Is it not vital that the noise levels should be progressively reduced in view of the fact that a considerable number of people live within the monitoring points and in fact are closer to the monitoring points and are, therefore, subjected to greater noise than the so-called official noise limits?
I am aware of the noise problem at Gatwick. The hon. Gentleman will know from the consultation document issued on the London airports that there is likely to be, because of the projected increased use of Gatwick, a short-term worsening of the situation. That is unavoidable. On the other hand, he will also know that I have taken steps to restrict very substantially the number of night jet movements during the summer, and there is now a consultative document out to deal with the question of night jet movements at Heathrow and at Gatwick.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the endeavours of himself and of his Department to reduce noise at Heathrow Airport are very much appreciated, but would he not accept that to suggest the simple transfer of some elements of traffic from one London airport to another is not really constructive? In view of his remarkable endeavours in the past three months, can he state whether any progress has been made in reducing night flights at Heathrow?
The redistribution of noise is always a problem, but it is separate from the need to utilise more effectively the facilities which will become increasingly available at Gatwick, and it is necessary that we should do that.
On the question of the reduction of night jet noise, only last week I issued the consultative document putting forward the options that are available for dealing with this matter. They comprehend essentially possible closures as far as night jet movements are concerned or gradual phasing out of noisier aircraft while permitting quieter aircraft to continue to operate. These matters should be carefully considered.
The noise caused by each jet aircraft take-off is recorded by the automatic noise monitoring system using four fixed microphones. In addition, sample measurements of aircraft noise are taken at a variety of other places around the airport.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of those who live near Gatwick Airport believe that airline pilots know exactly where these microphones are and do their best to avoid them? Will he either use his powers to get the airlines to fly on their proper flight routes or move the microphones to where the aircraft fly?
We believe that it is better to try to persuade those who have infringed the noise limits to adopt a better and more reliable course than they have in the past rather than engage in confrontation. The evidence is that the infringements constitute about one-half of 1 per cent. of all jet take-offs. At Heathrow the position has improved substantially. At Gatwick the position has not altered materially since last year.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, having taken fairly robust steps to limit night noise at Heathrow, he has not taken comparative steps to help at Gatwick, where the nuisance is increasing—and he knows that it is increasing?
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong, and he knows that he is wrong. The permitted number of night jet flights has been reduced by 25 per cent. in the summer and by 30 per cent. in the winter. This is a direct result of action which my Department has taken over the course of the last few years.