HL Deb 20 May 1968 vol 292 cc478-86

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I should like now 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 the Inquiry into the siting of the third London airport

The form of the Inquiry must meet two requirements. On the one hand, this is one of the most important investment and planning decisions which the nation must make in the next decade; this points to an expert, rigorous and systematic study of the many and complex problems involved. At the same time, the decision will profoundly affect the lives of thousands of people living near the chosen site; and this calls for an adequate method of representation of the local interests affected.

We have sought to find a form of Inquiry which will meet these two, to some extent conflicting, needs. We have had discussions with the official Opposition, and I must acknowledge the constructive help which they have given. I think we have reached a broad agreement.

The Government propose a non-statutory Commission with the following terms of reference: To inquire into the timing of the need for a 4-runway airport to cater for the growth of traffic at existing airports serving the London area, to consider the various alternative sites, and to recommend which site should be selected. In order to meet the two requirements which I mentioned earlier there will be two sides to the Commission's work. For part of the time, they will sit as a normal Committee of Inquiry, commissioning research and analysising its findings, sifting expert evidence, forming their own judgments, and finally preparing their report. But there will be other phases of the inquiry when interested parties can be represented by counsel and have the right to cross-examine, both at a series of local inquiries once the possible sites have been reduced to a small number and also before the main Commission itself. I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a more detailed note of the way in which I envisage that the Commission might set about its task, though I have no wish to impose upon them an unduly rigid procedure.

I shall direct the attention of the Commission to the following matters which are of special relevance to their inquiry:

general planning issues, including population and employment growth, noise, amenity, and effect on agriculture and existing property; aviation issues, including air traffic control and safety; surface access; defence issues; and cost, including the need for cost/benefit analysis.

The Honourable Mr. Justice Roskill has agreed to act as Chairman, and I shall announce the names of the other members as soon as possible.

Following is the note referred to by Lord Beswick:

align="center">Inquiry into Siting of Third London Airport—Constitution, Terms of Reference and Procedure.

Constitution of Commission

1. The Government will set up a nonsatutory commission with the following terms of reference:— To inquire into the timing of the need for a four-runway airport to cater for the growth of traffic at existing airports serving the London area, to consider the various alternative sites, and to recommend which site should be selected".

The Commission will be provided with staff and will be authorised to commission research into matters relevant to its investigation.

The Commission will have their attention directed to the following points which appear to be among the matters particularly relevant to their inquiry:—

  1. (a) General planning issues including population and employment growth, noise, amenity, and effect on agriculture and existing property;
  2. (b) Aviation issues including air traffic control and safety;
  3. (c) Surface access;
  4. (d) Defence issues;
  5. (e) Cost including the need for cost-benefit analysis.


2. The Government envisage that the Commission will proceed broadly in the following manner, though they do not wish to impose an unduly rigid procedure:—

3. Stage I. At this first stage, the commission will consider in a broad way the whole range of alternative sites, eliminate those which are clearly unsuitable and identify the small number which require more detailed consideration. The commission will carry out this process of preliminary selection on the basis of general evidence that may be put to them and of information that they may themselves seek. At this stage, there will be no right of representation before the commission; though the commission itself will be free to seek oral evidence if this is required to elucidate the matters they are considering.

4. At the end of Stage I, the commission will announce the sites it wishes to investigate in greater detail, and will, for the purposes of that examination, define the approximate boundaries of the sites in question, and give such other general indications as may be necessary (e.g. flight paths and runway alignments) to enable those living in the localities to understand how they would be affected.

5. Stage II will consist of the hearing of evidence of a local character concerning the short-listed sites. This would probably be undertaken by a senior planning inspector, who would be a member of the commission, visiting the locality and holding a public local inquiry. Subject to the general reservations mentioned in paragraphs 8–10 below, the interested parties will be entitled to be represented at this stage. As these proceedings will take some time, they will continue while Stages III and IV are going on.

6. Simultaneously, a start will be made with Stage III and the subsequent stages. Stage III would consist of investigation and research into matters relevant to the choice to be made between the sites (e.g. air traffic patterns, surface transport, noise, regional planning etc.). Some of this work might be undertaken by the commission and its staff; some commissioned from consultants; and some produced in the form of written evidence by the parties concerned or by bodies having an interest in these matters.

7. Stage IV. The commission would consider the material produced during the course of Stage III. They will, if necessary, examine the experts who have produced it. If differences of opinion emerge from the expert evidence they will, in the first place, invite those concerned to consult together with a view to reaching agreement.

8. Stage V. The purpose of this stage is to enable the interested parties to test the material produced during the earlier stages. At this stage, they may, by leave of the commission, be represented by counsel or otherwise. Since the number of interested bodies is potentially large, it is hoped that bodies with similar interests will, wherever possible, be represented by the same counsel.

9. Counsel representing the parties may, by leave of the commission, lead evidence on relevant matters, and cross-examine witnesses appearing on behalf of other parties or experts responsible for reports which are being taken into consideration by the commission.

10. Before giving leave, the commission will need to be satisfied that such new evidence is useful and relevant; and that the proposed examination and cross-examination of witnesses is not repetitious.

11. Finally, the commission will consider the whole of the evidence, including that produced at the local inquiries. The commission will then prepare its report and recommendation.

Procedure after the Commission has reported

12. The Government will decide in the light of the circumstances of the time whether formal planning clearance should be given by way of a Special Development Order or whether they should require the British Airports Authority to make a specific planning application for the recommended site which would be called in for decision by the responsible Ministers, if necessary after a statutory local inquiry.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord just repeating the Statement which has just been made in another place. It is not easy to appreciate its effect unless one has available the note to which the noble Lord referred giving more details of the proposed procedure. I am grateful to Her Majesty's Government for allowing me an opportunity of considering those notes and that procedure, and I should like just to make this comment. This is clearly going to he not only a most important inquiry but unique in character and, I think, really without precedent. A good deal of time has been taken in drawing up these terms of reference and considering the form of this Inquiry, and I do not think that the time has been wasted. If this Inquiry is going to function in the way we all want it to do, a great deal of thought and a great deal of work had to be devoted to considerations of procedure.

As I understand it, the procedure now envisaged will give full opportunity for consideration not only of national interests but also of local interests. It will allow for various interests affected, such as agriculture, and various national, as opposed to local, interests affected to make proper representations and have their views considered and investigated. If I may say so, I am sure that those parties which took such an active part in opposing the Stansted procedure will welcome the proposed procedure and will not wish to put forward any criticisms of it. I am also sure that they will give all the help they can to make this Inquiry doubly effective and to ensure that it gets on with its task as speedily as possible.

My Lords, may I just ask the noble Lord to confirm two things? The procedure envisaged proposes that there shall be something in the nature of local inquiries into the sites which the Commission itself regards as possible runners. Will the noble Lord confirm that those will be, where required, very full local inquiries? I stress that, because the procedure says that at the end of the day, when the Commission have come to a conclusion, there is a possibility that there will be a further local planning inquiry. I hope that he will confirm that the inquiries held by the Commission into local sites will be full and ccmplete, and that it is not the intention to leave matters over to the local planning inquiry which is to take place later on (if one is going to take place), because I am sure that it will be the view of many of us, and it is certainly my own view, that local planning inquiries will not be necessary following the local inquiries by the Commission, if those inquiries are as effective and as thorough as I am sure they are intended to be. If that be so, I would ask the noble Lord to consider—and I think there will be a great deal of support for this—whether, at the end of the Inquiry, instead of envisaging further local planning inquiries it might be possible to proceed by a Special Development Order.

I do not think there is anything else that I need or would wish to comment upon, except to wish the Commission well in their formidable task. It is bound to take some time, but I am sure everyone will want to get on with it as quickly as possible.


My Lords, may I first thank the noble Viscount far his very helpful welcome to this Statement? The Statement itself made reference to the constructive help which had been given by the Opposition, and I suppose it is quite in order for me to say that that help was largely forthcoming in the person of the noble and learned Viscount. I agree with him about the uniqueness of the problem with which we are faced, and whereas at one time it might have been possible to deal with it by the form of Inquiry which is now being envisaged by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, I am quite certain that, having reached the situation which we had reached, we required something tailored to meet a situation which had its technical and its political aspects. I think we have succeeded, and I personally am very grateful for the attitude which the noble Viscount has adopted all along.

I was asked about the local inquiries. The idea is that the local inquiries should be conducted fully, openly and completely, so far as the local issues are concerned. The intention is that they will be held by the inspector, who will be a member of the Commission, together with, if he so wishes, the Chairman. They will be complete so far as local issues are concerned, but some of the wider, national, issues which will be gone into at the next stage by the various consultants or by the expert researchers will be matters which will not be considered at the local inquiries but which will be open for examination by representatives of the local authorities at a later stage. I hope that as a result of all this it will not be necessary at the end of the day to have another local inquiry. In all probability the Government will decide to give planning clearance for the selected site by means of a Special Development Order. There would be no obligation to hold a further inquiry in connection with such an Order. I hope that this will meet with the general approval of the House, in view of the thoroughness with which it is envisaged this Inquiry will be held. There is, of course, an alternative. The British Airports Authority could make a planning application which would be called in for ministerial decision. In that event the British Airports Authority and the planning authority would have the right to he heard. But in all the circumstances I hope that that alternative will not be necessary.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with my noble and learned friend that this is a very satisfactory outcome. May I also add this comment, because I know that the Government will not say it—and I do so even at the risk of spoiling the harmony which has been shown so far. None of this would have happened without your Lordships' House, without the powers of your Lordships' House, without the interest shown by Members of this House, and without the indication given by Members of this House when the Stansted site was debated here. Stansted, but for your Lordships' House, would be the third London airport to-day. We have rendered a signal service in forcing the Government—and they have done so with great grace, and I admire them for it—to have this Inquiry, and I hope that the outcome of the Inquiry will be satisfactory to all concerned.


The noble Lord the leader of the Opposition is not going to manœuvre me into a position in which I appear to be saying anything which diminishes the standing of this House. I should prefer simply to accept the kind words at the end of his remarks.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement, which is satisfactory; and I should like also to confirm what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and to compliment the House once more on a very satisfactory piece of work. Long may it continue to have the powers to do so!

I should like to ask two questions. First of all, in view of the wide powers which the Commission have, rightly, been given, has the noble Lord any idea of when they are likely to report? Secondly, will the Commission be entitled, if they so wish, to recommend a site which is not either in Essex or Kent, or anywhere particularly near London, in view of the fact that we are soon to have aircraft carrying anything up to 800 people, and bearing in mind the effect of the sonic boom which will come from these supersonic aircraft? In view of these two factors, if the Commission thought that it might be more desirable to have the airport further away from London—for example, on Severnside—would they be entitled so to recommend?


My Lords, in regard to the timing, the best estimate that can be made is that the Commission's Report ought to be available within two years. As for the scope of their Inquiry, it is not limited geographically, and if, in the light of technical evidence before them, the Commission thought that the airport ought to go outside the immediate London area, there is no reason why they should not make a recommendation in that sense.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that, with the benefit of a certain amount of hindsight, the existing planning machinery appears to have been inadequate and in some ways inappropriate, and that, although that difficulty has now been met in this particular and important case, there remains a very strong case for looking at the planning machinery in connection with national decisions of this importance?


I agree with my noble friend, and I think that when the legislation which is about to come before this House dealing with planning is considered he will see that these matters have been thought of; and I am sure that the solution will be acceptable to him.


My Lords, may I take it that it will be more revolutionary than any attempt yet made to reform the House of Lords?


My Lords, the Minister mentioned that the Chairman has been appointed to this Commission. Can he give the House some guidance about the type of person who will be appointed to this Commission?


Yes, my Lords. The Chairman, as I have said, will be a judge, and members of the Commission are expected to include a planning expert, a Housing Ministry inspector, a businessman, an economist, an engineer and an aviation authority.


My Lords, may I, as an Essex person who has been interested in this matter from the beginning, express my thanks to my noble friend for his Statement, which I think will give widespread satisfaction, at least throughout Essex and parts of Hertfordshire. Does he realise that local authorities will very much appreciate the great value of being represented by counsel at the early stages of the inquiries before the site is ultimately decided upon by the Commission? I should have liked to ask him what is likely to happen after the Commission have announced their decision, but as he has gone a long way towards answering that question in reply to the noble and learned Viscount, I will not waste any more time.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his words of welcome. With his local authority background in the Essex area, I am quite certain that what he has said, together with what has been said elsewhere, will help to ensure that the Commission have a very good send-off.


My Lords, is there any hope that during the next two years research will be able to produce an aircraft which is silent and capable of vertical take-off?


My Lords, I content myself by saying that in this world nothing is impossible.


My Lords, as one of the few Members of your Lordships' House who supported the Government's original decision to proceed with Stansted, may I express my regret that it has been thought necessary to appoint this Commission, and my even greater regret that it is going to take as long as two years for them to reach their conclusions? However, the arguments of the noble Viscount and others are appreciated, and those with whom I earn my living will offer their fullest support to this Commission.


I thank the noble Lord for the help he gave earlier on. Without in any way prejudging this issue, I would say that it is still not beyond the bounds of possibility that what he said then may be proved right by the findings of the Commissior.