HL Deb 18 March 1965 vol 264 cc436-67

3.50 p.m.

Order of the Day read for the House to be put into Committee (on Re-commitment).

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Shackleton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 14 agreed to.

LORD SHACKLETON moved, after Clause 14, to insert the following new clause:

Grants towards cost of sound-proofing dwellings

"—(1) If it appears to the Minister that dwellings near an aerodrome owned or managed by the Authority require further protection from noise and vibration attributable to the use of the aerodrome than can be given by measures taken or to be taken in pursuance of section 14 of this Act he may by statutory instrument make a scheme requiring the Authority to make grants towards the cost of insulating such dwellings or parts of such dwellings against noise.

(2)A scheme under this section shall specify the area or areas in which dwellings must be situated for the grants to be payable, and the persons to whom, the expenditure in respect of which and the rate at which the grants are to be paid, and may make the payment of any grant dependent upon compliance with such conditions as may be specified in the scheme.

(3)A scheme under this section may require the Authority in any case where an application for a grant is refused, to give the applicant at his request a written statement of its reasons for the refusal.

(4) A scheme under this section may authorise or require local authorities to act as agents of the Authority in dealing with applicaions for and payments of grants and may provide for the making by the Authority of payments to local authorities in respect of anything done by them as such agents.

(5) A scheme under this section may make different provision with respect to different areas or different circumstances and may be varied or revoked by a subsequent scheme under this section.

(6) Before making a scheme under this section the Minister shall consult the Authority.

(7) Any statutory instrument made under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."

The noble Lord said: This Amendment gives effect to the Government's intention which I announced in the House on March 10, that the British Airports Authority should be enabled to make grants for soundproofing dwellings near to Heathrow. As noble Lords will see, this is an enabling provision. The details will be set out in a scheme made by the Minister after consulting the Authority—this means after the Authority comes into existence—in a Statutory Instrument which will be subject to Negative Resolution of either House. When noble Lords examine the form of the Amendment, they will see that the Government hope that local authorities will collaborate in the administration of the scheme. The new clause gives the necessary statutory basis for this—this is subsection (4) of the clause. We have also thought it right that if the Authority refuses an application for a grant it should give the applicant its reasons. The clause will enable this right to be established.

I should point out that the clause as drafted enables the Minister to make a scheme for any of the four airports which are being transferred to the Authority. The Government feel that it is right for general powers to be obtained in this way. But it is our impression, and our considered opinion, that it will be a long time before any airport other than Heathrow will qualify for sound-proofing provisions. The criterion which the Government have adopted as the basis of the Statement which was made the other day presupposes that many thousands of night movements, and night jet movements, per annum will take place, but it will be a long while before there exists elsewhere anything like the sort of combination of noise and frequency that exists at Heathrow. This view of the Government was shared by the Wilson Committee, who regarded Heathrow as unique and recommended payments of grants in respect of only dwellings around this one airport.

There are one or two further observations that I would make. First of all, I appreciate that this is a fairly major Amendment, and it is for this reason that we thought it right to recommit the Bill so that the Committee had a full opportunity to discuss it, and no doubt, if they wished, to make any further observations or Amendments—I hope there will not be any—when we come to the Report stage. Of course, as I have already indicated, it springs from the Report of the Wilson Committee, which accepted, as we accept that the noise at London Airport, at Heathrow, was making life intolerable for many people; and it is right that some steps should be taken to rectify this. These steps are being taken under this new clause, and the responsibility for paying for this is being put upon the agency which is most concerned with causing the noise—namely, the Airports Authority. It is our view that the airlines, or the Airports Authority who are the agency concerned, are the right people to finance this scheme. It is estimated that over a period of years it will cost in total about £2½ million.


I am sorry to intervene, but may I ask the noble Lord whether the £2½ million is the estimated total cost, or, on the Government's basis, that part of the cost which will fall on the Authority?


This is the part which will represent the Authority's contribution. Perhaps I should add that it has been estimated that the cost per house, on a three-room basis, will be something of the order of £200, of which £100 will be paid by the Authority. This is based on a close examination of the cost of carrying out the necessary soundproofing which, it is suggested—the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, was interested in this—should be done by double glazing, with additional ventilation. These costs, which I agree are not the same as are suggested in the Wilson Report, have none the less been arrived at by the Building Research Station after a rather closer examination. The Wilson Report suggested that it would very likely be an average of £300 per house; but the figure of £200 has now been carefully arrived at.

The other point I should like to make on the financial side relates to the concern that some noble Lords have expressed with regard to the ability of the Authority to finance this scheme. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was particularly interested in this subject at an early stage on Committee, and it may well be that on the Report stage there will be an opportunity to go rather more fully into the whole of the financial arrangements of the Authority. I am quite prepared to do that, and to explain how the cash flow is made up, and perhaps even to give the noble Earl some of the figures which I have.

In broad terms, for the basis of this particular operation, I would say that in the estimates which the Government have made as to the likely needs of the Authority over the first five years, there is a substantial margin. The capital expenditure of the Authority has been estimated over this period at £34 million. When we add in the cash which we think will be available from the trading operations of the Authority, and the borrowing which is open to the Authority under this Bill, we reckon that over the next five years the Authority ought not to have to spend, or ought not to employ capital of, an amount greater than £65 million; and we are providing a total limit—so to speak, an authorised limit—of £70 million. So there is ample margin for this particular matter, even if the Airports Authority were not to recoup either by improved revenue through increased utilisation of the airport or through higher charges, if that be thought right. I am not advocating any of these; I am merely explaining why it is well within the capacity of the Authority who finance this scheme.

May I again mention briefly what I said when I repeated the Statement of my right honourable friend, that the area is related to the N.N.I. (the Noise and Number Indicator contours) which was the measure used by the Wilson Committee. I made available to the House, in the Library, a copy of the map which showed how these contours appeared over this particular area. For the sake of administrative convenience, however, the eligibility for grants does not follow strictly along the N.N.I. line, but along local authority and ward lines. This clearly is much more convenient and there will be people who are living beyond the 55 N.N.I. line who will still benefit. This is obviously essential, and it is right to base these on ward boundaries. They will in all cases extend beyond the 1970 estimated 55 N.N.I. contour.

I appreciate that this is a complicated and difficult issue and that there are powerful arguments against doing anything at all. Indeed, the previous Administration decided that this was so difficult—and I do not blame them for coming to this decision—that it was better not to embark in this particular sphere. But the Government have accepted that this noise is an intolerable nuisance, and it must be right for the Government to recognise that the community has a responsibility to those who suffer from the increase of noise. I do not see any immediate consequences in other directions flowing from the acceptance of this principle in the matter of aircraft noise. There is no likelihood, judging from the investigations which I have made, that any military, Navy, or Royal Air Force airports will be affected, but we must face the consequence that this is a new principle. In accepting it, the Committee must also realise that it may carry consequences for the future, but I think it is unlikely to do so for quite a number of years. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 14, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Shackleton.)

4.3 p.m.


had given Notice of his intention to move, as an Amendment to the proposed new clause, to leave out "aerodrome" and to insert "airport". The noble Viscount said: It will probably be for the convenience of the Committee if I refrain from moving my first Amendment at this stage and concentrate on the later Amendments to Schedule 2 which appear on the Order Paper. For, if the Government should be so gracious as to accept those Amendments, then on Report I could move to make this first Amendment in my name without interrupting the debate on the noise proposition. If I might say one word on that aspect, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the nuisance created is certainly an intolerable nuuisance to those who live in or near an airport.


I am not certain whether I am in order in speaking to the first Amendment. I should like, if I may, to say a word about it. I would preface my remarks by saying that I am grateful to the noble Lord for the clear way in which he has unveiled this new clause—this foundling which the Government have adopted, rather at the eleventh hour.

I do not know what my noble friends may feel about this Amendment, but let me, for one, say straight away that I do not wish to dispute the main principle behind the clause. The Wilson Committee (and I have recently had a chance of refreshing my memory of that Committee, to whose remarkable, indeed fascinating, Report I should like to add my tribute) rightly said that Heathrow provides one of the most difficult aircraft noise problems in the world. I agree; and, that being so, I think it right that special measures should be taken to help those who live near Heathrow to shut themselves out, at least to some extent, from this far from heavenly music which assails their ears. But while I welcome the principle behind this clause, I have a number of doubts and reservations about the proposals which the noble Lord has produced "out of the hat", as I have said, rather at the last minute.

In the first place, the clause itself is a masterpiece of vagueness. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and his right honourable friend the Minister had a good deal to say last Wednesday about the Government's intentions, but we find precious little about these intentions—good, bad or indifferent—in the clause itself, which is merely, as the noble Lord has fairly remarked, an enabling measure. I would not wish to argue that all the details which were spelt out last Wednesday should necessarily have been spelt out in this clause. But I feel that some of the main principles might well have been included in it.

For instance, should not the size of the sums at least have been specified? And should it not at least have been made clear who is responsible for paying them? On all this we are given absolutely nothing to bite on at this stage. For all this, we—and, what is more important, the people who live round Heathrow—have only the Minister's statement and what the noble Lord has said this afternoon (and I do not wish to decry its importance) to go on, and we have to await the promise of the statutory instrument. When, incidentally, will the promise be redeemed? When may we expect to have the Statutory Instrument laid. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could give us some indication of the Government's intentions in that regard.

Then we were told last Wednesday, as we have been told again today, that it would be the new authority, not the Government, which would be required to meet the bill for these grants. I should like to explore this aspect of the matter a little further. Last Wednesday we were told that the Government had decided to accept the principle of the Wilson Committee's recommendation about the sound-proofing of houses. That was a shade disingenuous, because in recommending these grants the Wilson Committee specifically recommended that they might appropriately come from the Government. We were not told this last Wednesday, nor have we been told it to-day. On the contrary, in answer to Lord Airedale's intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said on Wednesday: I should have thought that Her Majesty's Treasury were the last people who should bear the cost."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 264 (No. 49), col. 77, March 10, 1965.] I am sorry that the noble Lord opposite and the Government have been "nobbled" by the Treasury at so early a stage in their career.


May I interrupt the noble Lord, because it may save time? When the Wilson Committee reported there was no Airports Authority; indeed, the Airports Authority Bill was sitting in the archives of the previous Government. Therefore, there was nobody, other than the Government and the Ministry, who could be responsible for paying. But, as the noble Lord must surely recall, it was always the policy of the previous Government that airports should pay their way. I should have assumed that if the then Government had accepted this proposal, it would equally have been their intention that this money should be provided out of the revenues of the airports. I am not trying to be difficult on this, or to split hairs, but I want the noble Earl to understand the situation in relation to which the Wilson Committee reported.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention, but, in a way, I do not think he has helped me particularly on this aspect. I realise that when the Wilson Committee reported there was no Airports Authodity in existence, although one was contemplated. But that does not advance the argument much further, because in his statement the Minister went a great deal further than that. He stated that: The Government consider that the cost of these grants should fall on those whose activities cause the disturbance, or those who benefit from such activities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 708 (No. 74), col. 413, March 10, 1965.] That was precisely the point to which the Wilson Committee addressed themselves, and I think it is a pity that on the face of it—I wish to explore this—the Government have decided to reject the more generous Alan Wilson line, and to accept the less generous Callaghan line on this particular point.

In the first place, my reasons for saying this are the same as those adduced by the Wilson Committee themselves. They argued that Heathrow is a national asset, encouraging tourists and trade to Britain. They went on to say: It is, then, only fair that the nation should help to mitigate the undoubted nuisance that is caused by the noise. That is, I would submit, an argument which cannot very easily be shrugged off. After all, it was the Government of the time, and not this as yet unborn Authority, who put the airport where it is. The Wilson Committee, I again wish to remind your Lordships, also went on to point out in the next paragraph of their Report, paragraph 326, that since Parliament has specifically exempted aircraft operators from civil action or proceedings, and since the onus of protecting people from the nuisance caused by aircraft noises falls on the Minister, it is logical for the Government to help those exposed to intolerable or barely tolerable noise to protect themselves from it. Again, there seems a powerful logic in this argument.

After all, it is the Minister himself who, as a result of Clause 14 in this very Bill, will be ultimately responsible in this sphere of noise, and since he and the Government are calling the tune, should they not also be prepared to pay the piper? After all—and here, again, I am merely taking up a point made by the Wilson Committee themselves—this grant will be very closely akin to a house improvement grant, and the Government, as your Lordships well know, make a contribution to approved house improvement schemes.

There is one final reason why I am a little worried about the proposal to lay this burden on the new Authority. As the noble Lord mentioned just now, I have already voiced my doubts whether the Government are providing this body with really adequate financial resources. Now we learn that they will have to "cough up" another £2½, million, on the basis of a calculation that some 40 per cent. of the eligible householders will take advantage of this grant. I should like to know, incidentally, how this 40 per cent. calculation is arrived at. We know that Mr. Jenkins is a very clever Minister, but how he can possibly know that four out of ten rather than, say, eight out of ten of those eligible for this grant will avail themselves of it, I do not, I must confess, know.

But, be that as it may, this will certainly add to the drain on the Authority's funds, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, recognised, and there are only two ways by which, as I see it, they can make up for that drain. One way is through higher landing fees, and we all know that those at Heathrow are already pretty high by international standards; and the other is by cutting back on capital expenditure. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has again said—and I should like to study very carefully what he said in this respect—that the Authority's financial resources and borrowing powers are really adequate and have been arrived at on the basis of very careful calculations. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether those calculations included this £2½ million, because if they did not include this £2½ million, and if they were as carefully calculated as all that, then I should have thought there was at least a case for increasing their borrowing ceiling by that amount.

I certainly do not wish to prejudge this particular aspect of the matter in any way, and I shall listen very carefully to what the noble Lord who is replying has to say in this respect, but it seems to me that, if one is going to go for grant—and I admit that the previous Government rejected this in the first instance—then there is a strong case, on the basis of the Wilson recommendations themselves, on the basis of precedent and on the basis of financial common sense, for laying this particular onus on the Government rather than on this fledgling Authority. That said, I hope that the noble Lord can give me some enlightenment on the following supplementary points.

In the first place, could he tell us what is being done for people other than householders who are affected by noise in this area? I have in mind, particularly, patients in hospitals, children in schools and, not least, teachers in schools. The Committee emphasised in paragraphs 257 to 259 of their Report the importance of tackling this aspect of the matter. Can the noble Lord tell us anything about what has been done, or is being done, on this aspect of the matter, and is the possible cost of any such improvements included in the £2½ million figure?

Secondly, there is the area affected. I am grateful to the noble Lord opposite for making available in the Library the map showing the wards and the parishes and the 55 NNI contour line, but may I ask him a couple of questions about the area? I notice that, as one would expect, there has already been pressure in another place for the area to be extended. The area which the Government have hit upon may be the right one, or it may be the wrong one. I would mention, in passing, that the Wilson Committee stressed that their contours were essentially approximate. But the question I wish to ask the noble Lord is how those who feel that the area should be changed—enlarged, presumably—will be able to represent their views; and how, if we are tied to the Statutory Instrument procedure, will the changes be made? Presumably, it will be only by a new Statutory Instrument, but am I right in that assumption?

There are two further points on which I should like some enlightenment from noble Lords, if this is the right occasion for it. In his statement the Minister of Aviation said that Heathrow was unique and that similar arrangements were not required elsewhere; and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has reflected that view in his remarks this afternoon. That may very well be so at present, but whether it will remain so in the future is another matter. Again, I would refer noble Lords opposite to what the Wilson Committee themselves have said about Ringway and Prestwick; and, not least, about the possible noise effect of "city centre operations", as they are called, by helicopters and even by V.T.O. and S.T.O. aircraft. Can the noble Lord assure us that the Government have not closed their minds to similar schemes elsewhere, should the need for them become manifest?

Finally, can the noble Lord tell us anything about the Government's, or the Minister's own, general intentions in this very important field of aircraft noise? How is the significant research on aircraft noise reduction, to which the Wilson Committee drew attention, proceeding? Can he assure us that, desirable though noise reduction certainly is, the Minister has no intention of imposing such restrictions on aircraft operations as could conceivably impair their safety? I know that this is a point which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye had in mind when he made his intervention last Wednesday.

Finally, and not least important, can the noble Lord tell us what the Government feel about the recommendation in paragraph 649 of the Wilson Report? Perhaps I should very briefly quote it: This country should take the initiative in attempting to secure greater international recognition of the urgent need to reduce aircraft noise". Do the Government accept this; and, if so, can the noble Lord tell us what they are doing about this particular recommendation? That is all I have to say at this stage on this particular Amendment. In conclusion, I merely wish to repeat that my personal view is that the principle of it is perfectly acceptable, but I have quite serious reservations as to whether the Government are right in wishing to lay this additional burden on the new Authority. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to persuade me that they are right, but I wish to reserve judgment on that point.

4.22 p.m.


I should like to join my noble friend Lord Jellicoe in welcoming the principle behind this Bill, but I must say that I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said. This is a major step. This is a very important and extremely far-reaching Amendment which we are examining at the present time. Indeed, it brings about a very big change in this Bill itself. We were told earlier that the Airports Authority were to have responsibility for everything except navigation and noise, which were matters to be reserved for the Minister. Now the problem of noise is put squarely back on to the Airports Authority and in rather a peculiar way.

The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has referred to the fact that this is a different recommendation from that made in the Wilson Report. The Wilson Report examined who should pay for this—whether it should be the Government, the local authority or the airlines—and came out specifically, for reasons which were given, with the view that the Government should be responsible. I think we ought to hear why it is that that course has been changed. The Wilson Report specifically said that the airlines should make their contributions indirectly, in other ways; that they have already incurred considerable financial penalties; and that it is not really their business to pay for past mistakes, whereas the Government have quite specifically undertaken overall responsibility. What is happening now is quite a change from that. I am not going to say that it is necessarily wrong, but I think we should hear a little more of the reasons why this alteration has been made.

I think this matter is far-reaching because the noble Lord talked about more night movements. Your Lordships are, I believe, aware that aviation starts coming into London Airport at about six o'clock in the morning. Many people living in the centre of London are not unaware of that noise, although they are a long way away from the airport itself. If this is to go on all night, it will have a very much wider repercussion than simply in the immediate vicinity of Heathrow. I am a little doubtful how this arrangement is going to work. This is clearly making the Airports Authority very much of an agency for doing something which I can understand the Ministry of Civil Aviation is reluctant to do itself. First of all, the Minister sets up the standard, whatever that may be—we have very little idea, although I shall be asking one or two questions about that—and then, secondly, payment will be made by the Airports Authority on the standard which the Minister has already decided.

I do not know whether we can get any information about what that standard is to be and what sort of limits are to be set to it, but I should have thought that if you are going to have double windows, or whatever the arrangement is, it would have to include air-conditioning—and that, of course, can be quite expensive. The estimate of 25,000 houses which may require to be done may well prove to be a considerable underestimate. I should also like to know whether it is envisaged that there should be any appeals against what is decided. I see it is stated that there should be a written statement of reasons for refusal. The normal purpose of a written statement is so that somebody can protest against those reasons in certain circumstances. In any case, I am fairly certain some protests will be made, or an endeavour to protest will be made in Parliament. I know not on what authority, but I think it almost certainly will be made.

One other question is: what about maintenance? Is this a once-and-for-all grant, or are these improvements to be maintained in future? There may be better means of insulating houses in the future. Are these to be undertaken? I am asking these questions because I think this is a very big departure, and we ought to ask the noble Lord to go as far as he can, even before we come to the stage of a Statutory Instrument, to give us as much information as possible about the Government's intentions.


I have only one small point to make. I should like first of all to join my two noble friends in welcoming this courageous decision, if I may put it that way, though I, too, can see many snags for the future. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in answer to an intervention by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, said, quite rightly, that the airports should pay their way. But in this case they are to be responsible for expenditure on items over which they have absolutely no control whatsoever—by which I mean the number of houses being built in their area. They cannot say, "We cannot afford to pay for having this item put into any more houses", because the local authority will merely say, "We are going to build more houses". Therefore, that is something over which they have no control at all. And to my mind that makes it imperative that, if the airports are to pay their way, the Government themselves, and not the Airports Authority, must pay for this work.


Although on humanitarian grounds I greatly welcome this Amendment, on grounds of public policy I am inclined to think that in future years it is going to land the Government in very deep waters. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe wishes, I think, that the whole of the cost should fall on the Government—and as the Government may well be the only people who have any money to pay for it, that may be the only practical solution.


I wonder whether I may correct my noble friend there. I was not suggesting that the whole of the cost should fall on the Government. It seems to me quite right that a percentage—say, 50 per cent.—of the anticipated cost should be borne by the householders themselves. That would stop frivolous use of this facility. But I was suggesting that the other 50 per cent. should be borne by the Government, rather than by the Airports Authority.


I think I still differ slightly from my noble friend, because he wants half to fall on the Government and half to fall on the householder. I agree that a proportion must fall on the householder to stop frivolous use of the facility, but I also believe that some proportion must fall on this Airports Authority. After all, they are the only people who have any influence on the amount of noise created. If the cost of remedying the noise and the general nuisance created by aircraft is going to be imposed on a completely outside body, the Government, there will be no stimulus at all for the Authority to research into stopping noise and to draw up regulations, and so on, within the safety limits, to mitigate the noise of take-off.

I notice that all my noble friends talk about Heathrow, as if that is the only place that is likely to be involved; but there is Gatwick, as well. Up till fairly recently, Gatwick was a less noisy airport, because it was largely used by turboprops; but now the jets are creeping in, and certain people—though admittedly, the country under the immediate, rising path of these aircraft is not very populated—are going to suffer just as big a dose of noise as those people at the business end of the same thing at Heathrow. Therefore we must regard the unfortunate inhabitants near Gatwick as possible recipients. That makes me wonder whether my noble friend is not entirely right in thinking that the burden of the expense created by this Amendment is going to be very much greater than the Government imagine. I should like to support the other point made by my noble friend, that these facilities should definitely not be available in respect of houses not yet erected. Anybody who builds a house in what is known to be an aircraft path should remember the maxim, Caveat emptor, and should not be eligible for these facilities.

4.32 p.m.


I shall do my best to answer the points that have been raised. I should have to make a very considerable speech if I were to answer all the details, but if I do miss any point I undertake to supplement what I say by explanation in writing. I think that the Government can be satisfied with the general welcome that has been given to this clause and I am sure that my right honourable friend in another place will be extremely pleased to hear the words that have been said in support of it.

The first criticism made of the clause was that it was vague; but I think the principle we are discussing is clearly set out, and, of course, the details of this scheme will follow in the Statutory Instrument. I do not think the criticism now being made about vagueness will be valid when we have the Statutory Instrument. The principle criticism, as I understand it, is on the point that the Airports Authority should be made responsible for the payment of the grant. Who will pay? I must say that on this point I was a little surprised to hear noble Lords opposite make the criticism they did, because over the years previous Governments which they supported, and of which, in many cases, they have been members, have laid down quite clearly that civil aviation and air transport in this country should pay its way; that there should not be a hidden subsidy.

In the discussion that we had a year or so ago about the charges for en route information and navigation services, the Government of the day laid it down quite clearly that the obligation to provide these services should be placed on the airlines. I should have thought that this is exactly what we are now doing. We are placing on the airlines indirectly the cost of meeting this sound-proofing, this endeavour to go some way, at any rate, to meet the inconvenience we are placing on the citizens around London Airport.

There is another point here. It was said that the Wilson Committee had laid down that the Treasury should pay. But I think that if the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, refreshes him memory, and reads again the relevant paragraphs, he will see that the Wilson Report by no means emphasises the obligation of the Treasury in this matter. The Committee talk about a balance of consideration; they discuss the arguments in favour of placing the burden on the local authorities, or on the Treasury or on the airlines. While it is true that they came down in favour of placing the burden on the Government, the wording they use does not suggest that they felt strongly about this. The Report says: The grant to help to ameliorate the present situation might appropriately come from the Government. With that certainly lukewarm recommendation, plus the policy of the previous Governments, I should have thought that the present Government were justified in saying that the Authority and the airlines which they serve, and who will benefit from this provision, ought to make a contribution towards the cost. In fact, of course, the cost will be shared. The householder or tenant will make a contribution; the authority will be making a contribution; and the local authority, too, it is expected, or hoped, will be making a contribution, because upon them will be the responsibility for the administration of this scheme.

The other question I was asked was when the Statutory Instrument would be laid. It is expected that it will be laid some time in the autumn, after the Authority has been established; it could not be laid before it was established. Then we had discussion about the area within which these grants will be paid and I was asked whether the area could be varied. The fact is that the Statutory Instrument which will define the area cannot be varied. No doubt there will be great discussion as to whether it is right to have the area drawn in the way it is proposed; but, as I say, the Instrument itself will not be capable of variation. But if a case is made for extending the area it will be perfectly possible for the Government to lay another Instrument, and thus meet the wish of Parliament if there is a majority in favour of different boundary lines.

I ought to emphasise here that the boundaries now proposed are rather more generous than the proposals made by the Wilson Committee. The local government boundaries, of course, do not coincide with the line drawn based on this NNI figure, but the doubt in all cases, or the considerable majority, has been in favour of the new boundary line so that more people will be brought into the scheme than was originally proposed.

I was asked whether the establishments such as hospitals and schools would come into this scheme. The answer is, No. There is no provision in this Amendment, and there will be no provision in the proposed Statutory Instrument for making grants towards the cost of sound-proofing schools or hospitals. But, of course, the hospital management committees themselves have the power to sound-proof buildings, and so have the education committees; and in at least one case, so far, a school building in the area has been sound-proofed.

There was also the question whether the mind of the Government was completely closed so far as the reference to Heathrow only is concerned, and whether it will be possible in the future to extend this provision to other airports. So far as the present Amendment is concerned (though it is open to the Government in the future to extend the provisions) this is not, as my noble friend said, the intention now, or in the foreseeable future. Heathrow is undoubtedly a special case; the difference between the nuisance at Heathrow and elsewhere is considerable, and it is not expected that this margin of difference will be closed in the foreseeable future; although the power will be there for extending the area of the grant in future if it were thought necessary. I think my answer is that the mind of the Government, though not closed finally, is unlikely to be much more widely opened.


May I interrupt the noble Lord?—this is very important for the people living around Gatwick. The noble Lord says that power exists in the Bill to extend the provision at Gatwick, but that the Government have no intention of doing so at the moment. Surely he can go no further than saying "at the moment". We do not know what the situation may be in five years' time.


I think that I said "in the foreseeable future". This boundary line and this recommendation from the Wilson Committee and from a further study of the problem are based upon the fact that the problem around Heathrow is immeasurably worse than that to be found around Prestwick or Gatwick or, so far as we know, around the third London airport.

I was asked some questions about the costs involved. I must say that I accept the anxiety expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and other noble Lords, about this apparent placing of an additional financial burden upon the Authority. It will he an additional financial burden but, looked at in perspective, it is not a crushing burden. The amount involved is £2½ million, amortised, it is suggested, over a period of twenty years, making an annual liability of £220,000. Although one may have reservations about the accuracy of the estimates that have been placed before the House of the revenue of the Authority and the surplus that is expected, all I can say on that point is that, although the noble Earl may have his ideas and I may have my ideas, the figures that have been placed before the House are based on estimates of the experts who examined this question, and I think that we have to accept that the likelihood would be that there would be a surplus as calculated and within the surplus it will be possible to absorb this £220,000.

I was going to give a breakdown of the financial situation. In the first five years, the Authority's capital expenditure, as estimated at the moment, will amount to £34 million, exclusive of these payments for sound-proofing grants. In this period, the cash available to the Authority, it is estimated, will be £23 million and the difference of £11 million will have to be found by borrowing from the Minister. If we add to this £11 million the initial capital debt of £54 million, the total borrowing will be £65 million. This leaves a margin of £5 million as between this estimate and the £70 million for which we are making provision, and I would have thought it reasonable to suggest that this £2½ million can be absorbed within the margin for which we are making provision.


I am really puzzled on this point. As the noble Lord knows, we went into this carefully on Committee stage and I voiced my doubts about whether the borrowing ceiling, although fixed at £70 million, was adequate, given other possible commitments. I was told then, and have been told again, that all these calculations have been most carefully made by the Government. What I should like to know is, when those calculations were made, did they include this extra £2½ million?


The answer to the question is, no, it is not included, but what was provided was a margin for contingency.


Surely, if £70 million was the right ceiling then and another £2½ million burden is placed on the Authority, £72½ million is now the right ceiling—is that not so?

4.44 p.m.


The provision is for a margin of £5 million for contingencies, and this is a contingency which will cost £2½ million. But I think that I should remind the noble Earl that we are not here laying down a definite and final figure. If, before the end of the five years, the Authority is able to make out a case for an additional loan, it will be possible for it to come to Parliament to get permission for an additional amount to be raised. We are not placing any final limit upon borrowing powers. We have said that, on the basis of the best calculations available, the £70 million should last it for four or five years. It may well be a good thing that, after three or four years, the Authority, if it has had additional responsibilities placed upon it, may want to make its case, may want Parliament to know what is happening, may want Parliament to know the details and discuss them in the course of making an application for additional loan. Therefore, although in the event it may well be that within five years the provision which has been made will be found inadequate, no real damage is done to the Authority. It will simply mean that it will come to the Treasury and then to Parliament for additional borrowing power.

The question was raised of what was being done in connection with reducing noise at source. To some extent the answer was given in the exchanges during the Committee stage in this House. This is a matter in which I know a number of noble Lords, and certainly I myself, have been greatly interested over recent years. I am certain that the only really satisfactory solution is to get a reduction in noise at source. We are assured that there is no financial limit upon the research which is now being done into various possibilities of damping the noise at the engine's source. I think that I can claim, however, now that there is this financial obligation to provide sound-proofing if the noise level remains as it is or if it increases, that this probably will be an additional stimulus to research. The Government have taken part in discussions at international level and I would have thought that, as a result of this additional obligation, there will be an additional attempt to get some sort of co-operation in research or exchange of research at international level in order to find some solution to the engine problem.

I was asked whether a householder, having made an application for grant and having been turned down, would have any posibility of appeal. Of course, this would depend upon the reason for the grant's being turned down. If the householder was outside the geographical area delineated by the Statutory Instrument, then, of course, there would be no appeal. But if the application was refused because the grant was based upon a sound-proofing scheme not up to the standards required, there is an obligation upon the Authority to state in writing why they have rejected the claim, and it would be perfectly possible for the householder to make an objection and put in another claim. There is no provision for any other appeal procedure.


The noble Lord means that the agreement will terminate between the householder, on the one hand, and the Airports Authority, on the other?


Yes; excepting that in between we shall have the local authority. It will be the representatives of the local authority who inspect the property and decide whether the sound-proofing is in accordance with the standards required. I have no doubt that over the area the representatives of the local authority will not only be inspectors in this matter, but will also be advisers; and I should have thought that there would be a lot of exchanges as between the local authority and the owner or occupier of the property.

I think I have answered the greater part of the questions which have been put to me. We are dealing with an extremely complicated problem. It is a problem which will have additional repercussions. Having had some little experience myself of the householders in the area, I can say that, taken by and large, they are a very tenacious body of citizens, and I can well see that there will be many of them not provided for in this Amendment who will want to put their case.

I would hope that noble Lords on both sides of the House and Members of another place would accept some responsibility in this matter. Earlier today, if I may be allowed to say so to your Lordships, I thought the contributions made were on a most restrained and responsible level. It would be possible to inflame or exaggerate all the difficulties, and it would be possible to stimulate arguments and controversy in this area around Heathrow. But we are dealing with a serious social problem. It is not, in any sense, I should have thought, a Party political problem. It should be possible to put over to the people concerned, those who come within the area and those who are just outside it, the point which I think was well made by my right honourable friend in another place—namely, that if we are invited to do everything we shall end up doing nothing. We are endeavouring to go as far as is reasonable, and to the extent that we have been supported in this by noble Lords in this House, I am sure the Government will be greatly obliged.


Before the noble Lord sits down, he mentioned that one of the reasons why the Airports Authority should pay this money, and not the Government, was the question of hidden subsidy. As I understand a subsidy, hidden or otherwise, it must be of financial benefit to an organisation and help it in its operation. I cannot see that the sound-proofing of housing outside an airfield can in any way help either the aircraft companies or the airport itself in their operations, unless, of course, the present limitations on take-off, for instance, and on the numbers of flights in 24 hours, will eventually be completely removed when all houses which need it have been sound-proofed.

I should like to mention one other point to which I did not get an answer—and it is my fault really, because I did not put the question properly—and which I think was also mentioned by my noble friend Lord Selkirk. If houses are to be built in future, will the Airports Authority pay £100 towards each house erected in future if it has sound-proofing in it?


With regard to the last point, I am sorry I did not answer the question, but it was made clear in the original Statement made in this House by my noble friend Lord Shackleton, and also made in another place, that these grants will be payable in respect of existing private dwellings and those completed by January 1, 1966, and confined to owners or residents in the defined area by that date. The work must be completed by December 31, 1970, when the scheme will come to an end.


Could that not go into the Bill? That would, at least, tie it up.


It could go into the Bill; but then I should have thought you would be restricting activity in the future. I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, if the mind of the Government was completely closed, and if that went into the Bill, one's mind would be completely closed in that respect.

There was then the other question about the responsibility being placed on the Authority. There is here, I think, an additional argument. There is no similar obligation on, for example, the airport authority of New York. But I did go round the area of New York earlier this week, and as we went over some of the buildings my pilot said, "From this community we have a lawsuit, and from that community over there we are expecting a lawsuit, in respect of noise." They are very concerned. What the outcome of these legal proceedings will be they do not know. But in the case of London, or in the case of the Airports Authority, there is no possibility of bringing a Common Law action. Parliament has by Act of Parliament removed this possibility, and because citizens have not that right in Common Law to bring a case, it is felt that there is this additional moral obligation to try to ameliorate the inconvenience and suffering that is caused.

4.56 p.m.


May I put to the noble Lord a question that has been rather troubling me? I think a great deal of the discussion we have had this afternoon has been on the point of who should bear that part of the cost which is not to fall on the householder. I should have thought it was a general principle that you pass on a charge to an authority only if they can in turn recover that charge in some reasonable manner, so that the method of distribution of that charge is rational. Logically, if you are putting a charge on the Authority in respect of noise, the charge should be recovered in relation to the noise made—there is no other fair means that I can see of doing it—because, otherwise, you will not achieve the object that my noble friend Lord Hawke had in mind, that the charge should help the suppression of noise. I should like to ask the noble Lord this question. I think he would agree that it would be unreasonable and unfair that owners of aircraft in which noise had been successfully reduced should pay the same charge as owners of comparable aircraft in which it had not been reduced. Can the noble Lord say, as a matter of expert judgment, whether a decibel rating is practicable? Can this charge be passed on on a fair basis? I think this would influence the opinion of noble Lords on this side of the Committee. If the charge cannot be passed on on a fair basis, that would be a good reason why the Government should bear the charge. This, I think, is one of the points that have been worrying us on this side of the Committee.


In the first place, we are setting up an Airports Authority. The point has been made strongly from the Benches opposite that this Authority should have a degree of independence. On that principle, I stand. I do not think we should tell the Authority exactly how they should recover this £220,000 a year. I should have thought it was obvious that if it is impossible to absorb the liability within the surplus about which we were speaking earlier, then the Authority naturally would have to think about the possibility of increasing, for example, landing fees on aircraft landing at night.

I was asked whether it was possible to differentiate as between one aircraft and another in respect of noise level. The answer is that it is so possible, and in fact there is now a known rating of all aircraft relating to the noise they generate. That technically would be possible. I cannot commit the Airports Authority to saying that they will do anything along those lines. I should add that the air transport operators and the airline industry generally have taken to a fine art this question of promotional fares or promotional charges. They want to encourage flights at a given time of the day or night, and they make a charge or a fare in accordance with their desire to promote traffic. I should have thought it would be technically possible to devise a system of landing fees in accordance with the nuisance the aircraft generate. I am only putting this forward as a technical possibility. I have no authority for saying this will be done.


I do not wish to detain your Lordships much longer on this matter, but, as several noble Lords have said, this is a complicated and important matter, and it is one in which the Government are breaking new ground; and I am quite certain we have been right to give it detailed attention this afternoon. The noble Lord said that the Government could feel satisfied with the reception his Amendment has received. I am glad he feels that, and I should like to thank him for the explanation which he has given of this Amendment, but I should add that I am not entirely satisfied in two respects with his explanation, and perhaps I may briefly mention them. The first is that he will recall that I referred to the vagueness of this enabling measure, and, following the noble Lord, I made suggestions about the amount of this grant (to which my noble friend Lord Selkirk drew attention) and as to who would be responsible for paying the non-householders' share. Both those principles, which are important matters, should be spelled out in the enabling measure itself.

The noble Lord said, if I recall him correctly—and I am paraphrasing—that we need not worry about this, and that it will be gone into in great detail in the Statutory Instrument. That is so, no doubt. But, surely, he is missing the point, because the difficulty is that with a Statutory Instrument we can only accept or reject it. We all like the principle behind this Bill. We should not wish to reject a Statutory Instrument giving effect to it. Therefore, I submit that in these important respects it would be wise to include the main principles in the enabling measure itself, and I hope that the noble Lord, between now and Report stage, will be prepared at least to give consideration to that point of view.

The second matter about which I am far from satisfied is his statement about the Government's not bearing a share of this new financial burden. He asked me to refresh my memory about the Wilson Committee. It was not really necessary, because I had refreshed my memory and, indeed, was quoting from it, or sticking very closely to its words in my remarks. The noble Lord said that the Wilson Committee was lukewarm in its recommendation. That may or may not be so—it depends on how one interprets the English language. He said there was a balance of argument. Of course, in a matter like this there is a balance of considerations, and it is not surprising that the Wilson Committee should have given the pros and cons. But they came down quite specifically for the Government's bearing this extra burden, rightly or wrongly.

They were far from lukewarm in what they said about those whom the noble Lord suggested should bear this burden, who must be either the airline operators or the passengers. So far as the airline operators are concerned, the Wilson Committee said: … but the subsequent attempts to restrict the nuisance have placed considerable financial penalities on the airlines, who might well be thought to have made their financial contribution to the lessening of the nuisance. As for the passengers, they said: Nor can present airline passengers be expected to pay for past mistakes. That seems perfectly clear-cut. The noble Lord also referred to a possible contribution—I presume he did not mean financial contribution—by the local authorities. On that the Wilson Committee said: There seems to be little to be said for requiring a contribution from the local authorities. I do not think these are lukewarm statements. I think they are perfectly clear cut, and as for the burden falling on the Government, I have quoted what the Wilson Committee themselves said.

Perhaps we can leave this particular aspect of the matter to a later occasion. On this occasion, I feel it would be wrong of me to say that I have been convinced by what the noble Lord has said on these two points. I hope he can give some further consideration to them, and I should like to reserve the right to come back to them if necessary on Report stage.


Of course, it would be less than gracious if I did not say that we will look at what has been said, and I am sure that the Government generally will acknowledge that in this matter the last word has not been spoken. I cannot undertake that there will be any change. I ought to make it clear about the local authority contribution. I said that that would be in kind. It was hoped that their administration of the scheme would be carried out without payment. It was that that I was construing as a contribution.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Transfer of the four aerodromes]:

5.6 p.m.

VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN moved, in the Title, to leave out "Aerodromes" and insert "Airports". The noble Viscount said: I do not want to strain the intelligence of your Lordships too much. If you read my first Amendment you need not bother to read the following Amendments, because they are identical, and I hope it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I move the four together. I have already deliberately omitted to move the Amendment on the new clause which we have just been discussing because I did not wish to interrupt an interesting and important debate on this problem of noise nuisance.

I think that the objects I have in mind are perfectly simple. The maddening thing is that, having sat here listening for the last couple of hours, I have now been reading backwards and find that I should have moved many Amendments on Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. So I suppose the Government's answer to me may be, "You let them go, and we suppose you approve of the use of the word 'aerodrome'". The truth of the matter is, as I want to make clear, that I do not approve, and I will briefly give my reasons.

This Bill is entitled "Airports Authority Bill," so, in the fewest of words, my real object is to ask the Government why, having named the Bill "Airports Authority Bill," they then revert to the use of the word "aerodrome" in Schedule 2 and, as I now find, in other parts of the Bill. The late lamented Sir Winston Churchill said to me some years ago, when I once used the word "aerodrome" in his presence, "You must on no account use that word; it is a foreign word. You may say 'airport' or 'airfield'." Here we have "airport". Why do we now go back to "aerodrome"? I admit that I have not the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, but I have the two-volume edition dated 1933, and I cannot find any reference to the word "aerodrome", which I think must be a modern foreign importation.


It is very old—all but obsolete.


I shall have to get a new dictionary. At any rate, I am quite prepared to be corrected on that point. I only wish to say that I think it is worth while preserving and using the English language, and "airport" is a good English word. That is in the Title of the Bill, and I hope that the Government will consider the Amendment of the Bill wherever the word "aerodrome" appears and will substitute for it the word "airport." That is really all I need say. I do not wish to delay the progress of the Bill in the least, and I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 24, line 10, leave out ("aerodromes") and insert ("airports").—(Viscount Stuart of Findhorn.)


I should like very briefly to support what my noble friend has said. In so doing I should like to hazard a guess that his Oxford Dictionary is not old enough, because I looked up the Shorter Oxford Dictionary in your Lordships' Library, and under "Aerodrome, 1901," was given: A course for the use of flying machines. And in 1902: a tract of level ground from which aeroplanes or airships can start. The definiton of "airport" was A place containing an aerodrome at which flying machines start on or land from their voyages. It is that second definition on which I should like to rest in support of my noble friend, because it seems to me that the airports which we have in mind in this Bill are not merely just courses or tracts of land. They are places containing courses or tracts of land from which aeroplanes and those in them depart, or at which they arrive. It seems to me that "airport" is the larger conception, embracing possibly these much-maligned aerodromes, and that "airport" is the proper term to be applied to the sort of institutions we are talking about in this Bill.


I must say that one of the most agreeable features of this Bill we have discussed is the argument we have had about the use of words. In exactly the same way as I myself prefer the words "initial", "start" or "begin" to the word "commence", I personally feel that we ought to use the word "airport" instead of "aerodrome". Having said that, however, I am sorry to have to add that I cannot accept the noble Lord's Amendment. I assure him that I am not being awkward about this simply because he did not raise the question earlier in the course of our proceedings. I agree with him on two points that "airport" is the better word: it is more compact, and more English; and I should have thought that it expressed much more precisely what people mean when they are talking about the facility we are discussing in this Bill.

I would also agree with the noble Viscount that if we are asking Parliament to consider an Airports Authority Bill, for the purpose of setting up a British Airports Authority, it would be natural, reasonable and sensible in the context to refer to an "airport" rather than to an "aerodrome". But I am afraid that on this point we move beyond what is natural, reasonable and sensible, and into the field of law and legal matters; and when we get into that field I am assured that "aerodrome" has a special meaning—though not the meaning put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. In fact, it is the more comprehensive of the two terms. The term "aerodrome" is defined in the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, and in the Air Navigation Order, 1960. The definition is widened in Clause 22 of this Bill to include a roof-top heliport. But the original definition, despite what the Oxford Dictionary may say, is: any area of land or water designed, equipped, set apart or commonly used for affording facilities for the landing and departure of aircraft. It is that meaning which it is intended to imply in this Bill. The legal authorities say that it would be difficult and would lead to confusion if we had the term "aerodrome" in some of the earlier Statutes and now reverted to "airport".

There is just one other point. As I have said, the term "aerodrome" is more comprehensive than "airport". In the Chicago Convention, "airport" is used to describe an aerodrome which handles international traffic and has Customs facilities. It is just possible that this Authority will be required, or will wish, to acquire or to set up an establishment which is not used for international traffic and probably does not have Customs facilities. Therefore, although I have the utmost sympathy with the noble Viscount, and should very much like to accept his Amendment, I am afraid that I must ask him to withdraw it.


Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, speak, I must say that I am convinced that my noble friend is right. The simplest way of getting round the legal problem is to put an additional phrase in the Interpretation Clause. That presents absolutely no difficulty. If I may say so, the description of an aerodrome in Clause 22 seems to me rather inadequate. It deals simply with the landing and taking off of aircraft, whereas we know that there are a great many other things, such as car parks, passenger facilities, and so on, which I, in my ignorance, may regard as incorporated in the word "airport", though not in the word "aerodrome". The simplest thing is to put in the word "airport", say that "airport" means "aerodrome" and then define it. The noble Lord, of course, wants to be natural and sensible in this matter and not legal. I appreciate his point. But, frankly, "airport" is the much more normal word to be used in present-day English.


On reflection, does not the Minister think that he has given his whole case away when he mentioned that two earlier Statutes used the word "aerodrome", and that the term is now being used in this Bill in a different and, as he told us, widened sense? There is something to be said for saying that the same word shall be used in all Acts of Parliament, that it means the same thing; and there is a great deal to be said for the idea that if you look up the word "aerodrome" in one Act of Parliament you have its meaning for every Act of Parliament in which the word is used. But if you are going to use in this Bill the word "aerodrome" as meaning something different from the word "aerodrome" used in two other Statutes which the noble Lord mentioned to us just now, surely here is an opportunity for getting on to a different word and introducing the word "airport", which is obviously the appropriate word to use in an Airports Authority Bill.


May I make the shortest speech your Lordships have ever heard? Could we not get over this difficulty by calling the Bill the Airports and Aerodromes Authority Bill?


I am very grateful to my noble friends Lord Jellicoe and Lord Selkirk for their support and also to the Minister for his reply, which enlightened me, but only up to a point, as to why he cannot accept my Amendment. I do not know whether I agree with the last speaker. I applaud the brevity of his speech, but it would be making the title of the Bill very much longer and complicated. And I recall that another of the late Sir Winston Churchill's remarks, in the course of his education of me as regards the English language, is that one should never use a long word where a shorter word will convey the meaning. The word "airport" is shorter than "aerodrome", and I therefore adhere to "airport".

I feel that our legal friends and the draftsmen might object to admitting that they were wrong—because nobody likes to admit he is wrong. But I hope that at least this short debate may draw their attention to this point, so that perhaps in future Bills, if not in further stages of this Bill, attention may be paid to the views I have expressed. That will save the trouble of going, say, to the Ministry of Transport and asking them to alter all the signposts out to Heathrow from "London Airport" to "London Aerodrome", and the very considerable—and quite unnecessary—expense and great nuisance. But in view of what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Schedule 2 agreed to.

Remaining Schedules agreed to.

On Question, Whether the Title shall be agreed to?


I regret that the Government did not take any notice of my suggestion that they should reverse the initials of this body, because I still think it is very unfortunate to create a new organisation with the initials B.A.A. From time to time we shall have complaints about the quality of our airports, their efficiency and the like, and we shall find the newspapers printing the reply "B.A.A. Bleats again". It would be much better to reverse it and call it A.A.B.


I am sure there will be no harm done in saying that we will have another look at this. I do not quite know what the pronunication of the initials would be if we did reverse them. They would not look any more dignified, I would suggest. I agree that B.A.A. is an awkward contraction. "B. double-A." is probably the reference we shall make to this body. On the other hand, I do assure him that, both in the other place and here, very careful attention was given to the various alternative names, and when one saw them all lined up the balance of advantage was for British Airports Authority. Nevertheless, having said that, I say that we can have another look at what has been said.

Title agreed to.

House resumed; Bill reported with Amendments.