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Severe Winter Weather

Volume 723: debated on Monday 20 December 2010


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place. The Statement is as follows.

“Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to make a Statement on the continuing severe weather. We are facing exceptional conditions. It looks set to be the coldest December since 1910, with average temperatures four to five degrees below the norm for December. Many areas have had record low temperatures and snowfall has been the most widespread since 1981. The forecast is for continued severe cold and further snowfall through the coming week and over Christmas and the new year.

Transport services have suffered extensive disruption in the last few days and there is a likelihood of further disruption through this week. I recognise that this is particularly stressful just a few days ahead of the Christmas break and I understand the frustration of those who are trying to get away or, indeed, are trying to get home.

Transport services were also disrupted in the first spell of winter weather that came unusually early at the end of November. That period tested the systems which, in some cases, had performed so poorly earlier this year. The then Government asked David Quarmby, chairman of the RAC Foundation and a former chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, to conduct a review of winter resilience. His initial report was issued in July and a final report was published in October. It made 28 recommendations, some of them directed at central government, some at local government and some at transport operators. Many of those recommendations have already been implemented, although some will necessarily take longer.

On 2 December, I asked David Quarmby, in the light of the weather conditions we were then experiencing, to conduct an audit of the implementation of his recommendations and to make any further observations he felt necessary. This is an independent report and I understand that David Quarmby intends to publish it tomorrow.

One of the principal recommendations of the first Quarmby report concerned salt: levels of stocks that local authorities should hold, dosage rates for optimum use of stocks and the acquisition of a strategic stockpile by central government. Local authorities went into this period with significantly better salt stocks than last winter and the Highways Agency, on the Government’s behalf, had purchased 300,000 tonnes of salt to form a strategic stockpile, of which over 150,000 tonnes is already at UK ports with the remainder scheduled for delivery through December and early January.

Over the last few days, highway authorities across England have been focused on delivering their planned salting and snow clearance to keep their local strategic road networks open. Together they had ready some 1.25 million tonnes of salt at the start of the winter. As honourable Members would expect, salt usage has been significantly above the norm for this time of year and so my department decided two weeks ago to procure, as a precautionary measure, up to an additional 250,000 tonnes of salt to replenish the strategic stockpile as salt is released to local authorities. Last Friday, DfT offered 30,000 tonnes from the strategic stockpile to local authorities to provide reassurance over the holiday period. That allocation has been taken up and will be delivered over the next few days.

The strategic road network inevitably suffered severe disruption in the wake of heavy snowfall this weekend, but recovered reasonably rapidly and, with isolated exceptions, has operated effectively since Saturday afternoon.

Similarly, heavy snow and the formation of ice at very low temperatures caused some disruption on rail networks on Friday and Saturday. But the rail industry has pulled together to keep essential services running, using special timetables where necessary, and I am pleased to report that commuter services into main conurbations this morning are close to normal. Transport for London has successfully followed its winter weather plans and has been able to run a near-normal service across its network. However, issues with Eurostar are ongoing and have been well reported today, including the impacts of very severe weather conditions in France.

Disruption due to weather conditions of this extremity is inevitable. The measure of resilience is the speed of recovery of the networks from such events. On this measure, the strategic road network and the rail network have performed broadly satisfactorily, having regard to the exceptional circumstances. The experience at airports, and Heathrow in particular, has however been different. Conditions have been difficult across north- west Europe, with Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol all struggling to cope at times. This afternoon it has been reported that Brussels airport will close until Wednesday because of a lack of de-icer. But yesterday’s whole-day virtual closure at Heathrow, coupled with continued substantially reduced capacity, presents a very real challenge from which the system will struggle to recover quickly.

I have spoken this morning to BAA and BA, its principal user. I am clear that BA made the right call on Saturday to cancel its flights in anticipation of the closure of the airport. Had it not done so, the scenes in the terminals on Saturday night that we witnessed on our TV screens could have been much worse.

Heathrow operates at normal times at some 98 per cent of full capacity, so when there is disruption caused by snow, or the need repeatedly to close runways or taxiways for de-icing, capacity is inevitably lost and a backlog builds up. There is still a large amount of work to be done to restore Heathrow to full capacity, and further snow and severe icing are anticipated over the next few days.

The immediate focus at Heathrow must be on maximising the number of flights with the available infrastructure. In order for this to be done, I have agreed with BAA this morning a relaxation of restrictions on night flights for the next four days. Operating hours will be extended until 1am and arrivals for repatriation flights will be allowed through the night. None the less, BAA advises that, with further severe weather forecast, Heathrow is likely to operate at reduced capacity until Christmas.

Conditions in the terminals overnight on Saturday were very difficult, with some 2,000 passengers stranded. Once the airport has returned to normal operation, my officials will work with BAA to understand how this situation arose and what it plans to change to ensure that we do not experience a repeat. It is clear from my discussions this morning that some preliminary conclusions have already been drawn.

We recognise that the cost, both economic and social, of this level of disruption can be very great. Winters such as this year’s and last year’s have been rare in modern Britain, but we need to consider whether we are now seeing a step change in our weather that might justify investment in equipment and technologies to reduce the impact of severe temperature and heavy snowfall. I will assess advice on this subject from the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, and we will work with transport operators to examine the business case in each sector for increased investment in winter resilience where that makes sense, recognising always that spending more on winter preparedness inevitably means that there will be less to spend on other priorities.

This is not just about making sure that people can travel and goods are delivered. Disrupted transport links, combined with cold weather, increasingly impact on other essential services. In particular, they threaten the most vulnerable in our communities. To help those most in need to stay warm in the coldest parts of the country, the Government have so far this winter paid out some £355 million in cold weather payments through an estimated 14.2 million payments to affected households. In addition, winter fuel payments for pensioners have been protected at the higher rate for this winter, with 12.9 million payments made to those older people who meet the qualifying conditions. We have also taken precautionary steps to ensure that the health services are well prepared, with local plans in place to deal with the extra demands that this type of weather brings.

Despite these steps, weather of this severity can cause unexpected problems for many people, including those who would not normally see themselves as vulnerable but who might be in serious difficulty if their boiler breaks down or they cannot get to the chemist to collect their medication. The Local Government Association will therefore work closely with local authorities in England, with support from the Government, to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place across the country. Individual local authorities will publicise information locally on how to access these advice services ahead of the Christmas holiday period.

Severe weather poses significant challenges to the energy supply industry. Difficult driving conditions have affected fuel oil and coal suppliers’ ability to make deliveries, particularly to more remote areas away from the strategic road network. This has resulted in delivery backlogs which suppliers have been working hard, in difficult conditions, to reduce.

Distributors are doing all they can to prioritise deliveries to vulnerable customers and those running short of fuel. Working with the Government, the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers has issued a code of practice to its members to help them prioritise orders to those most in need and to alert local authorities when they are aware of a risk that potentially vulnerable households will run short of heating oil.

The severe weather has also led to a very high forecast of demand for gas, expected to be more than 26 per cent above the normal for this time of year. As a result, the National Grid yesterday issued a gas balancing alert to provide a signal to the market to bring on additional supplies and reduce demand from large users on interruptible contracts. There is no reason to expect any disruption to domestic or commercial customers unless they have interruptible contracts in place. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has today issued a Written Statement providing more information on this issue.

Nationally, we will continue to do whatever is necessary to support essential services and to provide advice to businesses and householders on steps they can take to help themselves and others. For example, we have published a snow code to give common-sense advice to householders and businesses to help them safely clear snow and ice from pavements and public spaces without fear of legal action. As an emergency measure, we have relaxed the enforcement of EU drivers’ hours and working-time rules to mitigate the effect of the severe weather on critical parts of the supply chain that have been badly hit by the weather. We have published guidance for local highway authorities on the range of actions that can be taken to ensure optimum use of salt stocks. Over the next few days, we will publish updated technical advice based on the latest research findings, so that all authorities can adopt best practice. We have also confirmed to farmers that they can use red diesel in tractors and other equipment to help salt and clear snow from public roads during the extreme weather.

We are not yet through this period of severe weather. My priority remains working with the transport industries to return to normal as fast as the continued freezing temperatures this week permit and, with ministerial colleagues and officials from other departments, with whom I have been in contact daily since Friday, to continue to monitor the situation, assess the risk of further disruption and take whatever action is needed. These arrangements will continue in place for as long as necessary through the holiday period. I can assure the House that, wherever government action can help to ease the impact of severe weather or mitigate its effects, we will not hesitate to take such action. I commend the Statement to the House.”

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place. I think that the House will have gained exactly the same impression as was gained on that earlier occasion; namely, that there is great complacency in the Statement in the face of the appalling suffering which so many of the travelling public have endured over this weekend, whether they have been trapped on railway stations without information as to when trains might arrive or caught up in traffic jams without any ability to understand when they might have a chance of escaping. More particularly, the Statement has failed to explain why, at airports, scandalously low levels of information have been given to the travelling public. I thought that the whole point of privatising many of these transport assets was that privatised companies cared about their consumers. There was not much care about consumers over this past weekend, when the advice given to individuals consisted of one telephone number which was inevitably jammed for the whole time that people were trying to get through. There was no alternative strategy for anyone to take.

This will not do. The noble Earl says that his right honourable friend had a meeting with transport bosses today. There is no suggestion that there was any dressing down done about these failures over the weekend; instead, there was a meeting at which they met on, I suppose, cordial terms to talk about the difficulties that the transport system has suffered. This is not good enough in circumstances where so many people have suffered so much.

Regarding airports, particularly London Heathrow, it is also important that we protect our national reputation. Whether we like it or not, London Heathrow is a gateway to much of the world and a lot of people get their experience of Britain from Heathrow. Consequently, the chaos over this last weekend has produced real difficulties and I would have expected the Government to have responded in rather more forthright terms than the Statement has suggested.

The noble Earl referred to the Quarmby report. He knows that in the summer that report produced 28 recommendations. He indicated in the Statement that only a certain number of these recommendations have been carried through. We will be able to see, with the full publication of the report, just where negligence has occurred. It will not do for the noble Earl to indicate that the Government had no warning of this. We did learn from last winter; that is why the Quarmby inquiry was set up. The report was presented in good time—by July of this year. Why, therefore, have the Government not taken more forthright actions?

There are several points that specialists in the field have also indicated. I would have thought Ministers would have expected this sort of expertise and advice to be available to them in the department and acted upon. What is this nonsense about lorries jack-knifing in the middle lanes of motorways and blocking the whole motorway? Why on earth has it not been recognised that, in circumstances such as the very difficult travel conditions this weekend, some restrictions should have been put, as the AA recommended, upon the movement of lorries so that they stayed only in the inside lane? I recognise the disadvantages and inconvenience to lorry drivers, but, my goodness, that is as nothing to the blocking of the whole M25 or parts of the M40 by jack-knifed lorries.

Why is it, with our rail system, that information is not readily available to customers? You can have railway lines which are only six miles apart and at the station where you ask the question and at which they are experiencing delays on the line, they have no idea whether it would make sense to get across to the other line, which might be running a fairly good service. The system does not know, or the people are not equipped to deliver the service they should. It is a reflection of the very limited resources that have been put into customer care and that is why, in these circumstances where great difficulty occurs, it is the passenger who suffers.

Finally, it was timely, this weekend, that a Member of Parliament and close friend of the Prime Minister should have indulged in a little light relief on the virtues of chaos theory. I am talking about the leading party in the Government, the Conservative Party. He said something like, “We do not think much to planning in our party, we think that planning can be overemphasised and it might be that a certain amount of chaos theory should obtain”. Well, no one in the coalition should be preaching chaos theory regarding transport this weekend. A bit of thought by Ministers, a bit of planning, and some of the difficulties that our fellow countrymen and others have faced might have been minimised.

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s exciting response to my Statement. There is no complacency on the part of the Government; we are acutely aware of the challenges. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is giving clear and strategic leadership to all concerned. He does not give a dressing down to operators; he gives encouragement and leadership. The noble Lord made much of the difficulties of communicating in the current situation. Yes, of course there is disappointment, but there are a lot of people affected and it is a very obscure situation.

The noble Lord is right to say how important Heathrow is to the country and, indeed, to the world. One of the problems at Heathrow is clearing the aircraft stands of snow when those aircraft stands are occupied by aircraft. If there is no aircraft in the aircraft stand, it can be cleared pretty quickly, but if there is an aircraft there, the process is much slower because we cannot risk damaging the aircraft.

The noble Lord suggests restrictions on HGV operators and drivers. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all commercial vehicle drivers who work so hard in very difficult conditions to keep our shops and businesses supplied.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in your Lordships’ House. I stress how important it is to take note of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. The problem that we suffer is a lack of communication. To anybody who listened to the Radio 4 interviews with passengers at Heathrow and Gatwick, the information that was repeatedly conveyed was that none of them knew what was going on.

A few weeks ago, at the beginning of the month, we had similar snowfall and people are really tired of not knowing how our rail network is working in this country. At Victoria Station, it was obvious that none of the indicators was working and the announcements were almost impossible to decipher. Whenever one got the idea that a train was leaving, one jumped into that train, sat for half an hour and was then told that the train was no longer going. One moved on to another train, only to be told that the driver was no longer available. One then moved on to another train where they said it would be another half an hour. By the time one gets home, it has taken three or three and a half hours to travel a distance of 15 miles.

This just will not do. It is time that those in authority provided adequate information to those who use services. That has not happened at Heathrow, it does not happen at many of our stations and it is about time that this matter is put right.

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s comments. Ministers were not happy about the situation on communicating the transport opportunities to people two weeks ago. It is inconceivable that these problems will not be considered in the new year.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. In addition to talking to BAA, will Ministers also talk to the airline operators about the need for them to inform their customers and to ensure, together with BAA and other airport operators, that every attention is paid to the needs of people who may, unfortunately, be stranded.

Secondly, will the Government look again at stopping the Warm Front programme applications? While it is certainly true, as the Statement made clear, that fuel payments have been made, the programme of insulating homes will be slowed. It is obviously too late, in any event, to make a difference this winter, but given what has happened in the past couple of years, does the Minister agree that it might be necessary to look again at that decision in order that there should not be an hiatus in the insulation programme?

Thirdly, on the steps taken by the health service and local authorities, does the Minister agree that it might be desirable to look at whether extra resources might be needed, in certain parts of the country, in order for the health service to cope with the additional demands and pressures that might arise and, indeed, for something like the Bellwin rules—which, I understand, are to be abolished under the new dispensation—to be looked at in relation to local authorities?

Finally, on a more domestic concern, will the Minister look at conditions within this House and consider whether it is desirable to turn the heating off on a Friday, leaving this place to be extremely cold for the staff and your Lordships on a Monday?

My Lords, I think I mentioned in my Statement—I apologise if the Statement does not say it—that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has had discussions with Willie Walsh at BA and I expect that Ministers or senior officials will have talked to leaders of other airlines to work out a way forward in order to minimise the effect on travelling passengers.

The noble Lord talked about the Warm Front scheme. It is slightly outside the scope of the Statement, but I appreciate the current difficulties of houses being very cold. We are experiencing it a little in your Lordships' House. It is a little colder than normal. Fortunately, I am not responsible for the conditions inside your Lordships’ House, but I always take the precaution of putting on extra clothes on a Monday morning.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the contribution from the Front Bench opposite was particularly ludicrous in what could become an extremely serious situation? To try to make political capital out of that at this time does no service to the responsibility that people have in this House. The idea that somehow you can guarantee to keep everything running whatever the weather is wrong. I sat on a plane in Zurich airport for eight hours while they tried to de-ice it. It iced up again and then they de-iced it and within a quarter of an hour the pilot came back and said, “Our time is up and we will have to abandon the flight altogether”. It is impossible to guard against that.

The seriousness of the Statement that my noble friend repeated is in the weather forecast going forward. There are a lot of very frightened people in this country now, in rural areas and other areas as well. There are worries about supplies of fuel oil, petrol and heating generally, and breakdowns in electricity substations are the sort of problem that can come from very severe weather. The country is entitled to expect from this House cohesive action together; consideration as to how we can tackle what may be some very serious problems in the weeks ahead.

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s point. He asked what could be done. The short answer is that my right honourable friend could not do much more. The weather conditions that we are experiencing are unprecedented. We have not had such a cold December since 1910.

My noble friend mentioned fuel oil supplies. They should be okay. Backlogs are mounting up of several days and we are monitoring the situation carefully. My right honourable friend has already relaxed the drivers’ hours regulations for drivers moving essential supplies in order to help reduce the backlog.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, but I detect a deep sense of complacency—not on the Minister's part but running throughout the Government. While we have heard a lot of excuses, we have not heard any plans or action programmes for dealing with the matter. Are there any steps to set out a list of priority users? Has the OFT been alerted to ensure that oil suppliers do not profiteer in the current circumstances? Can we be assured that the emergency services will not have to compete with other users of oil? Has COBRA met? What plans is it offering to the various people who will be affected? Will the Minister say when we will get some real action rather than soft words?

My Lords, I repeat: there is no complacency in Her Majesty's Government. One of the things that we need to avoid is getting out a long screwdriver and sticking it in places where it would be unhelpful.

The noble Lord asked some important questions about fuel supplies for emergency services. I would be very surprised if the emergency services were not careful to ensure that their fuel stocks never go below a certain level so that they do not have to go into the market at precisely the wrong time, which is right now, when we need to avoid panic buying.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of the hospitals up and down the country that are snowbound, such as Cardiff, Hexham and Goole, have appealed to the public for the use of 4x4s to get patients and staff to and from hospital? If there is an appeal, people respond. Far more important is the problem of low blood supplies. Will the Minister pass on to his colleagues in the Department of Health the need to tell people where they can give blood? In the press there have been notifications that blood stocks are dangerously low, but there is nothing about where people can go in difficult snowbound areas to give blood. Many people will do that. Type O negative is particularly important.

My Lords, the noble Baroness made a couple of important points. There is a large population of 4x4 vehicles. Some people call them Chelsea tractors. Now they can be useful to society and people can volunteer to help local voluntary groups to move people who cannot otherwise move around. Although the strategic road network is pretty well completely clear, the side roads are not clear.

The noble Baroness mentioned blood supplies. I am not aware of the current situation with blood supplies, but I will pass her comments on to my noble friend Lord Howe. As for heating supplies, I understand that most hospitals run on gas and only a few use oil. I imagine that they would be very careful not to run their stocks down too much at this time of year.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that now would be an appropriate time to pay tribute to the dedication of all those working in the National Health Service who have been turning up to work, such as managers, clinicians, nurses, ambulance drivers, porters—the whole lot? They have been keeping hospitals open. They have enabled the sick to come in and have kept people in who could not go home. The National Health Service has risen brilliantly to the challenge. I declare an interest as chairman of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. It is time for the NHS to receive the praise that it deserves.

My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend and would like to pay tribute to all NHS workers who make that big struggle to get into work despite the conditions. That applies to everyone who takes the difficult option of struggling to get to work rather than the easy option of sitting at home and doing nothing.

My Lords, the Minister referred to supplies of salt. Does he accept that many of the pavements in London—and I am sure elsewhere—are extremely slippery. They were this morning. The danger is that the health service will be burdened by even more people who slip and break their arms and legs. Is it not more economic to put more salt on pavements—or in some cases put some salt on pavements—rather than have ambulances and the health service having to bear the burden of what seems to be a niggardly approach to distributing the salt?

My Lords, there is not a niggardly approach to distributing the salt. As for pavements, local people can clear them. The Statement that I repeated referred to the fact that people can clear the pavement if they want to. But the noble Lord is right to raise the issue of increased levels of injury through slipping. It is a big problem. A fall for people in their later years can be very serious indeed.

My Lords, as someone who has had two and an half feet of snow, and dug myself out last night to get down the hill to get here, I know the problem of moving around. If the Minister believes in the science of climate change and the ability to predict what future winters over the next decade or even century will be like, how come the science of meteorology cannot tell me what the weather will be like two weeks from now?

Does my noble friend agree that winter tyres are a sensible thing to have on vehicles? I shall be disappointed if he does not. Has my noble friend’s department considered legislating for the use of winter tyres, as they do in Scandinavia? Is he satisfied by the supply of winter tyres? I have heard anecdotally in central Scotland that there is a now a two-month waiting list.

My noble friend raised the interesting point of winter tyres. They are effective, but it is a personal choice and it would be peculiar for the Government to take any steps to mandate them. Suppliers of essential services in remote rural areas might want to consider stocking some vehicles with winter tyres, but it is entirely a matter for them. I suspect the capital cost of winter tyres rarely justifies the investment.

My Lords, will the noble Earl ask his ministerial colleagues to look very carefully at the question of winter fuel payments, particularly for the disabled and the elderly? What they are getting at the moment is pretty minimal, bearing in mind the incredibly low temperatures.

My Lords, I am sure that my ministerial colleagues are carefully considering whether the payments are at the right level, but it is not a matter for me to comment on.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the local authorities are accusing the Government of profiteering on selling salt to them at a time when local authorities’ budgets are being severely cut and, certainly in some areas, local authorities are forced to salt roads only where there is a steep hill and not on the flat? How can the Government claim that the situation is under control when local authorities do not have the money to buy salt or to spread it?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point, but he needs to understand that local authorities should regard central government as a supplier of last resort.

My Lords, I flew down this morning from Glasgow Airport to London City Airport, and I pay tribute to the people both at Glasgow and at London City Airport who made that journey, although slightly delayed, a successful one. They did so for many hundreds of people this morning from Scotland to London. As I passed through Glasgow Airport this morning, it was very clear to me just how important Heathrow Airport is to the travel plans, whether for family reunions or business or holidays, of many of my fellow west of Scotland citizens at this time of year. I heard the Minister, in repeating the Statement made in the other place, pray in aid the statistic that Heathrow is used to 98 per cent of its capacity as a reason for the fragility of that environment—and I agree with him. As I understand it, the Government have no plans to increase the capacity of Heathrow, so they must have strategic plans to reduce its usage. Are those going to be part of the discussions that take place between his right honourable friend Philip Hammond, the Minister, BAA and the operators out of Heathrow? If they are not, we are going to face this problem repeatedly every time it snows, and that airport will be closed.

My Lords, yet again a noble Lord rightly raises the importance of Heathrow Airport and the fact that most of the time it is running at 98 per cent efficiency, along with the fact that we are not going to have a third runway at Heathrow. What we will do is to make Heathrow Airport more effective and more efficient.

My Lords, will the Minister pay tribute to those staff, many of them manual workers and low paid workers, right across the transport industries, who have spent the past week or so working in extremely inclement weather to try to maintain some sort of service. To follow on from the point made by his noble friend Lord Dholakia, does he agree that the most irritating aspect of the delay and dislocation is not the fact that things go wrong, because we can all accept the case that they do, but the lack of information to passengers or customers, or whatever the industry likes to call them? Will he accept that industries such as the railway industry—I suspect that this is true of the aviation industry, too—whether publicly or privately owned, are overmanaged and undersupervised? The largely junior staff who have to face the ire of the public are no wiser about what is going on than the people concerned. Would he knock a few heads together to ensure that senior managers are there to make decisions and to face the travelling public when things go wrong?

My Lords, first, the noble Lord talked about manual workers working in the cold. These people are working outside in absolutely freezing conditions to keep transport equipment working, and I think we should all be very grateful to them. Yet again, another noble Lord has raised the issue of the lack of information about what transport services can do. Ministers are acutely aware of this problem; we are not happy about it. I also stress the point that we must not interfere at the moment but, when it is all over, we will be talking very closely with the transport industry to see what can be done in future so that passengers know what can be done.

My Lords, the Minister said that his colleague had met the British Airports Authority today, and he discussed the issue of Heathrow Airport. It seems to many noble Lords strange that Heathrow seems able to cope much less well with the severe conditions than other London airports. As my noble friend said, that was the case with Stansted Airport from Scotland, as opposed to the situation at Heathrow, which had only one runway still operating. Will the Minister press the BAA to ensure that additional resources are made available and that Heathrow Airport itself, a very profitable organisation, is forced to ensure that it can cope better in future? Will he address the issue not just of information to passengers who are stranded but of facilities available to them? Some passengers have been sleeping for three or four nights on cold floors. The airline operators or BAA must make some facility available, be it blankets or pillows or whatever, so that people who have nowhere to go will be properly looked after in the short term.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a valid point, but the conditions at Heathrow at the weekend were much more severe than those normally encountered. Advice from industry is that the volume of snowfall encountered on Saturday—approximately 10 to 12 centimetres in little more than an hour—would have closed any airport. As for government action for the future, airport operators have a great incentive themselves to invest in the necessary equipment to keep their airports open, because their daily losses at Heathrow from not being able to operate properly are millions of pounds.