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Mr. Brazier : The Conservative party is against the proliferation of petty regulation, but when certain things have needed regulation, we have taken action. Hon. Members need look no further than the first measure to regulate clean airthe Clean Air Act 1956which came from a Conservative Government and from which many of the considerations on NOx and CO 2 in the Bill ultimately stem.
I do not think that we should continue along the path of the Clean Air Act 1956, but I understand that that was taken through the House as a private Member's Bill by a Conservative Member, not by a Conservative Government. My point is very simply that the Conservative party is asking for extra
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regulation when the problem is decreasing, not increasing, unlike in the 1950s and 1960s, when the problem of air pollution was increasing.
The reason why the Conservatives are encouraging the creation of this new officer's post is that we think that people fear an increasing threat and problem with increasing air traffic, certainly at Heathrow and throughout the country. That is why we propose monitoring the number of flights. From my perspective in the Windsor constituency, I have been lobbied on many occasions, and quite vociferously over the weekend, because of the worry about the changes that we are debating and whether there is a backdoor route for more flights. If there is no intention to allow more flights or to abandon aircraft movement limits, why introduce these subtle changes, which seem to open that avenue? We are justified in arguing that, if the Bill is passed in its current form, there should be some monitoring of what actually happens.
Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman brings me nicely to my next point about whether the argument made by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton that there is real concern about absolute noise has a foundation. The hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) has repeated that point, but I think that the concern about noise and the aviation industry is getting less, as demonstrated by most of the real assessments of public opinion, as opposed to the fantasies that we have heard suggesting that the situation is getting worse.
Noise is an intense problem for a number of people; I do not want to belittle it. However, the problem is intense for a decreasing number of people. Conservative Members are shaking their heads, but one can go to parts of London and Greater Manchester where noise pollution is no longer the real problem that it used to be. As aircraft have got quieter and the noise footprint has shrunk, there is less of a problem.
Most of my experience of balancing the economic and environmental interests of the community has come from being responsible for Manchester airport, primarily during the planning process and the decisions on the second runway there. Because we were concerned to talk to the local community and to find out whether there was support for the proposal, we went out to ask people. We carried out extensive opinion polls to consult many more people than are normally
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interviewed in a straightforward political opinion poll. From memory, I think that the samples were 3,000 and 5,000, which are huge numbers.
Manchester airport is in the Wythenshawe area of the city and we found that there was 80 per cent. support for the proposal in the area that sits next to the end of the runway. Wythenshawe is primarily, if not totally, a council estate and, unlike what someone said earlier, the people there saw the benefits of the jobs created as well as an improving environment. At the other end of the runway lies Styal, which is a much more affluent village in Cheshire where virtually every window displayed a "Stop the second runway" sticker. However, when we interviewed people individually, we found that a small majority was in favour of the runway because they could see the economic benefits. They or their families worked at and used the airport, so the airport received terrific support.
Interestingly, the opinion poll for East Midlands airport to which the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) referred and which was published today tells a similar story. There is majority support for the economic benefits of the airport, and some concern about the environment. However, overall, people see that the benefits outweigh the disbenefits. The figures for East Midlands airport are not as good as they should be, and my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and others have made the point that the consultation in the past two or three years between the airport, hon. Members and the public has not been as good as it should have been. I would have expected the figures to be higher, but they are still positive because people see the benefits.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough said that a similar opinion poll had been used by Birmingham airport and produced by the same person, and suggested that this was cynical distortion of the facts, or words to that effect. That may be the result of laziness or plagiarism, but an official reporting as best as he can the results of an opinion poll is not cynical. He probably found a formula that was accurate and used it a second time. There is no evidence to suggest that the figures from that opinion poll have been distorted.
The next argument that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton used was that noise is somehow more of a problem if one lives in the countryside. I suppose hon. Members have their own opinions about that, but I have always lived in a city and I find the countryside an extraordinarily noisy place. It is full of foxes, owls and other creatures that keep one awake at night. I do not necessarily share the assessment that the countryside is quiet; I always sleep more easily in an urban environment.
Nottingham East Midlands airport has carried out, at the request of the constituents of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, a study in Great Glen, a village that I have never been to. Over 24 hoursnight and daythe flight noise of every aeroplane was recorded and, in that period, it was found that only three aeroplanes created noise that was above the ambient noise level. I accept that noise is a complicated issue, but that seems to suggest that there is no evidence for Conservative Members' argument that there is a real problem.
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I represent an urban constituency and I do not think it fair to draw the conclusion that aeroplanes should go only over populated areas and not over the countryside. In the same opinion poll carried out by Nottingham East Midlands airport, 64 per cent. of those polled thought what seems to be the common-sense thing to think: that aeroplanes should avoid populated areas. If, at a public meeting, one asks whether an aeroplane should fly over a lot of people or a few people and whether the majority or the minority should be more greatly inconvenienced, most people would say the minority, even if one takes account of the economic benefits. Unfortunately, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough comes to the exact opposite conclusion.
Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the issue is more complicated than is sometimes made out? I fully accept that some constituents and some Members, including some in my own party, suffer, but aircraft are also very audible in constituencies such as mine. Aircraft flying at 10,000 ft and heading to Manchester 70 miles away can be heard. If we begin to make comparisons, we must consider the background level of noise, which does not necessarily strengthen the case of some people who live relatively close to airports.
Graham Stringer: I do not think that the effect of noise can be assessed simply by a meter measuring decibels, but that is an indication of the level of the problem in Great Glen. That is the point that I was trying to make.
I urge hon. Members to see through the argument that the problem is increasing as we have not heard any evidence today to suggest that it is. The Conservatives take the extraordinary position of asking for extra regulation, so I support the Government and ask the House to reject the new clauses and amendments.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I shall be extremely brief, because I sense a certain restlessness in the Chamber and a mood to get on to listening to the Minister and dealing with other matters. I have a vested interest in the last group of amendments, so it is in my interests to keep my speech brief. All I want to do is support my hon. Friends and particularly my neighbour, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), in his comments and in his new clause 6, to which I have attached my name. As he said, my constituents suffer from a crisis of confidence in the aviation industry.
As the hon. Members for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) and for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) pointed out, there are, of course, economic benefits, but the patience of my constituents is being increasingly strained. That is why, for the first time, many people who have been highly supportive of the aviation industry locally have now said that enough is enough. They are worried, as am I, that there is a hidden motive behind the measures. Is there a reason why we should get rid of the specific number of night flights allowed, which would create the possibility of the number of such flights being increased? Is there an economic need to do that? Has the industry asked the Government to increase the number of night flights? We want those questions answered. Unfortunately, the aviation industry has cried wolf on occasions. The hon. Member
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for Hayes and Harlington cited the examples of the terminal 5 inquiry and the fact that there was not going to be a third runway and then no sixth terminal.
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