HL Deb 02 May 1957 vol 203 cc272-92

4.12 p.m.

LORD OGMORE rose to call attention to the decision of Her Majesty's Government to permit a second television mast to be erected near Rhoose airport in view of the fact that, rising approximately 1,150 feet above sea level, the mast will be an undoubted hazard to aerial navigation, will have a considerable psychological effect on air crews and passengers and will increase flying costs, thus being a deterrent to the use of the airport by civil aircraft; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put this Motion on the Order Paper to-day because the decision of the Government in this matter has important consequences for South Wales and also implications which are far wider than those of South Wales.

This airport, Rhoose, is the airport which serves Cardiff and South Wales: in other words, rather more than half the population of Wales is accommodated by this airport. In 1951, it had become apparent that there was a great need for a commercial airport of international standards in this area. The decision had to be taken whether to do nothing at all—which was the desire of some, and important people at that—or whether Pengam Moors, the existing airport for Cardiff, should be improved at a cost of some millions of pounds, involving the alteration of the course of the Rumney River and other matters of like importance; or, thirdly, whether an entirely new airport should be constructed or acquired in the vicinity of the capital of Wales.

I was the Minister at that time. I decided, first of all, that it was necessary to have an airport for South Wales, as I am sure the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack would agree, with his experience, as he has just told us, as Minister for Welsh Affairs. I also decided that Pengam Moors was not a practical possibility, first of all owing to the fact that the alteration of a river is always something which strikes a certain amount of trepiditation in my heart, secondly, it was on moorland, subject to flooding by the sea, and, thirdly, at best the aircraft would have to climb pretty steeply to get away from the airport in order to overcome the chimneys of the adjacent works. The Welsh Civil Aviation Consultative Committee then suggested to me that we should look at an abandoned Royal Air Force airfield at Rhoose, some nine or ten miles from Cardiff. We went out there and found it in a poor condition, with a large number of bombs stacked on the runways, and buildings in an extreme state of dilapidation—as I say, it was abandoned and disused. However, from an aviation point of view, except for one feature, it was likely to be a suitable airport for civil aviation if the necessary money and time were spent upon it.

The Government of the day agreed that Rhoose should become the airport for South Wales and that the necessary facilities should be given to the Ministry to put this work in hand. It was put in hand. As I said, there was one disability, and that was that four and a half miles away from Rhoose was the television mast at a little village called Wenvoe. This mast was 1,170 feet above sea level, or somewhere about 1,000 feet above the level of the land. It was away to the north-east. I, with my advisers, considered this matter, and eventually decided that as there was just one mast, which, after all, was there already, and there was nothing we could do about it, we should have to accept it; and due warning was given. The British Air Line Pilots Association, one of the trade unions or professional associations concerned with aviation, also considered this point, and, as it now appears, they accepted this hazard for the same reason that I did—in other words, it was there. The S.B.A. procedure—that is, the procedure for aircraft coming in to land—was based on, and took account of, the mast.

In October, 1952, the airport was opened by the then Government and by the representative of the then Minister of Civil Aviation, who at the time was Mr. Lennox-Boyd. After that, the airport developed rapidly. There has been a steady increase in services and traffic, and now regular services are flown between the airport and Ireland, London, Manchester, Paris and the Channel Islands, and the whole prospects of the airport are, or were until recently, bright, and business was increasing at a satisfactory rate. The users of this airport are Cambrian Airways, which is the Welsh private aviation line, to the extent of 45 per cent., the Irish Line, Aer Lingus, which is a user to 25 per cent., and others who make up 30 per cent.

Into this happy scene there came not an atomic bomb but a television bombshell, because the I.T.A., commercial television, proposed to erect a television transmitting station at a nearby spot at St. Hilary Down, which is four and a half miles away to the north-west of Rhoose. So there is Wenvoe to the northeast, and St. Hilary Down to north-west. Their proposal was, and is, to erect this television mast to serve the transmitting station, 1,150 feet above sea level and some 950 feet above the level of the airport—almost the identical height to the television mast erected at Wenvoe by the B.B.C. The Independent Television Authority are opening a station to serve South Wales and the West of England, and the sole programme contractors are a company which shelters coyly under the initials T.W.W. Limited. I cannot say more than that, because I do not know what the initials stand for; but those are the initials under which they were registered.

In November, 1956, Cambrian Airways, the main operators, heard that the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation had given consent for the erection of this mast by I.T.A. That was a decision without any consultation with them, and they found that this mast would lie only thirty degrees off the line of the approach to one of the runways. Cambrian Airways then got into contact with Aer Lingus, and to their surprise found that this was the first time that Aer Lingus had heard of the matter at all and no approach whatsoever had been made to them, who are 25 per cent. users. Both the users, as may be expected, objected strongly to the proposal, and so did the British Air Line Pilots Association which, as I mentioned before, is the professional organisation of the airline pilots. There were other objectors as well.

On December 13, 1956, in your Lordships' House I raised the question in the course of a Motion by my noble friend Lord Winster. I said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 200, col. 1145]: It would hardly seem credible to most of your Lordships that, one side of the airport already being affected by the B.B.C. mast, on the other side of the airport, straight in line with the north-west south-east runway the Government are now permitting the I.T.A. to erect another mast which will be 1,150 feet above sea level. This has caused consternation to the users of the airport. Later, I said (col. 1146): I believe that the Government should concentrate on making Rhoose a really worthwhile airport. That was to counter the suggestion that it should be moved somewhere else.

As a result of protests, possibly in your Lordships' House, possibly, as I have said, made to officials of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, a meeting was held on January 7 of this year, when representatives of the two airlines, of the Airline Pilots' Association and of the Welsh Advisory Council for Civil Aviation, met Sir Arthur Le Maitre, who is the official in charge of the airfields of this country on behalf of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. They again protested to him and made the objections that I have made, and many others. As a consequence of some or all of these things, a public inquiry was decided upon by the Minister. It was held by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on March 7 of this year. The objectors at this inquiry included Cambrian Airways, Aer Lingus, the British Air Line Pilots Association, the British Independent Transport Association on behalf of the commercial independent operators, the Glamorgan Aviation Flying Club and the Welsh Advisory Council for Civil Aviation. So there was a pretty formidable band of objectors, objecting, of course, from many different points of view, but all objecting.

Some may cavil at a Government inquiry affecting a matter in which the Government were interested, in which the judge, the jury, the "cunning old fury", counsel for the respondents and the chief witness were all the servants of the Government. I am not cavilling at that to-day, but I am cavilling at this: first, that the inquiry was held not before, but after, the Government's decision was taken. That seems an odd way in which to have an inquiry. The result, in fact, was a foregone conclusion, because it was held after the Government had decided to announce their decision. It was very difficult to see how any Government could go back on it once it had not only been decided but announced.

Secondly, not content with weighting the court, the Government weighted the evidence, for the officer who conducted the inquiry, after all the objectors' witnesses had been heard, called an official of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation as a witness, not to provide facts but to comment on the evidence produced by the other objectors. This he did in what the objectors, or some of them, thought was a highly tendentious manner, giving evidence which was regarded by the objectors as misleading to the court.

Thirdly, the objectors were not allowed to cross-examine this witness, Mr. Osborne, on his evidence; it had to be accepted. As I say, he being the last witness, no one was able to controvert him. I suggest to your Lordships that the normal and proper procedure would be to call upon the Ministry's representative to state the facts at some period during the inquiry and then to submit himself to cross-examination. It was no part, I suggest, of the duty of the Minister's representative to comment upon the evidence of the objectors' witnesses, and still less was it right that he should not have been submitted to cross-examination, as I am informed was the case. The Government's representative, in their own court, before their own officer, in their own cause, was a privileged witness. Quite apart from the merits, I think this is a very poor business altogether. It is a matter which calls for the attention of Parliament. It smacks of a Star Chamber. I, for one, should like the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to look into this matter, because here it seems to me that justice has neither been done nor has it been seen to be done.

The Minister's second decision—it is the same decision, of course, repeated for the second time—was conveyed in a letter dated March 21 to the Welsh Advisory Council for Civil Aviation. The upshot of this as your Lordships can imagine, was to grant permission for the proposed development, subject to certain minor conditions as to lights, access and amenities—not amenities at the airport but amenities of the buildings around the mast. In his letter the Minister said: What had been represented was that the proposed site was near the safety limits as defined by I.C.A.O. standards "— that is, the international body which deals with these matters— and that because the margin was small the proposal should be rejected. It seemed to the Minister "—


Who said that?


This is from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It is a letter dated March 21, 1957, signed by J. L. Palmer on behalf of the Minister, to the Welsh Advisory Council for Civil Aviation. It says: What had been represented was that the proposed site was near the safety limits as defined by I.C.A.O. standards and that because the margin was small the proposal should be rejected. It seemed to the Minister that if he accepted these standards—as he must, on the evidence and on the advice available to him—he must accept them without qualification. It had been contended further that, while the mast might be an acceptable hazard by I.C.A.O. standards, there remained the consideration of the psychological effect on pilots and passengers and because of the costs in extra flying time resulting from the more complicated approach procedures, there would be discouragement of the use of Rhoose. The Minister could not accept these contentions as being decisive. At the same time the Minister appreciated that the introduction of a hazard, albeit an acceptable hazard on technical grounds, should be avoided if at all practicable; and he recognised the anxiety which had been expressed by pilots concerned with airline operations at Rhoose. He had, therefore, examined the suggested alternatives to the Independent Television Authority's proposal. He does not seem to think very much of them.

My Lords, protests were made as a result of this second decision—or the same decision repeated for the second time—and I myself, in your Lordships' House on April 3 last, raised this question; and the noble Earl, Lord Munster, replied to me. I said then, in a supplementary question [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 202, col. 1023]: My Lords, as the Minister has said, this is a hazard which will have a deterrent effect on the use of the airport.


With great respect, no Minister said that. Perhaps I should read this passage, because it is of great importance that we should not have any misunderstanding about this matter.


May I say that I am quoting what I said in your Lordships' House. If I was wrong in what I said then, the noble Earl, when he comes to reply, will no doubt correct me. I should have thought there was not much doubt that the Minister did say that it will have a deterrent effect, from what I have just read. However, that is a point of argument and no doubt the noble Earl will argue it later. This is what I said: My Lords, as the Minister has said, this is a hazard which will have a deterrent effect on the use of the airport and will mean that the users will be put to extra expense. This is the Welsh Television Authority and I again ask: is there no place in South Wales except quite near to the airport—it is only a mile or so away—where this television mast could be put? The noble Earl, Lord Munster, said: My Lords, I have replied to the noble Lord twice, and this time I will give him an emphatic answer: it is in the negative; there is no other place. The British Air Line Pilots Association also protested. In fact, they went so far as to issue a statement to the Press. It is rather an important one, and I should like to read a relevant passage in it. This is what they said: The existing mast at Wenvoe in itself constitutes some danger to air navigation "— that is the B.B.C. mast to which I have referred. If it is intended to make Rhoose the centre of Welsh aviation—all interested parties hope that it is—then reasonable steps should be taken to reduce the number of obstructions in that area. The Association opposes the erection of additional hazards to air navigation in the promixity of any airfield, therefore it is considered that Rhoose is a test case because similar hazards might one day be proposed for other airports. The flight path of aircraft using the East-West runway already has to be distorted away from St. Athan R.A.F. Station, which means that aircraft taking off from Rhoose will have to pass close to the proposed mast. The Association has not just considered this as a parochial problem applicable only to its members who operate in South Wales. The subject has been studied by pilots who operate between the principal international airports and who fly all types of modern aircraft. They are all of the opinion that even although I.C.O.A. says the mast would not be a danger, the presence of two masts within five nautical miles of any airfield is unacceptable. Cambrian Airways, as I have said, are the main users of the airport, and they also wrote to the Welsh Advisory Council for Civil Aviation a long letter giving their reasons in detail for objecting to the decision, and ending up in this way—I quote the Managing Director: I can only repeat that I consider this new television mast at St. Hilary, if erected, will constitute a real obstruction and danger to aircraft in the air. The proposal should be resisted at all costs. My Lords, those are what I would call the informed views of the people who are, after all, using the airport.

I come now, quite shortly, to the technical objections to the decision. First, there is the hazard to navigation. That is undoubted. No one denies it. Although the noble Earl tried to make a point about it a moment ago, I think that no one really denies that. The Ministry have not denied, nor can any commonsense person deny, that a mast 1,150 feet above sea level and 4½ miles from an airport, when there is already another mast 1,150 feet above sea level and 4.5 miles from the airport, must be a hazard to navigation. There is no question about that. The only question is whether it is an acceptable hazard.

The Minister shields himself behind the I.C.A.O. conditions. The mast is half a mile outside what is called the defined area—an area within which obstructions are not permitted. Of course, according to the conditions, masts can be erected, provided they are half a mile outside the defined area, all around the airport. Trying to get into the airport would be like playing "musical chairs". No pilot would ever use an airport where there were masts all around it. Yet according to the conditions that could be so. There is nothing in the I.C.A.O. conditions to stop them setting up such masts—at least, so I am advised. Anyway, the objectors say that this tolerance is too fine; and as the tolerance is too fine we have to ask ourselves whether it is an acceptable hazard—whether we should ask people to fly into the airport with this hazard as it is proposed in its vicinity. Those who want to cover up a wrong decision say, "Yes, it is acceptable". Those who stake their money in commercial television also say. "Yes, it is acceptable". Those who have to stake their lives and their living in aircraft say, "No, it is not acceptable". The matter is as simple as that. I would ask your Lordships whom you would rather believe—the chairborne or the airborne; the people who have to risk their lives in flying aircraft under these conditions, or those who have not.

I return now to later comments, made in a letter to me from the British Air Line Pilots Association, dated April 18, 1957. The Association then said this: When this subject was first considered by the Association's Technical Committee there were present pilots who flew Constellations. Argonauts, Hermes, Pionairs and Viscounts. All those pilots, who have had considerable experience in operating from all types of airfields, agreed that the proposed mast at St. Hilary was unacceptable to the Association. Therefore, it can be seen that the matter has not been considered only as a local problem because the implications could apply to any airfield. We consider that this could be a test case because a mast might be prepared within four miles of London Airport. Then the Association went on to say: It might be suggested that at Rhoose the number of aircraft movements is small when compared with London Airport and that, therefore, it is of less significance which justifies its being hedged about by tall obstructions. We are opposed to such a philosophy. The reply of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation to the British Air Line Pilots Association is this: I do not think any useful purpose would be served by trying to compare the situation at London Airport with that which exists at Rhoose. The traffic volume is entirely different, which means that in examining the London Airport case one would have to take into account the complex air traffic control pattern which arises from the use of many different runways, In fact, I think that wherever one put a mast within five nautical miles of London Airport it would be bound to lie within the approach or overshoot pattern to one or other of the runways. This, however, is not the case at Rhoose. That is the Minister's view, and, as I say, it is not acceptable, either to the commercial firms using the airfield or to the Association representing the pilots who fly the planes which use the airfield and who fly planes using other airfields, because they feel that this is a matter which has significance far beyond Rhoose itself.

The second bad effect of this decision is the psychological one. As I have explained to your Lordships, we now have a triangle. We have this enormous mast to the north-east; we have the proposed mast, equally high, to the north-west, and at the apex of the triangle there is the airport at Rhoose. That is bound to be a spectacular hazard. It has been hard work to get the development of air traffic going in South Wales, first because, until now, we have never had a decent airport, and secondly, because a few years ago there was a dreadful disaster a few miles away, at an R.A.F. airfield at Llandow. Supporters of the Welsh team had come back by plane from the international Rugby match at Dublin and the plane crashed in the course of landing, with dreadful loss of life. It was one of the most terrible air disasters of all time, and in a place like South Wales, where everyone seems to be either related or to know everyone else, that was a dreadful setback to the development of civil aviation. To erect a hazard of this kind just at this time is bound to have a great psychological effect in delaying the expansion of air traffic.

Then there is the extra expense. Cambrian Airways tell me that already, because of the B.B.C. mast at Wenvoe, they are put to extra expense of £6,000 a year in flying time alone, and the amount will, of course, be infinitely greater when the St. Hilary mast is erected. Then there is the effect on users of the airport where alternatives are available. Aircraft operators coming in in bad weather will avoid this airport if they can, and will go on to Bristol or other airports available to them.

In conclusion, I must say that I cannot believe that no alternative site is suitable. The Television Authority have the whole of South Wales and, so far as I am aware, of the West of England, available, though I believe it is hoped the site will be in South Wales—I would say nothing on that score, but let us confine it to South Wales, a not inconsiderable area. There is no shortage of humps and bumps in South Wales, for it is full of hills and mountains. Why on earth have they to pick a hill only 4½ miles away from the only airport in South Wales? So far as I am aware that question has never been answered. When I raised this question in your Lordships' House last March, the noble Earl, Lord Munster, simply said that it was not possible to do otherwise, but he did not say why it was not possible, and I know not why. I have never heard any reason why it is not possible to site the mast elsewhere, and I would beg Her Majesty's Government to rescind the decision and preserve uninterrupted access to the airport, apart from the Wenvoe mast already there.

Failing that, as very much of a "second best," and only if no other course is open, I would ask Her Majesty's Government to see whether they cannot adapt one mast to serve both stations, the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. I believe that that has been done, or is contemplated, elsewhere. If that were possible, obviously it would be much better than having two masts. Nevertheless, I would ask that before finally closing the files, Her Majesty's Government should check on the question of alternative sites, as I am sure that none of us is satisfied on that point. We cannot believe that there is not some nice, snug little hill somewhere in South Wales which could accommodate this mast equally well as St. Hilary Down. I beg to move for Papers.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, is a distinguished Welshman, and Wales could not have a case, which I know greatly interests them, better put for them or put by someone who speaks with more experience in the realm of civil aviation. I should, however, like to disentangle one or two elements in the story which the noble Lord has told, and if I recapitulate it in some detail it is only for that reason.

The noble Lord is quite right in saying that it was when he was Minister of Civil Aviation that initially the decision was made to transfer the airport for South Wales from Pengam Moors to Rhoose; but at the time when that was done, as the noble Lord has said, the B.B.C. already had the mast at Wenvoe and the airfield to which he has made a great deal of reference—St. Athan—was in operation. Those things were already present when that happened and, if I may humbly say so, I believe that that decision was absolutely right. Rhoose is much the best site in South Wales for an airport and it is greatly to the advantage of the area that the airport should be there. I would only add that we see no reason to-day why it should not be developed to meet the fullest needs of aircraft likely to use it at any time in the foreseeable future.

May I give your Lordships some details? The airport has been developed with two runways, one of 4,500 feet, the other of 3,200 feet, and the latter is being extended. It is conveniently situated to serve the whole of South Wales. The airport is equipped with the Standard Beam Approach system which, in time—and this is rather important—will be replaced by Search Radar Decca 424, which is going to make a great deal of difference in the area. There is a V.H.F./D.F. set installed on the aerodrome and normal airfield control. Passenger handling at Rhoose is carried on in temporary wartime buildings but they are being modernised for the Empire Games which will be held next year, and we hope that there will be a much improved access road to Rhoose also. I believe that co-operation with aircraft control at St. Athan is entirely satisfactory, and the Royal Air Force do not use St. Athan a great deal.

One problem which has arisen and which I want clearly to isolate from that which we are discussing to-day is this: the I.T.A. were anxious to find a site in South Wales and, in fact, were bound by Statute to do so, so that a great body of people in South Wales and much of the South-West of England could, if they were so minded, choose their transmission. Siting involves a certain number of technical points. One of them is that if there is already a mast for the B.B.C. the other mast must not be nearer than two miles nor further than five miles. The reason for that is that if the two masts were too close together, the signals from one would affect those from the other; while if the second mast were too far away, all the recipients of transmissions would require extra aerials, to be able to tune in to each transmitter.

St. Hilary Down was selected after a most exhaustive search. The I.T.A. then applied to Glamorgan County Council for planning permission. The Glamorgan County Council had the usual consultations with the authorities apparently responsible, and the I.T.A. published their intention, so that everybody knew of it. The matter was referred to the Departments and authorities concerned and no objections were received. Glamorgan County Council were on the point of giving planning permission, and it is true to say that it was just at this point that the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation had representations made to him by the Welsh Advisory Council for Civil Aviation and other interested parties. In order to bring this matter to further consideration, it was necessary for my right honourable friend, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, to call in the planning application—that is to say, he called it in from the Glamorgan County Council in order that the matter might be thoroughly examined at ministerial level. The matter was then examined, and I would add a little to what Lord Ogmore said in this connection.

The Welsh Advisory Council did meet a senior official of the Ministry. The Chairman and a member of the Council also met my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. So they had a full opportunity of putting their case before the inquiry was held. My right honourable friend was not satisfied that there were technical objections. However, in order that this feeling should be fully met and an opportunity given for stating views as fully as possible—and because there was general interest in the subject—the Minister of Housing and Local Government authorised a local inquiry to be held in public. I would emphasise that there was an assessor at that inquiry, Air Marshal Sir Alick Stevens, a very distinguished Royal Air Force Officer. His report necessarily was in front of, and his views were available to, the inspector who held the inquiry.

I have explained the sequence of events to make it clear that every effort was made to allow full expression of the views of the interests concerned. In fact, nothing was suggested to the effect that this was being done in a hole-and-corner way. The fact was that the matter was fully ventilated.


Is it not the fact that the Minister arrived at a decision, and the decision was announced before Aer Lingus and Cambrian Airways were informed of the proposal at all? That is what they say.


The position is clear, I think. The Minister was asked by the Glamorgan County Council whether he had any objections. He said, "No." But as a result of objections afterwards received from aviation interests, the Minister of Housing and Local Government called in the planning application and said, in effect, "The Government will take this up and look at it again." Of course, the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation had previously reached a conclusion, but when he heard of objections he said, "We should like to look at it again and hear representations by parties interested, to see whether there is anything we have overlooked." As I have said, the Welsh Council met senior officials; they met the Minister in person, and a local inquiry was held in public. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, called this "Star Chamber" procedure. I think: that in Tudor days they would have been well pleased with this sort of procedure, if they could have had it.

The noble Lord also said that the Government were an interested party. The only interest the Government had was that Rhoose Airport belongs to my right honourable friend.


The Government were interested in supporting the decision which they had arrived at before taking the opinion of the people who were vitally concerned.


The Government had taken a provisional decision. They nevertheless said, "We will call it in and have another look at the matter". It was taken in to be looked at again. I really do not think the noble Lord can accuse the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation of deliberately exposing air passengers in this country to unwarrantable hazards. The noble Lord knows from his own experience the feeling that there is in the Ministries. He knows that they are acutely conscious of the very heavy responsibilities which they necessarily carry.

Then the noble Lord made some remarks about witnesses. May I say a word about Mr. Osborne? Mr. Osborne is a pretty experienced man. He is himself an airline pilot. Here I am going a little beyond the official approach, and I hope that the noble Lord will appreciate it. Mr. Osborne drew up instructions himself. They were submitted to the Department and approved by the Department, and he spoke from those instructions. He was, in fact, giving views which he himself held. The noble Lord also raised the very old chestnut about cross-examining Government witnesses. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, well knows that it is indeed a very old chestnut which has been going about for years, and it is even now being examined by the Franks Committee. I do not want to go into this question—no doubt there is a lot to be said on both sides—but I think the noble Lord knows that in fact it is more or less standard practice that when a Government official gives evidence of fact he is not generally cross-examined. It may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing. I think it was a very forthright statement which this witness made in answering points which had been raised.

May I take them up myself? I see they were mentioned in the Minister of Housing and Local Government's decision letter. Four points were specifically raised by opponents of the Scheme. They were: first, that it was a danger to aircraft without radio; secondly, it was a danger in the case of engine failure on take off; thirdly, it was an added danger in cases where aircraft took off from St. Athan; fourthly, it would add to flying time and consequently to costs. I think the noble Lord will agree that these were in fact major points which were raised at the inquiry. I should like to deal as reasonably fully as I can with each one.

I would reply to the first by saying that in this year, 1957, if you fly without radio and do not work out your course pretty carefully beforehand, and do not check your position by map reading, then the country is full of danger to you—all sorts of danger. There is, for example, Daventry; there is Kirk o'Shotts; there are the Welsh Mountains. Of course you have to map read all the time in all weather conditions if you have not got radio. In bad weather conditions you would not be allowed into some of the congested areas, such as London Airport, at all. I really do not think we can base our modern flying pattern on standards suitable for aircraft flying without radio aids and in bad visibility.

Now as to engine failure on take off. That is always an extremely unpleasant experience. If the noble Lord has ever had it himself he will probably not forget it. The circumstance here is that the aircraft has a funnel increasing in width from 2½ at the threshold to 5 miles at 6½ miles from the end of the runway. If it is broadly able to maintain its course in that funnel, it is safe. If it needs to go outside the funnel, then, frankly, I am bound to say that the aircraft is out of control and will run into all manner of hazards. As the noble Lord is aware, cutting an engine on take-off is a regular part of the training of pilots of civil aircraft at the present time. The noble Lord did not say very much about liaison with St. Athan. I am given to understand that that liaison is entirely satisfactory. If it were not satisfactory it would be very dangerous. But it is no more dangerous by reason of this mast. The noble Lord said something about adding to flying time. I noticed that the flying time he seemed to think would be added was based on references to the mast at Wenvoe, which was in place, of course, before Rhoose became an airport at all.


I am afraid the noble Earl must have misunderstood me. I gave figures from one of the operators showing what the extra flying time due to the Wenvoe mast was. I think that the extra expense would be much greater if the St. Hilary mast was in place.


That is pure assumption. The Wenvoe mast was there in any case. I take the view that the St. Hilary Down mast is going to make no difference at all. As the noble Lord is aware, there is no such thing as a standard pattern for landing at airports. Every one has its own procedure and Rhoose is no exception. There is no reason at all why there should be any delay. In the normal way aircraft go straight in to land at Rhoose without even a circuit, except in circumstances of congestion. When we come to congestion at an airport, then we do get delays, particularly when the weather is bad, and the amount of money wasted in delays is very considerable. But that does not happen unless the weather is bad, and the mere existence of a mast at St. Hilary Down should not make any difference. My approach to this matter is that the difficulty of finding a site for the I.T.A. mast is completely irrelevant to the issues—


That does not agree with the Minister.


I thought that the noble Lord was not correct in quoting the Minister as saying that this would cause a hazard which would have a deterrent effect. I do not think that my noble friend Lord Munster said that it was a hazard.


The Minister in question was the Minister of Housing and Local Government.


I have read what the Minister said with great care and this is what he said: What has been represented is that the proposed site is near the safety limits…


My Lords, at the foot of my copy—we may have different paged copies of course—what the Minister says is this: At the same time the Minister appreciated that the introduction of a hazard, albeit an acceptable hazard, on technical grounds should be avoided if at all practicable and he recognised the anxiety which had been expressed by pilots concerned with airline operations at Rhoose. He would therefore examine suitable alternatives to the I.T.A. proposals. There he is admitting by implication that there is a hazard and also, what the noble Earl now says is something entirely irrelevant, the proposal of an alternative site.


He says that it is an acceptable hazard. There is hardly an airport in the world which has not to accept some disadvantage. If we go to London Airport, we see a great big gasometer right in the flight path of one runway.


It was there before.


I agree; but it is a hazard which, in point of fact, is contrary to international standards. What is being done in Wales is not contrary to the standards. For that reason I do not think that the noble Lord is justified in saying that the Minister regards it as a hazard. It is an acceptable hazard. What I say is that the difficulty in finding a site for the I.T.A. is irrelevant, and I am interested to see that that is exactly the view of the I.T.A. themselves. This is what they say: It is emphasised, however, that if it were now decided that the mast would be a source of danger to life, your Authority would not wish to pursue the proposal. We could not have a franker or more open statement than that: if it is a danger to life, stop it. I think that that is a fine attitude to take up, and it is important.

Speaking more technically, if we apply the extreme standards in the most difficult case of all, when full allowance is made for an aircraft which fails to land and has to go round again, the demands which the International Civil Aviation Organisation make are fully met. These are that from the end of the runway there shall be a funnel symmetrical about the extended centre-line on a base 2½ miles wide at the threshold increasing to width of five miles at a distance of 6½ miles. In this area there will be no significant obstruction. Another condition has to be fulfilled, which I will read out: Anything which may endanger aircraft on movement area or in the air within the limits of the horizontal and conical surfaces should be regarded as an obstruction and should be removed in so far as practicable. If I may interpret this, it means within a circle of 16,000 feet from the centre of the airport, and the mast at St. Hilary Down is 25,000 feet away; so that it is well outside that limit.

The point I have sought to make is that Rhoose will be capable of development and there need be no restriction on any foreseeable use in future. The noble Lord has cast some doubt on whether the International Civil Aviation Organisation regulations are sufficient. May I remind him that these were drawn up by agreement between most of the Governments in the world and that in framing our instructions for our own representatives we took the advice of the British Air Line Pilots Association, and I am not aware that they have ever objected to these agreed standards. If the noble Lord takes extreme cases, then every mountain and tall building constitutes some form of obstruction if aircraft go out of their designated path; but he will be aware that not long ago we discussed the importance of keeping aircraft in their designated paths, because if they go outside, then they will fly into all kinds of hazards. Let me emphasise that the limits set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation cover extreme cases and should be regarded as sufficient for what is intended.

The noble Lord has raised the question of having one mast instead of two. I think that he will agree that if that double mast were placed at Wenvoe it would be fatal to the airport and the question would arise of asking the B.B.C. to go somewhere else. I should not be sorry to see that, because I think that that mast is something of a disadvantage. However, the arrangement for a marker beacon on this mast, of which the noble Lord is aware, enables aircraft coming in to know when they are over the mast, and to ensure that they have passed it before following the beam down. This arrangement has worked extremely well, and I am not aware of any complaints having been made at all. As for the other mast at St. Hilary Down, I do not think that it is in any way a hazard for normal airline operation.

It is for that reason that I am anxious to reassure the noble Lord, if I can, that this matter has had the most thorough examination, and that it is the determination of the Department to see that it is properly developed. They have a big responsibility there, which they have to fulfil. I do not think the noble Lord need be particularly concerned over this matter, and I do not believe that when the airline pilots come to look at it again they will regard this mast as being any serious disadvantage. I know that the noble Lord has given quotations indicating that they are a little worried, but, quite frankly, as a pilot, one would naturally like to see every mast in the country removed. However, with good air traffic control—and particularly the Search Radar installation which will cover all approaches—I feel confident that when the pilots have looked at this matter again they will not feel there is anything to cause them anxiety.

I have endeavoured to explain this subject as fully as I can, but I must say this: having examined the matter, I do not think my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in consultation, of course, with the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, could have come to any other conclusion. I am sure he was right in giving planning approval. I do ask the House to believe that this matter has been approached with one consideration only in mind; that is, to ensure that the airport, which is State-owned, and for which, therefore, we all carry responsibility, is up to the essential standards required for proper commercial operations. I am confident that Rhoose Airport is of that standard, and that a great future lies ahead of that airport, as well as of other airports in this country. I think it is a pity to cast doubt on the safety of our commercial air services. People have to make these decisions about them, and those decisions are made with the fullest possible knowledge. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, will look carefully at this matter again before making further suggestions of danger. I do not believe this is a case where the risk of danger to commercial aircraft is any higher than (shall I say?) the danger at London Airport.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, who has obviously gone to a great deal of trouble to reply to me. Whether he has given a good reply or not is another matter, but I am grateful to him for his trouble. I am not altogether convinced by the argument of the Government. I think that in this, as in so many other cases, time will show. The noble Earl says he hopes that I will not raise questions of safety, because of the commercial aspects of the matter. But it is not I but the commercial operators, the pilots who fly the aircraft and the Welsh Civil Aviation Advisory Council, who have raised the points and the objections. I feel that it was essential that we should have had this debate to-day.


I quite agree with that.


If the whole of what is, in effect, the flying community of South Wales are up in arms—as indeed they are: it must be stopped at all costs, say the main company—it is only right that they should have this opportunity of having their views stated; and I felt it my duty to bring the matter before the House to-day. We have now had the Minister's reply on behalf of the Government, and we can study it. If it is the irrevocable decision of the Government to permit this mast to be erected, then we can only hope that the future will be as bright as the noble Earl has indicated. If not, then, in a quite literal sense, the blood of the pilots, the crews and the passengers of aircraft which may be endangered as a result of this mast will be upon the heads of the Government. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.