HL Deb 13 February 1986 vol 471 cc286-7

3.8 p.m.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether in elaboration of their reply to Baroness Burton of Coventry's Starred Question on 16th January (cols. 1157–8) they are in a position to announce their decision on the financially justified scheme concerning the rail link to Stansted Airport submitted to them by the British Railways Board in November.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, we hope to be able to announce a decision on the board's proposal shortly.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, as the Minister inadvertently misled the House on 16th January, when he implied that the passenger throughput at Stansted was 1 million whereas the number is half that—to be exact, the figure is 513,000—does he appreciate that I am extremely wary about answers given me concerning Stansted? With regard to what the Minister has said today, although we have a certain grain of information, can he say why the Government are so reluctant to give us information concerning this airport? Does this mean that the Government are aware of the poverty of its position, in that the inevitable subsidisation of Stansted in the years to come must inevitably be to the financial disadvantage and detriment of the development of regional airports.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, in the Answer I gave to the noble Baroness on 16th January I fear that I might inadvertently have misled the House, because the capacity at Stansted is a million; the actual throughput is about half a million. We are not reluctant to give information about Stansted. The noble Baroness and the House will be aware that any project of the size of Stansted is bound to be loss-making initially before it gets into full gear. I do not think that this will affect regional airports.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, if the Minister refers to the exchange on 16th January I think that he will find he is mistaken. However, referring to the Written Answer on 10th February—when the department had had plenty of time to study the position—is he aware that the word "capacity" was introduced as a face-saver? It was not mentioned in the Question.

Furthermore, is the noble Earl aware that even that figure is not correct and that the capacity of Stansted was 2 million without any development at all as at February last year, and not 1 million?

Is he further aware that I have become very tired of this incorrect information? I do not think that it is good enough. Will the noble Earl and the people concerned look at this point before they answer any more questions?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Baroness disputes the figures that my department have given me and notes that I wrote to her. I can only stand by what my department give me. They say on present traffic flow that the capacity of Stansted is 1 million.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I am sorry to get up again. I thank the noble Earl. May I appeal to the Leader of the House on this matter? Could I appeal to the Leader of the House on this?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am so sorry.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I wanted the attention of the noble Viscount. This is a general matter. I have complained before but I have here a perfectly good case, and I wonder whether the noble Viscount would look at it. Is he aware—and if he looks at the papers he will see—that I have accused (if that is the correct word) the Government and the unfortunate Minister in this case of giving incorrect information not only at Question Time but in a Written Answer also. I have substantiated that. I think that I am correct. I think that it is a disgrace. Will the noble Viscount be good enough to look at the matter to help all suffering Back-Benchers?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, since I was rude enough to be addressing a comment on some other matter when the noble Baroness first spoke it enables me to get up and say that I apologise profusely to her for my rudeness. I am extremely sorry.

As for the point made by the noble Baroness, of course I shall look into that with my noble friend. I know that my noble friend has given his information in absolutely good faith and I would stand by that. But in view of what the noble Baroness has said, of course it is proper to look at it and I shall do so with my noble friend.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, reverting to the original Answer of my noble friend, with regard to the important word "shortly" does it mean within 1986 or after that period?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, hopefully well within 1986.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, as the noble Earl will appreciate, I am among those who are apprehensive about massive development at Stansted. Is the noble Earl also aware that I recognise that if there is to be this develoment a British Rail link is essential? What will be the effect on British Rail's external financial limit in the event of this scheme being approved?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the link, if approved, will not be in operation for some years. When British Rail submit their request for financing, that will be judged on a commerical basis and will doubtless be taken into account in the EFL.

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