HL Deb 22 June 1973 vol 343 cc1578-81

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, pending their promised consultation about technological developments in the aerospace and air transport industries, and until Parliamentary assent to the construction of an airport at Maplin, they will ensure that there is no further residential development in the area previously safeguarded for the possible second runway at Gatwick.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made it clear on April 26, 1971 that, for environmental reasons, it is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government to build a second runway at Gatwick Airport. Questions of development control are in the first place a matter for local planning authorities.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, but is she not aware that since the statement to which she refers there have been a good many developments? It is in the light o' those developments that her right honourable friend has promised to have further consultations about their possibilities. In the event of those consultations, promised more recently than the statement, showing that it would be possible to have more intensive use of Gatwick with a reduced noise, would not the Government be laying themselves open to a charge of bad faith if. in the meantime, they bring residential development nearer to the airport?


My Lords, I cannot accept that statement. The Government have undertaken to review technical and other developments before reclamation of Maplin Sands, but this undertaking does not extend in scope to cover the construction of a new runway at Gatwick.


My Lords, with respect to the noble Lady, what she is saying now is absolute nonsense. It is quite irrelevant to review the reclamation of Maplin Sands unless at the same time there is a review of other airport developments. As the right honourable gentleman's assurance given in the Commons last week carries that implication, I ask her again: are they not opening themselves to the charge of bad faith if, although having those consultations, they go ahead with the residential development around the airport?


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot accept that statement of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. I have re-read what my honourable friend said in another place and I give the assurance, which has been in the Press, that we have accepted the spirit of it and that we have undertaken to review the technical and other developments. It will be a matter of great interest to those living near Gatwick if the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is saying that it is the policy of his party to build a second runway at Gatwick.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, despite the cogency with which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, delivered his speech, the charge of bad faith has no substance at all? Indeed, is my noble friend aware that if there is to be any thought of bad faith, it would be if the Minister reversed his original decision that there was not to be a second runway at Gatwick? Is my noble friend aware that there are two substantial arguments for that point? The first is on planning grounds and the second on environmental grounds. Is my noble friend aware that the Minister should stick to his original decision?


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lady to recognise that those of us who live near Gatwick are very pleased indeed to have the reassurance that there will not be a second runway? Will Her Majesty's Government resist these demands from the official Opposition to reopen the whole matter and give us one?


My Lords, may I thank both noble Lords who have asked these last questions? We are very grateful for their support, and I should like to give the assurance that there is no question of going back on the statement we have made about a second runway at Gatwick.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lady if she would congratulate her right honourable friend on his capacity of making speeches at the appropriate time? May I also ask her whether she does not realise that all of us, in all parts of the House, want to relieve the noise nuisance at Gatwick? The question is how we do it. Is she now saying that the right honourable gentleman in another place, was not serious when he put forward the proposition that it would be possible to reduce the noise nuisance by technical means now open to him?


My Lords, when the noble Lady replies, would she include an explanation how it would be possible to reduce the noise at Gatwick by building a second runway?


My Lords, the second question really answers the first. I should like to make it absolutely clear that we have accepted the spirit of the undertaking given in another place and we shall undertake this review. But there must be no question of indicating to anyone at Gatwick that we intend to build a second runway.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lady to tell her noble friend behind that it would be perfectly possible to reduce the noise at Gatwick by operating, for example, three Tri-Stars instead of one of the aircraft which he operates.


My Lords, there is a tendency for enthusiasts, including flat-earthers, to cite technical arguments for the purpose of reversing a political decision which was endorsed by both Houses of Parliament by a very substantial majority.


My Lords, might it not be a good idea to reserve some Questions for next Tuesday's debate?


My Lords, we have seen considerable skill on both sides of the House in making statements in the form of interrogative questions, but in view of the business that we have later, I think we should now move on.