HC Deb 11 April 1963 vol 675 cc1479-512

12.2 p.m.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful to you for giving me the opportunity and privilege to open a discussion on a subject which is of very great concern at present to at least half a million people in ten or more constituencies which surround London Airport, and which also has disturbing implications for the future. I know that other hon. Members representing some of those constituencies are anxious to catch your eye and to speak in the debate. They will be able to give you information on certain detailed aspects of the matter, but I feel that a brief general introduction is necessary if we are to get the problem into perspective.

It is also important to emphasise that this is not a mere repetition or rehashing of a subject which has been discussed before. There are events taking place and a decision has recently been made which alter the situation by considerably worsening it. The complaint can be summarised in one sentence, by adapting familiar Parliamentary language and saying that the noise nuisance from night flights at London Airport has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.

There are two aspects of this matter. First, there is the immediate prospect, between now and October, which was disclosed by the Minister of Aviation's Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir B. Craddock) on 29th March, when my right hon. Friend stated that he had authorised an increase in the night traffic between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. at London Airport by an amount which is equivalent to 60 per cent. over last year. Last year's figures were creating great concern already. Secondly, there is the broader question of the policy and future intentions of the Minister of Aviation in relation to the discharge of his duties under the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, from which his powers are derived.

I am authorised to put the view of a number of hon. Members with whom I have had the opportunity of discussing the matter and with representatives from our various constituencies. I hope to put the case with proper moderation. Our very strong and genuine view is that from all appearances the Minister does not seem to be giving nearly enough weight, either as to the present situation or as regard the future, to his constitutional duty to safeguard the rights of the general public, as contrasted with the other duty, which he undoubtedly has, towards the development of efficient civil aviation.

As you, Mr. Speaker, will be very well aware, but for Section 40 of the Civil Aviation Act every one of our constituents who is affected by these night flights would have an unfettered right at common law to take proceedings in the courts for an injunction to restrain them as an actionable nuisance. That right was taken away by the Civil Aviation Act, 1949. There was substituted for it Ministerial control exercised by means of air navigation orders and regulations under which, among other things, night flights can be sanctioned or refused by the Minister in his absolute discretion, and without any appeal to the courts.

Thus, the Minister alone has the power and the duty to safeguard the rights of the public. He could in effect be described as the trustee of our common law rights in this respect. As far as concerns nuisance or trespass, it is only by that means that the householder is able to obtain the benefit of a very fundamental principle of English law, which was reaffirmed recently by a judge of the High Court, Mr. Justice Veale, in the case of Halsey v. the Esso Petroleum Company. That principle is that a man and his family are entitled to sleep undisturbed in their own house at night.

The nuisance in that case was caused by large road tankers. They were nothing like so big as jet planes and the noise they made, although described by the judge in that case as "appalling", was nothing like so great as the noise made by jets. Yet the judge restrained their use altogether during the midnight hours and no one thought of appealing against that decision.

The Minister's discretionary powers here involve a very real responsibility to the public. I am sure that he realises this, but I am bound to say that he has not made it apparent to everyone. Of course, I do not suggest for a moment that it would be a proper exercise of the Minister's discretion for him to forbid jet flights altogether—to forbid jet planes to exist, as some people have suggested, on the ground that they can be a nuisance. That would be an extravagant proposition and no one would want to support it. I do say, however, that at present all the evidence indicates that neither the Minister nor his predecessors have made any sufficient effort to balance and to reconcile the two conflicting duties—his duty to the general public and his duty to aviation.

There is a widespread fear among those affected—who include many engineers and other practical men with technical knowledge of the various problems involved—that the Minister is in danger of giving up the unequal struggle and opening the door to virtually unlimited night flights, or, at any rate, that will be the inevitable consequence of what is now happening unless a very definite change takes place. It is right that I should make good what I have said by reference to the history of the subject. That speaks much better and more eloquently on the subject than I could hope to do.

On 4th December, 1959—we should remember that that is less than three and a half years ago—the then Minister said in the House: Under present arrangements no jet aircraft are scheduled to land or take-off at night; i.e. between about 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. However, permission has occasionally to be given for delayed aircraft to arrive or depart during these hours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1959; Vol. 614, c. 168.] In April, 1960, the new Comet 4 was allowed to undertake a limited number of night flights, and it is interesting to read the remarks of the air correspondent of the Financial Times, of 29th November, 1960, on that experiment. Obviously very well-informed from most admirable sources, he said that the Minister's permission was intended to be only temporary and that "if the volume of complaint becomes serious he may have to withdraw it." So any idea at that time that the airlines had a superior right to make night flights in the midnight hours from London Airport in preference to the rights of the public to sleep was clearly never in the mind of the Minister or of anybody else at that date. The date that I am speaking of is the end of 1960.

In 1961, some additional night services were sanctioned from London Airport. The public complained very strongly, although the flights in question were very few in number comparatively, and on 11th August, 1961, we find the Consultative Committee for London Airport reporting that it had strongly pressed the Minister to say that there should be an absolute prohibition of flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but that he had replied, and I am quoting only a brief extract of what he said: The Minister has taken note of the resolution but regrets that he is unable to agree to the request, since the operation of scheduled services at night by turbo-jet aircraft enables the airlines to use their aircraft and ground organisation more economically, to reduce costs and accordingly to offer reduced fares and charges on the night flights. The effect of all this is to bring air travel within reach of many who could not otherwise afford it, and to bring more tourists to this country. … The Minister, naturally, understands the anxiety caused by the problem of aircraft noise and greatly regrets that it should be a source of disturbance to residents … and he will continue to do everything possible to keep it to the minimum. That expression "the minimum" was about as unsatisfactory an expression as one could have, completely ambiguous; no one knew then, and no one knows now, what it was intended to mean. But the result has been the beginning of the descent from the slippery slope and today the "minimum" really means nothing at all. Here again, the facts can speak best—actions speak more trumpet-like than words, in this connection.

In 1962, the airlines made a determined onslaught on the Minister and apparently demanded 4,000 movements, as they are called, 2,000 landings and 2,000 take-offs between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. I shall come to the results of that per day and per week in a moment or two. That was, of course, an enormous increase, and probably the figure of 4,000 asked for was an opening bid which they were not very optimistic of getting, but it is the fact that, even so, it was with the greatest difficulty that the Minister was persuaded to stick his toes in and to insist on the reduction to 1,500 plus 1,500, that is to say, 1,500 take-offs and 1,500 landings, a total of 3,000 movements.

That was really the break-through, because it means at the peak, that is to say, at the worst time of the summer, 77 take-offs in a week and 15 per night on the worst night, which, of course, is a Friday. Friday night was known years ago as "Amami" night. But now, in this part of the world, it is "jet" night. On 29th March this year, when the Minister was eventually compelled tardily to disclose the figures he had allowed for this season by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne it was found that this 1,500 take-off figure of last year had been stepped up to no fewer than 2,400, or 4,800 movements, an increase of 60 per cent. over those that caused so much trouble and complaint last year. Now the peak for the week this year, according to the time-tables, I am told, will be 108 per week as against 77, or 40 per cent. increase, and in one night 19 against 15, or a 35 per cent, increase. As the victims have already feared, it looks as if the pass has now been sold.

It is depressing to note the change in the tone of the Minister's answer. No longer is there any reference to keeping it down to the minimum. Two things only are mentioned. First, he says: The increase over the corresponding period last year results directly from the rapid replacement of piston-engined and turbo-prop aircraft by jets. In other words, the emphasis is upon the inevitability, and nothing is said about what is being done to keep it down, Then a rather cynical addition is: We shall continue to ensure that the airlines maintain their present good record in keeping night noise down to the level permitted"— that, everybody agrees, they are doing—but, he went on— and the encouragement of research into the methods of reducing the nuisance of noise will be continued."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1963; Vol. 674, c. 197.] What our constituents are concerned with is not what the scientific "boffins" will produce in 1970, but their conditions of sleep in 1963. It is not very helpful for them to have that view put forward. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a very wide feeling that the inference is that the Minister has really given up the ghost about trying to protect the public. How serious that is can best be shown by a quotation from a most important paper recently read before the civil engineers by the Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at Southampton University, Professor Richards.

Again, I would much prefer to rely on the expert rather than on my own imagination. This is what he says at the beginning of his statement and I hope that the House will forgive me for reading it, because I think that it is most important: With the introduction into London Airport of jet airliners with horsepowers higher than those of the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, the problem of the noise at airports has become one of major importance. … The number of complaints about noise has doubled itself roughly during each of the last four years, even though the daily number of jet aircraft movements in 1960, for example, was still only 70 or so per day. … Allowing for the growth of traffic generally, we can predict for London Airport some 500 jet airliner movements a day by 1970, and a good proportion of these will be short-haul types … which must be operable without limitation day and night. Thus, at peak departure hours during the day and evening, we can expect a take-off every one or two minutes and one every five minutes at some periods of the night. Of course, these aircraft will not necessarily be as noisy as the present breed. … Furthermore, the short-haul aircraft … can climb to considerable heights before flying over the built-up areas around London Airport. Even so, all the signs point to the noise nuisance increasing catastrophically unless a very careful control is set. What is that careful control? We see no evidence of it whatever. How can the Minister prevent this inevitable result if he says that as more jets are brought into service as there is more demand for tourist flights, more and more flights will be allowed at night and people must just put up with it? Action is required now, if any stop is to be put to it.

The discussion and correspondence which followed that important paper, to which I hope to hear that the Minister has paid attention, was extremely interesting and instructive. I cannot refer to it in detail, but it was published by the Institution of Civil Engineers, and I want to give simply two strongly contrasting views, which, we would all agree, are rather alarming.

The first comment shows what I can only describe as the complacent outlook of some of the operators. A gentleman is reported as saying, in effect, that because the noise level in engines has now been reduced to a figure which is regarded by experts as a figure that should be acceptable to the public, the operators now feel that their social obligations have been defined—in other words, they need not worry about it any more.

To some extent, of course, that is true, because it is the Minister who is responsible and not the airlines; and one cannot blame them for doing only what they are required to do. It should, however, be pointed out that those who live in the vicinity of London Airport do not accept that the experts' view about what ought to be acceptable to them is preferable to their own experience of what is. Apart from that, the gentleman in question was guilty, I suggest, of special pleading at a very high level, because he left out altogether the question of frequency, and seemed to assume that the whole problem would be resolved because the noise is now being reduced to a "tolerable" level.

In his reply, Professor Richards disagreed entirely and said that although the engines probably could not be got any further down in the noise level than they had been in the time, he did not think that they had gone far enough. In his view, therefore, that is not the solution.

In the end, this gentleman's suggestion was that the sovereign remedy was that people ought not to be allowed to live alongside airfields. What the moral to that is for the people who are living there, I do not know. Many of them were there years before jets were ever thought of. It is a rather depressing view. I do not believe that it is held by many people, but that, at least, was one view which was expressed.

On the other side of the picture, we had a remarkable piece of evidence from a highly qualified technologist who is the principal scientific officer of the Road Research Laboratory of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. He happened to live on the fringe of London Airport, so he was able to speak with considerable feeling. I can read only a small part of what he said. Here is an extract from it: Professor Richards quoted an estimate that 40,000 people in the vicinity of London Airport were subjected to excessive noise. But the accepted noise tolerance level was about 75 to 80 decibels so it was hardly surprising, as was common knowledge, that complaints of excessive noise arose in large volume in areas several miles from London Airport such as Slough … Windsor … Richmond … and Barnes … without mentioning intervening areas, so that the lives of something like half a million people were affected by objectionable noise due to aircraft. This, it must be remembered, was for only one airport out of many where jet-engined aircraft either operated, or desired to operate in the future. Then, he states: The inescapable question therefore arose, 'Is it rational to subject continuously a considerable proportion of the country's population to serious interference due to noise throughout their lives … so that an extremely small proportion of their fellow citizens can very occasionally travel a little more quickly by air than they did previously?' There could surely only be one answer in a nation or world which called itself civilised. Yet both the question and the national answer seemed to have been carefully, or carelessly, avoided by the responsible authorities. The only sign of wisdom had emanated from Norway, where the people of Oslo had insisted that they would not have noisy aircraft overhead—at night, at any rate. That is a very striking statement. What is said there is a point that we should all ponder. Is not this an example where our system of government is not keeping up with science? Science and government must go hand in hand if we are to deal with the problems of the present day in this particular case.

It is not only the Government who are to blame. We in this House are to blame that in a subject of this kind we are allowing it to slide. The future consequences may be very great. The supersonic aircraft are coming; everybody agrees that they will be worse. Do we know where the airfields will be, how they will be arranged and how these matters will be dealt with?

Other hon. Members wish to speak and I do not wish to occupy more than a few moments more time. As regards the immediate problem, however, I am advised that there should be no difficulty in fitting at least a large number of the tourist flights which now take place between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. into other periods at either side of those hours. Although in the past we have been told that that is the only acceptable time for tourist flights, we now know that tourist flights start at 7.15 in the evening and finish at nine o'clock in the morning. Therefore, if we were allowed to have a quiet or reasonably quiet period at least between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. there is a period of nearly eight hours outside those times into which these flights could be fitted. The number of them involved is by no means prohibitive from that point of view. We wish to know whether this aspect has been considered. It should be considered, but there is no evidence that it has been.

With regard to the long-range problem, we are entitled to have from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation some kind of assurance that the future is being considered in a serious and business-like way. The House should have particulars of the Minister's and the Government's intentions and plans. We should be told how far consideration of this matter has gone. We should have a document issued which we can study with expert assistance and we should then have a debate in the House of Commons, when the whole matter could be gone into seriously and we could discharge our responsibilities. Meanwhile, I am sure, there is widespread support for the view that the Minister must take another and much more careful look at this problem and must pay much more attention to the rights of individual citizens.

12.29 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

On behalf of all those who are victims of this intolerable nuisance at London Airport and on behalf of all hon. Members interested in this problem, may I say how very grateful we are to the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), first for having raised this subject on the Adjournment, and, secondly, for having given such a masterly survey of the history of the problem and adding so many points of absolutely first-class importance which the Minister must consider?

There is another reason why I and some of my hon. Friends are especially grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We have lost no opportunity of urging the claims of those who live near airports and suffer from this grave nuisance. Many people who live near London Airport were there before the airport and therefore have a special claim on us. The fact that we have done this constantly results, perhaps, in the House and the Department tending to regard those of us who continue to do so as merely having a bee in our bonnets or just raising only a constituency point. It is a constituency point, and none the worse for that. But if I had nothing whatever to do with a constituency near the airport, having experienced this dreadful noise I should feel as deeply and passionately as I do and still agree with everything said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

I want to be very brief this morning, because one important object of this debate is to get as many points of view as possible from both sides of the House. One point which concerns us is that, although we have lost no opportunity of bringing the problem before the Minister, the situation does become steadily worse. We have secured minor concessions. We have secured concessions about the testing of engines at night. Earthworks have been erected, though all too slowly. Some small improvements have been brought about, but the general position has got much worse. With each year that passes the amount of disturbance becomes greater and the conditions become more and more intolerable for residents.

This has all happened, particularly in regard to the disturbance from night flights of jets, in the last three years, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out. Although we constantly alerted the Minister, many of us received a shock when we found only two years ago that Swissair and Scandinavian Air concerns actually printed their timetables of night jet departures from London before the Ministry had even completed the tests on them. This is an extraordinary situation. It may be that these companies were highly intelligent and knew beforehand what the Minister would decide, or they may have taken a chance. However, it did not add to the confidence of those who suffer from this nuisance to learn that timetables were prepared as if the Minister's tests were a formality.

All of us in Parliament have a particular responsibility to the residents, because it was in this House that in 1946, in the Civil Aviation Act, which took away the ordinary common law rights of people who live round the airport in respect of noise made by aircraft. At that time there were no civilian jet engines, even if there were military jet engines. The circumstances of today were certainly not envisaged them. I do not say that it is practicable to put the clock back to 1946, but, because we took away the legal rights of ordinary people, I think that the whole House has a particular responsibility to ensure that those who are the especial victims of the processes of the House are safeguarded to the maximum extent.

I do not think that that is now the case. The schedule for the coming seven months from April to October shows that the number of night flights has risen from 3,000 to 4,800. This makes one realise that company after company must have been given specific permission for these additional flights. It looks as if those responsible have taken no account of the sufferings of those who live round the airport. B.E.A. has been allowed 17 additional night flights per week, Alitalia 7, Swissair 1, Iberia 9. The list shows that there will be 31 extra night flights per week between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. The total has now risen to this proportion, which means that on certain nights, certainly on Friday nights, there will be 19. There will also be aircraft landing. The noise from planes landing is very little less than the noise from those taking off.

In all these circumstances we must demand from the Minister that more consideration be given to people living near the airport, particularly those living within the check points, who get no advantage from the take-off procedure because they experience the full blast of this disturbance. We are entitled to ask the Minister for an assurance, not only that he will not allow any more but that he will consider some reduction in the way suggested by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Even if there were a clear period of only six hours, this would be something. At present there is nothing.

The intention of the companies is that the whole night will be one long disturbance. I once described this noise as like Dante's Inferno. I do not believe that was a far-fetched description. Anyone who has been there—I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Lough-borough (Mr, Cronin) was there last night—and heard this noise knows that it is utterly appalling. It is like nothing else on earth. It cannot be compared with noise from railway yards or motor traffic. It is very sudden and very short, but the impact is terrifying. One does not get used to the noise even when one has heard it time and time again. It is not only the degree of loudness; it is also the quality of the noise which makes it so objectionable. We therefore demand an assurance from the Minister, not only that there will be no more disturbance but that he will take active steps to ensure that there is less.

12.37 p.m.

Sir Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)

As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) said, all of us are very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) for having sought this opportunity to bring forward, once again, this very important problem.

My right hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington have covered the field so well that there is little that I can add to what they said, but I propose very briefly to put one or two questions to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation in the hope that we will receive some satisfactory replies on many aspects of this difficult problem. As is the case with every right hon. and hon. Member whose constituency borders London Airport, this problem has caused me very great concern ever since I have had the honour of being the Member for Spelthorne, now more than thirteen years.

During the last Parliament I worked with the then Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and was able to see the other side of the matter. I am bound to say that then, as now, all my sympathies lay with the residents who live all round the airport. The way in which they have put up with this for so long and acted towards it in a very responsible way is astonishing.

There are two aspects of the problem. The first is the question of the testing and running up of engines during the night. This is not only a problem of night flying. It is a problem of day flights. Even during the day the noise from the heavy jets is almost intolerable. During the last Parliament—it may well have been before that—baffle walls were started; earth walls were constructed. They have to a certain extent minimised the problem of noise from the testing and running up of engines.

Occasionally, I go there, as I understand that the hon. Member for Lough-borough (Mr. Cronin) has done during the night, just to listen to this noise, which I entirely agree with the hon.

Member for Hayes and Harlington can well be described as a Dante's Inferno. On one occasion I suggested that the noise at London Airport, both during the day and at night, was just hell on earth. I do not think that that is an exaggeration.

More baffle walls and earth works are needed to combat the noise from night testing and night running. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would say something about that.

If my memory serves me right, the then Minister of Aviation, in the last Parliament, laid it down that there should be practically no testing or running up of engines during the night. I have the feeling that those regulations have been relaxed, and I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would say something about that, too. This hinges to the question of the speed and height at which aircraft are compelled to fly. I understand that there are strict regulations about this—or, at any rate, that the regulations were strict at one time. I mention this because, frankly, my observations lead me to believe that these regulations are not being observed and as stringently enforced as they should be.

I appreciate that there is no easy solution to this problem. For many years we have been told that a great deal of research work was going on in connection with mufflers and other devices in an attempt to reduce the noise. What progress has been made? Is enough energy and drive being put behind these experiments and is enough money being spent in that direction? I know that research of this kind is still going on and I understand that a special team of research workers at the Cavendish Laboratories in Cambridge is going into the problem. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would say what progress they have made.

I deprecate the increase in night flying. That there has been a considerable increase was indicated by my right hon. Friend the Minister in an Answer he gave to a Question I put to him about ten days ago. In this connection, I would like to know what is happening about Gatwick Airport. Is it being used for night flights? Here is a first-class airport, built at enormous expense, but I have the impression that very little use is being made of it. It is not unreasonable to suggest that part of this night flying should be directed, for takeoff and landing, to Gatwick Airport. I realise that this would mean an increasing burden on the residents living around that airport, but in view of the situation today I would have thought it not unreasonable to suggest that greater use should be made of Gatwick.

I hope that we will be given some assurances about this whole matter, because one of the greatest problems facing mankind throughout the world is the question of the rights of the individual being dismissed in favour of the machine. This is a trend to which I take the greatest exception and which, I hope, will be retarded as much as possible. I regard it as the duty of the Minister of Aviation and the Government, of any complexion, to get down to this problem much more vigorously than would appear has been the case in recent years, so that some relief can be given to good-living citizens.

12.43 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I, too, would like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allocating time for this debate. I would also like to join my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) and the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir B. Craddock) in thanking the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) for his speech. I am sure that the great interest that has been shown in this matter will be welcomed by the residents around London Airport, who could have no more sincere and able an advocate than the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey.

I support the comments of the hon. Member for Spelthorne about research into this problem. I have been in this House for nearly eight years and have taken part in most of the debates on aircraft noise. On each occasion either the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary has said that research was going on all the time. If this is so, why does the Ministry not ban the taking-off and landing of aircraft at night unless they are emergencies—at least until the research has borne fruit? For some reason the Ministry will not do this, but allows night flights to continue and is increasing the number of night flights allowed by 60 per cent, this year, mostly for holiday tours.

The present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations called a conference of aircraft manufacturers and airline operators when in his previous office and asked them to pay special attention to the question of eliminating the noise at its source. Have any results emanated from that conference?

My constituency, like that of other hon. Members who have spoken—and the hon. Member for Spelthorne has Stanwell, while my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has Harlington—contains the area of Bed-font, which have some houses only 300 yards from a runway, and also Cranford, which is very near the airport. Though most of the people living around the airport are willing to tolerate the noise by day, they strongly object to it by night. I urge the Minister to reconsider the whole matter, especially the suggestion of banning or reducing night flights between, say 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., or midnight and 6 a.m.

In some European countries—and I understand, in New York—jets are not allowed to use certain airports at night. Why should London Airport be in a totally different position? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with this when he replies. I would like to develop this aspect further, but I must be brief because other hon. Members wish to speak.

Most night flights are for holiday tours. This is particularly true during June, July and August. If we have a hot summer, people leave their bedroom windows open and the noise of aircraft going overhead is particularly objectionable; people do not get any sleep. I urge the Minister to protect the residents around London Airport, especially those near runways or in the glide path of flights. Surely these holiday tours could be arranged so that landings and take-offs are differently timed at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.

Like other hon. Members, I appeal to the Ministry to confine these flights to daytime. As I say, the majority of people are prepared to tolerate them by day, but are certainly not prepared to do so by night, without protest.

I appeal to the Minister to reduce night flights and not to increase them by 60 per cent, this year, mostly for holiday tours.

12.48 p.m.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

I am glad to reinforce the appeals that have been made by hon. Members representing constituencies around London Airport for some action by the Ministry. Since I became an hon. Member, three-and-a-half years ago, I, like other hon. Members with constituencies in the area, have constantly been receiving complaints about night flying.

We keep on asking the Ministry to look into the matter and I have no doubt that all hon. Members representing such constituencies have accumulated an impressive number of Whitehall pieces of prose on the subject. We are used to all the answers, explanations and excuses and I hope that today the Parliamentary Secretary will break through this sound barrier. We can take the explanations, excuses, and so on, as having been said and I hope that my hon. Friend will not say that the Ministry regards this as a serious problem. Phrases about research being pursued with speed and vigour, hopes that something will presently be discovered, and so on, should not be used any longer. If Ministry spokesmen continue to reply to these debates with phrases of that sort I shall be prepared to listen; but I have heard them so many times before that I would like my hon. Friend to apply himself specifically to the noise nuisance which is being inflicted on the people living around the airport.

We hope that he is not in any doubt about the nature of this nuisance, or about the anger it causes; and that he must not suppose that familiarity will breed contempt for jets—it will not. The anger felt by many thousands of people living within earshot of the airport is very real. The Minister must recognise it, and must make clear not only that he is sympathetic but that he is prepared to take action. One of the things we learn in arguing about the airport is the importance of decibel counts—if the Minister could take an adjective count at the airport he would find it much more alarming than any decibel report he could produce.

I want to ask my hon. Friend some specific questions. First, is it practicable to set up a compensation fund for these people living around the airport whose lives are being made intolerable, and who would be prepared, if nothing else can be done, to get out of earshot rather than suffer any longer? Is it practicable to ask the airlines that now use these jets to create by some levy, a compensation fund to help those people who find it impossible to live around the airport and want to sell their houses?

It must be remembered that living in this area are very many people who lived there long before London Airport came into existence. In my own constituency there is the village of Harmondsworth, which is eight centuries old and, I suppose, one of the oldest villages in England. People live there whose families have lived there for generations—long before the airport was even dreamed of—and they are now suffering from something they never contemplated when they set up house.

In Sipson, Cranford, Longford and Harmondsworth, and all round, one can find these people who have lived there for thirty or forty years, and whose families have been there for generations. The compensation fund that I have in mind would enable them to sell their houses and move away without suffering financial loss.

The Minister is entitled to say that a good many of those who complain have gone to live in that area since the airport came into existence, and I suppose that it can be argued that they knew what they were letting themselves in for, and must put up with it. No such reply can be made in respect of the very many people who lived there long before the airport was established, and I therefore press the Minister to consider the creation of a compensation fund.

Secondly, I should like some information on matters of fact about these night jet flights. I am still not quite clear how many we are to have during the coming summer. How many airlines have night jet flights scheduled to take place between now and September or October? The people in the neighbourhood would very much like to know how the numbers compare with last year's programme. Is the position this year to be worse or better than, or just as bad as it was last year?

I want to reinforce what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir B. Craddock) about the practicability of diverting some of these night jet flights from London Airport. Are there any night jet flights from Gat-wick and from Stansted? They are both perfectly good airports on the other side of London, and I quite agree with my hon. Friend that we ought to divert some of these night jet flights to them. Why cannot we have something like equality of misery about this? Why should not Gatwick and Stansted have it as well as Heathrow, Harmondsworth, and all the other places affected? Let us have some approximation in misery instead of inflicting on this area alone the unending and deafening noise that now goes on.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be as explicit as possible. It may be that he and his advisers take the view that nothing very much can be done, that those living around the airport must grin and bear it and put up with the jets, and that presently they may have to put up with the supersonic planes. I was very glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald)—for whose support we are all enormously grateful—referred to supersonic planes which are in prospect. I suppose that when they arrive they will be an even greater nuisance than the jets.

Does my hon. Friend think that nothing very much can be done? If he believes that these people must put up with jets now, and must presently put up with the supersonic planes, I ask him to say so. If nothing can be done, let him say so, without putting up a smoke-screen of excuses. We should like to know the worst. If the necessity for night flying jets and the coming use of supersonic planes takes precedence over the eardrums of the people around the airport, we should be told so in plain English.

Therefore, in addition to the other matters that have been raised, I invite him to tell us what he sees for the future. Does he see this as a permanent nuisance or as a terminating one? Whatever way it is, we should like to be told in language about which there can be no misunderstanding.

12.58 p.m.

Mr. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I also represent one of the constituencies acutely affected—to the west of the London Airport. Over it the planes rise as they go to America and Ireland, and over it they circle, in favourable weather, when going to Europe. If the Parliamentary Secretary could only read the letters that I and other hon. Members receive from our constituents in these districts he would understand the gravity of the problem. I estimate that at least half a million people are affected by this nuisance.

As I want to be brief, I shall refer only to a matter that has not yet been mentioned. I recognise that it is quite extraordinary how human beings can become accustomed to noise, but there are two sections of the community to whom aircraft noise at night is an absolute torture.

The first section is the elderly. The Medical Officer of Health for Slough has reported that the noise of night flights has a most disturbing effect on the health of old people. I have not yet reached old age—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and, therefore, I cannot judge the matter for myself. But I am told that when one does become old, one sleeps more lightly and the difficulty of sleeping soundly at night becomes greater. The old are among those who suffer most from this noise problem.

The second section of the community to which I refer is the chronic sick. There are large number of people whose illness is of such a nature that they cannot take drugs to assist them to sleep. My mail includes letters from many such sufferers Some live at home and others are in hospitals which lie beneath the flight path of these jet aircraft. In a debate yesterday I said that this House is concerned with individuals as well as with the State and great machines. When such torture as this is suffered by the old and by the sick, it is a matter which ought to be of paramount importance to the Minister.

I recognise that in this modern age we have to allow for the development of aircraft. But I ask the Minister to look at these matters to see whether he can ensure a more rigid application of the control of the heavy loads which are carried by aircraft. Heavy loads result in them ascending at a height which involves an intolerable noise for the people who live below the path of the aircraft. I know that there are regulations, but I think that they should be strengthened.

Secondly, it is the duty of the Ministry to insist on effective silencers for aircraft. One of the problems arises from the fact that as advances are made in the research into effective engine silencers, the engine noises become louder in their volume because of the greater speeds attained by the aeroplanes. The Minister must balance these things. I think that, at least at night time, he should insist on the provision of effective silencers.

1.3 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)

I do not wish to impinge upon the time to be taken in this debate by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). I, too, join in the congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) on raising this matter. This is the third or fourth Adjournment debate which we have had upon a subject which is becoming increasingly urgent. There is general concern in the area of London Airport, as is evidenced by the fact that so many hon. Members have spoken today. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle), whose constituency adjoins mine, has a particular interest in this matter. Unfortunately, he is precluded from taking part in this debate because of his responsibilities as P.P.S. to the Minister of Aviation. But my hon. Friend is with us in spirit, if not vocally.

Brentford and Chiswick is on the fringe of the area troubled by this noise problem. Nevertheless, it has a serious effect on my constituents, particularly in the summer months. We have become used to the "black Fridays" when the holiday rush gets under way, and it is alarming to note that the timetables of Friday flights for the coming summer show an increase of 35 per cent. I am particularly concerned with the effect of the noise upon the elderly and upon young children, two groups of the community in which one finds most people of nervous disposition. They become easily frightened and may even be shocked by sudden noise.

Apart from the general disturbance and the interruption of people's rest, we must always bear in mind the needs of the old people and of the young.

It is true to say that the vicinity of London Airport is becoming something of a "distressed area", and that has been emphasised by what hon. Members have said today. We cannot ban night flying from London Airport, and it would be wrong to attempt to do so. But I feel that there is an urgent need for a full and official examination of the long-term consequences of night flying and the volume of noise, particularly following the increased use of jet aeroplanes. I understand that the Japanese Government have banned all night flying from Tokyo Airport in deference to the people living in that area. We are not arguing that all the night flights from London Airport should be stopped. But the Ministry could conduct a thorough investigation into what happens at other international airports to see how this growing problem is being tackled.

I am told by experts that there could be a considerable reduction in engine noise if the pay load of the aeroplane was reduced by between 2 per cent, and 5 per cent, on night flights. I appreciate that this would involve financial aspects. But were it done, it would greatly reduce the noise caused by night flying. I echo the sentiments of my right hon. and learned Friend regarding the great concern being expressed over this matter. The public interest must be given greater consideration as the use of jet planes becomes more and more part of the pattern of our daily life. We must take further action, other than that indicated by the promises about research which we have been given by the Minister, before this matter becomes intolerable.

1.5 p.m.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith) for truncating his speech. It is a pity that hon. Gentlemen have had to make rather short speeches, because this is obviously a subject upon which we should have a full debate. I should like to compliment the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) on his admirable exposition of the problem, which has helped us to get a clear appreciation of the situation.

During our last debate on this subject we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary that he had made a personal inspection of the London Airport area. I believe that the hon. Gentleman spent a night in the airport manager's office and slept soundly throughout the night. We must congratulate him upon his stoical and phlegmatic attitude to the noise. I thought it desirable to make a personal investigation, so I spent the period between eleven o'clock last night and three o'clock this morning touring the district round the airport and visiting the houses of a number of people. I must say that I was very agreeably welcomed by constituents of several of the hon. Members who are present today. Some received me in their slumberwear and appeared to be in no way disturbed by the situation.

There was an extraordinary unanimity about the complaints of the intolerable noise, and I am sorry to say that there is a general feeling that the Government are being rather complacent over the need to find a solution to this very difficult problem. I gained the impression that the situation is very disagreeable, and that one could certainly be disturbed to the point where it would be impossible to sleep because of the noise caused by aircraft taking off and landing. If a machine took off or landed within a few hundred yards—this is experienced by people who live at Bedfont and Harlington—the noise is so shattering and intolerable that no one could sleep through it, so I feel that here we are obliged to deal with a very grave problem.

This is particularly the case in respect of the sick. At one house in Bedfont I was shown a lighted window and told that there was a sick child in the room. I do not know what sufferings that child must have gone through. But it illustrates the situation with which we are faced and with which we are asking the Government to deal. I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that the Government have instituted a set of control points where the noise is limited. But what happens to people who live within the control points? To reduce the noise at those points the more powerful aircraft have to ascend within the control points, and more power is necessary to enable this to be done, so that there is more noise which makes it more intolerable for those within the control points.

I should like to know what will happen in the future to those unfortunate people who live close to the airport. The amount of noise varies with the thrust and velocity of the jets, I am told, to the power of 6. As we have more and more powerful jet aircraft, what will happen to those unfortunate people? Above all, what is to happen when we have supersonic jet aircraft, when there will not only be the noise of the jet engines but also the noise of the air passing over the fuselage and wings, the supersonic bang?

There are remedies, of course. I have been in touch with B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. I understand that they are going to immense trouble to ensure that their pilots adhere to noise reducing procedures. They are using mufflers in the testing of engines on the ground and silencers which reduce the power of the jet engines. All these courses have serious economic effects. I understand that it is costing B.E.A. £100,000 a year just for noise prevention alone and B.O.A.C. is suffering to the extent of £400,000 a year. I feel that the nationalised corporations are doing their best, as far as they can, to ease the problem. I have no doubt that, by and large, the other airlines are doing the same.

What can be done about reducing the actual noise of the engines? We shall probably hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that silencers are fitted. We shall probably hear that by-pass engines will reduce the noise by reducing the jet velocity. Unfortunately, however, most of the airlines are using aircraft already fitted with ordinary jet engines, not by-pass engines. It is most unlikely that we shall, in the near future, have a large proportion of by-pass engines substituted for the ordinary jet engines.

We then turn to the Government. What action is being taken by the Government to help these unfortunate people? I am sorry to say that the whole impression created by the debate today is that there is a gloomy miasma of doubt and suspicion overlying the Government's actions. I feel that there has been general dissatisfaction about what the Minister of Aviaton and his Department are doing. There have been numerous Adjournment debates and Questions about this problem. We have been told that action is being taken to stop infractions, which, I think, is probably true. We have been told that various committees are reporting. We understand that there is a committee on noise set up by the Minister for Science under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Wilson. There is a sub-committee on aircraft noise. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what report is coming from this committee and what action is being taken? We understand that the Minister for Science has instituted a social survey of districts close to the airport. May we have some information about the results of this?

We ought to have from the Parliamentary Secretary really detailed information as to what investigations are being undertaken to reduce this intolerable burden on the citizens living around London Airport. Who is making the investigations? Who is in charge of them? When shall we have a report about them?

What consideration is given to reducing the number of jet night flights? Several hon. Members have suggested this. If the Minister is not prepared to reduce the number of jet night flights, why not? What consideration has been given, at least, to having a number of hours—just a number of hours—in the night completely free of jet flights? If he is not prepared to consider that, may we have a really detailed explanation? Has the Minister considered setting up a departmental Committee to investigate the matter from every possible point of view?

I shall not go further now, because I wish the Parliamentary Secretary to have an opportunity to give a full and detailed answer. I conclude in this way. In 1949, the House handed over to the Minister of Civil Aviation the complete common law right of people to sleep in their beds undisturbed around the airports. This puts a very heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the present Minister. All of us are proud of the steady growth and development of British aviation, but this is taking place at an intolerably high cost to a small minority of people. We want the Parliamentary Secretary to give us detailed information about what steps are being taken to relieve the intolerable suffering of these people.

1.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation (Mr. Neil Marten)

I, too, congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) on having raised this matter today. It is, as we all know, extremely important, and it is not one which the Government are ignoring at all. In fact, we are paying very great attention to it. Also, I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate for the moderation, if I may so put it, within the limits of their feelings, with which they delivered their speeches and for the brevity with which they made their points.

As a newcomer to the Ministry, I still have a lot to learn. Having listened to the debate, I have learned a lot about the subject of noise and certainly a lot about the feelings which are generated by it. I hope that the House will accept my assurance that I shall take this matter away with me over Easter and consider all that has been said. Obviously, I cannot today follow up all the points which have been made, but I shall deal with them by correspondence in the usual way afterwards.

On 10th November, 1961, my predecessor but one, who is now Joint Undersecretary of State for the Home Department, had a rather unprecedented Adjournment debate on this subject. I say unprecedented because, although he was winding up an ordinary Adjournment debate, he had far more time than is usual and spoke for 50 minutes. I have about 15 minutes. I shall not try to cover all the points which my hon. Friend then made.

I begin by expressing my sincere sympathy to those who suffer from aircraft noise. Many categories of people have been mentioned. There has been special reference to the old and the sick, who, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) said, are the two sections of the community with whom we all have great personal sympathy. I have not myself yet slept at London Airport, nor have I actually slept at a house round about, such as those visited last night by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin).

Mr. Cronin

I must make a correction for the record. I did not sleep at all anywhere.

Mr. Marten

I quite understand. I did correct myself and say that the hon. Gentleman had visited houses round about.

However, I am not completely ignorant of this matter because, until a short time ago, I lived north of Richmond Park and right under one of the routes used by these great planes by day and by night. Nevertheless, I am not quite in the category of the people whom the hon. Gentleman visited last night, since they actually live around the airfield. I take the subject extremely seriously, and I realise that there is here a problem which we must solve.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey referred in the earlier part of his speech of the discretionary powers open to the Minister. As I see it the Minister is under an obligation to take active steps not to abolish noise altogether, but to keep noise within tolerable limits. I assure the House that my right hon. Friend will continue, and I shall continue, to do everything possible to keep noise down to the minimum we can achieve.

My right hon. and learned Friend quoted from a letter which, he said, showed a cynical view with regard to the encouragement of research. I shall deal with that later, but I assure him and the House that it is not cynical at all. Further, my right hon. Friend said—I hope that this was a quotation—that the Minister had given up the ghost over this problem. I assure him that that is completely untrue.

My right hon. and learned Friend said also that complaints had doubled. I should correct this. In 1960, we had 1,205 complaints. In 1961, we had fewer complaints, about 700, which included 318 from two residents in Richmond. In 1962 it went down again to about 500, which included 107 from one resident.

Mr. Brockway

Might not this have represented despair rather than a decrease in the problem?

Mr. Marten

That was a point which occurred to me when I saw the figures, but there is no proof either way. I should like to correct the figure for 1961. There were 932 complaints in 1961 and 541 in 1962.

It has been said that Oslo Airport does not have night flights, but, of course, that is not a great international terminal, whereas we are talking about London Airport, which is.

Supersonic aircraft have been mentioned. I spoke on this subject in the debate just before Christmas. The question of noise was dealt with then, so I will not deal with it again.

Finally, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey asked whether a document could be put before the House which all hon. Members could study and subsequently debate. This was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) and by the hon. Member for Lough-borough. I think that the answer to that is that when the Report of the Wilson Committee on noise comes out—I do not know exactly when that will be; I imagine it will be this summer—the question of aircraft noise will be fully dealt with because the Ministry of Aviation gave very full evidence to the Committee. I think that the time to debate that matter will be when we have the report.

I think that most people recognise that there is a conflict of interest in this question of noise. That has been recognised today. On the one hand, we must have good communications and a thriving civil aviation industry, and we cannot achieve that unless airlines are permitted to make the most economic use of their equipment. On the other hand, there are the claims of people living near the Airport at Heathrow whose peace and quiet are disturbed by aircraft movements. I have studied this whole question in great detail and find it extremely difficult to arrive at an ideal solution which will be fully satisfactory to both sides, but I assure the House that the Minister of Aviation is determined to remain vigilant and will endeavour to hold the balance, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough said, between these two requirements.

Before I explain what we are doing about the problem, I should like to refer to the Petition which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) presented this week, in which local residents asked that jet aircraft should be prohibited from using Heathrow between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) asked, why not ban all night flights? The Petition which we received on Tuesday was certainly evidence of the feelings which clearly exist among the 5,500 signatories. We are anxious to limit this disturbance as much as possible, but we cannot impose on airlines prohibitions which would make it impossible for them to continue to operate economically. That is a fact which we must all face.

I believe that most hon. Members who are acquainted with the air transport industry will readily understand the impracticability of a total ban on night operations by jets at Heathrow. International aviation must of necessity—and I repeat, of necessity—be a round-the-clock affair these days.

Mr. Hunter

Could the hon. Gentleman deal with holiday tours? Surely holiday tour flights could be carried out during the day. I do refer not to international American flights, but to European holiday tours.

Mr. Marten

That raises the question of the high utilisation factor of the aircraft. If there are to be cheap holiday tours at low rates—something which is very acceptable to the people of this country—there must be a high utilisation factor of the aircraft. A ban at Heathrow would almost certainly be followed by similar bans at airports overseas. It would be naive to suppose that all foreign countries would adjust their timings expressly to meet the convenience of London.

The hon. Member for Feltham said that New York had banned night flights. I do not think that that is so. It certainly is not so in Tokio, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith) referred. The authorities there have not banned night flights, although there is some talk of their thinking about it. But it goes no further than that at this stage.

The effect of a night flight ban at London Airport for eight hours, which is what the Petition asked for, would be that there would be an eight-hour period in New York during which no aircraft could take off for London, and another period of eight hours during which no aircraft from London could land in New York. If New York imposed its own curfew, there would be an eight-hour period when aircraft could not leave London for New York and another eight hours during which London could not receive aircraft from New York. Obviously, they would not be separate eight-hour periods. They would over-lap because there is a five-hour difference between New York time and Greenwich Mean Time.

The problem of operating international airlines economically under the handicaps which would arise if we banned all night flights here, and if that was followed by two or three other major international airports putting similar restrictions into operation, would force the civil airlines to go out of the long-range business. This is a question of economics and the very expensive equipment in aircraft these days. Many aircraft run into the £2 million bracket and require a very high utilisation factor in order that they pay for themselves and to keep fares reasonably low.

I was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge to "come clean" on this matter. Having gone into the problem, I consider that night flights are essential on economic grounds. I hope that I have dealt with the question about the Petition which was raised.

What would be the result if we stopped night flights? First, I agree that people would have peace and would be able to sleep, which we all wish, but it would be a mortal blow for major international air services if this happened round the world and round the clock. British airlines earn about £45 million a year in overseas currency. Secondly, irreparable damage would be done to our great and thriving civil aircraft industry, whose export effort has, since 1951, earned £1,200 million overseas. Thirdly, we would greatly reduce the number of tourists coming to the United Kingdom. In 1962, 3.9 million people came to this country by air, of whom 1,200,000 were foreign tourists who spent here an estimated £100 million.

We would certainly reduce the number of people employed in B.E.A. and B.O.A.C.—at present, 38,000 people are employed in the two Corporations—if we banned night flights. Considerable local unemployment would also result from a decline in airline activity generally. Therefore, I believe that this would be a step backwards when what we are doing is going forwards and modernising Britain.

Those who advocate stopping night flights completely should ponder on some of the results if that were to happen. I should like to quote from a lecture paper given by Mr. Nivison, of B.O.A.C. on 31st October, 1962, at a conference on noise. He said: … it will be worth recalling that of all the airports in the world at which B.O.A.C. operates, the lowest noise levels demanded by the authorities are those at London Airport, … While that is no consolation to those suffering from noise, it puts the question of restrictions on noise in its right perspective.

I realise that this is a question not of completely banning night flights, but of reducing the noise. That is the most reasonable approach to it.

Mr. Cronin

Will the hon. Member address himself to the possibility of there being a few hours free from jet flights during the night?

Mr. Skeffington

The argument about jets which the hon. Member has been adducing refers to long-distance jets, but a large part of the increase of flights is among European flights. Surely these could be spread before 11 p.m. or midnight and after 6 a.m.?

Mr. Marten

Many of these European services are through connections to tie up with long hauls. It is an extremely complicated matter of timetables, with the mixing of long and short hauls. I will go into the question and try to give the hon. Member a more considered answer than that which I have given.

Sir B. Craddock

Will my hon. Friend say something about diversion to Gatwick?

Mr. Marten

I will do so if I am allowed to press on with my speech. It is on the list of questions which I intend to answer.

May I tell the House what we are doing on this matter? The hon. Member for Loughborough told the House several of the things which I shall say, but no doubt the House would like to know what we are doing about this problem. In the reduction of noise lies the solution to the problem. It may not be popular with many people, but it is the right aim. We have set a limit of 102 perceived noise decibels as the maximum noise level at night far jet operations. This is appreciably less than the noise level of several types of propellor-driven aircraft which have operated from Heathrow in the past. By day the limit is 110 perceived noise decibels.

The air lines have been highly cooperative in their efforts to keep down noise, and our monitoring records show a high degree of compliance with our requirements. During the last six months infringements of the night-time noise limit have averaged only about 2 per cent., and that is a very good record. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne asked whether the regulations were being observed, and in that information he has the answer. Many of the planes used—for example, the Comet and the Caravelle—are below the noise maximum which we have set.

If the prescribed noise level is exceeded the matter is immediately taken up with the airline and an explanation sought. The rate of compliance has steadily improved with experience of the operating techniques. When there are breaches they are followed up immediately, but it is emerging from some breaches as take place—about 2 per cent—that the breach is often due to the fact that the pilot considered that safety came first, before noise. I think that in this the pilots are absolutely right.

It is only right to point out clearly the heavy penalty which the airlines have accepted in complying with our nighttime noise limitation at London Airport. For example, with the Boeing 707 it is possible to keep down to the night noise level only at weights of about 210,000 lb., which is well below the maximum operating weight of just over 300,000 lb. This is a severe economic penalty which results in severe financial loss.

As the House knows, for the seven summer months of the year from April to October, a total of 4,800 jet movements at night between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. have been authorised. This is an increase over last year when the figure was 3,000, but it is only right to point out that although the airlines put in for over 6,000, they were allowed 4,800, which I believe deals with the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey, who suggested that this was an opening bid. The increase which has been allowed is largely due to the fact that there is a rapid replacement of piston and turbo-prop aircraft by the newer jets.

I must point out to the hon. Member for Feltham that we at the Ministry are not responsible for what Swissair prints in its brochures and are not responsible for the fact that Swissair was ahead of the ultimate decision.

Mr. D. Smith

Does my hon. Friend agree—this point was well taken—that the newer jets are noisier than the other aircraft?

Mr. Marten

I am coming to that point. I think that perhaps I had better not give way again, but had better continue with my speech.

The House will see that we are doing our best, through monitoring, to keep the noise down and through a system of scheduling to keep the number of flights under control.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne asked "Why not Gatwick?" There are two reasons. The first is that the runways are not long enough to take the biggest jets and the second is a matter of economics, because it would mean splitting the whole management of an airline's operations. My right hon. Friend will be happy to allow some night flights from Gatwick if the airlines will take them up.

On the more practical side, a great deal of work is being done to lessen the noise problems, particularly at night. This, as I have said, is where we must attack the problem. At Heathrow, ground running is confined to certain areas of the airport where it is screened as far as possible by buildings or by earth banks and concrete walls. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne asked whether we have enough baffle walls there. I am advised that we have enough. He asked whether the night running conditions have been relaxed. The answer to that is, "No, they have not".

There is a general curfew on all ground running of engines between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. except for essential maintenance on aircraft which are required for service the next day. All jet engines must be run in mufflers, and operators are required to keep a log of any ground running at night. Complaints are investigated immediately.

As the hon. Member for Loughborough appreciates, a great deal of work is also being done by way of research to lessen the noise of jets. This is being carried out in Britain at the National Gas Turbine Establishment, near Farnborough, at the College of Aeronautics, at Cranfield, and at Southampton University. The Government spent £400,000 on this last year. It costs B.O.A.C., which is only one airline, £410,000 a year in extra fuel and lost payload because of the noise; £10,000 a year to maintain the suppressors; and the suppressors themselves cost B.O.A.C. £397,000 as an item of capital equipment. The earth banks and mufflers cost £400,000. Hon. Members will see what one airline is doing in the way of suppressing noise to help the constituents of those who have taken part in the debate.

Mr. Hunter rose

Mr. Marten

I must press on with my speech.

The hon. Member for Loughborough asked about the new planes and another hon. Member asked whether these would be noisier. The development of the bypass engine, in particular, has reduced jet noise for the same engine power. The Trident will be 8 to 10 perceived noise decibels quieter than the Comet for the same thrust. There are signs of great progress in this respect. The B.A.C.111 is in the same range as the Trident.

I think that the hon. Member for Loughborough has taken this matter up with the British Aircraft Corporation in respect of the VC10. The Corporation tells me that the VC10, with an all-up weight of 299,000 lb., registered 101½ perceived noise decibels, whereas the Super VC10, with an all-up weight of 320,000 lb., registered 102 perceived noise decibels. This is a remarkable feat for this remarkable plane. I am sure that hon. Members agree that this is progress in the right direction.

There are many more points which I would very much like to make. I have the answers to many questions and will send them to hon. Members. But time has run out and I must give way to the next debate.

These are some of the things being done to tackle this most irritating problem. It is a problem which I recognise. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey for having raised the question and I thank other hon. Members for having contributed to the debate. I hope that they will accept that the Government are doing their best to solve the problem. I should like to end by joining the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, who has now left the Chamber, in expressing sympathy particularly with those who are sick and old and who, perhaps, suffer more than any other people from this very irritating noise.

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