Clause 1 — Aerodrome charges: noise and emissions

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 12:27 pm on 12 October 2006.

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Votes in this debate

Lords Reasons: 1B, 2B, 4B.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 12:28, 12 October 2006

I beg to move, That this House
insists on its disagreement with the Lords in their amendments and proposes Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu thereof.

Commencing with amendment No. 1, we simply do not believe that it would be appropriate to impose a legal duty on all 140-odd licensed aerodromes to impose noise-related and emissions charges. Such a move would be disproportionate and would represent gross over-regulation. Many of the aerodromes are relatively small in size and will cause little or no significant disturbance or local air quality problems. Such a move would be at odds with the Government's policy of not imposing unnecessary regulation on business. On that we have been, and continue to be, steadfastly clear.

I respectfully point out to hon. Members that the proposal in the Lords amendments would run contrary to guidance from the International Civil Aviation Organisation that noise-related charges should be levied only at airports experiencing noise problems. Airports have had a statutory power to charge for aircraft by reference to their noise for some 25 years, but our policy on aircraft noise is that whenever possible, local controls rather than Government diktat are the best way of managing the local environmental impact of aviation.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

The Minister must accept that the movement of aircraft noise over that period has been in one direction only—upwards—and that that has caused many people living around airports great inconvenience and discomfort. If we do not accept this proposal, what should we do? It is clear that the status quo is not working.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I note the hon. Gentleman's view, but the question is whether the proposal deals with the point that he makes, and I suggest that it does not. The Bill as a whole takes us forward. Perhaps he will allow me to continue to outline how we can continue to take forward aviation for all stakeholders, including local communities.

Such a policy on the management of the local environmental impact of aviation was underscored in "The Future of Air Transport" White Paper. Many of our larger airports have regard to noise when setting their charges. BAA already applies an emissions-related charge at Heathrow and Gatwick by using the airports' conditions of use. However, it is important to put it beyond any doubt that any licensed aerodrome has the power to set such charges if their local circumstances make that necessary. That is the purpose of clause 1.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

Will the Minister explain how we get around the conundrum that was raised in another place about the contrast between Birmingham and Coventry? She says that an airport can raise charges when there is a problem, but if it has no duty to monitor, how will it recognise that there is a problem? If there is no duty to monitor and a duty to charge, how do we impose the same constraints on an airport such as Coventry as those that apply to the designated airports?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

It might help my hon. Friend if I outline why a blanket duty for airports such as that proposed is not the right way forward. A problem arises due to the evidence that exists.

Imposing a uniform requirement that an airport's charges must be set by reference to noise and emissions would undercut an airport's ability to reflect its local circumstances. I emphasise that we are considering not whether airports should be able to do that, but whether we should require them all to do so in exactly the same way. Charges are not the only lever—or even, in the case of aircraft noise, the most significant one—that we will expect airport operators to use to address the impact of their operations on local people. I emphasise to hon. Members that clauses 3 and 4 will do far more than that to drive improvements in the noise climate around airports. They will enable airport operators to impose penalties for breaches of the noise control measures that they have in place, such as noise limits on departing aircraft and noise-preferential routes. The revenue raised from the penalties will have to be put towards purposes that are of benefit to the wider community around the airport.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend from the east midlands region for allowing me to make an intervention. The Minister will be aware of the long campaign to get East Midlands airport—or Nottingham East Midlands airport, as it is now unfortunately named—designated under the Civil Aviation Act 1982. She and her predecessors have declined so to do and have fallen back on the suggestion that local agreement will resolve the problems. However, East Midlands airport's 10-point plan has been imposed on local communities, and they rejected it several months ago at the independent consulting committee by 15 votes to one. What options do those communities have, unless we can require regional airports with a larger number of night-time flights than Heathrow to impose charges to reflect quota counts and noisy aircraft? Why can we not make that compulsory? The local agreement is not working.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Although I appreciate the worries about local noise that my hon. Friend and others have expressed, it is believed that the airport is fully committed to responding effectively. Several changes have taken place over the years. It is not necessarily the case that designation delivers fewer night flights or tougher controls. Additionally, NEMA has indicated that it wishes to take advantage of the powers in the Bill by taking tougher local action to protect the noise environment. The draft master plan—my hon. Friend will realise that the consultation recently closed—set out details of plans to minimise impacts and to respond to community concerns. I would not say that the specific matter before the House relates to designation, but I note my hon. Friend's concerns about NEMA. Of course, should NEMA wish to put forward a further application for designation, it will be considered properly and fully.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I have supported the efforts of David Taylor on designation, but I want to pick up what the Minister said about localities. Amendment (a) in lieu refers to

"the area in which the aerodrome is situated", while clause 1, which will itself amend section 38 of the 1982 Act, uses the phrase

"in the vicinity of the aerodrome".

No doubt those wonderful expressions make us feel deeply enthused by the Government's policing activities over airports that allow a lot of noise to happen in their vicinities, localities or areas, but what do the words precisely mean in the context of Nottingham East Midlands airport, which allows aircraft to fly in and out that affect my constituents, because although they are up to 30, 40, or 50 miles away from the airport, they are disturbed by the noise?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I appreciate the representations that the hon. and learned Gentleman makes. No collusion is intended by the use of various words. I am about to move on to the reference to the consideration of local communities, but I will be happy to get back to him if he thinks that today's debate does not address his concern. We all know the intention of what we are talking about.

A further reason why we do not accept that a blanket duty on airports is right is that the Secretary of State will be able to require an airport to fix its charges in a way that takes account of its local environmental impact. Existing section 38 of the 1982 Act gives the Secretary of State the power to direct specified aerodromes to make use of the charging power with regard to noise. That power, which will be extended to include charging by reference to emissions, is detailed in subsection (4) of proposed new section 38 of the 1982 Act. The power would be used if the introduction of noise and emissions-related charges at an airport seemed to be appropriate, yet the airport operator was unwilling to do that. I hope that that addresses the point made by my hon. Friend Alan Simpson.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire

Should an airport such as NEMA choose to exercise a charging regime—my hon. Friend has accurately said that it wishes to do so—would it remain within the Secretary of State's discretion to say that the charges specified were inadequate and to specify other charges that met the objectives of local residents concerned about noise intrusion? Does the point merely relate to the principle and methodology of establishing a charging structure, or does it go on to say whether those charges are adequate for the purpose?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The charging regime has to do a job, so it has regard to appropriateness.

Amendment (a) would qualify the power of direction. The Secretary of State would be required to have regard to the interests of people who live in the area of the airport in determining whether and how to make use of the power. Our intention in moving the amendment is to acknowledge the concern of some stakeholders that the clause does not take sufficient account of the impact of aircraft noise on people living near airports. By giving the Secretary of State a duty to consider that when deciding whether to use his power of direction, we are providing an additional safeguard for the interests of the local community around an airport.

Amendment (b) is a minor, consequential amendment which will ensure that this new provision, like the power of direction to which it relates, is devolved to the Scottish Ministers. Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 4 would affect the way in which noise and emission charges are set.

We agree that airport operators should set noise charges that are proportionate. However, International Civil Aviation Organisation guidance already states 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.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party

Is the Minister aware of the extent to which noise measurement goes on? In my constituency BAA carries out no measurement of the noise impact of Heathrow. Rather than talking about an area that the airport needs to have regard to, the Government may need to be a little more specific about how large that area should be and take account of the glide path of planes as they come in to land.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I can assure the hon. Lady that we take account of the operational noise of aircraft when we consider setting noise abatement objectives, which I know are very important to her and her constituents. I emphasise that in doing so we work towards and contribute to internationally recognised standards.

As I have already remarked, airports have been making use of the power to set noise-related charges for almost a quarter of a century. There has been no suggestion that the powers have been applied inappropriately or disproportionately during that time. We can see no justification for adding to clause 1 the requirement in the Lords amendments. Hon. Members who have expressed concerns should be in no doubt that, should there ever appear to be a problem with the charging scheme, the Secretary of State will have the power to direct an airport operator as to the manner in which its charges are to be fixed.

I ask the House to insist on its disagreement with the Lords in their amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 4, and I commend amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Government have given us something of a dilemma, because Members in all parts of the House agree that the Lords amendments are flawed. Clearly, we do not want to impose regulations on every small airport in the country. The difficulty is that they reflect the frustrations with this empty Bill felt not just in another place but among Opposition Members—and, indeed, many Government Back Benchers.

The Minister's predecessor admitted that

"the provisions in the Bill have been introduced specifically in response to some airports—I name Manchester airport in particular—that have made it clear that they seek legal clarification of the powers that they wish to use. Manchester airport may want to fix its charges by reference to aircraft noise or emissions, and it seeks the cover of legislation to do so. It intends to make use of the provisions".—[ Official Report, Standing Committee B, 5 July 2006; c. 6-7.]

In fact, when we last considered these matters on the Floor of the House, on 8 May, the then Minister admitted:

"The power to charge by reference to noise has been available to airports since 1982 and many of the larger airports already use it".—[ Hansard, 8 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 42.]

Tonight I shall be visiting Nottingham East Midlands airport with my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier. Whatever its failings in terms of night flights, and I shall be looking hard at those tonight, NEMA has for many years been charging on the basis of noise.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire 12:45, 12 October 2006

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct: NEMA has levied such charges for some time. I questioned the Minister because those charges have not produced the effects that many people would desire. The key element, therefore, is whether a Minister might intervene and say that a particular charging structure was inadequate for the purpose defined and set out criteria for determining appropriate charges.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

Indeed, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have made a very small concession in that direction. I shall come to that in a moment.

All this Bill does, in plain English, is confirm powers on noise and emissions that airports have exercised for many years.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

I do not know whether the use of the term "plain English" was an attempted pun, but we will leave that aside. When the hon. Gentleman meets airport management this evening he will hear about noise-preferential routes and track monitoring, and those initiatives are to be welcomed. The airport has attempted to establish a framework whereby noise problems can be adequately measured and penalties, wherever possible, imposed. But will he be checking on the scale of the noise encountered by people in the vicinity and the level of fines collected in recent years? If he does, he will be able to set everything in context.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

I assured the hon. Gentleman of that when I contacted him about my visit to his constituency, and I do so again.

Where has the Government's policy, without the extra measures proposed by the Lords amendments, got us? They have finally admitted that they are not going to reach the target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010, as we all knew. The Conservatives reduced CO2 emissions by 7 per cent. in their last seven years in office, but emissions are higher now than they were in 1997. The Environmental Audit Committee described Ministers as being "superficial and vague" about the environmental damage done by the Government's aviation policy.

The then Secretary of State summarised the purpose of the 2003 White Paper as follows:

"we have to balance those benefits against the serious environmental impact of air travel, particularly the growing contribution of aircraft emissions to climate change, and the significant impact that airports can have on those living nearby. That is why the Government remain committed that, over time, aviation meets the external costs that it imposes".—[ Hansard, 16 December 2003; Vol. 415, c. 1433.]

In that statement we have a perfect example of what the Select Committee meant when it referred to Ministers as being "superficial and vague". This Bill is a continuation of that policy—it is empty.

The point is that compelling airports to make charges in relation to noise and emissions would also make compulsory the purposes for which those changes were introduced—reducing noise and emissions and encouraging the take-up of more environmentally efficient aircraft. That would speed up a process that is already taking place.

The Government are being disingenuous with both the public and the airlines. In suggesting that there was no need for compulsion, the Minister's predecessor said:

"I am confident that airports will, again, make use of these provisions when appropriate, with no need for compulsion from the Government".—[ Hansard, 8 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 41.]

Much the same has been said today. Well, airports may well continue to do that. Some are doing so—after all, it is free money—but some are not. As David Taylor pointed out, charging carries no obligation for airports to monitor noise or emissions. There is no obligation to set targets, or to create and maintain any logical sliding scale to reward airlines for success. In fact, there is no obligation to measure, let alone report on, progress.

What proof is there that those charges have delivered any benefit since they started? We cannot tell whether they are working, as there is not even a requirement to provide statistics. All that the Bill will do, without amendment to beef it up—and the amendments before us are all that there is on the table—is provide a bit of cover for the airports in case lawyers from airlines make trouble for them.

The Government have made what amounts to a very small concession, which the Minister has explained. It requires the Secretary of State, should he use his powers under subsection (4), to consider the interests of people who live in the area of the aerodrome. If he were considering finally getting on with it and doing something, it is difficult to conceive of any circumstances in which he would not consider them in that context. The phrase "among other things" in the Government amendment makes a pretty worthless amendment even vaguer. However, it does at least leave open the possibility that a future Secretary of State might listen to the concerns of local people—and not just those living around airports; we should remember that flight paths extend a long way.

The Bill has ping-ponged between the Lords and the Commons several times. It is difficult to know what advice to give, because although hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that the Lords amendment is flawed—no one wants to impose such a measure on every small airport in the country—the only way of shaming the Government into the view that they ought to take serious action is to oppose the Government amendments again.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

I shall not detain the House long because, as Mr. Brazier said, we have already been round the course once or twice, and the arguments are beginning to feel as tired as I do.

I welcome the Minister's conversion to light-touch regulation for small airports—and, indeed, the apparent conversion of her Department. I would have been even more delighted if that had happened three years ago when I argued for exactly that approach to Tingwall airport in Shetland in my constituency, but at the time the Government argued that we could not be given different treatment because the airport was small, and it had to be treated exactly like every other airport in the country. If it is a genuine conversion I am delighted to welcome it, but if, as I fear, it is a conversion for the purposes of today's debate, I have some difficulty accepting it at face value.

On the application of the measure to small airports—a subject near and dear to my heart, as I spend most of my life sitting in them waiting for planes to take off—I would have thought that if charges are to be set with regard to noise and emission, the charge would be zero at a small airport where no or "de minimis" noise and emissions were caused by air traffic. That would not be a particularly difficult calculation to make. That said, the hon. Member for Canterbury says that the amendment is less than perfect, and I accept that there is some force to that. Knowing the electoral arithmetic of the House, the measure will inevitably go back to the other place. Before that takes place, there may be scope for discussion, and I hope that that discussion takes place, because I really do not want to revisit the matter in the Chamber in the next four weeks.

The question is whether what is proposed by the Government is better than what is in the Bill as presented to us by the other place. I find no suggestion that what the Government offer us is better than what the other place has sent them, flawed though it is. The simple fact is that in seeking to maintain the status quo, the Government do not answer any questions about what happens in situations such as that of Coventry and Birmingham, which has been mentioned. Coventry airport does not enforce noise and pollution controls in the way set out in the Bill, but Birmingham International airport does. I am told that as a result, many of the planes landing at Coventry airport are older, noisier and more polluting aircraft. That is not acceptable, and we ought to do something in the Bill to sort it. The Government refuse, and frankly I do not understand why.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Of course the amendments are flawed, and we do not want to impose unwarranted burdens on tiny airports. Nevertheless, certain points need to be made. The larger airports must be weaned off their apparent insistence on unlimited or lightly restricted night flights and their continuing acceptance of old, polluting aircraft. Certainly, BAA's comments suggest that environmental and social costs should be simply dismissed:

"Like the Government, BAA has not sought to calculate the external costs associated with other possible environmental impacts. This is because we believe that the external costs of the remaining impacts—biodiversity, ecology, water quality, waste, heritage, road congestion—are fully internalised within the development and operating costs of aviation through the planning system."

That demonstrates how lightly regional and national airports treat the proposals in the legislation that the Minister has introduced today. Such costs are not internalised in the planning system. If they were, there would not be so much concern about making the measure before us. The ability to create the ability to utilise noise profiles in a charging system must be compulsory.

It is a recognised fact that there is damage to health from air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide levels are a particular concern around airports, and the Government measure acceptability against EU mandatory levels for nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants. However, adverse health impacts occur at well below those high levels. If Heathrow airport expanded, the resulting extra road traffic would result in air quality standards being breached. The Department for Transport's model shows that very high road charges would be needed to keep traffic levels down to protect people's health. Let us act before that, so that we can avoid or head off that problem.

Noise pollution is associated with damage to people's health and their quality of life. Loud and persistent noise affects health, particularly at night. It affects children's and adults' concentration, deprives people of sleep and adds to stress. A Department for Transport consultation on night flights in 2003 found that more than 750,000 people were exposed to an average noise level of 55 dB or more over 24 hours, and 250,000 people were exposed to an average noise level of 48 dB or more at night. Noise levels at Heathrow are predicted to increase, which is why, even though the Bill is flawed, we ought to incorporate a requirement on airports.

If we are unwilling to designate levels under the Civil Aviation Act 1982—the Minister has stated, perfectly properly, why she agrees with her predecessors about that—and if we fall back on the mantra that local agreement is best when there are planning or environmental problems associated with an airport, what will happen when local agreement breaks down? At Nottingham East Midlands airport, it has broken down—a 10-point plan imposed by the airport has been rejected by the independent consultative committee—and now we are in limbo without an environmental framework, which is quite unsatisfying.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

What faith does the hon. Gentleman have in any local agreement being arrived at in our area, when the airport in question has neutered the independent consultative committee?

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

The hon. and learned Gentleman will be well aware that the independent consultative committee on NEMA has recently been restructured in ways that have not met with approval from three of the four groups represented in that organisation. I wonder whether the independent consultative committee is being taken seriously by the airport or by the Government. They argue vigorously that local agreement is all and say, "Let's not impose anything top down. Let's not use the big stick of airport designation. Let local people sort it out through that mechanism," but there is not a great deal of evidence that that is happening.

At East Midlands airport the ICC has repeatedly tried to encourage best practice in airport operations. It recognises the importance of the airport socially and economically, as do I, but it points out that the quota count system is needed, or the system of imposing a framework for charging for night flights above a certain volume is necessary, because the airport seems unwilling to make much progress in tackling the difficulties associated with its recent rapid growth—300,000 tonnes of freight and dedicated freight aircraft. It is the largest airport in the country in that respect.

I recognise what the Minister says about designation, but let us have some compulsion in the penalty system that is needed to curb night flights which cause so much difficulty and damage to people who live around the airport and those who live under the flight paths, as do the constituents of my neighbour, Mr. Garnier.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 1:00, 12 October 2006

I congratulate David Taylor on his hard work, not only on behalf of his constituents, which he has properly done, but on behalf of the cross-party alliance of Members of Parliament from Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire—Mr. Todd is in his place. From our different geographical perspectives, all of us have plenty to say that is not hugely favourable to the way in which the management of Nottingham East Midlands airport has treated its neighbours.

As I have said in the House on a number of occasions, I as a Conservative Member of Parliament am entirely satisfied that the Manchester Airport Group, which wholly owns the airport in my county, Leicestershire, is entitled to make a profit, to carry out its business and to do what it can to improve the facilities and other activities that go on at its airport, be it the reception and dispatch of aeroplanes or turning itself into a retail park. However, if Nottingham East Midlands airport is to have any local credibility, it should behave as a responsible neighbour.

That brings me back to the question to which I did not get an answer when I intervened on the Under-Secretary: what do we mean by neighbour? In the language of the Bill—I am sure all hon. Members agree that we must be entitled to seek precision in the language of a Bill—we are creating a regime that will allow private enterprises to impose penalties on commercial operators. In the making of the law, it behoves us to be precise in what we mean. In her remarks this afternoon the Minister used the expression "locality", the original Bill uses the expression "vicinity", and the Secretary of State's amendment in lieu uses the expression "area". I am hugely concerned that because the Government are in thrall to the aircraft industry and the airport industry, they will provide no more than a hollow Bill, as my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier said. The Bill is no more than a set of words that will achieve nothing to make sure that airports such as Nottingham East Midlands airport behave themselves.

My hon. Friend and I are going to Nottingham East Midlands airport tonight—I for the second time, at least, this year. I always get on extremely well with the managing director of the airport and with her senior management staff. They are unfailing in their courtesy and politeness, but I fail to understand why it is so difficult to extract from them information and facts.

When I last went there in August, I was told that it was not possible to extract air speeds from the machinery that monitors incoming aircraft. The aircraft are delivered by the national air traffic system from the Welwyn sector into the sector that is controlled by Nottingham East Midlands air traffic control system. We were told that the continuous descent method over my constituency and south-east Leicestershire would ensure quieter descents across my constituency. We were told that aircraft do not travel at more than 250 knots as they come into Nottingham East Midlands air traffic system.

I now have the radar details, which tell me that, by and large, aircraft are moving into the area at speeds in excess of 250 knots, and in order to cover the distance in a safe way, land and stop travelling by the end of the runway, they have to apply the air brakes, the full thrust and so on. The noise over my constituency is enormous, relative to the ambient noise in the area. The Government, the airport, its owners in Manchester, the Civil Aviation Authority and the airline operators care nothing about my constituents and their quiet enjoyment.

I have said many times to various Ministers, various officers of Nottingham East Midlands airport and others who were prepared to listen that nothing is done about it. The latest amendment adds still further imprecision to the wording of the Bill. I am becoming increasingly frustrated about the good will of the Government to do anything to look after the people who live in this country. The Government are concerned only to placate the airline and airport industries. I know that that is probably unfair, but it is the only inference I can draw from the evidence I have seen, from the conduct of the passage of the Bill and the people who appear to have influence on the Government.

I shall stop now, as I know that the hon. Member for South Derbyshire wishes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I urge the Government not to be satisfied with the use of loose language and not to hope that private enterprises such as Nottingham East Midlands airport will do anything other than let the status quo continue.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire

I shall speak about the Government amendment and ask for a clearer explanation of how it will work. Let us suppose that residents object to the charges that an airport chooses to levy because they regard them as inadequate for the purpose—they do not, for example, think that the charges clamp down hard enough on the huge Antonovs that thunder out from the airport and want the charges raised.

Presumably, under the amendment, the Secretary of State must find a way of determining whether to exercise his or her powers to vary those charges or suggest that they might be wrong. He or she will have to decide how to consult on the "interests"—I quote the amendment—of the local community. It is difficult to know what those interests might be. They might be the employment interests of local people, or their concern about noise or about environmental pollution of other kinds. They might have a wide range of concerns about the airport.

By passing an amendment that is so vague about how those interests might be interpreted and determined, the Government do themselves no great favours. They must—I hope that in the brief time available to her my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to respond to this—define a methodology, first, for defining how those interests could be determined. There would presumably be consultation with local residents. As I said, the general term "interests" is used. There is no reference to concern about a particular matter.

Secondly, there must be some methodology for determining what is a proportionate charge to levy in respect of a particular offensive act, such as causing noise or, as my neighbour Mr. Garnier mentioned, nitrogen pollution. It is not clear how those powers will work, and a challenge at judicial review is not merely likely but almost certain. Unless the Government define the processes much more clearly, they will certainly face a challenge in the courts by residents in my area.

I want to know two things. First, how will we determine what the interests of the local community might be? Secondly, how will we decide what are proportionate charges to the nuisance that is experienced?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

With the leave of the House, I am disappointed by Opposition Members' approach to the Bill; their criticisms are not true. The provisions on policing and security at airports, better consumer protection and environmental measures at airports are important to people up and down the country, and it is regrettable that the Opposition have not accepted that.

On clause 1, the Government believe that it would be disproportionate to require every single licensed aerodrome to impose noise-related and emissions charges, no matter how small or remote the aerodrome or how limited the environmental impact—I emphasise that we are not in the business of over-regulating business for no good reason.

I was interested in the points made by Mr. Brazier about the environment, which prompt the question of what specific proposals the Opposition will introduce on environmental mitigation.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

Our proposals start with restoring the night cap, a point on which the Government have finally given way.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

That point relates to our next discussion. I do not recognise the description, which is not accurate.

The best way to ensure that aviation contributes to the goal of climate stabilisation is through a well-designed emissions trading scheme. At the end of last year, European Ministers agreed with the UK Government's view that emissions trading is the best way to tackle aviation emissions. The Council of Ministers has called for the introduction of a legislative proposal before the end of 2006, and I hope that it attracts support on both sides of the House.

Mr. Carmichael discussed "aircraft noise getting worse". Although there are impacts, advances in technology have delivered quieter aircraft, and noise abatement operational processes, such as the continuous descent approach, have been developed.

Reference was made to Birmingham and Coventry airports. Coventry airport is now subject to planning agreements relating to noise control and monitoring following a planning application, which the Government have approved. To put the matter in context, it is also important to note that Coventry airport has significantly fewer flights than Birmingham—in 2004, Coventry had some 14,000 air transport movements compared with 114,000 for Birmingham.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to his local airport, and I am glad to hear that he uses it regularly. Scottish Ministers are responsible for the regulation of airports in Scotland, because the matter is executively devolved.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

The Minister is in danger of misleading the House. As she knows, the Civil Aviation Authority retains a great deal of power in relation to Scottish airports.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I repeat that the matter is executively devolved to Scottish Ministers.

If Mr. Garnier looks through the rest of the Bill, he may find comfort about what "locality" and "vicinity" mean. New section 38B states that the noise control scheme extends by default to a radius of 40 km from the centre of the longest runway, and the scheme can be specified by the Secretary of State to a maximum of 60 km from the centre of the longest runway. I hope that that assists the hon. and learned Gentleman.

I have some information that may interest the constituents of my hon. Friend Mr. Todd. If somebody were to make substantive representations to the Secretary of State on airport charges, it would be considered and, as a matter of good practice, consulted upon. We would consider local interests before deciding whether to direct an airport over fixing its charge. We would keep the process and the criteria under review, and we would need to pay attention to local circumstances.

In summary, I remind hon. Members that airports have had the power to charge for aircraft by reference to their noise for some 25 years without any need for the Government to intervene, and many larger airports already do so. Clause 1 is important, because it extends that power to allow charges to be related to aircraft emissions that affect air quality.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne 1:15, 12 October 2006

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The second set of Lords amendments, which concerns Stansted and Heathrow airports, is hugely important to people in the east and the south-east. Will the Minister crack on and allow us at least 10 minutes to debate it?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

That is not a point of order. A time has been allocated for the two matters to be discussed. I think that the Minister was drawing to the end of her remarks.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In view of the hon. and learned Gentleman's previous comments, I will not take the intervention, but I thank him for the invitation.

Clause 1 includes powers that allow the Government to require an airport to charge aircraft by reference to noise, if they think that that will help to deal with the airport's environmental impact. It explicitly requires Ministers to have regard to the interests of people who live near the airport in deciding whether and how to use those powers. Clause 1 is not the be all and end all—it is just one tool to deal with an airport's environmental impact. As I have noted, other provisions in the Bill—in particular, clauses 3 and 4—and the existing legislation are also relevant.

In conclusion, if there is ever a problem with the charging scheme, the Secretary of State will have the power to direct an airport operator as to the manner in which its charges are to be fixed.

Question put, That this House insists on its disagreement with the Lords in their amendments and proposes Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu thereof.

The House divided: Ayes 242, Noes 131.

Division number 302 Orders of the Day — Clause 1 — Aerodrome charges: noise and emissions

Aye: 242 MPs

No: 131 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.

It being after one hour after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [8 May.]

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your guidance? The answer that the Minister gave earlier and that she has also given informally appears to contradict the amendment paper. According to the amendment paper, the Government propose

"That this House does not insist on its disagreement with the Lords in their Amendment No. 5, or on Amendment 11A proposed by it in lieu, and proposes the following...

Line 1, leave out 'subsection (2)',"— on the night cap, as the Lords propose—

"and insert 'subsections (2) to (4)".

In other words, the Government appear to have conceded on the amendment paper but say that they have not. Can you offer some guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I have sufficient confidence in the procedures of this House to believe that the amendment would not appear on the amendment paper unless it were in order.