HL Deb 24 March 1947 vol 146 cc664-72

[The references are to Bill No. (31).]

After Clause 1, page 4, line 40, at end insert the following clause:

Nuisance caused by aircraft on aerodromes. .—(i) An Order in Council under section one of this Act may provide for regulating the, conditions under which noise and vibration may be caused by aircraft on aerodromes and may provide that subsection (2) of this section shall apply to any aerodrome as respects which provision as to noise and vibration caused by aircraft is so made. (2) No action shall lie in respect of nuisance by reason only of the noise and vibration caused by aircraft on an aerodrome to which this subsection applies by virtue of an Order in Council under section one of tins Act, so long as the provisions of any such Order in Council are duly complied with.


My Lords, on the Order Paper there are a number of Amendments to the Air Navigation Bill which were incorporated in another place. Of these Amendments two refer to matters of some substance. The remainder are points of no intrinsic interest. After the Bill left your Lordships' House (I am dealing now with the first Amendment on the Paper) attention was drawn to the fact that no provision was contained in the Bill for the protection in certain circumstances of operators on the airfield in respect of any noise or vibration that might be occasioned in connexion with their aircraft there. In the Air Navigation Act, 1920, there had been a certain measure of protection from low-flying aircraft, but hitherto there has been no protection from any noise or vibration occasioned by aircraft on aerodromes.

His Majesty's Government are under an international obligation to designate certain aerodromes for the use of foreign operators, and it was originally from the standpoint of the position of foreign operators that this matter claimed attention. It would of course be an odd situation if, His Majesty's Government having designated an aerodrome for use by foreign operators, a foreign operator on arrival found himself debarred from effective use of the aerodrome by reason of the fact that an action might be instituted against him on the part of any person entitled to redress in the British Courts. The position is one which is rather curious, because, so far as the Minister of Civil Aviation is concerned, in his capacity of owner and operator of State aerodromes, under his statutory powers he would not be liable to be sued unless he was exercising his statutory powers or performing his statutory duties unreasonably. Therefore no actionable nuisance would arise against him so long as he behaved reasonably. Similarly, a statutory corporation in "revving up" their aircraft engines and occasioning noise and vibration, in exercising their statutory powers, would be liable to be sued for nuisance in so doing only if they were acting unreasonably.

Not so, however, with regard to other operators who have no statutory duties or powers, such as the foreign operators who come to our aerodromes, or such as charter non-statutory operators, with registered British aircraft. The object of this provision is to ensure that those exercising non-statutory powers shall be free from action for nuisance, and that those who are operating on non-State aerodromes shall likewise be free from litigation if they create a nuisance, because they are at present under a more severe liability than the Minister or the statutory corporations, whose liability only arises if they behave unreasonably. There is no such limitation so far as those exercising non-statutory powers are concerned.

I have considered carefully whether I could incorporate precise words in the Bill, hut that is impossible, because the conditions applying: o different aerodromes are so diverse that it would be quite impracticable to lay down any specific code. The question may arise, for instance, as to the part of the aerodrome where the operation shall be conducted, or at what times of day; and that would differ according to the local circumstances. The Amendment, therefore, provides for an Order in Council to be made with a power to make regulations which will be applicable to particular aerodromes as occasion may arise. In the debate in another place, the suggestion was made that it was proposed to use these powers only in respect of State aerodromes. That, however, would be a misapprehension. Indeed, it may be more necessary to use them in regard to non-State aerodromes, which have no protection such as that which I have already indicated, than in the case of State aerodromes. There is no limitation in the terms of the Amendment as to the aerodromes in regard to which the Regulations may be made, and your Lordships may assume that those Regulations will be made as occasion may require, irrespective of whether the aerodrome is State-owned or not.

I ought to make it clear, although I do not think it is really necessary, that I should not contemplate making a Regulation in a case—such as that referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, on a previous occasion—where it was a cricket field or a meadow that was being used by a private person for his own private aircraft. Such a person must be responsible for his acts. But we might have non-State-owned aerodromes which were being used for perfectly proper purposes for the public advantage, and they should have the protection contemplated by this Amendment. Let me add that while I am uncertain as to the law which may prevail in other countries in this matter, other countries are under reciprocal obligations as regards designation of airports, and I trust the fact that His Majesty's Government are taking this step in regard to British aerodromes will induce them to take such steps as may be necessary in a similar direction in their own countries. It should, at least, be an inducement to them to do so, and it is an example which I hope they may feel it proper to follow. I beg to move that this House do now agree with the Commons Amendment.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Lord Nathan.)


My Lords, in another place this Amendment was debated for approximately three and a half hours and raised a very considerable amount of argument as to its merits. The noble Lord has moved the Amendment, if I may say so with respect, with great clarity. We on this side do not wish in any way to impede the development of civil aviation, and if such an Amendment is necessary to the Bill then on grounds of broad principle it must be accepted. But before we part with this Amendment it is worth looking at it for a few moments in somewhat greater detail. The new clause does not diminish a nuisance from which nearly every citizen in this country has suffered to a greater or lesser extent—aircraft vibrating over his roof-top, making conversation impossible. What this Amendment does, in fact, is to legalize that nuisance, but on terms to be decided by the Minister and published by Order in Council.

We have now reached a new position in the laws of this country under which we live. The State is now going to say what noise can be made, and when. If the State says the noise is all right, then no citizen will be able to bring an action at law, as he has previously been able to do, unless the noise is something beyond what the State says is the permissible amount of nuisance by noise. Hitherto, any noble Lord who had a house near an aerodrome, whether it be a privately-owned aerodrome or one of the few owned by the State, as I understand it, has had the right to go to the Courts and to take out an injunction against the owners of the aerodrome, and/or the operators of the aircraft, if they were causing a great nuisance to him and his household. In the future, people living adjacent to aerodromes subject to an Order in Council issued by the Minister will have to put up with that noise, in the interests, I suppose, of scientific progress.

The reason the Government give for this is that under the Chicago Convention we agreed to designate certain airports for international use. The noble Lord says that, as the position is at present, those operating under statutory authorities are free from the possibility of an injunction being taken out against them, but the operators of the foreign aircraft using a designated aerodrome might have an injunction served upon them, and they might not be able to use the airport. I think it is rather a sad state of affairs for the ordinary citizen of this country that we should have to accept this position without anything beyond the pious hope which the Minister gave us, that other countries might do likewise. The Minister said he hoped our example would be followed. Surely he can give us something more comforting than a pious hope. Surely before we part with this new clause the Minister can tell us that His Majesty's Government will make positive representations through the appropriate international organization that other countries should give protection to British aircraft similar to that which we are going to give to foreign aircraft. After all, if we are to allow aircraft of foreign countries to come here and make a nuisance, and give them the legal protection afforded by this clause, it is not too much to ask that the citizens of Paris, Brussels, Rome and Moscow should equally have to put up with a nuisance caused by British aircraft. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance in rather stronger terms than he has done that there will be reciprocity.

As regards the second point with which the Minister dealt, he has given us a different version of his administrative intentions from that which was given in another place. In another place it was stated that the Minister was not going to issue any Orders in Council in respect of other than State-operated aerodromes, but to-day he has told us that he is willing to issue an Order in Council in respect of non-State-operated aerodromes in general use. I presume that "in general use" will be interpreted in a common-sense way, and I think that is good. If a nuisance is imposed on people around a State-owned aerodrome, then any good Socialist must say that those people who live adjacent to a privately-owned aerodrome should have a similar nuisance imposed upon them. Equally, if the users of a State-owned aerodrome who are non-statutory users are given protection, it is fair and right that operators of privately-owned aerodromes in general use should have a similar protection. It is a peculiar thing that we are now going to legislate by Government decree for the noise that aeroplanes can make, and I shall be very interested to see how the definition is set forth in the Order in Council. Once we have noise and nuisance decreed by the Government, I think we shall have gone one more step towards Government control of our lives.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, before the Minister replies, I should like to ask him two or three questions which I am sure he can answer. First of all—this is a thing I ought to know myself—do these Orders in Council have to be laid so that they may be prayed against?

LORD NATHAN It will be a negative resolution procedure. Did the noble Viscount say "Regulations" or "Orders in Council"?


The Order in Council which is to be made.




That will have to be laid, so we shall have an opportunity of seeing the precise terms. Secondly, it came as news to me that this was going to apply to private aerodromes, as well as to public aerodromes, if they were used for traffic purposes. What is going to be the position—whether it be what we may call a public aerodrome or a private aerodrome—where, as is quite common, two things happen—namely, that air navigation is carried on and that manufacturing is carried on as well? That is the position at the Bristol airfield, for instance, about which there has been so much discussion with regard to the making of the new runway. I understand that it is typical of other places. There must be a good many airfields where air navigation takes place, and where manufacturers fly their aircraft on test. Is it intended, under this Order in Council, to give this exemption from action to navigating aircraft but not to manufacturers' aircraft which are being flown upon test flights? It is rather important that we should know where we stand on that matter, and for the moment I do not express an opinion as to what is right. I should have thought it was rather a strong measure to interfere with ordinary civil rights in the case of manufacturing undertakings, because there is the regular law (which the Minister knows much better than I do) about people who cause a nuisance, and so on. I am sure the Minister will tell us exactly what his proposals are going to imply in that regard.

Thirdly, he has told us that other foreign countries have not yet come into line, but that he hopes they will. I have had experience, which goes back now nearly thirty years, of negotiating with foreign countries. We always take the lead. In certain high moral questions that is a very desirable thing to do. But one of the hardest things to do, 'hen you have given away your trump card and done the thing yourself, is to get other people to do it. When I was President of the Board of Trade I had something to do with many of the regulations up-grading standards in the Merchant Navy, but I had very great difficulty in getting the Greeks and others to follow suit. It was only a great international conference in London which brought about a certain amount of common standards. I wonder whether the Minister is wise to go ahead with this until he has an assurance that other countries will do the same. If he is making the case that this. is in the interests of British aviation, then that is one way of defending the proposal; but if he puts it on the grounds of the Chicago Convention, it seems to me very strange that we should do something unless other countries are going to do it. After all, the Chicago Convention itself laid down that it would not become operative until thirty-two or thirty-four countries, whatever was the number, had not only signed it but had ratified it. It was most skillfully drafted and it was only to come into force and to bind us all when all the ratifications had dove-tailed together. If this is based on the Chicago Convention, why is the application to be confined to this country?

Will the Minister tell us what is in fact the legal position and the practice in other countries—such as the United States, for instance, which is the greatest flying country in the world? I ask this not merely for reasons of international parity, but also in order that I may be helped to make up my mind about whether or not this is a reasonable proposal. If in the United States (where, after all, flying has been developed fifty times as much as in this country) they apply a provision of this kind, then that is a strong argument for its application here. If, on the other hand, in the United States (where there are thousands of aeroplanes flying about the whole time) there is no provision of this kind, then it rather weakens the argument that we cannot run aircraft in this country unless we introduce this provision. I have put these points clearly, I hope, and I am sure the noble Lord, who is so full of his subject, will be able to answer them with equal clarity.


My Lords, I should be glad to think that I was in a position to answer the noble Viscount with the clarity with which he has put his questions, but I will do my best. I have said before that I am not familiar with the legislation as it operates in foreign countries, but it is because I know the position in this country, and the possibilities that may arise as regards attempts to restrain foreign and other aircraft from operating here, that this Amendment seems to me to be necessary. I ought to tell the noble Viscount (it is an interesting point, although perhaps a surprising one) that, so far as I am aware, no proceedings have been taken, either in this country or in other countries, based upon the particular matter which I have in mind in connexion with this Amendment. I do not know what is the legislation in the United States or in other foreign countries which has a bearing on this particular point. I am concerned primarily to see that we are in a position to implement the obligations we ourselves have specifically undertaken. I think that is a proper and honourable thing for us to do.

In reply to the noble Viscount and to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, let me add to what I said, that if I was not sufficiently emphatic in my opening observations I would wish to be so now. I consider it of the first importance that, so far as it may be necessary in foreign countries, the appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that our aircraft there enjoy the same rights and privileges as we are offering in fulfilment of our obligations to others. I will make it my business to see that this matter is brought prominently to the attention of P.I.C.A.O. at the meeting which is to be held at the beginning of May. I agree with both noble Lords who have spoken that it is not a matter which we would desire to leave in the air. We wish to get it carried the necessary stage further.

The noble Viscount asked me the extent to which these powers would be exercised. It has not been in my mind that this power should be used in respect of manufacturers. I believe, if I understood him aright, that the noble Viscount also holds this view. I believe that the manufacturers should be left unaffected to enjoy the rights and be subject to the obligations which they have at present. It is not in my mind to extend, by the use of this Order in Council, either one or the other. This Order in Council is intended, as the noble Viscount surmised, to deal with questions of air navigation. I should like just to make this protective proviso: that I am not quite certain whether it would not be wise—I should like to consider this before I commit myself—to use it in regard to some private aerodromes which are used for flying instruction. It may be desirable for that purpose. That was a point put forward in another place by a member who has a considerable experience in matters of that kind, and I should like to consider it. I think I have dealt with the points which were mentioned by the two noble Lords—to whom I am indebted—and I trust that your Lordships will agree to this Amendment.

On Question, Motion agreed to.