HC Deb 23 July 1990 vol 177 cc108-28 9.30 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a matter about which I feel strongly. I applied for this debate for the simple purpose of enabling the House to discuss the Civil Aviation Authority report CAP 570, which was published last Tuesday. In essence, that report says that a new runway will be needed in the south-east of England by the year 2000. It then lists eight options for such a runway, including one at London Heathrow, which is partly in my constituency. I raise this issue and discuss that report for two reasons. First, it raises important national issues, and I believe that they will benefit from an airing before the summer recess. Secondly, some local issues greatly affect my constituents, who need to know as soon as possible that their economic future is secure and their communities will not be destroyed.

Other hon. Members will want to raise many other issues, but my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), who cannot be here tonight, sought me out to ask that I put on record that he, too, is deeply concerned by the report especially as it relates to Gatwick.

I start by explaining what I regard as the national issues involved in the report. Unless early and positive action is taken on the report, major harm will come to the United Kingdom economy. A failure to act represents a serious threat to the United Kingdom aviation industry. There is a real prospect that, after the year 2000, some United Kingdom residents will find it impossible to get flights when they want them. Those threats, which are national, extend also to London Heathrow. I make it clear that, if action is not taken at a national level, London Heathrow could find itself losing major routes and losing much of its role as a hub in the European network of routes. Large reductions of that sort are not in the interests of my constituents. I fully accept that London Heathrow must prosper, and that means that London Heathrow cannot stand still. Therefore, action simply must be taken to implement the report.

There is some urgency in addressing those national issues. Any solution has a very long lead time and the CAA requires a great deal of time to do its planning and make its preparation to bring a new runway into use.

Sir Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be almost impossible to increase runway capacity at Heathrow, simply because of the bottlenecks on the roads, particularly Cromwell road? Even with a rail link, that additional route cannot cope with more traffic.

Mr. Wilshire

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is worth considering whether existing runways can cope with any extra capacity and, in due course, I shall argue why an additional runway would be unacceptable at Heathrow.

An urgent decision is needed on the CAA report because, once that decision is taken, five years will be needed in which to design and build the runway, wherever it is to be situated. The year 2000 is not far away. In reply to the national issues that I have raised, I hope that the Minister will say that a runway must be built somewhere and that the working group must be given a deadline to work towards to ensure that we meet the deadline of 2000.

It is also important to spell out the local issues that concern me and my constituents. Those who live near Heathrow are threatened, as a result of the report, by about 500 extra flights a day, 36 million extra passengers a year and at least two extra terminals, over and above the possibility of terminal 5. That all adds up to a great deal of demolition, acres of concrete and tarmac, many additional large buildings in various communities, a vast amount of disruption to millions of people and huge increases in noise, pollution and the traffic to which my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Sir A. Glyn) has already referred. I believe that that is totally unacceptable in the Heathrow area.

There are always those who will say that here is yet another hon. Member standing up, advancing yet another NIMBY, "not in my back yard", argument. This is not another example of NIMBY, but a case of "not everything in my back yard". Heathrow already deals with 1,000 flights a day, 40 million passengers a year and has four terminals and every service associated with them. I am not pleading that nothing should happen at Heathrow, but we already have the lion's share.

As with the national issues, there is some urgency that a decision is arrived at on the local issues. People whose homes are threatened and who are trying to plan their future must be put out of the misery created by the report as quickly as possible. I hope that the Minister will say that his Department, in answer to the local issues that I have raised, will withdraw the Heathrow option from the list of the working group.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Certainly not.

Mr. Wilshire

It is vital to consider this issue in the context of the CAA report. That report makes it clear that we can cope with projected air traffic movements until 2000, but after that it says that demand will exceed capacity. We need to be clear about how great that extra demand will be. The report suggests that by 2005 there will be a 100 per cent. increase in passengers from 100 million today to about 200 million and the number of flights will increase by between 30 and 50 per cent. That percentage variation is based on the assumption that aircraft will get bigger.

When confronted with such statistics, the obvious first step is to try to make better use of existing facilities. Clearly there is some scope for making better use of regional airports. I know that some of my hon. Friends might mutter that Heathrow should take more passengers, and even I accept that it might be possible to make better use of existing facilities at Heathrow. The report suggests that there is scope for an extra 30,000 air traffic movements a year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) has been saying, "Hear, hear." He might not say, "Hear, hear" to the third possibility. I believe that we should make full use of the existing potential at Stansted. I am prepared to accept that we should make some improvements at Heathrow, so I am prepared to accept that we should also make some improvements elsewhere.

We must do what we can with the existing infrastructure to try to meet some of the extra demand. But the report makes it clear that making better use of existing capacity will not be enough and that further action will have to be taken. There are only two possible practical responses to that extra demand. The first is demand management—in a word, rationing. The second is to provide extra capacity—in other words, a runway.

I am absolutely against demand management, whether it involves banning small aircraft from London, Stansted and Gatwick or pricing for the use of the London traffic management area. Either method of trying to manage demand will produce the same result. There will be less competition and that will favour the few big carriers, which will lead to higher, rather than lower fares and to less choice and less opportunity to travel. I do not believe that demand management would drive traffic to the regions. It would drive traffic abroad and that would hurt all the airports in the south-east. As I said, that would mean that people in Britain would be unable to get flights when they wanted them to destinations to which they wanted to travel.

I have said that I am against demand management, but I think that we must be clear that if there is no new runway, rationing will become inevitable, with all the harm that will flow from it. Because of that, I have to accept that a new runway in the south-east is essential—unpalatable but inevitable.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

But not at Heathrow?

Mr. Wells

Would my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) care to reflect on the fact that we are having this debate basically because of the failure to expand Heathrow in accordance with the original plan put forward way back in 1946, 1947 and 1948, when I lived under the approach to London airport's No. 1 runway. The failure to develop that airport has meant that we have had to develop Gatwick and Stansted. Of course, we cannot satisfy the interlining demands of a first-rate national airport at Stansted or Gatwick. That has to be done in one place—Heathrow.

Mr. Wilshire

That is an interesting train of thought, but what might have been and what is are two entirely separate issues.

Mr. Snape

Where would the hon. Gentleman put the runway?

Mr. Wilshire

I shall come to that and try to explain why it cannot be at Heathrow. I shall not join the argument whether we could have done but, as I shall now seek to show, the reality is that we now cannot. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is eagerly awaiting my answer to the question, "Where do we put the new runway?"

Mr. Snape


Mr. Wilshire

But before I answer it—I must keep the hon. Gentleman in suspense for a little longer—let me ensure that the House is clear about how the eight options emerged, because that tells us something about where we should look for the answer.

The Secretary of State started by asking the Civil Aviation Authority for a range of options—not for a preferred solution. At the moment, there is no preferred solution. The Secretary of State fixed precise terms of reference for the report—safety, airspace management and air traffic control should be considered, as should the economic interests of passengers. Then the Secretary of State gave the CAA specific guidance to the effect that no green-field sites should be involved and that the options must encourage competition.

It is important also to note what is missing from the terms of reference and the guidance. There is not a word about environmental or employment issues and not a word about local infrastructure, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead. It is clear that those are issues that the working group must address because they have not been addressed so far.

Where should we put the new runway? The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East anticipated me by saying, "Not at Heathrow." Of course it must not go to Heathrow, although I accept that that is the first choice of the passengers and the airlines. Using Heathrow for a third runway is no longer a realistic or acceptable option for those of us who represent the area and live in it. It is not realistic because of the construction work that would be involved.

The scenario runs as follows: the first step would be to demolish Harlington. The second would be to demolish Harmondsworth. Step three would be to put a pair of traffic lights on the M25 so that jumbos can trundle across it. Step four would be to organise a taxiway across the A4. The fifth step would be to organise a taxiway across two live runways so that the aircraft can get to terminal 4—all this using the most expensive land of the eight options.

The engineering problems and the difficulties that I have just listed make the whole idea of the third runway at Heathrow utterly unrealistic. It would also result in enormous environmental damage affecting more people than any of the other seven options. The employment problems that it would cause would he insurmountable, and it would spectacularly damage the local infrastructure and its ability to cope. On top of all that there are the security and safety aspects.

The environmental impact on Heathrow would be unacceptable. There would be the noise and fumes of about 185,000 additional flights. There would be the traffic and parking problems generated by 36 million more people. That sheer number of people would also have an adverse impact on the area, to judge from the 40 million people who swill round at the moment—and I have not even mentioned new terminals and car parks.

The Secretary of State has said that the working group must also consider the employment situation which at Heathrow is already almost impossible. Fifty thousand people work at the airport and, as the need to improve security and employ more staff has shown, it is becoming ever more difficult to find additional employees. It is proving equally impossible to import them because the housing needs of people brought into the community are insoluble.

The infrastructure problems at Heathrow are grim. The M4 and the M25 are already overloaded, despite the money being spent on them. I fail to see where there is scope for additional railway lines. There are already not enough hotels and we are fast running out of space in which to build more. There is virtually no space for more housing, which would be necessary if more people worked at the airport. The local infrastructure is already overstretched and there is no scope for upgrading it.

Then there are safety and security issues, both of which underline Heathrow's unacceptability as an option. Security at Heathrow has hit the headlines more often than I care to recall. Already, 50,000 people work at the airport and 100,000 people pass through it every day. There are nine and a half miles of fencing. So the security problem is already almost unmanageable, and further upgrading it will result in massive delays. I fear that if more and more people work at and use the airport the risk of more mishaps in security will become ever greater.

The same applies to safety. More people live close to Heathrow airport than to any of the other options, so it follows that the risk of the unthinkable happening—a plane crashing on my constituents or on people living in neighbouring constituencies—will become ever greater if the airport is expanded.

Such an argument from a local Member of Parliament might sound like special pleading. In case some hon. Members are tempted to dismiss it as such I shall advance one more argument to take us back to national issues. Anyone who reads the report in detail will see that it says that a further runway at Heathrow would not solve the problems that the authors of the report were asked to address. It would be anti-competitive in the short term —and the report spells out why—and in the medium term it would fill up so quickly that we would all be back where we started. One of the key requirements set down by the Secretary of State was that the solution should boost competition, and on that ground alone the Heathrow option fails and should be removed from the list.

Where do we go from here? I should like the Minister to do two things. I hope that he will manage to accommodate my requests and those of my hon. Friends which, I suspect, are mutually exclusive. I would like him to confirm that there is a need for a new runway and that it must be met. He should remove Heathrow from the list of options. If he says that there must be and will be another runway, the working group will know exactly where it stands. It will be asked to say where the runway should go and not whether we should have one.

If the Minister spells out that there will be a new runway, that will remove the threat to the national economy, to our aviation industry and to the secure economic future of my constituents. If he deletes Heathrow from the list of options, my constituents, despite the noise of some of the night flights, will be able to sleep better because they will know that they can sell their houses and will be able to plan for a better rather than a worse future.

Any debate on where to put a new airport or which airport to expand is inevitably emotive. However much we might take a light-hearted view of the difficulties of colleagues in such debates, it presents all of us with a difficult task. That is how we balance the national and the local interests that we are here to serve. That is why I have mentioned both national and local issues and have sought to explain why both national and local interests are at stake.

In launching the debate I hope that I have demonstrated that national and local considerations point towards the creation of a new runway. I hope that I have also demonstrated that local considerations, which are obvious, and national considerations, point towards deleting Heathrow from the list of options. I urge the Minister to put it on record that he agrees with those arguments. I hope that before the end of the debate he will say that there must be a new runway and will put it on record for the sake of my constituents and many other people who live near Heathrow that a new runway at that airport is a non-starter and will be deleted from the list of options.

9.53 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I fully understand the excellent advocacy of my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) of a solution that suits his constituents and will solve the air traffic control problems at Heathrow. What he has said does not add up to a national policy that can properly be advanced by the Minister for Aviation and Shipping.

Britain needs an interlining airport of national and international standards, and such an airport cannot be in two places. Gatwick was a mistake and for commercial reasons the third option, Stansted, was an even greater mistake. For people who wish to change from an incoming flight to a flight to another part of the world, Europe, and in particular Britain, is well placed to provide that interlining headquarters. It will not be such a headquarters, because there are competitors on the continent, if the interlining capacity for both cargo and passengers is spread among three airports instead of one. Therefore, Heathrow must be the national flagship for interlining.

If Heathrow is to be that flagship, it must provide the facilities necessary for access by smaller airlines and feeder airlines. They must be able to come into Heathrow, interline and go out with both cargo and passengers. In that way, Heathrow would fulfil its function as an international airport.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Would my hon. Friend then close Gatwick?

Mr. Wells

Indeed, ideally Gatwick would be closed. It should never have been built.

The other unthinkable alternative is to close Heathrow. If Heathrow has the difficulty that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne described, and if his constituents are suffering so badly, the real answer to the problems of both Gatwick and Heathrow is to close both and build an airport that can serve the country properly.

Mr. Wilshire


Mr. Wells

That is a possibility and it is one which, of course, I shall oppose.

Mr. Wilshire

Surprise, surprise.

Mr. Wells

I understand why my hon. Friend is not surprised at that. We might consider the type of solution that was advocated in The Sunday Times last weekend. We should then throw away the major investment that has been put into Heathrow and Gatwick, but particularly Heathrow.

The terminals at Heathrow have aging plant. Terminal 4 is pretty near a disaster in modern terminal design. Terminals 1, 2 and 3, even in their refurbished form, need replacement. They are a disgrace to our nation. Passengers are not treated to the proper standard to which international passengers are accustomed. Terminals 1, 2 and 3 need to be replaced and rebuilt. From that argument, it follows that we should have a minimum terminal capacity of five terminals, so that we can relieve terminals 1, 2 and 3 while in turn they are rebuilt.

Feeder airlines will also need to come into Heathrow to feed the hub of Heathrow into Europe. That is the commercial and sensible way to proceed. There is no need to do the dramatic things that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne suggested. He suggested that we would need traffic lights on the M25 and that jumbos would have to be trundled over the M25.

There is an alternative solution. A shorter runway could be built to provide for smaller aircraft coming in from the provincial airports. In order to expand, the provincial airports require access to Heathrow. Indeed, Stansted requires access to Heathrow. The provision of a shorter runway would allow the major runways at Heathrow to be utilised more efficiently.

Mr. Wilshire

I am aware that the report suggested the alternative of a shorter runway. To set the record straight, although that would not involve the demolition of Harmondsworth and Harlington, it would involve the demolition of Sipson. Aircraft would have to take off and land through the arches of the M4-M25 junction, which would be an entertaining activity.

Mr. Wells

There is no need for such amusing and entertaining solutions to the problem. They are irrelevant, because a shorter runway could be located at Heathrow. It would involve some demolition. It would require returning to the original plan for Heathrow, to which I referred in an intervention. My hon. Friend's predecessor argued against it—hence the problems that we are in.

The plan would involve the closure of the A4 and the development of the land between the old Heston airport and across the northern area which flows from west to east across the north of Heathrow. That was the original suggestion. That would mean pulling down the Post House to provide hard core for the runway, but that would avoid having to extract gravel from my constituency. That would seem to be a practical and sensible solution in developing Heathrow.

Another problem affecting the development of the south-east's airport strategy is air traffic control. We are advised that, in respect of the 8 million passengers already authorised, Stansted airport will have difficulty in operating efficiently because of the necessary restrictions imposed on it by current air traffic control movements. The Civil Aviation Authority suggests that the real problem in the peak periods is providing sufficient capacity in the air to allow traffic to fly south to the Mediterranean countries. That is particularly so in July and August, at the height of the holiday season.

That is not the interlining capacity that Heathrow usually provides but the kind of activity that will be seen at Stansted, and at which Gatwick is pre-eminent. It should also be taking place—and is beginning to expand there—at the northern regional airports, but at greater expense at present to the passenger.

An amazing feature of the present circumstances is that it is still cheaper for a passenger to travel down the motorway to Stansted and fly out to France or the southern coast of Spain from there, rather than take a flight from Hull, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford or Edinburgh. That must be put right, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give thought to ways of encouraging the expansion of the northern regional airports.

The real problem is of providing an additional runway for peak periods south of the London terminal area. Gatwick is one possibility, but if one turns off that option, as has been done, one must look instead to Manston, Bournemouth, Eastleigh and Bristol. In my view, that is the direction in which my hon. Friend the Minister should be moving, to avoid the current and future difficulties that confront the south-east's airport strategy.

I commend consideration of the option of expanding Heathrow to provide a proper national and international interlining airport for passengers and cargo, redeveloping its terminals, and providing a shorter runway. We shall then have a national airport of which we can be proud, for which the surrounding area of west London in which I was brought up will be proud to provide services and which is already an important source of employment. Gatwick and Stansted could then provide back-up services in peak periods and for charter traffic, while putting a new runway into operation for southern-bound aircraft to take them out of the air control area around London. Heathrow should continue to develop, to provide cheaper access for people in the north to start their flights from airports nearer their homes.

10.3 pm

Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that we should tackle the question of providing further runway capacity. I also agree with the conclusion drawn in the CAA's report, that a new runway is required within the next 10 to 15 years. The report contains the significant warning that we should acknowledge that the need for a new runway is not likely to be diminished by packing more and more people into bigger planes. That has sometimes seemed the easiest solution for the airline industry, and that has been rejected by people as passengers, who plainly preferred different solutions: flying in smaller planes at times which are more convenient to them. The CAA report recognises that that solution is not available, which is important.

The limitations of the CAA report must be recognised in this debate. It represents two years' work. That is a somewhat sobering thought as, on its own admission, so far the authors have only considered questions of safety, airspace management and the economic interests of passengers. The report makes it quite clear that deliberately—according to its understanding of its functions—the author did not take into account political, environmental, social or other considerations.

I welcome the comments by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when the report came out, pointing to those limitations, and emphasising the importance of environmental and other considerations, which are now to be tackled. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping for sending a letter to hon. Members who are interested in such matters emphasising that point, because it is of considerable interest and significance to those likely to be affected by the proposals.

It is difficult to know where a study on further runway capacity should start. In humility, one must recognise that it has to start somewhere. I would have wished the report to start with a broader base, and for early recognition that airports, like many other buildings and developments, have a human capacity, as well as runway and technical capacities. All over the world it is a recognised fact that airports reach an environmental capacity at which operations are simply no longer acceptable—or the extension of the airport's activities is no longer acceptable—on human grounds.

I admire the logic of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells). The design approach to airports that he mentioned has great logic, but he does not recognise the clear limitations on Heathrow which have been identified through experience.

When planning permission was granted for terminal 4 the Government made a clear promise that there would be no more terminals at Heathrow, recognising that in human terms expansion of Heathrow had reached its limit, and should not go any further. That was reinforced by the decision that, when terminal 4 opened, the number of air traffic movements at Heathrow should be limited to 275,000 a year. That number has been substantially exceeded. The runway proposals would increase movements substantially, far beyond what was recognised in the terminal 4 decision as the practical human limit for expansion at Heathrow.

It is not just a few people who are affected; hundreds of thousands of people in west London are affected by the operations at Heathrow. I therefore hope that there will be early consideration of the environmental considerations that are so important when an extension of runway capacity is considered.

I hope that the group that is considering the matter will bear in mind the fact that it is not just a question of providing runway capacity up to the year 2005 but that there will be a need for additional capacity after that. It is a somewhat sobering thought that the decision on the Stansted expansion—virtually a virgin airport—was made as recently as 1985 and that we are already talking about another runway for the south-east by 2000 or 2005.

When additional runways are needed, the studies should address environmental considerations. Those airports that ought not to be expanded for environmental reasons should be identified and withdrawn from consideration. Additional sites might then have to be looked at. The previous studies rejected green field solutions. If it is found that existing airports cannot be expanded without causing environmental problems, green field or other sites where the expansion of runway capacity might be possible ought to be considered.

I urge Ministers to take further urgent action along these lines, so that those who are affected by theoretical studies will not be frightened by them.

10.13 Pm

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

It is a mistake to make light-hearted remarks in the House, because they come back to haunt one. In 1986, I assured the House that hon. Members had heard from me positively for the last time about Stansted airport, but here we go again. I suspect that this will be only the first of a series of debates on airports policy. In a sense, they are forced upon us. The Government of the day find it extremely difficult to draw back the curtain and reveal how they expect to cope with a clearly forecast demand in 10, 20 or 30 years time.

Governments prefer to say that that is looking too far ahead and they do not want to get involved in it. Using such a device, they confine the debate so that the spotlight turns on one point at a time, which is brought to the fore and decided, a further degree of expansion—be it terminal capacity or runway capacity is brought about, and so we continue. That higgledy-piggledy way of progressing has brought us to our current state.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said, we have a three-airport solution, at least, to London's problems, which cannot be sensible, however much feeling one has for the people in the immediate vicinity of an airport.

Let us address the main question of the debate—is there a need for another runway? It is difficult to disagree with what the Civil Aviation Authority says in its report, CAP 570, and has been saying for a number of years—as would any reasonable observer of the scene—that there will be a continuing demand for air travel. No one can predict that there will be some other form of propulsion that will make airports as we know them, redundant, so we must plan for more airports to satisfy the reasonable demand of our people to travel the world. That is being brought more readily within their compass as the real cost of travel comes down and the standard of living rises. That is the problem. The Government would do a great service if they could take decisions planning for at least the middle distance, not just the near future.

It is important to analyse the need and examine what exactly it is composed of—it is not simply a question of volume. The problem is that, having made the decision to site the premier airport at Heathrow, which may not have been technically the right decision to take in the 1940s, it is that airport that competes with most of the continental interlining airports. When we speak of the competitive position of London, we do not mean the system, but principally Heathrow.

We are selling to foreign passengers the possibility of changing aeroplanes at London, Heathrow, as against Frankfurt, Schiphol or Charles de Gaulle. They will not be bussed from Gatwick to Heathrow or Stansted to Heathrow. The helicopter link between Gatwick and Heathrow, which was an attempt to marry the two airports, has been taken away, so the competitive system is at Heathrow.

If I have a criticism of the Government's position at present, it is that they pursue many reasonable civil aviation policies that simply do not fit together. I am all for competition, which is absolutely right, but it is ludicrous, in terms of scarce airport capacity, to see 10 or a dozen times a day two small to medium-sized aircraft pursuing each other from Glasgow to London, when one aircraft could provide that service with much less demand on the scarce capacity at Heathrow.

I believe in competition, which has been a great benefit to the consumer, but it adds to the problem of scarce capacity, as does our wholly admirable policy of liberalisation. If we want to encourage more airlines into the business on more routes, a proportion of those routes will be into London, and the preference of many of the airlines will be to come into Heathrow. That is the inescapable fact with which we must deal.

If British Midland or any other airline wishes to compete with British Airways, it does not want to compete with British Airways flights from London to Brussels if its flights do not go from Heathrow. The airline will say that it is not true competition when it flies from Stansted or Gatwick to a foreign destination if the airline with which it is competing is flying from Heathrow. That is the difficulty.

If that makes us think that there is an argument for further capacity at Heathrow, we cannot wipe it away and say that it is tough luck because the people around Heathrow have had a bad time and so we shall close our mind to that argument. We must find out whether there are any ways in which Heathrow's capacity can be increased or better utilised, consistent with the policies of competition and liberalisation.

If we say that there is an absolute limit on those policies and that we are bound by promises given on Gatwick and Stansted, the only credible expansion in the south-east is Luton. I am surprised that, in its report, the CAA places such emphasis on possible restrictions of military flying from Upper Heyford, if Luton airport is increased to 40 movements per hour. We are moving into a new era in the defence needs of western Europe. I should not have thought that the American need to fly out of Upper Heyford will be of the highest importance, and we could then bring into play capacity at Luton.

We must face up to the challenge of utilising the regions better. There is a bias towards the south-east, and if the Government were to make a determined effort to say that Birmingham will play a major role in its civil aviation policy, many people could turn their cars in the direction of Birmingham and have just as short a journey as they would to one of the three London airports. I hope that the Government will consider that.

I hope that the Government will also consider whether the hub and spoke system should survive for all time. We are moving into an era when smaller aircraft than jumbos can travel long distances on so-called thin routes. If the demand for civil aviation is to increase, we should think how to exploit it by having more flights from Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Teesside and other airports point to point without them having to fly through London, thereby increasing the pressure on the capital's scarce airport capacity.

In that context, we should spare a thought for British Airways and its deal with Sabena and KIM. Whatever its anti-competitive aspects, it at least relieves pressure on the scarce capacity at Heathrow, and British passengers would use a partly owned British airline from Brussels instead. The Government must bear that in mind.

I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that one of the options given by the CAA should be automatically deleted from the list at this stage. I should be appalled if my hon. Friend the Minister were prepared to concede that. All the options must remain on the table, but I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Ground) that the wider considerations must be brought into play, such as environmental factors. Whether someone is living in packed rows of houses in an urban environment around Heathrow or delightful villages around Stansted, the environment must be taken into account.

Mr. Jessel

Or the leafy suburbs.

Mr. Haselhurst

Or the leafy suburbs.

The employment factor must be taken into account. There is full employment around each of the three principal airports. In addition, the infrastructure must be tolerable for people who live in those areas. Those are the wider issues that must be considered, and no premature decision must be taken tonight on the future options.

10.22 pm
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

On one point I can concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden(Mr.Haselhurst)—that we must do more to utilise the regions in terms of airport capacity.

My hon. Friend mentioned Birmingham, but more often even than Birmingham is mentioned Manchester, and the performance of Manchester airport in recent years has been most impressive. Its traffic and number of flights have doubled in the past six or seven years. It shows every sign of increasing. It has long-distance flights such as transatlantic ones and it has numerous European destinations. There is scope for interlining there, and there is scope for interlining in other places as well. It is not essential for all the interlining to take place through one airport, as was suggested earlier in the debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) on his success in winning the ballot for this first Consolidated Fund debate on runway capacity in the south-east. Someone has to stand up for people living under the flight paths, and my hon. Friend has done so. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Ground) has also done so, I am doing so, and I see my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Eton (Sir A. Glyn) in his place, but many other constituencies are affected, too, including Putney, Richmond and Barnes, Wandsworth, Brentford and Isleworth, Fulham, Beaconsfield, and Esher.

People living under the flight paths continue to find aircraft noise a major nuisance. It spoils the quiet enjoyment of their homes and gardens. It interrupts the work of offices, schools, hospitals and churches. As my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said, a thousand aeroplanes a day pass through Heathrow. It must be wrong to try to cram more and more flights through that one airport, regardless of the comfort, convenience enjoyment, peace and quiet, and health of the people living underneath. It must be said that some people do not mind very much, but many mind desperately, and they can look only to Parliament and the Government for protection.

Of course, the airlines have every right to put their point of view. Aviation interests, airlines, the British Airports Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority, aircraft manufacturers, and aero-engine manufacturers have the right to put their points of view, but in so doing they are able to hire the services of very expensive accountants, lawyers, public relations men and high-powered executives to put their views to the media, Members of Parliament, civil servants and those responsible for taking decisions. The many people who live under the flight paths are scattered and live individually in their houses. They can form residents' associations, look to their local authorities and ask local newspapers such as the Richmond and Twickenham Times to publicise their views, but in the end it is for Parliament, and the Government, who answer to Parliament, to decide.

Only through Members of Parliament and the Government can those people be protected. In the Civil Aviation Act 1982, Parliament deliberately decided to remove the right of those people to sue aircraft owners for noise nuisance, so there is no protection other than the Government and Parliament. There is a great need for Ministers to bear that fact constantly in mind, and to be aware of it when they receive glossy literature from the aviation authority and face its blandishments. The authority has every right to put its point of view, but its view should not be expected to prevail. Parliament has an important role. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State must answer to Parliament and I hope that his reply will reflect the fact that he has taken that emphasis on board.

The Government's record so far is rather good. No Minister has a better record in protecting the environment of my constituents than my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) who, as Secretary of State for Transport, decided to refuse planning permission for the fifth terminal at Heathrow when a public inquiry inspector had recommended that it should go ahead. He also decided to impose strict restraints on the number of night flights, a decision subsequently enforced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) when he was Secretary of State and last autumn by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson). Both were merely repeating the decision already taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, who also decided to stop the Heathrow to Gatwick helicopter link. That was when the M25 was completed, making the road journey between the two places 35 to 40 minutes on a good day.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for State will make it clear that Ministers intend to be no less vigilant than my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury was in protecting the environmental interests of the people living near airports. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would give an assurance to that effect.

If you will kindly allow me two more minutes, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make one more important point. It is that the time scale of 15 years in airport planning reflected in the current Civil Aviation Authority document and in the commercial policies of the British Airports Authority and the airlines ought not to be the only time scale under which the Government consider this matter. It is understandable that those aviation interests look at a time scale of 15 years for commercial reasons—accounting reasons, planning reasons, and so on—but the Government ought to look at a much longer time scale and to make it clear that they are prepared to do so.

My reason for saying that is obvious. If we go on cramming more and more aircraft through Heathrow, the time will come when it just cannot take any more, even if there is a third runway, or a sixth terminal as well as a fifth terminal. It cannot be enlarged indefinitely. The time will come when to anticipate a continuing growth in the demand for aviation must mean expansion of another major airport, so why not anticipate now? Why not plan now for that time, and look at a time scale of 20, 25, 30 or 40 years ahead rather than just the 15 years that suits the aviation industry from the commercial point of view? As there will eventually have to be expansion of other airports such as Stansted and Luton, it must make sense to anticipate that now, and not just apply a 15-year time scale which might lead one to cram more and more through Heathrow.

I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to confirm that he has taken note of that point, and to let me have a full and detailed written reply to it because it is a point that I wish to press and to continue pressing in the interests of my consituents and of everyone else who lives around Heathrow.

10.31 pm
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

I shall be brief. I hope that I can bring two qualifications to the debate. First, my interest in aviation goes back many years, if not decades; secondly, I have no personal constituency interest to declare, unlike many earlier speakers.

Reference has been made to regional airports. There is little doubt that in future such airports will play an increasing role, in this country and throughout Europe. The "spoke-to-spoke" operations mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) will probably form a much higher percentage of the total number of air movements as we proceed into the next century. I envisage a great role for Manchester, Birmingham and, increasingly, Liverpool, now that that airport is about to be privatised. North of the border, Glasgow too will have a role to play.

Let me make two points. First, I can at present see no likelihood of a regional airport policy—a policy of moving everything out to the regions—taking the place of the need for extra airport and runway capacity in the south-east. In the United States, the hubs are still there and are increasing in size, but the regional airports are growing, too. I do not envisage regional and hub airports as two separate operations; both will expand.

My second point should perhaps be directed at my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). We talk blithely about moving more flights out to the regions—to Birmingham and Manchester—but I must tell my hon. Friend and everyone else that exactly the same environmental problems that now exist in the south-east will increasing affect those airports. Such problems will be encountered wherever a new runway is built or airport capacity increased. There is no panacea; we cannot simply say, "We will put the extra capacity at Manchester or Birmingham." We shall still run into those environmental problems.

The main question is: do we want the extra runway capacity in the south-east to be in this country or on the other side of the channel? London's fourth airport—its fifth runway—is not in Birmingham or Manchester; it is Schiphol in Holland, and in the next century it may be Charles de Gaulle. We can make a decision now and say that because of environmental considerations and because we cannot see a way of getting over the hostility of our constituents, we are prepared to see the next London airport developed on the other side of the Channel. That may well be the right solution. I am not denying that many people in the Chamber tonight would secretly like that to happen. I am not one of them. I believe that if we are to increase this country's opportunities in Europe and if we are to make certain that Heathrow remains the premier hub in Europe and remains the premier system in terms of air routes into Europe, we must look at the problem in this country. If we do not want to lose that ground to Charles de Gaulle in about 2003, by the latest calculations, we must build another runway in the south-east.

There is an interim solution and that is simply to develop Luton. I was surprised that the document we have been discussing did not give that enough attention. I shall not dwell on this point but I agree with the points made earlier. The arguments associated with TACAN holds and other technical matters associated with Upper Heyford do not hold much water. I believe that there is the possibility of developing Luton further.

Having said that we need a new runway, the big decision about where it should be has to be left to the users —the airlines and the passengers. Things may change in the next 10 or 15 years, but, at the moment, it is clear that the demand exists at Heathrow. It may be that in another five or 10 years there will be a shift towards one of the other airports in the London area, but that is not so now. Because in many ways the environmental arguments cancel each other out again and again, we have to look at what is most sensible for the users in terms of the infrastructure that already exists and the importance of making certain that the premier hub in Europe is in this country and not on the other side of the channel.

I believe in backing winners. In the air transport industry in this country we have a winner. We must not cut off its development by saying that the next decision is too difficult. We must take that decision soon.

10.37 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Airport capacity and the provision of new runways are contentious subject anywhere in the world. In Japan riots have taken place, in Australia at least one ministerial career has been ruined by the prospect of a new runway and, even in this normally placid Chamber, the odd eyebrow is raised from time to time at a colleague's speech. As the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) said, these decisions, hard though they may be, have to be taken and it is better to take them sooner rather than later.

I can confidently prophesy that the one certain outcome of the debate is that the decision on extra capacity will not be taken this side of the next general election. I hope that I do not sound unduly cynical when I say that. The further delay in the decision has come at a convenient time for the Government. Having sent the CAA packing with a flea in its ear because, as has been correctly pointed out, it failed to discuss or look in detail at the environmental aspects of the decision—again being cynical, it no doubt deliberately overlooked the political aspects of the decision, too—the Secretary of State's only recourse is to set up another inquiry, which I estimate will not report for about two years.

The Government's dilemma is that the pressure for extra runway capacity in the south rises year by year and will continue to do so. Hon. Members who represent constituencies around existing airports will, for very good reasons, continue to oppose expansion in their areas. The other leg of the triangle that has not been mentioned tonight is the fact that in the south of England the principal airport operator is the BAA which, alongside the Department of Transport, will be most anxious not to take a short-term decision because it wants to maximise the use of its existing assets. We do not envy the Minister who is to reply to this debate, no doubt as adroitly as ever. Nor do we envy his boss, the Secretary of State for Transport, who at least will be held accountable for failing to take the decision this side of a general election.

Another aspect of aviation policy that has not been mentioned in the debate is the contribution that the Government and their policies have made to congestion in the south and the likely worsening of that congestion over the next decade. The Government have made great play about their policy of deregulation in connection with Europe. The present Secretary of State for Transport, like some of his predecessors, lectures the rest of Europe about the desirability of freedom in the air and how that freedom will lead to reduced costs for passengers and will also be enormously beneficial for the aviation industry. One of the obvious consequences of that freedom in the air is that there will be even more pressure on airports, particularly in the south of England. If we consider examples from elsewhere in the world, it is clear that there will be even more aeroplanes in the short term many of which will be smaller planes operating feeder routes, a point which was made by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells).

Many of the smaller planes will be anxious to connect with international flights from Heathrow. An inevitable consequence of a relaxation of aviation regulations, particularly in the short term if the American experience is anything to go by, is that there will be more pressure on airports, particularly in the south, and especially for those anxious to interline from Heathrow.

Other transport aspects of the decision have not been referred to and the Government should consider them. I raise those matters now to help the Government in their dilemma. The great problem in our aviation industry, as in others, is that we look at the industry in isolation. We do not look at the overall transport picture in this country. Reference has been made to Charles de Gaulle airport and its success in the 1990s and into the next century. No small part of that success stems from the fact that it will soon be part of the French railway network, the SNCF, and will soon have high-speed trains picking up and delivering passengers at the airport.

In the United Kingdom, particularly under this Government, we plan our transport systems in isolation. We are now belatedly proposing a rail link to Heathrow which will be built by the BAA and operated by British Rail. I believe that that is exactly the wrong way to do it. It will run only from Heathrow to Paddington and, to put it at its mildest, that is not likely to reduce congestion at Heathrow, by any stretch of the imagination. However, we appear to be some way off taking a decision to build cross-London rail links that would at least connect airports such as Heathrow with airports like Stansted.

We have belatedly given the go-ahead for a rail link to Manchester airport. That link will serve only the north of England. It will not connect Manchester airport with the InterCity rail network. The only major regional airport that is directly connected to Britain's already inadequate InterCity railway route is Birmingham international airport.

Unless we draw together all those various transport strands, pressure, in particular for flights within the United Kingdom and in the south of England, will grow enormously in the 1990s. Again, belatedly, the Government have recognised the problems that their gateway policy has caused over the years with flights from regional airports to the United States. They have lifted their requirement, and there will be flights from Birmingham and an increased number of flights from Manchester to the United States. That will do something, but only a small amount, to relieve congestion at Heathrow. It is too little and it is probably too late.

Even at this stage, bearing in mind that the Minister must satisfy his hon. Friends' conflicting views, I hope that he will take back the message that some concerted Government action is needed.

I hesitate to use the word "integration" because it has been done to death, especially by my own political party. There certainly must be some way of co-ordinating transport requirements in the United Kingdom if we are to get away from the nonsense of flying passengers from our regional airports into the busiest international airport in the world simply because, for understandable reasons, a combination of airlines and Governments are not prepared to sanction direct flights from our regional airports.

I do not share the gloomy view of the prospects of our regional airports that the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) took. There must be greater involvement of other transport modes. Again, an example was set in West Germany, where Lufthansa operates high-speed trains between German airports because of the problems of interlining and congestion that have already been mentioned.

I do not envy the Minister. He would not expect me to proffer—

The Minister for Aviation and Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)

The hon. Gentleman does not have any answers.

Mr. Snape

The Minister says that I do not have any answer. Like the Irishman who was asked for directions, I would not have started from here. We have had 11 years of Conservative aviation policy. I remind Conservative Members that the fact that, after all those years, we are in this mess reflects directly on the policies that successive Conservative Secretaries of State have followed. You will have to forgive me, Mr. Speaker, for concluding my remarks by saying I told you so.

10.47 pm
The Minister for Aviation and Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)

I almost feel like starting by saying, "I surrender," having listened to my hon. Friends' comments. We have to try to strike a tricky balance. I was interested by the comment of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who said that he would not start from here. In the unlikely event of his party forming a Government, he would have to start from somewhere. We heard nothing from the hon. Gentleman about what a Labour Government would propose or do, but we should not be surprised at his attitude.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) on his success in the ballot. I previously thought that he had secured a peak hour slot. I did not realise that we would have three statements, which meant that my hon. Friend did not get the peak hour slot. However, this is a difficult and sensitive topic and it is vital to all my hon. Friends who have spoken and many others.

I was struck by the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), who said, "I wholly agree with all those hon. Members who spoke about the great importance of our regional airports in providing capacity. I do not understand why people from the very north of the United Kingdom must come to London when such flights should be available from their own areas." I agree with my hon. Friend that, were we to suggest developing the strengths of the regional airports, we would hear similar arguments to those expressed by my hon. Friends for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells).

Hon. Members have focused their remarks on the Civil Aviation Authority's advice in its report on long-term airport needs—CAP 570—delivered to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last week, and on the statement that my right hon. Friend made on receipt of it. It is important to put that report in context.

The Government's airport policy was last set out in full in the 1985 White Paper of that name. It described how the developments then in hand or planned should provide sufficient capacity to meet demand in the south-east into the mid-1990s. In particular, the White Paper looked to Stansted to take its place as London's third main airport. Hon. Members who have visited Stansted will know that the new terminal now nearing completion is superb. When it opens next March it will certainly put Stansted firmly on the international airports map.

Forecasts of growth in air travel remain very buoyant, and the lead times for airport development are notoriously long— Stansted's new terminal will open its doors 10 years after the public inquiry got under way. It became clear that there was a need to roll forward the strategy outlined in the 1985 White Paper, in the light of developments in the industry—notably pressure on airspace, the approaching advent of the channel tunnel, the gathering pace of aviation liberalisation, and the privatisation of the former British Airports Authority as BAA plc. In July 1988, therefore, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), then Secretary of State for Transport, commissioned the CAA to advise on the adequacy of United Kingdom airport capacity in the longer term, through to 2005.

By 1988 it had already become clear that the immediate problem was pressure on air traffic control capacity. This is not something peculiar to the United Kingdom. In commissioning advice from the authority, the Government therefore asked it to take account of runway, terminal and airspace constraints, and at ways in which those could be tackled.

We also asked that the authority's advice should take the form of a report on possible responses to forecast demand, expressed as a range of options, so that we could then take account of the wider implications. I should perhaps stress that point, because some of the press reports have expressed surprise that the CAA has not come forward with a single option. I stress that that was never the intention, as was clear from the start and despite what the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said.

The CAA's work has taken two years, during which time it has consulted widely. When the authority offered its advice last July on London traffic distribution, it also reported on larger airport capacity. In CAP 548 it identified the need for new runway capacity to serve the south-east, and it explained in its progress report that an important part of its continuing work was a complex analysis, with computers, of the airspace and air traffic control implications of possible locations for runway capacity. That was clearly sensible—if considerations of airspace management ruled out the provision of runway capacity in an area, there would clearly be no point in looking at that area any further.

Again, I should underline this aspect of the CAA's work because, despite what the CAA said last July, it seems not to have been appreciated in some quarters. The CAA was never intended to examine the wider implications of the different locations at which it was looking—it has focused on the critical air traffic control aspect.

The CAA advised last July that its own experience suggested that the development of a major airport on a completely new site in the south-east was unlikely to be either a realistic or an acceptable option. We agreed with that view, and so did not ask the authority to extend its airspace studies to cover this.

In CAP 570, delivered to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last week, the CAA has refined its estimates of when additional runway capacity to serve the south-east will be needed, and puts the date at about 2005. I hope that that answers the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne—yes, the CAA has said that we shall need a new runway around 2005. It is notoriously difficult to forecast just how air traffic will grow and distribute itself, and so it became necessary to best estimate.

My hon. Friend may ask, "Why do we not plan that much further ahead?" It is very difficult to plan further than 15 years ahead for what might happen in air traffic movements and air traffic capacity. It would be difficult to try to give guesstimates for 25 years hence, for example.

The CAA has looked carefully at the contribution to be expected of regional airports. That is right—

Mr. Jessel

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. McLoughlin

I would rather not because of the pressure of time.

That is an important aspect. All too often, the regional airports are dismissed as though they were a minor factor in the debate. That is quite wrong; on that, I agree with all those hon. Members who have spoken today. To take the most obvious example, Manchester airport is a major world airport by any standards. Birmingham and Glasgow are internationally significant airports. I entirely agree that Birmingham has tremendous infrastructure capabilities, and it has been developed using private capital, which I wholly welcome. I wish that Manchester would follow the same route.

We should not play down the importance of regional airports. The Government are keen to see them prosper, and they will prosper all the more when they try to attract private capital into the facilities that they offer the public. I am encouraged by the way in which they are responding to demand—which, it has to be said, is increasing partly as a result of the liberalisation that the Opposition so despise. Much development is in hand at Manchester and Birmingham and at Glasgow—an airport run by the British Airports Authority. My Department forecasts that the regional airports' share of all traffic will increase significantly in the coming years faster than that of the London airports. I welcome that, because I welcome the opportunity to travel from my own regional airport to the destinations that I want to visit rather than having to come to London first. There is no difference between us on the importance of regional airports.

The CAA's traffic modelling shows that once the existing runway capacity of the south-east has been used up, the number of passengers lost—those who will not fly —will rise sharply, even if capacity is assumed to be available at regional airports. The CAA concludes that providing extra capacity at the regional airports would not, therefore, be an effective substitute for additional capacity in the south-east. That is an important judgment and it will be right to have it fully tested, as we certainly hope to do.

The CAA's examination of the air traffic control arrangements has led it to identify eight possible options for the provision of the runway capacity needed to meet our future needs. It has also given its advice on the options most likely to be attractive to passengers and in terms of airlines competition. But the air traffic control and aviation aspects are only part of the jigsaw, albeit an important part. The CAA chairman, Sir Christopher Tugendhat, recognised this in his covering letter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in which he observed that wider factors will now have to be considered. Hon. Members have highlighted the importance of those considerations—if, indeed, they needed highlighting.

I am afraid that I cannot say to my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, who so ably introduced the debate, that I can wholly rule out Heathrow. If I did that, my hon. Friends who have spoken on behalf of other areas would ask me wholly to rule out their airports as well. That is not the way forward. The way forward is to do as the Government have done—to set up a working group. [Laughter.] It is easy for Opposition Members to mock—we are used to that, but they never come forward with any constructive suggestions.

I will now say something about United Kingdom airports in general. In recent months, there have been some comments about the dire consequences that would result if the United Kingdom lost its prominent position in European civil aviation through the inadequacy of the airports infrastructure. Such talk is unnecessarily gloomy. I have observed on several occasions that plans are fine briefly—but that bricks and mortar are better.

It is not surprising that some of our European partners should be making efforts to catch up, but the United Kingdom can point to new developments now in place or soon to be made. A new terminal opened at Heathrow in 1986; London City airport opened 1987; a new terminal opened at Gatwick in 1988; a completely redeveloped Heathrow terminal 3 was opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State two months ago. A fine new terminal will open at Stansted, in March; another is due to enter service at Birmingham in 1991; and another at Manchester in 1993. By any standards, that is an excellent record of achievement. While others talk, we get on with the job.

There is no question of any complacency in the Government, but rather every sign of rising to the challenge, and that challenge continues. It is evident that any responsible Government must address the issues that this brings, difficult though they certainly are. And that is what we are doing, first in commissioning advice from the CAA, now in making plans to take that advice forward.

I think that I have said everything about our approach to this important and difficult matter. It is important, clearly, because international aviation has come to play a central role in all countries' economic fortunes—

In accordance with MR. SPEAKER'S ruling[Official Report, 31 January 1983; Vol. 36, c. 19]—the debate was concluded.

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