§ Mr. Allan Stewart
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has concluded his review of Scottish lowland airports policy; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I have now concluded my consideration of the views put in the over 1,100 submissions received during the recent consultation. I was much impressed by the scale and quality of the response, and I am glad to have been able to consider the issues against the background of this very full expression of Scottish opinion.
I believe it is right in principle for Government to intervene in the operation of the aviation market only to the extent and when circumstances make it necessary. My intention in ordering the consultation was to determine whether to maintain a special policy for the lowland airports, or to adopt the less restrictive approach which applies more generally in the United Kingdom. I have concluded, in close consultation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, that the interests of Scotland generally and of the users and providers of air services in Scotland are best served by allowing each of the lowland airports to handle the traffic they are able to attract, subject of course to the licences held by airlines, to international air service agreements and to the physical capabilities of the airports. I shall not, therefore, be making fresh traffic distribution rules for the lowland airports. I did not find that there was a persuasive argument for construction of another airport in Scotland.
The benefits to Scotland that can be expected to flow from this, and the rate at which those benefits will be become manifest, are necessarily difficult to state with precision. Much depends on the response of the industry and of users to the additional opportunities that a more liberal policy will open up: already two airlines have announced proposals for new services between Glasgow and the United States of America. It is the firm belief of almost all those well placed to take an informed view that the policy of confining long-haul services to Prestwick has hampered Scotland's economic development and that a less restrictive approach could be expected to enhance business efficiency and help encourage inward investment. I am myself clear that airlines' ability to respond flexibly to the needs of users is very important.
I recognise and regret that the change in policy is likely to have an adverse impact on local Ayrshire employment. However my right hon. and learned Friend and I are confident that this will be more than offset by wider benefits to Scotland as a whole, and in the meantime I welcome BAA's firm policy of making no forced redundancies at Prestwick.
I am conscious of the concern on safety grounds at the prospect of additional traffic at Glasgow and Edinburgh. 549W I should stress that there is no question of any unsafe operations being permitted at either airport. A statutory responsibility for the safety of civil aviation rests with the Civil Aviation Authority. Objectivity in assessing safety standards is one of the key elements which take the regulation of aviation safety out of the commercial market place as far as is humanly possible. Thus, while the length of Glasgow's runway might impose a commercial penalty—which would be a matter for the airlines—there is no question of safety standards being compromised. Much higher levels of air traffic than are envisaged at Glasgow are already present at, for example, Heathrow and Manchester, airports also located in urban areas.
There is concern, too, about additional noise and vibration at Glasgow and Edinburgh that an increase in traffic may bring. Responsibility for noise control measures at these airports rests with BAA as airport operator, and I am satisfied that this arrangement should continue, as indeed it does at all United Kingdom airports outside the London system. A number of noise abatement measures are already in place at Glasgow and Edinburgh, and I am asking the chairman of the BAA to ensure that these are kept under review.
It is suggested that the withdrawal of Prestwick's sole gateway status would lead to the airport's closure. BAA has said that it will move to a common tariff at Glasgow and Prestwick for long-haul traffic, allowing Prestwick to compete fairly. Although it believes that passenger services will nevertheless in due course transfer from Prestwick, the BAA has made clear its firm intention of keeping the airport open and of intensifying its marketing of its other facilities, notably for all-cargo operations. I welcome those intentions, because I know there is concern among some Scottish business interests for the future of air freight facilities in Scotland. I very much hope that BAA will be successful in realising Prestwick's advantages for all-cargo services. It starts from a strong position, such services having accounted for 38 per cent. of all air transport movements at Prestwick in 1988, and for 80 per cent. of cargo moved through the airport in 1988–89. With the continuation of cargo operations at Prestwick and the hellyhold capacity offered by any additional long-haul services at Glasgow and Edinburgh, I believe Scotland will continue to enjoy good air freight coverage.
Lowland Scotland is fortunate in having three fine airports. By extending freedom of choice, allowing the market to respond freely to the wishes of users, I am confident that each of the airports will be encouraged to realise its proper potential, to the benefit of Scotland as a whole.