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Lord Soley: My Lords, I shall speak briefly on this, because my noble friend has made some useful comments. I, too, declare an interest, as campaign director for Future Heathrow, which is a campaigning organisation made up of business groups, trade unions, airlines and professional associations. The organisation is deeply concerned, as I am, about the continuing decline of Heathrow airport. Whenever we discuss these things, we need to remember that 170,000 people are either directly or indirectly dependent on Heathrow alone. Few people know that Heathrow has already been overtaken by three continental airports; at the end of March, it will also have been overtaken by Munich and, shortly after that, by Milan, Rome and Madrid, too. If anyone thinks that we can just opt out of the world as it is, they are wrong.

My noble friend is absolutely right to say that neither expansion nor modernisation should take place without a high priority being given to the environment generally. That does not just mean noise; it also means air pollution problems and looking at the whole area. The issue is this: if we let our airports stay as they are, they will decline, particularly the big ones. People who talk about their
 
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areas in this context had better look at the job consequences of that, in relation to high-tech jobs in particular, but also in relation to low-income jobs. Airports are immense generators of wealth.

My experience is that many of the people who wrote to me when I was an MP complaining about the noise of planes were the same people who said to me that flights were at times too expensive and that they were very pleased to see the arrival of the low-cost operators. That is similar to the letters one got from the people who dropped their kids off at school in their cars and then complained that there was too much traffic on the roads. We all have double views on this matter. If I was thinking of my own personal needs, having lived under the airport flight path for 30-odd years, I would close down the airport tomorrow. However, I do not think of my own personal needs and, fortunately, I do not think that the vast majority of the population does, either. I think that the public are far more sympathetic to the idea of expansion than people give them credit for. The people who write the letters on noise are not necessarily representative of the majority community, particularly given that an airport such as Heathrow provides 170,000 jobs—people are not daft.

The issue is how we can operate in a more environmentally friendly way. My noble friend has put forward an interesting measure, although I think that there are better ways of doing this. We ought to look at the long-term solution to the problem, which is a difficult one. When I look at what local authorities are doing around airports that are expanding, I see an immense variation of response. Some local authorities are extremely good and work very closely with the airport, trying to work out ways in which they can mitigate the impact of that airport on the people living immediately around it—my colleague from Manchester will know about that.

Other local authorities seem to take the view that all they have to do is try to stop the airport, as though they can stop the world and get off, and go back to a pre-industrial age. I am always amazed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, with his family background. He seems to have forgotten that in the early part of the 19th century, when trains were being developed, there was a minority of people with opinions similar to his who took the view that trains were nasty, dirty and smoky and that they carved up the countryside and should not be allowed. Fortunately, they lost the argument. People recognised that, in a country driven by the industrial revolution and scientific advance—which is what this country has been so good at—we needed to improve these things rather than stop them happening.

I suspect that the alternative to my noble friend's efforts, although I have no enormous problem with the amendment, is to start getting local authorities more effectively engaged with airports. In some cases, they are really well engaged and good discussions take place. I often wonder why we do not discuss in rather more detail whether we can move schools. Some schools which are under flight paths are in an
 
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undesirable location, for a variety of reasons. We should consider that, but it can be done only if we take a view of the airport in the whole area.

In relation to Heathrow, I have talked to some of the bigger developers, such as Arup. I think that I have mentioned on a previous occasion that Arup has just won two contracts in China to build two cities, each of 1 million people and each designed to be carbon-neutral. If our companies can do that in China—it demonstrates how fast the Chinese are jumping ahead of us—there is no reason why we cannot expect our airport operators and the local authorities working around them to develop a more strategic approach to airports which recognises their immense economic value in terms of jobs, prosperity and everything else and, at the same time, recognises that there is an impact on the people who live around them, which needs to be addressed.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, how does my noble friend imagine that the United Kingdom will ever meet its targets for carbon emissions if the course that he is proposing to the House is followed—that is, an apparently unlimited growth in demand for air travel—bearing in mind that air travel is the largest single contributor to climate change?

Lord Soley: My Lords, it is not the largest single contributor; it is the fastest-growing contributor. The largest contributor is our homes, so if you want to close down everyone's homes, that is the way to deal with climate change. Air travel is the fastest-growing contributor and that is important, but we should look at the new aircraft that are coming along, which are 20 per cent more fuel efficient and thus more efficient in terms of emissions. But more importantly—I argued this at the Airport Operators Association conference in Bournemouth a few months ago, and we could start doing this now—we should expect airport operators to go for carbon neutrality in ground operations. They can do that, and it would fit very much with what my noble friend is saying. He talks about soundproofing, but we should be talking about ways in which we can make our buildings on and around airports more environmentally friendly, and that is not just a matter of soundproofing, as I am sure he would agree.

The alternative—I put this to my noble friend who has just intervened—is to say, "We are not going to fly in this country, even though increasingly everyone else will, and we will just close the system down". You cannot go down that road. We have to solve these problems through a combination of bearing down on climate-changing emissions of all types in all ways and, at the same time, moving the technology forward in a way that both the aircraft and engine manufacturers are working very hard to do. My view is that the airport operators are not working on this as hard as they should be, which is why I gave them that message. I also say to many people, particularly in this House, that it is a bit rich to criticise people for flying when the number of flights made by Members of this House is a lot higher than the average for the same number of the
 
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population outside. People need to be cautious about whether they are asking others to do what they themselves are not prepared to do.

I shall end on this point. I know that there is no quick fix to this problem but if we can get the local authorities in some, but not all, areas into a different frame of mind about airports and the way that they interact with airport management—and vice versa, because this is also about airport management—then we can begin to crack a lot of the problems to which my noble friend is drawing attention and quite a few others. That is how we should be viewing this matter, unless we want to opt out of the modern world.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I totally agree with the last point made by my noble friend Lord Soley. The unfortunate part of the amendment is that it gives the impression that the people who work around airports and the unions are uncaring about the environment. That is totally false. I am the president of the British Airline Pilots Association, and when we discuss the expansion of the airports, the environment is a vital part of those discussions, as it should be. But, at the moment, the situation that prevails at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and all the British Airports Authority airports is one where the views of the local community, when expressed reasonably, and those of everyone with an interest in the airport, are heard and their views are taken into account. It should not be expressed glibly because the debate that takes place at the moment is of major consequence. I wanted to convey that viewpoint.

Of course the views of people who live under the flight path—particularly those where the flights are at a certain height—should be taken into account. The impact on them is of vital concern. But it depends on how high the aeroplanes fly; otherwise, there would be no flights whatever. So there has to be a certain reasonableness about the whole situation. So far as concerns the larger airports—I do not know what happens with the smaller ones—at the moment the airport authorities are concerned in a major way about the environment and the people who are affected.


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