§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Baroness EMMET of AMBERLEY
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can give an assurance that the congestion at Heathrow has not been increased by the abolition of facilities at Gloucester Road Terminal, and whether it is true that, as reported in the Press, travellers are to be charged embarkation fees at Heathrow to discourage the use of this airport.310
My Lords, I can give no such assurance, but there are various reasons for the present congestion at Heathrow and these are the subject of remedial action by the British Airports Authority. The question of a charge on passengers using Heathrow and other London airports to encourage a greater use of regional airports was raised as an issue for discussion in Part 2 of the Government's Consultation document, Airport Strategy for Great Britain, which was published on 24th June.
§ Baroness EMMET of AMBERLEY
My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that Answer, and especially for his honest statement that he could not give any assurance that the change had not made things worse at Heathrow, may I ask whether he is aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, and I anticipated that this might happen, and that if we are to keep our reputation as a tourist centre we really must try to do something about the chaotic conditions that exist at Heathrow at the present time?
My Lords, I am aware of the concern of the two noble Baronesses in this matter, expressed in an earlier debate. There are many factors contributing to the present congestion in the terminals and on the roads at the airport, including the redevelopment of Terminal 2 and the roadworks associated with the new Tube station in the central area. It is impossible now to attribute any or all of the congestion in a particular place or at a particular time to the lack of check-in facilities at Gloucester Road, or to assume that the congestion would be noticeably less if those facilities were still available.
§ Baroness BURTON of COVENTRY
My Lords, is the Minister aware that many people at British Airways now concede that a great mistake was made in withdrawing check-in facilities at this terminal before the rail link was complete? Is he further aware that many travellers now have to take private or hired cars to Heathrow, whereas before they used the bus? But now they have to leave home so very early—in my own case three hours beforehand—to catch their plane. Finally—and this I think is important—is he aware that many travellers have lost a great 311 deal of pleasure which they previously enjoyed by being able to use these facilities?
Well, my Lords, I realise that there was a considerable debate at the time, more than two years ago, but I think it is a little late now to try to catch up with history. I think there are very strong arguments, not least that of the saving of cost, in favour of the present arrangements. My noble friend will be aware—indeed she was a dissenting member of the committee—that there was a monitoring exercise on the change and that the committee found few serious problems in the change. I know that my noble friend disagrees with that, but she is a distinguished minority on a number of occasions.
§ Lord HEWLETT
My Lords, are the Government aware of the enormous amount of extra cost caused to the individual, which was the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton? London Airport really is becoming quite intolerable to one who travels very frequently because of its cost, inconvenience, delay, and, perhaps more than anything, its total lack of security. It is now known not as Heathrow, but as "Thief row Airport". It is not a laughing matter, my Lords. The present conditions are highly inconvenient and a great disincentive to use of the airport, and it is a great shame that we are now treating the matter as a matter of history. What can the Government do to improve the situation quickly?
My Lords, I was not suggesting that the congestion at Heathrow was a matter of history about which we can expect to do little. I was referring, as the noble Baroness's Question referred, to the change of facilities at Gloucester Road Terminal. I entirely accept what the noble Lord said about the serious situation at Heathrow; I do not begin to deny it, but I ask him also to consider that action is being taken: for example a redevelopment of Terminal 2 at a cost 312 of £10 million, and expenditure of £5 million on improvements to Terminals 1 and 3. Indeed, the fact that redevelopment is going on is in itself a contributing factor to the present congestion. But it is with a view to relieving the congestion in the future that this action is being taken.
§ Lord KINNAIRD
My Lords, can the Minister please tell me why we cannot put the clock back? We hear Questions in this House, we have Questions in another place, and we see letters written in the Press. Countless people want things back as they were. We go on spending money on stupid things here, there and everywhere; let us spend a little more money on putting things back as they were and satisfying a great many travellers.
My Lords, I am one of those who are not anxious to put the clock back but to make progress. I believe that it will emerge that this change was beneficial. I agree that we are in an interim situation where difficulties emerge, but I believe that this particular decision was the right one.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, can the noble Lord say how long it is going to take to finish the slum clearance at Terminal 2?
§ Lord MAYBRAY-KING
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that everybody who uses Heathrow, except his advisers, knows what a serious increase of discomfort has been caused by the scrapping of the Gloucester Road facilities?
§ Baroness EMMET of AMBERLEY
My Lords, may I ask the Minister one more question? Is it not a fact that one of the troubles at Heathrow is that there are four different sections of the airport controlling different bits of it, and that it would be a great improvement if it all could be under one organisation?
My Lords, that is a much wider question. I shall certainly pass on the noble Baroness's suggestion to those who are responsible for these matters; namely, the British Airports Authority.
§ Lord BRAYE
My Lords, if it is true that embarkation fees are going to be charged at Heathrow Airport, what is to prevent other airports from making similar charges?
My Lords, it is not true. There is no firm proposal for such a charge. As I indicated in the original Answer, this is merely a suggestion put forward among very many others about airport strategy. It is nowhere near reaching a decision on that matter, so I think that the noble Lord can rest content and not be too anxious for many a year to come.
Viscount ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, why cannot the noble Lord give the noble Baroness the assurance that she wants? Is it not quite clear that nothing that could now be done would make things worse at Heathrow?