Mr. Duncan: I thank you for your guidance on the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps in due course we might clarify whether it would be in order to discuss the issue on Third Reading, given the broader principles of the Bill and in order to wrap things up.
The group of amendments tabled in my name and by others addresses the heart of the Bill. Everyone, including the Secretary of State, accepts that this is to some extent a hotchpotch of a Bill. It has no great coherent form; it contains a group of half-concocted measures that do not quite come together into a serious regime. Following the deliberations in Committee, which were so ably conducted by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), the amendments are an attempt to introduce more cogency.
The amendments largely define the way in which the Bill will work in practice in terms of noise and emissions, turning it from a simple enabling Bill into something more focused. The amendments also cover the growing problem of consumer concern about the monitoring of flights at night and the wall of silence faced by many people on the ground when investigating the problem of noise above them, particularly at night.
That specifically removes from the Secretary of State's duties the stipulation to determine the number of flights at designated airports that may or may not take place at night, and replaces the number of flights with various other stipulations, particularly concerning noise and emissions. At first sight that seems logical, and the argument will be that as noise and emissions improve, the number of flights will become less relevant. However, beneath that seeming logic lies a severe danger that those who live under the flight path of an airport will experience many more flights at night, which despite the noise and emissions stipulations will be no less disturbing.
Such an argument contains a fallacy of methodology. Decibels alone are not a measure of nuisance. Occasions of noiseundercarriages going down and the roar of engines that do not necessarily break the decibel barrierwake people up. We are facing, especially for designated airports and given the underlying concept perhaps for many other airports that are expanding at the moment, a depressing and unpoliced regime for the growth of flights at night.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con):
My hon. Friend is addressing an issue of great concern to my constituents, which is why I have heard from both Tandridge district council and Reigate and Banstead borough council of their very strong support for amendment No. 1. Will my hon. Friend comment on the perversity of a Government who recently conducted a
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consultation exercise that included proposals to extend the quota of night flights while proposing legislation to get rid of that quota altogether?
Mr. Duncan: The perversity is self-evident. As Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, my hon. Friend will be championing that issue even further. His record on that Committee and as a constituency MP is undeniable. I have in my hand two of the submissions from councils in his areaSurrey county council and Tandridge district councilwhich are compelling in the power of their argument. I shall skim through them. They say clearly:
"Section 2(2) of the Bill, as it stands, amends section 78(3)(b) of the 1982 Civil Aviation Act in such a way as to empower the SoS to discontinue applying limits to the number of night aircraft movements at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted and replace these with noise quotas alone."
The nice, tidy phrase "noise quotas" encompasses all sorts of calculations that will allow more disturbance at night, even though it could be argued that there is less noise. It has been argued that that it is a perverse and deceitful measure of the problem that people on the ground face, because
I declare an interest in that respect, as my Rutland and Melton constituency is affected, as is that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who has been fighting strongly against the increase in night flights from Nottingham East Midlands airport and who, I am sure, will speak in this debate. The noise is felt strongly because in an area where there is less ambient noise, the noise of an aircraft, however quiet, is more noticeable than it would be in an urban area. The argument against noise quotas continues:
"a movements limit can be easily understood by most people and is far more transparent and open to validation as compared to a noise quota limit . . . a movements limit provides particular protection for people who live very close to the airport . . . and who are especially troubled by ground noise at night."
"an amendment to section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 so that controls such as night restrictions could, subject to public consultation, be set on the basis of noise quotas alone, without a separate movements limit."
Amendment No. 1 is the one that we intend to press to a vote. The provision affects urban and rural constituencies alike and introducessomewhat surreptitiouslya new regime that represents a backward step.
The next amendment addresses the problem of people being unable to find out the basic facts. There is nothing more annoying than encountering bureaucratic obduracy when trying to discover the facts about events that affect one's life. What happens when an aircraft flies
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overhead and wakes one up at 4 o'clock in the morning? One is likely to go to the nearest airport and ask, "Was it you?" to which the likely reply is, "Not me, guv." One might then turn to National Air Traffic Services, which is in charge of air traffic control, but NATS would find it difficult to trace an individual aircraft. The Civil Aviation Authority says that it is duty bound to implement policy, not to answer specific questions and noise complaints. What we have is an extremely fragmented system in which public agencies with a public duty are failing to respond to the legitimate concerns of people who are disturbed by night flights. Even I, a Member of Parliament, get the runaround.
To be fair, within such an unproductive and fragmented regime it is not easy for an airport to determine to its own satisfaction whether it is responsible. Nottingham East Midlands airport, which I visited at night only three weeks ago, has within its remit and control a fairly narrow air traffic control area, but it receives into that area flights that may be deviating slightly from the recommended flight path. What the airport calls its presentation profile of aircraft therefore lands it with a problem for which it is not necessarily to blame.
In the context of massive environmental concern, there is no confidence that individuals can have their complaints dealt with properly and honestly. It may be that all are being dealt with honestly, but that is not how it seems. No records are properly kept for long enough; it is quite difficult to backtrace an individual aircraft and work out whose it was, at what height it was flying and at what speed it was going. In my view, a better regime, which I have mentioned to the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), on many occasions, must be established if there is to be any confidence in the new regime that is being created.
If we are trying through the Bill to set up a regime for noise and emissions regulation, it must be logical for those who are most affected by noise or disturbancelet us call it nuisance rather than noiseto be able to ascertain who is to blame so that at least all of us who set public policy can have the facts at our disposal.
The aim of new clause 4 is simple: it seeks to establish a single point of contact for members of the public who have complaints about aircraft noise and movements when they suspect, or even if they do not, that aircraft are deviating from established flight paths. At present, the regime is fragmented and everyone, including Members of Parliament, I think, feel that they cannot obtain the basic facts.
The Bill does a great deal for designated airports, but relatively little for those that are non-designated. Little control exists over the expansion of flights at such airports. The Campaign to Protect Rural England points out that the Bill will not help to tackle the problem of increasing flights eroding rural tranquillity.