HL Deb 03 February 1972 vol 327 cc962-84

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. Before I explain the purpose of this Bill, the House will, I am sure, wish to join me in expressing our appreciation and thanks to the outgoing Chairman of the British Airports Authority, Sir Peter Masefield, for his leadership of the British Airports Authority during the first six years of its existence. As many of your Lordships will recall, Sir Peter Masefield had the challenging task of setting up an entirely new organisation to run this country's most important international airports, which until 1965 had been owned and managed directly by the Government Department concerned. Although the Authority is sometimes criticised—and what Authority is not?—there can be no doubt of the great measure of success which Sir Peter Masefield has achieved in making the Authority one of our most successful and profitable public undertakings. I am sure, too, that we shall all wish to welcome the new Chairman, Mr. Nigel Foulkes, who took over on January 1, and to wish him well.

The objects of the Bill are, first, to increase the statutory limit on the Authority's total borrowings, and second, to enable the Authority to borrow in currencies other than sterling—which it is not at present empowered to do—both temporarily and long-term.

The British Airports Authority was set up by the Airports Authority Act 1965. The Act vested in the Authority the three airports serving London—Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted—and also Scotland's intercontinental airport, Prestwick, and made it the duty of the Authority to provide the services and facilities necessary or desirable for their operation. In common with other nationalised industries, the Authority was given powers to borrow from the Minister in order to carry out this duty, and a statutory limit of £70 million was set on its borrowing powers. At the time of the transfer, the net asset value of the four airports, which was deemed to be a debt to the Government, was nearly £53 million. In the first five years of its operations to March, 1971, the Authority has carried out substantial developments at its airports which have increased their net asset value by £22 million. It has financed all but £5.5 million of its capital spending from its own resources, so that its total borrowings, including the initial capital debt, currently stand at just under £60 million.

Your Lordships may like me to say briefly how the Authority has spent its money so far, and may also wish to hear something about its future plans. Most of its spending has been on improving facilities at Heathrow and Gatwick, which are its two largest, busiest and fastest growing airports. At Heathrow the Authority has had to make provision to cope with the new large, wide-bodied aircraft—the jumbo-jets—which can carry almost three times as many passengers as previous aircraft. It has already spent nearly £12 million on redeveloping Terminal 3—the terminal for intercontinental traffic—where separate buildings are being provided for arrivals and departures. The Authority has also had to rebuild Terminal 1 almost completely and to make substantial improvements to Terminal 2.

At Gatwick the Authority has greatly improved the airport's operational efficiency by extending the runway Eastwards and by constructing a new taxiway and new aircraft stands. Improvements have been made to the terminal building; but it is now plainly inadequate for the number of passengers using it during the summer months, and the Authority has recently started to build a Northern extension to the existing terminal, which will almost double the space available. As traffic at Stansted, and at Prestwick has grown more slowly, less work has been necessary at these airports. But the Authority has replaced the Nissen huts at Stansted with a terminal building, which they are now having to extend for the second time. The main runway at Prestwick has been resurfaced and a new office block erected there.

As to the Authority's future plans for capital investment at these four airports and at Edinburgh, which was handed over by the D.T.I. on April 1 last year, noble Lords may recall that my right honourable friend the Minister for Trade announced in another place on July 27 that the Government did not think it would be necessary to construct new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton or Stansted in the foreseeable future. Heathrow and Gatwick would continue as major airports serving the London area for as long as can be foreseen and he foresaw the possibility of dispensing with Stansted as a public transport airport and possibly closing it altogether when the third London airport became operational. These decisions provide the framework within which the Authority must make its plans for catering for a continuing increase in the numbers of aircraft movements and passengers using the London airports. Nearly 16 million passengers passed through Heathrow last year and nearly 4 million through Gatwick, and by the time the third London Airport is operational these totals will be very much higher. Expenditure will therefore be required both to improve facilities, so that these large numbers of people can move as quickly and easily through the airports as is practicable, and also to provide the amenities they will need while waiting for their aircraft.

In addition, the advent of larger heavier aircraft will involve the Authority in expenditure on strengthening runways, providing new stands for jumbo-jets and further improving the three terminals at a total estimated cost of £26 million. The Authority will spend another £11 million in the next five years on improving access to Heathrow. Of this £6 million is needed for the terminal and connections to the extension of the Piccadilly Line. The line is now in the process of construction and will provide rapid access for many passengers to the airport. The other £5 million will be spent on improving the access from the West side of the airport.

At Gatwick the Authority intends to build two major extensions to the existing terminal buildings, which when completed will more than double the existing capacity; one extension, the Northern building has already been begun. The main construction work on the Southern building, which will be used mostly for domestic passengers, will start in spring 1973. These two buildings and other improvements to the terminal area will cost some £20 million. The Authority has applied for planning permission to extend the runway Westwards so that the larger jets can use Gatwick without a weight penalty. The application was considered at a public inquiry last year. I understand that a decision will be announced shortly. If the decision is favourable, the Authority will spend £6 million on this extension and on extension to the aprons. As at Heathrow, passenger access to the airport needs improving, and the Authority expects to spend about £4 million on a new link road to the M.23 and associated development. At Prestwick £1 million will be spent on over-slabbing the runway and £1.8 million on a new cargo terminal.

At Edinburgh a larger development is necessary. As many of your Lordships are aware, the existing airport is far from satisfactory. In accordance with the terms of the transfer agreement by which it received the airport from the D.T.I., the Authority has applied for planning permission to build a new runway and a new terminal complex. These applications are currently the subject of a public inquiry; if planning permission is forthcoming the Authority will have to build what is in essence a new airport. The D.T.I. will help with a contribution of three-quarters of the cost—up to a limit of £6.5 million.

It is greatly to the Authority's credit that it has so far been able to finance nearly all of its capital expenditure from its own resources: over seven-eighths, in fact. The Authority intends to continue to fund much of its future expenditure in this way, but it cannot finance it all. It is for this reason that we are now proposing to increase the limit to £125 million. This limit will not of course be adequate to cover all the capital expenditure required for the building of the third London airport. But it will probably suffice to cover preliminary expenditure in the next few years such as planning and engineering studies which must take place before the airport can be built.

The second object of the Bill, which is covered by Clause 2, is to empower the Authority to borrow in currencies other than sterling within the limit fixed for total borowings. The Authority will probably not need to make use of this provision in the immediate future, but it seems sensible to take the opportunity provided by this Bill to bring the Authority in line with other nationalised industries (including the Airways Board) in this regard, rather than leave the matter to be dealt with on a separate occasion. Under Clause 2(1) these borrowings will of course be strictly controlled.

In recent years our national airports have tended to receive more criticism than praise. That is not altogether surprising. The enormous growth in air transport has meant more noise for people who live near these airports and at times frustrating delays for airport users. It is right that we should require the highest standards from our international airports, and it is right that every practicable method of minimising the disturbance to those who live near airports should be employed. Under successive Governments the Authority has done its best to mitigate the disturbance. Fortunately, there is firm evidence that future aircraft will be much quieter than those in use to-day. But the Authority does deserve praise for what it has achieved in the relatively short time that it has been in existence. Even after returning substantial sums to the Government in the form of interest charges and taxation, it has shown a profit every year; last year indeed the net profit exceeded £5.7 million. It has used its profits to finance much of the substantial improvements which increasing traffic has made necessary at all its major airports. It has continued to improve its return on net assets. It has become a substantial earner of foreign currency, without materially increasing its landing charges, though there will have to be some increases in these charges this year.

The Authority will have to continue to grow and to expand its resources to provide the facilities needed for this vital section of our international transport. Your Lordships will know that Heathrow already not only handles more international passengers than any other airport in the world, but also handles more cargo, in terms of value, than any other port in the United Kingdom except London and Liverpool. Very heavy demands will be made on our international airports in the coming decade, and, in meeting this task, the Authority will have to operate within the confines of the Government's policy which gives full weight to the need to control noise and to avoid damage to the environment in the development of new or existing airports. I trust that your Lordships will also agree that within these constraints the Authority's borrowing powers should be adequate to provide what is necessary for all who use their airports. I commend the Bill to the House. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of this Bill and we followed what he had to say with great interest, although there were moments when I had some difficulty in following exactly what he said because his mind was working rather more rapidly than mine. We shall give this Bill a Second Reading, of course, because we give all proper support to the British Airports Authority. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in taking this opportunity of adding my tribute to the work of its recently retired Chairman, Sir Peter Masefield. As the noble Lord said, the Authority had to deal with an industry or a service which is growing and changing rapidly, which constantly needed adaptation to new technology. It had its own special difficulties, and there have been complaints from all manner of people. Yet, despite all these difficulties and all the surrounding areas of complaint from the environmental lobby (if I may so call them), Sir Peter and those who served under him did their job absolutely splendidly.

I am bound to say, however, especially listening to the warm praise which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, had to offer to the Chairman, that I am all the more surprised that it was found impossible to renew his contract. I am sure we all congratulate Sir Peter on his New Year's knighthood. But there are many—many who believe in fair play and justice—who are distinctly uneasy about the treatment of Her Majesty's Government in this matter. The knighthood was fine. But was it really necessary to pull the carpet from under his feet just as the sword was falling on his shoulder? There are many of us who think that his appointment as Chairman was not renewed because he said what he believed to be true about the Government's rejection of all aviation opinion about Foulness. I shall return to that matter later, but first I want to ask about general policy for airport planning.

I believe that for several reasons we are at a point when the whole policy of airport planning needs to be looked at again carefully and quite afresh. There was a time when the only argument that one heard was that all services should go into one airport, and every operator insisted that inter-line traffic was so important that he must be allowed to operate from this one main centre. That is how we came to see the great development of Heathrow. But various developments now come together to demand a rethinking of the problem. For one thing, an over-large international airport is synonymous with time-wasting. The sheer size of Heathrow now, in my view, prevents maximum efficiency. A passenger has to check in three-quarters of an hour or an hour before take-off, but there are many who add on to this time another half-hour or so simply because they are unable to find their way around, or are afraid that they cannot find their way around, and need to have more time in hand.

All this is to be deprecated, even if one is going to save a matter of hours on a trans-continental flight. But if it is a matter of a 40 or 50 minute flight from one point in Europe to another, it really is absurd that we should have to add on so much waste of time before and after the actual movement from A to B. Therefore there is an argument for segregating the short-haul traffic, which, after all, is about 60 per cent. of the whole aircraft movements to-day.

Then we have this quite amazing growth of the inclusive tour traffic—what one might call the "coach traffic" much of which could well be handled very efficiently at an airport separated from the main centre for international scheduled flights. We have also the growing belief that we should encourage and cater for much more air traffic from the Provinces. Here, too, with proper airport planning we can save time. The other day I was discussing certain new services now operating from the East Midlands airport. They were to be operated by an aircraft which is somewhat slower than the latest available machines; nevertheless, with these somewhat slower machines a businessman from the Midlands—Nottingham, Leicester, Derby and indeed Birmingham—could be offered a service to Frankfurt or Amsterdam, for example, at a journey time from office or home to destination some two hours shorter than the services now being operated from Heathrow with faster and more modern machines. This is simply because the surface journey time was cut, and similarly the check-in time was so much nearer take-off time at the smaller and, in this respect, more efficient airport at Castle Donington. In other words, here again it is more efficient to use the provincial airport.

In addition to all these factors there is the quite decisive development of new, quieter aircraft that can be made available for operation within the next decade. Here I have an interest to declare of which noble Lords are well aware, but I declare it again. However, apart from my interest, this factor is there and must be taken into account when one looks ahead for appropriate airport requirements. All this means that we ought to be assured that before fresh sums of money are allocated to the British Airports Authority the Vote ought to be against the background of a known overall airport plan, and despite the details which the noble Lord has given us I am not convinced that at the present time we really have an overall airport plan. I was gratified when Her Majesty's Government accepted an Amendment of mine during the passage of the Civil Aviation Bill, which places upon the new Civil Aviation Authority the responsibility for planning future airport policy.

The first question I want to ask the noble Lord is how he sees the thinking of the planning of airport policy by the C.A.A. and the B.A.A. and the Government to be meshed in together. Which is going to be the supreme authority in this field? Who is going to be equipped to go deepest and widest in all these related matters? Is it intended that there should be one real leader in the country on airport planning, or are we going to get a frustrating conflict between the major executive body—the British Airports Authority—and the Civil Aviation Authority and the Government of the day? I suggest that we cannot sensibly vote these sums unless we know what is to be the future of other airports in the country, and in particular Luton, Stansted and Gatwick, as well as Heathrow. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, made a reference to the extension to the terminal, aprons and runway at Gatwick. I thought he observed that the development at Gatwick had been less than expected, but I am told the expectation there is that they will reach saturation point before other facilities are available. I want to ask the noble Lord, where do I turn now if I want to judge of these matters? How do I find the overall planning of Her Majesty's Government in this field? Where are all the facts set out and how is the policy with regard to the B.A.A. to be fitted into the overall airport policy making?

Then I want to ask about the proposal to build the Third London Airport out on the sands of the Essex coast. We did not have the Statement on this matter in the House yesterday because it was thought helpful all round to discuss it to-day, and I have a number of questions to ask which have a relevance to this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said that some of the money was to be allocated to the preparatory planning for Foulness. Can he be a little more specific as to what this work entails and how much of this money will be spent on what he calls "preparatory planning"? Is it possible for the noble Lord now to give me a figure for the estimated eventual cost of the Foulness project, including the cost of the access routes? Can it really be true, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, appeared to be saying the other day, that a definite decision was being taken with regard to Foulness without any estimate having been arrived at? How much money is involved in this, and what sort of breakdown is there of the eventual capital requirement?

I wonder, too, whether the noble Lord can say to what extent the proposed new responsibilities for airport planning of the Civil Aviation Authority impinge upon, or will influence, the development of Foulness? We are going to have this new body, the Civil Aviation Authority, which I wish well and I hope will be the repository of all air transport and aviation opinion and knowledge in this country: to what extent will it be able to influence this proposed development down on the Essex coast?

My Lords, I wish to ask just one more question about Gatwick. Does the noble Lord know of the uncertainty which has been created among the operators at Gatwick? I see the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is in the Chamber, and I should not be at all surprised if he were to confirm that there is a similar uncertainty at Luton. I know that in the case of Luton there is the public inquiry and little can be said, but in the case of Gatwick I feel that the Government are running into trouble. Although we have had this clamour about the noise around Gatwick and Heathrow, among the people at both those airports there is now considerable worry about their jobs and the future of their livelihood. So far as I can see, some of those people who did not want to have Gatwick developed at all are very agitated as they believe that with the reorganisation of local government they are going to be deprived of the rateable value which that development offers.

In all these areas there is uncertainty, and I should like the noble Lord to say whether it would be possible to publish a statement or a White Paper in the light of what has happened in the last year or so, and especially in relation to Foulness, giving some indication of what the time scales are and what the future expectations may be at Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted as well as Foulness. I ask for that authoritative statement, but I go on then to ask the noble Lord, who is going to draw it up? Which Department of this Government is really responsible for these matters now? I should have thought that it would have something to do with transport, something to do with the Departments that hitherto we have thought have been responsible for air transport and aviation. But the Statement yesterday in another place was made by the Minister of the Environment, and when one reads what he had to say the impression which he creates is that air transport does not come into this at all; it is a matter of environmental effects and, as he says, regional planning. Now of course we have to take into account the environment and regional problems, but I feel that we ought also to take into account the needs of aviation and air transport. At the moment there is really no evidence at all that these criteria are taken into account by Her Majesty's present advisers. I ask these questions. I gave the noble Lord some indication of what I would ask. I have probably gone a little further, but I hope he will be able to give us some satisfaction.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by following the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in paying a tribute to the man who in the last few years and until very recently has led the British Airports Authority in such an admirable and profitable way. I have known Sir Peter Masefield for nearly all of his professional life. I know him to be one of aviation's polymaths, and I think we should all like to feel that in future his tremendous knowledge will continue to be at the service of British civil aviation.

This Bill is quite uncomplicated, but to me at first blush it seems a little odd. It may be that I am under a misapprehension but one gathers from the Explanatory Memorandum on the earlier Act that money which is borrowed in sterling would come from the National Loans Fund. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, whether I am right in assuming that any other money borrowed will necessarily be in foreign currencies. To put my point differently, is it to be inferred from the Bill that the Authority cannot go to the City of London for loans whilst it may in certain circumstances, with Treasury permission, go to Wall Street or Zurich? If that inference is correct, I should like to know why this restriction is applied. If it is correct, it would seem to be inconsistent with the statement made yesterday by the Secretary of State for the Environment that at the appropriate time it would be highly desirable to involve private capital in the Maplin project.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, made it clear that only a small part of this money is likely to be expended on planning for Foulness, and I may say that on the whole that was a source of some satisfaction. In the great debate which we had in your Lordships' House on the Third London Airport almost a year ago, those of us who were against this project were in a small minority; but if I may say so we were all people with a pretty thorough knowledge of aviation, and we contemplated the Foulness project, as it was then called, with the deepest concern. It seems to me that the views which we expressed then have gained a great deal of ground since, and in the debate in another place, on the Second Reading of the Bill which we are considering to-day. the deepest suspicions were voiced. I believe that those suspicions, in the minds of the majority of those who continue to think about airports, will harden into the sort of certainty that some of us expressed 12 months ago.

I was glad to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, how a great deal of this money which can be borrowed is likely to be spent. I was rather disappointed that it was for the most part going into improvements and modifications of what exists already—it seems that there are to be no new runways constructed to carry us through the 1970s. If I misunderstood him there, I should like to be corrected, because I know that unless we have an additional runway mileage for the second half of the 1970s we shall run out of runway capacity.

There seems to be also among the consequences of our Common Market entry, assuming that is accomplished, the necessity to develop much further than seems at present contemplated communications between provincial centres and cities on the Continent. This point was made somewhat differently by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. I want to ask the noble Lord whether it is intended to spend some of this money in this direction. There is at present a tendency for all international traffic to gravitate to the great centres like Heathrow for interline exchange, and perhaps the traffic burden of London airports could be alleviated by developing intra-European air transport between twin cities, and perhaps by introduction of a European cabotage fare, a system something on the lines already operating in the United States and Australia, which would make air transport much more attractive financially to the passenger and consequently encourage the expansion of the airline network in Europe and the demand for European-built aeroplanes for Europeans.

I should like, too, to ask the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, whether it is intended to spend any of this money on long term planning additionally to the planning which he mentioned in connection with Maplin or Foulness. If noble Lords will bear with me for a few minutes, I will explain why I am asking this question. Continually in the minds of all noble Lords interested in aviation is the development of QTOL, STOL and VTOL—that is to say, quiet, short and vertical take-off aircraft. In your Lordships' House a year ago I dared to make a quantitative prediction of the progress of QTOL, and I suggested consequences which would flow from that prediction in the policy of airport construction. There has already, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, hinted, been considerable progress towards the fulfilment of that prophecy. If we take as our standard that admirable old workhorse the Boeing 707, with its almost intolerable noise level, 111 p.n.db., it is worth noting that the Boeing 747, the jumbo-jet, which started at the same intolerable level, has already been reduced to 108 p.n.db., which, although it does not seem at all likely, corresponds to a 30 per cent. reduction in noise energy. At the present time in the United States there is flying the DC 10, with a noise level of a different order, 101 p.n.db. Already the Trijet, with our own RB. 211 engine, is down to 98 p.n.db. It seems to me that this is very remarkable progress indeed and that we are establishing a trend which ought to have a very great effect upon what we do, and I can only hope that it will be allowed to.

There is no change since this time a year ago in the technological possibilities of STOL and VTOL. They are as certain of achievement as ever. It is merely a matter of whether we go ahead and capitalise our expertise, which is ahead of the rest of the world still, or whether we procrastinate until the others catch up and act. But either way airport planning will decisively be affected by a change in aircraft design. The aircraft of the future will undoubtedly affect the design of the airports of the future. The situation of the airports, their position, will affect the required performance characteristics of the aircraft, and the best combinations of aircraft and airports will depend upon their accessibility to the traveller.

I am clear that in the design of airports the British Airports Authority has a clear function. I am clear that the Civil Aviation Authority has a planning function. I understand quite clearly that in the creation of new aircraft the Government and the industry have clear functions to perform. But I am by no means clear with whom resides responsibility for creating the links between the urban centres, or perhaps rural centres, and the airports. This is the third arm of the overall system, and it is of vital importance. One would like to feel that there is the same kind of imagination behind the achievement of these communication links as there is behind the design of aircraft.

Is this third arm the responsibility of the Airports Authority? Can it attract any of the money for its development from the borrowing powers of this Bill? I suggest that we are in some danger of designing for the future on the basis of what we have to-day rather than on extrapolation from it. For example, we are, I believe, planning the Maplin project on the basis of the sort of aeroplanes we have to-day. We know, for another example that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, of a new link with London Airport at Heathrow by means of Tube railways: a system with obvious merits in dense urban complexes but, I believe, open to serious question in this new application. But we also know of thoughts and of plans for experiments with hover-trains and overhead railways, of overhead railways pneumatically sustained and driven by linear electric motors. Some of them show most promising economic and technological possibilities. Their economics should be studied in the context of airport access and of communications in the airport area.

So in addition to the questions I have asked, I make a twofold plea: first, to think of the future, and the expenditure of the British Airports Authority in that future, in a comprehensive way in which the airport and its services, the overland communications and the aircraft, are all seen as part of a single pattern. Secondly, to plan this future imaginatively, and not to assume that we shall always, for ever, get into the air by charging along the ground like the Wright brothers did at the beginning of the century. Incidentally, in the latter part of their work, they introduced means to shorten take-off because they were men of vision. We must extend this imaginative thinking not only to aeroplanes, not only to the airport services, but to the overland communications as well. In other words, I hope that some of this new money can go into new thinking.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords, may I be allowed to pay my personal tribute to Sir Peter Masefield? In the years that he has been Chairman of the British Airports Authority he has left a very fine achievement behind him and, like the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I am extremely sorry that he has not been allowed to continue his work there. I do not know why: we have never been told. Sir Peter has tremendous experience of the whole field of aviation. Many noble Lords will recall that at the end of the war he was Chief Executive of British European Airways. He is still a comparatively young man, and I should like to see his services used in this advancing technology in the country. We owe him a great debt for what he has already done for the nation.

The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, complained about the problems at Heathrow. He should cast his mind back to January, 1946, when the late Lord Winster went down to London Airport and dug the first sod. The Socialist Government of the day were determined to rush up London Airport at Heathrow, regardless of what was happening in the rest of the world (very little was done in research in America), and the result was that we finished up with the centre of the airport holding the majority of the buildings. Every bag of cement that has to go into London Airport for building has to go through a tunnel. We all know the untold delays that happen in trying to get through these tunnels. The Labour Party must bear a very big responsibility. In fact, I think the planning of Heathrow is a lasting monument to Socialism. Sir Peter Masefield took over a very real mess, and he has made it tolerable. I must say that the new terminal building compares with anything in Europe. I think we should also pay a tribute to the staff of London Airport, who have worked under great difficulties and made something worth while; and we have to make the best of it.

Having said that, I think I should add that the British Airports safety control system is probably the best in the world. It is not perfect, but it is a very fine system, and far ahead of anything I have seen elsewhere. One very murky day last year I sat in the front of a VC.10 going into Kennedy Airfield. The control was bad. One could not hear what the controller was saying in the control tower: he had a very mixed accent. There were other airliners on the right, the left, in front, and behind, and it was a question of following the leader. If ever an airline captain earns what is considered a monthly salary, these men flying into Kennedy Airport certainly do it all the time.

We certainly have a very fine control system in Britain. Apart from the five airports under the control of the Authority—Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Prestwick and Turnhouse—there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said, no real long-term plan covering all the airports in the United Kingdom to serve the population with a properly thought-out system. After all, they are all taxpayers and they are entitled to these facilities, as well as those living in Greater London or near the airports I have mentioned. We have had talk about the Severn Airport, in the West Country. Is it to be Filton? Can we be told something about the long-term planning? We have Manchester Airport, Ringway, one of the best administered airports in the country. It is well thought out and built for expansion, but there is a war going on between Manchester and Liverpool. Liverpool want to catch up with Manchester, 38 miles away. The Government must give thought to the broader problems covering the whole country, not as they are to-day but as they will be in ten years time.

There is also a need for the co-ordination of the Scottish problems with airports. Clearly, Turnhouse ought to be developed even further. I have no doubt that the new Civil Aviation Authority has been told to deal with this problem when it gets under way; but Government action is necessary, to give guidance to the new Authority to get on with the job. We have heard about the profits made by the Authority. Well, my Lords, I am not surprised that they have made a profit, because the landing charges are just about the highest in the world. Ask any operator. Whether it is the landing fee, or the cost of hiring a bench and a shop, the charge is just about the highest. It is no good making a profit if you are going to price yourself out of business, and if charges are too high airlines will tend to go to other parts of Europe. The Airports Authority must be competitive.

Speaking about these new airports, I was amazed that the international building at London Airport, which went up only four or five years ago, was put up without refrigeration, air-conditioning. I think it is to be installed this year, but with inflation, it will cost far more; and, of course, it is very difficult to put the trunking in long after the building has gone up. It should have been thought out at the beginning. Why do passengers, many of them infirm or aged, have to walk half a mile to get on and off the aeroplanes in a modern airport? There is one escalator at London, but at Schiphol passengers ride on an escalator all the way. Worse still, you can arrive at London Airport, and probably twice out of four times although you expect the aeroplane to taxi up to a pier it does not do so. It stops outside the pier, for some unknown reason, and there are no steps available. You can wait for a quarter of an hour, and then they say, "We will unload at the rear." Then you go off on the bus when the last passenger out of 130 has got on. This is the sort of thing which irritates passengers who are paying a high price to get from point A to point B, and then suffer a frustrating 20 minutes hold-up at London Airport. It does not happen at Manchester. Up there they are far ahead in dealing with these smaller matters—but of course their problems are not so great.

The noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, who has had years of experience in the aviation business, referred to noise. This is a problem that we have to keep very much in mind. He gave the decibel figures, and, undoubtedly, the RB 211 engine, over which there has been so much controversy, is going to be a very great engine, with years of development ahead of it. The noise factor is probably 40 or 50 per cent. less than with other engines. Surely, when we have complaints about noise at night during landing and take-off, and when operators are restricted in taking-off during the dark hours, it will be for them to purchase engines with the lowest decibel figures for noise. There is a great opportunity for British engine manufacturers to keep the lead which they already have in this field.

The aircraft industry as a whole is growing at a very rapid rate. I know that this Government have been immersed in all the problems that they inherited, and in many others, since they came to power, but I should like to see this House and the other place more immersed in thinking and expressing views about aviation as a whole—not merely about the airports but about the industry, both civil and military. We have for years had a lead in vertical take-off air- craft with the "Harrier", a lead far ahead of any other nation; so much so that the Americans are now placing a second order for this aircraft. Unfortunately, the Labour Government which came into power in 1964 cancelled the P.1154 vertical take-off aircraft. That cancellation was very regrettable. I agree that not all of the research and development programme could have gone ahead as it was, and that there had to be cuts, but we should surely continue in a field where we have the lead over all other nations. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, shakes his head. I do not know whether he is in disagreement, but I think we have a very definite lead in this respect. The point I want to make is that if we can get a lead in developing a medium-sized vertical take-off transport aircraft for inter-city travel, such as to Paris and Brussels, that will save miles of concrete runways in the years ahead. I hope that we shall get some guidance from the Government on this matter.

As regards Foulness, fortunately we have been told that that is now to be known as Maplin. It is easy to be critical when one does not have to answer to 100,000 constituents, as I had to do when I was in another place, but I always felt that if a third airport was needed it was needed well North of London to draw off the population of the Midlands. Unless communications with the South-East Essex coast are extremely good there will be a problem, because the airport will be in the wrong place. But from the points of view of siting and of the approach over the North Sea, the airport will be admirable, provided that the approach does not interfere with the Continental control on the other side of the North Sea. It offers great scope for a deep harbour. Our harbours are far behind those of Rotterdam and other European ports, and this project will help us when we are in the Common Market. With our unemployment problem, Britain must get out of the old industries—which is happening, anyhow—and into businesses like this which employ our people in new technology.

We have now selected the site, and I think that, on balance, Maplin is best, but I want to be assured by my noble friend that the communications—the railways and the trunk roads—are being thought out and will be available before the airport is completed. I say that because only now are we being told that an Underground railway is to run from the West End to London Airport. It was necessary years ago. So we want good communications throughout Essex, and I hope we can have an assurance on that point. Maplin will undoubtedly give flood protection to London and we shall need the full co-operation of the Port of London Authority and all those concerned on this aspect.

But I would ask my noble friend whether in the months ahead we can have a White Paper covering the whole field of aviation, including airports and vertical take-off aircraft. I know it is very difficult to estimate at this stage how much is going to be spent even on Maplin, but perhaps, with all the qualifications, we could be given an approximate figure. After all, in industry one has to plan and there has to be a cockshy at what will be spent over, say, the next five years. One accepts that the engineering, planning, drainage and so on will cost a lot of money, but I think the House would like to be given an approximate figure. May we and the nation, also be informed as this airport progresses? We have a right to know, because it is a very big venture, costing about £800 million all told. I wish the venture well, and I also wish the British Airports Authority well. The Authority has done a very fine job of work and I am sure we are appreciative of all its achievements.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is quite right that to-day we should come to praise the work of Sir Peter Masefield. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I have had the privilege of his friendship for nearly 35 years. I have known his work in aviation. When I was on the Board of British European Airways he was finishing his period as Chief Executive, and I can pay tribute to his work in that field. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, I trust that his experience, his energy and his integrity will not be lost to civil aviation in particular and to British industry in general. I should particularly like to endorse one piece of work for which he was responsible and which my noble friend has just mentioned; that is, the control system at London Airport. During my period on the Board of British European Airways (I am sorry to have to refer to it again, but I was very close to the picture) one of my duties was as Chairman of the Air Safety Committee, and I was in close touch with many of our aircrew. I can make one statement without fear of contradiction. If you asked British or international airline pilots which airport they would prefer to come into when, as they say, the birds are almost walking, they would choose London Airport, and London Airport Control. We in this House, and indeed the whole country, can be proud of that fact.

I support wholeheartedly the plea which was made by my noble friends Lord Beswick and Lord Harvey of Prestbury for more overall planning of our future policy for airports throughout the country. I am not happy that overall planning of airports should be, as it were, confined to the British Airports Authority. There is so much involved, and a much wider view is needed than any single Corporation or Government Department can take. Our minds are very finite and the minds of bureaucracy are particularly finite. I remember very well that the last Bill which another place was passing when war broke out was called the Heston Airport Extension Bill. In those days there was a little airport at Heston which has gone right out of service. The Bill proposed to lengthen the Heston runway, to knock down a church and to remove a few houses, and it aroused tremendous opposition. We thought at that time that we were doing something bold, not only for those days but for the future. But how inadequate was our thinking in those days in relation to what is required to-day! My feeling is that Government Departments and Government agencies cannot, and indeed should not, be expected to look at great national issues which need great and wide review.

As regards the new London Airport, I prefer the name Maplin, which is much more pleasant than Foulness. I was one of those who doubted whether we should go forward with the scheme. I am not going to weary your Lordships with any of the arguments put forward by those who had doubts. The Government have decided to go forward, so it is up to all of us to endeavour in every way possible to make that project a success. But, my Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, spoke of the danger of designing for the future what we have to-day. I have just given one small example as regards the past, and I fear that unless we have a better knowledge of overall planning and what is intended we may commit the same error again.

My Lords, I read the Statement which was made in another place yesterday, and it is right that we should refer to that Statement to-day as your Lordships have not had an opportunity to debate it. Furthermore, even if we were in another place I should be within the Rules of Order, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, told us, some of the money is going to be used for planning and engineering. Therefore, I make no apology at all for dealing briefly, in just a few words, with some aspects of yesterday's Statement. My first question is this: can the Minister say that the road and rail links will be ready when the first runway is available in 1980? Because I think it would be silly to have aircraft using an airport without surface links, and the present surface links to Maplin are virtually impossible and impractical for any passenger. That is my first question. The Statement contains one decision and three "no decisions". The first decision is that there should be no basic industries at Maplin. Then there is no decision on the question of an industrial estate; there is no decision on secondary industries; and there is no decision on how, when and what amount of private capital is to be injected into the scheme. I attach no blame, but it is the "no" Statement of the week—there are three "Noes". Certainly if decisions on those points cannot be announced yet, they must be announced soon as part of the overall planning.

My Lords, as well as answers to those questions I think we should like to hear something of how the machinery of government is coping with the multitude of open questions affecting nearly every Department of Government. There is scarcely a home Department that is not involved in this project, and consideration by an Inter-Departmental Committee is no doubt necessary. But I think there is a real danger, as many noble Lords who have been in Government will know, of issues being bogged down by disagreement and then the Minister saying, "I cannot accept what my colleagues want; I must take it to the Cabinet". Then, either the Cabinet—a busy body which has larger issues to deal with—has to give a decision or there is a compromise that weakens the objective aims and is probably accepted reluctantly by all. My Lords, I am not urging a dictator, but I do urge a single supremo, an overlord, in the Cabinet, whose decision will stand with the full backing of his colleagues.

The Statement says that the Minister of the Environment intends to make further statements in the future. I would ask for something more definite than that. I would ask whether the Government would consider reporting to Parliament, certainly not less frequently than twice a year during construction, on progress in all its aspects, forecasting any expectations for completion on which disappointment may have to be faced and drawing attention to any great increase in expenditure which will make estimates look false. Also in the report particulars should be given of any great difficulties or snags which have been met which will cause unforeseen delays. I think Parliament and the public are entitled to have this periodic information on this vast project, and I hope that the Minister will give that suggestion sympathetic consideration.