Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con):
We have had an interesting debate, which has highlighted the sometimes contradictory passions and pitfalls that aviation in the 21st century generates. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) said that the Bill represented a golden opportunity for the
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Government to set out a coherent vision for the futurea vision that is desired by the airlines as much as by the public.
We have heard interesting contributions from all parts of the Chamber, but to pull the debate together, we needed a clear view from the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) said that the opportunity to set out an environmental vision had been missed, and to my mind, any vision across aviation as a whole is lacking.
We in the Conservative party are proud of our record on environmental issues. The Conservative Government achieved a reduction of more than 7 per cent. in CO 2 emissions; they started to rise again shortly after we left office. That should come as no surprise. After all, it was the Conservative Government under Macmillan who introduced the first Clean Air Act in 1956, which cleaned up the famous smogs of London. Indeed, to go back much further, the beginnings of public health legislation in the 19th century started under Benjamin Disraeli.
Many figures have been quoted from all parts of the House to illustrate the colossal benefits of aviation. The most impressive single barrage probably came from the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), with the benefit of his special experience. We have heard about the £10 billion in earnings, the hundreds of thousands of people who work directly and indirectly for the industry, and the fact that aviation is worth as much to this country as the entire car industry.
It is, of course, the task of Government to marry the difficult aims of sorting out the environmental challenges, while still allowing people to experience the ever expanding delights and wonders of the opportunities afforded by air travel, and keeping our airlines as competitive and profitable employers. It is a very difficult equation to balance, and there was precious little from the Government this evening on how we are to achieve it. Having read the White Paper, it remains difficult to see what way forward the Government envisage.
Airports can already make charges with respect to pollution and noise. The Bill puts the former into law and increases the Secretary of State's powers with respect to the latter. Both sets of measures are presented as reflecting concern for the environment and for quality of life. The proposed new section 38 expressly justifies charges to encourage the use of "quieter aircraft" and aircraft "which produce lower emissions". It also refers to
But we already have such measures in place, so how have they worked so far? No one listening to the speeches of Members who represent constituencies near airports could be in any doubt that they are not working at present.
Airports, by definition, have a huge vested interest in having planes land, which is all they exist for. The Bill makes them both the beneficiaries of pollution through higher receiptsthey are the only people who could possibly benefit in that respectas well as the guardians of our only environmentally conscious policy on aviation. The Bill sets no targets and produces no sliding scales or incentives. We do not know how those aspects will be measured or know for certain who will monitor
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them. Are airports to do all that entirely by themselves? They certainly do not do much of a job on flight paths, as the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk), among others, have pointed out. Indeed, with Manston close to my own constituency, I receive plenty of complaints about flights over places where there are not supposed to be flight paths. I imagine that they are the same people who complain to the Minister of State, in whose constituency Manston lies.
Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): My hon. Friend hits on precisely the right point. As I know in respect of my own local airport, even where agreements about noise regulation and noise monitoring are in place, the monitoring simply does not take place. That is a fact.
Mr. Brazier: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The record of individual airfields is uneven, with some doing better than others. It is certainly true, though, that we now operate under the absurdity whereby it is all in the hands of the airfields themselves. The Government state that they want to lower noise and emissions, but there is also the additional pointthe Minister did not touch on it at allabout the trade-off between noise and the two sorts of emissions. Aircraft design can largely determine the extent to which planes do better at one at the expense of the other, but we have heard little discussion today about how the two are to be traded off.
More importantly, as several Membersincluding my hon. Friends the Members for Hertford and Stortford, for Putney (Justine Greening) and for Windsor, and, indeed, the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), who is sadly no longer in his placehave said, the Bill could have one particularly perverse effect by removing the caps on night flights to many airfields in the country. When my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State delivers his crate of Nightcap, brewed in his own constituency, to the Secretary of State, I hope that the whole ministerial team will reflect on the fact that that aspect of the Bill would be a step backwards.
Dr. Ladyman: I do not believe that I owe the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), who opened the debate for the Conservatives, any favours, since he promised the crate of beer to the Secretary of State rather than to me. However, I can confirm, as I made clear in my opening remarks, that the Bill will only allow arrangements to be changed. We are not ordering any change in arrangements; indeed, I said quite clearly, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", which will be our watchword. If any changes were to be made to the noise regulations that govern the way in which particular airports are controlled, they would be implemented only after extensive consultation.
I hear what the Minister says, but he has not addressed the central point that these matters will be policed by the airports themselves. There is an even greater problem in the case of airports that are not designated than there is for those that are. The Bill, like so many, including one in which the Minister and I had
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an interest when he was in his previous Department, gives huge powers without being clear about how they will be exercised.
Alan Keen: Does the hon. Gentleman recall that about 10 years ago when his party was in government, it reduced the number of night flights? Unfortunately, it did that by reducing the length of the night. When my local paper asked for a comment, I said it might be a good idea to adopt the Arctic summer night and have no night flights at all. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should warn his colleague, the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), not to extend the length of the night again or he might get the blame for increasing night flights.
Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman makes his point, and it is very amusing, but we are trying to sort out where we go from here. His party has been in government for eight years. During that time, and in other parts of the world, too, huge advances have been made in aviation design to reduce noise. Some, unfortunately, have been traded off for an emissions record that is not as good.
We must ask where we go from here. The clear message from both sides of the House is that a system under which the airports police themselves will not be satisfactory. A system in which it seems the safeguards against night flying will be even weaker is certainly not satisfactory.
The Bill, uniquely, allows airports to establish their own penalty schemes to fine aircraft operators whose aircraft exceed noise limits when taking off and landing. That is a dubious principle, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough called it the privatisation of justice.
"A relevant manager who receives penalties under a penalty scheme shall make payments equal to the amount of those penalties for purposes which appear to him to be likely to be of benefit to persons who live in the area in which the aerodrome is situated."
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) objected to that with the candour for which he is well known. The mind fills with colourful examples. Might a "relevant manager"a magic phrase clearly specified in the Billdecide that his or her brother-in-law's bungalow would benefit from double-glazing to keep out noise? What about the sports and social centre most accessible to the airport's workers? There is, of course, no mention of any benefit for those who suffer from low flying but who are not in the vicinity of the airport.
There may be further ridiculous consequences. One of the most extreme examples was cited by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake): the operator for Coventry airport is TUI, the company behind Thomsonfly, for which Coventry is the main hub. Do we really believe
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that that operator will be fair and balanced in policing the activities of a company that belongs to its own financial group?
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough raised the problems with Nottingham East Midlands airport and other non-designated airports. Frankly, the Bill offers little for people concerned about those.
Meanwhile, in the south-east, the wealthy BAA, which has a virtual monopoly with more than 90 per cent. of aviation by passenger in the south-east, is in a strong position to bully individual airlines locked in a very competitive market. I have made it clear that I share the concerns of those who worry that there is no independent policing of airports. On the other hand, there is nothing to stop a monopolistic operator bullying individual airlines, which would at least benefitfrom the public's point of view if not from their ownfrom a competitive market. Indeed, large parts of the Bill could have been drafted by BAAperhaps they were.
The Bill does not focus on the airlines' positive ideas for doing something about the emissions problems, such as emissions trading. In fact, it took an intervention from the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) to get the Minister to discuss that at all. Nor, to the best of my memory, was the industry's exciting document "Sustainable Aviation" mentioned at all. It is true that the EU controls emissions trading, but surely the Government have an opportunity to show some leadership and do something positiveI might even quote that old phrase about not finding ourselves isolated in Europe. Surely, we could get some excitement going across borders about those ideas and work with the airlines, too.
I do not want to provoke you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by taking my remarks too wide, but I have a close connection with two small businesses a million miles away from aviation; one is owned and operated by my father, and my wife works for the other. Vast quantities of regulation are constantly being poured on those businesses, so how must BAA, an organisation whose activities affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, regard the amount of regulation it faces? We need to strike a balance.
While we are on the subject of the EU, I was thoroughly disappointed that the Minister made no mention of the European Aviation Safety Agency. He was right to say that we must look at research into deep vein thrombosis and other conditions, and the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) made some telling points about that, but why should airlines operating in Britain pick up the full bill when that research benefits people throughout Europe?
It is equally important when considering air safety to look at issues such as certificates of airworthiness. Does the Minister feel comfortable that responsibility for those certificates is being moved from the CAA to EASA when that organisation shows little evidence that it is competent to take it on?
When we look more closely at the powers that the Secretary of State is giving his officers to deal with noise and vibration, they appear to be both great and vague: great in their potential but vague in their benefit. For example, the Secretary of State will be given the power to direct an airport manager to use a particular runway.
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The explanatory notes tell us that the same powers could be used to require an aircraft to take off or land in a given direction at a given time. One phrase says it all:
What does the Secretary of State envisage himself doing? He could almost become an airport manager. We have discovered that airport managers will be given marvellous extra powers to shell out money. There is almost no end to the Secretary of State's talents. Will there be a hotline direct to his office? Our constituents could call at a moment's notice to deal with a plane that was making too much noise.
The clear message from my hon. Friends is that proper action is needed based on modern measurements of noise, taking into account all the factors brought out by Members on both sides of the House, such as low vibration and the distinction for night flying. I shall not reiterate all of them. That action must be backed up by the proper tracking of aircraft, which is not happening at present, as we all know. What possible good will the Secretary of State's new powers do, except to give the appearance that he is doing something?