HC Deb 05 March 1991 vol 187 cc149-62 4.14 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the London air traffic distribution rules.

Following consultation, the Civil Aviation Authority has recommended that Heathrow rules 1, 2 and 3 should now be set aside. The rules prohibit new operators of international scheduled passenger services from Heathrow, ban charter flights from Heathrow, and limit new domestic services using that airport.

I start from the position that the Government should intervene as little as possible in the civil aviation market. Needless intervention through rules and regulations harms the industry and the interest of passengers. The oldest of the present restrictions on access to Heathrow was imposed 14 years ago. Since then, the industry has evolved and changed. It has been entirely right to take a fresh look at the continued need for the rules.

I have reflected carefully on the CAA's advice since I received it seven weeks ago and I have listened to the views of a variety of interests. I have met a number of hon. Members and heard their opinions, and I have weighed the points put to me in correspondence.

I have concluded that it is right to accept the CAA's advice that rules 1, 2 and 3 should now be removed. I also accept that the restrictions on all cargo, business and general aviation should remain. The London rules have been remade today to give effect to the decision.

As there is already almost full utilisation of Heathrow's capacity, the net effect of abolition of the traffic distribution rules will be modest. The Civil Aviation Authority believes that, over time, a greater proportion of the present capacity of the airport is likely to be used by long-haul services. That would bring benefits to users and increase competition in the long-haul market.

In reaching my decision, I have addressed the possible impact of the abolition of the rules on regional services. Removal of the rules does not, of course, impose any requirement on the operators of regional services to give up operating at Heathrow. That is equally the case with foreign airlines using the airport. Present incumbents may find that more carriers will wish to negotiate with them over slots. But, just as before, it will be up to each airline to decide whether to enter into such negotiations.

In that context, I recognise the importance of controls on airport charges at Heathrow to ensure that regional air services are not treated unfairly. I am clear that airports should not be able, through their charging regimes, to abuse their position or exploit their users. The Government addressed this matter in 1986 when they gave the CAA powers to carry out the economic regulation of all sizeable airports. Section 41 of the Airports Act 1986 enables the CAA to apply a suitable remedy where it believes that an airport operator has adopted a trade practice or a pricing policy which unreasonably discriminates against any class of user of the airport or against any particular user. Those are important powers, available now. Indeed, they are powers that the CAA has already used in response to complaints by domestic airlines at Heathrow.

Some of those consulted during the review suggested that night flight restrictions at Heathrow might be relaxed. Hon. Members with constituencies around Heathrow have made clear to me the importance that they attach to controls on aircraft noise. In response, we confirmed that we have no plans to relax the existing restrictions on night movements at Heathrow, which were set in 1988 and which are due to run to at least March 1993. I repeat that assurance this afternoon. I also confirm that I have no plans to end the system of runway alternation at Heathrow.

It has been suggested that removal of the rules would impinge on possible future development at Heathrow. But in practice the position is unchanged; if BAA wishes to undertake further terminal development, it will need to seek planning permission. Those with views on the environmental aspect, or any other aspect, would have the opportunity to give them. The Government's own position remains as described in the 1985 White Paper, in which we said that we would keep the matter under review, without commitment.

I have considered whether I should await the outcome of current work on the allocation of slots at congested airports before making changes to the traffic distribution rules. Both mechanisms have to do with managing demand, but the linkage should not be overstated. The rules determine the kinds of traffic that can use Heathrow; slots are then allocated among eligible airlines under the slot allocation process.

There is no immediate prospect of a major change in the way in which slots are allocated at busy airports, and I see no reason to delay decisions on the future of rules on that account. My decision does not imply that slots will be available for airlines hitherto denied access. Carriers will need to seek slots in the usual way from the airport co-ordinator. The availability of a slot depends not only on the runway situation but on terminal and aircraft parking facilities. The Government are not involved in the slot allocation process.

The present restrictions on business and general aviation at Heathrow and Gatwick reflect our perception that an airliner carrying large numbers of passengers—including perhaps some business men—might otherwise be displaced by a business aircraft carrying only three or four people. We are ready to look at any convincing case which the business aviation sector can make for taking a different view, but for the present I continue to believe that the existing policy is right. I also remain of the view that, where there is a conflict, passenger services should take priority over all-cargo flights.

The British air transport industry has enjoyed successful development over recent years. Gatwick has emerged as a major world airport. I am confident that Gatwick's established position, its convenience for Europe and its excellent rail access to central London will ensure its continuing success, irrespective of any traffic adjustments that might in due course follow from the changes that I have announced today. Likewise, buoyant medium-term forecasts make it very clear that all the London airports, including Stansted's splendid new terminal, are going to be needed.

I am confident for all these reasons that the time has come to remove the restrictions at Heathrow airport in the way the CAA has recommended.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

Today's major statement will affect British aviation over the next few years. It is about an issue that is not mentioned in or directly related to the statement. Today's statement is about and directly a part of the present negotiations between the United States and the United Kingdom about fundamentally changing our airport distribution rules primarily to assist two bankrupt American airlines—Pan American and TWA—to sell to two major strong American competitors, American Airlines and United Airlines, which are demanding the valuable Heathrow connections. The United Kingdom's agreement is necessary to change the Bermuda agreement. Does the Secretary of State accept that he has a powerful hand in those negotiations?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the policy change is necessary to conclude the negotiations with the Americans this week? We must assume that the negotiations have now been concluded. Can the Secretary of State give us some information about the agreement?

Does the Secretary of State accept that allowing access to Heathrow to those major American competitors, with their powerful United States hub-and-spoke network and frequent flyer and computer registration systems, when those competitors have already secured the American domestic traffic, guarantees them the major part of passenger carriage across the Atlantic? That will be damaging to the interests of British Airways. What does British Airways estimate will be the cost in terms of loss of traffic as a result of the agreement? Does BA think that the agreement is a good deal?

Perhaps the only airline enthusiastically to accept the Secretary of State's policy is Virgin Atlantic Airways. What other country has placed its major international air company in competition with both its own national competitors and international competitors?

Does the Secretary of State accept that the conclusion that the linkage of slot allocation and runway capacity with traffic distribution rules should not be overstated runs counter to the view of everyone who gave evidence to the CAA report and counter to the CAA report's judgment?

Why did the consulted interests referred to in the statement deliberately exclude workers or their representatives, particularly when they are co-operating with many thousands of redundancies as a result of the major changes in aviation stemming from the Gulf war? Does the Secretary of State accept that employees have a right to be consulted about those matters?

The Secretary of State said that he had considered the effect on regional airports and was assured that there were remedies against unreasonable discrimination. However, is he aware that last year landing fees rose by 15 per cent. and have risen by 25 per cent. this year? Such increases effectively cause increases in fares, which discriminate against smaller aircraft from regional airports when compared with the landing fees for huge jumbos which have many passengers and can spread their costs accordingly. Does the Secretary of State accept that not only will regional airports be discriminated against, but that the concentration of long-haul aircraft movements at Heathrow will again undermine Gatwick and the interline capacity of regional airports, and will throw into doubt the future of Stansted, which is shortly to be opened by the Queen?

In his statement, the Secretary of State made it clear that he rules out extra night flights at Heathrow until 1993. Presumably, that leaves the matter open for review in 1993. He said that he had no plans to end the system of runway alternation at Heathrow, but the pressure for access to Heathrow will soon change the requirements.

Indeed, flight movements could be increased without the need for a flight planning agreement. That will add to the congestion at Heathrow, especially on the M25 as people begin to move from Gatwick to Heathrow. He must already be aware that there is a tremendous cost in congestion.

Finally, does the Secretary of State accept that by rushing his statement before the House today he has signalled a policy which will increase congestion and environmental problems, which will weaken the major British air carrier and reduce the possibilities for regional airlines to grow with our network system—all for the need to pursue an ideological policy of competition and deregulation which has already destroyed much of our shipping, bus and rail industries and which is about to subject our aviation industry to the same fate?

Mr. Rifkind

I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's conclusion. The seven weeks that have elapsed since I received the CAA's recommendations show that we have given most careful thought not only to its representations, but to other comments made to the Department.

The hon. Gentleman began by asking about the negotiations with the United States. I remind him that my predecessor had already commissioned the review from the CAA before the request from the United States. The review was already in train when we received the request. The hon. Gentleman is incorrect to assume that the negotiations on Bermuda 2 have been concluded. To implement the request from the United States would require a change in the traffic distribution rules. The change in the TDRs which I have announced today will not allow any new American airlines to land at Heathrow. That would require a revision of Bermuda 2. The negotiations are continuing and a further phase will take place on Thursday of this week. I cannot anticipate whether that will be a means of reaching a conclusion.

We have made it clear to the United States that what it seeks to do— to replace two airlines with United Airlines and American Airlines— will make a substantial commercial difference to the transatlantic situation. It has acknowledged that and it accepts that it is necessary to make other changes that will be beneficial to British airlines if their proposal is to be contemplated. The precise terms are currently being discussed. It is too early to say whether we shall achieve a successful outcome, but the Americans have raised the issue and if they wish it to reach a successful outcome, they must make proposals that will enable a competitive overall balance to be properly maintained. We are not yet in a position to say that that will happen.

The Government wish to encourage a multi-airline policy. Therefore, it is agreeable that Virgin is also offering a service to British and other passengers. It is good not only for Virgin but for British Airways to have such competition.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the views of those employed at the airports concerned. It was for the Civil Aviation Authority to decide whom to consult as part of its review. It has consulted a wide spectrum of interests and, in addition, many others have written to the Department. We have been able to take all those views into account.

The hon. Gentleman was correct to say that, left to themselves, landing charges could be used in a discriminatory fashion. However, I have pointed out to the hon. Gentleman that the Airports Act 1986, under which the CAA scrutinises proposals for landing charges, specifically and explicitly excludes discriminatory changes in landing charges. If the authority is satisfied that a proposal for an increase in landing charges is discriminatory, it can prevent that increase from taking place. There is a precedent for that.

I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the policy on night flights, which has existed for some time, remains unchanged as a result of the statement. The policy, which was announced some time ago, was that there would be no change in night flights at least until 1993. I have re-emphasised that position today.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I appreciate that the statement affects many constituencies. However, we have a heavy day in front of us with a ten-minute Bill, which is to be opposed, and a debate in which there will be considerable pressure to speak. I will move on at 5 pm. I ask hon. Members to ask brief, single questions.

Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate the widespread local concern that his statement will lead to increased noise, nuisance and congestion round Heathrow? Although his categorical assurance, limited though it was, about night flights and alternation of runways will be welcomed, the time limit will be a source of grave local concern. Is he aware of the massive hostility to any concept of a third runway or a fifth terminal at Heathrow? If his statement leads to increased pressure for those, it will be a black day for people round Heathrow.

Mr. Rifkind

I am extremely conscious of the legitimate points to which my right hon. Friend has drawn attention. That is why I have been emphatic in saying that nothing in the decision on traffic distribution rules will change the position on those matters to which he rightly referred. The matter may be reviewed in years to come. I have no doubt about the strong feelings of many of my hon. Friends and of other hon. Members whose constituents are affected by the way in which airports operate. We must not take into account only the interests of the airlines and of the travelling public. They must be balanced against the interests of those who live near airports before any policies are determined. That is the basis on which I shall reach decisions.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

Does the Secretary of State agree that the statement will affect regional airports? He mentioned slots. From now on, slots will be auctioned and that could affect the small airlines and the small businesses that rely on those airlines.

Mr. Rifkind

Nothing in today's announcement provides for an auctioning of slots. Individual airlines may be approached by others that wish to enter negotiations with them. It will be entirely a matter for a regional airline whether it wishes to respond to such a request. There is no change in the slot allocation procedure. At present, a consultancy is examining the whole question of slots, but it will be a long time before it reaches its views and puts recommendations to us. I do not envisage in the short term any changes in slot allocation procedure.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

May I first criticise my right hon. and learned Friend for the discourtesy within his Department? I understand that outside interested bodies knew about the statement some time today— if not yesterday— whereas hon. Members did not know about it until it came up on the monitor at 1 pm. That is an appalling way in which to treat hon. Members, especially those with interests in airports.

I agree reluctantly, but almost wholeheartedly, with the analysis by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) of the implications of the statement. There will now be increasing demand on Heathrow and there will be pressure for a third runway there, which my right hon. and learned Friend still refuses to rule out. Despite his assurance about 1993 and night flights, as I am the Member of Parliament who represents most of Heathrow, I want an assurance from my right hon. and learned Friend today that the guarantee of no night flights will continue well beyond 1993.

I hope that in the short time available—within a week or so—and certainly before 6 June 1991, the Department of Transport will announce what capital investment will be involved in surface access and in the infrastructure round Heathrow. That is sorely needed before we talk about anything else.

Mr. Rifkind

With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's remarks, he was good enough to show his concern that some outside interests might have been given advance notice of my statement. I have checked that and can assure him that no outside interest was given advance notice of the timing of my statement. I should be worried about any suggestion to the contrary, and if my hon. Friend has reason to believe to the contrary, I should be grateful if he would inform me.

With regard to the other part of my hon. Friend's remarks, I understand his legitimate fear, as a constituency Member, that there may be increased pressure for the changes to which he referred. I hope that I can reassure him that I attach the same importance as he does to ensuring that there is no unreasonable imposition on those who live in the vicinity of airports. Any proposals to change the existing rules could be contemplated only after the most thorough examination and investigation. I referred to the noise limits extending at least until 1993 simply because those were the precise terms of the statement made by my predecessor some time ago and I wished to say that no such change was being made as a result of today's statement. I am conscious of the fact that airlines would like changes. Indeed, we have received requests recently from at least one airline for changes in night flights and we said that they would not be permitted.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The Minister will be aware that Manchester airport is in my constituency and that its future development is of the first importance to me. What consultation was there about the issues addressed by his statement today with Manchester airport and other airports outside the south-east of England? Will he comment specifically on any implications for the regional airports? Is he aware that people flying from Manchester are sick and tired of having to change at London airports in order to reach foreign destinations which should be available from Manchester?

Mr. Rifkind

The Civil Aviation Authority consulted a wide range of interests, including other airports in the United Kingdom such as Manchester. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be highly desirable to see significant improvements in the opportunity for people to fly from regional airports direct to destinations overseas. I wish strongly o encourage that. The more that it can be achieved, the more the public interest will have been served.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Although I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's assurances about night flights, I do not believe that they will work. The pressures that have now been unleashed will force change for the worse. What will we receive in exchange for abandoning those rules? Where else in the world are there two airports in one city, with foreign airlines allowed to go where they choose? It is crazy to throw away our bargaining card.

Furthermore, my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks about slots are nonsense. There is a link between slots and rules. If he does not believe it now, he will find out shortly the hard way. Operators' licences require access to be given at Heathrow and he must deal with that. I am appalled, my constituents are appalled and British airlines are appalled. The only people who are happy this afternoon are United States airlines, which are laughing all the way to the bank.

Mr. Rifkind

Although I understand my hon. Friend's depth of feeling, I am afraid that he is misinformed. He implies that an airline has only to apply for the right to land at Heathrow to be granted permission. I have read the rules. My hon. Friend knows even better than I that Heathrow is already almost full. Therefore, the only way in which new airlines will receive permission to land there is if they are given a slot by the scheduling committee. That is possible only if airlines that now use the airport cease to wish to do so.

My hon. Friend seems suspicious that there will be increasing pressure for night flights, but my view, and that of the Government, is that the number of night flights will depend not on the level of pressure, but on the merits of the case. My precedessors and I have made it clear that we believe that night flights produce substantial environmental problems and have a significant effect on the quality of life of those living in the vicinity of airports. There is no reason to believe that there will be any changes.

As my hon. Friend will be aware, my predecessor established a working party to consider the long-term requirements for runways in the south-east. The suggestion from the Civil Aviation Authority is that there will certainly be no need for a new runway anywhere in the south-east until well into the next century. That should properly be considered as a long-term requirement. I have no intention of taking rushed decisions on such an important issue.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

This shameful decision is against the best interests of the United Kingdom and British airlines; it is simply a sell-out to American interests. As a Scottish Member of Parliament, the Secretary of State should be absolutely ashamed of himself because he has sold out to America and received nothing in return. The decision will have terrible effects on regional and Scottish airports, the regional and Scottish economy and small airlines. What guarantee can the Secretary of State give that, in the longer term, there will be continued regional and Scottish flights in and out of Heathrow— something that everyone in the Scottish regions wants continued?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is talking through his hat. He knows perfectly well that the proposals are the result of a strong recommendation from the Civil Aviation Authority and have been made after the most extensive consultation. He also knows that nothing that I have announced today will enable a single other American airline to land at Heathrow. Any such opportunities can be considered only as part of the renegotiation of Bermuda 2, which is something whose outcome I do not wish to predict now. No regional airline need withdraw from its existing use of Heathrow unless it wishes. That is a matter for regional airlines to decide.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

In my judgment, my right hon. and learned Friend has made absolutely the right decision in terms of the national interest. I am sure that he will agree that the rules served an extremely effective purpose some time ago, but we have moved on and airlines now operate in a wholly different context. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that abolishing the rules, which earlier served Gatwick extremely well and helped to build it into a major international airport, will not have a deleterious effect on the pattern of flight traffic at Gatwick airport?

Mr. Rifkind

I thank my hon. Friend for his support for my decision. I am entirely confident, because Gatwick has established a reputation as a world airport. It is already one of the largest airports in the world and has a dedicated number of companies anxious to continue serving it. I have not the slightest reason to believe that Gatwick has anything other than a healthy future to look forward to.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

When the Secretary of State for Transport caved in to the American Administration and the buyers of Pan Am, did he get anything for London, other than more congestion? What about the effects of the proposal on Stansted and the City airports, which the Secretary of State did not mention? Will not many of the flights that will not now go to Heathrow end up at those airports, producing more congestion round them?

Mr. Rifkind

The whole point about Stansted is that it should serve the demand that cannot be met by Heathrow and Gatwick, both of which are already, if not full, very near full capacity. Therefore, the new terminal at Stansted will provide a viable means of enabling the traffic requirements of the south-east of the country to be properly accommodated.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

In that a consequence of my right hon. and learned Friend's statement today might be to reduce the access to Heathrow of domestic airlines, does not it also provide an opportunity for regional airports, particularly the larger ones, to enhance their route network? Is not it time that we laid the ghost that we can fly out of this country only via one of London's airports?

Mr. Rifkind

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who is right to emphasise that what most people who live in the regions, in Scotland and elsewhere would far prefer is to be able to fly directly to destinations in Europe and across the Atlantic. They do not wish to go through Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted if they can avoid doing so. Anything that encourages direct services from cities elsewhere in the United Kingdom is to be greatly encouraged.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

As the Secretary of State said that the effect of changing the rules would be modest, why has he bothered to change the rules? Is not it the case that, far from being modest, the changes at Heathrow will be major and there will be an auction to get in and out of Heathrow? Although he said, quaintly, that no existing airline flying from the regions into Heathrow need give up its flights, is it not the case that no protection is given to those services from the regions into Heathrow, which goes directly against the advice given to him by experts, including Lord King of British Airways?

Mr. Rifkind

I said in my statement that the net effect of the decision would be modest, by which I meant that as Heathrow airport is close to full utilisation of its capacity, any changes could come only from new airlines replacing existing ones already using Heathrow. Therefore, I correctly described the net effect as modest. There will be no obligation on existing airlines using Heathrow— regional or otherwise— to terminate their use. It is a matter for the airlines to decide— that is an important point to understand.

Dame Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the absolute necessity to the west country of access to Heathrow at a reasonable cost? So that everyone can plan for a better economy in the west country, will he give a categoric assurance that those airlines will not be priced out?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, I believe that my hon. Friend can have that assurance. It is crucial that the legislation governing landing charges is taken into account. It expressly prevents discriminatory landing charges for different classes of user. Recently the Civil Aviation Authority required BAA to refund some provincial and regional airlines for excess charges demanded from them. That suggests that the existing legislation has teeth and can protect the legitimate interests of regional airlines, which is something I want to continue.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

The Secretary of State is already aware of the concern felt by many of us in the west country about the economic impact of cutting links between the west country and the world. Will he give the House two assurances? First, he said that the CAA could act. Will he assure the House that he will intervene to ensure that it does act and that its actions are not discriminatory? Secondly, will he——

Mr. Speaker

Order. One question, please.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman said that the CAA could act, but it will have a statutory responsibility to ensure that there is no discrimination against any class of user. The CAA has a legal obligation, not simply discretion.

Sir Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that my constituency is one of the worst affected by aircraft noise. May I ask two questions——

Mr. Speaker

Order. One question only, please.

Sir Alan Glyn

I shall ask one question. Will the new plans increase the number of flights to and from London airport?

Mr. Rifkind

They will have little effect on increasing the total number of flights because Heathrow is already near its full capacity. Therefore, any significant changes will occur only if existing users decide to withdraw from Heathrow and other users take up the slots made available. There will be no significant increase in the overall use of Heathrow as a result of today's statement.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Can the Secretary of State tell the House precisely how he will guarantee continued access from the regional airports? How will airports like Manchester be guaranteed not only access to Heathrow, but an increased number of overseas flights? We have already been blocked on the second matter, and what the Secretary of State has announced today guarantees that we will be blocked on the first. We are outraged by that.

Mr. Rifkind

The liberalisation that has already occurred in respect of many of these rules has enabled airports like Manchester to extend the services that they can offer to various parts of the world. I wish that process to continue. Existing users are not affected by today's decision. Airlines that currently use Heathrow will be perfectly entitled to continue to use it.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House what is the maximum permitted level of air traffic movements at Heathrow? How close to that limit is the airport, and how will the situation be affected by the decision to allow series charter flights to use Heathrow?

Mr. Rifkind

The extent to which Heathrow can be used depends not just on runway facilities but on terminal and parking facilities. I am advised that at present those facilities are almost fully utilised. I do not believe that the decision on charter flights will have any significant effect. Even before restrictions on charter flights were introduced 14 years ago, about 90 per cent. of all charter operators chose to use Gatwick. It is very unlikely that a significant change will result from this decision.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Are not regional airlines already being forced out of Humberside, as well as Heathrow, because of very steep increases in landing charges? With these changes, life will be even harder for regional airlines. Already, Air UK has pulled out of the Humberside-Heathrow route, and Brymon, which was due to take it over on 1 April, has announced that it will not do so because it cannot afford the cost of the changes that are being introduced. The Secretary of State is decimating regional interlining and the development of a network of flights in this country.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman discloses a lack of awareness of how the system operates. He may be correct that regional airlines would like landing charges to be lower, but he is not entitled to say that there is discrimination against regional airlines. Indeed, the law specifically prohibits such discrimination, and the Civil Aviation Authority is obliged to intervene in respect of any proposal that would conflict with the law.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) in supporting this proposal. In view of the shortage of slots, no airline should be allowed to use slots solely for the purpose of driving off a competitor airline. Airlines must use slots because they want to fly the routes, and such services must not be unviable and cross-subsidised by other routes.

Mr. Rifkind

I take my hon. Friend's point. The way in which the Heathrow scheduling committee operates is not a matter over which the Government have any direct control. However, I certainly hope that slots will be used in such a way as to benefit the public to the maximum extent, and not abused in the way to which my hon. Friend has properly referred.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What steps did the Secretary of State take to ascertain the professional judgment and views of the air traffic controllers? Did their association approve of the decision?

Mr. Rifkind

My statutory adviser is the Civil Aviation Authority. The CAA is responsible for looking into these matters and making recommendations to the Secretary of State. In this case, the authority carried out the fullest consultation with all interested parties. Many people were invited to put forward their views. The Civil Aviation Authority made a very strong and unambiguous recommendation. That recommendation has been published, and the hon. Gentleman is free to read it if he has not done so already.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that he is aware that his predecessor, when announcing on 5 June 1985 that a fifth terminal would not be constructed at Heathrow, said: I am pleased to be able to honour … the Government's pledge that terminal 5 would not be constructed."—[Official Report, 5 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 310.] Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Government have taken note of the use of the word "pledge"?

Mr. Rifkind

I say to my hon. Friend what I said in my original statement: the Government's policy remains as outlined in the White Paper of 1985.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Does the Secretary of State agree that increasing pressure on Heathrow will inevitably result in increased landing charges? Will not that result in a further increase in fares for journeys between London and Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow? The fares on those routes are already ludicrously high. Does the Secretary of State agree that the competition that is necessary to reduce fares will simply be squeezed out?

Mr. Rifkind

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. He implies that BAA has an unqualified and uncontrolled right to levy landing charges. In fact, its proposals can be —and have been—overruled by the Civil Aviation Authority when it is perceived to have gone beyond its proper discretion.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that this modest move towards deregulation—towards the removal of artificial control over the movements of the airline market —will be continued while he is in office, so that Heathrow may begin to develop, as it should, as a modern airport that provides proper international services for the people of this country?

Mr. Rifkind

Indeed, I wish the movement to continue, but subject to its not having any unreasonable consequences for those who live in the vicinity of Heathrow. As I tried to indicate earlier, it is important to achieve a proper balance. The interests of the airport cannot be the only consideration.

Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that for people who live near Heathrow one of the most important elements of Government policy is the commitment to an improved night noise climate round the airport? Will he confirm that that continues to be Government policy?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, I can confirm that that continues to be Government policy. Indeed, it is a very important consideration.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Given this initiative to allow all airlines equal access to Heathrow, when does my right hon. and learned Friend expect to announce steps to give foreign carriers similar access to Manchester and other regional airports?

Mr. Rifkind

I should certainly like to see further liberalisation of air traffic. At present, we are pursuing a number of initiatives at European Community level. The European Commission has made proposals that point in that direction. We shall certainly support strongly any steps towards enabling our regional airports to compete effectively and to provide the services that their communities want.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that my long-suffering constituents who live beneath the flight path at Heathrow are continually fearful that there will be an increase in the number of night flights and that a fifth terminal will be built? Those people will welcome the sympathy that my right hon. and learned Friend has expressed today, but in due course he will have to go much further to allay their fears completely. May I ask him to do so at the first opportunity?

Mr. Rifkind

I understand my hon. Friend's point. I hope that what I have said today will not be construed as a simple expression of sympathy. Indeed, I wish to provide practical support and to ensure that the legitimate interests of those who live near our major airports are protected from the very damaging environmental consequences that inevitably flow from the way in which modern airports operate. I do not pretend that these are easy matters, and I do not intend to address them simply by making soothing noises. I wish to ensure that legitimate interests are properly protected. That will mean occasionally saying no to the requests of airports and airlines.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for making this statement in advance of the further Bermuda 2 negotiations. It would be helpful to the House if we were to have a proper debate on civil air transport. Issues of the most fundamental kind have been raised. I am grateful and sympathetic to my right hon. and learned Friend. I am sure that he, too, would welcome such a debate.

Mr. Rifkind

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, which will be drawn to the attention to the Leader of the House.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

If the Civil Aviation Authority has a statutory duty to act against discriminatory charges, why on earth has it not already acted to deal with the fact that the same charge is levied in respect of a small Brymon Dash 7 coming in from the west country as in respect of a jumbo jet arriving from across the Atlantic? That is terribly unfair. It will sound the death knell of the small regional companies unless something is done.

Mr. Rifkind

Clearly it is for BAA to seek to justify to the Civil Aviation Authority the respective cost of landing charges for smaller and larger aircraft. If my hon. Friend believes that the existing statutory requirements, under which the Civil Aviation Authority operates, are inadequate, I should be interested to hear any suggested improvements, but the legislation expressly outlaws discriminatory practices. There will always be a range of views as to what constitutes a discriminatory practice, but it is for the British Airports Authority to satisfy the CAA if it wishes to make changes that give rise to controversy.

Mr. Alan Amos (Hexham)

May I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his courageous decision to get rid of the outdated traffic distribution rules which hinder competition and which have acted against the interests of the consumer? Does he agree that if we want to establish a competitive multi-airline business in Britain which will give consumers more choice, lower fares and a higher-quality service, all the small airlines, such as those which use my local airport, Newcastle, must be allowed access to Heathrow on an equal and fair basis to British Airways?

Mr. Rifkind

I thank my hon. Friend for his warm welcome for today's statement. I agree with his desire to see the most beneficial use made of our airport facilities, consistent with the other requirements to which I referred throughout the statement.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry that three hon. Gentlemen have not been called. There is great pressure on time today. We must move on to the presentation of Bills.