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Orders of the Day — Aircraft Noise Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th March 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, may I have your permission to amend the long title of the Bill? In view of the huge amount of noise that was generated last night at Meriden, Dudley, Acton and Warwick, may I have permission to amend the long title so that we can discuss the consequences flowing from that noise as well as aircraft noise?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That is a most interesting suggestion, but utterly impracticable.

11.6 a.m.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am sure that I shall be excused if I do not discuss the technical point made by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) a few seconds ago, but everyone will agree that the curse of the modern machine age is noise. My experience is that as one gets older one becomes more sensitive to noise. I say nothing about the noise generated in this Chamber on occasions and how one might measure that perhaps in perceived noise decibels. Today people sigh for peace and quiet. I have had many letters and petitions on the subject of this Bill since it was announced at the end of last year. Indeed, we all accept that one of the most important factors in the location of a house is that there should be peace and quiet. This can add to, or considerably reduce, the value a house. One might have noisy neighbours, but buses, cars and jet planes are a constant nuisance which all people dislike.

We are concerned this morning, in this over-populated island, with the subject of aircraft noise, but this is only part of a problem which is becoming acute in the widest context. Planes and helicopters are merely part of the wider picture of buses, lorries, cars, industrial machines and the like.

I venture to suggest that this is a fitting week for my Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has this week announced her intention to introduce a Bill to fix maximum noise levels for vehicles. But unfortunately the Minister of State for Technology has simultaneously opened an exhibition about this monster plane, the Concorde. I say little about this since I am a layman, not an engineer. However, I challenge anyone in this Chamber to say that the noise difficulty of the Concorde has been tackled or overcome. I have here a cutting from the Guardian of 21st July last year in which David Fairhall reports on the boom over Bristol: 'Lovely, it's progress'. This ecstatic reaction to the sonic boom, and the simple faith in Concorde it implies, represents one extreme of the sample opinion survey carried out for The Guardian at the end of the Government's test programme"— or their attempted test of the boom— over Bristol. I wonder whether it is progress—this constant advance in technology and the urge to have bigger, faster, noisier and more expensive planes—or merely keeping up with the supersonic Jones's. The Minister of State tells us that there will be unlimited outlay of money to make this a success. I think that we would make better use of our money if we were to spend it on making the jets that we have more silent. This might even prove to be a bonus for our export trade.

The problem of the sonic boom is now clearly with us. The boom is not a single event. It is not like a clap of thunder as we knew it in our childhood days and were terrified by it. I have listened to experts discussing this. The boom forms a carpet 50 to 80 miles wide and follows the plane. The logic of this is that we face the prospect of uncurbed sonic booms in the '70s. This will mean that large areas, if not the major part, of the Western European land mass will have to live with the sonic boom. I pray in aid for my contention the views of men like Dr. Bo Sundberg of Sweden, who has studied the Oklahoma tests in the United States, and I conclude this part of my speech by saying that this matter becomes a test case for the proper management of technology.

These supersonic planes look like benefiting comparatively few at the expense of the many. I believe that the Government must insist on curbing engine noise, or people will say that effective control can only be obtained by limiting the flight of these monster planes of the future to areas over the sea.

I am now getting into the realm of economics, and the question whether these noisy planes are viable propositions. I hope that the Minister, for whom I have much affection, will not think me either a Luddite or a square if I say that over the centuries the satisfaction of one person, and the meeting of his desires, has too often been achieved at the expense of others. The laws of advanced nations like ours are designed to check this interference with the liberties of others. Tardy legislation by all Governments, including my own, has too often been forced to follow widespread and vehement public campaigns. I think the Minister will agree with me that in the past we have had too many unwanted social side effects from the advance of technology. Perhaps Aberfan is fresh in the minds of some people. Technical change can achieve such vast dimensions that the cost of such advancement is often daunting to the Exchequer and daunting to Ministers of the Crown.

I believe that past Governments have taken the greatest care in the development of atomic energy. There are unique dangers in allowing the development of atomic energy to proceed unchecked, but no one can say that the same kind of care has been taken in the development of commercial aircraft and the siting of airports. The duty of Parliament is to safeguard the community. Those who support the Bill are not anti-technology, but where technology is anti-social we must speak out against it.

What control of noise is possible? I have here an article from the Financial Times of 11th July of last year. It asks: What control of noise is possible? as the sonic booms get under way. I am a layman in these matters, but I shall be compelled to use such terms as PNdB, perceived noise decibels, and so on. I know that the hon. Member for Twickenham is well versed in these matters.

How do noise levels compare? To my ears "very faint" is the noise in a quiet church. "Faint" might perhaps be likened to the noise in a public library. "Moderate", that is, getting up to 50 decibels, can perhaps be described as the noise in a large shop, or an average office, or even that of a quiet motor car. "Loud" is the noise from a radio set being played at full volume, or the noise from an average factory floor. "Very loud"—and I am still below 100 perceived decibels—which is 90 decibels—and all the noises to which I have referred so far do not equal that which is experienced by anyone in the path of a plane coming in to land at London Airport, or indeed the noise of a plane taking off—is the noise from a noisy factory, or perhaps from a busy street. "Deafening" is above 100 decibels, such as thunder, gunfire, or something which causes intense anxiety. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) used to write artices in the old Reynolds News about the effect of a pneumatic drill operating outside somebody's flat, perhaps in Kensington. This could be described as "deafening".

There are meters for measuring noise, which give an authentic reading. I think that it is the duty of the Minister to ensure that a measurement is made of the noise created by planes approaching London Airport, but I gather that the only measurement that is made is on the perimeter of the airport. I may be wrong about this, but in a moment I shall refer to the Clause in which we say that measurements should be made at distances of one, two, and three miles, and not merely on the perimeter of the airport.

Heathrow is the main centre of this noise activity. I am told that the noise monitoring unit of the Board of Trade's Civil Aviation Department checks aircraft to ensure that the noise they make does not exceed 110 decibels by day, and 102 decibels by night on take-off. Both those figures are above 100, which puts them in the deafening category and above the figure which I mentioned a few moments ago in connection with noisy factories.

We know that because of this noise legislation has been introduced to enable householders in the vicinity of airports to soundproof their houses. I need not go into the details of this. There are present many hon. Members who represent West London constituencies, and no doubt they will express strong feelings on this issue.

Both the levels of noise on take-off to which I have referred are reckoned to be damaging to a person's hearing, but one can do nothing about this problem. I have been assured that aircraft operators, who are the chief offenders, are specifically exempt from legal penalties under the Civil Aviation Act of 1949. This is the nub of the matter, because the most important Clause in the Bill proposes to give citizens like ourselves the right to sue aircraft companies and operators who make this damaging noise as their planes come in to land.

I want now to say what the Bill is about and what we hope it will achieve. It is simply and solely an attempt to keep down noise to a level tolerable to all citizens—not to the average citizen, because some citizens are not average—living in the vicinity of airports.

Clause 4 stipulates that no aircraft shall exceed a certain noise ceiling, when the noise is measured, under a glide path or take-off area, by the magic black box which I gather is now used only on the perimeter, and which we say should be used at intervals of one, two and three miles, and so on. The distance can be settled in the light of technical opinion. We are reasonable men, and we shall be quite happy to abandon certain parts of the Bill for the sake of retaining other provisions which we deem more important.

The other point about London Airport is that besides B.O.A.C. and other operators having legal immunity, I understand that although night flying is banned at Paris airports it continues in London. We could all quote legal cases in the past whereby it has been adjudged that all men—and I am specifically concerned with workers—are entitled to have a decent Light's sleep; never mind what happens to the night shift man in the daytime. With night flights the rights of these people will be affected.

Clause 1 is important. Unlike the citizens of almost every other civilised nation in the West, our citizens are unable to sue, for nuisance and disturbance, an operator who makes this noise. Clause 1 will provide power for a citizen to sue if the levels laid down in Clause 4 are exceeded. I repeat: we are the only civilised nation in the West—or, at least, one of the few civilised nations in the West—whose citizens do not have the right to take their grievances to law in this respect.

I understand that the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, was passed before jets became their present menace. It may be that at that time, when London was to become an international airport, we wished to maintain its position, and so we were not as careful about this problem as we might have been. We must be careful now. It is important to safeguard the rights of citizens in this respect by allowing them to sue.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

May I point out to my hon. Friend that London Airport was not in existence in 1949?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Will the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) address the Chair so that the reporters can hear what he is saying?

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

I am willing to accept advice from any quarter. My hon. Friend has just given me some information.

If the Minister is uneasy about the Bill as a whole—and I gather that he is—perhaps we may overcome the difficulties as we go along by asking him some questions. Will he consider deleting Section 41 of the 1949 Act? It would be worth our abandoning parts of the Bill, if he thinks that they are impracticable or unworkable, if we can have his support for its essential features. Perhaps he will consider whether it is possible to amend or delete Section 41 of the 1949 Act so that we can get what we want.

If this legislation came into force I would expect manufacturers to feel compelled to construct less noisy aircraft. That is the object of the Bill. If we can reduce the noise of aircraft we can expect them to land with less noise. We suggest that the 100 PNdB limit should be reduced to 90 PNdB in five years' time. With luck, we may be able to get it down to 80. I ask the Minister to consider whether, in the event of less noisy machines being made, we can get down to 90 PNdB in five years' time.

I gather that nobody is now designing less noisy aircraft. It is technically possible to do this, but it would cost money.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

Can the hon. Gentleman assist the House by telling us what aircraft currently operating from Heathrow can perform a safe takeoff with a reasonable load at a noise level lower than 90 PNdB?

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

I cannot. I can look it up. At the moment I cannot answer that question. Perhaps the hon. Member knows. He seems very knowledgeable.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

I can tell the hon. Member what the answer is. I asked a Parliamentary Question about it yesterday—which I thought he might have seen—and the Answer I received was, "None".

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

It is very kind of the hon. Member to confirm what I have been saying. It is very helpful to get advice from hon. Members opposite. We are saying that if less noisy aircraft are constructed in the future we can hope to cut down the permitted noise level.

I was recently talking to a gentleman from the Noise Abatement Society who told me that designers working on V.T.O.L. aircraft are attempting to produce a model which is much less noisy and which, in fact, may be so nearly silent that it will solve all our difficulties. I am not a technician or an engineer, but I am told that this may well be the model of the future.

Obviously, if we are to have less noisy aircraft we shall have to spend more money on their design. I do not expect that a commercial firm would fancy spending too much money on such a project. An aircraft of this nature might lose something in efficiency, so that there would be less return per £10,000 or £50,000 invested by the firm. Many other industries ask for help, and I suggest that the Government should consider subsidising in some way any firms which are attempting to make a less noisy aircraft of this type.

Aircraft are becoming faster and noisier, and we are soon to have the huge Concorde. I do not like the Concorde, because it is going to be a very noisy aircraft. I plead with all those who are concerned with the production of aircraft—especially the engineers—to turn their minds to the question of making them less noisy. I do not see how we can justify sonic booms if they are going to have this bad effect, as we are told they are. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology may think that they are marvellous, but I do not, and tens of thousands of people living near airports will not want this sort of noise about their ears.

Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham

Will the hon. Gentleman deal with Clause 5? It is an important one, but the wording seems to be contradicted by the rubric.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

I apologise for an error in the printing. Any hon. Member with a knowledge of aircraft will understand the true position. The rubric says "Licences for supersonic aircraft", and any knowledgeable hon. Member will know that the word "jet-powered" in the body of the Clause must be a misprint. Perhaps hon. Members will be good enough to alter the word "jet-powered", because it is a misprint.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

What should it be?

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

It should be "supersonic".

That aircraft noise is a nuisance was proved by the Wilson Committee in 1961. Its report gave chapter and verse to the fact that something should be done about this nuisance. The people living near Heathrow Airport believed that something would be done. In any event, why expand Heathrow? Why make it bigger and noisier? I was there yesterday morning and the noise was deafening. Every time I go to the airport it seems to be in an unfinished state. It is always being enlarged or altered—no doubt in the view of some, for the better.

We could, of course, have other international airports. I will not go into the Stansted business today, but I must mention that Foulness could be a possibility, particularly since many knowledgeable people take the view that an international airport at the mouth of the Thames Estuary would be ideal since with planes coming into land over the water, less noise and nuisance would be caused to local residents.

The Wilson Committee made a number of recommendations and the Parliamentary Commissioner also reported on the subject. While the Ombudsman's report was a good one in many respects, his difficulty was that he was working within the limitations of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949. As a result, he could not make any pertinent observations on the question of noise. Significantly, however, he stated that while many complaints had come from people living near airports, the majority had come from those living under glide paths. By inference, I conclude that the interminable scream of jets landing is worse than the noise made at take-off. The Ombudsman also reported that landings were hardly monitored, but I assume that they are above 100 PNdBs. I welcome the Ombudsman's work, but since he reported in the light of the 1949 Act, his Report cannot be considered as decisive and useful as I would have liked.

It is staggering to think that whereas in the United States 150 to 170 lawsuits may be pending by citizens about the noise inflicted on them, it is impossible for citizens in this country to have recourse to the courts for the same reason.

Given that in future we will have legislation on this matter, the Board of Trade should be attempting to reach some sort of international agreement on the question of aircraft noise. Perhaps we are asking for the moon, particularly since I fear that international agreement on this question is far distant. However, I compliment the Government for having convened, in November, 1966, the International Conference on the Reduction of Noise and Disturbance from Civil Aircraft, being the first conference of its type ever to be held.

It was too much to expect that immediate action would follow that conference, but at least the delegates left it thinking hard about the matter. It was on this subject that my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) put a question to the President of the Board of Trade, to which he received a helpful Answer, about the design of 'planes and the question of whether noise should be included as a factor in the certification of aircraft. We were pleased to have an affirmative reply. We are thankful that steps are being taken on this issue and there can be no doubt that, while it will take a considerable time for the problem to be solved, we are working along the right lines. To expect international agreement on this matter immediately would be asking a lot.

There will always be small groups of people meeting to discuss local noises and what action can be taken to eliminate them. Like many hon. Members, I have received a great volume of letters about the possible results of the sonic boom from the Concorde and there is growing support for effective legislation to be passed.

From my researches, it seems that agitation for smoke control began as far back as 1896, although legislation on the subject was not passed until 1956. Thus, it took 60 years for smoke control to become effective. I hope that we will tackle the problem of aircraft noise more speedily.

The measures outlined in the Bill are vitally necessary if life is not to become more and more intolerable for many citizens. Indeed, at the moment, for tens and thousands of families living near our airports, and particularly for those who live below glide paths, life is intolerable. I therefore ask the Government to give sympathetic consideration to the Bill.

11.37 a.m.

Photo of Mr William Worsley Mr William Worsley , Chelsea

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) has rendered a service to the House in bringing forward a Bill on this topic. It would be easy to shoot holes in the detail of the Measure, and some quite effective shots have been fired already. I do not intend to weary the House by shooting at the Bill, for it is the principle of the Measure which is all-important, and the Minister's comments and assurances on the subject will guide my attitude to the Bill. This being so, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go in great detail into the issues of the Bill, although some of its provisions merit examination while others are quite indefensible.

I will judge my attitude to the Bill on what the Government say, since they have enormously wide powers to control aircraft noise. The first necessity is for the House and Government to accept that aircraft noise is a major and increasing threat to living conditions. For the majority it is a nuisance, sometimes a maddening nuisance; but for a minority, who should receive our attention, particularly for those who sleep badly or who are of a nervous disposition, it is a real menace to their health and happiness.

I look at the matter first and foremost from a constituency point of view. We are coming into the aircraft noise season. On a day like yesterday, the weather was good, windows were open; my postbag, and no doubt that of other hon. Members, including the Minister, varies enormously with the temperature. Summer is aircraft noise time.

Last summer the Minister arranged for a series of aircraft noise tests to be conducted in several areas, including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. We were grateful for that experiment and I hope that he will push forward with the codification of the results of that examination and will comment on the subject later. I know of his own wish to assist in the control of aircraft noise, and I thank him for his courtesy to me on many occasions. But I think it a pity, when comprehensive tests of this sort are made, that we have to wait a year for the results, well into another season, as I have said. It is a pity that, before the season opened, we could not have the results and be able to build upon them. I ask the Minister, therefore, to push the matter forward with every haste.

The London problem derives from the unique fact that on most days the glide path to the nation's main airport lies straight over the heart of the nation's capital. The northern runway glide path lies only a few hundred yards south of where we are sitting this morning. What is more, since aircraft do not come straight over the centre of London along the glide path but they have to join it on curves from either north or south, there are aircraft moving on to the glide path over the greater part of the Metropolis. Because they are turning—this certainly applies to my constituency, as the actual line of the glide path lies south of Chelsea and when they come over Chelsea they are turning—the aircraft have to use additional power. I understand that in turning, an aircraft needs to use more power than when moving in a straight line, and this again causes more noise. In railway terms, the situation is equivalent to running the main London to Birmingham railway down the Mall.

It is easy to criticise the choice of the site of London Airport. Of course, if the knowledge had then been available that jet aircraft would need runs of about eight miles before they came on to the glide path, no one would have thought for a moment of putting an airport just there. It is the worst site conceivable for London's airport. But people did not realise it at the time. Aircraft came in on much shorter glide paths.

We should, therefore, merely be wise after the event if we condemned that decision outright, but, having got our airport in the worst possible position for London, we must press on with the establishment of a third airport in a better site. I supported the courageous decision—that is what I call it—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Incidental reference to the siting of airports is in order, but the main subject must be aircraft noise.

Photo of Mr William Worsley Mr William Worsley , Chelsea

I apologise for being drawn too far into that question, Mr. Speaker. The point I wish briefly to make is that one of the considerations which will be in my mind when we come to decide on the Bill is the degree of urgency which the Minister can promise in the inquiry into the third airport. As I have said, the Government have wide powers, including the choice of a third airport. There will be no unanimity in the House wherever the site is settled, but were it to be chosen in an area where aircraft noise was less of a menace, my constituents and the constituents of a hundred hon. Members who now suffer under the glide path would be gradually relieved of their suffering as that airport developed. With respect, Mr. Speaker, therefore, although I do not press the point further, after what you have said, I feel that the question of a third airport for London is a relevant consideration in the problem of aircraft noise.

In moving the Second Reading, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West referred to the Conference on Aircraft Noise in November, 1966. I have the Report here. On a day when the Government must be feeling a bit "groggy", it is only kind to say something nice about them. They deserve the fullest credit for summoning that conference. As the hon. Gentleman said, it was the first conference of its kind, a pioneer conference. I have some questions to ask about it, because my attitude to the Bill depends, to put it bluntly, on what the Government say they will do under their existing powers. This is the critical question, before we consider whether they need more powers, or whether the citizen should have more.

The conference underlined that the key to the problem—indeed, the only way to solve it—lay in international agreement. In one of its less contentious Clauses, the Bill provides for a six-monthly report on this aspect of the matter. I am not sure that I go as far as that, but the Clause at least underlines the essential point that, unless we have international agreement, we cannot solve the problem of aircraft noise.

International air traffic is intensely, and properly, competitive. Our share of it—it is worth recalling that London is the biggest airport in the world in terms of international flights—is a vital national interest. Too strict controls at a national level could merely drive away the traffic, to great national loss. At page 45 of the Report, it is said: What is certain is that in the competitive world of air transport undoubtedly an operator cannot afford to pay any significant penalty in quieter aircraft unless his competitors do the same". One cannot overstate the need for dealing with this problem internationally.

As its chief positive recommendation, the Conference urged a project for international noise certification of aircraft. The recommendation was in strong terms. One of its Committees, in a report accepted by the main Conference, said—this is page 3— … It was of the utmost importance to introduce as soon as possible a system of noise certification of aircraft, including the specification of appropriate operating procedures. —a very strongly worded recommendation.

To me, much the most important question which I have to ask, on the answer to which my attitude to the Bill will largely depend, is this: what progress is being made on international noise certification? To quote the Report again: It now lies within our power to ensure that future jets will be substantially quieter than those operating at present". It is within our power to have quieter aircraft. Are we about to see a system of noise certification? If we have such a system, will it cover aircraft now in use? Aircraft last a long time. Those which are pestering us at the moment will be with us for many years. Even more, will such a system cover those aircraft now in the pipeline, as the phrase goes—the Jumbo jets, the airbuses and the supersonics, especially the Concorde?

The Conference was very alarming about supersonic aircraft. After the observations which I have already quoted, it made three reservations, the first being—this is page 45— The first one concerns supersonic transport aircraft. These require very large engine powers and cannot use the lower exhaust velocities appropriate to subsonic aircraft. In spite of certain compensating advantages, such as variable power plant geometry and a very high rate of climb, it should be recognised that these aircraft present a special problem, especially as regards lateral noise at take-off. These aircraft will not be flying for some time. A system of noise certification which did not cover them might be of use to our children but not much use to us. A very important question is whether noise certification will apply to aircraft already in the design stage and so on.

Secondly, I want to speak about the question of the glide path into London Airport. At present, aircraft approach Heathrow on a three degree glide path and get on to it from below. This is why, although my constituency is eight miles from Heathrow, aircraft are over it at between 2,000 and 3,000 ft. elevation.

Incidentally, by observation, one cannot help feeling that the variation in actual height is very great. One is told by experts that one cannot judge the height of an aircraft from the ground, and I do not claim to do so. But anyone who looks at aircraft flying over London feels that they vary considerably in height. If that is the case, some aircraft are flying needlessly low. Is it possible to have height checks?

Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham

If my hon. Friend will look out of the top window of his house or flat and measure the height of an aircraft by an adjoining chimney, he will get an easy calculation of whether the aircraft is under the glide path or not, despite what the experts say.

Photo of Mr William Worsley Mr William Worsley , Chelsea

I was at school later than my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), and I would have thought that one needed two lines rather than one to assess height. Perhaps if he looks out of his window and I look out of mine and we can organise a convenient chimney we might be able between us to do something. But I do not want to get involved in questions of geometry, still less trigonometry. I should be ruled out of order, anyway, if I did.

I want now to return to the question of the glide path. I do not apologise for quoting at some length from this critically important document. On page 45 it states: Aircraft could also be designed to make possible a steeper angle of descent at lower levels of thrust if that is operationally acceptable, so as to reduce the noise levels under the approach path. I regard that as startlingly important. The Report states that experiments are being carried out at Dulles Airport, Washington, on a six degree glide path and this could mean enormous opportunities of alleviating aircraft noise in central London. I understand that a six degree glide path may either be straight into the airport or alternatively turning nearer to the airport to one of three degrees.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion about the sharpened angle of the glide path. Would that not mean a greater speed of approach at that point?

Photo of Mr William Worsley Mr William Worsley , Chelsea

I cannot answer from an expert point of view. But I cannot see why it should, at least any more than marginally. I should have thought that the difference between three and six degrees in this context was marginal, but perhaps the Minister of State, with his technical advice, will be able to help. Linked to this point is the statement on page 5: Particular design features which could be potentially helpful in this direction … included … improving the aircraft's equipment, so that capture of the instrument landing system glide slope from above can be made using the auto-pilot. I hope the hon. Gentleman can take this point up. If we could not only have a six degree glide path but also get on to it from above rather than below as at present, then we could have aircraft over central London, if my calculations are right, at something like twice their present height, and nothing could be more valuable for alleviating aircraft noise.

These are, then, the principal questions I wish to ask. First, is a system of noise certification likely to be introduced? If so, will it apply only to aircraft not yet designed or to aircraft existing or soon to go into use?

Secondly, are the Government, as part of their general policy against aircraft noise, seriously considering the question of glide path? I know that the problems immediately around airports are intense and very difficult. If my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) were here—he unavoidably cannot be—he would have spoken on that aspect. But the number of people afflicted by noise further away from an airport is very much greater. Indeed, the number in London affected by the glide path runs into many millions. Therefore, the matter really is of critical importance.

I ask the Minister to answer these specific questions. Will it be possible to tilt the glide path, and thus aircraft, at a higher level? Secondly, will it be possible to come down on the glide path from above instead of reaching it from below? Thirdly, will it be possible to come down nearer the airport, so that aircraft need not fly so low over central London? If these questions are answered adequately, I should find it difficult to support the Bill but unless I can be convinced that we are having a really intensive drive to get international agreement on this the hon. Gentleman will find me in the Lobby with him.

11.58 a.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

This Bill is an aspect of the continuing battle between man as resident and man as traveller. I suppose this battle started when the first person jumped on a horse and a passing pedestrian got splashed. It has gone on ever since. Motoring itself is an example of the fact that man in his stationary capacity pays penalties for the fact that he also acquires the benefits of mobility.

Aircraft noise intensifies this battle, and there can be no doubt that we have reached a point at which the convenience of the few is being realised at the very great inconvenience of the many, and that the growth of aircraft has now reached a point at which, with the development of Concorde, convenience for the few will be bought at the cost of very grave inconvenience to very large numbers of people all over the world. We therefore have to ask whether aircraft are not developing in the wrong direction.

I wonder whether the Concorde will be a convenience. I believe that the passengers will be upset in their tummies as a result of travelling too fast and finding themselves at their destination before they have left for it from the personal adjustment point of view. I am not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) is not, a Luddite. We are not opposed to technological development. As Chairman of the A.S.S.E.T. Parliamentary Committee, I had better not be. But there are such things in technological development as blind alleys, as the history of so many projects tells us. I suspect that we are going up one at the moment. The steam motor car was a blind alley, as was the Zeppelin. Nearer at hand, the Brabazon was a blind alley and I think that the Concorde is the blindest of all blind alleys, and certainly the most expensive of its kind. I hope that even now the Government will have second thoughts about it, because I believe that it will be an absolute stumer.

I dissociate myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West from one remark made by the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley). It is no part of our suggestion that the angle of glide should be steeper. This is a dangerous idea and nothing we propose in the Bill is intended in any way to put the citizen at risk when he is travelling. We are seeking to redress the balance between the citizen on the ground and the citizen in the air, a balance which we believe to have been distorted, but we would not wish to do so if the consequences were what the hon. Member for Chelsea described. To steepen the angle of glide to any considerable degree such as the hon. Gentleman suggested would involve an unacceptable risk.

Photo of Mr William Worsley Mr William Worsley , Chelsea

I should like to make it clear that I am not in any way suggesting anything which would put the traveller at risk. However, I quoted the Report at some length because it suggests that there are possibilities of safe increases in the glide path.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

Perhaps I can be allowed to say—

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

I understand that my hon. Friend will have to wait to intervene; I shall certainly give way when the time comes.

One of the reasons why I think that we shall have to press the Bill through is that I believe that the Minister will tell us that noise certification is something which will come in the indefinite future. I believe that it will not have the effect for which the hon. Member for Chelsea hopes. I think that my hon. Friend will tell the hon. Member for Chelsea that noise certification will not affect any aircraft currently flying and that he will also say that it will not affect Concorde, or any other aircraft now in course of development. All that is a piece of pie in the sky, no doubt very valuable pie, but still in the sky. As I believe that the Minister will not be able to give the assurance for which the hon. Gentleman asked, I hope that, if the Government are not persuaded of the strength of our argument, the hon. Gentleman will come into the Lobby with us and vote against the Government if they are so misguided as to oppose the Bill, although I hope that they will not be.

My hon. Friend said that he had been tipped off that the Government would not support the Bill, but I hope to advance some arguments to convince the Minister so that in the end he will decide that the Bill should be allowed to go to Committee, with all its readily admitted imperfections. We believe that in principle the Bill is right and that those things which are wrong can and should be remedied in Committee.

If there is one thing which discredits a Government, it is continuity. If a Government are seen to be merely carrying on policies followed by the previous régime, the electorate begins to wonder why it bothered to make a change. Perhaps this has been shown in the last 24 hours.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

We cannot have a debate at this time on the general political situation; we are debating a Bill on aircraft noise.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

I entirely accept that, Mr. Speaker. The point I was about to make was that the Board of Trade, which is responsible for aircraft noise, has not made any change of policy. That is a typical example of continuity. The letters which one receives about aircraft noise—I have seen some sent to my Conservative predecessor—have whole paragraphs worded in exactly the same terms as those earlier letters. One finds that resistance to legislation in this matter has characterised the attitudes of successive Governments.

It is said that the Government are doing all that needs to be done and are conscious of all these matters and will look after them, and so on, and that the law is all right and does not need to be changed. That policy has been followed consistently and it is still being followed by my hon. Friend. I am afraid that he will tell us today that we do not need the Bill, that the Government are doing everything possible and necessary, that they are fully seized of the problems, and that he will ask us kindly to take the Bill away and do what we like with it.

That would be bunkum, because our argument is that the balance between the citizen on the ground and the citizen in the air is wrongly drawn and that what has been happening for the last 15 or 20 years has been that the balance has been gradually tipping against the citizen on the ground whose lot has become harder. Nobody would deny that the consequence of development over the last 10 years has been that the lot of the citizen on the ground in relation to aircraft noise has become worse and worse. We say that unless some legislative action is taken the consequences of flying for the citizen on the ground will get worse. The Government must agree that, in spite of all the assurances, the situation has got worse and will get worse and worse unless some legislative action is taken to redress the balance.

The legislative step which we propose is simply that this country's citizens should be placed in the same legal position as those of America and France, so that the citizen has restored to him a right which he enjoyed prior to 1949, that is to say, the right to sue. This right is enjoyed elsewhere. This argument should commend itself strongly to Conservative Members of Parliament. I believe that the reason why the balance has been tipped against the citizen on the ground has been that the right to sue was filched from him by the 1949 Act. He has been specifically deprived of his power to take action directly in the courts against aircraft noise.

The Government say that this is a power which is not needed, but it cannot be denied that the situation is getting worse. If it were getting better, the Minister might have an argument, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. People are getting more and more fed up with this problem and we say that this legislation is necessary because what is now being done is simply not protecting people against aircraft noise.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

I am interested in this line of argument. Can the hon. Gentleman provide the proof of the pudding by stating the facts for America and France? How many private prosecutions have had the result intended? We have heard that many are pending; how long have they been pending and how much on average does each private prosecution cost?

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

Fortunately, in this country we do not have the defects of both American and French law which, in some respects are very inferior to our sort of law. The fact that legislation in America has not resulted in much effective action in the American courts may be the reason why the Government do not want us to have legislation in this country, because our judicial system would be much more effective. However, in France aircraft are not allowed to land in Paris at night, although they are here, precisely because the French citizen is capable of suing and stopping it, whereas in this country we do not have that right. The proof of the pudding is, therefore, directly in the eating. The reason why those who live around London Airport are kept awake at night is that they cannot sue as their counterparts in Paris can.

That is what the Bill seeks. Assurances from the Front Bench will do no more than whitewash the situation and we require the Bill to restore to the citizen his right to sue. Without such a right, we shall not rectify the situation. One reason is that the Minister is both poacher and gamekeeper. He is not merely a reformed poacher turned gamekeeper; he is simultaneously both. He is the man responsible for the people making the noise and is also the man supposed to be responsible for preventing them from making it.

If we had two separate Government Departments, one responsible for making noise—say, the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—and one responsible for preventing it, at least there would be some logic in it, but when the situation is that the noise-makers are also the noise-preventers no administrative assurance from the Front Bench can be of any value. We must have legislative protection. This House is a Legislature. No doubt, my hon. Friend's answer to our problem is that he will give us, in the old forces' phrase, "All aid short of actual help". In this Bill we propose to give ourselves some actual help.

It is fair to say that within the context of the present situation, which this Bill proposes to change, my hon. Friend and his Department have acted well and reasonably. The decision to hold the Stansted inquiry was correct. It was the right thing to do, to look into this question of Stansted on a wide basis, with a full inquiry reaching certain conclusions and coming to decisions in the light of that inquiry. That is the right thing to do, but there is one snag. It is bound to take time, and in that time the noise near London Airport will get worse. We will have a very difficult job to hold even the present restrictions.

Currently the aircraft operators are, quite naturally, and from their own point of view, perfectly understandably, placing more pressure upon my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, to release the restrictions on London Airport. They are trying to persuade him to take off the limitation of 3,500 night jet flights in the summer. They are trying to persuade him to remove even the minor restrictions on take-off. There are no noise restrictions on landing at all. One can make as much noise as one likes on the glide path. The only restriction is on the perimeter, at the moment of take-off.

This is the objection—that within the context of the present situation, my hon. Friend does not seek to measure the amount of noise under the glide path at all. It was to this point that the Parliamentary Commissioner directed a great deal of his attention. It is true that he found no maladministration. He could hardly have done so because he was quite right to say that my hon. Friend was correctly carrying out the regulations. It is these which are wrong, and until we put the legal situation right they will always be wrong.

Much has happened since I attempted to introduce a Bill similar to this. There has been a petition from Putney, and a very reasonable and full reply to the points made in that petition has been given by my hon. Friend and his advisers. These are capable men, with the interests of the citizen at heart, except where they happen to conflict with the interests of aircraft operators, when they are placed in some difficulty. This is because everything is dealt with in the same Department of the same Ministry.

The Bill seeks to restore freedom to pursue actions against aircraft owners and operators for nuisance by noise and vibration. It seeks to empower the President of the Board of Trade more effectively to limit and restrict aircraft noises. It seeks to empower the Parliamentary Commissioner to inquire into and report on such questions. These are the basic objects of the Bill. We recognise that within the Clauses there are some things which would require alteration in Committee. The purpose of the Bill, for example, is not that all jet flights should be licensed but that only supersonic flights should be licensed. No one can doubt that such flights need licensing.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

As I read Clause 5, it occurs to me that all jet flights are prohibited.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

This is really a Committee point and this was dealt with earlier.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

As you say, Mr. Speaker, this was dealt with earlier and my hon. Friend corrected the expression "jet-powered" to "supersonic", regretting that an error had been made. He asked leave of the House to make that correction. That was before the hon. and learned Member came into the Chamber.

Another aspect of the Bill that we might want to change if all goes well is the limitation of 100 PNdB. We may want to change that form of measurement, because, since I introduced my former Bill, which this one closely follows, a finer form of measurement has been introduced known as the index of community nuisance or I.C.H. This measurement is recognised by aircraft engineers as being the coming type of measurement and it takes into consideration the number of people suffering from the amount of noise. This rather complex form of measurement will be one of the most valuable instruments in measuring the whole nature and impact of aircraft noise upon the individual. We want to make that kind of alteration.

May I plead with my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite not to oppose the Bill in toto, but to allow it to go into Committee and to accept our assurance that, except on the single point of the absolute necessity of restoring to the citizen his right to sue—which we think is paramount—we would be prepared to accept Amendments to remove any reasonable objections. For instance, we would be prepared to accept a proposition that the Director of Public Prosecutions should have to give his fiat to say that a suit was reasonable before it could be laid, so as to protect the aircraft operators and the technologists from the possibility of frivolous litigation. I express the hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

12.18 p.m.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

We have heard sincerity and passion from hon. Members opposite who have spoken in favour of the Bill. I should like to assure them that many hon. Members on this side of the House, if not all, are equally determined to recognise that there is a very serious problem here and to urge upon the Government that action should be taken to curb it. We realise that while the technological advances in civil aviation have brought enormous improvements to the community, they have at the same time resulted in great hardship, not just affecting a handful of individuals but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) said in referring to the effects of the glide path, affecting many people in London, and those living close to regional airports.

It is in that spirit of co-operation that I approach the Bill. Two points have raised themselves in my mind. First, there is the question of being able to sue the aircraft owners and operators. It is an attractive proposal, but to what extent can a Bill be amended in Committee?

The effect of the first two Clauses is to make the noise and vibration caused by aircraft a statutory nuisance under Part III of the Public Health Act, 1936. The big difficulty is that we can sue only in respect of organisations or objects causing disturbance which are immovable on the ground. The Bill refers to something which is far from immovable and which moves so fast and at such a rate of climb that it is a disturbance to many people. To this extent—and I do not want to rub this in—it might appear that the Bill is a nonsense from the start on purely legal grounds.

Secondly, an action for common law nuisance lies in respect of damage to property or an unreasonable interference with the peaceful use of property. I am speaking in this debate because many of my constituents live very close to Gatwick Airport. During part of the week, when the House is in session, I have to live in London, on one of the glide paths to London Airport. Therefore, I wear two hats, so to speak. I have spoken to people affected by noise near Gatwick Airport. When I consult my reactions to the nuisance caused, I cannot say that there has been any damage to property. I should think that one would find it extraordinarily difficult to prove in a court that there had been unreasonable interference with the peaceful use of property. I know that there are occasions when there seems to be a rush-hour development—generally about noon on Saturdays or at teatime on Sundays—and there seems to be an inordinate amount of air traffic and one cannot hear oneself speak—

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us why the Government have given compensation to people who dwell about London Airport and not to his constituents who live near Gatwick? I should have thought that they were on all fours.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

But there are very small sums involved. There are people who live cheek-by-jowl with an airport, and it is a sort of recognition by the Government that people are having their lives made wretched. That is different from a Bill which seeks to incorporate the principle that a person can sue an aircraft operator for causing interference and which gives people who think that they are suffering from unreasonable interference the right to go to the trouble and expense of bringing an action against an operator and in the end failing.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

The question whether the suit would succeed or fail could be proved only in the courts. In my opinion, the Bill would enable the citizen to sue with a reasonable chance of success. However, if the hon. Gentleman disagrees, no doubt he will say so in Committee.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Interventions prolong speeches, and many Members wish to speak.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

I do not wish to evade the point. I do not want to dismiss the right of a citizen to sue. I am saying, first, that there are difficult problems, and, secondly, that I am not sure that the Bill deals with them. The Bill probably needs fundamental revision, so fundamental that it might lead some to assume that it is not a proper vehicle for the purpose.

The Bill places a restriction five years from now on aircraft which have a noise level of above 90 PNdBs. We must look at this matter in proper perspective. I cannot imagine many airlines finding it economical to operate aeroplanes five years from now if they are subjected to this statutory control. I wonder how realistic we are being in seeking to impose this sort of restriction on airlines operating in and out of Britain.

There is only one real breakthrough which will alleviate the problem, and that is to improve the technological design of aero engines so that the diminution of noise results. We must urge the Government to press ahead with all vigour in ensuring that an international noise certification procedure is introduced. We cannot expect the Government to put the British aero industry to disadvantage. We shall all listen with interest to hear what progress has been made in this respect. Gatwick Airport will be saturated by 1974. As the hon. Member for Putney said, there is the problem of achieving a right balance in the face of mounting pressure—a balance between growing public demand, together with the need for foreign exchange, which we cannot ignore, and the rights of people living near airports.

Meantime, subject to our successfully making this break-through, a number of things can be done. First, we should ensure that fair and reasonable standards are adopted at airports where none exist. The Minister will be aware that I was a member of a deputation consisting of some of my hon. Friends and representatives from the Surrey County Council which went to see him and the President of the Board of Trade only a few weeks ago. I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair), who has played a great part in bringing to the Government's attention the need to impose important controls at Gatwick. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend has pressing business which prevents him from being here for the debate.

During the peak traffic period last year, from April to October, the number of night jet flights from London Airport was restricted to 3,500. It is not unreasonable for us to ask the Government to impose similar restrictions at other airports in Great Britain. The number of night jet flights at Gatwick this year between April and October will rise to about 4,000. Citizens who live in the area of Gatwick are right to feel very aggrieved. I am glad many of them are finding that such bodies as the British Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise and the Gatwick Anti-Noise Executive are fair and responsible organisations for bringing to the attention of, not only Members of Parliament, but the Government, the problems from which they suffer.

To ensure that fair and reasonable standards are adopted is a step which the Government should take as a matter of urgency. This applies in terms not only of the number of night jet flights but of imposing maximum noise levels. These are imposed at London Airport. They do not exist at Gatwick. I assume that there are other airports where there are no restrictions on the PNdBs. We urge that there should be such restrictions at Gatwick. We are not asking for something which is impracticable. We take into account the machinery which the airlines have to operate. The noise level should be 110 PNdBs by day and 102 by night.

A second step which the Government can take is to encourage the airports to make much fuller use of the daylight flying hours. Thirdly, the British Airports Authority, which receives handsome revenue from the airline operators, should be encouraged to devote some of that revenue to the local authorities which have a financial burden to bear when it comes to deciding to what extent property close to the airports should be insulated.

The fourth step which might be taken is for the Government to encourage the tribunals which consider appeals for rate rebates. We know that there have been a number of successful appeals, and there has been some rerating of property close to London Airport. I have a constituent who is appealing to a tribunal. His original claim that his rates should be reduced was dismissed. I wonder to what extent those who have to decide these matters really know, or sufficiently sympathise with, the problem which faces people who feel that they are grievously affected by the noise from aircraft.

A fifth suggestion which the Ministry should heed and which would be enormously helpful is that by specifying standards for noise, the number of night jet flights, and so on, at an airport and by encouraging the airports to give financial assistance to local authorities, it should be possible in the planning of areas near airports to give advice to local authorities on how the land might be developed.

As we know, close to some of our provincial airports—it is certainly true of Gatwick—quite a lot of land is awaiting development. Any land close to an airport attracts a high price. Commercial interests are bound to be particularly concerned. To put it in a nutshell, I am saying that if standards were laid down, local authorities could more easily plan, bearing in mind the needs of the community. In this respect the Government might be able to offer useful advice.

My sixth point is that for the monitoring of noise, the frequency of monitoring points appears to be rather low. These points are limited mainly to the perimeters of airports. I understand—I do not know how advanced it is—that a more portable piece of monitoring equipment has been developed by the Plessey organisation and I gather that its price last year was something like £30-plus. It might be helpful if the Minister could examine the possibility of using and spreading these pieces of equipment about more widely. That would help those of us and the organisations concerned with aircraft noise to which I have referred in the complaints which have to be submitted to the President of the Board of Trade and the British Airports Authority. Too often we feel a little handicapped in not having the equipment which could often help us to substantiate a complaint. The citizen feels particularly aggrieved in this respect.

There are many other aspects of the Bill which call for comment but I wish my intervention to be as brief as possible. I only add that we are all extremely concerned—I feel sure that the Minister will recognise this—not to destroy our aircraft industry. We are well aware of its capabilities and its importance to the nation, but we are also very much concerned with the quality of life. We feel that unless action is taken along the lines which I have ventured to suggest, in addition, perhaps, to other steps, we shall not only find the noise in our generation increasingly intolerable, but successive generations will have very good cause to curse us far inflicting upon them something which they regard as an evil.

12.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

I congratulate my hon. Friends on introducing the Bill. It has given us the opportunity to discuss many of the problems which, we all recognise, are associated with the development of civil aviation. I have on various occasions presented these problems to the House and it may not be without interest if I quote from one of my earliest speeches in the House on the problem which we are discussing today.

On 14th February, a Friday afternoon, in 1947, I raised the question of safety measures, which is part and parcel of our problem today in civil aviation. I tried, as I saw it—and I think that it is still true—to present to the House the root problem from which our troubles have sprung.

I put the question: What is the real difficulty that faces us? It is worth while noting that it faced us 20 years ago when we were passing from the D.H. Rapide, flying at 95 m.p.h. and, with the wind behind it, 100 m.p.h. to the Dakota, which was achieving the extraordinary speed of 180 m.p.h. and bringing with that increase in speed the beginning of the noise problem which faces us today, when we are passing from the subsonic aircraft at 600 m.p.h. to the supersonic aircraft at 1,450 m.p.h. Thus, the problem is immensely magnified.

I tried on that occasion in 1947 to present what I thought was the real difficulty, and I used these words in describing it: It is not the lack of ability to find the aerodynamic formula. It is that civil aviation is nurtured in military aviation. Military aviation must take risks; civil aviation should not. Military aviation is always reaching for greater and greater speed; civil aviation should reach for greater and greater safety for passengers and crews. The military plane must seek to carry its load from one point to another as quickly as possible—quicker than any competitor can do—and, therefore, because of that, we are today passing to the jet-propelled machine, now coming off the drawing board, soon to go into production, and then into use, to hurtle its living cargo with gun muzzle speed through the substratosphere at 50,000 feet in pressurised and sealed ' coffins'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1947; Vol. 433, cc. 730–31.] I put "coffins" in inverted commas because, unfortunately, the shape and often the outcome has, in the past at least, reminded us of the similarity.

But I think the whole House would agree that the increase in safety in civil aviation today has enormously increased with the development of speed. Because of greater efficiency and better engine power, accidents in the air are not now so common as they were, unfortunately, 20 years ago. Of course, with the development of the jet engine has come this problem of noise, but I do not think the real problem is noise. I think the problem is speed.

There is no use the House—I am certain the Government would not try to do it—seeking to reduce speed in an age when people of all sorts and conditions are demanding travel at greater and greater speed. Nobody would introduce on the road today a car that could not do at least 120 miles per hour. One can see—and people protest about it—cars going out to London Airport travelling at not less than 90 miles an hour on the fast lane, although there is "70" in large enough figures which even a blind man could see. That is ignored because people want to travel at speed, and that is as true in the air as it is on the roads today. With that speed goes noise. If I may present another analogy, we ourselves have frequently complained when Committee meetings upstairs have been stopped—disturbed and interrupted on some occasions—by the noise of vessels on the river, the signals from craft using the Thames.

I have taken the trouble to investigate for myself this problem of noise, which, as I say, is related to speed. The conference which was held two years ago has been referred to by various speakers on both sides. I attended that conference. Nothing has happened, really. But I discussed its potentialities with some experts who were there, who occupy themselves at London Airport, and I asked them whether it is possible for technologists today to produce an engine which will drive an aircraft at supersonic speeds but with much diminished noise. They said "Yes, but the Government and the operators must be prepared to pay the price." We cannot do it under present conditions; the price would be very, very high indeed. It is not that the problem of noise from aircraft cannot be solved, according to those experts who attended that conference over in St. James's Palace. The problem is whether or not those who operate supersonic aircraft, including Governments who subsidise so largely, will be prepared to pay the price.

I often wonder how much reality resides in those who object to noise. I think they exaggerate it. I sleep every night in the flight path of aircraft coming into London Airport, on the verge of Chelsea, and I have never yet been disturbed by any aircraft coming into London—even although I am right under its flight path. Sometimes I hear them, but my sleep is never disturbed. It may be that I am a very deep sleeper. I am not arguing about that. But I am in the flight path on the verge of Chelsea—not in Chelsea—and yet in Chelsea, for a while, an anti-noise group was formed. It has disappeared now, because, in my view, there was no real case for its existence.

I have gone to Richmond Park and listened to the aircraft coming in and going out—during the day, I agree—but at Richmond Park the incoming and outgoing aircraft are at too great a height to cause any trouble at all. I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we should restrict night flights in order to reduce the problem of the incidence of noise. But I wonder, if we reduced the number of night flights, whether the result would not be that we would crowd the tarmac even more than it is crowded during the day in order to get all our flights in and away. I have counted the aircraft coming into London Airport over Richmond Park, and on the average there is an aircraft arriving at London Airport every 50 seconds. That is, on a Sunday afternoon. It is an enormous traffic, and a traffic of great value to the whole country, and I should be loth to do anything which would interfere with it.

I agree that if one goes to Richmond itself, where the glide path is much lower, the noise of the aircraft can disturb many people, but there is an interesting aspect of this which probably only a Scots Member would be aware of. Prestwick has international flights with the same type of aircraft as fly from Heathrow—out to the West, to America. Prestwick Airport is almost in the centre of a small town, and the aircraft coming out from Prestwick fly over Troon golf course. Members on both sides of the House will know the location I am speaking of. The flight is at so low a height that I saw Arnold Palmer once ducking his head as one of those Atlantic jets came over when he was playing on Troon golf course. That gives an idea of the height of aircraft going out from Prestwick over the western ocean.

So far as I know, not one word of protest has ever been voiced about aircraft noise by the people of Prestwick. If people living round Heathrow are disturbed by noise, one possibility would be to send the aircraft up to Prestwick where they will be received without criticism. It will, of course, mean a longer journey to the airport.

I quite agree that the problem is an important one, but I think that it is magnified in many ways. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) introduced his Bill very effectively, and I listened to him telling us that supersonic aircraft would create a boom over Bristol. That is the first time that I have heard that said, and I would dispute his statement; because it has been pointed out repeatedly to members of my Aviation Group by the people who are building the aircraft at Bristol, those who designed it and those at director level, that supersonic speed will not be reached by an aircraft taking off from Heathrow until it has passed Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. Until it reaches that point, it will be flying at subsonic speed.

As an additional argument against the supersonic aircraft, it has been said that we shall have supersonics from the Continent passing over our territory. That statement has to be qualified, because the only supersonic aircraft which will pass over the United Kingdom will be those from Frankfurt Airport. From every other airport in Europe, they will be crossing St. George's Channel on their way west.

The supersonic aircraft is one of the great technological achievements of our age. Its development was inevitable. Twenty years ago, when I pointed out the problem which faced us and suggested that we should try to stabilise speed and concentrate on means of achieving greater safety for those who flew, the House rejected what I suggested. Looking back, what has happened since then has been inevitable. In fairness, we have to place the great technological achievement of the supersonic aircraft against its proper background.

Another small point which my hon. Friend brought out was that, in proceeding with its development, we are trying to keep up with the supersonic Joneses. We are doing nothing of the kind. We are leading the way, and it is the others who have joined in with us. I hope that we will do nothing in this House to hinder the technological developments which are taking place, or even create the feeling that we are not in full support of technological development in all its aspects.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

Would my hon. Friend not agree, however, that, if a technological development is taking a wrong direction, one has an absolute duty to point it out?

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

I am very sorry that my hon. Friend has not heard all that I have said; otherwise he would have considered that intervention a non sequitur. I hope that I am correct in using that expression. It does not follow. I was seeking to say that the supersonic aircraft is a technological development which carries with it an immense arena of other developments. At the present time, it engages the activities of 408,000 work people in Western Europe, including Britain. Of that 408,000, we in Britain employ 254,000 at all levels.

As a matter of political policy, we are seeking to enter Europe. In my view it is right to do so. At the moment, we have a commanding position in the development of the supersonic aircraft, and we must not weaken ourselves by doing anything to diminish our authority in that sphere.

At the end of the day, I am sure that we will agree that this wonderful development must proceed unimpeded. At the same time, I still support my hon. Friends in bringing forward this Bill, because it gives us an opportunity to look at this great and expanding industry, which nowadays we do not often have in this House.

12.58 p.m.

Photo of Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe , Windsor

A great many of us envy the capacity of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) to sleep sweetly and deeply in the flight path of planes arriving at and taking off from London Airport. Some of us have not his good fortune, and that is multiplied many times in constituencies affected by aircraft noise, as mine is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) said that we are approaching the aircraft noise season. Whatever may be the merits or otherwise of this Bill, no one can say that the matter is not topical and urgent. As time goes by, the noise problem becomes more and more urgent, and it is extremely important that Governments should strive to their utmost not to allow it to get out of control. It is a problem which faces all Governments; indeed, one might say that one of the most important questions facing the 20th century civilisation is how to keep noise down to a tolerable level.

This represents a great challenge to the aircraft industry. There is a fortune awaiting anybody who can design an aircraft engine which has at one and the same time the power, which is essential and the safety, which is essential, and can reduce the element of noise. If that aircraft designer were British and were to make a fortune, no doubt the present Administration would rapidly take it away from him by other means.

Having said that, I find this Bill impracticable in certain Clauses. Clauses 1 and 2 seem to me, though I am not a lawyer, to seek to make noise and vibration from noise a statutory nuisance under the old Public Health Act, 1936. Unless I have misread the relevant Section of that Act, the noise or the vibration from noise was confined to noise either on land or in a building. Therefore, it clearly could not apply to an aircraft flying in the air.

Equally, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) that Clause 6 seems to have the effect of virtually grounding almost all modern jet aircraft. The logical conclusion would be the abandonment of Heathrow as an international airport with consequences which no Government could possibly conceive for a moment.

Although the provisions of the Bill are in many ways impracticable, I think that we are entitled to ask the Minister what progress has been made in the last year or 18 months concerning the various devices, and international conferences which have taken place, to control the increasing volume of noise from aircraft. Various short-term palliatives have been tried which have not been very successful. It will be remembered that a little time ago a soundproofing scheme was started under which grants could be obtained for buildings within a specified distance of London Airport. I remember the last time I asked a Question about it, which I think was a year ago. Only 66 buildings concerned had been in receipt of grants for soundproofing. That sounds like a doubtful runner, and I do not think it is the way to deal with the problem.

A large section of my constituency, and almost the whole of the town of Windsor, is directly affected by planes taking off from and approaching Heathrow. I have had a lot of correspondence about it with the Minister, and he knows the problem very well. The noise at intervals is appalling. I have had, and I have sent to him, perfectly justifiable complaints, in no way exaggerated, from hospitals, schools and other establishments. In my office in Windsor where, in the way that many hon. Members do, I hold a surgery at intervals, I have had to stop whoever may be talking to me because of the noise of aircraft flying over.

I have been in St. George's Chapel on a Sunday when a sermon by the Dean of Windsor has had to be completely interrupted while aircraft were flying over. I can think of some other sermons I would not mind interrupted by aircraft noise, but the Dean of Windsor is a good preacher.

Aircraft noise is getting worse, not better. The Wilson Report, to which reference has been made, stated that a sound measurement of 55 dBA—

Photo of Mr Robert Woof Mr Robert Woof , Blaydon

On a point of order. May I draw attention to the fact that there are not 40 Members present in the Chamber.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present:

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

On a point of order. Is this not an intolerable interference with private Members' time? I am told that hon. Members are being prevented by Government Whips from entering the Chamber.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

The hon. Member knows perfectly well that any hon. Member is free to decide whether he will come into the Chamber at any particular moment.

Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham

Further to that point of order. Is it not true that hon. Members should have access to the Chamber if they so desire?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I am not aware of hon. Members not having access to the Chamber. All the doors giving access to the Chamber appear to be open.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

On a further point of order. Is it in order to make points of order when there is no quorum?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I am not sure whether there is any precedent for that one way or the other. If I am creating a precedent, I do not think it very much matters.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

On a further point of order. Might I suggest that as the Minister obviously has a number of things he wants to say on this important subject it would be appropriate for him to ask the Government Whips to cease to discourage their Members from coming into the Chamber?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

It is not for me to advise the Minister what course he should take.

House counted, and, 40 Members not being present, adjourned at eight minutes past One o'clock till Monday next.