Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Benefit Payments

10 pm

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): I wish to present a petition from residents of Torbay--collected in sub-post offices in the constituency--who are concerned about changes to the methods of benefit payment. It reads:

To lie upon the Table.

21 Mar 2000 : Column 953

Flights (Windsor)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Clelland.]

10.1 pm

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions to the Dispatch Box for what I understand is his third Adjournment debate of the day. That will be good for the CV, if not one for the records. I am sure that he is the master of all the subjects in question.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to bring back to the House a matter of the greatest concern to my constituents. Many people who live in and around Windsor work at Heathrow airport and for the airlines. Many constituents use the airport for business and leisure travel. We are not anti-airport, but we do have a fundamental objection to the night flights which come over us and the west of London. We want to enjoy good neighbourly relations with the airport, and that is simply impossible so long as we are woken up night after night by the planes thundering by overhead.

I believe it is high time the Government introduced a complete ban on night flights into Heathrow. Other airports all over the world have done so, so why cannot we? Other Governments have ordered their priorities so that the citizen's wish to sleep well at night is, rightly, put before the commercial convenience of airlines. Why cannot we do the same?

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Is not one way of dealing with the commercial considerations of airlines and the need of our constituents in Slough and Windsor for a peaceful night's sleep to accept the case for the development of terminal 5, at the price of ending the night flights?

Mr. Trend: The Under-Secretary will know that many people's views on the proposed new terminal 5 are profoundly and unfavourably influenced by the continued obstinacy of successive Governments on night flights. Why should the airport be allowed to expand, with all that might follow, when the Government still compel Heathrow to be such a bad night-time neighbour?

The Under-Secretary will know also that a case will shortly go before the European Court of Human Rights concerning how the decisions are made. At Strasbourg, the Government will have to argue their case in a degree of detail that we cannot go into on an occasion such as this. The Under-Secretary may know that local authorities have a good track record of judicial review over night flights. My local authority, the Royal borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, has already said that it will seek to challenge any new proposal through the judicial process if necessary.

Does the Under-Secretary not see that the Government bring all this trouble on their own head because, when dealing with night flights into Heathrow, we are still living almost in the days of Crichel Down, rather than contemporary Britain? The man in Whitehall apparently still knows best, but will not tell us why. His sleep-deprivation studies demonstrate any ludicrous proposition that is advanced.

21 Mar 2000 : Column 954

In the absence of other evidence, we must assume that the Government's position is that economic arguments in favour of night flights are convincing, important and should prevail. But what are these arguments? The airport has publicly stated that night flights are not central to its commercial interests, so it must be the airlines. What is at stake for them commercially? I would be much obliged if the Minister tried to answer that question tonight.

Typically at the moment, there are around 15 or so flights a night. Can the Minister tell us, roughly, how he evaluates the economic benefit of these services? How does he calculate the cost of the fundamental disruption to people's lives? Has the Minister ever attempted the roughest casting off of commercial interest, which I expect is minimal, against the human misery that I and my constituents experience every night those planes are allowed to land over our heads, or the cost to the country as a whole of what follows from that mass sleeplessness?

I am sure that a time will come when some Government will realise their proper responsibilities to the people who live around the airport, but meanwhile we have to accept--like it or not--that we are engaged in yet another round of consultation over night flights, a round that has been dragged out to an almost cruel extent. The delay, far from being seen as an act of fairness of the part of the Government, has had the effect of drawing out anxieties and fears to an intense degree in all the communities that live around Heathrow--what one might call misery blight.

The Minister will know that those who live to the west of the airport have already expressed a clear preference for the status quo. That response shows that the strength of feeling on the night flight issue is especially strong in the communities to the west of the airport. Indeed, I cautioned the Minister's predecessor that the odium that the Government would incur from people who live west of the airport for any change in landing preferences would far outweigh any thanks they might receive from those who live to the east.

The Government have tried to present their position as fair, on the grounds of the numbers affected by noise, but that is a false position. Far from there having been an in-built bias in favour of those who live to the west of the airport, the reverse has always been the case. In fact, the difference in scale of the numbers has already been accounted for. The original reason why there was any preference at all was because the noise of aircraft taking off was substantially worse than that of landing. That meant that a benefit was built in for those who lived to the east of the airport and that was the reason for the so-called Cranford agreement. Because of some welcome developments in technology, take-offs are no longer the major problem. Noise from landings is now the major problem. The Government's attitude seems to be that because people on the west side of the airport had the worst of it in the old days, they might as well have the worst of it now that landings are the big issue. I do not understand how or why that is fair.

With the decision already announced at the close of the second part of the tripartite consultation process, to introduce runway alternation for night landings that take place from the west, the Minister will appreciate that the Government have already doubled the area that will be affected on our side of the airport. It gets worse. The deadline has just passed for the third stage of the current consultation on night flights into Heathrow. No attention was paid in that consultation process to the great majority

21 Mar 2000 : Column 955

who want an end to night flights or to retain the status quo. My constituents have already been told that the misery of night flights will be extended to two flight paths rather than one, and now they have been asked how much misery they want.

The choice is between roughly three times or more than four times as much noise as at present. My constituents have told me that that is Hobson's choice and that they do not want to be cast in the role of Hobson. Moreover, there is a growing suspicion that in the closing stages of the consultation process, the Government are attempting to set those who live on one side of the airport against those who live on the other.

If one asks the people who live to the east of the airport if they want less noise, of course they will say, "Yes, thank you very much." If they are asked how much less noise they want, they will say: the greatest amount available. However, my constituents have not been given that easy choice. Many of them are inclined to demand that the status quo be retained. I have tried to put it to them that we have a powerful Government who can do as they please. If they wish to inflict added misery on us, that is what they can do.

I have put it to my constituents that if the Government are offering a choice between two evils, the sensible thing to do is to opt for the lesser evil. However, many people to the west of the airport are not prepared to accept that argument. They are so angry with the whole process and the way in which it has been handled that I expect many of them will cut through all the technical jargon in the highly complex consultation paper--which was a disgrace in itself--and reiterate their view that all scheduled night flights should be ended or at least that the status quo should be maintained.

I hope that the Minister will understand the predicament for those of us who live to the west of the airport with respect to the choice that we have been given. I hope also that he will treat seriously those who are not inclined to play the Government's game. We see a trap, and we do not want to walk blindly into it.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that the worst happens and the Government use their undoubted powers vastly to increase the night noise over Windsor and its surrounding area. What will happen next? People who have bought houses and moved into Windsor and the surrounding area are aware that they are close to Heathrow airport. Indeed, they are much closer than many other people think. My constituency comes within a mile of the airport's boundary. I cannot imagine anybody moving into the area in recent years who did not know that. People are realistic and they weigh the pros and cons and make up their minds on sensible grounds. However, I believe that they will not take lightly a substantial worsening of the circumstances that will be brought about by the Government's diktat.

Surely those days have passed. Why should people put up with such a situation? The quality of their lives will be diminished and the value of their property may well suffer. Quite reasonably, they will seek redress, and where will they seek it? After 18 months of campaigning on the issue locally, I am sure that the great majority of those who live around the airport understand that the decision belongs entirely to the Government, not to the airport. They will therefore be banging on the Government's door.

21 Mar 2000 : Column 956

Furthermore, my local borough points out that, with road traffic, it is a requirement in law that noise mitigation be available to properties that are subjected to an increase of 1 decibel or more above a predetermined limit as a result of alterations to the highway. Should we not expect consistency with that policy from the Government in respect of changes that are made to the night flights regime; or will someone have to slog his way through the courts to test the position, especially as the proposed increase in night flights over Windsor is substantially worse than that covered by road traffic law?

I ask the Minister whether it is fair suddenly and greatly to increase noise and nuisance for any part of our population? I teased an earlier Minister with the prospect of setting up a loudspeaker van outside his house and relaying the noise of planes landing at the same time and at the same volume as night flights over Windsor. Rather humorously, I thought, I was told that that would be impossible. When I asked why, I was told that it would be against the law. That is precisely my point. If it is against the law in another part of the country, why should it not be so for my constituents?

As a civilised country, we should not allow one interest to affect to such a degree the basic rights of the people as a whole. If the Minister told BA tomorrow that it must rearrange the few planes affected by a night flight ban, it would no doubt protest, grumble and then quickly find a way of coping and rearranging its schedules. If the hon. Gentleman did that, he would at a stroke become a hero to the hundreds of thousands of people who live round the airport. These people believe that they have a right to a good night's sleep. Does he not believe that all the people on both sides of the airport who are afflicted by dreadful noise in the middle of the night have a right to a good night's sleep?

The Minister must believe me. When aircraft are flying during the day, it is sometimes impossible to hear what someone is saying on the other side of the room. He must believe me also when I say that when one is woken up in the middle of the night, it is extremely difficult to go back to sleep because of the continuing noise of the aircraft. I think that I can speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House in saying that our constituents deserve, and have a right to, a good night's sleep.

Next Section

IndexHome Page