome. That is pointless.

Hon. Members have also referred to the privatisation of British Airways, but no one has mentioned it in detail. We have just had the prospectus for the sale of British Telecom's shares. Some of us were interested in its length. If the privatisation of British Airways proceeds, and if that happens before the Government have passed judgment on the results of the Eyre inquiry, the findings of that inquiry, which will amount to 2,500 pages or more, will have to be attached to the prospectus. Therefore, the privatisation of British Airways looks at the moment as though it will carry with it the longest prospectus in City history. That is another good reason for not proceeding with this measure.

The only limit on movements at Heathrow should be that required for safety purposes rather than some arbitrary figure. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replies he will tell us how the figure of 275,000 ATMs was arrived at. Perhaps he will also let us have his views on the figure put forward by the CAA that the physical limit at Heathrow is 330,000 ATMs. There is a wide discrepancy. Incidentally, that figure is also confirmed by a further CAA report entitled "Runway capacity at major airports", published last September. It is based on the 38 million passengers who will pass through Heathrow once terminal 4 is in operation.

Mr. Wilkinson

With air transport movements being only fractionally under the 275,000 limit, how is it possible for there to be about. 25 million passengers a year going through Heathrow now when the CAA is supposing that 38 million should be going through when terminal 4 comes into operation? Does it imagine that the Government will do the sensible thing and not have an arbitary limit of 275,000 ATMs a year?

Mr. Colvin

My hon. Friend is right. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will answer that question when he sums up. It is an interesting one.

It has been suggested that if the limit is imposed Heathrow services will easily be able to transfer to Gatwick. Paragraph 31 of the CAA report, "Airline competition policy", produced in the summer, says: While transfers of one sort or another from Heathrow to Gatwick would, if carefully selected, contribute to the development of the Gatwick hub and of the scheduled airlines based there, they would also accelerate the time at which the single Gatwick runway reached its capacity. An increase of 28,000 movements over the 1983 level would take the overall movement level up to the runway capacity. There again, we are hoist with a planning condition on which, in order to obtain planning consent for the second terminal at Gatwick, some sort of undertaking was given that there would not be a second runway. That is a good example of planners deciding that such conditions should be applied. As as ex-planner, I can say that one is consistently living with the mistakes of previous planners. If they are wrong, particularly when circumstances alter, there is every reason for changing them.

My main reason for disquiet about the Bill is that it prejudges the decision on Stansted, which, it would appear, is the only place capable of accommodating future growth. But Stansted will not be ready until the 1990s—no doubt, well into the 1990s. Nor, for that matter, will terminal 5 be ready. Opinions vary as to the precise date, depending which camp one is in. Therefore, it would be wrong and impractical to impose an arbitrary limit on Heathrow instead of allowing the airport's business to expand to its natural capacity, thus obtaining a proper return on the resources already invested there.

Where will the flights go? If they cannot go to Heathrow or Gatwick, and Stansted has not been developed, they will go to the continent. There is no way that they will start using regional airports in the United Kingdom. They will go to Schiphol and Frankfurt. I am afraid that Heathrow is the only place that can take, certainly in the short term, the additional demand that we expect and it should be allowed to do so.

Two other factors have been mentioned, and they both relate to what have been described as the changed circumstances. The first is noise, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that he will take into account the relevance of quieter aircraft. But when planning consent for terminal 4 was granted, the Departments of Trade and Industry and of the Environment promised that there would be a review in the light of the prohibition on noisy aircraft in January 1986. That is the date on which the prohibition applies to both United Kingdom and American aircraft. It does not apply to European continental aircraft and others until 1988 or beyond. I would argue that those are changed circumstances.

Equally important is the change in size. We must take account of the growth in size of airliners and the number of passengers they carry. In 1980 the average number of passengers per flight into Heathrow was 109. With four terminals at Heathrow that is a throughput of 38 million passengers. The total number of movements required would be 348,000. That is clearly far too many. They could not be physically accommodated. But by 1990 the average number of passengers from aircraft is estimated to be 193 and that would require only 196,000 movements. That illustrates not only the scope but the need for a fifth terminal at Heathrow. Otherwise, we shall not get a proper return from the investment that has already been made in runway capacity at Heathrow and all the other facilities. It would be a direct breach of clause 3 that the Secretary of State wants to see made law.

Clause 3 provides that the Secretary of State may give directions to the CAA to secure the most effective use of aerodromes within the United Kingdom". How will Stansted look then? We shall have a lot of spare runway capacity and we would need the fifth terminal at Heathrow simply to get up to the 275,000 movements limit.

As for the so-called mechanism, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that this is not a CAA scheme and that it will not be a BAA scheme. He says that the mechanism will be his scheme and that he will do his best to discriminate in favour of British domestic carriers.

However, most movements are international and are subject to bilateral agreements with other countries. My right hon. Friend has already shown his determination to get to grips with the bilaterals and to come to terms with foreign operators. However, if he starts pushing around foreign operators at Heathrow, he will get some dusty answers. What will Lufthansa and Air France say if they are told that they cannot operate flights into Heathrow? I suggest that our own operators, rather than the foreigners, will get the push.

Therefore, the imposition of a limit of 275,000 movements would be to the benefit of foreign carriers, at the cost of our airlines and particularly the domestic operators—the operators which my right hon. Friend has professed to support and the businesses which our new civil aviation competition policy is designed to help.

I ask the Government to use the time between now and the Committee stage to rethink some of the provisions of the Bill. The Government will get the Second Reading, but I warn them that there will be a long time between now and the enactment of the Bill and that they should remember that the Maplin Bill was defeated as late as Report. The Secretary of State has time to think again. I hope that he will do so and that he will take on board the comments made in the debate and, in particular, note the consistency of opposition to the Bill.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I appeal for extreme brevity, because otherwise it will be impossible for me to call all the hon. Members whom I should like to call.

8.23 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

It is a great pleasure for me to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), who is a former chairman of the parliamentary aviation committee. I am the tail-end Charlie as secretary of the committee and the final committee member to speak in the debate.

We all agree that 1984 is likely to go down as one of the most fateful years for the United Kingdom civil aviation industry. Many of us believe that the White Paper on airline competition represented a lost opportunity to create a framework for the industry into the 21st century. Many comments have been made about the effect of that on the independent operators.

We are embarked on what must be the final round of crucial debates on airports policy. Perhaps we should bear in mind that Lady Bracknell might have said that to lose one opportunity may be regarded as misfortune, but that to lose another would look like carelessness.

The debate on airline competition was heavily circumscribed by the apparent pledge by Sir John Nott, in a private letter, that British Airways would not be required to divest itself of routes before privatisation. In a similar manner, our freedom of action over airports policy is to be curtailed by the Bill and by the pledge that there will be no second runway at Gatwick.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), who spoke with such eloquence and impartiality in taking the wider view, despite his special interest in the matter, can justifiably claim that his constituents have the right to feel that they have also received a pledge.

Airline and airport policies are areas which call for long-term planning and for the widest possible debate. About 40 million people use London's airports, yet no one wants a runway at the end of his back garden. I must say to my right hon. Friend that if the Government are to deliver on all the pledges given in haste and without the approval of the House, there is little point in Parliament's having a debate at all. We may as well let the men at the Ministry and the quangos take all the decisions.

I join my hon. Friends in expressing incredulity at the claim that the limit on movements at Heathrow has nothing to do with the continuing debate about airport capacity in the south-east. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that it is central to that debate. If we agree to put this arbitrary limit on the statute book, we shall be tying one hand behind our backs and, with a commitment to deny a second runway to Gatwick— surely the most obvious and logical development—we effectively tie the other hand.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) is keen to take part in the debate and I say to him that I understand—we all understand—how passionately each community feels about the pledge that it claims to have received. However, we must remember that wider issues are involved. I do not have an airport in my constituency and I can speak with what I hope will be regarded as a genuine interest, untrammelled by constituency interests.

It is a tribute to the integrity of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he seeks to fulfil a promise which he believes was made. However, times and circumstances change and, just as no Parliament can bind its successor, so we must reserve the right in the national interest to review earlier decisions. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said how important Heathrow is as a national asset. We cannot lightly play with it, but, if circumstances change, decisions that can be changed must be changed.

When the Government introduced the idea of the 275,000 movements limit, they proposed that there should be a review of that limit in the light of the new noise regulations which are due to come into force shortly. My right hon. Friend has told us that that pledge took into account the new regulations, but I suggest that it did not take into account the fact that there have been about 20,000 additional domestic movements as a result of the Government's policy on deregulation. Those extra movements involve aircraft which are not as noisy as those which are causing the problems.

My right hon. Friend has assured us that the Bill has been brought before us not only to redeem a pledge, but because Heathrow is full up. We are told that it has run out of runway capacity. I simply do not believe that to be true. Nor do the airlines that use Heathrow, 45 of which have protested to my right hon. Friend at this imposition. Nor does IATA, which yesterday released a critical statement from Athens about the Bill. I spoke to the chairman of the Heathrow scheduling committee this morning and he told me that the committee has planned for 283,800 ATMs for the year ending 31 October 1985. What will happen to all those agreed schedules?

Even according to the CAA's figures—assuming the present mix of 18 per cent. small and light traffic and 30 per cent. heavy aircraft— the capacity is 330,000 movements, a full 20 per cent. more than the proposed limit. We are, therefore, being asked to approve a measure which will lead to a major national facility operating at 20 per cent. below capacity. Ministers have much to say about that sort of inefficient use of resources in other areas of the economy.

In my view, and in that of the professional operators, including the Heathrow scheduling committee, the 330,000 limit understates the true position, because I believe that the CAA has taken an ultra-cautious view of runway utilisation. There is increasing demand for more frequent services, which has boosted demand for feeder liners, such as the SD330 and 360 and the Dash 7, which are not only much quieter, but do not need the full 12,000 ft main runways at Heathrow.

If the Government give the go-ahead for the docklands STOLport, that will take some commuter traffic from Heathrow. However, more imaginative use could be made of the Heathrow site itself.

At the meeting with the CAA in July this year we were told that the use of runway 23/05—the 7,500 ft long south-west/north-east runway— as a separate access landing system was not on. The Select Committee on Transport said in July this year: A study of the proposal had concluded that 'the loss of runway capacity on the two parallel runways at Heathrow associated with one arriving and one departing STOL aircraft per hour on the cross runway 23/05 would be 2.8 movements per hour.' The BAA therefore concluded that the use of this runway would decrease rather than increase the runway capacity of the airport.

I do not wish to seem uncharitable towards my friends in the BAA, but they are not the best judges and they are not impartial, given their fervent espousal of the Stansted cause. I had to take their view on trust until September of this year, when I spent 30 minutes in the control tower of Chicago's O'Hare airport, the busiest airport in the world. About 650,000 movements will take place there this year— three times the number at Heathrow. The site is larger and there are four parallel runways at O'Hare, but we can learn some lessons from the American experience.

At Heathrow runway 23/05 is already used when the cross-wind component on 28 is too high. I see no reason why 23 should not be available for take-offs and landings without safety being impaired. At O'Hare one radar screen is devoted to the parallel approach. The full-time job of two controllers is to monitor the parallel approach to ensure that no aircraft strays from one approach to the other. I asked the controllers whether they had any problems and I was told that it was the most boring job in the tower because they never had any problems. A similar scheme could be used at Heathrow.

If that proposal is too taxing, will my right hon. Friend examine the possibility of a new STOL runway and terminal to the north of Heathrow between the A4 and the M4? Such a proposal has not been considered. The Minister owes it to the House, given the strength of feeling among all hon. Members, to commission an independent report before continuing with the Bill.

I am profoundly unhappy with the proposals. Not only is the 275,000 limit arbitrary and wrong, but we are asked to give my right hon. Friend a blank chitty to secure from the BAA proposals for implementing the limit. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (M[r. McCrindle), I fear that the vital United Kingdom domestic feeder network into Heathrow will be the casualty and that those who have brought enterprise and innovation to the United Kingdom airline industry— including some regional British Airways operations, particularly that at Birmingham—will be the casualties.

My constituents who use Birmingham international airport will suffer. The west midlands is a vital industrial area. Birmingham international is needed because of the access which it gives to international markets. If implemented, the proposals will result in the loss of domestic feeder services at Birmingham and other regional airports. They are vital in providing a link to the worldwide network out of Heathrow.

I shall not say too much about the Bill's other proposals, because I am so against them. The chairman of the United States Civil Aeronautics Board has spoken against auctioning slots because that will keep out those who most need to be kept in— the airlines which provide the feeder network. He opposed buying and selling landing slots because smaller operators would be pressured out of prime time operations, which might also affect small community services. The United States has experience of deregulation and we can learn from what has happened there.

On the evidence, and from what I have heard tonight, unless I hear something satisfactory from the Minister I shall have to follow my hon. Friends and vote against the measure, which is not in the national interest.

8.32 pm
Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)

I am not convinced of the need for movement limits. Many hon. Members with experience have spoken convincingly about there being no need for limits. Even if they were needed, north-west Members with an interest in Manchester international airport would be concerned about how they were imposed. About 10 per cent. of Heathrow's traffic has its origins or destinations in the Manchester area. Basing limits on domestic movements will have a detrimental effect on north-west consumers, the business community and, indirectly, on the area's economy. If the limits are imposed in a balanced and fair manner and spread over the five higher-volune international routes, considerable benefit could be gained for Manchester international airport.

A large number of flights could be transferred to Manchester from Heathrow to fulfil demand originating in Manchester. For example, it is estimated that there could be five additional weekly return flights to Geneva, four to Munich, five to Dusseldorf, seven to Paris, seven to New York and two to Los Angeles.

Heathrow would benefit from 5,500 fewer international traffic movements as well as 1,700 fewer domestic movements as a direct result. We do not know what the Secretary of State intends to do. The Bill has been described as a blank cheque. We must know what the Secretary of State intends before we can make a serious judgment about the Bill. I ask the Minister to try to fill in some of the blanks tonight so that we may have a better idea of whether we can support the Bill.

In the north-west we are understandably sensitive about the Government's attitude to Manchester airport. In the last two years the Government have not appreciated the regional economic aspect of airports policy. We were particularly disappointed by the recent refusal of the Singapore Airlines' request for routes direct into Manchester. We need such a service. The request was turned down to protect British Airways' interests.

Decisions must be taken within the context of regional airports policy and not on the basis of the profitability of south-east airports. Nothing in the Bill encourages me or other north-west Members to support it. I hope that the Minister will tell us more about the limitations. We shall listen with interest. Perhaps we can learn what the proposals mean for Manchester and whether there is any point in supporting the Minister tonight.

8.40 pm
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) will forgive me if I do not follow him because of the shortage of time. I wish to refer to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), who said that we had to live with the mistakes of the planners. Douglas Jay, who was a Member of the House from 1945 to 1983, told me that when he was a civil servant at the then Board of Trade in 1944 he and two other civil servants decided, in the space of half an hour, to put an airport at Heathrow. That is in sharp contrast with the massive, agonising procedures, inquiries, debates and lobbying that take place over years and years in the present generation.

There have been impressive speeches in this debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthome (Sir H. Atkins) spoke vividly about the impact of aircraft noise on communities close to Heathrow. Some five hours ago he referred to 275,000 flights a year meaning 753 flights a day, and spoke of what that meant to those living near the end of a runway. On a typical day, there is a flight every two or three minutes. We cannot ignore the impact of that. It impairs the quiet enjoyment of people's homes and gardens, especially in summer when people spend time in their gardens or have their windows open. It interferes with the work of schools, hospitals, offices and churches.

Most people are annoyed when interrupted every two or three minutes. If people are talking or using the telephone, they must stop. The annoyance does not last for only a few seconds: it continues for up to three quarters of a minute, and then happens again two or three minutes later. Many people find that absolutely intolerable, so some restraint must be imposed.

All hon. Members, including Opposition Members, are concerned with welfare. The House cannot ignore the social evil that hurts those living around Heathrow. The consultant psychiatrist to the West Middlesex hospital has shown that it is detrimental to mental health. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier this year that the Government were "determined to bring relief' to those affected by aircraft noise. Relief means less noise, not simply keeping it at its present level. It is no good proposing policies that merely continue the existing noise level. Those living around Heathrow need a substantial and permanent reduction in noise.

There is a strong feeling that aircraft noise should be reduced and that a limit of 275,000 movements a year—753 a day—is too great. Terminal 5 must not be built. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) has asked me to speak for him also. The Government have given a pledge. There is no point in mincing words— a pledge is a pledge is a pledge. Those living around Heathrow expect that pledge to be kept.

A great deal of the argument about noise has rested on the assumptions contained in the formula for the so-called noise and number index—the NNI. I was pleased to note in a letter from the Department of Transport that the NNI is being reviewed. That is right, because it is out of date and leads to inaccurate conclusions. The NNI is a formula for assessing noise nuisance that dates from 20 or 25 years ago, when the number of flights was far fewer. It contains two components—one for noise and one for the number of flights. The formula gives more weight to the average peak loudness of each flight than to the frequency. That did not matter during the 1960s when both the elements in the formula were increasing together. As we went through the 1970s, the number of flights continued to increase but a growing proportion of aircraft became quieter— a trend that has continued into the 1980s. Therefore, to give more weight to loudness than to frequency, when the frequency annoys more than the loudness, is quite wrong.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said, the number of flights causes the greatest annonyance. If someone is sitting in his garden or is trying to use the telephone in his house, a 747—a relatively quiet aircraft—can be as annoying as a louder aircraft. In the 1960s the number of flights was far fewer, so it was right to give less weight to frequency. However, the position has changed and the frequency is now very important. It is ridiculous for hon. Members to say—as did my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen)—that the noise nuisance around Heathrow would become 85 per cent. less based on the formula. That is to base projections on an outdated formula.

I realise that, with time so short, I should not mention road congestion, but that is also a major factor around Heathrow. The Department of Transport's technical evidence in paper No. 25 to the Heathrow inquiry said that both the M25—which is not yet complete, but will be in one year—and the A4-M4 Cromwell road radial route will be overcrowded. If both the main radial and orbital routes are severely overloaded, that will mean much more traffic on the lesser main roads in west London, which will damage the environment of those living, working and trading in the area.

Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

Did not the report also state that the A4 was unimprovable?

Mr. Jessel

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The A4 is heavily congested now at peak hours, and will become severely overloaded and congested throughout the day if there is no restraint on the traffic through Heathrow. Heaven knows, we have not yet begun to see the effect of terminal 4— let alone a fifth terminal. When the 275,000 movement limit is imposed—

Mr. Hayes

My hon. Friend referred to traffic congestion. If the Bill is passed, and the logical area for expansion is Stansted, will my hon. Friend accept that, although there is a beautifully free run down the M11, it stops at Redbridge? What happens then?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the House that interventions make it difficult for hon. Members to respond to my request for brevity.

Mr. Jessel

I am not familiar with the M11.

The number of passengers currently going through Heathrow is 26 million a year. With the fourth terminal in operation, it will be 39 million. If there is no limit on the number of flights, and if a fifth terminal is built, the number will rise to 52 million— double the current number. The western side of London cannot take that. There should be a sharing out of the traffic. It is essential to the environment of those living in western London that the Bill is passed.

8.49 pm
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I am pleased to be able to participate in this debate which is really about the future structure of the aviation industry. Clearly, this subject has caused many interesting reactions among hon. Members. The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) said that we were stirring up a hornets' nest and that the Government were out of touch. The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) said that he would probably vote against the Government. One certainly gets the impression that the Government have it wrong and are out of touch with the feelings of the House and the various airport authorities.

I have a particular interest in this matter, because I represent a constituency in Hull which is close to the Humberside airport. That successful airport is beginning to expand. It is crucially important to the local economy because of the industry that is developing. Anything that impairs that development would be regarded seriously by all of us.

Today, all hon. Members who represent the Hull region received a telex from the airport manager of Humberside airport in which he expressed his strong reaction to this measure. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is in the Chamber. He received a copy of that telex, which was also sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who is abroad. The airport manager said: To say the least, the Bill is badly timed and would do little but close off options relating to the future development of the London airport's system at a time when the inspector's report on Stansted/Heathrow terminal 5 is awaited. He continued: it could have serious implications on the future development of Humberside airport. It is worrying when a man in that position has to send such a telex. I am sure he feels that there has not been adequate consultation on this matter.

Clause 1 empowers the Secretary of State to impose a limit, or limits, on the number of aircraft movements. There is a limit of 275,000 movements at Heathrow, and I understand that the movements at that airport are almost up to that level. The airport is congested with air traffic. Any extension of Stansted would result in more demand being sucked into the area.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is my hon. Friend aware of the proposition put to the Department of Transport by the Manchester international airport authority that the transfer from London to Manchester of 5,500 international movements would save 1,700 domestic movements? Is not that kind of thinking a much better way forward than this Bill, which has been so comprehensively savaged by Conservative Members?

Mr. Randall

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing that out. I was aware of the figure of 1,700 domestic movements. Not only Manchester airport, but the north of England regional consortium, which is a consortium of local authorities, has put forward some cogent arguments and clearly expressed the case for extending the regional airports. The point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) applies in this case. I believe that the legislation will have a devastating effect on the regional airports. The figure of 1,700 domestic movements shows the powerful case for moving traffic to the regions and the magnitude of the traffic involved.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) suggested that we should not bring traffic into this debate. I believe that a profound argument can be made on the vehicle traffic around the airport. Clearly, an excess number of flights into Heathrow generates unnecessary traffic.

The Secretary of State said that the consultative document suggested that the airports should be allowed to compete for slots. I understand that airports such as Manchester, Birmingham and even Humberside could compete for movements. What does the suggestion do to help the smaller airports, which operate small planes to keep down their overheads, to expand and develop? Clearly, that proposal would have a serious effect and limit the development of services in the area. The Government should be creating the right legislative environment to enable the small airports and airlines to develop and thrive. Does the Secretary of State really want the regions to suffer? The Government are supposed to have a regional policy. It is odd that they are talking about providing the opportunity to ensure economic development in the regions, yet at the same time ensuring that parts of the infrastructure— aircraft movements, and so on— are constrained.

Earlier in the year, one of the airlines in the Humberside region—Jenair—went into liquidation. At that time, the alternative airline—Air UK Ltd.—which works from Humberside, was unable to operate the Humberside-London route. It was difficult for the airline to do so because of the arrangements at that time, but the new arrangements would make that operation possible. That aspect makes us realise the significance of the link between Humberside and London. Without that route which provides so much revenue and is growing considerably, the economics of the airport were severely hampered. We must ensure that licences are available to allow that operation to take place.

In the operation of smaller businesses with smaller aircraft, Humberside has shown tremendous enterprise in developing links with Denmark and Amsterdam. It is interesting that British Airways helicopter flights to oil rigs have proved to be an expanding business and led to a further extension of the airport facilities.

It is thought by many that fishing is Hull's sole industry. In fact, there are a number of multinational companies in the area. Fishing is still important, but Hull has lost much of its distant water fishing fleet. The House will be aware that Reckitt and Colman has its head office at Hull. Failure to provide multinationals with comprehensive airline schedules would be inconsistent with the region's development. Humberside county council controls the airport, and it has proved to be enterprising in making great efforts to develop the airport.

The Government's approach to the Bill is ill thought through. The Bill does not command the support of the House. I hope that the Government will seriously rethink their policies and ensure that they create the right legislative framework to provide the opportunities necessary for smaller airports in the region to thrive.

9 pm

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

Many concerns have been expressed on both sides of the House about the Bill, especially from the Conservative Benches. Many suspicions have been voiced and there is a feeling that the Bill's timing was linked with Stansted developments. There are also suspicions about the Government's motives for producing the Bill.

I cannot add to the eloquent speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst). As I know that some of my hon. Friends still wish to contribute to the debate in the few minutes that remain, I shall make only one brief point.

Over the past few years the British Airports Authority has made various forecasts of passenger usage at Heathrow which have proved to be wrong by being on the high side. There is no reason to believe that the BAA's forecasts will not be wrong in future. It projected, for example, that by the 1990s it will have a shortage of usable space of about 15 million passengers per annum. Lo and behold, it has suddenly discovered that that capacity of 15 million passengers can be taken up by Stansted airport, which is designed to cater for 15 million passengers per annum.

The authority has stated that 80 per cent. of passengers coming to Heathrow and Gatwick—I believe that the figure is on the high side but let us accept it for the moment—intend to stay in the south-east. That means that at least 20 per cent. intend to go to other destinations in the United Kingdom. Nothing has been done to push out the 20 per cent. to other regional airports. It is unfortunate that the Government have not been able to do more to untangle us from the host of bilateral arrangements and agreements of the sort which prohibit Cathay Pacific or Malaysian Airlines System from operating lines and routes out of Manchester.

If regional airports were allowed to expand to their full potential—as well as Manchester and Birmingham, for example, I include the next tier of smaller regional airports such as Dundee, Leeds, Newcastle, Norwich and the splendid little service operating from Carlisle, which is affectionately called the flying postbox but which performs a vital service—many benefits would accrue. However, if these small regional routes are strangled at birth, we shall do untold and unnecessary damage to the regions. The smaller regional routes can survive and compete. They can provide a good service in addition to the main services that are provided at Heathrow.

This is a thoroughly bad Bill and I shall not vote for it when the Division takes place.

9.4 pm

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

I have been a member of this place for almost 11 years and this is the first occasion in my experience when a Bill has been met with virtually universal condemnation on Second Reading. If my arithmetic is correct, no fewer than 22 hon. Members have participated in the debate, apart from Front-Bench spokesmen. Only two hon. Members have spoken in favour of the Bill, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), who was kind enough to send me a note telling me that he could not be present for the Front Bench replies. The other 20 hon. Members, from both sides of the House, have been unanimous in their condemnation of the Bill. Not surprisingly, I am on the side of the majority.

Like the 20 good men and true whom I mentioned, I consider that this is the wrong Bill and that it is being introduced at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. Again like the majority of hon. Members who participated in the debate, the Opposition think that it is right to express their concern, particularly about the future of regional airports, and about the future of aviation in general if the Bill eventually gets on to the statute book.

As recently as 31 July this year a consultation document was issued on air traffic movements at Heathrow. For the Government to bring forward this piece of legislation now is not just muddle-headed, but—I choose my words carefully—arrogant, to say the least. I honestly cannot believe that the Secretary of State could not perceive the row that the introduction of such a Bill would engender. Inevitably, people will say that the Bill is deliberately designed to pre-empt the Stansted inquiry.

If the Secretary of State knew that that conclusion would be drawn when he brought forward the Bill, he is guilty of doing the House and his party a great disservice. If he did not know that, he is guilty of enormous naivety, not normally a vice—if that is the right term—which I attribute to the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] My hon. Friends ask where he is. I am sure that wherever he is he is beavering away for the good of the nation, although I am bound to say that on his track record, if he is writing any legislation about any of the matters under his control, controversy cannot be too far away.

The Bill has appeared without consultation with the BAA, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said. Like the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), I have a copy of the letter written by Mike King, the airport director at Heathrow. I hope that I do not prejudice the hon. Gentleman's future career, but I thought that his speech was not only lucid and courageous—we have come to expect both those attributes from him when he speaks on these matters in the House—but the most blistering indictment of the legislation that I heard in the debate. I shall quote, as he did, from that letter, the second paragraph of which states: The BAA was not consulted at all during the drafting of the Bill. As a result we have a number of major concerns. That shows the depth of the Secretary of State's arrogance in introducing a measure such as this.

Until the speech by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), I was waiting for a mention of the passenger— the consumer. One or two Conservative Members referred to the concern—I make no complaint about this—felt by the airlines about the scope of the proposals, but until the hon. Member for Brentford and Ongar spoke no one had mentioned the interests of the consumer. It must be admitted that it is not easy to ascertain consumer's views. It is less easy to ascertain their views if one rushes in with such legislation within a few weeks of a Queen's Speech which made no mention of such proposals.

Mr. McCrindle

In an attempt to ascertain the view of the customers, as I referred to them, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Air Transport Users Committee, which is the only representative body of those who use airlines, has come out strongly against the proposals in the legislation?

Mr. Snape

I do not generally cite the views of that committee, as I do not regard organisations with air vice-marshals and the like as full-time officials as typical of the ordinary passenger or consumer, but on this occasion I am prepared to concede that even that body happens to be right in its view.

What a sad end this is to the bright new dawn—the new golden age of aviation—heralded by the Secretary of State just a few short months ago. At that time he was bringing politicians together on these matters. Before the summer recess my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and I stayed here until 4 am to participate in a debate in which the Under-Secretary of State was adamant that decisions of this kind rightly fell within the purview of people other than politicians. He believed that the Civil Aviation Authority would be taking these nasty decisions while the Secretary of State remained Mr. Clean and, above all that, a distant, somewhat ethereal figure looking down on his children below as they made their decisions.

Mrs. Dunwoody

He is certainly distant now.

Mr. Snape

Yes, he is certainly distant in terms of attendance in the Chamber, but whether he is ethereal may be better judged when the results of the Division a:re announced.

The burden of the legislation will fall almost entirely on the domestic airlines, as hon. Members on both sides have said. We all know that there can be no question of auctioning off international arrivals and departures at Heathrow to the highest bidder. If the Under-Secretary of State agrees with me on nothing else, he will be the first to concede that if we tell Alitalia—to pick a name at random—that unless it pays £X the 4 o'clock flight to Rome will not leave, a reciprocal reaction can be expected from the Italians. The burden of paying for the slots will thus fall exclusively on the domestic airlines.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar and his hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who is no longer present, on their albeit paid defence of the airlines. Under the rules of the House there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, one likes to see Tories living up to the view so often expressed by their party that there must be greater productivity and that the working men and women of this country must go out and earn then-corn. I congratulate both hon. Members on having earned theirs today. Having listened to the glittering list of airlines represented by the hon. Member for South Hams, I am amazed that there is anything left for the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar.

The main aim—indeed, the only aim—of the Bill is to get the Secretary of State off a hook of his own making. Since he started to dabble in these matters the fanfares have been one thing, but the realities have been something else. He talked about an open skies policy for travel to the United States. When the Opposition warned him of the dangers, we were accused of being against cheap fares. They are not exactly cheap now—or if they are, one has to pay a surcharge at the airport, thanks to the activities of the Secretary of State.

The right hon. Gentleman's achievements, if they can be dignified with that term, in the American market have been simple and stark. He has managed to give the British monopoly of cheap fares to a one-aircraft airline called, appropriately enough in his case, Virgin Atlantic. That airline and People Express are the only airlines through which it is possible to book a cheap flight to the United States. That is not an open skies policy to boast about. An airline with one aeroplane has a monopoly of cheap flights to the United States. The grand initiative of a few months ago has run into the sand under the guidance of the right hon. Gentleman.

Deep concern is felt on both sides of the House about the future of regional airports. The difficulties faced by, for example, Manchester were starkly set out by my hon. Friends the Members for Eccles (Mr. Carter Jones) and for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). The hon. Members for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) and for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) also referred to the fears of successful international airports such as Manchester.

Only today, presumably together with other hon. Members, I received a submission from Manchester airport which pointed out the dangers of the Bill. The submission stated: The Bill provides for the BAA to put forward a scheme for the implementation of the movement limit including any reference to the pricing or surcharging of movements. Although the Secretary of State must approve this scheme"— that is no great consolation— the very fact of the BAA being asked to prepare such a scheme strengthens their hand … This effectively allows BAA to, if they get their way, place a tax on particular airports by pricing out domestic movements. I always thought that the Conservative party believed in free enterprise and competition. Of course, Herbert Morrison said long ago that that is only what they profess to believe in. Actually, they believe in monopoly capitalism—money in any shape or form.

We have heard a great deal from our absent but well-beloved Secretary of State— [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]. If the right hon. Gentleman arrives in time, I shall have a few words to say to him. The concern expressed by organisations such as Manchester international airport shows up the Government's apparent lack of Tory principles. The Government boast about their desire to abolish as many quangos as possible, yet, at the same time, they hand over more and more powers to those quangos. It is no secret—although it has not yet been mentioned by Conservative Members— that the Government believe that, if during the run-up to privatisation BAA became even more prosperous, that could be a good thing.

The Secretary of State has had his knuckles rapped after the mess-up over British Airways and the fragmentation of the brave new BA world that we were promised. He must have been asked to step round to his old office at the Treasury, where he must have ended up on the mat in front of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not suppose that that confrontation was anything but painful for the Secretary of State. Another mix-up on similar lines, prejudicing the prosperity of the BAA, will no be very acceptable to the Prime Minister. I am sure that if she has heard about the week that the right hon. Gentleman has endured, she will be worrying about the wisdom of appointing him in the first place. We shall return to the right hon. Gentleman who has now condescended to join us. He might be a little jet-lagged if he has just flown in, whether on Virgin Atlantic or any other airline. We will give him time to recover.

Manchester international airport is not alone in expressing its anxieties about the effects of the Bill. Other airports and some hon. Members have been equally outspoken and worried. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) illustrated starkly the fears of Humberside airport, which are especially apposite bearing in mind the collapse of Jenair only a few months ago. Its collapse was virtually caused by the withdrawal of one slot from Heathrow. If such an event causes the collapse of an admittedly fairly small but nevertheless essential airline, it is easy to imagine what will happen to small airlines if there is a wholesale interruption, reduction or abolition of slots into Heathrow. The principle of interlining is what such airlines depend on for their profitability.

I should have thought that "interlining" was a buzz word which would appeal to Conservative Members. They are always going on about profitability and private enterprise and how inefficient the state sector is, yet some of them intend to support a Secretary of State who appears, perhaps by accident in his case—it would be unfair to accuse him of plotting anything, because he always gives the impression that he never knows what will happen—to want to cripple the profitability of independent airlines and terrify people who have the problem of running regional airports.

Yet another submission that I received today came from Birmingham airport. The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) mentioned it. It draws attention to the fact that it has spent more than £60 million on a bright new airport terminal. It has discovered, it believes to its horror, that the Bill will have a crippling impact on its profitability. The airport's director of finance wrote: The imposition of a ceiling on ATMs out of Heathrow will have a major effect on regional airports. Domestic 'feeder' services from Birmingham and other regional airports are vital in providing a link to the worldwide network of services at Heathrow. Such a ceiling could severely restrict these 'feeder' services thereby reducing the opportunities for international, particularly business, travel from the regions.

I realise that the Minister is not responsible for the Bill—he has not been in the Department long enough to be responsible for it—but I hope that during his summing up he can come up with something that will go some way to assuage the fears that are rightly felt by people at regional airports. The director of finance at Birmingham airport concludes his letter by asking me to put the following question. What assurances are therefore given by the Secretary of State that domestic 'feeder' services will not be threatened by the imposition of the ceiling and that the Government will ensure that regional airports are fully utilised, as an aid to achieving any ceiling before more development"— such as Stansted— is authorised"?

The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) said that he wanted to know where the target of 275,000 ATMs came from. The House will be aware that in 1978 an inquiry was held into terminal 4 at Heathrow. A ceiling of 260,000 ATMs was recommended. However, all actions of recent Conservative Secretaries of State for Transport have been designed to push up the domestic content of ATMs at Heathrow.

Not long ago the Secretary of State was bragging—as Conservative Members have been doing—about his success in duplicating airlines on domestic routes. From what the right hon. Gentleman said, one would have thought that egg and bacon in the morning was unheard of in Scotland until British Midland started its shuttle in competition with British Airways from Heathrow. The Conservative party can judge whether such competition is desirable, but it is precisely that competition that has pushed up the domestic content of ATMs at Heathrow to the present level, which the Secretary of State says is so high that he must have this panicked legislation to cripple independent airlines to combat it. Yet he was responsible for it in the first place.

I am familiar with this Government's Ministers being a collective of Pontius Pilates where legislation is concerned. They are in favour of private enterprise and competition except when it adversely affects their Departments, as are Back Bench Conservative Members except when it adversely affects their constituencies. The Secretary of State has no excuse for bumbling his way through his introductory speech to this appalling piece of legislation or for trying to shuffle blame on to other people. The blame lies fairly and squarely on him.

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), have expressed anxiety about the future of the East Midlands airport. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) talked about the problems and the dangers that the Bill will bring to almost every airport in Scotland. I am delighted to see him considering these matters with great expertise. I hope that the Minister will answer those points when he replies.

The powers in the Bill are dangerous and dictatorial. I appeal to Conservative Members to hesitate before voting for legislation which gives the Secretary of State a chance to impose almost any limit that he wishes at Heathrow and elsewhere "as he thinks fit".

The legislation has been referred to as an enabling measure. Some political activists in my party continually refer to enabling legislation. They expect people like me who are elected to the House to pass enabling measures within a few days which will abolish the House of Lords or capitalism and all its evil works, or which will ensure that England wins the next World Cup or that the sun shines every August. I confess to those people that I do not know what an enabling Bill is and that I do not believe that in a British democracy the Labour party would be prepared to vote for one. Yet the Conservative party is being asked to vote for just such a measure tonight.

I know that voting for a Bill such as this will not bother the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who is the first high profile Member that that constituency has had for about 40 years, but I hope that it will bother some Conservative Members.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State asked for the maximum time possible to reply to the debate. He deserves it, because no fewer than 20 of his hon. Friends will vote against the Bill, or at least not vote in favour of it. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman's persuasive powers are, but it is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Transport is not replying, because we would get 60 of his hon. Friends in our Lobby, and then we would be home and dry.

I must not mock the right hon. Gentleman too much. In his way he has had a typical week. On Monday he went to the Bus and Coach Council and saw his plans for buses ripped apart by almost every speaker, including the Tory chairman of the Association of District Councils— a well-known militant and Left-winger. Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman went to the Conservative party Back-Bench aviation group and, as I understand it, was torn to pieces—these leaks take place—by no fewer than 19 of his hon. Friends. So convincing was he at that meeting that we now know that the chairman, the vice-chairman and the secretary of that group will all be in the Lobby opposite him this evening.

The great triumph of the week—a wet Wednesday for him— is when the right hon. Gentleman appears before the House with this piece of legislation, which has been attacked by no fewer than 20 out of 22 speakers. To describe the right hon. Gentleman as a walking disaster would be untrue. No wonder he is known up and down the country as "Nutty Nick". The fact is that he has proved to be a flying disaster.

9.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Michael Spicer)

Having listened to almost every speech in what has been by any standards an impressive, not to say for me daunting, debate, may I say straightaway that the Government take seriously many of the points that have been raised. I shall do my best in the time available to answer the points in some detail.

I listened with great care and attention, first, to what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said. We had a little lecture on competition from the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape)— a strange source for such a lecture, but we welcome all converts. I hope to say a little about competition later.

I listened also with equal care and attention to what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) said. It turns out that on this occasion the Labour and Liberal parties are in agreement. They do not know whether they are for or against a limit at Heathrow, but they will vote against the Bill. I imagine that the Labour party will find some of its supporters in the Tea Room. They have not been much in evidence tonight, although some of them popped in. We all thought that was to listen to the forceful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), but it turned out that they wanted to talk about something else. There would not have been much of a market for ''slots" among members of the Labour party in the debate.

The matter became so embarrassing that at one point my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) intervened. He was perhaps referring to himself and some of our hon. Friends when he said that someone had to provide the opposition. I must concede that most of the opposition has come from my hon. Friends, and the House will forgive me if most of my remarks are directed towards the points that they have raised.

I have a suspicion that I shall not please all my hon. Friends. I should have to be a bit of a gymnast to do so. Let us take, for instance, the supposed effect of the Bill on domestic airlines. My hon. Friends the Members for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), for South Hams and for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) were in favour of domestic airlines at Heathrow, while my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) was against them. Unfortunately, there is no way in which I shall win that one, except to say that the Bill is, in effect, completely neutral on the matter. It depends upon which of the optional methods of implementation my right hon. Friend chooses to put to the British Airports Authority.

There is no necessity today to talk of removing anyone, because the limit has not been reached. Even when terminal 4 comes into action, we shall have 7,000 ATMs in hand because of the cessation of the helicopter air link at that point.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me on this important occasion for him. In common with many Members in the north-west, I have a lurking suspicion that the Bill could be a civil servants' plot in favour of Stansted. My right hon. Friend's assurance that there will be a debate on Stansted has gone a long way towards allaying those fears. Can we have his assurance that there will be a decision on the docklands STOLport application before the final Stansted decision is made? That is extremely important, because, as he will be aware, the inspector recommended 650 movements a week at docklands STOLport— 35,000 movements a year. That will go a long way towards solving the problems at Heathrow and putting Stansted to bed once and for all.

Mr. Spicer

The views of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, (Mr. Favell) have been consistent. As this is a planning matter, my right hon. Friend has a quasi judicial role, but the building of the STOLport would have only a marginal effect on this issue.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said that if a charging policy were introduced the rates would double. That falls into the same trap of assuming that a particular option will be chosen. My right hon. Friend said that there were real problems with the charging option. As charges are a low element in total airline costs, the effects of any charging policy are likely to be negligible.

Mrs. Dunwoody

As the Secretary of State has not said what he intends to introduce, it is virtually impossible for the House of Commons to take a decision. If charges are such a low percentage of the overheads, why do the Government intend to increase prices to keep airlines out of Heathrow?

Mr. Spicer

The hon. Lady cannot have it both ways. Her hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East made all sorts of accusations against my right hon. Friend and said that he was arrogant, yet the hon. Lady is now attacking my right hon. Friend for consulting the House of Commons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) and others spoke with great eloquence and sincerity about their pride in Manchester international airport. He and they are right to be proud. Over recent years Manchester airport has grown at a faster rate than any other airport in this country, if not in Europe. In 10 years, passenger throughput has more than doubled to about 6 million. That is considerably higher than the passenger throughput at Brussels. But within that success surely lies the answer to many of the anxieties and suspicions of hon. Members.

Manchester airport is a success and I have no doubt at all that it will go from strength to strength as the market expands. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich suggested that we should take—by "take", I assume she meant force— 5,000 movements from Heathrow to Manchester. That is not the way in which the Conservative Government do things. The nearest we have come to such a policy is to tell Singapore Airlines that we would be delighted for it to go to Manchester if it switched one or more of its daily flights from Heathrow.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

I was grateful to hear the Minister's praise for Manchester airport. He said what a success story it had been compared with other airports. Why then do so many members of the Conservative party want to see that great success of municipal enterprise given away into private hands?

Mr. Spicer

One of the basic beliefs of the Conservative party is that all sorts of advantages are gained through privatisation. It is not a matter of dispute between us that Manchester airport can grow and get even better. It is already a success story upon which we can build, and there is no point in being depressed about Manchester. The reverse is the case. We should be encouraged by it and look forward to its future growth.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale referred to a matter which was also raised in a recent Adjournment debate—the possibility of United States airlines, under the Bermuda 2 agreement, being allowed into Manchester. The responsibility for identifying new United Kingdom gateways for United States originating air services rests in this case with the United States Government. They have made no such proposals about Manchester. If they do, we shall consider them when they arise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) made an extremely powerful and eloquent speech. I am afraid that time does not allow me to deal with every aspect of it, but part of his argument was that Governments had broken pledges in the past, so what was another pledge between friends? That way, surely, lies anarchy. No credibility could be attached to what any Government said, and that would be of especial concern in the planning process.

Mr. Haselhurst

Does my hon. Friend accept that that is a shameless travesty of my argument? I was trying to say that if the Government wished to argue that circumstances had changed in determining their airports policy for the future, not just some but all policies in the past should be regarded as wiped off the slate.

Mr. Spicer

I apologise to my hon. Friend if I caricatured or in any way misrepresented him. That was not my intention. My intention was to show that when a Goverment made a pledge it had to be taken extremely seriously in the planning process.

The main justification for the Bill is to enable the Government to honour a commitment given to the House on 17 December 1979 by Sir John Nott, the then Secretary of State for Trade, and this has to be a partial answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward). Sir John Nott referred to the decision letter on the planning application by the British Airports Authority for the fourth terminal at Heathrow airport. The letter announced the approval of the application and included the statement that the Secretary of State proposes to specify a limit of 275,000 air transport movements to take effect from the opening of the fourth terminal. This limitation on ATMs will be subject to review in the light of progress on the prohibition of the noisier aircraft and the introduction of quieter aircraft. That is extremely clear and categorical. That commitment is accepted by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, not just by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) and my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn), but by my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, South (Mr. Bright), for Brentwood and Ongar and for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who spoke against the Bill.

Mr. Colvin

Why did the then Secretary of State not accept the inspector's recommendation that there should be only 260,000 movements? May I suggest that it was simply because, in the intervening period of a year or so, there was already a trend towards larger and quieter aircraft—a trend which has continued and accelerated since and which, if projected, will get very near the 330,000 limit about which we have been talking?

Mr. Spicer

I defer to my hon. Friend's knowledge and experience. I would say only that the trends have been extremely cyclical, particularly for wide-bodied aircraft. One could not draw any conclusions from that particular recommendation, but I shall return to that point if I have time.

Mr. Hayward

My hon. Friend referred to a comment that I made earlier. He said that the 275,000 limit was referred to by the then Secretary of State in his statement on 17 December 1979. I am willing to be corrected, but I have been through that statement several times and, as far as I can discover, the reference to the 275,000 was made not in this Chamber but in a press notice that was issued separately. This Chamber never had an opportunity to comment on that figure.

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point but it is clear from Hansard that the Secretary of State referred to a decision letter, not a press notice, which was perfectly reasonable at that time.

In addition to providing the Government with the powers to implement the limit on air transport movements at Heathrow, the Bill has two other objectives. As has already been said, it amends the Civil Aviation Authority's licensing duties under the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to give greater weight to airports policy in the licensing process. It allows the CAA to write down its debt to the national loans fund in connection with the privatisation of the authority's aerodromes in the Scottish highlands and islands.

It is perhaps not surprising that the debate has concentrated on the proposed limit at Heathrow airport. That is an issue which, as the House has heard tonight, directly and indirectly affects the lives of many hon. Members' constituents, particularly those of my hon. Friends.

As I have said, the powers themselves are necessary to implement a commitment that the Government made when giving approval for the construction of a fourth terminal at Heathrow. That commitment was reaffirmed in evidence at the Stansted inquiries. Some of my hon. Friends have said that they accept that, but ask why the Government should introduce the Bill now. They have, in effect, asked whether this is part of some deep-laid plot—a word that has been used several times tonight—to build Stansted by stealth and, therefore, as some have suggested, to deprive Manchester airport of its inheritance.

Many of my hon. Friends have, directly or indirectly, taken that line. It is fair to say that that lay very much behind the thinking of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood. The truth is more anodyne, if not downright dull. We are seeking to legislate now so that the necessary powers to implement the limit are available in time for us to announce the initial measures by the time the airlines meet next June to discuss the allocation of slots for the winter period following the introduction of the limit.

I give hon. Members the categoric assurance that the powers in the Bill will not in any way prejudice future decisions on Stansted. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced when opening the debate, the Government intend to publish the inspector's report on the Stansted inquiry when it is received so that the House may have the opportunity to give its views on that subject.

Mr. Adley

I do not know whether my hon. Friend was in the House in 1972. If he was, he may recall that on the Maplin Development Bill I moved a new clause enabling the Government to change things any time they wanted in the light of developments. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State came into the Lobby with me on that day. Therefore, in view of what my hon. Friend has just said, may I assume that on Report the Government will accept an amendment that is virtually identical to the one that I moved in 1972?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend is both knowledgeable and experienced, but he is referring to legislation, whereas at the moment we are discussing the planning process, which is a different matter.

Several hon. Members have suggested that the limit should be raised because circumstances have changed since it was first proposed in 1979. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar mentioned that point. A number of hon. Members have also said that aircraft generally are becoming much quieter as airlines re-equip their fleets in preparation for the forthcoming bans on noisier aircraft. I accept that, but to review the commitment now would be to undermine the spirit of the original commitment.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Spicer

No. I must get on.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Give way.

Mr. Spicer

The Government recognised in 1979 that quieter aircraft would be introduced as a result of the forthcoming bans and took that into account when setting the limit at a level which is actually higher—

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Spicer

—than the—

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Spicer

I must keep going, because I have a lot to get through.

The limit recommended by the inspector in his report on the fourth terminal inquiry was 260,000. Nevertheless, it is clear that when the then Secretaries of State for Trade and for the Environment announced the air transport movements limit they also said that it would be subject to review. That has subsequently been confirmed by the Government on a number of occasions. One possibility that has been mentioned—we shall certainly bear it in mind when the time comes to review the limit—is to relate the limit more closely to the amount of noise generated. That must surely be the major objective of hon. Members representing constituencies under the Heathrow approach routes.

A number of hon. Members have made it clear that it must be accepted that an ATM limit is a fairly crude instrument for controlling aircraft noise at an airport. For example, 275,000 jumbo jet movements would undoubtedly cause more disturbance than 275,000 small, turboprop aircraft.

A control related to, say, the noise and number index—which I know causes problems for my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham—might reduce noise, but, at the same time, allow airlines to operate more flights into Heathrow. Presumably my hon. Friends representing constituencies around London believe that that would be the greatest gift to those living near the airport. However, I have to admit that a noise-related scheme would not be wholly straightforward. Monitoring and enforcement, in particular, would pose difficult problems, but I am happy to give an assurance that we shall give serious consideration to such a scheme if and when we have to review the limit.

Setting the ATM limit is one thing; ensuring that airlines have a fair and equal opportunity to use the limited resources of Heathrow runway capacity is quite another. That explains the need for the first two clauses of the Bill.

The scheduling committee at Heathrow, which relies on the co-operation of the airlines, has done an excellent job of matching the demand for slots with the capacity of the airport. However, until now the committee has had to cope only with the problems of excess demand at peak periods. If an airline has not been able to operate at a time that it preferred, there has always been the possibility of a slot at some other time of the day. The problem posed by the limit is, of course, a different one. The scheduling committee has not had to refuse an airline a slot altogether, and it is that prospect with which the Bill deals.

Whatever view one takes about the ultimate physical limit at Heathrow, and several variations of the limit have been proposed, no hon. Member on either side of the House has seriously suggested that such a limit might not ultimately exist, and no one has seriously questioned the fact that the present level of movements is well on the way to approaching that physical limit.

The only real arguments about Heathrow are about when we should impose a limit, and how. I beg my hon. Friends who are thinking of voting against the Bill or abstaining to think about that. Whatever one's answers to these questions, the powers in clauses 1 and 2 would be needed at some point in the near future, given the present growth in traffic. Whether we like it or not, we are nearing the time when physically no more room will be available at Heathrow.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my hon. Friend accept that the professional advice of the Civil Aviation Authority is that runways are not a constraining factor? Since the CAA seeks an upper limit of 330,000 a year, is it not extraordinary that the Government should seek to impose their arbitrary limit against all the advice from the airlines, the CAA, the BAA and the director of Heathrow airport?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend knows the business too well for me to think that he fully believes what he says. The limit of 330,000 is the total movement, from which one must subtract 20,000 business movements as well as other movements. There is a physical limit which must be applied.

Mr. Carter-Jones

The 275,000 figure seems sacrosanct. If we continue to make progress in noise control, will that figure still be sacrosanct?

Mr. Spicer

We have always accepted that a review might be necessary. My point is that ultimately Heathrow will hit the limit. According to most calculations, if one disregards business movements, we are only 10 per cent. off the generally accepted physical limit.

We shall announce our proposed scheme shortly. We have a number of options. We have not yet settled the precise mechanism. In the consultation paper of 31 July we made it clear that in our view the best form of allocation is that which relies to the maximum extent on market forces. At the same time, we recognise the genuine concerns of the airlines already established at Heathrow, some of which have operated services there for a long time.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have raised great issues tonight. They will have a chance on a future occasion to debate them. I hope that for that reason alone my right hon. and hon. Friends who so ably represent constituencies around Stansted, in the north and in London, as well as those who have simply spoken from the heart, will be able to support this modest but necessary Bill, the Second Reading of which I commend to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 232, Noes 154.

Division No. 14] [10 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Eyre, Sir Reginald
Alexander, Richard Fallon, Michael
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Farr, Sir John
Amess, David Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Ancram, Michael Fletcher, Alexander
Arnold, Tom Fookes, Miss Janet
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Forman, Nigel
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Gale, Roger
Baldry, Tony Galley, Roy
Batiste, Spencer Garel-Jones, Tristan
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Glyn, Dr Alan
Bellingham, Henry Gorst, John
Benyon, William Gow, Ian
Best, Keith Gower, Sir Raymond
Biffen, Rt Hon John Greenway, Harry
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Blackburn, John Ground, Patrick
Boscawen, Hon Robert Grylls, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Harris, David
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hayhoe, Barney
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Heathcoat-Amory, David
Bright, Graham Heddle, John
Brinton, Tim Henderson, Barry
Britten, Rt Hon Leon Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Brooke, Hon Peter Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Browne, John Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Bryan, Sir Paul Holt, Richard
Buck, Sir Antony Hooson, Tom
Budgen, Nick Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Burt, Alistair Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'Idford)
Butcher, John Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Butterfill, John Hunt, David (Wirral)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hunter, Andrew
Cash, William Jessel, Toby
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Chapman, Sydney Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Chope, Christopher King, Rt Hon Tom
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Clegg, Sir Walter Lawler, Geoffrey
Cockeram, Eric Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Colvin, Michael Lester, Jim
Conway, Derek Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Coombs, Simon Lightbown, David
Cope, John Lilley, Peter
Couchman, James Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Crouch, David Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Lord, Michael
Dickens, Geoffrey Lyell, Nicholas
Dorrell, Stephen McCurley, Mrs Anna
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Macfarlane, Neil
Dover, Den MacGregor, John
Dunn, Robert MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Durant, Tony MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Dykes, Hugh McQuarrie, Albert
Evennett, David Major, John
Malins, Humfrey Sayeed, Jonathan
Malone, Gerald Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Marland, Paul Shelton, William (Streatham)
Marlow, Antony Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Mates, Michael Sims, Roger
Mather, Carol Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maude, Hon Francis Soames, Hon Nicholas
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Speed, Keith
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Spence, John
Merchant, Piers Spencer, Derek
Meyer, Sir Anthony Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stanbrook, Ivor
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Stanley, John
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Stern, Michael
Moate, Roger Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Moore, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Stradling Thomas, J.
Moynihan, Hon C. Sumberg, David
Mudd, David Tapsell, Peter
Murphy, Christopher Taylor, John (Solihull)
Neale, Gerrard Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Needham, Richard Temple-Morris, Peter
Nelson, Anthony Terlezki, Stefan
Neubert, Michael Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Newton, Tony Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Nicholls, Patrick Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Norris, Steven Thornton, Malcolm
Onslow, Cranley Thurnham, Peter
Oppenheim, Phillip Townend, John (Bridlington)
Ottaway, Richard Tracey, Richard
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Trippier, David
Pawsey, James Twinn, Dr Ian
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Viggers, Peter
Pollock, Alexander Waddington, David
Porter, Barry Waldegrave, Hon William
Powell, William (Corby) Walden, George
Powley, John Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Wall, Sir Patrick
Price, Sir David Waller, Gary
Prior, Rt Hon James Walters, Dennis
Proctor, K. Harvey Ward, John
Raffan, Keith Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Watson, John
Renton, Tim Watts, John
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wheeler, John
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Whitney, Raymond
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Wiggin, Jerry
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Wolfson, Mark
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Wood, Timothy
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rossi, Sir Hugh Younger, Rt Hon George
Rowe, Andrew
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Tellers for the Ayes:
Ryder, Richard Mr. Ian Lang and
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Benn, Tony
Adley, Robert Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)
Alton, David Bermingham, Gerald
Anderson, Donald Bidwell, Sydney
Ashdown, Paddy Boothroyd, Miss Betty
Ashton, Joe Boyes, Roland
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)
Barnett, Guy Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)
Barron, Kevin Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Bruce, Malcolm
Beith, A. J. Caborn, Richard
Bell, Stuart Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Carter-Jones, Lewis McCartney, Hugh
Churchill, W. S. McCrindle, Robert
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) McGuire, Michael
Clarke, Thomas McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Clay, Robert McKelvey, William
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McNamara, Kevin
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) McTaggart, Robert
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) McWilliam, John
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Madden, Max
Corbett, Robin Marek, Dr John
Corbyn, Jeremy Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cowans, Harry Maxton, John
Craigen, J. M. Meacher, Michael
Cunliffe, Lawrence Meadowcroft, Michael
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Michie, William
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I) Mikardo, Ian
Deakins, Eric Millen, Rt Hon Bruce
Dewar, Donald Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Dicks, Terry Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dixon, Donald Nellist, David
Dormand, Jack Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Douglas, Dick O'Neill, Martin
Dubs, Alfred Park, George
Duffy, A. E. P. Patchett, Terry
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Penhaligon, David
Eadie, Alex Pike, Peter
Eastham, Ken Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Ewing, Harry Prescott, John
Fatchett, Derek Radice, Giles
Faulds, Andrew Randall, Stuart
Favell, Anthony Redmond, M.
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Rhodes James, Robert
Fisher, Mark Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Robertson, George
Foulkes, George Rogers, Allan
Freud, Clement Rooker, J. W.
George, Bruce Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Golding, John Sheerman, Barry
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Haselhurst, Alan Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Skinner, Dennis
Hayes, J. Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Haynes, Frank Snape, Peter
Hayward, Robert Soley, Clive
Heffer, Eric S. Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Strang, Gavin
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Home Robertson, John Tinn, James
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Wainwright, R.
Howells, Geraint Wallace, James
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Wareing, Robert
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Weetch, Ken
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Johnston, Russell Welsh, Michael
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Wilkinson, John
Kennedy, Charles Williams, Rt Hon A.
Kirkwood, Archy Wilson, Gordon
Lamond, James Winnick, David
Leadbitter, Ted Young, David (Bolton SE)
Leighton, Ronald
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Tellers for the Noes:
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Mr. James Hamilton and
Litherland, Robert Mr. Roger Thomas.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).