HL Deb 06 December 1988 vol 502 cc540-56

7.2 p.m.

Lord Teviot rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what measures they are taking to promote direct intercontinental air services to regional airports in the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was prompted to take an interest in this subject because although I have spoken on transport matters over the past 20 years, this is the first time I have taken to the skies. It is a fairly salutary experience.

After a recent visit to Australia, returning on a 24-hour flight, I was diverted to an airport on the continent because London was fog bound. That made me think of the much better weather record which many of our regional airports enjoy. It led me to ask why we could not make better use of them for intercontinental scheduled services. Indeed, I noticed that when I was checking in at Sydney to come to London there was a flight from there to Manchester —but via London! This must be very irritating for the northbound passenger. Upon looking further into the matter, I discovered that there are a number of problems which our regional airports appear to be having in getting intercontinental services. I therefore felt that the issue was sufficiently important for us to debate today or at a suitable time.

I see several benefits from having more long-distance air services to regional airports as well as to London. First, it would help to relieve the congestion in the skies over the South-East and on the ground at the London airports. Every passenger coming from Glasgow or Newcastle to Heathrow in order to fly out again contributes two passenger movements in each direction at Heathrow which could be avoided.

Secondly, it would meet demand. For example, last year half a million passengers from Manchester's catchment area flew to the United States of America, mostly via Heathrow or possibly by using an airport on the continent. These are not just business travellers but also people visiting friends and relatives and, of course, tourists who are travelling further and further afield.

Thirdly, it would help to strengthen and consolidate the economic position of the regions themselves. These benefits are impressive. Airports and air services generate real jobs, both at the airports and throughout the regions. Improving regional accessibility to overseas markets means that both manufacturers and service industries in the regions are better able to compete abroad. Finally, the tourist industry benefits and expands and, again, this helps reduce pressure on tourist facilities here in London. It has been calculated that every 10,000 passengers create seven jobs at the airport and 10 in total.

We do, of course, have a number of splendid regional airports which stand comparison in efficiency, facilities and friendliness with any in the world. Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and Newcastle are but four of many. Manchester in particular is well located because over 35 per cent. of the population of Great Britain and 60 per cent. of manufacturing industry are within two hours' drive of Manchester. Your Lordships will well know that there are many better roads in the north than in the south. Also communications are better and long may they be so. That is a point to remember.

Let us consider Manchester. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, is present and Liverpool is not very far from Manchester so I hope that he does not mind me taking Manchester. An inspection of the timetable for that city shows that it has some intercontinental services to Australia, Singapore, New York, Chicago, Canada and India. One is very pleased to see that British Airways will soon start a service to Islamabad. It is to be congratulated for that after four years of hard work. Many of these flights go via London and are simply extensions of London flights. That leads to problems because of congestion in London. It has been reported to me that British Airways' London-Manchester-New York service was on average two hours late leaving Manchester during the summer because of delays en route in London. In contrast, the American Airlines' direct flight to Chicago was on average less than 30 minutes late.

The airlines have recognised the benefits of using our regional airports and actually want to start more such services. It is not as if we are dealing with an imaginary problem. Three American airlines, for instance, would like to start direct services from either New York or Boston to Manchester but, so I am told, have been refused licences. We have the demand, we have potential suppliers but we cannot get the services off the ground! I mention Manchester because its development in this respect is most advanced. However, other regional airports face the same problem.

I understand that British airlines have objected to the American licence applications. In 1985 we legislated to end licensing for bus services and I spent many hours sitting on the red cushions here during those debates. This is consistent with the Government's policy of fostering competition. I can now see no justification for restricting airlines that are perfectly willing to put themselves to the test of the market. In the long run, letting these airlines go to Manchester will be in the country's commercial interests because otherwise they will use continental airports as their gateways. Amsterdam is already a major gateway. I know of Japanese businessmen who fly between Tokyo and Newcastle via Amsterdam. We do not want to lose these services to the continent when their major objective is in the United Kingdom.

We have a successful precedent in the UK-Canada agreement which, I have recently been told, has resulted in an excellent agreement which gives access to several airports including Leeds-Bradford, Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle. Full power is due to the Government on this achievement. I congratulate the Government also, and I hope that they can repeat the achievement with the American services because many other airlines are watching these negotiations. If they are successful, they will follow. Indeed, there are two other carriers waiting to see how the negotiations develop before making formal applications.

I am sure that we need a speedy and successful conclusion to these negotiations. They have been going on for a long time. Similar negotiations with Hong Kong have been going on for two years, with a government—a government, and also a colony—which is extremely friendly to the United Kingdom. If this takes two years with Hong Kong, I wonder how long it will take with o1her nations.

Therefore, I wish to ask what the Government are doing to encourage direct intercontinental services to the regional airports, and to overcome the problems being faced in the case of Manchester in particular. I understand that talks have been held and have been adjourned. I am grateful that my noble friend will reply to the debate instead of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara. However, I gather that at this very moment my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara is probably uttering exactly the same words in Bristol as the Minister will use in his reply. I hope that he is enjoying himself there. However, I am delighted to have my noble friend the Deputy Chief Whip replying this evening. I should not want the Minister or anyone else to prejudice the outcome of the talks in any way. I hope the Minister will be able to give the House a full progress report and advise us if any progress has been made. There are two speakers before my noble friend replies; but, nevertheless, I look forward to hearing his reply.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all of us when I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for giving us an opportunity this evening to debate the present situation regarding regional airports and the intercontinental airlines. I do not think that anybody who makes a habit of attending aviation debates in this House needed to be psychic to guess that Manchester would form a strong part of the noble Lord's case. The noble Lord made the Manchester case very well, although I always have a slight reservation whenever the number of people living within two hours' drive of Manchester is mentioned, because of course if they all take advantage of Manchester they will penalise their local airports. We must never forget that.

One should partly explore this matter in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, did as regards the benefits that can accrue to the provincial airports. But one must not forget that there is a national issue and a national interest involved too. As the noble Lord said, increased services must lead to an increased number of airport-related jobs. That must be a clear economic benefit. After saying that, the noble Lord mentioned that tourism would benefit. I agree totally with him there. There are other benefits. The noble Lord touched on the fact that passengers would not have to go through foreign airports. He mentioned air traffic control. I am a little "iffy" about that matter. Those of us who had the pleasure of attending the very excellent presentation given by the Civil Aviation Authority early last week perhaps realise that the air traffic control problem is not uniquely a South-Eastern one. It catches our attention because a lot of us travel from the South-East, and because the South-East is that areaof Britain where people flying from provincial airports have to transit, in passing to the South. They inevitably get delayed there if any foreign air traffic controllers go on strike, work-to-rule or indulge in any of the other infinite number of what one might call Spanish customs, which they are wont to do.

If one had been present at the CAA presentation one would realise that the air traffic control problem is not limited to the South-East of England; it is spreading nationwide. We were also reminded that above Britain, and above what one might call the London and provincial skies, there is a vast amount of transatlantic traffic flying north and south which puts a ceiling on the air traffic position in England itself. There is the additional problem that much of the military's training is carried out in the west of the island of Britian, but the aircraft are based in the east. So there is a cross-flow.

I mention those things simply to demonstrate that to argue that diversion of traffic, or rather creation of traffic to provincial airports—that is what we are really talking about, and that is what the question concerns—will ameliorate the problem in the South-East is not an argument that I find totally acceptable.

There is another advantage which the noble Lord touched on, but only touched on, when he mentioned competition. I believe that fares might react to competitive pressure and to greater choice by coming down. We would all welcome that. My Scottish tourism colleagues, in particular, feel disadvantaged by the lack of what is known as "common rating" within the UK. They have seen some attempts at intercontinental services. They have seen some of those attempts stand and some of them fall. That only proves that demand cannot be taken for granted.

However, in a changing tourism world, my colleagues argue that the Australians, for example, who used to come to Britain and indeed to Europe on a once in a lifetime trip, now come for shorter but more frequent visits. They now make three, four, five or six visits. If they wish to visit London and then go to Paris, they can probably go to Paris at absolutely no extra cost because London and Paris are common-rated by the airlines. But if they come to London and wish to go to Glasgow, they may find themselves paying £360, for example, in additional costs simply for the air trip up and down the country. There I feel, as I have said, that the development of additional intercontinental services, if the demand exists, will help the situation because it will reduce fares.

I realise that that is not entirely a matter for the Government, who are mentioned in the Question, in the sense that it is a commercial judgment. But nonetheless I believe that what the Government decide to do and what the Government achieve could affect fares and could bring them down. That would be to the benefit of all of us, and to the benefit of the provincial airports.

There are many other smaller arguments that one could advance for the regional airports. But now I should rather turn to what I call the national case, which I believe is an equally strong one. There are two major planks to my platform. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who in opening an airports debate—it may have been a Second Reading debate on the Airports Bill itself—reminded us some years ago that we had not only the world's favourite airline but, in London, the world's busiest international airports. The economic case which these three entities make for themselves, and the contribution they make to the nation's economy, seem to me at least as strong as any economic case that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and I could agree in respect of intercontinental services going to the regional airports.

It is further strengthened, in the national sense that I am following, by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, mentioned, which was that we are in heavy competition with Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris, to name but three of the major overseas airports. Any weakening of the London position in that context might be to the disadvantage of the nation as a whole in this very heavy competition.

Further, there is the issue of deregulation. I think we would all agree that Britain leads Europe in deregulation, and that Europe and America probably lead the rest of the world in deregulation. Perhaps one day we may see total and unilateral global deregulation. However, I do not think that will occur for many decades yet. Until we have that we must live with the many countries which practise regulation of their air services, and we must compete in regulated markets. I feel that the Government have a duty, whether it is in the context of the national interest or indeed that of the provincial one, of defending the interests of our carriers in that still regulated field.

If we give intercontinental airlines increased access, either to London or to the regional airports, I hope that the Government will continue to make sure that we get something in return. We must not simply be seen to give, we must also, quite cynically, be seen to take once in a while. What, for example, could we ask for from the United States of America? We could ask for additional points of entry. There are British airlines who are seeking additional points of entry. We could look for a reduction in the break of gauge freedom which the American intercontinental airlines enjoy in terms of flying 747s to international hubs like London and then scattering passengers on to places like West Germany or Scandinavia. We could look at enhanced access to computer reservation systems to enable British carriers better to position themselves in foreign markets. It is difficult for a foreign carrier to position itself in a market which is not its own in which it is inevitably competing head to head with the dominant local airline.

As I said, I support the regional case. However, I still say that it must be seen as part of a national issue rather than as a parochial one. As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, reminded us last week in response to an oral Question, the Government's policy is to continue to attempt to negotiate agreements which will increase the number of services to and from regional airports. Providing that the Government continue to make sure that in this regulated world we get a quid for a quo, that policy is one that I wholeheartedly support and I look forward to my friends in the regions reaping the benefits.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and although it is not usual to come back when one has already had a crack at the subject, I should like to raise one point. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, mentioned that I said that regional airports would relieve the South-East. I agree with most of what he said in his speech but I should like to say that it was not a question of relieving the South-East; I drew attention to the fact that 35 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom as a whole came from the North-West. Therefore it was not a question of alleviating the problem in the South-East.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I picked up that remark by the noble Lord. I think that he referred to people who live within two hours of Manchester airport. I said that we must be very careful because two hours from Manchester airport brings one very close to the South-East. In seeking to build up Manchester airport one must therefore be very careful that one does not do so to the detriment of Birmingham, which he mentioned earlier in his remarks.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, I find myself in a difficult position. It may be that any speech made this evening will be of no use whatsoever. The Minister has been asked a Question, and it may be that he will tell us that the Government will do all that they possibly can to satisfy our demands. The Minister is nodding; so I suppose that I could sit down and say that we have what we want.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, said, this is a national as well as a regional issue. Eggs have been in the limelight recently. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The truth is that airports will not function properly unless there is demand. It is ironic that the last time the noble Lord and I spoke in a debate we concentrated on whether or not there should be national plans for our transport infrastructure. If ever a transport function required to be looked at from a national point of view, it is airports.

The great tragedy is that no one in a responsible position in this country over the past 40 years has been prepared to grasp the nettle. No one has been prepared to say that because of the restricted size of the United Kingdom and the thousands of miles to Australia, Canada or Japan, it does not matter much to the international traveller whether between airports there are a few hundred miles, 50 miles or even—if I can come closer to home—the distance between Liverpool and Manchester airports. One can move from Liverpool airport to Manchester airport five times more quickly than one can travel through the area of Merseyside; they are that close.

In the North-West there is need to look at the situation objectively and to recognise that Manchester will expand. I should like the Minister to tell us that the Government will win on the issue of the applications for three additional international flights at Manchester. That is vital. It will be another step along the road of development at Manchester until finally we reach the situation where Manchester, like Heathrow, is too congested. Those in control at Manchester will then realise how justified has been the shouting over the last 20 years or so that Manchester and Liverpool airports be considered as one part of the infrastructure of air travel of the North-West.

My only regret is that when that time arrives it will not be possible for Manchester and Liverpool to work together because this Government's policy may well have taken Speke airport out of the realm of public planning. It may well be that if the airport is privatised someone will come along arid close it down and make a pile of money out of the land asset of that area. Once again we shall have lost a wonderful opportunity to develop a proper infrastructure in the North-West that would also meet the national need.

Perhaps I can remind the House and those interested in airport infrastructure that we lost a godsent opportunity at Burtonwood where there was a complete runway already on site. That would have been one of the finest airports in the whole of Europe. It had enabled the American air force to fight the war in Europe. We closed it because the governments of the day were so short-sighted that they allowed the coal board to undermine a massive runway for a few hundred tons of coal that produced an immediate gain. They ignored the long-term view.

That takes me back to the days when the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, served with me on the North-West Economic Planning Council. We said to the Government that that should be a plan for the North-West. Not only did the Government refuse to accept that point of view; they also abolished the planning council because it was becoming too awkward.

When the question of Stansted was being hotly debated, it was discussed in that same council, made up not only of Labour members but consisting of representatives of the whole range of commercial enterprise in the North-West. The council came to the view that Stansted was not on and that the third London airport should not be created there because, as has been argued today, it would add to the congestion that would ultimately strangle the South-East. That was also the argument I advanced in this House over the question of London Docklands and Canary Wharf. No one takes any notice.

We said that if there had to be a third national airport—we insisted on calling it a national airport—it should be somewhere near the centre of England. It should be linked to the M 1 just above Milton Keynes. The name escapes me at the moment. That would have been the most sensible place. But no! The powers-that-be in the South-East wanted it much nearer; so they got Stansted. Now the South-East will get something else, which has nothing to do with airports. A new town will be developed; then another new town will be developed. The congestion we have seen today in some parts of London, and which we saw last week around this House, will get considerably worse because no government, no person and no party is really tackling the job of planning our national infrastructure.

I am not blaming everyone in the South-East. At this very moment there are vested interests in Manchester which look upon Speke as a rash upon the face of the North-West. They want nothing to do with it. They will learn in the very near future that that it is a very sadly mistaken policy. If we are to be successful we need that extra runway in the North-West.

I revert to the theme of "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Does the airport encourage employment or does the installation of manufacturing or other kinds of industry that generate employment and economic activity create the need for the airport? Of course the answer is the latter.

London Airport was sited where the economic activity of the United Kingdom is or was sited. Now the economic activity of the South-East is beginning to kill itself. In this House we warned that one terminal could not handle the extra traffic generated by the Channel Tunnel. The proposal was opposed by the defenders of the private enterprise system, free competition and deregulation. "No," they said, "we will handle it." Now, however, two terminals are wanted. The matter will not end there. There will be another terminal.

As yet no attempt has been made by this Government to relieve the pressure in the South-East. In the North we do not by any means denigrate or wish to reduce the potential of the capital. We merely point out that if the resources in the North are not used and pressure in the South-East is not relieved, then the South-East will kill itself, because there are Amsterdam and Paris. On television the other day I saw that the Bourse in Paris is already preparing to compete with the great financial centre of London. Of course it is. Unless there is more assistance given to private enterprise and to the financial world in London by relieving some of the congestion and pressures, there is a very real danger—as I said in this House nine years ago—of the economic activity jumping from the South-East of England into the golden triangle of Europe: Amsterdam, Paris and Continental cities. That danger is there and will remain until people grasp the significance of planning the infrastructure of an airport and its site.

I make no apology for saying that one of the greatest causes of congestion is the direct employment by this Government of people who have no need to work in the South-East. There is a decent air service and a very good rail service from the north of the country into London for Ministers who go to see their departments. In any case, in these days of modern communications there is physically no need for them to travel in order to stay in touch with their departments. To solve the problem of congestion in the South-East one must not just focus on one specific aspect. One must take in the whole planning concept and make sure that the plan embraces the rest of the country.

So the real area of economic activity of the United Kingdom covers 200 miles. And we must see that in a world context, where it is only the size of a pocket handkerchief. We have to be very careful in our planning. We must always ensure that any further economic activity that is generated takes place in the northern parts of this country. If we do not, the final result will be that the South-East will be too congested; and the private sector—about which this Government likes to boast—will not hesitate at all to move toward the biggest money. If that "biggest money" happens to be in Europe, that is where it will go. If the South-East begins to learn that lesson, God help the North, because the North will be condemned to be a land of dereliction such as has never before been seen in this country.

I support entirely the case made for moving activity into the regional airports, but also we must generate the activity that is required by the airports, which means moving people, jobs and resources out of the South-East. It already has too much.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, although I have not put my name on the list of speakers for this debate, I should like to join in supporting many of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot. Much of what I had intended to say has already been said by my noble friend Lord Sefton, but I should like to speak from the point of view of a practical user of Manchester Airport.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, about the situation at Speke. Last week I had the opportunity to say so during an oral question to the Minister. So far as I am concerned Speke and Manchester airports are one airport and should have been one for many years. I believe that they could still become one airport and hope that they will not miss the opportunity of joining together one day, the sooner the better.

I speak to your Lordships today as a user. I am a director of a joint venture company with Chinese partners, which means that I have to go to China three times a year. I travel from Blackburn, my home town, down to London and then from London 1 go to Heathrow or Gatwick. It takes me eight hours to get there and eight hours to come back. I do that three times a year. It is not always convenient to catch the Shuttle and therefore I travel by British Rail. I am a great supporter of British Rail but even though the service from the North-West is fairly good and quite adequate—well, nearly adequate—nevertheless, the inconvenience of eight hours' travelling is considerable. An air service from Manchester would make the journey much more easy and much more profitable and would save the dickens of a lot of time.

While the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, was speaking I was reminded of the fact that during the course of this year I travelled to China twice, Hong Kong twice, Bombay once, Washington once and once to Kuala Lumpur. I regret that I have not been to Glasgow. On no occasion was I able to obtain a direct flight from Manchester to my destination. If that is my experience during the course of one year, how much is it the experience of others, time and again? I should like to echo the plea for more international airlines operating out of Manchester. I suppose that the same plea could be made for other places in the regions. This does not just apply to Manchester although it is my particular case.

I should also like to correct one or two remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, regarding the road and rail services around Manchester. I wish that it were as easy to reach Manchester airport from certain parts of the region as the noble Lord made out. Going over Barton Bridge or the viaduct takes much longer than he says it does at the present time. However the roadworks are only temporary and when they are completed the journey will be much quicker than it is now. Nevertheless, the structure is there to enable a speedier passage to the airports.

I also support the plea of noble Lord, Lord Sefton, for greater use of Speke airport.

7.39 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for tabling this Unstarred Question. But for this debate I would have been at the JACOLA (the Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities) conference which, as has been mentioned, is meeting now at Bristol. In fact, the minister for transport, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, is speaking there tonight. We are however delighted that the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, is to reply to us tonight on behalf of the Government.

We have the advantage of previously stated views and replies to the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, and the supplementary questions subsequently raised in this House as recently as 30th November, about the encouragement that should be given to provincial airports. In readiness for this debate I thought that it might be useful to see what had been said previously by Ministers. I have therefore re-read the speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, which opened and closed the debate on 5th July 1988 on the White Paper, Airports Policy. Again I thought it worth while looking at the debate on the Second Reading of the Airports Bill on 21st April 1986, which was opened and closed by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. There were references to runway capacity, terminal capacities and air transport movements, but little or no mention of air space capacity. Yet now it is generally accepted that the important problem in particular to the South-East is the availability of safe airspace capacity.

That is one reason why we on these Benches have congratulated the Minister on the efforts that he has been making in Europe with regard to Eurocontrol. On 30th November the Minister reminded the House that the Civil Aviation Authority has been asked for its advice by July next arising from a review which it is to undertake of airport capacity. I naturally assume—I dare not do otherwise in view of what my noble friends who sit behind me have said— that the CAA will deal with the position of the United Kingdom as a whole, not merely that of the South-East.

I have in mind extracts of a CAA memorandum to the House of Commons Transport Committee on air traffic movement in the UK, document CAP-537 published only on 26th April of this year. That memorandum dismissed a misconception that the problem of airspace congestion could be reduced by simply increasing runway capacity, a point that I have made time and again from this Dispatch Box. Paragraph 24.4 of the document published in April this year clearly argued that increased runway capacity does not reduce airspace congestion in the London terminal control area.

The final paragraph of that memorandum stresses that any possible measures that may be taken cannot be painless. Although the CAA is prepared to play its full part, it will be necessary for the Government to provide a clear and coherent policy which will require decisions to be taken. That was only seven months ago. I agree with my noble friends who sit behind me that the Government have some very important decisions to take which they must take.

Ministers have often referred to the role of regional airports. I readily recognise the approval that has been given of special capital development schemes. But surely more must be done; it can be done.

Following the 1986 Airports Act, 16 of the largest local authority-owned airports have been established as public airport companies. Surely following that there should be some relaxation of their borrowing powers. There have been murmurings of possible compulsory privatisation of these local authority-owned public airport companies. I hope that the Minister will he able to give a definite assurance tonight that there is no intention to make local authorities dispose of these new public airport companies which are now registered under the Companies Act. These 16 public airport companies must be able to plan for the future and murmurings of privatisation will do no good. That is linked to the whole question of regional airport development.

Following this debate, I trust that the Minister, the Department of Transport and the CAA will take another look at Section 6 of the White Paper, Airports Policy, on regional airports. Although it is often stressed that most passengers using South-East airports emanate from the South-East I draw attention to paragraph 12.11 of the White Paper. It states: The Government recognise that too many travellers from the regions are forced to use the South-East airports". The document went on to point out the important part that air transport licensing policies play in the use of regional airports.

On 8th May 1987—I know the date only too well because it is my birthday; I do not forget that!—when the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, and I spoke on an order to limit the aircraft movements at Stansted, I said that sooner or later there would have to be a stop to the building of concrete jungles throughout the South-East of England. I expressed a regret that although some 31 bodies had been consulted about that order, there had been no consultation either with JACOLA or the North of England Regional Consortium. I should like the Minister to give an undertaking—I am certain he will—to urge on the CAA in the review it is now to undertake that these two bodies will be included in the consultation. That is essential.

The Minister is speaking tonight at the JACOLA Conference. I am sure that there will be useful discussion with him and from him. I hope we shall hear that he has dealt with some of the important points affecting regional airports that are raised, first, in a guide recently issued by JACOLA; and, secondly, on a policy statement issued by that authority to which I shall refer before I close.

I am not a representative of JACOLA. However, I believe that its pressure for regional airports is common sense, and an issue in which my party and I believe. The statement by JACOLA says: The Joint Committee continues to monitor developments in Europe in the light of the European Commission's liberalisation policy to ensure that maximum benefits are achieved for regional airports". Let us remember that 1992 is not a long way off. The development of regional airports in this liberalisation policy must play a very important part.

Is sufficient being done to encourage the use of regional airports in bilateral agreements? I know that we have recognised some successes in this House. With regard to Manchester, three American airlines have requested an increase to frequency of movements into Manchester. It has been said that apart from revenue to the Manchester Airport it would bring 1 million extra passengers and possibly help the regional economy to the tune of £100 million. There is grave danger in pressing for Manchester because if we are not careful we shall have not only intense rivalry and competition between Manchester and the South-East, but intense competition with regard to proper planning between the different airports outside the South-East; and that must be avoided.

I also remind the House that written into the 1986 Act is the duty placed upon the CAA, to have regard to the need to secure the sound development of civil aviation throughout the United Kingdom". Those words were inserted in the 1986 Act deliberately, I believe, from an amendment which the Government eventually accepted. It is vital that in any plan that is made we consider civil aviation not just in the South-East and London area but for the nation as a whole, not only in regional airport development but what effect such development might have on the economy in various parts of the country.

The Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities has recently issued an excellent policy statement. What it stresses must from my point of view include the four BAA airports in Scotland. By regional airports we do not just mean local authority airports, so we must take into consideration four important airports owned by the BAA in Scotland.

It would be simpler if, instead of using my own words, I quote from the introduction of the JACOLA policy statement: The Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities recommends that the Department of Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority, JACOLA and the aviation industry— that includes both airlines and airports— should work closely together in formulating and implementing positive steps to ensure that the potential contribution of airports outside the Heathrow/Gatwick/Stansted system to meeting the UK's air transport needs is more fully exploited. Such joint action is essential in order to"— Four points are made, and I believe JACOLA's words are much better than anything I could use. The first is to: satisfy the air transport needs of the travelling public in the most effective, efficient and accessible way; [secondly, to] prevent any worsening of the environmental and land-based transport congestion problems in the London area as a result of the concentration of airport development there; [thirdly, to] enable the regions to maximise the economic development, land use and other transportation benefits of airport development; [and, fourthly, to] ensure that the UK obtains maximum benefits from the EC aviation liberalisation measures". I am certain that few noble Lords in the House would disagree with those four points, but they are matters which must be kept in mind in answering the Question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and in properly planning a national policy for airports, not only including the South-East and Manchester but also taking into consideration all the airports needed for the development of the economy in different areas of this country.

7.53 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Teviot for asking this Question. I remind your Lordships that my noble friend asked specifically what measures Her Majesty's Government are taking to promote direct intercontinental air services to regional airports in the United Kingdom. I shall now attempt to answer that Question.

It also provides an ideal opportunity not only to explain the Government's policy on the expansion of services from our regional airports but to demonstrate how successful that policy has been. My noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara would of course have liked to answer this debate himself, but, as my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, he had a long-standing engagement to address JACOLA at its conference in Bristol. This committee represents the owners of the majority of the regional airports, and I have no doubt that my noble friend will at this moment be discussing many of the topics that have been raised this evening.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, together with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for their contributions to the debate, although it went on for slightly longer than I expected and at one stage became rather more lively than I had anticipated. Some of the matters which have been raised fell rather wide of the scope of the Question on the Order Paper. I shall, however, comment briefly on three questions asked by the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Sefton.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked for an assurance about privatisation. The Government are keen to see the introduction of private capital into airports owned by local authorities. The Airports Act 1986 enables authorities to dispose of company securities as they think fit, but it does not require disposal. The Government have no present plans to take such powers. The noble Lord also asked that the CAA should consult JACOLA and other organisations. I have no doubt that the CAA will take account of the views of all parties interested in the matter.

I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, that the Stansted development was needed to meet demand in the South-East, but regional airports development is also needed to meet demand there. I should remind him that the CAA is due to report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport in July 1989 on the requirements for United Kingdom airport capacity to the year 2005.

In 1985 the Government published their airports policy White Paper, which confirmed unequivocally our commitment to encourage the use and development of our regional airports so that they can meet the maximum demand they can attract. But of course this policy objective is not only intended to benefit the airports themselves. Increased opportunities must be created for airlines, both domestic and foreign, if airports are to expand. This, in turn, will provide the consumer with a wider choice, both in terms of destinations served and frequency of services.

Both the Government and the regional airports have a role to play in achieving this objective. It is for the airport managements successfully to persuade airlines that new services to their particular airport are not only economically viable but represent a better alternative than increasing their existing services to the already congested London airports system. Where traffic rights do not exist, airports should make it clear to airlines and through them to foreign governments that such rights are worth negotiating for.

The Government's role, on the other hand, is clearly set out in the White Paper. We are committed to creating wider opportunities for airlines when conditions of competition are fair and British interests are not prejudiced. Our success in meeting this commitment is perhaps best exemplified by our recent air services agreement with Canada. Now, both Canadian and UK designated airlines are completely free to operate services between any airport in either country's territory. This has largely resulted in a significant increase in intercontinental services from our regional airports. During 1988, Leeds-Bradford, Cardiff and Newcastle have all offered regular scheduled services to Toronto. Other regional airports, such as Manchester and Prestwick, also offered services to other Canadian destinations such as Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Halifax.

More generally, over the past decade traffic at regional airports has grown by 92 per cent. compared with only 59 per cent. at BAA's London airports. Growth at Manchester has been over 150 per cent. and scheduled services are now operated from Manchester to over 60 foreign destinations, including services to eight points in North America and the Caribbean, and to eight other intercontinental destinations. Prestwick now has services to six North American cities.

However, there are examples where, despite these endeavours, the Government have as yet been unable to negotiate wider opportunities for airlines to service our regional airports. Your Lordships will no doubt appreciate that we have yet to negotiate satisfactory arrangements for an increase in the current level of services from Manchester to Singapore and the commencement of services by US carriers from New York and Boston to Manchester.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend, but he just mentioned services to Manchester from all those places. How many direct services are there to Manchester for those foreign airports; or are they via London?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I cannot tell my noble friend the answer to that, but I will write to him. I could find the answer, but it would take me time and I think my noble friend would rather I go on with my speech.

We are currently examining the possiblity of introducing more liberal air services arrangements with Singapore and there is to he a further meeting between the UK and the Singapore aeronautical authorities early next year.

Wider access for US carriers to serve Manchester is a complex issue. Until this year the US Government were of the view that access for US airlines to serve Manchester was not worth negotiating as their airlines had no interest in such services. But Manchester airport successfully persuaded some US carriers that Manchester and the North-West offered their own substantial market for direct services.

Intergovernmental consultations were the next step. The air services agreement between the US and the UK is founded in the principles that there is a broad balance of opportunities for each side's airlines. If the Americans were to be given more rights at Manchester, balancing concessions would be needed for UK carriers in the United States.

At negotiations in March we offered the US a very reasonable package, taking into account the benefits that would accrue to Manchester and the North-West from additional US services. I shall not trouble noble Lords with the details of what we sought but our offer to the Americans was a good one. We said that we could agree to the immediate commencement of a daily non-stop service between Manchester and Boston, and a daily one-stop service between Manchester and New York. But the American team's reaction was disappointing. It would not accept any package unless we agreed to the immediate commencement of all the services it sought. That include a second daily service between Manchester and New York, that one being non-stop.

As many noble Lords will know, the immediate commencement of a service on the New York-Manchester route by two large US carriers would have been disastrous for British Airways' fledgling daily service on that route. Manchester Airport, which was consulted frequently during the course of those negotiations, had advised that the survival of BA's service was of top priority to it.

The US Government then took the view that a second round of consultations should take place no earlier than the beginning of the next year. Eventually, however, they were persuaded out of that and the second round was held last week in Washington. We are disappointed that, again, no final agreement emerged.

But last week's negotiations were not a waste of time. On the contrary, there was a useful exchange of views, and the sides explored a number of new ideas for developing an appropriate package as the basis for an agreement. A Manchester Airport representative was included in the UK delegation throughout. Discussions will continue and we shall meet again as soon as mutually possible. The US Government are now considering dates which we have proposed for further negotiations in December or early January. In the meantime, both sides will further examine each other's ideas and the Government very much hope that a satisfactory settlement will be reached soon.

I noted what my noble friend Lord Teviot said about deregulation but there is an important point to be made. The US Government must be in no doubt that if a deal is to be struck they must be prepared to pay a reasonable price. We shall not be unreasonable. We see advantages for Manchester and the North-West and we shall take them into account. But there must also be advantages for UK airlines. I have no doubt that the US negotiators watched very closely the reactions of Manchester Airport and its supporters to the breakdown of talks in March. No doubt they were hoping that the Government would acquiesce in the face of that domestic pressure and give traffic rights to Manchester for nothing in return. They were mistaken. There must be mutual benefits. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, will agree.

Our policy was conceived after extensive consultation and careful consideration. We are not going to set it aside and ignore the interests of UK airlines in the highly competitive US environment. As well as those of Manchester, we must safeguard the broader interests of the country as a whole.

Allowing access to Manchester or to other regional airports for nothing in return would not be in anyone's long-term interests.

The Government and regional airports must therefore be seen to be pulling together. Of course the Government wish to increase traffic to them. But the interest of the nation as a whole demands that we have a strong aviation industry and the Government must look to their interest as well.

House adjourned at three minutes past eight o'clock.