Clause 2 amends section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which enables the Secretary of State to take steps to limit or mitigate the effect of noise and vibration connected with the taking off or landing of aircraft at designated airports. The current legislation—section 78(3) of the 1982 Act—requires that the operating restrictions set for that purpose include a numerical limit on aircraft movements. At present, therefore, the night-flying restrictions at the designated airports—currently Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted—are based on both a numerical movements limit and a noise quota set for each summer and winter season. The noise quota is designed to encourage the use of quieter aircraft. In the White Paper, "The Future of Air Transport", the Government said that we would amend the current legislation, so that operating restrictions could be set on a different basis in future—for example, one more directly related to the noise nuisance caused. That is what clause 2 will achieve.
May I put it to my hon. Friend that, although it would be ideal if all aircraft were much quieter, the concern that my constituents and those of other hon. Members have is that any interruption to a sleep pattern is a problem and therefore the number of flights matters seriously. He will know that many of us wish to have no night flights, but I hope that he will give us some comfort about how the Government seek to proceed, given that there are so many objections to flying at all at night.
I understand my hon. Friend's concerns. As she says, there is a view generally about not wanting night flights, but there is always a balance to be struck between the economic importance and the social and environmental issues. In a few moments, I will come to the specific issue that I know that she has an interest in.
If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I will come to those issues.
Lords amendment No. 5 removes subsection (2) of clause 2, which would enable a future Secretary of State to impose restrictions that limited cumulative amounts of noise caused by an aircraft using a designated airport. Such restrictions could apply without specifying a maximum number of movements. The restriction could, for example, take the form of noise quotas or a limiting noise contour area. The Secretary of State would not be prevented from continuing to set movement limits, but could consider alternatives—for instance, if they provided a more effective incentive to use quieter aircraft. Our intention is not to prevent future Governments from setting stringent controls on night flying at the airports, or from setting movement limits as part of those controls; it is simply to ensure that they have the power to set restrictions in the most effective way possible, whatever the future circumstances may be.
Does the Minister agree that the system is horrendously complex? So far, for instance, our Government have refused to designate East Midlands airport, which would benefit significantly from a regime of this kind. It would not be much of a consolation if the present limit of, say, 14 aircraft at a cap of 95 dB were to be replaced under a quota count system by 28 aircraft at 92 dB, which is approximately half the volume of noise. Why would the Government include the measure in legislation, linked to an assertion that they will not use it for the time being? There will always be that risk and that temptation.
I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but it is important to have a number of tools at our disposal to deal with the issue of aircraft noise and the related environmental issues.
It will be for a future Secretary of State to consider any changes to the basis on which night flying restrictions are set after October 2012, and, in doing so, to choose whether to make use of the more flexible provisions that we seek to bring in. Any changes that were proposed as a result would, of course, be subject to full public consultation in line with EU requirements and the eventual decisions would need to be reasonable.
Does the Minister not understand that saying, "Trust me," is not a satisfactory answer to people in my constituency living under the Heathrow flight path? They have had past assurances on the expansion of Heathrow, but now face terminal 6 and runway 3, the potential for additional night flights and the loss of runway alternation. At least a hard cap number gives people some degree of certainty, which is what they are asking for—if they have to live with night flights, which frankly every one of them would like to see gone.
The hon. Lady has made a point that other hon. Members have made, but clearly the Government have set out their thinking and their position on the tools to use to deal with the issues of noise, emissions and night flights.
I am aware that there has been concern that the Government might use the amended provisions immediately to bring in a night flying restrictions regime at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted on a completely different basis from that on which we have consulted—I am returning to the hon. Lady's point. We have been considering the responses to the consultation on night flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports and will announce our final conclusions by the end of the month. However, in order to remove the uncertainty on an element that has given rise to concerns, I have decided not to increase night time movement limits at Heathrow during the period 2006 to 2012.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that assurance, which will reassure my constituents. However, it leads us to ask why we should legislate for 2013 now when all sorts of things could happen in the intervening period. We could have had another couple of Prime Ministers by then and planes could become a lot quieter, so is it not rather premature to legislate so far in advance, which will, undoubtedly, worry people?
We can argue about whether people want us to legislate now, leave things open, or have more discretion, and that is part of the debate that we are having today—I am sure that it will continue. However, it is important to reiterate that we have decided not to increase the night-time movement limits at Heathrow between 2006 and 2012.
Let me return to the point about consultation, trust and the way in which we can guarantee what future Governments will do. I mentioned the European Union requirements, but I can also tell the House that I cannot envisage a situation in which any Government would not consult on a change affecting the important issues of night flying or aircraft movements. There is already a track record on that. The fact is that there will be consultation.
I fail to understand how the Minister's argument stacks up. Surely keeping two locks on the Secretary of State's ability to manage noise—one involving movements and the other involving what many of us would say is a fundamentally flawed noise quota system—is better than taking one away. Surely the Minister should leave the movements cap in place and perhaps allow a future Secretary of State to set it high enough that it would be ineffective. Why does he want to take it away altogether and remove a future Secretary of State's ability to use it to curb movements in and out of airports close to my constituency, such as Heathrow?
What we think is appropriate is a matter of balance. There is obviously a difference of opinion about the way in which we should go forward. However, the option and the way in which we have set it out gives us the best possible approach on the problem with which we are dealing.
I thank the Minister and, especially, the Government for listening to my constituents. The concession that he has announced will be most welcome in Brentford and Isleworth and, indeed, the borough of Hounslow. A lot of people have written to me about the matter and we have held many meetings with the Department. I also thank the Minister for the assurance that there will be consultation on future changes.
Does the Minister not understand that from the perspective of someone under the flight path, the number of flights is a completely different issue from how loud each aircraft is? His proposal essentially ditches the number of flights as an important measure. If people are woken during the night, it matters to them whether that happens twice or 10 times, and that is a serious problem for my constituents.
I do not accept that. It is important that we consider how we can manage the situation in the best possible way. We can discuss the fact that more modern aircraft are quieter and consider the number of aircraft that fly over a place during a specific period. I also understand that noise causes people nuisance in different ways. Some people might be affected by a one-off noise that is especially loud, while others may be affected by a period of noise over several hours.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman does not mind, I would like to make some progress with my speech. It is important that I repeat that I am aware of worries about the way in which the Government might use the amended provisions. However, I have made our position clear.
Lords amendment No. 11, which is a Government amendment, changes the commencement provisions of the Bill and prevents the relevant changes to the existing legislation from being brought into force before June 2012. It gives additional legal force to our commitment that there will be no change to our policy of setting night-time limits on both aircraft movements and the noise quota at each airport before 2012. Government amendment (a), which we are offering in lieu of Lords amendment No. 11, will correct the numbering of the provisions in clause 2 that cannot be commenced before June 2012, which will be necessary if clause 2(2) is reinstated in the Bill.
We, of course, understand the value of movements limits to residents around the designated airports at present, which is why we have proposed that they should continue to be set as part of the regime to apply from October 2006. However, a movements limit alone would be a pretty blunt instrument because it would not directly control the amount of noise permitted at night, and neither could it influence the types of aircraft used at night. Noise quotas are set alongside the movements limits at present to drive the use of the quietest aircraft available.
Clearly the Minister and the Government as a whole think that designation under the 1982 Act is a good thing because they would otherwise abolish it. Why is he designating only Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow, but not Nottingham East Midlands airport, which has a number of flight movements now that is well in excess of the number of such movements in and out of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted at the time at which those airports were designated? There does not seem to be much logic attached to the argument.
The hon. and learned Gentleman spends a lot of time on this subject and has a great deal of knowledge about the previous Government's relationship with those three airports. We listen to what is said. I understand that he has a difference of opinion on Nottingham East Midlands airport. It is important that the airport consults residents and the local community and involves them in the process. We think that the situation is best dealt with locally for such airports.
Why is the Minister dressing up the Government's amendment as a concession? It seems to me that when the negotiations that are under way on flight numbers between October 2006 and 2012 are finished and the numbers are agreed, the Government will not have room to manoeuvre on flight numbers anyway. The amendment is not a concession, so why is he arguing that it is?
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but he will have heard from my hon. Friends that my announcement has been welcomed. However, I understand the point that he makes, and we listen to arguments that are put forward. I wish to make some progress because I have taken many interventions and hon. Members will want to make their speeches.
The Government try to take a balanced approach on controlling and mitigating the noise impact of night flying at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. We are not seeking more flexible powers to use immediately, but believe that it is right to ensure that they will be available, if needed. We do not believe that any future Government would use the powers unreasonably. If they were they to do so, they could be subject to a legal challenge. The Government remain convinced that it is right to amend the legislation in such a way.
On Second Reading, in Committee and in another place, our Front-Bench spokesmen stated that the time had come to marry better the twin desires of extending the opportunities offered by world travel and bringing the airlines on board as partners in achieving serious environmental goals, whether they are global or for people's local environments. However, from a reading of the Bill, it sadly looks more and more as though the Government's idea of partnership is based on what is going on in Downing street. We wished to remove clause 2(2), because it was painfully apparent that we had to allow residents and airports to co-exist more harmoniously.
The Government's announcement a few minutes ago about Heathrow to 2012 is welcome but prompts questions about other designated airports and Heathrow after 2012. As hon. Members know only too well, the issue is the balance between numbers and quotas as a means of controlling noise. The mitigation of noise and vibration from aircraft taking off and landing at designated airports—Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted—is achieved, as the Minister said, by restricting the number of movements and by the noise quota. Noise can be a considerable impediment to the quality of life of people who live near an airport or under a flight path, as Members on both sides have made clear. If the noise of an aircraft taking off wakes someone, it does not matter if it is only just loud enough to do so or is extremely loud. Furthermore, as has been made clear by Lord Hanningfield, our Front-Bench spokesman in another place, the quota system itself, which is all that will be left, is highly technical and often incomprehensible to the people it is meant to protect.
Less noise does not always mean less disturbance, and that is emphatically the case if the system of measurement leaves something to be desired. While noise is measured in decibels, the level equivalent—Leq—is an index of aircraft noise exposure. It is a measure of the equivalent continuous sound level averaged over a 16-hour day from 0700 to 2300, and is taken during the peak summer months from mid-June to mid-September. The Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise—HACAN—and Clear Skies, a voluntary organisation that campaigns on behalf of people affected by flight paths, have issued a joint paper that makes interesting reading. It argues that the level equivalent system underestimates aircraft noise in three key areas. First, it can be misleading to average out aircraft noise, for the obvious reason that if someone is woken by noise, it does not make much difference how loud it is. Secondly, low-frequency noise is ignored by the measure. Thirdly, and crucially, the Leq classifications often underestimate the minimum level of noise that annoys people.
The HACAN-Clear Skies report claims that low-frequency rumbling is a significant component of aircraft noise. Including it in the measurement can increase the noise of a plane passing overhead by about 8 decibels. More to the point, many improvements in aircraft noise are primarily concerned with mid to high-frequencies. Perhaps the best way to illustrate its shortcomings is to cite the example given by Lord Hanningfield, who said that
"a single Concorde on departure has"— perhaps I should say, "had", given the sad loss of that great if noisy aircraft—
"the equivalent noise energy of 120 Boeing 757s. Thus, a Boeing 757 departing every two minutes for four hours produces the same level equivalent as two minutes of Concorde, followed by three hours and 58 minutes of silence."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 8 March 2006; Vol. 679, c. 772.]
I urge the House to consider whether it would prefer to have the magnificent opportunity to see and hear Concorde in their skies again for two minutes or four hours of aircraft taking off every two minutes. Under the Leq system, on which we will be entirely reliant after 2012, the two events will be treated as equivalent.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem with the Leq measurement partly stems from the fact that it works on averages rather than maximums? It is the equivalent of someone trying to avoid a speeding ticket and prosecution by saying, "Ah yes, officer, but I only did an average of 68 mph when I drove up the M1 to Yorkshire from London". It is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which the data should be used to protect residents on the ground.
My hon. Friend's ingenious analogy shows how weak is the system, which will be the only way of controlling noise.
The frequency of flights through the night and early morning, when there is reduced background or ambient noise, is not considered. The same total noise exposure can be achieved with a few noisy aircraft or a larger number of less noisy ones. The removal of the night movements limit implies that as aircraft become less noisy, more flights can be accommodated in the same noise quota. For example, under the quota count system, one Boeing 747 could be replaced with four Boeing 777s. It is no wonder that hon. Members on both sides who represent residents in the vicinity of a designated airport are concerned about the proposal, especially as the relationship between airports and local residents is not bathed in trust.
Mr. Steve Charlish, who is well-known to my hon. Friends as chairman of the East Leicestershire Villages Against Airspace campaign group, sent a letter to the managing director of Nottingham East Midlands airport :
"You might be aware that I have sent since 8th August 2005, forty two...noise complaints...sent by fax to your offices, relating to NEMA aircraft noise. However you may not be aware that I have had no response to my 145 complaints of wholly unacceptable aircraft noise, detailed within those 42 pages since that date 8th August 2005. As your radar records are deleted within 30 days, it is essential therefore, for me to bring this to your attention, as this makes further scrutiny of complaints impossible".
Evidence supplied by Steve Charlish and others makes it clear that people whose lives are disturbed by aircraft noise and movements that deviate from established flight paths—the Minister did not discuss that at all—and who make frequent complaints are regarded by NEMA as nuisance complainants.
It does not help that responsibility for such things is fragmented between different agencies and organisations. The public and Members of Parliament are given the runaround by airports and the air traffic control system responsible for air traffic movements if they try to establish whether a flight diverged grossly from its flight path, which is why we sought to provide in another part of the Bill for a commercial flights officer. I do not wish to reopen that debate, as I simply wish to highlight the fact that there is little protection against noise. Airports do not always have the facts to hand, which is why we should be concerned about the removal of one of the two remaining golf clubs in the bag.
Page 117 of the White Paper on the future of air transport highlighted the obligation
"to put in place a scheme to address the problem of generalised blight resulting from the runway proposal."
The stop Stansted expansion campaign highlighted BAA's disregard for that obligation, which has resulted in local communities around the airport, led by Takeley parish council, pursuing a legal challenge againstBAA. It estimates that airport-related housing blight, resulting from plans to expand Stansted announced in July 2002, totals £635 million across Uttlesford district as a whole. According to analysis taken from the latest Land Registry house price statistics, the number of affected homes is about 12,000. However, BAA is prepared to consider compensation for only about 500 homes in the immediate vicinity affected by airport expansion.
Any increase in night-time disturbance has the potential seriously to alter the value of someone's home, the most valuable asset that most people own. It is not good enough for the Minister to say, "Trust us", or rather, "You'll be okay at Heathrow until 2012, but the other designated airports must trust us, and people round Heathrow will have to trust us after 2012." The Lords were right to strike out subsection (2) and to reinstate the power to control numbers. I urge the House to support their verdict.
I am not just disappointed with the Government's attitude towards Lords amendmentNo. 5; I am ashamed of it, because of the campaigns that I and a number of colleagues have waged over the years against night flights and their environmental impact on our constituents and on London overall. The only advantage of the amendment is that the debate allows me to miss the parliamentary Labour party meeting currently going on.
The move to abolish the flight numbers restrictions stems from a concerted, well funded and lengthy lobby by the aviation industry to increase the number of night flights. Over a considerable period, aviation companies, BAA and others have plugged away at successive Ministers to achieve that end. The claim that the overall noise climate limit will be sufficient to protect people from noise disturbance is a disingenuous ploy to increase night flights.
As we know from consultation, the industry is determined to increase the overall number of night flights. The argument is that the overall reduction in the noise climate will allow more night flights. The industry has mobilised for so long that it is bringing the issue to a head. But that argument fails to take account of how noise impacts on individuals and their families—our constituents. The disturbance affects their sleep, their work, the education of their children and their environment. When a family gets up for breakfast, it does not usually discuss how good was the night before or what the level equivalent of decibels of effective perceived noise was. They usually say, "Did you hear that one at 5 am?", or at 4 am or whenever. They discuss how it disturbed the children during the night and how the family has been disturbed over a long period.
The noise disturbance is not related solely to aircraft in the sky. In my constituency, the impact for many residents comes from ground noise—traffic to and from the airport, with airport workers going to receive the night flights, the goods vehicles and the passengers travelling to and fro in their vehicles. Unfortunately, a vast proportion of that traffic still consists of cars and larger vehicles travelling through the areas surrounding Heathrow and through my constituency at night, disturbing the peace of residents.
That is why the overall noise and movement limits, working together, offered at least some limited protection. I agree with what others have said across the House. Our ambition was to have no night flights at all, and we thought we would eventually be able to persuade a Government of the sense of it. The combination of overall limits and limits on numbers had some effect. The removal of the numbers will have a deleterious effect on my constituents because it will blight their environment and, as some have said, their properties for a long time to come. The delay to 2012 is no concession whatever. It is no compromise. It is probably dictated by the time that the Government need to implement the system effectively.
Consultation is meaningless as some form of compromise offer to my constituents. We have been consulted so often on the development of the airport, and never listened to, that people are cynical about the entire concept. As hon. Members have said, in consultations over the past 30 years we have been promised no further terminals and no further runways. Ministers have raised in the House the issue of caps on movement, yet over time each proposal has been discarded.
I cannot understand why the Government are going along with the idea. I cannot comprehend why they are flying in the face of popular opinion, as expressed by a vast range of the population of London and elsewhere. The only reason that I can believe is that the aviation industry has, yet again, been able to mount such an effective lobby that the Government have, again, conceded.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Is he aware that councils representing 2.3 million people wrote in at stage 1 of the night flights consultation expressing deep concerns about night flights and their impact on residents? Does he agree that it is a scandal that those councils have been so systematically ignored?
The hon. Lady will agree that if consultation means anything, it must mean that the Government listen to the vast majority. An overwhelming majority have told the Government that they should not move. If we cannot improve on existing protection mechanisms, we should at least maintain what protection we have. I am extremely disappointed. I realise that every vote against the Government at present is an act of regicide, but I will vote against them tonight, because this is our only opportunity to register our anger, as communities, about the way they are letting down people who want their environment protected and who just want a decent night's sleep.
It is a pleasure to follow John McDonnell, who says that if consultation is to be meaningful,the Government must listen. We know, of course, that the Government do listen. My concern is who they are listening to on this occasion. It is pretty clear that they have not been listening to the hon. Gentleman's constituents, those of my hon. Friend Susan Kramer or those of Adam Afriyie.
The Government have been listening to the airline operators. It is clear on this issue that the Department for Transport has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the airline industry. That is who the Government are listening to—not the people who are suffering from the disruption and whose lives and property prices are being blighted by the increase in airline movement at night.
I shall not detain the House by rehearsing arguments already made. A numerical cap has one overall advantage: it is completely transparent and understandable. Concepts such as quotas or noise footprints, such as those outlined by Mr. Brazier, are opaque. Nobody can have any confidence that such measures, once put in place, are properly observed. A numerical cap may have disadvantages—as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park said, many communities living close to airports would rather there were no night flights at all—but it has the advantage of clarity.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no logic to the proposal that a particular set of limits should apply at Heathrow until 2012 and collapse thereafter? The aircraft fleet that flies in and out of Heathrow will be essentially the same for the next20 years. There is no prospect of significantly quieter aircraft and therefore no logic for arguing for a change of regime six years from now.
I cannot but agree. The Minister's so-called concession today was greeted with justifiable ridicule. It is no concession at all. As he said, the limits will be set by the end of this month and will be in place until 2012. Thereafter, as my hon. Friend says, there may be some marginal improvements, but the situation will not be radically different from that which pertains already. As has been said, it is difficult to see the merit of legislating now for a situation six years down the line.
No; I am opposed to the Minister's coming to the House and pretending that his concession is a case of anything other than bowing to the inevitable.
We were going to get it anyway, so I have no difficulty with it. However, I have difficulty with yet another example of spin from the Government, who are trying to pretend that they are giving us something special when they are actually giving us something that we would have had in any event.
A number of points have been made about the inadequacies of the quota system, and my noble Friend Lord Hanningfield dealt with them in detail in the other place on Report on
I apologise to the Minister because I was not present for his opening comments—I was trying to extract myself from Heathrow and get here on time.
Some hon. Members are known as the usual suspects, and that description has been applied to John McDonnell in another context. When we debate Heathrow, it is often the case that a group of hon. Members say one thing and I do not agree with them, but there are some issues on which every one of us says the same thing. From time to time, people argue that everybody who lives near the airport agrees about everything, but that is not true. If we were to debate terminals or runways, I might not be among the usual suspects who criticise any change at Heathrow, but on this matter, I have always said that we should be phasing out night flights rather than finding ways to increase them.
In my experience of listening to my constituents who live up against the boundary fence, it is not the amount of noise that wakes them up, but the fact that there is noise. If aircraft were to make less noise, it is my guess that people would still be woken up. I do not buy the argument that the policy is the result of huge pressure for extra night flights, because I am unaware of a vast demand for extra night flights at Heathrow, and whenever I talk to those concerned, they seem willing to accept that we could phase them out. In my experience of listening to my constituents and of living under the flight path, the argument that quieter aircraft will not disturb people is total nonsense. The House of Lords was absolutely right to remove the provision.
I recognise that a compromise has been offered. All I say is that my constituents are not interested in compromise, because they want fewer night flights, not more, and in the end they want none at all.
As I am the Member of Parliament for Windsor, thousands of my constituents live under flight paths, which is also true of many otherhon. Members, and as a member of the Standing Committee that scrutinised the Bill, I am aware of the sleight of hand contained in the legislation. As an advocate of reasonable measures to protect the environment for people living under flight paths and close to airports, I am pleased to speak in favour of Lords amendment No. 5. I am also pleased to have the chance to speak against Government amendment (a), which is not only illogical, but sneaky, unworkable and underhand; it seeks to remove protections and open up the night skies to a flight bonanza.
Let us be clear that the frequency of noisy flights ruins the sleep of residents. The economic benefit associated with the use of airports for business activity is certainly desirable, and if air traffic needs to expand, perhaps we can allow for it in the long term with quieter aircraft, provided that air quality is kept within tight limits and access to airports is available. However, it is a sobering thought that our tourists spend £16 billion more abroad than incoming tourists spend visiting the UK, which is perhaps an issue for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The Civil Aviation Act 1982 empowered the Secretary of State to limit the number of flights at designated airports. A straightforward limit on the number of flights is easily understood by everyone; for example, 16 flights are currently allowed at Heathrow during the night period and, despite the disturbance, affected residents know what that limit means. If the noise associated with a particular flight is louder than 90 dB on the ground, people are likely to be rudely awakened. It is the noise created by individual aircraft combined with the number of flights during the night that disturbs residents' sleep.
Government amendment (a) is strange. It proposes that at some future point the noise made by individual aircraft and the number of flights during the course of the night will be ignored. Instead, the Government want to rely on a complicated scheme based on average noise levels during a night period. Average noise levels have never woken anyone, because it is the absolute noise and frequency of flights that disturbs people. We must ask ourselves why the Government propose to scupper Lords amendments Nos. 5 and 11, which are sensible.
Let us take a quick look at how the Government's scheme will operate. The night noise quota scheme ranks aircraft types according to their noisiness on take-off and approach for landing. For example, if the noise is above 101.9 dB, the quota count for that aircraft is assigned as 16. If the noise is between 99 dB and 101.9 dB, the quota count for that aircraft is halved and becomes eight—the scale is exponential. If the noise is between 96 dB and 98.9 dB, the quota count for that aircraft is halved again to four. The quota count continues until the noise level falls below 90 dB, when the aircraft is assigned a quota count of a half—I hope that hon. Members are still with me. The Secretary of State then sets a limit on the total quota count points for the average across a season or a night period, which translates into a number of flights. If we were to use the pure quota count system that the Government are seeking to introduce today, twice as many flights would be allowed at night with planes rated at 95 dB than with planes rated at 96 dB. The system is complicated, and complicated systems are often designed to hide simple truths.
Why have the Government introduced an amendment to remove the flight limit, after indicating in writing to many hon. Members that they would support the Lords amendment? There is only one explanation, and I have heard no other so far: the Government want to allow an increase in the number of flights at night. As I have said, they have argued that the measure will not be introduced until 2012, but hon. Members should not be deceived. That is not a concession, because the arrangements until 2012 will be announced in the next week or so, and it is simply not possible for the Government to change that agreement before 2012. The Government are trying to appear reasonable by making a semi-concession, when they are in fact behaving completely unreasonably—it is a phantom concession.
In an earlier intervention, the Minister asked Susan Kramer exactly the same question. I completely reject Government policy in this area, which is ridiculous, and is just a ruse to pretend that they are making a concession. There is no concession, so there is nothing to discuss. The White Paper said that the Government would bear down on noise, but in reality they are easing up on noise. Hon. Members must ask themselves whether they want to be responsible for easing up on noise and on night flights.
There is a better way, although I do not have time to go into the detail. We should retain the limit on flights and accelerate the arrival of significantly quieter aircraft. In time, perhaps we can set a limit on the maximum noise generated by aircraft movements at night. Above all, we can reject the Government's sneaky amendment today, which will undermine the one sure route to secure a decent night's sleep for residents. I urge hon. Members to vote against Government amendment (a) and to maintain the flight limit, for the sake of the millions of people who will be affected.
My constituents, especially those who live close to the river and are worst affected by night-time, and indeed daytime, noise will be dismayed to hear that the Government still, despite the Lords proposals, want to remove the cap on movements into and out of Heathrow. If Heathrow is to expand, my constituents must have a right to an adequate and sustainable quality of life. There is no chance of that happening on the basis of the Government's proposals, which will allow Heathrow as many flights in and out as it likes. To my mind, that is community vandalism writ large over west and south-west London.
Does my hon. Friend think that there would be any merit in trying to get an antisocial behaviour order against the Government for such antisocial behaviour against all our constituents?
I have indeed considered that. One of my questions for the Minister was this: can local councils use the additional powers that they have recently been given against aircraft operators who, it can be argued, are behaving antisocially by creating noise at night? If I did that to my neighbours every night from 4.30 am to 6 am, they would surely complain. What action can local councils now take against aircraft operators landing early in the morning and late at night?
This is an act of community vandalism. The Government came to power saying that they would be the servants of the people not the masters, but they have completely reversed that position by systematically ignoring millions of people in the south-east, particularly in London, and going ahead with their proposal to take away the cap on movements into and out of Heathrow, irrespective of what local people say.
After the first stage of the night flights consultation, I asked the Government to tell me precisely how many people had asked for an increase in night flights, given that that was the proposal in stage 2. I received no answer of substance. As the Minister may be aware, I went down to the Department for Transport to look through the responses and correspondence that it had received after stage 1. I found a total of three people who wrote in suggesting more night flights. I saw responses from councils representing 2.3 million people who had expressed their concerns over the current level of night flights, with most wanting them eventually to be reduced to zero and many wanting that to happen immediately. I saw correspondence from more than 1,000 individual constituents and petitions from several hundred constituents all saying that they were concerned about the existing level of night flights and wanted a reduction.
What we have from the Government is merely a political fudge. People in my constituency are expected to be pleased because the Government have not made the situation any worse. That is unacceptable. They have been systematically ignored, and that will not be sustainable in the long run. The Government talk about sustainable communities and sustainable development, but that seems to end when it comes to airport expansion. One has to ask why so many millions of constituents can be ignored over such a prolonged period. That suggests that any ongoing consultations are merely a sham that do not recognise the real consultations that are going on behind the scenes with aircraft and airline operators. Today I tabled parliamentary questions to elicit from the Government what meetings they have had with aircraft operators and other interested industry participants. If the Minister can answer tonight, I will be interested to hear the outcome.
The Government cannot scratch their head and wonder why people do not turn out to vote in local and national elections when they ignore people so systematically on such a clear issue as the expansion of Heathrow, night flights and movement limits on all airports—not only Heathrow but Stansted and Gatwick. That is a democratic deficit that cannot be allowed to continue. I hope that even at this late stage, the Minister will decide to withdraw the Government proposal.
I listened carefully to what hon. Members said about disturbance and so forth, and I understand their concerns. Interestingly, Mr. Brazier pointed out that the experience of noise levels, particularly low frequency noise, varies from person to person, so different people are disturbed by different noises. I accept that there is a genuine problem and that Members are putting forward the concerns that have been expressed to them by their constituents, but I think that we will have to differ. I take issue with Adam Afriyie, who, in suggesting that the Government's policy was to have open skies and as many flights as possible, was not only a little disingenuous but very wide of the mark.
In dealing with aviation, night flights and the number of disturbances, we have to strike a balance between the economic benefits of a vibrant and significant aviation industry and the social and environmental consequences. That is always difficult, and there will of course be differences of opinion among Members. I have an airport on my doorstep and planes flying over my house. I understand the issues that local residents will raise about disturbance, because I deal with that from my own constituents. It is a balancing act in terms of the problems that can be caused, and the economics. For example, large numbers of people are employed in the industry.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is important to bear in mind the balance that can be struck. Many people would not want any flights, full stop. I understand that position. On the other hand, we need to be aware of the economic factors. Hon. Members will always advance arguments as to whether a proposal benefits the aviation industry or local residents and constituents. We believe that our approach of rejecting the Lords amendments is the best way to tread that narrow line. Hon. Members will disagree with that, as they are entitled to, but it is based on a balanced judgment.
As my hon. Friend is new to this brief I would like to mention the historical record of the past 40 years and more, as Heathrow has developed from a row of tents. As for the balance between the environment and the development of the airport, there has not been a single occasion throughout that whole period when Heathrow has come to the Government to ask for a development and the Government have not eventually conceded.
I know that my hon. Friend campaigns strongly on issues about which he is concerned on behalf of his constituents. However, it is important to bear in mind that the developments that have taken place in improving and expanding airports around the country have been of great benefit to the economy. I understand his point, but I would still argue that the Government's balanced judgment is right.
The simple point that I am making is that one decision in favour of the local community and the local environment in 60 years would demonstrate an element of trying to redraw the balance. The decision that we are considering tips the balance the other way, in favour of the industry against the local residents.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that I do not agree with that. He commented earlier on my commitment to no increase at Heathrow until 2012, and how his constituents would perceive that. Other hon. Friends said that the decision would be welcomed as an important and positive step by the Government. Again, there is a difference of opinion about perception and the worry that my hon. Friend and others have expressed.
The Under-Secretary has mentioned economic benefit several times. I received a written answer from a previous Minister saying that the case for the economic benefits of night flights had not been made. We have often asked about the marginal economic benefits of constant expansion at Heathrow, but that case has not been made either. I therefore advise him to consider carefully and not take at face value arguments that use the words "economic benefit".
The hon. Lady makes a good point about arguments for economic benefits and the social and environmental consequences. It is important to bear in mind that the Government always keep those matters under review. The consultation process has just taken place. Some hon. Members imply that there will automatically be an increase at Heathrow after 2012, but they are trying to assess a position that we have not yet reached. The Secretary of State at that time will have to take account of what has happened in the intervening period. That will be important in reaching a conclusion. I stress again the fact that the Government's move on Heathrow until 2012 is positive—but I accept that, as the hon. Lady said, there is a difference of opinion about the extent of the economic impact and how it is determined.
Unless I am mistaken—I am happy to explain if it is not the case—the Government can examine the position at the airports and make decisions about the number of flights and so on. Such decisions would still have to be part of a consultative procedure. Who knows what the Secretary of State at the time will conclude, taking account of the prevailing factors such as numbers of flights, benefits to the economy, social and environmental consequences and so on, and what happens between now and then. Those important factors would have to be considered. Someone else may be doing my job by then, and we must wait and see.
The Under-Secretary is possibly right—and neither he nor his Government will be around when the Bill is implemented. It appears as though a Government in their dying days are leaving my constituents and many others a legacy that they will have to put up with long after that Government are out of power. Does he agree that although the decision is delayed, it is a little like delaying a death penalty and having a stay of execution? My constituents will continue to suffer uncertainty and blight on their properties. What will happen in 2012? It appears that if the Bill is passed, they can look forward to more night flights—and more day flights.
The hon. Members for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) and for Windsor have already tried to argue that the Bill automatically means an increase, but I am trying to make it clear that our proposals are the best way forward to achieve a balance between flights, the economy and, of course, the social and environmental consequences. I understand the argument for automatically assuming an increase, but we must take account of what happens. The Secretary of State at the time will examine the position, and I stress the fact that changes can be made to the quotas and so on as time goes on. However, there is a difference between Justine Greening, other hon. Members and me about that.
Let me go into a little more detail about the number of movements, overall noise and how that influences disturbances, which hon. Members have raised. Some stakeholders argue in favour of movement limits and against setting night restrictions by referring to overall noise, because each instance of an aircraft flying overhead disturbs someone. The hon. Member for Canterbury made that point earlier when we considered low frequency noise. Reaction varies, and it is suggested that it may be better to consider individual flights rather than cumulative noise over a period.
Reactions to noise are subjective and therefore vary greatly from person to person and from time to time. Sleep disturbance is no exception. Despite extensive research, views differ both among those who suffer from noise and among the scientific community about whether a single loud noise or event, or an accumulation of smaller noises and events, cause more disturbance. I accept that the matter is subjective, but there is discussion and argument about it.
The World Health Organisation states that we should cover both. Its guidelines for noise levels state that
"when there are distinct events to the noise, such as with aircraft or railway noise, measures of individual events such as the maximum noise level should also be obtained".
The World Health Organisation therefore contradicts the Under-Secretary and says that we should set parameters for individual events as well as an overall climate.
I understand my hon. Friend's point about World Health Organisation standards. Let me consider that in more detail. I am surprised that it has taken so long for hon. Members to bring up those matters.
The Government framed their proposed environmental objectives for each airport in the recent consultation on night flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, taking as long-term targetsthe World Health Organisation's standards on the mitigation of noise and its "Guidelines for Community Noise" in respect of night noise. That approach to the World Health Organisation's guideline values for night noise is consistent with its recommendations. The guideline values on aircraft noise were recommended as long-term targets for improving health.
The values are low, and it would therefore be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve them in the short to medium term without draconian measures. I ask my hon. Friend to bear that in mind. However, the World Organisation did not propose that. It would not be feasible to reduce noise to such a level in urban or rural settings generally, and the World Health Organisation did not suggest that. We are committed to taking account of the guideline values, and we will do that over the 30-year time horizon of the air transport White Paper.
We also support the World Health Organisation's conclusions about regular reviews and revisions to the guidelines as new scientific evidence emerges.
Does the Under-Secretary accept that even if there are some disagreements in the literature about the levels and frequencies of noise that most disturb sleep, there can be no doubt that the number of night flights is clearly and unequivocally measurable? The so-called average amount of noise generated through the night is difficult to measure—indeed, given the lack of response by protesters to individual flights that appear to have deviated from their flight paths or perhaps should not have taken place, it seems to be impossible in some cases.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me while I finish this point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington made an important point about the World Health Organisation's guidelines on night noise. We must remember how subjective people's judgments can be, and how important it is to address this issue while taking account of the economy and trying to strike the balance that I have been talking about.
The WHO guideline values on aircraft noise were recommended as long-term targets for improving health, and the values are very low. We also support the WHO conclusions for regular reviews and revisionsto the guidelines as new scientific evidence emerges. The guidelines also recommend that cost-effectivenessand cost-benefit analyses should be considered when making management decisions relating to their implementation. The Government are carrying out this process as part of the regulatory impact assessment of the restrictions, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington might find interesting.
I want to return to the effect of the number of movements and of overall noise levels on disturbance. I know that hon. Members will want to hear the important points that I have to make on this matter, because of the concerns that they have raised this evening. It is worth emphasising that research has suggested that the incidence of sleep disturbance is especially associated with the loudest noise events, and in particular those that produce more than a 90 dB sound exposure level. The hon. Member for Windsor mentioned this issue before, saying that it was all very complicated and that he wanted a simple solution to the matter. However, the issue of disturbance is always complex, in that it affects different individuals in different ways. I can assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that these matters have also been raised with me as a constituency MP, and I am well aware of the representations that can be made about them.
I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend is saying, but has not the point been made by Opposition Members that the frequency of aircraft movements is much more important? According to the way in which these things are calculated for regulation purposes, one very loud noise is the equivalent of several much smaller noises. Luton airport is three or four miles from where I live, but I can still hear flights taking off at night on rare occasions, even though they are not very loud. The frequency is much more important than the volume. Surely the Government should be more concerned about the number of flights than about the volume, as Opposition Members have pointed out.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which other hon. Members have also raised. Different people have different noise thresholds, and that can also depend on whether they live close to the airport or further away. Flights come over my house, and I understand that this can be an issue.
As I said a moment ago, research has suggested that the incidence of sleep disturbance is especially associated with the loudest noise events, and in particular those that produce more than a 90 dB sound exposure level. That measure expresses the level of a noise event as though all its energy were concentrated evenly in one second. It takes account of the duration of the sound and its intensity. A plot connecting points of equal sound exposure level from the departure or approach of a particular type of aircraft—or an envelope of the two—is known as a noise footprint. Hon. Members have already mentioned such footprints.
The night noise insulation criterion that we have proposed as part of the consultation on night flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports relates to the 90 dB sound exposure level footprint of the noisiest aircraft operating at each airport. Such noise insulation seeks to mitigate the impact of each flight, as do the noise quota limits, by encouraging the use of quieter aircraft— [ Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North want to intervene on me?
I just want to say to hon. Members that there is growing interest in this debate on both sides of the House, and it is important that I give as much detail as possible to Members.
Order. I certainly think that the debate should be confined to civil aviation, and the Minister should know that the occupant of the Chair has a great interest in that subject and is listening keenly.
I am very much aware that you have a great interest not only in this subject but in railways,Mr. Deputy Speaker. I could talk about railways for a long time, but I am sure that you would not allow me to do that, although there are important issues that link railways and airports. The number of people using airports depends on the transport links to those airports, and I understand the importance of those links.
The subject of sleep disturbance has been raised in previous debates on the Bill, and I want to put on record the Government's approach to the matter. We have undertaken a considerable amount of research into the effects of aircraft noise on sleep. The last major study commissioned by the Government, completed in 1992, concluded that high aircraft noise levels could awaken people, but that the likelihood of the average person having his or her sleep noticeably disturbed due to an individual aircraft noise event was relatively low. That research was carried out in 1992, and I am sure that hon. Members will have their own view about its relevance and accuracy today. However, when considering numbers of aircraft movements, it is important to bear in mind that modern aircraft are much quieter than their predecessors.
The Minister has given the House an assurance today that the limit on night flights at Heathrow will be rolled forward. Why will he not make a similar commitment for Stansted?
I am not criticising the hon. Gentleman, because I know that he is concerned about these matters, but if he had been here earlier, he would know that we will be making further announcements on the consultation in the near future. I am not sure whether the Conservatives were in favour of what I announced tonight about the limits going on to 2012 at Heathrow. I have not heard whether the hon. Gentleman's party supports that change.
While my hon. Friend has the opportunity to expand on the matters relating to the amendment, may I point out that some of the studies on sleeplessness have taken place at Hounslow, near Heathrow, although I am not sure whether any have taken place in my constituency? These measures are to be implemented in 2012, as he has proposed in the compromise that he has offered. May I remind him that Members of Parliament representing constituencies round Heathrow have been asking for an investigation into the overall health effects of the airport itself for some time? This relates to sleep deprivation. The Bill also deals with emissions, however, and air pollution also has an effect on people's health. We have had neither a specific study of sleep deprivation north of the airport nor a health study to examine the impact on the local community of emissions surrounding the airport. The local primary care trust has made representations to that effect in the past, and I would like my hon. Friend to take that subject from the debate so that funding by central Government can be considered in the interregnum between—
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the disbenefits of air pollution. He may be aware that the Government published the air quality strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in January 2000 and that the strategy sets health-based objectives for the eight main air pollutants and deadlines for achieving them. It identifies the action required at national and international level and the contribution that the Government, industry, transport, local authorities, businesses and individuals can make to improving air quality.
I know that this issue will concern you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the Environment Act 1995 places a duty on local authorities to review and assess the current and likely future air quality in their areas against the national objectives set out in the strategy and prescribed in the air quality regulations. The local authority role is important and if a local authority considers that one or more of the air quality objectives is unlikely to be met by the required date, it must declare an air quality management area covering the area in which the problems are expected. It must then draw up an action plan, setting out the measures that it intends to take in pursuit of air quality objectives.
I have been diverted from the subject a little, but I wish to return to the issue of sleep disturbance, which concerns many Members. There are differing views among those who suffer from the problem as to whether a single loud noise or an accumulation of smaller noise events causes more disturbance. It is clear that disturbance is different from annoyance and from sleep deprivation, which relates to lengthy periods without sleep. It is also acknowledged that a small minority of people are much more sensitive to noise and sleep disturbance from aircraft noise than others. That is the important point.
The results of the further study that reported in 2000 did not contradict the essential findings of the 1992 field study, and that is the point that I wish to make about the time lag between the two studies. In contrast, a social survey conducted in parallel reported that a substantial percentage of those interviewed in higher noise areas reported being highly disturbed by aircraft at night.
After those studies the Government took the advice of independent experts and concluded that a new full-scale objective sleep study would be unlikely to add significantly to our understanding of the effects of airport noise on sleep disturbance. The Government then commissioned a major new study to concentrate on subjective responses to annoyance from aircraft noise and examined, in a hypothetical way, the willingness to pay, in respect of the nuisance from aircraft noise. It is acknowledged that our current understanding of the annoyance caused by aircraft is primarily based on research carried out in the 1980s.
Can my hon. Friend just clarify the geographical basis of the recent study, the samples that were taken, the interviews that took place and the areas that were designated as the most affected?
I have not got that information to hand, but I will write to my hon. Friend following the debate.
The study of how people would price nuisance from aircraft noise is designed to improve our understanding of the value that people give to relief from noise. We expect that the study, which has been guided by the steering group of a wide range of interests including environmental organisations who are represented, to be completed by about the middle of the year. The work is divided into two phases. Phase 1 has now been completed and has developed a stated preference methodology by carrying out a number of pilot surveys—[Hon. Members: "You can stop now."] I think that hon. Members will bear with me a few more moments, because there are other issues to discuss. Phase 2, which is the main survey and has recently been completed, applies the methodology and is reassessing the validity of the Leq family of noise indices as a proxy for relative community annoyance. I know that the hon. Member for Windsor has a particular interest in that aspect of aircraft noise.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman referred to the Government writing to Members in support of the Lords amendments. The Government did not write to support the Lords amendments to abolish clause 2, but we did write at that time about tabling an amendment in the Lords to explain the clause.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your forbearance and urge the House to reject the Lords amendments.