HL Deb 11 May 1970 vol 310 cc459-69

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Beswick I beg to move that the Draft Air Navigation (Noise Certification) Order 1970, laid before the House on March 25, be approved.


My Lords, I am a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is not in his place—I see that in fact he is now here.


My Lords, I apologise to the House and to the noble Earl. I was outside taking advice on certain points which I had not had the opportunity to take before. I understand that my noble friend has moved, on my behalf, that this Order be approved, and I hope that we shall in fact go on to approve it.

All of us in this House know of the need to control aircraft noise, and most of us appreciate the problems involved. This Order is a step forward. It is not a giant leap forward, but an essential and practical step towards a civilised solution. It is the first legislative attempt to control aircraft noise at the point it ought to be controlled; namely, at source. It is made possible by much research and by international agreement which followed the initiative of Her Majesty's Government in convening the first international conference on noise in 1966. With the French and American authorities we have worked hard to secure the adoption by I.C.A.O. of a scheme which will be incorporated in a new Annex to the Chicago Convention. If this House approves this Order, the United Kingdom will be the first country to implement the I.C.A.O. standards.

The main purpose of this Order is to compel the manufacture and use of the much quieter aircraft which noise-reduction technology now makes possible. It aims to ensure that quietness standards are incorporated into the design and manufacturing stages of an aircraft's development, in much the same way as is already the case for airworthiness standards. Noise certification is quite distinct from operational noise abatement measures which, I ought to emphasise, will continue as and when required at noise-sensitive airports, although our hope is that as the future quieter aircraft begin to dominate in the skies the need for operational measures will diminish.

My Lords, I now turn to the main provisions of the Order. Article 1 establishes that from January 1, 1971, an aircraft to which the Order applies, unless exempted, will not be permitted to land or take off in this country without a noise certificate. Article 3 identifies the aircraft to which the Order applies. These are jet aircraft, but excluding light aircraft, vertical and very short take-off aircraft, and supersonic aircraft, such as Concorde. These will be dealt with later, when experience and technical knowledge allows. The types to which noise certification standards will apply which are now under development or projected include the Rolls Royce-powered Lockheed 10–11 "Tristar", the BAC 311, European A 300, and the Douglas DC 10. All but the earliest jumbo-jets will be covered, also.

Under Article 5 the Board of Trade are responsible for the issue of noise certificates in this country. This is in accord with the principles set out in the recent White Paper on Civil Aviation Policy (Cmnd. 4213), which indicated that the main responsibility for noise abatement must remain with the Board of Trade even after the setting up of the proposed Civil Aviation Authority. The remaining Articles make provision for the administration, application and enforcement of the noise certification scheme. Some of the penalties prescribed in Article 14 may look trivial in relation to the issues involved in the Order, but I should like to emphasise that the ultimate sanction will be the denying to an aircraft of the use of United Kingdom airports under Article 10 if the Order is contravened.

The standards themselves are set out in Schedule 1 to the Order. The noise limits vary according to the weight of the aircraft and are specified at three different measurement points, in order to establish the total inherent noise characteristics of an aircraft. They are expressed in EPNdB (Effective Perceived Noise Decibels) which is the unit of measurement that records most closely the actual extent of disturbance of aircraft noise as heard by a person on the ground. The unit EPNdB is a complicated one, and its definition and measurement is set out in a Board of Trade publication, CAP 335, which is referred to in Article 2 of the Order.

The prescribed standards represent, roughly speaking, a halving of perceived noise as between a certificated aircraft and a current aircraft of the same weight. As some have expressed surprise at this degree of difference, I would emphasise that it is as between a certificated aircraft and a current type of the same weight. The upper limit of 108 EPNdB represents the maximum allowable noise level for a future subsonic jet civil airliner at the specified measurement points. Even if future aircraft are much larger than the 600,000 lb. aircraft to which this noise limit applies, they will still have to be as quiet as aircraft of that weight. That is the maximum for the future.

The Order, together with its supporting documents, is a complicated piece of legislation, but that is inevitable. This country has given a lead internationally in a matter that is of wide public concern. The work we have done, and the present Order, establishes that the next generation of subsonic airliners, despite their greater power and size, will be very much quieter than those we now have to live with. This is a significant achievement, but I know that we all look forward to still better things to come. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Air Navigation (Noise Certification) Order 1970, laid before the House on March 25, be approved.—(Lord Beswick.)


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord was able to be present to move this important Motion. I am sure also that the House is grateful to the noble Lord for explaining with his customary thoroughness and clarity the purpose and aspirations of this Order on the future control of aircraft noise. I use the word "aspirations" advisedly, as the Order as drafted is somewhat limited in scope. It does not cover, for instance, the Jumbo Jets which we hear are some 15 per cent. quieter—but 15 per cent. of what we are not told. Nor does it cover future supersonic flights, and its effect on reducing noise levels will not, one understands, have much impact until the mid-1970s when the new generation subsonic aircraft come into operation. Coupled with that, the Order does not cover one important aspect of the noise problem around airports, namely, the frequency of flights. Nevertheless, for all those shortcomings, which no doubt will be corrected at a later date, this Order is a notable milestone in a long road ahead, and I am sure that we all welcome its general purpose.

There are one or two points concerning the Order which I should like briefly to put to the noble Lord, although I would say at once, in case he is anxious, that I do not intend either to cross-question him on the mathematical equations of Schedule 2 or to ask him to elucidate the unit measurement of effective perceived noise decibels—not that I doubt that he would be able to do so. The first point that I should like to make, in welcoming the Board of Trade's initiative in organising the International Conference in London in 1966 and the subsequent conference in Montreal in 1968–69, is whether he could tell us what parallel action other countries are taking now on this problem of noise certification and how soon will a new noise Annex to the I.C.A.O. Convention be promulgated, for one assumes that the ultimate success of any such order as we have before us today rests very much with international co-operation.

I should like also to mention, as the noble Lord mentioned, Article 4. He said that the BAC 311 would also come within Article 4. May we assume that this is a hint that the BAC 311 will now be backed and will go forward into production? Under Article 5, which deals with the issue of noise certificates, the Board in my opinion are assuming very wide blanket powers and will be able to place whatever condition they see fit to any certificate. Whereas one can see the necessity to set a target within the current technological capabilities, there must be a danger that these powers of the Board, if not used with great discretion, will lead to a damaging degree of uncertainty for both air transport operators and the industry. I am sure that that would not be the wish of the Board. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could give us an assurance that the Board, under Article 5, will work closely with the A.R.B., whose prime responsibility is the testing of equipment.

Turning to Article 8, I would point out that the Board have powers to suspend immediately a noise certificate, even before the grounds for its suspension have been either considered or justified. This power again can lead to damaging consequences to any operator, particularly if a suspension turns out to have been made on an erroneous allegation. One wonders why the Board need to be granted this instant power when they will be empowered to suspend, revoke and modify a certificate after the grounds of such action have been carefully considered. Perhaps the noble Lord could tell us in what type of instance this immediate power of suspension will be used. I turn now to Article 10, dealing with the power to prevent aeroplane flying. In subsequent Articles the expression "an authorised person" comes into the Order. This authorised person, under Article 10 and other subsequent Articles, acts on behalf of the Board and will have very wide powers; yet nowhere in this Order are we told who is to be the authorised person, how he will be authorised, what qualifications he will have to inspect aircraft or how he will prove that he is the authorised person. That point was raised in another place when it was discussing the Order; but owing to the usual pressure of time no reply was given. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to take this opportunity of elucidating the point more fully.

Under Article 11, the House will recall that the Board or the authorised person shall at all reasonable times have access to all aerodromes except Government aerodromes. As this Order refers only to civil aerodromes and not to military aerodromes, one finds it a little odd that this exception is put in here. Why are Government aerodromes so privileged? What are Government aerodromes? Do they include the British Airports Authority aerodromes? I should be grateful if the noble Lord could tell us about that as well. Turning to the penalties laid down under Article 14, I think it is a little surprising to note the very limited amount of fines that the Board may impose on any offender. For instance, for what may be considered a fairly serious offence the maximum fine the Board may impose is only £10. That is not a very effective deterrent, and I should be grateful if the noble Lord could explain the reasoning behind the limits laid down and what effect it is expected that a £10 fine will have.

The final point that I should like to put to the noble Lord concerns the progress of the noise monitoring systems. These systems, which I am told (but do not understand how) will be governed by the equations of Section 2, are the key to the success of any noise regulations. I think it would be of interest if the noble Lord would tell us a little about the up-to-date position of the systems. How soon will they be fully automatic? How many are still to be installed at Heathrow? My Lords, I feel that I ought to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for asking him these questions on this Order after his fairly gruelling involvement with agriculture this afternoon, but, as he fully realises, this is a very important Order which, one hopes, is the first step towards improving the problem of aircraft noise. I feel that the Board of Trade is to be congratulated on bringing forward this Order and on its initiative in attempting to obtain international agreement, on which I wish it every success.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, I will not stand between the House and the next business for more than one or two minutes, but there are one or two points on this Order which I should like to raise with the Minister. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that this is a most important step forward towards relieving the public from the increasing horror—as it is, at certain times and in certain places—of constant aircraft noise. Nevertheless, my Lords, to me the most interesting and encouraging sentences spoken by the Minister were those in which he explained the difference between this Order and the noise abatement regulations to which the captains of aircraft have to adhere. I hope that the Minister will be able to say how soon we can eliminate the noise abatement regulations. I believe that under certain conditions their observation would, to some extent, increase the risk which aircraft crews and their passengers have to accept when they defy the laws of gravity, as we all do when we fly.

My Lords, I was once in the front end, in the captain's compartment, of a 707 which was taking off from Montreal, where noise regulations are strictly observed. The captain said to me, "If one engine cut now" (we were taking off with a full load) "I should be a very worried man." He did not say that it would mean a disaster, but it might certainly have meant something tantamount to an emergency with which the captain would have had to cope. No doubt he would have coped adequately, but, as the Minister will know as well as I do, (hose noise abatement regulations are taken exception to by such representative bodies as the British Airline Pilots Association. Therefore if this Order has the effect of reducing the regulations as soon as possible, it will confer an added benefit on those who are in the air as well as those who are on the ground.

The other point I would raise was touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull; namely, the very wide Dowers which the Executive are taking under this Order. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnuoll, asked why the fines were so small, but that question was answered by the Minister when he introduced the Order. He said that the Board of Trade had the final sanction by being able to suspend or revoke the noise certificate without which an aircraft is not allowed to fly. In fact, the Board of Trade has the power to stop from flying any civil aviation aircraft which has not the necessary certificate. That is a very wide power and I am worried that it may be exercised before a crime has been committed. Article 8 states: The Board may, if they think fit, provisionally suspend any noise certificate … The Board may, after sufficient ground being shown to their satisfaction after due inquiry, revoke, suspend or vary any such certificate. That means that the Board of Trade might say, "You are not complying with the regulations and you must not fly." Then a week or two later, after investigation, the Board might say, "We apologise. We were perhaps a little premature; and of course you can fly." That is a very large power for the Executive to take, particularly when it is linked with this vague Mr. X—"the authorised person."

As the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said, questions were raised in another place about who is to be the authorised person. I feel that the House and that aviation interests would be reassured if the Minister would tell us that the Board of Trade's powers would not be delegated to anyone below a certain level in the administration of the Civil Service; because this mysterious authorised person can enter any premises, he can inspect any aircraft and can really give any orders. I am not saying that the Executive must not have these powers, but I think that the Legislature is entitled to ask who will be authorised to use them. Having made those few remarks, may I say I think that this is an admirable step forward. But let us, as legislators, all the time watch the Executive in its steps forward.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I have a formidable list of questions to answer, although I take it that, by and large, the Order is welcomed; and I am grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken for what they have said. A question was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, regarding the noise abatement procedures. I cannot forecast when it will be possible to remove all noise abatement procedures. I do not believe he really thinks that I am in a position to do so. What I can say is that I agree with him that this is a much better way of ensuring a reasonably civilised existence here on earth. We should give the pilot as quiet: an aircraft as possible so that he may fly it as naturally and as safely as possible. I think this is the objective towards which we shall work.

I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, when other countries are expected to take parallel action. The standards in Schedule 1 to the Order have been recommended for adoption in a new Annex, Annex 16, to the Chicago Convention of ICAO. We expect the standards to be formally adopted and implemented some time during 1971. By that time most countries which need to take legislative action in order to ensure compliance with the new Annex 16 will have to have done so. What form of action they each take in their respective countries will depend entirely on their own legal systems.

Regarding the extent of the powers that this Order vests in the Board of Trade, the noble Lord, particularly, will realise that this has international implications as well. The Board of Trade may also prescribe by Statutory Instrument countries which apply substantially equivalent standards to ours. In such countries the noise certificates for aircraft on their national registries will be valid in this country. Finally, we shall recognise the validity of the noise certificates of ICAO member-States pursuant to the Chicago Convention when the proposed noise annex has been formally adopted and has come into force.

I suggest to the noble Lord that all the complications involved here mean that one has to grant a certain degree of latitude to the Board of Trade. In any case, the phrasing used here about the extension of the powers is a common form of words, so I do not think that we should read into it any ulterior or dangerous intention. The noble Lord asked about the conditions. I think I have virtually dealt with that point.

Article 5(2), on conditions subject to which a noise certificate may be issued, and the conditions themselves, must relate to standards as to noise and not to other matters. The Board of Trade is required to make a condition regarding the maximum total weight at which the certificated aircraft complies with the noise standard in Schedule I. This follows from a requirement recommended under the ICAO scheme that such weights must appear on the noise certificate for international purposes. Other conditions may also be imposed at the discretion of the Board of Trade. Some anxiety was expressed by the noble Earl on this point. I give the assurance that it is not the intention to exercise the discretion with regard to conditions in a manner which would impose extra burdens on aviation. As I said earlier, it is common form to keep a reserve power to impose relevant conditions on the issue of licences for certificates, and there is nothing excessive in this particular case.

I feel that the noble Lord was under some misapprehension when he said that it would be possible for the authorised person to go along and say, even before the crime is committed, that he shall not fly this aircraft. It is not a question of committing any crime in the air. This Order proposes to certificate certain aircraft in much the same way as they are granted a certificate of airworthiness. Either an aircraft has a certificate of airworthiness or it has not; either it has a certificate under this Order, or it has not. The crime would be in operating an aircraft without the appropriate noise certificate. It is not a matter of how he conducts himself in the skies, or anything of that sort. I was asked about the authorised persons concerned here. I cannot give the noble Lord the kind of qualifications that such a person would have. The list has not yet been drawn up. It will, one imagines, be officials in the main of the A.R.B.

The noble Lord asked why Government-owned aerodromes were exempt. Again, the purpose of this proviso is simply to preserve the normal position that the Crown is not bound by statutory provision unless expressly named. For reasons of State security, it is necessary to restrict access to Ministry of Defence installations unless the person in charge of the aerodrome agrees. In this particular case, with this authorised person, he would be expected to agree, otherwise no doubt there will be some row in Whitehall.


Could the noble Lord say whether the British Airports Authority airports are covered by that proviso?


No; they are not covered. A Government aerodrome is defined as: any aerodrome in the United Kingdom in the occupation of a Government Department or a visiting Force". The B.A.A., therefore, is not covered by this exclusion. I was asked why the penalties are so small. I quite agree that some of them, on the face of it, are on the small side. But I think I could show the noble Earl that they are closely modelled on parallel provisions in the Air Navigation Order 1966. The Air Navigation Order deals with similar situations regarding offences which are no different in nature. Therefore, it was thought proper to have somewhat similar fines in both cases. But the real sanction here—and I think I indicated as much in my opening speech—is that they cannot land the aircraft in this country unless they have this certificate. That, I should have thought, would be sufficient to cause them to comply with the Order.

The noble Lord asked a question about the monitoring system. He said that this was the key to success in regard to the noise problem. I do not altogether agree with him. Monitoring has nothing at all to do with this. We are dealing here with putting quieter aircraft in the sky. It is whether they are quieter or not that counts, and not whether we can measure the degree of noise that they make as they fly past. Nevertheless, for other reasons it is necessary to have an efficient monitoring system, and progress is being made with the automatic equipment to which the noble Lord referred. There are, I understand, four pieces of equipment in operation around Heathrow. The noble Lord said that he did not know how they worked. I am not sure, either. I gather that in some respects they are no better than the manually operated monitoring system, but that they have certain advantages. The idea is that at a certain fixed point there will be a measurement of the sound created by aircraft flying overhead. This will immediately be transmitted to a central control authority. If the noise is greater than that allowed, then it will be marked, and the aircraft concerned will be dealt with later. I hope that I have dealt with all the questions that I was asked, and that your Lordships will now approve the Order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.