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Glasgow Airport

Volume 772: debated on Wednesday 30 October 1968

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Harper.]

9.58 p.m.

I take this opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the closing of Glasgow Airport. Up until that moment, it was the second busiest airport in the United Kingdom, ranking next to London. Tonight it lies empty and almost deserted. The work it used to do is being done at Prestwick but not so conveniently because, for Glasgow passengers, journeys from and to London used to take two hours each way whereas now they take six and sometimes more. The principal contributors to this disastrous situation are the Board of Trade, ably represented here—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Harper.]

The principal contributors to the state which I have just described at Abbotsinch are the Board of Trade, the Department of Employment and Productivity and the Scottish Office. The Board of Trade has been pursuing a policy regarding Glasgow Airport which to some appears to be almost vindictive. For example, in 1967, American Flyers, a private airline in America flew 12 Boeing 727s into Glasgow full of tourists. In the same year, Wardair of Canada flew in 30 Boeing 727s. Both operations carried inclusive-fair passengers. This year, so far, 30 Boeing 727s with tourists from Canada have come to Glasgow. Also, two Boeing 707s were accepted with inclusive-fare passengers. One was booked for Glasgow. The other was redirected from Prestwick which could not take it because of fog.

A third Boeing 707, however, with 100 Scots expatriates bound for Glasgow was directed from Glasgow airport at Abbotsinch to Prestwick on the intervention of the Board of Trade. Those 100 passengers were dropped at Prestwick and left stranded because no arrangements for transporting them from Prestwick Airport to the various parts of Scotland for which they were destined had been made.

Airlines object to this procedure because landing fees at Prestwick cost them £160 more than they pay at Glasgow Airport, with the result that there are higher fees for passengers and increased travelling costs for them from Prestwick.

As a guide to what is happening, these figures are worth noting. In 1965, the number of aircraft passengers handled at Prestwick was 463,315. In 1966, the number was 510,322. In 1967, there was an alarming drop to 450,528, lower than in 1965 and showing a distinct fall from 1966. Undoubtedly, this drastic fall in passenger handling at Prestwick is influencing the policy now being pursued against Abbotsinch.

There is no doubt about the Board of Trade's purpose. It is applying to Glasgow Airport a policy which will deliberately restrict its development, and applying it to Glasgow alone. Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Tees-side are also municipal airports, just like Glasgow. At least three of them are providing, with the aproval of the Board of Trade, international services which are being refused to Glasgow. Why is exception made in respect of the Scottish airport? Is the Minister under continuing pressure from the British Airports Authority to carry on this sort of policy?

When fully grown, this massive monopoly, backed presently by £54·9 million of public money which will now be increased, will include Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Prestwick and Edinburgh. Therefore, there will be this enormous public monopoly with two airports in Scotland—Prestwick, on one side of Abbotsinch, and Edinburgh, on the other. Obviously, in that pincer grip in Scotland, dominated by the financial might of the B.A.A., Glasgow Airport will be squeezed more strongly than it is being squeezed now. Its employees will suffer financially because Prestwick, as a member of the B.A.A., is being paid the B.A.A. rate for its porters and other workers.

Automatically, when Edinburgh is comprehended in this huge group—and it is now—without any fuss and worry its employees will also get the rate paid to Prestwick. Therefore, unless something is done about the position of the employees at Glasgow Airport, they will have on either side of them employees doing similar work at Edinburgh and at the Ayrshire airport and getting higher pay. I think that it will be generally accepted that that position is no longer tolerable.

The current Report of the B.A.A. states that it will
"welcome the opportunity of extending its operations in Scotland, of working increasingly closely with centres of Scottish commerce, industry and tourism and of developing Turnhouse as an airport worthy of the capital of Scotland"—
something, evidently, which the capital of Scotland was incapable of doing for itself.

Where, however, is the great centre of commerce and industry in Scotland of which the Report speaks? Would anybody deny that it lies in the Glasgow conurbation of 1 million people who have been so well served in their air transport needs by the Corporation of Glasgow? Would anybody deny that the policy of restricting the expansion of Abbotsinch for the benefit of the B.A.A. outpost at Prestwick is supported by the Scottish Office, which informed me in the House on 23rd October that before an absolutely necessary safety precaution could be undertaken at the south-west end of the Abbotsinch runway it had to be satisfied
"that the application had no bearing on any possible future proposal to extend the runway"?
That is a shocking thing. Will the Minister tell me and Glasgow at what date it was decided or said in public, private or anywhere else, that Glasgow Airport would not be extended? That is what I was told by a responsible Minister of the Scottish Office.

The reply which the President of the Board of Trade gave me on 22nd February this year, in which he sought to define the duties and work which would fall on certain types of airports and which said that some would do short-haul, some medium-haul and some long-haul work is completely deficient, because neither the Minister nor anyone else has ever defined what is meant by "short-haul" and "medium-haul". "Long-haul" is something about which we can all agree. Where does "short-haul" work start? Where does it finish? How is it distinguished from "medium-haul" work? The Minister killed every word almost in his reply by saying—I cannot quote his exact words, but the Minister of State must know them—that change was so rapid and so fundamental and progress was so great in aviation that no one could lay down clearly any definite lines or definite differences between this or that form of haulage.

The Scottish Office has to be satisfied of the merit of any proposal to extend a runway. Is Abbotsinch to be banned for ever from extending its runway? This prohibition is unbelievable in the light of the uninhibited expansion which is promised for the British Airports Authority in its Report.

Nor is the Department of Employment and Productivity inactive. It has rejected the trade union right of equal pay for equal work. Men at Abbotsinch who are doing the same work as men at Prestwick are being denied equal pay. As a result, a strike has been precipitated at Abbotsinch, thereby helping Prestwick.

I hope, however, that the Department is paying proper respect to the words of Mr. John Miller, as reported in the Scottish Daily Mail of 14th October. I will read them for the benefit of the Minister. Dealing with the matters of which I have been speaking, Mr. Miller, the local organiser of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said:
"There are two alternatives the union could take".
He was referring to the trouble that we are in:
"They could call a strike of their transport and general workers at Prestwich and Turn-house, bringing those airports to a complete halt. Or they could instruct members to black' all air traffic transferred from Glasgow to Prestwich or Turnhouse during the present wages crisis."
I have touched only on the fringe of this subject, and I may manage to say something more about it in the debate on the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep in mind the warning which he has received from the organiser of the Transport and General Workers' Union in Scotland.

10.15 p.m.

It is a very special pleasure to speak for the first time under your most distinguished Chairmanship, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to do so on an occasion when I have the additional pleasure of replying to a very characteristic and vigorous speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin).

I know his very deep concern for the future of Glasgow Airport and his deep concern in all similar matters. I have a great deal to learn from him in the whole of aviation, and it is for that reason that I have listened with a good deal of sympathy to much of what he has said. Certainly I share the regret which he has expressed at the closing of Glasgow Airport, but I think I must say quite frankly to him, as he has spoken quite frankly of the Board of Trade, of the Scottish Office, and of the Department of Employment and Productivity, that I cannot for one moment accept his suggestion that there is any vindictiveness of any kind towards Glasgow.

I think it is an unfair suggestion, an ungenerous suggestion and, I like to believe, untypical of my hon. Friend. I hope that, on reflection, he will feel that whereas he has a good and important cause to espouse it is not necessary to reflect upon the good will and conscientiousness, and, I think, the very proper sense of purpose, of all those involved in one way or another with the future of Glasgow Airport. Nor can I in any way share his apparent animosity to wards Prestwick. Looking at the whole future of airports in Britain and the future of civil aviation I would conclude that there is a full and proper rôle for both Glasgow and Prestwick, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect me on this occasion to join him in any sort of vendetta which suggested that Prestwick has not also a proper rôle.

I think that he has, in a sense, got hold of the wrong end of the stick. Nobody is putting pressure on the Board of Trade, least of all the British Airports Authority, and, equally, nobody is squeezing Glasgow. We have the very greatest good will towards municipal airports, which are often very ably managed, and where traffic has grown steadily. I would like to pay tribute to all those in each municipality—not only Glasgow, but, to take an obvious comparable example, Manchester—who have played a part in making a success of municipal airports. So we have no prejudice or preference here. Our responsibility is having a proper rôle for all airports. It is not a question of banning Abbotsinch in any way but seeing how both Abbotsinch and Prestwick can fit into the development of aviation in Scotland.

I hope that the present unhappy dispute is only an interruption, and that it will be very speedily resolved through the good will and common sense of all concerned, because it is in the interests not only of the airport, but of Glasgow, and of Scotland as a whole, that this should happen. I would only hope that what my hon. Friend has said tonight, and what I am adding now, may contribute in a small way to a solution of this problem, and I hope, certainly, that it will not in any way impede progress towards a full resumption of aviation services from Abbotsinch.

My hon. Friend was very concerned with the relative rôle of Prestwick and Abbotsinch. I know he will forgive me if I remind him of the agreement that was reached between Glasgow Corporation and the British Airports Authority on 9th March, 1967. I want to make it clear that we endorsed that agreement earlier this year and we endorse it now. Perhaps the House will bear with me if I repeat something said by the President of the Board of Trade on 22nd February last. He said in the House:
"We have taken note of the joint statement, recently reaffirmed to us, by Glasgow Corporation and the British Airports Authority on 9th March, 1967, that they regard the two airports as complementary."
He went on to say:
"The Government are agreed that this division of traffic between the two airports is a sensible one which will make good use of the investment committed in recent years at both airports and will provide adequate facilities for the rapidly expanding passenger and cargo air services. Some further development at Glasgow will be necessary to consolidate its initial success and to allow it to deal with the rapid growth of traffic and with the new and larger types of aircraft which will come into service on the short and medium-haul routes."
My right hon. Friend concluded that it was right
"…to reaffirm that they will adhere to the policy of successive Governments that the rôle of the two airports is complementary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 174.]
This was the view expressed by the President of the Board of Trade in February this year, and it still stands. I hope that my hon. Friend will believe me when I say that it is the intention neither of the Board of Trade, nor I am sure of the Scottish Office, whose Parliamentary Under-Secretary is present tonight, nor of the Department of Employment and Productivity in so far as it is involved, in any way to depart either from the statement made by the President or from the agreement reached between the Glasgow Corporation and Prestwick. I would like that to go on record as the firm position, because I think it should answer some of the misapprehensions of my hon. Friend and some of the honest fears that I am very glad he has taken this opportunity of expressing in the House.

I would like to refer briefly to the recent planning application made by Glasgow which was submitted to the Renfrew County Council on 19th April. This was for in-filling ground between Barnsford Road and the motorway at present zoned for airport purposes for possible future extension of the main runway at Glasgow Airport and resiting of instrument landing array and building. As my hon. Friend knows, this application was called in by the Secretary of State on 19th June for decision by himself under Section 13 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1947, and he explained his reasons as follows:
"It appears to the Secretary of State that the possible future extension of the runway could affect the type of traffic using the airport; could have implications for social amenity affecting more than the area controlled by Renfrew County Council as local planning authority; and could affect the availability of airport facilities elsewhere in Scotland."
My hon. Friend will remember the whole of the debate on the Civil Aviation Bill, as I certainly remember the closing stages, and it seems to me that it is most important to recognise that a balance has to be struck today between the proper economic needs of civil aviation, serving as it does a large part of the country and contributing greatly to economic growth, and the amenity factors on which the growth of air traffic bears. I think he will agree that it is wholly reasonable in these circumstances that the Secretary of State should have taken this action.

Since he called in the application, my right hon. Friend has received representations from Dunbartonshire County Council and from Bearsden, Clydebank and Johnstone burgh councils expressing concern about the application and wishing to be heard at an inquiry into it. It is understood that Milngavie and Renfrew burghs would probably also want to be represented at any such inquiry. These representations obviously associate the application with Glasgow Corporation's previously expressed intention to extend the runway to 9,500 ft. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that the authorities would be concerned about the noise and loss of social amenity in the area round Abbotsinch if the volume and nature of the air traffic using the airport were changed significantly.

My hon. Friend is assuming my agreement with what he is saying. Where will the less noisy engines like the 211 come in, about which we heard a week ago? Have they no part to play in this development?

It is not my job to adjudicate between those who might be interested. The interests in any developments at Glasgow go beyond Glasgow itself. It is for that reason that these matters should be taken properly into account. I am sure that no one wishes to see an unreasonable delay. We are anxious, however, that discussions should be thorough. It is in everyone's interests that they should be and that proper consideration should be given to the widest public interest. There is no question here of squeezing Glasgow. Each airport has a rôle to play and we still stand by the agreement between the B.A.A. and Glasgow embodied in the statement of the President of the Board of Trade on 22nd February.

Time does not allow me, and this might not be the best occasion, to enter in detail into the dispute about the wages of the ground staff at Abbotsinch. The dispute is quite unconnected with the future of Glasgow Airport and, as I suggested at the beginning of my speech, it seems unlikely that the dispute will affect the long-term use of Glasgow Airport by the airline operators. Certainly I hope that this is not the case, but it is understandable that the operators have felt obliged to move because of the uncertainty caused by guerilla strikes. But the situation which prompted them to develop their operations at Abbotsinch, should, surely, bring them back there when the dispute is brought to a conclusion.

It is no job of the Government to intervene in the process of collective bargaining between employers and employees. All that we have sought to do on this occasion is to lend our advice when it has appeared necessary and make clear that any settlement at Abbotsinch must very properly fall within the Government's prices and incomes policy. It would be quite wrong for there to be a departure, and that has been behind the conversations which have taken place and the visit made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of Employment and Productivity, who I know is most closely interested in the debate. In addition, my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland visited Glasgow last Friday for the very purpose of making the position entirely clear.

I understand that certain proposals have been made by Glasgow Corporation. A six-point plan has been put forward. It is a matter of regret that the unions have rejected this approach, and I understand that Glasgow Corporation will be considering the position further at a special meeting tomorrow. I hope very much that the problem will be resolved very soon, and that Glasgow Airport will continue on the very steady path of growth that we have seen. We are committed to seeing Glasgow Airport the success that it deserves to be. We applaud the efforts of the local authority to make it a success, and I am at one with my hon. Friend in recognising the part that it has to play in the development of Scotland.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.