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Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): My constituents are affected by a much smaller airport than Heathrow, but I agree wholeheartedly with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said. Is not one of the main reasons why neither his constituents nor mine trust the Government's proposed regime adequately to address their needs the fact that the Government are not really committed to reducing decibel levels to a point at which people will not be disturbed? That is why people feel the need to retain a limit on aircraft movements, and why they will not accept a noise substitute.
John McDonnell: The issue is more profound than that. It is about Government policy making on the future of aviation over half a century, which has been dominated by the aviation industry itself, with no countervailing factors limiting Government discretion, either from communities or environmentalists. That has been our problem throughout that period.
Our present concern in London and around Heathrow is that the Bill will afford the opportunity to lift the cap on air traffic movements that was placed on Heathrow by the terminal 5 inquiry. That cap was set as a condition of the approval of the terminal 5 project by the planning inspector, and it was solemnly endorsed on the Floor of the House, with assurances by the then Secretary of State for Transport to all of us who represent constituencies around Heathrow. It was the one sop, the one thing that we were given to take back to our constituents to say that at least there was light at the end of the tunnel following that terrible inquiry that allowed terminal 5 to go ahead and introduced the risk of a third runway. The Bill will allow the Secretary of State the opportunity to lift the cap and to undermine the basis of that five-year inquiry and the conclusions that it reached.
The value for my constituents of limits on aircraft movements is that they are readily understandable. Their simplicity inspires some level of confidence in
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Government decision making, and they are readily measurable. They therefore give further reassurance that the Government are abiding by some of the commitments that they have made. Noise quotas engender a lack of clarity. Their measurability is challengeable. There are differing definitions of noise, as we have heard at length today and throughout the debates on this issue. There are different assessments of its impact on people's lives, and they open up a vista of dispute. We cannot agree on what is to be measured, how it is to be measured, or even who should be the measurer. That lack of clarity will undermine any confidence that people might have in the Government's long-term aviation policy. It will result in a lack of confidence.
Movement controls do not only control noise. They also limit the general disruption caused by aircraft activity, at night and at other times, in the local area. Even the quieter planes cause disruption involving lights, ground operations and, for communities living near Heathrow, the traffic generated by those flights. Increasing the number of movements, no matter how much quieter the planes are, will not overcome but increase that type of disruption.
I do not want to return to the same old argument that people who oppose proposals such as those in the Bill are all luddites who oppose the aviation industry. My constituents also work at Heathrow, but we are looking for some form of balanced development. The only agency that can provide us with the protection that can achieve that is the Government. There are alternative ways forward.
David Taylor: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for restating the economic and social case for airports, be they large ones such as Heathrow or medium-large ones such as Nottingham East Midlands airport, which generates 7,500 jobs that are very welcome in the regional economy. Does he agree, however, that the problem is that only a relatively small proportion of the people who work at an airport and in the aviation-linked industries actually live around the airport or under its flight paths? Most are remote; they bus in or drive to work, but in general they do not suffer the adverse environmental impact of their operations.
John McDonnell: There is a much wider debate to be had about the benefits and disbenefits of airports in regard to the environment and the economy. However, the point that I was trying to make was that individual aircraft movements generate more than just noise. They generate the movement of people travelling into work at particular times. They also generate the movement of cars and lorries and all sorts of other activities associated with that aircraft movement, not just aeroplane noise.
Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op):
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that three local Members of Parliamentincluding myself and one who no longer sits in Parliamentwho had never opposed the expansion of Heathrow within its present boundaries, including the proposal for terminal 5, have now changed their views? My hon. Friend mentioned balance; we felt that the balance had gone too far in one direction. Much
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as we support the air transport industry, we now feel that the environmental damage has gone past a certain point.
John McDonnell: My hon. Friend reminds me of the history of the debate on terminal 5. He and other Members who supported terminal 5 based their case on the economic benefits, as well as on the assurances that had been given that enough was enough and that there would be a cap on flight movements as a result of the terminal 5 agreement. We shall now have to go back to our constituents and tell them that the Bill might empower the removal of that cap. That is how we undermine confidence not simply in decisions such as this but in representative government overall. Within only a few years, the assurances that we gave our constituents are being undermined by the measure.
There is another way forward and I shall sum it up briefly. It is to maintain and extend the use of air movements as the basic tool for controlling airport development and noise and emissions impact and to require the Secretary of State to limit air movements from individual airports. Below those limits, we can encourage quieter aircraft by additional noise controls on individual planes and also by awarding incentives through the allocation of landing slots to types of plane and companies that perform well in reducing noise and emissions.
The Government's proposals will result in the creeping up of the number of flights at Heathrow and elsewhere. There will be no improvement in noise or emission controls and there will, yet again, be a betrayal of the communities surrounding Heathrow.
New clause 6 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to act in providing insulation protection to constituents on whom aircraft noise had an impact. The Secretary of State already has power under the Land Compensation Act 1973 to introduce legislation on noise insulation, yet no regulations have been enacted. We are asking for a limit, so that a year after the Bill is enacted the Secretary of State would act on that important matter. It is another way of reassuring people that the Government are on their side and are trying to protect their interests rather than merely driving through a growth in aviation no matter what the environmental and social impact may be.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The amendments in the group suggest that, in relation to noise and emissions, the Government have not quite got the Bill right. I shall focus mainly on amendment No. 1 and if, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you are minded to allow a vote on it, we shall support the Conservatives. The amendment is the key provision in the group.
As other Members have said, the Bill in its current format would enable the Secretary of State to remove the movements element of noise control and rely simply on a noise quota measure. The Government have given no indication of the criteria to be used by the Secretary of State in his decision to use those powers and there are no safeguards, such as a requirement to consult or to take into consideration other interests. The Government are attempting to establish the principle that by setting a maximum noise level, rather than a limit on the number of flights for an airport, airlines will
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have an incentive to reduce noise levels to increase the number of flights that they can operate. Although reducing the noise level is an admirable target, there are several reasons for objecting to the Government's proposals, and many Members have already set them out.
By maintaining a movement limit on the number of flights, the aviation industry has an incentive to maximise its use of current capacity. The Liberal Democrats support that. As many Members know, there is a link between the level of noise from aircraft and the level of emissions, but quieter aircraft do not necessarily equate to cleaner aircraft. There should be consideration of the environmental impact of moving towards quieter aircraft at the expense of increased emissions. Many Members have referred to the fact that using Leq as a measurement of sound is not responsive to changes in the number of flights, so communities have serious doubts about its appropriateness. Amendment No. 1 is significant and we shall support it.
I have a few brief comments on some of the other amendments and new clauses in the group. New clause 4 calls for the establishment of a commercial flights officer. I understand the purpose of the proposal, although it seems strange for the Conservative party to be setting up a quango. With all the infrastructure that would necessarily surround it, it may be more appropriate or feasible, and might reduce costs, to use the CAA to achieve the same ends.
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