HC Deb 23 June 1992 vol 210 cc235-42

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

10.3 pm

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

I wish to bring to the attention of the House a matter which may not be as interesting as the item which we were just discussing but which is important to me and my constituents. It relates to the future development of Heathrow airport.

In case anyone does not know or is interested to know, I shall give some facts about the world's busiest international airport. It employs 50,000 people directly and about 20,000 indirectly. It handles more than 50 million passengers each year and about 380,000 aircraft movements a year. It uses two runways, running from east to west. That compares with Gatwick, with one runway, and Stansted, with one runway. Heathrow has four terminals to go with the two runways. Two runways for one terminal is the usual basis.

Some 72 per cent. of Heathrow lies within my constituency, including terminals 1, 2 and 3, and part of terminal 4. All of the proposed terminal 5 will lie within my constituency. With the recommendations from the local government boundary commission still to be enacted, I anticipate having the whole of Heathrow in my constituency, perhaps by the end of the year.

Increasing demand has led to expansion and there has been an increased contribution to the national and local economy from Heathrow. Expansion has led also to increases in noise, pollution, traffic congestion and environmental damage. There must be a balance between the development of Heathrow airport and the lives and livelihood of my constituents.

The development of the terminals came about primarily because demand in the 1970s led to proposals for terminal 4. That terminal came into being in the mid-1980s. At the public inquiry, there were suggestions that when terminal 4 came on line, Heathrow would be at maximum capacity. During the inquiry, it was said clearly in several quarters that there would be no need for a fifth terminal. Indeed, during the passage of the Airports Act 1986—I was a member of the Standing Committee, which sat for more than 100 hours, throughout its deliberations—the information coming to us from the British Airports Authority was that it wanted Stansted to be expanded. BAA believed that the future development of airports and airport capacity in the south-east would lie primarily at Stansted. At that time, BAA was not readily interested in the development of Heathrow and certainly was not interested in a fifth terminal.

Interestingly, when the Bill became law, one of the first things that BAA did, within days of the enactment, was to advocate the coming on to line of a fifth terminal. The application for terminal 5 went against the views of the inquiry and against the case made for the development of Stansted. We should also bear in mind that Stansted now handles about 1.8 million passengers and that it can take many millions more before it is anywhere near maximum capacity. It has one runway at present.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether my constituents can now believe any of the information they are getting about the development of terminal 5 and about the implications that flow from it. Several questions need answering. Should there be improvement in the infrastructure and surface access to Heathrow before terminal 5 is developed? Should there be a complete ban on night flights? Should restrictions be placed on the type of aircraft allowed into Heathrow because of noise? Should aircraft movements be restricted by reducing some domestic flights? Should a third runway at Heathrow be ruled out for all time?

The response that my constituents want to hear—I support them in that wish—is as follows. There needs to be a vast improvement in the infrastructure and surface access to the four terminals already in place at the airport. Traffic congestion in and around the airport is not good at the best of times and can be almost unbearable at peak hours. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to what occurred on a Friday afternoon just a few weeks ago. Because of a burst of sunshine, the motorway began to break up between junctions 3 and 4 in my constituency—junction 4, of course, leads directly into the terminal—and there was chaos right back to Cromwell road because of that. I am convinced that many people missed their flight or that flights were delayed to ensure that passengers could get to the airport in time. The surface access available now and the infrastructure do not provide an adequate means by which to get to the airport with just four terminals. God help us if there is a fifth terminal without a massive increase in infrastructure and surface access.

There must he a ban on all night flights and on the use of engine test-beds at night at the airport. The number of night flights is small—between 5,500 and 6,000—in relation to the total number of flights, which is 380,000 a year in and out of Heathrow. However, they cause a great deal of disturbance and a ban would be welcomed by most people living nearby. I am told by British Airways that it needs the night flights because aeroplanes may get a following wind and arrive early. I know of no aeroplane which does not have brakes of some kind to slow it down. So it is beyond me to understand why they have to fly in at 5 am.

I am told by the same people that night flights are necessary because of time changes. I know of no airline that is aware of time changes and cannot fly in at normal times. The airlines' argument is really that they must have night flights to cope with their arrangements with other international airlines. But if one aircraft came in from the far east—say, Japan—and was re-directed because it came in too early, an airline would soon learn its lesson and realise that flights could not come in early. It would be aware of the implications of coming in early if we took that position.

There should also be restrictions on the type of aircraft that fly into Heathrow. Only modern aircraft with much reduced noise levels should be allowed to fly into the airport. Airlines should he made aware of their responsibilities on noise. They should not expect concessions to be made, whatever the technical and financial reasons. It is no good airlines saying, "We are doing our best to have quieter aeroplanes. They are just around the corner." That does not help the person who is kept awake by noisy aeroplanes tonight. tomorrow night and the night after that. Airlines have to learn that if they want access to the world's busiest international airport, they must take some action on noise levels. They are making some progress on noise, but I do not believe that it is enough.

There is an even stronger case for restricting aircraft movements at Heathrow. General aviation should be banned altogether and some domestic services should be severely cut. We should reduce the approximately 90,000 domestic flights by at least half. I see no justification—I am sure that colleagues will disagree—for flights carrying only 18 people flying from Plymouth to the world's busiest international airport. Often an aeroplane carries only 18 people. I am told that there are interlining implications. Only 1.8 persons on average are likely to take another aeroplane at Heathrow to fly elsewhere.

Nor do I see the justification for flights from East Midlands airport to Heathrow. It is almost quicker to go by road. Although airports such as Leeds-Bradford are important locally, why should passengers believe that they have a God-given right to fly into the world's busiest international airport from there? Not only is it nonsense, but it affects the movement of aircraft. Such flights take not a slot but a slot and a bit when they come into Heathrow because of the vortex. Fewer aircraft move because of the nonsense of smaller aeroplanes coming into that airport.

Of course, I accept that we must have domestic flights from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Newcastle to Heathrow, but there must be a limit to the number of domestic flights that we allow to come into Heathrow. If we controlled those flights, 40,000 to 45,000 more movements would be available for larger international aircraft; or, if we did not want to increase the number of international flights, we could reduce the number of movements by that figure.

I am told that it is not fair to reduce the number of domestic flights to Heathrow and that a reduction would affect local economies. I simply do not believe it. We must take tough action if we are to ensure that Heathrow maintains its international position.

The point which I want to make more forcefully than all the others together is that the Government should state now loudly and clearly, for the benefit of my constituents who have been used and abused and tossed aside by the Labour party, that there will be no third runway. The Labour party worked up that fear in people's minds. I condemn my local Labour party and the local Labour candidate. They had people in fear ringing me up saying, "Mr. Dicks, if you win the election, the villages of Harlington and Sipson will he knocked down. I shall be homeless next week because your Government will have a Cabinet meeting to agree on a third runway". That campaign was pursued throughout the election. It was an appalling way to behave.

It is not true that there is to be a third runway. But I should like the Government to say clearly that there is no possibility whatever of a third runway at Heathrow today, tomorrow or at any time in the future. They must say that clearly because that is the only way in which we can kill the nasty rumour which is upsetting and affecting many of my constituents.

Those who seek more aircraft movements, more night flights, additional runway capacity and a fifth terminal at Heathrow must realise that Heathrow exists within the wider local community. My constituents' interests need to be protected when the expansion of Heathrow is considered. I look to the Government to support me in protecting those interests. I am aware of the Government's responsibility for the wider implications for the national economy and the economics of aviation. They must be aware also that people living in and around Heathrow are worried about the continual expansion of the airport. They question the limit of the expansion. They ask what will happen next and about the blight to their properties.

BAA and the major airlines consider aviation first, last and always, but they must take off their blinkers and get away from their tunnel vision. If they want the international airport to continue to operate, they must consider how to go about it and bear in mind the impact on local residents. They must also bear in mind that it is nonsense that there can be no second runway at Gatwick because of a planning guarantee given years ago. That is stupid. Gatwick is the second largest international airport and it has one runway.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) shook his head earlier in my speech. Stansted has one runway, which is vastly underused. One can walk into that airport and see three men and a dog waiting for an aeroplane—the rest is just empty space. We must encourage people to think about using Stansted rather than Heathrow. I am the last person in the world to support direction. I am happy to let the market decide, but one must not skew the market to encourage more people to go to Heathrow. The idea of a fifth terminal at Heathrow without the conditions which I have laid down is nonsense. The idea of a third runway is nonsense and will skew the market to encourage more people to fly from Heathrow and stop them from having to go to Stansted. Stansted airport has good infrastructure and an adequate rail service. Gatwick also has a good rail service and could be developed with a second runway.

I beg my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the fact that Heathrow is almost at its peak. Expansion must be considered in the context of the national economy and of local constituents. Please, will my hon. Friend consider two of the five conditions which I laid down which are of overriding importance? First, will he consider imposing a complete ban on night flights? The number is so small that it does not matter to the airlines and the airport. Secondly, will he tell us now, if possible, that there will be no third runway at Heathrow in the foreseeable future? I appreciate that he cannot say, "Never".

10.17 pm
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) on securing this debate on an important subject. We came to the House on the same day in 1983 and he has managed to stay here ever since. I rested for a while—as we actors say. It is a great pleasure to rejoin him again.

My hon. Friend is well known for the way that he has constantly fought to protect the interests of his constituents around Heathrow. He has expressed admirable concern for the affairs of Heathrow and various aspects of it that impact on the lives of his constituents.

I also note that my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Mr. Trend) is in his place. He also has a constituency interest, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who has been a frequent contributor to debates on this subject.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

While thanking my hon. Friend for what he has said, I emphasise that aircraft noise is a curse and a pestilence which ruins people's quiet enjoyment of their homes and gardens. The number of flights every day from Heathrow is now more than 1,000 —one every couple of minutes—and hundreds of thousands of people living around Heathrow do not want the noise to be contained; they want a substantial and permanent reduction in it. They do not want a fifth terminal. We stopped it in 1985 and we mean to stop it again.

Mr. Norris

I shall touch on that matter. I am still pleased to see my hon. Friend here this evening, and I am glad that he was able to make his inimitable contribution to our proceedings.

I am also pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) here. He is not merely the Whip on duty but is well known as one of the few Members who can officially say that he has a night flying rating. Perhaps he joined us for that reason, but none the less he is most welcome. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansdyke (Mr. Aspinwall), whose interest in aviation matters is well known, is also present. I also appreciate the support of my hon. Friends the Members for South Hams (Mr. Steen) and for Luton, South (Mr. Bright), whose keen interest in matters avionic is also extremely well known. The extraordinarily packed House that attends the debate is evidence of the fact that the subject of it is serious and that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has raised some serious points.

Perhaps I may supply some of the background to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington is right—Heathrow represents a vital national and local asset. It is Europe's busiest airport, the world's busiest international airport and a major employer locally. It is a key gateway into this country for passengers and air cargo alike and many of my hon. Friend's constituents, as he knows, will be numbered among the 50,000 people who work at Heathrow, either for the airport company itself or for one of the many other businesses there. Of course, many other jobs are generated by Heathrow indirectly.

The subject is important, too, because of the impact that Heathrow has on the lives of those living and working within its orbit. There is no denying that major airports are generally awkward neighbours. It is right that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members with constituency interests should bring to BAA, to Ministers and to the House the concerns of their constituents and that we should address them properly.

My hon. Friend has referred to the announcement by BAA last month that it was opening consultations with local authorities with a view to bringing forward a planning application for a fifth terminal at Heathrow towards the end of the year. The forecasts suggest that the demand for air travel will continue to grow, and that by the end of the decade perhaps twice as many passengers will want to travel through the London airports as do so today. Against that background, it is clearly right that the aviation industry should address itself to how that demand from consumers might be met.

I naturally welcome the fact that, before seeking to finalise its planning application, BAA is to carry out extensive consultation with local authorities on the option that it sees as the most appropriate to pursue. I know that the airport is also going to considerable lengths to make those living nearby aware of its proposal, through leaflets and a telephone information line. All hon. Members will welcome that because it is vitally important that constituents understand what is being proposed, and that their concerns and comments are not formed on the basis of half truths and half remembered statements and facts.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

Is it not true that a lot of people living around airports, particularly Heathrow, work at them and that they are fully aware that if that airport reduced its capacity, they might well be out of a job?

Mr. Norris

The importance of Heathrow to the local community cannot be over-emphasised. My hon. Friend is right to point out that many people who will be affected by the airport's activities as residents are also employed by it. That is a simple matter of fact.

Mr. Jessel

Not all of them work at the airport.

Mr. Norris

As my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham says, many of them are not employed in the airport. As ever, he is right.

I wish to consider how BAA is approaching the application. It is entirely right that it should seek to ensure that information is available to those who are concerned about the development of the airport so that they discuss the issue on the basis of the facts and not on suppositions. Let us be in no doubt, the fifth terminal is a significant development. BAA is right to keep its neighbours in touch with its thinking.

I stress that, if and when a planning application is submitted, there is the possibility of it coming for ultimate decision to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, acting in concert with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. For that reason, my hon. Friend, who is an experienced Member, will appreciate that I am constrained in what I might say tonight about such a project and he will understand the position that I and my right hon. Friend are in. But I can say that there is no pre-judgment of the matter on the part of the Government. Any application for a fifth terminal, in whatever form it is proposed, will need to be considered on the merits of that specific proposal, and everyone with views will have the opportunity to put them forward.

My hon. Friend referred to the implications of a fifth terminal for night noise at Heathrow, and the general question of noise was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham in his intervention. BAA explained, in the material accompanying its announce-ment, that its proposal would not require any increase in night flights. But my hon. Friend wants to go further than that: he wants to see any further terminal development made conditional on a complete ban on movements at night.

Because one might reasonably expect aircraft noise to be a subject addressed in the context of a planning application for terminal 5, and because, as I say, my right hon. Friend will, in effect, be acting in a quasi judicial capacity in due course when he comes to consider the application, I will not comment tonight on my hon. Friend's proposal. But I tell him and the House, in the context of aircraft noise, which I recognise is a particular concern to many of those living around busy airports, that, happily, modern jet aircraft are considerably quieter than their predecessors. Their development has brought substantial benefits. As my hon. Friend knows, the figures are striking. Between 1978 and 1989, there was a reduction of almost 70 per cent. in the number of people exposed to aircraft noise around Heathrow, despite the increase in activity. Arrangements which have now been agreed to phase out so-called "Chapter Two" aircraft will bring further benefits.

As ever in such matters, one must strike a balance between the interests of those wishing to fly and of those living and working around airports. As my hon. Friend implied, that balance is not necessarily easy to find. It should not be assumed, for example, that night movements are simply movements that cannot be squeezed into the daytime. He was right on some points, but a night departure or arrival may be dictated by where the aircraft is flying to or from, and other night movements will be carrying time-sensitive goods such as newspapers, mail and perishable items.

Responsibility for the regulation of noise at Heathrow, as at other BAA London airports, rests with the Government, and we have sought to strike a reasonable balance in the night noise restrictions now in place at the airport. Hon. Members will know that that regime is due for review in the autumn of this year, and we shall be consulting widely in framing the new arrangements.

My hon. Friend also spoke of a fifth Heathrow terminal in relation to a possible third runway. I am grateful tor this opportunity to comment on that because I know that there is a lot of misunderstanding about the relationship between the two propositions. There need not be such misunderstanding because, in the material that it has made available about its proposal, BAA has emphasised that the terminal would not require a third runway. Indeed, the notion of a fifth terminal at Heathrow has been a matter for debate for many years, not least in the House, without any suggestion attaching to it that it implied the need for further runway capacity.

I believe that the confusion has arisen because a third Heathrow runway was one of 10 options for meeting long-term demand identified by the Civil Aviation Authority as looking feasible in air traffic control terms when the authority advised the Government in 1990 on our future runway capacity needs. As such, it is one of the notional developments being addressed by the working group, chaired by my Department, which is taking forward and broadening the CAA's advice. That group, which has a working assumption that existing runway capacity will need to have been substantially exhausted before new capacity is justified, is looking well ahead. It is not concerned with airport development to serve existing runways.

The working group will offer advice in due course on the implications of providing additional runway capacity at the various locations. There are those who argue that the benefits of additional capacity, to users and to United Kingdom industry generally, would be greatest if it were provided at Heathrow. My hon. Friend is doubtless aware of those arguments. But the Government are conscious, too, of the strength of view in some quarters that a third Heathrow runway should not be built, for reasons of environmental impact, pressure on infrastructure, or aircraft noise.

Clearly all the factors have to be assessed. I think that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members will accept that the Government cannot simply ignore the advice that they have from the CAA on future need, nor the identification by the authority of a number of possible locations for additional capacity. It is right that the implications of developing capacity at each of those various locations should be looked at, dispassionately and without commitment, so that a properly informed view can be taken.

Heathrow local interests are involved in the work of the group, both directly through the representation of the local authorities via SERPLAN, through the Heathrow airport consultative committee, and through the Federation of Heathrow Anti-Noise Groups; and indirectly, through a parallel written consultation that has taken place. Once the working group has published its views, there will be a further period of consultation on its report. And it is worth emphasising that the working group is not a substitute for the normal planning processes. Before there could be any major runway development, at whatever site, a specific proposal would need to be worked out, with an opportunity for those with views to bring them forward.

I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that, in the context of what I can say tonight, I cannot give him an absolute assurance about the linkage between the announcement of an application in respect of a fifth terminal by BAA and the elimination of the third runway option simply because there is no linkage between the two.

Mr. Dicks

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Norris

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but it is 10.31 pm and I have only a minute in which to finish my reply.

Clearly no demand for a third runway is implicit in the application for the fifth terminal. I know that that will reassure my hon. Friend and his constituents.

This has been a useful debate, on an important subject, and one to which I am sure the House will return. Heathrow is a great British success story and a national asset, but of course a development of that size brings its difficulties, and these need to be addressed and solutions found. I hope what I have said this evening gives my hon. Friend confidence that, if and when BAA formally seeks permission to build a fifth terminal, there will be every opportunity for full discussion of its proposal. I hope, too, that I have been able to make it clear that the examination of possible further south-east runway development is a quite separate matter—a difficult but necessary exercise, the outcome of which I look forward to seeing in due course.

I trust that my hon. Friend will be able to tell all his constituents that, as ever, he has made an important representation on this vital subject of interest to them. My assurances will be paralleled by the attention which BAA, as applicants, will give to the representations that he makes.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Eleven o'clock.