It is not fair to suggest that the Government have an ultimate objective of increasing the number of passengers through Stansted airport to 25 million per annum. All that has been agreed to date is that planning permission exists for 15 million passengers per annum. The House will determine whether it proceeds beyond 7 million or 8 million passengers per annum. Any question of Stansted increasing to 25 million passengers, Gatwick increasing beyond 25 million or Heathrow increasing beyond the present 38 million or 40 million passengers will be debated in the wider context of airports generally. The Government do not have a stated policy on increasing passenger numbers but recognise that perhaps they will need to determine where further capacity is located. That would be a very wide debate.
I ask my hon. Friend to elaborate on the figure of 78,000 air traffic movements. When Gatwick reached approximately 8 million passengers per annum about eight years ago, that involved slightly over 100,000 ATMs. One accepts that some allowance must be made for increased load factors in the imervening years, and therefore is plausible that the figure of 78,000 equates with 7 million to 8 million per annum.
However, I notice that the press notice published by the Department, to which the hon. Gentleman for West Bromwich, East referred, says that the order would apply to about 16,000 movements per annum at Stansted at present. If one looks at the mathematics in another way, if that figure of 16,000 is correct now and if the present figure of approximately 550,000 passengers per annum is to be multiplied by only five, that would not take the figure very near to 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum. There is clearly much guesswork, and many alternative theories can be offered, in arriving at that figure of 78,000.
That difference between Gatwick in 1979, from over 100,000 down to 78,000, has interesting implications—I do not wish to cause palpitations to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground)—not least for the capacity of the terminals at Heathrow, if fewer movements are required to carry a larger number of people. We must look at this carefully. I accept that an honest attempt has been made on the breakdown of the figures to produce the figure of 78,000, but how will it work in practice? This is an untried device and the airport operators may be concerned if the calculations that have been made, albeit with full input from themselves, prove, in the event, to be wide of the mark.
One could envisage a situation arising within the course of the 12 months, when, after a particularly busy burst of traffic, which may be of rather small aircraft with low passenger load factors, pressure suddenly builds up and one runs out of movements. How often will my hon. Friend have to come back to the House to seek an amendment to this statutory instrument in order to deal with an unfortunate failure to predict the exact pattern of the build-up of development at Stansted?
We must be fairly cautious about this instrument. It is untried and untested and may lead to some difficulties in practice. The variables are considerable, as my hon. Friend has been honest enough to admit. I must tell the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East that, if, instead of fixing a figure for the intended maximum throughput at Stansted, a smaller figure should be chosen on a graduated basis, it would only compound the difficulties because the more one admits that the variables are suspect, the more trouble one would be it. If my hon. Friend came to the House and suggested a limit of only 20,000 or 25,000, we would soon be in considerable trouble. I understand the hon. Gentlemen's point, but that is not realistic. One must go for the maximum figure, as my hon. Friend has done, as long as one accepts that it may not be perfectly right. None of us can be sure how air traffic will build up. The House may be asked to amend this statutory instrument ahead of the time when it is asked to consider it in the light of the expansion of Stansted terminal, if that time comes.
The Government have decided to exclude general aviation movements from the calculation. I realise that the Government still have the power to include general aviation in the order if they wish, but have chosen not to do so. It is worrying to my constituents that general avaiation is not counted, particularly in the light of the obvious interest of Stansted Airport Ltd. in attracting its own good share of such general aviation business that is going. My constituents' fears in that respect may be exaggerated. I say that with some humility. General aviation movements tend to be of quieter aircraft which do not operate at anti-social hours, and while at the moment they represent a fairly significant proportion of the total number of movements at Stansted, I recognise that that proportion is likely to decline in future.
Nevertheless, I hope that my hon. Friend will give an undertaking to look at the position. It may be helpful and reassuring to people living in the area to have an early idea of the Government's proposals regarding noise limitation and sound-proofing schemes. It may be through that avenue that one can provide the environmental protection that would cover general aviation movements rather than through the mechanism of the statutory instrument that we are discussing. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that and realise that to some people aircraft movements are still aircraft movements even if they are not ATMs in the technical sense that we are discussing.
I appreciate the indulgence of the House while I have been making my points. If and when the time comes that the House is asked to consider raising the limit from 78,000, I hope that it will be recognised that that should not be confined to an hour-and-a-half's debate on a statutory instrument after 10 o'clock. If we reach that point, we shall be discussing the wider implications of Britain's airport policy and many hon. Members will wish to discuss that. I hope that my hon. Friend will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will bear in mind the desire of hon. Members on both sides of the House from wide geographical areas to contribute to such a debate and that would not be possible in a debate such as we are having tonight. Having said that, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the prompt manner in which the Government's promise has been fulfilled. I hope that the Minister's calculations are proved to be right in practice and that we can underline the protection and limitation for my constituents that the Government have promised all along.