HL Deb 27 April 1967 vol 282 cc612-5

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government where it is proposed to site a third international airport to serve London; when they expect construction to begin; and whether they will make a statement.]


My Lords, the Government are not yet in a position to say where the third London airport is to be sited, and until this is settled it is, of course, impossible to say when construction will begin. The Government have the matter under urgent consideration, and I hope it will be possible for a Statement to be made soon.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is still the Government's view that there should be a third airport in the neighbourhood of London in operation by 1973? Further, would he ask his right honourable friend whether the Government have their priorities right? Is it really necessary to look after the interests of Londoners as exhaustively as this, when half the population of England, those who live in the North—the harder working half—have only one international airport and would like a second, let alone a third?


My Lords, in answer to the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, it is the Government's intention that there should be a third international airport in the neighbourhood of London by the early or mid-1970s. With regard to the second part of the noble Lord's question, this is certainly a matter which is borne in mind, but I would remind the noble Lord that there are already (I am speaking from memory) at least two international airports in the northern part of Great Britain, in Manchester and Prestwick, which, so far as I know, are not at the moment operating to full capacity; nor will they be in the immediate future.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether Stansted is still being urgently considered by Her Majesty's Government, and, if not, what other site is being considered? And, if Stansted is still being urgently considered, for how long has it been so considered by the Government?


My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord when consideration of Stansted as a site actually started, but, as the noble Lord knows well, it was the subject of a public inquiry, the final report of which was presented to the Government in June of last year. Since then it has been considered in a very great deal of depth, because this is a matter of enormous importance which one cannot enter into lightly. That consideration is still continuing, but it is getting very near its final stages.


My Lords, could the noble Lord not say what alternative the Government are considering, other than Stansted, without committing himself in any way as to where that other site is?


No, my Lords, I am afraid I could not answer the noble Earl's question categorically in that way. The proposal which has been put forward and which has been the subject of a public inquiry is Stansted. It is now for the Government to decide whether Stansted will be proceeded with, or whether one of a series of other alternatives should be investigated in still more detail. That is the point at issue at the present time.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Government will ensure that, wherever the new third airport may be, it will not be near a built-up area, so that pilots, in trying to cut down the noise, will not be under the obligation to take off at what may be a dangerous angle of ascent?


My Lords, that is clearly one of the reasons why this matter has to be investigated so very closely. On the one hand, safety and amenity considerations dictate that the airport should be as far away as possible from centres of habitation; on the other hand, convenience dictates that it should be as close as possible to centres of habitation. It is to find the appropriate balance between those two that these exhaustive inquiries are being carried out.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that the choice of Stansted would be widely regarded as marking a disastrous failure of planning and would be widely considered a national disaster?


No, my Lords, I am not aware of that. I am aware that there are many people who feel strongly that the third airport should not be placed at Stansted, but I am not aware of the other fact the noble Lord has suggested.


My Lords, would the Government still be prepared to consider siting the third airport somewhat nearer the coast, so that as few people as possible should be inconvenienced by the noise of jet aircraft?


My Lords, this has clearly been one of the factors which has been taken into account in the deliberations which have been going on and which, as I have already said, are now reaching the final stages of their activities.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that it will be much more like a national disaster if the choice is not made fairly soon and the job got on with? Otherwise, air traffic from a great part of the world will come virtually to a standstill.


Yes, my Lords, I am entirely aware of that, and that is why there will be, I hope, a Statement made in the very near future.


My Lords, Will the Minister consider the need for very good communications between airports, especially when they are widely scattered around the London area?


I think that that is another question.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether we may expect the Government's decision on this matter before the Whitsun Recess?


No, my Lords. I should not like to give an undertaking that it will be announced before the Whitsun Recess.