Mr. Peter Ainsworth: As my right hon. Friend will know, my constituents are affected by Gatwick, which has a similar problem, with rather more night flights than at Heathrow. Will he reflect on the fact that the problem is most acute during the summer months when demand is greatest for these antisocial flights and when people sleep with their windows open? The Bill, if unamended, will cause serious problems to people living in a wide circle round airports throughout the country.
Mr. Redwood: I quite agree with my hon. Friend. [Interruption.] I hear the Minister from a sedentary position asking whether I realise this is regulation. Yes, and while I am a keen deregulator, I have never said that I wish to see the end of all regulation, and the deregulatory programme that we strongly urge the Government to adopt has never included a reduction in standards for controlling noise around or adjacent to airports, because that is an example of the kind of regulation that we think is perfectly reasonable to impose. Previous Conservative Governments imposed it, this Government have run on with it for eight years and we see no reason to dilute it or change it adversely at the moment.
Mr. Garnier: The Minister's sedentary remarks are all the more to be regretted because we are talking about the rule of law, and if airports and airlines can operate without the law, we are falling into a rather tragic set of circumstances. If the Minister thinks that our acceptance of regulations in this circumstance is something to be criticised, we ought to be even more worried about the calibre of person sitting on the Treasury Bench.
One of the great weaknesses of the Government's environmental policy lies in aviation. They are stumbling over what to do about it. We know that on emissions control, it is outside the main restrictions in international agreements, and it is the fastest growing area of extra pollution; and we now see that on noise, they want to dilute sensible controls because they are under pressure from some in the industry to do so. It is particularly appropriate that today for the first time in the Chamber we have the warning of just how easy it is to make a beautiful building ugly without the right controls on new development, because we see the new screen where the scaffolding supporting it cannot be
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taken down because apparently that is all part of the revised plan. It seems a great pity that there is no sensitivity to history, tradition and beauty, and I am worried that we have something parallel going on with the lack of sensitivity to the wish of our constituents to have peace and quiet, particularly in the dead of night.
The crucial point that the Minister must address is that even if the average aircraft is less noisy than the average aircraft five or 10 years ago when previous controls were introduced, none the less, if there are more of these aircraft still creating considerable amounts of noise, and more of them will be generating that noise at the dead of night when it will be so much more intrusive, surely that is a substantial deterioration in the environment in which our constituents live and something that we should naturally protest about, and on which we should urge the Government to do something better.
I hope that the Minister will heed the warning of the ugly screen and realise that it would be bad to make a much bigger intrusion into the environment by diluting many hon. Members' constituents' protection from noise. It is our duty to tell the Minister that constituents in Labour seats, as well as constituents in Conservative seats, are upset by the current amount of background noise and that they will be extremely angry if the Government allow far more noise at the dead of night, when it will be so much more disruptive. I strongly support the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Rutland and Melton and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and their excellent amendments.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In particular, I want to tease out certain aspects of amendment No. 1 and new clause 4, because I do not recognise some of the arguments that I have heard in this debate.
I must challenge the proposition advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) that one cannot be in favour of aviation and argue the case for quieter aircraft. That is utter nonsense. I have balanced those issues for many years as a member of the consultative committee at Gatwick and as an environmental campaigner within Crawley borough council.
David Taylor: I am not sure whether I said that. MPs whose constituencies are positively affected by aviation in economic terms, but negatively affected by aviation in environmental terms, sometimes lean too far towards the economic end of the spectrum at the expense of their constituents' quality of life.
Laura Moffatt: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, but I rest my case. We should support economic activity at our local airports and ensure that our constituents have as much peace as possible, particularly at night.
The arguments are difficult. Conservative Members have already pointed out that Gatwick's position in the family of airports would be compromised if the considerable number of night flights were to end. We must move forward cautiously on reducing night noise.
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Mr. Peter Ainsworth : The hon. Lady has not grasped the Government's objective. She knows that the consultation on the future of the night flights regime at Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted has recently recommended that the quota should continue, and downward pressure on the number of flights seems a sensible approach. However, the Government want to take away the quota altogether, and the hon. Lady knows that her constituents and mine will be the first to suffer.
Laura Moffatt: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do not share the view that the only way in which to reduce noise in our constituencies and to make our constituents' lives more peaceful is to decrease the number of events. Our constituents worry about noise. If all night flights were completely silent, who would complain? No one.
Susan Kramer: I wonder whether the hon. Lady understands that over the years my constituents who live under the flight path have heard many speeches saying that aircraft are getting quieter, but aircraft will never reach the point at which they do not wake up people at night. People who found the flights bearable three years ago or five years ago now find that they and their children are being woken up because so many more night flights occur. When I introduced a petition on the matter, people formed a queue and I got a signature every 30 seconds because night flights have become so intrusive. The argument that planes are quieter is not the reality on the ground.
Laura Moffatt: I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution, but I do not share her view. I do not know about her constituency, but I know about mine: people in the most southerly point in my constituency were regularly woken by aircraft noise, but that is no longer the case because aircraft are getting quieter. For many years, I did not use the phrase "quieter aircraft"I always used the phrase, "less noisy aircraft"because I firmly believed that progress was impossible without downward pressure on aircraft noise. I do not share the view that we should not support a mechanism to reduce the total noise that people suffer.
Lembit Öpik: I do not want to get directly involved in the debate, because I do not live near an airport. Will the hon. Lady accept that aircraft engines are quieter than they used to be? People are concerned that the Bill will allow the economic attractions of what amounts to the increased disturbance of the local environment near large airports to outweigh environmental considerations. If the relationship between aviation and politics were less confrontational, the debate might be less fractious.
Laura Moffatt: I sincerely thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which goes to the heart of many of the debates in this Chamber and in our constituencies about how airports are used. People support airports when they use them, but they do not support them if they are disturbed at night, and we must square that circle.
Crawley borough council and Gatwick Airport Ltd have a legal agreement on all sorts of environmental levels. I often find it difficult to reflect the debate in this
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Chamber, because I do not recognise that one is either an environmentalist or pro-aviation. It is possible to draw up reasonable plans to ensure that communities are relatively quiet, and I campaign for quieter aircraft and for quieter ways of running our airports both by day and by night. In addition, ground noise makes a major contribution to the total noise generated by an airport. Unless we work co-operatively like Crawley borough council and Gatwick airport, we will not make progress and will find ourselves continually debating the matter in this Chamber.
Finally, many of my constituents will be bemused by some Conservative Members' contributions on the difference between noise disturbance in an urban area and noise disturbance in a rural area. After the debates on Second Reading and in Committee, my constituents were surprised to learn that they are less likely to be disturbed by aircraft noise because they live in an urban area. That argument is difficult to sustain, but two Conservative Members have already advanced it as a reasonable explanation of why their constituents are more affected by aircraft noise than mine.[Interruption.]