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Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I do not apologise for rising again. I support the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, about the Government and the aviation industry. Over the past few years, I have begun to think that the Government should declare an interest when they speak about civil aviation issues because it is becoming quite obvious that aviation has been singled out among all forms of transport for favour.
I thank the Government for deciding not to increase the number of night flights at present. That decision is very welcome, and has been welcomed by all the campaigners on this issue. But the emphasis that is being placed on quieter aircraft makes us feel quite
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sure that that is the means by which the Government will eventually increase the number of night flights. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, less noise does not mean no noise. As my noble friend said, there is no such thing as a quiet aircraft unless one counts gliders, but I do not think that they are used very much to carry passengers. So people suffer from being woken by aircraft noise even if it comes from so-called quiet aircraft.
I should like to repeat the invitation that I have issued to every Minister of transport over the past 10 years: please come and spend a night at my house or at one of my neighbours' houses. They will not be interfered with. I will not even talk to or harangue them, because the noise of the aircraft will keep them awake. I even promise to bring them a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit in the morning to alleviate their tiredness and angst as a result of not being able to sleep properly.
No mention has been made in the debate of noise insulation, which is very important and is happening at the moment. No mention has been made of noise quota limits, which are also significant. No mention has been made of the Government's activities within the WHO, which, in the long term, I am convinced, will come up with the right solution. This has to be done on an international basis. At the moment, the WHO is carrying out regular reviews and revisions of the guidelines. This demonstrates how important it is to evolve a policy based on international considerations. As far as sleep disturbance is concerned, again, no mention has been made in the debate about the research that has been undertaken and is being undertaken at the present time. My noble friend will doubtless say something about this. These are highly relevant omissions as far as this debate is concerned, and that is why I mention them.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate, although I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, that his charge was somewhat unfair. It may have been that in the past some Ministers joined industries outside, but I have no ambitions in that area and neither has any of my colleagues as far as I know. In any case, to suggest that our policy is dictated by one dimension of the air industry is absurd. Inevitably with regard to air transport, we have a whole range of conflicting interests. After all, airports play their part in this, as do the people who live close to airports and the millions of our fellow citizens who use aircraft. So I am not prepared to accept the suggestion that the Government approach this matter as some kind of response to one particular lobby.
I am conscious that we are dealing with a very difficult area. There is a danger that those who argue that movements are the only measurement of noise are guilty of taking a rather facile approach. There is no
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research that defines noise in terms of being more of a disturbance through the movements of aircraft. We do not know, and no one can say that with authority. They can use their instinctive response but that is not the same as having proof. The problems with regard to noise are either cumulative over a period of time or individual instances. Therefore the case cannot be made by any reference to research on sleep disturbance that it is the number of aircraft movements that needs to be regulated.
If the issue was cut and dried in those terms, if science established evidence along the lines suggested by my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and if things were as straightforward as that, then of course the Government would be able to act and present the full and clear facts to the nation on the question of the incidence of aircraft impact. But things are not that straightforward. That is why the Government merely seek the flexibility to measure noise on the basis of a recognition that a balance will have to be struck between the use of aircraft and the needs of people on the ground who want to fly.
It will not do for the House to take that negative approach to transport which indicates that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds at present and nothing should disturb the situation. I never thought to hear a Liberal Democrat Peer say that air travel is being particularly favoured by the Government. Where does the noble Baroness think that the huge increase in rail passenger numbers has come from, if it is not a reflection of huge investments in rail transport, supported by a Government who are all too well aware of the environmental aspects of rail but also of the demand from people for travel?
It is no use this House being in some state of abnegation about the concept of travel. Travel is a singularly desirable good. It may become less desirable either because one has to do it because of one's job or because one is in one's more mature years, but travel is greatly valued by the great mass of our population. They use their cars frequently and they use trains with greater frequencyand the greatest expansion in travel in recent years has been in air travel. I say nothing about the virtues of cruising and sea travel. So we have a demand that must be met, and it will not do for it to be suggested in this House that there are easy answers to these questions.
I emphasise that all that the Government are seeking is some flexibility with regard to the criteria that are adopted. It is not the case that the Secretary of State will be bound to any one policy. In fact, the binding is in the amendment, with regard to aircraft movements. If the Secretary of State in 2012, or years thereafter, decides that that is by far the best criteria, or if there is scientific evidence that establishes that that is rightly the issue that concerns most of those people who live close to airports, then the Secretary of State will have the freedom to continue to impose movement limits. But it may be that technological and social change, and even investigations of sleep patterns and the nature of disturbance, have produced a scenario in which that may not be the right policy.
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All that the Government are seeking to do through the legislation is to guarantee that there is flexibility available to any Secretary of Stateand let me say that no Secretary of State will act carelessly on this matter. No one in this House should underestimate the pressures, which are reflected in the contributions made this afternoon, of anxiety at the expansion of airports, airport usage and aircraft noise. That is clearly destined to be and will remain a major issue for the nation. So any Secretary of State is bound to take into account public opinion in the balance of factors for the good of the wider society. We are merely suggesting that, within this framework, the legal position needs some flexibility, rather than just the narrow concept of movement. That is why I do not think that the amendment should be accepted.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments and other noble Lords who have participated in the debate. The Minister said that there was no evidence that the number of flights was the main reason for disturbance, but you have only to speak to the millions of people who live under flight paths to know that it is indeed the number of flights that causes the disturbance. The thought of having many more noisy flights is terrifying to them, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and others indicated. This amendment aims to remove that fear.
Although 2012 is a long way away, there is a fear that by then there could be many more flights. There is also the fear that, if the Secretary of State has the powers, things might be considered before then. If there is a lot of new evidence and new technology by 2012, the Secretary of State at that timewho I expect will be from my party and would not want to increase the number of night flightscould examine the situation then. Why do we need legislation now? Our amendment gives security to those considerable numbers of people who are concerned about the matter. Let us worry about 2012 when we get there, when the then Secretary of State can confront the issues.
I fail to understand a lot of the points that the Minister is making. Our amendment gives security to people who do not like the number of flights that there already are but will accept a restriction on numbers, which is better than nothing. I want to pursue my amendment and to test the opinion of the House.
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