My Lords, we turn to noise for the first few amendments. Amendment No. 1 would insert "shall" into new Section 38(1) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 because large aerodrome operators should have a duty to monitor noise and to fix charges in respect of aircraft which exceed noise limits. Since we discussed this matter, I have visited Birmingham airport, which has very good noise monitoring arrangements. It has devices that measure when aircraft deviate from flight paths and it charges aircraft which do that. The money goes into a trust fund, which is distributed for the use of the local community.
However, the airspace of Birmingham airport is shared with Coventry airport. Coventry airport does not have a noise regime. Noisy aircraft use Coventry. In that case—I am sure that there are other cases around the country—there is unfair competition. One airport says to operators, "You shall obey the noise regulations"; another airport, sharing the same airspace and flying over the same towns, does not have such a regime. It, therefore, attracts older, noisier aircraft, with obviously detrimental effects on the living conditions of people who live there.
Amendment No. 2, which is in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, makes reference to the proportion of more "noise made by aircraft". This goes back to a point that I made in Grand Committee—noise does not rise proportionately. Noise is measured on a logarithmic scale, which means that it rises much more steeply than on a normal scale. An increase of a few decibels means a doubling of noise, whereas raising the fine from £100 to £200 is not necessarily proportional or the way to deal with the problem. That is also the purport of Amendment No. 5, which states:
"Charges, in relation to noise, shall be proportional to the noise emitted".
Under these small amendments, large-scale aerodrome operators must have a noise regime, which should contain penalty charges which are proportional to the noise emitted by aircraft. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment No. 2, but I support the thrust of all the amendments in the group. It is very logical that we will have a lot of discussion today on noise and penalties on the amount of noise. To give stronger reference in the legislation to noise is very important, which is why we fully support the amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on this issue, which we also covered in Committee. It has been suggested that aerodrome operators will not voluntarily use the provisions in the Bill to fix their charges by reference to noise or emissions of aircraft. The Government take a different view of that. The provisions have been brought forward to provide clear powers for airports to fix their charges by reference to aircraft emissions as well as aircraft noise. I am confident that they will make use of them.
The power to charge by reference to noise has been available to airports since 1982, and as noble Lords know, many of the larger airports already make charges: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Birmingham—mentioned by the noble Lord—Manchester, Luton, Nottingham and East Midlands all operate within these provisions. He identified an airport which does not. Within the framework of the Bill it will be possible for it to do so, and the airport will be encouraged. Further, he will recognise that he is contrasting a smaller airport with Birmingham airport, which operates twice as many flights. I do not say that air traffic for Coventry is negligible, but Birmingham is much more significant and already complies.
The policy is flexible because of the diverse nature of the operation of airports. We have over 140 licensed airports in this country and necessarily the Bill will apply to them all. That would include Tiree airport, which in 2004 accommodated only 868 flights. As anyone who has visited Tiree knows, it would be difficult to suggest that aircraft noise or emissions create an enormous problem. But Amendment No. 1 would put an absolute duty on airport operators to fix their charges with reference to aircraft noise and emissions. However, the problem is that we would then impose a heavy regulatory duty on an airport as small as Tiree and a number of others which may be a little larger, but not much. That is why I argue for the flexibility now provided in the Bill.
I recognise that noble Lords may be concerned that some airport operators might not wish to take up these powers even when local circumstances suggest that there is a strong case for them to do so, but new Section 38(4) of the 1982 Act contained in Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State the power to direct, by order and subject to negative resolution, specified aerodromes to use their powers in this clause. While I do not prejudge the position regarding Coventry—it is an instance identified by the noble Lord as a result of his visit—if the Secretary of State had a clear indication that Coventry ought to comply with these requirements but was not doing so, the power is available to make an order to insist that it does so. Airports themselves have been using the power to set noise-related charges for over 20 years. Should there be a problem, we have the reserve power.
Under normal circumstances, decisions on the charging regime should be a matter for the airport concerned. Those decisions will be closely linked to the noise control scheme set up by the airport itself to address the effects of its operations on its locality. Therefore I must emphasise that airports are all too well aware of the needs of the area in which they are situated—and this is especially true of the larger airports. They are subject to intense local pressures because of the obvious challenges that airports can present at times to the environment. They are concerned to meet local needs in this regard. That is why we leave it to them to make judgments, while holding the reserve power. The noble Lord has pressed his case again today after presenting it eloquently in Committee and he has been supported by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. However, I hope he will recognise that the Government's position is entirely reasonable.
Government Amendment No. 3 in this group is a minor, technical amendment. It may be useful if I explain it now. Clause 1 inserts a new Section 38 into the 1982 Act. Subsection (3) of the new section defines noise and emissions requirements. The amendment simply ensures that a cross-reference is made to both mentions of those requirements, in subsections (1)(d) and (2)(d), rather than solely, as at present, to subsection (1)(d). In due course, therefore, I hope that noble Lords will feel that this amendment is reasonable and will offer the Government their support. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, and he is right that we should probably have specified the airports that we wished to include. It would probably have been quite a long list. His instance of Tiree, which is obviously a tiny airport, is at one extreme of the argument. I am seeking to make the Secretary of State exercise his powers to direct specified airport authorities to fix their charges in such a manner. I am not seeking to put this into place at Tiree but at a big airport near one of the largest conurbations in the country.
Obviously, the wording of my amendment might be slightly defective, but it is important to press on the Minister that people should not get away with environmental damage when their competitors are constrained by noise regulations, and that the charges should reflect the actual problem of noise. It is a huge problem in this country, which many people bear, and to which I do not think that he has given adequate consideration. In light of his reply, I acknowledge that my amendment might be defective, and if so, I shall rely on him to come back on this issue. In the mean time, I want to ask the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 1, line 8, leave out from "in" to "by" and insert "proportion to the noise made by aircraft and"
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 2, line 29, at end insert—
"( ) The Secretary of State shall review the maximum noise limits on aircraft taking off from designated airports and shall take account of the target of reducing the perceived external noise of new aircraft by 50 per cent by 2020 compared to 2000, and shall report to Parliament in such manner as he thinks fit at regular intervals."
My Lords, this amendment is designed to give statutory force to the voluntary targets set by the United Kingdom aviation industry published in its commendable sustainable aviation policy. It would ensure that the aviation industry was held to its self-professed targets. If it is not held to them, the sustainable policy will be perceived as nothing more than a public relations stunt. The amendment is also designed to ensure that those companies that have pledged to take these important steps to achieving a substantial reduction of external aircraft noise are not disadvantaged by competition from those foreign-owned airline operators that have not made such commitments.
When we tabled these amendments in Grand Committee, the burden of the Minister's reply was that the character of air travel meant that the Government's hands were effectively tied by international laws and conventions. Until recently, all civil aviation operating in the EU had to meet Chapter 3 standards, which were agreed as far back as 1977. From this year all new aircraft must comply with Chapter 4 standards, representing a reduction of 10 decibels on Chapter 3 aircraft. Crucially, however, there is no agreed date for phasing out Chapter 3 aircraft. The benefits that can be enjoyed with the introduction of newer, significantly quieter technologies are therefore being lost because of a lack of legislative compulsion to phase out the ageing fleet.
Since aircraft are replaced on average every 20 to 35 years, we risk squandering the benefits new technology can offer to those communities adversely affected by aircraft noise because of our reluctance to insist that aircraft are subject to truly progressive targets. It is important to note that in Europe the aircraft are replaced on average only every eight years, allowing greater uptake of improved technology. That is a big difference.
The timescales provided by the International Civil Aviation Organisation do not reflect the current advance of technology. To have nearly 30 years between the start of Chapter 3 and the introduction of its successor is, frankly, ridiculous. It suggests that international standards for aircraft noise follow technological developments rather than drive them, a situation reflected in the fact that the new chapter targets are already outstripped by current improvements in aircraft technology, which are already achieving a reduction in external noise of 20 decibels. In fact, Rolls-Royce reports that modern aircraft can achieve a reduction of 18 to 24 decibels below the Chapter 3 standard. Chapter 4 requires only a 10-decibel reduction. These technological improvements demonstrate that there is a capacity to reduce noise further.
Targets should be driving the industry forward, not chasing to catch it up. Imagine what the aviation industry could achieve with real legislative compulsion. The introduction of long-term target-setting will complement what the Government are trying to achieve by sanctioning the use of noise- and emissions-related landing charges, and will drive forward technological advance in the industry. The sustainable aviation document produced by the UK aviation industry demonstrates a willingness to take on such technology, and the Government need to hold it to those standards.
To date, the industry has focused on the reduction of engine noise. That is sufficiently low that attacking noise from the airframe, which may be more challenging to reduce, is becoming as important. Current technology suggests that that target is achievable, but there is agreement that it will not be possible without radical changes to aircraft design. Further improvements in technology will therefore be harder to achieve, and will require a much stronger lead.
Without putting words into his mouth, I realise the Minister will be reluctant to accept this amendment, but I urge him to recognise its purpose. The ICAO is unlikely to introduce standards that are not already achievable, yet, without the imposition of searching targets at some level, we will not provide sufficient drive for the type of technological innovation the industry requires. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness avoided the temptation to put words into my mouth but she predicted fairly accurately what I would say.
Both with the previous amendment and with this one, I hope that noble Lords opposite are squaring these unfortunate attempts to increase regulation with the general drive to get rid of red tape and reduce regulation that we hear about so constantly from the opposition Benches when they are on a free rein. However, when it comes to a specific area, they seek to gain support for their position by increasing regulation by the Secretary of State and government in a way we have never done and do not intend to do on this occasion.
The Government use their powers under Section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to set departure noise limits on aircraft taking off from the designated airports, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted—as I mentioned in the previous debate—and those limits are already kept under review. It is our obligation to keep under review the impact of the number of flights on the ground and to bear in mind exactly what the noble Baroness says—that we need to keep up with modern technology and drive it towards providing quieter aircraft.
Changes to those limits were last announced in December 2000—just over five years ago. A further review of departure noise limits was then carried out by the Environmental Research and Consultancy Department of the Civil Aviation Authority, overseen by the Department for Transport's Aircraft Noise Monitoring Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from the designated airports' independent consultative committees. This review was published in March 2003. I do not therefore believe that this amendment would make any difference to the Government's current practice in respect of keeping the departure noise limits under constant review, as, indeed, is the Secretary of State's duty.
Amendment No. 4 also refers to the UK aviation industry's target, stated in its sustainable aviation strategy launched earlier this year, to reduce the perceived external noise of new aircraft by 50 per cent by 2020, as compared to 2000. The Government welcomed the release of the strategy, and very much hope that the industry will manage to meet it. But I do not believe that it is appropriate to make the Secretary of State responsible for policing a target adopted voluntarily by the industry, nor to give that target statutory force.
The Government continue to press for improvements in aviation technology; reduction of noise at its source is one of the four strands of the ICAO "balanced approach" to dealing with aircraft noise. As aviation technology has improved, aircraft have become quieter. The noble Baroness referred to the improvements that Rolls-Royce is effecting. But older aircraft, though their environmental performance may not be as good as the most modern aircraft, meet ICAO technical standards, and remain part of airlines' fleets. The UK is obliged under its international agreements to allow these aircraft to continue to operate in the UK.
There is a danger that the opposition amendments, which supposedly can be effected by unilateral action by the United Kingdom, are not mindful that air travel is bound by significant international obligations.
Previous administrations and the present Government have accepted that it would not be compatible with the UK's international obligations to set a daytime noise limit so low that most of the large long-haul aircraft, certificated to ICAO standards and legally entitled to operate in the UK, would not be able to operate. Similarly, the night-time and shoulder period departure noise limits must be broadly compatible with the night-flying restrictions that we set under Section 78(3).
My Lords, my noble friend strengthens my argument in his usual astute and informed way, and I am grateful for that comment, although I was hoping to let the Opposition down a little more gently. He has made an absolutely critical point.
Any new departure noise limit that limits or reduces access of aircraft to airports would be subject to directive 2002/30 on noise-related operating restrictions, which we have incorporated into UK legislation by the Aerodromes (Noise Restrictions) (Rules and Procedures) Regulations 2003. The phasing-out of older aircraft needs to take place as part of an international approach to dealing with aircraft noise. In fact, I fail to see how we can carry out these strategies without reference to international obligations. I share with the noble Baroness the objective of reducing aircraft noise. I delight with her in examples of British industry making good progress in this area. We all want to see aircraft becoming quieter. So does the industry; it is all too well aware of the pressures from localities around airports, and it is in the industry's interests to reduce aircraft noise. We are working with the grain without seeking to impose regulation, which would be a regulation too far. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for his intervention. The joy of being in opposition is that you can move amendments and get matters discussed, and that is half the purpose of the job of the Opposition. Whether anyone agrees with the amendments, they are there to be shot down if necessary, or at least to extend the debate on certain matters.
The amendment asked that the Government should take account of the target of reducing external noise and report on it from time to time. Maybe I was a bit long-winded by going through all the possibilities for new aircraft and the process and the technological improvements that there are likely to be. The amendment was asking the Government to take note of the targets and perhaps from time to time to tell Parliament how likely they thought those were to be achieved. We will discuss this more today. There is greater concern about the amount of aircraft noise, and I do not think that it behoves any of us to try to deny that. More people are living under flight paths, and larger aircraft are in use. Whether the international and European bodies will it or not, perhaps Parliament should from time to time take note of the effect on people who live under the aircraft flying into its airports. That is really what the amendment was about. Since I do not think that I am winning, I beg leave to withdraw it.
My Lords, I must return once again to the highly controversial issue of night flights. The issue was debated at some length in Grand Committee, and despite the Minister's assurances I remain unconvinced of the necessity or the wisdom of the change in the present system proposed by Clause 2(2). As noble Lords are aware, aircraft night noise is currently controlled by the combined operation of a movements limit and a noise quota system. Amending Section 78(3)(b) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 in this way would empower the Secretary of State to discontinue the association of limits on the number of night movements at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and elsewhere.
I must declare an interest as leader of Essex County Council and that Stansted airport is situated in that county. The removal of the movements limit and the reliance on the quota count system will have a devastating consequence for the millions of people who live under major airports' flight paths. The quota system is highly technical and is often incomprehensible to the people it is meant to protect. There is no official index for night noise in the UK. The noise limit is calculated by using Leq, or level equivalent, which is officially recognised during the day between 7 am and 11 pm. That fails to take account of the fact that noise has vastly different implications at night.
Level equivalent is a measure of noise energy and is worked out by averaging the noise level over a 16-hour day and expressing that as a continuous level. Its shortcomings are illustrated by the fact that a single Concorde on departure has 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.
Under the quota system, all aircraft are rated according to their noise on take-off and approach, and then banded into quota count categories that are three decibels apart on an exponential scale. A limit is then placed on the total number of points in a six-month season. I am explaining this in a technical way, because it is an important element of this issue. The fundamental conceptual flaw behind the way of regulating aircraft noise is the assumption that the degree of disturbance and/or annoyance caused by noise depends only on the level of the overall noise dose in terms of sound energy emitted.
This method is perverse, because it fails to take any account at all of the importance of how many and how frequently flights are permitted. The same total noise exposure can be achieved with a few noisy aircraft or a larger number of less noisy ones. Furthermore, whether those aircraft are bunched together or spaced at long intervals during the night period does not make any difference to the noise dose. By removing the night movements limit, the implication is that as aircraft become less noisy, more flights can be accommodated within the same noise quota. Under the quota count system, one Boeing 747, rated as QC2, could be replaced with four Boeing 777s, rated as QC0.5.
Less noise does not necessarily mean less disturbance. I repeat: less noise does not mean less disturbance. Consequently, the system is wholly inadequate for assessing the disruption of sleep caused by the impact of a relatively small number of noise events during the night. Cumulatively, those noise events may not break the noise quota, yet they may result in a person being disturbed on multiple occasions during the night.
It is imperative that we retain the movements limit on night flights. It is not only effective, but is easily understood, transparent and open to validation. Importantly it provides protection for those people who live in close proximity to airports, but not necessarily under flight paths. It protects them from the associated problems of ground noise, which the quota system alone cannot properly address.
My Lords, I can absolutely assure the noble Lord that a future Conservative government will. I want to respond a little to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in relation to something that the Minister said. Of course we believe in less regulation, but in things like noise and pollution emissions there has to be regulation. If we are to have the better environment that we all want, I am afraid that there has to be regulation to achieve that—and we have to have some different ideas and policies. Certainly, the Conservative Party under its current leader is determined to put some of those issues forward. I am putting forward some of them from the Front Bench today.
In maintaining the movements limit, we do not inhibit any possible advantages to be gained from a noise quota system. Instead, we simply ensure against its significant disadvantages. As I have argued before, the two mechanisms must be seen as complementing each other. Together they provide the most effective protection for communities living near airports or under flight paths. I beg to move.
My Lords, I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has just said. The lives of people who live around major airports, particularly the London airports, are nightly made a misery by the present limits. Any attempt by the Government to change those limits by fiddling the system—I can only describe it as that—so that the overall noise limit is averaged out and there can be more take-offs and landings during the night hours, will add to the misery of millions of people. I reiterate the noble Lord's point: it is the occasion of being woken up repeatedly that leads to a bad night's sleep, disturbed behaviour by children and, obviously, less efficient working by the people who are woken up. Also, if you have a lot more flights, you will have a lot more traffic and the noise will spread further and further.
What are these night flights for? Very few of them, I suggest, are connected with business. They are almost all for leisure travellers. Perhaps the needs of leisure travellers, or pressure from the industry, should be put beneath the quality of life with which I hope the Government are concerned. I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said. We shall wait to see the outcome of the vote on this amendment before we say anything more.
My Lords, I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, touched gently on health matters. It is known that stress can cause immune-system damage. I wonder whether, if we increase noise in a cavalier way, we will also increase the debts of the already stressed National Health Service and of the Department for Work and Pensions, as people will not be able to work because they are suffering from stress-related diseases. And so it goes on. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I should be grateful if the Minister would kindly explain the nature of the powers entrusted to the Secretary of State by Clause 2, regarding aircraft noise; as I understand it, the amendment would remove those powers. I have a local reason for asking that, as I happen to live in East Anglia, where there is nearby a large concrete runway rebuilt some 10 years ago for the United States Air Force, which no longer uses it. This is the former RAF Bentwaters. It is not a registered airport and there is no regular aviation. The site has largely been sold to nearby farmers, who use it for non-intensive agriculture; for example, the hardened aircraft shelters are now used for rearing ducks, with some success.
However, the runway is still there and is still used for occasional, unscheduled and maybe illegal flights by light aircraft, including visiting aircraft from the Netherlands. This frequently disturbs local residents—although not me, as I live some way off—who ask the planning authority what measures it is taking to limit the noise and frequency of these flights and to control the times at which they occur. The local authority says that it has no staff to monitor these local flights and that the residents should supply information—accompanied, it hopes, by a photograph—giving the aircraft number and type and the time of the event. Few citizens are able to oblige with that information.
Am I right in supposing that it would be open to the local residents, under the existing framework of the Bill, to ask the Secretary of State to use his power under Clause 2 to exercise some control over what is happening, given the lack of interest shown by the planning authority? It appears from the Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill that that may indeed be the case, but I should be grateful for confirmation. If I am right, the amendment would reduce the powers of the Secretary of State, which I should regret in this case, and I am therefore inclined to vote against its adoption.
My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who lives very near Heathrow between the two runways. That does, however, mean that I may know what I am talking about. I am not altogether sure that that normally applies to people in the Department for Transport, certainly where noise is concerned, and that is the case not only under this Government but under previous governments, too.
I am by no means convinced that aircraft will get quieter because, until now, all noise measurements have turned out to be inaccurate and I suspect that these will, too. Above all, noise measurements do not take account of the whine caused by the displacement of air, which, so far as I am concerned, is worse than the noise of the engine. Therefore, the idea that the Government can nonchalantly decide to give themselves power to multiply the number of night flights by any amount seems to me an extraordinary dereliction. As the Minister knows, there is a strong movement throughout Europe and this country to abolish night flights altogether, but this Government now want to multiply them by goodness knows how many. So I strongly support my noble friend's amendment.
My Lords, I want to ask my noble friend about a comment that he made in Committee. I believe he said that these changes, if adopted, would not come in before 2012. He went on to say that,
"the intention behind the Bill is to create the necessary flexibility to take account of new technology and changes to the position adopted by people in relation to night flying".—[Official Report, 5/12/05; col. GC 90.]
I think that other noble Lords have made similar comments. There is grave suspicion about this. Why do we need to bring in legislation if it is not needed for six years? There is grave suspicion that "flexibility" means more flights, and I urge my noble friend to think again about this. Frankly, he could bring in regulations or even another Bill in five or six years' time, when there may be a lot more understanding of the effect of noise on people. I think that it is very premature to do this now.
My Lords, I can see that the Government have a difficult balancing act here. Aviation is one of our growth industries and many jobs are involved in it, and, although we all want to be green, I do not think that people would be very happy if we saw substantial job losses. I can see why the Government want to ensure that we continue to maintain Heathrow, in particular, as our central hub. Many in Europe would be very pleased to get their hands on the flights that might be pushed their way if they could not go to Heathrow and they would be pleased to see job growth in their countries rather than in the UK. So I can see that a balance has to be struck.
I also live under the flight path and am troubled by the noise early in the morning. I declare an interest in that I am a non-executive director of National Air Traffic Services. I have an interest in this subject and on a number of occasions have asked why more flights appear to be coming in earlier these days than used to be the case. I am not sure on which side of the line we are in regard to the regulations.
The point that has been put to me is that many incoming flights are not simply holiday flights; people are flying in on business and, in particular, they are flying in from the Far East. The one thing that I know from working within NATS is that, as soon as the aircraft get close to the UK, there is a dash to be first in line to get down on to the concrete. I have long argued that there is a case for greater international co-operation to ensure that planes fly at a slower speed across continents so that they come in on schedule, rather than arriving half an hour earlier than required and having to be stacked, with all the consequential problems that that involves.
Are the Government initiating efforts to try to have greater co-operation along those lines to ensure that there are savings in fuel, by having people fly at slower speeds than they do currently? Pilots are given complete freedom to fly as fast as they wish as long as they arrive at the destination on time. Improvements could be made to avoid having more flights arriving early in the morning. I warn the Government that this issue causes a great deal of angst among the public in west London. If they do not take note of it, people will suffer as a consequence. I want to see greater efforts made by the Government to avoid the foot-in-the-door scene and even greater growth in the number of flights coming in at night in the future. Until I have heard what the Minister says, I am unsure which way to vote.
My Lords, I support the amendment. When I was Member of Parliament for the Richmond Park constituency, this was by far the biggest issue for my constituency and surrounding areas. Sometimes I wonder whether the Minister and his colleagues are just shrugging and thinking, "It's west London again, here we go: precious people, living in a precious part of London". It is very precious, but our lives are ruined by the activities at Heathrow airport. If he does not believe me, I wish he would accept my invitation—Ministers in the other place never accepted it—to spend a few nights in the constituency in the summer time with the windows open so that he can experience the situation. I can offer very comfortable accommodation, even though a little noisy, and if he is seriously disturbed in the early morning, I promise to bring him a cup of tea. How about that?
I have two more serious points. One is that I have never, ever seen a serious argument putting forward how our economy would suffer if night flights did not occur. I have never seen the figures. People bandy about the fact that it is essential for UK plc to have businessmen and tourists arriving at Heathrow at 4.30 in the morning, but I have never seen the figures to back that up. I think we need them. Secondly, some of my constituents took their case for a good night's sleep to the European Court of Human Rights and won against the British Government. Then, of course, the Government appealed with some rather spurious figures and the case was thrown out.
I beg the Minister to take this matter seriously. It affects people's well-being and, as we have heard from the noble Baroness on the Cross Benches, in many cases it affects people's health too. If they are not careful, it will affect the Government's votes.
My Lords, first, I shall deal with one or two peripheral matters. I am not sure that I can accept the noble Baroness's invitation at some undisclosed time in the summer. However, I shall certainly make it my business to be acquainted with the level of noise at Heathrow. Of course, the problems do not affect only Heathrow, precious though west Londoners are, but other parts of the country are also affected by airport noise which creates difficulties for those on the ground. In the eyes of the Government, of course, all voters are equally precious.
The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, asked me about Bentwaters. We have no role for Bentwaters as a civil aerodrome in the air transport White Paper because, as he described it, it is a marginal facility. I assure him that there is no question of Bentwaters featuring in any aspect of expansion plans for air travel.
I am afraid that the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene under Section 78 apply to designated airports, like London Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow. Other airports could be designated, but obviously Bentwaters would certainly be, if not last on the list, one of the last to be considered. So the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, must address this issue to the local planning authority and those concerned with the local environment, because it is not for the Secretary of State to intervene.
The trouble with this debate—as when we discussed this in Committee—is that it appears to make Clause 2 an exceedingly contentious provision. That reflects a disappointing level of mistrust over the Government's intentions towards this clause. A frequent accusation—it has been made again today from several parts of the House—is that the Government intend to use the amended powers immediately to introduce night flying restriction regimes—at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, later this year—on a completely different basis from that on which we consulted. It is not so. We carried out the consultation in good faith. We may not have had the direct benefit of the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, to that consultation, but her people—west Londoners—were certainly well represented. How on earth could London Heathrow play its part in this without having reference to such interests? We are not operating on a different basis from that consultation.
Of course night flights are a sensitive issue. We all recognise the threat presented by aircraft noise, and want to keep it within limits. If it is suggested that there is no reason at all for night flights, perhaps noble Lords might address that to other airports in direct competition with our major airports. Sometimes the debate is presented as though not only the United Kingdom is an island, but Heathrow also exists in an island of air travel in which any restrictions on airlines and air transport can be made without economic consequence for it. Heathrow is in competition with major European airports; I mentioned Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle, but there is also the recent enormous development in Madrid. This competitive position is not one which we can lightly influence adversely. We certainly need to take the interests of our fellow citizens who live close to airports into account, but the suggestion that it would be easy and without consequence to ban night flights from Heathrow is, I am afraid, rather facile.
My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe was right when he said that Heathrow was far from being involved in night flights simply for leisure travellers, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, suggested. By the way, I am not sure that quality of life does not have to balance reasonable tranquillity on the ground at night with the obvious demand of our travelling public, substantially increasing in number year on year, for the enjoyment of travel by air.
My Lords, I understand that, but I do not think that the British public necessarily look at the question of travel in quite these specific terms. My noble friend Lord Brooke identified that Heathrow night flights are largely business flights. In fact, the major night flights at Stansted are not leisure flights and those at Gatwick are freight. In both cases we are talking about economic considerations and not just, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, seemed to indicate, travellers bent on pleasure—and, in any case, their interests need to be taken into account.
I want to emphasise that the Government are not about the business of changing the basis on which they carried out the consultation on night flights and the development of the legislation. I think it was suggested at one stage that there is nothing in the Bill of any advantage. The Bill is needed—and my noble friend Lord Berkeley wondered why we were legislating now—because, for the benefit of the nation, we need to increase the capacity for regulation on air travel. We need a Bill at this point to take account of what we all recognise is a rapidly changing situation.
I emphasise to the House that we have listened to the representations in Committee. I cannot speak in very precise terms to my subsequent amendment without being out of order, but the House will recognise that the Government do not intend to operate these fresh provisions until 2012. That will be the burden of an amendment that I hope will commend itself to the House in due course.
It is not fair for the House to suggest that the Government are not acting in good faith with regard to what we recognise is a very important issue. Of course I understand the anxiety expressed in all parts of the House about the problems for local residents, but a limit on movements alone would be a very blunt instrument of regulation. It certainly would not control the amount of noise at night, nor could it influence the types of aircraft used at night. The louder an individual aircraft is, on the whole the greater the likelihood is that it will disturb people. I know the other calculations—the frequency of the aircraft and how long they are above the area where the noise imprint is made. But noise quotas are set alongside the present movement limits to drive the use of the quietest aircraft available. Part of the Bill's purpose is to create this essential structure so that we are able to balance the needs of those requiring air travel against people who are entitled to a good night's sleep, free from disturbance on the ground.
Setting a night restrictions regime by reference to noise alone could lead to an immense increase in the number of flights permitted, depending on how that limit was set. Equally, it could be open to the Secretary of State to use the powers available under Section 78 to set movement limits a great deal higher than their current level. In either case, the bone of contention would not be the powers themselves, but how Ministers used them. Of course it would be possible to apply for judicial review on how these powers had been exercised by Ministers. The Government intend to maintain strict controls on night flying and to set those controls by both limiting aircraft movements and setting a noise quota until such time as a different method is more appropriate. We have no view at this stage on how the criteria could readily be improved.
I have previously suggested that it would be possible to make an effective night regime which controlled noise by a noise quota alone. The quota would be set at such a level that the quietest planes available must be used to enable the number of night flights to remain the same as previously. Noise quotas can be an effective limiting factor because, in themselves, they set a ceiling on the number of flights. As the noble Baroness emphasised in debating the previous amendment, they also provide an incentive for airlines to use the quietest aircraft available. One argument that stakeholders have made in favour of movements limits and against setting night restrictions by reference to overall noise caused is the idea that it is each individual incident of an aircraft flying overhead that disturbs someone, rather than the cumulative noise over a period of time.
Our research suggests that reaction to noise is subjective. It varies greatly. Despite extensive research, there are still differing views among both those who suffer noise and the scientific community about whether a single loud noise event or the accumulation of smaller noise events creates a greater disturbance. Research has suggested that the incidence of sleep disturbance is especially associated with the loudest noise events—in particular, those that produce more than 90 decibels.
The night noise criteria that we have proposed as part of the consultation—which we are honouring—on night-flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports relates to the 90 decibel footprint of the noisiest aircraft currently operating at each airport. Such noise insulation is intended to mitigate the impact of each flight, as do the noise quota limits, by encouraging the use of quieter aircraft.
I digress from the question of noise because I want the House to recognise, as I am sure that every noble Lord does, that this is a complex and difficult area in which to regulate. The idea that it is easy to impose a blanket ban without severe consequences for both those who wish to travel and, if I may say so, the economic contribution made by the whole industry of airlines and airports to our economy is wrong. We cannot take the matter lightly. I seek to demonstrate that the Government take a balanced approach to controlling and mitigating the noise impacts of night flying at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. We do not seek to use the flexible powers immediately, nor do we believe that any future government would use them unreasonably when they are brought into force in due course. If they used them unreasonably, the Government, through the Secretary of State, would be subject to legal challenge.
However, the Government remain convinced that it is right to amend current legislation in this way. We are doing so after and in line with full consultation. The consultation involved all those interests identified today as necessary to the consideration of the issues. Once again, I emphasise that there is no intention on the part of the Government to introduce any fresh regulation before 2012, but that is the subject of a later amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and I thank all the participants in the debate, which was very good. The Minister spent a lot of time talking about a ban on night flights. Although many people would like it, my amendment was in no way suggesting a ban on night flights. I was suggesting that enough is enough; we do not want any more. No one living near an airport wants more night flights. I have met lots of people and lots of representations have been made to me. They are concerned about the numbers of flights, not always the noise factor. Obviously they are also concerned about the noise factor, but they do not want the number of night flights increased in any way. I think that I have had the most representations on that issue of any since I have held the transport portfolio. There is tremendously strong feeling about it, as has been indicated by the debate.
People will still worry, no matter when the Government bring those extra powers into force and even if they give a cast-iron guarantee that the Prime Minister will jump from the top of Westminster if they do so. I still think that people do not want the Government to have these new powers at the moment. They would rather the situation remained as it is. Let us see what happens with noise and night flights in the next few years. From my point of view, we should remove the Government's ability to have this new part of the legislation, and leave the thing as it is. I would now like to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 10, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 13. Managing the impact of airport operations, in particular the question of aircraft noise, has been at the heart of much of the debate during the passage of this Bill so far, and today has been no exception. I recognise that reconciling the needs of national and local interests is complicated, as the Minister has pointed out. However, effective management of the impact of aviation on local communities is essential to maintaining the quality of life and confidence of those living in close proximity to airports. A fundamental part of managing successfully this complex interaction is ensuring the inclusion within the process of those communities most affected.
The Bill has been criticised for its propensity to allow airport operators too much power and local people too little. In particular I remain astonished by the licence it gives airport managers to establish and operate noise and mitigation schemes. At all UK airports except Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, the airport operator is responsible for deciding what the appropriate noise levels are and then monitoring and reporting on them, in effect enabling the airport operator to act as policeman, jury and judge. Even in the case of the designated airports, despite the overarching responsibility of the Department for Transport for ensuring compliance, the actual monitoring is conducted in-house by agents of the airport operator. Consequently there is considerable mistrust among local communities in relation to the fairness, objectivity and transparency of these in-house arrangements for reporting on aircraft noise and emissions, and for the recording and handling of complaints from members of the public regarding aircraft noise and other environmental impacts.
It is no wonder that people feel frustrated and angry. In effect they are rendered powerless. The Minister referred in Committee to the existence of airport consultative committees. However, the reality is that beyond providing the facilities for consultation, the airport operator is under no legal obligation to act on or do anything about what is consulted on. The Minister has assured us that all is not as permissive as it might seem. In Grand Committee he highlighted the vast swathes of international and European law that determine the noise levels considered acceptable. The House already knows our thoughts on whether these noise levels are actually acceptable, but that is another debate. Most important, the Minister confirmed that:
"Where there are problems, efforts should certainly be made to resolve them at the local level if at all possible. This is the best level at which both to monitor and to call attention to the issues that arise. Local monitoring is best".—[Official Report, 5/12/05; col. GC76.]
This amendment is in complete accord with the Government's thinking. It seeks to strengthen the role of local communities and address their frustration and powerlessness by granting local authorities a role in monitoring and auditing the noise impact of both designated and non-designated airports. In the interests of public perception and trust, it is important that these types of initiatives are enforced with robust checks and balances to identify issues arising and to deal with them accordingly.
The proposals on noise management set out in the Bill, and the existing noise regime applicable to designated airports, identify airports as the authority best placed to manage policing and monitoring functions day-in and day-out. It is crucial that, in addition to national regulations, the potential role of the local community, which is best placed to react to local noise impact, is not overlooked. Existing arrangements at designated airports include local mechanisms such as a consultative committee and informal arrangements for periodic review, as at Stansted airport, by the local authority of the airport's flight evaluation unit. It is important for effectiveness and public trust that the interface between the airport and the local community is at a more satisfactory level. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she moved her amendment. She said that her thinking was in complete accord with the Government's—not quite, but it is a good try. If we keep working at it, I am sure that we will get unity of purpose.
Spending from designated airports' penalty schemes and non-designated airports' noise controls schemes is meant to fund projects that could add to the quality of life for the community around the airport. In making these provisions, the Bill reflects existing practice on the part of designated airports and the practice of some non-designated airports in making community donations. Where these arrangements exist, it is common to find that a community trust fund has been established to administer the grant payments, with local authorities and representatives of the airport's consultative committee generally included as trustees. It is also common practice for the consultative committee to be informed about the operation of the scheme. We think that this is a better model than the one put forward by the noble Baroness.
The noble Baroness will note my reference to local authorities, and I know how keenly she admires and advocates their role in our national life. The problem with airport consultative committees is that a burden would be imposed on them that it is not appropriate for them to undertake: specifically, the requirement in each of these amendments that the consultative committee should consent to payments made under a penalty scheme. Airport consultative committees are just that—consultative. They are not decision-making bodies, and given the wide range of interests that are represented on them, it would perhaps be unreasonable to expect them always to reach a consensus on airports' use of penalty funds.
The presence of members of an airport's consultative committee on a charitable trust set up to distribute payments received for breaches of noise controls is a different matter. If the trust has been set up for that express purpose, it becomes a decision-making body. We believe that, in practice, airports will continue to consult appropriately on the distribution of penalty scheme funds, including seeking advice from and providing information to the consultative committee, where one exists. We do not believe that it is necessary to put this requirement in the Bill, nor do we think that that is necessarily the best way to act.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in this regard the Opposition have totally misunderstood the purpose of the consultative committee, which, as he said, is to give advice? This amendment virtually gives it a veto, does it not? I think that that is entirely wrong and inconsistent with the purposes of the airport consultative committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend who, as ever, has expressed my argument more succinctly than I have managed to do. The amendment would give these bodies a power of veto, and we do not think that they are constructed in such a way as to enable them to exert such powers. In addition, not all airports have been designated for the purposes of Section 35 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. Therefore, not all airports will have a consultative committee to be involved in any noise control scheme the airport might establish. We would expect such airports, which are likely to be small, to make proportionate arrangements to ensure that their noise control scheme—including payments from penalties, which they would enjoy to a lesser degree—was reasonable and transparent. It is important to ensure that the legislation is sufficiently flexible to deal with the widely differing circumstances of British airports and the arrangements they expect to make with their local community.
This is a good shot on the part of the noble Baroness. I commend the obvious objective of having the penalty payments used for the benefit of the local community who are most directly affected by the noise and pollution that an airport inevitably produces. But as my noble friend says, we do not think that airport consultative committees can exercise a veto. What is more, no such bodies exist in many small airports.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister. He has, without blinking, responded to the amendment I did not move. That is not his fault—it is mine. I spoke to Amendment No. 10 and he, quite properly, responded to Amendment No. 8, but none of us seems to have noticed.
I thank the Minister very much for his reply to my Amendment No. 8, which was grouped with Amendment No. 13. I still think that Amendment No. 8 would have been perfectly appropriate and the local community should still benefit from the airport trust in the way it does. However, I intend to withdraw the amendment and shall not speak to Amendment No. 10, although the Minister might like to respond to it. We will all get confused and bored if I go through Amendment No. 10 again and it appears in Hansard twice. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 9:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
In section 60(3) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 (c. 16) (power to give effect to Chicago Convention and to regulate air navigation, etc.) at the end of paragraph (e) insert "avoiding areas designated as National Parks"."
My Lords, I am giving the Minister the opportunity to offer us a few words of comfort. The purpose of the amendment is to draw attention, as I did in Committee, to the way in which the tranquil areas of this country are fast disappearing. I have some maps from the Campaign to Protect Rural England to show how these areas have diminished.
I was told in Committee that there was no such legal term as "tranquil area" and that the amendment I moved then was invalid. I am seeking to preserve some areas of peace in this country from which noise is, as far as possible, excluded. The purpose of the amendment is to ask the Government to ask those authorities responsible for setting up air traffic routes that they should, as far as possible, avoid the national parks. There should be some areas of tranquillity.
My Lords, it certainly does not extend to trains or tractors. In fact, the noble Lord might agree that the increasing presence of aircraft flying over national parks is causing mounting distress. Trains have largely been accepted when they do go through national parks, while I am afraid that tractors are part of the country scene anyway, although they are not terribly noisy. But aircraft are extremely intrusive.
Will the Government ask the authorities responsible for the routes that aircraft take across the country to avoid, if they can, national parks? We are seeking not to set a prohibition but to ask that there are some areas of tranquillity in our country. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for moving his amendment so persuasively. However, it will not come as a shock to him that I am going to have to reject his amendment.
The greater part of England and Wales is covered by what is termed "controlled airspace". This contains a complex, multi-layered network of routes and airways established over many years to provide a safe and efficient flow of traffic to and from airports from ground level to the designated international UK airspace exit and entry points, as the noble Lord will know.
There are a number of factors that have to be taken into account when designing airspace. Safety of design is paramount—and we have discussed that at previous stages. I am sure we are all agreed that that must be right. Fly-ability, complexity, air traffic controller workload, and environmental matters all are considered as well. However, government policy does not preclude overflight of national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty, as it is often impractical to do so.
We understand the concern that noble Lords have expressed about protecting designated areas of the countryside from the noise and visual intrusion effects of overflying aircraft, although the aircraft noise levels will be relatively low. Section 70 of the Transport Act 2000 sets out the Civil Aviation Authority's general duties when exercising its air navigation functions, and specifies how any conflict in the application of these provisions is to be resolved. Section 70(1) makes it clear that the safe provision of air traffic services is the overriding consideration. The authority must also consider secondary issues, such as efficient use of airspace, the interests of stakeholders, environmental matters and, of course, national security objectives. In doing so, if there is a conflict in applying these considerations, the authority must apply them in the manner that it thinks is reasonable.
The Secretary of State has given directions to the authority, under Section 66(1) of the 2000 Act, in respect of all United Kingdom airspace. These are concerned with, among other things, the environmental impact of air operations, and require the authority to perform its air navigation functions in the manner that it thinks best calculated to take into account the need to reduce, control and mitigate as far as possible the environmental impacts of civil aircraft operations, and in particular the annoyance and disturbance caused to the general public arising from aircraft noise and vibration, and emissions from aircraft engines. They also require the authority to take into account the need for environmental impacts to be considered from the earliest possible stages of planning, designing, and revising airspace procedures and arrangements.
Where proposed changes to the design or provision of airspace arrangements or to the use made of them might have a significant detrimental effect on the environment, the authority must notify the Secretary of State of the likely impact and of plans to keep that impact to a minimum. Where those changes might have a significant effect on the level or distribution of noise and emissions in the vicinity of a civil aerodrome, they must also ensure that the manager of the aerodrome, its users, any local authority in the neighbourhood of the aerodrome and other organisations representing the interests of persons in the locality have been consulted.
The Secretary of State has provided guidance to the authority under Section 70 of the Transport Act on environmental objectives to be taken into account when carrying out its air navigation functions. The guidance states that changes to airspace arrangements should be made after consultation only where it is clear that an overall environmental benefit will accrue, and where airspace management considerations and the overriding need for safety allow for no practical alternative. The guidance specifically notes that overflight of national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty is not precluded. Given the sheer area that they cover, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, will know—these AONBs and national parks cover about a quarter of England and Wales—I do not see how it could be otherwise that the guidance specifically notes that overflight of national parks is not precluded.
The guidance does say, however, that the authority's director of airspace policy should, where practical, pursue policies that will help to preserve the tranquillity of the countryside. I hope the noble Lord will see that there is direction and guidance to ensure that the policies do try to preserve the tranquillity of the countryside where that does not increase significantly the environmental burdens on congested areas. As he will know, that is in line with the Government's aim of giving stronger protection to the most valued landscapes in designated national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. However, given the geographical constraints of the UK, the location of centres of population, the complex nature of the national traffic service route structure and its interrelationship with adjacent states and the associated international route structure, as well as the military training and danger areas, there is very little scope for air traffic to avoid specific areas on the ground.
In the en route phase of flight—that is, the phase outside terminal airspace—any decision to introduce deviations in routes to avoid specific areas such as the national parks, as this amendment would require, would not be an option. It would require significant additional airspace to control flight profiles, and controller workload to manage such airspace would be significantly increased, leading to reductions in capacity and some safety concerns. From an environmental perspective, the impact of avoiding areas such as the national parks would be greater because aircraft would have to change power settings and configuration to fly less straightforward routes, leading to increased fuel burn and associated emissions.
Where it is possible to avoid overflight of national parks and AONBs below 7,000 feet without adding to those environmental burdens on more densely populated areas, it clearly makes sense—and I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw—to do so. We want that to be on record. However, government policy will continue to focus on minimising overflight of more densely populated areas below this altitude. In accordance with long established government policy on national parks, we will continue to give priority to minimising the impact of aircraft noise on as many people as possible. We believe that would strike the right balance, which is what we are looking for.
I hope that explanation of the reasoning behind the Government's policy, which has been that of successive governments, will convince the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and that he will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. In tabling the amendment I was mindful of the fact that more and more aircraft are flying over national parks. The deregulation of the air market and cheaper flights have led to an increasing number of flights. I find it difficult to be convinced that the maximum effort is being made to avoid the national parks.
The noble Baroness talked about safety being paramount. Of course, we understand that safety is a very big issue. However, I cannot believe that it is impossible to route aircraft away from places such as the Brecon Beacons, which are constantly being overflown, if real effort was put into that. I would like to press the amendment and take the opinion of the House simply to underline the fact that something ought to be done about these places if they are not to become like everywhere else—noisy. For that reason, I wish to take the opinion of the House.
My Lords, before the noble Lord does so, will he help me on one small point? I think I am right in saying that there are well developed plans to have a national park covering the South Downs. The South Downs are closely adjacent to Gatwick airport. A national park that covered the South Downs—of which I am strongly in favour as it would afford protection to that very valuable area—would comprise a very long rectangle along the southern coast of Britain. It seems to me very likely that the noble Lord's amendment would put Gatwick airport out of business. Will he help me on that?
My Lords, I certainly do not know the detail of the flight paths into Gatwick. However, we should avoid flying over the national parks if we can. I am not saying that they are no-go areas. I realise that there are demands for military flying and all sorts of things. However, I think that a real effort should be made in that regard. If the South Downs are designated a national park, and that means that flights to Gatwick have to vary very slightly their approach to or take-off from Gatwick, then so be it if we want a national park which people can enjoy. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 5, line 22, at end insert—
"( ) Local authorities in whose areas the aerodrome (or any part of it) is situated are given the authority to—
(a) monitor flight and ground level airport-related noise;
(b) audit and monitor the effectiveness of noise control procedures at airports.
( ) Aerodromes are required to demonstrate—
(a) how issues highlighted by local authorities through their monitoring function have been taken into consideration; and
(b) any subsequent mitigating measures adopted; and make such responses accessible to the public."
My Lords, first, I declare interests as director of Manchester Airport Group and leader of Wigan Council. I share the noble Baroness's views that as representatives of local communities, local authorities should play a key role in the monitoring of noise around airports; but I question the necessity for this amendment, because local authorities have existing powers to play a full part in those areas if they wish to do so—particularly regarding the role of environmental health officers. One of their roles is to monitor noise at all points within a local authority area, where they believe it contributes to a nuisance to local people. Clearly that is the case in relation to this issue.
Local authorities, if they are smart, can also use the planning laws, particularly if there are plans to extend an airport—they can use Section 106 of those laws to reach agreements with airports to ensure that they can cement the relationship and have access to the airport monitoring information to make sure that they are being effective.
The amendment also does not seem fully to take into account that airports are part of their local communities and, therefore, wish to co-operate with local authorities to make sure that airport noise monitoring is effective. That is the whole purpose of the earlier clause and I do not believe that the power provided in the amendment is necessary. Certainly, in relation to airports with which I am involved—Manchester, Nottingham and East Midlands—local authorities play a full part in the monitoring processes and we have an open-door access policy to ensure that local authorities have all the information that the airport has about noise, which they can use in any way that they wish.
My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. The noble Baroness in her opening remarks on the previous amendment was wise to say that she would not move Amendment No. 10. She should have heeded that advice. As a former aviation Minister, I entirely agree that local authorities have all the powers in the world that they could exercise here—and they do. It was a long time ago, but I remember consulting with the local authorities closely and the Department for Transport does that regularly now. Personally speaking, there is no point whatever in the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly those on the Back Benches who have brought some sanity to the Front Benches when they get confused about which amendment we are discussing. My noble friend Lord Smith is well qualified to have identified the role of local authorities in relation to airports.
As he rightly said, local authorities have a role when an airport applies for planning permission in respect of developments that it wishes to undertake, where it is not of sufficient strategic importance for the Secretary of State to call it in. They have power, in such a case, to make planning permission subject to conditions, as the Secretary of State has done in imposing a cap on the number of movements at Heathrow as a condition for the construction of Terminal 5. It is also possible for airports voluntarily to enter binding agreements with a local authority. Gatwick airport did exactly that with West Sussex County Council, when it undertook in 1979 not to construct a second runway before 2019. That agreement with a local authority was of the greatest strategic significance.
Local authorities also have a statutory right to be included in the consultative arrangements made by airports designated under Section 35 of the 1982 Act, so they will have an opportunity formally to make their views known to the airport management. There is nothing to stop local authorities from carrying out whatever noise monitoring they might wish to—which was the burden of my noble friend Lord Smith's remarks—to inform their dealings with the airport in the context of their planning powers, consultative committee membership, or any other bilateral discussions.
Along with all other stakeholders, local authorities will also be able to make their views on airports' noise control policies and procedures known through the mandatory public consultation. There is the additional point that I was seeking to respond to when I thought the noble Baroness was speaking to the previous amendment—namely, that local authorities may wish to play their part in a trust that deals with payments for noise and emissions, to the benefit of the local community.
I was at one with the noble Baroness that local authorities have a proper part to play in respect of airports, but they have those opportunities and powers under existing legislation and the amendment is quite unnecessary.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and for the interventions that, once again, told me that the amendment is not necessary. It has permitted a debate on the role of people not associated with an airport in monitoring noise levels and in making their views known. The Minister has referred at length to the planning issues, but the amendment is not about that. It is about the impact that a local authority could have in making sure that the monitoring of noise was carried out and was known to the airport authority. In light of what has been said, I do not intend to pursue this further and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 11, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 12. The amendments make two minor changes to the consultation requirement that subsection (5) of new Section 38B places on the Secretary of State when he proposes to make an order specifying an area within which a non-designated airport's noise control scheme shall apply.
It has become apparent to us that although subsection (5) lists a number of specific statutory consultees—including the CAA, the operator of the airport, local authorities and organisations representing the interests of local people—the operators of aircraft that use the airport are not included in the list. The first of these amendments remedies that omission. It does so using the formulation,
Amendment No. 12 then changes the reference to organisations representing the interests of local people, so that the same formulation is used consistently—that is, that these bodies are those,
"appearing to the Secretary of State to be representative", of those interests. The effect of this provision—the requirement for the Secretary of State to consult bodies representing the interests of local people—will remain exactly the same. I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 14:
After Clause 4, insert the following new clause—
(1) The Secretary of State shall, no later than one year after this section comes into effect, make regulations under section 20(1) of the Land Compensation Act 1973 (c. 26) (sound-proofing of buildings affected by public works) imposing a duty on responsible authorities to insulate domestic and community buildings, such as schools and nurseries, hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, places of worship, libraries and other public use buildings against noise caused, or expected to be caused, by the use of aerodromes for the taking off and landing of aircraft.
(2) Such insulation should provide for internal noise environments equivalent or better than the "good" category of BS 8233 where relevant.
(3) In making provision as to the level of noise giving rise to such a duty in respect of a building or class of buildings, and the area in which a building must be situated if the duty is to arise in respect of it, the regulations must make reference to the noise attenuation of individual rooms in domestic and community buildings such as those outlined in subsection (1) above."
My amendment is similar to the one that I moved in Committee. I have taken into account many of the comments that my noble friend the Minister made in response at that stage—I will not repeat all the arguments now, your Lordships will be glad to hear. The key issue on which my noble friend focused was that these noise insulation schemes are at present voluntary. He made the point that he did not want everybody to see,
"the heavy hand of the Secretary of State".
"We wish to see specific measures adopted . . . and we need to be assured that they are fit for purpose".
That is all very fine, but he went on to say that he expected,
"aircraft operators to offer households that are subject to a high level of noise, under the 69 decibel measure, assistance with the costs".—[Official Report, 8/12/05; col. GC109.]
My question is: what happens if the operators do not do this, as some will not, if they can get away with it? Turkeys do not often vote for Christmas. I am sure that there are many responsible operators, as we have heard today, but there are one or two irresponsible ones—the same applies to airlines. Sixty-nine decibels is a long way from the World Health Organisation-recommended noise level in bedrooms of 30dBA, especially as this is a log scale, as we heard earlier. I believe that a national scheme is needed to catch the people who are not complying. For those who are complying, there is no problem, as they have already complied.
Noise affects everyone under the flight path, regardless of which airport the flights happen to be starting at. A lot of concern has been expressed in Greenwich over flights to Heathrow, which is a long way away. I have heard estimates that about 5 million people in this country are badly affected by noise. Therefore, the scheme needs to be national. It needs to be adequate and comprehensive, so that the internal noise insulation levels comply with BS 8233. It also needs to be statutory. That is what my amendment proposes—that, within a year, the Secretary of State shall bring forward regulations to meet a category of BS 8233. I do not think that that is an unreasonable request. We need a system that will help anyone who lives under a flight path, whether in Tiree—although I expect that aircraft fly over the sea there—or in Coventry. It is very sad if you live under the flight path in Coventry, where you get nothing at all, whereas at Birmingham International you can get looked after quite well, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said.
I suggest that now is the time to do this, before we start discussions about planning permission for a third runway at Heathrow or more runways at Stansted and all the other debates. Let us first try to get the existing stock of houses and community buildings insulated, so that people can live a proper life. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly on this, because my noble friend has made some useful comments. I, too, declare an interest, as campaign director for Future Heathrow, which is a campaigning organisation made up of business groups, trade unions, airlines and professional associations. The organisation is deeply concerned, as I am, about the continuing decline of Heathrow airport. Whenever we discuss these things, we need to remember that 170,000 people are either directly or indirectly dependent on Heathrow alone. Few people know that Heathrow has already been overtaken by three continental airports; at the end of March, it will also have been overtaken by Munich and, shortly after that, by Milan, Rome and Madrid, too. If anyone thinks that we can just opt out of the world as it is, they are wrong.
My noble friend is absolutely right to say that neither expansion nor modernisation should take place without a high priority being given to the environment generally. That does not just mean noise; it also means air pollution problems and looking at the whole area. The issue is this: if we let our airports stay as they are, they will decline, particularly the big ones. People who talk about their areas in this context had better look at the job consequences of that, in relation to high-tech jobs in particular, but also in relation to low-income jobs. Airports are immense generators of wealth.
My experience is that many of the people who wrote to me when I was an MP complaining about the noise of planes were the same people who said to me that flights were at times too expensive and that they were very pleased to see the arrival of the low-cost operators. That is similar to the letters one got from the people who dropped their kids off at school in their cars and then complained that there was too much traffic on the roads. We all have double views on this matter. If I was thinking of my own personal needs, having lived under the airport flight path for 30-odd years, I would close down the airport tomorrow. However, I do not think of my own personal needs and, fortunately, I do not think that the vast majority of the population does, either. I think that the public are far more sympathetic to the idea of expansion than people give them credit for. The people who write the letters on noise are not necessarily representative of the majority community, particularly given that an airport such as Heathrow provides 170,000 jobs—people are not daft.
The issue is how we can operate in a more environmentally friendly way. My noble friend has put forward an interesting measure, although I think that there are better ways of doing this. We ought to look at the long-term solution to the problem, which is a difficult one. When I look at what local authorities are doing around airports that are expanding, I see an immense variation of response. Some local authorities are extremely good and work very closely with the airport, trying to work out ways in which they can mitigate the impact of that airport on the people living immediately around it—my colleague from Manchester will know about that.
Other local authorities seem to take the view that all they have to do is try to stop the airport, as though they can stop the world and get off, and go back to a pre-industrial age. I am always amazed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, with his family background. He seems to have forgotten that in the early part of the 19th century, when trains were being developed, there was a minority of people with opinions similar to his who took the view that trains were nasty, dirty and smoky and that they carved up the countryside and should not be allowed. Fortunately, they lost the argument. People recognised that, in a country driven by the industrial revolution and scientific advance—which is what this country has been so good at—we needed to improve these things rather than stop them happening.
I suspect that the alternative to my noble friend's efforts, although I have no enormous problem with the amendment, is to start getting local authorities more effectively engaged with airports. In some cases, they are really well engaged and good discussions take place. I often wonder why we do not discuss in rather more detail whether we can move schools. Some schools which are under flight paths are in an undesirable location, for a variety of reasons. We should consider that, but it can be done only if we take a view of the airport in the whole area.
In relation to Heathrow, I have talked to some of the bigger developers, such as Arup. I think that I have mentioned on a previous occasion that Arup has just won two contracts in China to build two cities, each of 1 million people and each designed to be carbon-neutral. If our companies can do that in China—it demonstrates how fast the Chinese are jumping ahead of us—there is no reason why we cannot expect our airport operators and the local authorities working around them to develop a more strategic approach to airports which recognises their immense economic value in terms of jobs, prosperity and everything else and, at the same time, recognises that there is an impact on the people who live around them, which needs to be addressed.
My Lords, how does my noble friend imagine that the United Kingdom will ever meet its targets for carbon emissions if the course that he is proposing to the House is followed—that is, an apparently unlimited growth in demand for air travel—bearing in mind that air travel is the largest single contributor to climate change?
My Lords, it is not the largest single contributor; it is the fastest-growing contributor. The largest contributor is our homes, so if you want to close down everyone's homes, that is the way to deal with climate change. Air travel is the fastest-growing contributor and that is important, but we should look at the new aircraft that are coming along, which are 20 per cent more fuel efficient and thus more efficient in terms of emissions. But more importantly—I argued this at the Airport Operators Association conference in Bournemouth a few months ago, and we could start doing this now—we should expect airport operators to go for carbon neutrality in ground operations. They can do that, and it would fit very much with what my noble friend is saying. He talks about soundproofing, but we should be talking about ways in which we can make our buildings on and around airports more environmentally friendly, and that is not just a matter of soundproofing, as I am sure he would agree.
The alternative—I put this to my noble friend who has just intervened—is to say, "We are not going to fly in this country, even though increasingly everyone else will, and we will just close the system down". You cannot go down that road. We have to solve these problems through a combination of bearing down on climate-changing emissions of all types in all ways and, at the same time, moving the technology forward in a way that both the aircraft and engine manufacturers are working very hard to do. My view is that the airport operators are not working on this as hard as they should be, which is why I gave them that message. I also say to many people, particularly in this House, that it is a bit rich to criticise people for flying when the number of flights made by Members of this House is a lot higher than the average for the same number of the population outside. People need to be cautious about whether they are asking others to do what they themselves are not prepared to do.
I shall end on this point. I know that there is no quick fix to this problem but if we can get the local authorities in some, but not all, areas into a different frame of mind about airports and the way that they interact with airport management—and vice versa, because this is also about airport management—then we can begin to crack a lot of the problems to which my noble friend is drawing attention and quite a few others. That is how we should be viewing this matter, unless we want to opt out of the modern world.
My Lords, I totally agree with the last point made by my noble friend Lord Soley. The unfortunate part of the amendment is that it gives the impression that the people who work around airports and the unions are uncaring about the environment. That is totally false. I am the president of the British Airline Pilots Association, and when we discuss the expansion of the airports, the environment is a vital part of those discussions, as it should be. But, at the moment, the situation that prevails at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and all the British Airports Authority airports is one where the views of the local community, when expressed reasonably, and those of everyone with an interest in the airport, are heard and their views are taken into account. It should not be expressed glibly because the debate that takes place at the moment is of major consequence. I wanted to convey that viewpoint.
Of course the views of people who live under the flight path—particularly those where the flights are at a certain height—should be taken into account. The impact on them is of vital concern. But it depends on how high the aeroplanes fly; otherwise, there would be no flights whatever. So there has to be a certain reasonableness about the whole situation. So far as concerns the larger airports—I do not know what happens with the smaller ones—at the moment the airport authorities are concerned in a major way about the environment and the people who are affected.
My Lords, there has been quite a lot of debate about local authorities in the past few moments and I shall comment on that, but initially I want to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. Obviously, in relation to the airport that I know best—Stansted—there is some unease about the amount of work that will be done in the neighbourhood with the continued expansion there, and that fits in very much with the amendment. So I support the amendment.
However, in my experience, there is no way that local authorities can afford to do the work that has been suggested. The money for that has to come from the expansion of the airports or other things. Certainly, the authority that I lead is one of the largest in the country with a budget of £1.5 billion, but we would have no capacity to put money into that work. The money has to come from other areas.
My Lords, it cannot conceivably be said that I was suggesting that that should be the case. The argument is that local authorities and airports need to work more closely together than they are doing at the moment and get a shared view of the vision for the area in terms of the strategies for the airport. Frankly, the noble Lord's area is one where they should be doing more—and the noble Lord is in a position to influence that—but they do not have to pay for it in the simple sense.
My Lords, given all the other things that I do, I spend quite a lot of time talking to BAA about the expansion at Stansted. In my experience, local authorities are pretty much involved. However, I know only what is happening at Stansted, and certainly I and my colleagues are very much involved in what is happening there. I think that there is merit in the amendment and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response on it.
My Lords, I am grateful to all who have participated in this short debate. Of course, there is no doubt at all that insulation is a matter of great concern to all who live near our major airports, including Heathrow. It is only fair to point out that the noise environment around many of our airports has improved over time as new and quieter aircraft technologies have been introduced. Many people who have come to live in the vicinity of airports in recent years have done so with the knowledge of the existing noise climate. Many of those properties will have benefited from previous insulation when noise levels were higher.
I want to reassure my noble friend Lord Berkeley. In introducing the amendment, he said that he needed to know the endpoint and who has the power to ensure that airports meet their requirements. The answer is straightforward: the Secretary of State has the power to require individual airports to provide acoustic insulation using his powers under Section 79 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. In the past, he has designated both Heathrow and Gatwick airports for that purpose. So we already have precedents for effective action. That is why we have properties with good insulation in some areas close to airports.
Currently, noise insulation schemes are provided on a voluntary basis by airports, sometimes supported by local planning agreements, which is where the local authorities come in. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, indicated, many local authorities take a very close interest in their airports, as my noble friend Lord Smith indicated on the previous amendment.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Soley for broadening the debate. He takes advantage of the gentler procedures in this House to put forward a range of propositions. I am quite sure, on a similar amendment in the other place, he would have had difficulty in broadening the debate to that extent. He is right that we need to consider having greener airports and concern for the environment, which will involve partnerships with local authorities. There is also a clear requirement on airports to address these issues more effectively than they have in the past. That is the only way in which they can ever expect to achieve broad public support for any developments that they seek.
I am confident that airports will meet the Government's criteria without requiring compulsion. We have clear criteria on insulation that need to be met, and airports know what is expected of them. I can reassure my noble friend Lord Berkeley that should they fail in that respect, the Secretary of State can use, and indeed will use, statutory powers to ensure that appropriate insulation schemes are introduced.
A comprehensive set of policies is in place to deal with noise insulation for a wide range of buildings. Again, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Soley for mentioning the issue with regard to schools. Some buildings require extra attention as regards insulation so that their purposes can be fulfilled in circumstances where there is a great deal of noise above and around them. We have a power of enforcement if voluntary measures do not prove sufficient. That is why I do not believe that the proposed amendments are necessary. Although my noble friend has introduced an important aspect, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment on the basis of the assurances that I have given.
My Lords, my noble friend will recognise that in regard to insulation we are concerned about the major airports. We are not concerned about Tiree, if I can mention it once again. The designated airports—Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted—have included proposals for noise insulation schemes and we have a provisional proposal that the insulation schemes criteria should apply to non-domestic buildings where people sleep on most nights, for example, hospices, nursing homes and hospitals. We are working intensively on the issue. Perhaps the noble Lord will recognise that the airports that present this problem in the most obvious form are those on which the obligations rest. If necessary, we shall not fail to act.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his answers. They deserve detailed reading as he has given some very interesting information. I am not sure why the Government are so much against a statutory scheme, which is the crux of the debate. There is one at Chicago O'Hare airport which works well. I live in a house in Battersea, west London, which received statutory noise insulation against Channel Tunnel rail freight trains. Noble Lords might think there is an irony there. I have the installation, but if I had wanted it for noise from the air, I probably would not have received it. There is a precedent for a statutory scheme such as this, and it is something on which to reflect before Third Reading. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 15 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 and, to save time, to Amendment No. 16 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham.
I have added "airport and aerodrome premises" to,
"the health of persons on board aircraft", because health effects in an airport environment can affect anyone and not necessarily just once people have boarded an aeroplane. We need to look comprehensively at the health of all involved in and around airports. This is the simplest way of doing it. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Countess has very kindly introduced Amendment No. 16. We wish to extend the concern about health to people living in the vicinity of airports. We have discussed noise a lot of this evening and we have discussed emissions a little. We have not discussed stress much. I do not intend to do so, but I want to mention it. Stress arising from noise and lack of sleep is a concern in relation to aircraft. Furrthermore, one cannot take away from this the possibility of respiratory diseases caused by fumes from aviation fuel. It is appropriate that, as we now have a statutory requirement to consider the health of passengers on aircraft, we should consider that on a much wider front.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Countess, Lady Mar, on the radical amendment she has tabled. It is radical because no other clause refers to airports. We have this rather anachronistic term "aerodrome". However, I wonder whether it is necessary to introduce this amendment as airport operators already have responsibility for what happens on airport premises under existing health and safety and other legislation. It is unnecessary to bring in powers for the Secretary of State as well and it will lead to confusion about who is responsible for what.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on this important issue. All the requirements of Amendments Nos. 15, 17 and 18, moved by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, are covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which regulates risks to people arising from work activities in Britain. As noble Lords will be aware, it has a wide scope, imposing duties on employers and self-employed persons to protect themselves, employees and the wider public, so far as is reasonably practicable, from all the risks to health and safety that their work activity creates.
The noble Countess will be aware of the extent to which health and safety inspectors are concerned with airport management and the arrival and departure of passengers, and all those who work for their efficient progress through the airport. As my noble friend Lord Soley mentioned in the earlier amendment, we are talking about large numbers of employees and a wide range of activities, which are covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
My Lords, that is so, but there is a difficulty when the aircraft moves out of British legislative space. The House will recognise that aircraft present that difficulty on a range of issues. I wanted to emphasise that the safety of passengers on airport and aerodrome premises—which her three amendments concentrate upon—is certainly covered by this legislation.
On the points of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, there are legal requirements on us to ensure air quality standards around airports; we are governed by EU requirements on emissions standards in our ambient air, irrespective of the source of emissions. When we published our air quality strategy in January 2000, we set out health-based objectives for the eight main air pollutants, and deadlines for achieving them. The strategy identified the action required at national and international level, and the contribution that the Government, industry, transport, local authorities, business and individuals can make to improve air quality. EC limits on levels of particulate pollutants in ambient air came into effect in 2005, and will apply to nitrogen dioxide from 2010. We are committed to meeting the European standards, and are giving clear evidence of our commitment to deal with air pollution within this framework. Other factors, such as the effects of noise on human health, are the subject of continuing research. We expect airport operators to undertake appropriate health impact assessments when bringing forward any expansion plans. We have framed environmental objectives for each airport in the recent consultation on night flying restrictions, which was the subject of earlier consideration.
We are committed to taking account of the guideline values, and will do so over the 30-year time horizon of the air transport White Paper. We also support the World Health Organisation's conclusions for regular reviews and revisions to the guidelines as new scientific evidence emerges. The Government do not, therefore, believe that Clause 8 should be extended in line with this amendment. We already have policies and statutory powers in place to deal with these problems. I hope noble Lords will recognise that an important feature of airports has been identified; of that there is no question. The Government are fully aware of it, have strategies to deal with these issues and already have appropriate powers to act effectively. I therefore hope the noble Countess will withdraw her amendment.
moved Amendment No. 19:
After Clause 8, insert the following new clause—
(2) CA-OEMMAC is to have the functions conferred on it by or under this or any other Act.
(3) Schedule (CA-OEMMAC: Supplementary) makes further provision about CA-OEMMAC."
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 19, I will speak also to Amendment No. 29.
On Second Reading, and again in Committee, I detailed my concerns about the effects of air contamination incidents on aircraft pilots, cabin crew and passengers. I recognise that some of the detail was very technical and the Minister will no doubt be relieved to know that I will not repeat it. I would like to express my gratitude to him, however, for meeting me after Committee stage.
The Minister may recall that, in Committee, I asked him to give me a reasoned rebuttal of the facts I gave in my speech when I moved this amendment. As no rebuttal has been forthcoming, I must assume that he accepts the accuracy of my assertions—particularly the technical ones. The more I look at this problem, the more I understand that it is one of management. Christine Standing, in her paper The Aviation Safety System: political, organisational and personal, a copy of which the Minister has, says:
"The architecture of a system has a profound influence on the organisational processes. If, at the outset, there is an unworkable design, then this dynamic will permeate the total system and will emerge at different levels downstream where it will eventually be seen to be unworkable".
A survey conducted by BALPA and published in a leading occupational health journal showed that less than 4 per cent of contaminated air events experienced by pilots in aircraft were recorded on the CAA mandatory occurrence report database. I will not go through all the Written Answers that Ministers have given to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and myself as to the reasons for this discrepancy. They are all in Hansard. I will, however, say that they are very often contradictory and against the evidence.
I have tried to find out from pilots and cabin crew who have been affected by contaminated air events why reporting levels are so low. I am told that there is complacency among pilots that a bad smell is "normal". Because events have been occurring over many years—in fact, much longer than the phenomenon has been known to exist—the complacency has become in-bred, with new pilots asking older ones what the smell is and being told "That's normal. You get it all the time".
Although airlines deny it, there is commercial pressure exerted on pilots to operate aircraft, probably most prevalent in the low-cost sector. The consequences of reporting a defect such as a contaminated air event in the aircraft log is that it will have to be investigated before aircraft can fly again. Understandably, airlines do not have multi-million pound aircraft in reserve in case an aircraft is grounded for investigation. Consequently the flying programme will suffer.
Pilots are reliant upon airlines for information and advice. Some are wrongly being told that they only need to report, under the mandatory occurrence reporting scheme, cases where oxygen is used or when the pilots are fully incapacitated. In fact, Article 142 of the Air Navigation Order and Directive 2003/42/EC requires pilots to report all cases of,
"incapacitation of any member of the flight crew", without qualification of the extent of incapacitation. Until recently, oxygen was rarely used in contaminated air events, as pilots' checklists did not advise its use, and neither did the airlines or the CAA.
There are no onboard detection or warning systems to alert a pilot to the fact that a contaminated air event is taking place. Reliance is therefore placed upon the individual's sense of smell to detect such an event—if he has a sense of smell and if, indeed, it is characterised by smell. Repeated exposure may diminish the sense of smell and consequently reduce detection. Most importantly, a pilot's licence is only valid when it contains a valid medical certificate. If pilots were to report contamination events, they may feel vulnerable to medical examination, followed by the possible suspension of their medical certificates. With no licence there is no job—hence a reluctance to report.
All contaminated air events are safety issues as they have the potential to impact on flight safety. The European Aviation Safety Agency rules that govern the airworthiness of a plane state that each crew compartment must have enough fresh air to enable crew members to perform their duties without discomfort or fatigue; and that crew and passenger compartment air must be free from harmful or hazardous concentrations of gases or vapours.
I repeat: "free from".
These regulations are mandatory, yet the CAA chooses to distinguish between what is and what is not a safe level of contamination without any scientific evidence to confirm or rule out a contaminated air event or the extent of any contamination. Cabin or cockpit air is not routinely monitored and not once have tests been conducted during a fume event. In fact, in evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee's inquiry into air travel and health in 2000 the CAA stated:
"Air contamination would be considered to make an aircraft unairworthy if it is likely to incapacitate the aircraft's flight crew", and:
"The airworthiness design requirements are limited in their scope in addressing health effects, and are almost exclusively confined to assuring environmental conditions that would not incapacitate the persons on board due to short term health effects and preclude continued safe flying and landing".
Is there not a rather large gap between "undue discomfort or fatigue", as stated in the regulations and the CAA's interpreting them as "incapacity"?
That highlights one part of the problem. Originally the CAA and its US equivalent, the FAA, were purely commercial organisations, but, by the late 1920s, it was recognised that air safety needed to be regulated, and in this country the regulatory duties were placed on the CAA. A former inspector general of the US Department of Transportation observed that this,
"dual mission did not leap out at anyone as a glaring paradox", because,
"at its core, safety isn't cost effective".
Airline accident prevention and commercial management are polarised. Piloting an aircraft is a dangerous occupation, and it is in the aircrews' interests to promote safe practices to reduce the incidence of accidents. Managers are responsible for ensuring, among other things, the financial viability of the organisation that they serve.
Research into accidents and incidents reveal management failures that are contributory factors. Research evidence shows that when an organisation develops a "them and us" structure, attitudes become antithetical, and, if they are habitual, lead to behaviour that ignores genuine concerns; for example, managers unintentionally may regard aircrews as whiners—as indeed they were described to me just a few days ago—and fail to support them when they express concerns about their flying conditions.
As Christine Standing says in her paper:
"Where accountabilities are concerned there is full accountability for pilots whose responsibilities are enshrined in law—although they may not know what management deficits (latent failures) have been implemented before they themselves board an aircraft. They have to trust the managers. At the other end of the organisational polarity, 'management', no managers are likely to report themselves for safety deficits that impact on the work of pilots. Pilots who bring safety concerns may find their views are thought of as unhelpful—or even 'outrageous'—an attitude fostered by the polarised nature of airlines. There is a power imbalance".
In other walks of life—and we have heard from the Minister this evening—the Health and Safety Executive is responsible for health and safety at work, but, as was noted by the Science and Technology Committee in 2000,
"commercial aircraft are largely exempt from the provisions of the UK health and safety at work legislation".
There is a memorandum of understanding between the CAA and the Health and Safety Executive in order to avoid overlapping responsibilities, with the CAA having the lead. It has been noted by Graeme Henderson in his paper: Enforcement of Health and Safety on Aircraft, SPDA4 2002, that:
"There is no agency covering the health and safety of persons in aircraft when they are in flight. There appears to be a marked reluctance on the part of the CAA to take on responsibility for occupational health and safety issues which they clearly prefer to leave to HSE".
So we have a situation where there is no one body to which aircrew can turn when health and safety concerns arise. Neither the CAA nor the HSE seem willing to accept the responsibility, and Clause 8, as currently worded, will not cure the ill. My proposals for—I will use the abbreviation—OEMMAC may not be ideal, but it would provide a framework upon which to build an organisation that would be respected by all the staff employed by the airlines and the CAA, whether they be ground staff, aircrew on the ground or in the air, or passengers on the ground or in the air.
The organisation could also serve the public involved in incidents concerning aircraft. I am not talking just about contaminated air incidents—I have used those as examples because they involve a subject about which I have some knowledge. OEMMAC would deal with all occupational health and safety matters. It would be totally independent of the CAA, the airlines operators and aircraft manufacturers. I do not envisage a large staff, just an experienced and appropriately qualified group who would know where and to whom to refer people who seek their advice.
The OEMMAC would be able to advise employers and unions where working practices were not safe or engineering modifications were necessary, and, if necessary, report failures to the Health and Safety Executive for prosecution. It would also be able to propose research topics. It would have contacts with international organisations connected with the commercial airline business.
I recognise that the wording of my schedule may not be perfect, but I hope that the Minister will not ignore what I have had to say, and that he may even come up with some alternative but equally effective suggestions.
As Christine Standing said at the end of her paper:
"A total revision and integration"—
I repeat, "integration"—
"of the various disciplines and agencies as a coherent whole would improve the health and safety of aircrew".
I would add "and passengers and ground staff".
Finally, it is perhaps appropriate that just last evening our own occupational health, safety and welfare organisation sent out a notice inviting us to a seminar entitled: "If you think safety is expensive, try having an accident!". I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for the way she has raised this issue on innumerable occasions and with care and diligence. I put my name down to this particular amendment although I do not think that it is the last word, as she has said. But I would like to hear my noble friend on this issue. I hope that the Government will take the whole issue seriously. BALPA has long discussed this issue. It should not be discarded. It is a significant problem but it is not capable of an instant solution.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, has presented a powerful case, and I am sure that my noble friend—I hope at least—will take on board what she has said. My hope is that the necessary research in the United Kingdom—rather than that in the United States; although that is relevant but not wholly persuasive—should be undertaken speedily but thoroughly and also independently. It is vital that this issue is not susceptible to the criticism that the authority conducting the research is not wholly independent.
I conclude by saying that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, has done a real service by airing this concern. While I say that immediate solutions are not viable, and that the possible solution which she has put down is not necessarily the last word, I think that it is worth while the Government ensuring that this issue is properly researched as soon as possible.
My Lords, the issues to which the noble Countess, Lady Mar, has referred represent not just a betrayal of the interests of air crews and airline passengers but a disaster waiting to happen. With the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I co-signed her amendment and new schedule relating to the role and responsibilities of the CAA and the need to establish a much more robust system to monitor risks and health threats and insist on remedial action. It is time that we had that action.
Let me illustrate the severity of the problem. Last week, I received answers to a series of parliamentary Questions about the recent in-flight incidents in which BALPA, the pilots' association, had reported to me that there had been evidence of air contamination in the cockpit or passenger area. As previously there has been serious illness—both acute and chronic—among air crews, I take those very seriously.
Of the seven incidents involving the aircraft BAe 146, the Minister replied that in five cases the CAA,
"has no record of a contaminated air incident".—[ Hansard, 1/3/06; col. WA 55.]
Why not? What is so extraordinary is that I had asked about a previous incident involving a Boeing 757 and was told that the CAA had no record. Subsequently, the department and the CAA had to be reminded of that by BALPA and the Minister had to admit that,
"that was unfortunately not reported to the CAA at the time by the airline due to an administrative oversight . . . We remain satisfied with the effectiveness of this system because it enables both airlines and crews separately to report incidents to the independent regulator".—[Hansard, 16/2/06; cols. WA 87–88.]
The Government may be reassured by that, but no one else is—certainly not those in the industry. As was so well explained in the excellent examination of this issue in the Observer on
In that exposé in the Observer, several pilots whose careers had been ended when they reported illness consequent on incidents of that kind explained why. Anthony Barnett, the paper's investigations editor, spoke also to Captain B,
"an experienced passenger jet pilot", who said that,
"he is scared that if he gives any clue to his identity he will be sacked".
Those are not new problems. They have been on the Government's desk for six years to my certain knowledge. I was first alerted to them in December 1999, when I received an alarming report from Sweden that stated that on
"On the first part of a three-part trip, the cabin attendants felt strange and experienced incredible pressure. One attendant described the experience as like a 'moonwalk.' On the second leg, the discomfort returned, and the two pilots experienced it too. On the third leg, to Sturrup airport, the cabin manager realised that something was seriously wrong, went forward to the cockpit before landing and found that both pilots were wearing their oxygen masks. The captain was so near to blackout, in his words:
'feeling dizzy and groggy despite the oxygen that he had instructed the first officer to take over the controls and land the plane'".—[Hansard, Commons, 28/6/00; col. 206WH.]
Ministerial replies then and thereafter were constantly reassuring—and misleading. Self-regulation has proved dangerously inadequate. Frankly, I do not trust aircraft, engine or lubricant manufacturers, let alone the airlines, to undertake the necessary monitoring, testing and remedial action required for this continuing, very dangerous problem. The potential poachers cannot fulfil the role of effective, independent gamekeepers. The scale of the risk requires a far more robust and independent approach.
As I previously pointed out, the BAe 146 aircraft, which has so often been affected by incidents in Australia and on the Continent as well as here in the UK, is still used by the Queen's Flight. Prince Philip and Princess Anne are both reported to have complained in 2000 of unpleasant fumes on flights in such aircraft. Indeed, Members of your Lordships' House may well have flown in an official capacity in a BAe 146 and may be able to add to that sorry saga.
Representatives of pilots and air crews have prepared an 18-page dossier for submission to the chairman of the CAA on those issues. I trust that the Minister will take very seriously the collapse of confidence among responsible airline staff in the reporting regime and the consequent examination of risky incident and air causes.
I hope that the Minister will respond positively to the amendments tabled by the noble Countess. I also hope that our future exchanges will produce more informative answers. In the mean time, I have six very quick questions for him.
First, he has already referred to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. I was a Member of the other place when that Act was passed. It is quite clear that it does not apply to an aircraft in flight. Which government agency or department has full responsibility for the health and safety of airline passengers once the aircraft has left the ground and UK territory? Has that body undertaken any research or obtained medical feedback from passengers after an air contamination incident in the aircraft has been reported?
The CAA research report on the issue stated:
"Although some references are made concerning long-term health effects, the scope of this research did not include an attempt to determine the extent of any such risk".
Why, then, did the Aviation Health Working Group claim that there is no evidence to,
"suggest that there is a health risk to passengers, including infants, or crew"?
Next, how do the CAA and the Minister define the difference between incapacity of a pilot or aircrew and reduced efficiency? Next, even BAe and the lubricant manufacturers now admit that there is a potentially serious problem. Why is the research study undertaken under the auspices of BAe being kept secret? BALPA figures show that only about half of reported incidents of that sort reached the CAA—probably representing less than 5 per cent of the total that actually occur. Surely the Government must deal with that growing discrepancy.
As I mentioned earlier, one parliamentary Question that I tabled referred to the air contamination incident on Boeing 757 G-BIKI on
In the interests of safety and good health for pilots, cabin staff and passengers, we need a radical change and we need it now. I should like to be reassured by the Minister that he and his team have read the full report from the conference at Imperial College last April on contaminated air protection. That is what the amendments address. The issues are urgent. I hope that we will get action now.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate, but especially to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, who has pursued the issue with her customary diligence. I have also been grateful for her willingness to discuss these matters with me outside the Chamber, so that I could develop a full understanding of them. Whether that leads me to giving a more constructive answer, the House and she will have to judge, but I have certainly very much appreciated how she has presented the issues and her proposed solution to them.
I also greatly respect the campaign conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, both in this place and in the other place before he arrived here, on the issue. It goes without saying that the Government recognise that these are issues of the greatest importance for the industry. We are certainly concerned about any possible threat to the health of crews and passengers. That involves people's general health and what may occur to them after their careers as a crew have been completed, or to passengers who leave aircraft and subsequently feel ill; but the most important concern must be the ability of flight crew to guarantee the safety of the aircraft, because failures on that front could, as noble Lords have said, have catastrophic effects.
We do not think that the proposed new clause is the way forward. The Civil Aviation Authority and its aviation health unit carry out many of the functions proposed for the new organisation. I respect the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, about past failures of the Civil Aviation Authority in relation to one or two incidents. There have not been many, but any incidents are too many in these circumstances. As a result of the last discussion on this issue, the department has brought home to the Civil Aviation Authority the necessity of ensuring exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, seeks—namely, effective recording—because it is not right for the Civil Aviation Authority, which is concerned with the welfare and health of those on flights, not to have an effective record of when things have gone wrong or to indicate how it responds.
This Bill places a general duty on Her Majesty's Government to organise, carry out and encourage measures for safeguarding the health of persons on board aircraft. If this is not unique in the world, it certainly puts the UK Government among the leaders in promoting aviation health. We take this responsibility seriously, and we are aided in our concern by the issues identified by the noble Countess and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, in their contributions, and by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis from his specific perspective.
It goes without saying that the Government would not want air passengers or crew to be exposed to serious health risks. The issue at hand is establishing whether and to what extent any such risks exist in cabin air. The Government are not aware of this being the case, and until there is convincing evidence to the contrary, we find it difficult to justify the significant cost which the centre proposed in the amendment would impose on taxpayers. No reference has been made to the Committee on Science and Technology. It considered this issue and said:
"The absence of confirmed cases of tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate (TOCP) poisoning from cabin air and the very low levels of TOCP that would be found in even in the highly unlikely worst case of contamination from oil leaking into the air supply lead us to conclude that the concerns about significant risk to the health of airline passengers and crew are not substantiated".
That is from a greatly respected committee of this House.
Of course, I recognise that this was six years ago, and that there may be new evidence. The Department for Transport, via the Aviation Health Working Group, has arranged for the independent Committee on Toxicity—the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, sought to make a point about independence—to review any evidence which BALPA wants to produce. This process is currently under way, and BALPA presented its case to the Health Protection Agency on
The agency is doing a thorough job. Far from limiting itself to the BALPA material, it has posed questions to the CAA and to engine-oil manufacturers. We take the view that we should rely on the COT report to help us to specify any further research needs in an area where public funds have already been invested without a link between cabin air and long-term health problems being found. If, ultimately, a need is demonstrated for some kind of action, such as design changes or regulation, the Government would need evidence to convince the other EU member states to investigate. Noble Lords should remember that air transport is never an issue only for specific legislation for all sorts of obvious reasons, one of which is that a problem with an aircraft will affect more than one national carrier that uses that aircraft.
No EU member state except the United Kingdom is currently investigating this issue. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration has granted funds for research, but little has happened. The project now appears to be looking to the United Kingdom to get the fieldwork done, although that surely could not have been the original intention as we were not involved in the original scheme. We may yet participate in that project if it turns out to match our identified needs after the COT review.
I hope that I have established that this Government, beyond all other governments, are taking the issue of aviation health seriously. The current arrangements were set up in response to your Lordships' Select Committee inquiry in 2000. I might add that the Transport Committee in another place, chaired by my redoubtable honourable friend Gwyneth Dunwoody, only last month completed a thorough series of evidence sessions into the work of the Civil Aviation Authority. The committee had the advantage of seeing the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the answers that I gave, which he said were less than satisfactory in some areas, and considered all those factors, too.
During those hearings, BALPA representatives put forward their views on cabin air. However, the Transport Committee did not pursue this issue when it came to question my honourable friend the Aviation Minister. It would be a brave Member of this House, particularly a Member with experience of the other place, who would say that this was through the neglect or timidity of a Select Committee chaired by my honourable friend in the other place. I therefore conclude that serious consideration of these issues may not quite lead to the conclusions reached by the noble Countess in proposing her amendment. This is a serious issue, which we are addressing. We do not think that establishing a new organisation of the sort suggested in this amendment is warranted.
I have a little note in my hand saying that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked me six quick questions. I have listed them: they are not quick, they are not easy, and I shall not be able to answer them in such a short time. I am sure that the noble Lord will forgive me for that. He asked who was responsible for the safety of passengers and crew. The Department for Transport is responsible. We are responsible for aircraft flying under UK auspices and from UK airports, and we will not renege on that responsibility. On the specific cases which the noble Lord mentioned, he will have to forgive me if, in this general debate, I cannot reply to him in detail now.
I congratulate again the noble Countess on her pursuit of a very serious issue, which we take very seriously. Her contribution to this debate is of great importance, as is that of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. We do not, however, think that the proposed solution in this amendment is the way forward. I hope she will recognise that we are tackling the issue seriously and respect her views, and that she will be prepared to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, the Minister called in aid the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee report. Need I remind him that it did not say that there was no problem over contaminated air and that it recommended that air quality in cabins and cockpits should be regularly monitored? It is now six years later and no such monitoring has taken place. The big problem is that there is a conflict, which I have tried to highlight, between the "them" and the "us". There is a perception that the CAA, the aircraft manufacturers and the airline operators are in league—for want of another word—because they are there to make a profit. They have to keep aeroplanes flying and will do it at any cost. That cost, unfortunately, has been the livelihood of quite a number of pilots, if not their lives. We cannot know how many pilots have lost their lives because of that: there is no record of the air quality at the time an air crash described as "pilot error" takes place. How can we know?
I do not want to be a doom monger, but I am not happy with the noble Lord's response. I would like to test the feeling of the House.
My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.32 pm.
Perhaps I may also point out that the limit for Back-Bench contributions on the Unstarred Question is seven minutes, not the eight minutes that was previously stated.