HL Deb 22 February 1968 vol 289 cc591-6

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade in another place on the Government's proposals for a third London Airport. The Statement is as follows:

"As the House knows, my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has consulted local authorities and other bodies about a realignment of the runways of Stansted, and we have now studied all the replies. These raise certain new considerations. Although realignment would greatly reduce the number of people seriously affected by noise, it would affect many people who had neither the occasion nor the opportunity to object at the original inquiry. Moreover, those consulted have argued that the traditional land requirement and provision for expansion to a four runway airport amount to such a radical departure from the earlier proposals as to constitute virtually a new project.

"In the light of these considerations, and the continued public concern about the Stansted decision, and the general welcome given to the proposals in the Town and Country Planning Bill for dealing with cases of this type, the Government have decided to refer to an Inquiry, which will take place in public, the question of the siting of the third London airport. This will be a far wider Inquiry than that proposed in the Report by the Council on Tribunals. It might take the form of a Planning Inquiry Commission, duly constituted after the Bill has become law, or some other form. We would wish to discuss the exact form of the Inquiry with the Opposition, bearing in mind the need to proceed with all reasonable speed. Meanwhile we shall not proceed with the Special Development Order for Stansted.

"I hope the House generally will welcome the Government's readiness to attend in this way to both local opinion and public opinion generally."


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating this important Statement. I am even more grateful, as I am sure are many of your Lordships and many people outside Parliament, for the terms of the Statement itself, and I should like to congratulate the Government on their complete, if somewhat belated conversion. This is an illustration of the fact that even very stupid Governments are sometimes capable of doing quite sensible things. It is also a vindication of the usefulness of your Lordships' House and of the view expressed in our debate two months ago, I think almost unanimously, that the Government should constitute a new and really wide-ranging Inquiry into this matter. That debate was in no wise a Party political one, and rightly so, since this is not a Party political matter. That being so, I think that we all welcome what is said in the Statement about consultation as regards the form of this new Inquiry, and I think, too, that we should wish to endorse the need to proceed in this matter with all reasonable speed.

Could I put this one question to the noble Lord? Am I right in assuming from the terms of the Statement that the Inquiry will be empowered to inquire into the pros and cons of sites alternative to Stansted? Again, I should like to congratulate the Government on their complete capitulation in this matter.


My Lords, if I may answer the noble Earl, I agree with him absolutely about this not being a Party matter though I am bound to say that I find it difficult to reconcile that view with his use of the word "stupid". As for the question he asks, I am glad to confirm that the proposed Inquiry will be able to range over a much wider field than the question of Stansted. It will be open to discuss all matters, including timing, access and costs.


My Lords, I would not dream of criticising the Government for changing their minds on the rare occasions when they change them in the right direction, but following on what the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said, may I ask whether the terms of reference are still wide enough? The reference is still to a third London Airport. Should it not be wide enough to examine a third international airport for the United Kingdom? And may I ask whether the Government will give an undertaking at some time that they will accept the findings of the Inquiry?


My Lords, as to the terms of reference, I am sorry that the noble Lord is disagreeing with them, because they have not yet been decided.


Perhaps I may correct that. The noble Lord has referred in the Statement to the third London Airport. My point is that we ought to be looking for a new international airport for the United Kingdom. It may not be London.


I still say that the terms of reference have not yet been decided and they will be a matter of consultation with others. Although we are considering here a third London Airport, I do not believe there has been any real objection to the definition of the problem. There no doubt will eventually be the need—and I think the White Paper referred to it—for another United Kingdom airport, but there is also no doubt that a third London Airport is needed.


My Lords, while welcoming the Statement made by the Government, I should like to do something that I do not think I have ever done before, and that is to congratulate the Government on their decision. May I ask the noble Lord to make two things clear? First of all, the form of the Inquiry is of great importance. I welcome the fact that there will be discussion with the Opposition about it, but could the noble Lord say that there will be some discussion with those who have taken such an active part heretofore in relation to this matter—for instance, the county councils involved—because the more agreement that can be obtained now as to the form of the Inquiry and the terms of reference, the better. Will the noble Lord say that the terms of reference will be discussed with the Opposition and with others affected? If I may, I should like to join in the hope that now that this decision has been taken the matter will be got on with without any unnecessary delay.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for what he has said, and the spirit in which he has said it. I am sure—and I have always accepted this—that the criticisms that he has made have been made in the best spirit and in order to establish the truth; and that has also been my approach to this matter. As to the scope of the consultations, I cannot of course commit the Government to consult with every local authority. I am not certain how we define "opposition" in this context, but I agree with the noble Viscount that, having decided to establish the Inquiry, it is absolutely essential to ensure that it commands public confidence. I will see that what he has said about consulting others is considered.


My Lords, as Chairman of the Council on Tribunals, I welcome the Statement, and should like to ask this supplementary question. Will this Inquiry be a statutory one?


My Lords, my noble friend has imported this question of the Council on Tribunals. I should like to make it clear, as she has mentioned her position on that Council, that this decision, which we have now taken, is in no way connected with the Report of the Council on Tribunals. So far as her question is concerned, the authority of the Inquiry will, of course, depend upon its form, and that has yet to be decided and will not be decided until after the consultations that I have mentioned.


My Lords, will the scope of the Inquiry include the urgency of the needs of B.E.A.? That is a matter which was thought to be very relevant at an earlier stage.


My Lords, I agree that this question of the time-scale is vitally important, and nothing that has arisen in any way suggests that the Government have been wrong in laying down the time-scale which was talked about earlier. All I can say now is that the Inquiry will be conducted with all possible speed consistent with ensuring public confidence.


My Lords, with respect, this is not the point. Will my noble friend say whether the scope of the Inquiry will include the urgency of the needs of B.E.A.?


My Lords, I think I said in answer to an earlier supplementary that the scope of the Inquiry will consider all matters, including timing, cost, siting and access.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that those who have been in on this from the beginning, and who have pressed for a further Inquiry, are very much gratified by the Government's decision?


My Lords, I am sure that what the noble Lord has said will be music to the ears of many.


My Lords, may I say that there will be great joy in Heaven over this decision? My noble friend has said that the Opposition will be consulted; and he has also said that this is not a Party political matter. Noble Lords on this side of the Chamber have also been opposed to this scheme. Would he also consult with some of us on this side about the terms of reference, as we are equally concerned?


My Lords, I am sure that we have to be sensible about this. Without making any commitment about formal consultation, I am sure it will be possible to hear as well the points of view of experts like the noble Lord. May I also express satisfaction that there will be joy not only in Saffron Walden, but in Heaven?


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend and the Government on the decision at which they have arrived. I say that as one who addressed your Lordships at great length when we debated Stansted earlier. Just as my noble friend Lord Silkin says there will be great joy in Heaven, there will also he great joy in Essex which, but for this decision, would have been the other place.


My Lords, may I also say how welcome the Government's decision is? But I should like to ask the noble Lord, when he is considering the terms of reference, to look further at the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Byers. Of course, the interests of London are important, but calling the thing in advance the third London Airport may appear to many people to beg some of the most vital questions. It has led many who are taking part in the controversy to say that it must automatically be within a certain distance of London and arbitrarily to exclude other points. Would it not be better to ask where our next great international airport should he situated? That is the thing to be investigated, and a great many questions are begged if you call it the third London Airport.


My Lords, I am sure that what has been said by the noble Lord who has gone, and by the noble Lord who remains, will be considered, though I must say that a good deal has already been said and written about this problem. There is a need for consideration of a new United Kingdom airport, but no one so far has doubted that there is a need for a third London Airport, and that is what we are now considering.


My Lords, as I led the debate in this House on this subject, I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Government on their decision, which I think is a real act of statesmanship.


My Lords, I must again just take the time of the House to say how appreciative I am, and I am sure the Government as a whole will be, at the spirit that has been shown. I hope that what has been said here this afternoon will be a happy augury for the success of the proposed Inquiry.