HC Deb 28 February 1978 vol 945 cc401-22
Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 5, line 29, leave out from "and" to end of line 31 and insert on the completion of the winding-up for the return to each aerodrome authority by whom contributions have been made to the Fund, of a share of the net assets standing to the credit of the Fund which bears the same proportion to those assets as the authority's contributions to the Fund in the last 12 months during which contributions were made to the Fund bear to the total contributions made by aerodrome authorities to the Fund during those 12 months.". During our third sitting in Committee an amendment was moved which enabled us to consider the question of the possible winding-up of the Fund. We were looking to happier days when security provision might not be required, or when winding-up might take place for some other reason. It was agreed at the time that wording was possibly not as felicitous and accurate as it might be. This amendment is an attempt to be more precise and to ensure that when the winding-up of the Fund takes place the assets will be disbursed in precise amounts to those aerodromes which have contributed in the 12 months prior to the winding-up. In view of the discussion in Committee, when the principle was considered, and because this is a straightforward amendment, I have nothing further to say.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I indicated during the proceedings in Committee that I found the amendment which was then moved acceptable in principle, but it was defective in its working. That defect has now been cured and therefore the Government are prepared to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I have never been greatly enthusiastic about the Bill but I had hoped that, during the course of the Committee stage, changes in it might be made which would enable me to see it as a useful measure in its aircraft noise aspects, even if in other respects the Bill could be regarded at best as no more than an unfortunate necessity. I was prepared at that stage to believe that it was possible that the Bill might become one which I should find myself able to support on Third Reading. I regret to say that this does not appear to me to have happened.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has consistently refused every possible attempt in Committee to strengthen those clauses which would have given greater protection against aircraft noise. In particular, I found it distressing that we have been unable, owing to a decision which I do not wish to challenge in itself, to discuss on the Report stage the question of aircraft noise. Had one known that that was to happen, it would have been possible to put down an amendment to the appropriate clauses in order to bring about that discussion. As it is, one can only hope that the new clause which it has not been possible to discuss this evening will commend itself to another place, and that in the other place it will be carried.

Perhaps it is the case that, because the arguments in favour of the new clause were deployed in the columns of The Times, it may have been thought that that was equivalent to discussing it in the House. Even though The Times happened to be published on the day when my letter appeared, discussion in The Times can hardly be regarded as the equivalent of a debate in this House. As I attempted to point out, the issue is whether it is right that the citizen should be unable to sue in the courts against noise nuisance when it is committed by aircraft, although he can take proceedings in respect of every other type of noise nuisance. This is the sole instance where the citizen is entirely deprived of any legal remedy whatsoever. This House ought to have been able to consider whether that is proper. Never at any time owing to a series of peculiar circumstances which I detailed in Committee, and which I shall not go over in detail tonight, has this Chamber examined in detail the propriety of that deprivation.

In 1922, when the Bill dealing with air navigation was being considered, the idea of civil air transport in its present form had not been thought of, and a clause depriving the citizen of the right to sue was introduced at that stage in order to establish the right of aircraft to fly over people's ground. It had not been established in those days that flying over a person's ground was not trespass—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) knows that he is attempting to introduce something which he would have liked to see in the Bill and which may have been discussed during the course of the Bill, but it is not in the Bill and should not be discussed on Third Reading. He is suggesting powers which the Bill does not contain.

Mr. Jenkins

I accept your guidance. Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall address the remainder of my remarks more specifically to what is in the Bill, regretting only, in passing, that things are not in it which ought to be in it.

Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is not it right that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) should mention a new clause which was not selected, in the hope that the Minister will press upon his right hon. and hon. Friends that the clause should be considered when the Bill goes to another place?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

To be strictly in order, it is not appropriate on Third Reading to discuss matters which are not in the Bill, and this clause was not selected.

Mr. Jenkins

Many of the powers which are in the Bill and other powers which are taken from time to time to regulate aircraft noise—this barrage of rather ineffective attempts to control it—would not have been necessary had it been possible for the citizen to have recourse to the courts. That is the point.

No hon. Member whose constituency is affected by aircraft noise wishes to derogate from what has been done. Given that the aircraft operator is free to make aircraft noise without having proceed- ings taken against him in the courts, the Minister has tried to introduce regulations to ensure that that freedom is not exploited. He has not succeeded. Over the years, despite the regulations and all that has been done, aircraft noise gradually has got worse and people have had to put up with more and more of it year by year as the number of aircraft movement has increased.

But for the fact that this right to sue in the courts does not exist, there is little doubt in my mind that the main London airport would not have grown up at Heathrow. It would have been located somewhere else, and vast numbers of people would not have been overflown repeatedly, every day, especially in the summer.

So I find myself unable to accept that this Bill has been improved to the extent necessary to enable me to support its Third Reading, and it will be my intention to demonstrate my disappointment. A proposition was advanced to allow the citizen to sue in the courts, and account was taken in it of all the protection necessary to ensure the there were no unreasonable or frivolous actions. But at no time did the Minister remonstrate his willingness to open his mind to this possibility. In view of that, it is my judgment that it is right in the circumstances to divide the House against the Bill on Third Reading.

11.23 p.m.

Sir George Sinclair

Before I make some critical remarks about the Government's failure to seize their opportunities in this Bill, I want to pay tribute to the Minister for all that he has done to take into consideration the representations which have been made by those living under aircraft noise around the airport in my constituency, the patience with which he has listened to them, and the steps that he has taken to bring in a gradual but we believe far too slow control of aircraft noise.

Having said that, I want now to support the case made by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) that the Government should consider granting the same right to individuals to sue in the case of this aircraft noise nuisance as that which they have in other cases of nuisance. If the Government granted this right, it would be a sign that they were taking note of the resentment of people about not having a rigorous enough control exercised on their behalf by those who are supposed to look after their interests.

This Bill seeks to authorise the collection into an aviation security fund of a levy on passengers arriving at and departing from airports. The Government, to save themselves the expense of providing increased security at airports are prepared to impose a levy on air passengers. I want to speaking about that levy, and I hope that I shall find that I am still in order.

Yet, under the Bill, which also deals with the control of aircraft noise, the Government are not prepared to contemplate a levy on air passengers to be collected into fund to compensate those residents around airports whose lives have been made intolerable because they live in the worst area of aircraft noise. That seems to me—and to many others to be outrageous.

The Government are responsible by statute for protecting such people against aircraft noise, and they have obstinately, in the Committee debates, refused to grant individuals the right to sue airlines in the courts for the damages they suffer.

What is more, the Government are now responsible by decisions in the recent White Paper on airport policy to expand the traffic at the main airports, for imposing greater burdens of noise on those living nearby. Surely it is time, when the Government have decided to impose these heavy new burdens, to show in a Bill such as this that they intend to discharge their other responsibilities to protect those who are suffering from the rapid growth of air traffic and who will suffer much more in the next eight to 12 years.

On the Secretary of State's own admission during the Second reading debate, those living around Gatwick in my constituency will suffer the worst increase in noise. The Government aim is to expand Gatwick from the present 6 million passengers to 25 million in 1990. That is a four-fold increase 12 years, and is more than the total forecast increase at all other airports in Britain in that period.

The Government are behaving most irresponsibly. They are refusing to contemplate compensation under the Land Compensation Act 1973 on the ground that there is no new factor involved, such as a new runway or the extension of an existing runway, to make a radical change in local conditions. Yet they now accept that it is not alterations to runways that most affect the volume of traffic but the capacity of terminal buildings. They aim to expand Gatwick fourfold without a second runway. They are achieving this through new terminal buildings. What nonsense to hide behind the outdated criterion of runways to refuse compensation to suffering residents when they are changing the whole nature of the locality by building new terminals.

The hon. Members who represent constituencies in Surrey and Sussex, which are heavily affected by Gatwick, have all joined with me in seeking redress from the Government for our constituents who are being increasingly clobbered by the Government's actions. We have made many carefully worked-out recommendations which we believed were well within the Government's power to embody in the Bill. Many of these recommendations have been to help constituents who find that they are living in areas around Gatwick which are worst affected by aircraft noise, and who find that the situation has become intolerable for them and their families, so they have decided to sell their houses and move away. The Government have so far blocked all these proposals. Yet this Bill gave them an opportunity to take a new initiative on these lines. As I have said, they have refused to contemplate taking legislative action to secure the payment of compensation under the Land Compensation Act, in spite of all our arguments, especially those of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe).

We have made many other proposals which would have relieved our hard-pressed constituents. We have argued strongly for a levy on passengers to create a fund from which houses in the areas of intolerable noise could be bought. That would release families who could no longer stand the racket and would make houses available for those who have to live and work near the airport.

From the same fund could be financed the proper protection of houses against aircraft noise by 100 per cent. grants for thorough sound insulation. If the Government are right to promise that in from eight to 12 years the worst aircraft noise will affect tar fewer people, houses with sound proofing could prove a very attractive investment. From such a fund compensation could be paid—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that this is the Third Reading of a Bill. Although the hon. Gentleman may have discussed these matters elsewhere, this is not the time to discuss them, as I have already pointed out. What we are discussing is what is in the Bill, not what any right hon. or hon. Gentleman wishes to be in the Bill when in fact it is not.

Sir G. Sinclair

I thank you for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will draw my remarks to a close by saying that here in this Bill was a chance for the Government to discharge their responsibility. The chance is still there if the Government wish to take it by amending the Bill in another place. If the Government do not do so, the residents around Gatwick will make their own judgments of the failure of the Government to discharge their statutory duties, and I shall oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.

I hope that the Minister will consider some of the things that I and others have said, but so far there has been no give on the main proposition to use funds raised from passengers arriving at or departing from airports for the proper protection of those who are suffering most from aircraft noise. It is because of the complete inadequacy of the Bill that I and some of my colleagues will vote against the Third Reading tonight.

11.33 p.m.

Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

As I have spoken in every debate in the House on aircraft noise for the past 18 years, I wish to make one or two remarks in support of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair).

The Bill is not adequate. It could have been far more wide-ranging. There was a strong case for including within it a provision, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Putney, to enable people suffering from aircraft noise to take the matter to the courts.

In my constituency of Richmond, which lies about eight miles from the threshold of London Airport, we suffer from landing noise. We have suffered from this noise for many years. For many years I have pressed and attacked Ministers from both major parties.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking in urging the Under-Secretary to act. In my view, he has done more to ease the suffering of people living around airports than any Minister in any Government over the past 18 years. But it is still not enough. It could be much more. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see fit to discuss these matters with his noble Friend who will be guiding the Bill through the other place and press him to have second thoughts on the points made by the hon. Member for Putney and my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking.

I intend to join my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Putney in voting against the Bill. It does not go far enough, and I hope that the Government will think again.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I support my hon. Friends the Members for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) and Richmond Surrey (Sir A. Royle) and the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) in the deep concern which they have expressed about the question of aircraft noise, which is such a terrible scourge to the communities it affects.

This House through the decades, and through the centuries, has been concerned to alleviate human suffering from whatever may be its cause. I can see hon. Members on both sides of the House who have honourably followed that tradition. However, on the problem of aircraft noise—and my constituency is by Heathrow, which has about 600 flights a day—there are hon. Members who evince a total lack of compassion and concern about this form of suffering to people. It must be frankly admitted that some people do not mind aircraft noise, but many suffer from it acutely and for some it goes as far as causing mental illness. We must strive to press for stronger measures to deal with it. I agree that the Under-Secretary has done as much as or more than any other Minister about this matter, but it is not enough.

The Bill deals with the question of aircraft noise in Clauses 8 and 9, which comprises an important part of it. It introduces the concept of establishing differential landing charges so that noisy aircraft can be made to pay more than quiet aircraft to land at Heathrow and other airports. I regard this as a well-meaning step in the right direction, but I wish to ask the Minister to make clearer the Government's intentions about what will happen and when. On Second Reading the Secretary of State said that this provision would be introduced gradually "Gradually" could mean many years, and people cannot wait many years. They are suffering now, week after week and month after month. Therefore, I ask the Minister about the timing.

Also on Second Reading the question was asked how large the differential in the charge would be as between noisy aircraft and quiet aircraft. I do not think that we had an answer to it. How large a differential is needed to affect the choice of airlines as to whether they buy noisy or quiet aircraft? I am not sure how effective this provision will be. What assessment have the Government made on this matter? How will the change interact with the airlines' commercial decisions on what aircraft they buy? How big will the differential have to be to induce the purchase of quiet aircraft? I hope that the Minister will let us into his thoughts on this matter.

I suspect that the differential in the landing charges will have to be very large to make much difference to airlines' decisions. If so, the provision will be effective only if there are very large fees for the most noisy aircraft. I cannot believe that it is probable that the quiet aircraft will be heavily subsidised. If the fees were very large, they would be likely in turn to lead to an increase in revenue from the landing charges, at least in the short term and medium term, while there remained a substantial proportion of noisy aircraft.

That naturally raises the question of how the funds will be applied. I was disappointed when, during the sixth sitting of the Standing Committee, the Minister set his face against hypothecation of the revenue or assignment of the revenue either to noise abatement through insulation grants for double glazing or to rate reductions in the areas badly affected by aircraft noise.

It is right in principle that air travellers should pay a modest surcharge on a differential noise basis to those to whom they cause suffering through aircraft noise. It is analogous with the proposition in the Bill that air travellers should pay for the cost of security at airports. The need for sound insulation, like the need for security, is a consequence of their decision to travel by air. That is why they should be made to pay the social cost.

On 7th November, my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) asked the Secretary of State whether he would reconsider the area covered by the Heathrow noise insulation grant scheme to include areas in his constituency, particularly those directly under the flight paths.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman was not doing badly earlier, but he is beginning to stray into matters that, as mentioned before, should not be discussed on Third Reading. He should confine himself to what is in the Bill.

Mr. Jessel

I am obliged to you for drawing my attention to that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but this matter was debated in Committee and it relates directly to what the Minister said then about his intentions in relation to the operation of the Act. That can be verified by studying the Committee Hansard.

When we were discussing Clause 8 in Committee, the Minister said that the British Airports Authority was considering new proposals for submission and consultation on noise insulation grants I understood that these would be corning forward in May. Will the Minister give every possible support to the Authority to extend the scheme into areas near airports that suffer most acutely from aircraft noise? I include my constituency, not least because of the Minister's recent decision not to alter the Mole Valley flight path. I strongly disagree with that decision and have repeatedly told the Minister so. It is deplorable and wrong. At least he could do something towards putting the matter right by making sure that the BAA considers an extension of the insulation grants scheme.

Double glazing is not the complete answer to aircraft noise. We cannot double-glaze gardens, and people like to spend time in their gardens during the summer. However, it is a form of partial compensation, and I hope that the Minister will use his influence to see that it is started, even though he has said that this would be done not under this Bill but under a previous Act.

11.44 p.m.

Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey) It is not surprising that my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) should have concentrated on Clauses 8 and 9. In considering the wider effects of the Bill, those clauses probable cover a wider catchment than air travellers because they deal with large portions of the population.

As members of the Committee will know, my involvement is with the Leeds-Bradford Airport, which is shortly to be extended. I echo the grateful thanks for the way in which the Minister has handled our representations and the lengths to which he has gone to meet them. I am grateful for the further information that are likely to be using Leeds-Bradford in 1990.

The hon. Gentleman will understand that the concern that is expressed by those of us who have airports within our constituencies stems from the continuing problem of trying to satisfy the consumer. Under the proposed new clause we spent a considerable time discussing the consumer, but there is the unwitting consumer whose domestic property happens to be alongside an airport, who also have consideration. Surely it is part of Clauses 8 and 9, and part of the intention of the Bill, that we should offer added protection to consumers.

I make three points on which I hope that the Minister will care to comment. First, I am disappointed to learn from questions asked of the Department of the Environment that no guidance is given to local authorities on rating valuations for properties adjacent to airports. Under Clause 8 and the power to make byelaws—I know that the power relates to the airport and the immediate vicinity—it might be that local authorities should be given guidance by the Department on exactly the rate reduction that they might consider for the various NNI contours. There would seem to be an omission in that the Department was not able to give information on which airports offer rate reductions and which do not.

Secondly, I remind the Minister that in the general context of protection against noise we must take into some consideration the EEC directive on product liability. I am aware that that is in an early stage, but I suspect that ultimately the question of damage might come under the scope of the directive that is now being drafted, to try to ensure that the side effects of products are exposed to definition and that the consumer is given adequate protection against them.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The hon. Gentleman many wish to be reminded that the citizens in all but one of the EEC countries are free to take action in their courts against aircraft noise if they so choose and that no great harm seems to have come to the aeronautical interests in those countries.

Mr. Shaw

I am well aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, which I think he made in Committee. There are many countries that provide their consumers with that degree of redress. However, the consequence of a directive on product liability will have its effect on aircraft, aircraft emission and the side effects of aircraft usage. I suggest that there will be an increasing liability in respect of bodily injury due, for example, to defects. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the question of how far we can go with byelaws, or attempts to increase controls on noise, is something that at any given point is finite. I am sure that he will agree that there will be movement as technology and the context of legislation allows it.

I accept that the Minister probably has to take a stance on this issue at this stage. However—this is my third point—it is sad that aircraft noise, with the clear distress that it causes so many, has not yet found a clear expression in law.

This is where the hon. Member for Putney is so consistently right. It seems illogical that no legal protection should be given for the considerable nuisance that noise from aircraft provides. However, I can fully understand why that protection is not offered. There is the difficulty of identification owing to the rapid movement overhead that aircraft make. It is not easy for an objection to be lodged that can stand up to examination in a court of law, but it is surely evident to all that it is the cumulative effect with which we are primarily dealing in Clauses 8 and 9.

Sir G. Sinclair

Perhaps it will be easier to bring home to airlines the damage done by certain aircraft when the heavy new planes, which cause serious vortices in the air and which are now lifting tiles and depositing chimney stacks in the roads, become more common. It has already driven the British Airports Authority to insure houses under the direct flight path at Heathrow. Therefore, it will be easier to bring home this damage to individual aircraft.

Mr. Shaw

Where damage such as that is caused and if bodily injury ensues, a case will presumably lie against the airport operator, if not against the airline. Under the Bill, I think that the airport operator would clearly be liable for redress in the courts on that particular charge.

I conclude on a matter about which I am extremely concerned—the operation of airports by local authorities. The Minister will know that the airport in my constituency is managed by a local authority. Clauses 8 and 9 offer new powers. I hope that it will be part of the Minister's intention to encourage local authorities to make early and full and vigorous use of these powers.

It seems to ma that local authorities have two obligations to fulfil, first, to run airports to the maximum standards of consumer acceptability within the area for which they are responsible, and secondly, through their local electors, who are their ratepayers and who in most instances fund the costs of the airport operation, to provide a reasonable return in terms of the standards which they apply to the surrounding vicinity to help people living within the catchment area of the airport.

Local authorities have a peculiar responsibility for the effectiveness of the Bill. Therefore, it is right that they should discharge those functions to the full and that in due course they should indicate to the Department of Trade and to the Minister they have been able to issue new byelaws and regulations under Clauses 8 and 9. It is important that they be seen to take the lead and to demonstrate that they are responsible not only for the airports and air traffic but for the areas within which airports are located.

11.53 p.m.

Mr. Tebbit

Before we send the Bill on its way to another place I want to make a few points.

This is a ragbag of a Bill. Although primarily concerned with security charges, it is also very much a miscellaneous provisions Bill.

The Under-Secretary of State knows that we regard the principle of the Bill as being right, on balance. Indeed, I think that he shares that view. There is, of course, the danger of the encouragement of needless costs being incurred under the scheme of charging for security. The hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson)—strangely, not with us this evening—has made that point very well indeed on a number of occasions. I think that all of us have accepted the dangers that he pointed out. Oddly enough, the Minister has, too.

In his letter of 7th February to myself and other members of the Committee, the Minister showed how 68p can become 75p, which grows before one's very eyes to 80p and then inflates again to £1. The hon. Gentleman, in his letter, states that The figures, which I quoted in Committee, of the varying costs per passenger at several airports were based on assumptions of an expenditure of £18.8 million and traffic loads of 25.1 million passengers. As you rightly pointed out in Committee, the average of direct expenditure at airports works out at slightly under 68 pence a head. However, as I said, there has also to be taken into consideration the cost of measures which cannot be attributed to individual airports. The letter continues: All in all, these amount to almost 8 pence per passenger which, added to your average, equals the 75 pence which was the figure calculated in October and on which I took my decision of 80 pence for next year. The 80p which the Minister sought to charge rapidly became £1, which many airlines were seeking to charge extra on fares to cover the cost of the 80p which the Minister thought was necessary to cover the 75p which was really 68p. That is a classic case of inflation. That tendency must be watched.

I am sure that the Minister appreciates that in the future his Department must be more active in ensuring that costs are kept down, because there will not be the incentive on airports authorities to keep down their costs in the manner in which airports such as Luton were so successful.

Secondly, I mention briefly the debate that we had on Clause 11, on the fascinating Pearl Islands affair. That is too complex a matter to go through again, but we are still not happy about it. The Minister was as forthcoming as he felt able to be at that time about the consequences of the action brought against Pearl Islands Tours and an airline, and the possibility of similar action being brought in the future, although not necessarily relating to the narrow point of the Pearl Island Tours case. It is better that that matter be raised again in another place, perhaps at a more leisurely pace, when it can be considered at a more suitable time of day.

The other major provisions concern the control of aircraft noise. Many hon. Members have sought to protect their constituencies from aircraft noise. Certainly, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) was the source of a number of decibels in that intention. My hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) and Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) have been most eloquent in seeking to protect their constituents from aircraft noise.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, like myself, must be as surprised as any of us to find that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) again has not taken part in our debates. It would have been an extraordinary occasion if, when the subject of aircraft noise had been debated in the House before October 1974, Mr. James Allason had not been here. It surprises me that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead seems to take so little interest in his constituents' affairs in this respect.

I support the Government's carrot-and-stick approach to aircraft noise. We support the decision to ban non-noise certificated subsonic aircraft after 1st January 1986. It is true that the most suitable aircraft to replace those that will have to go out of use by 1986 may not be available for another three or four years. It is therefore inconceivable that that date can be brought forward without the risk of disruption and grave disadvantage to British flag carriers. The Minister has chosen about the right date. I hope that we shall all benefit from that decision after 1986.

There is every reason to believe that in overall terms we are almost past the worst of the airborne noise problem. I emphasise the word "overall", for it would be idle to pretend that it is past its worst either at Gatwick or, even more so, at Stansted, where, due to the Government's decision—unspoken as yet—to make Stansted London's third airport there will undoubtedly be a considerable increase in noise over the next few years.

Mr. Jessel

Is my hon. Friend maintaining that at Heathrow things are past their worst, bearing in mind that the number of aircraft continues to increase, that although some quieter ones are coming in they comprise a relatively small minority, and that it is the frequency as much as the average peak loudness of each flight that causes the annoyance and distress? Will my hon. Friend think again about that?

Mr. Tebbit

I said that we were approaching the end of the worst—

Mr. Jessel

Too slowly.

Mr. Tebbit

Of course it is too slowly. We all wish that it could come more rapidly. But my hon. Friend must accept that the only way in which it could be achieved more rapidly would be by simply stopping the operation of aircraft such as the Tridents and BAC 111s before suitable quiet aircraft are available to operators to replace them. There is a tendency for the replacement of these aircraft because, by happy coincidence, the noisy aircraft are the fuel-hungry aircraft. A strong economic argument exists here, therefore. I do not wish, however, to stray from the Third Reading debate into the airports policy debate that we shall no doubt have at a later date.

It is a pity that the Minister has not given some indication that under the powers granted to him in this Bill and earlier legislation he will follow up the laying down of individual noise limits with total noise limits, expressed in terms of the loudness of the noise, the time for which it is experienced and the area over which it is experienced. I believe that we could lay down such limits and that once people had seen a clear limit laid down they would more readily accept that it would be lowered in the future and that reducing noise limits could be laid down for the years ahead.

The Minister is right, by this Bill, to keep in his hands the control of noise rather than allowing it to become a matter for litigation by private citizens in the courts. In spite of what may be thought, citizens of other countries who can sue in respect of aircraft noise do not live in serene and silent worlds. Their chief liberty seems to be that of contributing thousands, if not millions of dollars to lawyers and to get very little out of it. The hon. Member for Putney knows full well that in spite of all the money that was spent at New York, Concorde is arriving there and thousands of much noisier aircraft, like the old-fashioned 707s, are flying over the houses creating just as much noise as at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken in one respect, if in no other. Because of the existence of the ability to sue, those countries have had to pay much more attention to the sitting of airports than has been paid in this country. If the legislation that I want had existed over the years it is impossible to think that Heathrow would have built up to its present size.

Mr. Tebbit

I can only conclude that the hon. Gentleman has never been to La Guardia or Kennedy airport, because there the powers that the hon. Gentleman would like are in the hands of the citizen, but the sites of those airports are certainly no more ideal, and probably a great deal less so, than that of Heathrow.

No doubt we shall return to this subject time and time again, but I think this Bill represents a few useful steps forward in the control of aircraft noise, as well as in other matters. I hope that the House will give it a Third Reading tonight.

12.5 a.m.

Mr. Clinton Davis

It was fairly predictable that this Third Reading debate would revolve almost entirely around the question of noise, but I should like to say one other thing at the beginning.

The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) who has, by and large, taken a constructive view of these matters upstairs, made a thoroughly unfair attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett), who happens to be an assiduous and energetic Member, as is widely recognised on both sides of the House. I could ask the hon. Member why his hon. Friends the Members for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), Esher (Mr. Mather) and Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) are not here. They may all have good reasons for not being here, and it is unworthy, unless the hon. Member has made some inquiries about my hon. Friend's absence, to make that sort of point.

Mr. Tebbit

I think the Minister will find, if he checks, that the three hon. Members he selected were here for the Second Reading debate, whereas the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) has not been present at any stage.

Mr. Davis

He may, for all I know and all the hon. Member knows, have been unable to attend on that occasion. The hon. Gentleman should not make these personal attacks without being sure of the reason, which is sometimes illness. Sometimes there are constituency reasons. The hon. Member for Chingford himself is sometimes not here for a wide variety of debates.

However, I do not wish to become involved in a side issue which does not reflect great credit on the hon. Member for Chingford who raised it.

I want to tell hon. Members who have been kind to me in their remarks that I appreciate that, but that there are limits to the ability of any Minister holding my office to respond to their perfectly natural demands. I do not believe that I have forsaken the interests of those who suffer from noise disturbance. I have no intention of doing that, and I give an undertaking that I will fight hard to make sure that those interests are respected.

It was Dave Allen who said that to maintain a balance one needed a chip on both shoulders. In my case it would need not so much a chip as the gentle dropping of an axe from both parties to the conflict of interests which arises.

Mr. Jessel

If the Minister had had a chip on his shoulder he would not have threatened to drop anything which would cause anyone else to have a chip on his.

Mr. Davis

That is very helpful at 12.10 a.m., but I shall not follow it up.

There are two conflicting interests here and there is a requirement that we should begin to try to understand the other's case, not just pay lip service to it, as occasionally happens. By that I mean that we must appreciate that it is vital to have a vigorous and energetic airline industry. There can be no doubt of that.

On the other hand, the industry has to recognise, and does recognise, that noise is a deeply disturbing factor which not only seriously affects convenience but impairs the ability to make a full contribution through work as a result of what is suffered through day and night.

This is a matter which needs investigating through medical research and is not something one can counter by effective response without looking very deeply into it. There can be no victors in this matter, because it is impossible for one interest to eliminate the other. Common sense dictates that a reasonable balance is struck between the two sides. That is what I have been trying to do.

There is a third limit—the need for restraint in public expenditure. Unlike many Conservative Members, I am a believer in a high level of public expenditure, because without that one cannot sustain the fabric of the social services which need to be sustained. I listened with interest to some proposals made for large increase in public expenditure to meet this need. But there is a competition order of priorities for public expenditure which we cannot ignore. I represent Hackney, Central, where we have problems over our hospitals and housing. The Government must weigh all these matters carefully.

Some of the proposals would cost billions of pounds. Some would represent an enormous call on local or central Government expenditure. Even the limited proposal made in correspondence to me to cover depreciation of houses within the existing 55 NNI contour could cost £70 million-plus, for a nuisance which in any event is calculated to be much reduced by 1990.

Mr. Jessel rose

Mr. Davis

I shall not give way. Hon. Members have made their points and I do not think that it would be right for me to give way at this hour. I want to speak for only five minutes.

When hon. Members make calls for in- creased public expenditure they have a duty to say what they want covered. To which places is the expenditure to be limited? Is it to be confined to Gatwick? How is to be applied? What are the costs? What are the repercussive effects? What are the effects on the airlines? Often nothing specific is put forward.

Mr. Michael Marshall(Arundel) rose—

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman has not participated in the debate, and it is very late, so I shall not give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) has campaigned vigorously over a number of years for the sort of measures about which he has spoken during these debates, particularly in Committee. I have great sympathy with what he says, but I do not think that his proposals represent the sort of panacea that might be implied from some of his remarks.

I do not believe that where they have the right to sue, people have had great benefits conferred upon them. I believe that that right would mean a proliferation of legal actions. Who am I to complain about that? There would be seen to be a nuisance value, but it would not be to attack the problem at source, which is what the Government are trying to do in their measures. I want to see quieter aircraft—

Sir Anthony Royle

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Davis

I shall give way once.

Sir A. Royle

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose speech I have been following carefully. If the other members of the European Community can have this sort of legislation, why cannot we? Why should we be different from our partners in the Community?

Mr. Davis

That is not an argument that has always appealed to me. Sometimes I have felt that it is a distinct disadvantage to have legislation simply because other members of the Community have it. If any hon. Member could explain how the citizen in Germany or elsewhere is in any way better off in practical terms, which is what I am concerned about, perhaps I should look at the matter again. But no evidence of that has ever been adduced.

My hon. Friend wanted to do away with Section 40 of the Civil Aviation Act 1949. A particular aircraft that had caused the difficulty would still have to be identified, and that is not easy. As I pointed out in Committee, Section 40 protection does not extend to all cases. An aircraft must comply with the requirements of the various Statutory Instruments as well. If it commits a breach of duty the aircraft owner is not protected. I shall not go into that, because it was all rehearsed earlier in Committee.

The Government are attacking the noise situation at source. We are proposing to engage with the BAA in discussing, by May, proposals that the BAA will put forward to deal with noise mitigation, possibly through a noise insulation scheme, which will replace that which is now ended. We have continued the use of runway alteration. We are phasing out flights by the noisier aircraft at night at

Division No. 131] AYES [12.16 a.m.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Golding, John Noble, Mike
Armstrong, Ernest Graham, Ted Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Hardy, Peter Palmer, Arthur
Bates, Alf Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Park, George
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Hooley, Frank Parry, Robert
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Hunter, Adam Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Sever, John
Campbell, Ian John, Brynmor Skinner, Dennis
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Snape, Peter
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Stallard, A. W.
Cowans, Harry Kerr, Russell Stott, Roger
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lambie, David Tinn, James
Crawshaw, Richard Lamond, James Urwin, T. W.
Cryer, Bob Leadbitter, Ted Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Dalyell, Tam Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Davidson, Arthur Loyden, Eddie Ward, Michael
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson White, Frank R. (Bury)
Deakins, Eric McCartney, Hugh White, James (Pollok)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Dempsey, James MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Woodall, Alec
Doig, Peter McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Woof, Robert
Dormand, J. D. Magee, Bryan
Dunn, James A. Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Mr. Joseph Harper and
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Moyle, Roland Mr. James Hamilton.
Ford, Ben Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Hicks, Robert Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Jessel, Toby
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Mr. Hugh Jenkins and
Royle, Sir Anthony Sir George Sinclair
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. I am sure that the authority at Luton will follow, and I am sure, too, that other local authorities will abide by the injunctions that we have put down here.

We are giving local authorities that run airports the opportunity to discriminate through their charging policy between noisy and quieter aircraft. I shall not dictate how they use those powers. That is a matter for them. But they are accountable to their electorates.

I believe that we are dealing with this matter sensibly and rationally. We are combining the interests of both parties to this matter. I believe that is only by doing that that we can realistically make progress into the future.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 73, Noes 6.

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