'(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a Commercial Flights Officer whose duties shall be specified by the Secretary of State but shall include—
(a) the requirement to collate and publish factual details relating to all enquiries referred to him by a Member of Parliament relating to aviation matters, predominantly, but not exclusively, concerning nightflights, noise from aerodromes attributable to aircraft taking off and landing and on approach to an aerodrome along a flightpath or in relation to a deviation from a flightpath,
(b) conduct any inquiry into aviation matters that he believes necessary and within the scope of this remit as laid down by the Secretary of State.
(2) The Commercial Flights Officer shall have unrestricted access to radar tapes and all other information relating to his enquiries, which shall include aircraft type, operator, time of flight, height, speed, route of origin and destination held by any organisation, company or group the Commercial Flights Officer believes may possess it.
(3) Any organisation within the United Kingdom concerned with the monitoring and movement of aircraft in-flight or at an aerodrome shall hold information concerning an aircraft's flight origin, destination, route, altitude, speed and operator for a period no less than six months.'. —[Mr. Duncan.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 6—Sound-proofing of buildings affected by aerodrome use.
'(1) The Secretary of State shall, no later than one year after the passing of this Act, make regulations under section 20(1) of the Land Compensation Act 1973 (c. 26) (sound-proofing of buildings affected by public works) imposing a duty on responsible authorities to insulate buildings against noise caused, or expected to be caused, by the use of aerodromes for the taking off and landing of aircraft.
(2) In making provision as to the level of noise giving rise to a duty under subsection (1) in respect of a building or class of buildings, and the area in which a building must be situated if the duty is to arise in respect of it, the regulations must make reference to the noise attenuation of individual rooms in buildings.'.
Amendment No. 9, in clause 1, page 1, line 7, after 'below' insert
'and having ensured that sufficient notice has been given prior to the introduction of the proposed charges,'.
Amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 14, at end insert—
'(2A) Any aerodrome authorities, making charges under subsections (1) for the purposes set out in subsection (2) shall be under a duty to—
(a) monitor emissions and noise levels on an annual basis publishing annual figures for pollution and noise levels; and
(b) publish a statement of intent as to what levels of emissions and noise can be expected for the following twelve month period and to what extent it has and will achieve the purposes laid out in subsection (2).
(2B) An airline may appeal to the Secretary of State against any charge made by an aerodrome authority under subsection (1).'.
Amendment No. 19, in page 2, line 21, after 'authority' insert
', with the agreement of the local authority in whose area the aerodrome is situated,'.
Amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 24, at end insert—
'(3A) The Secretary of State shall report on the effectiveness of any charges made under subsection (1) for those purposes laid out in subsection (2), every twelve months after the passing of this Act and shall specify the sources of information used in its compilation, and publish each such report in such manner as he thinks fit.
(3B) The Secretary of State shall, by regulation, following the publication of each report made under subsection (3A), set targets for emissions and noise related to aerodrome authorities for the following twelve month period and report on the systems and means for monitoring noise and emissions in relation to aerodromes and those areas along flightpaths and whether they shall be subject to change over the following twelve months.'.
Amendment No. 21, in page 2, line 38, leave out clause 2.
Amendment No. 1, in clause 2, page 2, line 41, leave out subsection (2).
Amendment No. 17, in clause 13, page 12, line 23, after 'Act' insert
'(except for section [Sound-proofing of buildings affected by aerodrome use])'.
The group of amendments tabled in my name and by others addresses the heart of the Bill. Everyone, including the Secretary of State, accepts that this is to some extent a hotchpotch of a Bill. It has no great coherent form; it contains a group of half-concocted measures that do not quite come together into a serious regime. Following the deliberations in Committee, which were so ably conducted by my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier, the amendments are an attempt to introduce more cogency.
The amendments largely define the way in which the Bill will work in practice in terms of noise and emissions, turning it from a simple enabling Bill into something more focused. The amendments also cover the growing problem of consumer concern about the monitoring of flights at night and the wall of silence faced by many people on the ground when investigating the problem of noise above them, particularly at night.
"In subsection (3) for 'limit the number of occasions on which they make take off or land,' substitute 'impose limits or other restrictions relating to aircraft taking off or landing,'".
That specifically removes from the Secretary of State's duties the stipulation to determine the number of flights at designated airports that may or may not take place at night, and replaces the number of flights with various other stipulations, particularly concerning noise and emissions. At first sight that seems logical, and the argument will be that as noise and emissions improve, the number of flights will become less relevant. However, beneath that seeming logic lies a severe danger that those who live under the flight path of an airport will experience many more flights at night, which despite the noise and emissions stipulations will be no less disturbing.
Such an argument contains a fallacy of methodology. Decibels alone are not a measure of nuisance. Occasions of noise—undercarriages going down and the roar of engines that do not necessarily break the decibel barrier—wake people up. We are facing, especially for designated airports and given the underlying concept perhaps for many other airports that are expanding at the moment, a depressing and unpoliced regime for the growth of flights at night.
My hon. Friend is addressing an issue of great concern to my constituents, which is why I have heard from both Tandridge district council and Reigate and Banstead borough council of their very strong support for amendment No. 1. Will my hon. Friend comment on the perversity of a Government who recently conducted a consultation exercise that included proposals to extend the quota of night flights while proposing legislation to get rid of that quota altogether?
The perversity is self-evident. As Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, my hon. Friend will be championing that issue even further. His record on that Committee and as a constituency MP is undeniable. I have in my hand two of the submissions from councils in his area—Surrey county council and Tandridge district council—which are compelling in the power of their argument. I shall skim through them. They say clearly:
"Section 2(2) of the Bill, as it stands, amends section 78(3)(b) of the 1982 Civil Aviation Act in such a way as to empower the SoS to discontinue applying limits to the number of night aircraft movements at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted and replace these with noise quotas alone."
The nice, tidy phrase "noise quotas" encompasses all sorts of calculations that will allow more disturbance at night, even though it could be argued that there is less noise. It has been argued that that it is a perverse and deceitful measure of the problem that people on the ground face, because
"as aircraft become less noisy this would be likely to lead to more flights within the same noise quota limit and there would be no real benefit to the local community; particularly, in rural areas".
I declare an interest in that respect, as my Rutland and Melton constituency is affected, as is that of my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier, who has been fighting strongly against the increase in night flights from Nottingham East Midlands airport and who, I am sure, will speak in this debate. The noise is felt strongly because in an area where there is less ambient noise, the noise of an aircraft, however quiet, is more noticeable than it would be in an urban area. The argument against noise quotas continues:
"a movements limit can be easily understood by most people and is far more transparent and open to validation as compared to a noise quota limit . . . a movements limit provides particular protection for people who live very close to the airport . . . and who are especially troubled by ground noise at night."
The arguments advanced by Tanbridge council and many others are compelling.
The Government's intention is clearly set out in the air transport White Paper, which is, "when Parliamentary time allows", to introduce legislation including
"an amendment to section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 so that controls such as night restrictions could, subject to public consultation, be set on the basis of noise quotas alone, without a separate movements limit."
Amendment No. 1 is the one that we intend to press to a vote. The provision affects urban and rural constituencies alike and introduces—somewhat surreptitiously—a new regime that represents a backward step.
The next amendment addresses the problem of people being unable to find out the basic facts. There is nothing more annoying than encountering bureaucratic obduracy when trying to discover the facts about events that affect one's life. What happens when an aircraft flies overhead and wakes one up at 4 o'clock in the morning? One is likely to go to the nearest airport and ask, "Was it you?" to which the likely reply is, "Not me, guv." One might then turn to National Air Traffic Services, which is in charge of air traffic control, but NATS would find it difficult to trace an individual aircraft. The Civil Aviation Authority says that it is duty bound to implement policy, not to answer specific questions and noise complaints. What we have is an extremely fragmented system in which public agencies with a public duty are failing to respond to the legitimate concerns of people who are disturbed by night flights. Even I, a Member of Parliament, get the runaround.
To be fair, within such an unproductive and fragmented regime it is not easy for an airport to determine to its own satisfaction whether it is responsible. Nottingham East Midlands airport, which I visited at night only three weeks ago, has within its remit and control a fairly narrow air traffic control area, but it receives into that area flights that may be deviating slightly from the recommended flight path. What the airport calls its presentation profile of aircraft therefore lands it with a problem for which it is not necessarily to blame.
In the context of massive environmental concern, there is no confidence that individuals can have their complaints dealt with properly and honestly. It may be that all are being dealt with honestly, but that is not how it seems. No records are properly kept for long enough; it is quite difficult to backtrace an individual aircraft and work out whose it was, at what height it was flying and at what speed it was going. In my view, a better regime, which I have mentioned to the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Ms Buck, on many occasions, must be established if there is to be any confidence in the new regime that is being created.
If we are trying through the Bill to set up a regime for noise and emissions regulation, it must be logical for those who are most affected by noise or disturbance—let us call it nuisance rather than noise—to be able to ascertain who is to blame so that at least all of us who set public policy can have the facts at our disposal.
The aim of new clause 4 is simple: it seeks to establish a single point of contact for members of the public who have complaints about aircraft noise and movements when they suspect, or even if they do not, that aircraft are deviating from established flight paths. At present, the regime is fragmented and everyone, including Members of Parliament, I think, feel that they cannot obtain the basic facts.
The Bill does a great deal for designated airports, but relatively little for those that are non-designated. Little control exists over the expansion of flights at such airports. The Campaign to Protect Rural England points out that the Bill will not help to tackle the problem of increasing flights eroding rural tranquillity.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is a county colleague who latterly, with other county colleagues on the Opposition Benches, has joined the campaign for the designation of Nottingham East Midlands airport.
I am attracted by new clause 4, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain why Members of Parliament need to act as a sieve for any inquiries that are referred to them. There are Members representing constituencies around regional and other airports whose interests seem to lie perhaps more with aviation than with the communities that they represent.
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point. I shall flash back to amendment No. 1, given that the hon. Gentleman tabled a concomitant amendment which would have deleted the entire clause. He might consider that our approach is preferable because it would delete only the offending parts of the clause, rather than the whole clause. He may want to rethink that.
It is fair to say that the technicalities of tracking aircraft are complicated. It is necessary to go through different air traffic control zones. The play-back of radar tapes or information systems is not as easy as replaying a video. There is expense and, inevitably in a matter of nuisance, some people become exercised and are likely to throw a disproportionate number of complaints at an airport, particularly through campaigning organisations. To persuade the Minister, I hope, that I am being absolutely reasonable in tabling the new clause, I thought that a good model for setting up a monitoring system was that of the ombudsman, where we go through the filter of a Member of Parliament. In many instances, the process is automatically ticking the box and sending on the complaint. However, I think that all of us in our constituency life will have said to someone, "I will send it to the ombudsman but are you really sure? Don't you think that you are a bit illogical here, there or somewhere else? Aren't you going over the top? Have you lost your perspective?"
To set up a system that is logical, practicable, fair and sensible, it is reasonable to use a Member of Parliament as a filter. We determined that it would be more persuasive to the Minister to have that layer of approval and sifting so that, as with so many complaints about this place, it is not necessary to field many complaints that are frivolous and malicious. I hope that that argument will be persuasive to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
As I understand it, it is the intention to apply the new clause to commercial flights. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is not his intention to extend the clause to general aviation, not least because the logistical and technological demands that would be put on general aviation by so doing would probably be unaffordable to the British general aviation community?
Yes, I can confirm that. That is exactly why we have referred to the commercial flights officer. We chose our words carefully to address exactly the concern that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. I hope that that adds even further to the powers of persuasion that we are able to exercise. We hope that the Minister will accept our argument.
I could speak for much longer on these matters but I do not wish to dwell on them. Other Members wish to speak and there are other amendments that I want to address.
My hon. Friend Mr. Randall will, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, speak on new clause 6. I will leave that clause primarily to him, especially as he is an expert on insulation. He will hit me later.
Amendment No. 9 arises because of our concern that the Bill does not form part of a coherent and complete environmental policy. Consideration in Committee showed that it did not do so. We believe that airlines have a right to be properly consulted and informed. The Minister stated in Committee:
"There is no question that aviation has an impact in environmental terms, and we need to rise to the challenge that it presents. Those living close to airports have genuine anxieties, which the Government and I recognise absolutely and we must move forward in responding to it."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B,
The Bill states that aerodromes may fix their charges by reference to noise and emissions and may do so to encourage the use of quieter aircraft that produce lower emissions. Both objectives are laudable and we do not demur from that. However, the Minister's response does not quite square with the fact that achieving lower noise and emissions objectives perhaps requires targets. At present, there are no determinants of success and there is no compulsion even to report progress. My hon. Friend Mr. Brazier went further into that in Committee.
Evidently, seeking the cover of legislation has little to do with an appreciation of real environmental impact. We know that some airports levy charges, but no evidence has yet been presented to show that these have helped reduce emissions or, for that matter, noise. The amendment is an attempt to ensure that we have the facts at our disposal to make sure that the improvements that we want to see can properly be measured and appreciated.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 10 very much come together. Amendment No. 8 states:
"Any aerodrome authorities, making charges under" the relevant subsections
"shall be under a duty to . . . monitor emissions . . . and . . . publish a statement of intent".
Amendment No. 10 describes the concomitant duties of the Secretary of State in respect of the same objective. The amendment proposes that aerodrome authorities should publish details
"of any charges made under subsection (1) for those purposes laid out in subsection (2)".
They would also have a duty to monitor emissions and to publish annual figures and a statement. Crucially, airlines would have a power of appeal against such charges.
One of my constituents' concerns is the expansion of Stansted airport, which wants not only to increase capacity on one runway but to construct another runway. It is all very well for the Government to talk about reducing emissions, but is it not understood that that does not square with the planned massive expansion of air travel over the next 10 to 15 years?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I have omitted to say that one can have an imbalanced regime of charges that can deliberately skew the economic benefits or appeal of Stansted compared with Heathrow and Gatwick. There is deep concern in the aviation world that within the Bill are provisions from which will emerge decisions and a regime that will create an artificial case for the expansion of Stansted. The imbalance and inequity that it is thought will emerge from this has caused deep concern. It has the prospect of being utterly perverse.
The Minister needs to tell the House that there will be some form of uniformity in the manner in which contracts that allow penalties, fines and charges for noise and emissions will be applied. If they applied only to two airports and not as much to another, funny things would happen. That means that the Bill would not succeed in being a universal, cogent and coherent environmental measure. We need some serious answers from the Minister.
We are asking that airports monitor emissions and noise levels annually and publish the annual figures and statement of intent as a price for confirming in law considerable powers. That hardly seems unreasonable. It is not burdensome to require them to publish those details, because if they do not know them in the first place the Bill means nothing whatever. As the Minister herself pointed out in Standing Committee B on
"details of an aerodrome's charging policy will be available as part of the condition for use of the aerodrome. In the case of BAA, which runs the designated airports, the conditions for use are made publicly available on the internet. Similarly, Manchester is an example of a non-designated airport that does so."
"As regards noise, the largest airports are covered by the Aerodromes (Noise Restrictions) (Rules and Procedures) Regulations 2003 which implement the European directive on noise-related restrictions . . . It includes a description of the effect of a noise climate without further measures and, for those measures already planned to lessen noise impact over the same period, forecasts noise contours, including an assessment of the number of people likely to be affected by airport noise." —[Official Report, Standing Committee B,
The agencies are collecting figures but, again, I have serious concerns about the methodology used for the measurement of noise. We simply ask the airports to prove that the charges produce the results specified. If they treat them as a means of milking the airlines, the airlines should have recourse to the Secretary of State. None of that should be burdensome, and it would simply provide minimal information on something that is of huge public concern. Much of the information is already being provided, and the amendment would simply put its provision on a statutory footing. It is not "Mission: Impossible"—it is not even mission tricky.
As I said earlier, amendment No. 10 essentially defines the Secretary of State's concomitant duties in setting targets for the emission and noise to define a logical regime within which the Bill's powers could be exercised. The amendments are a constructive contribution to the Bill, and they give it far more cogence as well as more coherence and a better shape. They will make the legislation far more palatable and practicable for those affected by it, whether they are airlines or people who live under flight paths. We hope that the Minister will see reason and appreciate our good intentions in tabling the amendments. I very much hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we can press at least amendment No. 1 to a vote.
I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 19 and 21, which were tabled in my name. Amendment No. 19 relates to the fixing of charges imposed on aircraft operators who breach noise and emission requirements. It seeks to ensure that the local authority in whose area the airport is situated is in agreement with the scheme that has been designed. Amendment No. 21, as Mr. Duncan said, seeks to delete clause 2, which attempts to substitute quota counts for the existing numerical limits on air traffic movements at designated airports. Without my amendment No. 19, the Bill could be a polluters' charter, because airport managers can write their own rules and set their own noise levels, as was debated at some length on Second Reading. I will not repeat the thrust of that debate, but no other industry has been handed such a licence. It is like asking the breweries to tackle alcoholism, or the fast food industry to tackle obesity. No other industry has been handed a charter to set its own pollution levels and no other industry is allowed by law—as would be the case if the Bill were enacted—to ignore the local authority and the local community. No other industry is given such immunity from the law.
In my constituency, the Nottingham East Midlands airport, as it styles itself, has one of the patchiest records on night-time noise climates of any European airport. Unfortunately, the Minister, or perhaps her predecessor, did not give sufficient weight to independent reports that say that night-time noise and the penalty regimes associated with it are intolerable and unacceptable. Nottingham East Midlands airport, which is owned by the Manchester Airports Group, has already drafted a noise control scheme in the form of a 10-point plan, and it intends to double night-time noise. Its version of a noise control scheme is designed to increase the number of aircraft movements without having any regard to noise and without any care for the community. I would be concerned if my amendment No. 19 were not incorporated in the Bill.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. In my brief contribution to Second Reading, I made the same point—there is no independent process for determining whether the control regime, or the charging regime that stems from it, is appropriate to the circumstances. My one doubt about my hon. Friend's amendment—which, I recognise, has local support—relates to the choice of the local authority as arbiter. The Civil Aviation Authority, or a similar body, would be much more appropriate to determine whether such a scheme is well designed.
I accept the thrust of my hon. Friend's argument. If a regional airport such as Nottingham East Midlands airport is located in a small to medium-sized authority with correspondingly few resources, it may be difficult for the authority to represent properly the concerns of its communities. The county tier may be a more appropriate level, so my hon. Friend makes a fair point.
I thank the hon. Gentleman both for his contributions to these debates in the Chamber and outside and for allowing me to intervene. I agree with his hon. Friend Mr. Todd that if we limit the controlling authority to the local district council, we will run into exactly the same problems that we have experienced with the planning of ground developments at the airport. Surely, if we are to deal with Nottingham East Midlands airport, which has considerable financial weight, we need an organisation as big as the county council, which is equally equipped. At a later date, would he consider moving local control from the district council to the county council, as we will achieve a better result that way?
As I suggested in my response to my hon. Friend Mr. Todd, that is probably a worthwhile improvement. Indeed, the amendment refers to "the local authority" without specifying which local authority, so the county council may be the appropriate body in certain circumstances. I fear that Manchester Airports Group or other organisations that own regional airports could use the powers in the Bill in an unacceptable way. The residents of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are distant from the shareholders and council tax payers in Manchester so, in this case, the pollution starts far from home. We need a locally accountable and responsible group to intervene on communities' behalf. All the residents' groups with which I have had contact about Nottingham East Midlands airport are alarmed about the lack of external accountability and are disappointed that it is not yet part of the Bill, as my amendment proposes.
The Government have repeatedly refused to designate Nottingham East Midlands airport, and my amendment compensates for that failure to act. The mantra of local solutions for local problems suggests that there should be a local agreement between the various parties—the airport, the communities, local authorities and airport users—but, in practice, that does not occur. The Bill does not create the environment for a local agreement. It provides the power for the airport to impose its will in certain circumstances. It disfranchises the residents and disempowers the local authority. That is what I am trying to tackle in the amendment.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. There is a further powerful point, which was touched on briefly by Mr. Duncan—there is no process even for the airport user companies to challenge what the airport might do, other than through the normal commercial process of taking their business away, which may not be an option open to them. I remain puzzled by the Government's determination to place the power solely in the hands of one private sector body, without any process other than the courts, presumably, as a challenge to the reasonableness of its actions.
I do not dissent from a word that my hon. Friend—my neighbour—said. It may be that the Minister, whom I greatly respect, believes that the Bill will get the problems of noise and penalty regimes off her desk. I do not think that it will, particularly if the airport designs and imposes an unacceptable regime. If, as in the case of Nottingham East Midlands airport, the airport continues to be noisy at night, the problem will come bouncing back to the Minister even more loudly.
Unamended, the clause is contrary to democratic principles. Through the democratic process people should have a voice in shaping the regimes that try to protect them from the environmental downsides of large aviation neighbours. It is contrary to the principles of sustainable development, which call for noise reduction and increased participation. The clause is contrary to our own Government's principles of a local solution. Imposition by the airport, as anticipated in the amendment, without the involvement of a local authority, perhaps the county council, will not be a solution. We need to introduce into this part of the Bill some element of accountability.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what his and our amendments represent is certainty? For an airport operator who wants to expand or residents faced with the possibility of blight in the coming years, the amendments would provide some certainty within which all stakeholders could operate. At times, huge capital investments are made in the industry. Surely all concerned deserve a framework within which to debate and resolve issues such as pollution.
I agree with the hon. Lady. What is needed is a greater degree of formality. With the present legislative and regulatory regimes, if a non-designated airport is unwilling to go very far down the road that a local community might like to see it travel, there are no levers to apply to that airport. It may have been subject to a section 106 regime at some point in the past, but without designation, which we are not discussing, there is a fog of uncertainty about its obligations.
People sometimes say that independent consultative committees have some powers to influence the way in which airports operate. My constituents are extremely concerned about the way in which the ICC works in our area. I suppose it is not much different from those in other parts of the country. The policies that Nottingham East Midlands airport put to the independent consultative committee are not locally based policies. They are based on Department for Transport policies, without any regard for what people in the local community want.
It is difficult to express in words the extreme and long-lasting frustration that my constituents feel about centrally devised policies being rubber-stamped by airport management, with no effective local say or input. The recent White Paper effectively told Nottingham East Midlands airport what its future growth will be and what it must do to ensure that that growth takes place, with a master plan process that simply repeats what is in the White Paper—literally, a self-fulfilling prophecy. We must have real local authority input.
Amendment No. 21, the second of the amendments that I tabled, deals with the quota count system. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton made a fair summary of the weaknesses of that approach. It professes to be a regime that will encourage the uptake of quieter aircraft, but its numerous shortcomings allow far more planes to fly at night while maintaining the same so-called noise climate. Although the planes may indeed be marginally quieter, it is the number of noise events, rather than a few decibels more or less, that causes the misery of sleep deprivation to residents living under flight paths. No matter what regime is designed and developed, it is essential that the cap on numbers of movements which exists in designated airports is retained. The Bill as currently worded merely enables the Secretary of State to set a limit based on noise rather than movements.
Does the hon. Gentleman's postbag, like mine, contain many letters from residents under flight paths expressing concern about the noise of individual aircraft that wakes them up, rather than about theoretical values, quota systems or wonderful maps of areas affected by noise? Is he, like me, concerned about the noise of an individual aircraft that wakes and disturbs people?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The problems experienced by my constituents tend to be in the communities that lie around the airport, which are under virtually every flight path coming into or out of the airport. Given the strong business lobby for a quota only system, it is only a matter of time before the movements limit is abolished.
At the same time as the Bill has been going through Parliament, in my constituency—a good part of which is under the flight path; I live under the flight path myself—a consultation has been taking place which would have the effect of increasing the number of night flights and therefore the amount of night-time disturbance. Another consultation, also affecting my area, is planned for next spring. It would end runway alternation and increase the amount of disturbance during the day. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those consultations expose the fact that the Bill is not intended to reduce disturbance, but that it is a framework to allow the industry to follow its planned direction of predict and provide, with ever-increasing flights and without regard to what happens to people on the ground?
The problem in relation to noise is that there is no official noise index to show night noise in the UK, although Leq is recognised during the day period, between 7 am and 11 pm. However, the Government produce noise maps for airports at night using Leq contours. They argue that it is an adequate way of expressing aircraft noise levels, and they produced noise for London Heathrow airport for its recent consultation on the night noise regime, which Susan Kramer mentioned.
That method can be totally inadequate as a way of assessing the impact of a small number of noisy events distributed over an otherwise long and tranquil period. That is explicitly endorsed by the World Health Organisation in its guidelines for noise levels. It states:
"Where there are no clear reasons for using other measures, it is recommended that LAeq,T be used to evaluate more or less continuous environmental noises. However, when there are distinct events to the noise, as with aircraft or railway noise, measure of individual events such as the maximum noise level (LA Max) or the weighted sound exposure level (SEL) should also be obtained in addition to LAeq,T."
As planes get marginally quieter, many more will be allowed to fly at night under a pure quota count regime. It is the frequency of noise events that can ruin a night's sleep. If I am woken up, say, by all noise events over 90 dB, I will not be pleased to hear that twice as many, even if they are 92 dB rather than 95 dB, will be countenanced under a future regime. Therefore, it is essential that the numbers limit on noise on night-time movements is retained.
One final weakness that I shall identify in the quota count system is that it is extremely dubious to equate a 3 dB reduction—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene twice. He raises a valid point because my area of Putney has no noise monitoring in process, so the only way to monitor the amount of noise that we have to bear is by literally counting the number of planes overhead. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what the Government propose in the Bill will take away the one control that we have and my constituency will be left with no means whatever of assessing the amount of noise other than by our own ears? We are looking for something far more scientific than that.
I accept that point in its entirety. The hon. Lady's predecessor in the seat that she represents made a powerful case in this Chamber and in Westminster Hall on a number of occasions, and no doubt he will be in a position in future years to echo that case again.
I was making the point that it is dubious statistically to equate a 3 dB reduction with a halving of annoyance, even at the individual event level. EPNdB—effective perceived noise decibels—is a measure of noise energy, and it is by no means certain that a halving of noise energy results in a halving of noise heard by the human ear, despite the name that is used.
The Government's attempt to use the Bill not to tell those who live around airports exactly how many night flights they can expect and to disguise the true number is in the eyes of many a cynical manoeuvre. The various judicial review hearings instigated by London boroughs around Heathrow airport in recent years resulted in the High Court forcing the Department for Transport to continue revealing publicly exactly how many night flights the industry was to be allowed—a straightforward way for noise-affected populations to understand clearly exactly what was going on over their heads.
The complex and difficult to follow quota count system seeks in effect to bamboozle residents into thinking that more night flights somehow equals less noise and less sleep disturbance, which is a counter-intuitive proposition for my constituents as what Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted get today, Nottingham East Midlands airport will encounter sooner or later. That is why absolute numbers must always be made available as part of any night flights regime. If they are not, and as the Bill seeks to set aside any responsibility to reveal night flight numbers, clearly the suspicion arises that someone is or could be trying to hide something. That is not a very defendable position, particularly when the High Court has, in the laudable and understandable interests of fairness and clarity, previously found against the Department for Transport on this very issue and determined that true numbers should always be revealed.
At present, the Government control night noise at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted via the noise quotas, and other airports in the UK use a similar system—quieter aircraft using less of the noise quota. However, the only way to stop the number of movements increasing, which is the problem for communities lying around airports, is to maintain the current controls, and that means that the proposed change in clause 2 that I seek to delete should not be enacted.
I shall conclude with one brief comment addressed to those right hon. and hon. Members who do not represent airport communities in the London area, where the airports are designated. Why should such Members who represent seats affected by the activities of other airports be concerned? Quite simply, the types of restrictions used for designated airports will be and are a model for controls at many regional airports, and a precedent of no limits at Heathrow would be used cynically by the industry to argue that there should be no movement limits at all in any other regional airport. This is a danger for every airport community in the United Kingdom.
Clause 2, which I seek to delete in amendment No. 21, is purely for the advantage of the airline industry and it will be to the disadvantage of the airport communities. For that sole, significant and powerful reason it should be removed in its entirety.
I rise to support my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan in his excellent amendments, particularly amendment No. 1 which seeks to delete clause 2(2). Many of my constituents live under the flight path into and out of Heathrow from the west. We have experienced growing numbers and growing volumes of noise from aircraft movements at antisocial times of the night, even under the current regime, and there is a great fear that the Government's proposals today will make this considerably worse.
I support those colleagues in the House who have already made it clear that we need some limit on the numbers of aircraft movements as well as an overall control on the amount of noise, because it matters very much how many times noisy aircraft go over during the night, and even more, when during the night they might go over. Under the current regime, with some control over aircraft numbers, there is a tendency for there to be more flights closer to the times when people are going to bed or waking up. If we remove all numerical controls on flights, there will undoubtedly be more flights over the course of the night, at the times when it will be even more difficult for people who are trying to sleep in a rather quieter environment, when other background noise is less pronounced or has disappeared.
As my right hon. Friend will know, my constituents are affected by Gatwick, which has a similar problem, with rather more night flights than at Heathrow. Will he reflect on the fact that the problem is most acute during the summer months when demand is greatest for these antisocial flights and when people sleep with their windows open? The Bill, if unamended, will cause serious problems to people living in a wide circle round airports throughout the country.
I quite agree with my hon. Friend. [Interruption.] I hear the Minister from a sedentary position asking whether I realise this is regulation. Yes, and while I am a keen deregulator, I have never said that I wish to see the end of all regulation, and the deregulatory programme that we strongly urge the Government to adopt has never included a reduction in standards for controlling noise around or adjacent to airports, because that is an example of the kind of regulation that we think is perfectly reasonable to impose. Previous Conservative Governments imposed it, this Government have run on with it for eight years and we see no reason to dilute it or change it adversely at the moment.
The Minister's sedentary remarks are all the more to be regretted because we are talking about the rule of law, and if airports and airlines can operate without the law, we are falling into a rather tragic set of circumstances. If the Minister thinks that our acceptance of regulations in this circumstance is something to be criticised, we ought to be even more worried about the calibre of person sitting on the Treasury Bench.
I will not be drawn into anything quite so uncharitable, but I understand the drift of my hon. and learned Friend's wise and learned comments.
One of the great weaknesses of the Government's environmental policy lies in aviation. They are stumbling over what to do about it. We know that on emissions control, it is outside the main restrictions in international agreements, and it is the fastest growing area of extra pollution; and we now see that on noise, they want to dilute sensible controls because they are under pressure from some in the industry to do so. It is particularly appropriate that today for the first time in the Chamber we have the warning of just how easy it is to make a beautiful building ugly without the right controls on new development, because we see the new screen where the scaffolding supporting it cannot be taken down because apparently that is all part of the revised plan. It seems a great pity that there is no sensitivity to history, tradition and beauty, and I am worried that we have something parallel going on with the lack of sensitivity to the wish of our constituents to have peace and quiet, particularly in the dead of night.
The crucial point that the Minister must address is that even if the average aircraft is less noisy than the average aircraft five or 10 years ago when previous controls were introduced, none the less, if there are more of these aircraft still creating considerable amounts of noise, and more of them will be generating that noise at the dead of night when it will be so much more intrusive, surely that is a substantial deterioration in the environment in which our constituents live and something that we should naturally protest about, and on which we should urge the Government to do something better.
I hope that the Minister will heed the warning of the ugly screen and realise that it would be bad to make a much bigger intrusion into the environment by diluting many hon. Members' constituents' protection from noise. It is our duty to tell the Minister that constituents in Labour seats, as well as constituents in Conservative seats, are upset by the current amount of background noise and that they will be extremely angry if the Government allow far more noise at the dead of night, when it will be so much more disruptive. I strongly support the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Rutland and Melton and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and their excellent amendments.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In particular, I want to tease out certain aspects of amendment No. 1 and new clause 4, because I do not recognise some of the arguments that I have heard in this debate.
I must challenge the proposition advanced by my hon. Friend David Taylor that one cannot be in favour of aviation and argue the case for quieter aircraft. That is utter nonsense. I have balanced those issues for many years as a member of the consultative committee at Gatwick and as an environmental campaigner within Crawley borough council.
I am not sure whether I said that. MPs whose constituencies are positively affected by aviation in economic terms, but negatively affected by aviation in environmental terms, sometimes lean too far towards the economic end of the spectrum at the expense of their constituents' quality of life.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, but I rest my case. We should support economic activity at our local airports and ensure that our constituents have as much peace as possible, particularly at night.
The arguments are difficult. Conservative Members have already pointed out that Gatwick's position in the family of airports would be compromised if the considerable number of night flights were to end. We must move forward cautiously on reducing night noise.
The hon. Lady has not grasped the Government's objective. She knows that the consultation on the future of the night flights regime at Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted has recently recommended that the quota should continue, and downward pressure on the number of flights seems a sensible approach. However, the Government want to take away the quota altogether, and the hon. Lady knows that her constituents and mine will be the first to suffer.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do not share the view that the only way in which to reduce noise in our constituencies and to make our constituents' lives more peaceful is to decrease the number of events. Our constituents worry about noise. If all night flights were completely silent, who would complain? No one.
I wonder whether the hon. Lady understands that over the years my constituents who live under the flight path have heard many speeches saying that aircraft are getting quieter, but aircraft will never reach the point at which they do not wake up people at night. People who found the flights bearable three years ago or five years ago now find that they and their children are being woken up because so many more night flights occur. When I introduced a petition on the matter, people formed a queue and I got a signature every 30 seconds because night flights have become so intrusive. The argument that planes are quieter is not the reality on the ground.
I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution, but I do not share her view. I do not know about her constituency, but I know about mine: people in the most southerly point in my constituency were regularly woken by aircraft noise, but that is no longer the case because aircraft are getting quieter. For many years, I did not use the phrase "quieter aircraft"—I always used the phrase, "less noisy aircraft"—because I firmly believed that progress was impossible without downward pressure on aircraft noise. I do not share the view that we should not support a mechanism to reduce the total noise that people suffer.
I do not want to get directly involved in the debate, because I do not live near an airport. Will the hon. Lady accept that aircraft engines are quieter than they used to be? People are concerned that the Bill will allow the economic attractions of what amounts to the increased disturbance of the local environment near large airports to outweigh environmental considerations. If the relationship between aviation and politics were less confrontational, the debate might be less fractious.
I sincerely thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which goes to the heart of many of the debates in this Chamber and in our constituencies about how airports are used. People support airports when they use them, but they do not support them if they are disturbed at night, and we must square that circle.
Crawley borough council and Gatwick Airport Ltd have a legal agreement on all sorts of environmental levels. I often find it difficult to reflect the debate in this Chamber, because I do not recognise that one is either an environmentalist or pro-aviation. It is possible to draw up reasonable plans to ensure that communities are relatively quiet, and I campaign for quieter aircraft and for quieter ways of running our airports both by day and by night. In addition, ground noise makes a major contribution to the total noise generated by an airport. Unless we work co-operatively like Crawley borough council and Gatwick airport, we will not make progress and will find ourselves continually debating the matter in this Chamber.
Finally, many of my constituents will be bemused by some Conservative Members' contributions on the difference between noise disturbance in an urban area and noise disturbance in a rural area. After the debates on Second Reading and in Committee, my constituents were surprised to learn that they are less likely to be disturbed by aircraft noise because they live in an urban area. That argument is difficult to sustain, but two Conservative Members have already advanced it as a reasonable explanation of why their constituents are more affected by aircraft noise than mine.—[Interruption.]
Surely, given the hon. Lady's words, it is vital that she support our amendments to provide the framework for resolving this ongoing debate. It is rather like a rugby team and a football team trying to play on the same pitch—people are debating in totally different ways, and we require a common set of rules. That is what our amendments seek to do. I therefore hope that the hon. Lady will join us in supporting them, should there be a Division, so that we can, for once, have a common debate and reach some consensus.
I thank the hon. Lady, but I do not support that view. I firmly believe that we should continue to pursue a downward pressure on the total noise from airports. Focusing just on noise events is not the future for aviation or for communities around airports. The rugby players and football players in my constituency are looking for reasonable measures to continue a good relationship with a major airport that has provided many jobs to the town for many years, so that we are able to live together in harmony. The proposals before us are reasonable and fair.
Let me explain something to Laura Moffatt straight away. I fully accept that she is here to speak for her constituents, whether they work at Gatwick airport or are affected by it. I do the best for my constituents, even though the nearest airport to my constituency is between 25 and 50 miles away. Nottingham East Midlands airport is strangely named: it is wholly within Leicestershire, has a Derbyshire postcode, and is owned by 10 local authorities in Manchester. The Government are keen on stressing how important it is that decisions should be made locally, yet our local decisions are made in the Manchester Airports Group headquarters, and my constituents have no purchase on the decision-making systems of Manchester Airports Group and Nottingham East Midlands airport, any more than do the constituents of David Taylor or those of Mr. Todd, whose constituencies are geographically much closer to the offending airport than mine.
I too would like to have a reasonable dialogue. However, I discovered last week at the Conservative party conference in Blackpool—I discovered quite a few things there—that, according to a county councillor from Derbyshire, the management of Nottingham East Midlands airport hold the view that I, the Member for Harborough, am what is called a pain in the posterior. I am not sure whether that is a sensible way to describe a Member of Parliament who is doing his job. It may be true—perhaps they have been looking at my posterior—but it disturbed me that the level of dialogue by the airport management has reached the stage where they personally abuse Members of Parliament going about their constitutional duty.
My hon. and learned Friend is making a characteristically clear and important point. I urge him to join us when we debate new clause 7, because he has just summarised in a single sentence the problem with giving consultative committees to the local authority in which the airport is located.
Since I have accurately described in one sentence what my hon. Friend was going to say on new clause 7, I probably do not need to participate.
The so-called independent consultative committee that is supposed to monitor the activities of Nottingham East Midlands airport is staffed by a chairman who is paid by the airport. That is fair enough—he is entitled to his salary—but I am not sure how independent that makes either him or the consultative committee. Why it is called "consultative" I have no idea—it has never consulted anybody in my constituency and draws its membership from a very local base.
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman be surprised to know that on several occasions the ICC has declined requests from me and, I believe, from my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire, for an opportunity during at least one of its quarterly meetings for Members of Parliament to contribute and report back? On every occasion, that suggestion has been kicked into the long grass at the end of the runway.
I can bring the hon. Gentleman good news. Perhaps because I am a pain in the posterior, Mr. Barry Wyman, the chairman of the independent consultative committee, has condescended to come to the House of Commons to meet me, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for South Derbyshire will join me.
Well, the hon. Gentleman will have another chance—I do not know whether to commiserate with him or congratulate him. In any event, the serious point is that Mr. Wyman is very graciously coming to the House of Commons, and I hope that we will have a fruitful and adult discussion. I certainly will not call him anything other than Mr. Wyman.
New clause 4 would provide an opportunity to signal our concern that these airports are unpoliced, unregulated and misbehaving. If they wish to act as useful economic engines within our regions—I support that—they must behave like good neighbours. If airports were factories chucking out noxious fumes or firms that ran freight lorries through our villages all night, somebody would complain about it, but they, the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority say that it is all very modern and wonderful and they should be allowed to carry on unhindered. Simply because these trucks have wings and are in the sky, they think that we should not be bothered about it, but I am afraid that my constituents are. What bothers me even more is the spin that airports engage in to bamboozle the Government and the general public into thinking that they are doing a good thing. They are doing some good things, and if they stuck to the facts about them we might be a little more satisfied with what they are up to.
Let me read some gobbets from a press release issued by Nottingham East Midlands airport, headlined, "Opinion poll confirms support for airport". It has apparently got MORI—I make no complaint about that respected organisation—to interview 1,562 people in the NEMA area. That constitutes 0.1 per cent. of the 1.5 million people who live in the east midlands, although that may not damage the scientific validity of its questioning. One paragraph states:
"The convenience of having an airport nearby for holiday and business flights was the main advantage cited by 61 per cent. of all residents, including those surveyed in East Leicestershire"— where my constituency is situated, 20 to 50 miles away from Nottingham East Midlands airport. It goes on to say, through Penny Coates—I have met her; she is a very nice woman who is co-operative and friendly and wishes to do her best for her airport and for the people affected by the noise, filth and fumes that are caused by its activities—that
"The results of this opinion poll demonstrate that there is much more support for NEMA than may be generally realised, particularly amongst those living closest to the Airport. Nevertheless, we are not complacent about the need for us to do more to minimise the impact of our operations and to improve our communications with surrounding communities. The views contained in the survey will prove very useful in shaping our future policies."
That is all very well. However, when, in that sad way of Members of Parliament, I was whizzing through some websites, I came across a press release issued by Birmingham international airport on
"By far the most significant advantage associated with the Airport was found to be the convenience of having it nearby. Residents recognised the economic factors linked to the presence of the Airport, mentioning job creation, new business attracted by the Airport, and the boost to the local economy."
It also said:
"In terms of disadvantages, noise and pollution were the most common complaints. However, on balance, the advantages appear to outweigh the disadvantages."
Luckily, the managing director of the airport, Mr. Brian Summers, could be quoted as saying:
"The results of this opinion poll are extremely gratifying and are a validation of the continuing dialogue with our local community. The views contained in this survey will be useful in shaping our future policies."
I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you noticed any similarity between the wording of the October 2005 press release from Nottingham east midlands airport and that of the 2001 press release from Birmingham. The managing director continues:
"We will not be complacent in any way and wish to build on our track record of listening and responding."
I do not know whether the similarity is a coincidence or can be explained by the fact that the press officer for Birmingham is now the press officer for Nottingham. Perhaps it is simply an example of serendipity, with which we are occasionally blessed. However, there is huge cynicism—
I know that the hon. Member for Manchester airport is keen to support his Manchester airport group and that is fair enough; he is right to do so. However, we are suspicious of the attitude that the airports, especially Nottingham airport, take towards the complaining member of the public, let alone the complaining Member of Parliament. I may be a pain in the posterior but I am doing what I am paid and elected to do. I shall go on being a pain in the posterior until the management of Nottingham East Midlands airport realises that there are a public out there with whom it has to treat if it misbehaves, abuses people, throws filth all over our rural areas and does not understand that ambient noise in the city is different from the ambient noise in the country, and that if one flies an aeroplane every 90 seconds over east Leicestershire at 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 and 8,000 ft at night, people will be woken up.
I live in both rural Leicestershire and the centre of London. Flights go over my house in Stockwell every night and throughout the day, but I do not notice them because there is so much other ambient noise in my street and area. However, in rural areas in Leicestershire, including North-West Leicestershire, and in South Derbyshire, there is little ambient noise. It is therefore no good people saying, "It's high time you took your share of the noise." We are complaining about relative, not absolute noise.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is perhaps a little unfair to the newly appointed press officer. We have criticised airports for lack of an environmental perspective, but the appointment is an attempt at recycling. Earlier, he contrasted the Government's approach with earlier Conservative approaches. Would he be surprised to learn that a Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment—I believe that it was Tom King, who was then Member of Parliament for Bridgwater—declined to include conditions on planning permission for a runway extension to east midlands airport? That has been the root of all our problems in the subsequent 15 or 20 years.
I want to focus on a point that I raised earlier and that I believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman made during exchanges on Second Reading. It dealt with anxiety about the shape of the amendments. Given that I pointed out a flaw in the amendment that my hon. Friend David Taylor tabled, I do not believe that there is an amendment that proposes a framework of objective analysis and judgment of an airport's proposals for self-regulation and any penalty scheme that it imposes. What are his thoughts on that?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I believe that my hon. Friend Justine Greening made a similar point. I want the argument to proceed rationally, sensibly and relatively good-humouredly, but it is difficult when getting facts out of the airport is harder than drawing teeth. When it answers letters, the replies do not entirely fit the questions that one has put. There may be all sorts of good reasons for that.
I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns, however. I want the airport to thrive but in way that is not antisocial. I want it to thrive in a way that allows it to make a profit and to expand but which is also sympathetic to the concerns not only of the people who live within the 10-mile radius. By "local", the Government mean within 10 or 12 miles of an airport. People who live 20 to 50 miles away are not considered local and therefore have no leverage on the decisions that affect them. I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I wish that I could get the Government to persuade the airport company and the Civil Aviation Authority to be as reasonable as he is. If that were possible, we would have a happier set of residents in Leicestershire.
I shall speak about the amendments to which my name is attached and in support of amendment No. 21 and I would like to deal with them in order of significance. Amendments Nos. 1 and 21 are the most significant.
I want to begin by continuing the recent line of discussion in our debate. Every time we have an aviation debate, Members are classified either as modernising aviators or luddites and I want to reach an understanding of our shared objectives for the Bill and the overall thrust of aviation policy. We all want a thriving aviation industry that provides efficient air transport and employment for our constituents and has minimal impact on the global and local environments. However, in recent years, members of all parties have gone further. We want a sustainable aviation industry and to use modern methods as best we can to achieve that. They include new technology, new methods of measurement and so on. We also want the airports to be good neighbours where they are located, cherishing the environment and the quality of life of residents in the vicinity.
Successive Governments have stated those objectives in recent periods. There is no more coherent statement of them than that in the recent White Paper on the future of the aviation industry. My understanding of clause 2(2) is that the Government intend to provide themselves with a strengthened tool with which to achieve the objectives for control of noise and, elsewhere in the Bill, emissions. Those are the two most significant environmental impacts of airports.
The argument, as I heard it on Second Reading and read it in the Committee proceedings, is that the method for controlling the impact of airports in disbenefits to my constituents and others is currently too crude and provides no incentive for airport operators to reduce the impact. As I understand it, the intention is to retain the power to impose overall limits on movements but to broaden it to enable the Secretary of State to control noise by noise quotas and contours. It sounds rational and the Government's approach would be viewed as an acceptable modernisation. The problem is that any method that we propose must command the confidence of, most of all, the people whom we seek to protect. In all the discussions and consultations that have taken place in my constituency and throughout London, especially in relation to Heathrow, it is clear that there is no confidence in the Government's proposals in the Bill. We should listen to the people most at risk. Perhaps the lack of confidence is due to the way in which our constituents have been treated in the past.
I do not think that people have been treated as brutally in any major infrastructure development in this country over the past two centuries as they have by the aviation industry. It started with the clearance of Heathrow village and has gone on to involve the imposition of five terminals on my constituency. At each stage, at each inquiry that has taken place, and in virtually every debate on the issue in the House, we have heard the aviation industry, Ministers, civil servants and experts giving us their judgment, according to their expertise, on the limited impact of these developments on my constituents and on Londoners in general. On each occasion, these have turned out to be wild misjudgments, underestimations and, some believe, a tissue of lies. It is on that basis that people no longer have confidence in the proposals being put forward.
Does my hon. Friend agree that what the Government have said has underpinned their approach to aviation expansion? They say that they are moving away from a predict and provide approach, but in what significant way is the present strategy different from that approach, which has produced such appalling results in certain areas of the economy and the environment in the past?
On the evidence of the past 40 years, and on the evidence produced in the recent discussions on terminal 5, there is no sign of any shift away from predict and provide. In fact, the suspicion is that the Bill represents a change in legislation that will greatly facilitate the continuation and expansion of that policy. It is no wonder, therefore, that people in my constituency and elsewhere are sceptical about the proposals in it.
The Government have argued that the control of air movements could still be a tool of control under the new regime. However, we should listen to the victims, the people who are already suffering, rather than to the polluters. Why should people believe BAA, the same company that promised my constituents in writing, during the terminal 5 inquiry, that it would not promote or seek a third runway? Within months of terminal 5 receiving approval, the company was lobbying the Government, and is still doing so, for a third runway, which would decimate the communities in my constituency. It now admits that 700 houses would have to go, that there could be a new terminal, and that 4,000 homes could be affected. This could involve a forced migration of nearly 10,000 people. Such a migration has not been seen since the Scottish clearances.
Why should people believe Secretaries of State? Time after time, after an inquiry has made a decision, successive Secretaries of State from Lord Tebbit onwards have reverted to continuing the policy of predict and provide, and to imposing more and more terminals on my constituency.
My constituents are affected by a much smaller airport than Heathrow, but I agree wholeheartedly with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said. Is not one of the main reasons why neither his constituents nor mine trust the Government's proposed regime adequately to address their needs the fact that the Government are not really committed to reducing decibel levels to a point at which people will not be disturbed? That is why people feel the need to retain a limit on aircraft movements, and why they will not accept a noise substitute.
The issue is more profound than that. It is about Government policy making on the future of aviation over half a century, which has been dominated by the aviation industry itself, with no countervailing factors limiting Government discretion, either from communities or environmentalists. That has been our problem throughout that period.
Our present concern in London and around Heathrow is that the Bill will afford the opportunity to lift the cap on air traffic movements that was placed on Heathrow by the terminal 5 inquiry. That cap was set as a condition of the approval of the terminal 5 project by the planning inspector, and it was solemnly endorsed on the Floor of the House, with assurances by the then Secretary of State for Transport to all of us who represent constituencies around Heathrow. It was the one sop, the one thing that we were given to take back to our constituents to say that at least there was light at the end of the tunnel following that terrible inquiry that allowed terminal 5 to go ahead and introduced the risk of a third runway. The Bill will allow the Secretary of State the opportunity to lift the cap and to undermine the basis of that five-year inquiry and the conclusions that it reached.
The value for my constituents of limits on aircraft movements is that they are readily understandable. Their simplicity inspires some level of confidence in Government decision making, and they are readily measurable. They therefore give further reassurance that the Government are abiding by some of the commitments that they have made. Noise quotas engender a lack of clarity. Their measurability is challengeable. There are differing definitions of noise, as we have heard at length today and throughout the debates on this issue. There are different assessments of its impact on people's lives, and they open up a vista of dispute. We cannot agree on what is to be measured, how it is to be measured, or even who should be the measurer. That lack of clarity will undermine any confidence that people might have in the Government's long-term aviation policy. It will result in a lack of confidence.
Movement controls do not only control noise. They also limit the general disruption caused by aircraft activity, at night and at other times, in the local area. Even the quieter planes cause disruption involving lights, ground operations and, for communities living near Heathrow, the traffic generated by those flights. Increasing the number of movements, no matter how much quieter the planes are, will not overcome but increase that type of disruption.
I do not want to return to the same old argument that people who oppose proposals such as those in the Bill are all luddites who oppose the aviation industry. My constituents also work at Heathrow, but we are looking for some form of balanced development. The only agency that can provide us with the protection that can achieve that is the Government. There are alternative ways forward.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for restating the economic and social case for airports, be they large ones such as Heathrow or medium-large ones such as Nottingham East Midlands airport, which generates 7,500 jobs that are very welcome in the regional economy. Does he agree, however, that the problem is that only a relatively small proportion of the people who work at an airport and in the aviation-linked industries actually live around the airport or under its flight paths? Most are remote; they bus in or drive to work, but in general they do not suffer the adverse environmental impact of their operations.
There is a much wider debate to be had about the benefits and disbenefits of airports in regard to the environment and the economy. However, the point that I was trying to make was that individual aircraft movements generate more than just noise. They generate the movement of people travelling into work at particular times. They also generate the movement of cars and lorries and all sorts of other activities associated with that aircraft movement, not just aeroplane noise.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that three local Members of Parliament—including myself and one who no longer sits in Parliament—who had never opposed the expansion of Heathrow within its present boundaries, including the proposal for terminal 5, have now changed their views? My hon. Friend mentioned balance; we felt that the balance had gone too far in one direction. Much as we support the air transport industry, we now feel that the environmental damage has gone past a certain point.
My hon. Friend reminds me of the history of the debate on terminal 5. He and other Members who supported terminal 5 based their case on the economic benefits, as well as on the assurances that had been given that enough was enough and that there would be a cap on flight movements as a result of the terminal 5 agreement. We shall now have to go back to our constituents and tell them that the Bill might empower the removal of that cap. That is how we undermine confidence not simply in decisions such as this but in representative government overall. Within only a few years, the assurances that we gave our constituents are being undermined by the measure.
There is another way forward and I shall sum it up briefly. It is to maintain and extend the use of air movements as the basic tool for controlling airport development and noise and emissions impact and to require the Secretary of State to limit air movements from individual airports. Below those limits, we can encourage quieter aircraft by additional noise controls on individual planes and also by awarding incentives through the allocation of landing slots to types of plane and companies that perform well in reducing noise and emissions.
The Government's proposals will result in the creeping up of the number of flights at Heathrow and elsewhere. There will be no improvement in noise or emission controls and there will, yet again, be a betrayal of the communities surrounding Heathrow.
New clause 6 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to act in providing insulation protection to constituents on whom aircraft noise had an impact. The Secretary of State already has power under the Land Compensation Act 1973 to introduce legislation on noise insulation, yet no regulations have been enacted. We are asking for a limit, so that a year after the Bill is enacted the Secretary of State would act on that important matter. It is another way of reassuring people that the Government are on their side and are trying to protect their interests rather than merely driving through a growth in aviation no matter what the environmental and social impact may be.
The amendments in the group suggest that, in relation to noise and emissions, the Government have not quite got the Bill right. I shall focus mainly on amendment No. 1 and if, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you are minded to allow a vote on it, we shall support the Conservatives. The amendment is the key provision in the group.
As other Members have said, the Bill in its current format would enable the Secretary of State to remove the movements element of noise control and rely simply on a noise quota measure. The Government have given no indication of the criteria to be used by the Secretary of State in his decision to use those powers and there are no safeguards, such as a requirement to consult or to take into consideration other interests. The Government are attempting to establish the principle that by setting a maximum noise level, rather than a limit on the number of flights for an airport, airlines will have an incentive to reduce noise levels to increase the number of flights that they can operate. Although reducing the noise level is an admirable target, there are several reasons for objecting to the Government's proposals, and many Members have already set them out.
By maintaining a movement limit on the number of flights, the aviation industry has an incentive to maximise its use of current capacity. The Liberal Democrats support that. As many Members know, there is a link between the level of noise from aircraft and the level of emissions, but quieter aircraft do not necessarily equate to cleaner aircraft. There should be consideration of the environmental impact of moving towards quieter aircraft at the expense of increased emissions. Many Members have referred to the fact that using Leq as a measurement of sound is not responsive to changes in the number of flights, so communities have serious doubts about its appropriateness. Amendment No. 1 is significant and we shall support it.
I have a few brief comments on some of the other amendments and new clauses in the group. New clause 4 calls for the establishment of a commercial flights officer. I understand the purpose of the proposal, although it seems strange for the Conservative party to be setting up a quango. With all the infrastructure that would necessarily surround it, it may be more appropriate or feasible, and might reduce costs, to use the CAA to achieve the same ends.
The arrangement would not involve many people. The essential problem is that there are four or five different players in the field, of whom the CAA is one. We need an office that is deliberately kept small, through the filter that only MPs can pass on complaints to keep the work load down, and which could look across the work of all those bodies. That would be the aim, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supportive comments earlier.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He, like me, will know that small departments have a tendency to grow, so he would want to monitor that if his proposal turned into something concrete.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as he has inferred, the CAA is the right organisation to do that? Is he aware that, by and large, when push comes to shove, for example in an air proximity incident, not only the CAA but the pilots involved tend to co-operate? I am a bit surprised that Members had such great difficulty in securing that type of information from what I have found a fairly effective system.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The point that he and I are making, and indeed the point that the Conservative Opposition may be making, is that the information needs to be in the public domain and readily available. If that can be done through the commercial flights officer that may be the appropriate route but if it can be achieved through an alternative route, such as the CAA, that may be a suitable response.
I am sympathetic to the points that have been made about new clause 6, but more detail is required in the provision to make clear precisely what is being proposed on insulation for buildings. It includes the interesting phrase that the Secretary of State or the responsible authorities should
"insulate buildings against noise caused, or expected to be caused, by the use of aerodromes".
While I understand the reasons for including that phrase, over what time scale would the provision operate? Over what time scale would the Secretary of State and the responsible authorities need to plan for an increase in noise? The new clause refers to buildings, but is not as specific as it might be in terms of the buildings to which it should apply.
Amendment No. 8 is a Conservative proposal that we shall support strongly. It provides that an annual report should be produced
"publishing annual figures for pollution and noise levels", and, more significantly, in subsection (b), publishing
"a statement of intent as to what levels of emissions and noise can be expected for the following twelve month period".
That is an extremely important point. We need to publish figures on the amount of noise and pollution. We must then set targets and monitor them to ensure that they are met in future years, so that the users of a particular airport have a clear signal about where that airport is going.
We shall certainly support several amendments in the group. There are some interesting proposals that need further work and there may be an opportunity in another place for the detail to be fleshed out. However, if there is a vote on amendment No. 1, we shall certainly support the Conservatives in the Division Lobby.
I had not intended to speak on the Bill once I saw that the amendments dealing with support for stranded air travellers had not been pursued, but the representations that I have heard from Opposition Members and one or two contributions from Labour Members bear no relationship whatever to the debates and discussions that we had in Committee. From the comments that have been made today, I simply do not recognise the Bill that we went through line by line in Committee.
I should like to deal with some of those points, but first I want to take up a point made by my hon. Friend John McDonnell, whom I certainly would not accuse of being a luddite. He is right to say that there must be a balance between the economy and the environment, but he is in error about the facts when he says that we need Government intervention and not for the aviation industry to get its own way. There are two points to make on that. First, the aviation industry and the Government were one and the same creature—they were indivisible—until about 16 years ago, when BA, BAA and some airports were privatised.
Secondly, my hon. Friend makes the point that there has been a policy of predict and provide. I do not mean this in a pejorative way at all, but the only hon. Members that I have previously heard claim that the Government have a predict and provide policy have been from the Liberal Democrat party. Quite clearly, there has not been a predict and provide policy in aviation. Had there been such a policy, there would be much more capacity in both the south-east and the rest of the country. Part of the aviation industry has been restrained in its growth, and the Government have made it clear in the White Paper that such things are down to commercial decisions, not to any predict and provide approach by them.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, particularly as I have just returned to the Chamber and missed his opening remarks. As a matter of fact, the Environmental Audit Committee has produced more than one report accusing the Government of taking a predict and provide approach towards aviation. Of course, that Committee has a Labour majority.
I recognise that that Committee has produced those reports. I have made comments in the Chamber about them, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington suggests in talking about predict and provide, they are in error in their analysis of the aviation industry's history.
I shall finish talking about my hon. Friend's contribution by agreeing with him that promises have been made but not kept in the aviation industry. That has been a real mistake. Sometimes the promises have been made the wrong way and been kept, and that must be recognised. The whole country would have benefited if there had been no agreement, whenever it was made, to stop a second runway being built at Gatwick until 2017. So some damaging agreements have been made and kept. I recognise that, at each phase in the development of Heathrow, people have said, "No more", but they were mistaken in doing so, partly because the real economic balance, not just for the people who live around the airport but for the whole United Kingdom, is to maintain Heathrow as one of the premier airports in the world. Restricting it in the way that it has been restricted is causing it to lose that position in the world economy day by day.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for agreeing with my analysis of Heathrow's history so far, but I want to give another example of why, even today, there is yet again a sense of betrayal in my community: BAA did not argue at the terminal 5 inquiry for a third runway, but when it promoted a third runway, it informed us after the event that it is after a sixth terminal. At what stage do we say that those people can never tell the truth?
It has been a mistake to believe that we could stay at the forefront of the aviation industry and say that Heathrow did not need a third runway. I have always been very clear about that. I agreed with my hon. Friend's analysis previously. My understanding of BAA's position is that it has left it up to the Government to say where the extra runways should go. I am getting off the point—I shall get back on to it—but that is an argument for breaking up BAA, and I know that you will not let me go down that path, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the continual expansion of Heathrow is a short-term measure and bad planning and bad management, and that it would be much better if the industry realised that it is impossible to keep on expanding Heathrow, given the great environmental damage involved and the "polluter pays" principle, which is being extended throughout the world? Would it not be better for the airline industry to realise that a new airport is needed?
I really must move on, because I want to talk about amendment No. 1 and new clause 4. I listened very carefully to Mr. Duncan and Mr. Redwood, and I was astonished because they both have a reputation for supporting free markets and deregulation, but they were arguing in new clause 4 for the creation of an extra regulatory body and stricter regulation of air traffic movements. Neither of them defined whether the problem was increasing or decreasing—not once.
The hon. Gentleman said that the problem is worse and that there is increasing concern, but the reality of the past 20 or 30 years is that the problem with noise is decreasing. It is extraordinary to ask for extra regulation on a decreasing problem—I can think of no precedent for the Conservative party adopting such a position. In support of amendment No. 1, hon. Members said that a large number of quieter aeroplanes going over a house is worse than one noisy aeroplane going over. If anyone who has ever lived under a flight path compared a BAC-111 or a DC9 with a current Boeing 777, they would want 50 Boeing 777s going over in the morning rather than one DC9, because DC9s are so much noisier. That is a matter of common experience and fact.
The Conservative party is against the proliferation of petty regulation, but when certain things have needed regulation, we have taken action. Hon. Members need look no further than the first measure to regulate clean air—the Clean Air Act 1956—which came from a Conservative Government and from which many of the considerations on NOx and CO 2 in the Bill ultimately stem.
I do not think that we should continue along the path of the Clean Air Act 1956, but I understand that that was taken through the House as a private Member's Bill by a Conservative Member, not by a Conservative Government. My point is very simply that the Conservative party is asking for extra regulation when the problem is decreasing, not increasing, unlike in the 1950s and 1960s, when the problem of air pollution was increasing.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity; I appreciate that he has been intervened on many times.
The reason why the Conservatives are encouraging the creation of this new officer's post is that we think that people fear an increasing threat and problem with increasing air traffic, certainly at Heathrow and throughout the country. That is why we propose monitoring the number of flights. From my perspective in the Windsor constituency, I have been lobbied on many occasions, and quite vociferously over the weekend, because of the worry about the changes that we are debating and whether there is a backdoor route for more flights. If there is no intention to allow more flights or to abandon aircraft movement limits, why introduce these subtle changes, which seem to open that avenue? We are justified in arguing that, if the Bill is passed in its current form, there should be some monitoring of what actually happens.
The hon. Gentleman brings me nicely to my next point about whether the argument made by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton that there is real concern about absolute noise has a foundation. Adam Afriyie has repeated that point, but I think that the concern about noise and the aviation industry is getting less, as demonstrated by most of the real assessments of public opinion, as opposed to the fantasies that we have heard suggesting that the situation is getting worse.
Noise is an intense problem for a number of people; I do not want to belittle it. However, the problem is intense for a decreasing number of people. Conservative Members are shaking their heads, but one can go to parts of London and Greater Manchester where noise pollution is no longer the real problem that it used to be. As aircraft have got quieter and the noise footprint has shrunk, there is less of a problem.
I have given way several times, and I want to make progress.
Most of my experience of balancing the economic and environmental interests of the community has come from being responsible for Manchester airport, primarily during the planning process and the decisions on the second runway there. Because we were concerned to talk to the local community and to find out whether there was support for the proposal, we went out to ask people. We carried out extensive opinion polls to consult many more people than are normally interviewed in a straightforward political opinion poll. From memory, I think that the samples were 3,000 and 5,000, which are huge numbers.
Manchester airport is in the Wythenshawe area of the city and we found that there was 80 per cent. support for the proposal in the area that sits next to the end of the runway. Wythenshawe is primarily, if not totally, a council estate and, unlike what someone said earlier, the people there saw the benefits of the jobs created as well as an improving environment. At the other end of the runway lies Styal, which is a much more affluent village in Cheshire where virtually every window displayed a "Stop the second runway" sticker. However, when we interviewed people individually, we found that a small majority was in favour of the runway because they could see the economic benefits. They or their families worked at and used the airport, so the airport received terrific support.
Interestingly, the opinion poll for East Midlands airport to which Mr. Garnier referred and which was published today tells a similar story. There is majority support for the economic benefits of the airport, and some concern about the environment. However, overall, people see that the benefits outweigh the disbenefits. The figures for East Midlands airport are not as good as they should be, and my hon. Friend David Taylor and others have made the point that the consultation in the past two or three years between the airport, hon. Members and the public has not been as good as it should have been. I would have expected the figures to be higher, but they are still positive because people see the benefits.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough said that a similar opinion poll had been used by Birmingham airport and produced by the same person, and suggested that this was cynical distortion of the facts, or words to that effect. That may be the result of laziness or plagiarism, but an official reporting as best as he can the results of an opinion poll is not cynical. He probably found a formula that was accurate and used it a second time. There is no evidence to suggest that the figures from that opinion poll have been distorted.
The next argument that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton used was that noise is somehow more of a problem if one lives in the countryside. I suppose hon. Members have their own opinions about that, but I have always lived in a city and I find the countryside an extraordinarily noisy place. It is full of foxes, owls and other creatures that keep one awake at night. I do not necessarily share the assessment that the countryside is quiet; I always sleep more easily in an urban environment.
Nottingham East Midlands airport has carried out, at the request of the constituents of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, a study in Great Glen, a village that I have never been to. Over 24 hours—night and day—the flight noise of every aeroplane was recorded and, in that period, it was found that only three aeroplanes created noise that was above the ambient noise level. I accept that noise is a complicated issue, but that seems to suggest that there is no evidence for Conservative Members' argument that there is a real problem.
I represent an urban constituency and I do not think it fair to draw the conclusion that aeroplanes should go only over populated areas and not over the countryside. In the same opinion poll carried out by Nottingham East Midlands airport, 64 per cent. of those polled thought what seems to be the common-sense thing to think: that aeroplanes should avoid populated areas. If, at a public meeting, one asks whether an aeroplane should fly over a lot of people or a few people and whether the majority or the minority should be more greatly inconvenienced, most people would say the minority, even if one takes account of the economic benefits. Unfortunately, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough comes to the exact opposite conclusion.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the issue is more complicated than is sometimes made out? I fully accept that some constituents and some Members, including some in my own party, suffer, but aircraft are also very audible in constituencies such as mine. Aircraft flying at 10,000 ft and heading to Manchester 70 miles away can be heard. If we begin to make comparisons, we must consider the background level of noise, which does not necessarily strengthen the case of some people who live relatively close to airports.
I do not think that the effect of noise can be assessed simply by a meter measuring decibels, but that is an indication of the level of the problem in Great Glen. That is the point that I was trying to make.
I urge hon. Members to see through the argument that the problem is increasing as we have not heard any evidence today to suggest that it is. The Conservatives take the extraordinary position of asking for extra regulation, so I support the Government and ask the House to reject the new clauses and amendments.
I shall be extremely brief, because I sense a certain restlessness in the Chamber and a mood to get on to listening to the Minister and dealing with other matters. I have a vested interest in the last group of amendments, so it is in my interests to keep my speech brief. All I want to do is support my hon. Friends and particularly my neighbour, John McDonnell, in his comments and in his new clause 6, to which I have attached my name. As he said, my constituents suffer from a crisis of confidence in the aviation industry.
As the hon. Members for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) and for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) pointed out, there are, of course, economic benefits, but the patience of my constituents is being increasingly strained. That is why, for the first time, many people who have been highly supportive of the aviation industry locally have now said that enough is enough. They are worried, as am I, that there is a hidden motive behind the measures. Is there a reason why we should get rid of the specific number of night flights allowed, which would create the possibility of the number of such flights being increased? Is there an economic need to do that? Has the industry asked the Government to increase the number of night flights? We want those questions answered. Unfortunately, the aviation industry has cried wolf on occasions. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington cited the examples of the terminal 5 inquiry and the fact that there was not going to be a third runway and then no sixth terminal.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that night noise from the heavens can make airports neighbours from hell. However, there has been relatively little academic analysis of the economic benefits of night flights. The aviation industry often asserts that they are crucial and an important economic driver, but precious little evidence has been cited in support of that. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is high time that an independent organisation conducted research along those lines?
I take great pleasure in agreeing with the hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly. Such information would be crucial to the House before undertaking the changes that we are discussing.
I urge hon. Members to support new clause 6. If the Bill is implemented, my constituents and those of many hon. Members will deserve mitigation. The wording of new clause 6 might not be correct, and I know that the Government do not like to agree to any amendments except their own—that is the way of the world. However, they are honour bound to provide in legislation for mitigation of noise reduction for my constituents.
I shall be brief. I could have made my remarks by intervening during the speech of Graham Stringer, but he had to cope with a large number of interventions and I did not want to disrupt his speech any more than was necessary. None the less, I was astonished when he said that noise was lessening. Biggin Hill airport, the famous airfield from which many of the few flew in the second world war, is in my constituency. It now deals largely not with scheduled flights, but executive flights and so forth. Although I accept that many individual aeroplanes are much quieter than they were, we must consider the sheer multiplicity and expansion of ordinary flights to small airports such as Biggin Hill.
Many flights are taking place on the shoulder of the times at which they are allowed to take place. Many flights requiring special permission are undertaken by the Ministry of Defence. More flights take place at a lower level than they used to, with flights over Biggin Hill being affected by the change to the pattern of flights over Heathrow. All those factors mean that my constituents have experienced a considerable increase in the noise around such a typical small airfield.
My Front-Bench colleagues have made the important point that there is inadequate monitoring, so we simply do not know enough about the facts of noise—I accept that the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley made this point. There are doubts about who should take responsibility for monitoring noise at Biggin Hill. Should it be the local authority or the airport company? Monitoring inevitably does not take place with the frequency that ordinary people and residents are entitled to expect. Additionally, they cannot be confident in such monitoring. On those grounds alone, my hon. Friends would be absolutely right to press new clause 4 to a Division.
The amendments, like the many that we debated in Committee, reflect an overall concern about how the Government's policies on airport development, including airspace change and the mitigation of aircraft noise and emissions, play out in practice.
As everyone in the Chamber knows, the purpose of the "Future of Air Transport" White Paper was to set out a strategic framework for the development of air travel in the United Kingdom, looking ahead to 2030. That forward planning was intended, in part, to give people living near to airports some clarity about how their local circumstances might change in future and to enable planning to deal with the environmental impacts of air transport. We do not deny that such impacts exist, although advances in technology have delivered quieter aircraft and noise abatement operational processes, such as continuous descent approach, have been developed. Both those points came out strongly from the characteristically excellent speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) and for Crawley (Laura Moffatt). Night noise and daytime contours have been maintained, or even reduced, at some major airports, despite the growth in movement numbers. I hope that we all realise that such growth is not just about an abstract of economic benefit, but about real jobs and wealth and maintaining the UK's competitiveness.
My hon. Friend John McDonnell made a good point when he rightly advised us to end the false division between those who support a healthy aviation industry and those who are concerned with sustainability. Everyone who is sensible should want to strike a proper balance between those objectives, even if there is sometimes disagreement among or within parties about how that would be best done. My concern with the way in which such debates play out in practice is more with individuals who understandably make points on behalf of their constituencies and are unwilling to consider the regional and national economic interest or to engage maturely in discussion about how best to deliver real improvements.
On striking that balance, I would be most grateful if the Minister would clarify which side of the argument—the aviation industry or the environmentalists—supports the Government's view that Stansted should have the next expansion.
With respect, we are not discussing the "Future of Air Transport" White Paper, but the Civil Aviation Bill. The White Paper set out the framework for airport expansion throughout the country, but I am not sure that this is the time or place to reopen that debate.
I shall start what I think will be a fairly detailed contribution—so detailed, in fact, that it will make the collected Proust look like a short story—by saying a little about Nottingham East Midlands airport because the concerns of hon. Members from in and around the area served by it have been at the forefront of our debates on Second Reading, in Committee and today. NEMA has been held up as an example of why the Government should not trust airport operators to deal with noise complaints themselves. However, I shall first discuss the general principles of new clause 4.
I have some sympathy with the aim of identifying aircraft for the purpose of responding to noise complaints. I understand the frustration that people may feel when it is not possible to identify a plane that has disturbed them, although that is generally unlikely to be due to a lack of will on an airport's part. It might be helpful if I recap for hon. Members who were not Committee members the availability of flight data and where the data are held. There is no single comprehensive source of information and no complete record of all flights.
Most large airports, such as the London airports and NEMA, operate a noise and track-keeping system. That is specific to the airport's movements and is usually limited to a range of approximately 25 miles. Complainants can call or write to an airport with details of the date and time when they were disturbed. The airport can then provide details, such as the height of the aircraft, its operator and its destination. As most commercial aircraft fly at their lowest, and are thus at their loudest, on approach and departure, most complaints relate to aircraft within an airport's noise and track-keeping system.
There is a competitive market for air traffic control service provision at airports. National Air Traffic Services is responsible for providing en-route air traffic control for flights in corridors from 5,000 ft up to 24,500 ft, 20 miles from their arrival and departure airports. All air traffic control providers are responsible for providing that service for those flights that operate only in controlled airspace, which is made up of terminal control areas surrounding the major airports and airways that link the control areas.
Air traffic control providers may retain radar records for 30 days to facilitate the investigation of incidents. It would take them some time to do individual checks if asked to do so, and they could only provide height information. If available, they might be able to say what the destination and point of departure had been, but they would not be able to identify the operator or aircraft type. It would be up to the person complaining to have sufficient information on the incident in question and to ask for the information promptly.
However, flights in uncontrolled airspace are not compelled to receive an air traffic control service. Nor are they required to notify the flight for the purpose of receiving permission to fly in such airspace. Consequently, flight data are often not available for such flights. Nor is it easy to estimate aircraft heights accurately, even for trained observers. An aircraft that might be assumed to have come from a particular airport may have come from elsewhere and be flying much higher than the observer believes. It may seem to complainants that an airport does not try hard enough to identify the aircraft that disturbs them or is too quick to say that it is not one of theirs, but there is no guarantee that a central inquiry point, such as the commercial flights officer, would be any more successful or responsive.
I recognise local concerns about aircraft noise in the area of NEMA, which is at the heart of the set of complaints. My Department—Ministers and officials alike—is ensuring that all reasonable action is taken by the airport and its operators to reduce noise at its source and to mitigate its effects. The airport is now fully committed to responding effectively. It knows that it needs to be a considerate neighbour to local residents. It is to undertake a comprehensive review of its complaints procedures; it is recruiting staff for a new customer relations department to improve the speed and quality of its handling of complaints; and it plans a new noise compensation scheme.
Operational performance at NEMA has significantly improved, and track-keeping compliance—the extent to which departing aircraft keep to routes designed to minimise their noise impact on people below—is at almost 100 per cent.
The Minister is right to note that there have been attempts at improvement, and noise preferential routes have had an effect. However, is she aware that her predecessor, together with the airport, imposed the 10-point plan that is the framework within which the airport operates? The relevant local authorities and community groups in the area were not in favour and thought it a weak and relatively toothless document.
I am aware of the 10-point plan and that not everyone is satisfied with it. I am extremely conscious that even now not everyone is happy with NEMA's performance, despite the improvements. We need to continue to bear down on it, to work with it and to ensure that the improvements continue.
The continuous descent approach, which seeks to minimise the noise of arriving flights, is achieved by 70 per cent. of aircraft. However, NEMA is not complacent. It is aware that it has to keep driving for even better performance. It has indicated that it wishes to take advantage of the noise control powers proposed in clause 4 to take tougher local action to protect the noise environment. I do not doubt that it will.
This year's master plan, due later this year, will recast NEMA's 10-point plan on noise amelioration, setting out details of its further plans to minimise noise impacts and to respond to community concerns. The results of a recently announced MORI poll, described by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, clearly show majority support for the airport in its locality and that concern about its impact on noise centred on those areas affected by recent routeing changes. It is true that the airspace change at NEMA means that some people are overflown more frequently than before, and those people will, of course, be dissatisfied with that state of affairs, but I ask hon. Members to remember that overall the route changes have significantly reduced the number of people overflown at a height that is likely to cause disturbance.
The airport is doing its best to engage with the local community. It operates an open-door policy to show its operations to those who are interested and to talk through their concerns. I urge any hon. Member who has spoken and who has not made a visit to contact the managing director of the airport. I look forward to meeting MPs in the vicinity later this week to discuss the issues.
As a frequent visitor to the airport, I meet the authorities regularly. The Bill gives them powers to fine operators and to establish their own noise control environment without a process for auditing whether that is an appropriate scheme for noise control or for penalties. Why did the Government decide to evade any independent process and leave it entirely to any airport, not just NEMA, that is not designated?
We reserved the right to designate airports and to intervene if they fail in their duty to bear down on noise and to act as good neighbours. However, as a starting point—this is not a new position, but a longstanding policy of Governments of both political colours—it is for the local airport to work with its local partners to ensure that there is a local solution.
In our White Paper "The Future of Air Transport", the Government signalled their support for growth of NEMA strategic night freight business, but that was not unconditional. We said that it would need to be accompanied by stringent controls on night noise, in particular, and increasingly generous noise insulation and other mitigation measures. That remains our position.
There have been calls to designate NEMA, as demonstrated in the last two interventions, by highlighting the number of night flights compared to those at the designated London airports, but it cannot be compared on an equal basis with the designated London airports. It serves a different market and the nature of operations is not the same. Nor should it be assumed that should the airport be designated there would be more stringent controls on noise or night flying than those already in place or planned by the airport operator itself.
The provisions in clause 4, which, as I said, NEMA intends to make use of, will place beyond all doubt the power of airport operators to establish and enforce both noise abatement operational procedures and operating restrictions for their airports. Putting responsibility for those aspects of the balanced approach to addressing aircraft noise in the hands of airports rightly gives them the incentive to manage and respond to local pressures. It must be right that individual airports should lead in deciding what elements of the balanced approach best provide the right solution in the light of local circumstances.
I want to get absolute clarity. My hon. Friend is saying that the only recourse is to turn to her for designation or to seek judicial review of the judgments that NEMA or any other airport might make on either its operating controls or its charging system for those who breach them. Is that correct?
There is a range of different measures—the relationship that the airport will have with its operators and local community through its consultative committee, and the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene—but the default position is that it is better for those airports to work out local solutions to local problems.
Airports already take action to encourage and drive airlines to improve their operational noise performance. That has been working well. For example, more than 95 per cent. of flights at Manchester stick to noise preferential routes, and the percentage is even higher at Heathrow. Clearly, that has not happened by accident, but reflects the fact that airports are willing and able to work with airlines to improve their performance. Achieving adherence to noise preferential routes requires investment in procedures and training, which have a cost and time commitment associated with them.
Monitoring and managing noise is a crucial part of the day-to-day operational business of airports. We expect them to pay careful attention to that and to manage their responsibility with suitable professionalism and integrity. They know that it is important to retain the faith and good will of local communities. The Government have confidence that the system works well and do not consider that the additional regulatory burden and cost associated with the establishment of a commercial flights officer would be a proportionate response to a situation in which airport operators are working as hard as possible to be considerate to their neighbours.
No. I have taken several interventions and have a number of points to work through.
Under section 76 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, an aircraft flying at a reasonable height and in accordance with the provisions of the air navigation order or the rules of the air cannot be subject to legal action for trespass or causing a nuisance. That important principle has been part of UK civil aviation law since the earliest days of commercial aviation, and it has been upheld by successive Governments. Even if a commercial flights officer were able to identify flights from the often limited information that members of the public could provide, further action against the operator of that flight could be taken only if it had not been following air traffic control instructions—assuming, of course, that it was in controlled airspace at the time. It therefore seems to me that the additional regulatory burden that the creation of a commercial flights officer would impose on air traffic control providers in particular would far outweigh whatever limited additional benefit would result from his office, given that this would not involve any powers of enforcement.
I realise that that may sound unsympathetic. I understand the annoyance felt by members of the public when they are disturbed by aircraft noise, and their wish to know who has caused that disturbance, but I remain of the view that the right way to seek to achieve that is through the local airport, and that the industry should focus on keeping aircraft noise to a minimum and mitigating its effects.
New clause 6 and amendment No. 17 relate to the issue of noise insulation. That will, I accept, be a matter of concern to those living close to our major airports, including Heathrow, although I think it only fair to point out that the noise environment around many of our airports has improved over time as new and quieter aircraft technologies have been introduced. Moreover, many people who have moved to the vicinity of airports in recent years will have done so with knowledge of the existing noise climate, and many of those properties will have benefited from previous insulation when noise levels were higher.
I agree with the Minister about the new clause. For clarification, does she agree that, as it has been phrased, it would apply to all aerodromes, even small licensed ones with no regular flights? Will she confirm that the tone of her comments indicates that she is looking at large commercial airports, and that the Government do not regard general aviation aerodromes, which are small and generally used for training and so forth, as the main issue in this debate?
We are conscious of the fact that there could be problems in aerodromes of all kinds, but the principal focus is on licensed and major aerodromes.
Ultimately, the Secretary of State has the power to require individual airports to provide acoustic insulation using his powers under sections 79 and 80 of the Civil Aviation Act, and indeed he has designated both Heathrow and Gatwick airports for this purpose. Currently though, noise insulation schemes are provided on a voluntary basis by airports, sometimes supported by local planning agreements. As stated in the White Paper, "The Future of Air Transport", the Government wish to see a continuation of that voluntary approach, but in addition, for the larger UK airports—those with more than 50,000 movements a year—we wish to see specific measures adopted either as an adaptation of existing schemes or when new mitigation schemes are brought forward.
I am grateful for the Minister's response, but the purpose of amendment No. 17 is to draw attention to the fact that the existing voluntary arrangements, particularly regarding blight and noise blight arising from BAA's proposals for the third runway, are dividing communities. One side of the street is designated and the other is not. One part of Longford, "The Island", is not designated, but the top of the road is. There may now be time for the Government to intervene more directly in those voluntary arrangements.
I hear what my hon. Friend says and I am happy to discuss the matter with him further.
We expect relevant airport operators to offer households subject to high levels of noise assistance with the costs of relocating and to offer acoustic insulation to other noise-sensitive buildings such as schools and hospitals. We have also suggested that airports where those criteria may bite may wish to start noise contouring to check their current noise levels, where they do not already do so, so that they can apply the criteria accurately.
As airports develop in future, we expect them to offer to purchase those properties suffering from both a high level of noise and a large increase in noise and to offer acoustic insulation to any residential property that suffers both from a medium to high level of noise and a large increase in noise. Those more generous provisions recognise that residents in such areas may have chosen to live there because they did not expect such development to take place.
It does not say here, so I cannot tell the House that figure. I will confirm the definition of medium noise. I think that I can safely say that it is below 69 dB.
For the reasons I have given, I believe that we have a comprehensive set of policies in place to deal with noise insulation in a wide range of buildings, and a power of enforcement that we will use if voluntary measures do not prove sufficient. I do not believe that the new clause and amendment are necessary and I invite my hon. Friends not to press them.
I understand that amendment No. 9, and the right of appeal to the Secretary of State against charges imposed using the powers in new section 38 that is inserted into the Bill by amendment No. 8, have been tabled in response to concerns on the part of the airline industry that at some future date they may be faced with unfair charges. However, in reality it seems unlikely to me that an airport would choose to alienate its customers by introducing new measures without reasonable notice, although clearly it has to balance this with the legitimate expectations of those living around the airport that measures will be introduced without undue delay. Any period of notice would inevitably need to reflect the complexity of the arrangements being introduced. If an airline felt that it was disadvantaged by the introduction of a charging regime at unreasonably short notice, the remedy of legal challenge would be open to it. I am sure that airports will have regard to International Civil Aviation Organisation guidance that noise-related charges should be non-discriminatory between users and should not be established at such levels as to be prohibitively high for the operation of certain aircraft.—[Interruption.] It is technical stuff.
Amendment No. 8 would require airports making charges using the powers in new section 38 of the 1982 Act to monitor their emissions and noise levels and publish the figures annually, and to publish their plans to reduce noise and pollution. We do not believe that those reporting requirements need to be statutory. We believe that charging schemes have a valuable role to play, but they are not the only influencing factor on noise and emissions from aircraft.
The larger airports that are more likely to take up the powers in new section 38 will already have been designated under section 35 of the 1982 Act and have consultative arrangements in place. Reporting on noise and emissions monitoring will take place through those arrangements; as regards noise, the largest airports are covered by the Aerodromes (Noise Restrictions) (Rules and Procedures) Regulations 2003, which implement the European directive on noise-related operating restrictions.
Amendment No. 10 also imposes a reporting requirement, this time on the Secretary of State, who would be required to report annually to Parliament on the impact of airports' charging schemes on reducing noise and emissions, and on the means for monitoring noise and emissions at those airports and along flight paths. I do not believe that that would be an appropriate requirement. The levels of noise and emission at an aerodrome may vary for reasons other than the imposition of charges; for example, because of changes in the type of aircraft using the airport due to changes in the local economy, or improvements in operational practice driven by an airline operator's wish to improve fuel efficiency.
Before "The Future of Air Transport" was published, my Department consulted on a range of proposals to do with the control of noise from civil aircraft. One of these involved giving local authorities a role in non-designated airports' noise amelioration measures. Amendment No. 19 has a similar intent.
No, I have nearly finished.
Our conclusion, following consultation, was that such involvement of local authorities in non-designated airports' noise control measures would be too bureaucratic, given the existence of the power to designate an airport should its voluntary amelioration measures be inadequate. The Government remain of that view; local authorities have a statutory right to be included in the consultative arrangements made by airports designated under section 35 of the 1982 Act.
I am very conscious of the fact that I have already gone on too long and that people are anxious to move on, but I was keen to reply in detail. We have been in debate for some time and I am trying to conclude my remarks.
On amendments Nos. 21 and 1, the amendment in clause 2 to section 78(3) of the 1982 Act has clearly excited a great deal of concern among hon. Members whose constituencies are affected by night flying at the designated airports. On Second Reading and in Standing Committee, the Government sought to explain their position on the current night flying restrictions regime and on the proposals for a revised regime to run from October 2006 to October 2012. As hon. Members have mentioned, permission is currently being sought by a number of claimants for a judicial review of the consultation proposals.
Why does the Minister bother to come to the House when she does not listen to anything that people say and has not made a single concession on the Bill, despite a lot of good advice from Members of all parties? What is the point? Is it not a travesty of democracy?
I think that that was a rhetorical question.
I am anxious that the Government should not intrude on the role of the courts by commenting on a particular dispute concerning the application of the existing legislation on restrictions on night flights—including the way that aircraft are classified for such purposes—at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Consultation on the Government's proposed night flying restrictions closed on
On the question of Heathrow, and in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, the limit of 480,000 movements imposed by the planning inspector would also not be overturned by way of a future decision to set night flying restrictions without a movements limit. There would still be a total movements limit, and were there to be an increase in night flights, for example, that would be within the cap.
I think that it is the mood of the House that I should draw my comments to a conclusion. [Hon. Members: "Yes."] I have read the mood of the House correctly. Although I realise that I have not satisfied the concerns of all Opposition Members, I have commented in detail on a number of those issues, as I did in Committee. I believe that the Bill strikes a proper balance between the environmental sustainability issues that cause concern to Members of Parliament and the need to maintain a healthy aviation industry.