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Department of Transport
[Relevant document : First Report from the Transport Committee of Session 1988-89 on Air Traffic Control Safety (House of Commons Paper No. 198) and the Third Special Report : Government Observations on the First Report (House of Commons Paper No. 407)]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £156,213,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1990 for expenditure by the Department of Transport on assistance to shipping ; civil aviation ; central administration ; certain licensing and testing schemes ; research and development ; road safety and certain other transport services ; including civil defence, grants in aid, international subscriptions, and residual expenses associated with the privatisation of transport industries.-- [Mr. Peter Bottomley.]
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) : Select Committee inquiries are often topical at the time when the Committee agrees to carry out an inquiry. However, when the final report is presented to the House the passage of events and of time have usually made the report of little public interest. That is not the case in relation to the report of the Transport Select Committee on air traffic control safety and runway capacity and the Government's response to it. Our report is even more topical and of greater public interest now than the subject was some 17 months ago in February 1988 when we agreed to conduct our inquiry. We began our inquiry at a time of increasing public concern about the safety of the skies over the United Kingdom following a number of air misses. It quickly became a time of increasing public annoyance at airport congestion, delays to summer holidays and so on.
Now the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that almost all air travellers experience delays at some time, regardless of the month in which they travel. Those of us who travel weekly, and often wearily, are too well aware of the situation which, sadly, I fear will only get worse in the next five years before it starts to get better, if it ever does. I wrote most of my remarks for tonight's debate to pass my time during an air traffic control delay between Glasgow and London today.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that Edinburgh was also affected by similar delays. The 12.40 British Midland flight finally took off at 3.40, three hours late.
I have already referred to air misses or near misses. Perhaps "air hits" or "near hits" would be more appropriate descriptions. I must stress, however, that Britain has an excellent record of air traffic control safety and that reflects great credit on everyone concerned. I also
Column 740stress that our inquiry revealed no concrete evidence to suggest that safety was definitely at risk. However, no one can guarantee 100 per cent. safety, 100 per cent. of the time. With ever- increasing demand, pressures on staff, shortages and general all-round pressures, there is always the possibility of an accident occurring. I certainly hope that one does not happen and, if our report goes some way towards preventing any such accident, it will have been well worth while.
This was the Committee's major inquiry during 1988. I am grateful to the Liaison Committee for recommending this estimate for debate today. I am also extremely grateful to the other 10 members, of all parties, of the Select Committee on Transport for the hard work which they put into the compilation of the report and also to the Committee staff for their efforts on our behalf. I should also like to thank our two specialist advisers, Mr. Bill Woodruff, the former group director and controller of National Air Traffic Services, and Mr. David Learmount, the transport editor of Flight International. Thanks are also due to the 11 groups of witnesses who gave oral evidence to the Committee and the 72 individuals and organisations who submitted written memoranda on the subject to the Committee. Those included my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). Our report is published in three volumes and contains 283 pages of evidence, 105 pages of appendices and 47 recommendations from the Committee which were agreed to by all parties represented on the Committee.
No one disputes that transport in Britain is in a mess. Congested airports, overcrowded trains and tubes, motorway tailbacks for miles and traffic jams on all main roads are commonplace. That is hardly surprising in view of almost 10 years of Government neglect in failing to provide adequate infrastructure or to take proper cognisance of the fact that transport policy involves public safety, along with a prolonged ability by almost everyone involved to underestimate the demand for all modes of travel. The present Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), inherited this bed of nails.
I have the highest regard for the right hon. Gentleman who is the first Secretary of State for Transport in my 10 years in the House to take a genuine interest in transport. Perhaps these kind words will be the kiss of death for him, but I sincerely hope not. However, although he may care deeply about transport and has developed a good working relationship with the Select Committee, which its members appreciate, I cannot agree with or understand many of his decisions, or non-decisions, on transport policies.
The Secretary of State is still not making the right decisions about the nation's transportation needs, or making them fast enough, as our report will show. I had hoped that the Secretary of State would be present to participate in this debate. Unfortunately, he is not here. I understand that the Minister for Roads and Traffic will participate. However, while he will do his best, it will still be only second best, which is typical of the Government's attitude to transport.
Unfortunately, this debate is not about all aspects of transport, but only about the narrow although vital matter of air traffic control safety. However, there is enough evidence in the report to bear out what I have said. No doubt many hon. Members from both sides of the House will pick up many points from the report, as well as
Column 741making specific remarks about their own localities. I shall concentrate on a few main general points of interest as well as those of interest in Scotland.
In his press release of 15 June, announcing the Government's response to the report, the Secretary of State said that several of the Committee's recommendations corresponded to measures that had already been implemented during the past year. I should like to think that the Committee's deliberations had provided a useful forum for discussion of the issues and been of some use in guiding the Department and the Civil Aviation Authority in their response to the problems of air traffic control as they developed. That is perhaps one of the best and most important roles performed by Select Committees.
The Secretary of State went on to say that he and the Civil Aviation Authority broadly accepted the analysis and agreed with the majority of the Committee's recommendations. I welcome that statement and compliment the Secretary of State on his actions. However, the recommendations not accepted, or continued for further consideration, are those which, perhaps, give greatest cause for concern. In some of his responses, the Secretary of State appears to accept the 1985 White Paper on airports policy as the be- all and end-all of aviation policy. But it is now four years or more out of date. Since then, the aviation world has moved ahead at a rate that no one forecast or anticipated. The right hon. Gentleman should immediately commission a review and an update of the 1985 White Paper. A 1990 White Paper would come to different conclusions.
Our report contains bad news and good news. The bad news relates to the history of air traffic control since 1975. The good news involves what is being done, and will be done, to deal with the issue, even if those actions are being taken five years or more too late. Sadly, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which produced a report on national air traffic services in 1983, noted that the CAA had sought a 15 per cent. cut in manpower between the years 1975 and 1977, and that this had been achieved, although over a longer period. After 1982, there was increased pressure from the Department and the CAA to find further ways of saving manpower and the then five-year corporate plan contained a target reduction in staff of 7.4 per cent. It seemed to us that little or no account was taken over the years of the possible need for additional and increasing commitments or of the certainty of increasing traffic. In addition, account was not taken of the need for more air traffic control staff to deal with the planning of new systems and developments or of the need to allow for the considerable time that elapses between recruitment and the operational availability of air traffic controllers. The Civil Aviation Authority, under pressure from the Department, continued to seek ways of cutting staff levels and, it appeared to us, adopted recruiting targets on the basis of over-optimistic assumptions about what was practical.
The chairman of the CAA admitted that, with the benefit of hindsight,
"reductions were carried too far"
"the whole thrust of the MMC investigation as late as 1983 was down that road."
The Institution of Professional Civil Servants noted that only three years ago, in 1986, the Civil Aviation Authority stated that it had a surplus of at least 135 air traffic
Column 742controllers and that early retirement had been proposed to reduce the surplus. Not surprisingly, that led the IPCS to express a lack of confidence in the CAA and its forecasting abilities. With such a history of lack of foresight and undue pressure for reductions in staff levels, it is hardly surprising that there is now a serious shortage of air traffic controllers in this country.
Happily, the Civil Aviation Authority has begun to put its house in order. I believe that the chairman of the CAA, Christopher Tugendhat, is determined to make great improvements. However, that will take time and it will be at least five or six years before everything is completed. I am grateful to him for sending me a copy of his news release of 5 July, detailing 24 points regarding his £600 million investment programme for the next 10 years.
Recommendations 10 and 26 in our report refer to the need for crucial decisions to be made about future runway capacity, especially in the south- east, and add that, despite everything, a second runway should be provided at Gatwick. I accept that there is unlikely to be a second runway at Gatwick, but there should be. The world's airlines estimate that demand for air travel will grow two and a half times between 1989 and 2005. It does not take a genius to realise that more than a fair share of that increase will take place in the south-east of England or to forecast that Heathrow, Gatwick, and even Stansted, will have reached saturation long before the year 2000.
If there is to be no second runway at Gatwick--and it is almost 1990--and as it takes, on average, 12 years from the date of decision to complete a new runway, there will be no new runway in the south-east of England to meet the demand by the year 2000 unless someone somewhere gets his finger out now. I have been told that the cost to airlines of a one-minute delay for a 757 aircraft is £150 and for a 747 aircraft it is £900. If those figures are correct, they are staggering and who knows what the annual cost could be, based on the delays that occur?
We are only too well aware of the problems of congestion and of the massive additional costs that it imposes on airlines, business and industry. It causes extreme annoyance, upset and even heartbreak to passengers. We really need national, European and international aviation policies that will meet the needs of passengers and of safety, not those of vested interests. Speaking of vested interests, the British Airports Authority has been criticised by some Conservative Members on the Committee for acting as a private monopoly and for being more concerned with selling franchises in airports and with increasing profits at the expense of airport users than with furthering the wider interests of British aviation. Perhaps a return to the public sector or the breaking up of its monopoly might find all- party agreement.
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : Surely one of the reasons why the British Airports Authority has successfully branched out into spheres of activity other than providing services for air travellers is that it operates on a price control of RPI minus 1 per cent. Perhaps we should re-examine that formula ; if we give the authority more scope for making more money out of providing the services that it should provide, on which it lost £15 million last year, while making a total profit of £198 million overall it might switch its attention to providing the sort of services that we want it to provide.
Mr. Marshall : The profits just announced by the BAA seem to show general agreement with the points I have made about it. It certainly operates different charging policies at different airports. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to say something in support of the BAA later on.
An example of BAA's possible inadequacy relates to new runways and traffic forecasts. Its forecast for growth in traffic is based on an annual average growth rate of 4.5 per cent. for passengers and 2 per cent. for air transport movements. The figures are necessarily speculative, but the Civil Aviation Authority puts the annual growth rate for air transport movements at 2.5 per cent. Although there would appear to be little difference between the two bodies' estimates, the CAA figures clearly show the need for a new runway at the turn of the century. The BAA places undue reliance on the expectation that passengers will travel on larger aircraft. That is the point that it put to us, but the figures do not bear it out. Over the past 10 years the average number of passengers per aircraft at Heathrow has increased by only 11 per cent., whereas passenger growth in the same period has been 34 per cent. The BAA appears to think that London's existing airports will be able to cope until after the turn of the century, but it is alone in that view, and alone in assuming that a new runway can be conceived, planned and built in less than 10 years.
We heard none of the necessary urgency from Sir Norman Payne or his officials when they appeared before us. I find it hard to understand their attitude unless it is entirely influenced by their desire to develop Stansted more quickly than originally envisaged.
The Secretary of State should go all out to encourage much greater use of regional airports such as Birmingham and Glasgow for international and intercontinental flights. That would help to reduce some of the pressure on the south-east, as recommendation 23 of the report suggests
The decision not to grant gateway status to Glasgow airport and allow transatlantic and intercontinental flights from Abbotsinch is disgraceful. Almost everyone in Scotland wants gateway status for Glasgow and even, perhaps, for Edinburgh. I shall mention only the CBI, the Glasgow chamber of commerce, Glasgow district council-- Mr. Foulkes rose --
Mr. Marshall : I shall give way in a minute. Many more jobs could be created if Glasgow were given gateway status. A number of British, European and American airlines would operate new services and Glasgow would become a minihub providing better services to more destinations for the people of Scotland. I hope that that would also end the scandalous surcharges that holiday companies extort from tourists who have to travel to the south and go on holiday.
Mr. Foulkes : My hon. Friend is talking a load of rubbish. First, he mixed up transatlantic flights and European holiday flights. No one denies that Glasgow airport should have more direct flights to Europe and
Column 744more European holiday flights, but it should not take away the transatlantic flights which sustain Prestwick airport. That would be the death knell of Prestwick, and Glasgow does not have the runway capacity or terminal and ground facilities to deal with such traffic.
My hon. Friend is wrong to say that opinion in Scotland supports Glasgow airport's bid for transatlantic status. The Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish council of the Labour party, with which my hon. Friend is not unconnected, have made it clear, as have many other bodies, including district councils, Strathclyde regional council and others, that they want Prestwick to remain as Scotland's transatlantic gateway, prospering in association with Glasgow airport in a joint role. I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that and will think again.
Mr. Marshall : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's speech, but he has not got it right. He has allowed his blinkers to conceal the right path from him. Apart from Ayrshire Members of all parties and the Secretary of State for Scotland, very few people in Scotland believe that Glasgow, and perhaps even Edinburgh, should not have gateway status.
Mr. Foulkes : I do not know whether my hon. Friend realises that Sir Norman Payne convened a meeting which 25 Scottish Members of all four parties representing Scotland attended. No one spoke against Prestwick having sole transatlantic status ; all speeches were in favour. That proves my hon. Friend entirely wrong.
Mr. Marshall : I, in turn, draw my hon. Friend's attention to the poll of all 72 Scottish Members carried out recently by the Daily Record. It gave the opposite point of view, and it was the first time Members had been asked to state whether they were in favour of gateway status for Glasgow airport. Our hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) attended the meeting with the BAA a fortnight ago, when we were told that the new generation of aircraft would have no difficulty flying from Glasgow to the west coast of the United States. It is not true that Glasgow is unsuitable for transatlantic flights : it is perfectly suitable.
Glasgow will never be a hub to rival Heathrow, Gatwick or even Manchester, but if it does not get gateway status Manchester will become Scotland's gateway airport. All the additional expense of the road and rail links mooted for Prestwick, which are admirable for the infrastructure for the west of Scotland, will not generate enough additional passengers ever to make Prestwick a hub. To give Glasgow gateway status would not mean the death of Prestwick, as my hon. Friend suggests. Prestwick is an excellent airport with excellent facilities and staff and it will always have a future. About 4,500 jobs are located there--with British Aerospace, the Ministry of Defence and Caledonian Air Motive, and new developments are announced every week. About 250 people are employed
Mr. Foulkes : Is my hon. Friend not aware that four major announcements have been made--one by the CAA, one by British Aerospace, a third by Caledonian Air Motive and the last by TNT (UK) Ltd? All four decisions follow the wise decision by the Secretary of State for Transport- -I never thought I would say that--to maintain Prestwick's sole transatlantic status. The decisions follow
Column 745that decision and depend on it to a large extent. If the Secretary of State had taken my hon. Friend's advice, these welcome decisions might not have been taken.
Mr. Marshall : I am touched by the unholy alliance between my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), the Secretary of State for Defence, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Transport. We are considering what is in the best interests of Scotland's aviation future, and that has to be gateway status for Glasgow. I hope that the Secretary of State for Transport will reconsider his decision and in the fullness of time will change his mind. At the end of the day it is Glasgow's future that matters and the decision is a bad one for Scotland's future in transport.
On another Scottish issue, the Civil Aviation Authority has an initiative to pinpoint flight delays and airline punctuality at selected British airports and publish the figures monthly. Six airports--Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Manchester and Stansted--have been chosen, but not a single Scottish airport is on the list. Why is that, bearing in mind that Anglo-Scottish shuttle flights are arguably the busiest domestic services in the United Kingdom? It is still not too late to include Scotland in this initiative and the Secretary of State or the chairman of the CAA should do so as soon as possible.
I am pleased to see that in the response to recommendation (xxxii) National Air Traffic Services is studying the feasibility of a new east coast airway between Newcastle and Clacton. That is urgently needed to relieve some of the pressure on the overcrowded Daventry airway. I should like to see a decrease in the amount of air space reserved exclusively for military use. I would welcome an early announcement on recommendation (xxxviii). That recommendation states that a location for the new London air traffic control centre should be decided upon "without further delay" if it is to be operational by 1996. That is crucial to the whole strategy for the future. When and where is it to be built? Perhaps the Minister will give us some information about that.
I shall now turn to a major recommendation, at least in the areas of organisation and administration. It is the recommendation that the Government examine the possibility of splitting the CAA into two separate self-standing organisations. The CAA would retain all its regulatory functions while NATS would be established as a separate public sector body. I thought that the Department would reject that recommendation out of hand. The House can imagine my surprise at reading the Government's response which states :
"This is an important recommendation which requires thorough consideration. The Government will respond in due course." Unfortunately, I do not think that that shows a willingness to accept our recommendation. I suspect that it is a hint that the Government have the CAA on their list of targets for privatisation. Perhaps the Minister could clarify the matter.
On Eurocontrol the Government's response to recommendation (xxxi) is encouraging. I hope that they and the CAA will pursue the matter with the utmost vigour as they say they will. A large part of the problem is in Europe which is comparable in size and population with the United States of America where the Federal Aviation Authority standardises equipment and procedures for the whole of the United States. We need and must eventually
Column 746achieve a similar set-up in Europe. We need a central European system of air traffic control covering all 22 European countries and not just the EC countries. Eurocontrol must become a reality whether one or two of our leaders like it or not.
If our Select Committee inquiry and report have gone even a little way towards making the skies above our country a bit safer, they will have been well worth while.
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) and his Committee on their most excellent first report on air traffic control safety. The Committee interviewed an impressive list of experts in the field and the numerous memoranda submitted to the Committee make interesting reading.
We address this subject at a time when a great deal is happening in air transport. We are seeing rapid technological and commercial change. The legal and institutional frameworks are being transformed and the European Community is in the process of getting a single European market in air transport as in other sectors. We have recently had the first measure of liberalisation in Europe which enables small aircraft to fly between regional airports. Another measure is due in 1990. If the internal market in air transport is to be achieved by the target date of 1 January 1993 there must be substantial advance in the next stage of liberalisation that we will see in June 1990. It is within the context of those changes that we are addressing the recommendations of the Committee.
I suggest that the measures that we want adopted in the next stage of liberalisation should include, first, the freedom for airlines to set their own fares, subject only to safeguards against anti-competitive practices. Secondly, we need the opening of all routes between member states and, thirdly, the removal of capacity constraints on services between member states. Fourthly, existing limits on multiple designation should be removed and, fifthly, we need further liberalisation of passenger services. Sixthly, we need the full liberalisation of all cargo services. Seventhly, we want to see endorsed the effectiveness of competition rules by a review of block exemption regulations. Lastly, we must have equality of opportunity between member states, and that must be safeguarded by uniform criteria throughout the Community for route licensing and effective control of state aid to airlines.
Within a liberalised Europe we must have a level playing field, and at the moment too many of our partners in Europe profess to think towards liberalisation while practising state control and assistance against countries such as the United Kingdom where domestic liberalisation has already occurred to a large extent and where the industry is based on free enterprise operating in a free market. I should like to highlight some of the changes which are currently seen in civil aviation and which are important to bear in mind when considering these recommendations. First, there is strong pressure on airlines, and on those companies and organisations that provide services for airlines, to increase efficiency and to lower costs. We are beginning to see new route planning, operational methods and market domination through the hubs. We are also beginning to see the concentration of market power in the hands of a few very large carriers. That is happening in the
Column 747United States of America where the six biggest carriers operate more than 50 per cent. of the services. That could happen in Europe through mergers and acquisitions, some of which cross frontiers. We have seen the recent British Airways arrangements with Sabena and perhaps the Select Committee on Transport would like to address that issue next.
We are beginning to see increasing control of feeder operations by the major carriers and increased air space and airport congestion and additional problems about the availability of slots at airports. The circumstances in which the Select Committee looks at those difficulties are trying and the problems are difficult to resolve.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : I am trying hard to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. Does he agree that the matters that he has listed are the result of deregulation, especially in America? Is that not what capitalism is about? What does he object to if on the one hand he says he wants further liberalisation while on the other hand he says that if this happens the largest and strongest will take the best of the market? I am not quite clear about that.
Mr. Colvin : It is difficult to explain, but there is a fundamental difference between liberalisation and total deregulation. In the United States the industry was totally deregulated and that created a free-for- all. One of the experts on the subject is Mr. Michael Levine who is well known to those with an interest in civil aviation. He dreamed up the whole concept of deregulation in the United States and Mr. Alfred Kahn administered it on behalf of President Carter when he was elected. It has not worked out as anticipated by the gurus who dreamed it up. If we had asked them, way back, to use their crystal ball, they would never have envisaged that the industry in the United States would have its present structure.
We want to learn from the American mistakes. I do not believe that Europe should go for a total free-for-all. That is why I carefully used the word "liberalisation" rather than total deregulation. The United Kingdom is in a much stronger position, because of the strength of its domestic carriers, to capitalise on the liberalisation that we hope will take place in Europe. Plenty of our entrepreneurs are beginning to jump the hurdles that are likely to be placed in their way in Europe. Air Europe is a very good example. Majority shareholdings are being taken in companies that are being set up in member countries. The national frontiers that we hope will come down in 1992 are already being jumped by some airliners from a legal point of view. That is thoroughly healthy.
The other problem is the rapid expansion of the industry. The number of passengers using British airports by the year 2005, which is only 15 years away, is expected to double to 123 million. Most of those passengers will use airports in the south-east.
The Committee has carried out its inquiry at a time when there is growing anger over delays at airports and occasional anxiety over safety. However, I stress what the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Shettleston, has just said : travelling by air is still the safest way of travelling and that it is getting safer every year. I have just been told that delays at Heathrow are now up to two hours and that pilots and air traffic control officers are
Column 748beginning to have rows. The relations between air traffic control officers and the pilots flying the aircraft are normally extremely good, but now the tension is mounting. That bodes ill for safety. When people become edgy and irritable, the safety factor has to be watched extremely carefully.
I hope that the Minister will tell us whether he thinks that the national air traffic control system is coping with the problem at Heathrow. Where is the leadership and the good line management that we need? What about the working practices of air traffic control officers? It is a man management problem at Heathrow as much as any other. I believe that it must be resolved.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : Does my hon. Friend agree that in many cases the delays are the result of the universal application of flow control, which has detracted from air safety, although the whole purpose of introducing flow control was to increase safety?
I am delighted that in its recommendations the Committee stressed the safety factor. I am also pleased that the Committee dealt first with people when addressing the problem of air traffic control. Air traffic control is an extremely difficult task. People of the highest calibre are required. Those of us who have seen air traffic controllers at work appreciate the stress under which they are put. They must be fully trained, rewarded properly for the task that they do and encouraged to do better. I am glad that the Civil Aviation Authority is to recruit an additional 140 officers to help to put right some of their past mistakes. Pay, promotion prospects and working conditions are all factors that are of the greatest importance if we are to encourage the right sort of people into air traffic control. I am very glad that retired air traffic controllers have been recruited to train the new ones. That is a move in the right direction.
Air traffic controllers have to shoulder terrific responsibilities. If we put in place the right pay structure, working structure and conditions of employment to attract the right people there ought then to be a no strike agreement. I know it will be pointed out that the only country that has a no strike agreement with air traffic controllers is Greece, yet that is the one country where the air traffic controllers are constantly on strike, so a no strike agreement is said to be no good. The fact is that they do not go on strike ; they just report sick. The right people who will become responsible air traffic controllers have to be the sort of people who serve in the armed forces and the police. They do not expect to have to go on strike. That is why the pay and working conditions of air traffic controllers must be right.
I am very pleased that the Committee recommended that there should be a second runway at Gatwick. I point out, however, that a second runway at Gatwick already exists, although for most of the time it is used as a taxiway. It would be possible for the British Airports Authority to make a new taxiway at Gatwick. The authority already owns sufficient land to make room for it. The planning consent at Gatwick includes a section 52 agreement under which no second runway should be built for another 40 years or so. However, the runway is already there. All that
Column 749is necessary is a lengthening of that runway. Then it could be used for one of the purposes for which it was originally intended. There would still be room elsewhere at the airport to taxi the aircraft. The two runways could be used together--one for take- offs and the other for landings without aircraft interfering with one another. It is high time that those hon. Members with constituencies around Gatwick became a little less Luddite in their attitude to a very important asset.
I am pleased about the Committee's recommendation concerning military airports. That recommendation is particularly important for business aviation. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) is in the Chamber. One possibility is that business aviation that at present uses Heathrow should use Northolt. That could work quite well. The runway would need to be realigned, but I am told by executive and business travellers that it would be easy for Northolt passengers to interline with scheduled flights at Heathrow.
I am pleased about the recommendation concerning Bournemouth and Southampton airports, both of which are close to my constituency. A deal between the two airports--for Bournemouth to handle all charter traffic and for Southampton to handle all the scheduled traffic--would mean that those two regional airports could carve up the business between them instead of competing head on and doing each other commercial damage.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : As I am sure that there are no Luddites in the Bournemouth and Southampton areas, could the hon. Gentleman explain what he expects Luddites such as the Foreign Secretary to do in relation to Gatwick? This is a serious problem. What is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that Members of Parliament should do in relation to Gatwick?
Mr. Colvin : Legislation would be needed for a second runway at Gatwick if a completely new runway had to be built. That is why I say that powerful forces within Government are working against that. I take the view that some of them ought to be a little more public spirited. That is what I mean by being Luddite.
As to the key to a better air traffic control system in Europe, I believe that the United Kingdom joined Eurocontrol in 1973. I remember being lobbied as far back as 1975 by air traffic control officers who wanted the United Kingdom to be a full member, not just an associate member, of Eurocontrol. At that time most of the lobby was concerned about pay and working conditions and had very little to do with air traffic control. Now the circumstances have completely changed and there is no doubt that all the people who clamour for a pan-European air traffic control system must have in mind Eurocontrol as the basis for that system.
In May 1988 the European Parliament Transport Committee passed a resolution that Eurocontrol be expanded. It recognised the need for an integrated system of air traffic control in western European air space. It felt that the European Parliament had taken the view that the responsibility for this should be conferred on an enlarged Eurocontrol as that would maximise air transport safety, achieve better utilisation of air space and result in speedier handling of traffic, the reduction of air fares, greater passenger convenience, fewer diversions, sounder co-ordination of military and civil air transport and a host of
Column 750other things. A year ago, when the European Parliament debated this important issue, it reached precisely the same conclusions as the Select Committee.
I am glad that the Select Committee recommended that the LATCC II site should go ahead with all possible haste. When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, I should like to know where the LATCC II site is. In their response to the Committee the Government said that the Department of Transport was working on an initial project investment appraisal, yet I do not believe that a planning application for any site has been submitted.
Mr. Colvin : That is the prepared answer, for what it is worth. We have heard some mention of the £600 million that the Civil Aviation Authority has already committed to air traffic control. I am glad to hear that the chairman of the CAA, Christopher Tugendhat, is well on the way to spending that £600 million on his investment programme and other matters. Last year he spent £50 million on a new chain of advanced en route radars, and £10 million on re-equipment at Heathrow. That is all good stuff, but it is chicken feed compared with the £6 billion that the Government have committed to the road system, no doubt thanks to the machinations of the Minister for Roads and Traffic who will reply to the debate. Why can he not do as well for civil aviation? Perhaps the Prime Minister should make him aviation Minister and civil aviation would get more funding. At the moment civil aviation is treated as a poor relation in transport terms. The railways are getting almost as much money as the road system, yet civil aviation has to make do with a paltry £600 million.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he really should not talk such nonsense. We keep repeating, in the hope that some Conservative Members will absorb it, that the capital investment in British Rail is self-generated. Essential and necessary services, some of which no doubt run through the hon. Gentleman's constituency, receive less than £500 million a year.
If a lot more has to be spent, where will the money come from? I have mentioned the taxpayer, via the Department of Transport. Surely if we accelerate the programme of investment and spend more money within Europe, Europe itself could be a source of funding. European money is available now for work on infrastructure. If this is not infrastructure, I do not know what is.
There is also the traveller. Ultimately, following liberalisation, fares within Europe should come down. If that happens, there should be some scope for including further costs on tickets to repay some of the investment in air traffic control. En route charges to airlines could go up to pay for some of the improvements. At present the BAA is tied to the RPI minus 1 per cent. formula. If that were re-examined, there might be some scope for encouraging the BAA to spend more on its investment on airline services including airport ATC rather than on other commercial activities.
Column 751The importance of good communications for people and goods was recognised by the Romans 2,000 years ago. They gave extremely high priority to their network of roads. Their roads ran straight and true, sometimes a lot straighter than European air routes today which, because of national airspace boundaries and zones closed for military use, often include zigzags instead of straight lines. Surely European Governments have a responsibility to straighten their routes and integrate their services. Only by burying national chauvinism and sharing our sovereignty will we be able to provide the air traffic control services that the travelling public needs and wants.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : The Romans had many useful forms of traffic planning. They had compulsory purchase which they enforced with the legions, they had centralised planning and they controlled the means by which it was applied, and they made absolutely sure that it fulfilled the purposes for which it was designed--to get their armies from one point of the empire to another as quickly as possible. That is the precise opposite of the Government's attitude to airport planning and air traffic safety. The Transport Select Committee took a great deal of interesting and worrying evidence from many people who have to deal with the day-to-day chaos in air traffic control. The points they raised were echoed, in careful but clear terms, in the Select Committee report. The Select Committee asked for measures that are needed urgently to deal with a situation that is rapidly becoming intolerable. Air traffic planning now needs radical and urgent responses. It cannot be dealt with by a minor touch on the tiller or an arrangement with one of the many split parts of Government planning that seem to be all we are being offered. It is important to remind the House of what the Select Committee report said about safety :
"We recommend that the Government provide, without delay, whatever support and financial assistance is needed. The crisis of airspace capacity is unlikely fully to be solved by the present patching-up process and we strongly recommend that, whatever short-term improvements may take place, the provision of LATCC II should proceed with all speed".
The Select Committee then asked for extra money and made it clear that only the Government could take those important and clear decisions.
What was the Government's response? It was :
"Investment in air traffic control services is financed by airspace users through the charging system without Government subsidy. This ensures that resources are deployed efficiently. The Government will authorise borrowing to modernise and expand the facilities required to provide air traffic services, provided this investment shows the prospect of an adequate economic return." The Government are prepared to hand over responsibility for this vital form of transport to anyone who can justify the rate of return. It does not matter whether that calculation includes passengers or whether it shows the cost to British industry of constant delays. The Government believe that the only defining and deciding factor must be the market place, which has proved manifestly inept and incompetent. The Government are in the most unholy mess on traffic control. The decisions that