Civil Aviation Bill
Baroness Hanham (Deputy Chief Whip, Whips; Conservative)
My Lords, I return to an issue that we discussed on Report. The amendment requires that the Secretary of State be made responsible for safeguarding the health of people around an airport as well as the health of people on board an aircraft. By returning to the amendment at this late stage, perhaps the Minister will accept that we still have severe concerns about the difficulties experienced by people who live near airports as a result of noise and air pollution.
We believe that it is now necessary to tackle this matter. We had a long discussion about the impact of noise in our debate on the previous amendment. As has already been made quite clear, noise has a considerable impact on the health of children as well as adults. It is very important that we recognise this. We all know that airports are necessary, but the consequences become greater as airports become larger and the number of flights through them increases.
It is very important that we start now to see what those health impacts are and how they can be mitigated. I do not want to tempt the Minister back into describing all the technical aspects of noise, as he did in response to the previous amendment; we will spare the House, and probably the Minister, too, from describing aspects such as the 57dBA Leq level, which he dealt with so carefully and ably. They are really important, but we will leave them as read so that we do not have to go through them again. What we cannot leave as read is the fact that noise has a serious impact on people's health. Without doubt, people living or working under flight paths to busy airports suffer high levels of annoyance and stress. A significant proportion of those people are children, and the impact of noise on those children's lives has been shown to be severe. Their sleep patterns and their ability to concentrate are severely affected, but are ameliorated when children leave the vicinity of an airport.
Having drawn attention to the fact that noise is a health problem, I shall concentrate on aircraft emissions, which affect local air quality. That impact is often augmented by road, rail and traffic emissions associated with airports. Research conducted at JFK Airport in New York reported that the airport was the largest single source of nitrogen oxides and the second largest source of volatile organic compounds in New York. The British Lung Foundation states that these pollutants alone can impair respiratory cell function, damage blood capillaries and attack the immune system. Together, however, the two chemicals can also combine to form ground-level ozone, which damages the respiratory system and causes breathing difficulties.
In Committee, I was heartened to learn of the Government's commitment to the WHO's guidelines for noise. However, I ask the Minister for a much firmer commitment on the time scale for meeting those guidelines than he has already given. Clearly, those who currently live in the vicinity of airports are already severely affected by the consequences of aviation, and they will not be satisfied by a vague commitment without a clear timetable of actions to meet those guidelines. You only have to drive past Heathrow to get a wave of diesel fumes, even from quite a distance.
Aviation is a unique industry that creates a specific set of health problems not only in aircraft but in the environment around airports. Those problems must be addressed. The Bill offers a timely opportunity to underscore the Government's commitment to the health of all those people whose lives are affected by aviation. The extension of the Secretary of State's powers, which the amendment would effect, would send a clear message to all those involved that the Government are taking the problem seriously. To pass up this opportunity would be to suggest to those living in close proximity to airports that their health and well-being are significantly less important than the health of the flying ticket-buying public. The Government have made a clear commitment to expanding aviation. I hope that they will embrace the responsibilities that come with this policy. I beg to move.