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Column 752must be taken tend to boil down--the industry loves using initials--to the three Ps, people, planes and planning, none of which the Department of Transport is providing.
The Select Committee was asked about leadership. There will continue to be insufficient male and female air traffic controllers if they are not provided with proper pay and support services. Time after time we were told that they were working under such stress that they were finding it increasingly difficult to maintain existing services. Any hon. Member who uses internal services or travels abroad from Britain knows that there are constant problems with slots and constant delays, and that the pressure being put on air traffic controllers is rapidly becoming intolerable for them and, ultimately, for the travelling public because of sheer stress.
The reality is that we are not coping with today's problems, but tomorrow they will be infinitely worse. The Government's planning of air traffic control seems to be the same as their planning of traffic on the Embankment. When it ceases to move altogether, they will begin to take a mild interest, but until that happens their sole solution will be to say, "We know that you cannot move on the motorways, so we shall simply make them wider", which will make it more difficult for people to get anywhere.
The problem is becoming increasingly worrying for people in the industry. We know that there is no overall airport planning. The Committee agreed that it is essential that another runway at Gatwick is built, yet the Government show no understanding of that and have not said how they will solve problems in the south-east. The Government appear to assume that runways cannot be built in the south-east, which is manifestly a policy of despair and abandon. Some of the Government's responses to the Committee's recommendations, such as on Eurocontrol and flow control, were smug to the point of astonishment. Anyone who has watched the flow system in operation knows that at best it is simply a means of slowing down and managing existing slots. The system is not a solution to the problem ; it simply seeks to manage an intolerable situation. As the Committee noted, Eurocontrol has had a chequered history. In non-parliamentary language, that means that it is insufficiently controlled, that it does not have political decision-making powers behind it, that it does not have enough trained staff, that it does not have the right equipment and that it is not doing an efficient job. I am complaining not only about Maastricht but also about the many other elements that make up Eurocontrol.
Mrs. Dunwoody : Eurocontrol has never pretended that it is capable of handling all the traffic that will be controlled by the Eurocontrol unit. It is capable of doing a small job in conjunction with existing air traffic controllers, which it has always done in a slightly uneven fashion. The Government say that they will put much pressure on the unit to ensure that it works better in the future. Is there any reason why the Government have not pressed for Eurocontrol to be built in Britain, given the amount of money that will be needed to construct a new air traffic control centre here? I cannot understand why it
Column 753should be built anywhere else, but we have not been given a response about the inadequacy of Eurocontrol to deal with the current problem.
When the Department of Transport was asked about the difficulty of dividing traffic in the south-east and sorting out the problems of domestic flights compared with international flights and charter traffic, it said that it was awaiting
"the CAA's advice on the distribution of air traffic between the London area airports"
and that it noted the Committee's view. That is not an acceptable answer. There is not time to wait for a response that says, "If we are lucky, by the time the system has ceased to operate we should have staggered as far as 2005. By then we might need a new runway in the London area, so it might be a good idea to consider the CAA's formal advice before reaching decisions." Those decisions should have been taken a long time ago, but they were not and now the Government are paying for the pressure that they put on air traffic controllers, for the fact that they were not prepared radically to change their terms and conditions and, above all, for the fact that they were not prepared to find some form of retraining. We must have more air traffic controllers, and their equipment must be much more modern. It is no good saying that in 10 years' time we should have a system up and running. The planes stacking up in our airways today, tomorrow and next week will still be there in 10 years' time, but there will be many more of them.
We should like better use to be made of regional airports, but no one pretends for a moment that they will deal with the increasing problems of an air traffic control system that has little room to expand. Closer co- operation between the RAF and civilian controllers might give a little flexibility to the system.
The Government have created a monster, but they do not know what to do with it. Indeed, they are fleeing about two or three years behind the monster, which is galloping into the distance. Soon passengers will at least begin to sense that there is a safety problem. They will not sense it when they are sitting in planes and becoming more and more irritated by the time that it takes to find a take-off slot, but increasingly they will perceive the Government's refusal to train, to pay for that training, to expand planning for airports, to build a new runway and to do something radical about expanding services from the south-east, which will contribute to a dangerous and explosive situation. It may not happen today or next week, but happen it will.
The public will not accept the Government saying, "Thank you for producing a nice report, which we enjoyed reading. We have taken into account evidence from ATCs, the BAA and the CAA. With any luck, they might sort out the problem between them while they are making money." The Government know that that will not do. It is slightly worrying that their attitude is demonstrated by an eloquent, responsible, charming Under-Secretary of State -- [Interruption.] --a man who is normally eloquent--but not the man who has responsibility for taking the decisions. The Secretary of State should be here, not least as a matter of courtesy to the Select Committee on Transport, which understands the urgency of this problem.
Column 7548.30 pm
Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar) : It is timely that we should hold this debate in early July, just as we begin to reach the peak period for air traffic delays. It has always seemed to me, as we have been confronted by news of these delays over the past few years, that they have started to occur partly because of the inadequate air traffic control system--in no way do I equate that with an unsafe air traffic control system--and partly because of insufficient runway capacity.
The Civil Aviation Authority seems belatedly to have recognised the need for more air traffic controllers. We are told that recruitment is increasing, which, of course, is satisfactory. I am bound to remind the House, however, that in 1986 the same Civil Aviation Authority was telling us that there was a surplus of air traffic controllers. I cannot escape the conclusion that there have been elements of poor planning, poor management and poor forecasting which we must lay at the door of the CAA. To be fair, it is probable that inadequate funds have been made available for investment in that aspect of air traffic control. Although I criticise the CAA for its defects, I have a feeling that Government policy towards investment in this vital sphere has not always been what it could be. There is a need swiftly to minimise the delays that upset our constituents. How realistic is it to expect that that is likely to happen? In my opinion, it is not realistic, although, I am pleased to say, air traffic should improve progressively as more air traffic controllers are taken on stream, more investment in sophisticated equipment becomes available and more liaison with the air traffic control system of Europe becomes the order of the day. I was particularly pleased to note a news item last week that we are--to be fair, on the British Government's initiative--moving more sharply in that direction than before.
I welcome the CAA's decision to publish the punctuality tables. I am informed that that is certainly not the view held by many airlines, whether scheduled services or charter airlines. The publication of the punctuality statistics will give publicity to a situation that has been kept under wraps. If it does what I predict it will do, which is to make the public aware of those airlines that are habitually unpunctual and that there is unpunctuality across the board, whether among charter airlines or scheduled airlines, I hope that pressure will be brought to bear by the public and the airlines on the CAA if it can be proved that a sizeable number of the delays are caused by inadequacies in the air traffic control system. This may mean that the whole thing moves in a circular direction and that the CAA, having decided to publish these punctuality tables for its good reasons, winds up discovering that the resulting criticism comes back to it, leading to pressure to improve its air traffic control facilities more swiftly.
Mr. Mans : Does my hon. Friend agree that the reason for the delays should be published in the punctuality tables? If the CAA, through the air traffic control network, is responsible for the delays, that information should be in the initial tables, so there is no need for this rather long route back to the cause of the problem.
Column 755which seem to be afraid of the publication of those tables, I welcome them as a means of bringing additional pressure to bear in improving the air traffic control system.
The charter airlines must look not just at bringing more pressure to bear to improve the air traffic control system but at their operational patterns. I wonder whether it is realistic to require a swift, three- journey turnaround each day before they can run an economic system. It has long seemed to me that if one slot is missed, progressive delays are almost inevitable throughout the remainder of the day.
I have two points that I should like to put before the House, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister might care to comment. First, should not the CAA authorise considerably less capacity than it has been prone to authorise until now? I recognise that this will not be a popular course to follow when enormous pressures are building up all the time for more and more opportunities to fly.
Secondly, the charter airlines may well be advised to reassess the basis of their operations. It has seemed to me over the past few years that, if it is the only way to run economically, we must start looking at the cost of the package tour. That proposal will not be welcomed by consumer groups or the public in general, but I remind the House that we are already on the way towards a Euro-directive that will provide for something close to no- fault liablility in relation to the hotel content of a package tour. The time may well have arrived to face a considerable increase in cost and opposition from consumer bodies because, arguably, the cost of package tours in the past has been too low. These are matters to which the charter airlines and tour operators must progressively turn their attention. I am particularly worried by one symptom of the pressure on our aviation system. Last week, there were two occasions at Heathrow airport when four aircraft were involved in what I will call wing-clipping incidents. Happily, there were no casualties and no threat to passengers on board and there was only, according to reports, relatively minor damage to the aircraft, yet those incidents are symptomatic of the pressure on the system, caused to a large extent by the limited number of slots and the dash to get to and from the runways. That is another reason for saying that the pressure on the system is such that we should consider whether, in safety--clearly all of us would wish to promote safety--we can continue with the present slot allocation policy.
That leads me to a brief consideration of runways. Unlike British Airways and BAA plc, I believe that there must be an early decision on future runway capacity in the London area. Most commentators, including the CAA, believe that the case has been made for an additional runway at an airport south of the river. That led the Transport Select Committee to conclude that Gatwick would be the appropriate place, but if that should not happen, we must look at an amalgam of military airports south of the river or in some other way recognise that because pressure on the existing runway capacity is considerable--it will not lessen as we approach the 21st century--clear decisions must be taken soon.
Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing) : Can my hon. Friend tell us where in the report we would find the evidence that led the Select Committee to conclude that there should be a second runway at Gatwick?
Mr. McCrindle : As my right hon. Friend knows, the evidence is conflicting. There is no doubt that a case can be made for taking no decision on a second runway in the London area while continuing to emphasise the need for additional terminal capacity.
However, an interim statement was issued by the Civil Aviation Authority in January or February this year, in which it pointed fairly conclusively to its belief that by the time we reached the beginning of the next century the increase in the number of passengers wishing to use London airport would be such that, although terminal capacity was important, the provision of additional runway capacity would be unavoidable. If that is correct and one accepts the CAA's approach--although I must be fair and say that it was an interim report and we are expecting the final report soon--it is difficult to escape the conclusion that we should begin to take decisions now if we are to have an adequate runway system to run alongside the additional terminals that are, understandably, preferred by British Airways and by the British Airports Authority.
I remind the House that the Air Transport Users Committee, which is probably the closest we have to a consumer body in this area, has recently said :
"Flow management is as much a product of inadequate capacity as the inability of ATC to handle the requisite number of movements. If current demands for additional runway capacity in the London area are met, then it will provide some relief to the constant pressure on AT controllers of having to operate 3 of the 4 existing runways constantly at full capacity."
Another runway would provide more options in the event of emergencies and reduce the need to bunch aircraft so closely together, which was the point I made in relation to the incidents last week at Heathrow airport.
BAA plc or, as my hon. Friend the Minister called it, the British Airports Authority, is much maligned. There are many reasons for people making representations against it, and I must take my fair share of the responsibility, having criticised it frequently in the past. If profit maximisation from the London area airports is clouding BAA's judgment about additional runway capacity, that should be taken into account in any decision that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to announce in relation to additional runway capacity. That is why the BAA would prefer terminal 5 to proceed and I must make it clear that I have no particular objection to that. However, it would not be correct to allow it to proceed without, at the same time, paying suitable attention to the need for additional runway capacity.
It would be fair to say that the BAA is often accused of ignoring the interests of its customers, whether those customers are airlines or people who are waiting to fly from airports. I take the view that, at the least, the BAA's attitude has been somewhat arrogant in the recent past and that that arrogance perhaps stems from BAA's near monopoly of airports in the London area.
I want to make a proposition in the hope that my hon. Friend the Minister may comment on it. When we privatised British Telecom as a near monopoly, we created Oftel. When we privatised British Gas as a near monopoly, we created Ofgas. I cannot see for the life of me, in
Column 757retrospect, why we overlooked the opportunity to create a similar body so that the clients of the BAA, be they airlines or especially individual passengers, had a specific body to which they were able to complain as dissatisfied customers of British Gas and British Telecom are able to do.
There is no easy solution to the problem of air traffic control. I believe that we shall be near the middle of the 1990s before we have a system which is adequately staffed and which has sufficiently updated computerised equipment. That, in itself, is perhaps a criticism of past decisions or lack of decisions. I warmly commend the idea of having a body to which dissatisfied customers of airports could apply. That does not happen under the present set-up of the British Airports Authority.
Mr. David Lambie (Cunninghame, South) : I want to deal with two specific points. But first I want to congratulate the Select Committee on Transport and its Chairman on the report and the Chairman's speech tonight.
I agree with roughly 95 per cent. of the report's recommendations, but I disagree violently with the remainder. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has already raised the point in an intervention in the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) about the recommendation of the Select Committee to designate Glasgow airport as the gateway for Scotland and to replace Prestwick airport in its present position.
Not only from debates in the House but from your knowledge of Scotland you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the one thing the Scots like is fighting among themselves. No good wedding or funeral in Scotland fails to end up in a fight. Whenever families get together and have all had a good drink, we settle our problems and fight among ourselves. Here tonight the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport is putting forward a recommendation which he knows is controversial. He has already been attacked by two of his hon. Friends.
I appeal to the Government to stick to their policy because it is correct. The Scottish lowland airports policy is correct. Retaining Prestwick as the international gateway is correct and leaving the internal European routes and tourist routes to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen is correct. I ask the Minister to sustain that policy tonight.
Mr. Snape : As a mere Englishman, I hesitate to attend this wedding, funeral or other excuse for a punch up. However, does my hon. Friend think that Scottish transatlantic passengers would prefer to fly from Glasgow or Prestwick?
I have been here long enough to know the history of my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston and to know the policies he has supported in the past. He has now been elevated to the position of Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport and he is becoming contaminated by mixing with too many English Members. When he was a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, which carried out an inquiry into the Scottish lowland
Column 758airports policy, nearly 100 per cent. of its recommendations were accepted by the Government and the Committee came to a unanimous decision. I do not know why my hon. Friend has now changed his mind.
Mr. David Marshall : The Chairman of the Select Committee at that time was my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) and it would not be dishonest to say that a fair bit of arm twisting went on. In addition, the situation has changed greatly since then. That recommendation was that Prestwick became a free port and a free trade zone. That was a novel suggestion which was worth trying, but unfortunately it failed. In addition, our hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said in his intervention that the policy of the Scottish Trades Union Congress was to support Prestwick. The STUC's policy is also to have one lowland airport in central Scotland serving the whole of central Scotland, so there are a number of contradictions in terms. Unfortunately, as usual, we are not addressing the crucial issue of what is in Scotland's best interests--gateway status for Glasgow airport.
Mr. Lambie : Yes, if we were to start again from virgin territory, it is correct to say that we would have only one airport for central Scotland which, in all probability, would be on the site suggested by the STUC, to the east of Glasgow. However, we are not starting from virgin territory. We are starting from having four airports in Scotland, three of which are in central Scotland. Each of those airports is a centre of economic activity and employment. We cannot change at a stroke and make a decision that will remove one of those main centres of activity, especially if it were to be Prestwick, which is in one of the unemployment blackspots of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston knows that gateways are not decided unilaterally by the United Kingdom Government. Gateways and routes across the north Atlantic are determined by negotiations between the United States Government and the British Government. At present the Bermuda II agreement, which was signed in 1980 and which designated the routes or the gateways, is being renegotiated. My information is that those negotiations have come to a halt because the Bush Administration in the United States have not yet settled on a policy. Until the Bush Administration reach a decision, we can go only by the negotiations that took place at the beginning of the process.
The main feature of the present negotiations is the desire of the Americans to use Manchester airport more. They want more routes from Manchester into the United Kingdom and into Europe. That would certainly do away with some of the congestion at the London airports, but it would be to the detriment of Prestwick. As far as I know, the only objection by the British Government--or rather, by the Department of Transport--to the Americans having more routes via Manchester is that that might harm, not British airports, but British air companies, and especially British Airways. That is why there is a fight in the negotiations and that is why that fight will continue when the negotiations recommence. There is a fight between the Americans who want to develop out, from
Column 759Manchester, and between the British Government who are saying, "If you do that, British Airways should have more routes or gateways into the interior of the United States".
I make that point because if Manchester develops--it must develop--in the way in which British Airways and certain other parties want, it can only be to the detriment of Prestwick and of every other Scottish airport that might hope to gain gateway status if that status is taken from Prestwick.
Therefore, all that my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston and his Committee have done in suggesting that we should discuss a new gateway for Scotland is to say that there will not be a gateway for Scotland. Indeed, Scotland has not yet been mentioned in the negotiations. The English officials at the Department of Transport are not interested in Scotland. They are interested only in the south-east and in maintaining British Airways' rights to gain more and more routes into the United States. Manchester will become the gateway to the north of Britain and instead of being able to fly from Prestwick or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston has suggested, from Glasgow, the people of Scotland will lose the gateway status of the Scottish airports and Manchester will become the gateway for north Britain. I have been to too many meetings at which those representing and supporting Manchester have suggested that Manchester is the gateway or the airport for north Britain not to take that as a serious challenge.
Therefore, I hope that the Government will maintain their policy of following the recommendations of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I hope that they will follow the present policy on the lowland airports of Scotland and maintain Prestwick as the gateway for Scotland.
I turn finally to British Airports Authority plc. When the Government considered privatising BAA, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs recommended that it should be privatised as a whole. We based our case on the fact that the Scottish airports had to maintain a connection with the London airports because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston has stated, one of the busiest routes in the world is that from Scotland to London, whether it be from Glasgow or Edinburgh down to London or the reverse. We suggested that BAA should be privatised as a whole so that we could maintain the link between the Scottish airports and Heathrow in particular. I now realise that that was the wrong decision. If I could start again, I would say that BAA should be broken up and that the individual airports should be privatised and allowed to compete with one another. Of course, as a Labour Member, I cannot accept that policy generally. As a Labour Member, I believe that because the roads and railways are our common features, they belong to the people and should be paid for by the people. Similarly, I believe that airports should belong to the state and that they should be run by the state on behalf of the people. However, accepting the Government's policy of privatisation, I now realise that as Chairman of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs I was conned by Sir Norman Payne into believing that it would be in the best interests of all Scots if BAA were privatised as a whole in order to maintain links with London.
Like other hon. Members, I received a letter from Sir Norman Payne in which as well as stating :
"I have pleasure in enclosing BAA's 1989 Report and Accounts.", he stated :
"Passenger numbers rose to a record 68 million and BAA is committed to providing capacity to meet this and future demand with a substantial programme of capital investment : £395 million for the development of Stansted ; £110 millon for the redevelopment of Terminal 3 at Heathrow ; £47 million at Glasgow".
That was about half the sum that he had told us he intended to commit to investment in Glasgow. Under the original investment plan, BAA was to spend more than £100 million on Glasgow. Glasgow is one of the most congested airports that I use ; even compared with Heathrow, it is congested. It takes only one tourist plane to Palma to run late and the facilities at Glasgow airport grind to a halt.
I put it to my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston that if we are really interested in the development of Glasgow, we should not fight against Prestwick. Instead, we should fight against the British Airports Authority, which is not providing the necessary investment at Glasgow to allow the airport to fulfil even its present role, at the start of the route from Scotland to London and as an airport serving the tourist trade.
Let the Scots unite. Do not let us fight. Politically, we spend most of our time fighting the English in the south-east who vote Conservative and, unfortunately, usually give us a Conservative Government. But on this matter, let us unite to try to maintain not only national transport in and out of Scotland equal to that anywhere in the world but to maintain an international gateway, which I believe should be Prestwick.
Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing) : I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on his chairmanship of the Select Committee and on the extremely large amount of work that the Committee has done in producing its excellent report. The Select Committees' work and our debates on the estimates give the House the opportunity to consider matters in depth in a way that is not normally possible. I am glad that the Liaison Committee agreed that this estimate should be debated in the terms set out in the Order Paper.
Let me make a couple of procedural points. The first concerns Back-Bench Members' time. We only have three estimate days in the entire year and to put on a major statement at the beginning of such business is very unfair. I hope that the Leader of the House, who I know is sympathetic in general to Select Committees, will bear that in mind in future.
Secondly, it has been pointed out that the Front-Bench representation is a little strange, given that this is a debate on airline safety. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is primarily responsible for roads and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has always shown a great interest in railways rather than in aviation. Having said that, I think that there is an important point to be made. One of the major concerns dealt with in the Select Committee's report was the question of delays. Very often such delays occur not at the airport but on the
Column 761approaches to the airport, so perhaps it is not inappropriate that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East should take part. In that connection, I welcome the announcement made at Question Time today about the improvement of the communications with Manchester airport. I flew into Heathrow myself this morning and the greatest delay that I experienced was in queuing up to get a ticket for the Underground. Had a couple of extra windows been open, the whole process would have been speeded up, but as it was there was considerable congestion.
The subject is of great importance to the public, given their concern about aircraft safety and fear of aircraft accidents. I agree with the view that the Chairman of the Committee expressed earlier--that we should talk about near hits rather than near misses. There is grave concern about the matter, as well as the concern about delay.
This is a short debate and I shall make only one or two points. Although I strongly agree with many of the recommendations made by the Select Committee, I completely disagree with the view expressed in recommendation (x) :
"We recommend that, in spite of the many difficulties and obstacles and the inevitable controversy, all efforts should be made to provide a second main runway at Gatwick."
A reference to paragraph 58 follows. By an odd chance, I happened to visit Gatwick on the day when the Select Committee's report was published ; indeed, I spent the morning in the control tower. The Committee did not visit Gatwick. No one looking at Gatwick from the control tower could possibly believe that a second runway would be sensible. To start with-- this is not mentioned in the report--it would mean destroying and knocking down the second terminal at Gatwick, which has only recently been opened. The idea that the runway could be built at an angle to the other runway does not strike me as feasible. Moreover, the whole of the surrounding area is grossly overheated in economic terms--with serious housing and other problems. I am astonished that the Committee should have come up with that recommendation, which it seems to have done gratuitously and without referring to evidence to support its conclusions.
In my view, we need to press ahead as fast as possible with the development of Stansted. The Secretary of State went to the topping-out procedure at Stansted. We have the prospect of a fine new terminal there, and it is important to proceed with that as rapidly as possible. I certainly do not think that the idea of developing Gatwick by means of a second runway is feasible or sensible.
Mr. McCrindle : Does my right hon. Friend concede the point that I made earlier that the Civil Aviation Authority earlier this year said that, if additional runway capacity was necessary, it was most necessary south of the River Thames?
Mr. Higgins : That may be so. However, as my hon. Friend said earlier, he was referring to an interim report and I do not believe that it was supported by the evidence. The argument is very much along the lines that I have put forward with regard to the development of Stansted airport.
The Select Committee on Transport also considered aircraft routes and I hope that we can consider that matter very carefully. At the moment, aircraft routes very often cross main centres of population. That is an historic
Column 762accident dating back many years and the routes on the south coast in particular are in the wrong places and cross areas where they cause the maximum noise disturbance.
I welcome the Select Committee's conclusion about night flights. The Select Committee took comprehensive evidence, including evidence from the British Airports Authority, that in some places night slots are not taken up and would not greatly help the problem of day-time congestion. We must consider the great noise problems that night flights still cause, despite the increased use of quieter aircraft. The Select Committee also considered in great detail the use of military air space. It is extraordinary that large areas of air space which could be used are at present taken up for military purposes, not least along the south coast and several other routes to Europe. I tabled a series of parliamentary questions about that some time ago. It is extraordinary that the Navy, in particular, takes up large sections of the English channel which might otherwise be reasonably used for civil purposes. Some of the replies to my questions about firing ranges seem to refute the old argument that what goes up must come down. I was assured that a great deal of firing was carried out, but no one had the remotest idea where the shells eventually landed. The Select Committee was right to draw attention to that matter because we must deal with the problems with aircraft routes, particularly to Europe. Obviously many other aspects must be considered in the light of the Select Committee report.
This debate gives us the opportunity to consider these matters in depth and in a way which was not possible before we had the Select Committee system set up on a departmental basis. Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Shettleston and his colleagues on giving the House an opportunity to debate these matters in a more sophisticated manner than used to be possible.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), my parliamentary colleagues on the Committee and the Clerk of the Committee on producing a first class report. I want to follow the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) who suggested that if there was any consensus in this debate it might be on the point that the Department of Transport should contact the Ministry of Defence and ask it seriously about its perception of its needs in 1989. There is a widespread feeling among hon. Members on both sides of the House that that should be done.
I want to speak up first of all for the air traffic controllers, those hard -pressed people who suffer enormous strain, who work often in terribly unsatisfactory and claustrophobic conditions in towers and elsewhere. To put it bluntly, some of us marvel at how they perform their jobs as well as they do and that there are not more accidents rather than the near misses and occasional accidents which hit the headlines.
I want to raise two of the Select Committee's recommendations with the Minister. Recommendation (vi) states :
"It seems to us that 17 years is too long for an ATCO II to have to wait to reach the top of the incremental salary scale and we trust that this point will be considered in further salary negotiations." The answer was :
Column 763"The CAA agrees that the current salary scales are too long. Negotiations with the IPCS are well underway and it seems possible that a complex package of changes may lead to a reduction in the number of years."
What is the policy on people who reach the peak of the incremental scale? Certainly the anecdotal evidence is that there is great dissatisfaction about the time that people must wait for all kinds of promotions.
I direct the Minister's attention to paragraph No. (xxxv) : "We believe that the operation of ATFMUS"--
that is, air traffic flow management units--
"will now steadily improve. There may well be some difficulties between European states, especially with the central ATFMU and we recommend that the Department of Transport keep a close watch on progress and be ready to step in, if necessary at ministerial level, should there be a need to resolve political problems".
The Government's answer was that the
"CAA and the Department of Transport are keeping a close watch on progress on the central ATFMU. The Department will not hesitate to intervene at the appropriate level, should the need arise." That is a classic ambiguous statement. What are the Government going to do about the unit? Is the matter being tackled seriously? Time is short, but I shall quickly raise two other matters. One relates to a question that I asked the Minister on 18 April 1988 about aircraft fire safety. I asked :
"what assessment he or the Civil Aviation Authority has made of the fire safety implications of considerable quantities of duty-free alcohol being carried aboard large passenger aircraft ; if he will examine the feasibility of siting duty-free shops in arrival lounges only ; and if he will make a statement."
The Minister replied :
"The Civil Aviation Authority is responsible for air safety regulation. It says that there is no evidence that carrying duty-free alcohol on passenger flights is in itself dangerous. We do not propose to review the siting of duty-free shops."
I have a question about that. There may be no evidence, and it may or may not be true that duty-free alcohol is in itself dangerous, but we are not at all persuaded that it is not dangerous. It could be very dangerous. I do not think that I exaggerate in any way what we were told at Heathrow and elsewhere on various all-party visits. It is the considered judgment of many of those who bear major responsibilities in airlines that it is an extra hazard to carry considerable quantities of duty-free alcohol. No one is suggesting that people should not have a drink on board an aircraft. That is not the argument at all. The argument is totally different. It is about carrying enormous amounts of drink in racks and elsewhere, which, if arrangements were properly made, could surely be purchased at duty-free shops on landing. The only argument against it is that, when they land, passengers may be in more of a hurry than when they started out and would not want to go to duty-free shops. That boils down to a clear profit matter.
The issue that we have to face up to is whether profit on that basis is worth the extra possible danger of an accident happening, with heavy bottles tumbling out of racks and injuring heaven knows who, and creating an extra fire hazard.
On 18 April I asked the Minister :
"With regard to the Civil Aviation Authority, Christopher Tugendhat writes :
Column 764Nevertheless, we would be happy to see any international moves to eliminate its carriage, such as may happen in the EEC over the forthcoming period."
I asked whether there had been any further EEC discussion on this issue of the dangers of carrying a great deal of heavy alcohol. I went on :
"That quotation was from a letter dated 15 April. Can the discrepancy about the CAA's attitude be cleared up? How much sense does it make to have 500 bottles of booze in the cabin of a jumbo jet during an emergency, bearing in mind the risks with regard to fire and weight?"
The Minister replied :
"The hon. Gentleman does not provide any discrepancy when he reads out the letter from Christopher Tugendhat. Clearly, if 500 bottles are not being carried there could be a saving of £12,000 a year, and that point was made in The Green Capitalist', which was reviewed in the New Scientist. The important point is that where there is a safety risk the CAA takes action, but where there is not, it does not."--[ Official Report, 18 April 1989 ; Vol. 151, c. 540.] Are the Government quite sure that the CAA, when part of it says that there is no safety risk, is correct? What is the assessment of the Department of Transport? The Minister has access to considerable expert opinion, and I hope that he will at least say what the considered view of the Department of Transport is on the risks of carrying this massive amount of heavy glass and liquor hither and thither across the airways of the world. Would it not be much simpler, apart from anything else, in terms of fuel if this were tackled, and some arrangements made by those who want duty free to collect it on landing rather than hauling it across the skies?
In all this discussion, we should take into account that one of the things that would particularly help the Scots and those in the north of England would be greater railway investment. The most recent figures that the Library has for railway assistance as a percentage of gross national product are as follows : in Luxembourg, 2.88 per cent., in Belgium, 1.14 per cent., Italy 0.83 per cent.--