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Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I support the amendment. When I was Member of Parliament for the Richmond Park constituency, this was by far the biggest issue for my constituency and surrounding areas. Sometimes I wonder whether the Minister and his colleagues are just shrugging and thinking, "It's west London again, here we go: precious people, living in a precious part of London". It is very precious, but our lives are ruined by the activities at Heathrow airport. If he does not believe me, I wish he would accept my invitationMinisters in the other place never accepted itto spend a few nights in the constituency in the summer time with the windows open so that he can experience the situation. I can offer very comfortable accommodation, even though a little noisy, and if he is seriously disturbed in the early morning, I promise to bring him a cup of tea. How about that?
I have two more serious points. One is that I have never, ever seen a serious argument putting forward how our economy would suffer if night flights did not occur. I have never seen the figures. People bandy about the fact that it is essential for UK plc to have businessmen and tourists arriving at Heathrow at 4.30 in the morning, but I have never seen the figures to back that up. I think we need them. Secondly, some of my constituents took their case for a good night's sleep to the European Court of Human Rights and won against the British Government. Then, of course, the Government appealed with some rather spurious figures and the case was thrown out.
I beg the Minister to take this matter seriously. It affects people's well-being and, as we have heard from the noble Baroness on the Cross Benches, in many cases it affects people's health too. If they are not careful, it will affect the Government's votes.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, first, I shall deal with one or two peripheral matters. I am not sure that I can accept the noble Baroness's invitation at some undisclosed time in the summer. However, I shall certainly make it my business to be acquainted with the level of noise at Heathrow. Of course, the problems do not affect only Heathrow, precious though west Londoners are, but other parts of the country are also
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affected by airport noise which creates difficulties for those on the ground. In the eyes of the Government, of course, all voters are equally precious.
The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, asked me about Bentwaters. We have no role for Bentwaters as a civil aerodrome in the air transport White Paper because, as he described it, it is a marginal facility. I assure him that there is no question of Bentwaters featuring in any aspect of expansion plans for air travel.
I am afraid that the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene under Section 78 apply to designated airports, like London Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow. Other airports could be designated, but obviously Bentwaters would certainly be, if not last on the list, one of the last to be considered. So the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, must address this issue to the local planning authority and those concerned with the local environment, because it is not for the Secretary of State to intervene.
The trouble with this debateas when we discussed this in Committeeis that it appears to make Clause 2 an exceedingly contentious provision. That reflects a disappointing level of mistrust over the Government's intentions towards this clause. A frequent accusationit has been made again today from several parts of the Houseis that the Government intend to use the amended powers immediately to introduce night flying restriction regimesat Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, later this yearon a completely different basis from that on which we consulted. It is not so. We carried out the consultation in good faith. We may not have had the direct benefit of the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, to that consultation, but her peoplewest Londonerswere certainly well represented. How on earth could London Heathrow play its part in this without having reference to such interests? We are not operating on a different basis from that consultation.
Of course night flights are a sensitive issue. We all recognise the threat presented by aircraft noise, and want to keep it within limits. If it is suggested that there is no reason at all for night flights, perhaps noble Lords might address that to other airports in direct competition with our major airports. Sometimes the debate is presented as though not only the United Kingdom is an island, but Heathrow also exists in an island of air travel in which any restrictions on airlines and air transport can be made without economic consequence for it. Heathrow is in competition with major European airports; I mentioned Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle, but there is also the recent enormous development in Madrid. This competitive position is not one which we can lightly influence adversely. We certainly need to take the interests of our fellow citizens who live close to airports into account, but the suggestion that it would be easy and without consequence to ban night flights from Heathrow is, I am afraid, rather facile.
My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe was right when he said that Heathrow was far from being involved in night flights simply for leisure travellers, as
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the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, suggested. By the way, I am not sure that quality of life does not have to balance reasonable tranquillity on the ground at night with the obvious demand of our travelling public, substantially increasing in number year on year, for the enjoyment of travel by air.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that most people go on holiday once or twice a year? These people would have to put up with the noise every single night of their lives when they are not on holiday.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I understand that, but I do not think that the British public necessarily look at the question of travel in quite these specific terms. My noble friend Lord Brooke identified that Heathrow night flights are largely business flights. In fact, the major night flights at Stansted are not leisure flights and those at Gatwick are freight. In both cases we are talking about economic considerations and not just, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, seemed to indicate, travellers bent on pleasureand, in any case, their interests need to be taken into account.
I want to emphasise that the Government are not about the business of changing the basis on which they carried out the consultation on night flights and the development of the legislation. I think it was suggested at one stage that there is nothing in the Bill of any advantage. The Bill is neededand my noble friend Lord Berkeley wondered why we were legislating nowbecause, for the benefit of the nation, we need to increase the capacity for regulation on air travel. We need a Bill at this point to take account of what we all recognise is a rapidly changing situation.
I emphasise to the House that we have listened to the representations in Committee. I cannot speak in very precise terms to my subsequent amendment without being out of order, but the House will recognise that the Government do not intend to operate these fresh provisions until 2012. That will be the burden of an amendment that I hope will commend itself to the House in due course.
It is not fair for the House to suggest that the Government are not acting in good faith with regard to what we recognise is a very important issue. Of course I understand the anxiety expressed in all parts of the House about the problems for local residents, but a limit on movements alone would be a very blunt instrument of regulation. It certainly would not control the amount of noise at night, nor could it influence the types of aircraft used at night. The louder an individual aircraft is, on the whole the greater the likelihood is that it will disturb people. I know the other calculationsthe frequency of the aircraft and how long they are above the area where the noise imprint is made. But noise quotas are set alongside the present movement limits to drive the use of the quietest aircraft available. Part of the Bill's purpose is to create this essential structure so that we are able to balance the needs of those requiring air travel against people who are entitled to a good night's sleep, free from disturbance on the ground.
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Setting a night restrictions regime by reference to noise alone could lead to an immense increase in the number of flights permitted, depending on how that limit was set. Equally, it could be open to the Secretary of State to use the powers available under Section 78 to set movement limits a great deal higher than their current level. In either case, the bone of contention would not be the powers themselves, but how Ministers used them. Of course it would be possible to apply for judicial review on how these powers had been exercised by Ministers. The Government intend to maintain strict controls on night flying and to set those controls by both limiting aircraft movements and setting a noise quota until such time as a different method is more appropriate. We have no view at this stage on how the criteria could readily be improved.
I have previously suggested that it would be possible to make an effective night regime which controlled noise by a noise quota alone. The quota would be set at such a level that the quietest planes available must be used to enable the number of night flights to remain the same as previously. Noise quotas can be an effective limiting factor because, in themselves, they set a ceiling on the number of flights. As the noble Baroness emphasised in debating the previous amendment, they also provide an incentive for airlines to use the quietest aircraft available. One argument that stakeholders have made in favour of movements limits and against setting night restrictions by reference to overall noise caused is the idea that it is each individual incident of an aircraft flying overhead that disturbs someone, rather than the cumulative noise over a period of time.
Our research suggests that reaction to noise is subjective. It varies greatly. Despite extensive research, there are still differing views among both those who suffer noise and the scientific community about whether a single loud noise event or the accumulation of smaller noise events creates a greater disturbance. Research has suggested that the incidence of sleep disturbance is especially associated with the loudest noise eventsin particular, those that produce more than 90 decibels.
The night noise criteria that we have proposed as part of the consultationwhich we are honouringon night-flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports relates to the 90 decibel footprint of the noisiest aircraft currently operating at each airport. Such noise insulation is intended to mitigate the impact of each flight, as do the noise quota limits, by encouraging the use of quieter aircraft.
I digress from the question of noise because I want the House to recognise, as I am sure that every noble Lord does, that this is a complex and difficult area in which to regulate. The idea that it is easy to impose a blanket ban without severe consequences for both those who wish to travel and, if I may say so, the economic contribution made by the whole industry of airlines and airports to our economy is wrong. We cannot take the matter lightly. I seek to demonstrate that the Government take a balanced approach to controlling and mitigating the noise impacts of night flying at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. We do not
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seek to use the flexible powers immediately, nor do we believe that any future government would use them unreasonably when they are brought into force in due course. If they used them unreasonably, the Government, through the Secretary of State, would be subject to legal challenge.
However, the Government remain convinced that it is right to amend current legislation in this way. We are doing so after and in line with full consultation. The consultation involved all those interests identified today as necessary to the consideration of the issues. Once again, I emphasise that there is no intention on the part of the Government to introduce any fresh regulation before 2012, but that is the subject of a later amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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