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Evidence supplied by Steve Charlish and others makes it clear that people whose lives are disturbed by aircraft noise and movements that deviate from established flight paths—the Minister did not discuss that at all—and who make frequent complaints are regarded by NEMA as nuisance complainants.

It does not help that responsibility for such things is fragmented between different agencies and organisations. The public and Members of Parliament are given the runaround by airports and the air traffic control system responsible for air traffic movements if they try to establish whether a flight diverged grossly from its flight path, which is why we sought to provide in another part of the Bill for a commercial flights officer. I do not wish to reopen that debate, as I simply
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wish to highlight the fact that there is little protection against noise. Airports do not always have the facts to hand, which is why we should be concerned about the removal of one of the two remaining golf clubs in the bag.

Page 117 of the White Paper on the future of air transport highlighted the obligation

The stop Stansted expansion campaign highlighted BAA’s disregard for that obligation, which has resulted in local communities around the airport, led by Takeley parish council, pursuing a legal challenge againstBAA. It estimates that airport-related housing blight, resulting from plans to expand Stansted announced in July 2002, totals £635 million across Uttlesford district as a whole. According to analysis taken from the latest Land Registry house price statistics, the number of affected homes is about 12,000. However, BAA is prepared to consider compensation for only about 500 homes in the immediate vicinity affected by airport expansion.

Any increase in night-time disturbance has the potential seriously to alter the value of someone’s home, the most valuable asset that most people own. It is not good enough for the Minister to say, “Trust us”, or rather, “You’ll be okay at Heathrow until 2012, but the other designated airports must trust us, and people round Heathrow will have to trust us after 2012.” The Lords were right to strike out subsection (2) and to reinstate the power to control numbers. I urge the House to support their verdict.

John McDonnell: I am not just disappointed with the Government’s attitude towards Lords amendmentNo. 5; I am ashamed of it, because of the campaigns that I and a number of colleagues have waged over the years against night flights and their environmental impact on our constituents and on London overall. The only advantage of the amendment is that the debate allows me to miss the parliamentary Labour party meeting currently going on.

The move to abolish the flight numbers restrictions stems from a concerted, well funded and lengthy lobby by the aviation industry to increase the number of night flights. Over a considerable period, aviation companies, BAA and others have plugged away at successive Ministers to achieve that end. The claim that the overall noise climate limit will be sufficient to protect people from noise disturbance is a disingenuous ploy to increase night flights.

As we know from consultation, the industry is determined to increase the overall number of night flights. The argument is that the overall reduction in the noise climate will allow more night flights. The industry has mobilised for so long that it is bringing the issue to a head. But that argument fails to take account of how noise impacts on individuals and their families—our constituents. The disturbance affects their sleep, their work, the education of their children and their environment. When a family gets up for breakfast, it does not usually discuss how good was the night before or what the level equivalent of decibels of
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effective perceived noise was. They usually say, “Did you hear that one at 5 am?”, or at 4 am or whenever. They discuss how it disturbed the children during the night and how the family has been disturbed over a long period.

The noise disturbance is not related solely to aircraft in the sky. In my constituency, the impact for many residents comes from ground noise—traffic to and from the airport, with airport workers going to receive the night flights, the goods vehicles and the passengers travelling to and fro in their vehicles. Unfortunately, a vast proportion of that traffic still consists of cars and larger vehicles travelling through the areas surrounding Heathrow and through my constituency at night, disturbing the peace of residents.

That is why the overall noise and movement limits, working together, offered at least some limited protection. I agree with what others have said across the House. Our ambition was to have no night flights at all, and we thought we would eventually be able to persuade a Government of the sense of it. The combination of overall limits and limits on numbers had some effect. The removal of the numbers will have a deleterious effect on my constituents because it will blight their environment and, as some have said, their properties for a long time to come. The delay to 2012 is no concession whatever. It is no compromise. It is probably dictated by the time that the Government need to implement the system effectively.

Consultation is meaningless as some form of compromise offer to my constituents. We have been consulted so often on the development of the airport, and never listened to, that people are cynical about the entire concept. As hon. Members have said, in consultations over the past 30 years we have been promised no further terminals and no further runways. Ministers have raised in the House the issue of caps on movement, yet over time each proposal has been discarded.

I cannot understand why the Government are going along with the idea. I cannot comprehend why they are flying in the face of popular opinion, as expressed by a vast range of the population of London and elsewhere. The only reason that I can believe is that the aviation industry has, yet again, been able to mount such an effective lobby that the Government have, again, conceded.

Justine Greening: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Is he aware that councils representing 2.3 million people wrote in at stage 1 of the night flights consultation expressing deep concerns about night flights and their impact on residents? Does he agree that it is a scandal that those councils have been so systematically ignored?

6.15 pm

John McDonnell: The hon. Lady will agree that if consultation means anything, it must mean that the Government listen to the vast majority. An overwhelming majority have told the Government that they should not move. If we cannot improve on existing protection mechanisms, we should at least maintain what protection we have. I am extremely disappointed. I realise that every vote against the Government at
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present is an act of regicide, but I will vote against them tonight, because this is our only opportunity to register our anger, as communities, about the way they are letting down people who want their environment protected and who just want a decent night’s sleep.

Mr. Carmichael: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who says that if consultation is to be meaningful,the Government must listen. We know, of course, that the Government do listen. My concern is who they are listening to on this occasion. It is pretty clear that they have not been listening to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, those of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) or those of the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie).

The Government have been listening to the airline operators. It is clear on this issue that the Department for Transport has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the airline industry. That is who the Government are listening to—not the people who are suffering from the disruption and whose lives and property prices are being blighted by the increase in airline movement at night.

I shall not detain the House by rehearsing arguments already made. A numerical cap has one overall advantage: it is completely transparent and understandable. Concepts such as quotas or noise footprints, such as those outlined by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), are opaque. Nobody can have any confidence that such measures, once put in place, are properly observed. A numerical cap may have disadvantages—as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park said, many communities living close to airports would rather there were no night flights at all—but it has the advantage of clarity.

Susan Kramer: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no logic to the proposal that a particular set of limits should apply at Heathrow until 2012 and collapse thereafter? The aircraft fleet that flies in and out of Heathrow will be essentially the same for the next20 years. There is no prospect of significantly quieter aircraft and therefore no logic for arguing for a change of regime six years from now.

Mr. Carmichael: I cannot but agree. The Minister’s so-called concession today was greeted with justifiable ridicule. It is no concession at all. As he said, the limits will be set by the end of this month and will be in place until 2012. Thereafter, as my hon. Friend says, there may be some marginal improvements, but the situation will not be radically different from that which pertains already. As has been said, it is difficult to see the merit of legislating now for a situation six years down the line.

Derek Twigg: Is the hon. Gentleman opposed to the Government’s setting a limit till 2012, as I announced today?

Mr. Carmichael: No; I am opposed to the Minister’s coming to the House and pretending that his concession is a case of anything other than bowing to the inevitable.

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Derek Twigg: Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of it?

Mr. Carmichael: We were going to get it anyway, so I have no difficulty with it. However, I have difficulty with yet another example of spin from the Government, who are trying to pretend that they are giving us something special when they are actually giving us something that we would have had in any event.

A number of points have been made about the inadequacies of the quota system, and my noble Friend Lord Hanningfield dealt with them in detail in the other place on Report on 8 March. If any hon. Members have not read that speech yet, I encourage them to do so, because it highlights the intellectual inconsistency and political dishonesty of the Government’s position. I urge the House to hold firm behind the Lords amendment.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): I apologise to the Minister because I was not present for his opening comments—I was trying to extract myself from Heathrow and get here on time.

Some hon. Members are known as the usual suspects, and that description has been applied to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) in another context. When we debate Heathrow, it is often the case that a group of hon. Members say one thing and I do not agree with them, but there are some issues on which every one of us says the same thing. From time to time, people argue that everybody who lives near the airport agrees about everything, but that is not true. If we were to debate terminals or runways, I might not be among the usual suspects who criticise any change at Heathrow, but on this matter, I have always said that we should be phasing out night flights rather than finding ways to increase them.

In my experience of listening to my constituents who live up against the boundary fence, it is not the amount of noise that wakes them up, but the fact that there is noise. If aircraft were to make less noise, it is my guess that people would still be woken up. I do not buy the argument that the policy is the result of huge pressure for extra night flights, because I am unaware of a vast demand for extra night flights at Heathrow, and whenever I talk to those concerned, they seem willing to accept that we could phase them out. In my experience of listening to my constituents and of living under the flight path, the argument that quieter aircraft will not disturb people is total nonsense. The House of Lords was absolutely right to remove the provision.

I recognise that a compromise has been offered. All I say is that my constituents are not interested in compromise, because they want fewer night flights, not more, and in the end they want none at all.

Adam Afriyie: As I am the Member of Parliament for Windsor, thousands of my constituents live under flight paths, which is also true of many otherhon. Members, and as a member of the Standing Committee that scrutinised the Bill, I am aware of the sleight of hand contained in the legislation. As an advocate of reasonable measures to protect the environment for people living under flight paths and close to airports, I am pleased to speak in favour of Lords amendment No. 5. I am also pleased to have the
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chance to speak against Government amendment (a), which is not only illogical, but sneaky, unworkable and underhand; it seeks to remove protections and open up the night skies to a flight bonanza.

Let us be clear that the frequency of noisy flights ruins the sleep of residents. The economic benefit associated with the use of airports for business activity is certainly desirable, and if air traffic needs to expand, perhaps we can allow for it in the long term with quieter aircraft, provided that air quality is kept within tight limits and access to airports is available. However, it is a sobering thought that our tourists spend £16 billion more abroad than incoming tourists spend visiting the UK, which is perhaps an issue for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Civil Aviation Act 1982 empowered the Secretary of State to limit the number of flights at designated airports. A straightforward limit on the number of flights is easily understood by everyone; for example, 16 flights are currently allowed at Heathrow during the night period and, despite the disturbance, affected residents know what that limit means. If the noise associated with a particular flight is louder than 90 dB on the ground, people are likely to be rudely awakened. It is the noise created by individual aircraft combined with the number of flights during the night that disturbs residents’ sleep.

Government amendment (a) is strange. It proposes that at some future point the noise made by individual aircraft and the number of flights during the course of the night will be ignored. Instead, the Government want to rely on a complicated scheme based on average noise levels during a night period. Average noise levels have never woken anyone, because it is the absolute noise and frequency of flights that disturbs people. We must ask ourselves why the Government propose to scupper Lords amendments Nos. 5 and 11, which are sensible.

Let us take a quick look at how the Government’s scheme will operate. The night noise quota scheme ranks aircraft types according to their noisiness on take-off and approach for landing. For example, if the noise is above 101.9 dB, the quota count for that aircraft is assigned as 16. If the noise is between 99 dB and 101.9 dB, the quota count for that aircraft is halved and becomes eight—the scale is exponential. If the noise is between 96 dB and 98.9 dB, the quota count for that aircraft is halved again to four. The quota count continues until the noise level falls below 90 dB, when the aircraft is assigned a quota count of a half—I hope that hon. Members are still with me. The Secretary of State then sets a limit on the total quota count points for the average across a season or a night period, which translates into a number of flights. If we were to use the pure quota count system that the Government are seeking to introduce today, twice as many flights would be allowed at night with planes rated at 95 dB than with planes rated at 96 dB. The system is complicated, and complicated systems are often designed to hide simple truths.

Why have the Government introduced an amendment to remove the flight limit, after indicating in writing to many hon. Members that they would support the Lords amendment? There is only one
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explanation, and I have heard no other so far: the Government want to allow an increase in the number of flights at night. As I have said, they have argued that the measure will not be introduced until 2012, but hon. Members should not be deceived. That is not a concession, because the arrangements until 2012 will be announced in the next week or so, and it is simply not possible for the Government to change that agreement before 2012. The Government are trying to appear reasonable by making a semi-concession, when they are in fact behaving completely unreasonably—it is a phantom concession.

Derek Twigg: Will the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he supports my earlier announcement on Heathrow up to 2012?

Adam Afriyie: In an earlier intervention, the Minister asked the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) exactly the same question. I completely reject Government policy in this area, which is ridiculous, and is just a ruse to pretend that they are making a concession. There is no concession, so there is nothing to discuss. The White Paper said that the Government would bear down on noise, but in reality they are easing up on noise. Hon. Members must ask themselves whether they want to be responsible for easing up on noise and on night flights.

There is a better way, although I do not have time to go into the detail. We should retain the limit on flights and accelerate the arrival of significantly quieter aircraft. In time, perhaps we can set a limit on the maximum noise generated by aircraft movements at night. Above all, we can reject the Government’s sneaky amendment today, which will undermine the one sure route to secure a decent night’s sleep for residents. I urge hon. Members to vote against Government amendment (a) and to maintain the flight limit, for the sake of the millions of people who will be affected.

6.30 pm

Justine Greening: My constituents, especially those who live close to the river and are worst affected by night-time, and indeed daytime, noise will be dismayed to hear that the Government still, despite the Lords proposals, want to remove the cap on movements into and out of Heathrow. If Heathrow is to expand, my constituents must have a right to an adequate and sustainable quality of life. There is no chance of that happening on the basis of the Government’s proposals, which will allow Heathrow as many flights in and out as it likes. To my mind, that is community vandalism writ large over west and south-west London.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Does my hon. Friend think that there would be any merit in trying to get an antisocial behaviour order against the Government for such antisocial behaviour against all our constituents?

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