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My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendment and reason be now considered.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The page and line references are to HL Bill 21 as first printed for the Lords.]
1 Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out "may" and insert "shall"
2 Page 1, line 8, leave out from "in" to "by" and insert "proportion to the noise made by aircraft and"
4 Page 2, line 31, at end insert—
"( ) Charges, in relation to noise, shall be proportional to the noise emitted."
The Commons disagree to these amendments for the following reason—
Because it is not appropriate to require aerodrome authorities to fix their charges in the manner proposed
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 4, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reasons 1A, 2A and 4A.
As I am sure the House will recall, Amendment No. 1 was moved in the belief, which I readily accept is shared by others in this House and indeed in another place, that aerodrome operators would not voluntarily make use of the provisions in the Bill to fix their charges by reference to noise or emissions of aircraft. During proceedings both in this House and in another place the Government have gone to some lengths to explain why they view the situation in a very different light. Although the Government have of course considered most carefully the arguments that have been put forward, I regret that I cannot see a case for imposing a duty on more than140 licensed aerodromes to introduce noise or emission-related charges for all aircraft. Noble Lords will be aware that aerodromes can range in size from London Heathrow to a tiny airport in the Orkneys and Shetland Isles which has very few aircraft movements in any one day. Yet the effect of this legislation would impact on all aerodromes irrespective of their size.
As noble Lords will recall from earlier debates, the power to charge by reference to noise has been available to airports for almost 25 years and many of our larger airports have regard to noise when setting their charges. But one of the key elements of our policy on aircraft noise is that, wherever possible, local controls are the best way to manage the local environmental impact of aviation. Imposing a blanket requirement that an airport's charges must be set by reference to noise and emissions would undermine airports' ability to reflect their own local circumstances.
I want to assure the House, once again, that the voluntary approach does not mean that the Government are powerless if an airport were to disregard its responsibilities. The existing Section 38 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982—which was passed, of course, by a previous Administration—already gives the Secretary of State the power to direct specified aerodromes to make use of the charging power as regards noise. This power is to be found—it is now, of course, extended to cover charging by reference to emissions as well—in subsection (4) of new Section 38. No Government, of whatever political complexion, have found it necessary to use this power to date but I can assure the House that if it appeared to Ministers that it would be appropriate to make use of this power to deal with the noise and emissions-related charging practices, or lack of them, of any airport, that is a step that we would take, just as we have said that if there is evidence that a major noise problem at a non-designated airport is not being dealt with adequately through local controls, we will consider designating it for the purposes of Section 78 of the 1982 Act. The House will recognise that, at present, the designated airports are the three London ones of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, but we have the power to bring other airports within the same framework of designation if it should prove to be necessary.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Both of us know from our time in the Department for Transport that, for example, Heathrow has ignored the complaints about noise of those who live in the penumbra of the airport, especially noise relating to the early landing of flights. Given the knowledge that he and I have just shared with the House, what makes him think that local control with respect to noise is actually working?
My Lords, Heathrow needs to take its local environment very seriously, particularly in an age when the issue of emissions as well as noise comes very much to the fore. It will be recognised, for instance, that any debate which obtains with regard to expansion at Heathrow and which brings in local pressures about the use of the airport is very much part of the public debate on whether there should be an extension of facilities. This issue, of course, obtains to our other airports, of which Stansted has the most immediate expansion plans.
A balance must be struck between emissions, noise and other unattractive features of airports and the need for some expansion. We cannot deny the obvious fact that our fellow citizens greatly value air flights. In fact, it may even be that many noble Lords from time to time avail themselves of aircraft—and I am afraid that aircraft only fly from airports. I will give way again to the noble Lord, of course.
My Lords, again I am grateful to the Minister and I apologise if I am testing his patience. I am one of those who share his view that expansion needs to take place, but perhaps I may take him back to my question: given the experience at Heathrow, what makes him think that local control actually works?
My Lords, of course there are bound to be pressures with the expansion of airports. It is bound to create circumstances where additional flights occur, and it cannot be the case that in the locality this is greatly welcomed. But it is expected that airports act responsibly; that they work within the environment of their local consultative committees on which local people are represented; and that proceeds from charges can and do go to improve facilities in their locality.
I want to emphasise the obvious point. Of course there will always be challenges to any form of airport expansion. A balance must be struck. I want to assure the House that we have in place existing powers to guarantee that airports face up to their responsibilities. If they should renege on these responsibilities, this Administration have been in power for almost a decade, and the noble Lord will recognise, as he mentioned in his question, that we and Ministers from the previous Administration have faced up to these issues of airport expansion. A balance must be struck between the problems for the local environment and the need to provide greater scope for air travel. I am merely indicating that neither the previous Administration nor this one have felt the need to use the powers that we have under Section 78 because we find airports all too well aware of the fact that they will not see through their expansion plans unless they take an element of the locality with them.
My Lords, would my noble friend say something about the international response to noise? How are the Government going about this situation? It is no good taking action against Heathrow or any other BAA airports unless some sort of international initiative is forthcoming. That is very important.
My Lords, of course my noble friend is absolutely right. This Government's responsibility is to localities in which the airports are located. I must emphasise that we are dealing with Commons amendments at a fairly late stage of this Bill, and it is not for me to reopen or participate in a debate on airports policy at the present time. But to make the most obvious point, United Kingdom airports are not just in competition with each other; for Heathrow and the other London airports, the great challenges come from European airports. If we do not make adequate provision for flights from this country, the number of flights will not be reduced because aircraft will merely take off from Schiphol and other airports on the Continent without any enormous gain to our people.
My Lords, the Minister would not expect to get away with his comments on airports reneging on their responsibilities without me making some comment. The airports have always reneged on their responsibilities in my experience, whether it be noise, nuisance created to the local community, or the number of flights, aircraft emissions, or the frozen effluent that used to drop and still does drop on my constituents in the Richmond Park area—when I was their Member of Parliament. They have never taken these issues seriously and have not kept promises given to the local residents that there would be no more expansion at Heathrow. It is about time that, instead of uttering the same old stuff about reneging on responsibilities and consulting with the local community, the Government actually took residents seriously and said that we cannot go on with this demand for increased air travel without considering local people and the environment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will recognise that that is the Second Reading speech. If she were in the other place it would be defined as such, and at this stage in a Bill it would be ruled out of order. Today we are discussing a very late stage of the Bill; we are not at the Second Reading stage with regard to airports policy. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to allow me to concentrate on the specific issues before us today under the Commons amendments.
Charges are not the only lever—or even in the case of aircraft noise, the most significant one—that we will expect aircraft operators to use to address the impact of their operations on local people. The provisions of Clauses 3 and 4 of this Bill can do far more to drive improvements in the noise climate around airports. They will enable the operators of designated airports to charge penalties for breaches of the noise control measures the Secretary of State specifies. That is the impact of Clause 3. Clause 4 will empower the operators of non-designated airports to set up noise control schemes and to charge penalties for breaches. Of course, the revenue raised from those penalties will then be put to the benefit to the wider community.
I would argue that it simply would not be appropriate to impose a legal duty on all licensed aerodromes to impose noise-related charges. Such a move would be entirely disproportionate when many of these aerodromes are small in size and cause little or no significant disturbance. Indeed this would run contrary to the International Civil Aviation Organisation's guidance that noise-related charges should be levied only at airports experiencing noise problems. I would also remind the House of the Government's policy to do all they can to avoid unnecessary regulation.
The essential aim of Clause 1 is to provide clear statutory powers for airports to fix their charges by reference to aircraft emissions as well as noise. In fact the British Airports Authority already has an emissions-related charge at Heathrow and Gatwick—using its conditions of use—but the Government believe that it is important that there are clear powers for all licensed aerodromes to do so, should their local circumstances make it necessary.
As in the case of noise, there is not a case for imposing an obligation on all licensed aerodromes to impose an emissions-related charge. Given that the vast majority of aerodromes are not at risk of breaching air quality limits, it would be totally unjustified to impose such a widespread burden.
My Lords, as my noble friend knows, I held particular responsibility for aviation between 1974-79. During the whole of that time and subsequently, the Government and the Opposition did not raise a cheep about this. Does the Minister agree? The first time that this situation has emerged is with the present Opposition.
My Lords, my noble friend has greater powers of recollection than I and was more directly involved in these issues. The House will recognise that he is an authority on these matters and I am sure that what he says is broadly true. However, we made a promise in The Future of Air Transport White Paper to bring forward legislation enabling the Secretary of State to require an emissions-related element to be introduced, which is exactly what this Bill does.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 would, as I am sure noble Lords will recall, affect the way in which noise and emission charges should be set. The Government of course agree that it is entirely reasonable to expect airport operators to set appropriate noise charges. Again, not to do so would be at odds with ICAO guidance that noise related charges should be non-discriminatory between users and should not be established at such levels as to be prohibitively high for the operation of certain aircraft.
The Government are unconvinced that this is something that needs to be placed in the Bill. I can only repeat that airports have been making use of the power to set noise-related charges for nearly 25 years and there has been no suggestion that they have not done so in an appropriate or proportionate way. I recognise that there will be some disappointment among some noble Lords at the Government's position. I appreciate the particular interest that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, takes in these measures, given her former relationship to a constituency so close to London Heathrow.
Let me make it absolutely clear that should there ever appear to be a problem with the charging scheme, the Secretary of State has the power to direct an airport operator as to the manner in which the charges are to be fixed. It is not a question of powers and legislation but of choice with regard to policy. We will continually debate policy with regard to airports; they are destined always to be a controversial issue. However, we are discussing today an amendment to legislation, and I do not believe that noble Lords should sustain their position on their amendments. I beg to move.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 4 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reasons 1A, 2A and 4A.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
My Lords, in moving Motion A1, I notice that I have already gathered some support. I apologise for the fact that this is a manuscript Motion, which others may not have seen already. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, who, after vigorous performances in the early stages of the Bill, cannot be with us today. However, he is recovering well and we all look forward to his being back in his place. In the mean time, your Lordships will have to put up with me.
We believe that airports, particularly large and medium-sized airports, must have a noise and air pollution regime in place at all times and a charging scheme that reflects the performance and efficiency of each individual aircraft. We believe that the Government's plan to allow airports to have such a scheme on a voluntary basis for now is not responsible in terms of the reduction of pollution. While we recognise that air travel is popular and that the demand for it is growing, there is no doubt that every effort needs to be made to reduce noise and atmospheric pollution at airports. I should declare an interest: yes, I flew here yesterday and, yes, I will fly back to Scotland tomorrow.
Only by having landing charges that reflect aircraft efficiency will there be any real incentive for aircraft operators to improve their aircraft and hence reduce pollution in the vicinity of airports. The Government's proposal would make the use of inefficient aircraft more attractive and would lead to newer airports not being obliged to have a noise and air pollution charging regime. While that would enable the airport to develop its business more easily, it would increase the amount of pollution in the immediate locality of the airport and, of course, globally. This charging regime should be implemented at all but the smallest scheduled airports. We would exclude remote places such as Traigh Mhor beach in Barra, Tiree and Machrihanish.
We have had no assurance from the Government that they have understood that noise is measured on a logarithmic scale, about which my noble friend Lord Bradshaw was eloquent during earlier stages of the Bill. Hence, we believe that charges should reflect the level of aircraft noise, because the gradations are very substantial. We do not accept the Commons reasons because they have not said why we are wrong. They have merely said that they disagree. I beg to move.
My Lords, we support this amendment. Every effort should be made to reduce and control noise. We feel that the Government still did not offer enough in recent debates; this amendment has been returned from the Commons so we will be supporting the Liberal Democrats in this case.
My Lords, I have already indicated my interest in this matter. I also ought to say that I am president of the British Air Line Pilots Association.
There is no evidence whatever to support the claim that has just been made that aircraft owners have a vested interest in inefficient aircraft. We have had plenty of experience of that significant issue, and no evidence to support that view has been forthcoming from the Liberal Democrats. I challenge the noble Earl to give us some evidence that the British Airports Authority ignores complaints that are made. Every single complaint made by people around the airport is taken notice of and acted on. That is the purpose of the committees to which my noble friend referred.
It is very strange that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Opposition seem wedded to the idea of compulsion. Since when? The Liberal Democrats did not utter one word about compulsion beforehand, and I cannot recall the Conservatives doing so either. As my noble friend has said, measures to reduce environmental impact, as far as aircraft noise is concerned, have been available to airports on a voluntary basis for nearly a quarter of a century. The airports deal with it. They are aware that there is a problem. That is hardly surprising, because the voices of the people living around or near the airport are often heard, and rightly so. The local authorities are concerned about this issue as well, as they should be. It is no answer, however, to attack the airport authority willy-nilly for ignoring the protestations that are made.
In my intervention, I sought to address the issue of international action where that is necessary. As my noble friend has said, all the BAA airports have used the power on a voluntary basis. Airport noise has to be considered. I can see no evidence for departing from that situation at the present moment. It is not as if somehow or other the airport authorities are oblivious to the case that is often made. It is in the interests of people around the airport and all those employed at the airport that these issues should be ventilated, but in a proper way.
The Bill extends the situation to which I have referred regarding aircraft noise to aircraft emissions as well. Why should we now insist on government compulsion? I find the Opposition's arguments on this wholly unconvincing. My noble friend has also referred to the powers in new Section 38(4) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which we are also likely to have before us shortly. In my view there is absolutely no evidence to support the conclusion that the Liberal Democrats, supported by the Conservatives, now seek to reach.
My Lords, I am sorry to have to say to my noble friend that the opposition to this measure does not come only from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. There are also some people on this side of the House who have doubts about whether the Government are on the right track with this issue. However, I shall seek not to stray into Second Reading territory. I simply ask whether the Minister recognises that, notwithstanding the points that he made about the necessity for acting proportionately and for having balance in the argument, which I accept, the amount of research and information on the impact of noise pollution is growing at quite a rate. Nowadays, it is rare to go for a week, or sometimes a day, without seeing further evidence emerging of the damaging impact on individuals, the environment and communities of noise and carbon emission pollution.
Therefore, I respectfully ask the Minister whether he recognises that it may not be a bad idea at this stage, given the rate at which our knowledge of these issues and awareness of the dangers that we face are growing, to have a little more strength in the way in which the regulation is effected with the airport owners than we have had in the past. I submit that it is not enough to say, "It has worked for 25 years, so why change it?". There are reasons why we need to take this matter more seriously than we have done before. There is good reason to suppose that a little more toughness might not go amiss at this stage.
My Lords, I, too, have concerns about where we are with this Bill. I do not believe that local controls are generally working. Is that surprising, given that many airports are in competition with each other? Some are owned by local authorities and create jobs, so they would have to be very strong willed to implement controls that can be seen to affect jobs and competitiveness. The fact that this has not happened for a long time indicates where the airports' priorities are. Therefore, I have concerns about voluntary schemes.
I remind my noble friend that air is also in competition with other modes of transport, such as road and rail, for which the Government seem happy to set ground rules and guidelines as to how competition should work. Those rules also cover environmental protection for road and rail, to try to keep a level playing field within the mode and in relation to costs. Given that in the Bill the Government have provided for variable charges for aerodromes based on noise and emissions, I fail to see why this cannot be made compulsory, as the opposition parties are suggesting.
I have one last point. My noble friend said that there are lots of airports in this country that do not produce much noise or pollution, which is true, but I presume that, for a small airport with little pollution, the environmental and pollution charges are lower, so I would have thought that these things would come out in the wash. I do not think that this voluntary scheme is working at the moment, so I believe that there is a lot of merit in the amendment.
My Lords, I can say to my noble friend who has just spoken that small charges are still charges; if the charges are there, they discriminate against that airport compared with airports that impose no charges at all.
Any Government would be extremely wary about additional regulations that put an extra impost on an aerodrome where there is no justification for it. Noble Lords on all sides of the House are under constant pressure to limit regulation; indeed, there is a Bill before the House that deals with these issues. Yet the moment a matter like this becomes of public concern and action is needed, but where it is clear that the Government have the power to deal with it, we have calls to impose additional regulation and to make additions to the Bill that cannot be justified.
Of course, I recognise that aircraft produce emissions and emit noise, but my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis is absolutely right: does anybody think that there is not pressure on aircraft manufacturers to reduce noise and emission levels? Why is it that even the largest aircraft that the world has ever seen, the A380, which is coming into service, is quieter and does less damage to the environment than many of its predecessors? That is a reflection of the fact that aircraft manufacturers are all too well aware of the pressure on airports to control these matters. Charges are in place for the major airports. We have reached this position on the basis of considerable experience of operating past legislation, and this Bill strengthens the position.
If I did not know my noble friend Lady McIntosh so well, I would not have known which airport she was speaking about. I imagine that it is probably Stansted. My noble friend plays a very prominent role in asking the right questions of that airport when it contemplates expansion. Stansted is a designated airport under the Secretary of State's powers. The amendment that the Liberal Democrats are putting forward has no impact on that position at all. Of course, that is not to say that—
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to say that, while I, of course, accept that I have a special interest in Stansted, I do not limit my interest to my own backyard.
My Lords, I stand chided. I would never for one moment want to suggest that my noble friend did not have a breadth of interest. I have no doubt at all that in her altruistic way she will spread her message as widely as she can. But given that she has had experience of these issues in relation to Stansted, I merely say that we already have the relevant powers. The designation powers are already operated by the Secretary of State. It is quite clear that the great controversy which surrounds the expansion of Stansted airport is a reflection of a great deal of local involvement. Anybody who suggests that the local community was a pushover as regards expansion has never heard either my noble friend or, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in other guises outside the House when they have contested these proposals.
I maintain that what we are debating here is not the general issue of airport policy or a Second Reading of a Bill in which anything goes, but whether this legislation is—I almost made a slip of the tongue and said "fit for purpose"—appropriate and meets the requirements for regulating airports. Clearly, the Liberal Democrat amendment adds nothing to the powers that the Government already enjoy and, indeed, use.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part and, indeed, the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, threw out a challenge about inefficient aircraft. My response to him is that, under the Government's proposals, there is more chance of inefficient and hence more polluting aircraft being used than under the amendment that we are discussing. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, for her support. I agree that we should take this issue more seriously. I was amused to think that she is a NISEBY, which means "not in somebody else's backyard".
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was to my mind certainly right when he said that a voluntary scheme becomes a form of self-denying ordinance, particularly on a new airport. He also raised the issue of economics versus pollution. I agree that if we are serious, for example about rail substitution for domestic airlines, then this amendment will definitely help.
At the end of the day, this amendment is an argument about "may" and "shall". I cannot see terribly much compromise between the two and I think that the House will be quite glad to know that I wish to test its opinion.
Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.
On Question, Motion A, as amended, agreed to.
5 Clause 2, page 2, line 41, leave out subsection (2)
11 Clause 13, page 12, line 25, at end insert—
"( ) But an order under subsection (2) may not provide for subsections (2) and (3) of section 2 to come into force before 1st June 2012."
11A The Commons disagree to Lords Amendments Nos. 5 and 11, but propose Amendment No. 11A in lieu—
Page 12, line 25, at end insert—
"(3A) But an order under subsection (2) may not provide for subsections (2) to (4) of section 2 to come into force before 1st June 2012."
We have covered this ground many times during our debates on the Bill. I shall therefore be brief. As the House will recall, Clause 2 makes amendments to Section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. That section enables the Secretary of State to take steps to limit or mitigate the effect of noise and vibration connected with the taking off or landing of aircraft at designated airports. The current legislation—Section 78(3) of the 1982 Act—does not require operating restrictions. If partial restrictions are set for this purpose, they must be in the form of a numerical limit on movements by aircraft of the types that it is intended to restrict. At present, the night flying restrictions at the designated airports—Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted—comprise a numerical movements limit and a noise quota set for each summer and winter season. The noise quota is a supplementary measure designed to encourage the use of quieter aircraft. That is the structure of the regime that will apply at those airports from October 2006 to October 2012, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced on
In the White Paper, The Future of Air Transport, which was published following consultation on our long-standing aircraft noise ban, the Government said that they would amend the current legislation so that operating restrictions could in future be set on a different basis—for example, one more directly related to the noise nuisance caused. That is exactly what Clause 2 set out to achieve. Amendment No. 5 removed subsection 2 of that clause and removed the requirement on the Secretary of State to set a movements limit as part of any operating restriction limiting aircraft noise at a designated airport. The Secretary of State would not be prevented from continuing to set movement limits, but could consider additional alternatives; for instance if they proved a more effective incentive to use quieter aircraft.
In proposing Clause 2 we were not seeking to reduce restrictions. We were seeking to make the restrictions more appropriate to the challenge that we face. The Secretary of State could, for example, impose a restriction in the form of noise quotas or a limiting noise contour area without specifying a maximum number of movements. I emphasise that our intention in bringing forward Clause 2 was not, and never has been, to prevent Governments setting stringent controls on night flying at airports.
It has been suggested by opposition parties that we are seeking to remove a statutory cap on movements. As I mentioned, the legislation does not impose an obligation to set operating restrictions. It is therefore misleading and inaccurate to suggest that we are planning to remove any restrictions. The suggestion that the Government intend to relax restrictions must be seen in the context of our recent announcement on night flights at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, which did not provide for any relaxation of current limits and tightened a number of controls. The Government intend to act over the next six years without any suggestion of relaxation. That demonstrates our commitment to the effective management of noise impacts.
We do not think that the Opposition have any basis on which to sustain the claim, voiced on a number of occasions, that we are manoeuvring to allow a significant increase in night flights. I hope the announcement on
We understand the value of movement limits to residents presently around the designated airports. That is why we have announced that they should continue to be set as part of the next regime. But movement limits alone are a pretty blunt instrument, as they would not directly control the amount of noise permitted at night. Neither could they affect the types of aircraft used at night, because as long as the aircraft meet the numbers, it is immaterial what kind of aircraft they are. That is why noise quotas are set alongside the movement limits at present to drive the use of the quietest aircraft available. That is why we are concerned to emphasise that part of the policy.
My Lords, the Government certainly take pride in the initiative that they are taking internationally. As the whole House will recognise, there is a limit to what UK legislation can achieve regarding travel that is intrinsically international. As I mentioned in our previous debate, our major airports are in competition not only with each other but with airports in Europe. International action is what is required, and I am glad to take the point that my noble friend has made.
It will be for a future Secretary of State to consider any changes to the basis on which night-flying restrictions are set after October 2012 and, in doing so, to choose to make use of the more flexible provisions that we are seeking to bring in. Any changes that we propose as a result will of course be subject to the fullest public consultation, and the eventual decisions on both the structure of the regime and the actual limit set will need to win public support and be reasonable. There is nothing in the current legislative powers, which Amendment No. 5 seeks to preserve, to prevent a future Secretary of State setting movement limits as high as he pleases or even deciding not to use these powers at all. So any suggestion that Amendment No. 5 offers some defence guarantee that goes beyond what the Government are offering at the moment is a misconception.
My Lords, I was about to emphasise that it is not the legislation that counts but the policy decision in the exercise of the existing legal powers which determine the effect of the restrictions on the ground. The provisions in Clause 2 would do absolutely nothing to increase night-flying limits or to make the night noise around airports worse. We believe that they would prove useful in the future in allowing limits to be set in different ways and not only on aircraft movements, but if the policy choice was a continuation of current policy, then they could be.
Amendment No. 11 changes the commencement provisions and prevents the relevant changes in the existing legislation being brought into force before June 2012. This has given additional legal force to the commitment that I already mentioned. In other words, we have said that there will be no change to our policy of setting night-time limits on both aircraft movements and noise quotas at each airport before 2012. Amendment No. 11A, which has been offered in lieu, will correct the numbering of the provisions in Clause 2, which cannot be commenced before June 2012. Therefore, Amendment No. 11A gives effect to the commitment that the Government announced two months ago.
The Government seek to continue a balanced approach to controlling and mitigating the noise impacts of night flying at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. We are not seeking more flexible powers to use immediately, but we believe that it is right to ensure that they will be available if and when needed. Nor do we believe that any future Government would use them unreasonably. If they did, they would be subject to legal challenge. The Government remain convinced that Clause 2 is the correct way to move forward. The way forward is not to increase night movements and night traffic. It is to create flexibility in the necessary controls. The number of movements is too blunt an instrument in an age of rapid technological change. On that basis, I commend Motion B to the House.
rose to move, as an amendment to Motion B, leave out from "House" to end and insert "do insist on its Amendment No. 5, do not insist on its Amendment No. 11 and do disagree with Amendment No. 11A proposed by the Commons in lieu".
My Lords, I have listened to what the Minister said and the Government's suggestion of guaranteeing a postponement of action until 2012. That is not a concession. It offers little more than a postponement of the problem. In my time on the Front Bench dealing with aviation matters, I have not heard anything that arouses emotions more than the possibility of more night flights over London. We have to find ways of reducing night flights and not of increasing them. As the Minister said, we do not want to repeat our previous debates. However, people's health and their lives are being impaired. People need a sense of security regarding the whole problem of night flights. The Government, by adding the words of their concession, want the security of leaving the present policy as it is. If we are going to have a new policy, let us reduce night flights rather than increase them.
During the debate in another place, the right honourable Member for Halton stated by way of consolation that the Government had not decided to increase night-time movement limits at Heathrow during 2006-12. That may give a little reassurance now, but, as I said, it only postpones the problem and does not help anyone. That applies also to Heathrow. I should, however, declare an interest. We have already talked about Stansted today—but what about Stansted and Gatwick? The Minister's comments, like the Government's amendment, offer little comfort to those whose lives are diminished by aircraft noise.
Perhaps I may rehearse one or two arguments. Night-time aircraft noise is currently controlled by a combination of a movements limits and a noise quota system. Currently the two systems complement each other and offer a modicum of protection to those affected by airport noise. Yet, the Government have clearly indicated their desire to remove the current obligation to operate a limit on night movements at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted—even if it is after 2012. To do that would have devastating consequences for the millions of people living under the major airports' flight paths. Alone, the quota system is comprehensible and ineffectual. Due to the absence of an official noise index for night noise in the UK, the noise limit is worked out by using Leq, which is recognised only during the day between 7 am and 11 pm. Consequently, it fails to take account of the fact that noise has vastly different implications at night. Leq—level equivalent—is a measure of noise energy and is worked out by averaging noise levels over a 16-hour day and then expressing it as a continuous level. Under the quota system, all aircraft are rated according to their noise on take-off and approach and then banded into the quota count categories. A limit is then placed on the total number of QC points in a six-month session. The fundamental conceptual flaw in this way of regulating aircraft noise is the assumption that the real disturbance and annoyance caused by noise depends on how much overall noise there is in the sound energy emitted.
When we last debated this issue I illustrated several examples. Today, I shall give only the example of Concorde. As noble Lords will recall, one Concorde on departure has the equivalent noise energy of 120 Boeing 757s. One Boeing 757 every two minutes for four hours therefore produces the same noise level as one Concorde. It is not about the noise of an individual plane but about how many planes there are.
I do not think that I need go into great detail on this. We want the security of the system as it stands. The Motion fails to take into account the importance of how many and how frequent the noise events are. The same total noise exposure can be achieved with a few noisy aircraft or a larger number of less noisy ones. Furthermore, it does not make any difference to the noise dose whether those aircraft are bunched together or spaced out at long intervals during the night. Less noise does not necessarily equal less disturbance.
The quota system is wholly inadequate for assessing the disruption of sleep caused by the impact of a relatively small number of noise events across the night. On the contrary, although those noise events may not break the noise quota, that offers little consolation to the family that have been awoken possibly once or twice or even three times a night. It is critical that we uphold the amendment. We must retain a movement limit on night flights. Not only is it effective; it is the only method that is both understood and can offer the transparency and security needed by people who live under flight paths. It provides protection for people living in close proximity to airports, though not necessarily under flight paths, from the associated problems of ground noise, something that the quota system alone would never properly address.
The Government's suggestion of simply changing the date is inadequate. It is essential to retain the movements limit. It would not only enhance the possible advantages to be gained from a noise quota system but, importantly, ensure against its disadvantages. Without it we risk further ruining lives that are already blighted by aircraft noise. I have no doubt that your Lordships' House will join me in my resolve to reject the Government's proposal. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to Motion B, leave out from "House" to end and insert "do insist on its Amendment No. 5, do not insist on its Amendment No. 11 and do disagree with Amendment No. 11A proposed by the Commons in lieu".—(Lord Hanningfield.)
My Lords, we, too, are concerned about the potential increase in night flights that the Bill seems to allow after 2012, and we want to respond to the major worries expressed to us by people who live in the various affected communities. The Government's concept of a "bag of noise" that can be spread further around quieter aircraft on take-off will lead to peri-airport communities suffering from an increase in noise events late at night and in the early morning. Each of the noise events will wake up more people. These noise events are the process of taking off, which is quieter than landing, because of the steeper ascent of the aircraft. There is no intention, of course, to control landing noise. Aircraft that are landing fly slower and at full power on a shallower flight path and so produce more noise over a wider and longer area.
Perhaps one day aircraft may be silent, but that is not today, tomorrow or any time remotely soon. There are good social reasons for opposing an increase in the number of night flights. An increase in the number of noise events will wake up more people more often, to the detriment of their health. I doubt that the Minister would believe that a grumpy people are an efficient people. For those reasons, we support the amendment.
My Lords, in the debate on this subject in the other place, a Member said that he thought that the Department for Transport was now a wholly owned subsidiary of the aircraft industry. The Government's behaviour over this Motion certainly bears that out. I understand that the Government originally said in letters to honourable Members in another place that they were going to accept the amendment; they then turned round at the last moment. I cannot help thinking that that was due to pressure from the aircraft industry.
I do not know whether Ministers and senior civil servants in Defra are hoping for appointments in the industry when they retire. I exempt the Minister from that, but it has been extraordinary to note over the years—and not only under this Government—the level of deference paid to the aircraft industry. That is particularly true in this instance because surely even the Minister must realise that noise measurement is bogus, inaccurate and incomprehensible. The only serious measurement we can use is the number of flight movements. So why on earth are the Government bringing in this clause instead of agreeing to our previous amendment?
My Lords, I am sorry to rise again to challenge my noble friend on the Front Bench, but on this occasion I do so fully acknowledging my special interest: I live under a flight path into Stansted airport. Therefore there is no question but that I have personal experience to bring to bear on this point. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and other noble Lords have said, not because I do not accept the Government's good intentions but because one does not have to be expert or well versed in this area to see that airport operators and aircraft operators are bound to aspire to an increase in the number of night flights because that is a way to get more value out of the infrastructure.
The consequence of additional night flights is already upon us; we experience it daily if we live within range of an airport. As the Minister rightly pointed out, the reality is that some aircraft are noisier than others, although I have to admit that some aircraft are surprisingly quiet, albeit that they are still a bit noisy. If you hear them in the middle of the night, they are considerably more obviously noisy than they are during the day. Therefore the issue of the number of aircraft flying overhead at night when people are trying to sleep is more significant than the amount of noise made by each individual aircraft, and much more significant than the aggregate made by all the aircraft put together. So I contend, as I have consistently throughout the passage of the Bill, that aircraft movement is a much more important indicator of noise pollution than anything else.
I also draw the Minister's attention to recent research indicating that aircraft movements at night have a more damaging effect on the environment than aircraft movements during the day. I do not pretend to understand the science underpinning the suggestion, although I hope to get grips with it as we learn more, but, if it is true, it is why it is much more important to limit the number of flights made at night than it is merely to address the quantum of noise produced by those flights.
My Lords, I do not apologise for rising again. I support the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, about the Government and the aviation industry. Over the past few years, I have begun to think that the Government should declare an interest when they speak about civil aviation issues because it is becoming quite obvious that aviation has been singled out among all forms of transport for favour.
I thank the Government for deciding not to increase the number of night flights at present. That decision is very welcome, and has been welcomed by all the campaigners on this issue. But the emphasis that is being placed on quieter aircraft makes us feel quite sure that that is the means by which the Government will eventually increase the number of night flights. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, less noise does not mean no noise. As my noble friend said, there is no such thing as a quiet aircraft unless one counts gliders, but I do not think that they are used very much to carry passengers. So people suffer from being woken by aircraft noise even if it comes from so-called quiet aircraft.
I should like to repeat the invitation that I have issued to every Minister of transport over the past 10 years: please come and spend a night at my house or at one of my neighbours' houses. They will not be interfered with. I will not even talk to or harangue them, because the noise of the aircraft will keep them awake. I even promise to bring them a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit in the morning to alleviate their tiredness and angst as a result of not being able to sleep properly.
My Lords, at the risk of sounding unappreciative, I resist the temptation to visit the noble Baroness's house.
No mention has been made in the debate of noise insulation, which is very important and is happening at the moment. No mention has been made of noise quota limits, which are also significant. No mention has been made of the Government's activities within the WHO, which, in the long term, I am convinced, will come up with the right solution. This has to be done on an international basis. At the moment, the WHO is carrying out regular reviews and revisions of the guidelines. This demonstrates how important it is to evolve a policy based on international considerations. As far as sleep disturbance is concerned, again, no mention has been made in the debate about the research that has been undertaken and is being undertaken at the present time. My noble friend will doubtless say something about this. These are highly relevant omissions as far as this debate is concerned, and that is why I mention them.
My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate, although I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, that his charge was somewhat unfair. It may have been that in the past some Ministers joined industries outside, but I have no ambitions in that area and neither has any of my colleagues as far as I know. In any case, to suggest that our policy is dictated by one dimension of the air industry is absurd. Inevitably with regard to air transport, we have a whole range of conflicting interests. After all, airports play their part in this, as do the people who live close to airports and the millions of our fellow citizens who use aircraft. So I am not prepared to accept the suggestion that the Government approach this matter as some kind of response to one particular lobby.
I am conscious that we are dealing with a very difficult area. There is a danger that those who argue that movements are the only measurement of noise are guilty of taking a rather facile approach. There is no research that defines noise in terms of being more of a disturbance through the movements of aircraft. We do not know, and no one can say that with authority. They can use their instinctive response but that is not the same as having proof. The problems with regard to noise are either cumulative over a period of time or individual instances. Therefore the case cannot be made by any reference to research on sleep disturbance that it is the number of aircraft movements that needs to be regulated.
If the issue was cut and dried in those terms, if science established evidence along the lines suggested by my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and if things were as straightforward as that, then of course the Government would be able to act and present the full and clear facts to the nation on the question of the incidence of aircraft impact. But things are not that straightforward. That is why the Government merely seek the flexibility to measure noise on the basis of a recognition that a balance will have to be struck between the use of aircraft and the needs of people on the ground who want to fly.
It will not do for the House to take that negative approach to transport which indicates that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds at present and nothing should disturb the situation. I never thought to hear a Liberal Democrat Peer say that air travel is being particularly favoured by the Government. Where does the noble Baroness think that the huge increase in rail passenger numbers has come from, if it is not a reflection of huge investments in rail transport, supported by a Government who are all too well aware of the environmental aspects of rail but also of the demand from people for travel?
It is no use this House being in some state of abnegation about the concept of travel. Travel is a singularly desirable good. It may become less desirable either because one has to do it because of one's job or because one is in one's more mature years, but travel is greatly valued by the great mass of our population. They use their cars frequently and they use trains with greater frequency—and the greatest expansion in travel in recent years has been in air travel. I say nothing about the virtues of cruising and sea travel. So we have a demand that must be met, and it will not do for it to be suggested in this House that there are easy answers to these questions.
I emphasise that all that the Government are seeking is some flexibility with regard to the criteria that are adopted. It is not the case that the Secretary of State will be bound to any one policy. In fact, the binding is in the amendment, with regard to aircraft movements. If the Secretary of State in 2012, or years thereafter, decides that that is by far the best criteria, or if there is scientific evidence that establishes that that is rightly the issue that concerns most of those people who live close to airports, then the Secretary of State will have the freedom to continue to impose movement limits. But it may be that technological and social change, and even investigations of sleep patterns and the nature of disturbance, have produced a scenario in which that may not be the right policy.
All that the Government are seeking to do through the legislation is to guarantee that there is flexibility available to any Secretary of State—and let me say that no Secretary of State will act carelessly on this matter. No one in this House should underestimate the pressures, which are reflected in the contributions made this afternoon, of anxiety at the expansion of airports, airport usage and aircraft noise. That is clearly destined to be and will remain a major issue for the nation. So any Secretary of State is bound to take into account public opinion in the balance of factors for the good of the wider society. We are merely suggesting that, within this framework, the legal position needs some flexibility, rather than just the narrow concept of movement. That is why I do not think that the amendment should be accepted.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments and other noble Lords who have participated in the debate. The Minister said that there was no evidence that the number of flights was the main reason for disturbance, but you have only to speak to the millions of people who live under flight paths to know that it is indeed the number of flights that causes the disturbance. The thought of having many more noisy flights is terrifying to them, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and others indicated. This amendment aims to remove that fear.
Although 2012 is a long way away, there is a fear that by then there could be many more flights. There is also the fear that, if the Secretary of State has the powers, things might be considered before then. If there is a lot of new evidence and new technology by 2012, the Secretary of State at that time—who I expect will be from my party and would not want to increase the number of night flights—could examine the situation then. Why do we need legislation now? Our amendment gives security to those considerable numbers of people who are concerned about the matter. Let us worry about 2012 when we get there, when the then Secretary of State can confront the issues.
I fail to understand a lot of the points that the Minister is making. Our amendment gives security to people who do not like the number of flights that there already are but will accept a restriction on numbers, which is better than nothing. I want to pursue my amendment and to test the opinion of the House.