I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
First, let me pass on the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He cannot be here because he is attending the European Transport Council in Luxembourg.
Aviation makes a substantial contribution to our national economy—about £10 billion in 2002. It represents about 1 per cent. of economic activity in the United Kingdom. The industry provides 200,000 jobs directly, and three times as many indirectly. More and cheaper flights afford opportunities to travel undreamt of by earlier generations. Now half the population fly at least once a year, and many fly more often—on business, competing in the global marketplace or as leisure travellers, taking advantage of the greater opportunities to discover other countries and cultures.
Aviation is our gateway to the world. The range of destinations served directly by our national and regional airports has expanded enormously. Last but not least, air passenger duty contributes just under £1 billion a year to the Exchequer.
Not everyone can view airports in that warm light, however. Many people who live close to them have very different feelings, and some consider that aviation has dramatically reduced the quality of their lives. It is true that over the years during which there has been an increase in air traffic, there have also been substantial improvements in the noise levels of jet aircraft, and noise at many of our major airports has been significantly reduced as a result. Nevertheless, it remains important for communities affected by noise to feel assured that their interests are taken fully into account as the aviation industry continues to develop.
Does the Minister not accept that for those who live under the flight path, as many of my constituents do—and as I do, which faces me with a conflict on this issue—the number of aircraft movements, especially at night, is just as important as the cumulative noise quotas proposed by provisions in the Bill that would allow an end to controls on the number of movements? For those who are awoken at night by an aircraft, what matters is not the cumulative noise quota but the very fact that they have been woken up.
The purpose of the Bill, as I will explain in a moment, is to empower those responsible for monitoring noise at a given airport to take the most appropriate action to deal with noise at that airport. The point that the hon. Lady makes is entirely valid in respect of some airports, at which the number of aircraft movements would need to be taken into account. At others, forcing people to use quotas, rather than taking account of the noise of individual aircraft, has a deleterious effect on their quality of life, so they would want a different solution. The Bill gives the authorities the power to make those decisions.
Let me make some progress first. We have a full day's debate, so we will have plenty of time to discuss these issues.
The Bill will, among other things, strengthen and clarify powers to control aircraft noise and emissions, in line with the commitments given in the Government's White Paper, "The Future of Air Transport," which was published in December 2003. First, the Bill will amend the powers through which the Secretary of State currently controls aircraft noise at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Secondly, it will introduce new statutory provisions for controlling aircraft noise at airports where the Secretary of State does not exercise his powers.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the Bill proposes to give these powers to the airports themselves, and that although many airports might exercise such responsibilities responsibly, some people might want an independent audit of their ability to regulate their own activities?
The Bill gives such power to the airport authorities, and as my hon. Friend correctly says, in many cases that will be the airport operator. But of course, they will be operating within the planning constraints imposed by the local authority. The existence of these powers will enable local authorities and airport operators, working in conjunction, to provide the controls that my hon. Friend seeks.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment—I am only sorry that for the second time in succession, he defeated in South Thanet my very good friend Mark Macgregor, who would have made an excellent Member of this House. Will the order-making power provided for in clause 5(3) be subject to the negative procedure of the House, or to its affirmative counterpart?
I will reflect on that question and let the hon. Gentleman know the answer in good time. I thank him for his good wishes. I had a very enjoyable election with his good friend, but I was delighted to beat him for the second time.
Section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 empowers the Secretary of State to exercise direct control of noise measures at designated airports. Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted have been designated, and noise-control measures at these airports include noise-preferential routes, departure-noise limits and night-noise restrictions. Although we consider the existing powers to be broadly appropriate, the White Paper gives a commitment to amending section 78, so that controls such as night restrictions could, subject to public consultation, be set by reference to the amount of noise generated by aircraft on the basis of noise quotas alone, without a separate movements limit. This relates to the point made earlier by Susan Kramer.
As a result of this amendment, the primary control at an airport regulated by the Secretary of State could be related more directly to noise nuisance, providing a more effective incentive for airlines to acquire, use and develop quieter aircraft. I emphasise the word "could", by way of response to the question raised by the hon. Member for Richmond Park. However, I should emphasise that amending these powers should not be interpreted as a precursor to any immediate change in policy for noise control at the designated airports. For example, the recently launched stage two consultation on night flight restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted is based on the legislation as it currently stands and the outcome will set the limits for night flights both in terms of movements and noise quotas until 2012.
No. The Government's intention is that there should be a proper consultation among the stakeholders involved in a particular airport, including the local community, and the most appropriate form of measurement would be the one that would apply at that airport. We are not intending one solution in any particular place at all. We are simply enabling the Secretary of State to have more flexible powers at his disposal so that we can better tailor the noise rules at each airport to the needs of that local community.
The logic of the hon. Gentleman's most attractive argument is that other airports should be designated as well so that they can be brought under the umbrella of the Secretary of State's care and control. From what he has said, I assume that Nottingham East Midlands airport is an early candidate for designation.
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. and learned Gentleman; we have no such plans at this point. It would be necessary for local Members and interested parties to convince the Secretary of State that he needed to designate a particular airport other than those that are designated at the moment. The Bill, as I shall point out in a moment, provides effectively the same range of powers to the airport authorities that control other airports as those that are available to the Secretary of State at designated airports. We hope that it will not be necessary to designate more airports, but the hon. and learned Gentleman and colleagues around his constituency would be free to make the case to the Secretary of State if they felt that there were evidence to support the designation of Nottingham East Midlands airport.
I can assure the House that any proposals to change the arrangements by which we control noise at the three designated airports would be subject to consultation in the normal way. Although the Government have a direct role in noise control at the three designated airports, elsewhere, airports are, apart from any planning restrictions that may apply, responsible for their own noise control arrangements, usually as part of their conditions of use; a point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Todd.
That accords with our long-standing policy—re-emphasised in the White Paper—that, generally speaking, aircraft noise problems are best resolved locally by the airport working with the local community. In the majority of cases this works well but, in some cases, there has been doubt about what airports can and cannot do within the existing law. That is why, in the White Paper and the Department's document "Control of Noise from Civil Aircraft: The Government's Conclusions", we gave a commitment to clarify and enhance airport powers in statute.
The local authority has planning responsibility for an airport and an involvement in setting the conditions of its use. Most, if not all, of these airports will have a consultative committee that includes members of the local community and the local council. It is in that context that the local community would be involved in setting these powers.
My hon. Friend has been very patient. I have two points for him to consider. The White Paper referred to the need to impose stringent noise controls at certain airports, including Nottingham East Midlands. That would suggest that perhaps there was an objective test of what stringent meant, rather than just how the airport itself chose to define it. Secondly, airports are going through the process of preparing master-plans. What role do those have in determining the local position on noise control?
My hon. Friend is right: if we are to have stringent noise control, we have to define "stringent". However, the definition will be different at different airports. Some airports are closer to areas of residential use than others. Such matters need to be tailored according to local circumstances, and that is where the master-plans will come in, because they will have to take account of local needs.
The Bill provides, therefore, explicit statutory powers for airports to make noise control schemes. These powers essentially replicate for non-designated airports the powers of direction over aircraft operators that the Secretary of State will, if this Bill is passed, exercise in respect of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. The Bill defines the maximum area within which the airport's powers to control aircraft noise apply, although there is provision for the Secretary of State to alter this in individual cases by consultation. For example, the standard definition is designed to encompass noise preferential routeing for aircraft taking off that goes significantly beyond the boundaries of the airport itself.
The Bill also puts on a statutory footing the ability of airports to impose penalties on aircraft operators that have not complied with the terms of a noise control scheme. We are already aware of one major airport, for example, which is awaiting statutory powers before imposing discretionary financial penalties for aircraft deviating from preferred noise routes. The power for airports to impose penalties is balanced, however, with a requirement that noise control schemes should provide for an opportunity for aircraft operators to make representations to the airport operator regarding the imposition of penalties.
My hon. Friend suggests that the airport operator is to be the policeman when an aircraft operator digresses from the authorised route, but the airport operator needs the airlines, not the other way round. Can we be confident that airport operators will impose severe sanctions on airlines in those circumstances?
It is certainly true that the airport operator needs airlines to make profit at his airport. However, he also needs an airport, which means that he needs the good will, co-operation and agreement of the local council. The local council will be in a position to ensure that the airport operator introduces noise control rules that are appropriate to the local community. That will strike the right balance between the needs of the local community for noise control schemes and the needs of the airport operator to offer a flexible service to airlines.
The ideal situation, of course, is that by airports and airlines working collaboratively, which they do in the majority of cases, the need for financial penalties is kept to the minimum. But where financial penalties are appropriate, the Bill provides for the local community to benefit from the money. In practice, that tends to happen anyway, but not always. The aim should be for the airport to foster co-operation with the airlines and the local community with the use of penalties being a measure of last resort.
In the White Paper, we said that we wanted airports to be able, if they wish, to extend their noise measures. That could, for example, include an overall noise contour or quota system so that they can relate to overall use of the airport, thereby enabling clearer environmental objectives to be set. I would like to emphasise that where existing arrangements are working satisfactorily, the expectation will be that such arrangements will carry on. Our advice is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Any changes that the Government would make to noise regulations at an airport would have to follow appropriate consultation. The Secretary of State's powers under the civil aviation legislation are there for all to see. However, the provisions of the Bill are designed to help airports that may want to refresh or enhance their existing arrangements. For the very largest airports, the Aerodrome (Noise Restrictions) (Rules and Procedures) Regulations 2003 set out the procedures that major airports should follow when considering measures to deal with noise problems. That reflects the adoption by the European Union of the International Civil Aviation Organisation's balanced approach, according to which airports should not impose measures more restrictive than necessary to achieve noise objectives or discriminate on grounds of nationality, air carrier or manufacturer.
May I press the Minister further? Will he now rule out the idea that the Government have any intention of changing the movement limits for daytime flights?
I will not rule out anything. I have made it clear that the rules were set out in the existing legislation that I described, that the Bill gives the Secretary of State certain powers in respect of designated airports and also extends those powers to airports that are not designated. That does not change the position on daytime movements, but if appropriate, there could be consultation that could lead to changes in the future.
Civil aviation legislation enables licensed airports to fix their charges by reference to the noise that aircraft make. Additionally, the Secretary of State may direct an airport to do that, although he has not found it necessary to do so to date. However, the legislation concerning local air quality goes back to 1982, when there would have been little or no expectation that airports would want to vary their charges by reference to aircraft emissions.
The Government's air quality strategy has since set out health-based air quality objectives for air pollutants, derived from EU air quality directives. Although, on a national scale, the contribution of air transport to those impacts is small—certainly compared with road traffic, for example—its effect can be significant in individual cases. We therefore gave a commitment in the White Paper that the Government would introduce legislation enabling the Secretary of State to require an emissions-related element to be included in landing charges at airports where there are local air quality problems.
In fact, BAA has already incorporated an oxides of nitrogen emissions element in its airport charges at both Heathrow and Gatwick, as part of its conditions of use, and I applaud it for having done so. However, by making explicit the power to do so in statute, the Government wish to send an even clearer message that they support airports that want to incorporate economic incentives to help to tackle local air quality problems. The Secretary of State will retain the discretion to issue a direction in individual cases, should he consider that necessary at some future date.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is acting to control local pollution caused by aviation, but he will be aware that the big current debate on pollution from aviation is about the global impact on climate change—hence the recent strategy for sustainable aviation. How confident is he that he will be able to bring aviation into the emissions trading scheme and, if he is not, is he willing to look for consensus on some of the ideas advanced by other members of the European scheme?
I can give my right hon. Friend those assurances. We shall use our presidency over the next six months and we hope to take forward some of the negotiations on aviation. In particular, we have made it clear that we are interested in some of the proposals for emissions trading for aviation and we shall do our best to take forward those negotiations over the next six months.
Is the Minister aware of an irony in the potential tax system for general aviation, which, although it is a very small contributor to emissions, may be forced to pay Eurocontrol navigation charges that are now paid primarily by the large commercial airline sector? Is he willing to meet representatives from the general aviation professional bodies, so that they can explain the issue and the counter-productive way in which the new charges could work? Moreover, could he do that in a time frame that would enable amendments to be tabled before the Bill finishes its Committee stage?
The Government are happy to receive representations. I suggest that the best Minister to make the representations to is the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Ms Buck, who is primarily responsible for aviation matters, and will wind up the debate. We all have an open office in the Department for Transport and are always happy to receive new ideas from anyone.
Thus far, I have described the important environmental issues that the Bill deals with, but it also contains two important provisions relating to the financial protection and health of air travellers. Organisers of air package holidays are required, as part of the air travel organisers licensing—ATOL—requirements, to provide a bond to be used to repatriate and reimburse holiday makers in the event of a company's insolvency. The air travel trust fund is a back-up facility for the financial protection of people who book air package holidays. If a tour organiser becomes insolvent and the bond proves insufficient to pay for the repatriation and reimbursement of those affected, the ATTF is used to make up the difference.
As a result of various calls on the fund, it has become depleted and has been in deficit for some years. There are no statutory powers to impose a levy on travel companies to replenish the fund. A precursor to the fund—the air travel reserve fund—was wound up in the 1980s and the powers to levy could not be revived. The bank overdraft in respect of the deficit of the fund has been guaranteed by the Government, pending a suitable legislative opportunity to secure new powers.
There are therefore clauses in the Bill that will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations permitting the Civil Aviation Authority, following consultation, to impose a levy on travel organisers that will, over time, eliminate the present deficit and establish sufficient funds to deal with future travel company insolvencies. The CAA will consult on the nature of the charge and its duration.
My hon. Friend will be aware that many travellers, because of the way tickets and holidays are purchased nowadays, have no idea that, if any of the companies became bankrupt, they would be stranded with no rights of return and no support. Will he give us a firm assurance that the CAA will be supported in its suggestion that a £1 levy across the board would not only give travellers genuine protection so that Her Majesty's Government would not have to pay for the repatriation of British citizens, but benefit many companies by straightening out many of the current anomalies?
I understand my hon. Friend's point and we have received a number of representations on this matter, not least the report of the Transport Committee. I have to tell her, though, that we have also received a great many representations putting the other side of the argument. It is by no means a black-and-white issue. There is a balance to be struck and, at this stage, the Government are not prepared to give the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks.
My hon. Friend will also be aware that I was a Minister when the original scheme was introduced and I can assure him that it was introduced because Her Majesty's Government were extraordinarily embarrassed at finding themselves with thousands of British citizens on various holidays who, without protection, were unable to get back to their own country. Let me assure him that the balance of the argument lies with consumers, who do not even know that they are currently not protected, but who would certainly make Her Majesty's Government pay when they suddenly discover that they are not.
My hon. Friend makes some good points. Before the general election, the Government began work to make more information available so that people are made aware of their lack of protection when they are not covered by the ATOL scheme. Having said that, I ask her to reflect on some of the opposing arguments. Some larger airlines, for example, have pointed out that one of the reasons for their competitive advantage is that people know that it is unlikely that they will go bankrupt. They feel that their competitive advantage would be taken away from them if a levy were imposed. Others have pointed out that consumers are not protected by an automatic levy in other areas, where they are expected to take reasonable steps to protect themselves. We need to find the right balance in the arguments. That is why the Government want to reflect on those arguments, not least those advanced in the House today and later in Committee, before deciding how best to proceed. We have neither ruled out nor ruled in the measures that my hon. Friend has requested.
The Minister may well want to travel to the United States where he may see an airline—one of the larger ones—going belly up shortly. If that happens, passengers will be scattered all over the USA and elsewhere, and many British people will be affected. This is an important matter that needs to be addressed if we are to bring about, as the Minister said, a proper balance. If there is to be balance, surely we should take an onerous task from what used to be known as the charter companies, which have to undertake it in order to operate, and instead create an insurance policy that covers everyone who travels.
I hope that my hon. Friend is not suggesting that the British Government should indemnify flying travellers wherever in the world they are, whoever they are flying with and no matter from which country the carrier from whom they bought their tickets emanates. I accept his argument, but there are arguments in favour of putting a levy in place, and, equally, arguments against. The Government do not feel able to rush into a decision. We want to consider it properly. If we decide to proceed, we want to make sure that the regulations we come up with are sound, fair to everybody and compliant with the law. I re-emphasise that we have not ruled it in and are not ruling it out. We want to hear people's views.
They are as I have just pointed out. The larger airlines, which are known to be sound and have a good record of commercial probity, feel that investing in that probity has cost them a lot of money. They do not feel that they ought to be forced to levy a charge against their passengers from which their passengers will never benefit. Secondly, many people choose to buy airline tickets over the internet these days, and there are difficulties about when someone is covered and when not. Those would need to be explained to people. Others buy tickets through travel agents, and agents have made representations saying that they do not want to sell someone a plane ticket and then immediately have to tell them to take out travel insurance against insolvency.
There are strong arguments in favour of the levy and strong arguments against. The Government are simply saying that we want to hear the arguments and take a balanced position to make sure that we make proposals that will work. We did not feel able to do that in time for the Bill, but we are certainly not ruling it out or ruling it in at this stage. Comments in this debate, in Committee and at later stages will influence us. We will make a decision and announce it as soon as we possibly can.
I am aware of concerns expressed in some sections of the travel industry about the lack of financial protection for people who buy a flight on its own rather than a package holiday. As we have just heard, there have been many calls to extend the Bill to cover all air travel. The Government have noted the decline in the proportion of people covered by the ATOL scheme and are evaluating a wide range of options. If we conclude that such an extension of consumer protection is warranted, we will need to consult publicly on the preferred option before bringing forward a further legislative proposal. This is a complex area and it is important that we get it right. We are not prepared to rush something through to include it in the Bill. Powers need to be framed and carefully and thoroughly drafted.
My hon. Friend has been astonishingly kind in giving way. It takes a long time to get civil aviation before the House. That is not a new thing. If he really believes the rather weak and—forgive me—wholly indefensible arguments he has put up this afternoon, will he give me a timetable for when the magic time of balance will appear so that we may take a judgment?
The commitment that I have given my hon. Friend is that we will deal with the matter as quickly as we possibly can. At the first possible opportunity, we shall bring forward our proposals, but I emphasise—
I would rather move on, as I suspect that there are points later in my speech that will be of even more interest to my hon. Friend and on which he can intervene.
I am not saying that we oppose extending the scope of financial protection but that we need to give the matter more consideration, including listening to the views of the House, before bringing forward a legislative proposal, should we decide to do so.
In March 2003, we announced the establishment of the aviation health unit—a dedicated facility within the Civil Aviation Authority for the provision of health advice to passengers, airlines and others. The unit, which has been in operation since December 2003, is funded by the Department for Transport. However, it has been the policy of successive Governments that such costs should be borne by the aviation industry rather than the taxpayer, so we have included a clause to enable the CAA to recover the cost of the AHU from the industry by a suitable charging scheme. The CAA will, of course, consult on the most appropriate charging mechanism but the amount of money involved is extremely small, amounting to less than 0.5 per cent. of what airlines currently pay towards the cost of the CAA.
Under current legislation—section 17(4) of the Airports Act 1986—an airport company owned by a local authority or a group of local authorities, known as a public airport company, or any subsidiary, is prevented from engaging in activities in which none of its shareholding local authorities has the power to engage. That restriction was considered appropriate at the time. However, there have been calls in recent years for it to be relaxed to allow successful public airport companies, such as the Manchester Airport Group, to develop their businesses and better serve their local area and the wider region.
On two occasions, amendments to other Bills were tabled in another place and subsequently withdrawn, but the Government made clear their sympathy with the principles of relaxing the restrictions and clarifying the position where there is uncertainty. In June 2003, in another place, my noble Friend Lord Rooker gave a commitment to consider the matter further with a view to introducing legislation when a suitable opportunity arose. We are now honouring that commitment. The Bill will allow the Secretary of State, by regulations, to specify permitted activities that he considers incidental to, or connected with, the business of operating a commercial airport. He will be able to set conditions on the permitted activities—for example, limiting their scope to activities of a commercial nature or to activities carried out in certain countries or territories.
Presumably, as Nottingham East Midlands airport is owned by the Manchester Airport Group, which is owned by 10 local authorities in Manchester, it must follow that my constituents who are affected by the business activities of Nottingham East Midlands airport will be able to vote in Manchester elections.
I do not think that that follows at all.
The permitted activities could include selling expertise in airport management and development, in air traffic management, airport security, specialised airport fire and rescue services, the ground handling of aircraft, passengers and freight and entering into joint ventures in connection with airports. Our aim is to allow public airport companies the opportunity to compete on a more level playing field in the UK and abroad.
Another measure in the Bill will revoke the role of the Secretary of State as point of appeal in aviation route licence cases. Such cases concern the allocation by the CAA of frequencies available to UK airlines in circumstances where restrictive bilateral aviation agreements between the UK and foreign countries prevent UK airlines from mounting all the services they would like to provide. Airlines make proposals to the CAA about how they would use the available frequencies, and the CAA makes a decision on those proposals, based on its assessment of which of them will bring the greatest benefit to consumers. The CAA gives effect to its decisions by conditioning airlines' route licences. An airline can at present appeal to the Secretary of State against a CAA decision, which is what we are proposing to remove by the reform.
The Minister said that it would be possible for airports to share their expertise—for example, in air traffic management. What protection will there be for aircraft under 2,000 kg from having to pay high or additional charges? Increasingly, light and general aviation is being pushed out of the really large airports by their enormous, extraordinarily high costs, so we are squeezing almost out of existence a multi-million pound sector of aviation.
I do not have the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. I can understand the concerns that he expresses. An airport's commercial decisions may well instinctively involve excluding lighter aircraft because it does not see them as such a big business opportunity. In so far as I am aware, the Bill will not change that when enacted, but I will certainly reflect on that and, if the position is different, I am happy to write to him.
Our intention is to streamline and modernise the process in the interests of consumers and the industry. The CAA is the body with the greatest expertise in assessing the consumer and competition issues on which the allocation depends, and we think it right that the CAA alone should make the necessary determinations. The current possibility of appeal to the Secretary of State adds a political dimension that is no longer appropriate now that the airline industry in the UK is mature and competitive. Experience suggests that, currently, airlines automatically lodge appeals against CAA decisions, as there is no incentive for them not to do so. That can delay the take-up of new services considerably—thereby disadvantaging consumers—to no good purpose in many cases.
We considered the possibility of retaining an appeal to an alternative body, such as the Competition Commission, but concluded that that would continue to slow down the process and burden airlines with extra expense, without adding any value to the assessment carried out by the CAA. We want consumers to enjoy the benefits of additional services with the minimum of delay consonant with a proper assessment of the relative merits of different airlines' proposals for services.
We are confident that the CAA's processes, including a public hearing at which evidence can be examined and questioned, will provide for a full and transparent assessment of the merits of the various proposals. Of course, it will be open to a disappointed applicant to seek a review of the CAA's decision through the courts. We consider that that is sufficient to ensure that the demands of regulatory accountability are met and to safeguard the rights of the parties under the Human Rights Act 1998. I am pleased to say that, when we consulted the airlines, the CAA and the Air Transport Users Council, the majority of those who responded supported the reform.
I consider this a well-balanced Bill. Like many other hon. Members, I have a growing airport in my constituency and I understand the tension that can arise in a community that wants the local airport to succeed while creating local wealth, but that is also concerned about noise and pollution. The Bill will help to resolve those tensions. Too often, airport operators, councils and communities are confused about what can and cannot be done to control the environmental impact of airports. The Bill will help to resolve that confusion. It is a positive Bill that has been much discussed and consulted on and it is fair to consumers, airport operators, airlines and local communities. I commend it to the House.
I thought that, when I got hold of the Bill, I might have some high hopes. I hoped that it might contain a coherent, strategic vision for the aviation industry in which environmental concerns would be tackled intelligently and effectively, thus enabling airlines to prosper, while becoming committed allies in achieving our environmental goals. What we have instead is a strange collection of miscellaneous pieces of mopping up.
The Bill is a hotch-potch of all the loose ends that Sir Humphrey will have been badgering Ministers about for years. It has a bit on noise, a bit on emissions and a bit on ensuring against corporate failure, but none of it coheres into a convincing overall shape. All its contents are predominantly permissive, thus leaving us uninformed about what will actually happen, and they do not constitute a comprehensive policy on either noise or emissions. By contrast, that is exactly what the Opposition have tried to do for the past few years, and my hon. Friend Mr. Yeo outlined our objectives very clearly when he held my job. First, we are utterly determined—
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. If the Opposition were so committed for years, why was the Conservative party's manifesto completely silent on the subject?
We published detailed proposals, which I am sorry the Minister did not have the diligence to read. I shall reiterate exactly what we said. First, we are determined that Britain should be a full participant in any EU emissions trading regime covering the aviation industry, before—this is a crucial pre-condition—any expansion in runway capacity in the south-east is given the go-ahead. Secondly, it is our policy to review existing compensation arrangements so that they become much more generous to those people whose homes are blighted by any proposed airport development. This, after all, is the practical expression of a simple principle: that the polluter should pay.
The hon. Gentleman has said something very interesting. Does he assume that this approach will relate only to people who live in houses that are affected by decisions in the civil aviation sector, or is he thinking of extending the theory to cover people who are disturbed by roads?
This is the Civil Aviation Bill, and I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would prefer me to confine my comments to aviation matters.
Thirdly, we are utterly opposed to the cross-subsidy of airport development costs from one airport to another.
The Bill does offer no coherent shape to those objectives; nor does it offer any similar or comparable approach. Its structure is muddled. Indeed, it is even self-contradictory. Its contents are completely piecemeal.
To be fair to the Secretary of State, he is the victim of previous Conservative Governments' successes. In the late 1980s, the predominant concern in aviation was to turn organisations that had hitherto been shackled by government into profitable enterprises that added to the nation's wealth. We have seen a dramatic increase in air travel, combined with the emergence of new airlines with almost bafflingly low prices for many tickets, internet purchasing and intense competition. Our airports have attracted massive investment.
For people on every level of income and of every background, the opportunities to travel are far beyond the dreams of earlier generations. People can book themselves flights on the internet over lunch and jet off on the weekend, and the cost of doing so lies within most people's reach. The openings for business have been equally monumental, and more than half the passengers on the new low-cost carriers are business men and women.
Passenger numbers have increased dramatically, up from 51 million in 1982 to 189 million in 2002, rising by 7 million in 2001–02 alone. BAA has invested more than £6 billion since it was privatised in 1987, and passenger numbers at its seven airports have risen from 55 million then to 127 million in 2002.
My sympathy for the Secretary of State and the Government begins to wane because the Government are prisoners of their own policies. In 2004, the Sustainable Development Commission published a report highlighting the contradictions between the Government's White Paper on aviation and their stated desire to deal with climate change. The Environmental Audit Committee described Ministers as being "superficial and vague" about the environmental damage done by Government policy. The Bill does not even begin to answer any of that.
Admittedly, other new problems have emerged, such as health concerns including deep vein thrombosis. Air traffic control has become ever more challenging as controllers have to handle growing congestion in our skies. The issue of security requires us to keep that essential step ahead of any evildoer who would threaten our safety. It is now blindingly clear that the greatest challenge is the threat to the environment caused by our unquenchable thirst for travel.
Will the hon. Gentleman say something about the smaller airports such as Coventry, where environmental issues arise because they are trapped, for example, by a lack of parking facilities, traffic-flow problems and, more importantly, safety and noisy night flying? Does he have a view about these matters, which the people of Coventry have experienced as the airport has expanded?
The people of Coventry are about to enjoy a delightful feast, as I am about to come to those sort of issues.
For the moment, I shall stick with climate change. Research conducted by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which is published on the Friends of the Earth website, claims that at the present rate of growth aviation would wipe out all the emissions savings made by other sectors in the economy. If that is the case, it will be almost impossible for the Government to meet their stated objective of reducing CO 2 emissions by 60 per cent. from 1990 levels by 2050. Indeed, aviation on its own explains why CO 2 emissions have increased since the Government took over. Not even higher oil prices seem to be arresting the continuing growth.
The Government concluded in their White Paper that there was a desperate need for additional runway capacity in the south-east. With development at Gatwick blocked until 2019, if their demand figures are right, it can only mean looking at Heathrow airport, which is the favoured choice for the big airlines. What hampers development there is that heavy levels of pollution from the M25 already make air quality around Heathrow an environmental problem. In addition, Heathrow's new terminal 5 could generate up to 50,000 car trips every day across London and in the south-east. Ironically, it is the Government's proposals on Crossrail that may undermine both the existing Heathrow express and the imaginative new proposals for a link to Waterloo. If they fail to get that right, people will simply return to their cars. Instead of grappling with that, the Government have fastened on Stansted for expansion, yet that brings them into direct conflict with the established principle that there should be no cross-subsidisation by BAA.
The second runway at Stansted is expected to go into service by 2013. However, Stansted is not fully utilised now and operates no intercontinental business. Nine tenths of flights leaving Stansted are operated by Ryanair or easyJet. Those airlines are highly profitable, but airports derive income from passenger numbers, so the revenue that short-haul carriers bring is much less than the revenue from wide-bodied jets. Nobody believes that Stansted could possibly finance the hugely expensive expansion in infrastructure required for a second runway out of its own revenues. It can only happen with massive cross-subsidy by Heathrow and Gatwick.
So what do we have? A runway where the market clearly does not want it and little thought to proposals that could make a runway environmentally acceptable where the market does want it, and a professed desire to tackle climate change, but also a desire to expand capacity. In short, the Government have piecemeal preferences but no overall strategy. In the context of all that, the Bill is neither one thing nor the other. It is really a bit of everything and a bit of nothing, and it illustrates the confusion in which the Government find themselves on aviation matters.
The Bill allows airports to design and include stipulations about noise and emissions in their contracts with airlines. It is, to put it mildly, bizarre that the airport companies that have a fundamental interest in attracting airlines to use their facilities should also be the ones that set noise and emissions requirements for their customers. That is potentially deeply perverse. It is also bizarre, and something that compounds the peculiarity of the structure, that they should then be empowered with the authority to fine their customers for breaching criteria that they have no especial interest in enforcing. The Bill asks the poacher to police the gamekeeper—or perhaps it is better described as one poacher policing another. Although the Bill pays lip-service to both noise and emissions, it lacks an all-embracing regime into which the criteria would have to fit.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's arguments closely. He is long on analysis and short on solutions. He says that airports should not be able to fine because they have no interest in policing aeroplanes that cause noise and pollution, but that scheme already exists at some airports. The only difference the Bill makes is to give airports the clear legal power to fine aeroplanes that go off track. That is what is new. Does he have concrete examples of the current scheme not working?
My point is that the Bill is a piecemeal development that lacks an overall strategy.
With reference to noise, airports have had the power to fix charges since the Civil Aviation Act 1982, but for the resident on the ground, the current methodology for measuring noise is highly unsatisfactory. While noise is measured in decibels, the equivalent continuous sound level is an index of exposure to aircraft. It is a measure of the equivalent continuous sound level averaged out over a 16-hour day from 7 in the morning to 11 at night—not, I would point out, through the night—and it is taken during the peak summer months from mid-June to mid-September.
HACAN ClearSkies, the Heathrow voluntary organisation that campaigns on behalf of those affected by flight paths, believes—I think that it is right—that the continuous-level system underestimates aircraft noise in three key areas. First, averaging out noise can be misleading; secondly, low-frequency noise is ignored; and thirdly, the continuous-level classifications underestimate the level at which noise annoys people.
Let us take low-frequency noise, for example. The HACAN ClearSkies report claims that a significant component of aircraft noise is low frequency—typically the rumble, roar or drone of an aircraft. Including that measurement can increase the noise of a plane passing overhead by about 8 dB. More to the point, many of the improvements in aircraft noise are primarily concerned with mid to high frequencies. Put simply, decibels are an unsatisfactory measure of nuisance. It is the drone and roar of an aircraft that disturbs people, and that is never appreciated by the measures used. The entire methodology desperately needs review.
However, the Bill misses out altogether a more fundamental concern about the growth of aviation. It inevitably makes a distinction between designated and non-designated airports. In one sense, it makes a lame attempt to close the planning and regulation gap between the two. Designated airports are policed by the Secretary of State. The Bill merely permits non-designated airports to police themselves. I note in passing that, as my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier mentioned, Nottingham East Midlands airport is owned by the Manchester Airports Group, which is owned by its Manchester local authority, but from an east midlands point of view, the local authority—as it is referred to in the Bill—that owns NEMA is not local if one lives in Leicestershire or Derbyshire.
For those airports that are not designated, there is almost no control over the expansion of flights and, crucially, there is almost no control over the growth of flights at night. The Bill would have little effect in addressing the mounting anger caused by the insensitive and uncontrolled growth of an airport such as NEMA. At the moment, a designated airport is controlled both on the ground and in the air. An airport that is not designated is controlled on the ground by planning law, but has almost carte blanche to do what it wants to expand activity in the air.
There is a growing case for designating such airports.
Let me say more about NEMA; it is a case in point. NEMA recently applied to re-route its flight paths, purportedly to improve safety margins in its air traffic control, and in so doing aroused no end of suspicion that there was a covert plan to increase night flights. That is exactly what is happening. Until a few months ago, I and my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, rarely received a complaint about aircraft noise from the western end of my constituency and from the north and west of his. Now, I get them every day. My constituents are being woken up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning by noisy, low-level flights on their descent into NEMA. Nobody has any faith in the undertakings given about their required height or supposed flight path.
The Bill merely defines one aspect of the interrelationship between the airport and the airlines on noise and emissions, and there is nothing whatever that will definitely turn the legislative references to noise and emissions into the satisfactory control of either. Given that the airport is keen to expand, the supposed policeman—the airport—has an incentive to secure the opposite of the environmental discipline that we would like.
The matter has become the most heated local issue in my constituency, which is why today has seen the launch of what I predict will be the most popular local beer in Leicestershire. It is called Nightcap and is a brilliant brew from Belvoir Brewery, which is near Melton Mowbray. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall send a crate of the stuff to the Secretary of State in an attempt to alert him to the importance of this growing problem.
The hon. Gentleman might have such noise in his more urban setting, but it is much more punitive in a rural setting. However, we are seeing not only redirection, but massive expansion. The main problems are growth, expansion and the poor policing of flights as well as the redirection of the flight path.
A specific aspect of the overall problem of the growth of night flights, which I have raised before and which the Bill should address, is the deficiency of tracking, monitoring and reporting existing flights under the current system. We often need a record of who has gone where, but we can simply never get one. If we are to have a mature exchange about such an emotive issue, it is as well to do so based on the facts, but that is virtually impossible at the moment. If I want to know who is flying over Hungarton in Leicestershire at 4 am, where the plane was coming from and going to, what height it was at, what sort of plane it was and the airline to which it belonged, I would just get the run around. The Civil Aviation Authority, the National Air Traffic Services and NEMA all bounce responsibility from one to another, so none of us can readily establish the facts. My constituents are becoming increasingly enraged and so am I.
There are other aspects of concern in the Bill. One extraordinary provision empowers an airport to fine an aircraft operator that breaches any noise abatement requirements imposed by the Secretary of State. The Bill then allows the manager of the airport to spend those
"penalties for purposes which appear to him to be likely to be of benefit to persons who live in the area in which the aerodrome is situated."
The entire structure is a perverse balance of rights and obligations, and I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough will express his strong views on the matter if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
What purposes does the Minister think will "be of benefit"? We all know that airport expansion worries local people and can have a devastating effect on local house prices. However, many people have found that their houses have become unsellable, even though they live outside the areas covered by existing blight compensation schemes. Not surprisingly, they are among some of the most impassioned and organised campaigners. BAA is highly profitable and a more generous compensation scheme is long overdue, but the Bill is not at all clear about whether such blight schemes could be extended on the back of it.
The other main aspect of the Bill is emissions. In principle, the idea of allowing airports to take aircraft emissions into consideration when levying landing charges seems reasonable. Indeed, it is already happening and the Bill merely gives it legal backing. The problem is that the Bill just allows emissions conditions to be included in contracts—it does not determine the basis on which they must be included. We thus need answers to fundamental questions.
Why should airports profit from emissions—or, indeed, will they? Does the Minister not think it a little odd to give a private company the power to levy a punitive charge against its customers? Should those companies really be empowered to impose such sanctions? How will the emissions be measured? Will the charges come with sliding scales that measure and reward success, and what will be the determinants of success? Given the lead time for aircraft development, does the Minister not believe that a system that allowed airlines to manage their financial resources in a measured way towards cleaner aircraft would be a better approach?
Design noise and emissions are, to some extent, a trade off against each other. By decreasing one, one increases the other. Allowing airport operators to levy charges for both noise and emissions risks creating an impossible contradiction for the airlines, at least in the short term. We need to know how that will be unravelled.
The Air Travel Trust is the other main element in the Bill. As we all know, as a result of the collapse of Court Line it has been with us since 1977, when the repatriation of stranded travellers was a major political issue and the taxpayer footed the Bill. Nowadays, tour operators hold bonds against their collapse and the trust fund forms the top-up if the bond fails to cover the cost of repatriation. Without going into too much detail, in 1996, the fund went overdrawn, although it continues to make payments when necessary, with a loan facility guaranteed by the Government. The fund is approximately £10 million in deficit and pays more than £300,000 a year in interest.
Although we all understand that, if the Government have guaranteed the fund, they have to make good the shortfall, the system was designed in the 1970s and suited the circumstances of that time. They do not pertain today. Anybody who books a flight through a tour operator as part of a package is protected by the trust fund, but someone who does that through the internet or books accommodation and flights separately—via whatever means—is not. Fewer than two thirds of air travellers enjoy protection, compared with 98 per cent. in 1997. Just over half of all travellers enjoy protection but more than half the unprotected passengers wrongly believe that they are protected. Evidently, if we started from scratch, we would design a different system.
The Bill allows the fund to be replenished and it looks as if it will also pave the way—or at least, it could—for the Civil Aviation Authority's proposal to put a £1 levy on all UK-origin tickets until an insurance fund for that purpose reaches £250 million. If the fund is not extended to cover all ticket buyers for flights from the UK and is retained only for purchasers of package deals, such a proposal is patently absurd. However, if it is extended to all, there are some arguments for it. To put it succinctly, it would cover everyone, ensure their repatriation in the event of corporate failure and get any Government faced with an army of stranded passengers out of a political hole. In terms of the premiums paid and the benefits offered, it is a relatively efficient economic model for such cover.
On the other hand, the incidence of the £1 levy would fall disproportionately on a company such as British Airways, which is probably the last company that is likely to fail and carries the most passengers. The Bill is all the more unappreciative of such a company given that BA, acting voluntarily or in the spirit of its membership of the International Air Transport Association, is most likely to make arrangements to fly people back anyway, travel trust or no travel trust.
British Airways may offer places where it has spaces available, but there is no guarantee that because an airline is large it will not go bankrupt. At least six major airlines are in extremely doubtful financial positions. British Airways does not happen to be one of them at the moment, but there is no guarantee that people could get back if they were abandoned.
Let me map out a fundamental alternative scenario to the position that I outlined earlier. The world has changed fundamentally in the past 30 years. Travelling abroad has become commonplace and it is not as if people are going to the moon. They are far more versed in foreign travel and the choices that they face in doing that, and they are experienced consumers. In addition, the CAA is duty bound to establish that airlines are financially sound. We should therefore ask whether we need such a scheme in the modern world. Why should air travel be singled out as the one aspect of business that merits a special bail-out fund to cover the risk of corporate failure? I sense that the Government themselves are ambivalent about the merits of the fund, and we should use the Committee stage of the Bill to explore whether we should retain it.
This is a pretty messy little Bill with no strategic shape, no clear purpose and no easily predictable consequences. It gives authority to the Secretary of State to do all sorts of things, yet it is not at all clear what he will end up doing. We shall seek to improve it in Committee and reserve the right to amend it on Report, once we have found out quite what the Government intend to do.
I am very pleased to rise to support the Second Reading of this important Bill. As I look round the Chamber, I see a number of Members who have a particular interest in the aviation industry. This debate gives us an opportunity to discuss aviation issues—they do not come often—and to get to grips with the industry as it is now and the way in which we wish it to develop in the future. I firmly believe that the Bill offers us a good future.
Most of us, particularly those in the Chamber today, have a longstanding interest in aviation. As a child growing up, I used to listen to very loud aircraft just a couple of miles away from my home. I then became very involved with Gatwick airport, and with ensuring that it was a good neighbour to Crawley. Although the airport is now wholly within the Crawley constituency, we in our patch understand that its impact is felt far and wide. We must be clear, however, that not all its impacts are negative. There are many positive ways in which people are able to live their lives around it, because it provides good job opportunities and brings in a full range of business. For most of us, the airport provides a very positive experience.
I am in a parallel position in relation to the so-called Nottingham East Midlands airport in North-West Leicestershire, which, as the provider of 7,000 jobs, is certainly a major economic driver. I wonder whether my hon. Friend's experience is similar to ours, however, in that the greatest proportion of those who work at the airport live nowhere near its periphery or under its flight paths. Does not that have to be taken into account?
These debates often become polarised between those of us who are very pro-airports and those who appear to have difficulty in accepting their existence at all. It would be most odd if we were to ignore the fact that 36,000 people earn their living on or off the airport at Gatwick. Those people regularly travel into the airport and spend half their lives there; why would they not have an interest in ensuring that it was environmentally sound, that they were not being polluted while working there, and that it was surrounded by a decent environment in which to bring up a family? It is important, therefore, that we should not become polarised. We should look at the industry as a whole.
The Bill, far from containing a hotch-potch of subjects, as Mr. Duncan suggested, brings together a number of important issues that our constituents wish to see addressed. That is why there is such a broad range of clauses in the Bill.
We already work in partnership with our airports. It has been made clear in earlier interventions that charges can already be levied if aircraft do not take off in the way they should, or do not behave as they should do at the airport. These measures are taken in conjunction with local authorities. When airports have a good relationship with their local authorities and their nearby residents, they can become a force for good and a decent neighbour, but we must tackle the most important issues that face us. That is why the major part of the Bill deals with emissions and allows airports to take action.
I am pleased to say that Gatwick airport already has a legal agreement in place that takes account of the environment, which ensures that airport users behave themselves and are decent neighbours to everyone around them, and that the airport operator can take action against them if they do not do so. The Bill strengthens those powers for airport operators, and there is no question but that they will use them, as what interest does an operator have in being loathed and despised by the community around it? Such a level playing field for designated airports will allow others to play their full and proper part in one of the most successful industries in the United Kingdom, which we should not forget.
I know that my hon. Friend John Smith will be raising the important issue of the health of crew and passengers. The approach to that issue will be based on evidence, to make sure that people travel in the safest and most comfortable way possible. That is an important aspect of the Bill.
No one could challenge what the hon. Lady has said about health, but the Bill says that airlines should pay for that existing and ongoing activity. Why does she think that that is a good thing?
Certainly, I have no difficulty with bringing together expertise and allowing airlines to ensure that they protect the people from whom they draw their wealth. I therefore see enormous benefits in using the working group to influence any such activity, and in making sure that airlines play their full and proper part, which might be a financial one.
Does my hon. Friend agree not only that it is correct that airlines should have a levy on them to pay for health research and the aviation health unit at CAA Gatwick, but with the reasons for that? Airlines are unique among passenger carriers throughout the world in having no duty of care whatever for the health or well-being of their passengers. The levy is therefore a very small price to pay to protect the health of passengers.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I know how strongly he feels about making sure that passengers' health is dealt with properly. I see the airline industry as involved in a true partnership, not only contributing to making sure that people travel decently and know that they will arrive at their destination safely, but using the best information, and the expertise of the health services, to the greatest benefit.
This is a good Bill, which not only considers aircraft emissions but encourages the use of public transport, which is fundamental. I refer hon. Members again to the work in and around Gatwick airport, which now has one of the most advanced dedicated bus systems around, which has transformed the way in which people travel to it, and which is being extended. Half the money for that came from the Department for Transport, for which we are deeply grateful, and the rest from partners, such as local authorities and the business community, which know that reducing emissions and getting people to an airport efficiently must be the way forward. That system, in its short life, has already seen almost 3 million passenger journeys. Increasing attention will therefore be given not only to reducing the impact of emissions on global warming but to addressing the real problems with emissions that communities face now.
Let me issue a plea to Ministers. Retaining Gatwick Express is a fundamental part of providing good rail access to the airport. It must continue to be a dedicated rail service that meets the needs of air passengers in particular.
I have paid a great deal of attention lately to the duty of the travel industry—I believe it should be a duty—to protect travellers if they become stranded or are unable to travel. Many speakers have mentioned that today. I think it right and proper for the fund that currently exists to extricate itself from its present difficulties, which is well within the scope of clause 9, and I ask Ministers to consider carefully whether the scheme should be expanded to cover all travellers.
This is a difficult issue. It is understandable when Members, especially those on the Opposition Front Bench, ask whether we really need to protect travellers, but as with the Bill to protect people from religious hatred, either we have a system that protects everyone or we have a system that protects no one. I firmly believe that a £1 levy on each member of the travelling public is the answer. I know that the Civil Aviation Authority is still consulting on the matter, and I fervently hope that a levy will be its preferred option.
I am proud to say that the Gatwick airport area contains many of the travel companies that take people on holiday to have a wonderful time. It is a joy to go through the airport every morning and see everyone preparing to go away. I understand, however, that many of those using tour operators will be protected, while people embarking on an easyJet flight, having booked hotels on the internet, will not—although, as was pointed out earlier, they have no idea that that is the case. That has been shown by polls conducted by the travel industry. Some 80 per cent. of people say that they would be prepared to pay between 50p and £2 to ensure that they receive such protection.
Obviously we need to protect travellers. This is a very difficult time. There is a competitive market out there, and, sadly, things happen. Major airlines which I support, particularly British Airways, do not favour such a scheme. I pay tribute to Sir Rod Eddington and his work to ensure that we can be proud of that airline again. It caused difficulties at Gatwick—we lost many aeroplanes and workers—but I understood that British Airways was trying to remain viable, and to go on operating well. Sadly, though, when things happen to the airline industry they do not happen just to some airlines. The dreadful events of
The Bill provides us with an opportunity truly to improve aspects of flying and of the aviation industry, such as the environment, emissions, working conditions and ground transport. I fervently hope that, in winding up, the Minister will say when we can return to the question of introducing a levy on passengers, so that we can ensure that they travel with little or no difficulty. We must also ensure that all airlines are treated equally, and that we continue to have an industry that we can be immensely proud of, and which serves our communities well. It must continue to be good a neighbour, and we must ensure that all within it behave in such a way that we are able to support them.
I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for contacting me to explain his absence from today's debate. It was perhaps uncharitable—although only slightly—of the official Opposition spokesman to describe the Bill as an aviation paella: as a trail mix of aviation measures, to be washed down with a night cap of a pint of Special Brew. What is clear is that, as Laura Moffatt said, aviation Bills do not land very often. So when one does, Members need to take the opportunity to examine it closely, to see whether it delivers on certain key principles. The Government have stated two such key principles: that "predict and provide" in aviation is dead, and that the polluter will pay. I am afraid to say that the Bill fails the first principle and that it partly fails the second, in that it in fact says that the polluter "might" pay.
Is not the reality that, in this context, self-regulation is absurd? It is equivalent to asking breweries to introduce measures restricting the consumption of alcohol, or to asking tobacco companies to restrict smoking. It is highly unlikely that the industry will tackle the problems that it sometimes causes with any great conviction.
I agree. There is a clear conflict between the need of airport operators to secure business, and their adopting measures to control emissions or noise, which could discourage airlines from flying from the airport in question. Indeed, this point of view is not restricted to the hon. Gentleman and to me: a significant airport operator expressed it to me in a meeting, so it is clear that it is shared by such operators.
As the Minister said in his introduction, it is clear that many jobs—some 200,000—depend on the aviation industry. There has been a fivefold increase in air travel in the past five years, and a further threefold increase is predicted by 2030, with some 500 million passengers travelling by air. The aviation industry is of course key from a commercial point of view. By value, a third of the goods that the UK exports are transported by air.
Equally, however, there are environmental considerations. As a House of Commons Library briefing points out, in the year 2000 aviation emissions accounted for 5.5 per cent. of the UK's total carbon dioxide emissions. When one takes into account radiative forcing, that goes up to 11 per cent. It is predicted that, by 2030, aviation could be contributing about a quarter of the UK's emissions.
It would seem as though the Government have taken the issue on board and are aware of the need to have a sustainable aviation industry. For instance, at a seminar in February 2005, the then Transport Minister, Charlotte Atkins, stated that it was crucial that
"we balance the benefits of expansion against the environmental impact of air travel."
Clearly that is what the Government believe they are doing, but at the same seminar the then Minister said that the way of achieving sustainable aviation in the south-east was to provide a second runway at Stansted by 2012. I am not sure what definition of sustainable aviation the Minister was working from. Clearly there is environmental sustainability and commercial sustainability. One suspects that the two are not the same.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves his overview of the Bill, it has been reported that he believes that the aviation industry should be reduced in size. Is that the view of the Liberal Democrats?
I can confirm that the level of the increase that is projected—a threefold increase by 2030—is environmentally unsustainable and I do not believe that the measures put forward by the industry currently will be sufficient to tackle that matter.
Where does the hon. Gentleman get his idea from that the industry will increase threefold by 2030? As far as I am aware, that does not appear in any official figures; double, maybe, but not triple.
We could debate whether it is twice or three times, but we cannot debate the fact that the aviation industry is a growing and significant contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and to NOx emissions, or that currently there are no proposals on the table in the short term that address that matter.
It seems to me that hidden away in the Bill is the scope for an airport such as Heathrow to exceed the current movement limits. Is that the hon. Gentleman's interpretation?
The hon. Gentleman's interpretation is identical to mine. The Bill creates an opportunity for the number of movements to be increased if that is so wished. As my hon. Friend Susan Kramer highlighted, what affects residents is very often the number of flights going overhead and the number of times they are woken up, as opposed to an overall noise quota, to which people do not respond in the same way.
The main airports in London—Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted—are designated as those where the Secretary of State ultimately sets the rules. It would require the Secretary of State to be complicit in any change for those fears to be realised. The Bill makes it clear that the Secretary of State could only do so anyway after consultation with the local community.
I will let other Members judge what they feel about the Secretary of State being complicit and whether that is something that may or may not happen in the future.
The Opposition spokesman said that the Bill tackled a number of issues; environmental, commercial and consumer issues, as well as noise, charging for the use of airport facilities according to aircraft emissions, and making noise control systems. On the commercial front, the issues include the removal of restrictions on local authorities so that they can compete with privately owned airports; the removal of the right of appeal in the allocation of route licenses; the matter of requiring the Civil Aviation Authority to provide assistance in relation to the health of both crew and passengers; and the levy on air travel organisers to replenish the fund.
On the environmental issues, and given the points that have been made, it is fair to say that the consensus is that the Bill does not go far enough in relation to the environment. The fact that the airport operators and airlines are happy with the environmental provisions suggests that the Bill does not push the boundaries far enough. Members will have seen the representations from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, for instance, which believes that the Bill does not address the big environmental issues and that it is mere tinkering, given the scale of the challenges that aviation poses. The CPRE also suggests that the CAA should publish annual figures showing the climate change impact of all flights departing from the UK. That may be outside the scope of this Bill, but it might be worthy of discussion in Committee at least.
As other hon. Members have pointed out, the CPRE has legitimate concerns about how it will be possible for Coventry airport to enforce noise and emissions controls, given that one of its main operators is Thomsonfly, which also flies from the airport. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Coventry airport operators about how the provisions will operate in practice?
AirportWatch has also provided a submission, and its main concern is that increased powers will be given to local airports. Some of the lobby groups agree that airport operators should not be given further powers, because they do not exercise the powers that they have now for the benefit of the local community, nor are they responsive to the local community's concerns. AirportWatch has also highlighted the point about possible increases in the number of flights as a result of the changes, which Adam Afriyie mentioned in his intervention. It also picked up on the point about the need for an independent monitoring and regulatory system to assess noise levels.
Other hon. Members have referred to HACAN's concerns. While the CPRE and AirportWatch are of the view that the Bill does not go far enough, HACAN thinks that it goes too far in removing the separate movements limit. HACAN also echoes the concern of others that that is a subterfuge to "reduce" the environmental impact of the third runway so that it becomes justifiable.
The Demand campaign group has also highlighted the issue of Coventry airport and asks how it would be possible for an airport that is partly owned by an airline to impose fines on that airline, so that it would in effect be fining itself. According to Demand, Coventry does not even have a system for keeping track of noise at present.
As for the commercial implications of the Bill, it is true to say that supportive comments have been received from all sides on the proposal to allow local authority airports to compete. The one body that one thought might have opposed that proposal—BAA—is comfortable with the idea and does not see a problem with it.
As for the removal of the right of appeal, again, no objection has been raised. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister when she sums up precisely what she thinks about the regulatory impact assessment's idea that there will be a marginal cost increase, because when people no longer have a right of appeal, they are likely to seek judicial review. Has any figure been attached to that marginal extra cost? Clearly, such an increase would be passed on to air transport users.
On the aviation health unit, BAA has expressed measured concern, but broadly speaking, I believe that the idea has received support.
Finally, there is the issue of consumer protection and the creation of the air travel trust fund levy. As other Members have said, this has to be all or nothing. The public believe that they are covered by insurance wherever they obtain their flights, and either they must be covered, and everyone who provides flights must contribute to a fund that covers people if their tour operator or airline goes out of business, or the public must be told that they are not guaranteed to be covered by anyone, unless they take out private insurance for themselves.
It is difficult to have an intermediate position, whereby all consumers believe that they are covered but are not, and only one sector of the industry is required to contribute. I certainly support the idea that the fund should be rebuilt, but I also believe that its scope should be extended so that everyone is genuinely covered by it, through the £1 contribution that the Civil Aviation Authority has proposed.
To conclude, I agree with the CPRE that the Bill only tinkers with the scale of the environmental challenges posed by aviation and its associated noise and emissions. The Liberal Democrats will not seek to divide the House tonight, but we will attempt to insert some backbone in the Bill in Committee. Freedom to fly must be balanced by freedom from environmental damage. At present the Bill does not balance those freedoms, and our objective is to ensure that by the time it receives Royal Assent, it does exactly that.
This is a Bill of bits and pieces, but sometimes it is necessary to cover all the bits and pieces and bring them together. It is not like me to volunteer for a Standing Committee, but I have already asked the Whips if I can be on this one, because I think that the interest will be in the Committee stage.
As others have already said, what is missing, not only in the Bill but in general, is an overall strategy on air transport. For instance, the shadow Secretary of State said that the non-designated airports had no control over flight numbers—but those of us who live close to Heathrow airport feel that we have no control over flight numbers either, because as soon as they get near the limit, the limit is taken away.
We have not given way on runway 3, because the air quality standards have to be met, and we will not step back from that battle.
We—when I say "we", I am talking about my hon. and special Friend Ann Keen, myself and the people on the council in Hounslow, the area that we cover—are concerned about the Bill because of what it does not say. We think that it may make it possible to increase numbers, which is why the Committee stage will be particularly interesting. That was a lovely smile that I just got from the new Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Ms Buck. I welcome her to her place today, and I can tell her that although I have been in the House for 13 years, and have lived close to Heathrow airport for 40 years, if she ever asks me for any advice on Heathrow, it will be the first time that any Minister has done that.
Not only have I lived within six miles of Heathrow for 40 years, but for all of the 30 years before I was elected in 1992, I worked in industries close to the airport and often dealt with air transport companies, and with BAA itself, as customers. I know the industry pretty well, my constituency contains the largest number of employees at Heathrow, and my constituents suffer the greatest noise—more noise than anyone else, by a very high percentage. I therefore have a special interest in this subject.
We still have not given way on runway 3, so I shall comment on some of the arguments about the expansion or non-expansion of Heathrow. I speak as a friend of Heathrow airport. I am very proud of the air transport industry, and until runway 3 was suggested I had always supported expansion, within the present boundaries. I am not the only Member of Parliament who has always supported previous expansions but has changed his or her mind since the runway 3 proposal was made. It is worth listening to all of us who have changed our minds about continuing expansion.
There are some people who always oppose expansion of Heathrow, and I am certainly not one of those. HACAN has changed out of all recognition. I hope people will not mind me saying this, because I have told the organisation about it before, but I used to class those in HACAN as nutters. I remember going to its annual general meeting when I was campaigning for the 1992 election. It holds the AGM where it is based, in Sheen, rather than in Cranford, Heston or Hounslow West, where the real noise is. The chairman then was not the same person who is chairman now; the present chairman and vice-chairman are helping to build it into a really good campaigning organisation. At that AGM, the then chairman said to me, "I don't know why you can't come out and condemn terminal 5." I said, "Let me ask you a question: do you support terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4?" He refused to answer, because if he had been honest, the answer would have been that he did not support any terminals at Heathrow airport—unless, of course, he was flying from it, I presume.
I am not a protester, but a friend of the airlines. Some people accuse me of sitting on the fence over terminal 5, but I was the only Member of Parliament who took the trouble to make a submission before the inquiry started, so I was entitled to call witnesses, which I did, from both sides of the argument. I could call people who lived under the flight path, so that their opinions did not have to be heard through legal representatives.
I have said this before, but it is worth saying it again: those who oppose the Government often criticise them for not consulting enough, but there was a big difference between what is happening now and what happened with terminal 5, when the previous Government were in power. The start of the whole process was just the submission of a planning application, so those who were against it were put on the defensive straight away. At least with runway 3, consultation was announced, so everyone was on a level playing field when people started to put forward their views.
What will the future of Heathrow airport be? Before I was elected in 1992 I spent the whole of my career in the private sector, so I recognise the need for competitiveness to drive down costs. However, I am also a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament, and I understand the co-operative ideology as well. It is essential that consumers be consulted—and in this case, that means those who live around Heathrow and suffer the noise, as well as those who fly, who have already been mentioned many times today.
If there were ever a case for the Government to play an effective part on behalf of the electorate, it is here and now with respect to the possible expansion of Heathrow airport. Those who live close to Heathrow understand the issues much better than those who do not live close to it. I have heard people saying time and again that one gets used to the noise and then it is no bother—but that is not possible with aircraft noise. It is more than enough if the noise wakes people up. I have also lived near railway sidings where trucks are shunted through the night and I believe that it is possible to get used to that sound, but it is not possible to get used to aircraft noise, particularly at night. My two grandchildren, aged one and three, live right under the flight path of the northern runway in Isleworth, and it is horrific. Many people already living stressful lives are easily woken and then find it impossible to get back to sleep.
I am not trying to make the point that we should get rid of Heathrow airport. I have already said that there are more than 65,000 permanent jobs and many thousand more in companies surrounding Heathrow in the freight, engineering, airline food and other supporting industries. We desperately need Heathrow airport, but it seems to many of us that the Government look too much to the airline industry and listen not enough to the people who live close by. Many of my constituents work at Heathrow, but suffer from a tremendous amount of noise. Anyone who has seen photos or newsreel of aircraft flying over the top of chimneys has seen Cranford. Waye avenue is adjacent to the airport boundary. The Government, however, do not take enough notice of residents.
When the previous Secretary of State made a statement about airport policy, I specifically asked whether he would help with relieving traffic congestion, particularly around the junction where the A4 crosses the A312—one of the busiest junctions in the country. It is currently served by a roundabout, which leads to tremendous queues, particularly during the Heathrow rush hour and we need to be aware that the Heathrow rush hour extends much longer than the average one. People who live close to Heathrow make more fuss about the traffic because they know that something could have been done about the problem. It would take only a tiny fraction of the profit that comes into Heathrow to put the road junction problem right. The refusal to do anything about it time and again means that people lose trust. Yet if we are to build up our air transport industry, it is important that people trust the industry, but the prospect of runway 3 is moving people over to the other side of the argument.
What is the big problem with Heathrow expansion? It is a story that has afflicted British industry over the last 30 years—short-termism. There is no question but that Heathrow airport can be expanded with the addition of runway 3, but at quite a heavy cost to local people as well as a financial cost. If that runway goes ahead, however, it will mark the limit of what could ever be sustainable at Heathrow because the whole area is so built up. It is a short-term viewpoint to believe that Heathrow can be expanded for a relatively short period. We really need a new airport. We cannot go on as we are. I can understand the industry itself not wanting to find an awful lot of money for a new airport, but the failure to build one will cost a lot more in the long run.
I can understand why decisions are made on a short-term basis. Rod Eddington did a magnificent job at British Airways, but he is already on his way. He is not taking a long-term view of things, as he is going back to him home country of Australia. We must understand that people are important. If we continue to ignore them, the industry will not get away with it.
One good thing about the Bill is that it recognises that the polluter should pay. I believe that it is the first time that that principle has gone down in print in a Bill. If the polluter has to pay, it will become increasingly difficult to sustain Heathrow airport at its current expansion rate. Something else will have to be done in readiness.
I have been asked a few times by various people whether I want Heathrow to be a desert. Air transport is either going to expand or it is not, so I would certainly love to be the owner of that desert over the next 20 years. Whatever happens elsewhere in the UK, the notion that Heathrow could become a desert is surely put forward by people who are either stupid or being paid to say it. I rather suspect that cash has something to do with it.
I read an interesting article in The Guardian today about Chinese tourists, who were complaining about the £50 charge for a visa—but they are still coming. Some people say that measures will be taken to stop expansion because of the environmental damage worldwide, but does that mean that Chinese tourists here this week will be the last to come here from China? I do not think so. There are already 0.5 million middle-class people in India. We have to look at the situation more widely and rid ourselves of a short-term vision. I was heartened by the penalty clauses in the Bill, because they amount to recognition that the polluter should pay.
I shall finish shortly as other hon. Members want to speak, but I want to come back to my own constituents. The Cranford agreement has already been mentioned. When the wind blows from the east, planes have to take off towards the east—it happens about 25 per cent. of the total time in a year—and the north runway is not used for take-offs because my constituents live so close to the end of that runway. It is different for normal take-offs to the west and from about 3 o'clock the other runway is used, which gives people a break, but when the planes take off to the east, the southern runway is used all the time. That is the basis of the Cranford agreement: it is an informal agreement, but it has applied for 50 years.
I would like to table an amendment that would make the Cranford agreement a permanent one in order to provide protection for my constituents who have already given such a lot to the air transport industry. The London borough of Hounslow and HACAN would like the Bill to be amended in Committee and I hope that the Government will listen to us because we have had considerable experience. For example, I spent the 13 years before I came here working half a mile from the touchdown point, directly under the southern runway at Heathrow. It is pretty horrific. It may not be too bad when things are going well at work, but when under stress, it is almost impossible to cope with such noise. We cannot go on and on ignoring the problem. As I said, we hope that the Government will listen sympathetically to the case for the amendments, which will attempt to put some conditions down. The Bill looks good in places, but what it does not say is also important.
Alan Keen will forgive me if I do not follow him too far into the Heathrow story. I accept, of course, that noise from aeroplanes is acutely disturbing and distressing to people who live right by an airport. What concerns me and, I suspect, many of my parliamentary colleagues from Leicestershire—I am glad to see David Taylor, and I refer also to my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan, the shadow Secretary of State for Transport—is the noise and pollution caused by aircraft a little further from the airports themselves. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire has wholly within his constituency Nottingham East Midlands airport, which is strangely named, being wholly within Leicestershire and wholly owned by Manchester as well as having—surprise, surprise—a Derbyshire postcode. That, of course, allows all sorts of people to avoid responsibility for what it does to, for example, my constituents.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman dissociate himself from the observations of our geographical neighbour, Mr. Duncan, who has on occasion said that he regrets changes in flight paths that have brought noise to people in the county of Leicestershire who were not familiar with it and that that noise should perhaps be returned to people in urban areas who were better able to endure its impact?
I did not quite hear the hon. Gentleman. If he intended to refer to the hon. Member who represents Melbourne—that is to say, Mr. Todd—I can say that he and I have had our agreements and disagreements about activities at Nottingham East Midlands airport. If he intended my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, I can say that my hon. Friend was, in essence, saying that we required a balance of good behaviour from the airport and understanding among those affected by its activities. What we are not getting at the moment—I think that the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire would agree—is that sort of balance.
I want briefly to put forward a plea on behalf of a constituent, Mr. John Neilson, the chairman of the LEI group, which is a mixed travel agency and tour operator business operating in Market Harborough and employing about 30 people. He is primarily concerned about the air travel trust arrangements in clauses 9 and 10 of the Bill. He would like the introduction of the £1 levy system advocated by the Federation of Tour Operators and the Civil Aviation Authority. When the Minister responds, I hope that she can do a little better than her hon. Friend the Minister of State did in opening the debate and give a little more encouragement there.
The more difficult part of the Bill is the first four clauses, dealing with the introduction of amendments to the Civil Aviation Act 1982 in relation to charging and the imposition of penalties. There is, no doubt, some good sense in the amendments to section 38 of the 1982 Act, which would allow airports to fix charges in respect of aircraft or classes of aircraft by reference to a number of things, including the amount of noise caused or the nature and extent of any inconvenience resulting from that noise. It may well be that those who are fortunate enough to serve on the Standing Committee will have to come to grips with what expressions such as "inconvenience" actually mean in practice. More to the point, they will have to deal with what "vicinity" means. The charging arrangements will allow an airport to take into account pollution
"at any place in or in the vicinity of the aerodrome".
My constituents, who live between 30 and 50 miles from Nottingham East Midlands airport, have a different view of "vicinity" from that of the constituents of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire, who live right by it. I hope that the charging system will allow for my constituents, who live further away but who are inconvenienced by the airport, to be taken into account.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his giving way during his powerful speech. May we, perhaps, hope that the definition of "vicinity" will be wider than that given in the Licensing Act 2003, which effectively cut out even people living really close to premises from having any say in consultation?
I suspect that we can hope all we like. We must await the Government's response in due course, but it is important that they should, both in Committee and later, at least take on board the points that my hon. Friend and I have made.
I want to concern myself not so much with charging, which must simply be a matter between the airport operators and the airport users, but to ask the House to consider rather more carefully than the Minister of State perhaps invited us to do earlier the imposition of penalties. The Government are permitting the justice system to be privatised. That is strange from a Labour Government, who, having objected to privatisation of the prison system, seem to be embracing with great enthusiasm the privatisation of the justice system. They are permitting private companies—public limited companies—to impose penalties on their customers that should more properly be imposed by a state organisation, namely the court system or something equivalent to it.
I find it amusing, if not surprising nowadays I am afraid, that a Labour Government are introducing a private justice system. Had it been introduced by a Conservative Government, those on the Labour Benches would be hopping mad. There we are: we live in strange and interesting times.
Assuming that the parliamentary arithmetic pushes that aspect of the Bill through, we are to have it. The Government should, however, be a little careful about its effect. I am wholly unconvinced that a private justice system will deliver the sort of arrangements that will police noise and emissions according to the best intentions of those who seek to bring in new powers. Nottingham East Midlands airport is going to be one of the policemen or judges exercising the private justice system over its customers, and the news section of the NEMA cargo division website states:
"Bill Blanchard, NEMA Cargo Development Manager, said: 'the results for 2004 are very encouraging. NEMA has strengthened its position as the UK's No. 1 "pure cargo" airport and overtaken Gatwick to become the second largest cargo airport in the UK and the 13th largest in Europe. These figures show that industry is using NEMA more and more to ship their "just in time" products by air. NEMA ha always been a regional asset and now has a growing national role to play in this business'."
That Mr. Blanchard, of course, is the very same Mr. Blanchard who was instrumental in seducing air cargo services based in Brussels to move to NEMA. He was happy to say, on the website that
"when NEMA Cargo Manager Bill Blanchard approached ACS with a proposition he received a warm welcome."
What sort of justice system is it that will allow the commercial managers of airports to trawl around the air industry marketplace inviting customers in to use their airports so that they may move up the table of high-performing or high-volume cargo airports? What sort of justice system is it that will allow those sort of organisations then to impose penalties on the very people whom they wish to use their airports?
In short, is the hon. and learned Gentleman making the point that the powers to direct non-designated airports, such as Nottingham East Midlands airport, to establish, amend or revoke penalty schemes should be vested not in the airport itself but at worst in the relevant local authority and at best in the Secretary of State for Transport?
The powers should be operated by some dispassionate agency, some third party. Were the hon. Gentleman or I to have the misfortune to be caught speeding or shoplifting—[Laughter.] As he is a justice of the peace, I say that carefully. We should not expect the decision about whether we should be imprisoned or fined to be made by the shop that we had invaded; it would be made by the courts. So it is that when an airline abuses the regulations and the limits as to noise or emissions, it is the very user, or beneficiary, of that aircraft who imposes the penalty. In an ideal world, it would be perfectly possible for Nottingham East Midlands airport to arrange a system whereby it would approach that question with some degree of dispassionate disinterest, but I find it extremely difficult to envisage such circumstances when we have Mr. Blanchard and his friends from NEMA trailing around Europe trying to attract more and more business.
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us what assessment he has made of airports or operators with the power to penalise aircraft that do not obey the existing rules? The system that he is talking about is in operation at designated airports.
The hon. Lady will know from her experience that Gatwick is a designated airport under the Civil Aviation Act 1982. I suspect that she would not lobby the Secretary of State for Transport to have Gatwick undesignated. I am sure that she finds that the arrangements whereby the Government, acting as an honest broker, set the limits and the framework within which noise emissions, numbers of aircraft and the times during which aircraft land at Gatwick, Stansted or Heathrow are the best way. If she were required to get rid of that system, I suspect that she and her constituents would be most displeased. What I am after is equality; I want my constituents to have the advantages that her constituents enjoy, knowing that the Government and the Secretary of State underpin the arrangements governing the airport.
The hon. Lady may not realise that Nottingham East Midlands airport already has more night flights between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am than Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, yet we are wholly unprotected. Our only protection so far is the planning authority at North West Leicestershire district council. The shop at NEMA probably has a higher turnover in a week, certainly in a month, than the council's revenue budget of about £10 million a year. There is no equality of arms, so can it seriously be suggested that NEMA will be in the least bit bothered by anything other than proper control by the Secretary of State? Can it seriously be suggested that a high-powered, well-driven, well-managed commercial organisation will be interested in fining its customers for slipping outside the air routes, making too much noise or pushing out too much filth? I do not think so.
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a good point about the lack of an independent appeal, but the view of many Members that airports would not act impartially probably comes from the provision that states that when penalties are made, payments are made to the community
"equal to the amount of those penalties".
One could argue that an airport operator would not have a vested interest in acting against the rules as strictly, or partially, interpreted.
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's point defeats my argument. As he has drawn our attention to subsection (8) clause 3, I shall deal with it. It states:
"A relevant manager who receives penalties under a penalty scheme shall make payments equal to the amount of those penalties for purposes which appear to him"— not to the community at large, but to him—
"to be likely to be of benefit to persons who live in the area in which the aerodrome is situated."
What do the words "benefit to persons who live in the area" mean? Will my constituents who live 50 miles away from Nottingham East Midlands airport be allowed to apply for compensation for property blight or to put in double glazing? Will they be allowed to apply for compensation for the psychological distress that they suffer endlessly from sleepless nights as aeroplanes fly over their houses every 90 seconds between 11 o'clock and 7 am? No doubt the hon. Gentleman knows that the European Court of Human Rights already recognises sleep deprivation as a disbenefit, but I have a suspicion that that will not be taken into account because NEMA and all the other fellows who will be dealing with this private justice system will narrowly define the words "area", "vicinity" and "benefit". Although the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire may see some improvement in the double-glazing regime that pertains in the villages around Nottingham East Midlands airport, no such benefit will follow in the south-west, south-east and north-east of the county.
My point is simple: if the Government want to be taken seriously in their desire to control air pollution, air noise and night noise they had better come up with a more effective set of policing arrangements than they are providing in the Bill. I shall end my speech, as other Members want to talk about their airports and will have much to say. The Government must get a grip on those who are wholly unaccountable to the people of Leicestershire, as I pointed out in an intervention earlier. The airport is owned by 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester—the former leader of Manchester city council is in the Chamber. My constituents cannot vote for those authorities and they cannot buy shares in the company. All they can do is send letters of complaint that their houses are being overflown at night and receive in reply the kind of meaningless waffle to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton referred in his opening speech. The Government should wake up. If they do not, it will lead to the dismissal of yet another aviation Minister. We have already seen off two, and we are not against seeing off another if we do not get what we want.
In these debates, I always feel that that I am declaring interests that I do not really have. I was a board member of Manchester Airport plc for 13 years. I chaired the board on three occasions, once for a whole year, and represented the majority shareholder, Manchester city council. However, I have never been to Nottingham East Midlands airport and, when I was on the Manchester Airport board, we had no financial interest in NEMA.
I do not understand the point made by Mr. Garnier that people in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are at a disadvantage because Manchester Airport plc is owned by 10 local authorities. How, apart from the ability to purchase shares, is that different from many privately owned airports? As I have seen in Manchester, being a responsive public body has many distinct advantages in comparison, for example, with Liverpool airport. That airport is owned primarily by Peel Holdings, but in the final analysis by Great Hey, in which one cannot buy shares, so people would be at a further disadvantage if an airport were owned privately rather than by public authorities.
At one time, Nottingham East Midlands airport was owned by the local authorities of Derby city, Derbyshire county, Nottingham city, Nottinghamshire county and Leicestershire county. At that time, the airport authorities showed greater sensitivity to the needs of the community and balanced them with commercial considerations. It was hoped that, when the Manchester Airports Group took over, there would be a similar improvement in sensitivity but we have not yet seen it.
I have two responses to my hon. Friend's point. First, it was nobody's decision but those local authorities to sell their shares. Secondly—I hope that this is more conciliatory—when I was listening to the speech made by Mr. Duncan, I was concerned that people in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire find it difficult to identify a noisy aeroplane passing at 4 am. In a country where we and the Government believe in open government, it is strange and perverse that it is impossible to find out which aeroplane is making a noise. If I am chosen to serve on the Standing Committee, I intend to use my best endeavours to help to do something about that, as it is not a reasonable position. Often, it is an old aeroplane going off its flight path that makes the most noise. If people could identify it—under the Bill, they could not only identify it but fine those involved—it would go some way towards ameliorating the situation. That is an offer to help hon. Members who have that concern.
Before I speak about the clauses that deal with noise, air pollution, public airport companies and the air travel fund, I should like to do what other hon. Members have done and put the Bill in the context of the aviation industry, but I shall do so from a slightly different perspective. Hon. Members have said already that about 600,000 jobs depend on aviation and that it contributes just over £10 billion to our gross domestic product. Its impact is almost equivalent to the whole car manufacturing industry and double the size of the aerospace industry. It has a profound effect on the economy. When we think about aviation, we usually think of the 180 million to 200 million passengers who fly each year, but we tend not to focus on the fact that 20 per cent. by weight of this country's exports go by air. Many industries depend on getting their component parts by just-in-time flights into our economy. The air freight cargo business has grown almost threefold in the past 10 to 15 years. It is a dynamic part of the economy.
I make those points because, hon. Members often talk about their own aerodrome or airport in such debates. On many occasions, they talk about the problems of noise and air pollution that are inevitably associated with airports, but if this country is to earn its living as part of an increasingly globalised economy, international aviation is as important to us as the internet. We cannot compete with the growing economies of India and China, let alone with the United States and the European Union, if we do not support our aviation industry and help it to continue to be successful—and by successful, I mean to grow.
I suspect that it is not well known that this country's aviation sector is the second largest after that of the United States—it is vital to us—so I start from almost the opposite point to some other hon. Members: we must succour and support the aviation industry and then look at how we deal with many of the effects. If we are to have a successful freight and cargo industry, there must be night flights. Given the industry's current structure around complicated integrators, it is simply not possible for this country to compete if we do not have night flights and, probably, an increasing number of them. How do we deal with that? We do so with compensation, quieter aircraft and by controlling pollution. That is what we should be debating, not whether we take this country from the forefront of one of the most exciting and important industries in the world economy.
The hon. Gentleman is making a reasoned and cogent argument. I certainly would not want this country's aviation industry to be disadvantaged unduly, but does he share my growing concern, which is held by others in my constituency, that the industry needs to accept in full principle that the polluter pays?
I do. I accept that principle, not just for aviation but for other parts of the economy. It is a profoundly good principle. Sometimes, working out precisely what it means is the difficulty and I will point out what I believe is a paradox in dealing with air pollution.
The aviation industry is a powerful contributor to the economy. It is also, because of its history, unusually structured, and it has some peculiarities, not least of which is the structure of the CAA. Forty or 50 years ago, aviation—the airports and the airlines—was almost wholly publicly owned around the globe. It was the Government's business. Still, if people want to organise a flight between this country and Singapore, they must have what is in effect an international treaty. That is odd in an industry that is leading globalisation and we should work towards removing that situation. We have seen the economic benefits of liberalising the skies over Europe. There has been a terrific growth in the economic impact of airlines since the skies over Europe were made free in 1992.
My hon. Friend talks about freedom. Does he accept that one of the characteristics to which he refers in saying that aviation has an odd structure is that it is a tax-free zone of the sort that Al Capone would envy and admire and that something needs to happen in relation to that? That certainly cannot be done in a single country or possibly even a single continent, but much more progress needs to be made before the polluter genuinely does pay and the industry, which contributes about 1 per cent. of our GDP, meets its environmental downside costs.
I do not accept that the industry is a tax-free zone—it is not—and it contributes almost £1 billion through the tax paid by aeroplanes using airports. I prefer to think of it as part of the travel industry and, unlike other parts of the travel industry, it operates and pays some taxes without a subsidy.
On my hon. Friend's other point, if the view is that extra taxes must be imposed to deal with some of the aviation industry's environmental problems, a global solution is the only way to do so, otherwise we would put our economy at a severe disadvantage.
The industry is strange because of the way that it has developed historically. If we looked at the CAA in principle, we would not put an economic regulator together with a body that is responsible for safety—that goes against most basic first principles—but as a member of the Select Committee on Transport, I have asked aeroplane pilots, airline and airport operators and ex-members of the CAA about that, and they say that it does not seem to cause any problem at present. It is useful to use that as an analogy in the context of Mr. Garnier finding it strange that airports can fine aeroplanes that fly off path. It is probably strange but, where that scheme exists, it probably works.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech but surely he has missed the point: in many instances, the airport has no incentive to penalise those of its customers who fly off path. That is why there is a strong case for an independent body that has some responsibility in that area.
I hope that I have not missed the point. Having sat on the board of an airport company, I say that the hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. If someone wants to have a successful airport company and wants to expand, they need the support of the local community. Those people need to know that there is concern about their concerns. One of the ways of demonstrating that is to fine—not in an ad hoc or arbitrary manner—in a reasoned way so as to reduce unnecessary inconvenience to people who live nearby. My experience is that airports do that even where there is no financial benefit for them.
If the hon. Gentleman does not believe in such schemes he should go beyond my experience in Manchester to San Francisco. He might want to go to San Francisco anyway because it is a good place to visit. The airport there runs an extraordinarily good scheme, at its cost, that fines aircraft that go off course. It is supported by the community and has reduced the number of complaints. There is evidence in the UK and abroad that airports can pursue such schemes successfully without there being an intermediary between the airport and the community.
The aviation business has been privatised and liberalised, but the civil service has a residual memory of the time when British Airways was effectively part of the Government. It was nationalised, as was the British Airports Authority. That background sometimes distorts decisions on the aviation industry.
Those of us who are involved with the airports at Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, which are supported by many other airports, have believed for some time that there should be a completely open-skies policy in the regions. That would help in the south-east in that it would take aircraft out of that region—not many, but such a policy would help a little where the sky is congested. There would be economic benefits in the north of England. I believe that BA does not like that idea. In the short term, there would probably be slight damage to its bottom line, but that would be overcome in a year or two.
BA's interest, as a good British company, is not the same as the UK's interest, but sometimes aviation policy seems to be driven in that direction. I hope that, in future discussions perhaps rather than in her summing up, my hon. Friend the Minister will respond positively to the recent Civil Aviation Authority report on the granting of fifth freedoms to regional airports. That is not the open-skies policy that I would want ideally, but the CAA says that there are significant benefits for regional airports if fifth freedoms are granted, unless there is an extraordinarily good reason not to do so.
A sensible way to start to improve the environment and air quality around an airport is giving the airport the ability to encourage airlines by financial means to move to less polluting aircraft. That is the way forward. Obviously, the airlines are worried about such measures and about noise. They are concerned that any decisions taken by airports do not over-penalise or conflict with airspace requirements. Overall, it seems that such an approach is sensible. There is a real problem around airports, and particularly Heathrow.
Primarily, the problem is not caused by aircraft at Heathrow but by cars. I cannot think of any other situation where there is a threat to a major industry because another body or series of bodies is polluting the air. If we return to the principle that the polluter pays, aviation pollutants do not constitute a threat that, by 2010, Heathrow will not meet European standards. The pollution comes from cars. If hon. Members can think of another example of one industry affecting the expansion and development of another industry, I cannot. We need to separate the issues and there needs to be a solution.
The noise problem is getting better. I accept that it is a complicated issue. There is not a simple linear relationship with decibels. We are talking about the quality and time of day of the noise and whether the area is rural or urban—in other words, the background noise. As there is more intense criticism of airports, on average, aircraft make a quarter of the noise that they made 20 years ago.
Twice as many flights land at Heathrow compared with 20 years ago. Does that not suggest that total noise is increasing rather than decreasing, purely because more planes want to land there—something which is planned to increase further?
The hon. Lady makes a good point, which I think is about 10 or 15 per cent. right. Like most people to whom I have talked who live around airports, I would prefer four quiet aircraft that can barely be heard and, in some instances, not heard at all, to one very noisy aircraft that wakes people up.
I was once at a public meeting where people were complaining about aircraft. They especially complained about a particular jumbo jet, as it turned out, that was noisy. I and others were able to point out that, while we had been in the meeting, about 25 aircraft had gone over the building and that they had heard only one. They had not heard the other 24. Obviously, quantity as well as quality matters but there has been a huge improvement in 777 aircraft, to give one example, over the old DC-9s. In my opinion, that outweighs the increased number of flights.
There is a quarter of the noise, but there are still complaints. The number of complaints must be considered in detail. At Nottingham East Midlands airport, over a period, there were 615 complaints about noise, 72 per cent. of which had been made by one individual. As far as I know, they were not made by an hon. Member. Sometimes, statistics obscure the fact that real people are finding that there is less of a problem with the airport and its noise than has been recorded.
The Secretary of State will have the power to allow public airport companies, such as Manchester airport, to trade. Those powers are not currently in the hands of the local authorities that own them. I support that good idea. The regulatory impact assessment says that the Secretary of State considered handing over power completely to the public airport companies so that they would have the same freedom as a privately owned airport company, but that that would make it more difficult to take local authority views into account. I found that a strange decision for airport companies that are owned by local authorities.
I urge the Secretary of State—I will also urge Ministers if I serve on the Standing Committee—to go the whole hog and make those public airport companies as free to trade as their private sector competitors. The issue is not whether the Secretary of State can intervene. BAA and other private operators would be annoyed and disturbed if there were a public subsidy, but the accounts are transparent, there is no public subsidy and the companies should be allowed to compete on a level playing field.
My hon. Friend the Minister said that he was weighing up all the facts as they relate to ATOL. To understand the complexities of the system, it is worth reading one sentence from the Select Committee's report. Once hon. Members hear it, I would be surprised if they defend the current system. It states:
"The intricacies of the ATOL arrangements are tortuous: passengers are definitely protected if they book a flight on a charter airline through a tour operator, or if they fly with a scheduled airline as part of a tour package; they are protected if they book a scheduled airline ticket through a travel agent with accommodation or a concert ticket, but not if they buy only the plane ticket and then book their accommodation on the internet; they may be protected even if they buy only a scheduled airline ticket from a travel agent, provided the travel agent uses the right flight consolidator."
We are saying that that system should continue to be funded, but it is not sensible or rational and does not justify that approach.
Mr. Duncan said there should be a clear choice between a completely free system of buyer beware and extending the system. I agree. The difficulty is that the European package travel directive, which was introduced into British law by the package travel regulations, says that there must be protection for a number of travellers. The regulations make it clear that in this country—although I do not think that the original directive says this—that has to be provided by package tour operators. It is sensible to extend the scheme to all travellers for £1 a journey. The insurance system is even more complicated than the ATOL system.
One argument is that extending the scheme would mean extra regulation. The CAA report makes it clear that the change to a levy on all passengers is deregulatory, takes £1 million-worth of burden off the industry and creates a level playing field. The arguments in favour of that are so strong that I find it difficult to understand why the Government resist it.
I tried to intervene on the Minister because I wanted to ask about the extra consultation. He implied that the Government are not going to amend the Bill to allow the scheme to be extended, but who else is there to consult? The CAA has carried out a thorough consultation and the Government have gone to the industry. As far as I am aware, they found that BA and one of the low-cost carriers—possibly Aer Lingus—do not like it. I can understand why, because it is an extra cost to their passengers and there are problems of carriers going broke, but the nature of a collective insurance policy is that everyone pays. With all those facts in place, I do not understand why we cannot have the argument now and make a decision. We do not need another consultation. The facts and the arguments are clear. It is not justifiable to continue a scheme that was appropriate when 98 per cent. of leisure passengers travelled through inclusive tours now that that figure is down to just over 60 per cent. I hope that the Government listen to those arguments.
I commend the remarks by Graham Stringer. Although I suspect that we will disagree on much of the detail, he brings knowledge and experience to the debate, and his contribution was interesting.
The Bill extends to just 13 clauses and 17 pages. As such, it may be short in length, but it is, nevertheless, significant in its scope. For example, from the contents we see that it deals with public airport companies, appeals on route licences, the health of passengers travelling, the documentary evidence in relation to references and the Air Travel Trust. Hon. Members will be pleased to know that I do not intend to make a detailed exposition of each; rather, I wish to consider the first section, which relates to noise, vibrations and emissions.
The absent Secretary of State will, I suspect, be all too familiar with the fact that my constituency borders on Stansted airport. As such, my constituents are constantly affected by the noise and emissions from overhead aircraft. That intrusion affects their quality of life. Sadly, over recent years, it has grown steadily as air traffic has increased.
It is not only people at home who suffer. A number of schools in Sawbridgeworth, Spellbrook and Bishop's Stortford have to interrupt lessons because the noise makes teaching inaudible. The rural parish of Thorley has reported oily droplets that coat the leaves of trees and plants. Indeed, a film of oil is often found when an aircraft has been reported as being off route. It is also found forming on ponds and pools. My constituents, and, I suspect, many other people across the country who have to live near airports, find that intrusion of great concern. The way in which noise and emissions are monitored, managed and enforced has a direct effect on their daily lives.
That is especially the case with night flights, which the Minister mentioned. Those are controlled at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted by a combination of noise quotas on one hand and a limit on the number of aircraft movements on the other. Clause 2 enables the Secretary of State to discontinue limiting the number of night-time flights at those designated airports. That leaves the noise quotas alone to regulate night-time traffic. While in principle I could accept that the regulation of aircraft noise needs to be more flexible and effective, and that aircraft movement controls on their own are crude, I do not believe that the answer is to discontinue limiting aircraft movements. Sadly, however, I suspect that that is what the Government plan. The Department has decided to delay by six months the second stage of the night-flight consultation. There has been no satisfactory explanation. Any new regime will therefore begin a year later than we were originally advised.
The resulting delay means that the Government have the time to change the law through this Bill and then use the new powers to create a very different regulatory regime, almost certainly starting from October next year. Given his remarks earlier, it is clear that the Minister expects to abolish the movement limits and thus allow more night-time flights. I did not notice that in bright lights in the Labour party manifesto, but it is of great concern and interest to many around the country.
A second point emanates from the issue: the switch in regulation would establish a precedent. Limits on aircraft movements provide the main way in which to regulate the growth of airports, as a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned. If regulation for all flights—not just those at night—were centred solely on noise and emissions, the British Airports Authority could grow incrementally its three London airports without some of the existing checks and balances. That would represent a serious setback in the control of airport development, and I am sure that it would be universally opposed by my constituents.
Given the Minister's equivocal answer earlier, I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Ms Buck, to put on record clearly in her reply to the debate the Government's true intentions—not just about night-time flights, about which we have had half an answer, but about daytime movement limits too. In the exchange earlier, the Minister seemed to be saying, "Well, these may or may not be abolished. We will have to decide in the future." That is not an acceptable answer. We do not want the limits to be removed, but for the Government to put a piece of legislation before us and not to give a clear answer on the record is reprehensible. I hope that the Under- Secretary will be able to clear up that point.
That lack of ministerial candour leads me to consider how aircraft noise is measured and by whom. Licensed airport operators such as at Luton or Manchester have a free hand in dealing with their neighbours' complaints. Indeed, they can even decide which of the environmental noise objectives should be adopted. That rather ad hoc approach has concerned nearby residents and campaigners for some years. They believe that, given the daily impact on their lives, the procedures for monitoring, managing and enforcing noise and emissions levels should be clearly founded in law. Indeed, there have been several campaigns to secure a change. For example, in the 1990s a former Member of this House, Mr. Stephen Day, was a vociferous campaigner on behalf of his constituents in Cheadle. It is good to see the Government finally responding to his and other campaigners' concerns.
However, there is a second aspect on which the Government have failed to act: the need for independence in the system—an independent watchdog that is able openly to investigate and enforce the rules. At present, when my constituents are disturbed by excessive noise, they complain to the flight evaluation unit at the airport, which investigates the complaint, judges whether the noise limits or noise preferential routes have been breached, and then decides under its own rules and in its own manner whether a breach has occurred. It is also able to decide whether to fine the guilty airline. The problem is that the unit is owned, managed and staffed by British Airports Authority plc. Thus, the airport operator both monitors the problem and decides whether to charge and what to fine. It is not so much poacher as both policeman and judge.
I have visited the flight evaluation unit at Stansted and taken a number of my constituents there so that we could have a positive exchange, and I have no doubt that the individuals involved there are thoroughly professional, but what is wrong is the system, not the people. It is a complaints procedure that lacks transparency and objectivity. Indeed, given BAA's effective monopoly in the south-east of England and its pivotal role in delivering the Government's plans for air travel, it is vital to public confidence that the complaints procedure for noise lies outside the remit of a public limited company that runs the airports. That is why the Bill should establish an independent watchdog to monitor, manage and enforce aircraft noise and emissions limits—a watchdog independent of commercial interests and therefore likely to attract the full confidence of the public.
Such a unit does not need to cost the taxpayer a penny. After all, it could draw the funds that it needs from the fines that it levies, much as many other watchdogs do already. Nor would the regulatory burden need to increase. What is at issue is the status of the regulator, not the size or complexity of the rule book. I therefore suggest that all flight evaluation units be transferred to become independent of airport operators. Ideally, they might operate under the auspices of the Civil Aviation Authority, but I would be happy to discuss that if the Minister were willing to have an open mind on the question. The aim should be a complaints system that is objective and seen to be so—a system that is open and fair to all.
I welcome the Government's wish to update the regulatory regime for civil aviation. Although the Bill is somewhat equivocal in tone and permissive in law, it is high time that the issues that it addresses or refers to were dealt with. However, the Bill is imbalanced. It seeks to help passengers, but hesitates when proffering help to those affected by air travel. That is why we need greater clarity on the question of night-time flights. I hope that the Under-Secretary will think carefully about how she will reply on that point, and that she and her colleagues will ensure that they give the matter the greatest consideration before any loosening of the regulations.
The Bill should also make the monitoring, management and enforcement of noise and emissions levels thoroughly independent of commercial airport operators. Others have suggested that there is no conspiracy, and I tend in politics and in life generally not to see conspiracies about me, but residents near airports genuinely feel that they are not being heard. Putting the system on an independent footing would help to allay those concerns and to ensure a positive dialogue between airport and resident. We would be sending the clearest of signals to people that their complaints will not only be treated fairly but that there is a system that they can trust. In the area in and around Stansted, that is not the case at present.
I hope that the Government will grasp this opportunity and therefore help to improve the quality of life not just of my constituents but of millions of people around the country.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the Bill in this Second Reading debate. It is a good Bill, which addresses several important issues that have been debated in some detail this afternoon. It is a measured and balanced Bill, which considers some of the difficult issues that we face and tries to provide a pragmatic mechanism for dealing with the challenges before the industry.
I predicate all my comments on the fact that I am a big supporter of the industry and I always have been. I endorse the views of my hon. Friend Graham Stringer in identifying the important role that it plays in economic development.
Is the hon. Gentleman asking about targets for the industry, or climate change generally? Yes, I am a supporter. The industry faces a huge environmental challenge, but it would be a mistake to think that this country can address that on our own, because it faces the industry internationally. When instituting change we must be careful to ensure that we do not damage the competitive edge that the British aviation industry enjoys. It has been pointed out that it is the second largest in the world, so we must be responsible and careful, which is why the Bill is by and large balanced.
I spent a brief spell working in the inward investment industry, so I can tell the House that it is virtually impossible to attract footloose international investment into the regions of the United Kingdom if those areas have no access to a thriving and prospering international airport providing a choice of scheduled business flights. Without such an airport, one certainly cannot attract high-value-added or high-tech industries, which are the sorts of industries that we hope will be able to compete with the rest of the world over the next 50 years or more. The aviation industry has an important role not only because of the quantity of exports that it carries and the number of passengers whom it transports throughout the world, but because it is at the cutting edge of business communication. If we stick our heads in the sand on that issue, we will damage enormously the competitive advantages of British industry.
Does the hon. Gentleman therefore think that any amount of future expansion of air travel and the aviation business in this country is justified so long as the economic case stacks up, irrespective of the environmental damage that might be caused to nearby residents on the ground?
The hon. Lady's question started well, but became somewhat loaded towards the end. If it is economically advantageous, we should generally support the policy. However, expansion would not be economically advantageous if it damaged the environment and quality of life of people living near airports.
I have some experience of living near an airport because the fastest growing regional airport in the United Kingdom is in my constituency. According to the aviation White Paper, we expect a fivefold increase in passenger throughput by 2020. We will have to address the huge environmental challenge that that will create and tackle the problem of surface access to such an expanding airport, but the expansion will be a vital part of the development of the south Wales economy. I was delighted to attend the recent opening of the Vale of Glamorgan passenger railway, which is the first such railway to be reopened since the Beeching closures of the 1960s in Wales. One of the major stations on the railway is providing a rail link to Cardiff Wales airport, which is absolutely vital to ease the congestion on our roads. However, that does not mean that we will not also need to continue to improve surface access.
I speak as a huge fan of the aviation industry, but I am sure that it will be of no surprise to older hon. Members that I want to concentrate on clause 7 of the Bill, which relates to aviation health, an issue on which I have campaigned for many years. Her Majesty's Government have an excellent track record on aviation health. Let me tell those who call the Bill piecemeal, disjointed and without vision that they are completely wrong, because it is radical and courageous. By creating the aviation health unit, the Government became the first in the world to provide such an institution. Under the auspices of the Bill, the Government will be the first to create a Minister for aviation health and to finance the aviation health unit, which is part of the Civil Aviation Authority at Gatwick, with a levy on the industry. The Government have a commendable record that sets an example to the rest of the world, which is dragging its feet on the many aviation health problems that constantly arise, including the huge public health problem of air passengers contracting deep vein thrombosis, which is the main issue on which I campaign and which Mr. Duncan mentioned.
The British Government's record does not stop there. They made the largest single financial contribution to the World Health Organisation's study of the health risks of travelling, especially the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis due to long-haul air travel, which is defined as a flight of four hours or more. I understand that they contributed more than €2 million to the study, which was more than any other country affiliated to the WHO and almost as much as the other countries that contributed put together. We should be proud of that record. I congratulate and commend the Government on the lead that they have shown in the past few years by making Britain the only country to make available on a website, in leaflets and through the aviation health unit specific health advice for passengers about to engage on long-haul travel.
May I point out to my hon. Friend that the national health service is also doing its bit? When I visited my doctor on Friday to talk about going on my holidays, I was given advisory leaflets about deep vein thrombosis.
I am well aware that doctors give such advice, but we are debating the Civil Aviation Bill. It is not only doctors who provide such advice; NHS hospitals in Britain contain air passenger and tourist advice centres to warn people about the dangers of flying. I must stress that they advise on the health risks of flying and not the safety risks, because there is a huge difference between them. Air travel is the safest form of travel in the world. One is less likely to be injured or killed by flying in an aeroplane than by walking down the street, riding a bicycle or driving a car.
The hon. Gentleman is enthusiastic about aviation, but many hon. Members are worried about the growth of air travel at airports in their constituencies. Would he be delighted if all the increased air traffic came to his region of Wales? Would he encourage the infrastructure to be put in place so that the extra air traffic could move to his constituency?
That almost happened following the horrendous terrorist attacks in New York in September 2001, because Cardiff Wales airport is one of the most accessible alternative airports on the Atlantic seaboard. It is the most fog-free airport in the United Kingdom and enjoys the most temperate weather of any airport in the United Kingdom. Consequently, every large jet in the air that was sent away from the United States at the time was diverted to the airport—we were delighted to have them. We have some geographical advantages, from which other hon. Members do not benefit. We are a seaboard airport and much of the traffic flies in over the sea and takes off over the sea, as long as the wind direction is right.
Air travel is the fastest-growing mode of transport in the world. We do not know whether it will double, treble or increase fivefold in my constituency, but we all agree that it is growing exponentially. We are in the bizarre position, which I mentioned in an intervention—causing puzzled looks on the Opposition Front Bench and on the faces of some new Members—whereby last year 60 million Britons flew long haul from this country, with no protection whatsoever against damage to their health or well-being when on board the aircraft. I am sure that that did not sink in when I made my intervention.
Under article 17 of the 1929 Warsaw convention, airlines—exclusively, as a mode of transport—have no duty of care for the health or well-being of their passengers. They have a duty of care for their safety. That was upgraded in two further international conventions—The Hague and Montreal conventions. However, when an attempt was made in the Montreal convention to make airlines—like any other passenger carriers—responsible for the health of their passengers, it was rigorously avoided. Efforts were concentrated on stopping the introduction of such a duty of care in law.
Earlier, we had an interesting debate about Air Travel Organisation Licensing and compensation. Some people are covered, others are not. We discussed how wide the compensation should be for the loss of a holiday or being stranded somewhere and having to pay to come back. However, there is no insurance cover for death or personal injury caused by damage to physical or mental health through flying. Indeed, a passenger who is injured or a relative of a passenger who has been killed or injured cannot even go to a British court to argue that an airline was responsible for death or injury caused by a health condition acquired through flying, although for me, the important one is venous thrombo-embolism.
Why do I speak in such a committed way about the subject? A 29-year-old constituent of mine died, killed by United Airlines. I do not believe that the airline denies that he died as a result of being crammed into an aircraft for an incredibly long time. That caused a blood clot in a lower limb, which dislodged and went to his lungs. A pulmonary embolism then killed him. That is a common cause of death in this country. According to the Health Committee report, more than 30,000 people a year die in this country from venous thrombo-embolism. I cited that figure in a previous debate, but I am not sure whether I was taken seriously. Most of those deaths are easily preventable.
We believe that as many as one in six of the deaths are flight related. They are caused—not necessarily exclusively—by flying for more than four hours in cramped and somewhat contrived conditions. We do not claim that that definitely is the figure, but all the indications suggest that it is. According to Professor John Scurr in a watershed piece of research, one in 10 air passengers who fly long haul develop blood clots in their lower limbs. Of those, 43 per cent. develop a deep vein thombosis that could dislodge and move to vital organs—the lungs, the heart or the brain. That is a huge number if it is anywhere near correct. We do not know for sure because the research, which the British Government are largely financing, has not yet been completed.
Research by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, conducted on a much bigger sample and published in December 2004, suggests that one in 100 of all long-haul passengers—defined as flying for more than four hours—develop a deep vein thrombosis. That is potentially fatal. If it does not kill, it causes horrendous damage, which will probably have to be treated for a long time, if not for the rest of the patient's life.
The World Health Organisation report, which the Government are largely financing, is about to be published. The research has been led by Professor Frits Rosendaal of Leiden university. It will show, without doubt, that people who fly long distance are five times more likely to contract a thrombosis than the community at large. It will therefore establish a definitive link. It will not define the causal relationship but establish once and for all the correlation between long-haul flying and developing the condition. No serious clinician or medical practitioner doubts the link between flying in cramped conditions in a contrived environment and the condition, although they may disagree about the scale of the problem. I believe that it is a huge public health issue, but the airlines have no responsibility for it in law.
Can one imagine a more contrived environment? The air is artificial; the pressure in a pressurised cabin is equivalent to being 6,000 ft above sea level; and the airline tells passengers what they can eat. The British Nutrition Foundation recently made some interesting comments about the salt content of the food that the big airlines shove in front of—normally economy class—passengers. That could be damaging to passengers' health generally, but salt's dehydration effect increases massively the chances of developing a blood clot. Yet the airlines have no duty of care.
Clause 7 finally establishes the unit and asks the airlines to pay a pittance—£200,000 shared between the airlines is not much money—as a levy to finance it. When the Minister is given the responsibility of offering guidance—and, as I understand it, make Orders in Council—to protect passengers' health and well-being on aircraft, why do not we accept the opportunity of taking a lead in the world once again and place the same duty of care—no special treatment or favours—on airlines as exists for shipping, coach and railway companies, and even taxis?
If passengers get in a taxi, coach or train or sail on a ship, whoever carries them from A to B has a general duty to look after their health and well-being. Yet when passengers get on an aeroplane, there is no such protection. They are not even covered by their travel insurance. I am sure that millions of people in the country, never mind half those who sit in the House, have no idea that that is the position. I ask the Minister to consider using this as a golden opportunity not necessarily to place such a liability on airlines, because that could place the British airline industry in a difficult position, but to put down a marker to state that the Government's intention is to ensure that all airlines throughout the world have that same duty of care. If that could be achieved, there might never have to be any more tragic deaths like that of my constituent, John Anthony Thomas, who died in the prime of his life. His death was avoidable, preventable and unnecessary, and the airline was responsible. It got away with murder, and if we do not change the law, that could happen again.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the chance to speak in this debate on the Civil Aviation Bill. For many of my constituents, particularly those who live in Thamesfield, East Putney and Roehampton, the issue of aircraft noise at night is of great, and growing, concern. I want to make it clear from the outset, however, that, like Alan Keen, I am not against aviation or against Heathrow. I fully understand the importance of the aviation industry to the UK, and the opportunities that it gives to so many of us to travel. I also fully recognise that Heathrow is very important for the local economy, in terms of the employment that it provides.
My worries about the Bill are specifically related to its potential effect on night flights, which already have a severe impact on many of my constituents. I know that many other hon. Members have similar concerns. The Bill proposes a fundamental change in the way in which aircraft noise from planes landing at designated airports such as Heathrow will be managed. At present, the noise created by night flights—flights landing at airports such as Heathrow between 11.30 pm and 6.30 am—is controlled in two ways. The first is a noise quota system that measures the estimated total noise created. The second is the calculation of the absolute number of movements overhead.
At present, an average of 16 flights land at Heathrow between 11.30 pm and 6.30 am every day, with the majority landing from 4.30 am onwards. These planes fly directly over my constituency and, indeed, over my own home. However, rather than strengthening the controls over noise, the Bill proposes to take away one of the two means of control currently in place. Clause 2 will give the Secretary of State the power to change the noise regime, if he so chooses, and to remove the movements limit element altogether, so that we should rely instead only on the noise quota measure.
I recognise that the air transport White Paper said that the Government intended to introduce legislation to make such changes, but they are strongly opposed by me, my constituents, the London borough of Wandsworth and many other boroughs and interests around Heathrow. I am sure that the Department for Transport will explain that the justification for this change is that removing the movements limit will provide an effective incentive for airlines to use aircraft that are less noisy. I understand that, but less noisy aircraft are still noisy and they still wake people up. I find it hard to understand the logic of a policy that suggests that a less noisy aircraft is somehow, miraculously, not noisy at all. This policy could enable airlines to increase the number of night flights, possibly significantly, when our objective must surely be to limit, and gradually to phase out, the number of night flights coming into airports such as Heathrow. I will come back to other aspects of the noise quota system—the one noise control that will remain in place—to demonstrate just what a discredited system it is.
I should also like to take this opportunity to point out that the Bill does not give any indication as to when such a power to remove the movements limit might be used by the Secretary of State, and under what criteria he might judge it appropriate to launch a consultation to change the powers. Given that the Bill proposes to introduce these powers, I can only assume that there is an intention to use them, which can only mean that we will have more planes flying overhead than at present.
Just as worryingly, the Secretary of State will be aware that, only on
Of course, I cannot talk about the Government's strategy—I use the term loosely—on civil aviation without referring to the previous White Paper, "The Future of Air Transport". That document said that it was the Government's intention to "bear down" on aircraft noise. It also said that the Department for Transport's basic aim was to
"limit, and where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise".
But the proposal from that same Government in the night flights consultation is that we should see a 10 per cent. increase in planes landing at Heathrow during the night period. That consultation also proposes that my constituents should have to bear an increase in the night flight regime, from 2,550 movements in the current winter season to 2,820 by 2011–12, and a similar increase in summer flights.
That is bad enough, but the Bill also proposes to give the Secretary of State the power to take away any need for movement limits whatever. My constituents will be left with a noise control system that the Secretary of State could, at any point—without specifying why or when—change to rely solely on the quota count system. That system is arguably fundamentally flawed, which leads me to my next concern regarding the Bill.
We are used to fine words from this Government, but as ever there is little of substance behind them. The Department for Transport may say that it wants to "bear down" on aircraft noise, but it is placing confidence in a quota count system that is based on estimated noise, rather than on actual noise. How can we possibly justify, let alone explain to our constituents, a system for monitoring aircraft noise that is based on estimates of the noise level that an aircraft makes, rather than on the actual noise that it makes. That is surely absurd.
To explain why the quota count system using estimated noise is so discredited, research was carried out by the London borough of Wandsworth to show that the level of night noise at Heathrow is understated by 74 per cent., owing to the misclassification of the louder quota count 4 and quota count 8 747-400 aircraft landing at Heathrow between 4 o'clock and 6 o'clock each morning. Those planes had, in fact, been classed as quota count 2 level planes, which are supposedly much quieter. The planes that have been so badly misclassified make up an amazing 80 per cent. of the current night flights into Heathrow over Putney. I look to the Minister to give the House an assurance that her Department will now take steps to move to a noise monitoring system based on actual, not estimated, noise.
The issues do not end there. We need to measure actual noise more effectively, but having done that, we must at last define what level of actual noise constitutes "excessive". The London borough of Wandsworth, which has campaigned tirelessly for a reduction in night noise, has repeatedly asked for a definition of "excessive noise", but to date has not been given one by the Government. This issue has also been pointed out to the Government not only by other hon. Members but by the inspector carrying out the terminal 5 inquiry. He said in his report that he
"had some difficulty in establishing current government policy towards aircraft noise".
His report went onto say:
"I find it very hard to understand how the policy can be implemented fairly and openly in the absence of a measure of definition of what is an excessive noise level".
The issues do not end there, however. We do not even have up-to-date information on how aircraft noise at airports such as Heathrow affects the well-being and health, both short and long term, of local people. In fact, the last large-scale social study of the impact of night noise on people was carried out in 1985, 20 years ago, in the aircraft noise index study. Surely it is time for an updated review. I believe that the sleep disturbance study of 1993 was also debated in the House. It was heavily criticised at the time of its publication and failed to consider adequately the experience of residents on the ground.
No study of which I am aware has examined the impact of night flights or aircraft noise on people such as my constituents in Putney. I am not aware of any permanent noise sensors monitoring aircraft noise in my constituency, but they are badly needed. If they are there, the data are certainly not being made publicly available. It takes only one noisy plane to wake someone up.
Given the Government's reluctance to provide me with facts and data, I have done my own search instead of relying on estimates. I have found only one piece of research that considered actual noise created by aircraft landing at Heathrow and passing over Putney, although even that did not examine the impact of that noise on my constituents. That report was carried out in 1999 by the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and was innovatively titled, "Noise from Arriving Aircraft". It did consider maximum noise levels experienced in a number of locations, including one noise sensor in Putney, and I have a chart of the output from that sensor with me.
For the Boeing 747—again, I remind the House that 80 per cent. of night flights coming into Heathrow are Boeing 747s—the maximum decibels created were up to 80 dB. That comes right at the end of the chart that I am now showing the House. In fact, no aircraft monitored carrying more than 100 passengers was recorded at less than 65 dB. However, the 80 dB noise that my constituents experience can be contrasted with the World Health Organisation's guidelines as to what noise will prohibit a good night's sleep:
"for good sleep, sound level should not exceed 30 decibels for continuous background noise, and individual noise events exceeding 45 decibels should be avoided."
While I fully understand that the WHO levels are in fact for internal noise, the average home will provide only about a 15 dB reduction by way of sound insulation. Therefore, people who wish to have a window open, even slightly, for ventilation, are experiencing levels in excess of what the WHO would advise.
From the only piece of evidence available, it seems that my constituents must endure noise far in excess of that which the World Health Organisation believes is the maximum tolerable for a good night's sleep. The WHO has also stated that there can be significant health impacts from disturbed sleep. In the short term, there is an increased risk of accident; additionally, blood pressure and stress hormones can be affected. In the longer term, however, the World Health Organisation says that persistently disturbed sleep can lead to cardiovascular problems, worsened cognitive performance and immune system problems. I would urge the Minister to study carefully and take a lead from the World Health Organisation guidelines, which would suggest that night-time noise at airports such as Heathrow is already excessive, in the context of my constituents having their sleep disturbed. I also look to the Minister to give this House an assurance that her Department will undertake a full study of what determines "excessive" noise and to make its findings and subsequent policy known to the House at last.
"Although nowadays the industry pays lip service to the notion of sustainability, its demands are essentially unchanged. It wants more of everything—airports, runways, terminals. The industry is not even prepared to negotiate seriously on such relatively resolvable problems as the 16 night flights which daily disrupt the sleep of several hundred thousand Londoners and are a source of continual complaint. During my time as aviation Minister I had difficulty persuading representatives of the offending airlines even to sit around a table with MPs whose constituents are affected, let alone contemplate the slightest change to their night flight schedules."
I hope that the latest aviation Minister will have more success. The previous Minister ended his article by saying that any further concessions to the industry should be conditional on an end to night flights. I do not expect that to happen, but I find myself in agreement with a former Labour minister.
In summary, the Bill represented an opportunity to bring actual aircraft noise fully into the Department's decision making. That opportunity has been missed. The Bill represented an opportunity finally to define what our Government believe is "excessive" noise. Again, that opportunity has been missed. I believe that it is incumbent on a Government making such major proposals related to aircraft noise, affecting hundreds of thousands of people in London, including my constituents in Putney, to base those proposals on hard evidence that is not only accurate but up-to-date. That evidence is absent from the Bill.
The Bill proposes not to tackle the issue of aircraft noise and the resultant health impacts, but to do the exact opposite and remove a fundamental check on worsening aircraft noise that has been in place for a number of years. The Bill gives the Secretary of State power to lessen controls on noise created by aircraft, and thereby opens the door for aircraft operators to have as many planes landing during the night-time as they wish. The Bill implies that quieter aircraft are less disruptive than noisier aircraft and that therefore there is no more need for a movements limit. The World Health Organisation evidence, however, suggests that all planes carrying 100 or more passengers will wake up residents beneath the flight path as they land.
It is time the Government initiated a large-scale study not only of actual noise experienced by people such as my constituents in Putney, but also of the impact that that noise has on sleep disturbance. The Bill emphasises the lack of balance in this Government's aviation policy, placing the economic interests of airlines and airport operators over the livelihoods of people who each night suffer the consequences of noise from aircraft. The Department has placed much store on the need to balance the social impact of night noise with its economic benefits, and it needs to do so as a matter of urgency. Let us find out what the economic benefits of night flights truly are. So far, I have seen no detailed report justifying aircraft operators' claims about their contribution to London's economy. I will listen to the Minister's response with great interest, and I hope that, as a minimum, she will assure me that those studies will be undertaken as a precondition of the legislation being implemented.
On the specific issue of night noise at least, it is time that the interests of local communities were at last placed on an equal footing with those of the industry. Finding the right balance is long overdue. The best decisions are based on facts and data, which, in this Bill, are badly needed but missing.
Before increased powers are conferred on the Secretary of State via the Bill, I look to the Minister to give the House assurances on actual noise monitoring being put in place in areas near Heathrow such as Putney, an assessment of the impact of actual noise on people experiencing it, a definition of what constitutes excessive noise according to this Government, and a full review of the economic case for night flights as a matter of necessity. Failing to give those assurances and carry out that action puts the Bill on a dangerous path along which to progress.
The Bill seems to have one theme running through it—to address more seriously the by-products of the large and, for the most part, welcome increase in the volume and capacity of air travel within the UK. In what way can the Government regulate to correct the externalities and market failures not dealt with by the ever-increasing air industry? In the past it may have been easier to ignore problems of noise and air pollution. Now there are simply too many planes in the sky to allow such laxity. In 1991 there were nearly 96 million passengers passing through UK terminals; in 2003 that had more than doubled, to nearly 200 million. It is estimated that by 2020 the figure may have risen to more than 400 million. Meanwhile, the number of aircraft movements—aircraft landing or taking off—has risen from nearly 1.4 million to more than 2 million during the same period.
The increase in air travel has, of course, proved stimulating to the economy. There is some debate about the exact economic effect of air routes to Scotland, but I know from personal experience in Dundee that for many business people, the Dundee to London route is a vital link with the United Kingdom capital, and enables businesses to be based on Tayside. I approach the Bill as one who is in favour of air travel and the increase in air travel that has taken place over the past two decades. The fact that I am in favour of air travel, however, does not mean that I am unaware of its limitations and problems.
Dundee is fortunate in that its airport is fairly secluded in terms of residential areas, its planes are small, its capacity is limited and it is next to the River Tay, where the only offence that it can cause is to basking seals on the sandbanks when the tide is low. When I come to London, as I have the privilege of doing most weeks now, the situation is rather different. The idyllic silvery riverside view is gone, and in its place are masses of planes flying in all directions. Coming to this city nearly every week makes me recognise the necessity of renewed and reformed regulation of our rapidly expanding air industry. It is vital for us to take seriously the effect of noise and pollution on people's lives. Of course noise is a by-product of aeroplanes, and we should accept that, but it is important to limit the effect wherever possible. I welcome the clauses allowing the Secretary of State to compel aerodrome owners to install noise-measuring equipment in airports.
The observations of Justine Greening made me think back to my days as a safety representative. I think that decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, which means that if a volume of 80 dB is doubled it becomes 90 dB. I do not know whether the hon. Lady was aware of that, but it may make the figures she gave even more horrific.
The Bill is the first step towards allowing operators to impose realistic limits on the carriers who use their airports. I understand that without it, charges of the type we are discussing, if levied by airport operators, would be open to legal challenge. Clearly a change is necessary. The Bill will encourage carriers to start reducing the levels of noise emissions as a way of both saving money and improving their public profile. It is important for carriers to accept more responsibility, and it is best for the managers of aerodromes to initiate the process. It is they, after all, who must deal with public reaction if there is too much noise at night, or if tiles start falling off roofs owing to unnecessary vibrations.
As always with legislation that seeks to regulate, it is important to set the regulation at the right level. I believe that the Bill strikes that balance. Allowing aerodrome owners to set the levies will allow decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis, and those on the ground will obviously have the right amount of knowledge to do that. There is, of course, a caveat. If the market and aerodrome owners could deal with the problems naturally, there would be little need for legislation. I am glad that the Secretary of State will gain powers to act should that be necessary. There is a fine balance to be struck between over-regulating and letting things get out of control. I trust that the dividing line will be established soon after the Bill takes effect.
As for the regulation itself, I think that it is an attempt to deal with the wider issue of the costs and benefits of air travel. It is crucial for airlines and aerodrome operators to take account of some of the wider externality issues, and to try to address them as the air industry continues to expand. I imagine that some will object to what they see as undue regulation, but I think that the negligible costs incurred will be easily offset once they are divided among the 200 million passengers who pass through our airports each year. At this stage it seems reasonable for everyone to make a small contribution to the common good, and to the quality of life of some of our fellow citizens.
As I have said, the Bill is in general about protecting consumers from externalities and market failures. That is clearly demonstrated by clause 9. Most holidays are already protected by ATOL, and it makes sense for there to be at least some regulation of ordinary air travel. It will protect the public, and give carriers an incentive to go on behaving properly. It will help to cement measures in the Bill.
The Bill seeks to address the new problems caused by air travel in the 21st century. By doing that now, it will allow us to enjoy an expanded aeroplane market. However, we will do so in the knowledge that we are not leaving such crucial matters as noise and aircraft emissions in the hands of air operators alone.
It is a pleasure to speak on the Bill. It is a bit of a rag-tag—a miscellaneous Bill consisting of bits and pieces—but it is very important, because it affects a very important industry. We have heard today about the value of the civil aviation industry to our country. It is worth £10 billion a year. It employs 200,000 people directly, and 600,000 indirectly. According to Government estimates of the industry's possible growth, another 260,000 jobs could well be created.
All that is not God-given. The industry is very competitive. Many other countries would like to be as successful as we are in this respect. We must maintain a strong industry, especially if ours is to remain the fourth largest economy in the world and to make progress as a modern economy. About a third of our exports, by value, now travel by air, and we have seen massive growth. Although I do not necessarily accept some of the higher growth figures, we must plan for quite a high level of further growth over the next few years.
It is true that we have not taken as strategic an approach as other nations. That is a criticism both of past Conservative Governments and of the present Government. This Government have been brave in one respect, however: they have begun to consider potential airport and runway expansion. When terminal 5 was being built and an inquiry was in progress, Schipol and de Gaulle airports added three runways. The Europeans are rather more focused on expanding their aerospace industries than we are. A bargain must be struck. If our industry is to expand and create jobs and wealth, our citizens will expect it to do more about emissions and, in particular, noise. My hon. Friend Justine Greening spoke eloquently about what her constituents must put up with. We must nail the industry down to achieving much better standards in future.
When I first looked at the Bill, I thought that the Government were tightening noise and emission regulations, but when I listened to the Minister I was not so sure. As he continued, there were more references to balancing and "on the one hand . . . on the other hand". The devil will be in the detail, and the Committee stage will be very important in terms of what eventually emerges. If we get the noise and emission levels right, however, it may well be appropriate to expand the industry and thus create wealth.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney was very eloquent on behalf of her constituents who cannot sleep. People have certain basic rights. We must achieve a proper balance between a successful industry and the rights of those who live under the flight path or close to airports—rights that most of us consider normal in this day and age.
Members have said that aerodromes should not just attract business but act as police, courts and fining authorities. Such issues will need to be explored very carefully in Committee.
The Minister talked a great deal about planning authorities. The planning authority responsible for an airport usually represents only a small proportion of the area affected by aircraft movements. We also heard about airports' consultative committees, which I have never considered to provide the strongest protection for those living in the vicinity. I hope that in Committee we shall hear more about who will be consulted, and the length of the consultation period.
The question has also arisen of the how far around an airport such controls should extend. Should they extend, for example, for 10, 20 or 40 km? That will clearly be very important in terms of the effectiveness of these regulations. Concern has also been expressed about the imposition of financial penalties, and particularly the prospect of using them as a local fund. The problem is not just that it might be the manager of a particular airport who makes that decision; there could also be perverse incentives for an airport or a local authority to impose restrictive limits with large fines, in order just to raise money. A balance has to be struck in the introduction and application of these regulations.
The issue of appeals and route licences was also briefly raised. The Government say that the Civil Aviation Authority has the experience and the professionals to be able to decide these issues, but it is very unusual for someone who loses a route to have no means of appeal. Perhaps the Competition Commission is the appropriate body to deal with any such dispute, which will undoubtedly arise at some point. Indeed, reference has already been made in this debate to judicial review or some form of court action. I am not sure that simply taking the Secretary of State out of the process constitutes a great stripping out of bureaucracy. In fact, it might give rise to more difficulties if we end up going down the legal route.
Reference has been made to the Air Travel Trust fund, and to various schemes such as introducing a £1 levy on individual travellers, as well as having no particular levy. The situation today is significantly different from the early 1970s, when Court Lines went bust. In those days, most people did not have credit cards, there were exchange controls and travel was still a relatively rare undertaking. These days, most people who travel use their credit cards to book a flight, and people who are stranded use their card to get back to the United Kingdom. I do not believe that people are necessarily without options and choices. Whenever I go home, I discover that at least five companies are trying to offer me a credit card with an excessive credit limit. Although it may not always be in the British people's interest, they certainly have sufficient credit to get themselves out of difficulty. I am not sure that the Government should do that job, or that a levy should be imposed on everybody. Stronger companies could end up bailing out weaker ones, which have in fact been undercutting them in the process.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but is it not true that even in the UK, seven airlines have gone bust in the past four years? Some of them served Edinburgh, so my constituents were affected. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there is a need for greater consumer protection, and that he should perhaps be more sympathetic to such people's problems? They might well be able to use their credit card to get home, but that is not much use if they cannot get recompense for the cost of their flight when an airline goes bust, or recompense for the cost of accommodation booked through a website.
I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but that argument can be applied to a whole range of activities. When a national furniture company went bust, those who bought furniture, fixtures and fittings from it lost their money. If we start from the basis of ensuring that no one loses money when engaging in a particular activity, we simply put up the cost of many of the associated goods and services in the process.
I am simply trying to point out that the world is somewhat different from 30 years ago. Back then, if an airline went bust there was often no choice of other airlines, because often, only one airline operated from a particular airport. These days, airlines are fighting for business, so passengers usually have a lot of choice. People are more aware of the risks than they used to be, so I tend toward the view of having less intervention, and of allowing people to make a reasonable and responsible choice on the basis of the information available.
The civil aviation industry is a great British success. A bargain has to be struck, in that, if expansion is to take place, we need to do a lot more, particularly in terms of noise. As many of the Members who live near to, or represent constituencies near to, airports have attested today, this is a big issue for their constituents. I agree with the point made by Graham Stringer. Aircraft are quieter now, certainly compared with those on which I used to travel abroad when I was a lot younger. Technology will march on and they will get quieter still, which will help in dealing with the noise problem.
This is a great industry, but as Members have said today, it is clear that we need to strike a proper balance. We will need to consider the detail of the Bill in Committee, in order to establish whether it will tighten up the regime, or whether the various airlines will end up getting out of some of the existing agreements.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate, not least because I was unable to be present for the opening speeches, for which I apologise.
I have a particular interest in this Bill, not least because the so-called Nottingham East Midlands airport lies in the northern tip of my constituency. Its origins date back some 40 years, when it was called Castle Donnington airport; indeed, it celebrated its 40th anniversary only recently. We need to recognise that it has become a major economic driver in the east midlands, providing at least 7,000 jobs for people in the vicinity. Holidaymakers from around the region make extensive use of charter and other flights from that airport. As my hon. Friend Graham Stringer said, it was sold some years ago by the constituent local authorities to National Express because they were unable to raise the capital—this was during the time of the previous Conservative Government—to invest in the necessary infrastructure development. More recently, it was sold to the Manchester Airport Group.
There is a need for legislation such as this, but we must recognise the efforts of the airport management in its various guises over the years to ameliorate some of the environmental downside of the operations for which it is responsible. It has produced noise-preferential routes, and it makes some use of track monitoring and of penalties for planes that do not operate within the established constraints. There has been some encouraging news in the past few months with the appointment of a new managing director of Nottingham East Midlands airport, Penny Coates, and I am somewhat encouraged by the early signs.
Why do we need a Bill such as this? In short, despite the enduring and magnificent efforts of organisations such as the Association of Airport Related Parish Councils, PAIN—people against intrusive noise—and Wings, progress has been painfully slow. Because of changes to flight paths, we have recently witnessed cavalry coming from the south of the county—from "Fort Harborough"—to help the long-running campaign of others.
This may well be a well-intentioned Bill, but as others have said, it seems to lack any significant coherence or the framework of an overarching strategy. It tends to confuse and blur the distinction between, and the separate roles of, an airport authority and a regulatory authority. It uses the term "airport authority" throughout, but it delegates to airports the regulatory power to limit and monitor noise. Like many of the organisations and individuals who contact me, I consider this a serious weakness. Airports are commercial entities whose client-firms' activities produce environmental downsides. They are not, and never can be, fully effective regulatory bodies.
Airports have little direct commercial interest in the significant reduction of the noise inflicted on neighbouring communities or on those who live under their flight paths. So the incentives to influence the number, type and timing of airport traffic movements are very weak. The Bill assumes that airports can curtail or regulate their own operations in the interest of the environment. That is a brave and bold assumption that is a little like "Physician, heal thyself."
That underlying assumption is the fault line that seriously weakens the ability of the Bill to deliver real, lasting and sustainable environmental improvements. The Bill is the progeny perhaps of an illicit liaison between the Department for Transport and the aviation lobby, conceived on a noisy night when neither could sleep.
Aviation and airports are important economic drivers and contribute in aggregate about 1 per cent. of GDP, but they do pollute. The power to curtail or regulate this pollution should not be given to the polluters themselves. Self-regulation in the face of commercial interests is unlikely to work.
On noise control schemes, there has been a long-running fight in the county of Leicestershire for the designation of Nottingham East Midlands airport. The Bill proposes that the powers to regulate designated airports in the south-east remain with the Secretary of State. I said earlier that, at the very least, parallel powers for the regulation of non-designated airports ought to be the province of an appropriate, elected, accountable, responsible and visible local authority. I am keen to see that the Bill be amended in this way.
Following the publication of the aviation White Paper in December 2003—it said that the Government would "bear down" on night noise especially—I was present in the Chamber when the Secretary of State referred on several occasions, as well as in correspondence and media interviews, to "stringent noise controls." That phrase is burned into my heart, in the way that Calais was said to be burned into the heart of a previous monarch of our country—that is what will be there at my eventual demise. "Stringent noise controls" would be sought, particularly at regional airports. But how can we get those when the powers in the Bill are discretionary?
There is no evidence as yet of any bearing down on night noise or of stringent noise controls. The Secretary of State has not yet delivered on that commitment of 18 months ago and he should account for his intentions in that regard. I hope that he will urgently set some quantified targets, based perhaps on the World Health Organisation target for community noise.
The Melbourne Civic Society, many of whose members live in my constituency, argued correctly that the proposals for noise control schemes lacked any meaningful provisions to ensure night noise reduction or limitations. There is no requirement for any airport to set any limits—for example, night noise levels—and no provision to penalise an airport for exceeding a noise control scheme. The noise control scheme provisions seem to some to be perverse measures that would allow airports to avoid applying any noise limits. The group's conclusion, and mine, is that these schemes should be made obligatory, with specified target noise levels.
I have referred to my criticism of clause 2 and will pass on to the clause that removes the obligation, with regard to designated airports, on the Secretary of State to place a limit on the number of flights. This allows him merely to regulate on the basis of accumulated noise; this is not a panacea for tackling future problems. The ability to control on the basis of accumulated noise appears to be an attempt to circumvent the night movements cap and thus to increase the number of night movements at designated airports. I was not surprised to hear Members from both sides of the House who represent the south-east expressing their worries about that part of the Bill.
Clause 4, on the power for aerodromes to establish noise control schemes, is in principle desirable, but it is vested in the wrong authority. Such control is discretionary, and without targets or limits, and the effect will be that airports will avoid where they can any meaningful limits on noise. They will not apply themselves seriously to any form of noise control scheme that limits types of aircraft, such as the noise levels of an aircraft, numbers or night restrictions. Nor will they apply themselves seriously to any limitation on the cumulative amount of noise. Such noise control schemes formulated by airports would set the limits so high, so as to have no real effect on reducing noise with little or no benefit to the communities that lie around airport peripheries or under flight paths.
At the moment, there is no requirement for an airport to establish noise control schemes and this part of the Bill should be amended to include powers for the appropriate local authority to direct an airport to establish, amend or revoke a noise control scheme.
The clause amends clause 38C of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 on breaches of noise control schemes. This element of the Bill illustrate the weakness of the proposal, because if a noise control scheme were meaningful in controlling noise, there would be overall limits on aircraft movements or noise. Exceeding those limits would constitute a breach of the scheme, but that would be the responsibility of airports. The airport would be fined, but airports tend not to be keen on fining themselves. That part of the legislation is illogical and inadequate and one can see quickly that it is poor law. There must be some provision to fine airports for exceeding noise control schemes.
We still lack a level playing field, or runway, between the environment and the economy, between the market and democracy and between airport communities and airport users. We have a position where night noise from the heavens can make airports neighbours from hell and we still appear to be flying into trouble. I agree with Justine Greening that an opportunity has been missed. In Committee, we have the authority, time and membership to remedy some of the deficiencies in the Bill.
I will give the Bill fair wind, no pun intended, but improvements have to be made and I am sure that the Committee can do that. I am sure that I will vote on Third Reading for the measure with rather more enthusiasm than I can muster for its Second Reading, should there be a Division tonight.
This is a Bill of one big issue and several smaller ones. I shall refer to the smaller ones first. First, there is a review of the position of local authorities on airports. I am in two minds about the proposals. I once served on a local authority that handed over its airport, John Lennon airport, to private ownership. Looking at the new powers, one feels slightly envious. At that stage, we were not worried about subsidies, to which Graham Stringer referred, but about liabilities.
Another small issue of which we are vaguely supportive is bolstering safeguards for holidaymakers; no one is agin that. Also, the Bill replaces an appeal mechanism for route licences with a consultative mechanism and a judicial review. I am relaxed and happy, if not especially excited, about that. There is also the right of the Secretary of State to command health safeguards, which we all welcome and applaud.
When that is stripped out, we are left with a Bill that tries to use economic instruments for environmental effects, which is the real test of the Bill. The Bill is largely silent on the favoured main method for addressing emissions, which is emissions trading. Members will be aware that the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research recently produced an horrific report, in which it was sceptical about the utility even of emissions trading in solving the crisis we will get into: effectively, that airline emissions are going to exceed carbon dioxide emissions very shortly. The key test for the legislation is how it deals with that.
The Bill will allow a scheme of charges, weighted for noise and emissions. It appears to allow flexible and sensible administration of that scheme, taking into account not simply numbers of flights, but volume, frequency, noise contours, direction and timing—all the factors necessary for sensitive assessment. If it is not done properly, it will be backed up by the Secretary of State's powers to intervene. The scheme will be consulted on with the industry and will presumably, in the end, benefit the surrounding community.
If one looks at the Bill in those terms, one cannot genuinely argue against it, but one can seriously question whether it does enough. The fundamental flaw, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members, is that the principle behind it is that aerodromes will charge customers at no real economic benefit to themselves. As both parties are commercial enterprises, that is an odd commercial model. If it does not work, an element of Government coercion and pressure will come to bear, as well as public pressure. The scheme will happen in some way or other, but if the Government become lax over time or are too easily fobbed off by the aerodromes, and the community is bought off, in one way or another, will the Bill really be enough to keep a downward pressure on noise, pollution and environmental damage?
We all acknowledge, after all, that we are working in a competitive economic environment, with many new airports coming on line, including some by the sea—we heard John Smith speak rapturously about how easy it was to get to Cardiff and how, presumably, it could be done with very limited environmental damage. However, if we could go back in time, nobody would choose Heathrow as a natural site for an airport. Other airports may be developed that present a more relaxed environmental regime, and what then will happen to the major airports? The schemes that they have started, which initially have real bite, could over time end up relatively toothless. Commercial reality will at some point kick in and trump environmental considerations, especially in a global marketplace, as other hon. Members have pointed out. In the north-west, on environmental considerations alone, John Lennon airport would be expanded more than is presently proposed on the ground that take-off could be over the river. On the other hand, one would not necessarily expand Manchester airport, because more environmental hazards are present. However, both are being expanded, predicated on an increase in air traffic in general, so the result will be more kerosene from more fuel-efficient aircraft.
The commercial edge, which the Government recognise, is displayed by the fact that the objects of the penalty and charge schemes—the carriers, with whom the aerodromes trade—are included as consultees. However, as I pointed out to the Minister, it does not appear to be a statutory requirement to consult the local community when drawing up a noise control scheme. The local community may be consulted and it may be good practice to consult it, but if it is not consulted or the consultation is unsatisfactory, it is not obvious what formal redress the community would have. I am sure that all people who live near airports would relish a more active role in setting the standards and in gauging the effect. As Mr. Duncan said, assessing noise is a complex and possibly subjective business, because it strikes people in different ways. That means that consultation with the local population could add something. People in Cheadle, Nottingham or Blackpool could have an input, but the Bill does not appear to require that that input be taken properly into account by the aerodrome.
It is wrong to criticise legislation for not doing something it was never intended to do, but the Bill has missed a trick that would be useful, helpful and timely, and that could be achieved without much kerfuffle. We could specify a minimum standard of airport security in the Bill, which is a critical issue due to the genuine concerns about terrorism affecting airports. Regional airports see much people trafficking, and those responsible often target the weaker security at some of the newer airports. The massive expansion likely in airports will also lead to problems. Airport security is often administered by a range of bodies that do not always co-ordinate well. It would be helpful if the Government could find some opportunity to consider the environmental dangers of airport expansion and some of the security elements.
From the contributions we have heard, the aviation industry is clearly a key concern not only for my constituents but for residents under flight paths throughout the UK. The economic benefits of the industry are undeniable. Thousands of jobs depend on Heathrow airport, especially among those living in Poyle and Colnbrook, close to the airport. Pilots, engineers, stewards, ground crew, drivers, cleaners and construction workers enjoy jobs and incomes supplied by our noisy neighbour at Heathrow. It is important that those livelihoods are maintained, locally and throughout the country. I therefore broadly approve of the measures in the Bill, but a balance must be struck between the economic benefits and protecting and improving the quality of life for all those living under flight paths.
Over the past couple of years, I have spoken with some 4,000 residents across the Windsor constituency and I have received hundreds of responses to residents' surveys. I have attended key aircraft noise meetings and I have met and exchange correspondence with BAA, pressure groups such as HACAN ClearSkies and Ministers.
There are several ways in which the quality of people's lives can be improved without undermining the continued success of the aviation industry, but it will take political will, and careful scrutiny and amendment of the Bill in Committee. As my hon. Friend Justine Greening ably pointed out, the noise of a single aircraft can ruin a good night's sleep. In my constituency, the residents of Datchet, Horton, Wraysbury, Windsor, Poyle, Colnbrook and Old Windsor know that only too well. It is the actual noise of the aircraft hitting the eardrums of residents that counts, not the theoretical noise of an aircraft engine in a factory.
I call on the Minister, and the others who will scrutinise the Bill in Committee, to try to move towards monitoring and recognising the actual noise on the ground, both in airports and in surrounding areas. I also urge her to consider elongating the night-time period to between 11 pm and 7 am, so that people can get a good night's sleep.
Will the Minister encourage BAA to use the latitude granted with the use of variable landing fees? If a quieter aircraft were charged significantly less to land at night than a noisy aircraft, the commercial pressures would enable the airlines to change their behaviour quickly. If a dirtier, more polluting, less fuel-efficient aircraft were charged significantly more, I am sure that the airlines would introduce more environmentally friendly aircraft more quickly, without the need for additional legislation.
If the environmental issues are of concern, does the Minister accept that, with the projected increase in air traffic, the Kyoto targets for 2010, 2020 and 2050 could be missed? If so, what action is suggested in the Bill to put that right? It seems to be a hotch-potch of small measures, many of which I welcome, but it does not tackle environmental pollution.
At present, we have a complex system of noise quotas averaged over various lengths of time and across various areas, but I emphasise again that it is not the average level of noise that ruins the quality of life. A single noisy aircraft at, say, 4.30 am—it could be a 747 coming from the far east—can ruin a good night's sleep.
Heathrow has both a movement limit and a noise quota. By removing the movement limit, the Government could open the floodgates to an unlimited number of flights if the noise of individual flights is reduced, even marginally. I hope that today the Minister will confirm, and give a guarantee to the people of Windsor, that no more movements will be allowed in or out of Heathrow. Or will she fail to do so, thereby confirming our fears that this is a back-door route to increasing the number of flights?
If the Government truly care about the quality of life of people under flight paths, they must do all they can to maintain the 480,000 flight limit at Heathrow, to extend the night-time period and to provide commercial incentives—or encourage their use—towards quieter aircraft and less aircraft noise on the ground. I urge Ministers and members of the Committee that will scrutinise the Bill to do their utmost to try to fulfil those goals.
We have had an interesting debate, which has highlighted the sometimes contradictory passions and pitfalls that aviation in the 21st century generates. My hon. Friend Mr. Duncan said that the Bill represented a golden opportunity for the Government to set out a coherent vision for the future—a vision that is desired by the airlines as much as by the public.
We have heard interesting contributions from all parts of the Chamber, but to pull the debate together, we needed a clear view from the Government. My hon. Friend Adam Afriyie said that the opportunity to set out an environmental vision had been missed, and to my mind, any vision across aviation as a whole is lacking.
We in the Conservative party are proud of our record on environmental issues. The Conservative Government achieved a reduction of more than 7 per cent. in CO 2 emissions; they started to rise again shortly after we left office. That should come as no surprise. After all, it was the Conservative Government under Macmillan who introduced the first Clean Air Act in 1956, which cleaned up the famous smogs of London. Indeed, to go back much further, the beginnings of public health legislation in the 19th century started under Benjamin Disraeli.
Many figures have been quoted from all parts of the House to illustrate the colossal benefits of aviation. The most impressive single barrage probably came from Graham Stringer, with the benefit of his special experience. We have heard about the £10 billion in earnings, the hundreds of thousands of people who work directly and indirectly for the industry, and the fact that aviation is worth as much to this country as the entire car industry.
It is, of course, the task of Government to marry the difficult aims of sorting out the environmental challenges, while still allowing people to experience the ever expanding delights and wonders of the opportunities afforded by air travel, and keeping our airlines as competitive and profitable employers. It is a very difficult equation to balance, and there was precious little from the Government this evening on how we are to achieve it. Having read the White Paper, it remains difficult to see what way forward the Government envisage.
Airports can already make charges with respect to pollution and noise. The Bill puts the former into law and increases the Secretary of State's powers with respect to the latter. Both sets of measures are presented as reflecting concern for the environment and for quality of life. The proposed new section 38 expressly justifies charges to encourage the use of "quieter aircraft" and aircraft "which produce lower emissions". It also refers to
"controlling the level of noise or atmospheric pollution in or in the vicinity of the aerodrome".
But we already have such measures in place, so how have they worked so far? No one listening to the speeches of Members who represent constituencies near airports could be in any doubt that they are not working at present.
Airports, by definition, have a huge vested interest in having planes land, which is all they exist for. The Bill makes them both the beneficiaries of pollution through higher receipts—they are the only people who could possibly benefit in that respect—as well as the guardians of our only environmentally conscious policy on aviation. The Bill sets no targets and produces no sliding scales or incentives. We do not know how those aspects will be measured or know for certain who will monitor them. Are airports to do all that entirely by themselves? They certainly do not do much of a job on flight paths, as the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan, my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier and my hon. Friend Mr. Prisk, among others, have pointed out. Indeed, with Manston close to my own constituency, I receive plenty of complaints about flights over places where there are not supposed to be flight paths. I imagine that they are the same people who complain to the Minister of State, in whose constituency Manston lies.
My hon. Friend hits on precisely the right point. As I know in respect of my own local airport, even where agreements about noise regulation and noise monitoring are in place, the monitoring simply does not take place. That is a fact.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The record of individual airfields is uneven, with some doing better than others. It is certainly true, though, that we now operate under the absurdity whereby it is all in the hands of the airfields themselves. The Government state that they want to lower noise and emissions, but there is also the additional point—the Minister did not touch on it at all—about the trade-off between noise and the two sorts of emissions. Aircraft design can largely determine the extent to which planes do better at one at the expense of the other, but we have heard little discussion today about how the two are to be traded off.
More importantly, as several Members—including my hon. Friends the Members for Hertford and Stortford, for Putney (Justine Greening) and for Windsor, and, indeed, David Taylor, who is sadly no longer in his place—have said, the Bill could have one particularly perverse effect by removing the caps on night flights to many airfields in the country. When my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State delivers his crate of Nightcap, brewed in his own constituency, to the Secretary of State, I hope that the whole ministerial team will reflect on the fact that that aspect of the Bill would be a step backwards.
I do not believe that I owe Mr. Duncan, who opened the debate for the Conservatives, any favours, since he promised the crate of beer to the Secretary of State rather than to me. However, I can confirm, as I made clear in my opening remarks, that the Bill will only allow arrangements to be changed. We are not ordering any change in arrangements; indeed, I said quite clearly, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", which will be our watchword. If any changes were to be made to the noise regulations that govern the way in which particular airports are controlled, they would be implemented only after extensive consultation.
I hear what the Minister says, but he has not addressed the central point that these matters will be policed by the airports themselves. There is an even greater problem in the case of airports that are not designated than there is for those that are. The Bill, like so many, including one in which the Minister and I had an interest when he was in his previous Department, gives huge powers without being clear about how they will be exercised.
Members on both sides have raised the specific issue of night flying.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that about 10 years ago when his party was in government, it reduced the number of night flights? Unfortunately, it did that by reducing the length of the night. When my local paper asked for a comment, I said it might be a good idea to adopt the Arctic summer night and have no night flights at all. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should warn his colleague, Adam Afriyie, not to extend the length of the night again or he might get the blame for increasing night flights.
The hon. Gentleman makes his point, and it is very amusing, but we are trying to sort out where we go from here. His party has been in government for eight years. During that time, and in other parts of the world, too, huge advances have been made in aviation design to reduce noise. Some, unfortunately, have been traded off for an emissions record that is not as good.
We must ask where we go from here. The clear message from both sides of the House is that a system under which the airports police themselves will not be satisfactory. A system in which it seems the safeguards against night flying will be even weaker is certainly not satisfactory.
The Bill, uniquely, allows airports to establish their own penalty schemes to fine aircraft operators whose aircraft exceed noise limits when taking off and landing. That is a dubious principle, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough called it the privatisation of justice.
Two or three Members have alluded to what the Bill has to say about that. It contains one of the most extraordinary phrases I have seen in a piece of legislation:
"A relevant manager who receives penalties under a penalty scheme shall make payments equal to the amount of those penalties for purposes which appear to him to be likely to be of benefit to persons who live in the area in which the aerodrome is situated."
Andrew Mackinlay objected to that with the candour for which he is well known. The mind fills with colourful examples. Might a "relevant manager"—a magic phrase clearly specified in the Bill—decide that his or her brother-in-law's bungalow would benefit from double-glazing to keep out noise? What about the sports and social centre most accessible to the airport's workers? There is, of course, no mention of any benefit for those who suffer from low flying but who are not in the vicinity of the airport.
There may be further ridiculous consequences. One of the most extreme examples was cited by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, Tom Brake: the operator for Coventry airport is TUI, the company behind Thomsonfly, for which Coventry is the main hub. Do we really believe that that operator will be fair and balanced in policing the activities of a company that belongs to its own financial group?
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough raised the problems with Nottingham East Midlands airport and other non-designated airports. Frankly, the Bill offers little for people concerned about those.
Meanwhile, in the south-east, the wealthy BAA, which has a virtual monopoly with more than 90 per cent. of aviation by passenger in the south-east, is in a strong position to bully individual airlines locked in a very competitive market. I have made it clear that I share the concerns of those who worry that there is no independent policing of airports. On the other hand, there is nothing to stop a monopolistic operator bullying individual airlines, which would at least benefit—from the public's point of view if not from their own—from a competitive market. Indeed, large parts of the Bill could have been drafted by BAA—perhaps they were.
The Bill does not focus on the airlines' positive ideas for doing something about the emissions problems, such as emissions trading. In fact, it took an intervention from Mr. Cook to get the Minister to discuss that at all. Nor, to the best of my memory, was the industry's exciting document "Sustainable Aviation" mentioned at all. It is true that the EU controls emissions trading, but surely the Government have an opportunity to show some leadership and do something positive—I might even quote that old phrase about not finding ourselves isolated in Europe. Surely, we could get some excitement going across borders about those ideas and work with the airlines, too.
I do not want to provoke you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by taking my remarks too wide, but I have a close connection with two small businesses a million miles away from aviation; one is owned and operated by my father, and my wife works for the other. Vast quantities of regulation are constantly being poured on those businesses, so how must BAA, an organisation whose activities affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, regard the amount of regulation it faces? We need to strike a balance.
While we are on the subject of the EU, I was thoroughly disappointed that the Minister made no mention of the European Aviation Safety Agency. He was right to say that we must look at research into deep vein thrombosis and other conditions, and John Smith made some telling points about that, but why should airlines operating in Britain pick up the full bill when that research benefits people throughout Europe?
It is equally important when considering air safety to look at issues such as certificates of airworthiness. Does the Minister feel comfortable that responsibility for those certificates is being moved from the CAA to EASA when that organisation shows little evidence that it is competent to take it on?
When we look more closely at the powers that the Secretary of State is giving his officers to deal with noise and vibration, they appear to be both great and vague: great in their potential but vague in their benefit. For example, the Secretary of State will be given the power to direct an airport manager to use a particular runway. The explanatory notes tell us that the same powers could be used to require an aircraft to take off or land in a given direction at a given time. One phrase says it all:
"So directions could be used to move noise from one area to another, even if this does not limit or mitigate the total amount of noise suffered generally."
What does the Secretary of State envisage himself doing? He could almost become an airport manager. We have discovered that airport managers will be given marvellous extra powers to shell out money. There is almost no end to the Secretary of State's talents. Will there be a hotline direct to his office? Our constituents could call at a moment's notice to deal with a plane that was making too much noise.
The clear message from my hon. Friends is that proper action is needed based on modern measurements of noise, taking into account all the factors brought out by Members on both sides of the House, such as low vibration and the distinction for night flying. I shall not reiterate all of them. That action must be backed up by the proper tracking of aircraft, which is not happening at present, as we all know. What possible good will the Secretary of State's new powers do, except to give the appearance that he is doing something?
I am unsure whether the hon. Gentleman is on foot or on horseback. When Mr. Duncan introduced the Bill, he made it clear that Conservative policy was to designate all airports, but the hon. Member for Canterbury seems to be arguing against designation. Which is it?
We are broadly in favour of bringing all airports on to the same footing, but we appear to have a funny situation in which the Secretary of State is giving himself incredibly detailed powers in relation to one category of airport, while another is unaffected.
I should like to turn finally to the dog that does not bark at all in the Bill but has filled a significant amount of the deliberations today: the proposals for airport expansion. We have set out our three cardinal principles: we must have robust emissions trading before we have airport expansion; there should be no cross-subsidy; and we need greater, genuine help for those who suffer blight. There is, indeed, a difficult decision to take on whether we need a new runway—it involves balancing the real requirement of the airlines for more capacity in the south-east at current growth rates against the environmental concerns that that growth rate may be more than the conditions for CO 2 and NOx emissions can stand—but, surely, the conclusion that we can firmly reach is the exact reverse of the one that the Government have reached. There is no case for building a new runway at an airport that has failed to attract any long-haul passenger business at all, that is operating below capacity and that has by far the longest of the three train services from London—a service that is deteriorating.
Overall, the Bill, if not a mouse, is at least a lot less than the House was hoping for. Little is firmly decided in it, and what has been decided is dubious and unbalanced. This week, we are celebrating at sea the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar: England expects something better for aviation.
This has been a very thoughtful and balanced debate among hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, although I am left a little confused by whether the official Opposition are arguing that we are doing too much or too little. Mr. Brazier certainly appeared to be making both points during a single speech.
As a new Minister, I am grateful for the fact that, both today and during last week's hour-and-a-half Adjournment debate on airports in the south-east, we have covered a wide range of issues that pertain to airports and aviation, quite a lot of which is outwith the purpose of the Bill, so I shall refer to it fairly briefly.
We have heard some extremely good individual contributions from hon. Members whose constituencies contain airports or are close to them and from those with a great deal of expertise in representing their constituents. My hon. Friend Laura Moffatt spoke very positively about the need and potential for developing local partnerships and argued that airports can be good neighbours. I thank her for welcoming the Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) and for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern) also welcomed the Bill in making helpful and pragmatic contributions.
As my hon. Friend suggests, I can only confirm that our policy on regional airports throughout the United Kingdom is spelled out in the White Paper, and we are strongly supportive of the growth of regional airports in principle, not least because that will reduce some of the pressures on the south-east.
I thank my hon. Friend Alan Keen, who always champions his constituents extremely effectively. He can be assured that I should be delighted to seek his advice on this and other subjects at any time.
Tom Brake asked how restrictions will impact on Coventry airport, and the answer is that such things depend on local circumstances. Of course, the statutory consultation committee in Coventry will pursue some of those issues, but I am happy to discuss them with him in more detail.
Mr. Garnier made a number of important points about Nottingham East Midlands airport, to which I shall return in a little more detail. He and a number of other Conservative Members expressed a common theme about the fact that airports might be reticent about exercising the powers that will be given to them under the Bill, and I shall return to that issue. My hon. Friend David Taylor made a similar point.
Mr. Syms made a thoughtful and balanced contribution. My hon. Friend Graham Stringer, who has a great deal of expertise in this area, put aviation in an economic context and pointed out that if the United Kingdom is to earn its living in a globalised world, aviation must play a vital role. I support what my hon. Friend said about the importance of developing regional airports.
Mr. Prisk made the case for his constituents on noise emissions. I remind him that any shift away from movements will be subject to consultation, and the consultation that is taking place on night noise is based on the existing arrangements. There are no proposals to remove the limits on day movements.
This debate and the debate last week on airports in the south-east ranged widely. Before moving on to some of the detailed issues covered by the Bill, I shall say a few words about the wider context of the Government's policies on aviation. We support a sustainable way forward that recognises the importance of air travel to our national and regional economic prosperity. Not providing additional capacity where needed would significantly damage the economy and our national prosperity. We recognise that people have a desire to travel. In a globalised world, and in an international city such as London, south-east people want to travel and to take advantage of the affordability of air travel. However, we have a duty, locally, nationally and internationally, to minimise the impact of airports and air travel on those who live nearby.
I respectfully point out to some Opposition Members who have criticised the Government on this issue—I think that Mr. Duncan, who is no longer in his place, was one, as was Justine Greening—that the Government introduced the commission that considered the project for the sustainable development of Heathrow, which is undertaking precisely the research that the hon. Lady and others have said is so necessary.
We believe that over time aviation should pay its external cost and that the activities that it imposes on society should be reimbursed. The price of air travel should reflect the environmental and social impact. The Bill is one of the ways in which we are seeking to implement that. That is line with the principle—
Bearing in mind the social impact, can the Minister give me some assurances that aircraft using airports in the highlands and islands, an area which is probably the cleanest in the United Kingdom, will not be penalised in any way, especially when some particular aircraft are required, such as the Twin Otter which lands on the beach on Barra, for instance?
The hon. Gentleman makes a specific point. I am sure that he has good reason for wanting to raise the matter. It is difficult for me to comment on the particular issue without knowing the details. I am sure that in principle we would seek to do just that.
Smaller airports might be limited to smaller and particular aircraft. They should not be unduly penalised when there is modernisation with a more efficient type of engine.
The thrust of the Bill makes it clear that airports should work with partners, with the airlines, to strike a proper balance between the commercial interests of aviation and the noise and emissions that are produced. Local circumstances should be taken into consideration.
It is all very well to talk about local circumstances, but the Government never decide what they mean by "local". Local may mean, for Nottingham East Midlands airport, the five-mile radius around the airport. My constituents consider the deleterious affects of the airport to be local. They are in the same county and the aircraft fly over their heads. If there were a freight truck company driving lorries through their villages all night, every 90 seconds, somebody would do something about it. If a factory were spuming out obnoxious fumes, somebody would do something about it. As it is the aircraft industry and because we are dealing with an airport and with flights, everybody seems to say that it is somebody else's business. I am not sure that the Bill gets to grips with that.
I appreciate that the hon. and learned Gentleman and others have pursued matters to do with Nottingham East Midlands airport for a long time and have expressed their concerns. I am sure he will carry on doing that. The central thrust of our approach is that the airport is not failing in its duties to monitor noise levels, so there is no argument for intervention.
Our opponents try to portray our developing aviation policy as predict and provide. That is a deliberate misrepresentation. More capacity is needed, not to allow the unconstrained meeting of demand, but to act responsibly to support future economic growth and the UK's competitiveness. Several hon. Members referred to the broader issue of aviation's contribution to climate change. Although that is outwith the Bill's scope, it is an important point and we should use every opportunity to make the Government's policy clear.
Aviation produces carbon emissions equivalent to just 2 to 3 per cent. of the UK total. Emissions on international travel are not allocated to states under the Kyoto protocol. However, we are all aware that aviation has grown significantly in the past few years and is projected to continue growing. We flagged up in the air transport White Paper the fact that aviation emissions could amount to about a quarter of the UK's total contribution to global warming by 2030.
Some hon. Members referred to the recent report by the Tyndall centre. I welcome that contribution to the debate. The report is based on its projections of demand and emissions, which are in excess of the figures that we recognise. Its picture is unduly bleak. However, there is common ground and we all believe that action is needed. It is for that reason that we have taken an international lead in pressing for aviation emissions to be included within the EU emissions trading scheme from 2008 or as soon as possible thereafter. That will be a priority for the UK presidency starting this week. The advantage of emissions trading as a mechanism is that it enables us to determine an environmental outcome and allow operators flexibility over how best they achieve that outcome.
That should assure the House that we are committed to working to tackle the major environmental challenges that aviation poses. The Bill includes more detailed measures that supplement that action and offer the prospect of making a valuable contribution to tackling environmental challenges at a local level.
The Minister has not addressed the central objection that all monitoring—whether we are talking about noise, night flights or emissions—is by the airports themselves. That concern has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will she address it?
I am about to move on to that. I was setting the environmental issues in a slightly broader context. They may not be in the Bill, but they are a legitimate concern to a number of individuals.
The Bill specifically relates to environmental aspects—noise and emissions—that can have an impact on the quality of life for those living near airports. Linking airport charges to emissions would be put on a statutory footing and the Government would have the ability to intervene should that be necessary if, for example, an airport is in breach of agreed EU air quality limits.
Amending the powers by which we control noise at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted will give us more flexibility to introduce measures to encourage the replacement of older aircraft with quieter new ones. A noise limit creates an incentive to use quieter aircraft in a way that movement limits on their own do not. As has been made clear, any change will be subject to full consultation. It is worth pointing out that between 1985 and 2003, the population exposed to daytime noise above the 57 dB level at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester declined by 21 per cent. It is important that we understand that noise reduction can be achieved, and has been achieved, by aircraft.
As my hon. Friend says, the hon. Lady should use the correct terminology.
The hon. Lady and, I think, Adam Afriyie argued in the debate last week that we should have a different definition of noise to reflect the actual noise of aircraft, rather than their certification. As we explained in the consultation document on night noise, we have limited discretion under EU rules for doing what she suggests. There is an internationally recognised system of noise measurement, and that is the one that we adhere to. I am afraid that we are not in a position to implement her proposals.
The next night restrictions regime until 2012 will be based on current legislation—a number of people expressed concerns about that—and will continue to incorporate a movements limit. Airports' ability to set up noise-control measures and impose penalties on aircraft operators will be enshrined in statute, but airports should follow a balanced approach when introducing new measures. Hon. Members made some important points about noise measurement, including noise averages and the value of decibels to determine nuisance. Although the Government use well established measurements, we are undertaking further research to help us inform the debate.
I understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman and others take that view, but the review in 2002–03 did not give the Government any reason to believe that the airport is failing to undertake its duties effectively to control noise. The power to intervene and designate remains and would be used if there were grounds to believe that the airport was failing to implement controls effectively.
Several Opposition Members expressed their dislike of airports having the duty to impose penalties, arguing that they would not be willing to do so. In fact, airports have a long history of imposing penalties. I was pleased to note that Dr. Pugh recognised that, even though he went on to express some reservations. One major airport has cited legal reasons for failing to tackle the planes that fly off noise-preferential routes, illustrating both a willingness to use new powers and the reason why the powers in the Bill are required. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, with his considerable experience, pointed out, successful airports rely on good community relations. We do not believe that we need a new quango or another layer of bureaucracy; we need the clarification of powers in the Bill.
The Minister has been generous in giving way but still has not addressed the central issue that nobody except the airports themselves monitors noise, emissions, whether flight paths are accurate, and so on. What independent check of any sort is there in prospect?
The power of designation remains if we believe that airports are failing in their duties. We believe that airports will use the powers. Indeed, we have been lobbied by airports for a clarification of them. If that fails, the power of designation remains as a fall-back.
We do not believe either that the proposals constitute a privatisation of justice, as asserted by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough. Penalty schemes are not criminal; they are economic incentives for good performance and we believe that they will be effective.
The hon. Lady says that the penalties are not criminal, but they are still penalties. They are still a disbenefit to the organisation that is fined and still a penalty under the European convention. She must get her head around the fact that something disobliging will happen to the aircraft operator—or not. It is no good bandying semantics. We are talking about an organisation that has an interest in not fining and in not setting a penalty.
I do not believe that it is a question of semantics. As I said, airports want the powers to be clarified so that they can implement them.
A further issue relevant to Nottingham East Midlands airport is flight tracking, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton and other hon. Members. If a plane has not come from Nottingham East Midlands, the airport sometimes cannot identify it because complainants often cannot provide sufficient information to allow it to do so. The Government are trying to determine what else can be done to address the problem, but it is a technically difficult matter. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley for offering to assist by trying to find a way to provide further information.
Aspects of the Bill relate to consumer protection and all hon. Members should welcome the provisions on the replenishment of the travellers fund. The 15th report of the Transport Committee of the Session 2003–04 said:
"A public protection scheme should not be forced to rely on deficit funding for so long. The Government must swiftly introduce legislation to provide the long overdue levy-making power, even if it rejects the case for wider reform of financial protection."
As my hon. Friend the Minister of State made clear earlier, we have not rejected that case, although we have not included provisions on it in the Bill.
I have, as intended, listened closely to the arguments advanced today as part of our decision making. The issue is not straightforward. The Transport Committee urges us to choose a mechanism that allows airlines in a sound financial position to derive an advantage from that fact. However, a flat £1 levy would not distinguish between the sound and not-so-sound airlines. Arguably, it could distort competition in favour of tour operators because package holiday makers would pay the same levy as a passenger on a no-frills flight to Paris, yet could be eligible for a refund on a long-haul flight, three weeks' accommodation and car hire.
We have heard arguments in favour of improving consumer information instead, and it has been pointed out that we do not compel travellers to take out medical insurance or hold an E111 form. On the other hand, a flat levy is easy to understand, which cannot be said of the status quo, in which the boundaries between what is and what is not covered by ATOL are confusing. In short, the arguments are finely balanced and the Government will reflect on the views of the House. We will not have a referendum in which the numbers of representations in favour are compared with the number against. The decision will be based on political judgment.
The Bill will transfer the cost of the CAA's aviation health unit from the taxpayer to the aviation industry. That will be a much fairer arrangement because those who benefit from the service will pay for it. The Bill will sweep away unnecessary restrictions on public airport companies to allow them to develop their businesses. By abolishing appeals to the Secretary of State on route licence applications, we will speed up the take-up of new air services, thus benefiting the consumer.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked whether there would be a cost increase if there were additional recourse to judicial review. At present we believe that airlines appeal almost automatically to the Secretary of State, so we hope that by concentrating their minds on the prospect of success, the number of appeals will fall, thus bringing down costs overall.
The Bill is fair—fair to airports, fair to airlines, fair to those exposed to noise and pollution and fair to consumers. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.