§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Baroness BURTON of COVENTRY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the immediate problems arising for passengers and airlines as a result of the proposed transfer of flights from Heathrow to Gatwick on 1st April next. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, tonight I am making two assumptions: first, that everyone concerned in these problems, facing both passengers and airlines, wishes to be helpful; and, secondly, that the Government, in response to the Question asked, will deal with the immediate problem arising and not with what is planned for the more distant future, which is something to which I hope and expect we can return at a later date. Dealing with the second assumption first, the House will recall that we are told a good deal about the Gatwick 1503 of the future, but not about the Gatwick of 1st April next, which is my immediate concern; and, in an effort to be helpful, I have told the Minister the points J intend raising and the questions I intend asking.
§ My Lords, apart from this, though, the Question we are debating tonight deals with airlines as well as with passengers, and a few words must be said on the general approach to the airlines before we come to the passengers. This whole matter has been handled very badly, and I think this is now generally realised. A considerable amount of factual information has come my way, and Spain must be mentioned. As I understand matters, it was on 18th August last that the British Government, without prior consultation or agreement, advised the Spanish Government that Iberia services were to be transferred from Heathrow to Gatwick on 1st April 1979. It was on 22nd August that the Department of Trade, without prior notice or discussion, directed Iberia to transfer services on 1st April 1979. If true, such procedure seems to me neither courteous nor flexible, nor even sensible. Iberia objected. Without going into detail—which, I repeat, I hope is something we can do on a later occasion—it seems to me that the Spanish airline makes a valid point which cannot be just swept under the carpet. It was one of the first six airlines to commence operations from Heathrow in 1946. Over the past 32 years, 68 airlines have been allowed to commence operations from Heathrow, when it must have been obvious to the authorities that they could not meet their requirements in the future.
§ As this whole affair surfaced over the Iberian Peninsular, it must be added that TAP, the airline of Portugal, tell me a similar story. The decision was conveyed to them, without prior notice, on 23rd August. This decision was put forward as a directive, with no logical supporting reasons and no suggestion of further discussions. TAP started operations at Heathrow in 1949. At that time there were 12 airlines operating there; now there are 75. Indeed, 15 of these airlines have been accepted within the past four years, during which time the problem of saturation at Heathrow has been under discussion. I must say that I understand TAP's indignation when they state that 1504 they have been co-operating with the airport during this problem of congestion by so arranging matters that their arrival times profile is completely outside Heathrow's peak hours profile. At the very least it appears to me unfair that two of the longest established customers at Heathrow airport should be expected to accept a loss of traffic plus a loss of revenue and investment, to say nothing of bearing the cost of the move—and all without even prior discussion. That is hardly a prelude to amicable procedure!
§ As wiser counsels have now prevailed and discussions have taken place, I will leave it there except to say that, on a similar point, I understand that Air Canada have refused to move, saying that they were pioneers at Heathrow and that any congestion there is caused by airlines which came later than they did. 1 ascertained from Iberia that they had operated scheduled services from Gatwick in the past on an experimental basis. On the flights in question, a reduction of 42 per cent. in passenger carryings was experienced during the season they operated from Gatwick. The flights were subsequently returned to Heathrow, and passenger carryings restored. That experiment is worth a mention in view of what we are discussing tonight. It was for the whole of the summer season of 1976, from 1st April to 31st October, and concerned flights to Malaga and Palma.
§ During the past two or three months I have tried to look into these matters, and I am indebted to Iberia, TAP, British Airways, the British Airports Authority at Gatwick and British Caledonian, who all very willingly have given me much of their time. For two special reasons I should now like to come to the last named. British Caledonian believe in Gatwick; they consider it a fine airport and they want it to grow and develop so that everyone will consider it a fine airport. My second reason, as the House will appreciate, is that British Caledonian have a baggage check-in at Victoria Station—which is where I am really checking in for tonight.
§ My concern, as I think everyone here most patiently knows, is for the ordinary traveller with baggage up to 44 lb. in weight who has to get to Gatwick under his own power. He has no car and is unable to move his luggage unaided. It is 1505 my belief, based on past experience, that such ordinary travellers are considered last, if at all, by "authority"—and I put the word "authority" in quotes. It is an absolute certainty that their requirements, I think, most of your Lordships' requirements and, certainly, mine, will be ignored when flights are transferred to Gatwick unless we can rouse public opinion and force action to be taken.
§ It is a nuisance: it is troublesome; there are trains; there are porters; there will be wonderful facilities in the years to come; millions of people now use Gatwick. What is the fuss? One reason for this attitude is that those who make these decisions or who take this line of inaction do so, from desks, based on statistics. They do not have to carry heavy luggage; they do not have to search for a porter; they do not have to stand in the rain at one end of Gatwick station; they do not have to struggle over their luggage in the corridors of trains. In fact, some have never even visited Gatwick, much less flown from there. I suggest that desks and statistics are a poor substitute for actual happenings.
§ I spent considerable time at the central terminal of British Caledonian at Victoria Station, at two different times of day, and I wished that everyone who travels to Gatwick could go by them. You arrive with your baggage, it is checked in; and you do not see it again until you arrive at your destination—just as it used to be at the West London Air Terminal until January 1974, five years ago, when British Airways ignored the vote in this House and withdrew their check-in service. The British Caledonian terminal is above platforms 12 to 16; trains depart every 15 minutes to Gatwick and the journey takes approximately 40 minutes. All flights and trains are announced in the terminal. There is direct access from there to the correct platform via British Caledonian's own stairways. They have their own British Rail ticket sales office in the terminal. Concerning the actual numbers, the check-in staff total 25. In the six months from April to September this year, 82,153 passengers checked through the terminal. This number would have been greater had not the terminal to be closed for a length of time for refurbishing. British Caledonian estimate that the staff 1506 of 25 could have coped with 110,000 passengers.
§ My Lords, if you are not fortunate enough to go by British Caledonian, what do you do? Obviously, you go by train and you hope for a porter. As there seems to have been a flurry of activity and visits to Gatwick recently, I trust that it will be agreed that there are not many porters at Gatwick station, and, certainly, there are not enough. Getting heavy bags out of a train can be a problem. What is the traveller to do if no help is available?—bearing in mind that the train goes on elsewhere. If only authority could understand that this is worrying for elderly people, for those with children and, of course, for invalids and for those unable to move about easily.
§ Since travellers have told me of their worry about trains going on elsewhere from Gatwick, I have had the opportunity of talking to British Rail. I should like to express appreciation of their patience and help. They tell me that on every train to and from Gatwick, four coaches remain at Gatwick station so that passengers need neither feel hurried on arrival nor wait for trains to come in when they are departing. I was not aware of this myself when travelling either way; and I have asked British Rail if they could erect a poster, perhaps over the ticket barrier at Gatwick, telling passengers where the four coaches are awaiting them. Of all air travellers using rail at Gatwick about 90 per cent. travel to and from Victoria. The four coaches referred to carry the brand name "Rapid City Link". If these could have additional colour identification or markings, I think it would help passengers, especially at busy times.
§ Let us suppose that you get your baggage off the train without the help of a porter. You then have to climb the stairs leading to the ramp or bridge to move along to the actual concourse, passing through the ticket barrier somehow dragging your baggage with you. This is just about impossible except for the young, the hale and the hearty. This is what I mean by an "immediate" problem—and, please, I want an answer dealing with the 1st of April, not any later.
§ I am asking the Government tonight to agree that they will not force flights 1507 to transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick until there are at least adequate facilities for getting passengers' luggage from Victoria station up on to the concourse at Gatwick. Should any airlines transfer on 1st April without compulsion, then that particular airline must be made responsible for such facilities. I hope that the Minister when she comes to reply will tell us what is the position concerning actual airlines and Gatwick on 1st April. 1 know what it is; but I do not think that the House does and I feel it would be helpful if we could be told.
§ Furthermore, my Lords, it cannot be accepted that the Government, the Department of Trade or the British Airports Authority have any right to transfer passengers under present conditions. So what could they do, or see done, in the short or immediate term; that is, by 1st April next? Let us forget who is responsible; let us accept that the passengers have claims for consideration. I will not put forward structural alterations as the time is short up to the 1st April except to ask if anything could be done to enlarge or make more use of the goods lift on the platform at Gatwick station. That would be a help.
§ My Lords, I would suggest: (1) a plentiful supply of porters at Gatwick station (and at Victoria for trains arriving from Gatwick especially in the evening) so that passengers may be sure of help. That is a small but effective way of dealing with the problem by 1st April.
§ (2) a plentiful supply of porters where passengers claim their baggage on returning to Gatwick. There are not enough porters and not enough trolleys. Even if there were enough of the latter, you are not allowed to push these through the rail ticket barrier leading to the top of the stairs leading down to the platform. If you cannot carry your baggage you must have a porter. How, otherwise, are travellers expected to manage?
§ (3) more clerks on duty at the British Rail ticket office adjoining the ticket barrier. Those using Gatwick know that you have to buy a ticket to travel by rail before getting through the barrier. When I came back one evening there was one booking clerk on duty and a considerable queue. Several trains to London were missed.1508
§ These are simple suggestions, and if we are told they would cost money or that one lot of porters is the responsibility of British Rail and another the responsibility of the British Airports Authority, I am not interested, and neither is the passenger. Passengers pay to travel and it is the job of responsible "authority" to get together and co-operate to see that facilities are available.
§ I should like to make one point, offer one suggestion for the future and ask one question fundamental to the industry and the travelling public so far as the use of Gatwick is concerned. The one point is—and I underline this so much to my noble friend on the Front Bench for whom J have so much respect—that escalators are not the answer for passengers with heavy luggage. So if that is in my noble friend's script I hope it will be removed.
§ The one suggestion for the future is that the check-in service at Victoria station now operated so efficiently by British Caledonian be extended to other airlines. British Caledonian have capacity at their Victoria air terminal to check in passengers flying with other airlines; they are prepared to offer this facility and have also said that they would be pleased to provide a suitable identification for the airline concerned. However, they estimate that their present terminal will be too small in the early 1980s; but they are discussing possibilities for further expansion. If British Rail and British Caledonian cooperate by providing a much larger facility, then many more passengers flying from Gatwick airport will be able to take advantage of this Central London air terminal.
§ Finally, the one question I described as fundamental to the use of Gatwick. The latest figures published by the British Airports Authority showed that for the year up to October 1978, a total of 26 million terminal passengers used Heathrow. From the annual reports of the Authority, it appears that an additional average of 0.4 million transit passengers per year also used Heathrow, giving an annual total of 26.4 million. The Government have stated that the transfer of Iberian services to Gatwick from Heathrow would transfer 1.2 million passengers from one airport to the other. This number is less than the annual average growth at the airport and is therefore unlikely to 1509 resolve any problems at Heathrow, bearing in mind that most of Iberia's services operate out of peak hours.
§ It is therefore clear that if the solution to congestion at Heathrow is the transfer of services, then obviously it will require more than just the transfer of the Iberian services. Two other possibilities have been mentioned but it does not appear, to me anyway, that the numbers involved therein would relieve the Government of further action—namely, the transfer of other services. I believe that to secure both goodwill and discussions in an atmosphere of goodwill, it would be helpful if the Government were to disclose the plans they consider necessary to the carriers concerned, and the dates on which they feel these plans must be operational.
§ My Lords, under our procedure I have no chance of making any remarks at the end of our debate so I should like to thank the House for its patience. I should like to thank all those taking part and I hope that everybody who reads this debate will know that this is one in which all Parties have taken part. This is nothing to do with any particular Party. I should like to congratulate the Minister on her appointment—her promotion—and I am sorry that it means that I shall be losing her from my pursuits. She may not be sorry, but I am. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking her for all that she has done to help and to wish her the best of success in the future. In conclusion, I know that she has visited Gatwick.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord TREFGARNE
My Lords, I must start by declaring an interest in this matter because I work for one of the airlines that operate from Gatwick—not British Caledonian—and I must therefore tell your Lordships about that. I hope your Lordships will agree that, far from causing me any bias in the matter, it gives me some modest degree of authority with which to speak on these matters in your Lordships' House. I was delighted when I saw that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, was proposing to raise this matter because, had she not chosen to do so, I might well have been constrained to do just that myself. Happily, she has done it and done it much better than I could have done. She has as she usually does— 1510 and as she explained—laid particular emphasis upon the needs of the passengers—and quite right too. Speaking from my position, perhaps I can talk about the airlines, how we see the problems both at Heathrow and at Gatwick, and how concerned we are by the Governments present efforts to solve the problem.
I find this particular saga—the noble Baroness referred to the difficulties that Iberian Airlines faced, and TAP have had much the same problem—as yet another example of the Government's efforts to get its way by diktat without any real consideration of the niceties of the consideration. The noble Baroness—and I made a note of her words—said that the Government acted neither courteously nor flexibly nor sensibly. I would add that I am not sure that they acted lawfully, either. The Government will know of course that foreign airlines operating into the United Kingdom do so under cover, first, of the relevant bilateral agreement—in this case the bilateral agreement between Spain and another one with Portugal—and, secondly, with the permits, as they are called, issued under the bilateral agreement. It is a matter for consideration whether the agreed terms of the permits can be varied by one party or another simply by diktat, as I have said.
I will revert to the question of Iberia in a moment. I want first to consider the situation which has caused the Government to embark upon this somewhat hazardous course. Nobody denies there is considerable pressure at Heathrow, particularly at the peak hours; the pressure as we all know is for the moment anyway principally confined not to the runways or even the taxiways, but the terminals. The peak hours at Terminals 1 and 2—which are the two terminals which are relevant in this argument—are not the same. But for reasons best known to the British Airports Authority—and certainly kept from me—British Airways have virtually exclusive use of Terminal 1 at Heathrow, thus I would say imposing restraints upon the maximum efficient use of Terminals 1 and 2 together. Foreign airlines, although they may wish to use Terminal 1 at off-peak times, are not permitted to do so.
It may be that there is some agreement between the British Airports Authority and British Airways which I do not know 1511 about. If there is such an agreement, it is acting against public interest. There are, may I say in parenthesis, some additional problems at Terminal 3 from where all the long haul airlines operate. The most obvious problem to the user of Terminal 3 is the shortage of immigration officers, particularly at the non-British passport desks. I have had occasion to come into Heathrow in the early hours of the morning, around breakfast time—when I admit so many other flights are also arriving—and the queues waiting to have their passports seen to at all the desks, including the ones for the unhappy British subjects, are frankly a national scandal. It is time that the Government did something about it. I know that the British Airports Authority, to be fair to them, have brought constant pressure on the Government to increase the number of immigration officers at Terminal 3. We understand that a very small number of additional officers are to be made available for this coming summer season but there are not enough of them in the winter, let alone the summer.
When the Government decided to move traffic from Heathrow to Gatwick, they presumably ascertained that the problem was a peak-hour one, as I have said, and therefore one would have thought they would have chosen peak-hour traffic to move; but, as the noble Baroness has explained, they did not do that. For some extraordinary reason they proposed to move the flights operated by Iberia and TAP, which are non-peak traffic. I find this hard to credit but it is apparently the case that of 13 flights operated by Iberia in the summer, for example, in and out of Heathrow, only two operate during the peak hours. Those two no doubt would have been included in the diktat, but so would the other 11 which were off-peak flights. As I say, I find that very difficult to credit.
The next assumption—and I would call it a false assumption—that the Government made with respect to the traffic which they chose to direct away from Heathrow, was that it had little or no "interline" content. This is a rather technical term which no doubt your Lordships and certainly the noble Baroness will understand. It means that certain flights coming in from Spain, for example, include passengers who do not 1512 want to go anywhere in the United Kingdom: they want to change flights and go on elsewhere. The truth of the matter is that the great bulk of non-interline traffic moving between Spain and the United Kingdom does not move by Iberia services at all but by charter flights. It therefore happens that Iberia have a greater percentage of interline traffic on their flights than other carriers operating to and from Spain. But the Government claimed, quite wrongly in my opinion at least, that there was very little interline traffic on these services and that therefore there would be no difficulty in moving flights to Gatwick.
The next false assumption, in my view, which the Government chose to make was that capacity at Gatwick was more than adequate to cope with these flights. If the Government think that, they really are living in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. I have no doubt they were told that by the British Airports Authority, and in that case the British Airports Authority are living in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land as well. I am quite convinced that Gatwick is approaching saturation much more quickly than people imagine. It is already the busiest single-runway airport in the world—by a mile—and yet the Government expect virtually to double the existing usage at Gatwick with the existing runway and terminal facilities. I say that is simply not possible.
Gatwick presently carries around 8½ million passengers a year. The next busiest single-runway airport in the world is, I believe, Palma, where so many of the flights from Gatwick go. That is presently coping with around 7 million passengers a year. They already have two terminals at Palma but the Government seem to think that we are going to get 16 million passengers through Gatwick with one runway and one terminal. They also think that we are going to get 35 million—would you credit it?—when the next terminal is built. Perhaps both the BAA and the Government have forgotten that the maximum capacity of an airport is not the maximum number that you can get through the terminal or the maximum number you can get on the runway, but the maximum number you can get through the bottlenecks on the airport—for example, the taxiways and the parking areas, which are already overstrained at some periods.
1513 May I, in parenthesis, mention the other difficulties at Gatwick. I do not want to sound unduly cynical—I have done pretty well so far!—but there are some extraordinary rules at Gatwick, which are public knowledge and well known. There is one in particular I should like to refer to. That is that all the new airlines who are operating at Gatwick, and also some of the old ones, are required to take the services of the established handling agents. There are three firms doing handling at Gatwick. There is British Caledonian, which the noble Baroness has told us are prepared to handle other airlines; there is British Air Tours, which is a division of British Airways, and there is a firm called Gatwick Handling Services which I understand is largely owned by two of the other major operators at Gatwick. So all new operators, including Iberia, if they were to move to Gatwick, would be required to take the services of one or other of these companies. I would not want to distinguish between those companies but I would say that they all have their drawbacks.
The noble Baroness also referred to what she called the "lost passengers": that is, the passengers who have no car but who might have a lot of baggage and who perhaps check in at Victoria and take the train to Gatwick, but are not travelling on British Caledonian so they have to look after their own baggage all the way down to Gatwick on the train. I would say there is a problem for those passengers and I would certainly support the suggestions made by the noble Baroness for easing their journey. There is also a problem for those who check in their baggage with British Caledonian, and in theory do not see it again until they reach their destination, because British Rail are pretty slow and lose a good lot of it. I have recently spent a good deal of time in my aircraft waiting for British Rail to deliver baggage to our handling agent so that the aircraft can be taken off to its destination, because certain of our flights are handled by British Caledonian.
I wonder now how the Government have chosen to act in this matter of Iberia to which the noble Baroness has referred. I mentioned earlier that I did not think they were acting in compliance with the relevant legislation and I should 1514 be glad to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, is going to say about that. For example, did the Government, once it was apparent that Iberia were not going to go quietly, use their influence, if they have any, with the British Airports Authority? Did they use their influence to have the landing slots, as they are called, of Iberia at Heathrow withdrawn? Iberia have heard down the grapevine that that was going to happen. I would not wish to say whether or not it is true, but I should like to hear what the Government actually said to the BAA at the time they were hoping that Iberia would move down to Gatwick, bag and baggage.
I did say that the Government have to vary the permit issued to Iberia under the bilateral agreement and I presume that in doing that they were relying on the powers granted under Article 58 of the 1976 Air Navigation Order. I would say that particular power is at best doubtful in these circumstances, and in any event I think that the Government ought to consider whether, at least at the time they set out on this path, they had completed the "due inquiry" called for under Article 58.
I do not think I will go any further into the saga of Iberia because the noble Baroness has done so better than I could have done. I would like to hear, as I think would the noble Baroness, about what the position now is. The Government announced that services were to be moved on 1st April. There has been no formal retraction from that position although I think we all believe that is not now to be the case. But if 1st April is not to be the date, what is the new date to be, and does that new date apply also to Air Canada, who are equally incensed at the thought of having to move?
My Lords, I do not deny that a problem is looming at Heathrow, but I would say that the impact of that problem could be postponed by more effective management of the existing facilities at Heathrow. The problem certainly will not be solved by endeavouring to move out those who are not contributing to the problem. But where the problem does exist, it is better solved by providing the facilities required and, as I have said, securing better use of the facilities that we have. I think that the Government have once more come away with egg on their faces in this matter, 1515 and I hope that the noble Baroness can put some of that right tonight.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Earl AMHERST
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness on her perseverance, which has enabled us to debate again this vexed problem. On a Starred Question which she asked on 12th December, I asked a whole lot of supplementary questions relative to the rail access between Victoria and Gatwick. Since then, I have had a lot of information about British Rail's plans in the matter. Therefore, tonight I want to limit my remarks to the question of the rail connection between London and Gatwick, and my questions will be in amplification of the answers which I received on 12th December. I think that the overall question here is one of timing, and when the noble Baroness replies I hope she will be able to tell us when these plans will start to be implemented and when they will be completed. At the present moment, as I understand it, British Rail are providing four services a day to Gatwick. As I pointed out in my original question, at the rush hours these are——
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, does the noble Earl mean four services a day or four services an hour?
§ Earl AMHERST
My Lords, I am most grateful for that intervention. I meant four services an hour, and 1 regret my inaccuracy. Most, if not all, of those services go on to other destinations. The noble Baroness has been more lucky than I have with the service to Gatwick, because I have usually found that most trains from Victoria divide at Gatwick, and both sections then go on elsewhere. This means that other passengers who are not air passengers are on the trains and, as I pointed out the other day, the congestion in the rush hours is appalling. The air passengers' baggage is lumped together in the aisles of these trains, which makes entrance to or exit from these trains very difficult. Should there be any kind of emergency, where it was necessary to evacuate the coaches and get passengers detrained in a hurry, there might well be a very great public risk.
1516 I understand that to meet this problem British Rail propose to introduce this year coaches modified to take these additional amounts of baggage, and I should like to ask: will these coaches be attached to the ordinary trains to Gatwick, will they be limited only to the rush hours or will they be reserved for air passengers only? I am told that this summer there is to be a new service, which will be entirely separate from British Rail's existing services, and which will run between Victoria and Gatwick at the weekends. What is to be the frequency of this service, and will it be reserved for air passengers and their baggage?
I have been told of a very fascinating plan under which British Airways intend to provide a connection between Gatwick and Manchester. This immediately prompts the question of what will be the frequency. There is also the intriguing problem of how they will get the trains from the Southern Region across South-West London to North-West London, so as to connect with the main Euston-Manchester trains. It would seem to be quite a problem. Furthermore, the Southern Region use a third conductor rail to get their electricity, whereas the main line Euston-Manchester uses an overhead conductor. Will that raise a problem? I do not know.
I am told that British Rail have plans to improve the general concourse in Victoria Station, and that work is already in hand. In addition, they are to provide a booking office where air passengers can book their tickets. I do not know whether or not there is to be one ticket window, but it should avoid the vexation that now arises when, of the 13 second-class windows and the four first-class windows at Victoria Station, more than half are not manned and are not open. In the rush hour, there are long queues of people trying to buy tickets. If an air passenger has not already bought a rail ticket by the time he buys his air ticket, he will probably get caught in a queue and miss his flight.
I entirely endorse what the noble Baroness has said about porters, both at Victoria Station and at Gatwick. This is a most important question. I am told that British Rail intend to build a new station at Gatwick. This should be completed in 1981 and will have escalators, but these do not provide the same facility as a 1517 moving staircase. However, 1 may be wrong and it may be available a year earlier. But what is wanted is not only a moving staircase up from the platforms to the bridge which leads across into the terminal building, but also a moving staircase along that bridge. It is a long way to the terminals. I hope that if this facility is to be installed it will not be like Heathrow which has travelators which, for most of the time, do not travel and do not move.
It will be interesting to know whether the platforms at this new station are to be totally covered for the whole of their length, because if you are at the end of the existing platforms you may have a long walk in the rain. So that the new ones ought to be covered. Furthermore, in the interim until they get the moving staircase, could British Rail consider installing a moving baggage belt such as they have at the terminal at Parkeston Quay at Harwich, where the passenger can put his baggage on the moving belt and walk alongside it up from the train and down to the quayside? It would, at least, help if such a belt could be placed on the platforms and on the connecting bridge.
Lastly, I understand that there is a plan for an entirely new and separate service to Gatwick. This is a very long-term plan and, as yet, there are no details available. I may be running over my time, so I shall end by saying that I hope the noble Baroness can answer the questions I have raised, of which I have given her prior notice. May I also congratulate her on her promotion, and thank her for the kindness I have received when she has been dealing with my questions.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Lord BALFOUR of 1NCHRYE
My Lords, in the few minutes that I shall endeavour to detain your Lordships, I undertake not to cover Iberia, the legal issues of Iberia, Heathrow management, Air Navigation Order No. 58 or the problems of Heathrow's terminal usage, all of which seem to me rather irrelevant to the drafting of the Question by the noble Baroness, which I am very glad to support, which asks for consideration "of the immediate problems arising". I do not think that those which have been raised this evening are immediate problems. Indeed, I think that they would be better dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord 1518 Boyd-Carpenter, in his Motion which is already set down in the Minutes.
I went to Gatwick the other day, and in a moment I shall tell your Lordships of my adventures there. However, my overriding impression of Gatwick was of unused capacity. Instead of the 16 million passengers which Gatwick could handle now, it is handling 9 million, while Heathrow is reaching its top limit. In order to increase passenger handling from 9 million to 16 million, not only must you have the transfer of airlines—a point which I do not intend to deal with this evening—but also you must provide comfort for passengers from the moment that they arrive at Victoria Station until they get into their aircraft. 1 have nothing but praise for the terminal facilities at Gatwick. Indeed, I should like to endorse what the noble Baroness who is to answer the debate said on 12th December: that Gatwick has extensive new facilities which are among the most modern in the world.
May I concentrate for a few moments upon questions which the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, dealt with; namely, the immediate problems for passengers. Having said that the terminal facilities at Gatwick are splendid, may I go on to say that British Rail and the Post Office have not phased in their expansion in line with the expansion, thought and development that has been put into the terminal. As the noble Baroness said, air passengers just say, "We're air passengers". They do not differentiate between the Post Office, the railway they are travelling on and the airport. They just say, "We're air travellers and we're not going to divide up the considerations between three different Government Departments".
My first adventure with regard to Gatwick was endeavouring to telephone Gatwick. I held on for 40 minutes, in which time I could have got down to Gatwick by train. That was not a very happy introduction to communications, so far as the Post Office are concerned. I admit at once, however, that that is past history. I understand that on 2nd March a computerised telephone system, run not by the Post Office but by the British Airports Authority, will come into operation. I understand also that the switchboard at Gatwick which has caused 1519 so many thousands of passengers to suffer delays, is not the most modern of switchboards and that it was not even new but second-hand when it was installed at Gatwick by the Post Office. This supports my statement that perhaps the Post Office have not phased in their expansion quite so quickly and efficiently as those responsible for the terminal.
I arrived at Gatwick as a very sick man. I have a stick. I suffer from arthritis, neuritis and any other "itis" that one cares to mention. I hobbled along the platform and asked how I could get up the stairs. I was told that there was a luggage lift. I found that luggage lift but it did not say that it was for the use of disabled or handicapped people. A porter was about to put some luggage into the lift and I asked him whether I could go with him. I was told that I could not, and when I asked him why I could not use the luggage lift he told me that he had no authority to allow me to use it. I asked him who could give that authority and he told me to go back to an official on the platform.
Unfortunately, no official was to be found on the platform, so I had no option but instantly to cure my arthritis and neuritis and walk up the two rows of stairs, after which I came into a narrow passage that was divided in the middle by a barrier. One half was for people going to the trains and the other half was for people coming from the trains. There was a long queue of passengers with their luggage because, curiously enough, I am informed that most passengers prefer to hang on to their luggage rather than to take the risk of it going to the wrong destination. So there they were, shuffling along. And where were they shuffling to? They were shuffling not to a beautiful exit but towards one very senior member of British Rail who sat in a little cabin which was so narrow that a second ticket collector could not have been placed opposite. Everybody had to pass under this gentleman's surveillance and surrender his ticket.
In the summer, when the queues are even longer, I do not see how there can be anything but long delays which may well cause some passengers to miss their trains. Even at Kensington High Street Underground station, which I use a great 1520 deal, there are nice wide exits with at least two and, if necessary, three ticket collectors. Is it not possible for British Rail to reconsider this comparatively small matter which would give a great deal of comfort and easement to passengers?
May I next consider the passenger on his return journey. At the moment, just one little ticket office is open. I believe that British Rail open at least one more ticket office during the summer. I could not help wondering and asking why they could not have automatic ticket machines at Gatwick, if not at Victoria Station. I was told that it had been tried but that foreigners do not understand automatic ticket machines and therefore do not operate them properly. Not everybody, however, is a foreigner. The queues at the ticket office would be reduced if some automatic ticket machines were installed. Then the foreigners could go to the ticket office, while the comparatively few Britons would be able to use the automatic ticket machines.
May I next ask why there could not be a large notice on the platform which says, "Airline porters are available"? That would tell people who find that all the porters are busy and engaged that porters will be coming back in a few moments. As well as a luggage lift notice, why not have a notice saying, "For use also by physically incapacitated persons"? It is a small point, but one which does not seem to have been tackled hitherto. These small points which I am putting forward are aimed only at increasing the comfort of the passengers. I am quite sure that what I call the "no" attitude of mind of officialdom in many Government Departments and certainly in British Rail will have a field day when they read Hansard and think of all these suggestions which will give them so many opportunities to say, No, which is so dearly beloved by bureaucracy. Despite that danger, I am so bold as to suggest that these small points should be attended to at once, because every point attended to will please passengers and attract further business.
I have only a few words to say about the use of Gatwick by airlines. I am not going to deal with the questions that were touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, but one airline, Braniff, resisted 1521 most strongly being moved from Heathrow to Gatwick. Today I understand that if it had the option that airline would not go back to Heathrow because it finds the facilities at Gatwick so much better, easier and more adaptable than those at Heathrow. So there is hope for other airlines which, whether voluntarily or compulsorily—I am not dealing with that at the moment—one day will have to go to Gatwick. I believe that in the final event they will not regret having done so.
§ Lord KILMARNOCK
My Lords, my intervention will be extremely brief. In the first place I speak as a consumer—as a passenger. My home is in Spain and when I come over to attend debates or a Committee in your Lordships' House I usually fly Iberia from Malaga to London. Unfortunately, I am unable to claim the expense of these journeys from the Accountant, but at least until now I have been able to rely on a regular, efficient service to Heathrow. On the last flight we arrived two minutes early and I was at Cromwell Road 45 minutes later. If I had not taken the airport bus 1 could have taken the underground to any one of a number of Central London stations. Speaking personally, I strongly object to being re-routed via Gatwick and a sleazy train service to Victoria or even an expensive car or taxi journey in default of trains.
Turning to less personal considerations, I understand that as a result of legal proceedings by Iberia the deadline of 1st April for the removal of their services from Heathrow to Gatwick has been lifted; they have thus gained a stay of execution. I also gather that Spanish representatives were over here last week putting their views, and were again invited to inspect the two airports. They have now returned home to contemplate the matter, and I am told that a further meeting will take place shortly, either in Madrid or in London.
The Government are perfectly at liberty to attempt to convince the Spanish national airline of the virtues of Gatwick, but equally I should have thought that any national airline should be allowed to form its own view of the facilities at Gatwick, especially if any credence is to be given to the statement in the airport policy White 1522 Paper of February of last year, paragraph 17, that:It is not the Government's intention to dictate to airlines and airline authorities the precise conditions under which they should operate, but to give the maximum scope for commercial decision".This seems particularly relevant to the case of Iberia. They have put high on the list of their objections the inevitable loss of revenue. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, has already told us, they state that they operated scheduled services to Gatwick as an experiment but they lost 42 per cent. of their passengers, which they recouped when they returned to Heathrow.
Of course Heathrow is not perfect; I believe it has a very bad record for baggage thefts. But Gatwick has a worse reputation, both nationally and internationally, and I think we cannot blink that fact. There is only one runway—and I see that is to be the subject of an Unstarred Question by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, tomorrow. As has been touched on a number of times this evening, the terminal building is badly designed. I am thinking particularly of the staircases mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and that long corridor or bridge without the conveyor belt which one finds, for example, at Brussels, which I think was one of the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Amherst; and the rail link, too, leaves much to be desired.
If the Department of Trade wants to sell Gatwick to the national airlines of other countries surely its first task ought to be to improve the facilities and to make it more attractive. If Gatwick puts its house in order, the Spanish, Portuguese and other airlines might indeed be approached again, politely, let us hope, this time, let us say in 1981 or 1982, or whenever the improvements have been completed.
There is another very important consideration, perhaps the most important of all. This is not a question of my convenience or Iberia's convenience; it is a question that affects the convenience of almost every charter flight passenger in this country. Of course, by setting the annual throughput of passengers at Gatwick against the annual capacity it is possible to show that the airport can handle an increased flow of traffic.
1523 I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said about unused capacity; but I would point out that he made his visit and had his adventures in January and not in July or August. Surely the real point is that the vast majority of traffic handled at Gatwick is seasonal charter traffic. The proposal that all scheduled flights to and from the Iberian Peninsula should be added to the existing peak period bulge is surely absurd. Who is going to suffer? Not only I, when I attempt to get to your Lordships' House; not only Spanish businessmen coming to London; not only English businessmen who will increasingly want to travel to Spain when that country enters the Common Market; not only United Kingdom exports by airfreight, but literally millions of our own already long-suffering holidaymakers heading for a well-earned respite in the sun from this troubled land of ours.
Finally, may I ask the noble Baroness to tell us when she comes to reply if it is still the Government's intention in principle to move the Spaniards and the Portuguese to Gatwick, regardless of the reasoned representation of Iberia and the threat to the flying amenities of the British public, or whether they will go to the next round of talks in a sensible and civilised mood, laying aside their pistols before they sit down at the table? If the latter course is not followed, this sad affair is in danger of developing into a duel. Retaliatory measures are likely to be taken, with great reluctance, I am sure, against British carriers, and British holidaymakers and British businessmen will be the main sufferers.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, I put my name down to speak in this short debate on Lady Burton's Unstarred Question in the hope that I might be able to contribute something useful following an inspection of the facilities at Gatwick airport earlier today. I hope perhaps I may be able to do that, but before dwelling on that I should like to make an overall point, one which concerns me very much. This is the tourist situation of London as a gateway to Europe. One is concerned that if in fact we are not able to cater for the increasing number of visitors to London 1524 over the next few years there is a very real danger that we shall find international flights switching from London to Amsterdam or Paris as their European gateway. Therefore I think airports policy is a terribly important question. I do not want in a sense to go back, and this is not the time to go back, over the experience of the past. I think one must be aware that we must at any given point of time and at this particular time see that we can handle and can go on handling the increasing number of passengers who are coming into London.
As has already been said, the capacity at Heathrow will become critical in the early 'eighties, particularly so as the construction of the fourth terminal at Heathrow is likely to be delayed. Another question one might ask, and in a sense this is again not something that I would like to debate this evening, is how London would cater for so many extra visitors in the future. On that point the evidence shows that the stay of a visitor in London is becoming shorter and shorter, and this is a trend which has gone on for some years. Bearing in mind this situation, I think it is important that proposals to use up the considerable additional capacity that is at Gatwick should be taken up before Heathrow is absolutely saturated.
In introducing this Unstarred Question my noble friend Lady Burton referred to and made great play of the way in which the negotiations were handled with regard to Iberia and the Portuguese airline. I understand, from talking to British Airports Authority officials today that informal consultations had been taking place about the transfer for a period of two years, and it was only because those negotiations did not reach any conclusion that the decisions which were taken last year were taken at that time.
The other point which was not mentioned is that British Airways is to transfer some of its Iberian services to Gatwick in April. I understand that the services to be transferred are those services—although British Airways might not like it to be said in this way—which go to the holiday resorts in the Iberian Peninsula and not, in a sense, the services which go to the main cities there. Despite everything which has been said this evening, there is a firm logic behind the proposals to transfer this particular section 1525 of traffic to Gatwick, in that a great deal of the traffic tends to be terminal. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, spoke about "interlining". The research shows that there is a very small amount of interline traffic on these services.
§ Lord TREFGARNE
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I can tell him the figure precisely. On the Iberian service it is 22 per cent.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for that figure. He also mentioned the question of capacity at Gatwick. I understand that at present there are 100,000 aircraft movements a year at Gatwick, including light aircraft. The configuration worked out by the British Airports Authority is that in order to cater for 16 million passengers one would have to increase the number of movements to 160,000 a year, and in the view of the British Airports Authority that figure is well obtainable.
The other comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, referred very largely to the question of the railway station and the problems which arise in that connection. I certainly support the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, who took the view that there should be a greater adequacy of porters at the station. The point is that a new station is at present being built and it is scheduled for completion in 1981. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, mentioned how Braniff is at present very satisfied with the facilities at Gatwick. One could add as regards Delta, which volunteered, in a sense to have Gatwick as its London gateway—I gather that it said that it had inspected the facilities at Gatwick and decided that the facilities there were the ones which it wanted and not those at Heathrow—that its introduction of a service has also gone very well.
I hope that I have made some useful comments. However, before closing I also should like to add congratulations—I have already made them personally—to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, on her promotion.
§ Baroness BURTON of COVENTRY
My Lords, I should like to point out to 1526 my noble friend that I do not think that he has addressed one word as to how the lot of passengers is to be improved by 1 st April.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, may I first thank noble Lords for their congratulations and say that it is with some regret that I am going to leave airports and aircraft. I have enjoyed the few months that I have spent in the Department of Trade dealing with them. However, tonight my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry is concerned about the problems for the airlines and the passengers which she believes will result from the transfer of the air services to Gatwick Airport. I hope that I shall make it clear in the course of my reply why the Government believe that these transfers are not only necessary, but are also in the interests of the passengers and the airlines concerned; and the importance which we attach to presenting a correct and up-to-date image of the very high standards achieved at the new Gatwick. I was delighted to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in my earlier comments on the fact that Gatwick is a very fine airport.
Self-criticism is always salutary but as a nation we have a tendency to look on the negative side and this is not always well-understood by our friends abroad. That is why I am glad of the opportunity tonight to say again that Gatwick is a fine new airport; it is comparable to the best in the world. It is a spacious airport; it is attractive, efficiently run and we should be proud of it. The passengers and the airlines who use it are complimentary, even enthusiastic. The new airlines, especially the major United States carriers, Braniff and Delta—as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede have said—are finding Gatwick an outstanding commercial success. It is the airport where all the State visits start, and for good reason.
Everyone who has spoken tonight seems to have paid a very recent visit to Gatwick. I interrupted a holiday and went down there on 4th January. I travelled on an ordinary second-class ticket from Victoria on the 8.50 train in the morning. The journey took us 39 minutes and there were trains leaving every 15 minutes.
1527 I am not aware of any other airport in the world which is so well-connected to a town centre, with services running through the night. I know that it is not the frequency of trains which my noble friend and the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, are complaining about, and I readily accept that there is room for improvement as regards luggage handling, escalators, and so on. I raised these points when I was at Gatwick and I was impressed by the very close co-operation between the airport authorities, the airlines and British Rail, and the detailed consideration which they have given to improving their services to meet passenger needs. I shall return to this later when I deal with the rail link. During the last few days I have also visited Heathrow, and without wishing to rub any salt into the wound—because the British Airports Authority is doing its best to cope with the bustling and growing traffic there—if I were a passenger and had to choose, without any hesitation I would choose to travel from Gatwick.
I have the greatest sympathy with my noble friend in raising these matters; I understand her motives and I applaud what she is trying to do. There is no room for complacency. I have no doubt that we must always aim for the highest standards. However, my noble friend and other noble Lords have raised several points in the House in the course of Questions on previous occasions and again during the debate today which, in effect, call into question the ability of Gatwick to fulfil the role which has been assigned to it and the implementation of the Government's transfer policy. These matters are of crucial importance to the Government's policy for handling the demand for air transport in the London area, and to our air service negotiations with foreign Governments. Therefore, I welcome this opportunity to set the record straight. I intend to deal, first, with the Government's policy in general terms, the redistribution of traffic, the position at Gatwick and, finally, the rail service between Gatwick and Victoria Stations.
Considerable doubts have been expressed in the House on several occasions about the adequacy of the Government's proposals for handling air transport demand during the 1980s. There are still those in this House—but not Members who have 1528 spoken tonight—who wring their hands and pine after the gradiose Maplin, which we are told might have solved all our problems. But I am equally sure that if we had continued with the Maplin project, questions about the transfer of services to Maplin and the provision of road and rail access would have been no less intense, while the astronomic cost of the whole operation would have continued to be a major cause for concern. After abandoning the Maplin project in 1974 and taking into account the fall in demand resulting from higher oil prices and the growing trend towards larger aircraft and more efficient passenger load factors, the Government adopted the only sensible solution in the circumstances: to make full use of the runway capacity at the existing London airports during the 1980s, and to undertake immediately a study of the options for providing additional airport capacity when that would be needed. I shall not dwell tonight on the detailed conclusions regarding the London airport system which are set out in the White Paper on Airports Policy and are to be the subject of another debate to which my noble friend Lord Jacques will be replying for the Government early next month.
As the House will be aware, the major expansion of Stansted airport is one of the options being considered for the longer term, but no further developments beyond those set out in the White Paper are envisaged at Heathrow, Gatwick or Luton. My Lords, while air traffic demand in the London area into the 1980s will have to be accommodated at the four existing airports, there will need to be a major redistribution of traffic between them. However, this is, and always has been, an integral part of the Government's airports policy and planning.
In concluding in the Airports Policy White Paper that Heathrow airport should not be expanded beyond a four-terminal airport with an ultimate capacity of around 38 million passengers a year, the Government took into account the environmental nuisance caused by a major airport to those living in its vicinity, and the operational problems, including road and rail access, of handling very large numbers of aircraft movements and people. We must face the fact that with the traffic levels expected during the next few years, 1529 it is not only unrealistic but probably not feasible to continue to rely on Heathrow as the only major international airport for the South East.
I am sure my noble friend is not suggesting this; I am sure she is not advocating the unlimited expansion of Heathrow; but if she is not, then she must accept that there is no alternative to the Government's policy of moving traffic to Gatwick, unless she would rather see the increasingly congested Heathrow sink into chaos.
§ Baroness BURTON of COVENTRY
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but really and truly she is not addressing herself in the slightest to the Question I asked. I have raised the Question of the immediate problems arising from the transfer. I have not heard one word, except about future developments of the airport. I shall be most disappointed if I do not get an answer that has some effect on passengers up to 1st April.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, with respect, I said the way in which I was framing my reply, and I am coming to that point. I am setting the background for it. I am sure that my noble friend is not advocating the unlimited expansion of Heathrow. As we see it there is no alternative to the Government's policy of moving the traffic to Gatwick, without Heathrow sinking under the chaos. We are not prepared to let this happen, and that is why £100 million have been spent on the complete redevelopment of Gatwick airport, which has been turned from a small base for charter traffic into a first-class international gateway equipped with the most modern and extensive facilities.
This was not done overnight. It was carefully planned over several years so that Gatwick could fulfil the role of London's twin international airport. It now, as we have been told several times tonight, has a capacity of 16 million passengers a year and had a throughput of only around 7½ million, last year. It has the runway capacity, as Lord Ponsonby said, of 160,000 aircraft movements a year and a current usage of between 98,000 and 100,000. Assuming the average number of passengers per aircraft continues to grow as expected, the British Airports Authority are satisfied that 25 million passengers a year could be 1530 handled with the single runway. The Government see no reason to dissent from the Authority's conclusion which I discussed with them in detail when I visited Gatwick only last week.
If we compare this with the position at Heathrow airport, where airlines are finding it difficult to obtain take-off slots and passengers already experience considerable inconvenience, the conclusion is clear. The existing capacity at Heathrow will be exhausted from 1981 and no further capacity can be provided before 1984 when, subject to the outcome of the public inquiry which has just been completed, a fourth passenger terminal could be available. However, this would only provide for another two to three years' growth of traffic. Therefore, in the circumstances, it is essential to transfer a significant volume of air traffic from Heathrow to Gatwick which has been developed to meet the shortfall in capacity. No responsible Government would shirk from this decision, however unpopular it may be, initially, with those who are asked to move their services.
I want to make one point absolutely clear. The conclusions we have reached have not been arrived at lightly; we have not taken last minute muddle-headed decisions. On the contrary, we have gone into the problem in depth over the last few years and examined all the possibilities with the advice of the experts, and despite what my noble friend said about the shortness of discussions, as far back as 5th April 1977 when the then Secretary of State for Trade announced the Government's transfer policy, he said:However, to ensure an efficient allocation of air services between the two airports, further action is required which would involve the transfer of scheduled services of British and overseas operators from Heathrow to Gatwick; this would contribute to the establishment of a viable network of scheduled services from Gatwick. This is one of the issues being considered in the present renegotiation of the United Kingdom/United States Air Services Agreement and discussions have also been initiated with the Canadian, Spanish and Portuguese Governments and similar discussions may take place later with other countries. I wish to emphasise that the implementation of these policies must be carried out so as to avoid discrimination between foreign airlines and their British competitors. Any proposals by newcomers to start operations from Heathrow and requests by existing operators to introduce additional capacity to and from Heathrow, will be considered by the Civil Aviation Authority and my Department in the light of this policy".1531 That was the policy which the then Secretary of State announced on 5th April 1977. He said then that the discussions had been initiated with the Canadian, Spanish and Portuguese Governments. Meetings were held with the Spanish and Portuguese authorities in Lisbon and Madrid between 29th and 31st March 1977 to discuss the move to Gatwick, and on 28th June of that year a British Airports Authority team, accompanied by Department of Trade officials, visited Madrid for a presentation of Gatwick Airport. The Spanish and Portuguese authorities were informed of the Government's intentions nearly two years ago and every effort has been made to present the facts and to discuss with Iberia any points they wished to make. We have had these and our objective from the beginning has been to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.
I am pleased to say that on Monday and Tuesday of this week, BAA and the Government were able to welcome the delegation from the Spanish Government to the United Kingdom. That delegation visited Gatwick on Monday and Heathrow yesterday. During the course of the visit to Gatwick, in addition to a briefing by BAA and touring the airport, the Spanish deputation were able to meet representatives of British Caledonian, Braniff and Delta to learn of their experiences operating from Gatwick, and talks will now proceed with the Spaniards and with the continued full participation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with a view to reaching an agreement by Easter.
This means that the air services of the Spanish national airline Iberia will not be moved to Gatwick by 1st April, and this in itself is an indication of the Government's willingness to be flexible as regards timing. Discussions with the Portuguese Government will be pursued in parallel with a similar objective. I am glad to say that, in accordance with the Government's request, British Airways are planning to move to Gatwick by 1st April this year their services to several destinations in Spain and Portugal, and the others will follow later.
In addition, following the conclusion of a new Air Services Agreement with the Scandinavian Governments on 22nd December, it has been agreed that both 1532 SAS and British Airways will operate services between Copenhagen and Gatwick and SAS a service to Jutland starting next April. This is to be followed by daily services from Stockholm in 1980 and from Oslo in 1981. Among other things, these services to Scandinavian destinations will provide useful connecting flights for passengers from the Iberian Peninsula and other destinations who wish to continue their journey to Northern Europe, without the need to transfer to Heathrow. Even without these recent additions to the range of services available from Gatwick, there are already 13 domestic destinations and 56 international destinations served from Gatwick by scheduled carriers. There is a helicopter link with Heathrow for those passengers who need to transfer to the other flights, and a limousine service is provided by airlines between the two airports.
I cannot accept that airlines or passengers will find Gatwick less convenient than Heathrow. On the contrary, they would be the first to suffer if the situation at Heathrow were allowed to deteriorate, and the modern facilities and greater flexibility in scheduling flights at Gatwick are bound to be superior to the growing congestion at Heathrow. I must admit to being puzzled by my noble friend's suggestion that, assuming all the Iberian traffic were to move on 1st April, which I have now said it is not to do, immediate problems would arise for passengers and airlines. Gatwick is ready to receive them; the railway link has ample spare capacity to cope with the additional demand. I am sure that my noble friend is aware that last year 7½ million passengers used Gatwick, and the major world airlines, such as Delta and Braniff, which have only recently started operating, have expressed their satisfaction with the airport. Gatwick will not be getting 1.2 million extra passengers all at once—they will be spread throughout the year.
I should like to turn now to another question which has been raised; namely, why have we selected Iberia to move, together with the Portuguese airline TAP and Air Canada? First, I should stress that it is not airlines we wish to transfer, but services to particular destinations, without any discrimination between foreign operators and their British competitors on the same routes. There is
1533 no question of victimising anyone. In determining their policy for the transfer of air services, the Government were influenced by four main considerations: first, that the services to be transferred should involve major blocks of traffic, since a significant number of passengers will need to be moved out of Heathrow during the next few years; secondly, that routes with a large element of interlining passengers—that is, those people changing planes in London, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, explained—would be more difficult to move; thirdly, that routes served by third parties in addition to the airlines of the two countries concerned would present especially difficult problems; and fourthly, that from the standpoint of air traffic control, routes to the South and West of London are the most suitable for transfer. The Iberian services of British Airways, Iberia, TAP, and Gibair match very closely these criteria, as do air services to Canada.
On the other hand, a complete transfer of all Scandinavian services, for instance, would have created serious problems for the control of aircraft, as it would involve a considerable number of cross-overs with North-South traffic to and from Heathrow. All these factors were very carefully considered, the traffic was analysed, surveys were carried out to assess the extent of interlining on particular routes, and we are only too willing to discuss all this data with the airlines concerned, as we have done, in particular, with Air Canada. That is the rationale behind what we are trying to do. We have not jumped to conclusions on the spur of the moment. As to further transfers, none is being considered at the moment, but we will keep the position under review, in the light of the development of traffic at Heathrow and Gatwick, and of course we will continue our policy of establishing new services at Gatwick.
My noble friend is worried that there may be chaos at Gatwick at the height of the summer season. Last year there was chaos everywhere as a result of the French air traffic controllers' strike, and I hope—as I am sure everyone else does—that that situation will not be repeated. I would not pretend that a major airport at the height of the season is a quiet, restful place where everything works smoothly at all times. However, I see no reason to expect chaos at Gatwick, which 1534 is working at half its capacity, nor can I see any justification for planning larger airports merely to cope with possible annual disruption by French air traffic controllers, Spanish hotel staff, or what-have-you.
The British Airports Authority earned well-deserved praise last summer for the way it handled the difficult situation to which I referred by providing additional accommodation for stranded passengers, television sets to entertain them, additional catering facilities, and so on. Improvements have also been made in the handling of standby passengers, whose numbers exceeded all expectations in 1978, which was the first year of price-cutting on the major routes. Improvements will continue to be made as a result of experience and close co-operation among the airlines, the Airports Authority and the Railways Board. Let us give them the chance to promote the new Gatwick without depreciating their efforts and undermining the confidence of foreign airlines and Governments.
As to the rail link between Victoria and Gatwick—and that, I think, is the main problem of the handling of passengers at Gatwick at the moment—I have discussed British Rail's plans for improving the services with the general manager of Southern Region. He well understands the needs, both of the regular commuters using these services and of airport passengers with bulky luggage. His staff at Gatwick and at Victoria have instructions to ensure, whenever possible, that the luggage is placed in the luggage vans of the trains. But, as has been said tonight, quite naturally most people prefer to keep their luggage in sight. In order to meet their wishes and at the same time to avoid the inconvenience caused by luggage being stacked in gangways and doorways, British Rail are this year introducing a number of trains that include coaches modified so as to give additional luggage space, and these will be increased in number as more coaches become available after modification. The upholstery and external paintwork of these coaches will be distinctive, so that airport passengers will know which ones to use. I understand that, although the special coaches will not be reserved exclusively for air passengers, the services will be arranged as far as possible to give them high priority. Trains including these coaches will provide a 15 minute Victoria/ 1535 Gatwick service throughout each weekday, and there will also be other trains which will stop at Gatwick.
Furthermore, by this summer British Rail will provide at peak weekends an entirely separate train service for airport passengers travelling between Victoria and Gatwick. There will be a half-hourly service with no intermediate stop. Also scheduled to start in May this year is a through service between the airport and Manchester, which will comprise two trains a day in each direction with intermediate stops at Stockport, Crewe, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford, Reading and East Croydon. The noble Earl, Lord Amherst, asked me how we were to get from one line to another. I think that is rather a technical problem. I hope the route has perhaps explained it to him, but I will certainly see that he has more detailed technical information about it in the post. All these measures are going to help to meet the peak summer pressure on the rail services and will make it more bearable for people getting from British Rail into the airport.
I understand that at present it is simply not possible during the week to provide separate services for airport passengers without adversely affecting some 10,000 commuters each day, and they also, my Lords, are entitled to consideration by us. I understand that British Rail are working out plans for overcoming this problem so as to provide rail services that would cope with the full growth of their airport envisaged in last year's White Paper, but these plans themselves are at an early stage and I have no definite details tonight. They are also in the future, which my noble friend is not concerned with; she is concerned with what we are doing at the present.
My Lords, British Rail are also modernising the stations used by the passengers to the airport. Gatwick Station is being entirely rebuilt at a cost of about £6 million. There will be a new concourse above the station platforms, with ticket offices and all the usual station facilities, connected by a short walkway to the airport terminal at the same level. There will be baggage lifts and escalators connecting this concourse with the platforms below, and trolleys will be available close by the top of the escalators. The new platform 1536 canopies will also cover the sections of the trains which are used by the airport passengers. We have to accept that there are many practical difficulties in constructing a new station on such a busy line as the one serving Gatwick. None the less, a substantial amount of work on re-alignment of the track and moving one of the platforms has already been done.
British Rail now expects that two of the new escalators will be brought into service next year, with the station being fully completed in the following year. In the meantime, porters are available for taking luggage the short distance between the platforms and the airport terminal building by means of the existing goods lift. Unfortunately, practical difficulties rule out other temporary arrangements for helping passengers such as the moving belt which the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, has suggested. I will certainly take note, and have done so already, of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that there might be some clearer information that disabled passengers can use the lifts and that porters are available—if there is a rush, wait and a porter will come!
§ Baroness STEDMAN
Yes, my Lords, in particular the disabled. The trolleys are provided for passengers to use. But, as my noble friend has said, the trolleys cannot be taken on to the station platforms because of the risk of their rolling on to the track. The number of porters and trolleys provided is a matter of management for the BAA and British Rail to decide, but I will certainly bring to their attention the views expressed here today on the adequacy of the numbers generally available at present and see whether we can get that position improved.
At Victoria, the other end of the line, work is under way on a £45 million scheme including the re-signalling and track modernisation of the approaches to the station. This will enable improvements to be made in all the train services using Victoria, including those from Gatwick. There will be significant improvements to the station itself, including enlarging and renovating the concourse area, providing new ticket barriers for Platforms 9–15, 1537 widening the corridor between Platform 15 and the parcels block, modernising the ladies' toilets, increasing the number of public telephones, opening more shops, improving the lighting and cleaning of all the brickwork and stonework. Surely noble Lords and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, will accept that that shows that British Rail are trying to put their house in order.
I understand from British Rail that many of these improvements to the station will be evident this summer. In addition there will be rail-air hostesses available to help airport passengers, there will be a booking-office window solely for tickets to Gatwick and the number of special trolleys for passengers to use will be doubled, bringing the total number to 400. If experience shows this is not enough, I am sure it will be raised again in this House and we can put additional pressure on to the authorities.
All in all, these various improvements will undoubtedly add up to a much improved rail service. It is not possible to make changes in a week or two, but many will have been completed in time for this summer. For the period until the other improvements have been introduced, British Rail and the BAA have taken the steps that I have outlined to ensure that the airport enjoys the highest possible standard of rail service.
I would also like to refer to the new and most useful facility for travellers which was opened at Gatwick Airport last December. That is the Tourist Information Centre which is being run on behalf of the English Tourist Board. It provides information for travellers on London, South-East England and the rest of Britain and stays open until 8 p.m. every day of the week. The staff there can assist people coming into Britain on route planning, places to visit, towns, villages and seaside resorts, as well as keeping very much in contact with the London Tourist Board, of which my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, who has joined us tonight, is Chairman. The travellers will have easy access to detailed information about where to go and accommodation, et cetera, in London.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, asked a number of questions. He asked whether 1538 the Government arranged for the landing slots to be withdrawn from Iberia. The allocation of slots is a matter for the Heathrow scheduling committee on which all the airlines are represented. The Government are not represented on this committee and have not attempted to influence it in any way.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I could not say. It is simply that "airlines are" represented. So far as powers to direct airlines to Gatwick are concerned, I do not think there is any doubt that we have the powers, but we do not want to use powers; we want to come to mutual agreements about this matter. I shall certainly check on the legal position and write to the noble Lord.
§ Lord TREFGARNE
My Lords, I am much obliged. This is a most important point. I am most anxious to know what powers there are. I do not believe there are any, actually.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, my understanding is that we have some powers tucked away in some vague regulations. We do not want to use powers; we do not want to start wielding the big stick; we want to have these things mutually agreed between us. My noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry, I believe, asked about the enlargement of the goods lifts at Gatwick and making increasing use of them. I am not sure in the short term that we shall need them, that it is really practicable or whether we can even enlarge the existing lifts; but I was assured when I visited them that those lifts were available for disabled and handicapped people to use. Quite recently, I wrote to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, who asked a question on this point following one of the recent Questions in this House, and I advised him—I agree with some trepidation—that he could be taken up in a goods lift.
§ Lord BALFOUR of INCHRYE
My Lords, could you ask British Rail to have a notice put up? The luggage lift is there at present and there should be a notice saying it is available for the handicapped and disabled.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I will certainly put that to British Rail. I am sure that they will receive it. We were advised when we were there that there is no problem about handicapped people; but certainly if there were people with severe handicaps, it is helpful if the authorities are advised the day before so that there are adequate people to help. We shall see that that point is covered. Regarding the need for more clerks to be on duty in the rail ticket office at Gatwick, I can see there are problems there, particularly if a large jumbo jet comes in with several hundred people and not enough clerks are available. British Rail are aware of the problems and it is something about which they are having discussions with some airlines to see whether it is possible even to sell tickets in flight so that passengers can get them before they come off the aeroplanes. There are various discussions of this kind going on between the British Airports Authority, the various airlines and British Airways.
So far as the automatic ticket machines are concerned, I am advised that an experimental one has been established at Waterloo. There have been quite considerable problems of coping with £1 notes. We think that there might even be more problems with Gatwick because the figure there is £l.85p. It is certainly something I shall bring to their attention to see whether it is something they have thought about and whether it is practicable.
The other point which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, made was the fact that there was only one person on duty collecting and checking rail passenger tickets. I have made some inquiries about this. I understand it was due on that particular day to staff sickness and the coincidence of several retirements from the railways at that time. I can assure him that there will be no such problem in the new station because three entry and three exit points will be provided. We have also taken his point up with the appropriate authorities about it taking the noble Lord as long to get through on the telephone as it would have 1540 done to go to Gatwick to deliver his message. Certainly, when we have the new facilities there that problem at least ought to go away.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, also raised the question of the efficiency of British Caledonian check-in facilities at Victoria and that this ought to be available and we ought to try and sell it to more airlines. Apart from Braniff, I am advised that no other airline has expressed any interest in having its own check-in facilities at Victoria. This is certainly a point which we will bring to the attention of British Rail who are anxious to make things as easy as possible.
On the scheduled flights from Gatwick to Iberian destinations in 1976, my noble friend Lady Burton spoke to me a few days ago. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, has talked tonight about the trial services from Gatwick to Iberian destinations. My information is that Britsh Caledonian operated a low frequency scheduled service to Las Palmas and Tenerife which each carried about 10,000 passengers a year, and a weekly service to Lisbon which carried only 1,200 passengers in 1976. I am not quite clear what my noble friend is suggesting. I think it would be unwise to draw any conclusions from this information, bearing in mind the parallel services at higher frequencies which were available at Heathrow at the time. At the moment, we have been able to get no information about any supposedly trial services from Gatwick to the Iberian destinations.
The noble Earl, Lord Amherst, referred to the travelators. We certainly cannot fit them into Gatwick as it is at the moment and I am told that there will be no need for the travelators once the new Gatwick station has been completed, since the walk between there and the airport will be limited then to a matter of 30 yards.
I think I have dealt with most of the matters, though perhaps not in as much detail as some noble Lords would like. I will check Hansard, and if there is anything I have not covered or have not covered adequately, I will certainly write to the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate so that they all have the answer. Before I close, I should like to emphasise just a few points. First, the traffic at London is just too large to be 1541 handled at one airport. We need the two major international airports and we may need a third one in the future: that is why Gatwick is being redeveloped. Secondly, unless we are willing to lose traffic to the Continental airports by allowing Heathrow to deteriorate, it is essential for us to transfer traffic to Gatwick, and we must do this in a planned and rational manner. Nothing is going to be gained by fanning any arguments about "grandfather rights at Heathrow" or "Who should go first?" In my opinion, the first to go will be the first to benefit. The Government's objective is to achieve these necessary transfers by mutual agreement. The British Airports Authority offer lower charges at Gatwick, together with other incentives to the airlines, including every possible help in achieving the move and promoting their services from Gatwick.
As to the railway link, I know at the moment this is not adequate but I have outlined the improvements which are in hand, those which are planned and perhaps the small matters to which we can pay attention now to make life happier for the few intervening months. We look forward to all these improvements because of the additional comfort they are going to bring to the passengers. But let us not lose sight of the fact that the rail link is adequate to cope with the growth in traffic. It offers a frequent and convenient service which is virtually unrivalled anywhere else and certainly in Europe.
My Lords, this has been a useful debate. I hope it has given my noble friend Lord Jacques some idea of what is facing him in taking over this subject from me. It is obvious that we still have differences of opinion, but I am certain that my noble friend and others will ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, is kept aware of any problems and that we can keep our pressure on the various authorities at Gatwick to maintain and improve the services offered to the travellers.
§ Baroness BURTON of COVENTRY
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, which is my only opportunity of asking something, may I say that I know she has done her best. I do not know whether she realises the deep resentment and indignation I feel at the type of reply we have had. We have 1542 had a long, long story that the Civil Service always gives about the future of Gatwick and how splendid it will be—which is something I have never denied which was—what shall I say?—an imputation that I have wondered about this. I asked a specific Question tonight about the travellers and their baggage, and getting out to Gatwick. At least three-quarters of the reply has been about the future of Gatwick and all the facilities which I think are excellent. I must complain. I think that the Civil Service, if they do not wish to give a direct answer, go all round the world and answer everything else; and I do not think it is good enough.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I must take exception to that. This is not a Civil Service reply; this is the Departmental reply. It is a reply submitted in my own knowledge of my visits to Gatwick and Heathrow. I think it was important that we had the setting, what had led up to this situation, what was leading up to the changes and to the transfers; what we had in mind for the future and what we are doing for the present. We are satisfied that even if the change were to take place on 1st April, which it is not—that is still a date to be agreed in the future when the airlines have gone back and consulted with their Governments—the facilities at Gatwick are adequate. There are the porters there; there is the regular train service; there is the facility for using the luggage lifts and there are facilities for disabled persons. British Rail and the British Airports Authority are only too anxious to make sure that everyone who uses Gatwick does have a proper and a civilised service when they get there.
§ Lord TREFGARNE
My Lords, if the noble Baroness is still on her feet, may I ask her one very small question? Is she aware that her description of the so-called negotiations in March 1977, and subsequently in July 1977, is wholly disputed by Iberia, who are, to say the least, highly incensed? They feel that the Government's first formal intimation of the Government's requirement of them to move was on 22nd August 1978, in a letter from the Department to the manager of Iberia here in London, which said that the Government had decided—if I remember rightly; I did see the letter—and 1543 will she undertake to look into the position of the so-called consultation?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I will certainly look into it, but as I gave it tonight is how our departmental records show what took place.