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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, why, when previous Conservative Governments were in power, did they not do precisely what the noble Lord is advocating?

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I can absolutely assure the noble Lord that a future Conservative government will. I want to respond a little to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in relation to something that the Minister said. Of course we believe in less regulation, but in things like noise and pollution emissions there has to be regulation. If we are to have the better environment that we all want, I am afraid that there has to be regulation to achieve that—and we have to have some different ideas and policies. Certainly, the Conservative Party under its current leader is determined to put some of those issues forward. I am putting forward some of them from the Front Bench today.

In maintaining the movements limit, we do not inhibit any possible advantages to be gained from a noise quota system. Instead, we simply ensure against its significant disadvantages. As I have argued before, the two mechanisms must be seen as complementing each other. Together they provide the most effective protection for communities living near airports or under flight paths. I beg to move.

4.45 pm

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has just said. The lives of people who live around major airports, particularly the London airports, are nightly made a misery by the present limits. Any attempt by the Government to change those limits by fiddling the system—I can only describe it as that—so that the overall noise limit is averaged out and there can be more take-offs and landings during the night hours, will add to the misery of millions of people. I reiterate the noble Lord's point: it is the occasion of being woken up repeatedly that leads to a bad night's sleep, disturbed behaviour by children and, obviously, less efficient working by the people who are woken up. Also, if you have a lot more flights, you will have a lot more traffic and the noise will spread further and further.

What are these night flights for? Very few of them, I suggest, are connected with business. They are almost all for leisure travellers. Perhaps the needs of leisure travellers, or pressure from the industry, should be put beneath the quality of life with which I hope the Government are concerned. I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said. We shall wait to see the outcome of the vote on this amendment before we say anything more.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, touched gently on health matters. It is known that stress can cause immune-system damage.
 
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I wonder whether, if we increase noise in a cavalier way, we will also increase the debts of the already stressed National Health Service and of the Department for Work and Pensions, as people will not be able to work because they are suffering from stress-related diseases. And so it goes on. I support the amendment.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, I should be grateful if the Minister would kindly explain the nature of the powers entrusted to the Secretary of State by Clause 2, regarding aircraft noise; as I understand it, the amendment would remove those powers. I have a local reason for asking that, as I happen to live in East Anglia, where there is nearby a large concrete runway rebuilt some 10 years ago for the United States Air Force, which no longer uses it. This is the former RAF Bentwaters. It is not a registered airport and there is no regular aviation. The site has largely been sold to nearby farmers, who use it for non-intensive agriculture; for example, the hardened aircraft shelters are now used for rearing ducks, with some success.

However, the runway is still there and is still used for occasional, unscheduled and maybe illegal flights by light aircraft, including visiting aircraft from the Netherlands. This frequently disturbs local residents—although not me, as I live some way off—who ask the planning authority what measures it is taking to limit the noise and frequency of these flights and to control the times at which they occur. The local authority says that it has no staff to monitor these local flights and that the residents should supply information—accompanied, it hopes, by a photograph—giving the aircraft number and type and the time of the event. Few citizens are able to oblige with that information.

Am I right in supposing that it would be open to the local residents, under the existing framework of the Bill, to ask the Secretary of State to use his power under Clause 2 to exercise some control over what is happening, given the lack of interest shown by the planning authority? It appears from the Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill that that may indeed be the case, but I should be grateful for confirmation. If I am right, the amendment would reduce the powers of the Secretary of State, which I should regret in this case, and I am therefore inclined to vote against its adoption.

Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar: My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who lives very near Heathrow between the two runways. That does, however, mean that I may know what I am talking about. I am not altogether sure that that normally applies to people in the Department for Transport, certainly where noise is concerned, and that is the case not only under this Government but under previous governments, too.

I am by no means convinced that aircraft will get quieter because, until now, all noise measurements have turned out to be inaccurate and I suspect that these will, too. Above all, noise measurements do not take account of the whine caused by the displacement of air, which, so far as I am concerned, is worse than the noise of the
 
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engine. Therefore, the idea that the Government can nonchalantly decide to give themselves power to multiply the number of night flights by any amount seems to me an extraordinary dereliction. As the Minister knows, there is a strong movement throughout Europe and this country to abolish night flights altogether, but this Government now want to multiply them by goodness knows how many. So I strongly support my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I want to ask my noble friend about a comment that he made in Committee. I believe he said that these changes, if adopted, would not come in before 2012. He went on to say that,

I think that other noble Lords have made similar comments. There is grave suspicion about this. Why do we need to bring in legislation if it is not needed for six years? There is grave suspicion that "flexibility" means more flights, and I urge my noble friend to think again about this. Frankly, he could bring in regulations or even another Bill in five or six years' time, when there may be a lot more understanding of the effect of noise on people. I think that it is very premature to do this now.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I can see that the Government have a difficult balancing act here. Aviation is one of our growth industries and many jobs are involved in it, and, although we all want to be green, I do not think that people would be very happy if we saw substantial job losses. I can see why the Government want to ensure that we continue to maintain Heathrow, in particular, as our central hub. Many in Europe would be very pleased to get their hands on the flights that might be pushed their way if they could not go to Heathrow and they would be pleased to see job growth in their countries rather than in the UK. So I can see that a balance has to be struck.

I also live under the flight path and am troubled by the noise early in the morning. I declare an interest in that I am a non-executive director of National Air Traffic Services. I have an interest in this subject and on a number of occasions have asked why more flights appear to be coming in earlier these days than used to be the case. I am not sure on which side of the line we are in regard to the regulations.

The point that has been put to me is that many incoming flights are not simply holiday flights; people are flying in on business and, in particular, they are flying in from the Far East. The one thing that I know from working within NATS is that, as soon as the aircraft get close to the UK, there is a dash to be first in line to get down on to the concrete. I have long argued that there is a case for greater international co-operation to ensure that planes fly at a slower speed across continents so that they come in on schedule, rather than arriving half an hour earlier than required and having to be stacked, with all the consequential problems that that involves.
 
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Are the Government initiating efforts to try to have greater co-operation along those lines to ensure that there are savings in fuel, by having people fly at slower speeds than they do currently? Pilots are given complete freedom to fly as fast as they wish as long as they arrive at the destination on time. Improvements could be made to avoid having more flights arriving early in the morning. I warn the Government that this issue causes a great deal of angst among the public in west London. If they do not take note of it, people will suffer as a consequence. I want to see greater efforts made by the Government to avoid the foot-in-the-door scene and even greater growth in the number of flights coming in at night in the future. Until I have heard what the Minister says, I am unsure which way to vote.


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