HL Deb 08 May 1987 vol 487 cc385-93

1.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order laid before the House on 7th April be approved.

The Government have always recognised the concern which residents of the Stansted area feel about the development of Stansted airport. That is why we made it an explicit condition of planning permission for the expansion of Stansted that development should be phased so that local infrastructure can gradually absorb the increasing demand. Our commitment to phased development was confirmed in the 1985 White Paper when we promised to restrict development in the first instance to no more than about 7 to 8 million passengers per annum—about half the 15 million passengers per year for which planning consent has been given—by means of a limit on air transport movements. The 1985 White Paper promised also that decisions on ATM limits should be for Parliament, and we have kept that promise too, for Section 79 of the 1986 Act permits an ATM limit order to be made only with the approval of Parliament on the affirmative resolution procedure.

Turning now to the detail of the order itself, the Government propose that there should be a limit of 78,000 air transport movements at Stansted to correspond to a passenger throughput of about 7 to 8 million passengers per year. The figure of 78,000 ATMs has been calculated on our most recent air passenger traffic forecasts and is generated by two factors: the relative proportion of different traffic types that we expect to be serving Stansted when passenger throughput nears 8 million passengers per annum; and the average aircraft passenger loading at that time. In suggesting a limit of 78,000 ATMs our calculations assume that all categories of traffic at Stansted will experience significant growth, such that, at 8 million passengers per annum, Stansted would have about 10 per cent. domestic passengers, roughly 37 per cent. short-haul charter passengers, about 19 per cent. short-haul scheduled passengers and the balance—a little short of 35 per cent. of long-haul passengers.

The second element of the calculation, the passenger loading, has been estimated by comparison with Gatwick. In the light of the similarities between Stansted now and Gatwick in its early years, one can reasonably make inferences about the passenger loadings that might operate at Stansted when it is handling 8 million passengers per annum and the passenger loadings at Gatwick when that airport had an identical passenger volume. An absolutely precise parallel cannot be drawn. Corrections have had to be made to take account of increased average aircraft capacities and to eliminate distortions resulting from the low passenger loadings on the Heathrow-Gatwick helicopter link operating then, each movement of which constituted an ATM.

The Government have naturally considered the possibility of different traffic and passenger loading outturns and have tested the robustness of the proposed limit against varying assumptions. We considered two outlying scenarios in particular: rapid growth in short-haul scheduled services, the result of extensive liberalisation and deregulation; and rapid growth in the charter market, with short/medium-haul charter passengers forming a much larger proportion of the annual total. Neither scenario revealed a difference of more than I per cent. from the 78,000 figure.

The draft order is in five articles. The first two define the limit itself and its period of operation. The remaining articles address those classes of aircraft movement not counting towards the proposed limit. During the passage of the Airports Act 1986 we described what an ATM limit would and would not cover. In particular, we explained that the limit would exclude diversion, positioning, air-taxi and general aviation movements; and, in accord with our White Paper undertaking to limit development in terms of passenger volume, the proposed limit bears on passenger air transport movements only.

The measure to which the Government now seek your Lordships' approval is both apt and timely. It strikes a balance between the acknowledged need for additional airport capacity in the South-East and the local interests of those who live or work in the Stansted area. I commend it to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th April be approved. [18th Report from the Joint Committee]—(Lord Brabazon of Tara)

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the order and I recognise that the Government have adhered to their undertaking to have an ATM limit at Stansted. However, I question whether the proposed limit of 78,000 is a proper one to have put forward at this stage.

As the Minister said, Article 3 details various exclusions—the positioning of aircraft, air-taxi and general aviation movements and cargo only flights. I understand that in 1986 the number of cargo only movements amounted to something like 4,500. That would be 6 per cent. of the 78,000 ATM limit. I gather that the number of cargo flights has been increasing and could increase further. They fly over the area where I live on the edge of Epping Forest. Fortunately, they are sufficiently high so that they do not worry me greatly but they will worry people in the area of the airport itself.

It has been estimated that the movements excluded by Article 3 could be as many as 10 per cent. in addition to the 78,000. When considering the Airports Bill it will be remembered that I urged that there should be consideration of environmental aspects. I do not withdraw anything I said on that matter. I welcome the attitude taken by the Government and repeated by the Minister in giving some assurance to residents living in the area.

There are other factors which do not appear to have been taken into consideration. At present the number of movements at Stansted is about 16,000. The 78,000 will be five times the present limit. It would appear that the 78,000 ATM limit would be the maximum possible under the first phase of up to 8 million passengers per annum.

This would give an average of a little over 100 passengers per flight. The maximum order does not appear to have any relation at all to traffic distribution policy, except within the South-East area, which we have debated on various occasions. In this respect I regret the failure to consult the North of England Regional Consortium or JACOLA (which, as noble Lords will know, is the Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities), even though it has been stated by the Minister in the other place that some 31 bodies were consulted. I recognise that there is no statutory requirement to consult the two bodies to which I have referred. Undoubtedly the CAA has been consulted, as has the airport operator affected, which is Stansted. I understand the operators of aircraft flying to and from Stansted have also been consulted.

There is provision in Section 32 for any local authority or authorities which appear to the Secretary of State to be affected by operations of the airports also to be consulted and that has been interpreted as being those in the immediate area of Stansted. I suggest that this order for an ATM limit at Stansted goes far beyond the immediate area. It would seem that the regional airports must be affected by this order. That is why I referred to the fact that there should be some consideration given to traffic distribution policy.

The Minister has given the estimated division of the various categories of flights. Obviously, domestic and short-haul charter flights will be of interest to regional airports. But, in particular, the estimated 35 per cent. of the maximum ATM of long-haul passengers will be of vital interest to them. If 35 per cent. is to be the figure reached for long-haul passengers, that means 2,750,000 more passengers on such flights going to and from Stansted.

From where will they come? This must be of interest to the regional airports. That is why I regret that the two bodies to which I have referred, even though there is no statutory requirement to do so, have not been consulted by the Minister. It would have been wise if he had done so. Instead of fixing the maximum limit of 78,000, which, of course, can be breached as soon as circumstances allow, surely it might have been preferable to have phased in the ATM position at Stansted in relation to a traffic distribution policy nationwide, not merely for the South-East.

I am naturally concerned that if the 8 million passenger throughput and the 78,000 ATM are reached—I am not going into the question as to whether the present Administration will be looking after this; that is another matter—there will be a tendency to proceed for parliamentary approval for increase the throughput to 15 million for which, as the Minister reminded us, there is planning permission. An even higher ATM would then be sought leading eventually to the possibility of 25 million for which the runway has the capacity.

When we debated airports' policy we heard of the views expressed by a body which called itself the National Policy for Britain's Airports. I remarked at the time that it did not originate in the Essex area but from outside it. It is the same with nuclear policy; somebody else's backyard, never our own. I recently attended a seminar arranged by this body. I put the same point that all the bodies that were represented appeared to be well outside the Stansted area. There must be consideration given to these factors.

I welcome the Government keeping to their pledge and taking into consideration environmental matters. To go right up to 78,000 at this stage, without consideration of a national traffic distribution policy and the consideration of regional airports, is a grave mistake.

1.45 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, though for precisely opposite reasons, I am not at all happy about this order. I hope that my noble friend will not mind if I say that it is depressing to those of us who believe in the expansion of British civil aviation to find an order being produced which would inhibit the expansion of an airport into which a great deal of public money is being invested and which is undoubtedly necessary for the proper development of British civil aviation.

Civil aviation is one of our success stories of recent years. It is one of the things that we do extremely well in this country. I need hardly say that to the bearer of a great name in the aviation world such as the Minister. It seems to me to be unhappy that we should he imposing an arbitrary limit on this expansion.

I have no sympathy at all, I am afraid, with the complaint by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that the Government did not consult organisations operating rival airports. It would be quite wrong to inhibit the development of a particular airport, in which the Government themselves are seeing that a considerable investment is made, with a view to driving operators away from an airport they want to use to others which, ex hypothesi, they did not want so much to use.

It would be quite wrong because, as I understand it, the Government are imposing this limit not to interfere with the free choice of airport by the airlines but simply to seek to appease the excitements of local people who fear environmental disturbance if the airport develops.

I hope that the Government are not going to be too tender in that direction. We went through all this over the development of Gatwick. Some of your Lordships may remember that I had the honour, as the then Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, of taking the decision to develop Gatwick. We had every sort of local environmental trouble.

We faced it, and, as a result, Gatwick has now brought an enormous amount of wealth into West Sussex. It provides a great deal of first-class employment and has helped enormously in the development of that part of the world. A proper, full-throated development of Stansted can do the same in Essex. Therefore, personally, I regret a limit being imposed.

Incidentally, if your Lordships look at the terms of the order, you will see that it is an example of a non sequitur of a kind so extraordinary that it is rarely seen anywhere outside the law courts. It first of all says that as the runway is not being fully used, we are going to impose a restriction on the amount of use given to it. That is a complete non sequitur.

I hope that my noble friend will realise that if he had wished, in his efforts to appease local irritation over development of this airport, it would have been more logical to have said (if he could have done, but, of course, he could not) that it was because the runway was being so much used that it was necessary to impose a restriction. But to say that because it is so little used it is necessary to impose a restriction is wholly illogical. There is perhaps some objection to enacting illogicality in delegated legislation.

On the more serious side, my noble friend did not say a word about what is highly relevant—the fact that all expert forecasts of demand for airport facilities in the South-East predict a substantial shortage in capacity before the end of the century. Indeed, my noble friend may remember that some of us, a little time ago, were pressing the Government for information as to what they were doing about it.

That, of course, meant that we felt—as I certainly feel—that given the time it takes to develop airports, it really is important for the Government to be getting ahead with further airport development now. All we are given here is an order which, if it has any effect at all, is an order to restrict development. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has said, the figure selected—it is an odd sort of figure, too—for the limit of movements in the year is well above the current level, it must be something of a discouragement to those who are responsible for developing this airport, and for the operators who want to operate out of it, to know that the Government are putting an arbitrary limit on the number of movements that may take place.

Generally speaking, it is government policy—it is certainly the policy of this Government—to encourage the maximum development and the maximum output of the various industries with which we are concerned. But, here, you are placing a barrier beyond which, legally, it would be impossible, while this order lasts for the airport to develop. Psychologically that is unfortunate. If I may be allowed to take the matter a little further, the whole story of Stansted is extraordinary.

The development of Stansted as a major London airport was approved in 1964 by the Government of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel. Since then there have been innumerable public inquiries which have done no good to anybody, except perhaps members of the Bar who have made a very good living from them. Here we are, 23 years later, nervously restricting the use of one runway at Stansted. If government civil aviation policy had been more consistent and sensible, Stansted would by now have developed to something at least of the scale of Gatwick. Perhaps, unlike Gatwick, it would have been allowed a second runway and would be serving a major part in the development of British civil aviation. I do not blame my noble friend for those delays because out of the 23 years involved he has hardly been responsible for 23 weeks.

However, I am sorry to see him following the policy of playing down and trying to restrict the development of this airport. I should like to see the number of its movements rise and increase, and I should like to see the Government encouraging that. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has said, it is true that at the moment this particular figure will have no practical effect, although it has adverse psychological effects. I hope that the Government will watch this matter. If the number of movements comes anywhere near to it, as I hope it will before long, the order will have to be withdrawn and either be replaced by another at a much higher figure or, better still, be replaced by no order at all.

I hope my noble friend will obtain this order. I hope he will not take it with the feeling that it is an order which arouses much enthusiasm among those of us—and I hope that he will include himself—who want to see British civil aviation continue to develop and make a major contribution to the well-being of the British economy.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I doubt very much whether the honourable Member for Saffron Walden will hear those remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, with much enthusiasm.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? If the honourable Member for Saffron Walden understands economics, and if he studies the benefits which the development of Gatwick have brought to the constituencies of the Members in the area, he should welcome them. If he is a sensible man, I am sure that he will.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, we can doubtless draw that matter to his attention at an appropriate moment during the next few weeks.

I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in his vision of the whole of the South-East of England covered with concrete and with aircraft coming in every minute of the day and night. I think that that sort of dark satanic mill approach to aircraft movements is not one that we on these Benches wish to follow.

I should like to thank the Minister for introducing this order and to ask him to clarify two points that have already been dealt with to a degree by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. Can the Minister give some figures for the number of aircraft which, in the Government's scenario, are likely to be involved in positioning flights? The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also asked how many aircraft are likely to be involved in cargo flights. They are important numbers because very often cargo flights are noisier than passenger flights. The aircraft tend to be older and more heavily loaded. They are likely to cause some disturbance to those living in the area around the airport.

There is certainly no great opposition to this order from these Benches. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, we believe it is a pity that the other regional airports were not at least asked for their views; not that the Government should necessarily fall in line with any such views. One of the matters which I have become a little fed up with is the northern airports in particular beating Stansted about the ears. As things stand, I do not think that they will suffer greatly from the increased movements at Stansted. However, the people around Stansted are entitled to consideration. I think that the Government have shown some consideration, even if the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, does not.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful for the response of noble Lords to the introduction of this order; although there are mixed opinions from opposite sides of the House as to whether we are not going far enough (from my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter) or are going too far too quickly (from the noble Lord, Lord Underhill). I should like to think that we probably have it just about right. In any case, all that we are doing is fulfilling the undertakings that we gave during consideration of the White Paper and the Airports Bill.

I endorse entirely what was said by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in connection with the success story of the history of civil aviation in this country. I am also grateful for the remarks that he made as regards my family connections in that.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke of the possibility of consultation beyond the immediate area. The important point is that the ATM limit is a local measure, designed to enable local infrastructure to absorb the impact of the Stansted development. The consultation on the proposed limit reflects the local nature of the measure. The purpose of making the ATM limit subject to affirmative resolution is to provide for the most searching scrutiny by Parliament. That is what we have done today to some extent.

As regards the effect of the Stansted development on regional airports, to which the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Tordoff, referred, we have no evidence to suggest that there will be an adverse effect on traffic at regional airports. The development is being timed to meet the forecast need for additional capacity to serve the London area airports. Some of the regional airports are at the moment enjoying pretty good traffic growth on their own account. I entirely agree with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter: that one cannot force people to fly from places they do not want to go from. Indeed, the idea of using an ATM limit order to reallocate traffic, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, we do not believe to be a good one.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, is it not the case that it is necessary to force aircraft to go to where they do not want to go? Everyone wants to go to Heathrow at the moment. I accept that passengers may want to go to Gatwick but, on the whole, airlines want to go to Heathrow. Some of them cannot go there and that is why they must go to Stansted. By putting limitations on developments at Heathrow, one is forcing people to go to Stansted. It is not a totally free market.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I agree that it is not a totally free market but that is because Heathrow is at the moment operating at virtually full capacity. That situation does not arise elsewhere. Traffic distribution is not the purpose of an ATM limit. The purpose is to control the rate of expansion at an airport. The Airports Act provides different powers for traffic distribution rules in Section 31. The rules which were made last year took account of the Government's intention for an ATM limit at Stansted.

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, queried the capacity in the South-East of England at the present time. Both BAA plc and Stansted Airport support the order. Naturally the Government are keeping longterm capacity under review, as doubtless will BAA plc as the main provider of airport capacity in the South-East. The CAA will also keep a close watch on capacity issues in the light of its duties under Section 16(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982.

Both the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Tordoff, asked about the volume of cargo flights. I can confirm that the current usage figures show that there were 4,337 all-cargo movements last year, but only 584—or less than 14 per cent.—were by jet aircraft. The vast majority—over 86 per cent.—were by small propeller-driven aircraft, which are relatively quiet. Therefore, I hope that that will not add significantly to the noise nuisance at the airport.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, asked me about positioning flights. I am afraid I have not got an answer for him at the moment but if at all possible I will write to the noble Lord. I hope I have covered most of the points made by your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.