HL Deb 11 December 1979 vol 403 cc962-4

2.48 p.m.


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 why they decided to hold a public inquiry into the proposal to construct a second terminal at Gatwick.


My Lords, the Government considered that the proposal to construct a second terminal at Gatwick Airport was of sufficient importance, regionally and nationally, for the matter to be determined jointly by my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Trade, rather than being dealt with by the appropriate local planning authority. The planning application was therefore called in, and a public inquiry was arranged so that all the difficult issues involved should be fully investigated and open to public scrutiny.


My Lords, does my noble friend recall that some months ago the Government published a White Paper a major feature of which was the policy decision to develop Gatwick Airport up to a level capable of handling 25 million passengers a year? On the basis of that policy, is not at least a second terminal inevitably required and, on that basis, is not therefore a public inquiry a waste of time and public money and really no more than a work creation scheme for the planning Bar?


No, my Lords, I would not accept that a public inquiry which allows all interested bodies to make their views known, including those specifically and perhaps personally affected, should not be held.


My Lords, can my noble friend envisage carrying out the declared policy of the Government, which they are already pursuing by ordering foreign airlines to move to Gatwick, other than by deciding, after all this inquiry is over, that a second terminal has to be built?


My Lords, as my noble friend will know, the Government are presently involved in a major consideration of airport policy in the South-East, and the question of a second terminal at Gatwick is of course part of that consideration. I should not want to prejudge the outcome of that consideration.


My Lords, with regard to the Minister's original reply, can he help the House on a related matter? Can he tell us whether the British Airports Authority were acting within their powers, or were within their rights, in agreeing with the West Sussex County Council that there should be no second runway built at Gatwick; or was that decision not for them to take?


My Lords, the agreement to which the noble Baroness refers was, as she rightly says, entered into by the British Airports Authority, and as I told the House the other week, the Government were not a party to that agreement and are certainly not bound by it. As for the point about the British Airports Authority, there is, I am afraid, more than one view as to whether the British Airports Authority were entitled to enter into that agreement. The matter could only finally be decided if it came before the courts.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, if this had not been a public inquiry, people who live in the vicinity would have been most horrified and rather distressed if all the evidence had not been brought out?—because there are people who live near airports who feel as strongly about these matters as do people who merely travel in aeroplanes.


I think that my noble friend is quite right, my Lords.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that if the delays in reaching any decisions about terminals at Heathrow or Gatwick, or about another London airport, go on indefinitely, they will do infinite damage to this country? Can he not do something to expedite a decision on something, sometime?


My Lords, I agree that democracy is sometimes rather tiresome, but that does not mean that we should throw it out of the window.


My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that problems of Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Maplin and the other airports have been debated at enormous length for years by the people and the Governments concerned, and that no new facts on any of them could conceivably come out?


My noble friend may well be right, my Lords.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, will my noble friend accept the suggestion of my other noble friend, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that a declaration of policy by a Government—any Government—has some sacred quality which forbids it to be overturned by public acclamation or resistance?


My Lords, if my noble friend is suggesting that that was suggested by my other noble friend, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, then I do not think that I would agree with him.


My Lords, if a second runway were built at Gatwick airport, would it then be necessary to proceed with the construction of a third airport in the Midlands?


My Lords, I think that if I were to comment upon that, I should be pre-empting the Statement which is to be made in due course on airport policy in the South-East generally.