Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Brazier: I agree with the hon. Lady on that point, but I am concerned about cross-subsidy between airports in the south-east, which, as she knows, is the big issue. The key point about the new runway at Stansted concerns cross-subsidy, and, in theory, the new power for the Secretary of State could be used to encourage further cross-subsidy—we already have a differential charging system. In practice, however, the Government have not pledged to use that limited power. The real issue is that clause 1 does so little,
8 May 2006 : Column 46
which means that the Government, who are committed to tackling emissions and noise, are doing almost nothing in this Bill.

My final point often comes up either on Report or in Lords amendments. The Government have made it clear that there are technical defects in the wording of the amendments. Indeed, House of Lords Hansard makes it clear that the drafter of the amendments knew that there were technical defects in the wording, which is why I shall not seek to press the matter to a vote. The amendments were tabled out of sheer frustration in the Lords, where there were no more answers on what the Government will do about environmental problems than we have received in this House. They seek to introduce an element of compulsion into clause 1, and when the Minister winds up the debate, I hope that he will indicate what the Government are actually going to do on noise around our airports and on emissions of oxides of nitrogen and of CO2.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Halton (Derek Twigg) and for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) to the Front Bench and to their new responsibilities. They deserved promotion, although they have been passed a poisoned chalice.

In the past few months, the political parties have vied with one other to prove their green credentials. I am pleased that this Bill has appeared so soon, because one does not need to sledge across the Arctic while looking up the tails of half a dozen huskies or convene a summit of world leaders to identify an environmental issue, when there is one within 13 miles of this House, namely the impact of Heathrow airport in terms of noise and emissions. What worries me about the Government’s failure to accept the Lords amendment and the Minister’s failure to elaborate how the Government’s system would operate effectively is that nothing is being done on tackling noise emissions and NO2 emissions.

I hoped that even if the Government were not to accept the amendment, they would explain how they would subsequently designate aerodromes which are not complying with a basic standard of emissions control, but we have received no information on that point. That is why the debates in the other place and in this place have moved further towards compulsion than some would have liked. It is often said that we have reached the stage with the aviation industry that we reached on the control of emissions from cars 30 years ago, when we had a long debate, which led us to incentivise research and development on improvements to engines and overall design and to control the usage of cars through either vehicle taxation levies or fuel duties. That is exactly where the amendment stands with regard to aviation.

We thought that there would be an opportunity to introduce legislation that placed a duty on aerodromes and then enabled them to adjust their charging policies if necessary. That would incentivise the aviation industry to reduce emissions by way of research and development, better engine design and improved flight practices. It would not only encourage good practice in the industry overall but incentivise individual companies by not placing a duty on them. The vague power that the Secretary of State will have, with no
8 May 2006 : Column 47
clarification of how it will be exercised, lets them off the hook. That means that we will progress no further and that areas will still be blighted by emissions from the aviation industry. From my own perspective, this proves that yet again the aviation industry has dominated the policy-making network that surrounds the Department for Transport, while the voices of environmentalists and of constituents who are suffering as a result of these emissions have not been heard.

It has been argued that the Secretary of State would be able to intervene at a future date. However, it would be invaluable if we could have a description of sorts as to how he would do so. What criteria would beused? How could representations be made to the Government to ensure that that mechanism was exercised by Ministers? What representations could be made by local communities? What would be the forum in which they would make those representations? What would be the role of individual MPs representing their constituents? At what stage would the consultation take place? How will these matters be brought before the House? At the moment, they are subject to the negative procedure, so there will be no opportunity for Members to trigger debate or even to comment on any decision that is made by the Government.

I am afraid that I fully support the Lords in this amendment, because compulsion is the only way forward, not only to bring the industry to a realistic assessment of the impact that it is having on our environment, but to force it to take some action. Without compulsion, we will go on for decades without having a real and direct impact. As a representative of the constituency in which Heathrow is sited, I am aware that even with existing legislation and voluntary agreements, my constituents’ quality of life is directly affected by the noise and emissions that pollute the atmosphere. It was recently estimated that 5,000 of my constituents are being poisoned by air pollution from the airport.

The existing system is not working. The amendment would introduce an element of compulsion and put some pressure on the industry, and we would be able to move forward in a consensual way, since every party wants to be the greenest party in the land at the moment. I ask the Minister at least to describe how he envisages that the system will work and have an effect in the absence of the amendment.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I, too, welcome the Under-Secretaries to their new responsibilities. I have previously worked with them both in different roles. I am sure that our working together will be as fruitful in this role as it has been in the past.

Having said that, I am afraid that I do not have much positive to say about the Government’s view on noise and emissions. They have talked a tough game, but their proposals in the Bill are timid, to say the least. The amendments made in the other place would go a long way towards putting spine into these measures, and they are exceptionally to be welcomed. I regret the fact that the Government are asking this House to disagree to them.

8 May 2006 : Column 48

The mechanism of compulsion, for which the amendment provides, appears to be the only means whereby we can hope to achieve the sort of consistency that will be necessary to attain the meaningful controls that are needed on noise.

Mr. Redwood: What do the Liberal Democrats believe to be the minimum charge that one would have to impose on aircraft landing and taking off to make an impact on the problem that the hon. Gentleman identifies?

Mr. Carmichael: I am delighted to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have no idea what the figure would be. As Ministers normally say in such circumstances, I shall make inquiries and write to him. However, the point is that, instead of setting a figure, we are considering establishing a structure.

When my noble Friend Lord Bradshaw moved the amendment on Report in the other place, he drew attention to the position that persists in Birmingham and Coventry airports. He explained that Birmingham has exceptionally good noise monitoring arrangements, which are vigorously enforced and benefit the nearby residents. On the other hand, Coventry, which shares the same airspace, has no such noise monitoring in place. Consequently, the older, noisier, principally freight-based aircraft use Coventry airport because it is not subject to the same controls. By resisting the amendment, the Government appear to be inviting us to visit that position on the rest of the country.

Lords amendment No. 2 proposes that the charges on noise should be proportional to the noise emitted. I cannot understand why the Government continueto resist that. It is a no-brainer. In the other place, Lord Davies of Oldham prayed in aid smaller airports and the regulatory burden that would be visited on them. He specifically mentioned Tiree airport. I am delighted that, at last, the so-called peripheral communities are getting their fair share of say in Government policy on the matter, but I do not believe that working out the charges for noise and emissions at Tiree airport would be especially onerous. It would take most people approximately five minutes. I know from the operation of flight information services at Tingwall airport in Shetland in my constituency that the Government have previously showed precious little regard for the regulatory burden on small aircraft and, frankly, small airports have more pressing concerns than what we are discussing.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that the smaller airports are something of a red herring because it is obvious to one and all, including, I am sure, the Under-Secretary, that general aviation and general business aviation involving smaller aircraft, of, for example, five tonnes, do not cause the emissions and the noise about which he is concerned? He does not need to worry about them. He could discuss the points that my hon. Friend makes without threat to the small airports.

Mr. Carmichael: My hon. Friend is uncharacteristically restrained when he says “something of a red herring”, because the matter is a total red herring. It shows the
8 May 2006 : Column 49
general weakness of the Government’s case that they resort to producing such examples in support of their arguments. I do not understand why they are so resistant to fairly simple, straightforward commonsense measures, which could make a genuine difference to the people who live near the major airports, especially those in the south-east of England whose lives are blighted by noise. The Government have a chance to act. The Under-Secretary must tell us why he chooses not to take it.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I shall speak briefly. I should declare an interest because London Luton airport brings considerable benefits to my constituency through employment and payments to the local authority, which contribute to local spending. The environmental effects do not affect my constituency so I could say that I do not mind what the impact is because I get all the benefits and none of the difficulties. However, that would be irresponsible and selfish.

I have spoken in favour of expanding London Luton airport, but largely on the basis that it might obviate the need to expand Heathrow. If Luton airport could be expanded, some medium-haul and short-haul flights could be transferred from Heathrow, which would benefit us and the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell).

I am disappointed that the Government have chosen to reject the Lords amendments, although I shall acquiesce in their decision. Is it not time that we started to incentivise airport operators and others in the aviation industry to get their act together?

5 pm

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): My hon. Friend and I have shared a similar point of view in many aviation debates. Does he accept, however, that the debate on this amendment lacks context—namely, that the noise contours around almost every airport are getting smaller, and that the noxious emissions from aircraft are reducing?

Kelvin Hopkins: I agree entirely; I simply want to offer the industry incentives to do better.

John McDonnell: Emissions might be decreasing where airports are not expanding. However, where airports are expanding, the increase in emissions is having a much greater impact.

Kelvin Hopkins: Indeed. Anyone who lives near an airport will suffer in that respect, and there is everything to be gained from making it as difficult as possible for the industry to spew out noxious emissions.

Mr. Brazier: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his response to the previous intervention? Not only are the aggregate CO2 emissions from aviation rising fast, as flight numbers rise much faster than the rate at which efficiency improves, but that rise has more than accounted for the rise in CO2 emissions that is one of the sadder achievements of the past nine years of this Government.

8 May 2006 : Column 50

Kelvin Hopkins: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I wanted to respond to the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She mentioned the distribution effects of charges relating to emissions and noise. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) to his place. Has he looked at the impact of distributing traffic between airports? Such a distribution could have a significant impact on south-east England, especially on London Luton. I hope that traffic will shift from London Heathrow to London Luton, as that would benefit Luton and Heathrow. We know that there will be an increase in air traffic, although I think that it will be smaller than is being predicted, for all sorts of environmental and political reasons. Nevertheless, such a shift would be beneficial. Has the Department considered the distribution effects of such constraints on noise and emissions?

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) mentioned noise footprints. A new generation of aircraft will soon come into existence. Some hon. Members might have seen the presentation on the so-called Dreamliner, which is made of composite rather than metal. It is much lighter, has a bigger payload and can fly much longer distances. Most significantly, however, it is much more fuel- efficient and has a much smaller noise footprint. If we can offer the industry incentives to move as quickly as possible towards adopting such aircraft—which I believe are the future—we shall do everyone a great service in regard to the environment. It would also make life easier for the industry, as it would be less under pressure than it would otherwise be.

We should also press what is left of the British aircraft manufacturing industry—there is not too much left, but what is left is Airbus—to go in that direction as well. It should follow Boeing in making aircraft that are much more fuel-efficient and generate far fewer emissions and less noise.

Having made those few remarks, I shall acquiesce in what the Government decide on this amendment.

Mr. Garnier: I am sorry that the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) will acquiesce with what his Whips require. He is missing a point. The clause will do nothing to protect the interests of his constituents—whether they live right under the flight path or gain from the economic advantages that Luton airport brings them. None of us wants the economy to be damaged, but equally I think that all of us, including Labour Members, want the airline, aviation and airport industries to consider the interests and lives of those who live under flight paths and near airports.

I was interested to learn quite recently that 86 per cent. of all noise complaints about arriving aircraft relate to Heathrow or to Nottingham East Midlands airport. Heathrow is the country’s premier airport for passengers and freight. Nottingham East Midlands airport is not covered by clause 2 because it is not a designated airport under the Civil Aviation Act 1982. My constituents do not live—to use the words of clause 1—“in the vicinity of” Nottingham East Midlands airport, which is not in Nottingham. Very few people from outside Britain know what the east
8 May 2006 : Column 51
midlands is like as a destination, and the airport is wholly within Leicestershire but happens to have a Derbyshire postcode, and I see the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) in his place. I also see the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) in his place, and he is a former director of the Manchester Airport Group, which wholly owns the airport. We have the absurd situation in which more and more people are getting more and more cross with the way in which Nottingham East Midlands behaves towards its neighbours, but they can do less and less about it.

I thought that the new Civil Aviation Bill would give my constituents and the residents of greater Leicestershire some purchase on the decision making of an airport whose headquarters are in Manchester. That would have improved the quality of life of my constituents who live between 20 miles and 50 miles from the airport.

Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to making a case for the municipalisation of all airports so that they are democratically owned and controlled by the people who live in their area.

Mr. Garnier: Not only was I not seeming to make that case, but I was not making it. I am asking the Government to get a grip and to understand the damage that, on the face of it, a beneficial operation could wittingly or unwittingly have on those who have least control over the operation.

Nottingham East Midlands airport might have much to recommend it. It sells itself as the freight hub of the east midlands and as a good place to do business from which freight carriers can distribute goods throughout England within four hours of their being landed. That is fine, and we are told how wonderful it will be that new jobs will be created in the Castle Donington area. However, we have no evidence of those jobs; they are simply assertions.

Furthermore, as a direct consequence of an increase in traffic aeroplanes will, over the next decade, land once every 90 seconds between 11 pm and 7 am—that is the aim and the way in which the airport is being sold—but we are never told that, because the airport is not designated under the 1982 Act, the Government and the Secretary of State can do nothing about it. The Bill does not address that point and, despite their warm words about wanting to be green, Ministers will do nothing to control aircraft movements. If people think that the Government are going to do something about that, they are sadly wrong because they want to have “may” instead of “shall”, and I think that the constituents of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) will suffer as much as my constituents do. The only hope that my constituents who are affected by a non-designated airport have is that the management of the airport group, based in Manchester, would at least be compelled to enter into a regime to control the noise and air pollution aspects of the business.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): Although I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. and learned
8 May 2006 : Column 52
Gentleman’s point, does he agree that the clause does not suggest a way to achieve what he wants to achieve? It focuses essentially on a charging regime rather than a means of stopping certain aircraft using airspace over his constituency.

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman makes a different but none the less good argument. I am arguing that the Bill, unamended, with the word “may”, does nothing to protect my constituents or his constituents in villages such as Melbourne and those areas that are under or near the flight path. To pick up on his argument, although Nottingham East Midlands airport—Manchester Airport Group—would be compelled under the Lords amendment to enter into arrangements that set up an effective charging regime, there is no template or scheme, designed by the Civil Aviation Authority, the Manchester Airport Group or, still less, the Secretary of State for Transport, to show an errant airport, lazy airport or uncaring airport, if one can have such a description of an inanimate object, how to treat its neighbours. The word “shall” could compel them to enter into a regime that creates a charging system, but which sets the charges at a ridiculously low level. My fear is that if we privatise the policing system so that an airport is enabled to set its own charging regime to fine its own customers, we are whistling in the wind—if it were possible to hear oneself whistle.

Nottingham East Midlands airport has gone on record as saying, “We want to attract lots and lots of aeroplanes all through the night because we want to sell ourselves as the freight hub of the midlands.”

Graham Stringer rose—

Mr. Garnier: I see that the former director would like to intervene.

Graham Stringer: As ever, I am listening carefully to the hon. and learned Gentleman’s argument, which seems to be based on the fact that there is a problem because Nottingham East Midlands airport is second in the pecking order when it comes to the number of complaints. Where would it come in the pecking order if the number of complainants were listed? Is not it the case that most of the complaints about the airport come from a very small number of people?

Mr. Garnier: I am not sure that that is true. It may well be that from the safety of Manchester, Blackley, the number of those who complain about the noise that affects the residents of Leicestershire is small beer.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Garnier: I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene briefly, before putting a point to the Minister and concluding.

Next Section Index Home Page