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The Bill has ping-ponged between the Lords and the Commons several times. It is difficult to know what advice to give, because although hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that the Lords amendment is flawed—no one wants to impose such a measure on every small airport in the country—the
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only way of shaming the Government into the view that they ought to take serious action is to oppose the Government amendments again.

Mr. Carmichael: I shall not detain the House long because, as the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said, we have already been round the course once or twice, and the arguments are beginning to feel as tired as I do.

I welcome the Minister’s conversion to light-touch regulation for small airports—and, indeed, the apparent conversion of her Department. I would have been even more delighted if that had happened three years ago when I argued for exactly that approach to Tingwall airport in Shetland in my constituency, but at the time the Government argued that we could not be given different treatment because the airport was small, and it had to be treated exactly like every other airport in the country. If it is a genuine conversion I am delighted to welcome it, but if, as I fear, it is a conversion for the purposes of today’s debate, I have some difficulty accepting it at face value.

On the application of the measure to small airports—a subject near and dear to my heart, as I spend most of my life sitting in them waiting for planes to take off—I would have thought that if charges are to be set with regard to noise and emission, the charge would be zero at a small airport where no or “de minimis” noise and emissions were caused by air traffic. That would not be a particularly difficult calculation to make. That said, the hon. Member for Canterbury says that the amendment is less than perfect, and I accept that there is some force to that. Knowing the electoral arithmetic of the House, the measure will inevitably go back to the other place. Before that takes place, there may be scope for discussion, and I hope that that discussion takes place, because I really do not want to revisit the matter in the Chamber in the next four weeks.

The question is whether what is proposed by the Government is better than what is in the Bill as presented to us by the other place. I find no suggestion that what the Government offer us is better than what the other place has sent them, flawed though it is. The simple fact is that in seeking to maintain the status quo, the Government do not answer any questions about what happens in situations such as that of Coventry and Birmingham, which has been mentioned. Coventry airport does not enforce noise and pollution controls in the way set out in the Bill, but Birmingham International airport does. I am told that as a result, many of the planes landing at Coventry airport are older, noisier and more polluting aircraft. That is not acceptable, and we ought to do something in the Bill to sort it. The Government refuse, and frankly I do not understand why.

David Taylor: Of course the amendments are flawed, and we do not want to impose unwarranted burdens on tiny airports. Nevertheless, certain points need to be made. The larger airports must be weaned off their apparent insistence on unlimited or lightly restricted night flights and their continuing acceptance of old, polluting aircraft. Certainly, BAA’s comments suggest that environmental and social costs should be simply dismissed:

That demonstrates how lightly regional and national airports treat the proposals in the legislation that the Minister has introduced today. Such costs are not internalised in the planning system. If they were, there would not be so much concern about making the measure before us. The ability to create the ability to utilise noise profiles in a charging system must be compulsory.

It is a recognised fact that there is damage to health from air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide levels are a particular concern around airports, and the Government measure acceptability against EU mandatory levels for nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants. However, adverse health impacts occur at well below those high levels. If Heathrow airport expanded, the resulting extra road traffic would result in air quality standards being breached. The Department for Transport’s model shows that very high road charges would be needed to keep traffic levels down to protect people’s health. Let us act before that, so that we can avoid or head off that problem.

Noise pollution is associated with damage to people’s health and their quality of life. Loud and persistent noise affects health, particularly at night. It affects children’s and adults’ concentration, deprives people of sleep and adds to stress. A Department for Transport consultation on night flights in 2003 found that more than 750,000 people were exposed to an average noise level of 55 dB or more over 24 hours, and 250,000 people were exposed to an average noise level of 48 dB or more at night. Noise levels at Heathrow are predicted to increase, which is why, even though the Bill is flawed, we ought to incorporate a requirement on airports.

If we are unwilling to designate levels under the Civil Aviation Act 1982—the Minister has stated, perfectly properly, why she agrees with her predecessors about that—and if we fall back on the mantra that local agreement is best when there are planning or environmental problems associated with an airport, what will happen when local agreement breaks down? At Nottingham East Midlands airport, it has broken down—a 10-point plan imposed by the airport has been rejected by the independent consultative committee—and now we are in limbo without an environmental framework, which is quite unsatisfying.

Mr. Garnier: What faith does the hon. Gentleman have in any local agreement being arrived at in our area, when the airport in question has neutered the independent consultative committee?

David Taylor: The hon. and learned Gentleman will be well aware that the independent consultative committee on NEMA has recently been restructured in ways that have not met with approval from three of the four groups represented in that organisation. I wonder whether the independent consultative committee is being taken seriously by the airport or by the Government. They argue vigorously that local agreement is all and say, “Let’s not impose anything top down. Let’s not use the big stick of airport designation. Let local people sort it out through that mechanism,” but there is not a great deal of evidence that that is happening.

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At East Midlands airport the ICC has repeatedly tried to encourage best practice in airport operations. It recognises the importance of the airport socially and economically, as do I, but it points out that the quota count system is needed, or the system of imposing a framework for charging for night flights above a certain volume is necessary, because the airport seems unwilling to make much progress in tackling the difficulties associated with its recent rapid growth—300,000 tonnes of freight and dedicated freight aircraft. It is the largest airport in the country in that respect.

I recognise what the Minister says about designation, but let us have some compulsion in the penalty system that is needed to curb night flights which cause so much difficulty and damage to people who live around the airport and those who live under the flight paths, as do the constituents of my neighbour, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier).

Mr. Garnier: I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) on his hard work, not only on behalf of his constituents, which he has properly done, but on behalf of the cross-party alliance of Members of Parliament from Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire—the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) is in his place. From our different geographical perspectives, all of us have plenty to say that is not hugely favourable to the way in which the management of Nottingham East Midlands airport has treated its neighbours.

As I have said in the House on a number of occasions, I as a Conservative Member of Parliament am entirely satisfied that the Manchester Airport Group, which wholly owns the airport in my county, Leicestershire, is entitled to make a profit, to carry out its business and to do what it can to improve the facilities and other activities that go on at its airport, be it the reception and dispatch of aeroplanes or turning itself into a retail park. However, if Nottingham East Midlands airport is to have any local credibility, it should behave as a responsible neighbour.

That brings me back to the question to which I did not get an answer when I intervened on the Under-Secretary: what do we mean by neighbour? In the language of the Bill—I am sure all hon. Members agree that we must be entitled to seek precision in the language of a Bill—we are creating a regime that will allow private enterprises to impose penalties on commercial operators. In the making of the law, it behoves us to be precise in what we mean. In her remarks this afternoon the Minister used the expression “locality”, the original Bill uses the expression “vicinity”, and the Secretary of State’s amendment in lieu uses the expression “area”. I am hugely concerned that because the Government are in thrall to the aircraft industry and the airport industry, they will provide no more than a hollow Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said. The Bill is no more than a set of words that will achieve nothing to make sure that airports such as Nottingham East Midlands airport behave themselves.

My hon. Friend and I are going to Nottingham East Midlands airport tonight—I for the second time, at least, this year. I always get on extremely well with the
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managing director of the airport and with her senior management staff. They are unfailing in their courtesy and politeness, but I fail to understand why it is so difficult to extract from them information and facts.

When I last went there in August, I was told that it was not possible to extract air speeds from the machinery that monitors incoming aircraft. The aircraft are delivered by the national air traffic system from the Welwyn sector into the sector that is controlled by Nottingham East Midlands air traffic control system. We were told that the continuous descent method over my constituency and south-east Leicestershire would ensure quieter descents across my constituency. We were told that aircraft do not travel at more than 250 knots as they come into Nottingham East Midlands air traffic system.

I now have the radar details, which tell me that, by and large, aircraft are moving into the area at speeds in excess of 250 knots, and in order to cover the distance in a safe way, land and stop travelling by the end of the runway, they have to apply the air brakes, the full thrust and so on. The noise over my constituency is enormous, relative to the ambient noise in the area. The Government, the airport, its owners in Manchester, the Civil Aviation Authority and the airline operators care nothing about my constituents and their quiet enjoyment.

I have said many times to various Ministers, various officers of Nottingham East Midlands airport and others who were prepared to listen that nothing is done about it. The latest amendment adds still further imprecision to the wording of the Bill. I am becoming increasingly frustrated about the good will of the Government to do anything to look after the people who live in this country. The Government are concerned only to placate the airline and airport industries. I know that that is probably unfair, but it is the only inference I can draw from the evidence I have seen, from the conduct of the passage of the Bill and the people who appear to have influence on the Government.

I shall stop now, as I know that the hon. Member for South Derbyshire wishes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I urge the Government not to be satisfied with the use of loose language and not to hope that private enterprises such as Nottingham East Midlands airport will do anything other than let the status quo continue.

Mr. Todd: I shall speak about the Government amendment and ask for a clearer explanation of how it will work. Let us suppose that residents object to the charges that an airport chooses to levy because they regard them as inadequate for the purpose—they do not, for example, think that the charges clamp down hard enough on the huge Antonovs that thunder out from the airport and want the charges raised.

Presumably, under the amendment, the Secretary of State must find a way of determining whether to exercise his or her powers to vary those charges or suggest that they might be wrong. He or she will have to decide how to consult on the “interests”—I quote the amendment—of the local community. It is difficult to know what those interests might be. They might be the employment interests of local people, or their concern about noise or about environmental pollution of other kinds. They might have a wide range of concerns about the airport.

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By passing an amendment that is so vague about how those interests might be interpreted and determined, the Government do themselves no great favours. They must—I hope that in the brief time available to her my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to respond to this—define a methodology, first, for defining how those interests could be determined. There would presumably be consultation with local residents. As I said, the general term “interests” is used. There is no reference to concern about a particular matter.

Secondly, there must be some methodology for determining what is a proportionate charge to levy in respect of a particular offensive act, such as causing noise or, as my neighbour the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) mentioned, nitrogen pollution. It is not clear how those powers will work, and a challenge at judicial review is not merely likely but almost certain. Unless the Government define the processes much more clearly, they will certainly face a challenge in the courts by residents in my area.

I want to know two things. First, how will we determine what the interests of the local community might be? Secondly, how will we decide what are proportionate charges to the nuisance that is experienced?

Gillian Merron: With the leave of the House, I am disappointed by Opposition Members’ approach to the Bill; their criticisms are not true. The provisions on policing and security at airports, better consumer protection and environmental measures at airports are important to people up and down the country, and it is regrettable that the Opposition have not accepted that.

On clause 1, the Government believe that it would be disproportionate to require every single licensed aerodrome to impose noise-related and emissions charges, no matter how small or remote the aerodrome or how limited the environmental impact—I emphasise that we are not in the business of over-regulating business for no good reason.

I was interested in the points made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) about the environment, which prompt the question of what specific proposals the Opposition will introduce on environmental mitigation.

Mr. Brazier: Our proposals start with restoring the night cap, a point on which the Government have finally given way.

Gillian Merron: That point relates to our next discussion. I do not recognise the description, which is not accurate.

The best way to ensure that aviation contributes to the goal of climate stabilisation is through a well-designed emissions trading scheme. At the end of last year, European Ministers agreed with the UK Government’s view that emissions trading is the best way to tackle aviation emissions. The Council of Ministers has called for the introduction of a legislative proposal before the end of 2006, and I hope that it attracts support on both sides of the House.

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The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) discussed “aircraft noise getting worse”. Although there are impacts, advances in technology have delivered quieter aircraft, and noise abatement operational processes, such as the continuous descent approach, have been developed.

Reference was made to Birmingham and Coventry airports. Coventry airport is now subject to planning agreements relating to noise control and monitoring following a planning application, which the Government have approved. To put the matter in context, it is also important to note that Coventry airport has significantly fewer flights than Birmingham—in 2004, Coventry had some 14,000 air transport movements compared with 114,000 for Birmingham.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to his local airport, and I am glad to hear that he uses it regularly. Scottish Ministers are responsible for the regulation of airports in Scotland, because the matter is executively devolved.

Mr. Carmichael: The Minister is in danger of misleading the House. As she knows, the Civil Aviation Authority retains a great deal of power in relation to Scottish airports.

Gillian Merron: I repeat that the matter is executively devolved to Scottish Ministers.

If the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) looks through the rest of the Bill, he may find comfort about what “locality” and “vicinity” mean. New section 38B states that the noise control scheme extends by default to a radius of 40 km from the centre of the longest runway, and the scheme can be specified by the Secretary of State to a maximum of 60 km from the centre of the longest runway. I hope that that assists the hon. and learned Gentleman.

1.15 pm

I have some information that may interest the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd). If somebody were to make substantive representations to the Secretary of State on airport charges, it would be considered and, as a matter of good practice, consulted upon. We would consider local interests before deciding whether to direct an airport over fixing its charge. We would keep the process and the criteria under review, and we would need to pay attention to local circumstances.

In summary, I remind hon. Members that airports have had the power to charge for aircraft by reference to their noise for some 25 years without any need for the Government to intervene, and many larger airports already do so. Clause 1 is important, because it extends that power to allow charges to be related to aircraft emissions that affect air quality.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The second set of Lords amendments, which concerns Stansted and Heathrow airports, is hugely important to people in the east and the south-east. Will the Minister crack on and allow us at least 10 minutes to debate it?

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): That is not a point of order. A time has been allocated for the two matters to be discussed. I think that the Minister was drawing to the end of her remarks.

Gillian Merron: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Garnier rose—

Gillian Merron: In view of the hon. and learned Gentleman’s previous comments, I will not take the intervention, but I thank him for the invitation.

Clause 1 includes powers that allow the Government to require an airport to charge aircraft by reference to noise, if they think that that will help to deal with the airport’s environmental impact. It explicitly requires Ministers to have regard to the interests of people who live near the airport in deciding whether and how to use those powers. Clause 1 is not the be all and end all—it is just one tool to deal with an airport’s environmental impact. As I have noted, other provisions in the Bill—in particular, clauses 3 and 4—and the existing legislation are also relevant.

In conclusion, if there is ever a problem with the charging scheme, the Secretary of State will have the power to direct an airport operator as to the manner in which its charges are to be fixed.

Question put, That this House insists on its disagreement with the Lords in their amendments and proposes Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu thereof.

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