HL Deb 17 May 1994 vol 555 cc211-38

8.23 p.m.

Lord Bethell rose to ask Her Majesty' Government when they will respond to proposals for the enlargement of Heathrow airport, in particular the construction of a third runway, a fifth terminal, and new roads in the area; and what representations they have received from the London Borough of Hillingdon.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful even at this late hour for the chance to put to the Government certain questions about their plans for the development, and perhaps expansion, of Heathrow airport. In this matter I must declare my interest in that I represent in the European Parliament part of the area of Heathrow airport and those who live in the London Borough of Hillingdon, many of whom are affected by any plans for redevelopment in Heathrow.

A number of people in the south of Hillingdon, in the villages of Sipson, Harlington, Harmondsworth and elsewhere are living in a state of some distress because for a few years they have faced the possibility of the bulldozing of their homes. If there were to be a third runway at Heathrow, it is suggested that those villages and an area about them should be totally razed to the ground in order that it could be built. It is therefore as a result of advice from them primarily—although of course I speak for myself—that I am putting these questions today.

I do not know whether or not it was a coincidence, but yesterday Sir John Egan, the chairman of BAA, said that his authority had no intention and indeed no wish to build a third runway at Heathrow. He asked the Government to make it clear that they would not proceed with any such idea.

I realise that this matter is the subject of an inquiry that will not be delivered until the end of this month and that then a period of reflection is required before any decision is given by the Government. However, I would be very grateful if the Minister will indicate when he hopes to be able to set at rest the minds of those who live in the area just north of one of the Heathrow runways. The threat of the destruction of their homes has been hanging over their heads for some years. I believe that that threat has become intolerable. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give them some comfort this evening, or at least indicate when the matter will be resolved and when a final decision will be taken.

I nevertheless welcome the statement by Sir John Egan; I recognise the dilemma that he faces. Indeed, Heathrow airport is a very important facility, not only to the shareholders of the airport but to the economy of this country. It employs tens of thousands of people, some of whom live in the vicinity of the airport, and it is a very great support to British Airways and other British airlines which also employ very large numbers of British people.

It would be quite wrong not to take into account the contribution that Heathrow makes to the local economy.

However, on the other side, I am afraid that there is a price to be paid. That price, as I have just mentioned, is the threat of destruction of homes and also the disruption of the life and living standards of many others who live in Hillingdon, Spelthorne and nearby locations. It is rather like sharing a bed with an elephant for the residents and local businesses. The airport dominates the area. When talking to people locally I sometimes feel that they are small fish swimming in a bowl with one very large fish looming and swimming around them, and they are not quite sure what is going to happen to them and who will gobble whom up next.

There are serious problems of traffic, noise, pollution, and even of objects falling from the sky. There are the problems of night flights, which affect in particular those in the villages I have mentioned. Flights into Heathrow between five and six o'clock in the morning cause people to lose sleep. While the question that I raised first, the destruction of homes, is the most important one, account has also to be taken of the problems of those who have to live with the airport for the foreseeable future.

I therefore come to the question of Terminal 5. I know that BAA has made a strong case to the Government and I would be grateful for the Government's comments upon it. It is suggested by BAA that it proposes to remove only an unsightly sewage or sludge works and a small number of houses and build a brand new Terminal 5 on that spot. It is claimed that Terminal 5 will be a model terminal; that it will deal with those who come to Heathrow in a proper and appropriate way; and that it will be, as it were, an amenity for the surrounding area.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way for a moment. How can he expect the Minister to comment on that issue when it is the subject of an inquiry which is ongoing and in respect of which the Secretary of State occupies a quasi-judicial position? Is it not fruitless to ask this Question?

Lord Bethell

I put down a Question about these points. The Question has been ruled admissible. I hope that my noble friend will do his best. He will be the judge of what he is allowed or not allowed to say. If he cannot answer my questions, no doubt he will make that clear. However, I make these points and put these questions because I have taken advice from many people who live in the area. I believe that I am entitled to do so. If my noble friend does not wish to answer, we shall soon know.

Terminal 5 will be a possibility. However, I am not quite sure how the issue of those who will flood into the airport as a result of Terminal 5 will be dealt with. No doubt it will result in an increase in the number of people coming to the airport and again an increase in traffic, noise and pollution, with people being woken up in the morning.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. When does he expect people to be woken up other than in the morning?

Lord Bethell

That is a very amusing intervention; but, as I said a few moments ago, some people in the Harlington area are being woken up between 5 a.m. and 6. a.m. I imagine that that is rather earlier than the noble Lord is woken up in the morning. The matter was clarified in my earlier comments. Perhaps the noble Lord would like to live near Heathrow. Then he would realise that my points are not frivolous.

Terminal 5 will have to satisfy the local residents of the area before it obtains the go-ahead from the Government. I hope that, even at this stage, the Government will be able to give some idea of how their thinking on this point is moving.

Finally, I need to refer to the matter of access to the airport by road. At the moment those in the West Drayton area bear the brunt of traffic congestion. There is also a possibility of a flyover being built from West Drayton into the north of Heathrow Airport, using the present tunnel system, which already becomes very congested at peak times. Can we have some information on how the departments view the possibility of building further alternative access to Heathrow—perhaps from the south-west and directly from the M.25 from a junction to the south-west of the airport?

I believe that those are enough questions to go on with. No doubt others will be raised by noble Lords. I have been advised that I could continue speaking for longer than the 10 minutes allotted to me under the rules set out on the note. However, I shall not continue for longer than 10 minutes. I understand that it is open to others to speak a little longer than the allotted time.

8.34 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I too will try to stick fairly nearly to the time originally allocated. Perhaps I may use the alteration in this evening's proceedings to speak at a more normal pace than I would otherwise have done in trying to compress many arguments into three minutes. I apologise to the House in that, because of the rearrangement of the proceedings, depending upon how long other noble Lords speak for, I may have to leave before the end of the debate, in order to fulfil an engagement that started some time ago.

I decided that perhaps the main subject that I should address this evening was not merely the environmental issue and matters of the type referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, but the uncritical assumption that London, and in particular the City of London, is dependent on ever-increasing growth at Heathrow Airport. At meetings in which I have participated with colleagues in local government and people from the private sector, it seemed clear to me that the City has the ear of government in a way that local residents and the environmental lobby (by which I mean practically everybody now) cannot emulate. I should like to challenge that assumption and issue a very serious warning. If there is unconstrained expansion at Heathrow, the goose that laid the golden egg is in severe danger of being killed.

London's competitive position in aviation should be judged on the basis of serving the residents and businesses of London and its region. It is not merely a matter of size. I do not believe that London's status is threatened if its airport capacity is limited. It is much more threatened by poor internal transport links; and I include in that links between the centre of London and the airport. Indeed, the RUCATSE study identifying passenger benefits included benefits to foreign nationals. I wonder whether interlining—as the term is —non-British passengers who change planes but do not use London's facilities and do not contribute to London's economy other than by landing charges and so on, really contributes to the economy and whether they do not simply use up the capacity.

As a society we are beginning to understand the benefits of traffic management in respect of the car. I wonder whether the time has come to translate that understanding to the management of air traffic. Should demand be unconstrained? I think not. Can it be unconstrained? Again, I think not. The RUCATSE-based case envisages 136 million foreign air visitors by the year 2025; that is 136 million compared with 11.3 million in 1991. That is a lot of people, In 1991 more than half of those foreign visitors came into London. If that were the case in respect of the 136 million who are expected to come in 2025, London would be completely swamped. Clearly that is plain nonsense.

I must make my observations now under subject headings. First, there is the effect of unconstrained demand. It will mean noise pollution, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, referred. I have heard the arguments about having quieter aircraft in the future. As was said last week in response to the announcement about the change in the rules for night flights, being woken up by a quiet aircraft is like being run over by a light lorry. That is an apt analogy. Secondly, it is suggested that there will be larger aircraft and therefore fewer flights. I have heard the Civil Aviation Authority say that it believes that that will not happen. The airlines will be reluctant to lose the slots at Heathrow and there will not be fewer flights. Thirdly, there is air pollution from ground traffic as well as air traffic. We are increasingly aware of the problems of pollution in and around our capital city. Asthma is but one result.

London's population is well aware and very vocal on the subject of its poor transport arrangements. It is what it said to the Government in response to the consultation carried out by the Secretary of State. I had thought that the Government, in their Trunk Roads in England 1994 Review accepted that. In the introduction (paragraph 2.2) they said: The Government's policy for sustainable development is to strike the right balance between securing economic development, protecting the environment and sustaining future quality of life". They go on to say that we cannot build our way out of problems by increasing road building.

That must be right. But the review did not apply to "improvements" in West London. It is proposed that the interchange to the M.25 should go through a green belt area—14 lanes of the M.25! The traffic on those 14 lanes will then have to go on to four lanes on the M.4 as the road narrows and on to the flyover from Hammersmith. As the numerate people of West London remarked: 14 into 4 will not go.

In the past week we have seen the response of another place to the proposals for CrossRail—yet another transport development apparently off the books. If the Heathrow expansion goes ahead, what of the Government's proper and admirable policy for addressing the east-west balance in London for more development in the east in order to advantage that area and to take the heat out of west London? What about the Channel tunnel? The issues are almost endless—and I have now doubled the time for which I said I would speak. If the demand is unconstrained, what will have been achieved? If one reads the publicity put out by BAA plc and its explanation of what goes on and will go on at Heathrow, we shall have one of the largest shopping centres in the world. That seems to be the second part of BAA's agenda—shopping, and more shopping.

Finally, and taking the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, the Government cannot get off the hook tonight by saying that it is a matter for the inspectors at the various inquiries. The Secretary of State may or may not take the advice of the inspectors. These are Government decisions and I hope that hearing the anxieties expressed tonight the Minister will give us some indication that the Government are thinking finally in terms of a national airport strategy and not lumping all the development on to Heathrow.

8.41 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there are few people outside of this Palace who realise that under the hurly-burly of day-to-day politics there are some extremely good friendships that cross all political parties. We saw that last week and I too have been the beneficiary of such friendship. I thank your Lordships very much for all your help and support over the past months.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we are extremely fortunate in this country because we have the finest aviation industry in the world. We did not get it by being Britain; but by hard work, liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation. It is the envy certainly of Europe and having seen, as a transport Minister, what is happening at Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol, I know what their agenda is: it is to take what we have and take our crown away from us.

That crown of being the centre of air traffic is of enormous benefit to Great Britain; to UK Limited. As a result of government action we have turned loss-making concerns that drained taxpayers' money into profitable concerns that are being taxed and that are paying for new schools and hospitals and the quality of life that we need in this country. That is an enormous asset and one that we must not throw away lightly. The aviation industry provides hundreds of thousands of jobs both directly and indirectly. That too is something that in the 1990s we realise is not to be taken for granted. We need to work on it and cherish it so that those jobs are still there for succeeding generations.

What we have is under threat from a variety of sources. As I said, it is under threat from European competition. It is because we gave the passenger the right and the opportunity to fly where, when and how he wants to fly that he made the decision to use London. If we restrict the passenger from making that decision, he may not go to another airport in this country but across the Channel, because at Schiphol and at Charles de Gaulle they are producing facilities that the passenger wants. We did it in the 1980s and they are doing it in the 1990s. We must adapt and change to ensure that we do not lose that advantage. We are also under threat from those who do not want to see further progress. Of course, my noble friend Lord Bethell is right: the quality of life is important; the environment is important; but so too is UK Limited and we must protect that.

The RUCATSE report drew up a number of important questions. Clearly a green field site development will be both politically and practically difficult. I hope therefore that my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish—whom I am delighted holds the post that he holds—will not make any response to my noble friend Lord Bethell today. We must await the RUCATSE report. Heathrow, which is the subject of the debate, cannot be looked at in isolation in any way, shape or form. It is part of the London system and the system in the South East.

I would contradict the noble Baroness. The restrictions at the moment at Heathrow, although less than they were because of the removal of traffic distribution rules, means that that airport is full. Unless there is development it will remain at a plateau. Perhaps the size of planes will increase but without major development there will be restrictions. Night noise restrictions are but one. There are no night noise restrictions at Charles de Gaulle and limited ones at Schiphol.

We must learn from Europe. We must take account of the quality of life. We must take account of the environment. Let us look at what others are doing. They are utilising their major airports by providing feeder relief airports. We are lucky in this country because we can provide feeder relief airports for the South East on existing sites. That does not mean green field development. We have Northolt, which is under used at the moment, as a potential feeder relief airport for Heathrow. We have Redhill as a potential feeder relief airport for Gatwick, which is very full at peak times.

1 hope that the Government, in their assessment of RUCATSE, will not ignore that option. It is a modern option to a modern problem because of the environmental and quality of life considerations. But we have another inbuilt advantage. Both Redhill and Northolt have extremely good infrastructure. Not only are they existing airports, but they are next door to motorways and dual carriageways. It is not beyond the wit of man to adapt the existing rail services, particularly to Northolt. There is an existing service close to Redhill which could benefit the South East and allow passengers to continue to travel from where they want to travel at the times they want to travel.

Of course it is easy to say no. It is easy to put up problems. One difficulty that will be raised in response to my suggestion is air traffic control. I do not believe that to be a major problem. If the will is there, the technology is there. Any issues that arise can be solved. Far from agreeing with the noble Baroness who said that we threatened to kill the goose by allowing further development at Heathrow, I believe that unless further development is allowed in the South East—I take an area wider than Heathrow—we will kill the goose that is laying the golden egg for this country. Business will go elsewhere; people will travel elsewhere; there is no question of that. There is proof already from the travelling patterns that are changing.

I say to my noble friend Lord Bethell, whom I know will be re-elected with an increased majority, that he should bash the heads together of some of our friends in Europe about air traffic control, to make sure that the Euro control system works better. Whereas they are dragging their feet, we are not. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bethall. I hope that the Government will not say anything tonight but will look at the whole of the RUCATSE problem and the South East, and look at new alternatives to solve the difficulties.

8.48 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bethell for raising this question this evening. I declare an interest in BAA, of which I think many of your Lordships are aware. It is also a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Caithness on aviation matters once again. He followed me and I now follow him.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis;, I am slightly puzzled by the debate this evening. As the noble Lord said, the House is aware that the public inquiry process has now begun into the matter of Terminal 5 at Heathrow. The planning application was made last year; the application was called in; an inspector has been appointed; the preliminaries have begun and a full public inquiry will take place before too long. All the issues that have been and will be raised this evening will be extensively aired during what is expected to be a fairly long public inquiry. I only wish that the public inquiry would take about an hour, the same time as tonight's debate is going to take.

However, I have no doubt that a fifth terminal is required at Heathrow and that it can easily be justified without any requirement for a third runway. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Bethell said, BAA stated formally only yesterday that it did not wish to see a third runway built at Heathrow. I hope that that helps my noble friend with at least the first part of his Question this evening.

Why do we need a fifth terminal at Heathrow? It is simply because passenger numbers are rising every year, and if Heathrow is to maintain its place as part of the United Kingdom's great success story of aviation, then capacity must be increased. As has been said, aviation provides tens of thousands of jobs and contributes some £500 million a year to the balance of payments.

The proposals for Terminal 5 envisage only, I believe, 5 per cent. more aircraft using the airport, which can be handled on the existing runways, and with no need for extra night flights. Quite simply, aircraft are getting bigger and carry more passengers. The total annual movement figures produced by BAA for the number of terminal passengers at Heathrow rose by 6.1 per cent. in the past 12 months as against an increase in air transport movements of only 2.5 per cent. I am told that the average load factor for British Airways has risen from 55 per cent. to 66 per cent. in recent years. On the Paris route the type of aircraft used by BA has changed from Boeing 737s a few years ago to 757s into 767s, with a near doubling in the capacity of seats available for the same number of aircraft movements. I believe that that trend is set to continue.

Why develop at Heathrow? I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who spoke about develop-ment east of London, that the main reason for the demand for Heathrow comes from the west of London and from the nearby Home Counties, in particular, Surrey. The last thing we want from the transport policy point of view is a great number of people travelling from the west of London and Surrey around the M.25 to some airport which might or might not be built on the mudflats in the Thames estuary. That would be simply ridiculous. I also point out, as noble Lords will be aware, that construction of the Heathrow Express is now well underway. It is estimated that by early next century nearly 45 per cent. of passengers using Heathrow will be travelling by public transport as against 36 per cent. today.

It is not as though the development proposals for Heathrow are going to detract from the business of the regional airports. For example, Manchester is already expanding. It has built a second terminal and it has plans for a second runway. That is in order to satisfy its own demand and has nothing to do—as all the studies have shown—with the demand for airport capacity in the South East. I was not sure whether the noble Baroness was against the development of Terminal 5. I understood her points about the RUCATSE report which dealt with runway capacity, but not terminal capacity. I see that the noble Baroness is nodding her head. She is against the development of Terminal 5. That would be to the disadvantage of people to the west of London who need to use Heathrow.

I have spoken longer than I should. One cannot possibly do justice to Heathrow in the time available this evening. If the country is to do justice to itself then it must allow one of its greatest assets to grow and prosper.

8.54 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, earlier this afternoon this debate promised to demonstrate the House of Lords at its worst. I believe that what we are having is a demonstration, I hope, of the House of Lords at its best. Before I start I must also pay tribute to Members of this House on all sides who have made me welcome after my difficult period. I thank the House and its Members for that welcome. We are all sympathetic to Members of our House who face difficulties. I am sure that we are all sympathetic to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, at the imminent loss of his position as a Member of the European Parliament. We feel great anxiety for that. If that were the only reason for the debate then we could dispense with it fairly quickly.

We are all grateful to the noble Lord for raising this subject. It is not just a parochial issue that affects his European Parliamentary constituency, but it is a subject which affects the whole of the United Kingdom. This House is one of the Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom and it is right that we should discuss this subject with all seriousness.

I rise to make a very serious plea to the Government. They should consider their attitude to the development of airports and the encouragement and determination of airline routes—which is largely in the hands of the Government—to benefit the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. Following the Prime Minister's remarks of about 18 months to two years ago when he realised the importance of manufacturing industry, I hope that the Government's policies can be aimed at developing and promoting those regions of the United Kingdom which are primarily manufacturing.

I make a plea to the Government to give all the assistance and help which they can to the major regional conurbations of this country. I refer to the conurbation of Strathclyde—and of Glasgow, effectively—as the major conurbation in Scotland. I make a plea to them for support of Manchester as the centre of the conurbation in the North-West, and for Birmingham which is the manufacturing heartland of the Midlands.

If the Government and we as a nation can develop an airports policy and an airline routes policy which enables those major regional conurbations and urban centres to have made proper provision of airports and airline routes, which they surely need and deserve, that will benefit not only the overcrowded skies around London and relieve the immense pressure on Heathrow, but will benefit the whole nation in ways which one hopes the Government can actually see and have a vision about. I am sure that we on this side of the House do have a vision about such policies because inherently we speak for the people of this nation. We do not speak for vested interests, for market forces, airports or airlines or for particular factions or groups.

We seek to speak for the people of this country as a whole. We speak not only for the 10 million-plus people of London but for the 3 million-plus people of the Birmingham conurbation; for the 3 million people who live in the North-West, for the 3 million people who live in Scotland, and also for those who live in other parts of the United Kingdom. I make a plea to the Government to lift their eyes to the prospect of Great Britain and benefiting the people of this land by developing an airports policy and an airline routes policy which will benefit all our inhabitants and not just some of the vested interests.

8.59 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, at the outset, I must declare, as I often do on these occasions, an interest in tourism. As has been mentioned, tourism contributes enormously to the economy. My erstwhile colleagues in the British Tourist Authority have as one of their objectives maximising the revenue for British carriers, including the airlines, thus enabling those carriers to play their part in achieving our tourism success story.

Furthermore, BTA looks to carriers to support its work by contributing to its promotional activity, and greatly appreciates the financial and in kind support that it receives. Therefore, it will come as no surprise to your Lordships to hear that the authority is definitely moving towards supporting Terminal 5, because it sees the great role that the terminal can play in our continuing aviation success story.

When my noble friend Lord Bethell tabled this Unstarred Question, I contacted many of my carrier friends to find out exactly what their attitudes were. I shall not talk about the third runway because to a certain extent that issue has been taken out of tonight's debate. Foreign carriers make the point that terminal capacity at Heathrow is a constraint. Anyone who has been through Terminal 1—I appreciate that that is largely a British Airways and domestic terminal—on a Sunday lunchtime or at another off-peak period will realise that the congestion that can occur makes the case for Terminal 5 in a way that can hardly be beaten. It seems to me that Heathrow's problem is no longer runway capacity, but terminal capacity. By creating additional capacity, Terminal 5 would benefit all the other terminals by releasing capacity elsewhere. I believe that that is a powerful argument for pushing on with Terminal 5.

Another important reason for supporting Terminal 5 —although I have some difficulty in making this case —is that my noble friend Lord Bethell is a victim of his own success. None of us who has worked in the aviation scene, if I can put it so crudely, in this House over the years will forget the very strong contribution that he made to achieving the liberalisation of aviation in Europe or the many battles that he has fought to achieve that liberalisation. However, liberalisation, more customer choice and more traffic mean that we need more terminal capacity.

Noise has been mentioned. We have to be very careful on this point. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, mentioned an airports policy and an aviation routing policy but possibly left out some other matters. One of the policies that not only this Government but other governments have been pushing is that of noise abatement, involving the so-called Chapter 3 planes. It seems extremely bad policy for us suddenly to say to all those airlines which have invested heavily in modern aircraft that meet the Chapter 3 requirements, "Terribly sorry, we are most grateful that you have done that, but we are now going to move the goalposts". Those companies have invested in modern aircraft and I believe that we must give them the airport capacity and particularly the terminal capacity to enable them to utilise the investment that they have made.

There has been some talk of RUCATSE. I do not want to talk about that, but I should like to talk about HASQAD in the context of Terminal 5, and to refer to surface access. Having fought for it, I am delighted that the Heathrow Express is going ahead. I hope that it is not a little item in isolation, but that in the fullness of time we shall have a Heathrow to the west tangent so that we open up access to the West of England and Wales through Heathrow Express.

My noble friend Lord Brabazon referred to the switch in traffic from road to public transport which Heathrow Express will generate. I was amazed to hear from my friends at British Rail this afternoon that they estimate that: within a year of Heathrow Express starting to run, it will be moving 70,000 passengers a day out of Paddington. I believe that that is very important. I am not seeking as others have done to pre-empt the planning inquiry, but I also believe that if Terminal 5 goes ahead, there will be some planning gain for the local communities, particularly in terms of roads. There might also be other benefits in terms of other rail routes, such as the theory that has been canvassed about a Croydon-Wimbledon-Heathrow link in the fullness of time. It is a fact of life that the European airports that are most successful have rail access.

The question of noise reminds me of something else. We tend to think tonight of the noise of landing aircraft. Because I live in Portland Place, I tend to think also of the 24-hour-a-day noise that the Bakerloo Line makes, but I have to admit that I have grown accustomed to it. I remind your Lordships of some research that was carried out in the 1980s in west London when people were asked what types of noise they found most intrusive. As I remember correctly, the most intrusive noise was that made by the lorry or juggernaut on the roads. The second was also road-related; it was that caused by the motorcycle and particularly by what was in those days the emerging motorcycle courier business. It is only when we come to the third equal source of noise pollution that we come to the noise made by our neighbour's pets and by aircraft.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that the noise made by aircraft will affect certain people very substantially? I refer to those who live under the approaches to the runways and near to the runway routes. In other words, certain people are very badly affected by aircraft noise. Therefore, that was not a question that could sensibly be asked of the population at large—or rather, if asked of the population at large, a rather different answer would be elicited.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I accept that. I mentioned that I suffer from different types of noise. I live rather further away from the airport, but I am aware of the aircraft. I am aware also of the Bakerloo Line and the Jubilee Line only 25 yards away. I live in London's widest street, which has traffic implications.

To return to a point I made earlier, we should not be satisfied with the Chapter 3 aircraft. Indeed, I hope that we are not satisfied. We must try to push on to a Chapter 4 aircraft. However, I must point out to the noble Baroness that the research was conducted in the vicinity of the airport. It was not carried out at random, as I think that she half accepted.

When we debated aviation five or six years ago, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter remarked that we appeared to have not only the world's favourite airline, but also the world's favourite airport. I believe that if we seek to constrain the development of the world's favourite airport and if we forget its importance—and, in the context of tonight's debate, if we forget the importance of Terminal 5 and surface access—we are potentially doing ourselves very great harm.

9.7 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I shall use these valuable moments to put on the record some facts about why London needs to ensure that its major international airport continues to be a top quality, top class airport capable of coping with an ever-increasing number of people with ever-higher expectations about efficiency, comfort, levels of punctuality of aircraft arrivals and departures, and the speed of processing for both embarkation and disembarkation. I must declare an interest. I am a director of British Airways, but it is not in that capacity that I am milking the greater part of my remarks tonight.

The City of London is the major player in the international financial markets. An analysis of the activity of the London financial market compared with the activities of the New York, Tokyo, Paris and Frankfurt markets shows that London has; the largest share of the foreign exchange markets at 27 per cent. of the combined markets; the largest share in external lending at 15.9 per cent.; the largest share in foreign equities trading at 58.3 per cent.; and the largest share in international bond markets (the primary market at 60 per cent. and the secondary market at 75 per cent.). Those are impressive figures, as I am sure your Lordships will agree.

Much of that activity is undertaken by foreign banks. In fact, the City of London is home to more foreign banks than any other financial centre. Why? Research has shown that there are six main reasons: first, unrivalled international transport advantages, especially when one takes into account that one can be in New York in just over three hours by Concorde; secondly, swift worldwide telecommunications; thirdly, the right financial and physical structure; fourthly, English as the lingua franca; fifthly, a magnificent working environ-ment; and, sixthly, a dedicated and expert local authority which helps them. Here I must declared another interest as an officer of the City of London Corporation.

Although a great deal of business in those markets is done by fax and telephone, we all know that there is really no substitute for face-to-face negotiations. Much of the groundwork in those huge transactions can be done sitting at desks in London, Tokyo, New York, Paris or Frankfurt, but one-to-one meetings to iron out misunderstandings; meetings abroad to sew up deals; missions abroad to clinch new business, are part and parcel of the daily activity of many who operate in those special markets. They demand, and must be supplied with, top class facilities and speedy check in—in effect, to use modern terminology, hassle-free journeys. The airlines are constantly uprating their services to passengers. The airports must do the same.

At the risk of appearing unconcerned about noise and traffic in the neighbourhood of Heathrow, we must remember that Heathrow did not spring up overnight, and that a great many of the people who live in the Heathrow area live there by choice, because they work at the airport. More than 56,000 people work at Heathrow Airport.

Terminal 1 at Heathrow is ghastly at the moment for those who work there. I do not know whether anyone around here is a frequent flyer. It is rather like a building site. But even during that building and refurbishment, the activity is being undertaken in such a way as to minimise passenger disruption. All of us who travel frequently must come to the conclusion that the airport complex as a whole is severely congested, as the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, told us, and must be extended.

So far, I have referred only to business travel. The same requirements of course apply to tourism, as the noble Lord said. Standards have been edging up and will continue to do so. Every passenger's expectations will continue to increase. We cannot allow our major international airport to succumb to falling standards because of a lack of additional handling facilities.

Despite the recent worldwide recession in air transport, passenger numbers are now increasing again. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, confirmed that and warned that there will be an increase in the number of people coming to Heathrow. As has been pointed out, his attitude seemed to be a contradiction to his well known stance in fighting like a terrier within the European Union for a liberalisation of air traffic with the aim of making air transport available to many millions more than now. Has he had a change of heart, or is he, by any remote chance, thinking about a hopeful re-election to the European Parliament?

Lord Bethell

My Lords, will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? I take the point that she has made. Does she understand that it is of course possible to have mass air travel not from Heathrow airport but from other airports around London, that a large number of people fly from Stansted, Gatwick, Luton and other airports around London, and that that could help to advance the cause that I have espoused in the past?

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, but the fact remains that people who want to come to London, want to come to Heathrow. Stansted and Luton are new airports. There is a wonderful new airport at Stansted which is hardly used. Why is it hardly used? Because it is not convenient and is not regarded as convenient, especially by those business people who want to come to London.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the noble Baroness has kindly given way. She said that people coming to London want to come to Heathrow. Is she aware that there are vast numbers of people who do not want to come anywhere near Heathrow? They want to go elsewhere, but they are forced to come to Heathrow because of airline traffic plans.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, in order to counteract that argument, I would say that there are services to many of the main European cities from the other airports, in particular Gatwick. There are also intercontinental services from Gatwick but still the people want to travel from Heathrow and to Heathrow. That is a fact. Perhaps in another 20 years people will be convinced that they ought to travel to Stansted—


My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I was not talking about people travelling to and from London; I was talking about people travelling from other parts of the United Kingdom. People from Scotland, the North West and the Midlands are effectively forced to go from Heathrow before they can catch a plane elsewhere. They would love to take a plane from their local international airport rather than from Heathrow.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, at the beginning of my few words I said that I was speaking about London as a city and a financial centre and about people coming to and from London. So far as I know, there are good services intercontinentally and continentally from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham. People there are well-served—it is the people in London who are suffering from congestion.

It would be foolhardy to think or to hope that passenger numbers will not continue to increase. The younger generation thinks nothing of flitting around the globe. For a huge number of young people, an airline ticket is not just a once-a-year purchase; it is a passport to excitement, education and a broadening of their horizons. The next generations will be even more travel-happy. We have to ensure that London does not lose out as regards this enormously beneficial business.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I would like to comment on one aspect of my noble friend's Question; that is, Terminal 5. With an unsurpassed range of destinations, the legacy of Britain's historical role in world affairs, Heathrow is a vital force in the national economy. However, I believe that there is a significant risk that it will lose its position as a pre-eminent gateway for Europe if Terminal 5 is not built. Airlines will be introducing bigger aircraft to cater for passenger demand that will ourstrip capacity at Heathrow's already congested terminals by the year 2002.

If we cannot process these people through terminals and accommodate the next generation of 600 to 800-seat aircraft with much wider wing span, rival European airports will seize the advantage. That was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Caithness. Those airports are already planning to expand; for instance, Paris four-fold to 80 million passengers per year and Amsterdam and Brussels three-fold. Paris and Amsterdam are planning new runways and Frankfurt will have another runway when the US base goes. Many passengers already interline Schiphol from regional airports such as Newcastle and Norwich in order to avoid terminal congestion at Heathrow.

Will a fifth terminal inevitably mean more noise and disruption for those living near Heathrow? All the evidence suggests that it will not, as my noble friend Lord Mountevans said. During the past 10 years there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of people adversely affected by aircraft noise as older, noisier jets are phased out. DC9s, older jumbo jets and 737s have all started disappearing. This trend will continue, encouraged in no small part by the airport authorities themselves. There is already a surcharge for the noisiest aircraft using Heathrow and a system of fines was introduced last year for aircraft reaching the current noise limits at night.

The proportion of older, noisier Chapter 2 aircraft using the airport fell from 48 per cent. in 1988 to 16 per cent. last winter. By the time that Terminal 5 opens, Chapter 2 aircraft will have disappeared altogether. Their replacement will climb more steeply because of better wing design and engine technology with high bypass ratios. Arriving aircraft will come in with much less power applied.

It is against that background—the need to keep Heathrow competitive internationally and with aircraft noise reducing significantly—that the Terminal 5 decision should be made.

The public inquiry process is now underway. I hope that the Government and this House will give BAA every encouragement to press ahead without delay with this vital investment in an industry where Britain still leads the world.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bethell has given me a spendid opportunity to bring to your Lordships' attention the fact that in the next 25 years, the number of passengers is expected to increase from some 70 million passengers per annum to perhaps 175 million to 195 million passengers per annum, and possibly more, just in the three main London airports.

Additional runway capacity is almost certain to be needed in the South East to deal with that. I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention the fact that there is a perfectly good solution to all the resulting honors caused by further onslaughts which most of your Lordships seem quite happy to condone in one form or another; namely, the Thames estuary airport known as Marinair.

I must declare an interest. I am chairman of the Thames Estuary Airport Company, commonly known as TEACO. Nobody in the whole debate has mentioned it except my noble friend Lord Brabazon, who referred to it as ridiculous. I know that he does not mean that personally but I did find that slightly worrying. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, gave a tremendous boost to Terminal 5 and explained why that had to be. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, gave us a wonderful speech about Heathrow, and no other place. She gave us the impression that Heathrow was the bible from the word "go" to the word "stop". When the noble Lady, Lady Hamwee, referred to noise, she said that that was to be taken with a pinch of salt and that we should not worry too much about it.

Noble Lords

No, no.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, well it came out like that. I have declared my interest as chairman. I must declare also that at present the company has all the solutions in the bag except the final solution: we do not have quite the financial support that we need. The company will be an inward investment company. By inward investment, I mean inward investment from foreigners who bring enormous sums of money into this country. If your Lordships think that that is not useful to this country, then I believe that your Lordships should think again.

When I was first made a junior member of the government some 24 years ago, I was at the Department of the Environment. My then right honourable friend Mr. Peter Walker had appointed Sir Frank Marshall to look into Maplin, which was a land airport round the corner from Southend. Unfortunately, it was forgotten that Shoeburyness military range was there as well, so that was turned down. Of course, the road situation there was not right.

It is very difficult to speak in a debate like this when at one minute one is told one has three minutes in which to speak and then one is told that one is liberated. I do not wish to be a bore and go on for too long, but I am pleased to be liberated. All this talk assumes that something must be done at Gatwick, Heathrow or Stansted. Of course, Heathrow is the main airport; Gatwick is the second; and Stansted is a very bad third. The Thames Estuary Airport Company proposes that it would be far better to have a totally new concept and to move into the 21st century. It is incredible that we are all talking about what is there and what has. been there.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I thought that I should do so since he rather mangled my comments on airport noise.

However, I wish to set the record straight with regard to developments in the east of London. Perhaps the noble Lord will accept that when I commented that developing Heathrow was against government strategy for redressing the imbalance, I was not referring necessarily only to Stansted. The South East Regional Planning Conference, of which I am a member, has commented on the Marinair proposals and considers that the feasibility of them should be investigated because a development in the Thames estuary would help to redress that balance. Perhaps the noble Lord will accept that in trying to use shorthand for some of the points that I was raising, I was by no means casting aside the Marinair proposals.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness. As she says—and I happen to have a note on this—Marinair is totally in line with the East Thames corridor policy and will greatly improve the economy of North Kent and South Essex.

If we were to develop the South East policy of an airport in the estuary—and we have chosen a part of the estuary 31 kilometres east of Tilbury where we would have our first terminal—one would travel there by way of the A.13, which is to be improved, and we would build a joint road to accompany it. So the Marinair terminal is no further east than the Heathrow one is west. We would then have our island estuary which would not be a small island; indeed, it would be over five kilometres long, nearly three kilometres wide and would consist of 4,000 acres situated about eight kilometres north of Whitstable. There would eventually be three runways, two terminals and two cargo berths for liners or cargo. It would not require the destruction of one house. However, if Terminal 5 is built at Heathrow, what happens? Well, 4,000 houses will be destroyed. Of course, one may argue it one way or the other but I believe that to be the case—

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend says that 4,000 houses would be destroyed if Terminal 5 is built. I really think that my noble friend should get his facts straight.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, with all the extensions that Heathrow requires, that would be the total number.

At any rate, there are many more problems as regards noise. If one was to go to our plans in the next century, instead of going to one of the most concentrated areas of traffic and noise as regards aeroplanes, one would have a new concept where one could land as many planes as one wanted without noise affecting any housing.

Let us just think about it. It is not a silly concept; indeed, it is a good concept. No houses would be destroyed and we would add 4,000 acres to the land mass of Great Britain because that part of the Thames is only 4 metres deep. It makes a good deal of sense. We shall bring people from Tilbury and Kent in fast underground trains through tunnels under the Thames to the airport in 12 minutes. It is not to be sneezed at. There will be no noise pollution and no demolition of property.

It cannot be said that there is no noise pollution or demolition of property as regards any other of the airports. I do not mind to whom I address those remarks. Noble Lords know that to be a fact. Moreover, because we are so far into the estuary, and with the help of modern technology, we would have the ability to operate 24 hours a day without causing anyone any upset. We could be phased to meet the demand: in the short term, one runway; in the medium term, two runways; and, in the long term, three runways. Therefore, we are able to accept the title of a mega airport. It is not pie in the sky.

There seems to be a kind of getting together of the ends because they are already in with Heathrow and Gatwick, which means that they do not want to think of anything new at the present. But the people of this country are not with the airlines on this. The people of this country do not want to have their environment and their lives spoilt. One can make airports more efficient by enlarging them and by having bigger planes which land more often. However, that will cause more noise in the long run. But if one goes for our solution there will be no increased level of noise and the whole thing will be paid for by inward investment. Are we to turn down inward investment just for the sake of having to pay, through our taxes, for all the other expensive alterations that have been suggested, be they at Stansted, be they at Gatwick or be they at Heathrow, and which will cause the people of this country great discontent?

Sometimes I am told that I am old fashioned, but I think on this matter I am probably more in touch with the feelings of the people who live round the airports than most other people. By adopting my proposition all the environmental and planning objections as regards Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted would be obviated. There would be no greater problem as regards access. The estuary island would be 5 x 2.75 kilometres and would cover 1,375 hectares. The average depth of water in the estuary at that point is four metres. Everything is looked after. The flooding projection has been based, I am told, on a 1,000 year period. I find that hard to believe but it is what I am told.

What are we worrying about? Why is no one considering my proposal, as I think it is the sanest solution? It offers no risk of flooding and it is just as convenient to reach as any other airport, with the extensions to the A.13. Noble Lords are all talking about the vested interests of airlines whereas I am trying to suggest that there is an alternative. I should add that I am chairman of a shell company; I am not drawing any money from that. I believe my proposal will offer a much better service in the future for Britain. Years ago Peter Walker thought the South East was the right area for airport expansion although he chose the wrong place in which to do it. I have spoken for more than long enough.

9.33 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I will not follow the noble Lord in that last remark of his. He has added a new dimension to our debate tonight. His three-minute speech lasted 14 minutes. How much better this debate would have been if we had all spoken for three minutes! I have to declare an interest, in that I am very fond of flying and I hate airports. Therefore I am undoubtedly prejudiced. I am not at all sure why we have to join in this party political broadcast for the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, but it is on the agenda and therefore we must speak to it. I have to sum up from these Benches.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, there is absolutely no necessity for the noble Lord to speak if he does not wish to do so. He is perfectly at liberty to end his speech now if he wishes.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I must say it is a huge temptation but I have to say something from these Benches on behalf of my party. I was going to say that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, will get his agent's imprint on to Hansard when it appears in the morning and he will set the cost of this debate against his expenses in the European election. However, this is an important subject although I am not sure that it is the right time to be debating it. I think the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has already put his finger on it. There are a number of matters in process at the moment which ought to reach a conclusion before your Lordships' House has a full debate on this subject, which is only part of something much wider.

I have said many times in this House in the past that I appreciate the need for the airports in the South East of this country to perform the function they do for the economy of the country. It is an important function, as a number of noble Lords have said. What has always worried me is the question of the infrastructure on the ground. The argument in relation to noise can be put one way or the other. There is no doubt that aircraft are not as noisy as they were, and the impact on people living near the airports is not as great as it was, despite the increase in passengers. However, there comes a point when we have to say that enough is enough. I believe that we are now fairly close to that point.

The Heathrow Express will be in operation before very long. It is a great pity that CrossRail has been sabotaged. That might have helped the situation. I also regret that when the Heathrow rail express was built it did not have a link to the west, because a great many people who work at Heathrow live to the west of the airport. For a minor investment compared with the principal investment, that could have had a major effect on relieving congestion.

There must come a point when we say that enough is enough. We cannot expand our major airports for ever. There must be a finite limit to the number of passengers who can pass through the airport. The current throughput at the existing terminals is 42 million passengers and that will rise to 50 million when they reach full capacity. With the building of a fifth terminal, that would rise to 80 million passengers per annum. That is almost double the current throughput. Do we really believe that the infrastructure of west London is capable of dealing with that number of passengers? I believe that it is doubtful, despite the improvements that have been made and the widening of the M.25, which will create its own problems.

The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, is right to raise the matter, but perhaps not in these terms and perhaps not tonight. There is a serious problem in dealing with the free operation of market forces in relation to passengers coming to London. Of course people want to go to Heathrow. However, are we to say that they can continue to do so as often as they want for ever?

I listened with interest to the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, in relation to an island in the Thames estuary. In the long term that may produce a sensible solution to the problem. However, the fact is that all these issues need to be taken into account in a general strategy for air transport, not just in relation to Heathrow and the South-East but for the country as a whole.

9.38 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I regret the fact that this debate has taken place, except for the fact that the House was genuinely pleased to see and to hear the contributions from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and my noble friend Lord Monkswell after their absence from the House. I personally was very pleased that we heard from my previous sparring partner. It is good to have him back.

We have also had the benefit of hearing about TEACO. I could not catch the acronym, and was not sure whether it was TEACO or TEACUP. Since I am told that it is the former that spoils my little joke. I thought that TEACUP was an acronym for Thames Estuary Airport Consortium for a Universal Palliative. I would not wish to throw the proposal out of the window quite like that. Everything is worth considera-tion in a situation where there has to be a finite position in relation to Heathrow, whether it is a fifth terminal or an eighth terminal—which seemed to me to be the logical conclusion of some of the arguments deployed in this debate.

We heard one or two interesting views that were not germane to the specific issue. For example, my noble friend Lord Monkswell put forward the idea of expanding the role of regional airports. I am all in favour of that. I fought for that with the support of Her Majesty's Government when I was a commissioner in Europe. But it will not solve the problem of the South East. That is self evident. Indeed, that was the position that I took when I was the Minister responsible for aviation some years ago.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, stated that he would not speak about Terminal 5 but then spoke about nothing else, which was rather strange. Then we heard the eloquent pleas, implicit and explicit, for that terminal. With the greatest respect in the world, I think that the debate has not helped those who seek to propose the case for Terminal 5 or for those who speak against it. There is an inquiry; it is an ongoing situation. With the greatest respect in the world there is a case for reticence; and that has not been deployed by a number of noble Lords in the debate tonight.

Only 18 days ago this topic was ventilated in another place by Mr. Terry Dicks in a debate which was not wholly disconnected, I suspect, from the impending local elections. It gave him a chance to ventilate what he hoped his constituents might like to hear on that occasion. It was evident then that the Minister could say little of substance because the application for planning permission for the fifth terminal had already been called in, and now it has been opened. As I said in a previous intervention, the Secretary of State is under considerable constraint because he occupies a quasi judicial position.

It is not reasonable for the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to say that he would be grateful for the Government's comments. He knows very well that the Minister is under that constraint. I have a great deal of sympathy for the noble Lord who will reply to the debate for that reason. I speak as an Opposition spokesman. I do not expect him to go beyond that which it is proper to do in the debate.

What has actually changed since that debate 18 days ago? What definitive pronouncements are expected tonight? What is the purpose of the debate other than to link it with the forthcoming Euro-election campaign of the noble Lord? Others have been equally uncharitable. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, is a candidate. He did not refer to that factor when he disclosed his interest. But he is a candidate and is presumably looking for some coverage of the contribution that he has made tonight in his local press. I do not blame him; he is fighting an election campaign. But let us be quite open about it. That is what the debate is about tonight.

Lord Bethell

I hope that the noble Lord will admit that points raised in the debate this evening have been of extreme interest to a great number of people in this country, whether they live in the Heathrow area, are passengers or are in the industry. Is the debate not of interest? Is it not useful that the Minister should hear the views of noble Lords? Does the noble Lord really dismiss everything that has been said this evening as a nonsense? Will he be as uncharitable, as he put it, as that?

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, there is a time and place for debates and this is not one of them because virtually every single argument, with one or two exceptions, will be deployed at considerable length by counsel and witnesses in that inquiry. There has to be a purpose to a debate. What is the end product of this debate? Is it to influence the Minister? He will not be in charge of the inquiry at this stage. His colleague has to make a quasi judicial determination of the matter. I would not wish to embarrass the noble Lord, but the noble Lord has chosen so to do.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. He says all that, but if there is a big public demand, a groundswell complaining about how people's environ-mental happiness is being made wretched by the Government's judicial process, surely that will have an influence.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I have never known an inquiry where groundswells do not arise, particularly over airport development. So I take that for granted.

There are a number of common denominators which I should have thought will not be seriously disputed. There is a great significance about Heathrow; it is a major international airport and jobs are involved, directly and indirectly. It is important to London. It is all those things. The question we are considering tonight is not now that of an additional runway but the matter before the inquiry in relation to the terminal. There is no doubt that night restrictions have been applied to Heathrow for many years—over 32 years. There has never been a total ban on aircraft movements from Heathrow. I well remember as a Minister being woken at night when I was in bed—with my wife, I hasten to add, which is somewhat unusual these days. At three o'clock in the morning a lady telephoned me saying that she was from Ealing. She said, "Are you the Minister for aviation?" I said that I was and my wife said: "Be nice to her in all circumstances". The lady said: "Listen to this!" I could distinctly hear the noise of an aircraft flying over her head. She asked what I was going to do about it. I should have had the presence of mind to say: "Thank God, it's one of ours", but at three o'clock in the morning I could not. There is clearly another common denominator—the need for quieter aircraft. There will be those, but they will still be a nuisance.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, can the noble Lord let the House know what he replied?

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I was under great constraints to be nice to the lady and that is all I will say. A balance has to be struck in all these matters between the competitive advantages of Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle, as we have heard, and all the environmental considerations as well as questions of access. All that is common ground and did not need to be said tonight.

What I think is important is the note on which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, ended his speech. I see nothing but "ad hocery" at the moment. There needs to be a clear, integrated transport policy in London, as elsewhere. There has to be a clear and skilful review of the need for a policy in relation to the terminal buildings that we require and it should not simply be limited to the inquiry. There are wider airport considerations involved.

In 1978 we had a White Paper on airport policy. I hope that it will be reviewed. The other day, I noticed that the Minister had changed the goalposts almost overnight on night flights. I do not object to him coming to a conclusion, but I think that the situation was to some extent rather mischievously conveyed.

The summer quota is to be increased from 2,750 night flights a year to 3,250. That case has to be argued, not simply stated. The definition of "night" has been reduced; it was from 11.30 p.m. to 6.30 a.m., it is now from 11.30 p.m. to 6 a.m. That is a factor which should not simply be disclosed in a press statement or in answer to a Written Question. We may find that in those night movements some of the biggest and noisiest aircraft could be flying into and out of Heathrow.

I look forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I hope that he will have the opportunity to make many more contributions on other topics, and indeed on the question of aviation, for which he is renowned, after 9th June.

9.50 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am not entirely sure, given some of the remarks that have been made, whether I should—but I certainly do—begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for raising a subject, which is clearly of great importance to air travellers, to local people, and to the economy of London and indeed of the whole country.

Perhaps before I start I should say that I very much welcome the return to our debates of my noble friend Lord Caithness. He has a welcome knowledge on this and on many other subjects. I know that we are all delighted to see him back in our debates and look forward to many contributions to come. I thought that my noble friend's assessment of the economic importance of aviation in general terms to our economy, to jobs in our economy, and to the wealth that we can produce as an economy and then use for health, education and social services was absolutely spot on. In addition, analysis from my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, was indeed all in sharp contrast to what I thought was the rather dismissive attitude of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to the importance of aviation in our economic growth and her dismissive attitude to the importance of the City and its need for good worldwide air communications. All three noble Lords whom I mentioned made the point that if people who wish to use aviation do not find it in this country, then there are certainly easy opportunities for them just to cross the Channel to some of the continental airports that were mentioned.

Heathrow is currently the busiest international airport in the world. The latest figures show that over the past 12 months it handled some 48.5 million passengers on some 395,000 air traffic movements. The airport itself is a major source of employment, with something like 50,000 people working either for the company itself or for one of the many other businesses that are located there. The business activity there acts as a powerful motor for the surrounding area and creates employment outside the boundaries of the airport. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, very rightly pointed to those economic motors when he made a case for regional airports. The regional airports, to which I shall turn in a moment, know exactly the importance of aviation to their economy and to the chances of their economic growth.

My noble friend raised three particular aspects which the debate has in fact covered. I wish to take them one at a time. First, there is RUCATSE. There is, of course, no definite proposal on the table for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow airport. The RUCATSE working group was asked to address a number of runway options at various sites. One of those sites was Heathrow. In order to get as wide a view as possible, the RUCATSE working group included not only represen-tatives of government, but of airports, airlines and also local interest groups from areas which might be affected by the various options. As we all know, the group reported in July last year. In that report was included —may I say to my noble friend Lord Mowbray?—a chapter on the very Marinair project which he so eloquently placed before us this evening.

Our aim in asking for the RUCATSE review was to gather as much information as possible to enable the most appropriate strategy to be decided. RLFCATSE fully acknowledges the effects that the runway option being examined would have on the villages that were mentioned by my noble friend at Harmondsworth, Harlington, at Sipson and at Longford. Indeed, just at the beginning of this week BAA said that it does not wish to proceed with a third runway at Heathrow. Obviously that view will be taken into account in the consultations that are currently underway on the RUCATSE review and the consultations that will end on 31st May. After that we will produce our own response before the end of the year.

I turn to the second issue; namely, Terminal 5. But first let me say a few words about the background. In general, passenger forecasts indicate strong continuing growth of demand for air travel. It is clearly appropriate for airport operators to address those forecasts. Failure to do so would cause huge inconvenience to consumers and could lead to airline operators relocating to other countries.

Over the past few years, the proportion of UK passengers travelling from London has decreased as a proportion of total UK passengers. That reflects the ability of regional airports to attract viable direct services and is entirely a good thing. It enables regional travellers to achieve shorter journey times and it frees up capacity in the London area. Also, as I mentioned, it helps the economies of the areas. The three airports mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell— Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester—have all either just completed or are currently in the midst of major expansions. In the case of Glasgow, which I pass through just about every week, I certainly know the size of the project that is taking place there. Clearly an assessment has to be made about the future needs at Heathrow and whether and how the demands could be addressed.

Following consultation with local authorities, BAA submitted its planning application for a fifth terminal in the spring of last year. That application was called in by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The proposal will now go to a public inquiry where all the issues of both national and local significance will be discussed and assessed. It will then be jointly a matter for the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a decision on the application based on the inspector's report.

I know that some people have expressed the view —I believe that my noble friend Lord Brabazon mentioned it—that the inquiry is likely to take a fair length of time. We have recently attempted to tighten up the procedures on such inquiries, but I believe that it is only right that this and other major projects should have inquiries to which everyone can come and give their views in an open and transparent way.

As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, rightly pointed out, both in his intervention and in his contribution, it would not be right, because of the Secretary of State's quasi-judicial position in relation to the final decision, for me to comment on the application in any way, except to say that we retain an open mind.

I have noted the interesting debate. I should quite like to get involved in it. But I also noticed that some people have a fairly closed mind. My noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara teased out from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that she is opposed to Terminal 5. I hear it said that she did not need to have it teased out. I am delighted to have that confirmation. Recently I read an interesting document which came from the party to which she belongs. It is called Getting Britain To Work: Ending the Hiatus in Public Transport Infrastructure Investment. In it I find a piece on London, which I shall quote: Liberal Democrats would release funds to enable London underground to deliver their programme by 2003. Apart from modernising the existing system, this would include some additions to the core network, including"— my Lords, my eyes could hardly believe it— … Heathrow Terminal 5". Unless the Liberal Democrat Party intends to build an underground link to Terminal 5 and then not see Terminal 5 built, I am not entirely sure how the noble Baroness squares her opposition to Terminal 5 with that statement in the Liberal Democrat Party's recently published document.

Before the noble Baroness is tempted to intervene, perhaps I may say that my eyes dropped down a line and I saw that the document is entirely in favour of CrossRail. Yet, was it not the Liberal Democrats in Tower Hamlets who played such a major part in the opposition to that project? I suggest to the noble Baroness that she should not be tempted, because I have the document here. I can assure her that it is genuine and comes from her party.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, there is plenty to say about that. Given the hour, I shall not do so. However, I must remind the noble Lord that my colleagues in Tower Hamlets, making perfectly proper comments about protecting the environment for their own residents, could not have done what the Members of other parties did in sabotaging CrossRail in another place last week.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am interested in that answer because we dodged entirely the question of Terminal 5 and the underground link which is to be built to a totally imaginary terminal. Perhaps that is par for the course.

I turn to the question of surface access. I take this opportunity to clarify one area which relates to Heathrow and which is the day-to-day responsibility of my department. There has been some confusion that the motorway proposals for access indicate that the Government have already made up their mind about the planning inquiry. As I have already said, that is not the case. The Highways Agency is promoting motorway schemes to provide adequate access, involving a dual carriageway spur road of motorway standard to the proposed M.25 link roads and improvements to the M.4 between Junctions 3 and 4B. The spur and M.4 improvements will only be necessary if Terminal 5 receives planning consent. Because those schemes are contingent on development of Terminal 5, BAA would, if those schemes go ahead, be making a substantial contribution to the costs. That is standard practice where a road scheme is being promoted to provide access.

The public inquiry into the planning application for Terminal 5 itself, will consider the access proposals. It is only right that they should be put forward for consideration and debate at the same time. We should also not forget the substantial investment in public transport access that is already under way. Work is now proceeding apace on the Heathrow Express, as anyone who uses Heathrow can see from the works already started. I understand it is on course to open by the end of 1997. Similarly, I am glad to note that London Underground has programmed £92 million for a contract to refurbish all 87 trains on the Piccadilly Line.

Another question which is worth mentioning is that of noise. I doubt that a discussion on Heathrow Airport would be complete without the issue of the airport and its impact on those who live around it and on the incoming and outgoing airline tracks. Undeniably a large airport can be a difficult neighbour. It is in all our interests that those concerns should be thoroughly examined. Noise, of course, is the major concern. I mentioned the substantial economic and social benefits that Heathrow brings. Unfortunately, in this as in other fields we cannot have benefits without some disbenefits; the disbenefit here is aircraft noise. As my noble friends Lord Mountevans and Lord Astor of Hever and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, mentioned, the design and technology of aircraft have so improved over recent years that aircraft themselves are quieter. I shall not go so far as to pretend that there is a totally quiet aircraft, but they are markedly quieter. As my noble friend Lord Astor pointed out, the noisiest jets are being phased out. Indeed, some of the noisiest jets have not been allowed to land in the night period for some time.

Noise abatement measures are also important. Preferential routes for aircraft and the use of procedures which improve the noise on take-off and landing should be considered. Heathrow introduced a noise and track-keeping system which is used for monitoring the performance of airlines. Infringements of the noise limits at night and at certain times of the day are now penalised by fines.

This has been a useful and interesting debate. I am slightly sorry, being a fairly combative chap, that I was not able to get into it properly because of the quasi judicial problems and the point that on the RUCATSE issue we are awaiting the conclusion of the consultative period before we start what I know will be an extremely interesting exercise of seeing how we move in the future in that regard.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, it may be useful if the noble Lord could give the House an estimate—one cannot ask for more than that—of the likely period that the inquiry will take. It would be useful to have that information if it is available.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, the answer to that question is another question: how long is a piece of string? Most people who give any kind of prediction about the length of time planning inquiries take usually prove to be hugely wrong. I hope that it will not take too long and that the inspector will be able to conduct it in a way that everybody thinks is fair, without using up vast amounts of time and indeed money, much of which will be of those who wish to have their views heard at the inquiry. It is not only taxpayers' money that is used. In this case it will not be taxpayers' money, aside from the cost of setting up the inquiry itself. It will come from BAA, the airlines and local authorities. From the local authority point of view it will be taxpayers' money. Huge amounts can be spent if planning inquiries take too long.

I cannot help the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. It would be extremely rash of me to do so. Probably we shall have to return to the subject of Heathrow and the wider issue of aviation on a later date.

In conclusion, Heathrow is undoubtedly a national asset and a major success story. Any business of that size and importance inevitably brings with it problems which have to be addressed, not swept under the carpet or pretended that they can be wished away by banning aircraft from coming into Heathrow. We cannot do that. We have to try to find sensible solutions. I hope that what I have said tonight gives confidence that we are seeking those solutions for all the problems associated with that airport.