Last week, when making his announcement, the Secretary of State said:
Our policy … envisages the provision of a fourth terminal at Heathrow".—[Official Report, 1st February 1978; Vol. 943, c. 456.]
As the Government have agreed, following representations from my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) and Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) and myself, to set up a public planning inquiry into a fourth terminal at Heathrow, on which the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) has expressed strong reservations, is the Secretary of State able to convince me or the public that he and the Government will look impartially at the evidence presented to the public inquiry on aircraft noise and other matters against a fourth terminal—or is the whole thing a public relations exercise?
First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his recovery after his accident and wish him well.
We have decided to set up a public inquiry into a fourth terminal at Heathrow. The White Paper makes perfectly clear the Government's attitude to the necessity for a fourth terminal at Heathrow. That in no way brings in question the impartiality of the public inquiry.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the idea put forward in the White Paper for the development of Biggin Hill as a kind of mini-Heathrow is nonsensical? It may have been suitable for a war-time fighter station and in peace time for club flying, but is it not out of the question, on environmental grounds alone, for it to be developed as a first-class airport?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, unless a positive decision about another London airport is taken rapidly, we shall soon have such slum conditions at Heathrow that it will be virtually impossible to attract travellers? It is because people want to travel to Heathrow that it is grossly overloaded at present.
My hon. Friend will be aware that by the end of this year I hope that conditions at Heathrow will have been greatly improved by the provision of additional capacity. I certainly appreciate the difficulties caused by the present congestion at Heathrow. This emphasises the importance of the programme for diverting traffic to Gatwick, about which I made an announcement last April and which is referred to in the White Paper.
I do not think that this implies the necessity for a decision about a new airport at this time. There is still time before such a decision has to be made.
Will the Secretary of State explain why Blackbushe has been excluded from the section headed "General Aviation", bearing in mind that the CAA has always given Blackbushe its support as one of the big six general aviation airfields and there is no other airfield with hard runways in this part of England that could possibly replace it?
The position about Blackbushe is to be determined, in the first instance, by its owners in consultation with the local authority. I am afraid that there is no other comment that I can make on that today.
Is the Secretary of State aware that many people feel that the decision has already been taken about the next major London airport and that that decision is that it is to be Stansted? Is he further aware that many people feel that the Department of Trade has been determined for a long time to make Stansted a major airport in spite of public inquiries which have come out against that decision?
I am certainly aware that many people think the decision has already been taken. I suppose that it was inevitable, when there are proposals in the White Paper that Stansted should take 4 million passengers, that people should assume that the decision has been taken. In fact, the options set out in the White Paper for the provision of services after 1990 are genuine options and there is no intention in the White Paper to foreclose this decision.
Will my right hon. Friend repudiate any suggestion that Stansted is to be the third London airport? Will he make it clear that many of us who are concerned about the development of air traffic in the London area generally, and are concerned also about Heathrow and Gatwick, think that it would be much more sensible for much of that traffic to be dispersed to the provinces?
I emphasised to my hon. Friend on Wednesday, and it is emphasised in the White Paper, that in the White Paper we state three options. Everything possible will be done to divert traffic from the South-East to the rest of the country. One of the steps towards achieving that will be the concentration on regional airports. Nevertheless, no one should exaggerate the possibilities of diversion from the South-East. Therefore, it is necessary for us to study the three options as rapidly as we can as trends in traffic become clearer.
Is not the only real option for a major airport, taking us into the 1990s, from Stansted, a green field site? Is it not the case that if we are to have the necessary airport capacity in the late 1980s and 1990s the planning for a greenfield site has to start very soon? The Government have avoided this issue.
I do not believe that the Government have avoided any issue upon which it is important to take decisions now. There are the three options of Stansted, a military airport, or, as the hon. Gentleman says, a green field site. But, despite the forecasts that have been made, which are the best that we can now make, the traffic trends are not sufficiently established for us to commit the enormous expenditure that would be involved at this time.
It is far more sensible to allow a little time to pass to see how traffic trends develop. As the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, 1977 was a special year and may be totally untypical. The increase in traffic in 1977 compared with that in 1976 was below the low trend of the forecast in the White Paper. Therefore, to reserve the position at the moment until the traffic trends become established is a sensible view to take.