HL Deb 11 February 1985 vol 460 cc42-96

5.7 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, I am glad to be able to make this intervention in the Statements. From this side, I should like to add our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, on his maiden speech. Had he found it possible to remain in his seat, I should have had pleasure in telling him that I admired his practical approach and that I agreed with a good deal of what he had to say. I was particularly pleased to be able to support what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, because I always prefer, if possible, to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and I am going to disagree with him when I come to the substance of this report.

I had another aviation engagement this evening which I much wanted to keep, but recently I have detected a tendency when commenting on these debates to count heads for and against a particular proposition and to quote that as some evidence in support of a given opinion. In that context, I should like to offer my head in support of the recommendation that we should make an early start in the development of Stansted Airport.

I have certain other views not in line with the inquiry recommendations, but before I express them maybe I may be permitted to make two general observations. First, I believe that we should give thanks and praise to all those who have had responsibility over the post-war years for the actual administration and operation of Britain's airport and allied services. Their record is second to none, and I have had some experience with airport facilities in most parts of the world. Since Sir Norman Payne and his team currently have the greatest responsibility, I offer special tribute to them.

Secondly, I believe that we owe something less than thanks and different from praise to those who have contributed to the confusion in these same post-war years in the making or the frustration of a national strategy for our airports. There have been, as has already been stated, debates galore, departmental committees, public inquiries, decisions made and unmade; and the arguments today are more strident than ever they were before. Even the Town and Country Planning Association, I noted today, is moved to write of a "dirty tricks department" in this business and it makes some reference to the "extraordinary self-deception" of the Inspector who had the responsibility of carrying out the inquiry.

I do not believe that we would be fair in blaming any one Government for this confusion, and certainly not the civil servants, whose judgment in my view in these matters has always been fair and clear. It has not been the civil servants; it has been the political pressures brought to bear when any decision was being arrived at. But the issues have been bedevilled by the quite special ability with which individuals, authorities and operators have been able to persuade themselves that what was good for them was good for the country as a whole. General Motors has absolutely nothing on some of these people. When their respective and conflicting views are amplified and exaggerated by all the extravagant machinations of modern public relations then I fear that they confuse themselves as well as others.

If palms could be awarded for damage done in all this frustrating lobbying, the first should go, I think, to those lobbyists who were responsible for reversing the original decision to develop Gatwick eventually as a major two-runway airport. That was a much more damaging upsetting of decision-making than was the cancellation of the offshore airport at Maplin, the only advantage of which was that there were no voters around it.

We all share the same interest of wanting the convenience of air travel without the nuisance of having an aircraft fly over our own garden, but in all this rather sorry story there was no instance more saddening than when the residents, or some of the residents, of Surrey prevailed over the interests of Britain as a whole and secured the abandonment of the proper development of the Gatwick second airport for London. Even now I suggest—and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, in this—that we should look again at the Gatwick situation before any further building takes place in the area once sterilised, and we should see whether the original planning cannot be carried out. If against all the operational and economic sense it is still decided that a second major runway is not now feasible at Gatwick, I hope that the idea of an emergency strip will be developed to the point that permits parallel operation of lighter aircraft and the possibility of future STOL operations.

I am afraid that the North of England Consortium lobby is another case of restricted reasoning, but the background there is completely different from that of residential Surrey. I was born and bred north of Watford and my heart and instincts still turn to there. I understand and share the bitterness which some feel at the assurances given by the comfortable people in the South that everything one day will work out all right for the North. I feel strongly about that, but I really cannot persuade myself that it will help the development and industrial regeneration of the Midlands and the North if traffic is turned away from the South-East because of lack of capacity at airports.

Of course there is another lobby against the Stansted development. Understandably there are in Essex residents—not all of them according to a recent poll—who, when they need to go abroad, would prefer to drive to Heathrow and fly over the people of Richmond or Twickenham rather than disturb the amenity of the Essex countryside. I had a most formidable array of such noble residents lined up against me in this very Chamber when we debated the merits of the Stansted recommendation back in 1967. Incidentally, I believe I am right in saying that had Stansted gone ahead then and we had not had that opposition at that time in 1967, the cost of the airport in those days would have been some £50 million. If we have to have another public inquiry into this matter, the cost of it will not be far short of a figure for which we would have got a developed Stansted in those days.

If I may turn to that 1967 debate, one argument I recall was that if we went to Stansted, it would upset the Americans at Wethersfield. Technology moves ahead. We do not have the aircraft at Wethersfield, but we have the nuclear bases at Greenham and Molesworth. It was also argued that surface access was inadequate; but of course now we have the M.11. A most powerful case was made by the late Lord Butler and others that building facilities at Stansted would mean the loss of £1 million of agricultural produce each year, and now we contemplate many, many more millions of pounds of such products being wasted in those CAP intervention stores, and scarcely a murmur from those Essex residents.

There was also the argument—I believe that it has been put forward again—supported by eminent authorities that aircraft over Stansted would drive away the birds, and I tried then to assure people so concerned. I told them what my dear wife had reported, that in Richmond Park, over which far more aircraft fly than will ever been seen at Stansted, there had been seen the Great-crested Grebe, the Red-breasted Merganser, Brent geese, sparrowhawks, kestrels and stock doves; and, unfrightened by the noisy Boeings of the day, barn owls had been seen breeding. Of course, there will be genuine grievances in Essex if more aircraft overfly, and we should give consideration to those grievances, but why should not the same consideration be given to the people who live around Heathrow?

This brings me to the recommendation that the Perry Oaks sewage works be moved to some other, unspecified location, at an unstated cost, in order to make way for the fifth terminal and thus enable the Government to break a specific promise, as my noble friend Lord Underhill said, given on many occasions, that 275,000 movements a year at Heathrow would be the absolute limit.

Somewhere in this report, I believe, the inquiry Inspector criticised earlier policy making as inept, ill-judged ad hoc expediency. I believe that I have said much the same thing. But I do like to be consistent. If we try to buy off opposition to Stansted by agreeing to get another terminal at Heathrow, then I would detect more than another touch of expediency. Naturally, if British Airways wants a fifth terminal, it will produce figures to show that it is by far the best solution. British Airways can always produce figures to prove a case which suits it. No doubt it will soon be proving that its shares are worth much more than the price which the Government propose to charge for them. Its predecessors proved conclusively that huge savings would be made if BOAC and BEA were merged. Going further back, I recall the certainly with which it said that it would be cheaper to keep the maintenance base at Montreal, rather than London.

One cannot blame British Airways in this case. Any operator would benefit from having more business concentrated around the home base; but it is only right that against their savings there should be offset all the other costs. including, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, reminded us, the cost of road traffic congestion. The social costs are difficult to quantify, but clearly they must be much more in the areas that are more densely populated than either in Essex or around Gatwick.

The argument that Twickenham suffers now and will not notice additional suffering seems to be quite unworthy. Aircraft noise at source is less now than it was, and I think that it must be brought down even further; but that should be some expectation of relief for the people around Heathrow and not an excuse for breaking promises about traffic limits and further increasing the burden on them.

There is one other paragraph of the Inspector's report, which seems to come very near to qualifying for the criticism he makes about expediency in policy making. I refer to the declaration that a second runway at Stansted should not be built "under any circumstances". I should have thought that "under any circumstances" is a phrase that lawyers would be very reluctant to use. Technology in this matter changes considerably. I made my maiden speech as a Member of Parliament in 1945, very nearly 40 years ago. The burden of that speech was that we should get on with the development at Heathrow as a matter of urgency. Looking back, I fear that my eagerness to get a move on with a proper airport for London was not unconnected with the fact that I disliked landing in gusty weather over the buildings on the Croydon tarmac; and I liked even less the problem of lifting an aircraft over the houses on take-off over the further end of the Croydon field. So I do understand that we may all be considering too closely our own convenience.

However, in the present situation I hope that I am being reasonably objective when I offer the following views. I believe that we should press ahead as quickly as possible with the development of Stansted Airport. I think that we should seriously look again at all the possibilities of maximising the use of Gatwick. It was the best available site for a second major airport for London when we fixed upon it in the early 1950s, and it still is the best site for a second major airport. I add that a major airport with only one runway is a contradiction in terms.

We should make an extra effort to see what can be done to encourage the use of regional airports; and when it can be shown that growth is prevented at those airports by limited capacity I should certainly be happy to join the lobby for extra development. The prior need now for the Midlands and the North is, surely, more industrial development, and that will bring with it the extra air traffic. I am, as I have said, against the fifth terminal and I believe that it would be unwise at this point to promise a limit on future development at Stansted in any circumstances.

I have not used any figures to support my views because it seems to me that we can pick and choose between the welter of figures to prove almost any argument; but I should like to make a final comment on the estimates of saturation point in the South-East. The estimates in the early 1960s were faulted by the increased use of larger aircraft. More people were carried in fewer planes. The tendency today is towards the greater use of smaller aircraft. I should like to see an international agreement putting an upper limit on aircraft size. If we go towards the 1,000 or 1,500-seat aircraft, we may well have, on paper, lower seat-mile costs, but I can see one day an air tragedy of Bhopal proportions. Therefore, I would have a limit on size.

Apart from that aspect, the tendency today seems to be for higher frequency and regional services, using smaller aircraft. It is significant that Boeing, according to an announcement made last week, is about to copy British Aerospace with a 100-seater aircraft. This trend may mean that saturation will be reached earlier rather than later, which means that an early decision is all the more important.

I have much sympathy with the Minister who will have to make this decision. I cannot see that he will be able to please everybody. I wish him well, and I only hope that in 40 years' time he will have cause to think that the decision he took was the right one.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Bridge of Harwich

My Lords, I add my voice to those of the noble Lords, Lord Nugent of Guildford and Lord Beswick, in offering congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, on a truly sparkling maiden speech.

I have only one personal interest to declare in this debate. Mr. Graham Eyre, the Inspector whose report we are debating, has for over 30 years been not only a professional colleague but a personal friend of mine for whose ability and judgment I have the profoundest admiration. But it is not on that account, of course, that I commend his report and its conclusions to your Lordships. He and his assessors, as the noble Lord the Minister told us, spent 258 days hearing arguments and evidence. We, thank goodness, did not. He, as I know, spent the best part of the ensuing 18 months labouring under a mountain of papers and in that period he devoted practically the entirety of his time and energy to producing this masterly report. The findings of fact and the conclusions expressed in the report all enjoy the unanimous endorsement of his distinguished aviation and planning assessors. What is perhaps more important is that various sections of the civil aviation and air transport industries presented somewhat divergent cases at the inquiries but since the Inspector's report was published have almost to a man endorsed its conclusions.

All those are important factors but even they are not the essential grounds on which I venture to commend this report to your Lordships. I commend it on the ground that the intrinsic excellence and good sense of this report and its conclusions are abundantly apparent and will be recognised anybody who is prepared to read it with an open mind. The report presents a penetrating, fairminded and comprehensive analysis of the problem. To my mind it presents a totally convincing case for the view that the only practical solution to the problem lies in the full development of Stansted to its potential as a single-runway airport, coupled with the full realisation of the possibilities of expanding Heathrow to a five-terminal airport after the long time that must necessarily elapse before that monstrosity, the Perry Oaks sludgeworks, is removed elsewhere.

Two questions arise. If this combined solution of the problem is to be rejected, what is the alternative? Two speakers today have mentioned the possibility of a second runway at Gatwick. If the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, will forgive me for correcting her, it is not accurate to say that the second runway at Gatwick was not considered by Mr. Eyre in the course of these inquiries because it was not within his remit. His remit was as wide as it could possibly be. But the solution to the problem of providing a second runway at Gatwick was not considered in detail because not a single party—not even the bitterest opponents of development at Stansted—put it forward as a practicable solution. If they had, of course, the inquiry would have lasted a lot longer than 258 days. Both the proponents and the opponents of the development of a second runway at Gatwick—and they would have been just as vociferous as the proponents and the opponents of the development at Stansted—would also have had to be heard.

The other critical question that arises out of this report—

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I heard what the noble Lord was saying. I venture to say that I think he is not correct and that this was certainly not within the remit of the Inspector. The Inspector took as an absolute fact that the Government would not allow a second runway to be developed at Gatwick, and the Inspector went from there and based his recommendation on that.

Lord Bridge of Harwich

My Lords, I have read the report and I have not discovered that any party canvassed the possibility of a second runway at Gatwick as a practical solution to the problem.

The second critical question which arises from the report is, how many of those who in the course of the democratic process will influence the result have read or are prepared to read the report with an open mind? This airports question is not, or certainly ought not to be, a matter of party political controversy. If I thought it were, I should not be speaking upon it. What it is, of course, is a question which has aroused intensely strong local and regional feelings and which has generated, call them lobbies, pressure groups or what you will. The Essex pressure group, as I shall call it for short, is bitterly opposed to any development at Stansted. That is understandable. How could it be otherwise? The West London pressure group, if I may call it that, is bitterly opposed to any further expansion at Heathrow. Again, how could it be otherwise?

But what disturbs me, particularly reading the debate on this subject on 30th January in another place, is to discover how vociferous is the pressure group whose case at the inquiries was put forward by the body calling itself the North of England Regional Consortium. That pressure group, in my respectful submission to your Lordships' House, is misguided in its premises. A vote against Stansted, or a vote against Heathrow, will not be of the smallest value in promoting the economic well being and prosperity of the north of England. If anybody thinks that it is, I beg of him to read with an open mind paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of Chapter 10 of the report, which is headed, The regions and their airports". There is no question but that the Inspector approached the regional case with a more than open mind—indeed, with sympathy. I quote paragraph 1.32 of Chapter 10: The generality of the case for the regions has a number of cogent and attractive characteristics", and he proceeds to list them in 13 sub-paragraphs. Paragraph 1.33 states: There is no doubt that the characteristics I have identified have attracted widespread support for the case for the regions". In a nutshell, the case put forward by the North of England Regional Consortium was that there was no need until 1995 or well beyond to provide any additional airport capacity in south-east England because the whole of the additional demand could and should be met by the airports in the north of England. Indeed, the contention was advanced that it would be positively detrimental to the proper realisation of the northern airports' potential to provide any additional capacity in the south-east of England.

Confronted with that case, what a temptation it must have been to the Inspector simply to accept it; to recommend to the Government that they do nothing; to leave everybody happy—everybody, that is, except the civil aviation and air transport industries and those thinking members of the public who can see beyond the point of view of local and regional bias. Instead, in paragraphs 3.1 to 3.85—if anybody will trouble to read them—the Inspector totally demolishes the case for the North of England Regional Consortium. I quote two short passages from paragraph 3.72: The case for the North of England Regional Consortium would involve putting the whole problem back into the melting pot. Such a course would introduce appalling uncertainties as to the future and assuredly would not create the period of stability regarded as essential". A little later in the same paragraph he states: I have to record with some considerable regret that upon scrutiny the North of England Regional Consortium case offered the Government no remotely realistic alternative strategy. Furthermore, although the inquiries presented a unique opportunity for regional authorities to demonstrate that further expansion in the South-East would have deleterious consequences for the regional airports and air services in the furure, such an opportunity was not taken and no cogent evidence to this effect was even proffered". A question of vital national interest is at stake. Are we going to realise the unique potential for the benefit of the civil aviation and air transport industries which the geographical situation of our island offers in the 1990s and into the 21st century, or are we, on the other hand, for want of suitable airport capacity available at the right time and in the right place, going to hand that asset on a plate to our continental European neighbours? Truly, in my submission, it will be a tragedy if, after more than 20 years of vacillation, a combination of political opportunism and the operation of pressure groups renders it impossible for Her Majesty's Government to take the decision which, having studied this report, they must recognise as the only sensible decision and implement the Eyre recommendations. Incidentally, that outcome would demonstrate that public inquiries of the kind we are discussing are a monumental waste of time and money.

5.40 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate as an opportunity to allow opinions to be stated in our House before decisions are made by the Governmment in this important and difficult matter. I should also like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, on his interesting and realistic maiden speech.

I rise today as a member of Essex County Council to support our long-standing campaign against Stansted becoming the third London airport. Essex is in many parts an urban county but this part of our county is one of its few rural beauty spots, not at all suitable for the urbanisation brought about by such a monster development. Anyone who has had the privilege of driving North from Dunmow to Thaxted will have caught his breath at the beauty of Thaxted spire as first seen as one comes over the brow of the hill. Its finger points eternally to heaven. It is surrounded by the lovely small rural town with its 15th century guildhall and old houses. It is a great attraction to tourists from all over the world. Thaxted Church is on the flight path from Stansted. Goodness knows if it would survive the noise and vibration of a third London airport.

The people in this part of the world are against the major development of Stansted airport. They include Essex and Hertfordshire County Councils, the district councils and that magnificent example of local devotion to their beautiful countryside, the North West Essex and East Hertfordshire Preservation Society, who untiringly over the years have raised more than a quarter of a million pounds to support their cause. They are supported by many affiliated associations, including the National Trust, the CPRE and the Town and County Planning Association. The members are farmers and local people who rightly feel a sense of injustice as their towns and villages have been overshadowed by the threat of the great airport on so many occasions over a period of over 20 years, during which they have had to fight so many inquiries.

Essex has supported them unswervingly but we have not been dog in the manger. In the early 1970s we actively supported the development of Maplin Airport in Essex, with its safe take-off over the sea and its promise of employment in the more urban parts of Essex, already developed and with schools, hospitals and the services people need. I am not suggesting a return to Maplin. That opportunity was not grasped and one cannot turn the clock back. But I felt I must demonstrate we are not against airports as such. Indeed, even now, we would accept some expansion at Stansted which would be convenient to local people and provide employment commensurate with the size of the present local population. At present, Stansted is operating at around half a million passengers per annum. As my honourable friend Mr. Alan Haselhurst, the Member of Parliament for the area, recently said: Even the local pressure group opposed to Stansted becoming the third London airport would accept expansion to 4 million passengers per annum". We are reasonable people, and the Chief Executive of the County Council has said that the Council would willingly meet the Secretary of State to discuss that kind of level of development.

Sadly, I am not often in your Lordships' House these days because I work part of each week in Manchester. I normally travel by train but have on a number of occasions used Manchester Airport. I can understand vividly why people living there and in other northern cities do not want to travel to London for their business and holiday travel. It is time-wasting and further snarls up London's traffic congestion. I have every sympathy with the millions of people living in the North wishing to develop their own airports with the associated much-needed employment. No wonder the North of England Regional Consortium is campaigning so strongly for the development of the region's airports. They should be encouraged to the full, for their own convenience and prosperity. In each case they are pressing for the development of existing major airports.

Finally, I come to Heathrow. Your Lordships will have noticed, as you take off from the airport, that, thrusting into the perimeter of the world's premier airport is—guess what?—the Perry Oaks sludge works. It should have been moved to a more suitable site years ago. I quote from a Royal Society of Arts lecture which was chaired by Sir Peter Masefield in June 1977, who said: A proposition to move the sludge works to a more suitable place was first made, I remember, in 1943. Perry Oaks is an ideal place for a new terminal area between the runways, with good access, and I hope"— sadly, this was not achieved— that by 1983 it may be achieved as the most sensible solution to shortage of space for handling both aircraft and passengers at Heathrow". Now, its removal is of paramount importance to provide new land for development at Heathrow so that the fifth terminal can be built, as the Inspector himself recommends. It will bring the M.25 very close to Heathrow. The existing railway line to Heathrow Central I understand was designed with a possible future extension to Perry Oaks in mind. Therefore, existing capital investment will be more fully used. All the infrastructure of schools, roads, hospitals, etc., already exists. The skilled workforce already lives there.

So far as the major international airlines are concerned, they do not want to split their operations in a fundamental way. They know how expensive that would be. The provision of new maintenance depots splitting a highly-skilled workforce is extremely expensive. In their evidence prepared for the inquiry, British Airways calculated that if they had to split their operations they would need a 24 per cent. increase in the number of aircraft, with a resultant minimum increase in direct operating costs of between £150 and £200 million per annum at 1980 prices. By now, that figure would be much higher. Such a move would also add to the costs of other airlines forced to split their operations.

Clearly, it is far more economical to allow them to develop with Heathrow as their major base of operation. It should mean the reconsideration of the present arbitrary limit of 275,000 aircraft movements per annum. But, in their evidence at the inquiry, British Airways looked far more to increasing the size of aircraft to provide the increased capacity and felt the resultant required increase in size of aircraft was in line with past projections. It is not only the number of aircraft movements in the air that is the problem but also the efficient handling of passengers on the ground.

A proportion of Heathrow's prosperity comes from transfer passengers. We shall lose them to a European airport if they cannot change flights conveniently and have perhaps to change airports. Their payments form a useful contribution to our invisible exports. The fifth terminal at Heathrow, if properly designed, could add to the comfort and convenience of their transfer and form an added attraction to the advantage of United Kingdom prosperity.

The new International Civil Aviation Organisation regulations limiting aircraft noise, will, as the Inspector says, ensure there is no perceptible effect on existing noise". That is an important matter to the people at present living round Heathrow. As our aircraft noise consultant said during the inquiry, The noise lobby has won but as yet they do not know it", because the ICAO regulations will take the remainder of this decade for the full effect to be clear. However, during that period the noise levels at Heathrow will reduce dramatically, even with the building of Terminal 5, which is a very important part of the whole strategy.

The development of a short take-off airport in Dockland could make a contribution to the situation. The benefits of air travel on short-haul routes are often considerably reduced because of the length of time it takes to travel out of the city to the airport—a journey which on short flights is often of comparable length to the actual flight itself. It will be interesting to see how the use of that airport so near the City of London develops for short-haul flights, and how it fulfils the air travel needs of London if it is developed.

The Inspector comes down firmly in favour of the development of Heathrow 5, but is anxious about the length of time it may take to develop and whether it will be ready in time. A number of experts, including those of Essex and Hertfordshire, question the high growth assumed—much higher than past growth. I was taught as a young engineer the dangers of extrapolation. However, we have to rely on the best forecasts, although forecasting is notoriously difficult in this field. Experts disagree and the forecasts themselves are very vulnerable to major movements in the price of oil, a highly volatile variable in itself.

To sum up, my suggestion is that the Government should put their full weight behind the development of Heathrow through the building of Terminal 5 so that it remains the major London airport, taking the fullest advantage of its runways but with much better passenger traffic handling facilities. That should be carried out as soon as possible so as to overcome the consequences of successive past Governments' lack of action—"the years that the locusts have eaten", as Sir Peter Masefield said in a letter to The Times. In that way, Heathrow will retain its status as one of the premier airports of the world, to the benefit of the future prosperity of the United Kingdom.

Full use should be made of Gatwick and Luton airports and the potential of short take-off aircraft should be exploited. The Government's financial strategy should include support for as much provision of air transport as possible from the northern regional airports for the convenience of people living there, the reduction of London's traffic congestion and the provision of employment opportunities where they are badly needed. It is generally accepted that Stansted, too, must take its share of expansion—up to about four million passengers a year—but not that it should become the third London airport, which I submit would be an expensive environmental disaster.

5.52 p.m.

Earl Amherst

My Lords, I, too, offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, on his maiden speech. I rise briefly to support entirely what was said so well by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry. I wish to make special reference to what she said about the second runway at Gatwick. Gatwick has now developed into a fine and efficient airport. It has a remarkable rail connection with the centre of London. There is a non-stop train leaving Victoria four times an hour for Gatwick, and vice versa. This service caters for all traffic, including baggage. It is a good deal ahead of what is now offered through the extension of the Piccadilly tube line to Heathrow. That service has a good frequency and a journey time of about 45 minutes from Piccadilly Circus. However, it can cater only for those passengers with no, or very light, baggage.

It is unlikely, I believe, that British Rail will be able to establish anything comparable to connect Stansted with St. Pancras, Kings Cross or Liverpool Street. It is obvious that, without a second runway, Gatwick cannot achieve its full potential for handling air passengers, freight and mail. Working at full potential and with the provision of a fifth terminal at Heathrow, we should go a long way to meet the problem of the expected traffic in the immediate future, even if not the whole way.

Your Lordships will recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, has repeatedly asked about the provision of a second runway at Gatwick. She has never received anything like a convincing reply. Usually, the reply is something to the effect that it does not really fit in with Government policy. Noble Lords may know that some years ago the British Airports Authority entered into a legal contract with the West Sussex County Council not to develop a second runway at Gatwick for the surprising period of 40 years. However, last year—I think it was on 23rd May—in reply to a question, the Government stated categorically that they were not bound by this undertaking. I presume that they are still not bound by it. One wonders, therefore, whether the undertaking is really the basis of the Government's refusal to consider a second runway at Gatwick. If not, we can perhaps now be told what is the real reason for the Government's refusal to consider it. I believe that the House is due for a fairly full answer.

5.55 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ardwick and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, are not in the Chamber. Those noble Lords and myself have perhaps used Stansted more often than most people, because it was the airport from which we travelled to the European Parliament in its plenary sessions. The greatest activity that we saw there during the four-and-a-half years that we used the airport was the sight of Idi Amin's aircraft being filled with the goodies that helped to support his regime. That seemed the busiest activity going on at the airport whenever we were there. No doubt matters have improved since direct elections. To us, it felt like a place in the wilderness. I had to travel from the Midlands. It was a hectic journey, taking, normally, between four-and-a-half and five hours. If people in the regions are expected to put up with that in the future, heaven help them!

I accept that airports in the South-East will continue to act as the major worldwide gateways for the United Kingdom. However, a substantial part of the growth in demand will obviously come from the regions. It must. If the proposal to develop Stansted to cater for 15 million passengers a year is accepted, there is a real danger, in my view, that increased demand from the regions will be met solely by increased capacity in the South-East. In other words, the travel operators will automatically move to Stansted as a subsidised airport. We in the regions consider that it is most wasteful even to be considering Stansted when the facilities already exist or can be easily made available in the regions to cope with any increased regional demand. Not only that: heavy investment in Stansted does not really make economic sense for the Government, especially when resources are needed for economic regeneration in the regions.

I wish to concentrate my remarks upon Birmingham International Airport, which I know quite well. The airport has been developed into a major category B regional airport at a cost of something like £62 million; and, of course, we were honoured by Her Majesty the Queen opening the airport two years ago. It is a very fine airport. Its passenger throughput was 1.75 million in 1984; and because there has been built into its expansion the need to consider the future it will be no problem in the 1990s for that airport to handle three million passengers.

The catchment area of Birmingham International Airport covers not only the population of the West Midlands, which is over five million, but also a much wider field. It is easy, for instance, to travel from as far south as Milton Keynes to Birmingham by direct rail link. Not only that, but the Birmingham International Airport is situated virtually in the centre of England. It is surrounded by an excellent network of motorways from all directions—north, south, east and west—and obviously will be better served when the M.40 is built. That will allow London area traffic to reach this airport in about 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Immediately adjacent to the airport is the big new international railway station where there are trains leaving for London Euston every half-an-hour for practically the whole of the day except after 9 o'clock at night. This journey takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. There is no need for anybody travelling up by train from Euston to Birmingham International Airport to go out of the station and be in the cold, or anything like that. The Maglev—an electric magnet which needs nobody to operate it—operates from inside the station to inside the airport in 90 seconds. so there is no problem about carrying your bags from one side of the station to the other, or on to the Underground, or anything like that; you go directly from the railway station into the airport in 90 seconds.

Birmingham International Airport is of course a diversion airport, and with those good links because of the motorway system and the good links because of the train service one would have thought there could be more diversions to it. I have listened this afternoon to many noble Lords who have spoken about lobbying. I would say to them that the National Exhibition Centre which is adjacent to Birmingham Airport was another case of lobbying against the West Midlands. I was a member of the Birmingham local authority when the idea of the National Exhibition Centre was first put forward. I became a Member of Parliament while it was still being discussed. The lobbying which came from the South-East, and which had to be counteracted, was nobody's business. It was said that Birmingham would never be able to run an exhibition centre, that they did not know how to do these things. What have we got? In the National Exhibition Centre we have a conference centre, an exhibition centre, a trade centre and an entertainment facility which are now most certainly the best in Europe, far surpassing anything at Earl's Court or at Olympia, which were the protagonists of the South-East; so do not let us write off people in the regions.

People are travelling from all over the world to exhibit at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. Why should those people have to take off at certain airports and be diverted to the South-East? We say that with that facility there is a greater need to use Birmingham International Airport. There is a major and interesting development taking place now because of the Government's decision to designate Birmingham International Airport as a freeport. That work has already started and the initial phase will be in operation by the end of this year.

I listened intently to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge, when he spoke about pressure groups. I have had two communications from pressure groups. I think one was from Essex; but I do not know who sent the other one. One had a red square on one side—almost like asking if you had anything to declare—and green on the other. I do not know where it came from. The largest amount of pressure I have received during the last three weeks has been from the Civil Aviation Authority. Of course the Civil Aviation Authority is, as my noble friend Lord Underhill said, a commercial undertaking. The British Airports Authority is a commercial undertaking. I am glad that one person on the Front Bench is agreeing with me, even if the Minister is looking a bit sceptical about it.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will forgive me for interrupting her most interesting speech, I would point out that she was confusing for a moment the Civil Aviation Authority and the British Airports Authority. I think she is referring to the British Airports Authority, which is indeed run on commercial lines.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, that is what I said. I have it written down on my sheet of paper, so it must be what I said. I hope Hansard have it right, anyway. As my noble friend Lord Underhill said, the British Airports Authority is a commercial undertaking. While it pays lip service to the need to expand the operations of the regional airports, we know very well that that is only because of its being a commercial undertaking. Obviously it wants to make Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted the most profitable ones.

The other point that I want to raise has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, and my noble friend Lord Underhill; that is, the argument that if you live in the South-East you should not travel to a regional airport, but if you live in Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester, Stoke or Wolverhampton you have to travel to Heathrow, Gatwick, or, in the future, Stansted. One wonders why this has to happen. The tour operators work in great collaboration with the authorities, and it means that tour operators will be encouraged to use Stansted if it is expanded. The tour operators quite obviously are those who are in the main running the charter aircraft which most people from the regions will want to use. If you are going to be compelled, because you live in the North, to travel to what is a regional airport at Stansted, why should it not work the other way round and why should not people travel up to Luton, Birmingham or Manchester? The West Midlands has a strong regional voice. Support for the expansion of the traffic through Birmingham International Airport has come from the local authorities in the West Midlands, the regional CBI, the regional Chamber of Commerce and the regional TUC, which act together as the West Midlands Regional Economic Consortium.

Long-term unemployment is a very serious problem in the West Midlands, where in October of last year almost half the unemployed had been out of work for more than a year and some 28 per cent. of them for more than two years. These are the worst figures in the country, and the prospect of finding work is slim with an unemployment vacancy ratio of 28 to 1. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his opening remarks, said, quite honestly, that there are opportunities for employment when you are considering the location of an airport. The situation means that if you live in the West Midlands and its chances of expansion are nil an unemployed person in the West Midlands has only half the chance of getting a new job as he would have if he lived in the South-East. The West Midlands has undergone massive changes in the past 10 years, with its industrial base being devastated in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The region has now been given assisted status, and for the first time has access to Government and EEC funds.

Birmingham Airport is located at the centre of England and it stands the West Midlands in good stead when attracting new investment. But it can only do that effectively if the drawing power of the South-East is not fuelled by giving it even greater influence and dominance. I have concentrated my remarks on Birmingham International Airport with which, as I have said, I am most familiar. However, I wish to emphasise that Birmingham is not seeking to become London's third airport. The case for Birmingham International Airport is part of the regional case. My concluding remarks are that the Government have to consider the economics; they have to consider the resources; and they have to consider the public expenditure which will be necessary if they go ahead with expanding Stansted. That will be a waste of money when the facilities are already available in the regions.

6.11 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsey and Abingdon

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for initiating this debate this afternoon, and I should also like to take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, on his maiden speech.

My interest in this debate is that the report of the Inspector—Mr. Graham Eyre, QC—is the third such report since I first came to your Lordships' House. The Stansted affair has always interested me because for 15 years up to 1979 I followed the proposed development on environmental and communication grounds. I followed it in that way because I used to live within 10 miles of the runway. I spoke in the debates on the two previous reports and I felt that I could not miss another opportunity to speak this afternoon. However, I trust that this will be my last contribution before Her Majesty's Government take their final decision on this very important national requirement because next time round it will be too late and London and the South-East will lose their position as the major crossroads of international air traffic this side of the Atlantic. We shall lose that position to our competitors on the continent, and air traffic will move away to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris and the result will be the danger that London's airports will go the same way as its docks unless Her Majesty's Government make the right decision now.

I have never been a supporter of Stansted being developed as a major international airport. As I have already said, this has been mainly on environmental and communication grounds. In fact, I am going to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, right down her road; but I shall possibly be not quite so harsh about Stansted.

I have read the extracts from the Inspector's Report with great interest, and I agree with a great deal of what he has proposed. However, I beg to differ about the priorities. As I see it, airports should be located where major international airlines, especially our own, want them, and it should not be for those responsible for airports—such as the BAA—to tell the airlines where they should be located. It is therefore important to get the sequence right.

Top of my list comes Heathrow with its fifth air terminal and with the removal of the Perry Oaks sludge works and the making available of further land to the west as soon as possible. Also, there should be the abandonment of the limitations on air transport movements. Next, I would move to Gatwick for a renegotiation on the present limitation of one runway and put in motion the construction of runway No. 2 as soon as possible. Thirdly, but reluctantly, I would go to Stansted in order to cope with the projected increase in aircraft movements between now and the turn of the century. I go along with the Inspector in part when he suggests an increase in capacity up to 15 million passengers per annum and limiting development to the existing one runway. However, I should like to see the increase in passenger capacity carried out in steps of 5 million each five years up to the year 2000. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, I am suspicous of forecasts and would like to see any major development at Stansted geared to more accurate assessments.

In conclusion, I should not like to see established carriers fragmented and forced to go to Stansted from their established positions at Heathrow and Gatwick. Rather, I would welcome Stansted to be developed for local needs and for new and smaller airlines. Transit passengers on major scheduled airline flights are not going to take kindly to being "bussed" from one airport to another along a fog-bound M.25. On a final note, I believe that there is a case for still further development at some of our provincial airports, especially Manchester and Birmingham (as the previous speaker pointed out) catering for local needs, but not in the context of London as a major crossroads of international air traffic.

6.16 p.m.

Lord Plowden

My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, on his maiden speech. I was the chairman of the committee of which he was a member and about which he spoke, and I can assure your Lordships that he was both provocative and constructive and I am quite sure that when he speaks in your Lordships' House he will be both provocative and constructive. I hope that he will speak often.

I must begin by declaring an interest, because for part of the week I live within a few miles of Stansted, but, fortunately, for me I live in such a position that any development at Stansted is unlikely to cause me much trouble. It is very difficult at this stage of the debate, and after two previous debates over the years, to say anything that has not already been said. We have been treated in the various reports, to a wealth of statistics showing that the growth of aircraft movements in the South-East will go on for ever and ever. I must share the doubts of some speakers about the validity of aeronautical forecasts. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, that extrapolation in anything, but particularly in aircraft movements, is extremely dangerous.

Nonetheless, the Inspector appeared to assume that demand should be met and that it could best be met by expansion at Heathrow, but that as the growth was so rapid it would have to be supplemented by expansion at Stansted. He went on to say that before any planning permission was given for Stansted, the Government should make an unequivocal declaration that there would be a second runway at Stansted. I do not need to remind your Lordships that no Government can bind their successors.

However, the basic assumption in all speeches this afternoon, except in that of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, has been that demand must be met. I question that assumption. The assumption is that if it is not met, the aircraft movements will depart to Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, and that London will lose its position as a major international airport. Surely that cannot be true, because in view of its geographical position people will still want to use it.

No doubt the money can be found to develop Stansted. But there is another cost, and that is the social cost—the destruction of a rural area; and, in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, who brushed aside the idea that land in that area was of no consequence, I point out that it is, in fact, the highest yielding wheat land in the world, with the exception of a small quantity in New Zealand. The Inspector himself says: In the ordinary course of events loss of such land for the purposes of development would not be countenanced". If development at Stansted goes ahead on the lines suggested, it would entail building hundreds of houses with their infrastructure of roads and for sewage, water and schools, because it is a rural area with very little unemployment. The numbers required would be very large, and various estimates have been given. However, one can only confine oneself to saying that numbers would be large.

For part of the week I live in Kensington, which has become an area of huge hotels. If you walk down Kensington High Street you probably hear as many people speaking foreign languages as you hear people speaking English. Do we really want to go on turning a large part of the centre of London into a tourist centre of the kind to be found in Florence and Venice at the height of the tourist season? After all, it is our city and we do live here.

But there is a much deeper aspect than that, and it is the question of the North-South division. The people of the North have pressed, quite understandably, for the development of the northern regional airports. The Inspector says that this will only marginally help the traffic problems of the South-East. Others argue differently. But the country is already deeply divided between North and South. In the North, unemployment is much higher, more deep-seated, and of much longer duration. We are told that what is to be spent on developing airports in the South is not available to be spent on developing the infrastructure of the North. We are all familiar with the condition of the Manchester sewers, which nonetheless must be repaired at some time.

If there is to be any hope of further industrial development in the North and in the West Midlands, something must be done about the infrastructure. What will the unemployed man or woman in the North or in the West Midlands think when he or she sees hundreds of millions of pounds being spent in the prosperous South-East and when there is no money available for carrying out the necessities in his or her area? It will be no consolation to them to be told that this development will increase the employment of waiters in Soho, of baggage handlers at Heathrow and Stansted or even of a few pilots in the airlines. This is something that they will not forget, and those of us who read the reports of another place realise that there are people there who understand this problem.

We have been told, and I expect we shall be told again, that the market decides, that the market dictates that we should do this or that. As a businessman, I believe in the market and its discipline. But I also believe in its regulation. The market used to decide that women and children should work in coalmines, that men should work a 60-hour week, that factories should be built wherever people wanted to build them and should pour out smoke into the surrounding district, irrespective of regulation. We do not allow such things today.

There are some businesses for which the social cost is too high. I submit that the uncontrolled growth of air traffic in the South-East, together with the accompanying increase of tourist development in the South-East, is one of these. Its social cost is too high. However, by that I do not mean that nothing should be done about the growth of air traffic in the South-East. We should get away from the assumption that the demand must be met irrespective of other matters. If further development is possible at Heathrow—and the Inspector has suggested a fifth terminal—so be it. If something further can be done at Gatwick, so be it. More can be done at Luton. Something should be done at Stansted, but I believe that it should be strictly limited to something of the order of three or four million passengers. However, if as a result traffic moves to the Provinces, which would be a good thing, and if it moves to the continent, do we really mind?

6.27 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I listened with a great deal of appreciation to the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Plowden. I followed substantially everything he said and the thrust of his speech, which was that, even after 20 years, this approach of unseemly haste comes through time and time again—if we do not do it now, it might be too late; if we do not do it this way, there may be financial or commercial considerations. The noble Lord's speech serves a very valuable purpose in outlining one of the dilemmas that face us—a dilemma which was so pertinently underlined by my noble friend Lord Underhill on the Labour Front Bench.

Time and time again in matters relating to airlines and airport policy we try to determine on a fragmented, ad hoc basis a little piece of a large jigsaw. We are attempting to solve the problem of the third London airport or the problem of undercapacity at Heathrow. Yet we know that if we look at these matters in a national context, as we should, we need to determine one aspect of national policy bearing in mind the consequences on another.

I do not have the experience and certainly I do not have the expertise in the airline or airport field which has been demonstrated by so many excellent speakers this afternoon. In looking through the literature that I have received on this matter, I see that reference is made to pressure groups. Pressure groups serve a most useful purpose. I accept without reservation their sincerity. They have a vested interest which may be commercial, professional, environmental or regional. I try to attach some importance to every representation that I receive.

I have received a representation from the BAA which includes some correspondence. Among that correspondence is a news release telling me that most of the residents around Stansted support the airport's expansion. The release listed the people who had helped to form that view. They came from Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and the London boroughs of Barking, Dagenham, Barnet, Enfield, where I live, Hackney, Haringey, Havering, Redbridge and Waltham Forest. Those were the people who had taken part in this survey. In the view of those who had conducted the survey, those who lived within 30 miles of Stansted had a right to be consulted, as they were consulted in the survey. I live in Enfield and apparently I am entitled to have a view because other Enfield residents have had their views sought and fed into this machinery.

As the Member for Stansted said in another place recently, the village of Stansted Mountfitchet has 6,000 to 7,000 inhabitants who live literally on top. I should have thought that their views should have more weight attached to them than those who live further afield. The flight path for Stansted will come over Enfield, and therefore I have an interest in that way.

I was interested in the documentation I received from BAA because it draws my attention to some parts of some recommendations—we are all selective when we want to make our case—but time and time again there is this attempt to convey urgency. The recommendations in respect of Stansted which have been drawn to my attention are: Only Stansted can provide additional capacity to meet demand in the early to mid-1990s, and that: Additional capacity at Heathrow cannot be available in time to meet demand in the early 1990s". We are being invited, in so many of the submissions, to hurry before it is too late. A decision must be made in 1985 or 1986; otherwise, we shall miss the boat or the plane.

We know the history of forecasting capacities that we need to be considering. When the Roskill Commission was forecasting capacity it talked in terms of 84 million in 1985. Successively over the last 15 years that has been whittled down until we know the reality in 1985, which is 45 million. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, was wise in cautioning the use of extrapolation from statistics. We are not yet capable of being quite precise in that art. I accept completely that there is determination by the Government to get this matter right.

The Minister who is to answer the debate tonight has no easy task. He and his colleagues are advised on all sides by sincere people with good cases. At the end of the day the Minister will have to take note of what has been said.

We are reminded that in another place there is substantial opposition, as demonstrated by the margin (in the way in which procedure allowed it) saying to the Minister that this report, couched in these terms, is not acceptable to the House of Commons. The vote was not taken in precise terms, but the Minister and his colleagues can read as well as I can that anything remotely like recommendations in terms such as those put forward in the other place are not likely to make progress. It is rather sad that the Government have been found wanting by way of being less than open with Parliament in this matter. There is an air of an attempt to smuggle something through. As the Minister was taken to task in another place, that will not be very easy.

I am a native of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Naturally, I have read carefully the case that has been made by the North of England Regional Consortium. I am to be followed by my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick, who speaks from a wealth of experience, particularly of Manchester, where he has lived and where he has served the community so well for so many years. My honourable friend Alf Morris made an impressive if not a devasting case as to why one should pay more attention to the needs of the North.

The noble Lord, Lord Plowden, quite rightly used the argument that, whatever other case is made on what one might call airport and aviation policy, the Government ought to stop and think what a solution along those lines might do to the spirit and the morale of millions of people. We are talking of 12 or 13 million people who may be advantaged in this part of the world: we are talking in terms of 27 million around the northern airports that could be developed. In the northern region we can see an unemployment record of 17.8 per cent. That is twice the level of that in the South. We are talking in terms of 27 people out of work looking for each notified vacancy in the North as opposed to 12 in the South-East.

These are matters which ought to be taken fully into account. They can be justified if we are looking for a national policy.

To develop Stansted in the way recommended poses a real threat. The environmental case can be made. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, is in his place as usual nodding his head. He has far more experience of the area than I have. Besides looking at other factors we need to consider the damage that can be done nationally to the well-being of the North.

Reference was made by a number of noble Lords to damage. Over £1,000 million is likely to be spent on urbanisation, rail links and airport facilities. The argument is that if that kind of money is to be pumped in somewhere, why not into the North? I noted, understood and approved the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, when she said that there seems to be a feeling in the Stansted lobby that they are determined to bring this about no matter what is recommended or what is the raison d'être for the matter. There is a great deal in that.

I am conscious of the time and of others who wish to speak. I have listened carefully to the views of the Essex County Council. That county, together with Hertfordshire, produced the document referred to by my noble friend Lady Fisher. In one of the red squares that she referred to—not in Moscow, but a red square in Essex and Hertfordshire—there is summarised the cost of developing Stansted: new road and rail links, extensive urbanisation, loss of top quality agricultural land, noise intrusion in a rural area and massive public expenditure. I believe those factors are worth weighing.

I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, refer to the North West Essex and East Herts Preservation Association. I looked with pleasure at the association's notepaper and saw that the chairman is Mr. John Lukies, J.P., and that his daughter, Mrs. Jane Clarke, is also involved. They have been constant successful lobbyists on behalf of their area, raising a quarter of a million pounds. We know that there must have been real spirit and emotion in the campaign that they waged.

I believe that there are solutions for the real problems which the Government have to solve that would not involve this country in all the detriments that have been listed. I think that the solutions might go along the lines of a fifth terminal at Heathrow; a commitment to the regions to do some of the things I have pointed out; and a boost to Luton, which is a South-East airport and which could do a job. There is also a role for Stansted and a job to be done in ensuring the best use of the existing facilities at Heathrow. I believe that the Government would be well advised to recognise, without any feeling of defeat and without any feeling that they have been rebuffed, that, although there is a lot of value in the report, there are other ways of carrying out their remit on behalf of the nation.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I think that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is one that ought to be listened to and one that, I hope, will be taken into account. I think it was a pity that he spoiled it with just one sentence. Why did he talk about the Government trying to smuggle something through, as though somebody had made a wrong decision and was deliberately wanting to pursue it to the end because they had some special interest in doing so. I see no evidence of the Government wanting to smuggle anything through. However, I hope that they will take into account the excellent points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and, indeed, by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, who comes from the same part of England as I do. The speeches are full of good evidence that ought to be put in the balance. The fact that we have had a debate in the other place and the fact that we have got a debate here now is a very clear indication, I should have thought, that the Government are doing their duty. They have a report in front of them which is expert. It has all the evidence properly presented and reported upon; and they are now wanting to throw it open to see what Parliament has to say on it.

I was very interested when the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that it goes back 40 years since first, as a Member of Parliament he had to pay attention to this sort of thing. I sat with him in another place for 25 years and we seemed to do nothing else but talk about reports having to do with extra airport facilities and all of that. The Eyre Report, which is now before us and is the basis of our present discussion, is the third one, and it is not all that different in terms of its expertise from the other two. But there have been quite a lot of contradictions in between. I was rather interested when one of the honourable and learned Members of another place was talking last week about the Eyre Report. He said that it was clever, it was polite, it was arrogant, it was logical and it was wrong.

My Lords, I think that one could have said that about pretty well all the reports in terms of making a case and putting forward things that, taken separately, would seem to be the right answer. If we had a virgin United Kingdom and were thinking of wanting to set up new airport facilities, this report, and two of the others, would have been all right. But we are not in that position. We are in the situation where, for good or ill, we have gone a certain way along the road. I was reminded of that old story about the chap in the motor car who stopped and asked a local how to get to somewhere. The local said: "I should go along and take the second turning to the left—no, no. If you go along and take the first to the right … Oh, well, as a matter of fact, I wouldn't start from here to get to that place." We are in that position. We are in a certain situation. We have got Heathrow, we have got Gatwick, we have got Stansted, we have got Birmingham, we have got Manchester, we have got Luton and we have got Newcastle.

Our duty, as I see it now, is to try to find the answer from the situation as we find it. So many of the reports—and I do not think the one which is the basis of this present debate is any different from the other two—do not seem to start from the situation which we are faced with now. When you get to a situation where the experts, with their expertise, cannot give an unarguable answer to a particular problem, then, I should have thought that it would not be a bad thing for normal, commonsense judgment to be taken into account when you come to the final decision.

And, my Lords, where better to try to find that sort of judgment—because this is no party matter, there are no party divisions, no ideologies which should divide us—than the two Houses of Parliament?

The reason I put my name on the list of speakers was not that I have anything new to say in terms of the actual detail of the argument. It was that I wanted to let my noble friend see the strength of feeling for wanting to make the fullest possible use of the regional airports that are already in existence. Although I shall say nothing new—and there is no doubt about that on this occasion—the more my noble friend and his colleagues in Government know of the strength of feeling on this, the better. I certainly wanted to add my voice to let that strength of feeling be known.

What is the commonsense judgment that I am talking about, that should be brought into play? I should have thought it common sense to see that London and the area which would be covered by Stansted are already overcrowded with this sort of service. When you go to use Heathrow, it is now an endurance test to do so. I can say that to my cost. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, said that prior to 1979 she had been going to the European Parliament. For the last five years, I have been a Member of the European Parliament. I found—and I did not enjoy it very much—that I was spending 20 to 25 hours a week sitting in an aeroplane or sitting in an airport lounge, wasting time. It was an absolutely frustrating situation.

The crowded situation at Heathrow and the general position there ought to show that if we can spread the services and facilities out to other parts of the country, it seems to be common sense to do it. I should have much preferred to fly from Birmingham or from Manchester. I happen to live between the two. But the circumstances of the choice of flights were such that one virtually had to come to London. I should have thought, in anticipating the increased traffic of the future (and we have to accept the evidence on that) that the best way to deal with that would be to extend Heathrow within the limits of its present plan. I should have thought that it seems good sense to give extra thought to extending Stansted to some extent. I should have thought that to encourage Gatwick to do what they have in mind was sensible.

Then, I should have thought that it was absolutely self-evident, bearing in mind the amount of traffic, both freight and passenger, that comes from the North, that we ought to extend both Birmingham Airport and Manchester Airport. They are there on the spot. We now find that a large percentage of people who want to fly to various parts of the world come from the North—that is a general term, but it means that it is easier to get to Manchester or Birmingham than it is to London—and they represent a good half of the traffic, both freight and personnel, that has to be serviced. So, instead of opening up more traffic to where you are already overcrowded, it seems to me common sense to make full use of the facilities that are already in existence, and any guidance one can give as to extending the existing airports which are spread round the country is more likely to meet the needs of the country.

It is not only a matter of meeting the needs within the country. The last five or six days have shown that, however important we may think we are in Parliament, we have not much control over the weather. I found, particularly in the five years when I was having to fly around the world as a consequence of the work of the European Parliament, that the number of occasions when the hazards of fog and ice and general weather conditions meant that one had to be diverted to other airports, were too frequent to be ignored. When we get to a situation where you are wanting to pile all of your airport facilities in the one area—which means that, if you have fog and weather problems there, you risk driving traffic out of the country in order to be able to get it down on the ground, and then having to travel back across the Channel in other ways—that is rather stupid. We ought to arrange matters so that the regional airports are integrated as part of a general airport facility, and in doing that we should be using what I should call sensible judgment on facing the needs of the future.

I do not really want to say any more than that. I just wanted to make an appeal to my noble friend to show how wrong the noble Lord, Lord Graham, was when he said that the Government wanted to smuggle it through. I hope that my noble friend, when he replies to this debate, will be able to say, with the full authority of his department behind him, that the Government have not committed themselves yet and that they will take properly into account the evidence of the report but that they do take into account in addition the commonsense judgments that will come from this debate and from the debate in another place. I should like him to say that that is going to be done.

As regards the siting of the new extension because of bringing employment and work to a part of the country which very badly needs it, I should like to say this. I do not think we ought to give our decision on the siting of this new airport extension, wherever it is, on the basis of its being an answer to another economic problem which has brought about unemployment. I do not think we ought to say that we shall do this just for the one reason that it will help our unemployment. But I do believe in the strong arguments based on sensible airport facilities, and, if the decision has been made on the basis of what is good from that point of view—a very important ingredient which could give the benefit of the doubt if the arguments for and against are evenly matched—then I would hope that the extra, compelling argument for taking this industry to a part of the country which really needs it would be fully and properly taken into account. But we should not foist upon the country an airport system which is not the best one in order to try to solve a completely separate problem which ought to be tackled in other ways.

Therefore my contribution is merely to add my voice to what I would call the regional lobby: not to be fascinated by the expertise set out in these reports—as I have said, arrogant, clever, attractive—but they can be wrong. I would rather see the commonsense judgment of people who have taken into account the expertise in the report but who can also apply their ordinary commonsense judgment. I hope that that will be taken into account. If that is done, I do believe that regional development will have a bigger shout than it could possibly have if the report is accepted in toto without any sort of amendment.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I, for one, among many others, am grateful to the Government for this debate taking place. I take part in the debate, as I think other noble Lords do, on the basis that the Government will take note of what is being said. Noble Lords and Members of another place (where this subject was debated extensively some weeks ago) may take the view that this debate is just about the alterna- tive airport policy of the Government—Stansted, or a variety of Stansted, with a regional input to various schemes. I do not intend to go into those tonight because they have been very well ventilated in another place and here, and a mass of detail is available regarding the various schemes.

However, that is not how this debate will look in the North of England. They do not think it is a debate which is just concerned with whether there is a bigger airport at Stansted or whether you develop Manchester, Birmingham or other places. They look upon it as once again—and increasingly so, in view of some of the policies that have been enacted over the past few years—as North versus South. But I can say that if the option goes for the total option at Stansted, people in the North will quite rightly think that they have been written off, and their economic recovery has no starting point for taking off.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, has left his place, because I rather thought he shot my fox, and I think that he shot it a little better than I am going to do. He put the case quite succinctly. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, mentioned my associations with Manchester, and as a Member of another place I had 10 years' association with that other great northern city, Leeds, where I now live, and with the county of West Yorkshire. There is a unanimity of points of view of people from those areas. They are getting the idea that somebody has a map somewhere in the Government with a line drawn across it just below Birmingham and that nothing north of that counts: it has to be the south all the time.

My interest in this debate is because I was born and bred in Manchester and I speak for the North in general. Your Lordships will know that the Northern Consortium was created in 1981 to oppose the development of Stansted into London's third airport and the consortium promoted another alternative—commonly described as the regional solution. The consortium represents an unprecedented coming together of major local authorities throughout the North of England and it commands political support from all parties. The consortium is also supported by organisations in Scotland, Wales and the Midlands, and by chambers of commerce up and down the country.

The backcloth to the creation of the consortium is the economic and social division of our country; and I have already referred to that. It is an issue which has rightly generated much concern among many noble Lords in the past. Here I should like to give just a few statistics to illustrate some of the differences. Since 1979 the North of England, with 30 per cent. of English employment, has suffered 49 per cent. of national job losses. In the manufacturing sector, the scale of job decline has been just as severe. Since 1979 England has lost 1.3 million jobs and of this total the North of England has lost 560,000 manufacturing jobs—nearly half of those, and nearly a quarter of those which had existed in 1979. Long-term unemployment, another aspect of regional economic disparity, causes considerable concern there also. There are regions in the North with 44 per cent. of their unemployed who have continuously claimed benefit for more than one year. Of equal significance is the fact that an unemployed person in the North of England has nearly two-and-a-half less chances of getting a job than an unemployed person in the South-East.

These scales of problems represent the major issue facing us as a nation at the present time. This, I must emphasise as a north countryman, is not a political point. The economic and social divisions of this country burn in the minds of people of all political parties, I believe; and the development of Stansted airport has rightly become a symbol of this division. People in the North find it repugnant that it is proposed, or could be proposed, that something like £1 billion of public resources should be channelled to the South-East again. There is also deep concern at the effect that a massively developed and subsidised Stansted airport will have on other regional airports.

Manchester Airport, for example, which is the airport I know most about, performs a vital role in the economic functioning of the North-West region. It employs over 5,500 people directly and a further 15,000 people owe their livelihoods to its existence. The future prospects of the region and the development of our industrial base increasingly depend on the continued growth of the airport; and that is as true for the airports in Leeds, Newcastle and Birmingham, as it is for Manchester.

There I have to take a different view from my noble friend and colleague Lord Beswick because I think he put the argument the wrong way round when he said that what the North wants is more industrial input from the Government, a pumping in of money, to create more industry and then the airport will follow. I do not think there is the slightest chance of an industrial resurgence in the North, unless the airport and the facilities are provided in advance. In an age when air transport is increasing progressively, not to have the airport to start with, or an increased capacity for the airport, would have a tremendously adverse effect on the possibilities of an industrial or commercial renaissance in the North.

The maximisation of the potential of the regional airports must represent the highest priority in any aviation policy. Unfortunately, this is a matter that was given scant attention in the report which we are discussing. The Inspector's "man of destiny" approach is more concerned with established guidelines than with establishing a new imaginative policy. If adopted, it would seriously distort the economic priorities of the nation: resources for new houses in Essex would obviously mean fewer resources for houses elsewhere. Other facilities could be put in the same category. It would also perpetuate the need for millions of regional travellers to be forced to use London for their air services. Noble Lords may ask themselves: for what purpose? The answer is provided by the Inspector himself. He says that between 1990 and 1995 a gap may emerge between demand and capacity in the London system; a gap which in his view must be filled by a massive and subsidised development at Stansted Airport.

This is simply not so. The regional airports are more than capable of meeting regionally generated demand to a far greater extent than they do today. This is not to say that the regional airports can solve the nation's airport capacity problems for all time. But if their potential was better exploited, any need for a further expansion of the London airports system before the mid-1990s—the maximum period within which sensible and reasonable planning decisions can be taken—would be avoided.

A positive policy for regional airport development does not mean a distortion of market forces. Forces are being distorted now and will continue to be distorted if Stansted goes ahead. As the Inspector points out in paragraphs 7.9/7.12 of Chapter 53 of his report: Differential airport charges, the lower costs of carrying leisure traffic … the benefits of the early establishment of 'grandfather' rights … the renegotiation of bilateral agreements … the forced transfer of services operated by UK or foreign airlines from one airport to another … would be necessary … to ensure the success of Stansted". If this is free market forces at work, I would not hesitate to guess what "intervention" means.

Also, a regional airport policy does not mean that traffic will be lost to the nation. The fact of the matter is that Schiphol and Frankfurt are profiting already from the over-centralised air transport system in this country. Why should they be allowed to profit even more? There would be no net loss to the nation if some of the millions of inward tourists—and 62 per cent. of all nights spent in the United Kingdom by overseas visitors are spent outside London—arrived in Scotland, Wales, Manchester or Birmingham, instead of the vast majority of them—97 per cent.—having to pass through London and further overload an already congested system.

What the regions of this country are asking for is a coherent national airports strategy: one that embraces the airlines, the airports and the consumer. Such a policy must promote the regional airports and not seek to constrain their development. The issues are, in my submission, clearly plain. A massive development of Stansted must be rejected. I can acknowledge a case for Stansted becoming a regional airport; but let market forces determine that role. Cross-subsidies should be eliminated so that the regional airports can compete on equal terms.

Foreign airlines should be positively encouraged to use regional airports like Manchester and Birmingham. It is a scandal that Manchester is not designated as an airport under the Bermuda 2 agreement. It is equally wrong that Singapore Airlines' application for a new service should have been refused. The nation's tourist policies must be reviewed so that they become an integral feature of the need to maximise the use of our regional airports and ensure that tourists can fly where they want to go.

These are the ingredients of the imaginative policy for which the other House called when they debated the Inspector's report on 30th January. We should look forward to such a strategy emerging when the Government produce the promised White Paper later this year, and in doing so give hope to the people of the North that their aspirations and needs are understood. It would be remiss of the Government not to take note of and not to be aware of the strength of feeling in the North of England on this issue.

7.6 p.m.

Lord O'Neill of the Maine

My Lords, as usual in a debate of this kind I find myself in complete, or very nearly complete, agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Burton. Nobody in your Lordships' House knows more about these matters than she does, and I am sure that the noble Lord the Minister will take note of what she said. To an ordinary person who is not an expert, it seems that the expansion of Heathrow and the second runway at Gatwick would be the main ways of dealing with the problems which lie ahead. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is not here, because I have frequently heard him in the past few years advocating a second runway at Gatwick.

I remember that on one occasion about 10 years ago when we were debating this matter, after I had come out in favour of the second runway, a noble Lord from the Sussex area—not, I assure your Lordships, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, but another noble Lord from the Sussex area—came up to me and said, "O'Neill, you may have been in danger when you were in Northern Ireland, but I want you to know that if you ever set foot in Sussex, we will know how to deal with you." I am afraid that that just shows what local feelings there are on this subject.

If Stansted is to become the next major airport, we will become a nation of one-runway airports, which seems to me quite crazy. May I here make an observation? Terminal 3 and its car park are not things to be proud of. A few weeks ago my wife came to meet me coming back from America. Luckily, I was able to get a trolley. Of course, in the old days one could not get a trolley, but owing to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, going on and on about it year after year it is now possible to get a trolley. I was pushing the trolley towards the multi-storey car park, where the first lift was out of order. The other one was up at the top and for some reason would not come down. Eventually, it did come down, and it was quite filthy. I asked myself: What on earth do tourists think when they see Terminal 3 and its associated car park?

Why can we not be in the forefront of innovation? Dulles Airport, outside Washington, has had mobile lounges for very nearly 20 years, and I was in one not long ago. Some of the airports in North America have automatic trains for people and luggage, but so far as I know, we do not yet have one of those. Also, of course, there are the individual air terminals at Kennedy—British Airways has one—where you can he processed without waiting in a vast queue, as when the jumbo jets all happen to land together at Heathrow. We have a lot to learn. That is perhaps an observation on the side, but I think it is pertinent.

Coming, as I do, from a region, I am of course in favour of the expansion of regional airports. Manchester International Airport—I have not been there often, but I have been there—could provide a wonderful service if money was spent on it. I am not saying that it does not provide a good service now, but it could provide a better service if money was spent on it. We must not forget the regions; we must not think the whole time of the South. In addition to the regions, one would naturally be in favour of a reasonable expansion at Stansted and Luton.

What about the future? If President Reagan continues with his present economic policies, it could be that in two or three years' time there will be a world slump, with all the consequences that that entails for air traffic. I hope that that has already been taken into consideration. Noble Lords have shown how wrong forecasts have been in the past. They might be equally wrong in the future—not, I hope, for the reason I have just mentioned; but they might be equally wrong in the future.

Finally, I found a very interesting statement with regard to Gatwick on page 110 of this very heavy tome through which all of us have been ploughing. It says: An emergency runway will be constructed with all expedition". That is very interesting. It may of course be to deal with matters such as the hole about which the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, was telling us earlier, but if it is necessary to build an emergency runway at Gatwick, are we then going to say that we cannot have a second runway at Gatwick? It seems to me to be totally uneconomic; and we come back, my Lords. to the little story which I told you at the beginning, of the infuriated Sussex Peer who told me what would happen to me if I came to Sussex.

So with reason I believe that we can face the future; but like the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, I hope that the Government will not accept this report, however able it is, without taking into consideration the strong feelings that exist about it.

7.12 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I intend this evening to be even briefer than usual. I want to make what amounts to just one major point and give my views on a fifth terminal at Heathrow. We have been talking about a new airport, or at least increased capacity, for about 20 years. Always there has been fierce opposition to and lobbies against any possible solution. The opposition arises because there is no ideal solution, and anything that we might do hurts someone or does not meet someone's aspirations. In such circumstances a decision means weighting the pros and cons impartially. This, I believe, is to a great extent what this House can do. Judging from the speeches this evening, I am not sure that we have not had too many partisans. Personally, I believe that in his report the Inspector did weight these pros and cons impartially. Another place did not do so. It really is absurd that we should waste quite substantial funds and time on an inquiry and then seem to go back to the first square.

When I was in the Army we were taught that in many situations there might be, say, five possible alternatives; after investigation two or three could be eliminated as unsatisfactory; of the remainder the important thing was to decide on one of them. With hindsight the decision might well be proved not to be the best possible one, but nevertheless it should be pursued, unless some unforeseen and new factor arose.

We have got ourselves into an intolerable situation with inquiries which are wasting time and money and being manipulated by lobbies and sometimes just extremists. The inquiry procedure is justified on democratic principles, but democracy as we know it does not mean giving everyone—and "everyone" are usually activists—a chance to delay or prevent decisions being made. If this Athenian viewpoint was adopted, the first and relatively minor step would of course be proportional representation. We really must do something about our inquiry procedure. It could just conceivably be that the Opposition will one day become the Government, or at least part of the Government. It follows that they ought to take a more long-term view and not just oppose everything for the sake of doing so. As the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said recently, we want a more united nation. I have not studied all the relevant papers in detail, but I wonder also how many other people have in fact done so.

I should like to make two further points. First, in my view a fifth terminal at Heathrow is not a logical option. It has the gravest objections. These are on environmental grounds, which include noise effect, road congestion and the difficulty of moving the sewage plant. But in my view the further stacking of aircraft over a wide area—Windsor is already suffering badly—and the further delays to aircraft when timetables do not go to plan is quite unacceptable.

Furthermore, let us remember that the Government, when approving the fourth terminal at Heathrow, gave a promise that the annual number of air transport movements would be limited to 275,000, and in December 1984 Mr. Nicholas Ridley, the Secretary of State for Transport, gave a promise that an increase in this limit would not be agreed. Without such an increase a fifth terminal is not viable. What has changed since then? What about further delays on yet another inquiry if a fifth terminal at Heathrow is proposed as a solution?

I consider that in any decision Stansted must play its part. Whether or not some further development in the North is reasonable is another question. I incline to think that the answer in our national interest, and of course the North shares in it, is that northern development must be only on a limited scale. For goodness sake, let us respect the findings of an impartial investigation in a report which is clearly unbiased by political or other considerations, The Inspector has heard all the evidence and is surely impartial. This is more than can be said for most people who put forward their views.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, in this debate we are faced with the difficult task of making short speeches on what is a very long report. I must say that I am somewhat daunted, not to say surprised, by the length and weight of the report. After all, if the Commandments could be reduced to 10 verses in the twentieth chapter of Exodus and St. Matthew could record the Sermon on the Mount in 10 verses in the fifth chapter of his Gospel, I would be tempted to hope that my greatly respected friend and erstwhile formidable forensic opponent, Graham Eyre, could perhaps have managed to compress his report into something less than 62 chapters with a great array of supporting appendices, figures and diagrams. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to his monumental work. I congratulate him on the clarity, cogency and comprehensiveness of his report, and I salute the diligence, devotion and dedication which has gone into its compilation. That does not mean that I agree with it, but it does mean that I respect it.

Mr. Eyre states in his report that he is conscious of the opprobrium that his judgment will attract. It will certainly attract no opprobrium from me: only that my admiration for his work stops short of acceptance of his conclusions. I am particularly diffident in venturing to differ from my eminent and learned friend because I am conscious that he is much more objective in this matter than I can claim to be. I do not claim to be objective. Although the site of the airport is not actually in my former constituency, many of the adjacent towns and villages are. I represented them in another place, over the years. I have known them long and loved them well. I know the feelings and apprehensions of those who live there, and I have had many reminders in the past few weeks from individuals and from organisations representative of them, like the Hertfordshire County Council and the Hertfordshire Society. To many of these people and those they represent, an expansion of Stansted on the scale proposed would involve a capital sentence on their way of life. I therefore declare this interest; I no longer speak for them as constituents, but I hope that my arguments will not be the less acceptable because I no longer depend upon them for their votes.

I do not say that this matter can be dealt with solely by reference to environmental injury or local sentiment. If there were to be established an overwhelming case in the national interest for the scale of expansion proposed at Stansted, then, regretfully, that injury would have to be accepted in the national interest: but it does mean that there is a heavy onus on those who assert the necessity of expansion at Stansted on the scale proposed. And what a scale it is: from two million passengers per annum to 15 million—an increase, if my arithmetic is, unusually, correct, of 750 per cent.! Therefore, I submit that despite the vast volume of paper this heavy onus is not discharged.

There are three separate but related issues here. First, does the expectation of increased traffic require with reasonable certainty the scale of expansion suggested? Secondly, if so, should it be accommodated in the South-East or in the regions? Thirdly, if in the South-East, should it be accommodated by major expansion at Stansted or by a fifth terminal at Heathrow?

On the first of these issues, Mr. Eyre's estimate for the London area airports is 61 million passengers per annum by 1990, growing to 89 million by the year 2000. As my former constituency neighbour, Alan Haselhurst, pointed out in an admirable speech in the House of Commons, the past efforts at forecasting should make us extermely wary of such figures. He quoted official and quasi-official forecasts for the London area airports for the year 1985 varying from 55 million passengers per annum to no fewer than 84 million. We have now reached 1985 and there are only 47 million passengers per annum. It is a clear case (is it not?) of: why peer into the crystal when you can read the book?

Two of the forecasts derived from the Gatwick and Roskill inquiries, in both of which I was professionally concerned. Therefore, I know the difficulties of forecasting in these matters: the calculations and corrections, the assessments and challenges, the elements of assumption and hypothesis. Surely it is right to say that we must treat such forecasts with reserve. They form but a slender foundation on which to build an argument for so massive an expansion with such catastrophic environmental consequences as would be entailed.

Therefore, I come to the second question, which, of course, arises only if the answer to the first question, contrary to my submission, is in the affirmative. Should the expansion then be in the South-East or in the regions? It is a commonplace of planning inquiries—as none will know better than my noble and learned friend Lord Bridge, who made such an admirable speech albeit with the wrong conclusion—that people stress the desirability of siting public developments anywhere other than near their own homes; but it is not always the case. It is not the case here. Here we have the paradox of an airport being thrust on those who do not want it and denied to those who do. I suggest that that is a sad irony.

Members of the other place for constituencies in and around Manchester have made clear their views. They have expressed an emphatic desire for an expanded airport. According to the Member for Wythenshawe, a highly respected Member in another place, the Stansted project excites not only total opposition but downright anger among his constituents. One can understand why, with 17 per cent. unemployed in the North-West contrasted with the need to import labour for the construction of an expanded Stansted Airport and the consequence of large and unwanted urbanisation. Therefore, on that aspect I submit that if, doubtfully, the forecast is sufficiently reliable to require this scale of expansion at all, better to site it in the North-West than at Stansted.

Again, the third question arises only if the answers to the first two are in the affirmative. If it does arise it is a hard choice. A fifth terminal at Heathrow would be objectionable to adjoining residents, whose views are entitled to receive respect. The injury to amentities, agriculture and the environment in general would be less—as confirmed, for example, by the Countryside Commission, recorded in Chapter 51 of the Eyre Report. There is also the consideration, not conclusive but surely material, that a major airport already exists at Heathrow and it is, therefore, a natural site for expansion. If, therefore, expansion on the scale suggested is thought to be required in the South-East at all, then it should be at Heathrow, and the opportunity should be seized, in Mr. Eyre's words, to cure important ills, shortcomings and defects at Heathrow". I make it clear that I do not suggest that there should be no expansion at all at Stansted, only no major expansion. An expansion of 4 million to 5 million passengers per annum would be a useful and feasible contribution to meeting the needs of the South-East, and would, I believe, be acceptable to local opinion.

Finally, I say a brief word on the proposed condition and safeguard in Mr. Eyre's report. His report states that his recommendation of the grant of outline planning permission for the expansion of Stansted is, wholly contingent upon Government making an unequivocal declaration that a second main runway will not be constructed at Stansted airport in the future". This condition necessarily relegates the Stansted project to the Greek Kalends. Such a declaration, if given, and albeit given in good faith, would have no efficacy and would be unenforceable. As every schoolboy is supposed to know, and as your Lordships certainly know, Parliament cannot bind its successors; still less can a Government. To seek to do so would be to fly in the face of our basic constitutional principle—the sovereignty of Parliament—to which there are at any rate at present no exceptions or limitations, except of course those that we find in the Treaty of Rome.

We have no entrenched provisions in our constitution, and therefore there is no possibility of effective safeguards on the lines suggested. Therefore, we must conclude that the basic condition precedent which the report stipulates to major expansion at Stansted is not satisfied and cannot be satisfied, and so the case founders in limine. Even on the basis of the report it would not be possible to meet that condition, and it would therefore not be possible to embark on this expansion at Stansted—a result to be welcomed because of the weight and balance of the material considerations which point away from Stansted and negative that choice. I certainly welcome this; and though to some extent, as I indicated at the beginning, my approach is conditioned by my heart, I believe that here the dictates of reason support and reinforce the promptings of the heart.

7.33 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in welcoming this opportunity to debate the Eyre Report and its recommendations that work should quickly commence on the expansion of Stansted and, in the medium term, on the development of Terminal 5 at Heathrow. We are asked to discuss these recommendations against the background of a quite outstandingly wide-ranging and lucid report and also of the Government's policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, reminded us in his opening remarks, of meeting demand as and when it arises. In the context of his opening remarks, we should not overlook the encouragement which the present Government have already given to the provincial airports.

We should also consider the strength which the British aviation industry presently enjoys. It is highly profitable and a substantial creator of jobs. It makes a major direct contribution to our export earnings, as well as enabling our visible and invisible export earners to make their own contribution to our national profit and loss account. I doubt whether our insurance or banking industries could be as successful as they are were it not for London's pre-eminence as an international aviation centre. Banking and financial services—the industries of the future, rather than perhaps the industries of our industrial past—earn us over £3 billion per annum, while foreign tourists arriving at the British Airports Authority's three South-Eastern airports alone are estimated to contribute a similar sum to our economy.

I urge the Government to encourage this national earnings potential by taking steps to develop South-Eastern airport capacity, not by adding to the over-provision of that capacity in the provinces. Heathrow with Terminal 4, I believe, will reach saturation in 1990 and Gatwick in 1995. We should therefore take steps, and take them quickly, to anticipate the demand that is foreseen even on the basis of conservative estimates.

In opting for an expanded Stansted and for Terminal 5, I am aware of the arguments advanced by the provincial airports in general and by the North of England consortium in particular. But I am not convinced by these arguments. The provincial airports have the capacity, but they lack the international scheduled services. There are licences for these services—perhaps 100, if one accepts a low estimate, and up to 1,500, if one takes another and very much higher estimate. If the truth lies somewhere in between, and there are perhaps 400 licences, of which only 100 are actively being flown, I must conclude that either the airlines cannot be persuaded that the demand exists for the services governed by the licences, or, more probably, that they realise that they cannot fly the routes concerned at fares which the customer will be prepared to pay.

Scheduled services from provincial airports will develop, as charter services already are. But in the meantime I stick to the economic fare argument and its implication that short-term traffic growth from the provincial airports will be by means of interlining over London and not by direct service.

It is alleged that yet further increase in regional capacity creates jobs. That argument, too, I find unconvincing. In some respects I find that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, pre-empted it in his opening remarks. If I understood him correctly, some £200 million of expenditure has already been authorised on provincial airports, including among others, Manchester, Birmingham, Teesside, Liverpool and Newcastle, and some of that money was authorised some time ago; yet where are the jobs that we are promised? I can conclude only that they are on the airports themselves.

No, my Lords, the Inspector's report makes the case for developments which will meet the capacity problems that we shall face 10 years hence. It also summarises the problems which South-Eastern expansion brings in its train, and in particular the problem of access to the South-Eastern airports. Those of your Lordships who take an interest in railway topics when they are discussed in your Lordships' House will wonder how British Rail will finance the railway extensions which are an essential corollary of expanding Stansted and, indeed, Heathrow. I should like to ask the noble Lord the Minister whether there is any possibility of EC funding either for these rail developments or for the airport expansions themselves, if such expansion were proceeded with.

There have been many references to the noise factor and some to the size of aircraft. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he sees changing patterns of aircraft size as having any bearing on the equations which we are discussing this evening. May I also ask him not to comment on the eventual decision which Her Majesty's Government will have to take, but to tell us what the Government's timetable for taking these decisions will be?

Lastly, I would suggest that to follow the regional option is like trying to tell a customer ordering steak that instead you will give him the best possible salmon. We must prepare for the meat eaters, and we must quickly decide what and where we are going to offer them. I favour the meat of the Inspector's report before us tonight. I urge the Government to decide quickly on its merits, in fact in its favour. Neither the airlines nor we, their customers, can tolerate another period of indecision. Nor can we as taxpayers afford the financial cost of a further delay in meeting this country's future airport requirements.

7.41 p.m.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, the reports which are before us today do not stand by themselves. They are linked in a chain. That is a chain of White Papers, committee reports, and parliamentary debates. They were all outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his opening speech earlier on today. Perhaps these reports represent the closing links of this chain which will lead to a decision. It is a decision which I hope the Government will take very soon.

I was surprised when my noble friend Lord Graham spoke of unseemly haste. Surely, in the chain of the debate, with the committee, and consideration of the report—and this goes back at least to 1978; and that is leaving out the earlier adventures—progress has been stately rather than unseemlily hasty. The time has come for a decision. There is no sense in putting it off any longer. I think that the decision should be to accept much of the report but not quite all of it.

At this point I want to say just a little about what my various noble friends from the regions have been saying. I think that they have the stick very, very firmly grasped by the wrong end. What they have overlooked is this. The decision is not really about regional policy—although I daresay that touches it—the decision is really about how the British Airports Authority is to spend its money on a project which it wants to put forward to meet a certain demand which it sees from passengers and from the airlines which provide them.

With the best will in the world, the British Airports Authority cannot spend its money at Manchester Airport, the West Midlands, Newcastle or anywhere else. It can spend its money at the three airports in London which it runs or at the four in Scotland which it runs (which are entirely outside this debate). If people in Manchester believe that development of their airport will help their authority, there is nothing to prevent them spending their money on the airport. The British Airports Authority cannot help them at all.

I think that the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, grasped hold of the real dilemma which faces my friends and my noble friends in the regions. This is that although there is capacity there and although there are routes already licensed, these routes are not being used. That means in effect that the demand about which my noble friends talk does not exist. When my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick talks about building the airport first in order to create the demand, I must point out that Manchester Airport is already there.

Let me remind your Lordships of what the report says. It says that experience has demonstrated that massive investment in regional airports does not in itself generate traffic for which there is otherwise insufficient demand. If anyone doubts that truism (as it is) let them look at Prestwick. Prestwick must be one of the best airports in Europe. It has every facility that an international airport needs. It is fog-free. It was for a while an international gateway. That was in the days of the propeller-driven aircraft. It is no longer a gateway; it is bypassed now. It was a great international airport. What it lacks is passengers. The lesson of Prestwick is clear. It underlines the remark of the Inspector that massive investment does not produce the traffic: the traffic is created by the demand. If the demand is in Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere, it is up to the authorities there to provide the capacity to deal with it.

In making these remarks I do not wish to deny the economic problems of the regions. I am perfectly sure that my noble friends would not expect me to do that. Much of what they said in their speeches was correct. In general economic terms I should support them entirely but much of what they said was irrelevant to this particular debate and to this specific question. Therefore up to a point I agree with the report that the regional argument has been shredded beyond repair by Chapter 10 and it should not be raised again.

However, I must dissent from the proposal that Terminal 5 should be developed at Heathrow instead of there being a full expansion at Stansted. First of all, the Government are pledged against the building of a fifth terminal at Heathrow. They are pledged not once but many, many times. We know that governments are sometimes obliged to change their tune and to go back on pledges which they have already made. They must not always be blamed for that. However, the Government must remember that they are pledged in this case. What is more, it was because of the pledge not to go ahead with Terminal 5 that Terminal 4 went ahead.

Secondly, I think more important than the pledge is this point. A new terminal at Heathrow is rather more than a big, elaborate shed, such as Terminal 4 appears to be. A new terminal is a small, new town with a population of its own: a population of employees and a transient population of passengers. As such, it generates its own traffic to deal with the transport of the employees and of the passengers to and from central London or wherever they happen to want to go. It generates its own traffic to bring materials into the shops, for catering, for essential supplies, and so on. It is a small town, and another small town is the last thing which West London needs. Virtually all the witnesses agreed that the general road system around West London in the vicinity of Heathrow is not good enough to cope with Terminal 4, let alone with Terminal 5.

At that point, the Inspector, for all his undoubted cleverness, seemed to me to do something very curious. He said that he proposed Terminal 5—I am not quoting him here—because it made the intolerable situation which Terminal 4 will create only marginally worse. He based that on some figures which were before him. I find this a totally amazing argument. It is as though, when St. Sebastian was standing with 10 or 11 arrows in him, they just fired in another two for luck. The margin about which we are talking here was estimated by British Airways to be something like 18 per cent. The figures are contested in various parts of the report; but the margin is not an insignificant one. The fact that everyone agrees about, that the situation in the road system around Heathrow is already intolerable, will be made worse by Terminal 4 and it should not therefore be made even worse by Terminal 5.

I think that the Inspector was probably misled by the availability of the Perry Oaks site, which is an attractive site on which to build and expand. The truth of the matter is that Terminal 4 should have been built there instead of in its present remote and inaccessible position; but of course that cannot be done. If the Perry Oaks site is to be used for building on at Heathrow, it should be used either to re-site one of the three terminals on the already heavily overcrowded central island or alternatively to remove some of the office or car park accommodation from the central island in order to relieve some of the congestion there; that is if the Perry Oaks site is ever to be used at all.

Let me sound one further note of dissent from the report. It was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, when he referred to the report's stating that, in relation to Stansted, the Government should make an unequivocal declaration of intention that a second runway will not be built and that no planning permission should be granted in the absence of, or prior to, the making of such a declaration. I believe that the Government should ignore that proposition totally, not for the constitutional reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, put forward, although these are strong, but because I believe that enough damage has been done already by BAA's undertaking not to proceed with a second runway at Gatwick. The Government, who I believe are not committed to that proposal, should look at it again.

The only effect of the declaration not to have a second runway at Stansted would be to make Terminal 5 inevitable. That should be avoided, not quite at all costs but if at all possible. As the Inspector says: Heathrow is a second-rate airport in a number of important respects and, in consequence, is an unworthy gateway for the millions of visitors to London and the United Kingdom and an inadequate facility for the seasoned air traveller". There is no need to make it worse. The Government should go ahead with the expansion of Stansted, certainly to 15 million. They should not be afraid to sanction an expansion to 25 million. I would remind my noble friend Lord Underhill and the Front Bench that there is a great deal of strong and firmly expressed trade union support in the South of England for that very proposal.

Secondly, the Government should keep open their options on any expansion beyond that. They should forget about Terminal 5. They should think hard about the second runway at Gatwick regardless of the BAA undertaking. Lastly, they should continue to encourage expansion in the regions, They should join me in reminding noble friends on this side of the House or, as the case may be, noble Lords opposite that no one at all in any part of the House objects to expansion in the regions. But let them expand with their own money and not imagine that they can possibly do it with the British Airports Authority's money.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have been presented with an admirable collection of confectionery, some items of which taste more palatable than others. Without being cynical, it seems to a layman like myself, who occasionally uses one airport or the other, that they are in a no-win situation. The other place debated this matter fully, and we have had a very full debate today. There does not remain very much to be said. There are, of course, debits and credits in respect of all the locations for the third London airport which have been mentioned. The Government have the unenviable task of trying to unravel a very awkward ball of wool and selecting one solution that is in all respects the most suitable. We are faced with a process of elimination.

The first elimination that I would make is Heathrow. Of course, Heathrow is the major airport of the world; there is no doubt about that. However, when we talk about the fifth terminal at Heathrow it has to be remembered that the fourth terminal has not yet been completed. I recall, a year or so ago, visiting the fourth terminal. I pay a warm tribute to those constructing what is a major terminal. I have done so in a previous debate. It seems that a fifth terminal, whatever merits it may possess, is, at the moment, very premature. There are already heinous traffic problems in getting to and from Heathrow, particularly in bad weather.

There are some distinct advantages about Stansted. It has an existing runway. Despite the fact that construction of a rail link and a road link on the M.11 would be extremely expensive, there is the important point that once the rail link is completed into Liverpool Street it will provide ready access to the City of London, the hub of commerce. In the expectation that business people will be using Stansted, if it is the airport that is chosen, this seems a major point in its favour.

On the other hand, this Government, or any Government, have one major difficulty to face: the report by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roskill, in the 1960s, which went carefully into Stansted and decided against. So any Government adopting Stansted could be placed in the difficult situation of going back on a recommendation that has already been turned down. The other problem about Stansted, located on flat land in Essex, is the weather. Although there is now much improved technology, fog and frost in that area could present a major problem.

I live not far from Gatwick Airport. Of course, Gatwick has one very major advantage—its excellent non-stop rail service into Victoria—whereas the Piccadilly line serving Heathrow, although a great improvement, can present problems for those with heavy luggage or, in fact, with any luggage, especially old people and disabled people. There is also the interminable walking that is involved. Really and truly, it must be faced that those travelling to Scotland would do it very much more quickly and more comfortably by rail. It is difficult to see what improvements can be made.

We come back to the original question. I pay a very real tribute to Mr. Graham Eyre, QC, for his admirable report. He has obviously gone into the matter very carefully. I believe that the decision, in the long run, is between Gatwick and Stansted. There are obviously serious environmental problems at Gatwick, particularly as it is located near the newly-built and thriving new town of Crawley. The Government are in a very difficult and unenviable situation. But they cannot delay a decision much longer. We have had inquiries in your Lordships' House, to my knowledge, for 20 years. We cannot have the same inquiries over the next 20 years. With a gun in my back and told to make a decision now, I think, with all its reservations, I would plump for Stansted.

8 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton

My Lords, I am concerned about reaction so far. Had I not been, I might very well have "scratched"; however, I am concerned, so I I am speaking. I am concerned that another expert has so rapidly come in for a great deal of criticism. It seems that indeed we are faced with a hard and difficult issue.

I should like to start with one smaller matter which I think might reduce resistance by the public and might do something towards defusing the situation. I should like to commend to my noble friend the Minister three points on pages 169 and 170 of the Extracts from the Report. I shall quote the first one; it is in paragraph 2.11, which says: As a matter of great urgency, Government should make legislative provision for the introduction of purchase notice machinery for the benefit of those few cases in which wholly intolerable and unjustifiable air noise is imposed on residents who had no reason to suppose that such conditions would be inflicted upon them when they first occupied a property". I am aware that at Gatwick there are still some hard cases of that kind, and there may well be some elsewhere. Paragraph 2.12 mentions extension of vortex damage insurance schemes, and paragraph 2.16, on page 170, mentions noise insulation grants and says that we should do more about that matter. I believe that we have really been extremely mean about it. I could say a lot also about compensation and all those things which I think make the passions even worse. I am not sure that the British sense of justice and fair play over these matters has been too evident.

Unless the passenger traffic growth figures are wrong, I think that the report deserves more respect than it seems to be getting. I tend to support it. I think I must, because the report might be right. Our economic climate, if I may touch on it for a moment, is very definitely post-Maplin as regards both time and money, and I think that this country must retain the air traffic business that it has and try to attract more. I am quite sure that is vital, in view of our economic problems, with exports still disappointing, despite a lower pound, with unemployment, and with difficulties over creating new business. It is not the climate in which we should miss out on a thing such as this. If we do nothing about it, we are going to lose this traffic, probably to the Continent. As has been mentioned, there is a very big risk indeed, though I should hasten to say that every plane-load that can be persuaded commercially to go to the North will be given a universal welcome by the South-East.

Hertfordshire and Essex have just lately fought their corner very well. I am a little anxious about fighting corners, because if the report is right and one fights against the report, one could well be fighting against the nation; and it is important not to do that. But if we accept that there is to be no Stansted and the report is right about the traffic, what happens next? Expert advice remains that, apart from opposition which might delay matters still futher, Heathrow expansion cannot but come too late. From what the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, among others, said, pressure will again grow inevitably upon Gatwick. I do not, as a Sussex resident, want to fight my corner against the nation unduly, but I feel that nationally we are entitled to mitigate environmental cost and to try to do the least overall environmental damage.

There are certain very big differences between a two-runway Gatwick and expanding Stansted with one, as proposed. You would be committing Gatwick to becoming virtually as big as Heathrow; in other words, that would be twice what would happen at Stansted, and possibly three times. Is Gatwick really in the right place, down there to the south of London? My recollection is that after the war—around 1946—it was decided, after Croydon, not to go down to Gatwick, but to go to Heathrow as being more suitable. Gatwick is on the London Brighton corridor, where there is what I think is about the lowest level of unemployment in the South-East. It is an area which, as things improve—or even if things do not improve—could easily become overheated. If that happened, other important industries which have been established there would suffer very considerably.

Conservation-wise, I think that there is a very considerable amount to watch out for in the Gatwick area, as doubtless there is at Stansted. I should not like to belittle another area, but I think that conservation-wise there is much similarity. One has to remember that a two-runway Gatwick might cause three times the amount of damage that would be the case in the Stansted area. The Gatwick area is also more closely populated.

For these well-established reasons the British Airports Authority undertook in 1980 not to build a second runway for 40 years, as the House knows. I am quite sure that there is no way the Government can dodge a firm decision about Stansted without abrogating the Gatwick agreement if the United Kingdom is to retain this air traffic. It would inevitably involve further public inquiry to abrogate that agreement. It would inevitably involve resistance and would not alter the overwhelming facts which have already been established; so I find it difficult to conclude other than that the Government should take a firm line over Stansted. I feel that Sussex and Surrey have accepted their share of the burden, and it should be recognised that they have behaved most reasonably. It would be wrong to trespass further, both from a national point of view and in fairness to the area.

It has been said that one-runway airports are no good. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, mentioned a pothole. As far as I know, there is as yet no emergency runway; it is being built. I trust the House will understand the concept of this emergency runway. It is similar to an additional width of concrete. There is an alternative area of concrete upon which planes can land, but it is not an area that can be used at the same time as the existing runway. I notice that the report was not critical of the possibility of working single runway airports and I trust, therefore, that the idea that they must be abandoned will not grow.

8.11 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I do not think that there is any argument about the enormous value to our currency of our airport system. Therefore, it is of vital importance to maintain the commercial advantage which we possess, and that advantage could be lost if the airports become unable to cope with the traffic increase. There are foreign airports—for example, Schiphol—which are only too willing and anxious to take over our traffic. It is prophesied that our traffic will double by the year 2,000, and some estimates show that it will treble. There is already overcrowding at some of our terminals, and the airports should long ago have expanded along the lines of the plans that we are looking at now. However, we look back on wrangling since 1953, since when it has always been difficult to decide which airport should be developed next. Now there is an urgent demand for expansion within five years and it has been shown by the Inspector that that demand can be met in that timescale only by developing Stansted.

We all know that whenever anything is proposed—whether it be a motorway or, if we are talking about Scotland, a ski lift—there are always objections. Every proposal would be subject to a public inquiry if the public could have one. Whether the proposal now is for development at Gatwick, Heathrow, Maplin, Stansted or whatever, or for a fifth terminal at Heathrow, those who wish to oppose it will do so with equal vehemence, If it is to be Heathrow, then wherever the sewerage farm is to go will be equally opposed. So there will never be any form of agreement. We have seen how Members in another place have spoken up loudly for the minorities that they represent near Stansted. Yet there has been a poll by MORI which has shown that in and around the Hertfordshire area people are no less than three to one in favour of development at Stansted. Of those living near the airport, no fewer than a third would like to see a second runway at Stansted.

The Inspector said that the growth of passenger demand will continue into the foreseeable future. So even if Stansted were to be increased with new terminals, there would still be a shortfall within 20 or 30 years. Indeed, if the fifth terminal at Heathrow were to be built, there would be a shortfall before it was even finished. By the middle of next century I can see that there will be full need for the second runway at Gatwick; a fifth terminal at Heathrow; the various terminals and another runway at Stansted; and probably other needs as well. Therefore, not only should Stansted be chosen, but there should be no obstacle put in the way of it eventually being able to deal with up to 25 million people per annum—certainly up to 15 million. A second runway will be needed later, if not sooner. It would be very silly now for the Government to develop Stansted and not reserve a site for the second runway. It would be very silly to make a promise and to make themselves hostage to fortune, as they have been with the Gatwick guarantee of one runway only.

As regards infrastructure, Stansted already has its own road—the A.11—which is under-used, whereas Heathrow already has the M.4, which is swamped. The tube is already over-full. In my view Heathrow will have difficulty servicing the fourth terminal, without even talking about the fifth. However, Stansted will need a new railway. I ask my noble friend to inquire whether it would be possible for this to be a mono-rail, so that new technology can be developed and perhaps exported. Such a system would be very much quicker and could be of more long-term benefit.

Those who live in the North and who come to airfields in the South inevitably have to go through London. When the railway is being built from Stansted to London I ask that the service should continue perhaps up to Peterborough, so that those coming from the North could go there direct. Another small point is that perhaps the baggage access could be better than the awful procedure at Gatwick and Heathrow, where one has to struggle up from the platform to the next level in order to get a trolley.

As regards the fifth terminal, it has been made clear by the Inspector that if it were to be built, it would be too late. It would take 12 years to re-locate the Perry Oaks sewerage works, apart from the time taken by the pubic inquiries. Anyhow, it would not be viable if the limit of 275,000 movements per annum were to be adhered to.

As regards noise, we shall have quieter planes, but I point out that there are living around Heathrow 80,000 people who will be affected and who are already over-stressed by noise, whereas the number of people at Stansted will be only some 11,000. Almost everybody shares the inconvenience of noise, whether they live near an ordinary airport, a military airport, or a civilian airport and, of course, it is bad luck. But we must remember that those who live near Stansted and who do not wish to be subject to extra noise will quite happily go down to Heathrow and fly from there, quite oblivious of the noise that their flight causes to the people living in that area. Regrettably, we live in a modern world and we all have to take our share of noise. We cannot opt out of a little bit of noise of inconvenience.

A great deal is said about regional airports. I live near such an airport and I use it a great deal. Indeed, I wish that it could be an international airport. But we cannot make airlines fly there and we cannot make passengers travel from regional airports. It is a fact of life that 80 per cent. of the people who arrive at the South-Eastern airports have destinations either interlining onwards or in the South-East. Furthermore, regional airports actually depend on the airports in the South-East for their viability and for interlining.

A great deal has been said about increasing the facilities of regional airports. I think that the Minister said that £200 million had been poured into them since 1981, and that is a very good thing. But there is a limit to how much you can encourage people to travel from them. I wonder whether the Government can continue to try to create the conditions to encourage cheaper fares from regional airports. I have the honour to represent the House skiing every year and we go off to Zurich. But it is a terrible situation when it is actually cheaper for me to go from Teesside to London and from London to Zurich, than it is for me to go from Manchester to Zurich because there are not the cheap fares. If there were to be cheap fares from Manchester and from other places in the North, I am sure that many people would go from those areas.

Having said that, I must point out that cheap fares have been tried from the regional airports, and they failed because, while there has been the will by the operators to operate cheap fares and to run services and so on, the demand for them has not been enough. Therefore, they have had to be taken off. It is difficult to see how the Government can help in this. Perhaps these cheap fares and more flights will develop naturally. Perhaps there is a case for privatisation of some of the airports if it leads to greater efficiency and lower costs and encourages air charter firms to operate. The Inspector said that regional firms should not and cannot make so large a contribution as to reduce the need for airports in the South-East. Both the Minister and the Inspector have said that decisive action must be taken. It must be speedy; the decision must be unequivocal and must be implemented with resolution. The decision cannot be delayed any longer.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, we have had a wide-ranging and long debate and it has been interesting that, as is right and proper, no clear party lines have emerged in it. As has happened on other Benches, it will perhaps be detected that there are slight differences of emphasis in what I have to say and what my noble friends behind me said earlier in the debate. On a subject such as this, I believe that that is very right and proper.

We have had a most interesting debate with many good contributions, but I think that for me the palm must go to the noble Lord, Lord Plowden. He was one of the few speakers who indulged in a little bit of lateral thinking. The noble Lord questioned the premise as to whether we should automatically accept that this traffic should come our way, and that is something we should all think about and which the Government should bear in mind. It is very easy to assume that, because the market will be there and because the passengers will be there, we should necessarily accept the enormous cost to the environment which accepting those passengers will cost our nation. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, raised that particular matter tonight.

The noble Lord also mentioned the question of economic forecasting. As someone who for many years was engaged in the petroleum-chemical industry, I learnt to have grave suspicion about forecasts, particularly numerical forecasts. Eventually we were fortunate enough to have a director of planning who came out with the alarming statement for a person in that job that it is impossible to forecast the future. The point he was making was that for too many years we had been looking at numbers and extrapolating those numbers and drawing conclusions from that. This did not obviate the need for planning, but planning and forecasting were two separate matters. We went very deeply into what has now become known as "scenario planning". If I have doubts about the report that we are dealing with tonight, it is about the way in which the numbers have been accepted at their face value.

It seems to me that no sensitivity has been applied to these numbers. By "sensitivity" I mean someone asking, "What would happen if …?" What would happen if the microchip was developed to the level where businessmen did not need to cross the Atlantic quite so frequently as they do today in order to attend meetings? What would happen if the dollar and the pound were to reach parity? What would happen if, as someone has already suggested, the American economy collapsed?

From working on those kinds of questions you begin to produce a range of scenarios which give you widely differing answers to the total numbers of passengers likely to wish to come to the South-East in the next 10, 15 or 20 years. Some of the timescales in the document I must say frighten me, and I do not believe that you can forecast that far ahead. That does not mean to say that you do not have to make decisions and, frankly, I do not envy the Government their task in making the investment decisions for the nation which are required at this time. There are times when I wish I was sitting on that Front Bench over there, but honestly this is not one of them. I believe that it is in that spirit that the debate has been carried on tonight. As I said before, I do not think that anyone is trying to take party advantage.

It is right that we should commend the learned gentleman who produced this report. It is right that we should take great note of what he said. But, as we have seen elsewhere today, you do not always have to do as learned lawyers tell you, as a jury in a case which was determined today has shown the nation. When the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, talks about the application of common sense, I believe there is a certain amount of truth in what he says. However, we must be careful not to go too far down that track and get into the position of saying, "Don't blind me with the facts".

We have to recognise the genuine facts which exist in the situation. But we also have to recognise the political facts, and it seems to me that, following the debate in another place recently, one of the political facts is that it is very unlikely that Stansted will be expanded to the level which the report suggests. Whether that is right or wrong is perhaps not something on which I wish to comment, but it is a fact of political life that, because of the political pressures upon them, the Government will find it extremely difficult to accept the report as it stands.

One of the weaknesses of the Stansted expansion beyond, say, 5 million passengers is the question of the road and rail links. Certainly the M.11 is under-used but, for heaven's sake, it is not under-used when you reach this end of it, and trying to get from this end of the M.11 into London is not something that I would wish on a learner driver on a bad Monday morning. The cost of the rail link, of course, is something with which someone has to conjure. It is interesting how often in this debate the question of rail links come into the argument, and I shall return to that in a minute or two.

Therefore, I think that Stansted will be expanded to take 5 million passengers, or perhaps a little more, so that it becomes a regional airport. That seems to me to be a proper function for it. From that point on, I think the danger is that the Government will then take the next easiest option, which is Terminal 5. For nearly 10 years I lived in Teddington and every summer when the sun came out and we went into the garden the wind changed and the aircraft came our way. Admittedly we only got one in three, but it did truncate our conversation. We would just get to the interesting part of the chat when Concorde, a BAC 1–11 or a Trident flew over. So let no one imagine that it is pleasant living under the flight path of Heathrow. We were some distance away from the airport; the people living in Hounslow, nearer the airport, obviously had a much more difficult time.

However, I acknowledge that during those 10 years the aircraft became significantly quieter and towards the end of my period there, which was just over a year ago, it was possible to carry on conversations when aircraft flew over. Therefore, if the Government were to go down that road, I believe that it should only be done on the basis of much quieter aircraft, with the so-called "chapter 3 aircraft" being brought into existence. Not until those are available should that expansion take place, and certainly what the report says about night flying must be observed absolutely. There must be no serious night flying in and out of Heathrow, other than in emergencies.

Therefore, my objection to the fifth terminal is not so much on noise grounds, but in terms of activity on the ground. People have said that the M.25 will provide considerable relief when it is completed and that Terminal 5 will be up against the M.25 with good access. Of course it will, but bear in mind that much traffic will already be coming round the M.25 anyway, particularly if (and perhaps I may diverge slightly from the subject) the Government persist in having tolls on the Dartford Tunnel. When people come down the M.1, they will turn right instead of turning left to get to Dover because it is cheaper that way. But, more importantly, the roads into London down the Cromwell Road and the Hammersmith Flyover are simply not capable of taking the increased traffic which Terminal 5 will put on to them. I would not contemplate supporting the Government in any move towards Terminal 5 if there is not a British Rail link put into Heathrow.

Here we come back to rail links again, It is, as we know possible from Feltham or even from north of the airport to connect Heathrow with the North through a rail link. But the situation demands a commitment from the Government to make sure that those rail links are available. Unless and until that happens I would not contemplate the possibility of Terminal 5, and even then I should be very doubtful about it.

So we come to the question of regional airports. For a number of years I was the Liberal candidate for the Knutsford division at a time when my noble friend Lord Winstanley was at the other end of Manchester Airport as Member of Parliament for Cheadle division. Together we struggled for a long time to ensure that people in that area were able to get soundproofing grants for houses as they were not available in Manchester because it was a regional airport.

I do not go along wholly with the consortium, but I believe it has a point and that noble Lords on the Labour Party Bench also have a point, in that we must increase the emphasis on our regional airports. By that, we mean Manchester, because that is the best regional airport in the country, with the possible exception of Prestwick, with due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, although it is in a peculiar place. Manchester serves a tremendous hinterland. The whole of the West Riding and, as the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, said, even people from Teeside can, with the motorway network as it is, find their way to Manchester Airport quite quickly.

It is depressing, as the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, suggested, when one reads that Singapore Airlines had been prevented from flying international flights from Manchester. There may be good and sufficient reasons in terms of getting landing rights in other parts of the world, but surely on occasions such as this we should snap up those opportunities to improve the viability of our regional airports. I do not believe that much more is required in the way of investment in Manchester at the moment. There is quite a lot of capacity there, but again there is a need for a rail link. To be able to link Manchester to the west coastline at Wilmslow or further south at Crewe would make a tremendous difference to the usefulness of Manchester as an international airport serving a wide hinterland.

Like everybody else in this debate, I shall not come to any firm conclusion tonight. I have spelt out our general attitude. My noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry has gone much more positively in favour of a second runway at Gatwick than I have, partly because I do not believe the Government will change their mind. It would perhaps be foolish to base one's assumptions on the possibility that they will. If they are prepared to do so, the whole equation becomes quite different. Gatwick is a very good airport. The rail and road communications are excellent. I greatly prefer travelling to Gatwick than I do to Heathrow. If the Government are prepared to change their minds, the equation becomes different.

I am saying that I believe that Stansted should be raised only to the size of a regional airport; that the fifth terminal at Heathrow should not be contemplated until many other things have been done; and that, with a modest amount of investment and a certain amount of will to improve not just the airport but investment in the North to get some more jobs there, the traffic will follow. We should give people encouragement to base their airline there. Are the Government prepared to suggest to British Midland that it might move its base to Manchester? This would be similar to the way in which Caledonian has moved to Gatwick and British Airways is now based at Heathrow. A major airline like British Midland operating out of Manchester would make a significant difference to the whole attitude of the airline industry to that area.

We wait with interest to hear what the Government have to say on this subject when they are able to say it. We all understand that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is in a difficult position tonight. I hope he can answer some of the questions that have been asked, particularly by my noble friend Lady Burton. But we wait with great interest for their definitive answer and, like everybody else, we hope that the answer will come soon.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the first thing I must do is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chapple (who was unable to stay for the end of the debate), on his maiden speech. Knowing his reputation, as the House will, I think I can say that he managed to be, for him, perhaps, mildly provocative by scepticism about Government inquiries. He gave an example of an inquiry on which he had served when he had received a beautiful leather-bound book after spending many hours on that committee. He was also sceptical about the Government's decision-making process. I was particularly pleased because he is a real Londoner: he was born in London, he has spent his whole life in London, and most of his experience has been in London. Yet he was conscious of the importance of developing regional airports, which is something one does not always hear to quite the same extent from people who have moved into London from the regions. This is one of those contradictions.

The Minister will agree that this has not been a debate in which politics has played an important part. It has certainly not been overriding or obtrusive; but that is not to say that politics are not involved and that people do not speak occasionally of the politics of it. The obvious example is that the privatisation of the airports, which is likely to arise soon, is a factor that must be considered. The question of regional policy is another factor; but I do not think that politics obtruded in this debate at all.

Both in this House and in the other place the cross-party concern about the regions has been very marked and unusual. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, suggested that he disagreed with some of the people on his own side about the interpretation of the report. Although I have immense respect for him, I disagreed with one or two of the observations made by my noble friend Lord Beswick. That is very unusual, because I usually consider him to be my guru: that is perhaps putting it too high, but someone I have a very great respect for.

The spirit of the debate has been a real desire to find a solution to what we all accept is a very difficult problem. We should be grateful to the Minister and the Government for having published the whole report before a decision was made. In the light of the debate we have had here today and of that in another place at the end of January, it was wise that the report was published so that we could consider it and the Government could collect voices on the subject. When the Minister opened the debate he made it clear that he was here to listen. We all understand that, because of the nature of the Minister's role and that of his right honourable friend, and because of the quasi-judicial function they have to perform, he could not make any firm statements about the report at this stage.

I think that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who, when he was winding up for the Liberals tonight, said that he wondered whether the debate was really more than academic. I went very carefully through the debate in the other place and I wonder whether it is likely that the Government, or any government, could get total acceptance of this report in both Houses of Parliament. Again, this is not a political point particularly since the debate in the other place was on the adjournment and so a certain number of Members would perhaps decide not to vote; but the spectrum of voting cannot be ignored. I think that the Government would have to decide whether it would be possible to get such a Bill through. My noble friend Lord Graham and many others said that they did not envy Ministers the problem of making the decision.

We have listened today and received all the representations. Seldom have I been involved in this House or in any other place in any subject where I have had put to me more representations and more brochures and very persuasive arguments than I have on this subject. Surely we must all feel very much the same about the difficulty of making a decision. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, who is always extremely knowledgeable and active in these matters, spoke about the highly-placed bureaucracy which she said seemingly favours the whole idea of Stansted. In fact, I think that Sir John Knott, when he suggested the Stansted inquiry back in 1979, slipped in saying that Stansted really chooses itself. I do not think that there is a conspiracy about this. I believe it is part of the whole South-East thinking.

It is so easy to fall into this kind of thing—the orientation towards the South-East and the belief that all solutions are best looked at from the viewpoint of Greater London. Everything is looked at in terms of Greater London. Reverting to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, that is one of the reasons I thought that his speech was refreshing. Myself I am certainly not in any way anti-London. I think that London is perhaps about the third or the fourth of my favourite cities after Glasgow. I hasten to say that Edinburgh is not the second. But I am not anti-London and I do not believe that the regions are anti-London. They are not being anti-London, I think that there is a great love-hate relationship, but I do not think that you can call it anti-London.

It is a question of whether you look from London to the rest of Britain or from the rest of Britain towards London. I remember when the old Manchester Guardian decided to print in London. Alastair Hetherington, who was then the editor, was asked whether it would not lose some of its characteristics. "No, no", he replied, "we will have just as many people in the regions as we had before." It was pointed out to him that there is a difference and, while the Guardian in many ways is a great newspaper, I think there is a difference between the present Guardian and the old Manchester Guardian. One sees the world from London, from where all the other papers see it, while the old Manchester Guardian saw it from—and I hate the word—the "provinces" There is a great difference there. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, made a point when she said that it is assumed, perfectly reasonably, that to go anywhere everyone travels from Manchester or Newcastle to London, but never the other way. You do not go from London to Manchester to fly to any place or to go to any place. This is a not unimportant point.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, with respect to all the rest of us, was the one to which I think applied the expression "lateral thinking" used by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. It was extremely important. I think it will bear re-reading. I missed some of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, but I heard part of it when he was discussing the reliability of figures. He talked about the possibility of a slump, much as he disliked the idea. But there is a possibility, and all the forecasts—not just about airports, but also about so many other things—have not been reliable; because everyone imagines that the graph will go on and on, whereas periodically, for reasons very difficult to forecast, there is a dip in the graph. It may go on after that, but it still has all that leeway to catch up on.

The noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, made an interesting and, as usual, humorous and powerful speech. He spoke about the figures that had been discussed 10 years ago and about how we have now reached these figures. There are many other examples. I remember when, the first time in the other place, I was told, on the greatest authority, that the absolute maximum cost of Concorde would be £295 million. It was not said to be £300 million; it was £295 million—and that was with the very best computerised accountancy. I am sure that the people involved were perfectly honest and were not trying to be clever; they genuinely believed this.

I wondered about the argument—and I have looked at it and until recently I wanted to believe it myself—that if anything happened to the three airports in the South-East, the traffic would all go to Schiphol and not to any other airport in Britain. I wondered about that. I can understand people going to Schiphol if there were a sudden strike at Heathrow. But if it were not that, if it were necessary to go to Manchester because we had decided the rail routes and the route policy in that way, I think people would find it much easier to go to Manchester, even if they were going back to London, than to to to Schiphol and then back to London. It is almost a chicken-and-egg situation.

The assumption is that everyone wants to come to London and so almost all international flights are through London. This leaves the regional traffic with no alternative but to travel to London. I believe that people will always use the mode of transport and the route which suits them best personally in terms of speed, convenience and price. But we are entitled to ask, as from the regions, whether people really have had a chance. What we need to look at, as well as this report, is the whole question of an airline policy. One of the points which is probably in many ways as accurate as some of the other statistics that we get is this. You need travel only weekly on the Glasgow shuttle to see the number of people carrying duty-free goods to realise that the traffic from the Continent going to Glasgow is rather high. It may be a rule-of-thumb way, but it is very obvious.

I agree with my noble friend who was the first speaker on this side when he suggested that we should be content at present with the fourth terminal at Heathrow, although, again, this will mean extra connections to Heathrow. At present at certain times of the day it is not uncommon to stand all the way in the Tube to Heathrow. I have done it several times myself. For that reason I think that we need to find a lot of new ways of getting to our airports before we even dream of thinking in terms of a fifth terminal at Heathrow, despite all the other difficulties.

The second terminal at Gatwick will possibly result in a big increase in the traffic that can be handled there. Luton can be increased. It is interesting that the people of Essex and the county council there were said by a number of people who know the area better than I do not to be opposed to a modest increase in the size of Stansted. What they feel worried about is the argument that an entire Heathrow can be put down in Stansted and still not affect the area. I think that that is a flight of fancy. I believe that the more modest improvements that have been suggested by many people as a solution to an incredibly difficult problem—and I think we all recognise the difficulties faced by the Government—could go a long way towards solving it for a long time to come, according to all the figures we have had.

With great respect to the report—and I must admit that I did not go through this huge report, but I certainly went through the main report—and to the figures given there, from past experience and making all due allowances for the fears expressed today I believe that these modest improvements would solve the airport problem in the South-East of England and perhaps make us move towards the other airports in the country. I think that in this way the problem could be solved for a very long time to come.

8.51 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I was not mistaken when I said earlier this afternoon that I was anticipating a debate that would reflect the deep knowledge and interest in airports policy and the aviation industry that reside in your Lordships' House. Many different views have been cogently expressed, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Chapple, whose maiden speech was so much appreciated.

Some noble Lords have suggested that Stansted should not be expanded, or that any development should be strictly limited. Some noble Lords have suggested that capacity should be increased at Heathrow by the provision of a fifth terminal, although others have noted that it might not be available in time to meet the demand and avoid congestion. The case for an expansion of the regional airports has been strongly argued—as it was in the other place—by noble Lords from both sides of the House. Some have favoured a combination of policies broadly in line with the recommendations of the inquiry inspector; others have placed greater emphasis on the scope for expanding the regional airports' contribution.

Finally, no airport debate would be complete without some mention being made of green field and coastal sites. The Inspector has covered them in his report, but I think it is right to say that he was not persuaded by the cases presented to him in their support. I make no comment on that, except perhaps to mourn the absence of my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery from this debate, when his contributions have been such a feature of others in your Lordships' House.

Having listened to the many views expressed in the course of this debate, your Lordships may perhaps share with me a sense of "déjà vu". It is not, of course, the first time that this House has debated the provision of airports capacity for the South-East, but I think it is right to say that since the oil crisis of the early 1970s, which led to a substantial fall in air traffic demand and the abandonment of the Maplin Airport project, the problem has been approached with a good deal more realism in every quarter. Our predecessors in office searched for a consensus by means of extended consultations with all those concerned. But perhaps they misjudged the extent to which a consensus could be found when there are so many conflicting interests. This Government took the process one stage further by announcing their preliminary views and instituting a wide-ranging public inquiry where all the relevant issues and alternative solutions could be examined in detail. The inquiries are over, and the decisions must now be taken.

Difficult though these decisions may be, they cannot now be postponed. As I hope your Lordships will agree, the recent inquiries provided an opportunity for the fullest participation of all the parties concerned. The volume and detail of the evidence presented attests to this. The Inspector's report has now been published. The other place has but recently debated the issues raised, and we have been productively engaged in doing the same today. The process of consultation must now give way to a period of decision and action, so that the uncertainty of recent years can be removed.

The next steps rest with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction. They must consider the Inspector's report and his recommendations—an awesome task, as I am sure your Lordships will agree. They must form a view on the proposals before them. In reaching their decisions they will, of course, have regard not only to the Inspector's report and the evidence contained therein, but to all other material considerations. They will no doubt bear in mind the views so eloquently expressed by your Lordships today. When they have reached their decisions, they will issue decision letters for the formal applications which are before them, in accordance with the procedures laid down in the planning acts.

The decision letters are not, however, an appropriate medium for dealing with a range of recommendations made by the Inspector on wider issues of policy. For this reason, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport intends to publish proposals on airports policy when the decisions on the planning applications are taken and announced, as the Inspector has urged the Government to do.

I should also like to refer to the undertaking given by the Government that when the decisions have been announced there would be a further opportunity for the other place to debate and, if it wished, to vote on the Government's airports policy. In this House we decide these matters through the usual channels, and I will certainly undertake to convey the views of your Lordships, and in particular the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, to my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip. I hope that will be satisfactory to the noble Baroness.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way and for the clarification. When the decisions have been taken by the Government and announced, and when the Minister then says that they will be reported to the House and that the House will have an opportunity of expressing a view, does that mean that if the House, in a vote, however managed or marshalled, were to vote contrary to the views of the Government, it would be the end of the matter, or would the Government merely take into account the views of the House?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have not given the noble Lord any such undertaking so far as your Lordships' House is concerned. As regards the position of another place, that again is not a matter for me and I would invite the noble Lord to study the words of my honourable friend when he gave that undertaking recently.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord has said, and this question is for my own enlightenment, if not for the rest of the House. Is it not possible, in a Parliament which consists of two Houses, that when the Government give an assurance of a debate that assurance should cover both Houses?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not in a position to give any assurances about debates in another place; and, indeed, Ministers in the other place would not wish to give assurances about debates in your Lordships' House. The machinery for establishing the timetable of debates in another place is a different machinery from that whch establishes debates in your Lordships' House. I hope the noble Baroness will accept that the undertaking I have given to draw this matter to the attention of the usual channels is as far as I can go this evening.

I fear that because of the quasi-judicial role of my right honourable and honourable friends I cannot deal (as I would normally wish to do) with the many substantive points made by your Lordships. However, I will turn briefly to some of the specific points of fact that have been raised by some noble Lords, on which I am able to comment. I will turn first to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill who asked me particularly about BAA privatisation and especially about Scottish airports. As I said earlier, my right honourable friend is currently considering the wider policy issues and will publish his proposals on airports policy when the planning decisions are taken and announced, but I certainly take note of what the noble Lord has said in that regard.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, put a number of questions to me, and I will deal with as many of them as I can. She asked, first, about the final cost of the Stansted and the Heathrow Terminal 5 inquiry. I am advised that the provisional figure is £960,829, but I am also informed that there are some bills still to be received, though these are likely to be small. So the figure in round terms is therefore of the order of £1 million.

The noble Baroness went on to ask me about the cost of developing Stansted with a single terminal capable of, say, 15 million passengers per annum. I am afraid that I cannot add to what the Inspector has said in his report, but I believe that he had before him the latest estimate of costs. The noble Baroness again asked me about the cost of a second runway at Gatwick. I fear that there is no up-to-date information on what a second runway at Gatwick might cost, because it is not being considered. As for the difficulties caused by the hole in Gatwick's runway to which she referred, I am not fully informed on that matter, but I will most certainly look into and write to the noble Baroness, if I may.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked me whether there was any possibility of European Community funding for airport development and for a rail link to Stansted. I would not wish to raise any false hopes on that matter. I believe that the criteria for such funding are very strict. As for the possibility of changing patterns of aircraft size to alter the equations of demand and capacity, aircraft size is an important factor to be taken into account in balancing terminal and runway capacity. The Inspector examined this matter in some depth in reaching his conclusions and I fear that I cannot therefore comment any further. As for the timetable for taking decisions on these matters—

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, on the question of EEC funding for any of this, does my noble friend take into account that the evidence so far seems to indicate that there would be a better chance of getting EEC money to help regional development than there would be for a central project such as this?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly take note of what my noble friend says on that matter. But, of course, my noble friend will understand that I have to be very carefully about what I say for fear of anticipating anything that my right honourable and honourable friends may wish to decide.

Just to finish what the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked me—and I think that this was much in the minds of other noble Lords as well—about the timetable for taking decisions on this matter, the decisions before us are difficult, as many noble Lords have recognised, and clearly require the most careful consideration. I can assure your Lordships that these decisions will be taken as soon as practicable, but I fear that I cannot give a precise timetable.

The noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Dean of Beswick, and one or two other noble Lords referred to Manchester Airport. In general, Manchester Airport is very much a success story. Traffic growth there has more than doubled in the last seven or eight years. The average growth rate in the five years up to 1983 was 9½ per cent. and, indeed, growth in 1984 was about 16 per cent., up to about 6 million passengers per annum. Furthermore, I am told that the aerodrome is a very profitable one. Indeed, a substantial proportion of the total £200 million of investment since 1981 at regional airports to which I referred earlier has been authorised for Manchester. Recent projects include a terminal extension, a cargo centre, apron and taxiway improvements and an operational control centre.

On the question of route permits, to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred, particularly to Singapore, we are doing all we can to resolve our air services problems with Singapore. The air services agreement with them attempts to relate capacity to traffic, so as to ensure that our airlines have a fair opportunity to compete on equal terms for the business available. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is looking at the scope for encouraging the growth of a successful network of international services at regional airports and he therefore, has this matter very much in mind.

I conclude my remarks by reminding your Lordships that almost every decision on airport development, wherever it may be, gives rise to debate and controversy, bitterness and resentment. It is no easy task to reach decisions on these issues. But I have no doubt that, in seeking the right answer, my right honourable friends will be grateful for the valuable advice proffered in your Lordships' House today.

On Question, Motion agreed to.