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Justine Greening: I have indeed considered that. One of my questions for the Minister was this: can local councils use the additional powers that they have recently been given against aircraft operators who, it
can be argued, are behaving antisocially by creating noise at night? If I did that to my neighbours every night from 4.30 am to 6 am, they would surely complain. What action can local councils now take against aircraft operators landing early in the morning and late at night?
This is an act of community vandalism. The Government came to power saying that they would be the servants of the people not the masters, but they have completely reversed that position by systematically ignoring millions of people in the south-east, particularly in London, and going ahead with their proposal to take away the cap on movements into and out of Heathrow, irrespective of what local people say.
After the first stage of the night flights consultation, I asked the Government to tell me precisely how many people had asked for an increase in night flights, given that that was the proposal in stage 2. I received no answer of substance. As the Minister may be aware, I went down to the Department for Transport to look through the responses and correspondence that it had received after stage 1. I found a total of three people who wrote in suggesting more night flights. I saw responses from councils representing 2.3 million people who had expressed their concerns over the current level of night flights, with most wanting them eventually to be reduced to zero and many wanting that to happen immediately. I saw correspondence from more than 1,000 individual constituents and petitions from several hundred constituents all saying that they were concerned about the existing level of night flights and wanted a reduction.
What we have from the Government is merely a political fudge. People in my constituency are expected to be pleased because the Government have not made the situation any worse. That is unacceptable. They have been systematically ignored, and that will not be sustainable in the long run. The Government talk about sustainable communities and sustainable development, but that seems to end when it comes to airport expansion. One has to ask why so many millions of constituents can be ignored over such a prolonged period. That suggests that any ongoing consultations are merely a sham that do not recognise the real consultations that are going on behind the scenes with aircraft and airline operators. Today I tabled parliamentary questions to elicit from the Government what meetings they have had with aircraft operators and other interested industry participants. If the Minister can answer tonight, I will be interested to hear the outcome.
The Government cannot scratch their head and wonder why people do not turn out to vote in local and national elections when they ignore people so systematically on such a clear issue as the expansion of Heathrow, night flights and movement limits on all airportsnot only Heathrow but Stansted and Gatwick. That is a democratic deficit that cannot be allowed to continue. I hope that even at this late stage, the Minister will decide to withdraw the Government proposal.
Derek Twigg: I listened carefully to what hon. Members said about disturbance and so forth, and I understand their concerns. Interestingly, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) pointed out that the experience of noise levels, particularly low frequency noise, varies from person to person, so different people are disturbed by different
noises. I accept that there is a genuine problem and that Members are putting forward the concerns that have been expressed to them by their constituents, but I think that we will have to differ. I take issue with the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), who, in suggesting that the Governments policy was to have open skies and as many flights as possible, was not only a little disingenuous but very wide of the mark.
In dealing with aviation, night flights and the number of disturbances, we have to strike a balance between the economic benefits of a vibrant and significant aviation industry and the social and environmental consequences. That is always difficult, and there will of course be differences of opinion among Members. I have an airport on my doorstep and planes flying over my house. I understand the issues that local residents will raise about disturbance, because I deal with that from my own constituents. It is a balancing act in terms of the problems that can be caused, and the economics. For example, large numbers of people are employed in the industry.
Mr. Randall: Does the Minister think that reversing the Lords amendments will benefit people or commercial interests?
Derek Twigg: I understand the hon. Gentlemans point, but it is important to bear in mind the balance that can be struck. Many people would not want any flights, full stop. I understand that position. On the other hand, we need to be aware of the economic factors. Hon. Members will always advance arguments as to whether a proposal benefits the aviation industry or local residents and constituents. We believe that our approach of rejecting the Lords amendments is the best way to tread that narrow line. Hon. Members will disagree with that, as they are entitled to, but it is based on a balanced judgment.
John McDonnell: As my hon. Friend is new to this brief I would like to mention the historical record of the past 40 years and more, as Heathrow has developed from a row of tents. As for the balance between the environment and the development of the airport, there has not been a single occasion throughout that whole period when Heathrow has come to the Government to ask for a development and the Government have not eventually conceded.
Derek Twigg: I know that my hon. Friend campaigns strongly on issues about which he is concerned on behalf of his constituents. However, it is important to bear in mind that the developments that have taken place in improving and expanding airports around the country have been of great benefit to the economy. I understand his point, but I would still argue that the Governments balanced judgment is right.
John McDonnell: The simple point that I am making is that one decision in favour of the local community and the local environment in 60 years would demonstrate an element of trying to redraw the balance. The decision that we are considering tips the balance the other way, in favour of the industry against the local residents.
Derek Twigg: I am sure that my hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that I do not agree with that. He commented earlier on my commitment to no increase at Heathrow until 2012, and how his constituents would perceive that. Other hon. Friends said that the decision would be welcomed as an important and positive step by the Government. Again, there is a difference of opinion about perception and the worry that my hon. Friend and others have expressed.
Susan Kramer: The Under-Secretary has mentioned economic benefit several times. I received a written answer from a previous Minister saying that the case for the economic benefits of night flights had not been made. We have often asked about the marginal economic benefits of constant expansion at Heathrow, but that case has not been made either. I therefore advise him to consider carefully and not take at face value arguments that use the words economic benefit.
Derek Twigg: The hon. Lady makes a good point about arguments for economic benefits and the social and environmental consequences. It is important to bear in mind that the Government always keep those matters under review. The consultation process has just taken place. Some hon. Members imply that there will automatically be an increase at Heathrow after 2012, but they are trying to assess a position that we have not yet reached. The Secretary of State at that time will have to take account of what has happened in the intervening period. That will be important in reaching a conclusion. I stress again the fact that the Governments move on Heathrow until 2012 is positivebut I accept that, as the hon. Lady said, there is a difference of opinion about the extent of the economic impact and how it is determined.
Adam Afriyie: Let me ask the Under-Secretary a fairly straightforward question. Does the Bill allow increased night flights from Heathrow from 2012?
Derek Twigg: Unless I am mistakenI am happy to explain if it is not the casethe Government can examine the position at the airports and make decisions about the number of flights and so on. Such decisions would still have to be part of a consultative procedure. Who knows what the Secretary of State at the time will conclude, taking account of the prevailing factors such as numbers of flights, benefits to the economy, social and environmental consequences and so on, and what happens between now and then. Those important factors would have to be considered. Someone else may be doing my job by then, and we must wait and see.
Justine Greening: The Under-Secretary is possibly rightand neither he nor his Government will be around when the Bill is implemented. It appears as though a Government in their dying days are leaving my constituents and many others a legacy that they will have to put up with long after that Government are out of power. Does he agree that although the decision is delayed, it is a little like delaying a death penalty and having a stay of execution? My constituents will continue to suffer uncertainty and blight on their
properties. What will happen in 2012? It appears that if the Bill is passed, they can look forward to more night flightsand more day flights.
Derek Twigg: The hon. Members for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) and for Windsor have already tried to argue that the Bill automatically means an increase, but I am trying to make it clear that our proposals are the best way forward to achieve a balance between flights, the economy and, of course, the social and environmental consequences. I understand the argument for automatically assuming an increase, but we must take account of what happens. The Secretary of State at the time will examine the position, and I stress the fact that changes can be made to the quotas and so on as time goes on. However, there is a difference between the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), other hon. Members and me about that.
Let me go into a little more detail about the number of movements, overall noise and how that influences disturbances, which hon. Members have raised. Some stakeholders argue in favour of movement limits and against setting night restrictions by referring to overall noise, because each instance of an aircraft flying overhead disturbs someone. The hon. Member for Canterbury made that point earlier when we considered low frequency noise. Reaction varies, and it is suggested that it may be better to consider individual flights rather than cumulative noise over a period.
Reactions to noise are subjective and therefore vary greatly from person to person and from time to time. Sleep disturbance is no exception. Despite extensive research, views differ both among those who suffer from noise and among the scientific community about whether a single loud noise or event, or an accumulation of smaller noises and events, cause more disturbance. I accept that the matter is subjective, but there is discussion and argument about it.
John McDonnell: The World Health Organisation states that we should cover both. Its guidelines for noise levels state that
when there are distinct events to the noise, such as with aircraft or railway noise, measures of individual events such as the maximum noise level should also be obtained.
The World Health Organisation therefore contradicts the Under-Secretary and says that we should set parameters for individual events as well as an overall climate.
Derek Twigg: I understand my hon. Friends point about World Health Organisation standards. Let me consider that in more detail. I am surprised that it has taken so long for hon. Members to bring up those matters.
The Government framed their proposed environmental objectives for each airport in the recent consultation on night flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, taking as long-term targetsthe World Health Organisations standards on the mitigation of noise and its Guidelines for Community Noise in respect of night noise. That approach to the
World Health Organisations guideline values for night noise is consistent with its recommendations. The guideline values on aircraft noise were recommended as long-term targets for improving health.
The values are low, and it would therefore be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve them in the short to medium term without draconian measures. I ask my hon. Friend to bear that in mind. However, the World Organisation did not propose that. It would not be feasible to reduce noise to such a level in urban or rural settings generally, and the World Health Organisation did not suggest that. We are committed to taking account of the guideline values, and we will do that over the 30-year time horizon of the air transport White Paper.
We also support the World Health Organisations conclusions about regular reviews and revisions to the guidelines as new scientific evidence emerges.
Mr. Brazier: Does the Under-Secretary accept that even if there are some disagreements in the literature about the levels and frequencies of noise that most disturb sleep, there can be no doubt that the number of night flights is clearly and unequivocally measurable? The so-called average amount of noise generated through the night is difficult to measureindeed, given the lack of response by protesters to individual flights that appear to have deviated from their flight paths or perhaps should not have taken place, it seems to be impossible in some cases.
Derek Twigg: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me while I finish this point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington made an important point about the World Health Organisations guidelines on night noise. We must remember how subjective peoples judgments can be, and how important it is to address this issue while taking account of the economy and trying to strike the balance that I have been talking about.
The WHO guideline values on aircraft noise were recommended as long-term targets for improving health, and the values are very low. We also support the WHO conclusions for regular reviews and revisionsto the guidelines as new scientific evidence emerges. The guidelines also recommend that cost-effectivenessand cost-benefit analyses should be considered when making management decisions relating to their implementation. The Government are carrying out this process as part of the regulatory impact assessment of the restrictions, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington might find interesting.
I want to return to the effect of the number of movements and of overall noise levels on disturbance. I know that hon. Members will want to hear the important points that I have to make on this matter, because of the concerns that they have raised this evening. It is worth emphasising that research has suggested that the incidence of sleep disturbance is especially associated with the loudest noise events, and in particular those that produce more than a 90 dB sound exposure level. The hon. Member for Windsor mentioned this issue before, saying that it was all very complicated and that he wanted a simple solution to the matter. However, the issue of disturbance is always
complex, in that it affects different individuals in different ways. I can assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that these matters have also been raised with me as a constituency MP, and I am well aware of the representations that can be made about them.
Kelvin Hopkins: I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend is saying, but has not the point been made by Opposition Members that the frequency of aircraft movements is much more important? According to the way in which these things are calculated for regulation purposes, one very loud noise is the equivalent of several much smaller noises. Luton airport is three or four miles from where I live, but I can still hear flights taking off at night on rare occasions, even though they are not very loud. The frequency is much more important than the volume. Surely the Government should be more concerned about the number of flights than about the volume, as Opposition Members have pointed out.
Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which other hon. Members have also raised. Different people have different noise thresholds, and that can also depend on whether they live close to the airport or further away. Flights come over my house, and I understand that this can be an issue.
As I said a moment ago, research has suggested that the incidence of sleep disturbance is especially associated with the loudest noise events, and in particular those that produce more than a 90 dB sound exposure level. That measure expresses the level of a noise event as though all its energy were concentrated evenly in one second. It takes account of the duration of the sound and its intensity. A plot connecting points of equal sound exposure level from the departure or approach of a particular type of aircraftor an envelope of the twois known as a noise footprint. Hon. Members have already mentioned such footprints.
The night noise insulation criterion that we have proposed as part of the consultation on night flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports relates to the 90 dB sound exposure level footprint of the noisiest aircraft operating at each airport. Such noise insulation seeks to mitigate the impact of each flight, as do the noise quota limits, by encouraging the use of quieter aircraft [ Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North want to intervene on me?
Kelvin Hopkins indicated dissent.
Hon. Members: Youre on your own!
Derek Twigg: I just want to say to hon. Members that there is growing interest in this debate on both sides of the House, and it is important that I give as much detail as possible to Members.
Mr. Brazier: I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to refresh the Minister a little. Will he tell the House something about the decibel levels in the Committee Corridor at the moment?
Derek Twigg: Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the journalists outside the Committee Room, or to what is going on inside? I am sure that if I try to go down the path of answering that question, you will cut me short very quickly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. So I do not intend to do that
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I certainly think that the debate should be confined to civil aviation, and the Minister should know that the occupant of the Chair has a great interest in that subject and is listening keenly.
Derek Twigg: I am very much aware that you have a great interest not only in this subject but in railways,Mr. Deputy Speaker. I could talk about railways for a long time, but I am sure that you would not allow me to do that, although there are important issues that link railways and airports. The number of people using airports depends on the transport links to those airports, and I understand the importance of those links.
The subject of sleep disturbance has been raised in previous debates on the Bill, and I want to put on record the Governments approach to the matter. We have undertaken a considerable amount of research into the effects of aircraft noise on sleep. The last major study commissioned by the Government, completed in 1992, concluded that high aircraft noise levels could awaken people, but that the likelihood of the average person having his or her sleep noticeably disturbed due to an individual aircraft noise event was relatively low. That research was carried out in 1992, and I am sure that hon. Members will have their own view about its relevance and accuracy today. However, when considering numbers of aircraft movements, it is important to bear in mind that modern aircraft are much quieter than their predecessors.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): The Minister has given the House an assurance today that the limit on night flights at Heathrow will be rolled forward. Why will he not make a similar commitment for Stansted?
Derek Twigg: I am not criticising the hon. Gentleman, because I know that he is concerned about these matters, but if he had been here earlier, he would know that we will be making further announcements on the consultation in the near future. I am not sure whether the Conservatives were in favour of what I announced tonight about the limits going on to 2012 at Heathrow. I have not heard whether the hon. Gentlemans party supports that change.
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