Monday 18 March 2002
[Mr. James Cran in the Chair]
The Chairman: I call the Minister to make his opening statement, which I hope will not last in excess of 10 minutes.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. David Jamieson): Thank you, Mr. Cran, for that welcome. It is a pleasure to be a member of a Committee under your chairmanship. I have not had the pleasure before, but I look forward to many repeat occasions. I shall, of course, observe your instruction: I shall make my opening statement brief but precise.
The proposals before us are important for dealing with aircraft noise. The first, the Commission's proposal for replacing the European Union hushkits regulation, is the more pressing. The second is for a common classification of aircraft for the purposes of calculating noise charges at airports.
The hushkits regulation, as the Committee will be aware, has been the subject of a long-running dispute between the United States and the EU. In October, all 187 member states of the International Civil Aviation Organisation agreed a new environmental resolution covering among other things the management of aircraft noise. The European Union and the United States agreed subsequently that that resolution should form the basis for resolving their dispute. The directive is the proposal for formalising it.
The Committee has before it explanatory memorandum 15014/01, which was submitted by the Minister for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), on 17 January 2002, and the European Scrutiny Committee's report dated 6 March 2002. We agree that the EU hushkits regulation should be repealed, but do not want to exchange one problem for another. It is important that what replaces it helps us—not hinders us—to manage aircraft noise. The US has an interest but that, of course, is not the only consideration. New arrangements need to be suitable for the UK's circumstances. So, we need to get this right.
To that end, a series of detailed discussions has taken place in Brussels in recent weeks. The European Parliament voted on 13 March to accept the compromise amendments with two small but significant modifications. First, article 3 now allows for more than one competent authority to be responsible for matters falling within the scope of the directive. Secondly, article 5(i) states that
''When a decision on operating restrictions is being considered the information as specified in Annex 2''—
here is the difference—
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''shall, as far as appropriate and possible for the operating restrictions concerned and for the characteristics of the airport, be taken into account''.
The Transport Council will be invited to decide on 26 March whether the compromise is acceptable. I appreciate that matters have been complicated by the fact that amendments have been coming at us thick and fast, but the revised version has been made available, and I hope that all hon. Members have availed themselves of copies from the Vote Office.
The Scrutiny Committee's report also covers the more straightforward proposal on classifying aircraft for noise charging purposes, on which subject explanatory memorandum 5119/02 was submitted by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport on 6 February 2002.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the matter, as I entirely share the Committee's view that aircraft noise is a serious concern for people who live around our major airports, especially those in the south-east of England. I shall be pleased to respond to as many questions as appropriate.
The Chairman: We now have until 5.40 pm for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. I do not think that there will be any difficulty in fitting all the questions into the time available.
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Cran. As a regular member of the Committee, I know that we have a variety of Chairmen. I am sure that you will enjoy the crisp way in which we will try to expedite today's business.
Residents were successful in the recent court judgment on night flying at Heathrow. How will that judgment link to the documents that we are considering?
Mr. Jamieson: I would not want to open a debate on the Hatton judgment, as it would be improper to attempt to do so today. If Heathrow or any other airport decided to invoke the directive and use it for environmental controls, it would have to consider any judgment or plan that pertained to it. The directive puts a common methodology in place in airports across the European Union. In using it, any judgments will have to be considered. Only time will tell the final outcome in any circumstance.
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): Chapter 3 mentions newer types of subsonic aircraft, which is the quietest jet aircraft in service. They include the Boeing 757 and the Airbus 320. What cognisance has been taken in drawing up the plans of technological developments, given that we might have sub-subsonic airlines in future?
Mr. Jamieson: The plans deal with whatever noise aircraft make. My hon. Friend will appreciate that most aircraft in service and under construction comply with chapter 3, and already many even comply with chapter 4. The noise output is under specific consideration, rather than the type of aircraft. We are considering subsonic and supersonic aircraft, but essentially they fall into the one category.
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Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship yet again, Mr. Cran. There must be a European connection, as I understand you have other responsibilities in that direction. The two seem to go together.
I ask the Minister's forgiveness if he confirmed the date in his opening remarks, but am I right to think that the directives come into force on 1 April? Was that the original time scale for the arrangement, or have minds been concentrated as a result of the events of 11 September?
Mr. Jamieson: No, I do not think that the events of 11 September have had any bearing on the proposals. They have come about due to the action taken by the United States through ICAO and its environmental resolution, and in consideration of article 84 of the Chicago convention. That has driven the directives.
Lawrie Quinn: The Minister will note that annex 3 to section B of the documents lists marginally compliant aircraft from developing countries by geographical region. Does the EU intend, through technological or other assistance, aid or subsidy, to help operators in those countries to improve the performance or quality of the engines in those aircraft?
That would obviously benefit world trade and prevent the creation of a monopoly of north American and European operators.
Mr. Jamieson: I thank my hon. Friend for that sensible question. The European Union has taken cognisance of the special circumstances in many developing countries, and we are doing everything that we can to assist. The directive includes a special dispensation for developing countries. There is a 10-year limit on any exemption, and any service will have had to have operated in the five years preceding 31 December 2001.
Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green): It is pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Cran.
I am a member of the Council of Europe and have travelled to various European capitals. As whether an airport is close to a city, such as Barajas in Madrid, or further away from it is merely the result of historical accident, one might expect there to be some flexibility in determining noise restrictions. Will the Minister tell us what flexibility there is?
Mr. Jamieson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We were aware that some flexibility would be necessary for the reasons that he outlined. Not all aspects of the balanced approach proposed by ICAO would suit every country or airport. For example, one of the elements of the balanced approach is that planning matters may be taken into consideration, but as the surrounding areas of most airports in this country are fully developed, it is unlikely that we will get much advantage from that measure. However, it is possible for an airport to give weight to just some of the four elements of the balanced approach in using the provisions to set environmental objectives.
Lawrie Quinn: What consultations has my hon. Friend had with British aircraft and airport operators, in particular with BAA? If he has consulted those
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bodies on the documents before the Committee, what were their responses?
Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend will not be surprised to know that there have been widespread discussions on the directives and there is widespread approval of the document as it stands today, because it has been evolving even during the past few weeks. All the organisations that my hon. Friend mentioned were consulted, particularly two airlines—one that runs a small freight line and another that runs a small passenger line—as they may fall into the 5 dB band that may not be compliant in the 10 large airports. However, those discussions will be ongoing, and should an airport decide to use the measures in the directive to set environmental objectives, airlines and other users would have to be consulted further as part of the directive.
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): Mr. Cran. I apologise for being late. I was diverted by a constituency problem.
What interrelationship is there between noise pollution, which is the subject of the documents before us, and other kinds of environmental pollution?
Mr. Jamieson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. The first directive deals with what airports can do to handle noise, while the second deals with the methodology for calibrating noise from particular aircraft. Neither covers other aspects of environmental pollution, although the European Union is consulting on some of those and will probably introduce measures in the not-too-distant future. The directives, however, deal with noise pollution.