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Airport Policy

Volume 932: debated on Thursday 26 May 1977

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

7.44 p.m.

This is an eventful day. The House has had a long debate on why no one wants to go on holiday. We are now proceeding to debate airports policy, and I hesitate to get too involved after that because the following subject is a very esoteric and beguiling one relating to statute law repeals. I see that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department is here to tell us why we are to repeal

"An Act to attaint Sir John Fenwick Baronett of High Treason."
"An Act to inflict Pains and Penalties on John Plunket."
and all such fascinating matters.

It is welcome that we should be discussing this matter of airport policy at this time so that hon. Members can participate in a consultative process that began some time ago. Naturally, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade would have wished to participate in this debate, but, as hon. Members will appreciate, he is in Moscow for discussions about Anglo-Soviet trade.

For the first time in the relatively short history of aviation in this country, a Government—the present Labour Government—are trying to establish a national airport strategy. It is long overdue. The evidence of the lack of any measure of co-ordination in the past, is regretably, plain for all to see. Airports—and at this stage I would be hesitant to identify particular airports—have, in all too many instances, been erected as local authority virility symbols. National requirements have entered into those considerations barely at all.

Soon after we took office in 1974, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, now Secretary of State for the Environment, and I resolved that we would try to design such a strategy. But how were we to go about achieving this goal? How could we hope to overcome understandably parochial considerations in favour of a clear national need?

The starting point for the policy review was the decision in March 1974 to reappraise the Maplin Airport project. In consequence, that project was abandoned in July 1974. No doubt there are some who still regret the cancellation of Maplin—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—the antediluvian Members, and I recognise that, for many living in areas near to the existing London airports, Maplin presented a distant prospect of relief from the disturbance caused by aircraft noise. But the decision to abandon Maplin was widely accepted—it was widely accepted in the House—and I have no doubt that developments since then, both in the air transport industry and more widely, have confirmed its justification. The forecast growth of air traffic is now less than was predicted at the time of the Maplin review, and the economic situation would suggest the need for extreme caution in undertaking a project, which not only would have been a severe burden on public expenditure but the commercial viability of which would have been a matter of considerable reservation. Indeed, I venture to suggest that Maplin might have qualified in no time at all as one of the biggest bulls ever of the white elephant herd.

Two considerations have been paramount in the Government's approach to the review of airports policy—first, as I have already said, the need to place future airport developments within a national context; secondly, the emphasis on consultation.

I think it would be fair to say that both these aspects have been widely welcomed. Past decisions on airports policy have all too often been taken without reference to the views of those affected, with the result that subsequent opposition and practical difficulties have led to delays and, sometimes, the need to withdraw the proposed developments altogether. It is just not right that people should not be consulted on matters which can be of very great concern to them. We, therefore, opted for consultation, full and detailed consultation, designed to seek out and take account of the views of all those affected. There was, however, a price to be paid for adopting this course. Consultation, if it is to be worth while, takes time. Delay in making final decisions was inevitable, and delay means some anxiety and uncertainty for all those concerned—airport authorities, airlines, those working at airports and those whose major concern is protection of the environment.

I appreciate that full well, but I believe that although the Opposition environment spokesman has complained about the delay, it was right that we did what we did, and the price has been worth paying. So we produced a two-part consultation document on airports strategy, and this debate will complete the very wide consultations which followed from the publication of these documents.

Throughout the consultative process the close involvement of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), as Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment, and myself has emphasised the joint concern of the Departments of Trade and Environment with the development of airports policy.

As a result, there is now a much greater awareness of the environmental impact of airport developments—something to which my hon. Friend and I can fully testify. We have been involved in most worthwhile discussions, and in many respects the views of hon. Members who have come to see us, of local authorities and other bodies, have made a major contribution to influencing the way in which we think on these matters. This is important, and it is right that the expected effects of possible airport developments should be displayed in advance of any decision.

I hope that through this consultation process, which in many respects, has been a unique exercise in participation, both the Government and those consulted will have learned a great deal more about the likely impact of any developments and that this will be reflected in the decisions that will need to be taken, not only in central Government but more widely.

Further, in relation to the consultations, there is a special need, in the case of airports outside the South-East of England, to provide a framework against which the possible development of regional airports, a number of which are in direct competition with each other, can be assessed. The consultation documents sought to provide such a framework as a basis for discussion.

The two consultation documents attempted to provide the basic information for an assessment of how a national strategy might evolve. Following the consultations, we are hopeful that we can present, in due course, a realistic and forward-looking policy. I must emphasise that it is not our intention to produce a blueprint or a precise plan for each airport throughout the country. With the inevitable uncertainties about air traffic forecasts, about economic growth, not only here but elsewhere, about technological developments in aircraft and engine design, and about continuing progress in the abatement of noise around airports, it is essential that any airports policy must be flexible and must be capable of adapting to changing circumstances. What we are looking for is a broad framework against which individual decisions about airport developments can be assessed. This is not easy, and there are many issues to consider.

We cast the net of the consultation process very widely throughout Great Britain. Over 1,000 organisations were invited to submit their views, including all the major local authorities, economic planning councils, airport committees, airport managements, trade unions, aviation interests, including airlines, and amenity groups. There has been a massive response from these and many other organisations, and, most important of all, a large number of individual members of the public have also submitted comments. This is something that we wanted to see, and we have not been disappointed.

In company with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, I have met many of the principal organisations involved, and I and my colleagues have also visited all the major airports throughout England, Scotland and Wales. I have been to Belfast, too, but it does not fall into the same area of discussion. I believe it was right that we should have learned these facts of life first hand rather than, as was once stated in a letter in a legal case with which I was concerned, through "here say". There could, in my view, be no substitute for listening to the views of the people on the spot and not relying on here say evidence however eloquently described in ministerial briefs. The latter is not the right way of going about this important topic.

Decisions about airport developments will inevitably be controversial and disruptive to some people. I accept that, and I cannot pretend that a process of consultation will make the decisions, which must ultimately be taken by the Government, any more palatable. They will be welcomed by some and deplored by others. Indeed, if they were to be wholly popular I think we should have introduced the greatest miracle since Moses struck the rock. I am sure that the debate this evening will demonstrate the fact that there are no easy solutions. But I hope, at least, that the consultation process will have led to a greater awareness by all concerned of the issues involved.

Before I comment on some of the issues which have been raised in the consultations, there are a number of general points concerning the airport strategy documents which are of importance and to which I should draw the attention of the House.

First, our approach to the review of airports policy has assumed that an efficient air transport system is of considerable benefit to the United Kingdom. Business travel by air is today an essential requirement of international trade and of Government, but it is by no means the exclusive privilege of the business man or of the rich. It is sometimes overlooked that about three-quarters of air travel, to and from the United Kingdom, is leisure traffic. The substantial reduction in the real cost of air travel in recent years has brought overseas travel and holidays within the reach of an increasing proportion of our people.

Equally, the aviation industry provides employment for many thousands. And, despite the slowing down of growth, particularly in the two years following the oil crisis, air transport remains a growth industry and one in which the United Kingdom is still a major force.

Secondly, it is the Government's objective to ensure that there are adequate airport facilities available in this country to meet the demand for air travel. Some of those who have commented on the consultation documents have suggested that this is an assumption which they do not accept. I do not think that it is a tenable position for any Government deliberately to seek to depress the demand for air travel by prohibiting the provision of the necessary facilities on the ground.

This does not mean that there should be no constraints on the air transport industry, or on the way in which airports are permitted to develop, or on the way aviation activity impinges on local communities. Far from it. But it does mean that the Government are not prepared to consider a policy which depends on the suppresion of demand. What we have to do is to keep a balance between capacity arguments and demands. This is a fundamentally and monumentally difficult task. As Dave Allen once said, "To keep a balance you need a chip on both shoulders". He is probably right.

If the demand becomes such that the balance is disturbed and is impossible to maintain, how can one restore the balance except by suppressing demand?

That is not a position that is likely to arise. The hon. and learned Member is citing a purely hypothetical situation which does not bear any relevance to the information in the consultation documents. He may say that the consultation documents are wrong, but that would not be a proper assertion. The documents are well thought out, and they carefully analyse the situation. It is for the House to make up its mind on these matters.

The Under-Secretary said that it was not his function to suppress demand. Can he confirm that his right hon. Friend will be delineating an energy policy, and bearing in mind the potential shortage and high cost of oil, might it not be necessary for him to consider suppressing demand in order to conserve vital oil supplies?

I do not know about that, but at this stage it is hypothetical. I do not see that, within the areas covered by the consultation documents and the predictions up to 1990, there will be any such need.

This question of balance has relevance to the regional situation. People will say that they do not want any increase in air activity because of the price to be paid in environmental damage. I have to balance these things at all times.

Thirdly, in the consultation document, we proposed, as a starting point, a framework which did not envisage the construction in the immediate future of a new airport. This was a realisation of our national position and of the priorities we have to set ourselves. In the present economic circumstances, and especially with the constraints on public expenditure which are likely to persist for a number of years, this must remain the position.

It follows, therefore, that a priority in the review of airports policy has been the more effective use of existing airports. But this does not necessarily mean the expansion of every airport ultimately to the limit of its capacity, any more than it means that a new airport is excluded for all time. It does suggest an exhaustive look at the contribution which the existing airports are able to make, and indeed will have to make, in the London area, within the constraints imposed by time, no less than other considerations, up to 1990.

Finally, in this connection—I fear it is not my final "finally"—I refer to the proposal by the British Airports Authority to build a fourth terminal at Heathrow. This was a matter which some hon. Members thought appropriate to raise in the previous debate in the hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be able to produce a more convincing answer than I am able to produce. I am aware that this has generated a great deal of anxiety in the communities in the vicinity of the airport, and I know that some of them have advocated that there should be a public inquiry into the project. I do not propose to comment on the question of an inquiry, which is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is represented here tonight by his Under-Secretary of State, but I think it is important to place the fourth terminal in the context of a developing airports strategy.

When my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) announced in the House on 18th July 1974 the Government's decision to abandon the Maplin project, he made it clear that whether or not Maplin were built, capacity at Heathrow would need to be expanded to 38 million passengers a year, by the provision of a fourth terminal. The fourth terminal was seen as an essential requirement to meet the demand for airport capacity in the short term. As such, it was in a different category from those developments discussed in the consultation document, which were concerned with the longer term.

These, then, are the parameters within which the consultations have been conducted. At this stage, I cannot anticipate the Government's conclusions on future airports policy, but I think that the House may find it helpful to be aware of some of the major issues which have emerged.

I make no apologies for mentioning first aircraft noise—a matter of special concern to me and to my Department. In this connection and to avoid any misunderstanding, I think it might help the House if I were to explain the respective responsibilities of the Departments of Trade and the Environment in relation to airports policy. The two Departments have co-operated closely in the review of policy, the production of the consultation documents, and the subsequent consultations. However, in this work, the Department of Trade has been concerned predominantly with those matters concerning the air transport industry and aircraft noise, whereas the Department of the Environment's main interest has been in the planning and related implications.

Aircraft noise must be a crucial consideration in the development of any airports policy. It is a subject which has received extensive and detailed consideration in the airport strategy documents. I am the first to recognise the distress caused by the pestilence of aircraft noise. Few would argue that aircraft noise is to be compared with, say, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as being the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated the ear of man. What the consultation documents attempted to provide was an assessment of how this situation might develop in the future. There has been a degree of scepticism about the general improvement in the noise situation shown in the consultation documents and a continuing dissatisfaction—and I understand it very well—with the methodolgy adopted in quantifying aircraft noise disturbance. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) has on a number of occasions mentioned his anxieties, and these are legitimate criticisms.

I do not pretend that the methodology is perfect or that the forecasts must be right. All forecasting is an uncertain business, no matter what area of activity is involved. But forecasts, whether of future traffic or noise disturbance, are essential to the formulation of a long-term airports policy and to understanding the effects of particular airport developments. One has to try. I can assure the Houe that the noise forecasts have been prepared on the basis of the best information available of the way in which we believe that aircraft noise disturbance is likely to develop. The noise improvement shown by the newer types of aircraft gives some substance to the forecasts, but I am not in the least complacent. We are always trying to improve our techniques and we shall continue to monitor the trends in this field and to examine the scope for speeding up the improvement.

Similarly, we intend to continue research into the best way of measuring noise, but I believe that the noise and number index, which is similar to indices used in other countries, is a reasonable tool for these purposes. The NNI has one major advantage in that it affords a comparison between airports and also with the past.

On the general question of aircraft noise, as I have said and as is demonstrated by aircraft such as the Lockheed Tri-star and the European Airbus, the future holds promise of real and substantial improvement. However, I cannot pretend that there will be a sudden and dramatic improvement. It would be dishonest to suppose that any panacea is readily available to eradicate this disturbing phenomenon. It may be comforting to dream the impossible dream, but we have to live in a world of reality. Improvement will come gradually as the older aircraft are phased out and their new replacements are required to meet increasingly more rigorous noise regulations. We are considering how the process might be hastened but, in the meantime, it is the Government's intention that all practicable measures should be taken to contain the nuisance of aircraft noise.

A wide variety of noise abatement measures are already deployed such as limitations on night jet movements, the monitoring of take-off noise levels, minimum noise routes, preferential runway systems, quieter approach techniques, currently being tried out at Heathrow, a runway alternation system at Heathrow, control of engine ground running, and noise insulation grants. I and my Department are always prepared to consult interested parties on ways in which improvements can be made. For example, in the case of night jet restrictions the House will know that I have recently circulated a consultative document dealing with the ways in which the noise situation might be further improved. We are presently seeking the views of many people, including all those hon. Members concerned with Heathrow, Gatwick, and other organisations, on the matters considered in that document. I believe the House will recognise that this represents a further indication of our efforts to deal with this most intractable problem.

It is evident from the forecasts and the consultations that Heathrow is by far the worst noise-affected airport in the country. It is also the case that, although there are real expectations of improvement in the longer term, more people will continue to be affected by aircraft noise at Heathrow than at other airports, however much they might be expanded. We have to recognise these facts. And expansion of some of the regional airports could lead to more disturbance than further expansion of the London airports, other than Heathrow.

A second important area in the consultations has been the planning implications. It is not my intention to comment on these matters, which are the responsibility of my hon. Friend, who will no doubt wish to cover these issues when he replies to the debate. There is, however, one matter to which I wish to refer. I should like to acknowledge the important contribution which the local authorities, and other organisations, with their particular knowledge of local conditions and local needs, have made to the consultation process.

There has been a tendency in some quarters to argue that an airport, and in particular proposals for its expansion, is in some way separate from the local, industrial and social environment. Because of the noise they can create and the traffic that they generate, airports inevitably have wider effects than other indusand a major part of the industrial infrastructure in many areas. Heathrow, for example, is a vital part of the economy of many areas to the West of London and far wider than that. It provides a great deal of employment, and high paid employment at that, to many thousands of people over a wide area. It makes a major contribution to the rates income of a number of local authorities. And air transport is a growth industry that it would be absolute folly for us to ignore.

The third and final major issue that I wish to raise is that of the regional airports, and particularly the relationship between them and the London airports. Attention is inevitably directed towards the London area, but the Government's policy review, and our debate today, is concerned with Great Britain as a whole.

A major consideration in this relationship is the suggestion that has been frequently put forward that traffic should be diverted away from the London area. There are good reasons why this should be considered seriously. It would provide relief to the congestion in the South East, might limit the need for additional investment at the London area airports, and at the same time could provide much-needed employment at airports in regions where there is a serious unemployment problem.

However, the analyses that we have carried out of the possibilities for such diversions are not greatly encouraging. I should not wish to rule out at this stage the possibility of some transfer of traffic away from the South-East to the regions, but it would be quite wrong for me to encourage the expectation that diversion to the regions will provide the answer to our problems. The other side of the coin, however, is that we want to make it possible for those, who have to travel from the North and West and elsewhere to join a flight in London to be able to use airports outside the South East to do that. Encouragement of that might be welcomed.

The Minister is extremely helpful. He has said that he is looking at the possibility of diverting traffic from Heathrow. Could that be linked with the noisier aircraft so that they would not come into London but would go elsewhere?

That is a most charitable attitude on the part of the hon. Gentleman. He will have to make his peace with others and not expect any reply, but that is a novel suggestion.

In my opening remarks I emphasised the importance that the Government attach to consultation in the development of future airports strategy. It was our intention in the documents to provide the detailed information on the many issues involved that is essential if those to be consulted are to participate fully in the process. We have responded to all requests for additional information, beyond that provided in the two consultation documents. We have been determined to enable all those involved with or affected by airports to feel they have had ample opportunity to influence the formulation of policy affecting many millions of our people.

I believe that we have gone a long way to achieving these objectives, which culminate in our debate today. I am under no illusions that, in this way, the eventual decisions will be uncontroversial. But I am hopeful that the statement of future airports policy that the Secretary of State for Trade hopes to make in the late summer or early autumn will be both better informed and better understood as a result of the consultations that have received such wide encouragement and support.

As I have already indicated, I am grateful to hon. Members who have come to see the hon. Member for Greenwich and myself because it is important that they should have an opportunity to express their views. My hon. Friend and I will listen with interest to the views of hon. Members which, I am sure, will have an important bearing on the decisions that we shall ultimately make.

I hope that the House will support the general lines of the strategy that I have outlined and particularly in the process of consultation, which is somewhat unique. It is only in this way that essential areas of policy that are non-party political can be dealt with. It is right that people who will be radically affected in their ways of life—and I have mentioned the types of organisation that are likely to be affected—should have an opportunity to have their say, because the man in Whitehall does not necessarily know best.

8.16 p.m.

I have always been an enthusiast for watching the Winter Olympic Games on television, and while listening to the Minister's problems tonight I thought that if there should ever be a thin-ice Olympics for people who can skate delicately over thin ice without actually falling in I should nominate the Minister as Great Britain's representative. The hon. Gentleman has just given us half an hour of concerned speech, but I must admit that by the end of it I had been driven firmly to the conclusion that he had said absolutely nothing at all. Perhaps that was the Minister's objective If it was, he did it very well.

The previous Conservative Government accepted the public expenditure consequences of its decision and decided to build Maplin as a new large London airport that would be capable of coping with future expansion and of creaming off some of the pressure from existing airports. We accepted that that was a controversial decision and that it could be expensive. We felt that in terms of human suffering and problems the alternative would be even more expensive. We never pretended that it would be a cheap solution to an extremely difficult problem, but we believed that it would put an end to the Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton saga, which is now still dragging on.

The Minister said tonight that we could not afford Maplin, yet the Government have incurred more than £30 billion of debt during their term of office. They have raised £30 billion and used that money to prop up consumption. It is true that there are not now resources available for capital expenditure, but there could have been. The Government are responsible for the fact that, to a large extent, they chose to use available resources in a different way.

The hon. Member knows perfectly well that the decision was taken soon after we were returned to office. Why did not the hon. Gentleman's party oppose the decision to abandon Maplin? The hon. Gentleman knows well that the Tory Party belatedly recognised that it was a hopeless project and it had to be abandoned. We had the courage to do it.

The Minister has a fine habit of making cowardly feeble decisions sound like brave ones. There was nothing brave about abandoning the idea of Maplin. The Government abandoned the only policy that offered London any prospect of relief and they have nothing to offer London in its place except the prospect of consultation. It is no wonder that the Minister talked about consultation all the time, because that is the only thing that the Government have to offer. It is the Government's excuse for now having no policy. That is the inevitable consequence of the Government's decision and the Minister cannot skate round the fact that the traffic through the four London airports is bound to increase significantly between now and the late 1980s. Those four London airports will take the brunt of the expansion of air traffic in this country. Although there is changed attitude to Maplin and a revised forecast downwards there is no way that even the reduced forecast traffic can be catered for without major changes and developments at the four London airports. The Minister knows that at some time he will have to tell the House that.

In the first of the two documents the Government set out the range of options open and the ways in which the problems of the London area might be tackled. Having abandoned the previous Government's policy, and not having a replacement policy, the Government have decided to make a virtue out of that and to launch a prolonged period of consultations. I formed the impression from the Minister tonight that the longer those consultations go on the better the Government will be pleased, because they are terrified of having to reach a decision at the end.

The first question that we have to ask in any discussion of airports policy is whether we are satisfied that the projections on which the documents are based can be relied upon. It would be absurd to make plans and incure expenditure on the basis of projections that turned out to be wrongly based and we have a considerable number of examples of long-term plans based on future projections in this country and elsewhere that have not turned out to be true. An obvious example is that there are many empty teacher training colleges and there are likely to be many more, because a long-term projection was proved false. I was in Canada recently. That country is covered with magnificent university campuses that are only half full because the long-term projections for university places have proved false.

Have the revised assumptions for United Kingdom population in 1980 and 1990—which have shown a dramatic drop—been taken into account in arriving at the projections on which the policy documents are based? I may have missed this point, but I do not see it mentioned in the documents. There has been a dramatic downward revision in the past few years in the forecasts of United Kingdom population. One of the assumptions used in arriving at the projections for demand has already been proved false, and when one looks at the criteria used, one's confidence in the projections becomes a little less sure.

A downward adjustment has been made for the growth of incomes and consumption, a wider range of options has been adopted for air fares and the assumption that there will be no further increase in real terms in fuel prices beyond the 1974 level is retained. Some of those assumptions are highly conjectural and the assumption about fuel prices looks very suspicious. I have some figures from the Library showing that even since September the price of jet fuel has increased by an average of 22 per cent.

Some of the projections must have a question mark hanging over them. If one looks further into the whole question of energy that was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith), one is forced to ask whether the fuel will be available to power the planes that will be necessary to move the huge number of people that we expect to travel in the future.

Aviation enthusiasts have no doubt that the long-term projections will be fulfilled and that there will be a tremendous growth in passenger travel. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who has a graphic way of expressing himself, said that the people who have doubts about the growth in air travel and whether it can be sustained are like those who thought that the city of New York could not be expanded. One of the principal reasons for their belief that there was a limit to the expansion of that city was that so many horses would be needed to transport the increased population that the whole of New York would disappear under a sea of horse manure.

That rather dolorous prediction did not come true and I am not satisfied that it is a satisfactory answer to those who have doubts whether the world's energy supplies will stand up to projections about increased world travel.

I was interested to read about President Carter's new approach to energy problems and I note that he did not make much of the point about the demand of aviation on the world energy supply. However, I was intrigued to read the statement of two of his energy officials, who said:
"The airlines are tied right now to one narrow cut of the petroleum barrel. Airlines cannot use wood or coal in their jet engines, so they should be more concerned than they are. Airlines have always had that ' cannot happen here' syndrome."
I think that that is true, and I remain unconvinced that if the British or American Governments had to choose between keeping people flying overseas and keeping them warm and at work they would not opt for keeping people flying overseas.

Serious question marks hang over some of the projections in these documents. The Government recognise the uncertainty by the very wide range of possibilities set out in the documents. For 1982 they are prepared to make projections only within the range of 40 million and 59 million passengers and for 1990 between 74 million and 120 million passengers. Those are pretty wide margins for error.

I think that the Minister would agree that the Government do not have a lot of confidence in the projections and that they accept that there are question marks against them. They are not as settled as the fact that they appear on printed paper may suggest.

A recurring theme throughout the Minister's speech and in a number of submissions on this subject is the idea that all future developments must take place against the background of a national airports policy. Some of the more ambitious submissions want such a policy as part of a co-ordinated transport policy. That sounds a fine and laudable ambition, and the Minister started by saying that that was his objective, but the more he explained the difficulties and the more he talked about flexibility, and so on, the more one realised that it is almost impossible to attain.

That is interesting. I read a document produced by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England which quotes from a CAA report on the development of the United Kingdom airport system. It reads:
"The CAA stated that whilst it believed the idea of a single comprehensive exercise leading to a plan of an ideal airport network to serve the Country's future aviation needs…has an undoubted appeal, on closer examination it appears very difficult indeed to develop this approach in a plan of research that is both practicable and relevant to real policy issues."
In the building industry, of which I have some knowledge, there is a mythical all-purpose instrument. The building industry is waiting for its invention. It is called a sky-hook. One of the traditional jokes that men in the building industry play on new apprentices is to send them to the company stores for a sky-hook. A sky-hook is a unique imaginary instrument that every builder needs when he has a heavy weight to load in an impossible situation. The secret of this wonderful instrument is that it may be thrown up into the sky, where it fixes itself on nothing. By its means we may lift almost anything. Everybody wishes that he had one. This co-ordinated national airports policy is in danger of becoming the same sort of panacea as the sky-hook is to the building industry.

I was interested to read the submission of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. It is hard on a number of people, and politicians in particular. It speaks of the cause of the interminable delay in evolving a national airports policy by implication. It says:
"The cause of this interminable delay has been that the airports debate has been dominated by arguments about the wrong things. Elected politicians are nervous about upsetting floating voters in critical seats."
What is wrong with that? It continues:
"The CAA seems not to enjoy the autonomy intended for it."
What it means is that the CAA does not share our view.
"Airline operators sensibly seek to minimise the cost of externally-imposed change. Meanwhile, the BAA understandably seeks to direct political attention to its natural power-base in South-East England; agencies sponsored by Ministries other than the Department of Trade still show scant interest in the airports question; too many individual towns and cities have wanted ' their' airport to be the big one, while the environmentalists would seemingly prefer to move airports rather than cure airport noise."
I quote that in detail as there is enthusiasm for the co-ordinated airports policy. In the course of expressing its enthusiasm it sets out the reasons why that is almost virtually impossible to attain. I should like to see a co-ordinated airports policy, just as I am waiting for the invention of the sky-hook, but we should not place too much faith in finding one.

Under the present arrangements, whether we like it or not, we have succeeded in catering for a spectacular growth of air transport movements in this country. There are at present 43 airports reporting to the CAA. There is no shortage of runway capacity. There is a range of options open to us. I do not have faith that the answer will be found. I do not think that there is an answer. I wish there were.

I should be interested to learn from the hon. Gentleman, who appears to be terribly pessimistic about working out any alternative solution to the present chaos, what is the view of the Conservative Party. The hon. Gentleman writes off the possibility of obtaining a national airport strategy. Is he coming down in favour of returning to the idea of Maplin? What is he urging upon the House?

Perhaps the Minister will contain his impatience. I remind him that even with the benefit of his great Department and the advice of thousands of people, he is unable to tell us anything. If he will let me finish my speech I hope that he will have a better idea of where I stand.

The search for the answer could be long and unproductive. I do not think that there is any single answer. I shall explain towards the end of my speech one or two constructive suggestions that I have in mind. The Minister spoke for half an hour. I intend to speak for the same length of time.

We should not be too quick to write off the ad hoc approach. I suspect that, at the end of the day, the White Paper will be dressed up as something rather different and will be much nearer to the ad hoc approach of the 1960s than to the central airport strategy that the Minister seeks. I am not saying that he is not right to try to find it. I am warning him not to be disappointed if he does not find it. The signs are that, at present, following the slow-down in 1974, the growth in passenger traffic has resumed. In 1976, there was a growth of 9·2 per cent. over the previous year. I understand that that pattern is continuing and that the British Airports Authority is reasonably confident that the predictions in the lower range will have to be catered for. I have expressed reservations about that.

The next major question is whether the implications of these proposals are acceptable. Should we arrange to deal with them or should we work within imposed limits, as a number of environmentalist bodies, including the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, suggest? In its document "Towards a National Airports Policy", the CPRE makes the valid point that the forecasts are all forecasts of demand, unrestrained by airport capacity. Plans are made on the basis of present growth trends continuing.

The CPRE makes the further important point that a growing number of people in every developing country are resisting the extension of capacity at existing airports or the building of new ones. There is a growing mood of questioning whether we should base our policies on forecasts of unrestrained demand, which we must learn to live with. People ask whether we should accept that as a basis for our thinking. This is certainly the basis of the consultative documents and of the Government's assumptions that we must cater for a certain number of people. I hope that the Government will take this questioning into account in their White Paper.

Two assumptions underlie the Government's approach in the documents—first, that the services of air transport benefit the economy and individual citizens; secondly, that airport developments must take into account the effects on regional planning strategies and the areas surrounding airports—that we must not evolve a policy, for instance, which runs counter to the South-East Regional Study but must try to co-ordinate those two approaches.

Most of us would accept the first assumption, that air transport provides invisible earnings, highly-paid and satisfying jobs in a growth industry and is an invaluable adjunct to our rapidly growing and important tourist industry. For those who work in the industry and those who use its services, it is undoubtedly a boon. For those who live near airports but do not work there and who are affected by the noise and other problems, they are something less than a boon.

I want to devote the rest of my speech to suggestions for lessening the problems of the South-East, to the benefit of those in the South-East and of the regions, some, though not all, of whom would welcome the transfer of business to their regional airports. At a growing number of regional airports, pressure groups are building up against expansion. I am sure that the hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) will confirm that there are a number in his area.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and other hon. Friends will no doubt confirm, the central problem mentioned by the Minister is that of aircraft noise. Many people who thought that the prospect of Maplin made their problems bearable, in the short term at least, will be in continuing difficulties.

However, there are a number of encouraging aspects. First, there is the growing proportion of passengers carried in wide-bodied planes, which has increased in the last three years from 15 per cent. to 30 per cent. of those travelling to Heathrow. As a result of this increased use of wide-bodied aircraft there has been a small but steady reduction in the number of aircraft movements in the last three years. Three million additional passengers have gone into Heathrow, yet there has been a fall of 1½ per cent. in the number of movements. This is some encouragement to those living round Heathrow. Some of the projections of what might happen when the wide-bodied aircraft were introduced are now beginning to happen.

Another encouraging factor is that the energy problem puts great pressure on airlines to speed up re-equipment with more modern and fuel-efficient aircraft. That in itself should accelerate the process of improvement. One of the most encouraging pages in the consultative documents was the one saying that there had been a shrinkage in the areas adversely affected by noise. For those living round airports there are now encouraging signs that this improvement is firmly under way.

World airlines are now moving back into profit after a period of severe economic restraint, and they can now contemplate the cost of re-equipping their fleets. One problem has been that because the aircraft industry has been in such a mess throughout the world—although I am pleased to say that British Airways was in much less of a mess than its competitors—airlines have had difficulty in finding the cash to re-equip with more modern aircraft.

If the Government's plan is to be based on the expansion facilities in the South-East—and it is difficult to see how it could fail to be—we must accelerate the move towards quieter aircraft. This is an extremely difficult problem. I have great sympathy with the Minister in his efforts to achieve that acceleration. We must encourage airlines, by either the stick or the carrot, to use quieter aircraft. We must tell them that if they want to continue to use facilities in the South-East they will have to re-equip.

A number of interesting suggestions have been put to me. One is the idea of a limit on the noise contribution that an aircraft can make. It is suggested that we should tell airlines that if they exceed that limit they will have to cut back on their operations. This would give those airlines that have re-equipped with quieter aircraft a deserved bonus.

There is an American precedent. The Americans have made sure, by legislation, that by 1982 those airline operators that have not re-equipped with quieter aircraft will suffer major financial penalties. I know that these things are difficult, but it is no good the Minister's substituting a period of consultation for a policy and not accepting that whilst the consultation has been going on the problem throughout the South-East has been getting worse and worse.

The Minister must give the airlines notice that they must accelerate their noise abatement and modernisation programmes. It will not be acceptable to have the level of aircraft movements contemplated unless a substantial number of them are in wider-bodied and more fuel-efficient aircraft.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the reduction in quotas that I have ensured has taken place, particularly at Gatwick? Is he also aware that there are now proposals, which are opposed by the aviation interests, on the way in which we should approach the whole question of night disturbance by jet flights? These are real attempts at making progress, which we can justifiably say enable people to look to the future with some degree of optimism.

I do not want to deny the Minister credit for his efforts to cut down night flying. I support the efforts that he has made. I am saying that we have been scratching at the surface of the problem, bearing in mind the projections that are set out in the various consultation documents. I agree that there have been some important but comparatively minor reliefs against the impending flood, but ways will have to be found, unless the airlines co-operate, of taking the pressure off the South-East by accelerating the process of modernisation.

The real worry in the South-East is the extent of the expansion. Something that will help calm fears more thany anything else is to agree a limit with local authorities and interested parties. The local authorities must know as soon as possible exactly what they are likely to have to face.

There is growing concern about expansion by stealth. The Minister has given the impression that everything is under control but recently the chairman of the British Airports Authority pointed out when giving evidence to a Select Committee that when we take into account the way in which access to Stansted has been improved and the construction of the M11, there is no doubt that there will be major development at Stansted and that that airport will become more and more an attractive proposition for development by stealth. That danger is causing a great deal of concern in areas where the BAA is in control.

As the Minister knows, under the general development order procedure it is very much easier for the BAA to go ahead with development and expansion of the three airports under its control without consulting the local authority. I know of a number of authorities that are slightly sceptical about the idea of approaching the Secretary of State for the Environment to ask him to order an inquiry into plans that are being submitted by an agency that is controlled by the Secretary of State for Trade. There is a feeing that if there is any discussion of that sort to take place, there is a natural bias in Government towards the Department this is making the proposal.

I had intended to say rather more about the regions but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) will cover a number of the issues that I wanted to discuss.

There are those who say that it will be easy to switch passengers from London to the regions. At Manchester more people are affected by the airport than any airport outside Heathrow. A considerable number are affected. When we consider a number of other regional airports, we find that the number of people who are likely to be affected by expansion is considerable. There is no point in pretending that there is an easy way out that will ensure that passengers are transferred to areas such as Birmingham, where there is already an active anti-expansion group at work, or to Manchester, for example, where more and more people are being affected by aircraft noise.

It is most misleading to think that it will be possible to make an easy, comfortable transfer, switching people in large numbers from London to areas within striking distance of London without causing major disruptions.

The fifth appendix in the document on regional airports has been much misunderstood. It has been put to me that at a cost of only £13.50, in the form of a surcharge on London, up to 50 per cent. of London's passengers can be shoved off elsewhere with no pain to anyone. I know that that is not the Ministry's view but the appendix is being read in that way. I shall send to the Minister a document in which it is stated quite clearly that it is now realised that the Department is just being awkward and that at a cost of £13.50 per passenger most of the problem will be solved. I mention this to the hon. Gentleman, because he is likely to come across this argument in the next few weeks and he should be preparing his answer to it.

The Opposition look forward to the White Paper. We look forward to the Minister reconciling the innumerable, apparently irreconcilable, arguments that have been put to him. Three years ago the Government abandoned a policy that would have brought relief to the South-East—the area that needs relief. We have had no policy at all for the last three years. The Government owe it to the House to end the uncertainty and to bring forward the White Paper as soon as possible.

8.51 p.m.

The issue of airport strategy in the London area is not a matter which has only recently attracted public attention in North-West Essex, East Hertfordshire and my constituency.

Since 1963–64, when Stansted was selected in the Interdepartmental Committee Report as the third London airport, there has been deep local concern. When an attempt was made to ignore and override that concern, despite the conclusion of the inspector at the public inquiry which was held in 1966 that
"it would be a calamity for the neighbourhood if a major airport were placed at Stansted,"
an exceptional campaign developed opposing the proposed third London airport on that site. That campaign was not limited to the locality, to one political party or to narrowly based parochial objections.

I endeavoured to play my part in the opposition, together with Sir Peter Kirk, whose premature and tragic death only a few weeks ago shocked and saddened not only those who shared most of his views but others who, like myself, respected, admired and felt affection for him despite profound political differences. Sir Peter and I, with many others, sought to demonstrate that the case for siting the third London airport at Stansted, which was the intention announced in the 1967 White Paper, was untenable not only on grounds of noise nuisance but on other much more fundamental grounds.

We argued that the development of a major airport at Stansted would, above all, be a devastating blow to any rational regional planning policy. We pointed out that Essex had been developed at an extremely rapid pace since the end of the Second World War and that, apart from the considerable growth of many villages and small towns, major development in the shape of Harlow New Town had taken place in the North-West of the county. If Stansted had become the third London airport, it would have required many thousands of workers and their families to move into the area, and they could have been accommodated only by urban development equivalent to another new town. The pressure on roads, services and land and the damage to agriculture would effectively and drastically have changed the character of what is virtually a sub-region and created vast problems. Those Londoners—I speak as one who orginated from the East End—who enjoyed the amenity provided by that part of the countryside would have had it taken from them.

The arguments put forward by those opposed to the plan at that stage where in due course utterly vindicated. The Roskill Commission not only did not recommend Stansted as the site for the third London airport but did not even place it among the four which it shortlisted as the most suitable sites. Even in the 1967 White Paper it was accepted by the Government that the strongest objection to Stansted as the third London airport was on regional planning grounds. Despite the building of the Mill, that objection has not grown any weaker with the passage of time.

The problem now is that we seem to have gone the full circle. The consultative document "Airport Strategy for Great Britain" indicates a return to accepting Stansted, along with Luton, as the solution to the problem of escalating air traffic in the London area. That is not only my view. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) quoted one passage—I shall quote another—from the October 1975 edition of Management Today. The article is based on British Airports Authority sources. The article referred to Mr. Nigel Foulkes of the British Airports Authority, and concluded:
"Nigel Foulkes makes no secret of his opinion that 'there will not be another major airport built in this country in my lifetime'; which ironically takes us back to Stansted, the BAA's original selection as the expansion chamber for the South East, to use the chairman's carefully chosen words in last year's Annual Report."
I say categorically and clearly that if the BAA's and the Government's policy were to involve the expansion of Stansted by stealth or by a series of steps towards that which was originally envisaged and rejected by a public inquiry, Roskill and the Government, it would constitute a travesty of democracy and national planning. It would make a mockery of what has happened over the last 10 years.

I recognise that there are some pressure groups that wish this development to take place. It is unfortunate that aviation interests have repeatedly been over-represented on bodies responsible for giving advice to Ministers about airports policy. The consultation document apparently was produced by officials from the Department of Trade, the British Airports Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department of the Environment. Those fundamentally concerned with air traffic considerations outnumbered those fundamentally concerned with the environment and regional planning by three to one.

I hope that my hon. Friend at the Department of the Environment will forgive my saying that the recent decision that his Department took against the expansion of Harlow does nothing to reassure me of the Department's grasp of the real planning issues that are at stake in the area. We do not even know where we are to house our own second generation in Harlow. If the expansion of Stansted were permitted on the lines that some people envisage, all the workers could not commute to the airport. The question of accommodation for these workers and their families has been pushed on one side and has not been given due weight.

The basic drive for the development of Stansted is coming from those who are concerned about air traffic growth rather than about environment and planning considerations. I believe that it is up to those of us who are concerned with the area to say quite frankly that we shall not be satisfied unless those planning considerations are given due weight.

It is not to be taken from this that I oppose automatically all expansion at Stansted. I do not believe that the late Sir Peter Kirk would have necessarily opposed all expansion at Stansted in principle. I do not believe that even the Essex County Council will oppose, as a reflex action, all expansion at Stansted. I accept that there are good arguments in favour of using the existing facilities to the full.

I believe that there are strong arguments for providing some security for the workers employed there, and even opportunities for more work. It is only right that in that area we should be prepared to consider taking some of the increased traffic which would otherwise become intolerable at Heathrow and Gatwick.

However—and I want to say this very clearly and deliberately—if any expansion is to occur at Stansted, it should be limited not just temporarily but permanently. I believe that the only ground on which people who are concerned with these issues could accept any expansion is if a ceiling is fixed and is fixed once and for all.

Limits should be set for each of the four main airports of the South-East.

I would be in favour of that. This is a consideration that is right on planning grounds.

At present we have some 250,000 passengers going through Stansted every year. If that figure rose to 4 million passengers a year, I think that perhaps it could be contained. However, there has also been mention of the figure of 16 million passengers a year. I believe that this would be utterly and completely unacceptable. It would require a degree of development that would wreck the area. I believe that this is recognised even in the consultation document. Before any expansion is accepted, my hon. Friend the Minister or his right hon. Friend must make it clear that there is no possibility of expansion to that sort of level.

As I understand it, in the event of accepting 4 million passengers per annum, the present work force would be expanded to about 3,000 workers. If we took 16 million passengers per annum, it would need to rise to 14,000 workers. Those 14,000 workers and their families would require, in effect a new town, or the equivalent, to be built in the area, along with the roads, schools, services and other amenities required to provide those people with a decent standard of life.

Therefore, the absolute upper limit should in my view be 4 million passengers per year, with the 3,000 workers. I believe that this is the only basis on which we should consider any development taking place.

If, however, this limited expansion were agreed to, the Government must give cast-iron guarantees. As I have said, they must guarantee that 4 million is a final upper limit and that 3,000 is the consequent upper target for the work force. The Government must guarantee that the noise impact would be reduced by restrictions on training and night flights. The Government should guarantee that adequate arrangements will be made to provide accommodation for the workers.

It is just not good enough to say that Harlow expansion should not be permitted and that these workers should then be obliged to come into the area from elsewhere, so that all sorts of people will smuggle them in by using mobile homes and all sorts of other unacceptable dwellings and destroy what is part of the beautiful Essex countryside, which we in this House should regard as our heritage and should defend.

Furthermore, the Government must be prepared to provide the funds that will be required to make any necessary road improvements such as those on the A120 and at Bury Lodge Lane. If, however, present anticipations of the growth of air traffic after 1990 are realised—I believe that they will almost certainly be drastically changed by such factors as the energy crisis—it will be necessary to think out long-term solutions. In the event of insufficient airport accommodation in the area further thought must be given to dispersing some of the traffic to the provinces.

Unlike the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) I do not accept that the Government would have been right to go ahead with the building of Maplin—as I believe he suggested—at the cost of cutting back very considerably on public expenditure devoted to health, education and many other forms of social welfare.

The hon. Gentleman has just spoiled what I thought was an excellent speech. What he has been doing is deploring a situation which is the inevitable consequence of not providing additional airport capacity in the London area. That option has been lost. There is no possibility of reviving that programme. It is no good the hon. Gentleman, or the Liberal Party who supported him, now moaning about the consequence of their actions. These are the inevitable consequences of scrapping the only alternative policy.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman believes that I have spoiled a speech which he was kind enough to say was worth listening to. But I still believe that it would have been totally wrong—I must say this frankly to him and to his hon. Friends—for us to devote such a vast amount of public expenditure to Maplin in the circumstances with which we were faced, quite apart from any planning considerations. In that respect, I do not retreat from the position that I took. I should say that honestly and clearly to the House.

I do, however, believe that there is the necessity of a long-term solution. I am in no way seeking to run away from that. But I believe that in any long-term solution there are many factors not apparent to us now—which were illustrated by the example which the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South gave about traffic in New York—which will materialise in a few years' time and which may completely transform the situation. How many people at the end of the war would have thought that there was oil under the North-Sea to the extent that we talk about today? No-one imagined that it was possible.

It is quite clear that all of us benefit from air travel and what it means. Those of us who oppose development are not Luddites. I personally believe that the question is one of having adequate regional and national planning. It is not enough to succumb to the pressure of the air traffic interests to the exclusion of adequate representation of the views of those who are concerned with regional, national and environmental planning considerations. I believe that many people in my area may well resist expansion on principle. I do not speak from that position, but I shall certainly resist to the uttermost—and I believe the bulk of the people in my area will resist to the uttermost—unlimited expansion.

If the Government wish to proceed with interim limits in the forthcoming White Paper, they need to give guarantees and to commit themselves to working out a long-term solution which does not involve the further expansion of Stansted by stealth, which would destroy the character of the area.

I do not apologise for devoting myself almost exclusively to the issue which arises in my own area, because I believe that, in the process of consultation, it is very necessary that these views should be clearly expressed. I do not wish to go over a wider area of ground because I should take up more time. I hope, nevertheless, that the Minister will recognise that the views that I have expressed this evening are held not only by myself but by many people who live in my constituency and in adjoining constituencies, and that they extend to people who do not hold my political views.

9.10 p.m.

I listened with interest and a good deal of sympathy to the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) when he spoke on behalf of his constituents and for those who live beyond the boundaries of his constituency in very pretty countryside, which has great character, in that part of the country. From the map in the consultation document I see that Harlow is only about five or seven miles from the end of the runway at Stansted, so there is little wonder that the hon. Gentleman is so concerned. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) said, however the threat of a major expansion of Stansted arises directly and inevitably from the decision of the hon. Member's Government soon after they came into office to carry out a review of Maplin which led to the decision in July 1974 to abandon it.

As a direct consequence of dropping Maplin, more and more traffic is inevitably to be crammed through the existing airports of Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted, unless deliberate and definite measures are taken to restrain it. At the beginning of his speech the Under-Secretary said that anybody who supported Maplin was antediluvian. If supporting the notion of an airport by the sea where the aircraft can take off and land over the sea instead of over residential districts is antediluvian, I am very proud to be antediluvian. I think that the Undersecretary and the hon. Member for Harlow will find that the time will come when they will regret not having been antediluvian. So, too, will most of the Liberal Party.

Where are the Liberals? They are not here. They never are here when we are discussing airport policy or aircraft noise. The last time I remember any Liberal being here for an airport debate was on the Second Reading of the Maplin Development Bill in 1971. I remember the occasion well because it was then that I made by maiden speech. I remember the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) speaking passionately against Maplin. I believe that the Liberal Party will suffer the consequences not only of their support of the Government, but also in the areas around the four existing London Airports they will suffer at the next General Election because of their hostility to Maplin. They played their part in getting Maplin abandoned. There has been a great deal of talk about the cost of the project, but we might do well to remember that it could have been paid for by a few months' oil revenue from the North Sea.

Why do the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) seem to say that the Conservative Party spoke with a united voice about Maplin? Did the Conservatives take steps to censure the Government when we announced our decision in July 1974? There was hardly a peep from the Conservative Party about that.

Many of us spoke up very loudly at the time. Far from not making a peep, we made a very loud noise against Maplin being dropped. But at the time there was an oil crisis and people could not see how that would develop in the decades ahead. Perhaps a clearer pattern has emerged now. Nevertheless, I should emphasise that the overwhelming majority of Conservative Members were reluctant to see Maplin dropped in the summer of 1974, and the majority had voted for Maplin when the Development Bill came up in the previous Parliament.

The Under-Secretary has described aircraft noise as "a pestilence". He is right. It is a terrible nuisance to the communities who live near it. Some people do not mind it much, but to large numbers of people it means sheer fury and exasperation when they go into their gardens, or for a walk in the local park and have their ears assaulted and their nerves shattered by this violent noise. Their plight should evoke sympathy and compassion from people in other parts of the country who do not suffer from this problem. It is a major social evil in the communities that are affected by it. The time will come when future historians will wonder why our generation was so slow to deal with it.

I know that the Under-Secretary is trying in one way or another to alleviate this problem. He has said that the only real answer is quieter engines. But the time scale for that is far too long. There is a danger that we are raising hopes and creating expectations about quieter engines which cannot be met. In reply to a question I put last year the Undersecretary told me that 18 per cent. of aircraft using Heathrow were noise-certificated. He added that by 1980 the figure would be 30 per cent. and that by 1985 it would be 55 per cent. But that still means that in eight years time 45 per cent. of aircraft using Heathrow will not be noise-certificated, and that will be 45 per cent. of a larger number of aircraft than are using the airport now.

I am not sure that any of the forecasts about quieter engines can be met. I have heard recently that the manufacturers of two of the quietest wide-bodied aircraft—the TriStar and the Airbus—will cut back production because of lack of support from the airlines. Although quieter engines are the eventual solution, it is hopeless to demand and useless to expect rapid enough progress towards this goal to satisfy those people who are suffering from aircraft noise now.

The Under-Secretary is right to talk of consultations with people. It is very easy for us in Parliament and for the civil servants studying these things to think in terms of time scales of five, 10, 15 or even 20 years. But those who are suffering from aircraft noise want something done urgently. To tell them that the noise from which they are suffering will be reduced by half in eight years time gives them practically no comfort at all.

The question of the fourth terminal at Heathrow was raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle). There has been a hint from both the Leader of the House and the Under-Secretary that there may be some possibility of an Article 4 direction leading to a public inquiry. I urge that course very strongly on the Undersecretary of State for the Environment. At present there is a feeling that the amount of consultation that has taken place has been inadequate. The borough that includes my constituency, as well as Richmond and Barnes, was not consulted, although it is very close to Heathrow and is heavily overflown. We shall be very much affected by the fourth terminal, the object of which is to increase the capacity of the airport. As people cannot see just that justice is being done, I believe the only way to handle the matter is to have a public inquiry.

I turn to the subject of utilisation of aircraft. A large number of the aircraft coming in and out of our airports are half empty as everybody knows. There are operational reasons, and sometimes they are making a stop at one airport and travelling on elsewhere and will fill up on the return journey. The airlines obviously think it worth while commercially to fly aircraft in those circumstances or they would not do it; but peace and quiet and the health of our people must not always take second place to commercial reasons. There is no reason why Governments, working together in the interests of the relief of aircraft noise, should not impose conditions on airlines forcing them to fly fewer aircraft and to fly them with more people in them. It is wrong that people should be disturbed more than they need to be merely by dint of the fact that so many aircraft are so often half empty.

I turn to differential landing charges. I recently received a letter from the French Ambassador in London confirming that the French Government are carefully examining the efficiency of differential landing charges so that the noisiest aircraft will have to pay more to land. This would at least provide an incentive for the manufacture of quieter aircraft, and this may bring more revenue to the airport authorities, and that money can be provided for double-glazing and soundproofing to surrounding properties.

I saw in one evening newspaper that the Government had announced this morning that they intended to increase grants for double-glazing around Heathrow but apparently intended to increase grants only in those places that already received them. The present boundaries of the scheme are, in my view, far too narrow, because there are people four or so miles from the airport under major flight paths who do not qualify for such grants. It is absurd that the scheme is now administered according to borough boundaries which do not coincide with the noise and number index. I do not even fully trust that index, and I noted the Minister's comments. It is most unjust that my constituents are not eligible to receive grants for double-glazing when other people, who in some cases suffer less noise, are entitled to receive them.

I turn finally to the subject of the sharing out of noise. There is a major problem in my constituency over flight paths, as the Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Trade well knows.

Some weeks ago I sent the Minister a memorandum in which I said that in a period of 12 months—which incidentally has already run for 23 months—the experimental Mole Valley split
"has imposed on eastern take-off days an intolerable concentration of aircraft noise upon Whitton, Twickenham, Strawberry Hill and Teddington. This has occurred because 70 per cent. of the Mole Valley route (the Dunsfold route) coincides in these places with the Detling route, together comprising about 15,000 aircraft flights annually. These tend to be particularly noisy aircraft".
I was glad to receive confirmation from the Under-Secretary of State for Trade that he intends to proceed with his consultation process in June and July, especially in the light of a reply to my Parliamentary Question on 16th May, when he said:
"We are continuing with the existing noise abatement measures but I do not intend to make any alteration to the Mole Valley route this summer. Such alterations only involve shifting aircraft noise from one place to another."—[Official Report, 16th May 1977.]
It is that second sentence which has given rise to most concern. At first, the Minister said that it was to be a 12-month experiment. Now he says that it would be wrong to alter the route because that would only shift the noise from one place to another. But if that is wrong now, surely it was wrong to do that 23 months ago when the experiment began. Is it being suggested that the routes should be ossified where they are simply because the people under the present routes were the last to suffer from any change?

The Minister has a reputation for being concerned for the environment and for being fair-minded. I hope that he will handle this matter in a way that does not damage that reputation. What was wrong with his reply to my Question on 16th May was quite simply that it was not fair. I hope that he will bear that in mind during the consultations that are due to take place in June and July.

9.26 p.m.

All the hon. Members who have spoken so far represent constituencies in the Greater London area. I should like to take the debate down to the South-West for a short while and discuss some of the problems of one of those virility symbols to which the Minister referred, namely, the Lulsgate municipal airport, in Bristol.

We are used to virility symbols and indicators in Bristol. It was the starting place for the discovery of North America, and Concorde—which one can see at a glance is an obvious virility symbol—is built in greater Bristol. The virility symbol represented by the municipal airport dates back to the 1930s.

I wish to discuss some of Bristol's problems—these may also be faced by other municipal airports—as well as some of the opportunities that Bristol offers to the national airports strategy that the Minister referred to, but did not reveal. Bristol Lulsgate could be more than useful in a national airport strategy I think and that view is broadly shared by the city council. It is a quite successful airport in terms of flights and passenger services; it runs much-demanded charter and holiday flights, for instance. Passenger travel figures from Bristol exceed those of all other airports in the South-West and of those for Rhoose; although that airport is in Wales, and the South-West and Wales are not the same thing by any means.

Despite the successful services that the airport provides for civil aviation, the resources of the city council are not sufficient to fund the new developments that are required at the airport if it is to maintain its present position or to expand. We need a new runway extension, an instrument landing system and improved terminal buildings. Unless these works are carried out—and they are probably beyond the capital-raising resources of the local authority—the flight operators who find the airport very useful will pull out and go elsewhere. The airport would then be reduced to handling mainly small aircraft, executive aircraft and private planes, but the revenue from such aircraft obviously would not be enough to meet the overheads and standing charges of the airport, because these are considerable, and increasing all the time.

It is accurate to say that Bristol City Council has grown to believe in the future of its airport. It was, after all, one of the first municipal airports in the country. The council would nevertheless be prepared to hand it over to a bigger authority as part of that national strategy to which the Minister has referred. Perhaps when we have the White Paper we shall know more about that strategy, but Bristol City Council believes that its airport has a place in it—not in the same way as Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow airports, but as a second-league airport.

I now come to a point that has already been referred to in the debate. Bristol Airport could well cater for the overspill from Heathrow, Gatwick or any other London airport that might be constructed in the future. The Minister spoke about diverting aircraft from major airports to secondary ones. He said that there were difficulties about it, but he did not explain the difficulties or even the area of the difficulties. I appreciate that wherever one puts an airport or tries to extend an existing airport there will be objections. One can take that for granted. Such objectors are already understandably present in the Lulsgate district—although it is a fairly open area. I told the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) that I should be raising this point today but he said that he could not be present. Lulsgate Airport is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The hon. Gentleman made the ingenious suggestion that instead of Lulsgate being further developed, Filton airfield, the BAC commercial airfield, should be developed. That airfield is closer to my constituency, as it happens, but Filton in any case has great limitations on its use for such purposes. It is fundamentally a factory airfield. It was designed as such and is also well within a heavily built-up area of South Gloucester and North-East Bristol.

The view of the city council then is that the present airport is capable of a great deal of development if it is given the funds. As I say, the council would be happy to see that development carried on by some new national authority. The optimistic view of the future of the airport is not limited to Bristol City Council; it is also the view of the South-West Economic Planning Council, which said quite recently—I believe at the beginning of the year—that Bristol was the most suitable airport in the South-West to be developed, extended and modernised.

In the view of the South-West Economic Planning Council, it may be used for traffic diverted from London. No other city in the United Kingdom is now so well placed for land communication. The M4 and M5 motorways converge on Bristol. Some of the fastest trains in the world run on the former Great Western line, now much improved, between Paddington and Bristol, Parkway and Temple Meads. If passenger traffic is diverted from London Airport as a result of weather conditions or flight overcrowding at London Airport, it is no inconvenience to travellers to come to Bristol, as they may be transported there on one of the fastest road and rail systems now available anywhere. Bristol is only 120 miles from London.

Bristol also has the great intrinsic merit that passengers would be landing near and passing through a lovely and historic city.

I endorse that, not only because of my natural pride in the city that I represent but because that was an accurate remark. I am obliged to the hon. Member.

Bristol has, as I say, almost perfect road communications. It also possesses a local pool of highly skilled aircraft workers. It is one of the aircraft industry centres. As the Concorde work tends to slow down we are threatened with redundancies here and there on the civil side. I hope there will not be too many. Much of the maintenance necessary for the running and flying of aircraft can be carried out in the Bristol area, as skilled labour is available. A growing airport means work and prosperity.

Of course, I believe that we need a national airport strategy. This is a relatively small country and is well adapted to a national strategy, but the subject needs much definition. The question of ownership is not too important, though I prefer, politically, public ownership, municipal or national. But I think that the question of ownership is secondary to effective management and the organised working together of local airports' managements. I think that airports within this linking could be managed in the general sense by the British Airports Authority.

My area has suffered much from the effects of the local government reorganisation carried out by the previous Administration. We have Avon County round our necks. The local government division of responsibilities left the responsibility for the airport with the district council. Hence, an alternative to the national authority getting the management responsibility might be a consortium of local authorities. That is a possibility which I know the city council has also considered. In the long run there is no contradiction in the two approaches, but if Bristol is to be selected for this national strategic purpose the airport should be financially assisted in the meantime. It is no good planning for the ultimate unless one considers a bridging operation in the meantime.

If Ministers have willed the end of a grand new national strategy for airports they must find the means. They cannot leave it to local initiatives, particularly when the finance depends on the strength of local rates. That is not the way for a great industrial nation to approach its airport needs.

I have said enough, I think, on behalf of Bristol. This airport is not running away from aircraft. It believes that aircraft are the business of an airport. A great deal is said, in this country and across the Atlantic, about the noise of Concorde, which is familiar to Bristolians. It does not trouble us so much, because we made the machine. Of course we must be concerned with amenity and peoples' daily lives, but in the end we are an industrial nation, and if we are to have a good future we should not forget it too easily.

9.42 p.m.

I am glad to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), who made some points that I hope to emphasise. If I speak a little more fully than has been my habit in recent debates, it is because many of my hon. Friends in Surrey and for some Sussex constituencies around Gatwick have asked me to make many of the points that we have in common and have discussed many times, rather than many of them all trying to get into the same debate.

Representing the Dorking constituency, in which Gatwick Airport is the main industrial complex, I have over the last 13 years received a great volume of representations from constituents demanding that the growth of the airport should be brought under control and a limit set to the disturbance of the environment in the air and on the ground.

On the other side of the constituency, to the west, people feel the impact of noise from aircraft using Heathrow.

The interchange of passengers and freight between these two dynamic international airports is already putting new demands on air, road and rail links that lie across my constituency. But many other constituencies, not only in Surrey but in East and West Sussex, suffer from the growing disturbance caused by Gatwick.

The interchange to which my hon. Friend refers applies also east of Gatwick, where it is causing considerable and increasing disturbance.

As the House will see, I am in close touch with my colleagues from the other areas. We have, individually and jointly, on behalf of our constituents, been pressing the Government to reduce the unacceptable effects of Gatwick. In this we have had the well-co-ordinated and determined support of the three county councils involved. They have made their joint and individual representations to the Minister in response to the consultative documents. In addition, in the past ten days a delegation from Surrey, supported by the serving Members, put their case personally before the two Ministers most concerned with this problem, and we are grateful for the reception that we received.

The full impact of the uncontrolled growth of Gatwick has been felt not only by residents but by the county councils which have had to shoulder heavy new responsibilities and rapidly increasing demands for services of all kinds, such as roads, housing, health, schools, police and fire services. All this has been necessary as a result of airport expansion over which these local authorities have had no planning control.

Present airport planning in the South-East is based on the assumption that passenger traffic will roughly double in the next ten years and that freight will keep pace. With the cancellation of Maplin, all this increase will have to be accommodated at the four main existing airports in the South-East, Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted. The impact on Gatwick of this development has been made clear by the airport authority. The current rate of passenger traffic at Gatwick is about 6 million a year. By 1985 this is planned to reach 16 million, and by the early 1990s it is planned to reach 25 million, which equals the number of passengers now passing through Heathrow. By the end of the same period it is planned that Heathrow will take between 35 million and 38 million passengers.

Unless policy decisions are taken now by the Government to limit the growth of these airports in the South-East, a course supported by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), it seems clear that Stansted, with its great runway, is in jeopardy of being developed steadily to take as much traffic as Gatwick will take in the early 1990s, about 25 million passengers. That is the risk. The Government should not think that simply by having no policy of control, they can off-load the whole of the growth of air traffic in the South-East on these four existing airports. That would lead to a serious human backlash.

The Government have promised a White Paper for the late summer or early autumn. Unless the Government set clear limits to the growth of traffic at these airports, I believe they will face growing resentment and resistance from people living in those areas that would be most deeply disturbed and disrupted by such uncontrolled development. That would lead to more reversals of policy in response to public indignation. The resulting uncertainty would be bad for the airports, bad for the airlines, bad for residents, and I fear that it would be worst of all for Stansted.

To relieve pressure on the four existing airports in the South-East, there are three main strategic courses open to the Government. I hope that in their White Paper they will commit themselves to all three.

The first course is to accept that pressure of air traffic in the South-East in the 1990s will outrun the capacity of the existing airports and may well, before that, outrun the tolerance of those living in the areas most affected by the expansion. If the Government accept that the bulk of the traffic must be accommodated in the South-East, they should follow the advice of the Surrey and East and West Sussex County Councils and begin to plan for an additional airport that will cause less dislocation and disturbance than the further expansion of the existing four airports.

The second course is to set limits to the expansion of the four airports. That would achieve two good results. It would give hope of relief for those living in the areas and it would give a real impetus to the development of alternative airport capacities to meet the overflow of demand for more air traffic.

For the orderly expansion of the four South-East airports within the limits set down, the public should be given a more effective say in what they can be persuaded to tolerate. It is they who are being made to bear the cost of the expansion in disturbance, in urban overdevelopment and in increased rates and taxes. One of the best ways of achieving this would be to require airport authorities to go through the normal planning procedures whenever they are seeking a significant internal expansion of airport capacity that will make new demands on the local government services required outside the airports. The planning authorities concerned with Gatwick—and all three counties worked together on this issue, through their standing conference—would, I know, welcome such responsibility.

The third course is to work out now a programme for diverting air traffic from the South-East to the regional airports outside the South-East that would welcome expansion. We have heard the arguments from successive Governments and we have heard the arguments expressed again today by the Minister and by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson)—namely, that no significant relief for the South-East could be achieved by such action. However, if the Government limit expansion of the existing airports in the South-East, the surplus demand for travel to and from the United Kingdom will seek outlets elsewhere.

As I shall explain later, an incentive should be added. Before I turn to that issue, I remind the Minister that a promise was made by the Labour Government when they cancelled Maplin that they would ease the burden of air traffic on the existing airports in the South-East by developing regional airports. Perhaps the Minister will say what they have achieved in redeeming that pledge by comparison with the amount of investment that they have put into the existing four airports in the South-East.

I believe that there is a course of action available that would provide additional incentives. That is outlined in Part 2 of the consultative document at Appendix 5. If combined with a limitation on traffic at the existing main airports in the South-East, this would spread the burden and the benefits of air traffic more evenly between the South-East and the other regions. Put simply, it would be to levy a charge on aircraft using the South-East airports. This should be reinforced by using the revenue to make a comparable reduction of charges at airports in other regions. The main prospect of achieving large-scale diversions to regional airports outside the South-East by the joint measures of limitation in one area and financial reward in the other would, I suggest, be in the charter business, and especially in the package tours.

The Minister has just pointed out that two-thirds of the air passenger traffic in the United Kingdom is leisure traffic. A major opportunity is to concentrate on the package and charter tour operators to see whether the airports that they use can be spread more widely.

With the spectacular improvement in inter-city rail services, which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East, the package tour operators could make good arrangements with the hotels in regional cities and with British Railways to use regional airports more fully. That point has been made strongly to me by my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) who has once or twice intervened successfully.

Such a dispersal would spread some of the economic benefits to the regional cities and would offer easy mobility between them and London. Above all, it would relieve the South-East of the unfair share of air traffic serving the whole country with which it is now overburdened.

So much for the strategic plan for airports. One other basic factor mentioned by the Minister which has so far caused the greatest public indignation, resentment and resistance, not only in this country, but in all countries with great international airports, is aircraft noise.

Good international progress has been made in requiring that planes being built now or in future shall have to pass noise tests before they can get their noise certificates. Already a quieter generation of planes is emerging, however slowly. We believe that the Government, in their White Paper, should lay down a programme over the next few years for the steady reduction in the number of planes without noise certificates. A first step, and a great relief to residents living near airports, would be to reduce rapidly to zero the number of non-certificated noisy planes which are allowed to use our airports during the night.

By 1985—only eight years ahead—the American Federal Aircraft Authority aims to have introduced a much improved American domestic regulation which would drive many of the second-hand noisier aircraft off the American routes. But many of these would find their way into the international market. Unless steps are taken by our Government to control the licensing of such aircraft to fly in Britain, many of them could find their way to this country or to European operators using our airports.

The problem of concentrating noisy planes is already acute at Gatwick. It is all very well for the Minister and others to hold out hopes of quieter planes bringing relief, but listen to these figures relating to Gatwick: of the 116 planes based regularly on Gatwick over the last year, only five held noise certificates, and only 1 per cent. of the total jet movements at Gatwick during that period were by noise-certificated planes.

Recently, the Department of Trade announced its intention to move airline operators of wholly chartered services at Heathrow to Gatwick. An obvious danger in this move is that the majority of wholly chartered service operators are not major flag carriers and would therefore be more likely to operate old and noisier types of aircraft and, in some cases, second-hand aircraft purchased from the major airlines as they replace their fleets with noise-certificated aircraft.

It being Ten o'clock, the Debate stood adjourned.