Orders of the Day — Maplin Development Authority (Dissolution) Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th October 1976.

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As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

6.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I ask the indulgence of the House if I reserve my comments until the end of the debate when I have heard the points which hon. Members wish to raise.

6.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

We have moved from the comparative frequency of a debate on Scotland to the great rarity of a debate on the problems of South-East England.

I do not oppose the Bill, but it would be wrong if nothing were said on the Floor of the House about its implications.

It marks an important stage and we should spend a short time discussing it. I shall be brief because there is a great deal of other business before the House. I shall have my eye on the rather repellent new clocks introduced into the Chamber. They remind me of the green eye of the little yellow god.

The Bill is a stage in the long, unfinished saga of what to do about air traffic in the London region and the United Kingdom as a whole.

We all have our own views and interests. I represent a constituency which was threatened by the Cublington proposition a few years ago. I was an ardent opponent of that and was sympathetic to the idea of an airport and perhaps even a seaport at Maplin. It seemed to represent an exciting concept and the balance of environmental arguments was very much in its favour.

However, events have moved on. There are now clear doubts about the rate of expansion of air traffic. This depends greatly on our economic position and it is hard to be sanguine about that at present. There is also to be taken into account the development of quieter aircraft, which is a potentially encouraging part of the story.

There is also the possibility, hankered after by many people, of the development of a new or existing airfield away from London—in Birmingham or the East Midlands for example. This would be an attractive solution if it made sense. We must recognise the continued dislike in the aviation world of an airport at Maplin, so far from London, and we also have to recognise the overriding public expenditure implications.

Few of us believe that Maplin should go ahead now. It is impossible to say whether it might ever again come in to the reckoning and it is right to wind up the authority and assume, for immediate practical purposes, that it will not go ahead.

However, do not let us delude ourselves that the problem will now go away or that we can sit back with equanimity and forget about what may happen if no action is taken. Airport planning is a long-term operation. We talk about the mid 1980s and 1990s as though they are some way off, but in this context they are not that far away. This is not the occasion to debate the consultative document on airport strategy though I hope that the Minister can assure us that the document will be debated in the near future.

I understand the great concern felt at the Government's elmination of the Maplin option by people living near Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted airports. There is well-founded talk about bigger and quieter aircraft, but the people living near these airports sometimes feel that this talk seems a little too easy for them. A job of persuasion has to be done here.

I suspect that those living near Stansted are particularly apprehensive about what is developing. After all, this saga began at Stansted years ago. It seemed to slip through almost unnoticed, but then came a reprieve and there is now uncertainty in the area again. I have had strong representations from the Essex County Council and people are now naturally alarmed when someone like Mr. Nigel Foulkes of the British Airports Authority is quoted as saying that he sees Stansted as: the expansion chamber for the South-East. The prospect before Stansted is of a rise from 250,000 passengers a year to perhaps 4 million and conceivably even 16 million. This involves not just the flights, but employment and land traffic implications, and all this will be happening in a very beautiful part of the country.

The Standing Conference on London and South-East Regional Planning has argued strongly against the Government's proposals, not just for Stansted but for the other airports as well. The conference says: The long-term proposals for the South East's airports in the November 1975 consultative document are thus open to strong objections on regional planning grounds. It is my duty as a spokesman on the environment to remind the House that environmental, human and planning considerations are extremely important. The last Conservative Government established the importance of these considerations once and for all—I hope—and they must not be forgotten. They apply just as much to the other airports, about which some of my hon. Friends may wish to speak, as to Stansted.

I hope that this matter will not drift on indefinitely and that we make clear that dissolving the Maplin Authority does not dissolve the problem.

6.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Wakeham Mr John Wakeham , Maldon

I listened with interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). He raised a number of broad issues and I am sure that he will not take it amiss if I do not put the same emphasis on those matters. My hon. Friend spoke about the overall position, but he also mentioned a constituency interest and I must say straight away that I have a clear constituency interest in this matter. The proposed site for the Maplin airport was in the centre of the southern half of my constituency and I make no bones about welcoming the Bill and hoping to see it passed tonight.

I welcome the Bill for three main reasons. First, the decision having been taken not to build an airport at Maplin, the necessary tidying-up operation clearly has to be carried out, and this Bill is not much more than a bookkeeping operation. The Minister will remember that there was plenty of scrutiny in Committee Indeed, there was far too much for the liking of some hon. Members opposite. I can assure any hon. Member who was not on the Committee that every line and every figure was considered in enormous detail.

My second reason for welcoming the Bill is much more important. It will end the doubt and uncertainty. There was no doubt that, the decision having been made and announced, a considerable number of people were still uncertain whether it would be reversed. I welcome the Bill because it will once and for all clear up the uncertainty of those who live in my part of Essex.

Thirdly, I welcome the Bill so that the planning of the environment and the community in our part of Essex can go ahead without the terrible blight which we have had for some 10 years. The cost that we are writing off to the national debt in the Bill is £2·3 million. Although I believe that that is still rather a lot of money, I accept that in parliamentary terms it is peanuts.

There is no doubt that the majority of the cost of Maplin has been borne by the people in my constituency in terms of the planning blight from which they have suffered over the years—the uncertainty about road development, about housing, about jobs and about the environment. It is a great step forward that this uncertainty in my area will at last come to an end.

I do not for a minute suggest that the great debate about our aircraft strategy has to stop. This is a very important issue, and clearly many national problems have to be solved. We must obviously have a full discussion and debate on the major issues involved. While accepting the arguments that I know will be advanced by my hon. Friends who have this problem in their own areas, I certainly do not want the debate to be at the expense of my constituents, with any threat of resurrecting the Maplin project.

The passing of the Bill will be the end of the Maplin saga. I welcome it. I also feel, at the same time, from the discussions I have had with the Minister and the letters I have received, that we are also unlikely to see a seaport in the area of Maplin in the foreseeable future.

6.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch and Lymington

I, too, support what the Government are doing. I understand very well the feelings of a number of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies near Heathrow and Gatwick, and it is not for me to trespass on what they will say. I support the Government for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I have consistently opposed what I always felt was one of the silliest ideas ever to be perpetrated—or potentially perpetrated—on the taxpayers of this country. When my party is calling, as it now is, for a reduction in public expenditure I have no difficulty whatsoever in welcoming this small contribution to that end.

I also welcome very much the way in which the Government have begun to seek an acceptable national airports policy. This is something that has never been done before. The Government have made considerable efforts in this regard. They will never find a way of pleasing everybody, but they seem to me to be trying to find an answer to an intractable but a not totally insurmountable problem.

Perhaps I may follow the recent example of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who quoted from one of his own speeches. I wish to quote from the heated debate of 1973, when I said: In all our discussions about the location of new airports the resulting public expenditure is sometimes forgotten. Later I added: What estimate has my hon. Friend made of the price of this airport, with all the infrastructure and with inflation built in over 10 years, plus the likely cost overrun in 1984—if that is not an unfortunate date to choose—at 1984 prices?"—[Official Report, 13th June 1973; Vol. 857, c. 1504, 1512.] We talked even in 1973 of a first estimate of about £1,000 million. Nobody really knew what the airport—if it had been built—would cost. The mind boggles at the sort of figure that would be discussed today.

I was one of those who, on the night in question, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), pushed through a new clause for insertion in the Maplin Bill, so that we could try to take account of changing developments in the world of aerospace. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) referred to a few of those developments when he spoke just now. I ran away on that occasion and hid in the lavatory because I was so afraid of having led a revolt against my own Government, but I have never felt that it was wrong, and the decision taken by the House on that night can now be seen to have been the right one.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury mentioned Cublington. There is no point in going over history, but the decision to built an airport at Foulness was, I think, one of the less reputable decisions taken by the Conservative Government of the day. There was no attempt to forge a national airports plan. All that happened was that as soon as Roskill reported, considerable pressure, understandably enough, was brought to bear by Members of Parliament on the Secretary of State merely in order to shovel the airport out of their own area. That is the way in which the Foulness project was born. It certainly was not the recommendation of Roskill, and I do not think it would have been an acceptable way in which to reach such an important decision.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch and Lymington

My speech will be quite short and then my hon. Friend may get the opportunity to make as many points as he likes.

The British Government do not have powers to force foreign airlines to use airports which they do not want to use. We could have built this marvellous airport at a cost of £1,000 million, £2,000 million or £3,000 million, only to find that foreign airlines would not have used it. At the time I made the point consistently that I would only ever support Maplin if the Government of the day made a commitment to close Heathrow and Gatwick over a given period of time. Only in that way could Maplin ever have succeeded.

I do not know whether any hon. Members present have had the opportunity of visiting Mirabel airport at Montreal. If ever anyone wished to see a political airport—which is what Maplin would have been—Mirabel is that. It is probably the most expensive, the most lonely and the most wasteful airport project ever conceived by any Government. It will be one of the elephants which will hang around Pierre Trudeau's neck for ever. Maplin would have been Britain's answer to Mirabel.

Many hon. Members represent constituencies in South-East England. In the South-East millions of people want to have easy access to air travel. It really is not surprising, therefore, that the air services are concentrated where the population is heaviest. It would be surprising if that were not the case, but it must be accepted by those hon. Members that they cannot very well argue on the one hand, that their constituents want to have good communication and travel facilities, and, on the other hand, that they do not want to suffer from the noise and inconvenience of an airport in their area. There is no conclusion to this conflict of interests. If people wish to get away from noise, they are better off living in the north of Scotland, but then they will be a long way from airports—and also from cinemas, theatres, restaurants and so on. These facilities all go together.

The one thing I regret is that the Government did not proceed with the Channel Tunnel project. The Channel Tunnel project was directly related to Maplin, and it is inconceivable that the two could be planned in isolation from each other. It would have done more than anything else to ease the problems of congested air traffic in the South-East.

I think that the original Maplin decision was wrong. It was a decision to put an airport in the wrong place at the wrong time. We can now say good riddance to it.

6.20 p.m.

Photo of Sir George Sinclair Sir George Sinclair , Dorking

You will not be surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I take up a position which is far removed from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). Gatwick is in my constituency and, every year that I have been there, I have been justly bombarded by constituents asking for relief from the mounting noise in the air and the growing congestion in the area, largely metropolitan green belt, with the demands made for more housing, more schools, more roads and more of almost everything. The clear threat is that this area will become urban sprawl linking Brighton directly to London.

When Maplin was projected it seemed a way of taking many of these burdens, especially aircraft noise and congestion on the ground, from areas worst affected. Certainly that was one of the main environmental attractions of the Maplin project. For residents in the area, it was the light at the end of the tunnel. That tunnel was likely to take 10 years to build at Maplin, but, by bringing back hope, it made the prospect of life in the Gatwick area much more tolerable for many of my constituents. Others of my constituents living on the other side of the constituency are almost equally plagued by the shaw of Heathrow. They get the nuisance both ways, and as a result, I receive complaints from all sides.

In my constituency I have seen the burden and I understand what it means in terms of the daily lives of my constituents, but they are concerned not only with the present: they are thinking of the future. The prospect for the future in my constituency, with Heathrow now carrying a passenger traffic of about 20 million, with freight growing rapidly and projected to carry up to 32 million passengers and more in the years ahead—

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

Order. I must ask the hon. Member to refer his argument to the Bill, which has only two clauses, both of which are quite simple.

Photo of Sir George Sinclair Sir George Sinclair , Dorking

I am dealing, rather obliquely, I agree, with the consequences of letting this Bill go through and the consequences of the decision taken in July 1974. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, when you see it in that context, you will allow me to explain what is to happen as a result of this Bill, the shelving of this project.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

The hon. Member will recall that, on Third Reading, he is not permitted to talk about matters that are not in the Bill.

Photo of Sir George Sinclair Sir George Sinclair , Dorking

In that event I must depart from the pattern set by previous speakers and confine myself more narrowly to Maplin.

The arguments about Maplin were always that it would relieve Heathrow and Gatwick from the burden that they were bearing and were expected to bear in the years ahead. Now that Maplin is to be put away, at least during the term of this Government, I must ask the Government to consider the consequences of this action for the people living in my area, because I believe that they are very serious.

As a result of the withdrawal of this project, Gatwick now faces a build-up of passenger traffic, which at present runs at 5 million a year, to five times that amount before the end of the century. The planned development already goes up to 16 million in the 1980s, and beyond that it is projected that it will mount to 25 million. That is bigger than Heathrow today. As a result of having no alternative to this Maplin project we shall have in a largely green belt area an airport causing an urban sprawl right across that green belt.

The Minister has shown great care in listening to the arguments of my constituents and I pay tribute to the hard work that he has done in trying to consider how to meet the protests of people living round Gatwick Airport, but how can any Minister limit the expansion of these two main London airports without contemplating a third London airport? The demand is there; it will not go away because of some temporary political decision. The demand will go on increasing. It has risen in France, and it has risen in Holland. They have new metropolitan airports, but we are left with two airports which are already over-congested and less and less able to meet the mounting needs of air traffic today, especially if, as we hope, Britain recovers its economic prosperity in the next decade.

I should like to hear from the Government that, if they carry through this Bill, they will give guarantees, similar to those given at the time of the Maplin project, that the sprawl of Gatwick and the consequences for people living there and the countryside for miles and miles around will be limited and kept within civilised bounds.

I was looking round Gatwick the other day. Within the space of a year the expansion of Gatwick and of the road-works coming into the airport has made this a new part of the country. It is difficult to find one's way about. In Gatwick Airport I asked someone the way to Horley. He replied "Horley? Never heard of it. I don't know." There is a huge complex of roads built over what was sparsely populated country.

The consequences of the decision to abandon Maplin, though much praised by hon. Members whose constituencies would have been affected by the project, will be very serious in the years ahead for people living round Heathrow and Gatwick. If the traffic is allowed to increase as it is projected, life in those areas will he less and less tolerable and more and more congested. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance that this decision will be accompanied by some control of the size of Gatwick Airport.

6.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Hillingdon Uxbridge

My remarks will be directed mainly to the consequences flowing from subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 1, and particularly from the decision which the Secretary of State will have to take in appointing the transfer date.

We have reached the end of an era. The concept of establishing a major international airport on the South Coast at Maplin has departed, and with it the hopes of many thousands of people who believed that the construction of Maplin would bring an end to the aircraft noise, pollution and heavy traffic which gives so much trouble to those who live in this congested part of the United Kingdom.

In place of Maplin we are left with the excellent consultative document "Airport Strategy for Great Britain", but with very little else, and it is because of this vacuum that I wish to speak briefly tonight.

The disappearance of Maplin is a matter of considerable interest to my constituents in Uxbridge because Heathrow Airport is located in the same borough as my constituency—that of Hillingdon. Most of the people who live in Hillingdon are proud of the fact that Heathrow is within the borough's boundaries. Thousands of them earn their living at the airport and many more hope to do so in future. I am not one of those people who can be accused of trying to shuffle off the effects of major airports to other parts of the country. On the contrary, I share my constituent's pride in Heathrow Airport.

Hillingdon runs from south to north, and therefore we do not suffer aircraft noise or such great consequences as many of my hon. Friends whose constituencies lie west or east of the main runways at Heathrow. My concern and that of my constituents caused by the death of Maplin is about the policy of transport infrastructure to serve the projected increase in the use of Heathrow. It is essential that the dissolution of the Maplin Development Authority should be followed as soon as possible by an agreed airport strategy both for London and for the regions.

I shall not go into the document on airport strategy in detail tonight, but I shall say a word or two about the way in which it relates to this Bill. It is relevant in certain respects. The decision to abandon Maplin clearly means further development of existing airports. At the time of the abandonment of the Maplin project the then Secretary of State for Trade explained that, regardless of the Maplin decision, it would be necessary to extend the capacity at Heathrow to about 38 million passengers a year with the addition of a fourth terminal. In the master plan report for Heathrow of November 1972, the British Airports Authority envisaged that at some date after 1980 it was likely that an additional terminal and associated facilities would be required.

By 1980 many of the current developments which we have to suffer at Heathrow will be completed. A fourth terminal is planned for Heathrow and will be built later to increase passenger capacity to not less than 38 million by 1983. In the longer term, a fifth terminal is planned which will require a lead time of 12 years, and will be built on the Perry Oaks site. This will increase the passenger capacity to around 53 million a year. This is what we have to contemplate following the abandonment of the Maplin airport project.

I ask hon. Members to try to visualise the scene on the M4 motorway in the late 1980s when the number of passengers using Heathrow nears 50 million a year. None of us needs a crystal ball to see it being jammed solid on most summer days and every weekend. This will happen despite the extension to Heathrow of the Piccadilly Line from Hounslow West.

I am rather sceptical about the effects of a rail link in relieving Heathrow. I have a feeling that passengers from abroad will not be inclined to hump their luggage on to a London tube station, or even from one terminal to another at Heathrow. Also the journey to Heathrow from London by tube involves stopping at many stations en route, and is not particularly convenient. It is my hope that the passage of this Bill will be followed swiftly by the development of a new regional airport strategy.

I echo the words of one of my hon. Friends who hoped that there would be a debate on this subject soon so that hon. Members from all parts of the country could make a contribution. I hope that when we look at the strategy we can consider the possibility of making better use of regional airports. There is no doubt that one of the consequences which flows directly from this Bill is that every area of the country will have to be prepared to take some share of the burden placed on regional airports in terms of noise and traffic.

Finally, I should like to float an idea which has been in my mind for some time in view of the regular journeys I make to and from my constituency. If we are ever to cope with the tremendous amount of traffic using Heathrow we shall have to consider the possibility of building a second tier to the M4 motorway. I see no reason why the excellent precedent set by the M4 flying over the A4 should not be extended, and why there should not be eventually a toll motorway from central London to Heathrow. The expenditure involved in such a motorway could be financed from the tolls.

Photo of Mr Barney Hayhoe Mr Barney Hayhoe , Hounslow Brentford and Isleworth

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that, if we increase the flow of traffic through what the Layfield Commission called the M4-A4 corridor, this will lead to intolerable conditions in the Chiswick area of my constituency? To do so would be totally contrary to the view of the Layfield Commission. My constituents argued their case before that commission, they won it, and received an assurance from the report of the Committee of Inquiry that it would be environmentally unacceptable to increase the flow of traffic. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear that in mind. I hope that the Minister concerned will also accept that there is apprehension in my constituency both as a result of Heathrow and as a result of the M3 pointing like a dagger towards Chiswick. Environmentally, conditions in Chiswick would be made monstrously intolerable by any increase in the flow of traffic.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

Order. I point out to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) that the idea he is trying to float is, strictly speaking, out of order.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Hillingdon Uxbridge

I understand the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe). This illustrates the need for a wide-ranging debate on this matter at a later date.

I support the Bill, but I look forward with great enthusiasm to the day when a firm conclusion is reached on the regional airport policy and we have an opportuniy to debate it.

6.40 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

As many of us on the Conservative benches have made clear, it is not what is in this short Bill that counts but its consequences and implications. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) put the point very skilfully in describing exactly what flowed from the Bill.

I should like to ask the Minister three questions. First, when the decision was taken to abandon Maplin and introduce the Bill, was proper regard had to dealing with various matters which would almost certainly result? The first—this was the main burden of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby)—is the enormous congestion that there will be in the neighbourhood of Heathrow as a result of a buildup of traffic. I remember that during the last debate on Maplin when we were in government the strongest point made from our Front Bench was not that Maplin would benefit those living around the London airports, from the point of view of aircraft noise, but that there would be intolerable congestion around those airports. It was said that for that reason alone, if for no other, it was essential to disperse and build a third airport outside London on a different site.

We have seen the forecast increase of traffic to 50 million passengers by 1980, or 53 million if the extra terminal is built at Perry Oaks. With only 20 million passengers a year at present, all our constituents in the area know the intolerable burden in their daily lives, at weekends and when they are trying to sleep at night.

My next question is to ask what regard was given to the increase in the noise problem. What steps were decided upon to deal with that problem? One cannot simply abandon a project and with it all thought of dealing with the problems that it was to alleviate. Some consideration must be given to what is to be put in the project's place. What thought was given, and what thought is being given now, to the environmental problem of aircraft noise from which millions of people in the London area suffer?

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

Is my hon. Friend aware that the number of aircraft using London airport this year is down on last year, although the number of people using it is up?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

I shall touch on that point later.

My third question concerns an alternative strategy. We have a number of documents on airport strategy, but before this project and the strategy that went with it were abandoned one would have expected the Government to give some thought to an alternative strategy and not to start from scratch, which will mean taking years.

My constituents and I have a vested interest in the answers to those questions. Many of my constituents make frequent use of Heathrow airport, which is a great convenience in their business trips and other travel arrangements. But many others have to put up with the noise problem with no compensating benefits. We have not only the problem of the Mole Valley route, the easterly take-off from Heathrow, but helicopter routes crossing the constituency, Concorde, and the west- bound aircraft which double back to the east. We seem to have the noise problem in every way in Esher.

For many years the noise level has been intolerable. It has increased over the years and the frequency of aircraft has increased. One of the documents shows that passenger traffic was increasing by 13 per cent. every year until one or two years ago.

I wish to refer to "Airport Strategy for Great Britain", the London area consultation document, and in particular to the forecast in it that the noise will reduce drastically over the years to 1990. There are some interesting noise footprints in the document, showing the area of the 50 NNI contour gradually reducing over the years until it is quite small. Since those forecasts were made traffic has reduced, but unfortunately we have not heard the result in the noise that we suffer, because the same number of aeroplanes seem to fly.

That means that the airlines' income has been reduced, and the money for investment by them and the aircraft manufacturers on the development of quieter engines has also been reduced. Surrey County Council or the GLC has suggested that the forecasts will be set back by 10 to 15 years as a result of the recession. The hopes expressed in the documents that we need not worry about the cancellation of Maplin, because aircraft noise will be greatly reduced over the years, have been undermined by the oil crisis and the recession.

All of us who are involved in the game of juggling with aircraft routes know that the only really beneficial answer is quieter aircraft engines. Although I hesitate to suggest a massive injection of Government help for research and development in this area, I should have hoped that the Government might have put aside for this purpose some of the funds earmarked for building Maplin.

I do not think that any of us thought that Maplin would be a panacea for our problems, but it was certainly a hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. It was an imaginative project, an attempt to solve a great environmental problem—namely, the enormous build-up of air traffic over our small island. What will be left by the Bill is a void. I hope that we shall hear what will fill it.

6.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

The last line of Clause 1(2) states: the Authority shall cease to exist. If it ceases to exist we shall have no Maplin Airport in the foreseeable future. That will be a disaster for many people living around the existing airports of Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton.

I believe that Maplin offered the one long-term hope for the future. If it had gone ahead when the Conservative Government took the decision to bring it in in 1971, and if it had not been dropped subsequently by the Labour Government in the summer of 1974, by the early 1980s we could have diverted or forced the noisiest aircraft for example Boeing 707s, Tridents and Concordes, to manoeuvre, take off and land over the sea instead of over residential areas. We could have permitted only the quieter aircraft to use Heathrow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) has said that quieter aircraft are being introduced. The Under-Secretary of State informed me by letter two days ago that 18 per cent. of aircraft now using Heathrow are of noise-certificated standards. That leaves 82 per cent. that are not. Quite a large proportion of the 62 airlines using Heathrow are continuing to buy noisy aircraft which have a life of about 20 years. The hush kits to which the Department referred in a recent document have been shown not to be cost effective. There is no prospect for advance in that direction.

It is the frequency of aircraft that causes the most suffering. Already there are about 600 flights a day in and out of Heathrow. It is true that there has been a small drop this year as a result of the oil crisis, but anyone who has studied the problem will know that that is no more than a temporary hiccup in the upward trend in the number of aircraft moving in and out of Heathrow. By the middle or late 1980s, assuming, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) says, that the number of passengers has increased to 50 million a year, the number of aircraft will not have increased so dramatically as we should have more large aircraft, but there will be about 900 or 1,000 movements per day.

The decision to drop Maplin makes it inevitable in the long term that more and more aircraft will be crammed through Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and perhaps Stansted. I do not believe that the Government or the Liberal Party have faced the environmental consequences.

In an Adjournment debate I said, I refer to the problem of aircraft noise—a problem which nobody with any personal experience of living under the noise shadow of a major airport would dream of belittling. This is a serious problem which causes a great deal of human suffering, ruins people's quiet enjoyment of houses and gardens, interrupts the work of schools, churches, hospitals and offices, and interferes with people's private lives, their telephone conversations, their opportunities to listen to gramophone records or watch television."—[Official Report, 27th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1928.] It must be admitted that it is a problem that some people do not mind very much, but to many others it causes real hurt. To a minority it causes serious anguish, and for a small number it causes mental illness, as was shown recently by some studies at the West Middlesex Hospital.

That is why I say the Bill is a disaster. Responsibility for this disaster must lie with the Liberal Party as well as with the Government. The Liberals have always been totally hostile to the Maplin project. I am sorry to see that none of the 13 Members of the Liberal Party, which pretends to be concerned with the environment, has taken the trouble to be present at any part of this debate so far. It is an important debate from an environmental view and their total absence is a disgrace.

If any Labour or Liberal Member is thinking of visiting any part of my constituency, I offer them some friendly advice, namely, to come in the winter rather than the summer, when the suffering from aircraft noise is at its most acute.

Fortunately the plans for Maplin have not been destroyed but put on the shelf. I hope that before long economic conditions will change for the better and allow the scheme to be resurrected.

6.58 p.m.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), in presiding over the last rites of Maplin, I too shall shed a tear on its passing. Before doing so, and before my mind is made up, I ask the Minister to give us a number of assurances.

I represent a constituency a few miles to the east of Gatwick. Into and out of Gatwick fly thousands of aeroplanes which leave their noise behind them. No doubt as the passengers look down from the aeroplanes they see some of the most beautiful country in the South-East and, indeed, in any part of the United Kingdom. It may be thought in passing that the problem is of small consequence compared with the one that faces those who live under the noise of aircraft moving in and out of Heathrow, but it is true to say that if one lives in a quieter ambience the intrusion of one or two aeroplanes can be more significant than the intrusion that is felt, for example, close to Piccadilly Circus, where the noise of aircraft is so often drowned by the noise of surrounding traffic.

It is not my purpose to suggest that our problem is as serious as that felt by those who live close to Heathrow. However, as we are all invited to support the demise of Maplin. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a number of assurances.

There is a growing suspicion that it was not cost alone that led the Government and hon. Members on both sides of the House to kill off the project but the fact that it is easier for Governments and politicians to allow existing airports to grow slowly—it is called creeping incrementalism—rather than taking a bold, positive and imaginative step. Such a move was taken by the French when they constructed the Charles de Gaulle airport.

The only way that we can solve this problem on our crowded island is by constructing an airport by the sea. It is easier, it is argued, because we have become used to aeroplanes, to allow another terminal to be built. Ministers know—I make no criticism of the present Minister, who I know take these matters seriously—that it is easier to allow a terminal to grow because it develops within the curtilage of an airport and there is no need for the British Airports Authority to approach the local authority or any of those who have to suffer the consequences of its planinng decisions.

If the Bill becomes an Act, the problem is thrust back at the House. We cannot get rid of it by creeping incrementalism. It is a serious social problem for those who happen to live within the sound of airport activity. People in the South-East are noted for their tolerance. They did not take to the streets even under this Government, they are not the sort of people who rush out on great protest marches, but I suggest that it would be unwise to assume that because we have had Gatwick airport for the past 25 years people do not regard with considerable anguish the manner in which the airport has been allowed to develop.

I quote from a document that was issued by the responsible Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign. It refers to the beautiful summer we have just experienced and states: How frequently were we forced indoors by the stridency of overhead jets, and then compelled to shut windows so that we could converse or listen to radio or television. When we go to bed, we must decide whether to risk losing sleep through shut windows and lack of air or through open windows and too much noise…. We feel all the more bitter because this never need have been. The need for a coastal airport was evident 10 years ago.

It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under the Standing Order (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.