§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
I beg to move,That the draft Stansted Airport Aircraft Movement Limit Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 7th April, be approved.In introducing the draft order, I think it worth remarking that this must be one of the most predictable, most unsurprising measures which could be brought before the House for its approval. The Government's intention to make an air transport movement—ATM—limit order for Stansted airport was signalled in June 1985, when we first gave the go-ahead to expansion there. The Government now seek to implement their intention and, in so doing, to fulfil the promise we made about phasing the development at Stansted.
The 1985 airports policy White paper expressed the Government's awareness of the genuine and understandable concern which had been expressed by local residents and Members of Parliament in the Stansted area about the scale and extent of development at the airport and about the environmental effects. The Government therefore promised that development of Stansted airport would be phased with the first stage of development limited to about 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum. A condition of the planning permission for Stansted airport to grow from current levels to about 15 million passengers per annum was that construction of the development would be so phased.
To underpin the planning condition we decided that the relatively blunt, unsophisticated instrument of an ATM limit could provide an additional means of regulating airport development, with the object of controlling the impact of that development on local infrastructure. We therefore undertook to seek the necessary powers to enable the Government to set ATM limits subject to the approval of Parliament. We made it clear that we would use such powers at Stansted to impose an ATM limit sufficient only to enable effective utilisation of the first phase of development, that is to say, about 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum.
The Government sought the necessary powers in last year's Airports Bill, and they now exist as section 32 of the Airports Act 1986. Section 32 restricts the use of ATM limit powers to airports where runway capacity is significantly underused. An airport whose runway capacity is already saturated has a naturally imposed limit. Section 32 also required the Secretary of State to consult within the civil aviation industry and among local authorities that are likely to be affected before setting a limit. That local authority interests are required to be consulted on the face of the legislation bears testamount to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) and we are indebted to him. I am glad to see him in his place, as is usual when anything affects his constituency is debated.
The necessary powers came into force late last year. The Government are now keen to keep their promise for a first-phase ATM limit at Stansted—a promise that they gave when planning permission for Stansted development was given, in the 1985 airports policy White Paper, and during the passage of the Bill, both here and in another place.
The White Paper commitment to an ATM limit went beyond the reassurance of local interests—important 264 though those interests may be. The White Paper said that decisions on a Stansted ATM limit should be for Parliament. The Government have again been faithful to their intention in bringing before this House tonight a draft order that is subject to affirmative resolution.
The order proposes a limit of 78,000 air transport movements. That figure is designed to correspond to a passenger throughput at the Stansted development of no more than about 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum. This is consistent with the planning condition and with the Government's subsequent investment approval for a terminal capable of handling 8 million passengers per annum. The figure, which has been calculated on my Department's most recent air passenger traffic forecasts, has been determined by two factors. The first of those is the relative mix of types of traffic that we expect to serve Stansted when passenger throughput approaches 8 million passengers per annum; and secondly, the average aircraft passenger loading — the number of passengers per air transport movement—at that time.
The figure of 78,000 ATMs assumes that all categories of traffic at Stansted will experience significant growth. The assumptions which underlie the calculation of the limit suggest that 8 million passengers per annum at Stansted would be composed of about 10 per cent. domestic passengers, 37 per cent. short-haul charter passengers, about 19 per cent. short-haul scheduled passengers and the balance — about 35 per cent. — of long-haul passengers.
The second element of the calculation, passenger loading, has been predicted by comparison with Gatwick. Given the similarities of Stansted now and Gatwick in its early years, it is not unreasonable to draw a parallel between the passenger loadings that might operate at Stansted when the airport development is handling 8 million passengers per annum and the passenger loadings at Gatwick when that airport had an identical passenger volume. Of course, the analogy is not precise. I have already been pressed on this matter by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, who represents this locality. I have no doubt that he will wish to have further discussions with me about that. The analogy is not precise and corrections have had to be made to allow for higher passenger loadings as a result of improvements in aircraft technology, and to eliminate any distortion from the passenger loadings on the Gatwick-Heathrow helicopter link which was in operation, when Gatwick was at 8 million passengers per annum.
In determining the quantum of the limit, we have tested the robustness of the figure against differing assumptions about both traffic mix and passenger loading. In particular, the limit has been tested against two scenarios, one of which puts forward rapid growth in short-haul scheduled services — reflecting extensive liberalisation and deregulation of air services—and a quite different scenario in which there is pre-eminent growth in the charter market — with short/medium haul charter passengers forming a much larger proportion of the 8 million passengers per annum. In both cases there was no significant difference from the 78,000 air transport movement figure of the central assumptions. Indeed, the agreement was within 1 per cent. This gives me great confidence to commend to the House the figure in the draft order.
The draft order is in five articles. The first two define the numerical value of the limit and its period of operation. 265 Although the limit would apply annually from 1 March of each year, it is proposed that the order should come into effect from 1 June this year. This will mean that one quarter of the first year of operation of the limit will have passed, but this loss will have no material effect. The current level of ATM usage of Stansted is less than 20 per cent. of the proposed limit and the existing terminal capacity will not allow traffic to approach the limit even distantly between now and February 1988.
Article 3 of the order describes those classes of aircraft movement that the Government propose to exclude from counting against the limit. In the 1985 White Paper the Government set out their undertaking to impose a limit expressly on ATMs at Stansted. During the passage of the legislation, we explained what an ATM limit would and would not cover, setting out explicitly that the limit would exclude diversion, repositioning, air-taxi and general aviation movements. The proposal reflects our White Paper undertaking about seeking to constrain passenger volume. It follows that the limit should bear on passenger air transport movements only.
I opened this debate by suggesting that this was an unsurprising measure for the Government to bring forward. I hope that I have now explained why. Our 1985 White Paper promised a limit on ATMs at Stansted so that the first phase of development should not handle beyond about 7 million to 8 million passengers per year. We promised to seek the necessary powers and did so in the Airports Bill. During the passage of the Bill we described in detail how a limit would operate and what it should and should not include. The Airports Act 1986 and the necessary powers are now in force and tonight we are fulfilling our promise to seek the House's approval to an appropriate limit. I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
The Minister opened the debate by saying that the order was both predictable and unsurprising. Predictable it may be, but I am not so sure about the second part of the Minister's description. It would probably be far beyond my limited capabilities as an orator to arouse the House to great heights of passion about this order, but I should like to mention one or two points. [Interruption] "Heights of passion" would be the wrong phrase to describe some of the Conservative Members present for the debate. I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions, especially about the press release that was issued in conjunction with the order. Presumably that press release was issued in the name of the Minister. It says that "extensive consultation" was undertaken prior to the order being laid. The House would be grateful to know what sort of consultation the Minister regards as extensive. Certainly there are other aviation interests and other regional airports which feel that no such consultation has taken place. They rightly feel a good deal of concern that this order has been laid. Far from the consultation being extensive, it appears to have been localised to the area of Stansted airport.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
This is a deeply sensitive matter for Manchester airport, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, and for other airports outside the south-east of England. Would he agree that it is at once surprising and indeed culpable that the North of England Regional Consortium was not consulted on such an important matter?
§ Mr. Snape
In reply to my right hon. Friend, and to use the Minister's own words, it is predictable and unsurprising that the sort of interests that my right hon. Friend has outlined were not consulted. In view of the controversy that has surrounded the proposed development at Stansted airport, to say the least it is somewhat insensitive that the interests about which my right hon. Friend spoke have not been consulted. I have heard him speak many times about this in the Chamber so I know that he is aware of the concern of provincial airports such as Manchester about the proposed Stansted development.
Being aware of those concerns, one would have thought that the Minister would have consulted, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) said, such bodies as the North of England Regional Consortium or the Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities—JACOLA.
If the Minister wants to use the description "predictable and unsurprising" about orders such as this, one would have thought that he would have first sought extensive consultation with aviation and airport interests represented by both bodies to which my right hon. Friend and I have just referred. The Minister might well say that there is no statutory duty for a Secretary of State to consult regional interests, but, given the controversy that has surrounded this development, I repeat that one would have thought that, for the sake of peace and tranquillity in aviation, these consultations would have taken place. If they had taken place, there might well have been suggestions from bodies such as the North of England Regional consortium and JACOLA and there might well have been a slightly different approach to limiting ATMs at Stansted.
The Minister referred in his speech to section 32 of the Airports Act 1986, but the Act should be used not only to facilitate environmental objectives but to reinforce other policies such as traffic realloation. The bodies to which I have referred and the Opposition believe that Stansted's limit need not be based on the maximum throughput of its new terminal but perhaps could be laid on a gradual buildup of traffic reflecting the Government's traffic reallocation policy generally.
The Minister referred to the fact that Stansted's current capacity is less than 20 per cent., I think he said, of the proposed limit. If that is the case, why set the limit in this order tonight? It would be better gradually to step up the limit so that regional interests could express points of view over the next few months or even the next few years. That would be a more conciliatory and consultative approach than setting a limit in the order that allows the enormous development of which Stansted is currently not capable.
The order does have particular significance for controlling the incidence of long-haul traffic at Stansted. As I understand it, the order allows for up to 2.75 million passengers per annum of this type of traffic. I trust I speak for hon. Members on both sides of th House when I say that we would appreciate some indication from the Minister as to where this demand will originate and, if necessary, from what airports those 2.75 million passengers per annum will be transferred. As I am sure the Minister will concede, the output at Stansted since the announcement of its development has been growing modestly.
Opposition Members favour a limit on ATMs at Stansted which reflects the reality at present and which can be subject to review on a regular basis. That is not to say 267 that we want an enormously controversial debate, whether late at night or in prime parliamentary time, but I hope that the Minister will appreciate that these matters are fairly sensitive on the regions. While I understand that the Government's aviation policy appears to be devoted to solving the London problem at everybody's else's expense, surely it is not beyond the wit or inclination of the Department of Transport to appreciate the genuine concerns that are felt in areas outside London.
The Minister referred to positioning movements at Stansted. These movements are normally associated with inclusive tour operations which again, as he has indicated from the projected figures he has given, make up a high proportion of movements at Stansted. As the ATM limit excludes those positioning movements, as the Minister has rightly said, we can anticipate that about 5 to 10 per cent. more movements will be allowed over and above the limit. It is not for me to spend too long on the environmental implications for the residents in the Stansted area of the 5 to 10 per cent. increase over the proposed limit. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr Haselhurst) will do that himself — if not tonight, 268 certainly at some time in the future. However, the question of positioning movements appears to be somewhat incompatible with the Minister's declared objective of protecting environmental interests in and around the airport.
I hope that the comments that will come from Opposition Members, despite the Minister's description of the order as "predictable and unsurprising" are, at least in his eyes and the eyes of those who advise him, unpredictable and surprising.
The proposed development at Stansted has been and is a controversial matter. There are legitimate concerns at Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and other airports in the United Kingdom. The Minister's comments so far, far from allaying those concerns, enhanced them. I hope that, in the same spirit as I have replied to the order, he will do something this evening to show that we can expect future debates on these matters so that those legitimate concerns to which I have referred can be expressed in the House and satisfactorily answered by a Department which, as I said earlier, somtimes appears to be more concerned with solving what it sees as the problems of London's airports than looking at aviation as the great national industry that it is.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
Despite the controversy to which the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) referred and in which I have been fully involved in the past, I want to make it clear that I extend a warm welcome to the order. It is somewhat ironic that I should do so because, as some of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members may remember, I spoke in a forthright sense on the question of the utility of a power to limit air transport movements when it was first raised in the Civil Aviation Bill which was introduced in 1984. Those arguments seemed to prevail at the time. Therefore, I accept that it is a quirk of fate that I now grasp the more specific power, agreed by the House in the Airports Act 1986, from which this order devolves. We were able to confine the power given in the Act in such a way that it is tailored to the specific case of Stansted.
The order is very specific. It is intended to deliver the Government's promise on the limitation of the development of Stansted in terms of size. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East surmised, the environmental quality around Stansted is of concern to me for the sake of my constituents and neighbouring constituencies. However, the order is aimed simply at the question of size rather than environment.
The Government made two suggestions to limit the size of the development of Stansted. The first was to say that the terminal to be built should not exceed 50,000 sq m and the second was to allow the House, by means of an air transport movement limit, to determine whether Stansted should be allowed to proceed beyond an approximate limit of 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum throughput. I accept entirely the Government's good faith in responding in that way and I accept the nature of the order tonight.
The House could exercise influence over the future of Stansted only through this type of order since the Government had chosen to use planning law to determine whether Stansted should be expanded. This was because they could say either yes or no to the plans presented to them. There was apparently no planning half-way house that the Government could opt for. Therefore, having given the legal planning permission for 15 million passengers per annum throughput, this device is needed to give the House the power to limit the number of passengers per annum to 7 million or 8 million. That is welcomed by my constituents and I trust that it is welcomed generally in the House.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
The hon. Member has played a distinguished part in this long-running debate on the expansion of Stansted. He has talked about size, but how does he feel about the Government's ultimate objective of increasing the number of passengers through the airport to 25 million per year?
§ Mr. Haselhurst
It is not fair to suggest that the Government have an ultimate objective of increasing the number of passengers through Stansted airport to 25 million per annum. All that has been agreed to date is that planning permission exists for 15 million passengers per annum. The House will determine whether it proceeds beyond 7 million or 8 million passengers per annum. Any question of Stansted increasing to 25 million passengers, Gatwick increasing beyond 25 million or Heathrow 270 increasing beyond the present 38 million or 40 million passengers will be debated in the wider context of airports generally. The Government do not have a stated policy on increasing passenger numbers but recognise that perhaps they will need to determine where further capacity is located. That would be a very wide debate.
I ask my hon. Friend to elaborate on the figure of 78,000 air traffic movements. When Gatwick reached approximately 8 million passengers per annum about eight years ago, that involved slightly over 100,000 ATMs. One accepts that some allowance must be made for increased load factors in the imervening years, and therefore is plausible that the figure of 78,000 equates with 7 million to 8 million per annum.
However, I notice that the press notice published by the Department, to which the hon. Gentleman for West Bromwich, East referred, says that the order would apply to about 16,000 movements per annum at Stansted at present. If one looks at the mathematics in another way, if that figure of 16,000 is correct now and if the present figure of approximately 550,000 passengers per annum is to be multiplied by only five, that would not take the figure very near to 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum. There is clearly much guesswork, and many alternative theories can be offered, in arriving at that figure of 78,000.
That difference between Gatwick in 1979, from over 100,000 down to 78,000, has interesting implications—I do not wish to cause palpitations to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground)—not least for the capacity of the terminals at Heathrow, if fewer movements are required to carry a larger number of people. We must look at this carefully. I accept that an honest attempt has been made on the breakdown of the figures to produce the figure of 78,000, but how will it work in practice? This is an untried device and the airport operators may be concerned if the calculations that have been made, albeit with full input from themselves, prove, in the event, to be wide of the mark.
One could envisage a situation arising within the course of the 12 months, when, after a particularly busy burst of traffic, which may be of rather small aircraft with low passenger load factors, pressure suddenly builds up and one runs out of movements. How often will my hon. Friend have to come back to the House to seek an amendment to this statutory instrument in order to deal with an unfortunate failure to predict the exact pattern of the build-up of development at Stansted?
We must be fairly cautious about this instrument. It is untried and untested and may lead to some difficulties in practice. The variables are considerable, as my hon. Friend has been honest enough to admit. I must tell the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East that, if, instead of fixing a figure for the intended maximum throughput at Stansted, a smaller figure should be chosen on a graduated basis, it would only compound the difficulties because the more one admits that the variables are suspect, the more trouble one would be it. If my hon. Friend came to the House and suggested a limit of only 20,000 or 25,000, we would soon be in considerable trouble. I understand the hon. Gentlemen's point, but that is not realistic. One must go for the maximum figure, as my hon. Friend has done, as long as one accepts that it may not be perfectly right. None of us can be sure how air traffic will build up. The 271 House may be asked to amend this statutory instrument ahead of the time when it is asked to consider it in the light of the expansion of Stansted terminal, if that time comes.
The Government have decided to exclude general aviation movements from the calculation. I realise that the Government still have the power to include general aviation in the order if they wish, but have chosen not to do so. It is worrying to my constituents that general avaiation is not counted, particularly in the light of the obvious interest of Stansted Airport Ltd. in attracting its own good share of such general aviation business that is going. My constituents' fears in that respect may be exaggerated. I say that with some humility. General aviation movements tend to be of quieter aircraft which do not operate at anti-social hours, and while at the moment they represent a fairly significant proportion of the total number of movements at Stansted, I recognise that that proportion is likely to decline in future.
Nevertheless, I hope that my hon. Friend will give an undertaking to look at the position. It may be helpful and reassuring to people living in the area to have an early idea of the Government's proposals regarding noise limitation and sound-proofing schemes. It may be through that avenue that one can provide the environmental protection that would cover general aviation movements rather than through the mechanism of the statutory instrument that we are discussing. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that and realise that to some people aircraft movements are still aircraft movements even if they are not ATMs in the technical sense that we are discussing.
I appreciate the indulgence of the House while I have been making my points. If and when the time comes that the House is asked to consider raising the limit from 78,000, I hope that it will be recognised that that should not be confined to an hour-and-a-half's debate on a statutory instrument after 10 o'clock. If we reach that point, we shall be discussing the wider implications of Britain's airport policy and many hon. Members will wish to discuss that. I hope that my hon. Friend will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will bear in mind the desire of hon. Members on both sides of the House from wide geographical areas to contribute to such a debate and that would not be possible in a debate such as we are having tonight. Having said that, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the prompt manner in which the Government's promise has been fulfilled. I hope that the Minister's calculations are proved to be right in practice and that we can underline the protection and limitation for my constituents that the Government have promised all along.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) said that the order is the only way in which the House can influence, restrict or have some control over future developments at Stansted airport. On that basis, we should consider just how effective this order is. In previous debates on airports, during debates on airports legislation and during more general debates on airport policy, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has said that the appropriate level of passenger throughput at Stansted would be 5 million. The throughput implicit in the level of ATMs suggested in the order is between 7 million and 8 272 million. That exceeds my hon. Friend's figure. However, the figure in the order is substantially—almost 50 per cent. — lower than the approved planning permission figure that Parliament might be expected to approve in future to allow for such expansion. It is therefore important that we should have this opportunity to debate whether such expansion is desirable.
We must first consider whether such expansion is environmentally desirable. That matter must be of considerable interest to the constituents of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden. They have to bear the brunt of the aircraft noise generated by 78,000 movements in addition to the other movements not included in that figure. I agree with the hon. Member for Saffron Walden about the need to look for other ways — apart from limiting aircraft movements—to minimise the environmental impact on those who have to live under the flight paths into and out of Stansted and other airports.
My second point was hinted at by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who said that we must consider how the aircraft movements and the passengers involved have a consequence for the general development of airport policy, not least for the importance that we and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East attach to the development of airports in the regions in England and Scotland. Manchester airport has already been singled out as having considerable potential for attracting more traffic, and it has generated considerable support for its case for more traffic. It would be surprising if I did not put in a plea for the considerable future role that many Scottish airports have for international flights and in that regard I want to mention particularly the further marketing and development of Prestwick airport.
It is important that Parliament should have this opportunity to put some control over future developments at Stansted because, so many other consequences will follow from those developments with general regard to airport policy. It would also be fair to ask to what extent the order is effective in achieving that objective. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden rightly explained that there are a number of possible variables in this matter. The Minister referred to a number of ways in which the 78,000 air traffic movements relate to the level of expected passenger throughput.
What level of future development of domestic passenger transport does the Minister foresee for Stansted? It has often been suggested that, if Stansted airport is to secure its long-term future, one of our domestic airlines should have a base at the airport. Does the Minister share that view? Domestic airlines have fewer passengers, and if the expected passenger throughput is to be reached in the longer term, that would imply many more air traffic movements. That would obviously have environmental consequences, so it is something on which we would wish to have his views.
§ Mr. Haselhurst
One ought to put on record the fact that Air UK is a domestic airline that is trying to make Stansted its heart, and while at the moment its services are undertaken by fairly small-sized aircraft, it is expanding its network, so that point is met.
§ Mr. Wallace
I was just echoing a view that has been expressed in a number of places, that it is important for the development of the airport that at least one of our airlines—Air UK is not an insignificant one; it provides 273 a very valuable service in many parts of the United Kingdom—should have an important part at Stansted. It is a concern that has been expressed.
Dan-Air was very successful in the campaign that it mounted 12 months or more ago to maintain its service from Heathrow, because it felt that its services from other parts of the country—from Inverness airport, for the business and commercial interests of the highlands and islands of Scotland — should form the link with Heathrow and the important function of interlining that Heathrow provides. It would be a very serious loss if, through the auspices of the Civil Aviation Authority, some of these services were routed to other airports and that valuable interlining service was lost.
Dan-Air rightly won the argument. If that is a consideration, one may find that domestic services are not a common feature at Stansted and that, its growth area might be in charter traffic, with a much higher throughput of passengers. With 78,000 air traffic movements, if the number of passengers per movement was higher, would we then reach the situation where the Government were overshooting the current cut-off point of 7 million to 8 million passengers, with no further need to come back for an increase?
We do not know the answers to those questions, because there are so may variables, but, bearing in mind the importance attached to the procedure within the 1986 Act to give Parliament some control, we would like to hear more from the Minister. Without that, one could defeat one object of that Act — an object to which many speakers in the debate have subscribed—which was that Parliament should have some further control, because of the wider implications for other airports in the United Kingdom. If the Minister feels that there is a potential for the passenger ceiling to be significantly exceeded within 78,000 movements, that is something that hon. Members would, rightly, wish to know about, because it would have longer-term consequences for influence of the House on future airports policy.
§ Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)
My hon. Friend said that the order was predictable and unsurprising, but perhaps the speech of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) was even more predictable and unsurprising. He took us through the letter from the North of England Regional Consortium and demonstrated that, even though he is very good at spreading these things out, it was just as thin an argument when he spoke about it as it is in the letter.
I do, however, agree with the hon. Gentleman on one point. It is a pity, but of no great significance in the event, that consultations were not wider and it would have been tactful if they had been. A lot of people put a lot of effort into the development of Stansted and made many representations. It would have been sensible to make the Government inquiries wider.
In effect, it does not seem to have made much difference because, as regards Manchester airport and the regional airports, the central issue is whether or not the limit imposed by this order is too large for the comfort of the regional airports. The consortium has not suggested in its letter or briefing that 78,000 ATMs are dangerous to the development of those airports. We are suggesting an order which will cover the period into the mid-1990s. Unlike the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East, I pay tribute to 274 the Government for making great efforts to develop the regional airports, especially Manchester, and that should be put on the record. Moreover, they continue to do so.
The order is part of a package of measures put together at the time of approval of Stansted and designed to protect the interests of regional airports and to develop them. The order meets that promise and I thank the Government for properly and promptly introducing an order which meets that promise.
To take up the point of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), the order provides the House with a new and greater opportunity to control this area than it has ever had before. As I understand it, the control of the size of Stansted or any other airport does not come before the House, but the order and further additions to it give us an opportunity to keep some control over what happens in future.
The Government are to be congratulated on introducing the order. We shall keep a close eye on this and I make it perfectly clear to my hon. Friend the Minister that if there is any attempt to go beyond the 7 million to 8 million passengers on which the order is based, he had better not try to do so by an order late at night.
§ Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)
My constituency interest is considerably less acute than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst)—
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
And that of his hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford.
§ Mr. McCrindle
—and no doubt that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells). The House will know that in the northern parts of my constituency a good deal of apprehension has been expressed about the prospective development of Stansted. Indeed, if one is honest, one has to say that the dissipation of that apprehension is a relatively slow process.
I seek the indulgence of the House for a brief period to express my approval of the order, but also to express some concern about the likely progress of this matter as we begin to move towards the true expansion of Stansted airport.
I approve of the order for two reasons. First, it confirms Government policy on the expansion of Stansted. Secondly, and more important, it reminds us that Stansted is not, and has no prospect of becoming in the immediate future, the full-blown, third London airport, for which many wished and for which pressure continues to exist.
I can say with some certainty that most of my constituents principally concerned with Stansted are coming to terms with some expansion, perhaps of the order proposed this evening, but the quickest way to recreate their suspicion and concern would be to move too quickly. Therefore, I draw to the attention of the House the proposals of a pressure group, the National Policy for Britain's Airports. It is perfectly understandable that this pressure group, comprising as it does local authorities which tend to repose particularly in areas immediately around Heathrow and Gatwick airports, should take the view that Stansted is the principal airport for the expansion of traffic in the London area. It is not expansion of the order that we are considering this evening, nor expansion up to 15 million, which would be the second 275 tranche of what may be called existing Government policy, but expansion to enable Stansted to handle 25 million passengers by the turn of the century.
I think that it would be appropriate for me to utter a word of warning to people such as the members of the National Policy for Britain's Airports, remembering, of course, how easy it is to suggest that airport expansion should take place in someone else's backyard, and that Stansted is not the only possible site for further runway expansion. I think that it would also be appropriate for me to remind that body that the maximum degree of expansion to which we are agreeing to this evening is 7 million to 8 million passengers. Even if we go forward to the second tranche, subject to parliamentary approval, we shall then be in the region of 15 million passengers. To envisage the possibility of 25 million to 30 million passengers is to contemplate airport developments around London to an extent that the Government have not yet undertaken. It really would be wise for bodies such as the National Policy for Britain's Airports to bear that very firmly in mind.
It may be that by 1995 the runway capacity in the London area will be inadequate, and a good case can be made for assuming that that will be so, but to assume the enormous growth at Stansted to which our attention has recently been drawn, involving not only 25 million passengers per annum but a second terminal, and quite possibly a second runway, is way outside the range of existing Government policy. To assume that this would be the easy solution to the problem of the expansion of airports in the London area would be quite wrong.
I do not deny that additional runway capacity may well become necessary, but I wonder whether sufficient consideration has been given to the possibility that instead of immediately assuming that that means that we must have an additional runway at Gatwick, Stansted or Heathrow — recognising, of course, the difficulty at Gatwick — there might be an argument along the following lines. If air traffic control in the United States, particularly around the Chicago and Los Angeles airports, can have an interval between landings and take-offs considerably shorter than that necessary around the London airports, consideration should be given to whether the Civil Aviation Authority could, with perfect safety, be persuaded to approve of rather more landings and take-offs at these London airports, so as to prolong the period at the end of which no doubt we would have to consider the possibility of further runway capacity around the London area.
It seems to me that those are considerations that should at least be given some thought, and I hope that the Minister will be prepared to turn his attention to that and possibly even say something about it when he responds to the debate this evening.
In essence, I rise this evening to express approval of the gradual expansion of Stansted. I have always accepted that there is a case for such expansion, but I believe that to go too far and too fast would be to risk reversing the growing approval, or at least acceptance, of this development, which I sense is now the state of play in the area immediately around Stansted.
I would very much welcome the development of more scheduled services from Stansted. If we are to have greater utilisation of that airport, I should like to think that many 276 of my constituents would be able to use scheduled services from Stansted when travelling on business or otherwise, rather than, as is necessary at the moment, have to go to Heathrow or Gatwick. I am bound to say, however, that so far there is singularly little indication that scheduled services are developing at Stansted to anything like the degree that some of us might wish. I recognise that perhaps the most likely immediate use of Stansted is increasingly for charters. This may be necessitated by the growing difficulty of finding spots for charter airlines at Gatwick.
For whatever reason Stansted is expanded, I believe that there has to be a recognition of the fact that we can move only as far and as fast as will enable us to take local opinion with us. To go at this stage much beyond the proposal that is before the House in the order would he, in my opinion, to risk once again building up that state of opposition which my hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden and for Hertford and Stortford will readily recall was one of the principal difficulties during the many years in which Stansted was a major heartache for all three of us in relation to our constituency opinion.
The order is acceptable in that it is a reaffirmation of Government policy as we know it to be. If we can adhere to that parameter, we can carry public opinion with us. However, if the Government were tempted to go further and faster, we could open up the opposition which it has taken many of us a good number of years to play down, at least to some degree. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say that the order sets out the extent to which we are able and interested in proceeding at present, and that if we plan to proceed further as time passes that movement will be subject to the procedures within the House as laid down when the Government's policy on Stansted was intimated some time ago.
§ 11.6 pm
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
I welcome the order because it keeps a promise that the Government made to those who live around Stansted to limit the number of passengers who use the airport to 8 million per annum. It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) has said, a feeble instrument, especially when it falls to be considered in an hour and a half's debate after 10 o'clock. I ask the Minister for an undertaking that any future increase of the limit will receive a full-scale debate in the House in prime time. That would be in line with the nature of the promise that the Minister and the Government gave to those whom I represent. Anything less would be a subterfuge, because the promise was that the Government would limit the number of passengers using Stansted to 8 million a year in the first phase, and that that phase would not be exceeded until and unless the House had given its approval. In my view that promise would be fulfilled only in the light of a full debate. That would give the opportunity for those who represent other airport areas, including Manchester, to raise the contentious argument why Stansted should be used for chartered aircraft. There is no reason why chartered aircraft movements could not take place at Birmingham, Manchester or Scottish airports. There is no need to fill Stansted with such movements.
I remind the Minister of other promises that have been given to the House on the expansion of Stansted. First, the 277 Government undertook that there would be no cross-subsidisation of Stansted by other London airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick. It seems that the promise has not yet been fulfilled because cross-subsidisation can take place under the umbrella of the British Airports Authority, which is to be privatised in July. In other words, Stansted will continue to lose money for many years hence. I am not certain that it will be making money even when it has 8 million passengers per annum. When it makes losses, they will have to be met by the profits declared by the authority's umbrella holding company. Thus cross-subsidisation will, in my view, be taking place. I should like an assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister that he will fulfill the Government's promise by some means.
We in Bishop Stortford have been promised that the Minister will limit the number of houses generated by the airport's expansion to 8 million passengers per annum to a proportion of that which was forecast in the public inquiry, which preceded the announcement of the Government's policy. Already Bishop Stortford has received applications from developers for more than 15,000 houses, which would double the size of the town within months of the new policy outlined by the Government. We are having extreme difficulty in resisting the pressure for development. Indeed, the Department of Environment is considering the means by which the Government will be enabled to fulfil their promise of a green belt round Bishop Stortford. That is the only means by which we could control the housing development resulting from the expansion in this order. So there are two more promises which I am looking to the Government to fulfil in the near future.
I am grateful that the Government have kept their pledge. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, who has put much effort into making certain that the Government did keep their promise both in the Civil Aviation Bill that did not become law and in the Airports Act 1986. So I ask the Minister to ensure that his colleagues address these difficult questions, continue to fulfil the promises they have made and honour their good faith to the people of Bishop Stortford and my constituency.
§ Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North)
This is a comparatively small country. Consequently, the activities of Stansted or any other south-eastern airport have an impact far beyond their own immediate environment. That is why the development and growth of Stansted up to and including this order have been of interest to, and have led to controversy for, northern Members and their constituents. My constituency of Bury, North is no exception.
I speak, therefore, as a man of Manchester airport, proud, like colleagues on both sides of the House, of the achievements of that airport over the past few years in enormous growth, more routes and more facilities. We have just seen the completion of a marvellous new hotel and the airport has a continually growing number of passengers. We all pay tribute to the excellent management of Mr. Gill Thompson and his team who perform such wonderful feats against a difficult and restrictive background such as the nonsense of international air travel, hedged around as it is by so many agreements, preventing the free commercial enterprise and development of airports and of airlines and their routes.
278 What effect, therefore, do restrictions and limitations on air traffic movements have beyond Stansted for airports such as Manchester? In so far as air traffic is geographically mobile, the limit at Stansted is to be welcomed by all who support regional airports, including Manchester. There is some such air traffic, but not much. Of much greater significance is the Government's responsible and supportive attitude to regional airports summed up in the most recent White Paper, about which Mr. Gill Thompson said that it put regional airport development policy where it should have been under the Labour Government when they published their White Paper. The order stems specifically from that policy. Therefore, the north will be grateful to the extent that its case has been recognised. To the extent that the limit acknowledges that, its voice has been heard.
But much more remains to be done, I caution the Minister that Manchester continues to watch carefully Stansted's growth and the performance of the Government and BAA. I said earlier that there was some mobility in air traffic movement, but not much. Most of the mobility is exercised by my poor constituents who have to climb into cars or buses to travel to different parts of the country to get flights that they would like to get from Manchester. That is the mobility that concerns them most. We used to see much more of that than we do today. The developments at Manchester under the general umbrella of the Government's regional policy have helped to improve the position. We are all most grateful for that.
That will change, not because of any relationship with the Government but because of the changes that are already taking place in the north. I believe that people will see the south-east for what it is—over-congested, overdeveloped and over-priced—and will realise that there is more to the north of England than they ever thought. As they move their businesses north, they will find a perfect vehicle for their international transactions on their doorstep, and in Manchester airport they will find the place that they need to help them to expand their businesses further. Those factors will determine the growth of regional airports in the future. I hope that we will find that the fears of Conservative Members about the expansion of Stansted and future orders will not need to be realised.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
The hon. Member has spoken with high regard for Manchester airport. Does he not agree that the essential point is that the Government, by allowing a massive expansion of Stansted airport, are choosing the prosperous south-east against the claims of other regions, particularly those of the north-west?
§ Mr. Burt
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument. As I mentioned earlier, there is some geographically mobile air transport, but generally not very much. I do not believe that the argument that the southeast is suffering from a lack of air capacity and that therefore Stansted should not have been developed because traffic would have moved elsewhere outweighs the arguments for Stansted.
Our difficulty in the north is that at the moment many people want their businesses located in the south and need the extra air capacity of the south. Were that not so, it would please the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and myself, but it is a fact of 279 life and to have denied them that legitimate expansion and to have tried to hope or pretend that air traffic would have come to Manchester would be wrong.
I know that my hon. Friends are anxious to proclaim that we should tell people about the advantages of the north so that there will be a natural growth. As I was saying before the right hon. Gentleman intervened, in future, that natural growth will be stimulated by what is happening in the north of England. Thus, the fears of my hon. Friends about the expansion of Stansted and the possibility of orders coming to the south and raising air traffic movements will not be realised; the north will have grown sufficiently to counter any thought that Stansted must develop over-much. The answer to the problems of the north lies not in what is happening elsewhere but in a genuine boost to what is occurring in the north and a determination to tell people about it.
The future of Manchester airport is bright, not because of the Government or any control but because it is the right place and it will develop at the right time with the right people at the helm.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) asked me about the extent of consultation. In addition to the Civil Aviation Authority and the airport operators concerned, the Secretary of State consulted all aircraft operators that are presently flying out of Stansted and all the local authorities that are affected by the development of Stansted. Altogether, some 31 bodies were consulted.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East seemed attracted by the argument that we should seek to force users to go further north by imposing an artificially low limitation. I shall come back to that argument, if that is what the hon. Gentleman was trying to say, because I do not believe that it is in the interests of Manchester or anywhere else that operators should be driven there rather than attracted.
§ Mr. Snape
That is not what I was implying. I agree whole-heartedly that operators should be attracted rather than driven to airports such as Manchester or Birmingham. I was seeking to make a point that was made rather effectively by the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) which is that all too often, provincial passengers are driven to London because of the Government's general airports policy. I was seeking to redress that balance. I also made a point about consultation, which did not refer to operators of provincial airports. I hope that, in the spirit in which I made my speech, the Minister and his Department will give some consideration to seeing that those authorities are consulted in future.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point when he speaks about the extent of consultation. It should stretch somewhat more widely and that is a fact that I have taken on board.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about not including other movements than passengers; this point was made rather more extensively by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst). I will reply to that point when I deal with his speech.
280 The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) asked whether one of our domestic airlines would be based at Stansted, and whether this was desirable. I understand that Air UK is developing there, and I hope that it will be successful in doing so. He also asked me what percentage of air traffic movements were domestic flights. The figure is approximately 10 per cent. The Government showed their belief in regional aviation when they decided to reject the CAA advice last year to displace some domestic regional flights from Heathrow, including the Inverness route. In calculating the limit, we took account of the growth of domestic regional services and we found the limit of 78,000 insensitive to especially rapid growth in such services. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) made a number of interjections, and I thought, if he will forgive me for saying so, that he was being slightly mischievous in suggesting that there was a plan to put in a 25 million passenger movement per annum limitation before long. The fact is that there is a 15 million passengers per annum limitation and we should recognise that.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
I appreciate that there is a 15 million passengers a year limitation. Is it not the ultimate objective to go to 25 million passengers a year?
§ Mr. Mitchell
Such things are so far off that I doubt whether we shall be sitting across the Chamber arguing the toss when they become reality. It is not realistic to try to forecast that far ahead at what point there will be any need to exceed even the 8 million passengers that we expect to get from the 78,000 ATMs limitation. We then get the further stage of limitation imposed by the initial planning consent for 15 million passengers a year. The right hon. Gentleman is, it is not wholly unreasonable to say, being a bit mischievous.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
According to the inspector's report is it not totally reasonable to suspect that the ultimate will be 25 million passengers a year?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I believe that it is unreasonable for the right hon. Gentleman to talk about the ultimate when we are talking today about a limitation of 7 million to 8 million passengers and the prospect, in the far future, of a total limitation of 15 million. The right hon. Gentleman and I will be older and have greyer hair before that latter limitation is reached.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) called for wider consultation. I believe that that is a valid point, and we shall take it on board. My hon. Friend recorded the extent of Government direct encouragement to regional airports, especially Manchester. It may be helpful if I demonstrate the validity of that argument.
Since 1979, the Government have authorised no less than £220 million of capital expenditure at local authority airports. That should be compared with the previous Labour Government's authorisation of £16 million. The contrast between those figures gives a pretty good definition of the extent to which this Government have supported the regional airports when compared to the support offered by the previous Labour Government. My hon. Friend asked whether this order is unique in that it gives the House of Commons an on-going control. I understand that my hon. Friend's assumption is correct.
281 My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North recognised that the Government have remained true to their support for the regional airports. The growth of Manchester international airport is a success story. Manchester is attracting more traffic because of its location and its services. Those features, rather than the refusal to sanction growth elsewhere, are the determinants of growth.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) supported the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden for a full debate if there is any change in the position and there comes a point when we move nearer the figure of 15 million passengers per year; consent for that figure has initially been given. The time for debates in the House is a matter for the Leader of the House and the usual channels. I am sure that, in years hence, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford will be sitting in his place at Business questions—perhaps a little older and with less hair—to ask the Leader of the House to ensure that he gets the time that he want for a debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford asked for an assurance that the no-subsidisation undertaking will he carried out. Cross-subsidy is not entirely outlawed. Stansted, though a sound business in the long term, is expected to make losses in the early stages of its capital development parallel to the regional airports. The key point is that the Civil Aviation Authority has powers under the Airports Act 1986 to prevent any cross-subsidy leading to pricing policies that harm or are intended to harm another airport's business—predators pricing. In addition, the accounts conditions applying to British Airports Authority airports under the Act require any type of cross-subsidy to be made transparent in the airport's company accounts.
§ Mr. Snape
The Minister will be aware that what he has just said has particular significance for airport development. In some ways his remarks conflict with the assurances that were given during the passage of the Airports Act 1986. Although it is rather late in the day to reconsider this matter, we, and I suspect some Conservative Members, will wish to study carefully the Minister's remarks tonight to judge whether they equate or conflict with the specific pledges given by Ministers during the passage of the Airports Act.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I phrased my remarks carefully. He will find that there is no conflict between what I have said and what my colleagues have said at the appropriate times.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford raised the matter of housing. I understand his point, but it is more a matter for the planning authorities who have control over these matters than it is for the Department of Transport. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden welcomed the instrument and recognised that it was the fulfilment of a Government promise. He asked me a number of penetrating questions and I shall do my best to answer them.
First, my hon. Friend asked how it was that at Gatwick there were 102,000 air traffic movements to provide for 7 million to 8 million passengers a year, while at Stansted the same number of passengers appear to be provided for by only 78,000 air traffic movements. He asked if I could explain that quite remarkable difference, and I can. At the 282 time when Gatwick was developing some years ago, aircraft were much smaller than they are now. Therefore, more aircraft were required to carry the same number of passengers. The larger aircraft in service today compared to the aircraft in use at the opening of Gatwick are a major reason for the difference. At Stansted, more passengers can be carried per aircraft.
The other significant factor is that there was a helicopter link between Gatwick and Heathrow. That helicopter counted as an air traffic movement, but it might have carried only four or five people at a time. Therefore, it accounted for a significant number of air traffic movements for very few people. I hope that that clarification helps my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend also asked me what about what would happen if, during the course of a year, it suddenly appeared that the number of air traffic movements will exceed the limitation before the year was out. In that case I am quite sure that I or my successors in the Department of Transport will find the operator from Stansted knocking on the door and asking for parliamentary time for the passage of an order similar to the one that we are debating.
My hon. Friend asked whether the exclusion of general aviation would leave a big loophole in the system. I can tell him that that will not happen. Last year there were 4,337 all-cargo movements at Stansted, including mail flights, but of those only 584, or less than 14 per cent.. were jet aircraft. The vast majcrity. over 86 per cent., were small and relatively quiet aircraft. Therefore, he need not feel unduly worried about that point. I give him the undertaking that I will, as he asked, keep this matter under review.
My hon. Friend asked about noise limitation. In the general sense, noise standards have recently been considerably developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, in which the United Kingdom plays a leading role. From 1 January 1986, British registered subsonic jets unable to meet basic standards, that is to say, non-noise-certified aircraft, have been banned from United Kingdom airports. From 1 January 1988, foreign registered subsonic jets unable to meet the basic noise standards will also be banned. That means that the noisiest aircraft will not be around; that will be a great relief to people living in the vicinity of our airports.
My hon. Friend's next question was about insulation. He is perceptively feeling around the area of ways in which his constituents may be affected by the increasing use of the airport. A noise insulation grant scheme will he in place by the time the passenger throughput reaches 2 million per year, and that is a long way down on the limitation that we have before us. Noise limits will be fixed for aircraft departing by clay and by night, the noise level standards for night departures will be lower and the noise levels will be monitored. The new night restrictions for Stansted will reflect the outcome of the present review of night restrictions at Heathrow and Gatwick, taking into account local circumstances.
Hon. Members asked about a full day's debate, should a revision of this instrument be necessary. My answer must be the answer I gave earlier to another question: that hon. Members are likely to be a little greyer, perhaps a lot greyer, by the time that situation arises.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman need not feel any anxiety in that direction. Perhaps a little thinning may be the cause of his concern.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) raised a number of wider and important issues about the distribution of scheduled services. I will draw his comments to the attention of the Under-Secretary with responsibility for aviation and ask him to write to my hon. Friend on the subject.
I agree strongly with my hon. Friend about the need to carry local opinion, and I trust that the order succeeds in doing that. It fulfils promises made to the people in the Stansted area to impose a strict limit, and I hope that my hon. Friend will feel content about that.
We have sought to fulfil the undertakings and promises given at earlier stages when this matter was very controversial, and we have done that in two ways. The first is by a condition in the planning consent that the terminal should be of such a size that it could handle only 7 million to 8 million passengers a year. The second is by the ATM limit, as a further reassurance to local residents and to the House. For those reasons, I hope the House will now feel able to agree to the order.
§ Question put and agreed to,
That the draft Stansted Airport Aircraft Movement Limit Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 7th April, be approved.