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Both with the previous amendment and with this one, I hope that noble Lords opposite are squaring these unfortunate attempts to increase regulation with the general drive to get rid of red tape and reduce regulation that we hear about so constantly from the opposition Benches when they are on a free rein. However, when it comes to a specific area, they seek to gain support for their position by increasing regulation by the Secretary of State and government in a way we have never done and do not intend to do on this occasion.
The Government use their powers under Section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to set departure noise limits on aircraft taking off from the designated airports, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstedas I mentioned in the previous debateand those limits are already kept under review. It is our obligation to keep under review the impact of the number of flights on the ground and to bear in mind exactly what the noble Baroness saysthat we need to keep up with modern technology and drive it towards providing quieter aircraft.
Changes to those limits were last announced in December 2000just over five years ago. A further review of departure noise limits was then carried out by the Environmental Research and Consultancy Department of the Civil Aviation Authority, overseen by the Department for Transport's Aircraft Noise Monitoring Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from the designated airports' independent consultative committees. This review was published in March 2003. I do not therefore believe that this amendment would make any difference to the Government's current practice in respect of keeping the departure noise limits under constant review, as, indeed, is the Secretary of State's duty.
Amendment No. 4 also refers to the UK aviation industry's target, stated in its sustainable aviation strategy launched earlier this year, to reduce the perceived external noise of new aircraft by 50 per cent by 2020, as compared to 2000. The Government
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welcomed the release of the strategy, and very much hope that the industry will manage to meet it. But I do not believe that it is appropriate to make the Secretary of State responsible for policing a target adopted voluntarily by the industry, nor to give that target statutory force.
The Government continue to press for improvements in aviation technology; reduction of noise at its source is one of the four strands of the ICAO "balanced approach" to dealing with aircraft noise. As aviation technology has improved, aircraft have become quieter. The noble Baroness referred to the improvements that Rolls-Royce is effecting. But older aircraft, though their environmental performance may not be as good as the most modern aircraft, meet ICAO technical standards, and remain part of airlines' fleets. The UK is obliged under its international agreements to allow these aircraft to continue to operate in the UK.
There is a danger that the opposition amendments, which supposedly can be effected by unilateral action by the United Kingdom, are not mindful that air travel is bound by significant international obligations.
Previous administrations and the present Government have accepted that it would not be compatible with the UK's international obligations to set a daytime noise limit so low that most of the large long-haul aircraft, certificated to ICAO standards and legally entitled to operate in the UK, would not be able to operate. Similarly, the night-time and shoulder period departure noise limits must be broadly compatible with the night-flying restrictions that we set under Section 78(3).
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend strengthens my argument in his usual astute and informed way, and I am grateful for that comment, although I was hoping to let the Opposition down a little more gently. He has made an absolutely critical point.
Any new departure noise limit that limits or reduces access of aircraft to airports would be subject to directive 2002/30 on noise-related operating restrictions, which we have incorporated into UK legislation by the Aerodromes (Noise Restrictions) (Rules and Procedures) Regulations 2003. The phasing-out of older aircraft needs to take place as part of an international approach to dealing with aircraft noise. In fact, I fail to see how we can carry out these strategies without reference to international obligations. I share with the noble Baroness the objective of reducing aircraft noise. I delight with her in examples of British industry making good progress in this area. We all want to see aircraft becoming quieter. So does the industry; it is all too well aware of the pressures from localities around airports, and it is in the industry's interests to reduce aircraft noise. We
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are working with the grain without seeking to impose regulation, which would be a regulation too far. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for his intervention. The joy of being in opposition is that you can move amendments and get matters discussed, and that is half the purpose of the job of the Opposition. Whether anyone agrees with the amendments, they are there to be shot down if necessary, or at least to extend the debate on certain matters.
The amendment asked that the Government should take account of the target of reducing external noise and report on it from time to time. Maybe I was a bit long-winded by going through all the possibilities for new aircraft and the process and the technological improvements that there are likely to be. The amendment was asking the Government to take note of the targets and perhaps from time to time to tell Parliament how likely they thought those were to be achieved. We will discuss this more today. There is greater concern about the amount of aircraft noise, and I do not think that it behoves any of us to try to deny that. More people are living under flight paths, and larger aircraft are in use. Whether the international and European bodies will it or not, perhaps Parliament should from time to time take note of the effect on people who live under the aircraft flying into its airports. That is really what the amendment was about. Since I do not think that I am winning, I beg leave to withdraw it.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must return once again to the highly controversial issue of night flights. The issue was debated at some length in Grand Committee, and despite the Minister's assurances I remain unconvinced of the necessity or the wisdom of the change in the present system proposed by Clause 2(2). As noble Lords are aware, aircraft night noise is currently controlled by the combined operation of a movements limit and a noise quota system. Amending Section 78(3)(b) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 in this way would empower the Secretary of State to discontinue the association of limits on the number of night movements at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and elsewhere.
I must declare an interest as leader of Essex County Council and that Stansted airport is situated in that county. The removal of the movements limit and the
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reliance on the quota count system will have a devastating consequence for the millions of people who live under major airports' flight paths. The quota system is highly technical and is often incomprehensible to the people it is meant to protect. There is no official index for night noise in the UK. The noise limit is calculated by using Leq, or level equivalent, which is officially recognised during the day between 7 am and 11 pm. That fails to take account of the fact that noise has vastly different implications at night.
Level equivalent is a measure of noise energy and is worked out by averaging the noise level over a 16-hour day and expressing that as a continuous level. Its shortcomings are illustrated by the fact that a single Concorde on departure has the equivalent noise energy of 120 Boeing 757s. Thus, a Boeing 757 departing every two minutes for four hours produces the same level equivalent as two minutes of Concorde, followed by three hours and 58 minutes of silence.
Under the quota system, all aircraft are rated according to their noise on take-off and approach, and then banded into quota count categories that are three decibels apart on an exponential scale. A limit is then placed on the total number of points in a six-month season. I am explaining this in a technical way, because it is an important element of this issue. The fundamental conceptual flaw behind the way of regulating aircraft noise is the assumption that the degree of disturbance and/or annoyance caused by noise depends only on the level of the overall noise dose in terms of sound energy emitted.
This method is perverse, because it fails to take any account at all of the importance of how many and how frequently flights are permitted. The same total noise exposure can be achieved with a few noisy aircraft or a larger number of less noisy ones. Furthermore, whether those aircraft are bunched together or spaced at long intervals during the night period does not make any difference to the noise dose. By removing the night movements limit, the implication is that as aircraft become less noisy, more flights can be accommodated within the same noise quota. Under the quota count system, one Boeing 747, rated as QC2, could be replaced with four Boeing 777s, rated as QC0.5.
Less noise does not necessarily mean less disturbance. I repeat: less noise does not mean less disturbance. Consequently, the system is wholly inadequate for assessing the disruption of sleep caused by the impact of a relatively small number of noise events during the night. Cumulatively, those noise events may not break the noise quota, yet they may result in a person being disturbed on multiple occasions during the night.
It is imperative that we retain the movements limit on night flights. It is not only effective, but is easily understood, transparent and open to validation. Importantly it provides protection for those people who live in close proximity to airports, but not
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necessarily under flight paths. It protects them from the associated problems of ground noise, which the quota system alone cannot properly address.
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