HL Deb 04 May 1967 vol 282 cc1160-81

7.31 p.m.

LORD FERRIER rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement as to the prospects of having the second runway at Turnhouse Airport completed by 1970. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. This Question has been in the No Day Named list since January 18, but I did not seek an earlier day because, on December 13 last, I had asked a Starred Question about Turn-house Airport buildings and received the following reply: A final decision on the site"— that is, the site of the buildings— must await the result of the runway survey which is now being carried out. I said: I assume from that that the final alignment of the runway has not been settled. Is that the case? I received a reply: My Lords, it has not yet been settled. The result of the survey will be published in February of next year."— [OFFICIAL.REPORT, 13/12/65, col. 1546] Well, February has come and gone, March has come and gone, April has come and gone—delay, delay, delay.

But delay is no new feature in this matter of the Turnhouse runway. It goes back a decade at least. It is nearly six years since the Toothill Report also pointed attention to the inadequacies of the City's airport. The subject has been mentioned in debate after debate, and Question after Question, not only in your Lordships' House but in another place. I am not blaming this Government alone; I blame their predecessor as well. I think less than nothing of the theme song, "The Thirteen Wasted Years", considering that more than half of that time was spent in tidying up. But I do say that for years policy and forward thinking over Scotland's airports, and precision and energy in planning, have fallen far short of the desideratum.

The main obstacle to efficiency has been the dichotomy of Whitehall and the Secretary of State, and perhaps readiness down here to pooh-pooh Scotland's problems. I say this deliberately and with some knowledge, in that I was a member of the Prestwick Airport Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry in 1959, presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmany, when he was in the House of Commons. I was struck during the proceedings of that Commission by the muddle and ineffectiveness of the whole fabric of the system. Overlapping between the Ministry and the Secretary of State had led to mistakes, duplication and delays almost beyond belief. I only hope that over Turnhouse this Government may do a little better.

On March 22 the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in answer to a Question, was informed that four and a half years was the calculated time for the completion of the second runway. I am glad to say that at least one advantage has stemmed from the late hour of this debate—that it has enabled the noble Earl to reach the House after returning from abroad. On April 26 in another place exchanges took place in which the Minister admitted to some surprise at the length of time, four and a half years, indicated for the proposed work. He also said that he was going up to Edinburgh this month—that is, in May—to meet the Corporation. Let us hope that he has better luck than the Lord Provost of Edinburgh when he tried to fly to London with his officials in March to see the Minister on this particular subject. He had to come by train, because of cross-winds on the airfield, and he missed a whole day.

It is, of course, essential that Edinburgh should be consulted. I only wish that I had more confidence in Edinburgh's grasp of her own traffic developments; and I suspect that much of the blame for the Turnhouse situation can be laid at the door of the Edinburgh Corporation. But this airport problem is no longer exclusively Edinburgh's concern. Years ago, before the Forth and Tay bridges were constructed, perhaps it was; but to-day it concerns the entire Eastern half of the central industrial belt. Perth and Dundee are now little further from Turnhouse than Lanark or Peebles. To-morrow, in 1970, it will concern not only Scotland in general, or indeed the whole United Kingdom, but the Commonwealth. I refer, of course, to the Commonwealth Games. Indeed, it is the prospect of the Commonwealth Games in 1970, and all that they imply in terms of traffic and prestige, which highlights the urgency of the matter—and the matter is urgent.

In April a Written Answer to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, produced the recent figures of diversions because of cross-winds. The noble Earl would have been here to speak to-day but for an important engagement in Scotland. I do not propose to go into the delays and dangers of the diversions due to crosswinds, to which other speakers will doubtless refer. I only remind your Lordships that thousands of passengers, and people and transport which go to meet and convey them, are inconvenienced and put to great expense by these diversions.

It must also be remembered that outward flights have to be cancelled and delayed or transferred to Glasgow; and further—I think this was a point which was made on another occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn—there are times when planes can only take off with restricted loads, with the inconvenience which flows from such an occurrence. All this means cancelled bookings and the non-availability of seats. And besides, some people have simply given up the thought of using the air service to and from Edinburgh because of its unreliability. Business people cannot afford to take a risk of cancelled appointments or frustrated meetings, such, shall we say, as the Lord Provost of Edin-burgh suffered the other day.

This problem of the cost to the Scottish economy of the inferior air service is well set out in the Toothill Report. But, quite apart from losses to the airlines and the cost to Scottish business, it is no wonder that the airlines themselves complain of the poor load factor. How can a modern service pay in these conditions? No wonder they seek higher fares. What is more, current traffic and financial results are simply not relevant as a basis for estimating the potentialities of a route such as this one, as they would be if Scotland's capital had a capital airport.

It is right to say that the Edinburgh airport in its present form, and with its absence of proper radar equipment, is so tricky that the airline captains have to be "cleared for Edinburgh", as they call it, before they can be allowed to bring a machine in there. After all, the alignment of the present runway has the steep end of the Pentland Hills in line with one end of the runway, and the two Forth Bridges in line with the other. I had it in mind to refer also to the airport buildings in their relation to the railway, but I do not propose to do so in view of the lateness of the hour. But if the noble Lord would care to discuss the matter with me afterwards, I think I have some information which may be of service to him.

I have made no reference to what is undoubtedly the most important factor of all; namely, the airfield requirements of the civil aircraft of tomorrow. I do so deliberately only because I know that this will be the burden of the contribution of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye to this debate. His long experience and extreme competence on the subject is well known to your Lordships. As for the cost of the runway, it has been hinted in this House that the money might be better spent elsewhere or in other ways. But is it realised that the present situation is enormously costly to the community as a whole at this very moment of time, as I hope I have shown in what I have already said? The airlines find the service a loser, but the public would use it if it were efficient. The traffic would be there if the service were efficient. The diversions cost incalculable sums. But for the skill and confidence of the pilots there would be many more diversions. Indeed, but for their skill the risk of some costly catastrophe would be a real one. It is ridiculous that a technically exacting and rapidly expanding industry like the air transport industry should be hamstrung on this important route as it is at present.

This serious matter requires prompt action. The broad decision to get on with another runway is an easy one. So far as I know (in the absence of any statement such as we were promised) there is only one possible alignment for the new runway. But of course it would be foolish to say that the implementing of such a decision is going to be easy. Far from it. The complexities—ranging from public inquiry and land acquisition through the realignment of the A9 main road to the diversion of the Gogar Burn—are formidable, and anybody with any knowledge of these things cannot do otherwise than sympathise with the Minister, especially—and I emphasise this—when superimposed upon it all must come some sort of settlement with Edinburgh Corporation. But to say that it must take four and a half years is nonsense. It could easily take more if the present "non-momentum" is maintained. But with firm purpose—which includes a settlement, once and for all, with Edinburgh Corporation—with energy and precision, it could take less. It could be done in time for the Commonwealth Games in 1970. It is quite wrong to say that there is no urgency, as this debate I believe will show. I should like to thank noble Lords who intend to speak (as I shall have no other opportunity, this being an Unstarred Question) and I look forward to the Minister's reply. I only wish that the promised statement could have been made, if only to have saved me from taking up your Lordships' time.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, payload and regularity are the key words for the success of operating any civil airline, and payload and regularity are also the key words applicable to Edinburgh Airport, if it is to play its part in the British civil aviation system. Edinburgh Airport has the worst diversion record of any airport in the United Kingdom. The cross-wind situation is going to get worse in future. As noble Lords probably know, certain regulations are laid down as to when an aircraft may land with a cross-wind of a certain strength—what is technically called the cross-wind component. The cross-wind component is calculated according to the length of runway, in that an aircraft must be able to land within the cross-wind component allowing for a 12-knot tail-wind. That is all right for Viscounts and Vanguards, but now the Comet is coming into service in Edinburgh, and the runway is only just big enough to take the Comet; and the Trident will be going into Edinburgh in due course, and the same applies in regard to that aircraft. Therefore, those aircraft must have the cross-wind component reduced because the runway is not long enough to allow them to land with a 12-knot tail-wind. It is appalling—and I use the word advisedly—that we should contemplate putting splendid new types of British civil aircraft on to our main domestic routes, such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, and know that we shall have to operate them with a financial load penalty because the runway is not sufficiently big to take the full capacity at which they are capable of operating.

On the matter of cost, last year about half a million passengers who flew to Edinburgh faced the possibility of a diversion and a dislocation of their journey because of the high incidence of diversion from several causes. Based on the annual capital charge of what is needed to put Edinburgh Airport right, I think it works out at about 9s. per passenger; and with the gloomy time scale which the Government have given us of approximately 5 years to make this new runway, and allowing for an increase of traffic, this 9s. per passenger might well be halved. That, surely, is not an unreasonable amount to pay to get rid of the risk, about which the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, spoke, to all passengers flying to and from Edinburgh, and from such incidents as that from which the Lord Provost suffered quite recently. If it is a fact that four-and-a-half years are going to be required from the time of decision to go ahead, I would say: give the decision now. I know of the negotiations between Her Majesty's Government and the Edinburgh authorities, but somebody is going to pay at some time or other, so why not get on with the job now and let the settlement come within the ambit of the negotiations?

I have one more point before I sit down in relation to a matter which is tied up with the runway, and that is radar. I believe it is the view of the Department that radar is not necessary. If that is so, I would take issue with the Department. Any airport handling half a million passengers should have radar assistance. It is interesting to note that Turnhouse has more aircraft movements than Glasgow because of the large number of private and small aircraft operating in and out of the airport. Therefore, there is a big problem in the traffic pattern in regard to the mixing of large civil scheduled airliners and these other civil aircraft. Turnhouse is responsible for the safety of half a million persons, and I believe that, coupled with the project for the new runway, there must be radar installation. My final word is this. Of course, new terminal buildings are nice things to have; but before you go about getting new terminal buildings you should attempt to make the airport suitable for taking modern types of aircraft in order to achieve the maximum safety obtainable.

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, very few people are more qualified to speak in such a debate as this than my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, with his knowledge as a pilot in the First World War, his knowledge as an Air Minister in the Second World War, and, finally, as an ex-director of British European Airways. He is therefore well briefed in all his facts. I do not think that anybody who has listened to my noble friend's speech, and to the opening speech of my noble friend Lord Ferrier, can be in any doubt that it is a fact, and a sorry fact, that Edinburgh, the Capital City of Scotland, does not have a first-class aerodrome. It seems to me that that is a state of affairs which no one on either side of your Lordships' House who comes from Scotland should be prepared to tolerate. It is bad for the status of Scotland, bad for the trade of Scotland, bad for our tourism, bad for our self-respect; and, in truth, it is bad for our tempers, too.

It is intolerable that we should have to put up with diversions again and again; and as my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye said, we at Turnhouse have the worst diversion record of any airport in the United Kingdom. To me it is amazing that Governments have been prepared to tolerate so little progress being made, and to show so little urgency in this matter. As my noble friend Lord Ferrier said, on December 13 the Minister replying for the Government said that there was to be a survey as to the siting of the second runway, and that the result would be published in February this year. We are now in May. What has been happening during those months between December and now?

We have had figures of flights cancelled at Turnhouse Aerodrome. In March, 62 flights were cancelled; in February there were 54, and in January, 12. One would have thought that such figures as this would have been a spur to action, and that we should have been given the survey sooner rather than later. But, no. The survey is not yet at hand, though it may be that the noble Lord who is to reply this evening will be able to give us welcome news about it. I hope that may be so.

Let me not waste time at this hour of the night. It must be agreed that the facts in favour both of a longer runway and of a second runway are overwhelming. I should like to make clear that I am not basing my case purely on what one reads in papers, but on the experience which almost all of us who use this service have had. It was not just in the couple of months when the crosswinds were particularly prevalent that we found ourselves diverted. Just before that time I, like many others, found myself diverted from Turnhouse away to Abbotsinch. And when we got to Abbotsinch was there another aircraft waiting to take us on? Oh, no! There was not. On the contrary, we had to sit and wait until an aircraft was collected and manned, although one would have thought that a call on the telephone, with up to two hours to get the other aircraft prepared, would have been an obvious step.

The other experience I had—and I mention only the two—was a fortnight ago, going North from London to Turn-house. We were due in at about 6 o'clock and were doing rather well. We were within ten minutes of landing when the captain spoke on the loudspeaker: "This is the captain speaking. We are having slight difficulty with one of our flaps, and I have decided that Turn-house runway is not entirely suitable for landing in these conditions. So I propose to change course and land in Manchester instead"—which he did. As a result, we eventually arrived at Turn-house fully three hours late. I do not for a moment blame the captain, and I am sure that he was very wise. But I do blame the Government for tolerating an aerodrome which cannot accept even small emergencies. On that occasion nobody minded very much. It is incredible to me how tolerant passengers are. Their fortitude is commendable, and they accept inconvenience without a murmur. One almost thinks it would be better if we became more indignant and made our indignation felt.

The only time that I can recall anyone getting excited in an aeroplane was on that simplest of all flights from London to Edinburgh after we had boarded the plane. We were all snuggling into our seats looking forward to something to eat, and reading the Evening Standard, when the air hostess said to us in dulcet tones, "We welcome you aboard our Vanguard aircraft and should be leaving for Glasgow in a few minutes' time." That had a very disconcerting effect on all of us, because our tickets were to Edinburgh and our plans were to go to Edinburgh. One turned to the other and said, "Look here. You are going to Edinburgh, aren't you?" The other replied, "Yes, I am going to Edinburgh, but the girl said Glasgow." There was much concern. Happily it was found that she had made a mistake in the names of those two important towns. But, seriously, this is a scandal and it requires urgent action.

I believe that the only person who can take that action is the Secretary of State for Scotland. I know the dichotomy of responsibility and I know that Edinburgh Corporation come into it. But, after all, we have had an example of a vigorous Secretary of State dealing with a more or less comparable need for Scotland, when we required a Road Bridge over the Forth. My noble friend Lord Stuart of Findhorn, who was then James Stuart, listened to all of us in the East of Scotland and all of us in the Edinburgh area. He had us behind him and he knew it; and he went to the Cabinet and declined to take "No" for an answer. Cannot the present Secretary of State follow that example. I believe that if he does he will have not only the East of Scotland, but all of Scotland behind him in urging for action at Turnhouse aerodrome. Let him show us that he, too, can lead.

7.58 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not give your Lordships any of my harrowing experiences, because I am not so graphic in description as the noble Lord, Lord Kilmany. But I assure you that he has not overstated his case in any way whatsoever; and the incidents he related can be multiplied a hundredfold. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, emphasised the importance of regularity on an air service, and when the alternative train service takes only six hours the importance of regularity becomes even greater. If you have to plan to be down in London for a meeting and have to allow three hours for the not unusual (I was going to say normal) delay, you may as well make your journey by train. Until that situation is overcome, and a more regular service is running, there will not be a full capacity of passengers on the flight to Edinburgh. There is no doubt that once there is regularity the number of passengers will greatly increase.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, to whom we are very grateful for putting down this Question, spoke of the pilots on the Edinburgh route being specially picked. They have to be selected and they have to be experienced on the Edinburgh runway. I believe that the reason why so many diversions of Comets have been made in recent months is that the pilots are still gaining experience of the runway. Once they have more experience there will be fewer diversions of Comets. We hope that there will be a sufficiency of pilots trained to service these Comets coming into Edinburgh.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, talked about the Commonwealth Games in 1970. Will the pilots of these Commonwealth planes have to be trained on the Edinburgh runway? Why should those flights be exposed to the dangers of this particular runway? Or is this perhaps just a device to ensure that everybody coming to the Commonwealth Games has to pass through London and be flown on from London in a plane piloted by a pilot who has experience of the Edinburgh runway?

With our climate on the East Coast of Scotland, and with those haars coming up from the sea, we must have provision for blind landings. A blind landing can never be made on the present runway—that is quite impossible. Looking forward to the future (and I say this in deference to the judgment of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, not being an airman myself), if we can expect that all major airports will be equipped to take blind landings, then the sooner the Edinburgh runway is put into a state to take blind landings the better.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilmany, has taken out of my mouth the words about the tribulations of getting the Forth Road Bridge under way. The number of excuses and evasions that were given in the initial stages of pressing for the Forth Road Bridge are very like the number of evasions and excuses that have been given over recent years about the impossibility almost of getting a proper runway established. A decent, safe runway is certainly going to be installed at Turnhouse. Why not get on with the job now?

8.3 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for only one moment to plead with the Government not only to listen to the case which has been put forward so powerfully, and with such a wealth of convincing evidence, by my noble friends, but also to act upon it. I do not suppose there is any Member of your Lordships' House who has so much experience as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, of what I would call the Whitehall "bureau-monster". That is a term which I am borrowing from the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley—and a very good term it is, I think. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, spent many years fighting against this monster in order to get the Tay Road Bridge built a little more quickly—or, indeed, built at all, because they did not think it should be built. He was eventually successful. There is no one who understands better than he does the nature and habits of the monster, which are chiefly imperception, imperviousness to argument and automatic repetition of old, traditional, out-of-date answers. Its chief talent, I think, is the presentation of what Sir Winston Churchill described as "the padded cells of indubitable fact and the solid masonry of unanswerable objection," which one is always brought up against when one makes any useful proposal to this blinkered bureau-monster.

Now that Government activity is permeating so much into nearly every compartment of our lives, I think this is a very serious thing, because in so far as the monster has any mind at all it is a metropolitan mind. It cannot understand the needs of Scotland or of Wales, or even of the more distant English Provinces. That is probably the main reason—it is certainly one reason—for the big increase in the Nationalist vote in Scotland and elsewhere which we have recently witnessed, both in Parliamentary and in local elections. Some people may think that a good thing; but it is not a good thing that the growth of nationalism should be so much stimulated, as it is, by the neglect and the delay of things which ought to be done. It is holding up our development area policy, upon which we are all agreed, and also our policy on dispersal, upon which we are all agreed.

In towns like Edinburgh businessmen and professional men are in their offices working at 9 o'clock in the morning, and they do a full day's work. In London it is almost impossible for either managers or staff to get there until 10 o'clock, and then they have to leave an hour early in order that they may get to bed in time to get up early enough to get them in at a reasonable time, and not in the middle of the morning. What a tremendous waste of industrial potential and efficiency this is! In order to correct these things we must get better, more efficient, transport in this island, and it really is indefensible, I think, that while we are discussing whether we should have a third or a fourth airport for the Capital of England the Capital of Scotland has not even one that can be called a decent airport.

My Lords, last week, when a Question was asked on this subject in another place, the Minister first replied that it was out of the question to get this second runway in time for the Commonwealth Games in 1970, but later there seemed to be a gleam of hope, because he expressed surprise at the estimate of his own officials. He promised to look into American methods of construction which had been brought to his notice, and said that he was going to Edinburgh next month. I appeal to the Edinburgh Corporation not to put any obstacles in the way of getting this thing done quickly (because it is so much to the interests of their city as well as to Scotland that this should be done) and also to the Government to look very critically indeed at the official estimates which they are being given. Because, my Lords, this thing can be done if the Government will take the political decision to give it the necessary priority. Priority is what is required. The thing can be done long before 1970. I would appeal to the Government now to look at the evidence, to decide to give the work the necessary priority and to carry out the required action within the necessary time.

8.9 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to speak very briefly. We have all heard one Government after another plead that this is not an economic thing to do, and that the traffic is not there. But we have heard again tonight that this argument is one that does not bear examination. We do not know that the traffic is not there, because anybody who wants to go to Edinburgh and who has to be certain of getting there by a specified time does not go by plane but by train. We just do not know what the traffic would be if there were the certainty of getting there at the time desired.

My Lords, if the argument to be used is that it is not an economic thing to do at the present time, I suspect (and listening particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I feel confirmed in this) that in five years time a Government will be able to say this with even greater justification. Because in five years time the better planes that we have heard about will not be able to go in on any economic basis at all. While the British services will do something, the hope of getting the Continental services to risk going into Edinburgh with some of the better planes they have will be remote. They just will not do it. The Government will then be able to say: "It is not economic to do it now"; and so it will go on. This really is a disgraceful situation for Edinburgh, the Capital of Scotland.

My Lords, the other thing which struck me, and struck me very hard, as I listened to the debate is the real risk associated with this flight, as other noble Lords have pointed out, and the fact that pilots must be specially trained for it. I pray that it will not happen, but I have an awful feeling in my mind that one of these days there may be a great disaster on the airport—and then some action will be taken. I appeal to the Government to avoid such a risk; I appeal to them to move now, having heard all that has been said.

Let us look at what normally happens in London. London is the Capital of England. The other day it was proposed that £65 million should be spent on building a short underground railway extension—and it is not as if it will be economic. We all know the subsidy that London Transport receives from the Government. Yet they are planning more building, and no doubt the Government will give way. Why? I suppose they think that vote-wise—and I am not blaming this Government more than any other—it may have a great appeal to a great number of people. This is not a good argument. We have seen the rise of the Scottish feelings on this matter—I join with all other noble Lords in begging the Government to move and to move now.

8.13 p.m.


My Lords, I must say that I rise with a great deal of trepidation, faced as I am by the cohorts of noble Lords from Scotland; although I am helped in this by the support of my noble friend from Scotland beside me. I cannot help feeling that he might have dealt far more effectively than I with some of the points raised. But let me first of all try to answer the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, concerning the survey which last December my noble friend Lord Rhodes said would be published in February.

I think there may be some slight misunderstanding over the exact term "published". What in fact my noble friend meant at that time was that the Report would be ready and available to those concerned. It is a very long and voluminous technical Report which could not be published as a White Paper in the normal way. In fact, the final draft of the Report was ready, as my noble friend said, in February, and the content of it was communicated to Edinburgh Corporation. It was received by the Government in its final form on April 24. So I think I can say that my noble friend is vindicated, in that February was the time when the guts of the Report were made available to those most concerned, the Edinburgh Corporation.


My Lords, the fact is that the word "published" was used. I cannot be blamed, and neither can others, if we awaited its appearance with bated breath. The word "published" was used.


My Lords, I do not blame the noble Lord at all for thinking that "published" meant the more normal use of the word; that it would be available in the Printed Paper Office.


My Lords, my point is that had I understood it so I would have put down this Question earlier.


My Lords, a good many points have been raised by various noble Lords and all of them, I say quite frankly, are accurate. There has been, so far as I know, no mis-statement of fact at all in what was said. But I believe there has been a great deal of misapprehension, and people who listened to these statements may have got the wrong impression of what is the actual position. For instance, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, spoke of the real risks which are run by passengers who land at Turnhouse. I am sure that he does not really mean to suggest that passengers flying in from London to Turnhouse run any greater risk than those flying into London from Manchester, or into London from Glasgow, or into London from Paris, or into London from Washington. I think it would be unfortunate if the impression arose that Turnhouse was a dangerous airport at which to land. Its safety record—


My Lords, may I ask why the pilots have to be specially trained?


My Lords, I was just coming to that point. The safety record of Turnhouse is as good as that of any airport in the United Kingdom. I want to make that very clear. It is true, of course, that pilots have to be specially trained or, at least, have to have special landing practice at Turnhouse Airport. But that is the normal practice of all good airlines, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, will agree. One does not take a pilot who has never before landed in Brussels, in Cairo or in Istanbul, and send him off with a plane load of passengers and tell him to land there. He has practice landings in unloaded aircraft in order to get used to local conditions. That happens at Turnhouse.

Although the statements made were correct, the impressions given were most unfortunate. I hope that they will be corrected in the minds of noble Lords, and in the minds of those who have listened to this debate and who will read it. I do not for a moment deny that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the key words for success at Turnhouse are "regularity and payload". It is a fact that the airport needs improvement. Improvement is costly, but it will be carried out; there is no doubt about that. The only questions are: when will it be carried out? When will it be economic for it to be carried out? When will it be practicable for it to be carried out?

I have great sympathy, as an air traveller myself, with any passengers, be they noble Lords or not, who board an aeroplane and find themselves landing at some place other than their expected destination, or who go to an airport hoping to take off at a scheduled time and find that they have to wait a couple of hours. I am not unsympathetic to that, and I do not deny that it happens. The question is not whether the improvements shall take place, but when they shall take place.

The only way I can answer this question properly is to describe, as best I can, the situation at Turnhouse Airport at the present time. The main runway, which is 6,000 feet in length, unfortunately is sited—and the original reason for this I do not know—at an angle of 70 degrees to the prevailing wind. Therefore, for a great deal of the time it cannot safely be used. Instead, the subsidiary runway, virtually facing into the wind—that is, in the correct direction—has to be used. But that is only 3,400 feet in length.

Let me, at this stage, correct another factually correct statement but one which is somewhat misleading. I do not deny (I do not know the figure exactly, but I accept it from the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye) that Turnhouse has a greater rate of diversion that any other airport in the United Kingdom; but it is most misleading to suggest that the rate of diversion is due to cross-winds.


My Lords, I did not suggest that.


No, my Lords, the noble Lord did not suggest that; but the impression, I think, might have been gathered by some people who listened to him (I am sure he did not mean to give that impression) that the majority of these diversions, at least, were due to crosswinds. In fact only about one-sixth of the total diversions are due to cross-winds. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, is shaking his head, but those are the statistical figures over the last two years, and one must not take simply one month or two months, or a particular week, when looking at this from an economic point of view and a sound point of view. One must see what is the figure over a general period of time.

That being so the fact that only 0.7 per cent. of flights are diverted because of cross-winds means that even were the runway to be lengthened or altered, as noble Lords are advocating, there would still be a great majority of diversions. Lengthening the runway into the prevailing wind would put an end to only a small proportion—one-sixth—of the total number of diversions.


My Lords, may I ask whether the noble Lord is quoting up-to-date figures, or are those figures only to the end of last year? We have had a very bad experience in the last two months.


My Lords, I know that the last two months have been bad. My figures are for the years 1964 to 1966, over a long period, and during that time there have been bad periods and good periods. I know, and the noble Earl knows perfectly well, because he asked a Question which I answered, that during February, I think it was, the number of diversions was extremely high, and many of them were due to cross-winds.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that if there are so many diversions, it is vitally important that we should be able to take in blind landings?


My Lords, that is another point I was just about to come to, and perhaps I should deal with it now if it is the wish of noble Lords. Radar control is undoubtedly needed. I am not sufficient of an expert to know how much the proposed radar control, and the radar control which is being asked for, would cope with that type of blind landing. I suspect that it would cope with only a few such landings. Its main object would be, as I understand it, to cope with the density of traffic above the airfield, and not to bring aircraft in to land in times of extremely poor visibility.

It was also, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who told us that Turnhouse had more air movement than Glasgow; and that is perfectly true. The figures are, for Turnhouse approximately 50,000 last year, and Glasgow 37,000. But once again these figures are to some extent misleading, because they include all forms of flying, a very large amount of which relates to light aircraft from flying clubs, and so on. If you take the airliner movements, or air transport movements—and these are the ones which arc most important from the flight control aspect of safety control—you will find that Turnhouse has 10,000 compared with 31,000 for Glasgow.


My Lords, I think that the Minister may not have got that quite right. Radar is required in order that you can sort out the pattern as to what aircraft are where. Whether they are little aircraft, privately owned or airliners does not really matter. In fact, because there are more movements at Turnhouse I think the demand for radar is just as strong there as at Glasgow.


My Lords, with the greatest respect I would disagree with the noble Lord in that matter. Of course it is necessary to sort out all the aircraft: that is perfectly true. But the important difficulty in the control of aircraft coming in to land is not caused by the small flying club aircraft, which is under radio control from the control tower and takes off when it is considered safe to do so, does a circuit and lands again. The scheduled airliner comes in, maybe, from above the clouds and may arrive at varying times. Therefore it is a much more difficult problem for the control tower to look after that kind of aircraft. Again I am not arguing that this is not necessary: it is necessary; and I hope that this is a matter where the Government can act perhaps more quickly than in other matters.


My Lords, can the Minister look into those figures again? It is not that the aircraft are not scheduled aircraft, but private aircraft from flying clubs. The Ferranti undertaking in Edinburgh have one, if not two, of their own planes, and I have never been to Edinburgh Airport when I have not seen a Dove, or some other type of aircraft, often from overseas. A great many of the aircraft on non-scheduled flights are business aircraft.


I do not for a moment say that these aircraft are only from flying clubs. A very large proportion of them are not. I am afraid that I cannot tell the noble Lord what is the proportion between those and the other sort. I will see if the figures can be found, because they would certainly be of interest and value in this discussion.

My Lords, if I may come back to the main problem of the two runways, there is the one main runway, which is 6,000 feet long and is at the wrong angle—70 degrees off. Then we have the 3,400 foot runway, which is correctly angled. That one, I think we all agree, cannot be extended. The only way to build a new runway at the correct angle with the prevailing wind would be by an entirely new layout, which would necessitate cutting the A9 road. That can he cut only when a new motorway or some alternative route is completed. That is the limiting factor in building this entirely new runway. The present schedule leads one to expect that it will be possible to cut the A9 in 1973.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, but surely it does not cost a fortune to build an underpass.


My Lords, it would not cost a fortune, but it would add very considerably to the cost. And when, in any case, the road is going to be abolished within a matter of years, I think that most noble Lords, with their minds on the need to reduce public expenditure, and on economy and on value for money and all the rest of it, would say that that would not be a worthwhile expenditure. Therefore I do maintain, without prejudicing the decision, that prima facie there is a case for saying that until that part of the A9 has been superseded by a motorway, and therefore could be cut, the main runway of an appropriate length cannot be built, except at an exorbitant cost.

That leaves us, my Lords, with the existing runway of 3,400 feet, which we all agree cannot be used during crosswinds, and the other runway, the main runway of the airport, of 6,000 feet, which could be lengthened—there is no question about that. It could easily be extended by 950 feet towards the south-east. It would then be adequate for the Trident III, and the BAC 111–500, but not always under a full load, because that would give only just under 7,000 feet—to be precise, 6,950 feet. The further 1,000 feet which could be put on to that runway, and which would make it adequate for the Tridents, and so on, under more or less normal flying conditions, again would have to cross the A9. So once more we are held up by the existence of the A9.


My Lords, I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but do I understand him to say that there is no question of anything being done, except a small lengthening. until the A9 has disappeared; and that since work on that will not start until 1973 it will be ten years, on the basis of the other four and a half years for the construction, before we can expect a decent runway in Edinburgh? Is that what I am to understand?


No, my Lords, that is not what the noble Earl is to understand. I must say that every question I have been asked so far has asked something to which I was just about to come, if I had not been interrupted. I am happy to stay here as long as your Lordships like and give way, but your Lordships will get satisfaction to the full limit of my knowledge by allowing me to continue with the minimum of interruptions.

I did not say that we should have to wait until 1973 before we could start doing anything. The present plan, still under discussion, is that the new runway and all the preliminaries of planning and the acquisition of land should be geared to the final finishing date of 1973, so that when the A.9 is eventually superseded by the motorway and can then be cut, we shall have the runway completed except for a small piece which can be done in a very short time. So if this plan is adhered to, there will be a complete runway in the right direction in 1973. It is always possible to extend the existing main runway, not only by 950 ft. to the south-east, but by a further 1,000 ft. across the A.9, if an alternative road is produced either by an underpass, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, or by means of enlarging an existing small road going through a village. These are expensive matters and my honourable friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, is going to Edinburgh within the next week to discuss this with the Edinburgh Corporation.

The small extension to the main runway which can be carried out will never be able to counteract the effect of crosswinds, but it will allow modern aircraft to land a good deal of the time, though it will not give a 100 per cent. service. These apparent delays, due to the "bureau monster", have in my view been not unreasonable. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said that until there are good runways good aircraft will not be using Turnhouse. The B.E.A. is the main commercial user, and until their plans for their new aircraft are finalised—they are getting close to that but are not there yet, and I am not blaming B.E.A. for not getting their finalisation forward—we shall not know definitely what types of aircraft are going to fly to Turnhouse.

I hope that when the time comes for us to discuss Government expenditure and we are being pressed to reduce it, noble Lords who have urged us to increase Government expenditure on this matter will come to the House and convince some of their noble friends that there are occasions, as has been so eloquently said, when Government expenditure may be in the interests, if not of the people in the South of England, then in the interests of the people in the North of Great Britain.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the existing runway at Turnhouse is not of sufficient width to take the aircraft contemplated in future, or even aircraft coming in under radar control? So the extension of the existing runway is hardly even a palliative.


My Lords, it may be that in addition to extending the runway there has to be a widening; but compared with the other things we have been talking about, that is a relatively simple matter.