HL Deb 29 June 1989 vol 509 cc843-5

3.25 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the charge imposed and what other costs are incurred by aircraft landing at and taking off from Prestwick Airport en route between Scottish airports and North America in order to comply with the order made by the Secretary of State for Transport.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we understand that charges at Prestwick vary, depending on aircraft weight, the number of passengers and aircraft parking time. Airlines serving Prestwick as an intermediate stop will incure additional fuel costs and, in some circumstances, additional crew costs. These will depend on the circumstances of each case.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that not particularly informative Answer. Does he recall that as recently as 12th May his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, addressing the Scottish Conservative Party Conference, said: Why shouldn't an airline fly between any two destinations it chooses? Can my noble friend answer that question?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I think that my right honourable friend would have wished to add the words "in the same area". Prestwick is part of the Scottish lowlands airport area just as Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted are part of the London area.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Prestwick is an excellent but underused international airport? Is he aware that it is within 30 miles of the city of Glasgow, which means that it is closer to Glasgow than Gatwick is to London? Does he accept that a large number of people in the west of Scotland find it environmentally unacceptable to have additional transatlantic flights from a city centre airport?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I can certainly confirm that Prestwick Airport is a fine airport and that it is within easy reach of Glasgow. It will be even better placed when various road and rail improvements announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland are made. I am well aware of the views of people in the Glasgow area about the additional transatlantic flights. Those views were made clear to me when the subject of this review arose.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, in view of the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, does it naturally follow that the Government are about to require flights from Heathrow to land at Stansted in order to improve the viability of that airport? That seems similar to taking off from Glasgow and landing at Prestwick.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

No, my Lords. The traffic distribution rules in the London area have had to be established owing to the congestion in the London system. I was comparing those with traffic distribution for Scottish lowland airports.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is nothing like the same problem in the Glasgow and Prestwick areas that there is in the London area? Is he aware that the Scottish people are puzzled about conflicting reports on Prestwick? Is he further aware that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence and one of my honourable friends in another place have questioned closely rumours of reports and financial statements being doctored by official bodies in order to lean one way or the other between Prestwick and Glasgow? Would it not be better to conduct a full investigation and review of the advantages and disadvantages of Glasgow, Prestwick and Edinburgh so that the Scottish people could make up their minds on the basis of facts?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am interested that the noble Lord should call for such a review. His honourable friends in another place from both the Glasgow and Prestwick areas made it clear to me that they did not wish any review to take place. They were not the only ones who made that clear.

On the accounting practices at Prestwick, the BAA has made changes in the treatment of certain costs and depreciation at all its airports to bring the company closer to normal private sector accounting. On the same basis as previous years, the loss at Prestwick is down to £538,000. As the noble Lord may recall, the 1985 White Paper said that we would have a review of the position at Prestwick if the airport did not show a financial improvement. As it has shown a financial improvement over the years we decided not to have a review.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, although this may be a little wide of the original Question on the Order Paper, would the noble Lord care to comment on the proposition that though an adequate road link between the west of Scotland's urban belt and Prestwick exists adequate rail links do not? If the latter problem were given attention, would that not overcome the difficulty referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it did not seem to me that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, had encountered difficulties. However, as I told the noble Lord, the Scottish Office is discussing with British Rail and Strathclyde PTE the best way to improve rail access to Prestwick, including the possibility of a station at the airport.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend explain to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that the restriction does not reduce in any way the number of flights leaving Glasgow Airport but merely impedes the operation of them? Is he aware that Prestwick, being, as he said, a very fine airport, can only be damaged by the compulsory imposition of a stop on an airline which does not wish to stop there?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, of course the airline could always start the flight at Prestwick Airport rather than at Glasgow Airport.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, am I correct in saying that details of these costs and various charges have been made public from time to time? Is it the case that the Minister is unable to repeat them or that he does not wish to do so?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the charges in respect of the use of Prestwick Airport are laid down in the conditions of use which apply to the airport. They are therefore public to anyone who wishes to find them. My original Answer was to say that the charges and costs depended on many different factors, including aircraft weight, and so on. Thus they would vary. However, anyone can calculate the costs for themselves.

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