HL Deb 11 February 1985 vol 460 cc9-27

2.52 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Inspector's Report on The Airport Inquiries 1981–83.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It is almost four years since I last stood to address your Lordships' House on the subject of airports policy. On that occasion I was replying to a debate which had been initiated by my noble friend Lord Kimberley about whether Stansted was the right choice for a third London airport. The public inquiries into this question had not yet begun, and in my speech I said that the Government expected to be in a position to take decisions some time in 1982 or 1983. Although my assessment of the timescale has turned out to be a shade optimistic, I am pleased to be opening a further debate on this important issue now that the public inquiries have been completed and the Inspector's Report received.

In the intervening years, interest in airports and the aviation industry has not diminished at all. The many distinguished noble Lords present today are proof of that, if proof were needed, and I look forward to hearing their views, and in particular those of the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, who is to address us today for the first time.

One of the great strengths of your Lordships' House is the ability to look at issues, however controversial, in a balanced way and with a sense of perspective. Many of your Lordships are able to draw upon first-hand knowledge and long years of experience of the problem in hand, and I am confident that the views expressed today will be both pertinent and instructive.

It would be appropriate for me to remind your Lordships of the policies which led the Government into the inquiries. Your Lordships will recall that in December 1979 the Government received the reports of the Advisory Committee on Airports Policy, of which my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford was such a distinguished member, and the Study Group on South-East Airports. These reports concluded that in the light of forecasts then available, further airports capacity would be needed in the South-East before 1990 and that development of the regional airports would not obviate the need to meet demand in the South-East. The conclusions were substantially the same as those reached in the previous Labour Government's airport strategy consultations in the mid-1970s and in their White Paper on Airports Policy of 1978.

The Government accepted these conclusions and announced in 1979 that they were inviting the British Airports Authority to bring forward proposals to develop Stansted (one of the solutions proposed in the 1978 White Paper) to meet the expected growth in demand in the South-East by the early 1990s, and that a wide-ranging public inquiry would be held.

In the Statement of the then Secretary of State for Trade, Sir John Nott, which I repeated in your Lordships' House in December 1979, it was made clear that the inquiries were intended to give the widest possible opportunities for objectors to the Stansted proposals to expand upon their objections in detail, to question the need for airport expansion and to put forward alternative sites. The many interested parties took the Government at their word, and consequently the inquiries ran for 258 days, brought forth around 4,000 written representations and took oral evidence from some 250 witnesses. It has been the longest planning inquiry held to date. Alternative sites were proposed: Uttlesford District Council made planning applications for the development of a fifth terminal at Heathrow, others argued the case for expansion of regional airports, and some advocated green field sites—including Maplin, Severnside and Yardley Chase—for new airports.

The evidence and the arguments were sifted, examined and considered by the Inspector, Mr. Graham Eyre, QC and his two assessors. The Government and your Lordships now have the benefit of their labours in the shape of the Inspector's Report, which provides the focus for our debate today. I want to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Eyre and his assessors for the valuable work they have done. I am sure your Lordships will join me in that tribute.

I have said a little about the various views put forward at the inquiries but I should like to expand on the Government's airports policy since it is connected with the matters with which the inquiries were concerned. The Government's airports policy, as presented to the Inspector, had two main objectives: first, to encourage the development of regional airports; and, secondly, to provide additional airports capacity to meet demand where and when it arises.

So far as the first objective is concerned, this Government's record is something of which they can be proud. Authorised investment at regional airports has run at unprecedented high levels over the last few years, amounting to some £200 million in total since 1980/81. This commitment has enabled many worthwhile improvements to be made to the facilities offered by regional airports. There have been capital expenditure approvals for extensions to terminals—some of which I myself authorised when I was responsible for these matters—at Manchester International, East Midlands, Newcastle and Luton; new terminals at Birmingham, Norwich and Liverpool; runway extensions at Leeds/Bradford and Cardiff, and for a host of other improvements at various airports to navigational and safety facilities.

The Government have also made efforts to encourage new services. They were instrumental in securing the adoption of the directive liberalising interregional services within the European Community and, although it is too early to judge its effectiveness, the Government are ready to look favourably on all applications falling within the basic requirements of the directive. In addition, more competition on United Kingdom domestic routes was introduced after the 1980 Civil Aviation Act and this has led to increased frequencies and a wider choice of services for the consumer.

The CAA's recent proposals to liberalise controls over domestic services should further encourage regional traffic. We expect continued growth at regional airports. British Airways have announced plans to start flights from Manchester to Hong Kong as part of their development of a northern air routes hub. BA are also expanding their Manchester flights to Europe from the summer and, for the longer term, are considering plans for flights to the Middle East and other long-haul destinations.

The Government's second objective was to meet demand where it arises. In the light of the forecasts then available, there appeared to be a need for additional airports capacity in the South-East. Hence the invitation to the BAA to put forward proposals for the expansion of Stansted Airport and the resulting public inquiry.

The inquiry, of course, examined all these matters in some detail and it was made clear to the Inspector that he was not bound within the confines of Government policy. Just as objectors to Stansted were free to range as widely as they wished, so the Inspector, in framing his conclusions, was free to recommend whatever changes to Government policy seemed appropriate in the light of the evidence that he examined.

The Inspector's task ended with the submission of his report, but the Government's task has by no means ended. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, the latter acting on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment, have now to reach decisions on the Inspector's main recommendations on the development of Stansted and a fifth terminal at Heathrow and on the 18 separate interrelated planning recommendations which deal with highways, listed buildings and other matters. In addition, because the Inspector's report goes rather wider than the planning applications themselves, there are other recommendations in the report which need consideration and decision, including the question of access to Stansted and Heathrow, monitoring of aircraft noise and the proposal for a ban on night flights at London's airports.

Of course, any major airport development, wherever it took place, would have an effect upon the amenity of neighbouring communities. It would provide employment and would have implications for housing and urban development in the more immediate vicinity. These issues, which are covered in the Inspector's report, will be given full consideration before a decision is made.

I should like to say a few words about the conduct of this debate. Normally, an Inspector's report on a public inquiry is only published when the decisions have been taken and announced. In this case, however, the Government decided to publish the whole report in advance. This debate is therefore taking place before the planning applications have been determined. As your Lordships will know, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction have a quasi-judicial role in relation to the planning applications. They are still considering the issues and have not reached any conclusions. In the circumstances, it would be wrong for any members of the Government to make statements which might be held to prejudice their position.

This debate provides an opportunity for your Lordships to express your views on the issues raised by the Inspector's report, but because of the considerations I have just outlined I shall not be able to respond to points touching on the Inspector's report which your Lordships might raise. I hope that your Lordships will acquit me of any discourtesy, but it is essential that the decision-making process established by Parliament in the Town and Country Planning Acts should not be prejudiced in any way. My task here today will be to listen carefully to everything that is said so that my right honourable friends can bear those views in mind in reaching their decisions.

I do not wish to minimise the importance or the difficulty of those decisions. Airports policy, by its very nature, tends to be controversial. There are many conflicting interests which need to be balanced and reconciled, and this creates the dilemmas with which successive administrations have had to wrestle over the whole history of modern aviation. The issue of a third airport for London has created uncertainty for the last 20 years. To prolong that situation would be in no one's interests and the Government therefore intend to dispel the uncertainties as soon as practicable. Your Lordships' views will, I am sure, contribute towards that aim. My task today, therefore, is not to expound the Government's policy but to listen to your Lordships, as part of the process of clarifying what our approach to this subject should be. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Inspector's Report on The Airport Inquiries 1981–83 —(Lord Trefgarne.)

3.4 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am certain that all noble Lords will welcome the opportunity to debate this very important report, and will accept the lines on which the debate must be conducted as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. As the noble Lord has said, we look forward with great interest to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chapple. The fact that 27 noble Lords have been sufficiently interested to want to take part in this debate indicates its importance. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has said about the work of Mr. Graham Eyre and his assessors, even though we do not necessarily accept the conclusions of his report.

Noble Lords will have received briefings from many bodies, and these, and many sections of the report, show the various conflicting interests that there are on the proposals. We must not consider this matter without adequate attention to the interests of people who live in the areas affected—and I was pleased to note that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, emphasised that these will be considered with great care by the Government—and also to national economic factors. Noble Lords will be fully aware of the considerable opposition to the proposals that were expressed in the other place, including that by many Members on the Government side.

Although the inquiry is nominally into the planning applications, but expanded into other related issues, there is one thing it is not; it is clearly not the report of an inquiry into aviation and airports policy and that is what is clearly needed. What the noble Lord told us in his opening speech was rather vague as to the real policy for airports. We know, quite definitely, the decision of the Government to dispose of as many airports as possible to the private sector. We regard the British Aviation Authority as an efficient organisation, but the Government's intention is to sell off the three London system airports—Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. We do not know what will be the eventual position of the five local authority airports owned by the metropolitan county councils. These will be affected by the abolition proposals and they include the two international regional airports of Manchester and Birmingham.

We still await the Government's review of the Scottish lowland airports—Glasgow, Edinburgh, Prestwick and Aberdeen—and also of the British Airports Authority airports. It should not be overlooked that the authority has no airports between the south-east region and the Scottish border. It has none in the Midlands or in the north of England. We note that recently the Civil Aviation Authority has rejected offers to purchase its Highlands and Islands aerodromes, which provide vital social links, and I note from a recent press notice issued on 1st February this year by the CAA that the long-term future of these aerodromes is being considered by the Government in the context of their airports policy generally. It is understood that that review will be completed very soon. Perhaps we can be told about the nature of this review which the Government are undertaking.

Of course, there must be future planning and an assessment of future passenger levels, runway capacities and air transport movements. The question of assessments is dealt with in numerous chapters of the report. They show clearly that many organisations give varying, and sometimes conflicting, estimates of future demand. The Inspector himself referred to the vagueness of forecasting and said that the methods used are unsatisfactory. Mr. Eyre said that forecasting the size of aircraft and the number of passengers generated gives room for considerable caution. In fact, he warned that all estimates should be treated with caution and said that apparently precise figures should be treated as no more than tools to be used in forming general judgments.

There is no disagreement on the importance of the London Airport system and of Heathrow in particular. This is recognised even by the Northern Consortium and also by the Birmingham Airports Authority. The Inspector states that the fifth terminal is absolutely essential in order to make use of runway capacity at Heathrow and to meet the demands of the mid-1990s. So he wants early action on the removal of the Perry Oaks sludge works which, it is argued, is the best location for airport development. It all sounds reasonable and sensible, but the removal of Perry Oaks will take some time. Even the report indicates that it may be 12 to 15 years before it is removed and a fifth terminal is constructed and brought into operation. Where will the sludge works go? It would appear that people no more want on their doorstep a large sewage works than they want a large airport.

A fifth terminal will increase Heathrow's capacity to some 52 million passengers per annum. The Inspector states that this will require, a substantial increase in the limit imposed on air transport movements". The Inspector is highly critical of the Government's definite statement on the limit of 275,000 movements when Terminal 4 comes into operation. He says that it is, ill advised, misconceived and must be abandoned". We shall await with great interest the review of the limit of 275,000 movements which the Secretary of State has been conducting.

Can the needs and rights of many people in the wide area around Heathrow be ignored? The Inspector himself says that noise is the most abhorred consequence. Who can deny that, even if there is the railway link, there will not be the possibility of increased road congestion? People who go to Heathrow now, even before Terminal 4, even before a possible Terminal 5, will recognise that there is a great road surface problem.

The Government have made repeated statements rejecting the proposal for a fifth terminal, and in a recent debate in the other place various Members, including a number of the Minister's honourable friends, quoted no fewer that 10 occasions since December 1979 when statements have been made rejecting completely a fifth terminal at Heathrow. The latest such declaration was made on 31st November 1984. There was an earlier statement to that effect by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, which, no doubt, the noble Lord will recognise.

The Inspector makes it clear that no participant raised objections to proposals for Heathrow and Stansted on the grounds that Gatwick should also make a contribution beyond the 25 million passengers per annum when Terminal 2 at Gatwick comes into operation. The Inspector emphasises that the undertaking given to the West Sussex County Council that a second runway shall not be constructed must be observed. It is strange that the Inspector does not take the same view about the 10 declarations made over recent years rejecting Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Those declarations can be set on one side, but apparently that relating to Gatwick—I am not saying that it should be ignored—must be honoured and observed.

Mr. Eyre states that the implications of a second runway were not investigated in depth because it would be an environmental disaster. Many believe that a fifth terminal at Heathrow would also be an environmental disaster. Because of the time that would be required before a fifth terminal at Heathrow could come into operation and because of the rejection of the second runway at Gatwick, the Inspector states that only Stansted can provide the capacity needed to meet the demand in the early and mid-1990s. So he puts forward a proposal to develop Stansted to the capacity of 15 million passengers per annum as soon as possible. But the Inspector also makes it absolutely clear that from the outset Stansted should be planned so as to be capable of providing capacity for 25 million passengers. A great deal of argument appears in the Inspector's report for the possible development up to 25 million. The Inspector says that there must be an undertaking not to construct a second runway.

Noble Lords, will have received the briefing from the National Farmers' Union; and I have echoed the contrast between the promise of no second runway at Gatwick and the putting on one side of all the declarations about a fifth terminal at Heathrow. The National Farmers' Union, in a briefing sent to noble Lords, queries the value of an undertaking that a second runway must not be constructed in view of the Inspector's willingness, indeed readiness, to set on one side all the statements made about a fifth terminal at Heathrow.

The Inspector states that expansion up to 25 million passengers at Stansted would not have critical consequences, but beyond that limit would present unmanageable problems. Clearly the Inspector envisages the possibility of Stansted developing up to 25 million passengers. He claims—I shall abbreviate this—that expansion to 15 million could be accommodated, without causing undue damage to … strategic planning". What is "undue"? Presumably, expansion beyond 15 million up to 25 million would cause some damage, but that is not elaborated upon in the report. The Inspector says that the necessary urban growth could be accommodated, by relatively modest increments to existing towns and villages". What are "relatively modest increments"? I would challenge the view that it can be done without affecting the character of the area; the Inspector says that it would not affect the character of the area. This is the only interest I can declare. I have walked, cycled and motored in the Rodings and the Easters in this vicinity for some 50 years and, frankly, I just do not accept that we could go up to 25 million passengers if necessary without it affecting the character of the area. When one considers that Heathrow now has 28 million passengers, can one picture a massive airport similar to Heathrow being placed in that part of Essex without it having any effect upon the area?

There would also be the problem of green belt policy, as well as the problem of road congestion, despite the fact that nearby there are a railway and a motorway. The Inspector says: There is no easy route for national airports policy to follow and any decision will be perceived as unacceptable by a large number of reasonable people". I think that everybody would accept the truth of that statement. It would, of course, be better if there were a national airports policy; but there is not. The conflict is evident. We have the consortium of the 30 local authorities, which includes Surrey, Hants, and Buckinghamshire County Councils, which are all opposed to the fifth terminal proposal at Heathrow and claim that Stansted is the answer. We have my county of Essex, as well as Hertfordshire, supported by some 246 local voluntary bodies, which say that development at Heathrow will meet the demand and that Stansted must be opposed. So whether you will or will not oppose a particular development depends on the area where you live.

We cannot ignore the massive sums that will be involved in the proposals for Stansted and Heathrow—massive sums to be expended in the South-East region. We know that there are unemployment problems in the South-East, but they are nowhere near as great as the problems that exist in the Midlands and the North. The estimates, with highways and rail development, vary between £750 million and £1.25 billion. In addition to that, the urbanisation cost at Stansted could amount to another £500 million.

Noble Lords will ask, "How shall we meet the estimated demand, which may not be accurate?" First, there will be the early possibility—not possibility, but definite position—of the fourth terminal coming into operation very shortly at Heathrow. There will be the second terminal coming into operation at Gatwick, which will include capacity of up to 25 million. There will be a small amount of slack at Luton. Frankly, we envisage that there could be reasonable development at Stansted; but when I say "reasonable" I am not thinking of anything in the realm of 15 million or possibly 25 million passengers, as proposed in the Inspector's report.

More importantly, the Inspector makes it abundantly clear that there is considerable surplus capacity at the main regional airports, and we all know of the development that has taken place, particularly at Birmingham and Manchester. Surely we should be considering, in the light of an effective aviation and air policy, how best we could use that available regional capacity to meet the present demand. As I said, we agree that the London airport system must retain its pre-eminent position, but surely this cannot mean expansion and yet further expansion regardless. The time must come when people say, "Enough is enough", especially when there is, as is admitted by the Inspector, plenty of available capacity in the regions.

The national wellbeing requires that there should be a good regional balance. We cannot consider this matter without looking at the balance between the regions, and we cannot consider this matter in the absence of any consideration of national economic policies. That, surely, must come into it. It cannot just be looked at solely as an aviation problem. It is argued that passengers must not be compelled to use the regions when they fly to or from London. Likewise, people should not be compelled to use London when they wish to fly from a regional airport.

We must look at these proposals with considerable concern. As the Minister said, we must look at them on strong environmental grounds, and such consideration must not be dismissed as unimportant. We are dealing with people's amenities and living conditions. We must look at the implications of economic policies and regional development, and the best possible use of the available airport capacity which exists in the regions.

3.22 p.m.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I am glad that today's debate is taking place on a Motion that the House "takes note". I understand that in another place the Government gave an undertaking that when they have reached a final decision an opportunity for further debate will be given. If I am correct in that I assume that a similar undertaking will be given to this House. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that point when he replies to this debate.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said. I was glad to hear two points that he made: one, that he was such a strong supporter of regional development; and, secondly, that we must meet demand where it arises. I assume that the whole House agrees that it is very dangerous to forecast passenger growth because in the past very many well-informed people have proved to be very wrong. I hope that the demand will be proved before we actually meet it. I note that the Minister said he could not give any indications as to policy today. During the course of my remarks I have four questions to put to him, none of them concerned with policy. Three of them concern finance, and doubtless the Minister will answer them when he comes to them. I listened also, obviously with equal care, to what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said. We on these Benches are in considerable agreement with much of what he said, and are in some disagreement with other points. I think that we both oppose the Government on various other points that we can deal with later. Today, we on these Benches want to put forward proposals that we hope will be taken into consideration when the Government come to look at this whole policy. I found it difficult to get my remarks down to manageable proportions and, equally, to make them helpful in view of the tangle into which we have all been thrown by the misjudgment and ineptitude of the Government—and I shall come to that aspect later.

Apart from any other considerations, and apart altogether from its content, it seems to me that this major report that we are discussing today brings into issue the credibility of the public planning inquiry procedure in the United Kingdom for settling major development issues. However, coupled with that remark I wish to pay tribute to the Inspector, Mr. Graham Eyre, QC, whose patience, skill and impartiality seem to have been inexhaustible. I will only say that I, from a much less learned position, feel as he does over the lessons we should learn from the consequences of the past. Mr. Eyre says: The history and development of airports policy on the part of administration after administration of whatever political colour has been characterised by ad hoc expediency, unacceptable and ill-judged procedures, ineptness, vacillation, uncertainty and ill-advised and precipitate judgments. Hopes of a wide sector of the regional population have been frequently raised and dashed. A strong public cynicism has inexorably grown. Political decisions in this field are no longer trusted. The consequences are grave. There will now never be a consensus. Those remarks are really the basis of my speech today, and I shall, of course, offer my contribution to what would seem to be the best way forward.

First, I should like to come to this question of public planning procedures for settling major development issues and Mr. Eyre's feeling that strong public cynicism has inexorably grown, with the result that political decisions in this field are no longer trusted. I believe that we have somewhere what I term "a highly-placed bureaucracy" in favour of Stansted expansion and determined to persevere until this comes about. To me, this seems to negate public opinion and to bring into question the present system of public inquiries.

Concerning Stansted and the third London airport, we have had three public inquiries. The first opened on 6th December 1965 and closed on 11th February 1966. The Inspector reported to the Government in 1966, but the report was not published until May 1967. The second inquiry, known as the Roskill Commission, commenced on 25th June 1968 and closed on 12th August 1970. This report was published on 21st January 1971 at a reputed cost of £1,131,000. The third inquiry, which we are discussing today, commenced on 29th September 1981 and closed on 5th July 1983. The report was published on 10th December 1984 at a cost (estimated in March 1982) of £988,000. Will the Minister give the House the final figure when he replies to the debate? The figure I have given is that at March 1982.

I first met (if that is the right word) Stansted in 1967–68 as chairman of the Council on Tribunals. The procedure followed in connection with the Government's proposals for the development of Stansted airport as the third London Airport was the subject of many complaints and eventually became the subject of a Special Report to the Lord Chancellor. I mentioned this to the House in a debate on 29th June 1981, and I remember warning the House, saying (at col. 621 of Hansard): Stansted has now reared its head again, and I would warn the House that we are by no means through that battle". Unfortunately, that warning has come true.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, mentioned the Earl of Kimberley, and I shall also mention him but with a slightly different quotation. The Earl of Kimberley on 1st April 1981, as Lord Trefgarne said, in a debate initiated by him on London's third airport said at col. 278: Stansted has already had two inquiries, both verdicts going against its development, but still costing its opposers a not inconsiderable sum of money". He wanted to know: Why should local inhabitants have to fork out, yet again, … for another inquiry?". Lastly in these actual quotes, I come to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, on 30th October 1984 in our debate on airline competition policy, when he said (at col. 486): Finally, relating to Stansted, I should say this. I think the Stansted inquiry merits the description once given by a learned judge of certain proceedings which went beyond time and encroached upon eternity". So it is my contention that the British Airports Authority has been determined that Stansted shall be London's third airport, that any findings to the contrary shall be ignored, and that what I earlier termed, "a highly placed bureaucracy", should continue to raise the matter until it gets Stansted, quite irrespective of public opinion. The House will hardly be surprised that I find this not a dispassionate background for consideration, but I shall do my best.

I am not in favour of development at Stansted, but I shall come back to that later. In common with many others, I believe that the proposed limitation of air traffic movements at Heathrow has been pressed by the Government in an effort to ensure selection of Stansted. It has of course been roundly condemned by the Inspector who said at Chapter 47, paragraph 3.3: The imposition of the proposed atm limit at Heathrow has the gravest consequences for the airport's future, the London system and the nation as a whole. The proposal was ill-advised and misconceived and should be unequivocally abandoned". This suggested limitation and its announcement have been entirely counter-productive in so far as Members of another place are concerned.

We are, of course, hopelessly tied up in all this by the ineptitude of the Government in trying to deal piecemeal with these major problems instead of restructuring the airline industry as was recommended in the report of the Civil Aviation Authority. But looking further into the tangle that the Government made for themselves, the House will recall that the Civil Aviation Bill, dealing primarily with these air traffic movements, which is supposed to be on its way through Parliament, has been held up indefinitely by the Standing Committee concerned because Members believed that the Bill was an attempt by the Government to railroad Stansted through the House by a back-door, and the House was not having it.

This Civil Aviation Bill was, or is, a shocking Bill, both ill-drafted and produced in such a hurry that, had it reached our House, I hope that we should have rejected it, even on Second Reading. In view of the condemnation received, I am assuming that this proposed limitation will be unequivocally abandoned or at least raised to a higher figure, and I have suggested 330,000. Personally, though, I would favour unequivocal abandonment.

The arguments dealing with aircraft noise have been considerably deployed and do not require repetition here. Although it is obviously an interested party, it seems to me that the facts as set out by British Airways at Appendix D in its position paper of 17th January summarise this aspect adequately and fairly.

I should like now to move to the question of costs. Quite apart from the merits or demerits of either development—Stansted or Heathrow—it would be useful to have an actual financial comparison. Any major development at Stansted will require housing and other urban development, plus a new rail link from London. British Airways estimates that that will cost about £1 billion in addition to the cost of the new terminal building itself. By contrast, so it says, British Airways estimates development costs at Heathrow as around £125 million. I should think that in common with many others I certainly am in no position to agree or disagree with those figures. The Inspector himself in Chapter 10, paragraph 3.9, was unable to accept an estimate of £750 million concerning Stansted.

So I come to my second question to the Minister, if I could have his attention. Will he give us the estimated cost for development at Stansted as recommended by Mr. Eyre; namely, limited to one runway and a capacity number of 15 million passengers per annum? Presumably a rail link will be required. While actually on this capacity point, I think that we should note that actual traffic at Stansted is just over half a million and that its present capacity is around 2 million. I recall that the Government have said that they wish to hear the views of Parliament before reaching any decision on these matters, but that does not preclude giving the financial figures for which I have asked.

Bearing in mind that at the moment Stansted has capacity for a further 1½ million passengers per annum, I now move to Gatwick. I have no desire to weary the House on this aspect, but we must accept that the refusal to lay down a second runway there is a political decision related neither to the interests of the industry nor to the needs of its customers. Obviously I have noted what the Inspector has to say, but of course the question of a second runway at Gatwick was not included in his remit. Mr. Eyre took as his base on this matter the: Government's firm and long-standing decision not to countenance a two-runway airport at Gatwick". He went on to add: the clear statement that a second runway will not be developed effectively limits development at Gatwick to a two-terminal airport with a capability of approximately 25 million passengers per annum". He further went on to declare that statement of policy as immutable.

I looked up the word "immutable" in the dictionary and found that it meant unchangeable. I still hope that benefit to the airline industry and its passengers may change the political decision made by the Government. The House knows my views. I do not believe that Gatwick can be developed to its full potential without a second runway. Indeed, paragraph 17 of the Government's White Paper, Airline Competition Policy, mentions Gatwick as the development of a major centre of international operations, and certainly there is space at Gatwick for this.

It is so much wasted breath to talk about developing Gatwick as a hub and spoke airport of the future and to deny what is obviously necessary. Also it is dishonest. Members may recall that in the House on 23rd of May last I was told in answer to a Question that: the present Government were not consulted about the agreement and are not parties to it. That being the case, the Government cannot be bound by its terms". The agreement of course was that entered into by the British Airports Authority with the West Sussex County Council.

A considerable body of opinion is now coming to believe that this agreement entered into by the British Airports Authority was a mistake. I suggest that we cannot live for ever with mistakes, especially when these can be rectified. Too many planners' mistakes are with us today. There must be every reason for changing them when circumstances are altered.

What I think the House may not know, and perhaps the Minister himself may be unaware of, is what happened at Gatwick on 3rd January last. The Times of 4th January carried this paragraph under the heading, "Gatwick halted": Gatwick airport was brought to a standstill for an hour and a half last night after a hole was discovered in its single runway. More than a thousand passengers from 10 flights were diverted to Bournemouth, Heathrow and Luton, while repairs were carried out". My information is that only The Times, among the national papers, carried the brief reference to the hole in the runway.

The following week, on 11th January, the Gatwick News, under the headline, "Hole halts airport", carried the following: Gatwick was closed for 90 minutes last week when a hole appeared in the runway. The damage to the porous surface, covering an area five feet long, 18 inches wide, and about an inch deep, was spotted at 1900 [hours] on Thursday. The runway was instantly closed to traffic while an emergency team began temporary repairs. Forty minutes later a shortened strip was opened, allowing business and light aircraft to touch down". The concluding paragraph was: A spokesman for the BAA said it wasn't unusual for damage to be caused to the runway. 'It doesn't usually cause problems like this. But this hole was near the centre line, about half-way down the runway length.' Even to the least suspicious mind it looks as though efforts were made to suppress this story. Will the Minister look into the matter and write to me about it? Perhaps his reply could be included in Hansard so that all Members could know what actually transpired. Doubtless he will bear in mind his many replies to me on this particular aspect, or risk, of having a single runway.

We are all aware of the substantial demand for charter seats which is satisfied from Gatwick. I believe that if Gatwick is not developed to its full potential, charters will be squeezed out. Paragraph 18 of the Civil Aviation Authority report said: If the price of developing the scheduled service network at Gatwick was progressively to squeeze charters out, this would be to render a major disservice to a substantial category of public demand. I think that we should not allow this to happen. Could the Minister give us an approximate cost of providing a second runway? I was given an approximate figure in June last of £50 million. Whether or not this be correct, there is no doubt that the cost would fall far short of any figure estimated for Stansted.

Surely there can be no doubt that there must be development in the regions. I believe very strongly that the spin-off effect, if Stansted should be developed, would be to the disadvantage of the northern regions. Honestly, I think the Inspector was less than fair to the regional argument. Obviously, passengers cannot be forced to use regional airports but I think it must be accepted as reasonable to satisfy the regional demand if it naturally arises in the regions. Perhaps I might recommend the speech of Mr. Alfred Morris in another place who, with many others, set out the case for regional, and Manchester, development.

I hope that the Government have taken on board the strength of the remarks made about Luton, and that they intend to do something about it. There is no doubt that the British Airports Authority has used its monopoly at Heathrow and Gatwick to squeeze out competition from Luton. Heavily subsidised facilities and charges at Stansted—may I have the Minister's attention on Luton? It does happen to be important. There is no doubt that the British Airports Authority has used its monopoly at Heathrow and Gatwick to squeeze out competition from Luton. Heavily subsidised facilities and charges at Stansted are designed to attract charter traffic away from Luton. It was stressed in another place that Luton has 2 million passengers a year now, a capacity to take up to 5 million, plus excellent motorway connections and an adjoining railway line to London. I have given these details about Luton because I feel that the drive for Stansted by the British Airports Authority and the Government has omitted to mention such relevant factors for ultimate decision.

I believe that a fifth terminal at Heathrow should be made available as soon as possible. I have been a long time coming to that point of view—in fact, some several years. But I now accept the comment of the Inspector that, any other course would jeopardise the national interest". However, I think that some for whom I speak today, while supporting the improvement of facilities at Heathrow and the immediate removal of the sewage works at Perry Oaks, do not wish to commit themselves now to Terminal 5—preferring to keep options open until we all see how accurate the current forecasts are on traffic movements.

In conclusion—and I am sorry both to have kept the House so long and to be deprived of the pleasure of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, on his maiden speech—perhaps I may just summarise the recommendations that I have put forward. The withdrawal of the suggested atm limit at Heathrow. The laying of a second runway at Gatwick. The extension of regional airports, particularly Manchester. The utilisation of the present capacity at Stansted; namely, 2 million passengers per annum, and only such minor development of this capacity should the need emerge, bearing in mind that Stansted is now receiving and would continue to demand cross-subsidy from the operators at Gatwick and Heathrow already resulting in unfair competition so far as Luton is concerned. And priority for the fifth terminal at Heathrow.

We on these Benches trust that the Government are in earnest in declaring that they wish to hear the views of Parliament before reaching a decision, and we submit ours for consideration.

3.48 p.m.

Lord Chapple

My Lords, this is the first time that I have addressed a forum from a position to which I was not elected. It is rather an unusual experience for me in that I am not now answerable to an electorate or an executive, or even to the general council. However, at the same time I have to accept full responsibility for any comments that I make, although on this occasion, in keeping with the traditions of this House on maiden speeches, I shall not allow them full rein.

I was, in a previous existence, the general secretary of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Union—that will be a revelation to most of your Lordships—which has a major membership in both airlines and airports, as well as in aircraft manufacturing. Consequently, I have always had a concern about these industries. They are also, of course, part of the technological future upon which much of Britain's industrial revival depends.

Perhaps, however, your Lordships will forgive me for digressing briefly from the particulars of the inquiry to speak of a more general matter that arises from it. I have been concerned for many years about the way in which we go about our decision-making or, may I say, the way in which the Government go about their decision-making. I once spent a year, along with some other noble Lords, conducting an inquiry into the structure of the electricity supply industry. We took evidence from all and sundry. Indeed, a list of those giving evidence takes up five pages of the 73-page report. A lot of time and a lot of money went into that effort. And what have we to show for it? Well, the members of the committee have a morocco-bound copy of the report and nothing else. Perhaps there is justice, after all, in that, since morocco is made from the skin of sheep or goats.

It appears that, in a number of cases—too many—the process has become a substitute rather than an aid to rational procedures leading to decisions. It is often too prolonged and always too costly. Furthermore, the elapse of time that occurs very often closes off credible options, preventing incremental progress. That is seen in the inquiry report before us in relation to Maplin. So we have a situation, made worse, if not created, by a long period of examination and inaction. We are then faced with a crisis that can only be resolved by crash programmes. Such a response is driven more often by political rather than economic, social or humanist considerations. This has been particularly true in the energy sphere, with which I have been deeply concerned. However, if I am to remain unprovocative, I had better let the matter rest there on this occasion. It is a theme to which I hope to return on future occasions.

I come now to the Eyre report. I have great sympathy for anyone living near large airports. I must confess here and now that, if I had my way, I would not build another single airport anywhere. In fact, I do not suppose that I would build a chemical plant or a power station either. But we are locked into a technological future from which there is no escape if we wish to maintain the living style to which we have all become accustomed. Anyone living near a large airport has something to groan about. But none of us can escape the consequences of the collective demands made on society by modern living. Just as vegetarians are fond of advising us that we cannot eat meat without killing animals, so we must also have motorways, chemical plants, power stations and airports—and they are always in someone's back garden. The report makes clear that, whatever the Government's decision is to be, it will not make them many friends. Nor will further lengthy debate cause many, or significant, changes of mind or enlightenment on the matter. Nor will it provide a universally acceptable solution to the problem.

We are told that this has been the longest planning inquiry to date. Further procrastination can help no one. It can only cause the eventual costs in exasperation as well as in money to rise disproportionately to the benefits. One comment that I read called the report, "a high price for slow justice". The trouble with the high price is that it is paid by those who have no objections. The Government must heed the Inspector's conclusion that decisive action must be taken on his findings to end the uncertainty and to provide a coherent strategy for our airports' future.

I would, finally, make a single criticism. It coincides with what other noble Lords have said. I cannot see how the overall strategy outlined in the report can work in the long run without the simultaneous development of at least the major regional airports and, in particular, Manchester. There simply must be a limit on the development of airports in the south of this country.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, it falls to me to have the pleasure of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, on his maiden speech, which was admirable both in content and in brevity, which is always appreciated here where sometimes speeches become a little long. All of us know, of course, of his outstanding career in the trade union movement and, if I may say so, of his remarkably courageous and enlightened approach to meet the industrial and economic problems of today. This is something that bodes well for our country. On all sides, it is greatly appreciated. We look forward to hearing the noble Lord on many occasions in the future both for the substance of what he has to say and for the wit with which he says it.

I turn now to the substance of the debate. First, I should address a word to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who, I am sorry to see is just going out, because I am not going to be entirely complimentary to him. He spoke with interest and in a well informed manner on many important points made by the Inspector. In the main, however, he was pretty heavily critical of the Government's action, or inaction, on this or that aspect. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, went even further in criticising the Government for their misjudgment and ineptitude. The noble Baroness weighed in heavily on several points, although I was glad to find myself in agreement on at least one of them.

I must, however, put to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and, indeed, to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, who was a member of the Labour Party at the time: would it not have saved both of them an awful lot of trouble if they had not cancelled the building of Maplin? After all, Maplin airport was being built in 1974 when Labour came into government. They proceeded to cancel it and to throw out my noble friend Lord Marshall. I do not see my noble friend in his place; he was a splendid chairman of the authority. Had they left all alone, Maplin airport would now be going full steam ahead. We would have no problem about Stansted. What a lot of trouble we would all have saved ourselves! There were a few other little problems certainly, but the decision was taken. Does the noble Baroness wish to intervene?

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I have had my innings, but I have said in this House that I think we should always have had Maplin. It was a great mistake of the Government in 1974 to cancel it.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her gracious observation. So often, I find myself in agreement with her. However, the Conservative Government must be given credit for taking a major decision then and actually going to work on it. The fact that we still have the major problem of the third London airport today is due to the fact that the decision was undone by noble Lords opposite, and their right honourable and honourable friends, in 1974. So let us not have too much criticism about what the Government have not done at any particular time!

I turn to the report itself. I join with others in congratulating Mr. Graham Eyre on his tremendous report. It really is a most comprehensive and remarkable report. The burden of it is, of course, that the Government must take a decision now without delay on the two principal issues; one, the development of Stansted and the other, the further development of Heathrow. Personally, I find his treatment of the figures of growth of traffic convincing. It is always difficult to be precise, looking four, five or ten years ahead. But, so far as any trends can show, it seems to me that he took a fairly conservative view. It therefore appears that by 1990 the existing capacity of Heathrow and Gatwick and the tiny capacity of Stansted and Luton, as of now, will be swamped, and that therefore we need the extra capacity right now. Of course we all well understand the inevitably long lead time which is involved in making provision, and we have got to take a view now. The penalty for failure is that traffic which might have come here will go to the European airports, particularly Schipol at Amsterdam, which are just longing to take traffic from us any time they can get it; and once they have got it they will jolly well hold on to it and we shall lose it altogether.

This is against the background, which has been referred to already to some extent, that the British civil aviation industry is one of our outstanding successes. Partly through the good fortune of our geography, but also through good management, we have a civil aviation activity where we fly more passenger miles on international routes than any other country except the United States. In 1983 our civil aviation industry earned a profit, with the rest of the world, of some £430 million; so it is clear that there is a great deal at stake here in providing that this very profitable industry should continue to grow.

Before I come to the Inspector's report I should say a word about the very important alternative solution which is now put forward by the North of England Regional Consortium, which is obviously quite a weighty political factor in the other House. I was glad to hear that in his speech my noble friend referred to the Government's very generous provision of help in recent years to the regional airports; I am sure that is absolutely right. I think all Governments have seen that the development of regional airports should proceed with all speed and that they should be encouraged to take all the traffic they can. But, even so, it is not going to relieve the problem. Of course the attraction of getting some pressure off the South-East and providing extra employment where it is so desperately, so badly needed is quite obvious to me, and I well understand it. But the Inspector's report is emphatic that this policy could not provide a solution.

I had some personal experience of the problem which my noble friend referred to during his speech when I was a member of the Advisory Committee on Airports Policy, set up by the Labour Govenment in 1978, on the basis of their White Paper of 1978. Our membership included what one might describe as Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. There was someone from everywhere; so we were a very representative body. I felt some sympathy for the deputy secretary for the department, who had to try to keep us all in order. The fact is that we all looked at these problems from every different point of view. Our task was to find a site for a third London airport and report on the relative merits. We did a prodigious job. We produced six possible alternatives in the range around London. We caused a great deal of local disturbance and we were cordially loathed by everybody we referred to in these different places. But at the end of it we produced our report. We included Maplin—we put that in again—of course Stansted, and Yardley Chase; I think that was Cublington before, but we did not want to raise their hackles too much and so it got a new name.

About halfway through our deliberations the Secretary of State asked us to examine the possibility of a solution based on the capacity of the regional airports outside the South-East. We were also asked to look at the hypothetical Severnside airport solution which was then floated. We looked at this with the aid of the experts, who produced the necessary evidence for us, and we all concluded that a solution could not be found this way. We certainly expressed the view that every encouragement should be given to the regional airports to expand and develop as much as they could. But the real, basic problem is that the majority of the traffic coming to Britain wants to go to London or that area; the ratio is something like two to one. It cannot be diverted by manipulating the tariffs or in any other way without the danger of losing that traffic. Thus it was we came to the conclusion that although this would help to some extent—and to any extent that it could help it should be encouraged—it would not give the answer; so I am sure the Inspector is right in his recommendation on that point.

I now turn to the actual merits of the two major factors: that is, the development of Stansted and the development of Heathrow. As the noble Baroness said, at present Stansted is carrying half a million passengers and could increase this number to 2 million. It is also carrying an increasing amount of freight. The existing runway is adequate to carry the additional number of passengers to get up to the 15 million forecast for the later 1990s. That is the major factor about Stansted: the international measured runway is there, existing, and planes are flying from it. Of course the temporary terminal complex will not do and must be replaced by a modern permanent building. Transport links with London must also be provided, to the best possible quality. The road problem is not difficult or expensive; Stansted is adjacent to the M.11 and can be connected directly to it. The express rail link, which must be comparable in quality with the Gatwick rail link, will be expensive, but it is essential so that there is a comparable amenity and attraction about the airport compared with Gatwick and, as far as it can, with Heathrow.

I would say to the very powerful local opposition of constituency Members of Parliament, all of whom, or most of whom, I suppose are my right honourable and honourable friends, that I well understand the strength of opposition, almost the professionalism of opposition, because on this issue the local people have been involved in it now for 20 years. But they must be asked to recognise that a major national interest is at stake and that this airfield alone can provide the solution; and so I hope that they will come to accept it.

Turning now to Heathrow, I would point out that the Inspector advises that the limit of 275,000 should be lifted as soon as possible. I agree entirely with that, and I was delighted that the noble Baroness did, too. Although of course every extra plane makes a bit more noise, it has been rightly said that the new planes are making less noise, and there is no doubt at all, in terms of the operation of the airport, that that limit should go as soon as possible. Perhaps it can be done with the final phasing out of noisy aircraft which we still have.

In regard to the fifth terminal, which the noble Baroness also spoke about, this means of course relocating the Perry Oaks sludge processing beds. That is a major physical job which will take several years to do and cost quite a lot of money. It disposes of the sludge which is pumped up from the Mulgan works. They are very extensive beds and the new location will have to be in a position where the sludge can still be pumped up there and disposed of; so it is going to be quite an expensive job. Even assuming that it does not run into planning difficulties, it will take several years. I agree with the Inspector and the noble Baroness that it should be got on with and that plans should be made for the fifth terminal.

I conclude by supporting the report and asking my noble friends who feel otherwise about some aspects of it to recognise that the great importance to our economy of taking the right decision now is really of overwhelming significance. We should give the Inspector's report our support.

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