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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op):
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but
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is it not true that even in the UK, seven airlines have gone bust in the past four years? Some of them served Edinburgh, so my constituents were affected. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there is a need for greater consumer protection, and that he should perhaps be more sympathetic to such people's problems? They might well be able to use their credit card to get home, but that is not much use if they cannot get recompense for the cost of their flight when an airline goes bust, or recompense for the cost of accommodation booked through a website.
Mr. Syms: I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but that argument can be applied to a whole range of activities. When a national furniture company went bust, those who bought furniture, fixtures and fittings from it lost their money. If we start from the basis of ensuring that no one loses money when engaging in a particular activity, we simply put up the cost of many of the associated goods and services in the process.
I am simply trying to point out that the world is somewhat different from 30 years ago. Back then, if an airline went bust there was often no choice of other airlines, because often, only one airline operated from a particular airport. These days, airlines are fighting for business, so passengers usually have a lot of choice. People are more aware of the risks than they used to be, so I tend toward the view of having less intervention, and of allowing people to make a reasonable and responsible choice on the basis of the information available.
The civil aviation industry is a great British success. A bargain has to be struck, in that, if expansion is to take place, we need to do a lot more, particularly in terms of noise. As many of the Members who live near to, or represent constituencies near to, airports have attested today, this is a big issue for their constituents. I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer). Aircraft are quieter now, certainly compared with those on which I used to travel abroad when I was a lot younger. Technology will march on and they will get quieter still, which will help in dealing with the noise problem.
This is a great industry, but as Members have said today, it is clear that we need to strike a proper balance. We will need to consider the detail of the Bill in Committee, in order to establish whether it will tighten up the regime, or whether the various airlines will end up getting out of some of the existing agreements.
I have a particular interest in this Bill, not least because the so-called Nottingham East Midlands airport lies in the northern tip of my constituency. Its origins date back some 40 years, when it was called Castle Donnington airport; indeed, it celebrated its 40th anniversary only recently. We need to recognise that it has become a major economic driver in the east midlands, providing at least 7,000 jobs for people in the vicinity. Holidaymakers from around the region make extensive use of charter and other flights from that
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airport. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) said, it was sold some years ago by the constituent local authorities to National Express because they were unable to raise the capitalthis was during the time of the previous Conservative Governmentto invest in the necessary infrastructure development. More recently, it was sold to the Manchester Airport Group.
There is a need for legislation such as this, but we must recognise the efforts of the airport management in its various guises over the years to ameliorate some of the environmental downside of the operations for which it is responsible. It has produced noise-preferential routes, and it makes some use of track monitoring and of penalties for planes that do not operate within the established constraints. There has been some encouraging news in the past few months with the appointment of a new managing director of Nottingham East Midlands airport, Penny Coates, and I am somewhat encouraged by the early signs.
Why do we need a Bill such as this? In short, despite the enduring and magnificent efforts of organisations such as the Association of Airport Related Parish Councils, PAINpeople against intrusive noiseand Wings, progress has been painfully slow. Because of changes to flight paths, we have recently witnessed cavalry coming from the south of the countyfrom "Fort Harborough"to help the long-running campaign of others.
This may well be a well-intentioned Bill, but as others have said, it seems to lack any significant coherence or the framework of an overarching strategy. It tends to confuse and blur the distinction between, and the separate roles of, an airport authority and a regulatory authority. It uses the term "airport authority" throughout, but it delegates to airports the regulatory power to limit and monitor noise. Like many of the organisations and individuals who contact me, I consider this a serious weakness. Airports are commercial entities whose client-firms' activities produce environmental downsides. They are not, and never can be, fully effective regulatory bodies.
Airports have little direct commercial interest in the significant reduction of the noise inflicted on neighbouring communities or on those who live under their flight paths. So the incentives to influence the number, type and timing of airport traffic movements are very weak. The Bill assumes that airports can curtail or regulate their own operations in the interest of the environment. That is a brave and bold assumption that is a little like "Physician, heal thyself."
That underlying assumption is the fault line that seriously weakens the ability of the Bill to deliver real, lasting and sustainable environmental improvements. The Bill is the progeny perhaps of an illicit liaison between the Department for Transport and the aviation lobby, conceived on a noisy night when neither could sleep.
Aviation and airports are important economic drivers and contribute in aggregate about 1 per cent. of GDP, but they do pollute. The power to curtail or regulate this pollution should not be given to the polluters themselves. Self-regulation in the face of commercial interests is unlikely to work.
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On noise control schemes, there has been a long-running fight in the county of Leicestershire for the designation of Nottingham East Midlands airport. The Bill proposes that the powers to regulate designated airports in the south-east remain with the Secretary of State. I said earlier that, at the very least, parallel powers for the regulation of non-designated airports ought to be the province of an appropriate, elected, accountable, responsible and visible local authority. I am keen to see that the Bill be amended in this way.
Following the publication of the aviation White Paper in December 2003it said that the Government would "bear down" on night noise especiallyI was present in the Chamber when the Secretary of State referred on several occasions, as well as in correspondence and media interviews, to "stringent noise controls." That phrase is burned into my heart, in the way that Calais was said to be burned into the heart of a previous monarch of our countrythat is what will be there at my eventual demise. "Stringent noise controls" would be sought, particularly at regional airports. But how can we get those when the powers in the Bill are discretionary?
There is no evidence as yet of any bearing down on night noise or of stringent noise controls. The Secretary of State has not yet delivered on that commitment of 18 months ago and he should account for his intentions in that regard. I hope that he will urgently set some quantified targets, based perhaps on the World Health Organisation target for community noise.
The Melbourne Civic Society, many of whose members live in my constituency, argued correctly that the proposals for noise control schemes lacked any meaningful provisions to ensure night noise reduction or limitations. There is no requirement for any airport to set any limitsfor example, night noise levelsand no provision to penalise an airport for exceeding a noise control scheme. The noise control scheme provisions seem to some to be perverse measures that would allow airports to avoid applying any noise limits. The group's conclusion, and mine, is that these schemes should be made obligatory, with specified target noise levels.
I have referred to my criticism of clause 2 and will pass on to the clause that removes the obligation, with regard to designated airports, on the Secretary of State to place a limit on the number of flights. This allows him merely to regulate on the basis of accumulated noise; this is not a panacea for tackling future problems. The ability to control on the basis of accumulated noise appears to be an attempt to circumvent the night movements cap and thus to increase the number of night movements at designated airports. I was not surprised to hear Members from both sides of the House who represent the south-east expressing their worries about that part of the Bill.
Clause 4, on the power for aerodromes to establish noise control schemes, is in principle desirable, but it is vested in the wrong authority. Such control is discretionary, and without targets or limits, and the effect will be that airports will avoid where they can any meaningful limits on noise. They will not apply themselves seriously to any form of noise control scheme that limits types of aircraft, such as the noise levels of an aircraft, numbers or night restrictions. Nor will they apply themselves seriously to any limitation on the cumulative amount of noise. Such noise control
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schemes formulated by airports would set the limits so high, so as to have no real effect on reducing noise with little or no benefit to the communities that lie around airport peripheries or under flight paths.
At the moment, there is no requirement for an airport to establish noise control schemes and this part of the Bill should be amended to include powers for the appropriate local authority to direct an airport to establish, amend or revoke a noise control scheme.
The clause amends clause 38C of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 on breaches of noise control schemes. This element of the Bill illustrate the weakness of the proposal, because if a noise control scheme were meaningful in controlling noise, there would be overall limits on aircraft movements or noise. Exceeding those limits would constitute a breach of the scheme, but that would be the responsibility of airports. The airport would be fined, but airports tend not to be keen on fining themselves. That part of the legislation is illogical and inadequate and one can see quickly that it is poor law. There must be some provision to fine airports for exceeding noise control schemes.
We still lack a level playing field, or runway, between the environment and the economy, between the market and democracy and between airport communities and airport users. We have a position where night noise from the heavens can make airports neighbours from hell and we still appear to be flying into trouble. I agree with the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) that an opportunity has been missed. In Committee, we have the authority, time and membership to remedy some of the deficiencies in the Bill.
I will give the Bill fair wind, no pun intended, but improvements have to be made and I am sure that the Committee can do that. I am sure that I will vote on Third Reading for the measure with rather more enthusiasm than I can muster for its Second Reading, should there be a Division tonight.
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