HL Deb 03 February 1972 vol 327 cc989-1015

4.35 p.m.

Debate continued.


My Lords, the Second Reading of this Bill gives me the opportunity of bringing to your Lordships' notice a small matter, but one of great concern to many which comes under the subject of the Airports Authority. Badly disabled people are being put into an embarrassing and penalised position. Once more it is people less able to help themselves who are being made to suffer by a most inhumane regulation which is now in force at London's Heathrow Airport, which must be one of the biggest in the world.

If you are disabled but fortunate enough to be able to walk with sticks or crutches, and the aid of someone's arm, you are treated like any other passenger and no extra charge is made. But if, instead of having legs that work, you find yourself in the position of having to substitute by using four wheels you come into another category. The Airports Authority at London Airport say that you must be transported to and from the main building and the aircraft by a so-called "ambulance" and lifted by a fork-lift into and out of the aircraft. May I add that the so-called "ambulance" is not what any sane person would be proud to call an ambulance: it is a rattling old van, with no heating. For this service the airlines involved are charged £10. Most of these absorb this amount within their own costs; but not all do so. At least two international airlines pass on this charge of £10 to the poor, unsuspecting disabled passenger. Passengers are not warned beforehand of this charge, as no travel agency knows of this regulation and so is unable to advise clients to travel by another airline with a more humane outlook. On arrival at London Airport the passenger, the disabled traveller, is suddenly told that he must pay £10 or will get no help to disembark.

One of the cases brought to my notice concerned a lady of about 60 who suffers from multiple sclerosis but manages to carry on her profession of an art critic which takes her abroad a great deal. She was deeply shocked and terrified, on arriving at London, to find that to disembark she had to bump her way down the steps from the aircraft on her "behind". Her harrowing experience and desperate situation were eased by a member of the airport staff who transported her from the bottom of the aircraft steps to the main building, a few hundred yards away, in his own private car. This lady told me that the airport staff sympathised with her, and that on that day, October 29, 1971, there had been three other cases similar to hers.

My Lords, to an Airports Authority which deals in millions of pounds, as we have seen from this Bill, £10 must seem a very small figure. But to a badly disabled person, who may have scraped together enough money to come to this country for treatment, or who may have managed to leave the frustrations of present-day Britain for a few days much-needed holiday, £10 can seem an enormous amount. It seems that over this matter the Government have slipped back a hundred years in their attitude to disabled people. Instead of encouraging those who need encouraging to lead an independent life, they are doing all they can to discourage airlines from taking disabled passengers on their aircraft. Because of this extra charge and the extra difficulties involved, the less persistent disabled person will give up the unequal struggle and vegetate at home, thinking that he is a nuisance and not wanted.

Can this really be the attitude of the present Government? If so, it is time that something was done to change their view. As we are about to enter the Common Market, our rules and regulations may be increasingly copied, and it would be disastrous if every airport in the world charged £10 to transport a disabled person to and from an aircraft. I hope that the Minister will look into this matter and will be able to rectify the present situation without delay.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, at the outset may I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, on a most moving and eloquent speech. I hope that my noble friend will say that he will be able to call the attention of the British Airports Authority to this problem. I should like to add my tribute to that of others speakers to the outgoing Chairman, Sir Peter Masefield. Undoubtedly he has played a most distinguished part in the very successful record of the British Airports Authority. His reign, since the Authority started, has been particularly impressive from the financial point of view. I believe that the accumulated profits now reach £38 million. From my personal knowledge, I know that he devoted a great deal more time to his appointment than perhaps people might expect from the occupant of the post of a part-time chairman. As other noble Lords have said, I hope that Sir Peter Masefield will not be lost to British aviation. In saying that, I should also like to associate myself with those noble Lords who have wished success to his successor, Mr. Foulkes.

The first point to which I should like to draw attention in this Bill relates to capital. My noble friend said that the Bill would give adequate capital to the British Airports Authority. I did not notice for what period of time that adequate capital would last, but it seems surprising that it is adequate when one thinks of the enormous cost involved in meeting the ever increasing demand for air traffic. I believe that at present Heathrow handles some 16 million passengers per year. It is estimated that by 1975 the figure will be 25 million, and by 1980, 30 million. I am delighted that the British Airports Authority has recently taken over Turnhouse Airport at Edinburgh. Without wishing to pre-judge any planning appeal, I hope that they will be successful with their plans to modernise and extend the airport facilities for what, after all, is Scotland's capital city. I am sure that those who like myself fly with B.E.A. up to Edinburgh look forward to the day when the jet service will be introduced.

If asked to comment on improvements to facilities for passengers, both at Heathrow and at Gatwick, there are three matters to which I should like to draw attention. The first is the facilities for leaving luggage, which are very limited. Those who wish to leave their luggage at the airport and perhaps spend a day in London, find it a little difficult, and I hope that the situation may be improved. The second matter refers to the facilities provided when cars break down within the airport precincts. I am aware that the A.A. have a voluntary service, but I think the Airports Authority could do more in this respect. The third matter is the question of the moving escalator which the Airports Authority introduced at Heathrow some nine months ago. After much trumpeting over the introduction of this service, at the time when the Jumbo-jet terminal came into use, to my knowledge this escalator has worked for only about one month out of the nine. For the elderly, and even for the moderately fit, it is a long way to walk from the terminal to where one embarks in the aircraft. The same situation occurs at Gatwick, where at present there seem to be no plans for installing an escalator. About a week ago, when I left Gatwick, I had to walk something like a quarter of a mile to the aircraft.

When discussing the finances of the British Airports Authority, one is reminded of the controversy that arose at the time of, or soon after, devaluation, when the Authority raised its landing fees Controversy arose particularly because there seemed to be little consultation between the Airports Authority and the operators. One recognises the immense value of the foreign currency earning capacity of the airports, but I see from the Second Reading debate in another place—I do not know whether it was referred to by my noble friend—that the Airports Authority intends to increase landing fees by a further 8 per cent. in April. One understands the feelings of the operators about their monopoly and one looks, on the other hand, to the target for the Authority set by the Treasury which, I believe, is 14 per cent. One wonders whether this target gives the Authority an over-aggressive commercial policy which possibly could cause harm to the airports, in that traffic may be turned away. One has to recall that at Heathrow, B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. fees make up about 50 per cent. of the landing fees.

Of all the problems that face the British Airports Authority at the present time the major one which has been mentioned a number of times this afternoon, and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is the question of the future of Foulness. I would not agree with the noble Lord when he said that he was happy—perhaps he did not use these words—that no Statement was made in the House yesterday repeating the Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend. After all, this is one of the largest planning decisions. One understands that it will cost something in the neighbourhood of £1,100 million. I should have thought that this House was fully entitled to all information, particularly about Statements made in another place.


My Lords, let me make clear that I was not against the Statement being made in your Lordships' House, if this was to be done. I was simply referring to the fact that by reserving discussion or comment until to-day I thought that I was saving time.


My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's desire to save time, but some of us did not notice the Statement that was made in another place and read about it only this morning in the Press. Probably there has been no time to study it to-day. I should like to ask my noble friend whether he would give an assurance that Parliament will be consulted about the final estimate of costs for the building of Foulness as and when it is known. I would add that in the Statement that we missed yesterday we even missed the fact that it is now to be called Maplin and not Foulness. I hope my noble friend will give us an assurance that before any final commitment is made, Parliament will be fully informed on this information. I should like to ask my noble friend also whether Her Majesty's Government have consulted both B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. as to the likely capital cost of their facilities that will be needed at Foulness.

There is, I believe, an ever-growing band of informed aviation experts, possibly headed by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, who anticipate that when the final decision on Foulness is reached there will be much clearer evidence of the effect of quieter engines, much greater information on the studies of the short take-off aircraft, and much more evidence on the effects the wide-bodied aircraft will have. With the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, I hope at that stage that the Government will consider these factors before reaching a final, irrevocable decision.

Turning to the question of noise and of short take-off aircraft, I think it would be interesting to know what programme my noble friend's Department have for reducing the noise of engines, and what programme of investment on the development of production, and also the sort of aircraft. May I say how much I welcome the Government's decision to ban night flying at Heathrow. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked again about the British Airports Authority, and other noble Lords have done so as well. One appreciates that this will now be the concern of the new Civil Aviation Authority—possibly thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for putting down his Amendment to the Bill, which was accepted. I should like again to wish the chairman designate of this new Authority every success. I would ask my noble friend whether he can give an assurance that the Government consider that the national airport policy is a matter of priority and one which they wish to see the new C.A.A. tackle at a very early stage.

I would conclude by asking a specific question to which the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, drew attention. I do so in case my noble friend missed it. It is as to the limitation under Clause 2. As we have already heard, the British Airports Authority are limited to borrowing money from abroad. The question I wish to ask it: Why is there this limitation and why cannot the Airports Authority borrow money on the home market? This is a question the answer to which will be of interest to other noble Lords, as well as to members of the British Airports Authority.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this Bill and it is only the merging of it, as it were, with the Statement which was laid on the Table yesterday that has emboldened me to put down my name. I have therefore come unprepared and your Lordships will be relieved to hear that as a consequence I intend to be quite brief. My mind goes back to the papers that I left on my desk and would have brought. I have thought of the debate which was raised by my noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury on the Thames barrage scheme. I urged then that we might think so big that the new airport, docks extensions in the Maplin Sands and the barrage might be made one great scheme. I did so chiefly because it seemed to me that that would provide the swiftest communication between Maplin (as it is now called) and Heathrow, Gatwick and Victoria.

This point has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords who have spoken, but it is the particular point that I want to make. I think the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, said that this matter must be settled before any runway at Maplin comes into operation. Therefore it seems to me to be of primary importance that thorough thought should be given to it and to the need for rapid communication between existing airfields, which may well be employed for short haul, and (shall I say?) Maplin with perhaps a Concorde to catch. Obviously, if a passenger is coming from Edinburgh to fly by Concorde to New York he can be there much sooner by Boeing 707 from Prestwick than by coming down to Gatwick, taking the train to Victoria, a taxi across London and joining a train at King's Cross to get to Maplin. I refer to King's Cross because I think I am right in saying that, as matters stand. the plan is that the rail link with Maplin should come to King's Cross. I have some knowledge of this problem of air transport and this seems to me to be absolutely out of the question.

I will not weary your Lordships more along those lines except to mention another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton; namely, that the hover-train and the monorail may well develop into a really rapid means of transport from one airport to another, and it may be that without the grandoise scheme of a barrage off the Isle of Sheppey the right place for the rail link with Gatwick, Victoria and Heathrow would be much further up the river than the new docks would be.

My noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury referred to the absence of a rail terminus inside Heathrow. I do not know how many of your Lordships are aware how that situation arose. My information, which is on the best authority, is that the only stumbling block between the original plan—no matter that the central building arrangement may have been bad and would consequently require an underground approach—which was for a direct link by rail from Heathrow to Victoria, was a quarrel (or shall I call it a disagreement?) between the railway authorities and the airport construction authorities as to who should pay for the additional two lines that were necessary to extend the bridge across the Thames. Simply because this issue could not be resolved, we find ourselves to-day with the problem of an enormously costly arrangement of putting an underground railway into the centre of a major airport.

That brings me to something that nearly every other speaker has urged upon my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn. When my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye was speaking I was sad that he used the two words that I have scribbled on my notes, "overlord" and "supremo". It seems to me that if anything comes out of this debate it is the unanimity of opinion that manifestly the interests here are so disparate that there must be some overall authority to decide what is to be done.

From that I come to the other matter of cost. I have some sympathy with my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn when noble Lords urge him to say what this scheme will cost, because the problems of policy are so great. Surely the cost will depend to a very great extent upon what any "supremo" will decide as to who is going to build and pay for the docks: how much is to be paid for the docks, how much of the cost is to be contributed by British Rail and how much is to be subscribed by private capital and private enterprise. Therefore I have great sympathy with my noble friend who will reply on that count. Of course it would be only right for me to say that the first speaker to talk about the absolute necessity (although he did not use the word "overlord" or "supremo") for such a person, was the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, so I think we are unanimous in that respect.

There is one thing I might have said: as a Scotsman and a citizen of Edinburgh, the news given by the noble Lord is very good. However, I should like to urge one particular point, which is that no considerations of where the airport buildings are to go, and no deliberations in regard to their design should be allowed to delay the completion of plans and the commencement of the runway. A son-in-law of mine is a very go-ahead architect and after a visit to the Montreal Expo. a few years ago he said that what had struck him most during his visit was what he called the "blown-up" buildings—buildings which had been constructed there of modern materials and designed with very great capacity but at no very great cost, because they were good for only three or four years. From that he suggested to me, and I suggest to my noble friend, that it should be considered that if the existing buildings at Turnhouse are to be inadequate when the new runway is completed it might provide a more speedy completion of the runway and ultimately provide a better plan for the final airport buildings if the existing ones could be supplemented by "blown-up" buildings (if I may use this Canadian term) by using quasi-permanent structures. Above all, this should be borne in mind if it means that a second runway will be available to Edinburgh at the soonest possible moment.

I have only one other matter to put forward. This has not been touched upon by any other of your Lordships, and it concerns the stacking of aircraft. My noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury mentioned the problems of coming into Kennedy Airport and similar airports, but I think I am right in saying that it is not only the problems on the ground that form limitations with regard to Heathrow and Gatwick. Nor is it, indeed, the problem of stacking inward bound aircraft. The problem that arises after take-off from either of these airports is for the Traffic Control to find a slot for an aircraft which is making, say, for Paris. A delay of 10 or 15 minutes on such a journey is a very serious matter. That is all I have to say, my Lords, except that I should like to return to the point with which I began; namely, that it seems to me that the planning, the design and, as the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, said, the completion of the land links to Maplin come very near the top of the priorities list.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, I did not put my name down to speak because I had not read the Statement until this morning, but it contains one paragraph which restricts the new port at Maplin so that it will not take oil tankers, and says that a steelworks should not be developed in the area. I cannot help feeling that that is a very retrograde statement to make. I look upon Maplin as a new Europort for England. It will be the nearest port to the Europort in Holland. We all know what a lot of good these ports have done: into them we bring iron ore, convert it into steel and then into motor cars, and these can be shipped, all within a very small area. This may be forward thinking, but surely the motor trade ought not to be concentrated in the Midlands but ought to come down to the South and occupy land which is now under water and which we are going to reclaim. Unless you have the oil coming in and can convert iron ore into steel and steel into manufactured goods in that area, I have little hope of Maplin being a feasible proposition.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, my name is not on the list of speakers, but I shall be very brief. I rise only because Foulness has been introduced into this debate, and as I, for perhaps ten years past and indeed right into the pre-Stansted days, have been very active and, to your Lordships' knowledge, very vocal in advocating the case for Foulness, you may think that if I remain silent I am sulking. Speaking as a former news editor of one of our national daily papers, I think it is fairly safe to say that the dramatic intervention by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, is what is going to capture the headlines to-morrow and that the technical and financial provisions of this Bill are going to get very short shrift indeed.

I speak under some disadvantage here. Many of your Lordships who have addressed the House have yourselves been active aeronautical experts, either managing great aviation undertakings or actually sitting in the pilot's seat of aircraft of various kinds. I have never been anything like that, but it came near to it once. Back in 1917 I was an infantry company sergeant-major round about Poperinghe and they suddenly appealed for people to transfer from the infantry to the Royal Flying Corps. So I went along to the aerodrome at Abeele and presented myself. They thought I was a likely young chap but, they said, "You will have to transfer to the Flying Corps in the rank of sergeant instead of being a company sergeant major." My father was an old Regular soldier, and if I had written home to him saying, "I was a company sergeant major yesterday, I am a sergeant to-day, but this is nothing in the way of a black mark against me", I do not think he would have believed me. So I left the Flying Corps behind me as one of those things that might have been.

We have had a good debate to-day, but there have possibly been one or two rough edges. The noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton (incidentally I used to live in Kings Norton), says that we need more runways. We have heard from other speakers in the debate who say that vertical and short take-off aircraft will render more runways unnecessary; and that has been the very essence of the argument that has been used from time to time against building the airport at Foulness. We were also told that at Gatwick and Luton there is at the moment a grave state of uncertainty. I suppose that was intended as a criticism of the way the Airports Authority is at present carrying out its work and projecting its future plans. For the same reason, I feel that we do not want to import any more uncertainty at this late hour into the question of the airport at Foulness. That was an imaginative and courageous plan, which has become even more important now that we have decided, whether rightly or wrongly—and the House knows my view—to go into the Common Market.

I agree with speakers who have said that there must be some kind of overall Minister in command of this operation. It need not necessarily be one man; a small Cabinet sub-committee of the Ministers concerned with aviation, industry, and the environment, could make a workable sub-committee. Incidentally, I do not agree with my noble friend who suggested that we should station the motor industry in or around Foulness. We have a fairly substantial motor industry in Essex at the moment, known as the Ford Motor Company. I doubt whether the labour would be available if another motor industry of great magnitude were installed at Foulness.

I must refer, as everyone else has referred, to the Statement which was circulated yesterday. It is a very satisfactory Statement—and if I say anything which indicates that something done by a Tory Government is satisfactory, your Lordships can take it quite certainly that I mean it. The Statement foreshadows prompt development, both of the airport and of the seaport. It promises us a deep seaport with an oil terminal and equipped for the container traffic. This is something that should have been done long ago, before we allowed Rotterdam to get ahead of us. Rotterdam can become the focal traffic point of Europe if we allow this opportunity at Foulness to escape us. I am delighted that there are to be no steel works, no oil refinery and no other big primary industrial establishments. All that I have said is completely in line with the view of the planning authority of the neighbourhood; that is to say, the Essex County Council, of which for 22 years I had the honour to be a member. That is exactly the view they take: an airport and a seaport—not a gigantic one, but one which is adequate—with the necessary secondary industries that have to be grouped around an airport. They do not want a great major industrial complex settled there, mainly because of the crush that would be created on accommodation for the people who would be employed.

From the financial point of view, as explained in the document circulated this morning, it is said that the scheme is to be basically under "public sector commitment and control". This means to say that the construction of the airport is to be a nationalised undertaking. I agree completely with this; but I similarly agree, as anybody looking at it realistically must do, that there will be scope for contracts to be placed with private enterprise firms later for the hotels, the secondary industries, the dredging operations, and so on. From what we have read, there are three or four very efficient groups of contractors, dredgers, and others, which have been formed, and although they are probably going to be disappointed that they do not get in and do the job as a complete private enterprise, they can be well content with the contracts that will be coming their way as the scheme progresses, I am a little unhappy about the way land speculators have been diving into that corner of Essex during the past two years. I sincerely hope that some steps will be taken by the Government to see that, after millions of pounds of Government money have been poured into the enterprise, the cream is not skimmed off by people who do no more useful work than sit at their desks and sign cheques and options.

There are two or three matters that I should like to raise, although I know that I cannot get the answers to-day. But, for reasons which will be apparent, it is desirable that the answers should be given as soon as possible to allay any public apprehension that there may be. First, what is to be the route to be followed by the roads? I know that territory very well. I have a fairly good idea where the road could go without causing much damage to anybody, but if the wrong route were taken it could be a calamity. What route will be taken by the new railway? I believe that a straightforward trouble-free route could be chosen, whereas other routes could cause a considerable amount of inconvenience and expense. We want to know fairly soon the position of the runways, because this is a matter of great controversy in the neighbourhood. The runways must not be too far to the South; they must not be so far to the North that they interfere with the estuary of the Crouch. As soon as we can we must know what the Minister has decided about the route of the roads and the railway. This is a primary matter that has to be settled and made public.

We want to hear something about the provision to be made for housing the many scores of thousands of workers who will ultimately have to be accommodated there—and I wonder what kind of under- taking will carry out that work? Will something in the nature of a New Town Corporation be set up? Something like that is required; you cannot scatter the job between three or four local councils. One authority should be put in charge of a vast housing undertaking. But more important than all this, there was a hint in the paper circulated this morning about the undesirability of allowing all the industry and housing accommodation to trespass across the Crouch into the district North of that river. The attitude of Essex County Council is that there should be no trespassing into the territory North of the Crouch by anything associated with the Foulness Airport.

I am delighted, as other noble Lords were, to see that the term "Foulness" has been dropped and that "Maplin" has been introduced. "Maplin" is strictly more accurate because the airport is to be built upon the Maplin Sands. There is a little misunderstanding about the derivation of the Word "Foulness". I have heard it pronounced "Foul-ness". I have heard it suggested that there is something odiferous about the neighbourhood. However, it is not that. The word "foul" comes from the little birds that inhabit the sands. The word "ness" comes from the promontory that sticks out into the sea at that point. My Lords, I hope that we shall get information about this undertaking as frequently as possible.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, at the risk of helping the unlisted tail to wag the listed dog in this debate, I venture to put in a word in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton. She mentioned three categories of handicapped people likely to be flying: those travelling in pursuit of their profession; those coming to this country for treatment; and those going abroad for a holiday. There is a fourth category which I suspect may be numerically the largest. From this country every year hundreds, if not thousands, of handicapped people make pilgrimage to Lourdes. They fly out and they fly back. Almost all the pilgrimages are financed on a shoestring; the overwhelming majority of the pilgrims come from the poorer sections of society. If the impost to which the noble Baroness has referred is levied on every one of these, quite a number will be unable to go on pilgrimage, which is contrary, I am sure your Lordships will agree, to Christian charity.

Having said that, I should also like to support her picture of the other side of the story, the helpfulness and courtesy of the airport staff. I have seen regulations bent wherever they could be bent to help the handicapped, and red tape cut through as if it were butter. There is no doubt in my mind that the point the noble Baroness has made must be borne in mind by the Government.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, having travelled by air back to this country last week with a son with a broken leg I would endorse that the airport staffs both at Zurich and at London Airport are very considerate indeed in allowing wheel-chairs to be pushed through and in allowing special access and every possible facility. I could not praise them too highly for the way in which they work to make this possible. I wanted to intervene to support something the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said in opening from the other Benches. More and more I have come to the conclusion —and I have to travel a lot by air both on inter-continental and on inter-U.K. routes—that one needs to separate the inter-U.K. from the long, continental routes. We are still treating these short flights—and I would probably include shortly inter-Western Europe flights—of one hour in the same way as other flights. It is really ridiculous to treat them in the same manner as we treat flights to Africa, to America and to Australia. One is forced to report 30 minutes beforehand now. This perhaps made sense twenty years ago when manifests were laboriously hand-written out in capital letters. Now all this is done by computer, not in milliseconds, not even in microseconds, but in nanoseconds. But not for poor human beings! They perforce have to be there 30 minutes before flight time; and, being prudent people and allowing for possible blockages on the roads, either into the airport or on the trunk roads leading to the airport, they allow themselves probably an extra 15 minutes. So one is always setting aside before take-off quite as much time—probably more—as that of the actual flight. I would therefore think that we have to separate the manner in which we deal with these short-haul passengers.

I have travelled a lot on the Boston-New York airbus route, and there one reports on the hour up to the moment of take-off. If you arrive at one minute to six and there is a place on the 6 o'clock 'plane, you catch the 'plane; if you arrive at one minute past six, you have to wait an hour because another hour elapses before the next 'plane leaves. The way to treat inter-city travel in this country is quite simply in this manner. You carry on your own luggage so you do not have to wait even while that is unloaded. Furthermore, I cannot see why air travel is the only facility where one is free to have what is called technically a "no show". You book a ticket and you do not turn up, and you are apparently entitled to travel on another day. If I book a ticket for a theatre or concert, or almost anything else, and do not occupy my seat, then I forfeit the place. I cannot help feeling that this should be so in air travel. So one would find that in fact there was a general encouragment to have higher load factors, and this would add to the economy of the airline and would probably in due course—when we can break away from IATA and its restrictive practices—lower air fares for the benefit of all. Is the noble Lord going to interrupt?


My Lords, I was only going to support what was said about services in the United States. At a time last year when almost everywhere else airline traffic was stagnating, there was between a 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. increase in the total traffic carried there.


Well, my Lords, I think this is imaginative, and that is one of the reasons why I support a third airline in this country. Sometimes the Corporations have been a little rigid; they have not allowed trickle loading when one arrives at an airport. Now it is allowed, but it was not allowed until it was pioneered by, I think, British Eagle, on the Edinburgh route. All these are ways to help stimulate enterprise and comfort, to the benefit of the travelling public. I would hope that we may send out a message that we cannot go on having to report 30 minutes early for the convenience of the administrative staff and that this system should be changed for inter-United Kingdom flights.

Now I come to the bigger question. In a democracy I cannot believe that any Government like to create a new airport, which means a new centre of noise and grave discomfort to all the people who are living around that new airport. That, surely, was one of the reasons why Foulness was selected. But equally I think that one should make the optimum use of existing airport facilities, and that one should spend money, and spend it more wisely and more productively, by improving the navigation systems and by improving the control systems, so that the traffic can be packed in and out of the airport to the maximum extent. The noble Lord in introducing this Bill said that London had a greater number of international passengers than any other airport in the world. The point to look at in this is international passengers; but, of course, it does not handle anything like as much as the airports at Chicago, Washington or New York. All those airports on the North American continent handle more. Therefore, I would say that we can still—and we must until Foulness is ready—go on improving the handling, improving in the technical sphere; improving the control systems and, above all, surely, investing in quieter aircraft. And if necessary we should be awkward. After all, the Americans were very awkward about the Comet. It was too noisy, until their own jets were ready to handle civil traffic, and then it was allowed. Unfortunately for Britain, it ran into other troubles and this delayed its massive introduction into service, which was of some advantage to its rivals. Well, if they can be awkward, so we can be awkward. We can start setting standards and—the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, made this point very rightly—the number of decibels now is reducing each time, and it is encouraging that the number is going down. We should encourage it by spending Government money on research and development to this end. We shall be benefiting the sales of our aircraft and benefiting literally millions of people who live around the international airports of the world as a result of this R. and D.

I still think it is probably necessary to go to Foulness. But let us be quite honest: if we were an operating airline we would wish to operate out of an established airport, and we are going to find it very difficult to move established airlines out of London Airport. For one thing, they have all their spares stacked in one place and there is a very big investment in spares, and they do not want to have to repeat this and have another stack of spares, very expensive spares, at Foulness and possibly at Gatwick as well. Secondly, there is the recruiting and training of staff—key staff in the technical sphere. Are they to be repeated also, once at London Airport, once at Gatwick, and once at Foulness? There would be grave objections to this from the airlines. So there will be tremendous pressure from everyone to stay where they are. That is why I say, go ahead with Foulness, but do realise that it is going to be a long haul and a very expensive haul. I would urge my noble friend not to fall into the trap, quite understandably set, and to say, "Please do not quote us a price until the surveys in depth and all the planning has been looked into. It will be wrong even then, but it will be much more wrong if you quote it to-day". I am sure that my noble friend will not fall into that trap. We can all think of occasions in the last twenty years when prices have been put on projects that have always proved to be utterly and completely wrong.

I think it is right to support Foulness. One of my reasons for supporting it is that obviously it is not going to create a new centre of noise, because most of the noise will be over the sea and therefore it is not going to disrupt the people who live there. My second reason is that it will give tremendous incentive for development of a hover-train or monorail. I very much doubt whether this country is going to punch ahead in that important area without an incentive, which Foulness I believe makes absolutely essential. Then we have to consider also possibly high-speed links between the three London airports, for the sake of key staff and the sake of key spares, because they will not always be available in the right places.

So I have lastly come to support the idea that there is so much at stake in future development of the airport system around London that there ought to be some co-ordinating authority. It is not common practice, as the last noble Lord who spoke rightly said, to list Cabinet committees. I have never quite understood why not—it generally becomes known—but it has not been done, and this may be a way to do it. But certainly we want someone to co-ordinate all these plans if we are to go punching ahead as fast as we should do, and if we are going to match up to what the French, the Germans and the Americans are doing. If we do not match up to them we shall lose our air traffic to those centres where facilities may be better than our own. So may we please have a co-ordinating authority to handle these vital matters?

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I have been asked a very great number of questions in the course of this debate, which I suppose was inevitable, and I am bound to say at the outset that a great many of the questions I have been asked are matters for Mr. Foulkes and his colleagues; and we wish them well in dealing with them. In many cases also they are matters for the airway authorities, the B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. Many of the matters that have been raised are really within their purview, but I will of course bring them to the attention of the authorities concerned, although I doubt whether that is in fact necessary; they will be watching this debate very carefully. Certainly this debate has been worth while and it will be worth their while to pay attention to it. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, including of course the noble Baroness.

The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in opening, asked a number of important questions. The first was about an overall airport plan. He asked what is to be the supreme authority, and he laid stress on the need for one real leader. As has been said in the debate, the noble Lord was himself responsible for the amendment in the Civil Aviation Act which really gives the key to the answer. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will of course continue to exercise the statutory obligations laid upon him in respect of the British Airports Authority, and his Department will continue to be the sponsoring Department for that Authority. But the Civil Aviation Authority will take over from the Department of Trade and Industry the licensing of airports, and consequently will be responsible for licensing the airports of the British Airports Authority. As noble Lords will be aware, all airports used for commercial operations or instruction in flying are licensed annually to ensure that they are adequate, from the safety standpoint, for the operations they have to carry out. We do not anticipate that this will give rise to any difficulty or friction between the two authorities.

The Civil Aviation Authority, under Section 33 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971, will have a duty to make recommendations to my right honourable friend in regard to what aerodromes are likely to be required in this country from time to time in addition to, or in place of, existing aerodromes, and these recommendations must be published by the Secretary of State. So it is clear that before making any such recommendations the Civil Aviation Authority will have to undertake a study in depth of the aerodrome requirements of this country and will need to consult with all interested parties, including, of course, the British Airports Authority. Any recommendations they make will be made with the object of providing the best guidance possible to all aerodrome owners in the United Kingdom, and we expect to see close liaison between the Civil Aviation Authority and all aerodrome owners, including the British Airports Authority, in this matter.

Many noble Lords have referred to the question of a national airports plan. If that plan arises it will arise in this way.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, and I hope the way in which he sees the position will work out. Everything that he has said is hinged upon the responsibilities of the Department of Trade and Industry. Can he therefore say why the responsibility for making the Statement yesterday, about the biggest single project of all, was left to the Department of the Environment?


My Lords, because the Department of the Environment has to deal not only with transport problems—ground transport—but with the whole question of the environment of the airports, with all the questions that have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, and others. It was proper for him to make the Statement because he is at the moment co-ordinating the whole issue.

If I may, I will just touch on this because a great deal has been said about it in the course of the debate. There is of course a committee which is dealing with this matter, called the Progress Review Committee, and it is for Ministers to exercise control and to make certain that the whole plan is well co-ordinated. I should only like to say that, so far as the Maplin airport is concerned, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to go ahead with this project and to make certain that by the time the first runway is in operation the transport links are fully operational. What those transport links will be I am unable to say, but I fully take the point made by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, that this is a great opportunity to develop means of transport, such as the hover-train or the monorail, or the fast train services; and of course there are road links to be considered as well, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, referred. All these have to be worked together in one plan, with the intention that the runway shall be in operation by 1980.

The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked for a statement on the future of Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. In the course of my opening speech I referred to the Statement made in the other place on July 27 of last year, and I think perhaps it is worth putting emphasis again on the main points. The first point was that it is not expected (in spite of what my noble friend Lord Kings Norton said) that new runways will be required in the meantime. This is a calculation that has been made. Secondly, Heathrow and Gatwick will continue as major international airports for the foreseeable future; and thirdly, after the third London Airport is open Luton and Stansted will probably not be required for commercial air transport operations. Lastly, when the third London airport is in operation it should be possible to impose stricter limits at Heathrow and Gatwick in the interests of noise control.

May I turn now to the second question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, which was the cost of the Maplin project? I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing that it would really not help to add to the indications of cost that were given in the Roskill Report, and it will have been noticed by those who have read the proceedings in another place that the Secretary of State did not respond to the request for putting a price on the developments at Foulness, because of course such price would be extremely difficult to calculate. In any case, one would have to differentiate between the cost of actually building the airport and the cost of all the developments that are required—the communications and the like. So I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Beswick, and my noble friend will excuse me from giving that reply at the present time.

The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that there was a great deal of uncertainty at the present time. He is in as good a position as anyone to know that inevitably there is a certain amount of uncertainty in these matters, and I would suggest to him that any uncertainty that exists at the moment, apart from the longer-term uncertainty, relates to the planning procedures. In fact I indicated in my speech that, subject to approvals being given, those uncertainties should soon be removed. The noble Lord also asked whether a White Paper could be published. I hope that I have sufficiently answered that point for the time being. I shall of course draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend, but I hope that what I have said now will be sufficient to indicate the present intentions of Her Majesty's Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, in a very interesting speech indeed, asked first of all why it is necessary to borrow from the National Loans Fund and also to add the possibility of borrowing from abroad but not at home. This is the normal practice so far as a nationalised industry is concerned and there really is no good reason to alter this practice at the present time.


My Lords, is borrowing in this country excluded?


Yes, my Lords; there are no powers at the present moment for the British Airports Authority to borrow in this country.


It seems a little odd.


I was extremely interested in the suggestions that the noble Lord made for intra-European transport between twin cities and the possibility of developing a cabotage system. I am sure that he will have ample opportunity to develop these ideas; and many of them, of course, subject to the licensing procedures. could develop quite spontaneously. I think he was perhaps under some misapprehension when he was asking about the possibility of the sums we are talking about in this Bill being devoted to airports other than those controlled by the British Airports Authority. That is not possible; that does not arise.

As usual we paid very great attention to what the noble Lord had to say about QTOL and STOL and VTOL, and my noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury also referred to this. The Government. in collaboration with other bodies, including B.E.A. and B.A.A. and aircraft manufacturers, are studying a range of possible future aircraft with reduced runway requirements. In the course of these studies it is necessary to examine a wide range of problems, including how such aircraft would operate; how many could operate from various possible sites; the extent of noise disturbance at each possible site; the overall cost of developing such a system, and whether the demand from European as well as from British airlines would be sufficient to make production and use of these aircraft economically feasible. All I can say is that it is too early to predict when the Government will be in a position to make a firm announcement about the results of these studies. Nevertheless, the present indications are that STOL aircraft, even if they are developed, will not be available in time to affect the need for extra runway capacity for conventional aircraft at the end of the the Roskill Report and it is still the position. The successful development of STOL aircraft could affect the size of the ultimate development at Maplin. I cannot say more at the present time.

I come now to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton. This is essentially, of course, one of the matters that is not directly in the ambit of the Government. I thought perhaps she was a little hard in castigating the Government and saying that they had slipped back 100 years in this matter. I can only give her the information that is available. I know that she has been in correspondence about this, and the information came to me at the last moment before the debate. It is this. The Authority, at the request of airlines, supplies the ambulance service on repayment, and although most of the airlines absorb this cost, there are some, such as Air France, which pass the charge on to the passenger. I quite agree that this may be rather a shock to some of the passengers, but Air France regulations apparently require that they pass on to passengers the cost of any special facilities. As to the point about disabled people not being allowed to be carried on or off aircraft and being forced to use the service of the fork-lift truck ambulance, I am not quite certain how far this is so. All I can say is that it would mean that disabled passengers who travel by airlines which pass on the charge must pay the charge themselves even if they are accompanied by people who are prepared to carry them on and off the aircraft. That is denied both by B.A.A. and Air France; they say that there is no such rule.


My Lords, I personally have often travelled by various airlines and have never been allowed to be carried on. In one case my husband and the captain of an aircraft flying to Spain offered to carry me on, and were not allowed to do so by some authority at London Airport. I kept the aeroplane waiting 20 minutes. which was not very popular with the other passengers. The reason was that the man driving the fork-lift truck ambulance was having his supper.


My Lords, that is very direct evidence and I shall certainly draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye praised the control system at London Airport and I was very glad to hear what lie said. I know the part that he himself has played in this. I think that he was perhaps being a little unfair in saying that Government Departments cannot and should not be expected to look at great national issues. We have from time to time inquiries, such as the Edwards Committee, into the whole field of an industry. That, after all, is what Governments are there to do, to co-ordinate this work, even if they do not do it themselves; it is what they have to do from time to time. He criticised the Statement that was made by my right honourable friend in another place. I found a slight contradiction in what he said, because on the one hand he was criticising the progress report—this was, after all, a progress report which as such does not indicate completion but indicates that some things are not done—and at the same time he was asking for further progress reports. I noticed that my right honourable friend concluded what he had to say in words which are very well known, "Further announcements on these and other aspects will be made in due course.


My Lords, it is quite true that he said that. What I was asking was whether there could be some periodic progress reports or a White Paper, because those words really mean absolutely nothing; it may mean no progress report for a year or a year and a half. Could there not be some periodic information to Parliament as to how matters are going, matters of finance, construction and various other matters?


My Lords, I am sure that most members of the Government know very well that if there was no such report over a period the noble Lord would be clamouring for one, so I do not think we need fear that the progress reports will not be forthcoming. But whether they should be forthcoming at particular intervals is another matter, and perhaps the noble Lord will leave it for further consideration.

My noble friend, and also the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, complained that no heavy industry was to be allowed at the port. I do not think this was a complaint; I think it was a question which my noble friend was asking. I should make it quite clear that there is an obvious distinction between an airport with the possibility of a seaport associated with it and the sort of Europort that exists at Rotterdam. What my noble friend said was that heavy industry was not acceptable, either on regional planning grounds or on grounds of compatibility with the airport. I think I might add that there really is no evidence that a seaport/airport combination would be a great attraction to industry. This does not mean, of course, that the seaport might not be visited by tankers and the oil pumped inland; but this is the way this is looked at.

My noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury made a most interesting speech, and asked a great many questions. Some of them, again, are not really matters for this debate. He also asked for a White Paper covering the whole field of aviation. He went into the question of noise and the development of aircraft; he also asked about the Scottish position. The Scottish position will simply be this: that Prestwick and Edinburgh will be under the control of the British Airports Authority, and Glasgow, as a municipal airport, will be on its own. The remaining airports, so far as I can remember, are to be transferred from the D.T.I. to the Civil Aviation Authority.


My Lords, what I am not clear about is what happens in the case of a municipal airport, such as Ringway, at Manchester. To what extent will that be co-ordinated into the Authority's airports? I am thinking also about Liverpool, which wants to develop its own airport.


My Lords, I think this will be a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority to advise on. I do not think I ought to follow up this matter now, because it is outside the purview of this debate, and the airports mentioned do not come under the British Airports Authority.

I think I have detained the House long enough. I should like to thank my noble friends Lord Kinnoull and Lord Ferrier for their speeches, and I will study any points that they have raised. The only point I think I should deal with now is the point that my noble friend raised about landing fees. It is the case that the B.A.A. are proposing to introduce an overall 8 per cent. increase in charges in April. However, this does not mean that it will be evenly spread over all services. In fact, there will be a reduction for internal aircraft, and an increase on a good many of the heavier aircraft. The charges will fall more heavily on the heavier aircraft.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt, and I apologise for doing so again, because the noble Lord has done absolutely splendidly in answering the questions. But there was one question of mine to which he did not refer, and ironically it was the only one relating to the Bill that we are discussing. I asked what proportion of this money, the £125 million which they will now be allowed to borrow, is due to the proposed expenditure on what was termed the "preparatory planning of Foulness". I noted with extreme unbelief the suggestion advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, that it is possible to start on a proposition without knowing how much it is going to cost. I think there must be some proportion of this accounted for in the way described, and I should be grateful if the noble Lord could say how much it is.


My Lords, this represents an increase, does it not, of just on £55 million, and it is to cover a period of something of the order of five years. I think that over that period it would be difficult to quantify minutely the actual amount to be spent on these kinds of researches.


What order of cost?


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord the order of cost, but I think the main point that is worth mentioning here is that it will be some time before any heavy cost falls upon the B.A.A., and it is quite likely that the main airport construction will not start until the middle of 1975. Therefore it is bound to be some time before the main costs arise, and no doubt it will be necessary to come to Parliament in connection with the large costs that are involved in the construction of the Maplin airport and the communications.

I hope that I have dealt with the various points tolerably well, and that the House will now be prepared to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.