HL Deb 14 February 1980 vol 405 cc358-414

5 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I too, from these Benches, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for initiating this debate, which enables us to find out what changes have taken place in airports policy since the present Government came into office, and to note what progress has been made.

In our debate on 17th December, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said that history will tell us that we made a great mistake in not proceeding to develop Maplin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, said that we should not have spent more money on Maplin than we have on all the little bits and pieces that we have since added, and, I would say, we are going to add. I agree with both of them. From what the Minister has told us today, I think it is clear that this Government at least are not going to open the question of Maplin again, despite what protests may be made from various local interests against the development of Stansted.

On the subject of costs, it is perhaps relevant to this debate to make mention of the huge costs that have been involved and are going to be involved in the patching up of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Has there ever been a calculation or estimate made of the real net cost to the taxpayer, bearing in mind that a large proportion of these costs are in respect of wages and salaries and a large lump of that finds its way back to the Treasury by way of personal income tax? In saying that I am not inviting a lecture on elementary economics.

We have been told there is to be a policy of development to maximise the potential of the English, Scottish and Welsh regional airports so as to shift the burden away from the London area. The East Midlands, Manchester and Birmingham have been specifically mentioned. There is also to be a policy of negotiating rights for new services, which I imagine will also include charter services, from the Continent to these regions. Presumably the idea is to induce air passengers generated in these local catchment areas to elect to fly from their own local airports rather than to go to the London area, and so reduce the load in the South-East. It could hardly be in the reverse direction, bearing in mind the time and expense involved in taking surface travel from the South-East to the Midlands or beyond. I note that preliminary estimates have been made for the potential traffic and choice of destinations from these airports, and that there are plans for some new services.

Can we be told what the first selection of local regional airports to be developed will be, and what the new services may be in the first instance? I have heard a rumour that the Channel Tunnel project is to be revived. If and when it comes into operation it is undoubtedly going to syphon off a lot of air traffic, thus relieving congestion. As such, I think its mention does just come within the sphere of this debate. If there is any news of this it would be interesting to hear it.

To return to the London area, it seems that the present policies do not go further than the provision of a fourth terminal building at Heathrow, a new terminal at Gatwick but not a second runway, and a new terminal building and ancillary buildings at Stansted, which has acquired or can easily acquire enough additional acreage for a second runway if that comes to be needed. As I have said before in this House, this fourth terminal at Heathrow is to be on a site which is difficult and time-wasting to get to from the M.4, even if a tunnel from the central area is provided. The hard standing is restricted.

Airlines with whom I have spoken have told me that they went along with the proposal to build it because it could provide a relief, but not a cure, for the problem of congestion and it could be ready by 1985, some time before the Perry Oaks site could be developed, and as such it was better than nothing. But they would have preferred the Perry Oaks site, and still hope that it may be developed, with its 400 acres, with easy access to the M.4 without having to go through the central area and its congested tunnels; also to the M.25 when that is completed, and the possiblity of a rail link to lines that go through Staines. I am told it could be got ready about 1991, and subject to the price it would get for its land, the Thames Water Authority no longer see great difficulty in moving its sewage farm. I hope the Government will reconsider this matter; but if they cannot do a U-turn, then at least will they consider preliminary planning without commitment so that they will not be caught short when demand for a fifth terminal becomes all too obvious? We have heard that there are plans to extend the Tube from the central area to the fourth terminal, which will be of great benefit to that terminal. Can the noble Lord tell us when it is expected that that will be in operation?

As regards Gatwick, assuming that the hurdle of the public inquiry is finally jumped, I note that it is expected the new terminal will be ready in 1986. Can we be told when the extension of the M.25 from the top of Reigate Hill westwards to the boundaries of Heathrow will be completed? I understand that at the moment it is held up due to some local squabble with the Leatherhead District Council which has been going on for a long time and is likely to cost the Surrey ratepayers a lot of money.

The Minister has told us today of plans for a large-scale development of Victoria Station. These are most welcome. They are to provide booking and other facilities for air passengers for Gatwick and keep them separated from the commuter traffic. This scheme will include special platform capacity to provide for a special non-stop four-an-hour rail service to and from Gatwick. Luckily, this does not require a public inquiry, but is subject to planning permission, and should be ready by 1984. In the meantime, and starting this summer, British Rail plan to operate a fast non-stop train between Gatwick and Victoria at week-ends, which it is hoped will go a long way to relieve the congestion on these services. The rail link to Manchester promised last year is in operation.

With regard to Stansted, can we be told when the new terminal building will be ready? Are there any plans to improve the rail connection from Liverpool Street station, which is not perhaps the easiest of the London termini to get to, together with an improved road connection when the southern end of the M.11, which now ends in Woodford, can be linked to the eastern end of the M.25? I am also told that British Rail are to provide special coaches to carry passengers between Bishops Stortford station and the airport, and may even explore the possibilities of running a spur line into the airport itself from the Bishops Stortford/Cambridge main line. Do we know of any plans, similar to those planned for Victoria, to develop Liverpool Street station?

On the subject of transfer of services, is there any final solution to the problem of transferring certain services from Heathrow to Gatwick? I gather compulsion is not contemplated. There has been considerable co-operation by certain airlines, notably British Airways, who have transferred their Spanish services, including charters. Stansted, no doubt, raises a much more difficult problem owing to the difficulty of inter-lining. I understand that, when new routes are negotiated the conditions of designation may contain an obligation for those new services to go to Stansted or Gatwick. Can the Minister enlarge on that?

I turn to the question of frequencies and wide-bodied aircraft. It is argued that, with the introduction of wide-bodied aircraft, the passenger flow will increase, but the aircraft frequencies will decrease. That has been an argument for not providing a second runway at Gatwick. I am told that, at Heathrow, the annual number of aircraft movements is now just about 207,500, which is nearly the limit of the present capacity of the runways; that is, allowing for the restrictions on night flying. So, with the increase of the wide-bodied aircraft, more runway capacity should not be required. I am told that, so far, while certain airlines are already operating wide-bodied aircraft, there is no indication of a decrease in aircraft movements. As on a previous occasion, I have been asking a great many questions. However, I have given the noble Lord notice of some of them which I hope he will be able to answer today.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne when he opened this debate paid a tribute to our late noble friend Lord Thomas who, as he said—and Lord Thomas said this to me— had intended to take part in this debate. Lord Thomas was a very old friend of many of us; a great airman, with a distinguished record in the first war; the most successful Chairman of BOAC and, up to his death, the Chairman of Britannia Airways. I worked with him very closely on two of those occasions and I am sure that the House has lost a great deal by his passing and feels the deepest sympathy with Lady Thomas.

The record of successive British Governments on airport policy is, as the Secretary of State himself admitted in his Statement in another place on 17th December, not a very impressive story of British public administration. There has been a plethora of public inquiries, statutory inquiries, study groups and expert investigations spread over many years. What has been the outcome? One outcome has been that, as long ago as 1964, the Government presided over by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel favoured the development of Stansted. Now, 16 years later, after the expenditure of vast masses of paper and even more public money, the view has come round to Stansted again. Meanwhile, the situation has become acute and unsatisfactory.

Those noble Lords who have the misfortune to have to travel through Heathrow Airport, especially during weekends in the summer, know that conditions there are appalling, that they are getting worse and that they are a discouragement to travellers to come to and through this country. The matter, therefore, is now —and I do not blame the present Government for this, for obvious reasons—one of very great urgency and one calling for crisp and immediate action.

Some people outside—I am sure not in this House—seem to think that aviation is a hobby of the very rich and of no very great economic significance. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede —who himself, if he will allow me to say so, has done so much work for British tourism—pointed out, tourism and aviation, which are, of course, inextricably linked, are now a major contributor to the British balance of payments. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that, if we take the two together, they are the biggest earners of foreign exchange in the current year. Certainly they are of far more economic significance to this country than is, for example, the heavy industry about which we naturally—especially at this moment—feel so much concern.

Therefore, one is talking about the essential infrastructure of a major British industry and a major prop of the British economy. It is not just a question of something which is on the periphery of our national life. I sometimes think that the professional planners are very apt to treat it just like that. They will place an airport where it fits nicely into a general land planning scheme, and they do not seem to give very much weight—and I have seen them at close quarters—to the economic necessities of a major industry. They do not seem to give weight to the fact that, if an airport is really to be of use to this vital industry, it must be in the right place and the right place is reasonably close to the centres that it serves and, in particular, to London. It is only that sort of planners' dream of revelry over a map that ever produced Maplin—that planners' dream and that airlines' nightmare. No one seriously concerned with the interests of aviation would have sought to place an airport 50 miles away, on the wrong side of London, with all the problems of ground access.

I think that it is essential to return—as, up to a point, I think the Government are now returning—to the practical question of how best to serve the needs of a major British industry. It is no use kidding ourselves that, if we do not provide the facilities, somehow or other we shall still get the results. Long haul traffic, if it cannot be served conveniently for London with comfortable, civilised conditions for its passengers, will tend more and more to divert to Amsterdam or Paris, where splendid facilities are now provided. This country will lose not only a considerable part of its tourist trade and a considerable part of the advantage it has as a business centre, but also a great deal of aviation business, because that business will tend to go to the foreign lines which mainly serve those airports.

Therefore, it is crucial that we should now get ahead with the provision of those facilities which will prevent Heathrow, in particular, becoming the sort of by-word that Kennedy Airport in New York has become, and prevent it becoming the sort of airport which people will go to great expense not to have to pass through. The approach of the Government in not attempting to build a new airport on a greenfield site is, I am sure, right. Prophecy is proverbially the most dangerous of all public occupations. I shall prophesy that no major airport will be built on a greenfield site in this country in this century. Not only is the cost enormous and not only is the provision of ground facilities immensely difficult, but the resistance of the community is such that years and years of effort and vast expenditure are needed to carry it out.

I suggest to your Lordships that the Government are right to base their policy on an expansion of existing airports and, of course, among existing airports I include Stansted. There is real confusion and some public controversy when people outside talk about instituting a third London airport. There is a third London airport at Stansted which has been in operation for many years, which has an excellent runway and which requires development. The additional airports that those people are talking about are fourth or fifth airports. Indeed, if we include Luton, there is indeed a fifth airport.

So, if I may come back to the point which I was making, I am sure that the Government are completely right to build on the existing foundation. They are also right to move flexibly. As some of your Lordships know, I was involved for some years in this arcane business of the forecasting of traffic. I am hound to say that that taught me considerable cynicism about it. The truth is that in the rapidly changing world of today forecasts are no more than the intelligent guesses of reasonably intelligent men and women. Therefore, in a sphere in which preparations must be made a long time ahead, the Government require a flexible policy.

This afternoon, if I have any criticism to offer of the Government's policy and of the Statement by the Secretary of State, it is not that it is wrongly directed, but that it appears even now to lack sufficient urgency, and certainly very considerably to lack flexibility. On the urgency point, perhaps I may put this to my noble friend. I have been studying—as I know have all noble Lords—the Statement that was made in another place by the Secretary of State for Trade. In the handout copy, his Statement carries convenient numbering; I am sure it is the copy that my noble friend has. At the beginning of paragraph 9 the Secretary of State says: At Heathrow capacity is virtually exhausted, and that is why we must continue to divert traffic to Gatwick, as already announced in my Statement on 9 October". That is clear, but, when we proceed to the following paragraph, paragraph 10, the right honourable gentleman says: At Gatwick a public inquiry is to be held next year into a proposal for a second terminal at the airport. The Government will reach its conclusions on this matter in the light of the inspector's report". I say this to my noble friend: no one in this world knows what public inquiry inspectors will report; they often produce surprises. However, if the report is against a second terminal at Gatwick, what will the Government do? As the Secretary of State has even now announced, their policy is to divert traffic from an overcrowded Heathrow to Gatwick, and they have had, as your Lordships know, some difficulties in respect of foreign airlines. They have gone in for this public inquiry at Gatwick, which I do not believe to be a legal necessity, as a conscious decision, and the Secretary of State has committed himself not to take a decision until this inquiry is over, which probably will not be until the end of this year.

Therefore, I must ask my noble friend and the Government, given the urgency of the situation and given that they themselves say that Heathrow is at the end of its resources, what they are going to do if the inspector reports against the development of the second terminal at Gatwick. My guess is that they will go ahead with it anyhow for, as I understand it, legally they have power to do so. However, if that is in their minds, why this waste of time and public money in a public inquiry—which would appear to give no direct benefit other than to members of the planning Bar?

I am similarly unhappy with the Government about the lack of flexibility, and that centres on two points. First, I think—as did The Times in a leading article published just after the Statement of the Secretary of State—that they have made a great mistake in excluding either the fifth terminal at Heathrow or the second runway at Gatwick. I think that they are probably right not to take a positive decision on either of these at the moment until they study how the other facilities which they provide cope with whatever the traffic increase is. But I think they are making a great mistake in this very uncertain field in excluding these possibilities.

My noble friend said that one of the objections to the fifth terminal at Heathrow is that it would take 12 years to build. With respect, I think he is exaggerating. I know that the sewage farm has to be moved, but the Thames Water Authority—if I may say so, not the most dynamic of bodies—has committed itself to the proposition that it can leave the site cleared in six years. If that be so, surely it is not beyond the capacity of the British Airports Authority, having gone through all the procedures while the site was being cleared, to build the terminal itself in two and a half or, at the outside, three additional years. If that be right, the fifth terminal could, in fact, be built and be in operation not after the 12 years which my noble friend indicated, but before the end of the decade.

I hope and believe that the Government have paid some attention to the view of British Airways in this matter. British Airways believe that the fifth terminal should be built. I should like to quote a sentence from a letter from them: We believe there are very strong arguments in favour of developing the Perry Oaks site which would provide a new terminal capable of meeting the needs of air passengers in the nineties. A fifth terminal would enable London to remain competitive with other European gateways; without it we should lose traffic to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Frankfurt. These arguments are considered fully in the enclosed brochure", et cetera. I shall not trouble your Lordships any further. But that warning from the major British airline and the major user of Heathrow is, I suggest, one that should be treated extremely seriously.

In his reply the Secretary of State dismissed the fifth terminal basically by saying that it would put an increased burden on the neighbourhood. Let us analyse that. It would only put an increased burden in the sense of additional air noise if the effect of not building the fifth terminal is to turn traffic away from Heathrow. Is that the Government's intention?—so to limit the capacity at Heathrow that traffic is lost. For unless that is the reasoning behind it, I simply do not understand the Statement by the Secretary of State that this would put an increased burden on the neighbourhood. On the other hand, if he means that it would add to ground traffic, with the difficulties of access, my noble friend knows well that, in fact, schemes have been put forward by which the construction of a fifth terminal at Heathrow would improve ground access to Heathrow Airport by enabling traffic to be brought in from the West direct, and not having to go through the tunnels.

There are also schemes for extending both the underground line and the railway spur into the fifth terminal at the west side of the airport. There is good reason to believe that if the fifth terminal is pushed forward, so far from causing worse ground congestion, it would make a contribution to bettering it. Therefore, I beg the Government not to exclude it, not to close doors which may cause great problems to their successors.

In parenthesis, the problem of airport planning is that Governments must take decisions which often are very unpopular, if they go any distance; but, of course, it is always left to a subsequent Government years and years later to take the consequences of a failure to make provision in time. Therefore, it is a temptation to Governments and to Ministers to bow to opposition, to do as little as possible at the time, and to leave it to some remote successor to "carry the can" when the trouble arises. I am not accusing my noble friend of doing that deliberately, but I am saying that there are pressures on Government to act in that way.

The same goes—and I do not want to weary the House—with the second runway at Gatwick. I am even more puzzled about this. It is the declared policy of the Government to build up Gatwick to 25 million passengers a year. My noble friend knows Gatwick better than any other noble Lord in this House. I simply do not believe that we could handle anything like that number of passengers on a single runway. I know that the construction of a second runway has been made more difficult by the quite deliberate action of the British Airports Authority in building some of their cargo facilities across what was, in the original plan, the track of the second runway. But it is not impossible to create it. Here again, I think that the Government would be very unwise, if it is their declared policy to build up Gatwick to 25 million passengers, to exclude the second runway.

My doubts are reinforced by study of the Secretary of State's Statement in its reference to Stansted. In that Statement it is indicated that Stansted will first be built up to 15 million passengers a year, and that land will be safeguarded so that a second runway at Stansted can be built if the traffic is to go above 15 million passengers a year. Perhaps my noble friend will explain why, if the British Airports Authority are so clever that they can handle 25 million passengers on a single runway at Gatwick, they are taking precautions and spending money so as not to have to handle more than 15 million passengers a year at Stansted without a second runway? I hope I have made my point clear to my noble friend.

Therefore, while I support and am glad to see the Government's policies as set out in this policy in the short term, provided they are energetically pursued and provided that such public inquiries as they feel they must undertake are pushed through with speed and decisions taken quickly, I reiterate—and I hope that the House will forgive me for saying this again but I should like to put it on record—that I think in closing any of these doors, be it the fifth terminal at Heathrow or the second runway at Gatwick, the Government will be making a mistake. Even if they feel that there is insufficient evidence to justify expenditure on them now, in which they may well be right, I hope that they will leave the door wide enough open to enable another Government in a different situation some years hence to go ahead with what I do not say will be necessary, but what, there is a reasonable possibility, may be vitally necessary.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by echoing the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, to Lord Thomas, who was always a very good friend to me. I remember, going back to the saga of the West London air terminal, Lord Thomas saying to me and I think to the House, "You have no idea how the Government can lean on a nationalised industry if they want something to be brought about". I should like to add my tribute.

I welcomed the tone of Lord Trefgarne's opening remarks today, because it seemed to me that he was prepared to look at matters that we put forward and to see that they went elsewhere also. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—I was wondering whether I should say that I always bow to his greater knowledge. I think I will acknowledge his greater knowledge because nobody in the House knows more, but I am not going to agree with him on everything he said today. I wholeheartedly agree on the matter of urgency and on the second runway at Gatwick, and I hope he will bear with me on the other matters.

While appreciating the problems and dilemma of the Secretary of State in assessing correctly in 1979 what may be right for 1999 I remain unconvinced that the cost of these interim, I call them "bits and pieces", will not assume gigantic proportions, and that 20 years hence we may well consider that "taking a chance" on Maplin today was an error of judgment. Obviously I myself, and those who are better informed than I am, have neither the expertise nor the experience which is available to the Secretary of State. But I believe that the Secretary of State and his colleagues will study opinions that are genuinely held and have been formed over several years.

I myself regretted that the Maplin project was cancelled in 1974. Had it been adopted in 1971, as the then Government then recommended, I believe that the resultant cost would not have exceeded what we have since spent on what I call these "bits and pieces"; and nobody could say that the might-have-been Maplin in any way compares with the position that we have today. I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said and I should like to assure him that I am not in favour of Maplin because I am against any inland site. I am not taking sides on those at all.

Coming to the Statement in another place on 17th December, the Secretary of State spoke of financial problems concerning Maplin, which presumably were one of the reasons for rejecting Maplin. Included in these was "the re-location of defence establishments". We all know that obstacles to removing defence establishments will always exist, and moreover will never change unless the Government of the day decide that something will have to be done. Nothing less will do.

Although the Government have stated that they do not intend to revive the Maplin project in any form, I want to assume that they have a change of heart as a result of further inquiry. As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, we have these inquiries, and one assumes that the Government mill take note of them. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, assured me the other day on the inquiry at Gatwick that if the inquiry went against what the Government wanted they obviously would have to take note of it as we were a democracy, and one never knows what will come out of these inquiries.

What I wanted to ask about was what about the cost concerning Maplin? I advance into this minefield with considerable trepidation, but I have done my best and I should like an answer to some very real doubts. I do not expect the noble Lord to be able to give them to me tonight, but I would appreciate them. On 18th December the Financial Times produced a table which was headed: "Capital costs of third London airport", giving these in three stages, the total cost and the time taken from decision in principle to opening date. Taking Stansted the cost is, stage one, £365 million; stage two, £260 million; stage three, £605 million. For Maplin stage one, £900 million; stage two, £230 million; stage three, £575 million. I am not hoping or expecting noble Lords to bear those figures in mind. I thought they should be on the record. But I would ask the House to note that stages two and three at Stansted cost more than at Maplin, although the total cost is £1,250 million for Stansted and £1,700 million for Maplin. Obviously this difference arises from stage one, which brings me back to the defence establishments.

I have talked to others who, like myself, are unhappy at the Ministry of Defence estimates both as to cost of re-locating the defence establishments, estimated at that £240 million to £300 million in the Maplin cost, and to the time it would take to re-locate, if such an unheard-of action were to come about. Apart from being unable to accept what I will term the "projected" costs of Maplin and what I will term the "hidden" costs of Stansted, equally I cannot accept the statement that it would take only eight years for Stansted to be brought into operation as a stage one airport carrying 15 million passengers a year, while for Maplin the figure is given as more than double: that is, 17 years. I would only say to the Minister that many besides myself find these points (shall I say?) unacceptable and leave it there.

On environmental aspects, of course there is no case to be argued between Stansted and Maplin. We all know that the Roskill Commission excluded Stansted from its short list on the ground that too many people lived near it and would suffer excessively from a major increase in its use. This argument still holds great force. Taking the cost of land acquisition for the urbanisation of a fully developed Stansted, this is estimated at some £340 million. This would give Stansted no cash advantage at all. I have seen the letter in The Times today from the chairman of the British Airports Authority, Mr. Payne, on these matters and it really does not cause me to alter anything that I have just said.

Add to that the noise and numbers affected, and I suggest that the term "environmental disaster" is no exaggeration. I do not believe that civil aviation will decline; I think that if Stansted is chosen, it will have to be developed, and Stansted will become what the Secretary of State has said he does not want, namely, a major new international airport. The option to develop Stansted further, possibly to 50 million passengers a year, would mean nothing less.

It is forecast that air passenger markets will more than double between 1978 and 1986, with greater growth on long haul routes, and that leisure travel will represent the area of highest growth. British Airways looked at this on their routes worldwide. On their short haul routes in 1978 the high fare passenger percentage was 60 and the low fare, 40; in 1986, the high fare passenger percentage had declined from 60 to 31, and the low fare percentage had risen from 40 to 69. On the long haul routes in 1978, the high fare passenger percentage was 24 and the low fare, 76; in 1986, the high fare percentage had declined from 24 to 18 and the low fare percentage had risen from 76 to 82.

I did not want to weary the House with figures, but merely to substantiate my belief that civil aviation will not decline and to illustrate the likely development. Succinctly, in 1986 British Airways expect that on short haul routes, 69 per cent. of passengers will be low fare ones, while on long haul routes the expected figure is 82 per cent. I wish to make it clear that British Airways did not ask me to make this statement; in June last year their Director of Commercial Operations, Mr. Draper, and I were speakers at the 6th World Airports Conference in London organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers. I listened with great interest to what Mr. Draper had to say and stored his remarks away for future use.

This growth, which I believe in, can be realised, or realised fully, only if two major constraints are removed. The first, obviously, is the fuel threat, with which I am not competent to deal; but the second constraint is, or would be, the inability of airports to handle any significant increase in passenger traffic.

I now come to airports. I agree that we should encourage the fullest use of regional airports and by doing so, additional to any regional benefits, shift some of the burden away from the London area airports. Also, I welcome the intention of the Government to negotiate new rights permitting services between overseas cities and British provincial towns. But it is informed opinion that the need for substantial aircraft capacity is in the South-East, where about 70 per cent. of the country's air traffic is expected to be found through the rest of this century.

I come now to Heathrow, and there seems to be unanimous opinion among us in this House that the congestion at Heathrow is a nightmare. It is also a real disincentive to tourists to come here again, as the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Parry, will say the same again. The addition of a further 12 million people a year using the fourth terminal will need drastic rethinking if the burden is not to become both impossible and intolerable, and it gives rise to the question I am now continually asking myself, and, from the tone of the speeches, the question the House is asking itself today: Are people made for airports or airports for people? In other words, what about the passenger, without whom there would be no civil aviation industry? I believe that officialdom is in danger of accepting the first premise; namely, that people are made for airports. It is, after all, much the more convenient one.

I must here bring in the problem of passengers with luggage getting out to Heathrow. How is it proposed that these 12 million additional passengers per annum are to get there? The noble Lord told us—and he expected I would be pleased to hear—that we could hope for the extension of the underground link to the fourth terminal. My concern is not at that end but at this end: how are people to get on to it at this end with luggage? British Airways and London Transport have always regarded this problem as a nuisance and have refused to do anything about it, merely stressing the benefit of the underground link to Heathrow. Of course it is a benefit; but it is not unusual for passengers to have luggage, and that seems a very hard point to get over to authority. We should like to use it, too. It seems quite extraordinary that a new link to Heathrow Airport, constructed at considerable public cost, should expressly exclude use by air travellers with luggage, and I would submit that that is a normal condition for people going away.

As the House is well aware—I would say most patiently well aware—I have asked on many occasions that access to this underground link at street level should be made available to passengers, even if at only one station. I have suggested Gloucester Road, and many tourists and business people who stay in hotels in that area have asked the same. Two years ago, on 25th January 1978, in this House we had a debate on tourism, and at column 419 there appear two simple questions that I asked, and I think the House knows them as well as I do. The first was whether we could have an inquiry into which station on the Heathrow-London rail link could best accommodate travellers with luggage, and could we have the matter treated as one of urgency. The second was whether the coach service would be retained. On the first question I got nowhere. On the second, the Minister replying said, at column 449, that there was no question of cutting down the coach service.

That was 25th January 1978. In April 1979 the coach service was withdrawn from the West London Terminal, although it had been used by more than 1 million people in the preceding 12 months. On 15th January this year I asked about the coach service facilities provided from the Victoria Air Terminal to and from Heathrow Airport and whether those were to be curtailed. The Minister told me at column 10—I am sure he remembers it—that there were no plans to curtail the service. I am sorry to say that I do not believe it, and that is the honest truth. I do not mean, of course, that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was deliberately misleading the House; he could only repeat information given to him by the department, as did the Minister two years ago.

I believe we have a right to demand something better, and I hope the Minister will see that we get it. I am sure he would not wish to have to get up in this House in the not too distant future and tell us that the service had either been curtailed or had disappeared altogether. I suggest on this transport matter, which I hope the Minister will pass on, that it is not unreasonable to demand that there must be direct access, by road or rail—I am not asking a lot; by road or rail—to Heathrow for all passengers, those with and those without luggage. That should be a precondition to any expansion, and I wonder whether the Government would ask those concerned to cease stating only the difficulties and address themselves to possible solutions.

I come now to Gatwick, and I am on good ground here because I have the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, either behind or in front of me. I still maintain that to put through 25 million people a year on one runway is an unjustifiable risk. It is admitted that at Stansted 25 million is the "absolute maximum" but at Gatwick it is dismissed as being no problem at all. At column 1466 on 17th December last, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, speaking of the figure of 25 million, said: that is certainly the maximum capacity of the single runway". The Press notice issued for the Department of Trade on 17th December last, at paragraph 10 showed that we are still at cross-purposes over this point when it stated: We have also considered whether further capacity should be created by constructing a second runway at Gatwick, but have decided not to pursue this possibility". I am not on about creating further capacity, and have never even mentioned creating further capacity. Quite simply I have been, and still am—as is the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—on about the fact that no airport in the world which deals with the traffic contemplated for Gatwick is, or is planned to be, operated on a single runway basis. The airlines want a second runway. I think that the passengers need one. The British Airports Authority does not. I am going to say with respect—that usually means that one is not going to be too polite—that the Government, like all bureaucracies, are pursuing the point that has not been raised, presumably to avoid answering the real one.

In conclusion, I think that demand is still climbing, and I am not sure that we are wise, even in the existing financial circumstances, to decide on piecemeal expansion at existing airports. Obviously it does not matter if I am wrong, but it does matter if the Secretary of State is wrong. I agree with Mr. Nott that years of indecision, decision and counter-decision reflect no credit on the capacity of this country to make difficult, but necessary, choices. I agree also that the time is long overdue for a settlement of the airports question for a much longer period ahead, so that the demand can be met if it develops into the next century. But to me this projected policy is the avoidance of decision, and I still hope for a change.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, I start from much the same position as the noble Baroness in questioning whether the airports are for the benefit of the people who use them—the passengers —or for the benefit of the operators and the airport authorities. I have always thought that airports essentially are passenger transit depots and are not necessarily centres of social intercourse. I look at most of the airports—at any rate in this country—with some disappointment. This view is borne out by the accounts of the British Airports Authority, whose aviation revenue has so seldom exceeded their commercial revenue. I believe that it was only in the year 1978–79 that revenue from aviation services exceeded commercial revenue. Commercial revenue comes from a variety of sources. I understand that most of the 1978–79 commercial revenue—£73.7 million—came from retail outlets, of which the duty-free shops and peripheral activities in the airports represent a substantial share. I pose this question: is the revenue derived from these peripheral activities disproportionate to the physical space they take up? Would not that space be better utilised for passenger movement and the real needs of the traveller?

I ask this because, judging from everything we have heard this afternoon, the difficulties do not appear to be in the movement of aircraft, but purely in the movement of the people arriving and departing. If terminals are cluttered up with non-essential activities—activities not essential to the moving of the people from one place to another—there is bound to be the kind of congestion that we all complain of. I do not know how much space would be released if terminals were not cluttered up in this way. If I did know, I suppose I would not ask the question.

It seems to me that before people start demanding new terminals they ought to ensure that the existing terminals are properly used. The planners tend to run away with the idea that something new, bigger and better is the answer to the complaints that are levelled. I do not hold that view. I hold the view that in most of the airport terminals in which I have been in this country there is a gross misuse of the asset. That this misuse may contribute considerably to the income of the operators is not, I think, quite the point. If one removes the peripheral activities and therefore a source of income, that may very well have to be made up by making additional charges to travellers, but I do not think that the travellers would be any the worse off. I understand that in 1975–76 travellers were relieved of an average of £1.34 each through the duty-free shops, and by and large the figure would be somewhat similar today but for the massive decline in such purchases; and that is not only in the United Kingdom. An article in the magazine Airports International, at the end of last year, stated: The British Airports Authority says that its commercial revenue—which constitutes almost half its total income and all its profit—barely kept pace with inflation last year, while its duty-free sales were disappointing in relation to traffic growth". The article went on to state that the Paris Airport Authority, is concerned about a 25 per cent. drop in the number of customers at the Orly duty-free shops last year". The article also stated: The director of Tampa International has pointed out that concession revenue will become less important to US airports as the pressures on space in terminals increase. Already, he noted, concession revenue falters at peak hours". To me all this spells the fact that we are wasting space in these activities which are not contributing very much to the profitability of the operation. So I think that we need a massive change of attitude here. I do not suppose that even if this kind of suggestion were adopted, there would be a vast increase in the number of passengers passing through existing terminals, but I am told that the main consideration in relation to the shape and size of passenger terminals is the shape of wide-bodied aircraft and the method by which they can be parked. My informant from Airports International tells me that a number of more or less successful attempts have been made to get free of the constraint relating to the parking positions of the aircraft and produce smaller, and therefore cheaper, buildings; for example, at Mirabel Airport, Montreal.

From what I have heard and seen it seems that we are continuing in much the same way as we have in the past. If we are to attract the kind of traffic that noble Lords envisage (and some in particular want) we must adopt new ideas—ideas which are certainly different from those which have been practised in the past. I do not think that we can possibly wait until 1992 for a new terminal to be built. The traffic will have gone by then; people will have become fed up with the situation. It would be much more useful if we attach greater importance to the improvement of what we have, bearing in mind that aircraft movements are apparently to remain roughly consistent, while passenger movements are to increase.

That takes me to the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, has mentioned this evening, and indeed on so very many other occasions. The congestion outside the terminal—movements of traffic and movements of people—is something which always seems to be left until last. While the Piccadilly Line is supposed to be of great use, I understand from travellers that it has the grave disadvantage of being part of the ordinary transport system, and therefore you get all the stops, all the starts and all the commuter traffic. If we are going to maintain and improve airports such as Stansted, Gatwick and most notably, of course, Heathrow, then the movement of people and vehicles from those places to the hearts of the cities to which they want to go must be planned well in advance of the completion of any terminal improvement or any new terminal building. It is to these peripheral activities and these other services that I do not believe sufficient attention is being given.

Grandiose statements that so many people are likely to come and that so much traffic is going to be generated I think blind people to the down-to-earth need of what it is that the traveller wants; that is, to move through a transit depot in order to get from one place to another, and not to hang around super-lush lounges with shops, offices and goodness knows what. He is a passenger in transit, and he wants to do that quickly, safely and reasonably comfortably.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, I am extraordinarily grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Spens and Lord Abinger, for allowing me to take precedence over them in this debate—only in the matter of time and not in any other sense. The reason will become clear in a moment. I rise handicapped: for an Englishman to lose his voice is a trial; for a Welshman it is a tragedy. It will not surprise noble Lords that I intend to say something about the national airport of Wales at Cardiff, but I see it in context. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, as ever, has won the admiration of the House for her exposition of a case which has been set—and I think I am not being pompous but accurate in saying this—in a debate of real consequence for airport usage in this country.

As all the previous speakers have said, all the forecasts suggest a big increase in air traffic running into tens of millions of passengers over the decades ahead. It should be possible to make sure that part of that increase uses the regional airports, and I was as encouraged as were other Members of this House when the Secretary of State for Trade, Mr. John Nott, in the other place on the 17th December, said: In the future we will adopt policies designed to maximise the potential of the English regional airports and those in Scotland and Wales, and thus shift the burden away from the London area airports".—[Official Report, Commons, col. 35.] Indeed, the speaker from the Front Bench opposite this evening, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has repeated that statement almost word for word.


My Lords, I repeated it on 17th December as well.


Exactly, my Lords. I do not wish to take anything away from the noble Lord; all credit is due. I was about to say that since I am the chairman of the Welsh Tourist Board and a member of the British Tourist Authority I must plead the Addison rules, because I speak for myself this evening and not for either of those bodies. But the promotion of the Airport Committee in Canada this week is supported by the British Tourist Authority and the Welsh Tourist Board. I shall myself be flying to North America for the British Tourist Authority tomorrow afternoon. We all realise that an increase in traffic to Cardiff (Wales) Airport, raising it to its designed level of one million passengers, would bring considerable benefits to tourism. In fact, Cardiff (Wales) Airport could handle three million passengers a year without further investment in runways or aprons; it would merely require modest spending on passenger-handling facilities and in extending car-parking spaces. The assurances repeated, and perhaps even strengthened, by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, this afternoon, that traffic would be encouraged to regional airports, are welcome and most important.

However, much needs to be done to change long years of actively discouraging traffic to regional airports. If I could give one example, I am advised that the Civil Aviation Authority navigation service charges are approximately four times higher for Cardiff (Wales) Airport, and one assumes for other regional airports, than for Heathrow. The example I give is in fact for an aircraft of the size of a BAC.111. This year, the Cardiff (Wales) Airport Committee will be paying approximately £400,000 to the Civil Aviation Authority for navigation service charges. I should like to invite the Department of Trade Ministers, through the Minister on the Front Bench, to look immediately at what must be an inconsistency. The navigational difficulties of flying into Heathrow—and I take up the challenge made to me by the noble Baroness—one of the world's busiest airports, are surely greater than those of Cardiff (Wales) and some of the regional airports of its calibre. Indeed, the Minister used the adjective "intolerable" to emphasise the burden of traffic through Heathrow.

As air traffic to the United Kingdom grows, and with it the pressures on the South-East of England, it should be possible to plan sensibly for new services to regional airports. Other countries seem to have been more successful in doing this and in decentralising their air traffic. It is possible, for example, to fly directly to many American cities, and several more are anxious to develop international links. This should be seen as an opportunity for Britain in international trade and tourism. We should, as the Minister has said, plan for new routes from fresh destinations on the understanding that they would use regional airports. It was a discouragement, to say the least, when, recently, British Airways, after a long period of service into the national airport of Wales at Cardiff, discontinued almost overnight a series of services that were of great importance to the building up of confidence in that airport. Britain is blessed with excellent train and bus services. They are certainly better than those in most other countries in the world, although it is our habit to "knock" them. We should now seek to get more benefit for the regions of Britain from the investment which has already been made in public transport services and our motorway network

I have already apologised to the noble Lord, and I now do so to the House, for the fact that I have a long-standing commitment to be elsewhere very shortly. The important statements made earlier affected our timing, and I would ask the House to excuse me from hearing out the rest of this valuable debate. But the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was explicit in committing the Government to developing the role of regional airports; that is, outside the South-East. He talked, as I do, of transferring the burden. He asked how it could be achieved. His mention of the new method of surveying travel demands was interesting. The British Tourist Authority had hoped that it might be able to co-operate with, say, the immigration authority by placing limited travel survey questions on the standard card completed by travellers to the United Kingdom. I understand there were difficulties about this, perhaps insurmountable, and nothing materialised. Should the Government perhaps look again at such a detailed and extended survey?

The noble Lord said that short-haul routes should be made more attractive, and he properly noted that the larger airports can offer more attractive packages than the smaller regional ones. Nevertheless, he said, there was significant potential traffic to be attracted to the regions, and in this context I should like to suggest that decisions should be taken very carefully indeed before services to regional airports are ended abruptly. As we all know, if British Rail needs to terminate a service, and proves that need, it has to go through a long and extended period of public appeal before it is allowed to do so. Incidentally, I agree whole-heartedly with the noble Lord that even maximum use of regional airports would not remove the need for additional facilities in the South-East of Britain. I wonder, though, whether there is perhaps one area which I might suggest has not even yet, with all the surveys, with all the examinations, been properly investigated. I am impressed that in the United States of America it is possible for the carriers of private charters to use, on an integrated service, Service establishments for civil purposes.

I believe that in the financial affairs of this nation we have reached a point beyond which it is almost impossible for any Government to go in the provision of services for only one purpose. I think that we have not looked carefully enough at possible double usage of facilities for which the ratepayer and the taxpayer have already paid and for which there is now reduced use. I am not in any sense saying that the civil carriage of air passengers should take over space needed for defence requirements. I am saying that it should be possible to put to use very expensive facilities for a double purpose. I wonder whether the Minister might look in future as to whether this question has been fully and properly examined. The assurances have been strengthened and repeated here.

At this stage in the debate, it is unnecessary for me to go on any longer, particularly as I am speaking, as your Lordships will gather, at some strain to my vocal chords—the House may note that with some relief. We should seek to get more benefit for the regions of Britain from investment which has already been made in the public transport services. A very small part of the future increase in air traffic in Britain, if planned from the outset for the regional airports, would make a great difference to them. An increase in international traffic to Cardiff (Wales) airport—and I use it not only as an illustration—would create more jobs; it would do so in an area which needs all the help it can get in these difficult times; because in Wales, as elsewhere in the regions, traditional industries have gone into decline.

I should have liked very much to have said something about this in the context of the debate that my noble friend Lord Brooks of Tremorfa (who, incidentally, is the vice-chairman of the Cardiff (Wales) Airport Committee) is to initiate next week; but, as I have already said, I am going to be on a British Tourist Authority sales mission overseas. The problems that the Government face and the problems that previous Governments have faced are such that it is necessary for us to think in future of building not simply an extension of the industrial economy, as I have said in this House before, but an alternative to it. I see, as do other speakers in this debate, the travel and tourism industry as being at least one leg of a tripod or perhaps quadruped system of the economy which perhaps will make it possible for future governments to plan in a more determined, long-term way the sort of "ad hoc-ing" that has passed for policy for too long; and I do not here apportion blame to one or other Government.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene to comment only on the narrow issue of Stansted and the surrounding area in the context of the Government's airports policy. I speak as one who farms in Essex, who has worked in local government there for many years and who has been active in the conservation movement in Essex for many years. I would add that I do not farm near Stansted; so that I have no personal interest in developments there. I am hardly empowered to speak for those interests that I have mentioned; but I can report how they feel about the Stansted proposals in Cmnd. 7084. They view them with utter dismay. I certainly view the proposals in the same way myself. I think that anyone who has studied the intractable problem of providing London with efficient air transport facilities for the future must accept that arrangements should be made now to handle the likely increase in air passenger movements in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of us do not accept the projections made on the subject. They have been badly wrong in the past and are just as likely to be wrong in the future. I accept that there will be a big increase in passenger movements in the London area; but where I believe the stated Government policy in respect of Stansted to be faulty is that in seeking to make proposals to meet the admittedly urgent needs of the air transport industry, the Government have failed to weigh up the irreparable damage that their proposals could cause other more important interests outside. These outside interests in particular would seem to be agriculture and the conservation of unspoiled countryside near London.

It may not be generally known outside the industry why North Essex plays such an important part in the agriculture of Britain. It is because Essex, of all counties in Britain, is far and away the most important area for growing wheat; and wheat is Britain's most important cereal crop. Let me put it this way. It is accepted that Bordeaux in France is a most important area in that country for producing fine wine. It is equally true that Essex, of all our counties, produces the finest wheat in Britain whether as regards quality, quantity or the ease with which it may be grown. The amount of first-class wheat grown in Essex is out of all proportion to the size of the county to the rest of Britain. Essex is the heart and core of the granary of Britain. It is in North Essex that Stansted lies and where so much of the county's agriculture is concentrated. South Essex has long since been urbanised, and I am sorry to say that Central Essex is now going the same way. But North Essex remains a granary.

It is not so much the actual acreage which is lost in the development of a large airport that worries the agricultural industry. The acreage need not be very great. What is damaging is the consequent urbanisation of a huge surrounding area—more than 200 square miles in the case of a major airport—and, if that airport should be Stansted, more than 200 square miles of our finest wheatland. Responsible planners estimate that if Stansted is to be expanded to handle between, say, 15 million and 20 million passengers a year, the servicing of the workforce and their families will require an entire new urban infrastructure equivalent to the size of a town like Cambridge; and, if this expansion is to be to 50 million passengers a year, then to a town the size of Sheffield.

These estimates have not been pulled out of the hat; they have been made by professional planners and, surely, they make nonsense of any proposals for a massive expansion at Stansted or, indeed, at any new inland site in Essex or elsewhere near London. In France, they seem to manage these things better. I cannot imagine that the French would contemplate building a vast airport in the middle of their Bordeaux vineyards or in the heart of their champagne country. Surely we in Britain should no more contemplate prejudicing our finest wheatlands in such a way.

It is true that in Cmnd. 7084, paragraph 158, the Government propose that the expansion of Stansted should be limited to 4 million passengers a year only as an initial step. I, myself, believe that such a limited expansion would be acceptable. I also believe that public opinion in Essex and the outside interests like agriculture would not oppose too vehemently a strictly limited expansion of that order. I believe, though, that the Essex County Council believes even this figure to be too big, and it certainly runs completely counter to the county structure plan on which many councillors and professional civil servants have done hours of work. I do not think that the county council has been treated with proper consideration in this matter to date. Nevertheless, it is recognised that Stansted is under-used and that a limited expansion there would bring local benefits such as facilities for increased employment.

But such comfort as is held out for Essex, and indeed for Hertfordshire too, by paragraph 158 is immediately dashed by paragraph 161 in the White Paper. It is this paragraph that seems to state that the Government retain the option of a major expansion of Stansted. It does not say how big an expansion. Are we to assume that it could be up to 50 million passengers a year, or any other unlimited creeping expansion to the size of a major airport? That is just the type of proposal that the Roskill Commission examined in the greatest detail and found unacceptable as an option. It is an option which I submit, for the reasons which I have explained, should remain unacceptable. This is the option which has dispirited great numbers of people not only in Essex, not only in the immediate Stansted area, but throughout Essex and Hertfordshire. It is that option which suggest should have no place in the Government's airports policy.

I do not know whether the noble Lord will wish to do so, but if he said: "It may be the option will not be exercised," I would say that, by their very nature, options can always be exercised. This one will be like a sword of Damocles hanging over North-West Essex and much of Hertfordshire which are proud of their first-class agricultural industry and the few areas of unspoiled country which is left to them.

In the interests of brevity, I shall say little about the conservation objections to a greatly expanded airport at Stansted. Such a policy will of course destroy the character of one of the few remaining large stretches of countryside left near London, one of London's lungs; but the conservationists are of course in complete agreement with the local authorities in Essex and the farmers in that area in their opposition to the Stansted proposals. However, they draw their ranks from people much further afield. I cannot imagine a farmer in Lancashire or Cornwall spending a sleepless night about the Stansted proposals. No doubt he would sympathise with his colleagues in Essex, who perhaps face the ruin of their fine farms. But it is the conservationists throughout Britain, not just those in Essex, who deplore this particular proposal. They ask not for whom the bell tolls; they know it tolls for them. If the Government can really contemplate the destruction of such fine countryside by unnecessarily importing a major industrial project into the heart of it, then no countryside in Britain can feel safe from such intrusion.

Conservationists are civilised and sensible people, they realise that man finds pleasure, peace and strength from the quiet enjoyment of unspoilt country, whether he be a visitor to it or whether he lives and works there. So the interests of conservationists, I maintain, really do matter. Man cannot live by air transport facilities alone; he needs bread. If Stansted is developed in the way that has been proposed in paragraph 161 man is going to lose a lot of bread, and he will also lose a huge stretch of magnificent countryside which can never be replaced.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I put my name down to speak this morning and expected to find myself at the bottom of the list of speakers, which would have suited me because I have a point to raise with the Minister which has nothing to do with this present debate but it fits in with the title of the debate. As I have been elevated a little, I feel that I must make one general comment on this debate before going on to my own particular point. I am no expert on airports policy. What I am going to say rather complements what the last two speakers, the noble Lords, Lord Parry and Lord Abinger, have been talking about.

I look at this from the point of view of a Select Committee on unemployment on which I am now sitting. I do not think I am revealing any secrets of that committee if I say that it is becoming very clear to us that increasing unemployment is occurring but not at a level rate throughout the country; it is happening more quickly in certain regions. For that reason, I feel that the Government ought to give serious consideration to building a new airport somewhere in the North-West; a completely new airport which would generate an enormous amount of new employment, both in its construction and afterwards in the industries which would be drafted towards it. I offer that as my suggestion, and I believe that that would certainly assuage the fears of the noble Lord who has just sat down.

To get back to my point: I apologise for taking the eye of the Minister off the ball which he has been playing this evening and bowling him a small, slow one; but I hope that he received a note from me earlier on. I am interested in the affairs of Cyprus and I want to ask him this question. I realise that the airport in Northern Cyprus, Ercan, is not accepted as an international airport and therefore is not accepted by the scheduled airlines. But is there any policy or any rule which prevents charter 'planes from flying direct from airports in this country into Northern Cyprus? At the moment people seem to think that there is a rule against it which prohibits it, and if there is such a rule I want to know why. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me an answer in his reply.

6.29 p.m.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, you are witnessing a ventriloquial turn. My noble friend Lord Gainford is sitting beside me in silence and he is going to speak after me. We have agreed, for reasons which will probably emerge, to change places. I mention this for the comfort of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, who may have become confused as he is to follow us both. I find myself in great and unexpected agreement with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter—unexpected to me and unexpected to him. He will probably be startled to hear me say this. He need not be too startled too quickly. I am indeed in agreement with almost everything he said—almost—but there are certain things he has not said with which I am in total disagreement. There is one thing he said with which also I am in disagreement. We will come to these one at a time.

Something he said with which I am not in agreement is that he mentioned that he finds the Government's proposals too inflexible. I, on the other hand, find them too flexible. We may be at odds here over the definition of the word "flexible". But it seems to me that the proposals which the Government have put forward leave open an enormous number of possibilities, which might strike dismay into the hearts of many people, including myself. My noble friend wishes more options to be kept open than are being kept open, so that we can go ahead more quickly; and in this I entirely appreciate his point of view.

But certain of the proposals have a negative effect. For example, we have been told that there is no intention to build a second runway at Gatwick, that there is no intention to build a fifth terminal on the Perry Oaks site at Heathrow and that there is no intention of doing this, that or the other. But you do not have to go back very far in the calendar to discover the effect on the future of beliefs that were held at one time or another. You do not have to go back very far to find the time when there was no intention to build a fourth terminal at Heathrow, a third terminal at Heathrow or even a first terminal at Heathrow; when there was no intention to enlarge Stansted, and when there was no intention to build a major airport at Gatwick. Indeed, if we had accepted the statements made by various persons in the past that they did not intend to do something, and had taken those as statements of truth, then there would be one London Airport now and it would be at Croydon.

So what are we to think about the future of these airports? I mention this largely for one reason, not merely to get at my noble friend for whom I have the greatest possible respect, as indeed I ought to. It is because I have discovered from my own observations that there are people in important places, even in local government—people of intelligence, integrity and so on—who are taken in by this kind of talk. They say, "The Government say that they do not intend, will not allow or will not consider approving a second runway at Gatwick". This is where the flexibility comes in. Of course, they can change their minds and probably will.

Therefore, the situation has not changed in character over the last three or four decades. We are going along in exactly the same way, so far as airports policy is concerned, as we always did, going right back to the days of Croydon. When we find that we do not have enough capacity to handle the aircraft, the passengers or both, then we scratch around to see how we can increase capacity here and there. That is precisely what is happening now. It is for that reason that in an earlier debate I referred to the probability that we are now facing yet another unplanned disaster.


My Lords, I thought that all disasters were unplanned.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

That is a very rash remark from any Front Bench, or indeed from anywhere else. No, my Lords, I think that is not the case. Of course, there is planning which is going on now, but which is ad hoc, and the whole set-up, the whole aviation situation that we have—and that we are going to have—has grown up unplanned from the beginning. I do not think that that ought to happen. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne, in opening the debate, referred to a Motion that I set down on the Order Paper. If noble Lords have not seen it, it is a Motion, That no decision should be taken on major airport construction in the South-East of England until a feasibility study of the Severnside project has been made". Noble Lords may be interested to know that I received a telephone message on this subject yesterday, referring to my seven-sided airport—the 50p airport, I suppose it would be. I do not not have any intention of going over again in detail the arguments in favour of Severnside—and I may earn some gratitude for that—but some details I must touch upon.

Here I bewail the lack of support that I have, in particular from three noble Lords whom I would wish to see speaking, and who would, if it were possible, speak in support of this project. Two of them are secretaries of the Severnside airport study group—some of your Lordships may have heard of it—my noble friend Lord Kimberley and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. Both are prevented from speaking in this debate. The third is one who has already been mentioned three times, my late noble friend Lord Thomas, who has been from the beginning of this idea the chief supporter of it, and who would unquestionably, as would the other two, have spoken in support of it this evening. I join other noble Lords who have expressed dismay on a personal basis at the loss of a friend, quite apart from the more official aspect.

My noble friend has said that the subject has been gone into in a way that I have said it has not, and drew attention to Chapter 5 of the report of the advisory committee. It is certainly a fairly comprehensive damning of the project—comprehensive, but not particularly effective. It makes great play with cost. I do not know what the cost would be, but it is fairly certain that it would be a good deal less than Maplin. That, admittedly, is not tremendously important, as Maplin is not under consideration. But I have here a cutting from this morning's Financial Times which says: The British Airports Authority expects to spend about £700 million at today's prices on developing its airports in the next five years". I do not know whether this report is reliable; I imagine that it probably is, coming from the Financial Times. If not, my noble friend will no doubt say so. The cutting goes on: This includes the fourth terminal at Heathrow, the proposed second terminal at Gatwick—another subject of a public planning inquiry—and a start at Stansted, Essex"— a start, my Lords; not even the finish. It is probably of the same order as the cost of building a brand-new international airport at Severnside.


My Lords, that is a very valid point. Is my noble friend saying that while the cost of the developments at Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick that we have announced may to some extent be comparable with what he is proposing for his airport at Severnside, the airport at Severnside could be produced in the same timescale?

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

Yes, my Lords. I think so. I must be cautious over this. I certainly think that it could be done not in the same timescale, but in a quite different and shorter time-scale, so far as construction is concerned. I have no doubt at all about that. All these projects will take many more years to build than an operational airport at Severnside. I am not including the planning time which, in any case, is shorter than in most places, because the road and rail links are already there.

I would touch on a remark made just now by the noble Lord, Lord Spens. He referred to unemployment, and that is an excellent argument in favour of building an airport, but he proposes to put it in the North-West. His argument is perfectly valid, and it is just as valid in favour of an airport on the North side of the Severn estuary. I see that the noble Lord is nodding his head, so he agrees. This is an area of enormous unemployment. It is possible that the great Llanwern steelworks may close down, and then there will be hardship on a great scale due to unemployment. It is within two miles of the site to which I referred. Those who feel with the noble Lord, Lord Parry—and I should not like to let him go without a word about what he said—will object to the closing of the Cardiff (Wales) airport at Rhoose. I must admit I regret that. It is a very agreeable airport. If the paper is correct, I imagine that the airport would have to close. I am sorry, but it might have to.

Apart from that, I think that the damage which would be done to the ground installations and to people would be minimal. Less damage would be done there than at any other site I can think of. Noble Lords will notice that this is almost the first mention of people that has been made in this debate. The first mention of people was by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who referred to them as—I must not paraphrase him wrongly—people who produce money: tourists, passengers, economic units.


My Lords I have never in my life used that appalling description of a human being as an "economic unit", and I repudiate the suggestion with all the vigour of which I am capable.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, I accept entirely my noble friend's correction, though I did forearm myself against it by saying that I did not want to paraphrase him incorrectly. I am sure that I did paraphrase him correctly.


My Lords, it was a parody!

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, a parody? Well, it was the impression that I received, whatever may have been meant. However, let us not pursue the matter any further. The point is that we have not heard any reference of significance, or any at all, to the people who live on the ground, except from my noble friend Lord Abinger who did not speak particularly about people as people, or about people as "economic units". He referred to the land upon which they live and the surroundings they love, farm, cherish and grow up in. These are all of a piece.

I view with dismay—I have used that word twice already, so I shall say that I am appalled by the thought of a great development of Stansted. Perhaps I may quote from a letter written in 1967 by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the time. On 21st December he wrote a letter to the chairman of the Essex County Council in which he said: It would be a calamity for the neighbourhood if a major airport were placed at Stansted. Such a decision could only be justified by national necessity". That was quite a long time ago. The question is: does this national necessity exist? I believe that it does not. I believe that the proposal which I advocate would replace it and entirely supersede it, if it were to be taken seriously. If it is not to be taken seriously, if we are not to recognise and admit, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, said, that people are not made for airports, that people and airports do not even mix—if we do not accept that principle and therefore do all that we can, even at great financial expense, to put our airports, our major constructions, as far as possible into the sea, then indeed we are heading for a calamity for which posterity will have no excuse for forgiving us.

May I now quote from a letter written by Professor Sir Colin Buchanan to The Times newspaper on 9th January. He said: The effect will be that of the largest single deliberate act of urban industrial development ever to be thrust upon rural England". It is perfectly legitimate to reply to that by saying, "Very well; what about it?" It is, I believe, totally and utterly wrong to revert—and I quote again—to a site which was rejected 11 years ago after a bitterly contested public inquiry. We are going to go back to that site again. After 15 years the clock has come round again. I really must get my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter right this time! The clock has come round, after 15 years, back to Stansted, where it started.

But what has happened in the meantime? It is not simply the same point. What has happened is that the people of Stansted and the country round about have been relieved of the fear and the blight of having an airport thrust upon them whether they like it or not. They have been told by Governments that this is not going to happen, just as the people of Gatwick were told that there would be no second runway. But here it comes again, with all the force the Government can put behind it and with all the force that the other persons who advocate it can put behind it.

What, then, are we to say about the promises that come from governments about what may or may not happen in the future? Do you wonder, my Lords, that people get frightened? And will you wonder if the resistance to this scheme that grows up in Essex as a result amounts to something far greater than we have seen of this kind before?

This is the point at which I must disclaim any kind of interest. I may have become identified by this time with a particular environmental group which is interested in the dispersal of aircraft noise and the protection of people on the ground. Therefore, I must tell your Lordships that I do not live anywhere near the places that would be affected. The organisation to which I have referred is the Haslemere Aircraft Disturbance Action Group, which is quite well known to the Government and to other persons. I do not live at Haslemere. Headlake itself would be totally unaffected by anything which happens at Stansted. I repeat again that airports and people simply do not mix.

May I end by reading the last words of this same letter from Professor Buchanan: There is no place inland in the whole Kingdom where an airport would not be bitterly opposed by local people. In Heaven's name! Why cannot the aviation people get this message and come to terms with it and stop spreading alarm and despondency with their ill-concealed plans?".

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery. I have spoken in earlier debates on the Severnside project. My particular interest in the scheme is not only complete agreement with its siting but also a wish to repeat again what has been said in earlier debates. One of my particular interests is the matter upon which the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, and I are allies; namely, the problems of people and their luggage and getting to and from airports quickly.

There was mention in the Severnside debate about a special train service which could be incorporated, by means of which Customs facilities would be made available which would facilitate and speed up the formalities which take place at airports.

At the time it was considered that distance was not so much a matter of miles as a matter of hours. However, the use of high speed trains on the Western Region main line put Severnside within reach of London. One can reach London in just over an hour, which is not much longer than it takes to get out to Heathrow from the City of London and into the airport terminals. It takes 40 minutes to get to Victoria from Gatwick, which is a little less. I like using Gatwick, since it is easy to get out to; and when one comes back to England it is not too difficult to get out of. There is the constant problem of how to get away from your aeroplane, through Customs and on to where you are going. The earlier proposal that we should have facilities on these trains is a brilliant idea. Therefore, may I ask my noble friend whether it can be considered at a future date, and how such facilities might be incorporated?

As I am interested in land travel in connection with air travel, the matter I want to bring forward today, which I have also mentioned in previous debates, is the use of that station, at Kensington, otherwise known as Olympia, as a train service airport terminal. To the North the line goes out of Olympia and it goes up to Willesden and on to the North London Line which runs between Richmond and Broad Street. It has connections with the Western main line out of Paddington and to the Midland line out of Euston. Also to the South there are connections with the Southern main line at Clapham, which would give it access to Victoria and Waterloo and also down South to Gatwick; and if another terminal is to be built at Heathrow on the South side, there is a railway track which runs near the South of Heathrow and the existing track is available to connect Olympia with that part of London and Heathrow Airport. Olympia has already been used as a substitute for main line stations in the 1960s, when Euston and Paddington were undergoing alterations. On the existing track, which is still there, modern fast trains could get out of Olympia and on to the Western main line although it means going through a rather sharp curve. I think a high-speed train could manage it, going very slowly. Of course it could not begin to accelerate until after it had reached Acton.

Thinking now of people who are not so hindered, of those who have the great fortune to be able to travel light: Olympia is served by four bus routes—Numbers 9, 27, 28 and 73. I know that there used to be—and I think that there still is—a Green Line coach service which goes past it, and also, although I do not know the name of the company which runs it, I have seen a double decker bus plying between London and Reading which goes that way, which again makes Olympia an easy station to get at as well as to get away from. Also, on days of important exhibitions, London Transport runs trains from High Street Kensington and Earls Court, and so on, to Olympia. Therefore, Olympia station could easily be connected to the District and Inner Circle lines.

My own experience as a traveller—and I have travelled to a good deal of the world and have done a lot of flying over the last 30 years—is that, while it may be quite easy to get out of Britain by air, to get back in again raises considerable difficulties, and I have heard similar comments from other people. Again, facilities for Customs formalities and immigration, and emigration formalities on the trains to and from the airports, would be a great help in speeding up the time taken in getting out of an airport. Having got off the aircraft one has then a long walk, and there are the carousel arrangements and one has to wait for something to come out. It is a toss-up as to whose suitcase comes out first. If you are by yourself you may be lucky; but if there happens to be a family of four, one suitcase belonging to the family may come out first and then they may have to wait till the very end for the last case. Then one has to find a trolley and get the luggage through the customs.

I know that a number of airlines are already trying to make their own arrangements to speed up this procedure. I have not yet had the opportunity of discussing it with the airlines, particularly the British ones, although very recently I was talking to a senior representative of Transworld Airlines who explained how they encouraged their staff to get the luggage off the aircraft quickly and into the halls. Also TWA had not heard about Severn-side, and were extremely interested in the possibilities, particularly in the fact that to and from Severnside instead of into London airport would mean a good part of 200 miles less flying, and that means a considerable saving in fuel.

I would earnestly ask my noble friend to consider these matters and to let me know the answer in due course. It need not be an immediate answer, but I shall be grateful to have it at some time; and I shall remain hopeful that my noble friend's ideas for Severnside will eventually bear fruit.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin, as I normally do, by apologising for not hearing the opening speech. On this occasion I did not hear the first four speeches. I am sorry about that and I hope your Lordships will, as usual, forgive me. It is particularly unfortunate on this occasion in view of what I now intend to say. Some of your Lordships will remember that on a previous occasion I said that Stansted would become London's third airport by stealth. Now we are well on our way to achieving that and, whatever may be said to the contrary, the practical effect of the Government's Statement on airports policy on 17th December 1979 is to designate Stansted as a major international airport, with a potential eventual capacity nearly double that of Heathrow today, that is 50 million, as the noble Lord, Lord Abinger, mentioned, as compared with 28 million passengers which Heathrow dealt with up to the end of October 1979. And I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Abinger, "Do not be fooled by the way in which the matter is now being approached. That option is there and the option will be taken".

The Statement also reveals that the Government's preoccupation with short-term economic considerations is what matters. It seems that the matter which has weighed most heavily is the presence of an existing airfield, despite the fact that this airfield will have to be largely rebuilt at an early stage if the demand for air travel increases as forecast. Of course the additional factor which prevailed is the existence of the M.11 motorway.

These short-term considerations are not in themselves good reasons for locating a development which would cost up to £1,000 million for the airport and its road and rail links in a part of the South-East region which every responsible body has said is not suitable on environmental and planning grounds. I refer to the Blake Report in 1967, the Roskill Commission in 1971, the Standing Conference on London and South-East Regional Planning in 1979 as well as, of course, resolutions of the Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire County Councils.

When, in April 1971, the previous Conservative Government decided to face this problem they decided to establish the third London Airport at Foulness—Maplin. They stressed the paramount importance which they attached to the environmental and planning considerations and stated that because of the irreversible damage that would be done to large tracts of countryside and to many settled communities by the creation of an airport on any of the three inland sites studied by the Roskill Commission, it was worth paying the price involved in selecting Foulness. That is what the previous Conservative Government said.

Although Stansted was not included in the Roskill Commission's short list the Commission did include Nuthampstead, which is only a few miles to the North-West of Stansted. In their report they recorded the many objections to Nuthampstead, especially of noise, planning and environment, and observed in passing that: our judgment on Nuthampstead supports the many objections raised on planning grounds to the Stansted proposals". Wherever a major airport is sited it will inevitably give rise to objection on environmental and planning grounds, particularly at the local level. Let us not run away from that; that is a fact. But we should also take a broader view and see where the balance of advantage lies in regional and national terms. We must, of course, give due weight to the airside considerations, for, as the Roskill Commission wisely said, 'an airport cannot achieve any social purpose unless it first succeeds as an airport'. Neither in regional planning terms nor in environmental terms can an ailing airport achieve the desired result". But so far the Government have given too much weight, as I said at the beginning, to the short-term economic factors and have failed to give sufficient consideration to vital environmental and planning matters.

An airport which is to be an integral part of the London airports system, which is a prime consideration in this matter, must have the relationship between the airport and London which is appropriate, and particularly between the airport and the strategic planning and transport policies for London. From London's point of view the fundamental starting points are, first, that it should sustain and enhance London's economy; the supremacy of its airports as the premier airport complex in Europe should be maintained by ensuring that additional capacity is provided in time to meet the increase in the demand for air travel.

Whatever plans there may be for using the regional airports these considerations will still remain paramount. It is also important that such additional capacity should not—and I repeat, not—be located where it will create unacceptable environmental, planning and surface access problems, or seriously exacerbate existing problems. The third consideration must be that the provision of additional airport capacity should not merely be compatible with strategic planning and transport policies for London but should, so far as practicable, positively assist those policies. I would have thought that these must be the considerations which prevail when a third London airport is being planned.

Because of the tightness of the situation, or what is alleged to be the tightness of the situation, where expected demand seems likely to outstrip available capacity within a few years, the Government appear to believe that they have no choice but to undertake a further expansion of London's existing airports. That seems to be the basis of the Government's policy. In other words, they intend to continue the policy of ad hoc incrementalism which has bedevilled the long saga of the third London airport. As part of this process they have just approved the construction of a fourth terminal at Heathrow, although it is gratifying to see that the recommendation of the Inspector at the fourth terminal inquiry that there should be no fifth terminal has been accepted; and despite the powerful interests already lobbying to have the fifth terminal proposal resurrected I hope the Government will firmly resist any attempt to do so.

A very different situation exists on the East side of London and beyond into South Essex. There is no need to describe in detail—because again I have spoken in your Lordships' House, on more than one occasion of the problems of that part of London—the social and economic problems of East London particularly in the inner areas. The need for major new employment opportunities, injection of capital, and a powerful economic stimulus to redress the imbalance between the eastern and western sides of London and to tackle the problem of social and economic polarisation is overwhelming. The problem is to find an adequate catalyst. The third London airport, if planned in the right way, could be a solution. I am not putting it any higher than that, but it could be a solution.

In order to maximise the benefits for London, and at the same time reduce the urbanisation demands in south Essex, and therefore meet the objections of the noble Lord, Lord Abinger, and his friends, the more of the new airport's facilities which can be located in east London, the better. The Greater London Council is convinced that a two-centre, rail-based airport with its runways at Maplin and its main passenger terminal, as well as air cargo facilities, provided in east London, is the right answer on planning and environmental grounds, and that it could be provided for no more cost than, and at the same time as, the major expansion of Stansted.

What gives the greatest cause for concern in all these matters is the failure to seize the opportunity to produce an imaginative solution to this important problem. The new airport should be sited to provide the greatest environmental protection, and be used as a shop window for British planning and engineering technology, as well as to provide a shot in the arm for railway transport. Moreover, by working with private enterprise, it could be a useful exercise to demonstrate that public investment in such a project could be kept to a minimum. It is not too late to turn an exercise, which is fast bringing the planning system into disrepute, into one that could bring credit to the nation and be of real benefit to the redevelopment of London. I sincerely hope that the Government will give full and careful consideration to the proposals of the Greater London Council.

7.11 p.m.

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, having the great honour of being the last on the list of speakers in this debate tonight, I am glad to advise the House that I shall be very brief. I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne for the very able manner in which he introduced this long and interesting debate. Like many others taking part today, my noble friend has had a long interest in this subject and I was going to say to him, if he had been present, that this was his best speech out of the six he has made on the subject in the last 12 years.

I should also like to congratulate the Government on the timing of their Statement last December, for there was a very real need at that time to remove the uncertainties that surrounded the five other sites under consideration by the Study Group. The Statement in December not only dispelled the uncertainties surrounding those sites, but it also achieved the best compromise of a most difficult and unpopular problem. To make better use of regional airports, to expand existing facilities at the three existing London Airports, to limit the aircraft movements at Heathrow and to accept that a brand new airport today is untenable, all blends well, I believe, for a good policy.

Despite the robust reference in the December Statement to: "Years of indecision, decision and counter-decision," reflecting no credit on the country's capacity to make difficult but necessary choices, perhaps we have profited from those U-turns and so might well achieve the best solution to one of the most important planning decisions that I believe this country has had to face this century.

I should like to concentrate on four very brief points: two have been touched upon, but the other two have not. The first is the short-term problem facing Heathrow. I thought that at the beginning of his remarks my noble friend was very frank about the problem that faces the British Airports Authority—the growing traffic exceeding capacity between now and when Terminal 4 comes into operation. My noble friend was careful to say that the British Airports Authority was using its "best endeavours" to persuade carriers to move to Gatwick. As I understand it, these "best endeavours" are in the shape of the rather blunt, unsophisticated fiscal instrument of increasing airport charges. I am not sure whether this policy will be effective in time, or that it is particularly fair to the traditional operators or their passengers at Heathrow. However, I suspect that something will need to be done in addition to a "best endeavours" policy, if unacceptable conditions are to to be avoided.

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter referred to "crisp" action being needed. I hope that this evening my noble friend will have a crisp reply to that point. My noble friend referred briefly to the decision not to provide the fifth terminal, and other noble Lords have already commented on that. His reasons—as set out in the statement—were to avoid added burdens on the surrounding area which, of course, is the infrastructure, and the length of time that it would take to construct.

I do not wish to go over this ground again other than to say that from the information I have received I think that there are good planning arguments in favour of a fifth terminal which would not give rise to more aircraft movements or noise, but which would improve access to the airport terminals and also increase the capacity to meet the demand for more passengers being carried by fewer larger aircraft.

This is not, of course, the time for specific arguments, but I hope that my noble friend will be able to say, when he winds up that, if the Thames Water Authority decides to give up the Perry Oaks sewage treatment area, the land will be held in reserve in case future trends reinforce those in favour of a fifth terminal.

My noble friend touched upon a very important and sensitive subject at they start of the debate—namely, compensation for land likely to be required to provide the extra facilities at Stansted. Compensation is not an easy subject and in the case of Stansted I suspect that it would be very complicated. But there is a very real problem, as my noble friend will know, of those people who own properties in the area, who now face a period of uncertainty and blight. Indeed, the rights of those people until, I am advised, a decision of planning consent has been reached—and that could well take up to three years—will be basically unprotected.

I am advised that those people have no statutory rights. Of course they can—and I am sure they will—rely on the goodwill of the British Airports Authority and I do not doubt that that goodwill or the desire by the British Airports Authority to achieve goodwill will not be there. However, the basis of compensation under goodwill and the basis of compensation under statutory rights is different. As my noble friend probably knows, under statutory rights one would be entitled to a "farm loss" claim if one were a farmer or a "home loss" claim if one were a home owner, and they are not insignificant. It would be patently unfair if those who are protected at present are not able to receive that. I believe—and I hope that my noble friend can be helpful on this—that the Government should be alert to the problem and that some directive should be given to the British Airports Authority to achieve the worthy aim of fair play for those who may be suffering hardship.

My last point concerns the form of public inquiries that surround airport planning. This is, in fact, a different point from the one so ably put by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It is relevant, in view of the very major and important inquiry that will be held at Stansted, one assumes in about 18 month's time. If I may say so, my noble friend Lord Abinger had a good first off shot at this. It has been said about these inquiries—and I am referring, at present, to the terminal inquiries—that they are more geared to barristers and lawyers than to the individual, that these long exhaustive procedures are becoming more and more remote from the people, that the real participation—a dialogue to allow individuals to question the British Airports Authority and the British Airports Authority to answer those questions—is being lost. I do not pretend to know the answer and certainly it is a vital part of our planning procedure that a monopoly body like the British Airports Authority should publicly have to justify the need and consequences of its proposals. But I hope that my noble friend can say that the framework of these inquiries is under review, as it is indeed a matter of concern.

In conclusion, I should like to wish the Government well for their airports policy. I think it was very encouraging at the start that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, was able to give unequivocal support for the policy from the official Opposition Bench. There will be many critics of their policy. One does not win many friends or votes on this subject, but the need for the success of the policy has never been more important, to combat the dwindling spare capacity and to avoid the creeping thrombosis at our major international airports that some of us fear.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, I was unable to put my name down for this debate because I did not know whether could be present. Briefly, I should like to mention the fact that at London Airport there is the very great problem of pressure of traffic, a problem which is tending to drive out the smaller users. In the Channel Islands we are becoming progressively more and more worried by the fact that we appear to be being squeezed out of our link with London Airport. It is a link which is of very great commercial importance to us and one which, as it dwindles, is becoming more and more of a worry.

We have heard a great deal about passengers arriving at London and Gatwick Airports and about problems of baggage and so on, but nothing about passengers arriving by air and having problems in transferring their hand-baggage, which nowadays is very often heavy because they cannot entrust it to the airline for fear of damage. One sees large numbers of people carrying heavy baggage with no means whatever of getting a trolley or anything like that from the aircraft through to the point where they can pick up their transport.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, in my opening speech I sought to explain the general considerations which led the Government to frame their airports policy and the steps we propose to take to provide for the expected growth in air transport demand in the years to come. I am grateful to all noble Lords for the balanced views which have been expressed —not all being in agreement, of course—during this debate and I shall deal as best I can with as many as possible of the points that have been raised.

I should like to start with one or two important general points without ascribing them to particular noble Lords, although they were raised by several, and then deal specifically with points raised by particular noble Lords. I am aware that several noble Lords have received copies of the British Airways booklet on the possibility of a fifth terminal on the Perry Oaks site at Heathrow. This proposal has a long history. It was raised at the public inquiry into the fourth terminal, and I explained in my opening speech why, in accordance with the inspector's recommendation, the Government have reached the conclusion that a fifth terminal should not be provided. I do not think that the evidence submitted by British Airways would lead us to believe that the circumstances have changed sufficiently to allow us to reopen this question.

One very important point that brought us to that conclusion, though it is by no means the only point, was that, as your Lordships will have recalled, the decision letter issued in respect of the fourth terminal has provided for a maximum total number of air transport movements to be imposed at Heathrow once the fourth terminal comes into use. The figure is 275,000, which I think has been mentioned by several noble Lords. That limitation of itself would, I think, severely limit the use that could be made of the fifth terminal were it to be built.

As the Heathrow Terminal Four decision letter also said, the Government accept the need to ensure that there are adequate public transport links to the new terminal. As I said earlier, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has established a working party to consider the various options. I believe that the working party's report will be completed very soon. I hope that this will help the noble Earl, Lord Amherst. My right honourable friend will then discuss its recommendation with the BAA, the GLC and the other parties involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, made what I thought was a most helpful and balanced speech. I greatly appreciate the constructive comments that he made. He was, of course, quite correct to emphasise that uncertainty about future projections of air traffic. As I have made clear, the Government's policy has been deliberately constructed so as to enable us to adopt the flexible approach which he suggested. By way of illustration of the unreliability of these forecasts, may I refer to the Roskill Commission, which was a most important inquiry into this matter. They thought that we would be handling 57 million passengers this year at London's airports; in fact, we are handling 38 million; they missed the target by about 50 per cent.—even the Roskill Commission, with all the huge resources which they had at their disposal.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pointed out, we shall also have to bear in mind that capital investment in new airport capacity has a very long lead time, with preliminary planning procedures often taking some years before final decisions can be taken or construction begin. On the other hand, traffic can sometimes grow very rapidly after a period of relative stagnation. The experience of the 1970s, after the oil crisis, demonstrated that for a time very clearly. Therefore, we need to plan ahead now so that we are in a position to provide extra capacity to meet the pattern of demand as it develops.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for his general words in support of the Government's policy to expand airport capacity beyond that presently available. I can assure my noble friend that we have taken very carefully into account the timing of the need for additional capacity in deciding not to develop a greenfield site, and to propose instead the eventual expansion of Stansted. However, such major developments as the construction of a new terminal building at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted, with all their implications for access, the environment and so on, really cannot be implemented without allowing local views to be expressed and taken into account before a final decision is reached.

My noble friend specifically asked me what would happen if the current public inquiry into the proposal to construct a second terminal at Gatwick recommends that it should not be built. We would, of course, have to take that most carefully into account. Of course, the final decision on whether or not to build the terminal rests with the Government. The Public Inquiry is designed to advise the Government on these matters. But if a negative recommendation is made by the inquiry and a negative decision followed from the Government, then, of course, the result would be increased congestion, and we should have to see whether we could speed up some of the other developments that we have in mind. However, I must not prejudge the outcome of that inquiry.


My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me to say so, does it not follow that if the Government, in the light of the inspector's report or for any other reason, dropped the proposed second terminal at Gatwick, the present policy of diversion of traffic from Heathrow to Gatwick would be in ruins?


My Lords, that is certainly so. If it was decided—for whatever reason—not to construct a second terminal at Gatwick, our policy in that area and others would be in the most serious difficulties.

I turn to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry. She raised a good m any interesting points, as she always does. First, I should like to deal with the question of baggage-handling at Heathrow, particularly in connection with the Underground. It is the case apparently—and I am sure that is right—that there is no airport in the world so well equipped as Gatwick and Heathrow with rail links of one sort or another. But I have to agree that the Underground is not the perfect vehicle for passengers travelling to the airport with considerable quantities of luggage. There are 249 stations, I am told, on the Underground system, of which only 10 per cent. are equipped presently with lifts. There is, however, now a lift at Heathrow which those passengers with heavy baggage can use.

I gather that there have been some difficulties about whether the lift is adequately signposted, and that not sufficient passengers know about it. I am asking the BAA and London Transport to look into this matter, to see whether the availability of the lift can be more widely advertised. There have also, I understand, been some difficulties with porters. I gather that they are not at present permitted to go on to the platform at the Underground station, which seems to me to be a shortcoming. That also I am asking the BAA to look into to see whether they can improve the situation.

May I now refer to the second runway at Gatwick, which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and other noble Lords and the noble Baroness mentioned.


My Lords, I know that it is late and I have had my innings, but the Minister has avoided the main question. I am not concerned with the Heathrow end, I am concerned with this end. I am saying that people with baggage cannot get out to Heathrow on the Underground now, and that is why I asked whether the bus service is going to continue. The noble Lord has not dealt with this end.


My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right in saying that the Underground facilities for passengers with baggage are not ideal. There are indeed no platforms that I am aware of where there is lift access from the street direct to the platform. As I have said, the Underground is not primarily designed for passengers with large quantities of baggage, and they are expected to use other methods of transport. The bus service still runs from Victoria, as the noble Baroness knows, and I have nothing to add to the answer that I gave her a week or so ago on that matter.

I have the greatest respect for the views expressed about the second runway at Gatwick. I think there are two issues, however, which we should be careful not to confuse. First, the desirability of an auxiliary runway to facilitate the handling of traffic at the level currently envisaged; that is to say, up to 25 million passengers per annum. Problems which might arise if the single runway is closed for whatever reason have always been foremost in the minds of those who operate aircraft from Gatwick, despite that airport's excellent record of runway utilisation. However, as I explained to your Lordships recently at Question Time, the BAA have plans and planning permission for the upgrading of the existing northern taxiway to provide an emergency runway. This could be readily brought into operation if the main runway were out of action, and would I think deal adequately with that problem.

Secondly, there is the question of whether a second main runway at Gatwick, and additional terminals, should be provided as a solution to the longer-term problem of airport capacity in the South-East. I have already given the Government's thinking on this issue, and there is little I can add except to say that in my own view Gatwick, with a throughput of, say, 50 million passengers per annum, considerably larger than that expected at Heathrow with the fourth terminal, would raise some serious problems which we have hardly begun to think about. May I now refer to the British Rail service.


My Lords, before my noble friend leaves this runway question, I asked him—he is very conscientious in replying and no doubt he overlooked it—why, if the Secretary of State's Statement sets out so clearly that if passenger movements at Stansted go above 15 million it is necessary to provide the possibility of a second runway, it is still thought that you can operate up to 25 million passengers a year at Gatwick on only one?


My Lords, there is the question of the related terminal facilities. Perhaps I may study what my noble friend has said in more detail. If I am wrong about my thought on the terminal facilities I will write to him. May I now move to the rail service. British Rail currently provide a 15 minute interval rail service between Gatwick Airport and Victoria from 6 a.m. until midnight, and an hourly service at night throughout the year. This service is now supplemented at weekends by two additional trains per hour, and last May a through service was introduced between Gatwick, the Midlands, and Manchester in order to ease congestion on trains between the airport and London. As I have said before, these services make Gatwick one of the best rail-linked airports in the world.

Some airlines have facilities at Victoria Station for passengers to check in their luggage, which is then moved in bulk to Gatwick, sorted there and loaded directly on to the appropriate aircraft. But only about 10 per cent. of all airline passengers travelling from Victoria to Gatwick make use of these facilities. Some further improvements will however be needed to cope with the planned growth of the airport, with or without the proposed second terminal. I understand that the improvements required have been the subject of discussions between the Railways Board and the British Airports Authority, and those Government departments and others directly concerned.

Their conclusion was that by about 1984 the airport would need a separate rail service to London, although this could still run on the existing lines into Victoria. At Victoria two platforms would need to be dedicated solely for the trains to the airport, and there would be some purpose-built facilities for the airline passengers. The implementation of the board's proposals will be subject to the outcome of their recent application for planning permission to undertake the necessary construction work, and to the approval of the Minister of Transport, though the board have not yet submitted their proposals to him. Availability of the necessary finance is another important consideration, and I understand that this is the subject of current discussions.

The noble Earl, Lord Amherst, put a number of points to me. May I deal first with the one about the extension of the M.25. My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport announced last December that the construction of the section from Yeoveny to Poyle interchange, and the Heathrow airport spur, have been approved. Work is to start this summer and should take two years to complete. The section from Poyle to Egham is under construction and should be completed in 1981. The section between Egham and Thorpe is already open, and that between Thorpe and Chertsey should be completed this year. The remaining section between Chertsey and Reigate via Leatherhead has been fixed, but some orders remain to be made. Subject to satisfactory completion of the statutory processes, the whole stretch could be completed by 1983.

I come now to the Severnside airport. As I mentioned in my opening speech, the Government accept the Advisory Committees conclusion that a new airport at Severnside is not a feasible solution to the problem of providing capacity in the South-East. Although on the surface an airport at Severnside may seem an attractive proposition, many problems are revealed when it is examined more closely. The Advisory Committee's work showed that the English side of the River Severn was not topographically suitable for an airport, and that an airport on the Welsh side would give rise to very severe access problems. The Severn Bridge and the Severn Tunnel could not cope with the additional traffic that an airport would generate. From the outset a further bridge and a tunnel would have to be provided. These large items of expenditure, estimated by the Advisory Committee to be about £600 million at the minimum, would be necessary right from the start, irrespective of the ultimate size of the airport.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, am I right in suspecting that there may be a scheme already on foot for building a second Severn Bridge?


Not that I am aware of, my Lords; but I shall look into it and write to the noble Earl if I am wrong. Like Maplin, an airport at Severnside could prove to be an expensive white elephant. There are further problems of restricting Ministry of Defence activities in the area and the doubt there must be about such an airport's ability to attract air traffic. My noble friend Lord Gain-ford referred to the reported views of TWA—how they would save fuel on their way to Europe from America by landing 200 miles short of London. We have to say at the same time that fuel must then be expended to take those selfsame passengers from Severnside on to Central London by the magnificent train described by my noble friends. Furthermore, I think it is the case that, with many of the American carriers, the aircraft all continue on to further destinations in Europe, and of course when they do that they have to fly 200 miles further, so I do not accept the argument that the airport at Severnside would save fuel.

The airports at Bristol and Cardiff would certainly have to close if this airport were proceeded with, and that would, I am sure, disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Parry.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, I know that my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery has promoted vigorously the idea of an airport on Severnside and I respect his views, but I think we must accept the advice of the experts that it is simply not a feasible solution to the problems of airport capacity in the South-East. It is a plank of our philosophy that people can do what they like with their money, but I am not planning to put any money into the Severnside airport.

Now to Maplin. It certainly was an attractive proposition in the early 1970s, despite the opposition of the airlines who would have had to use it. At that time, before the 1973 fuel crisis, traffic was expected to grow much more rapidly than has in fact been the case, and there were prospects of developing a harbour and other things which amounted to an imaginative planning solution. But circumstances have changed; we are now expecting a much slower growth of traffic in the next 10 years and there is an even bigger question mark about the more distant future. At present, the only development which can really be justified is a single runway and a single terminal building, with no certainty about when or indeed whether more capacity might be required.

In general, the proponents of Maplin are opposed to airport development per se, but they believe that if there is to be any, it should be at Maplin. That is not a view with which I have much sympathy, because the implications of an airport at Maplin are really no less serious than elsewhere. Indeed, in many ways they are even more disturbing. The problem of the Ministry of Defence establishments at Shoeburyness cannot be ignored. Some doubt was cast by the noble Baroness on the accuracy of the estimates for the cost of relocating MOD establishments; the estimate included in the report of the Study Group represents the costs of moving all four of the defence establishments presently at that site. In the case of the largest, the proof and experimental range, it is based on the possibility of having to split the facilities among several locations as envisaged in 1974. There is certainly no wish to inflate the estimates for defence relocation costs, but I think that if we take into account the technical complexity of these facilities and the physical problems of their reconstruction in what would most certainly be remote locations less than ideal in terms of access and terrain, the estimates will be found, however provisional, to be realistic.

As to timescale, which was another plank in the points on this matter made by the noble Baroness, in respect of any practical site or sites, if they could be found, we think it would take not less than 10 years for MOD establishments to vacate the Maplin site, and this estimate is reflected in the Study Group Report. The noble Baroness suggested that this might be exaggerated, but perhaps I may observe that in 1974, when the Maplin project was cancelled, the opening date for the airport had already slipped by a number of years and we still, at that point, had not solved the considerable difficulties of relocating the defence facilities.

I come to the question of Stansted; there is much more I could have said on Maplin, but time is getting on. In regard to the proposed expansion of Stansted, I have already made clear—and I did so earlier in the debate—that the Government will reach no final decision on the matter until after the public inquiry. I have no doubt that many of the points which have been raised—such as the effects of noise and other environmental implications, particularly those raised by my noble friend Lord Abinger—will be carefully examined at the public inquiry in a way which was perhaps not possible in the context of the Study Group's investigations, but there are some points which I would briefly make.

First, as your Lordships will be aware, of the six sites examined by the Study Group, the only one at which additional terminal capacity could be provided in time to meet the demand was Stansted, and this is an important consideration. I know that some scepticism has been expressed about the time it would take to develop Maplin, to which I referred a moment ago; it has been calculated at 17 years. The basis of lead-times was clearly set out in the report of the Study Group on South-East Airports and it is open to anyone to form his own conclusions, but I am bound to say that I do not find some of the more modest timescales suggested acceptable, but no doubt these will come under further examination at the public inquiry.

I will deal with only two further points, because time is marching on. First, one of the other questions raised by the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, was about the rail link to Stansted. The Study Group on South-East Airports envisaged that rail access to Stansted would be provided by a short spur which would connect to the London-Cambridge line north of Bishop's Stortford. This is a busy commuter line and additional track will be required from Broxbourne to Tottenham Hale. The Study Group considered that the most suitable location for a London rail terminal would be in the Kings Cross/St. Pancras area. This will require some further major track improvements, and the estimated cost of providing a rail service of four trains an hour bringing airline passengers to the Kings Cross/St. Pancras area in 40 minutes was estimated to be £85 million—namely, £60 million for track improvements and £25 million for rolling stock. In the intervening period, trains can be run from Bishop's Stortford to Liverpool Street Station, but because of the perhaps short-term nature of that arrangement, we are not proposing any major improvements to the Liverpool Street Station facilities.

Several noble Lords raised questions regarding the arrangements for dealing with flight. These will depend to some extent on the planning procedures adopted, which is currently under consideration. That partly answers the point made by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. It also depends on the timing of the inquiry. However, I can say that the BAA expect to submit for confirmation some time this summer compulsory purchase orders for the 1,500 acres of land they will require for the single terminal development. This will be done at the same time as their planning application. The CPOs will not of course be confirmed until the application is approved, after the inquiry, if it is, but the statutory blight provisions will apply to affected properties as soon as the notice of compulsory purchase is published, so eligible property owners will be able to serve blight notices on the BAA obliging them to buy their property at the unblighted price.

As regards the wider area of about 2,500 acres which may be required in the future, should it be necessary to expand the airport further, this will not be the subject of a planning application at this stage nor of compulsory purchase. The BAA will present a plan for purely illustrative purposes and, as my right honourable friend said in his Statement, our aim would be that the owners of residential and agricultural property in this wider area should have the opportunity of staying on pending any possible requirement for this land or of selling to the BAA at an unblighted price. The BAA have been invited to apply for this land to be safeguarded from incompatible development. The Government will be looking for a safeguarding procedure which would in due course induce the statutory blight in the additional 2,500 acres to enable the established provisions to be applied.

I think that I have spoken for long enough. I have attempted to answer as many as I can of the points that have been raised in the debate, and I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I have not provided all the replies. The Government have put forward a policy designed to meet the demand for air transport as it develops by making the best use of our scarce national resources.

On Question, Motion agreed to.