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Keith Vaz: The hon. and learned Gentleman is right: there is great concern in Leicester and Leicestershire about the expansion of Nottingham East Midlands airport. Perhaps people do not write in as much as they do in Manchester, but the problem has always been that the airport has failed to consult local people about its plans. We have been able to discover what it is doing
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about night flights only because of the work done by the hon. and learned Gentleman and others to expose the airport’s management in the House.

Mr. Garnier: As ever, I am grateful for any compliments from wherever they come. On such a subject, to have a compliment from the hon. Gentleman is welcome. He is right, although I confess that the airport has got better in its public relations. Indeed, as a result of the things that I and others have said over the past few years, it has had to appoint a public relations officer. It so happens that it has appointed the man from Birmingham International airport, who seems to send out exactly the same press releases, except that he chisels out “Birmingham International” and puts “Nottingham East Midlands” instead, so we get the same guff. There we are; that is what public relations is, I guess.

5.15 pm

The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) is perfectly correct: there have been lots of justified complaints, not just from the “vicinity” of the airport—the word used in the clause—but from further away. Those of us who live further from the airport cannot have any confidence in the Bill dealing with the problem. Subsection (2)(c) refers to

That does not help the people living in Market Harborough or the villages and hamlets between Market Harborough and the city of Leicester, as aircraft come in or out of the airport and bend round the north of the city.

One does not have to live near a big airport such as Heathrow to understand what it is like. Noise is a relative, not absolute, concept. If an area that has traditionally had no ambient noise at night—rural Leicestershire—is to be faced with aeroplanes and freighters coming in every 90 seconds, that presents a completely different problem from the one of which the Minister is perhaps aware.

I shall use an analogy that I have used previously. If Nottingham East Midlands airport were a lorry freight company that wished to drive trucks through my villages every 90 seconds all night, somebody would do something about it. As the freight is up in the air, however, nobody does anything about it, and the Government will not take responsibility for the implications and consequences of their policy, through the White Paper, of creating this great freight hub in north-west Leicestershire. Were a factory emitting noxious fumes all night, somebody would do something about it, but the Government say that it is nothing to do with them, that they simply set the policy in the White Paper and that what happens next is down to local decision making. There is no local decision making of any value, because the Government will not give the local population any power over shareholders in Greater Manchester—the 10 local authorities that own the airport.

What do we do? I make the same speech week after week. I drive the Speaker of the House mad with the ingenious ways in which I try to ask questions about Nottingham East Midlands airport that, strictly, are
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probably out of order, but he is a tolerant man and I thank him for it. While he may be tolerant, however, my constituents are becoming increasingly intolerant of the way in which their lives are being ruined by the bad behaviour of the Manchester Airport Group and the way in which it addresses the issue.

The worst that could be done is for the Government feebly to say that Nottingham East Midlands airport “may” fix its charges in respect of an aircraft. They should say “shall”, and a meaningful regime should be attached to make sure that, if the Government are prepared to allow Nottingham East Midlands airport to police its own activities, it does so in a sensible way that bites. The people who get the benefit should therefore also have to pay for the benefits that create burdens for my constituents. Unlike the constituents of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), my constituents get all the burden or disbenefit and none of the economic advantage.

It is high time that the Government took a grip. I appreciate that the Minister took over the aviation responsibility at a difficult time, but I have now watched half a dozen aviation Ministers push the problem into the wastepaper basket and hope that Manchester Airport Group will behave itself. It will not. It is therefore time that the Government paid a little attention to the people of this country before they finally fade away.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I also congratulate my hon. Friend on the expansion of his ministerial remit. I hope that the additional duties do not get in the way of his approval of lines 2 and 3 of the Nottingham tram submission, which has been waiting for permission to land for quite a long time.

Not too long ago, the Prime Minister spoke at a press conference in New Zealand about climate change. He made the point that every aspect of Government policy—every aspect of government—would now be imbued with a duty to address the challenge of climate change. Yet when we have a chance to deal with one of the biggest contributors to climate change—aviation fuel—we have a sense that the Government have avoided the opportunity to intervene and place duties on the industry as a whole.

I ask the Minister to think again about the nature of the Lords amendments. I too could claim to have a particular interest in what is a local issue affecting Nottingham East Midlands airport, but in fact my concerns are wider. I do not want to diminish the legitimate complaints made by people who are directly affected by noise, but for me the significance of the amendments lies in the fact that they bolt emissions to noise. That is of enormous and crucial interest, not just to those who live in the immediate vicinity of airports but to everyone who lives in this country.

The fact is that permissive powers are largely ineffective and irrelevant when it comes to tackling the major issues that we face as a society. We know that from our experience of the issues of fuel poverty and housing. For years we said that the major energy suppliers had existing powers to intervene if they wished to eradicate fuel poverty. Many did something, but only at the most nominal level. When the major suppliers were asked why they did not go further, they
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said “It is a mug’s game. Why should anyone take on the additional costs of serious measures to eradicate fuel poverty when our competitors will undercut us in what is essentially a price-only market?”

Exactly the same now applies to aviation. Drawing a distinction between designated and non-designated airports and giving their managements a permissive entitlement will still leave them operating in, essentially, a price-only market. It is highly unlikely that any airport will take on major initiatives that would cut the carbon emissions that are associated with an expansion of airport activity.

Furthermore, we could find ourselves in a perverse situation—a lose-lose scenario—in which a relatively small reduction in noise impact had the effect of doubling the number of planes allowed to land during the period concerned. That would not mean that those living in the flight paths benefited from a better, less interrupted night’s sleep, but it would mean a doubling of carbon emissions.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): The situation that the hon. Gentleman describes is not hypothetical. That is exactly what is being proposed in stage 2 of the night flights restriction consultation relating to Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick.

Alan Simpson: Precisely. I did not want to speak at this stage about the next group of amendments, which refer specifically to schemes that will be in place, but that is where we are heading. It is not only possible but highly likely that the consequence of the proposals will be at least a doubling of night flights and the carbon emissions associated with them, and that we shall find ourselves in a perverse position. Climate change is at the heart of everything that we do as a Government, but we are proposing to take a step that will make our contributions to climate change-related damage worse.

A sensible piece of advice is the first law of holes: when we are in one, we should stop digging. That is the first stage in working out how to get out of the hole.

Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman can see the problem very clearly, as can I and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. How many of his right hon. and hon. Friends will join us in trying to sort it out?

Alan Simpson: I suspect that there is a broad consensus in all parts of the House on the need to sort out the problem, but I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman’s Front-Bench colleagues propose to divide on this amendment to test that consensus.

This is one of the most critical challenges that our society faces. When Sir David King, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, he said that climate change is a bigger threat to our survival than terrorism. We have to address the damage that the doubling or trebling of carbon emissions, resulting from the expansion of freight and passenger air transport, will do to the environment that we hand on to our children.


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Mr. Brazier: On the hon. Gentleman’s earlier point, although we are strongly in favour of the amendment’s substance, we will not press it to a vote because, as I made clear in my speech, as drafted it would impose an unreasonable burden on some smaller airports. Indeed, its mover in the Lords made it clear that the wording was defective. We are with him in spirit, but it is the next group of amendments that we will press to a vote.

Alan Simpson: I would rather have an amendment with defective wording than no amendment at all. As was pointed out earlier, the Bill provides an imperfect way of addressing a very serious problem: it relies on using a market mechanism to address a colossal environmental challenge. I would rather that the Government set very strict limits on the carbon emission entitlements of all airports, making it clear that they are not allowed to pass that threshold. However, the Bill contains no such provision.

Removing the distinction between designated and non-designated airports would have the great advantage of generating an argument within the industry. The industry would say to the Government, “If we are suddenly to have a duty to charge on the basis of emissions and noise, there has to be a coherent framework. So give us the framework—give us the new level playing field.” In that sense, a regulation based on an amendment with defective wording would take us closer to achieving a level environmental playing field than no regulation at all. My worry, given the aviation industry’s current framework, is that establishing a permissive entitlement could actually double or treble the amount of environmental damage, rather than achieve a status quo.

I urge the Minister to think again about closing this particular door. Nothing in our history or our current activity suggests that we can rein in the impact of climate change and the damage being done to the environment without establishing a clear framework that everyone has to operate within. To leave it to permission is to leave it to those who will exploit the most and do the least.

Lembit Öpik: I rise to seek the Government’s position on general aviation, particularly British general aviation, regarding noise and emissions. In doing so, I welcome the Minister to his new role; I am sure that the general aviation sector is looking forward to making direct connections with him.

I fly aircraft, but they are little ones that do not make much noise or use much petrol. My Mooney M20J can travel at 190 mph and do 24 miles per gallon, which is perhaps better than the Minister’s own road vehiclecan do. Like me, the hon. Member for Aldershot(Mr. Howarth) also flies regularly. The Minister should know that we have created a loosely constituted group—the parliamentary aviation group—that focuses on the interests of general aviation and of business general aviation. It is clear to us that general aviation and business general aviation are not the significant problem in terms of noise and emissions. The Minister may already know that general aviation is a £5,000 million a year sector of the British economy and provides some 21,000 jobs. While it is therefore big in business terms, it is small in terms of the impact that we are discussing.


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5.30 pm

General aviation’s total daily environmental impact is roughly the same as that of one jumbo jet in the first five hours of a transatlantic flight. Indeed, the entire fuel usage of the piston sector of general aviation is equivalent to roughly 20 minutes of usage by the road transport sector. It is also rare for general aviation, or the smaller business jets, to cause complaints about noise. While most of the large jets carry predominantly leisure passengers, most general aviation and small business jets carry business passengers, including Ministers and Opposition Members from time to time.

Leaving aside the points about the amendments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is not the Government’s intention to create unintended consequences for the general aviation sector and the business aviation sector of aircraft that weigh less than 10 tonnes. I do not expect the Minister to spend much time on that issue, but I can inform him that the general aviation sector, which probably has not been organised or strategic enough in the past in developing links with his Department, is concerned that announcements intended to check noise and emissions from large jets actually punish the smaller aircraft that are not the problem. I hope that the Minister will also confirm that he is willing to continue to develop the relationships that his immediate predecessor was developing effectively, to ensure that general and business general aviation will be taken into consideration when legislation and amendments—such as those we are discussing—are proposed. I am happy to work with him on an informal cross-party basis to ensure strategic consideration of that important economic sector, which does not cause the environmental and noise disturbances that so vex many people living near large airports.

Derek Twigg: We have had an interesting and enlightening debate for my first run-out on the subject of aviation and I appreciate that hon. Members have great interest in and concerns about it. As I said earlier, we disagree with the Lords amendments because they would impose an undue regulatory burden. It is probably best if local environmental impacts are resolved locally, because different issues arise at different airports, so a one-size-fits-all solution is not the proper approach.

Mr. Todd: Can my hon. Friend explain why the apparent fault in placing an additional regulatory burden on—presumably—smaller airports could not be dealt with by clearer regulatory guidance from the Government after the passage of the Bill?

Derek Twigg: We have to make a judgment about the balance of the burden and what sort of guidance we issue to airports, and we believe that it is best dealt with locally, given that the impacts occur locally. It is important to look at the issue on a case-by-case basis. It is implicit in the Bill that the Secretary of State has powers to direct airports to use the powers that they have if they are not doing so. Through its provisions on charges on noise and emissions, the Bill will help to encourage awareness of the importance of the environmental aspects of airports. That will continue as concerns are raised and given a higher profile and airports take account of them.


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Mr. Garnier: The Minister talked about local decisions, an expression also used by his five or six predecessors, but the Bill refers to “the vicinity”. As I have already said, my constituents live between 20 and 50 miles away from the airport, so they feel that they are in the vicinity, but, as I understand it, they will not be included in any regime permitted under the clause. Can the Minister assure me that local decisions will not just mean, in the case of Nottingham East Midlands airport, North West Leicestershire district council but the whole local authority regime throughout the county of Leicestershire? Otherwise, the provision is meaningless.

Derek Twigg: It is important that airports listen to concerns raised by people affected by flights from them and we have seen good practice in many airports. I realise that the hon. and learned Gentleman is raising issues about the way things were dealt with in the past, but it is important that airports respond to such concerns. On his earlier question, I can tell him that although clause 1 relates to landing and taking-off charges in respect of certified noise levels, a definition of landing or taking off is not necessary for the purposes of the provision. I understand his point and I am sure that he will continue to make it, but there is a balance to be struck between the economic impacts and benefits and the social and environmental costs that he and others have outlined.

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) drew attention to the environmental consequences. As he and the House are aware, international aviation emissions were not included in the Kyoto targets but the UK is leading the international debate and pressing for action. Under our EU presidency, we made progress on the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme and the European Commission has been remitted to produce a legislative proposal by the end of 2006. Current research places high priority on the importance of the impact on the environment, but we have to strike a balance between the economic impacts and the social and environmental effects.

Mr. Redwood: If the Minister does not want to use the route suggested in the Lords amendment, is he telling the House that he can guarantee that a carbon trading system will affect aviation in the short term, so that emissions will be curbed, or is he saying that in practice the Government will do nothing to curb aviation emissions?

Derek Twigg: The right hon. Gentleman will have heard what I just said about the EU emissions trading scheme. We are leading discussions internationally about what can be done. We believe that such things should be dealt with locally, however, because different issues affect different airports, which is why we think it right to disagree with the Lords amendment.

Graham Stringer: I have been following my hon. Friend’s argument closely and I agree that it is better for decisions to be made locally. Is not there a serious flaw in the case being put by Opposition Members? Even if landing charges were doubled or trebled, they would still be only a relatively trivial part of an airline’s costs. It is most unlikely that such charges would
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change behaviour so is it not better to follow the direction proposed by the Government and look for international co-operation rather than trying to force charging regimes from the centre that could be inappropriate?

Derek Twigg: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and recognise his experience, interest and work in aviation. He makes an important point. The Government believe strongly that our approach is correct and, as he says, local decision making is important when taking account of issues relating to the environmental impact of airports.

Alan Simpson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the distinction between decisions that need to be made locally and those that come back to ministerial and Government level. I also welcome the Government’s initiative in relation to EU-wide discussions. My difficulty lies in understanding where we will run the debate from. I do not want to put my hon. Friend on the spot on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box on aviation, but will he undertake to return to the House with whatever environmental impact assessments have been made about the projected growth of airport traffic and the carbon footprints that that will cause? Whatever discussions take place at European level, we must have some known parameters about the current carbon impact that we are talking about in the existing proposals, to put together not only a national approach but a European-wide one. So will he come back to the House to put that information before MPs, perhaps by placing it in the Library?

Derek Twigg: Again, I understand the issue that my hon. Friend raises. He mentions the European Commission and the emissions trading scheme, but we also have international discussions, which were mentioned a few moments ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer). Of course, we listen to the issues raised on the Floor of the House today.

I want to move on quickly, because time is running on and hon. Members want to discuss other issues. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), unless I misheard him, made a point about the noise monitoring system at Coventry airport. As I understand it, the recent planning approval to the interim passenger facility will lead to noise monitoring being provided under the terms of an agreement between the airport operator and the local planning authority. I should like to conclude on that.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Lords amendment No. 2 disagreed to.

Lords amendment No. 3 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 4 disagreed to.

Clause 2


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