Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Duty to limit noise impacts
‘(1) The CAA must have a primary duty to reduce, minimise or mitigate significant adverse noise impacts of aviation.
(2) The CAA must have a duty to ensure that airport operators promoting an airspace change proposal include options that limit the number and class of aircraft that may use airspace in a managed area to achieve a sustained reduction in aircraft noise.’—(John McDonnell.)
This new clause would place statutory duties on the CAA to reduce, minimise or mitigate significant adverse noise impacts of aviation.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—New CAA general duty: net zero aviation emissions—
‘(1) In subsection 70(2) of the Transport Act 2000, after paragraph (d) insert—
“(da) to ensure the achievement of net zero aviation emissions by 2050 and a progressive and material reduction in aircraft noise impacts, in each case pursuant to guidance to be provided by the Secretary of State.”’
This new clause would amend the CAA’s duties, as set out in the Transport Act 2000, so that it is required to meet net zero emissions and reduce noise impacts.
New clause 3—Reduction of noise from military aircrafts—
‘The Secretary of State must consider in any airspace change proposal the inclusion of measures to reduce the noise pollution arising from military aviation.’
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to consider including measures to reduce noise pollution from military aviation in any airspace change proposal.
New clause 4—Consultation on airspace change proposals—
‘(1) Where a consultation on an airspace change proposal is underway but not completed before the passing of this Act—
(a) the consultation must be stopped, and
(b) a new consultation must be started.
(2) A consultation under subsection (1) includes a consultation being conducted by an airport or group of airports.
(3) The airspace change proposal that is the subject of the consultation may not be progressed until the new consultation under subsection (1)(b) has been completed.
(4) The new consultation must take account of any externalities arising from the airspace change proposal including—
(a) air pollution,
(b) noise pollution, and
(c) road traffic congestion.”
This new clause would require any consultation on an airspace change proposal underway at the time the Act is passed to be stopped, and a new consultation started. It also specifies externalities the new consultation must take account of.
New clause 5—Financial Impact Assessment on the Airspace Change Organisation Group—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must conduct an impact assessment of the effects of this Act on the costs of the Airspace Change Organisation Group (ACOG) for a period of two years, beginning with the day this Act comes into force.
(2) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report of the impact assessment required by subsection (1) within six months of the day this Act comes into force.
(3) The Secretary of State must include within the report required by subsection (2) a plan to manage the impacts identified within the report.’
This amendment would oblige the Secretary of State to investigate and publicise the financial impact on the air industry of compliance with the Act.
Amendment 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 4 at end insert—
‘(e) prepare an assessment, including a financial assessment, of—
(i) any externalities arising from an airspace change proposal that has been prepared or implemented, and
(ii) the geographic distribution of these externalities.’
This amendment would enable the Secretary of State to direct a person involved in an airspace change proposal to carry out an assessment of any externalities arising from the proposal.
Amendment 4, page 2, line 5, at end insert—
‘(1A) For the purposes of subsection 1(e), “externalities” include—
(a) air pollution,
(b) noise pollution, and
(c) road traffic congestion.’
This amendment is linked to Amendment 3.
Amendment 5, page 2, line 14, at end insert
‘modernisation of controlled airspace as part of the’.
This amendment will narrow the scope of direction by the Secretary of State to cases where a direction relates to airspace modernisation, so that enforcement orders may not be used in cases unrelated to airspace modernisation.
Amendment 6, in clause 3, page 3, line 2, at end insert
‘modernisation of controlled airspace as part of the’.
This amendment will narrow the scope of direction by the Secretary of State to cases where a direction related to airspace modernisation, so that enforcement orders may not be used in cases unrelated to airspace modernisation.
Amendment 2, page 3, line 34, at end insert—
‘(9) When the airspace change proposal relates to airspace used by military aircraft, the Secretary of State for Defence must require the cooperation of Military Air Traffic Control with the CAA to ensure the airspace change proposal incorporates measures to reduce military aircraft—
(a) noise; and
This amendment would require the Secretary of State for Defence to reduce noise and pollution from military aircrafts where an airspace change proposal relates to airspace used by military aircrafts.
Amendment 1, in clause 5, page 4, line 29, at end insert—
‘(6) The CAA must publish emissions, noise and health impact information associated with the airspace change proposal as part of their consultation process.’
This amendment would establish a transparency duty on the CAA to publish emissions, noise and health impact information.
I wish to speak to new clauses 1 and 2 and amendment 1, standing in my name. I will seek to be as brief as possible, Mr Deputy Speaker; with your permission, I will aim to speak for no more than 10 minutes. Over the years, I have tried to use every legislative or policy debate opportunity to place the issues of noise and emissions at the heart of every discussion in this House on the future of aviation policy. These amendments seek once again to do just that.
I think I am the only Member of the Commons who can claim to have attended every major planning public inquiry and court case relating to the expansion of Heathrow airport over the last nearly 50 years. Over the years, I have attended as an interested local resident, then as the local Greater London Council councillor, then as the Member of Parliament for the Heathrow area. In addition to the deeply felt worries of local residents about the demolition of their homes and villages, two issues have been the consistent basis of challenge in these inquiries and legal contests. They are the impact of noise, and the impact of emissions on the community in the immediate area, as well as across large areas of London and now more widely.
At the terminal 4 inquiry, there was general support for limited expansion of the airport, as long as there were conditions attached to any permission to expand in relation to noise. By the time of the terminal 5 inquiry, a great deal of that support had turned to opposition, as the noise agreements had proved so ineffective in guaranteeing people’s quiet enjoyment of their homes, gardens and open spaces. By that time, much more evidence had emerged about the effect of noise on health, and about air pollution as the cause of severe respiratory conditions, vascular problems and cancers. It was because of the environmental impact that the planning inspector recommended that there be no further expansion at Heathrow after terminal 5. Heathrow Airport wrote to me and my constituents saying that if it was granted terminal 5, it would not need or seek a third runway. Of course that was a lie, and within six months it was publicly lobbying for a third runway.
Subsequently, we have also grown aware of the role that emissions play in climate change. I find it hard to comprehend why, despite our facing the existential threat of a climate emergency; despite knowing that 40,000 people a year die from air pollution; and despite all that we now know about the health implications of noise and sleep impairment, consideration is still being given in Government to airport expansion. We need to ensure that all the aviation legislation we consider addresses the critical issues of noise and emissions, which is what these new clauses and amendments seek to do.
I am grateful to the Minister for writing to me explaining the Government’s attitude to my amendments. On a positive note, I see from this correspondence that although the Minister does not support my new clauses or amendments, he does not disagree with the intention behind them. I welcome his commitment to ensuring that the issues raised by them are addressed in any future review of air navigation guidance and noise policy.
Let me briefly run through the new clauses and amendments, and some questions in response to the Minister’s position. New clause 1 would place a statutory duty on the Civil Aviation Authority to reduce, minimise or mitigate significant adverse noise impacts of aviation. The Minister has argued in correspondence that applying a new general duty to all the CAA’s functions is not desirable because safety must remain the primary duty in the context of section 70(1) of the Transport Act 2000. The intention of the new clause is not to reduce safety as a priority, but rather to raise noise and emissions reductions up the priority order. It should be the duty of all public bodies to ensure that we are safe from noise, air pollution and climate change.
The Minister states that the CAA must take account of any guidance on environmental objectives given to it by the Secretary of State, and that is true. However, the effect of the legislation is to subordinate all the environmental matters to section 70(2)(a) and the duty
“to secure the most efficient use of airspace consistent with the safe operation of aircraft and the expeditious flow of air traffic”.
Noise and emissions are always reduced to being second-class citizens in this ranking order.
The Secretary of State has powers under section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to limit numbers and types of craft active during the night period at Heathrow and the other airports designated under the Act, so one question that needs to be addressed now is whether this section should be amended to include limits on numbers and types of aircraft during the day as well.
The Minister referred in correspondence with me to the consultation on noise caps in the aviation strategy Green Paper, and said that noise reduction would be looked at again as we come through the pandemic. I welcome that, but the Green Paper applied to all airports other than Heathrow, and so does not provide communities under Heathrow flight paths with any certainty for the future. I would welcome it if the Minister considered amending the aviation national policy statement to ensure that a noise cap was considered in relation to Heathrow and potential expansion there.
The Minister has stated that noise restrictions should be placed on airports, and not, as in new clause 1, on the airspace around the airport. He argues that the latter would—I quote—“create a significant burden on the airspace change process and add great complexity to the day-to-day management of airspace.” That response unfortunately highlights my concern that enhancing capacity is prioritised over reducing the harm to overflown communities and the environment. In my view, airspace and airport capacity should be increased only subject to strict noise and emission reduction conditions. That is a role that the CAA should have a hand in playing. Giving permission to expand capacity on the basis of asserted benefits that cannot be translated into conditions, and whose delivery the regulator cannot monitor and enforce, is not consistent with the Government’s stated policy on noise or climate change.
New clause 2 would amend the CAA’s duties, as set out in the Transport Act 2000, to require it to achieve net zero emissions and reduce noise impacts. The Minister has asserted that the Government cannot support this amendment because the word “ensure” would make it difficult for the Civil Aviation Authority to accept any proposal that did not reduce emissions and aircraft noise, regardless of the overall benefits of the proposal. However, section 70(2) of the 2000 Act is intended to list all the factors that the Civil Aviation Authority must consider. None is supposed to have a greater weight than the others, and a variety of language is used for the different objectives—everything from “secure” to “satisfy” and “take account of”. Some hierarchy of responsibility seems to be emerging in the discussions about the role of the Civil Aviation Authority and what should be taken into account. I do not see why “ensure” would be any more problematic than, for example, “secure”. We need clarity about the role that the CAA can play in ensuring that we can move towards net zero emissions, because it plays an important role in tackling climate change by developing an environmental aviation strategy.
Amendment 1 would place a transparency duty on the Civil Aviation Authority to publish emissions, noise and health impact information. The Minister has said that assessments covering noise, health, local air quality and greenhouse gas impacts must be submitted by proposers along with any formal airspace change proposal, and he argues that they are subsequently published on the CAA website. My amendment would simply require this information to be published more clearly, alongside the proposed changes. That would help deepen community understanding of the proposals and the alternative options.
Last week, the Government announced kickstart funding for the airspace modernisation strategy. The Minister must ensure that local communities have a genuine voice in this process. It is vital that the redesign of airspace delivers mutually balanced outcomes for the industry and local communities alike. The Government should commit to publishing assessments of the noise and health impacts of concentrated flightpaths before any final strategy is signed off.
I thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he has responded to my amendments to the Bill in correspondence. He offered a meeting, which unfortunately, due to last-minute business in the House to which I was committed, did not take place. However, the issues we are addressing today go well beyond this legislation, so I hope he will agree to meet me and a few colleagues to take the discussion further, as this is so important to communities living close to airports—and, given the concerns we all have about climate change, all our constituents.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who speaks with great authority on this particular topic. I am also grateful, as he was, to the Minister for his kind consideration of the issues I have raised about the Bill as it has proceeded to this point.
I would like to speak to my amendments: new clause 4, which would seek to halt, or essentially cancel, and then start new consultations on airspace changes that are currently under way; and amendments 3 and 4, which speak to the requirement for the Minister and the reviews he proposes to take into account a financial assessment, and within that particularly to take account of the externalities comprising part of that financial assessment. With your leave, Mr Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to talk through each of those.
As the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington has said, there are already some concerns that this Bill, although a tremendous step forward, could do more in recognition of some of the environmental impacts—how we reshape our airspace and how we expand, or potentially do not expand, the airports that serve this country. The issue on new clause 4 is that the considerations—those in the Bill and those that have come up as we have proceeded with our discussions—will not apply to any consultation that is already under way.
The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that there is a very limited number of consultations currently in process. As far as I am aware, there is only one, and that relates to a consultation on the airspace change between Luton airport and Stansted airport. The effect of it will be to change quite dramatically the flight path of aircraft into Luton airport, moving them away from their current location further north into Huntingdonshire and then down over my constituency. It seems to me to be wrong that the consultation should proceed at this time. It really ought to be halted so that the considerations of this Bill can take effect.
The Minister will know that this consultation has taken place entirely through the covid period, and he will know that there are many concerns that no effective alternatives have been offered to those that were thought of by the presenters in the first place. He will also know—he may not know, but I have certainly said to him—that it does have a number of hallmarks making me think that this is being driven purely by the commercial interests of the airports, not by considerations about those whom the airspace changes will affect.
Many representations have been made to me by constituents and by parish councils that will be affected by this change, and it seems to me to be entirely appropriate that this consultation should be stopped and that a new one should be started under the new provisions of this Bill, as directed by the Minister. If the Minister will not accept that as a new clause in the Bill, perhaps he would use his offices and the powers he already has to seek a renewal and change of that consultation.
Amendments 3 and 4 seek, in a different way from the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, to promote the issues of environmental considerations as part of the responsibilities of airspace changes in the future. In particular, I am seeking to make sure that any assessment the Secretary of State or Minister makes for airspace changes must be a financial assessment that includes an assessment of the externalities arising from airspace change proposals and an understanding of what the geographical distribution may be of any economic externalities. Amendment 4 states that those externalities should include
“air pollution,…noise pollution, and…road traffic congestion.”
To go back to the particular issue of Luton airport, it is of course a privately owned airport, but it is on land owned by Luton council. Luton airport has been growing over the years and it plans to grow even further. Before this debate I looked up the airport revenues and found that in 2009 the revenues were £98 million and that in 2019, just 10 years later, the figure had more than doubled to £226 million. It is a rapidly expanding airport, which means that there is more noise pollution, more environmental pollution, more air pollution and, of course, more congestion. These are natural things that occur when airspace changes are required, usually because airports are increasing the size of their footprint and the number of passengers they carry. The cost of those changes falls disproportionately on people in the surrounding areas—the people of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes—but all the benefits go to those who institute the airspace changes: the airport operators and the people who take a profit or rent from the land. That is not a fair basis for the Minister to proceed on. We really ought to make sure that in future the assessment of airspace changes is required to take account of the externalities that affect the villages and people who suffer because of the congestion, noise pollution, air pollution and other effects.
An additional responsibility comes to light in the case of Luton airport, because the land on which the airport operates is owned by Luton Borough Council, which is part of the public sector. Surely there ought to be an additional responsibility on airports on land that is owned by the state. It is interesting that Luton Borough Council takes £20 million a year directly into its coffers from Luton airport and a further £10 million in charitable contributions that are only for charities based in Luton, while the rest of the people who suffer because of the air pollution, noise pollution and traffic congestion get absolutely nothing.
It would be interesting if the Minister addressed the issue in his winding-up speech. Will he look—in future, if not in the Bill—at the cost of the externalities of airspace changes? Does he believe that airports on land owned by the public sector have an additional responsibility to take wider account of their social responsibilities? If so, will he have a word with his colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, who just three or four months ago gave a bail-out to Luton Borough Council that was not available to Central Bedfordshire Council or Bedford Borough Council because they were no longer getting rent money from the airport? Will he request that the Ministry says that if the council wants to continue to benefit from that loan, it must start to share the benefits of its profits from the airport? That would be a way of making sure that those externalities are covered.
I thank all hon. Members who have spoken or will speak on Report today, those who spoke on Second Reading or in Committee, as well as Members in the other place, for their work on the Bill. I remain certain of the requirement for this legislation. The Minister and I have a shared ambition for airspace modernisation in the United Kingdom. As I have said before, the country has been managing its airspace with analogue technology from the previous century, with piecemeal updates as demand has grown—an analogue system in a digital age. The Bill is vital to hasten and co-ordinate an ambitious airspace change programme fit for the 21st century.
Part 2, which involves the regulation of air traffic control services, is very welcome. I am pleased that the Bill is addressing regulation now; all hon. Members present agree that the changes will enable the Civil Aviation Authority to maintain the UK’s excellent flying safety record and continue to be a world-class leader in aviation safety. The Minister and I have discussed airport slots ad nauseam, including on Second Reading and in Committee. Labour has supported the Government on recent statutory instruments to extend the temporary waiver on slot regulations owing to the covid-19 pandemic. I am content that clause 12 will provide the Government with the tools to tackle airport slot allocation issues that arise from the pandemic.
Part 3, which provides further police powers over the use of unmanned aircraft, is long overdue; I am grateful that tonight we are closer to bringing those powers into effect. As technology has moved on, drones have become more and more common, and it was only a matter of time before an incident such as the one at Gatwick airport in 2018 that disrupted air traffic. I am grateful to the Minister for addressing the concerns raised in Committee and am content to support this part of the Bill today.
It would, however, be remiss to speak on this Bill tonight and not mention the current situation in which the aviation sector finds itself. The covid-19 pandemic has devastated the industry. The UK was previously the third largest aviation market in the world, but now we are not so sure. The Government, through neglect and their belief that the markets would be able to support this huge section of our national economy, have hamstrung the entire sector.
Twelve months ago we were led to believe that the Treasury would be offering a bespoke support package for airlines, aerospace, airports and ground-handlers and other support services; a year later no specific aviation deal has emerged. It is vital that when the global travel taskforce reports to the Prime Minister on 12 April the Department for Transport and colleagues across Government roll out a robust and comprehensive plan to enable aviation to lift off into the skies again. This summer will be make or break for the sector, and the ambition presented by this Bill will be for nothing if we cannot maintain our advantage on the world stage with one of our leading industries after the pandemic draws to a close.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow the shadow Minister the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane). This is one of those events where we sit down and think, “This is Parliament at its best.” I served on the Bill Committee, where we rattled through our work—at interceptor pace is the best way to describe it, using an aerospace metaphor.
As the shadow Minister said, this modernisation of our aerospace is long overdue; it is what we need to do to keep our skies open. We need to find a way for co-existence between those interceptors—the Typhoons that fly through our sky and keep us safe— passenger jets and unmanned aircraft, because the sky is becoming an increasingly busy space. I talk about co-existing from a position of fairly strong expertise being the MP for Milton Keynes North, because of course we co-exist with our robots—our delivery robots that wander around delivering groceries and are part of everyday life. Drones are essentially sky robots, and we need to find a way of co-existing. This is a hybrid Parliament, and we now have hybrid skies and hybrid airspace. So if we co-exist with our sky robot friends, we need to find a way of making judgment day a matter for the regulators, not the robots.
Our aerospace is our gateway to the world. Let me deal specifically with the points raised in the Bill Committee and here tonight. This modernisation will make us more efficient. It will make our airspace more efficient, reduce noise, reduce pollution, reduce congestion, and, of course, as others have said eloquently, it will reduce the impact on the communities over which the airspace lies.
I support Government on this Bill. The UK is and will remain a global leader in aerospace, and in fact global MK and global Britain will be open for business because our skies will be open for business.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt). Sadly, my speech will not have any references to Skynet or “Terminator 2”, but I do rise virtually to speak to amendments 5 and 6 and new clause 5 in my name and on behalf of the Scottish National party.
It is fair to say that I have been rather a vocal critic of this Government’s action—or inaction—in relation to the aviation industry. For the industry that has been hardest hit by the pandemic not to merit a single mention in the Chancellor’s Budget speech is quite something. While I will continue to press the Minister and his colleagues on other issues relating to the sector, including support and equal access for UK aviation operators to EU markets, as they do to ours, I thank the Minister for responding to my calls on behalf of the sector to help fund the immediate future of the airspace modernisation strategy.
The work undertaken by the Airspace Change Organising Group is crucial for a sustainable aviation sector and to help drive down emissions in the process. As I have said to the Minister previously, that role should be formally acknowledged by asking ACOG to sit on the Government’s Jet Zero Council.
Updating our airspace is long overdue, given that it has not been reviewed and renewed since the 1950s. While we are on the cusp of developing electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft, our airspace is stuck in the age of the Vickers Vanguard. Let us forget that the Government are coming a little late to the party and embrace the fact that they showed up at all. The group’s work will bring long-needed efficiencies to airspace management and provide a potential boost to regional connectivity as the sustainability of air services outside of London improves, potentially allowing improved connections for airports such as Glasgow in my constituency, with a consequent boost to employment and prosperity for local economies.
The £5.5 million funding announced is a drop in the ocean out of a near £900 billion of public expenditure. It is two Downing Street press briefing rooms. However, if that support had not been provided, the detrimental impact on the aviation sector and connectivity across these islands could have been huge. That being said, £10 million of direct funding to cover the next two years would have been better. Perhaps we will have to come back to that, but credit where it is due. For that reason, I confirm that I will not press new clause 5 to a Division. I look forward to the important work of the Airspace Change Organising Group bearing fruit in the near future.
Given the time pressures, I will speak briefly to amendments 5 and 6, which relate to my concerns about some of the language in the Bill about the powers granted to the DfT, the Secretary of State and the CAA. Clauses 2 and 3 would give the Secretary of State the power to give a direction regarding any aspect of airspace change. That may well be necessary to implement the wholesale change envisaged by the strategy currently under way, but I am hesitant about the Department having the power in the longer term to mandate relatively minor changes to airspace management with potentially no scope for oversight or amendment by the industry, this Parliament or other elected bodies. I would welcome the Minister making an absolute commitment that the powers being granted to his Department are not to be used in the course of ongoing airspace management. I hope that things instead will move forward on a consensual basis alongside the industry.
As I said on Second Reading, I welcome the powers being granted to the police and prison authorities to tackle drone flights specifically aimed at breaking prison regulations. We know about the use of drones in delivering contraband, particularly illegal drugs, into prisons, enriching those in control of the supply. Although it is a smaller problem in Scotland, it is a growing one.
Until now, the power of the police and prison officers to investigate and take action against drone flights has been limited by legislation that predates the technological advances that have resulted in cheap, easy-to-obtain drones. For just a couple of hundred pounds, someone intending to transport drugs into prison can make many multiples of that with just one run. We all know how much damage drugs can do in prison, so stopping supply at source is fundamental.
Despite some high-profile cases over recent years, I do not in any way want to tag drones in a negative light—quite the opposite, in fact. The overwhelming majority of drone users and owners use them responsibly and perfectly legally. Ensuring that the use of these devices is appropriately regulated can only help ensure that the benefits of unmanned vehicles continue for users and consumers alike, including the great pilot initiative to support Scotland’s NHS being carried out at the moment.
To conclude, my caveats about the Secretary of State’s powers aside, the majority of the Bill is progress in the right direction at a time when the aviation industry is in the midst of its biggest challenge since the war—a challenge not helped by the Government’s year-long vow of silence on the Chancellor’s pledge this time last year of sector-specific help for the industry. Bringing our airspace into the modern era and showing our skies are used efficiently and with minimal impact on the environment is to be welcomed, and we will support the Bill’s passage this evening.
The benefits and disbenefits of the proximity to Heathrow airport are two sides of the same coin for my constituency. The issues of air space management and, crucially, noise pollution are of great importance, but this Government —and, I have to say, most previous Governments—have been slow and not done enough. I do not want airspace modernisation being used as an excuse to enable yet more flights into Heathrow, resulting in more hours and days with continuous noise, and yet more traffic congestion and air pollution.
The Civil Aviation Authority is the key statutory authority governing aviation, but it has few powers to control noise, or, for that matter, any other environmental objectives such as the climate crisis and the impact of emissions, all of which are subsumed beneath the objective of safety. I have worked for many years—long before I was elected to this place—with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), and I support his amendment to the Bill to include in the CAA’s remit a duty
“to reduce, minimise or mitigate…noise”.
I regret that it has not been accepted by the Government.
There is a growing body of evidence—referred to in the recent report by the Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise—which cites the health and other impacts of aviation noise, from hypertension to cognitive impairment in children. To clarify, in normal times 70% of flights arriving at Heathrow come over my constituency. They are locked into a gradually descending final arrival path. Roughly two thirds of my constituents live within the area of significant noise disturbance, and the other third would do if runway three were to go ahead, or, for that matter, if the CAA approved additional flights by allowing planes to join the final approach late, from the north or south.
In the last 12 months, my constituents and I have noticed a difference to our daily lives, with a 90% cut in arrival flights over our homes. We know that for Heathrow to go back to anything like normal operation, the current noise-free days cannot last, but when it comes to airspace changes, communities affected by aircraft noise should at least be treated with respect, be consulted and have their views treated seriously.
The pandemic has exposed not only how much our noise environment is dominated by aircraft noise, but also how much our local economy has been dependent on the airport. Unemployment in communities around Heathrow has risen by 150% on average, and that is while many people are still furloughed and not yet adding to the unemployment figures. This shows the urgent need for support for our aviation communities, as previous speakers have mentioned. We have been promised an aviation recovery strategy for nine months, but all we have had is silence; yet, aviation is the sector that will take the longest to recover.
To conclude, whether it is on noise or aviation jobs, this Government do not seem willing to listen and act to support airport communities.
It is a pleasure to be here, speaking in the Chamber remotely, at the Report stage of this very important Bill, which the Liberal Democrats have supported all the way through. The provisions it contains are long overdue, particularly those on airspace modernisation.
We welcome the opportunity for the Government to take powers to improve the use of airspace for the benefit, yes, of the aviation industry, but also for the communities who live around airports, as the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) just spelled out in her excellent speech. I, too, represent one of those communities —Richmond Park. We have long been plagued by excessive noise from aircraft. There has been some welcome respite during the pandemic and the lockdown, but my constituents are fearful of what may happen in the future, especially if the Government go ahead with their stated plans to allow expansion at Heathrow. I impress on them that they have the opportunity to put my constituents’ fears at rest on that matter.
We support the airspace modernisation plans in the Bill. However, I reiterate what the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said: if not through this Bill, then at some time in the future, the CAA ought to be given the power to consider the impact of noise on local communities when designating airspace. It is such an important issue because of the impact that it has on mental health, on physical health, on people’s ability to sleep and on people’s ability to go about their daily lives. That is highlighted to me so often by my constituents. Again, it was discussed very eloquently by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth.
I also support what the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said about the impact that climate change is having and the need to give powers in that regard to the CAA. That is a really important point. The Government are not yet being clear about how they expect the aviation industry to contribute to their drive towards net zero. It is absolutely essential that we get more clarity on how that will be achieved. Aviation obviously has an important role to play in our economy. It has had an exceptionally tough year, and we know from announcements made only today that the future of aviation continues to be very unsettled. We look forward to more direction from the Government about how they plan to build back better in aviation.
The Liberal Democrats support this Bill and will continue to support it through its remaining stages.
I hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, you can hear my dulcet tones all the way from Northern Ireland. Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this issue.
Of particular interest to me is new clause 12, which seeks to provide temporary powers to amend the retained EU law on airport slot allocation due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 80:20 or “use it or lose it” rule is used to monitor compliance and determine whether airlines can retain their legacy slots. The European Commission has waived the rule for the summer and winter seasons in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic—exceptional times, without a doubt. I absolutely support the Government in their move to make a similar waiver through the use of these temporary powers. Our airline industry is in dire need of support and help—I know the Minister has been very responsive to that and I thank him for it—not only in the short term but in the long term. We need to look at how we can come alongside the industry to work with it.
Particularly for Northern Ireland, it is essential that our routes are protected—our domestic routes, that is, but we have some hopes for the future that we may even have some international routes, which is something we are encouraged by. We are also encouraged by the Government’s commitment on air passenger duty, and we will see how that works for the benefit of all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Connectivity is vital and must be protected at all costs for the foreseeable future.
I have spoken at length regarding drones, particularly their use in prisons. However, I also recognise the benefit of drones used in the right way. The Government have put in place legislation to prevent unmanned aircraft being able to fly near airports, and technology is in place to neutralise any unmanned aircraft that could breach the quarantine distance around airports, so there are many good things to welcome. Unmanned aircraft must be regulated for many reasons, none being more important than security. I am very pleased that clauses 13 to 18, together with schedules 8 to 11, will give powers to police the misuse of unmanned aircraft. These include, first, the power to ground unmanned aircraft; secondly, the power to stop and search people and vehicles; and thirdly, the power to obtain a warrant to search property. There will be further provision for fixed penalties for certain offences relating to unmanned aircraft. I welcome this further tightening of the law. It is also welcome that those who are using a drone for a purpose that is legal and honourable will not have any issue with these powers or feel threatened in any way at all. However, can the Minister confirm that all necessary discussions have taken place with all regions in the United Kingdom, particularly Northern Ireland?
In this age of technical wonder, it is imperative that we make the best of advances such as drone technology and heat signatures to find lost animals, for example. As someone who lives in the countryside, I know that many of my farming friends, colleagues, partners and neighbours wish to see that. We must also regulate to prevent misuse, and the Bill sets that balance. That is why I support the Government’s intentions and commitment, which I believe are honourable, honest and true.
I thank all Members for their contributions and the constructive way in which they have engaged with the Bill throughout and with the new clauses and amendments before the House. I will address each of the provisions.
New clause 1, tabled by the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and supported by the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), seeks to ensure that the Civil Aviation Authority prioritises noise when considering airspace changes by making it a primary duty. The Government recognise the impact that aviation noise has on communities that are overflown, including those in the right hon. Member’s constituency, which may also be impacted when aircraft are on the ground. The Government have in place regulations and policies to mitigate and reduce aircraft noise but cannot, I am afraid, support the new clause.
Subsection (1) of the new clause puts a primary duty on the CAA to
“reduce, minimise or mitigate significant adverse noise impacts of aviation.”
The CAA’s duties include regulation of civil aviation safety, aviation security functions, licensing of airlines and more. Those are in addition to its duties around the use of UK airspace, to which the Bill is more closely linked. Specifically on its duties around air navigation functions, section 70(1) of the Transport Act 2000 states that safety is “to have priority” over the CAA’s other functions. I would like to reassure the right hon. Gentleman and other Members that, in carrying out those air navigation functions, the CAA must take into account guidance on environmental objectives given to it by the Secretary of State. That guidance currently takes the form of the “Air Navigation Guidance 2017”. Altitude-based priorities are clear that the environmental priority in airspace below 7,000 feet is to minimise
“the impact of aviation noise in a manner consistent with the government’s overall policy on aviation noise”.
For the reason that safety must remain the primary duty of the CAA in its air navigation functions, the Government cannot accept subsection (1).
Subsection (2) of new clause 1 seeks to constrain the use of airspace with regard to number and type of aircraft. The frequency of overflight and the type of aircraft are clearly among the most important contributing factors to the noise experienced by communities. There is a wide variety of powers available to Government and airports to reduce noise at airports, including section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which the Government use to limit numbers and types of aircraft during the night period at Heathrow. I should add that, in the 2018 aviation strategy Green Paper, the Government consulted on a proposal to routinely set noise caps. We expect to look once again at these important issues and will consider whether current policy on noise reduction needs to be strengthened. The Government believe that it is right that any restrictions on noise should be imposed on the airport itself, and that it is not appropriate or practical to restrict the use of airspace around an airport for these purposes, because to do so would add great complexity to the day-to-day management of airspace.
New clause 2 seeks to ensure that the Government meet their target of net zero emissions by 2050 and that aircraft noise is mitigated, even reduced. I am sure the House will agree that those are noble objectives. The Government will consult over the coming months on a net zero aviation strategy, setting out the steps to reach net zero aviation emissions by 2050. However, we are unable to support the new clause because it would have some unintended consequences, which I will briefly explain.
In most airspace change proposals, there is a complex balance of trade-offs between the needs of airspace users, the airports, the military and the environment—it is the co-existence that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) addressed in his speech and that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Those trade-offs can be further complicated by the competing needs of different types of airspace user, or, in the case of the environment, the desire to reduce emissions or aircraft noise at the expense of the other. It is far from easy for an airspace change proposal to meet everyone’s wishes, and the CAA has to make the best decision that it can based on the available evidence.
Under section 70 of the Transport Act 2000, the CAA is required to exercise its air navigation functions in a manner that it considers best calculated to achieve a number of objectives, which already include a requirement for the CAA to take into account the environmental objectives in guidance given by the Secretary of State. If the right hon. Gentleman’s new clause 2 were accepted, the requirement “to ensure” would make it very difficult for the CAA to accept any proposal that did not reduce emissions and aircraft noise, regardless of the overall benefits of the proposal or the other conditions under section 70(2). That would act as a significant constraint on the Government’s airspace modernisation programme, and therefore the Government are unable to accept or support this new clause.
Amendment 1, tabled by the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, is motivated by a desire to ensure that communities receive clarity on the emissions, health and noise impact of any airspace change process, and of course I agree that it is vital for communities to have clarity and to understand the implications of how any airspace change might impact them.
I wish to assure the House that the Department’s air navigation guidance to the CAA already requires airspace change sponsors to consider the emission, health and noise impacts of their proposal and to consult with communities on its impacts. The Government consider that there is therefore no need for this amendment, as mechanisms already exist to ensure that communities are suitably informed of the potential impact of airspace change proposals.
I turn to new clause 4, which has been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller). He rightly wishes to reflect the recent airspace change experience of constituents in places such as Potton, Sandy and Biggleswade, as well as others living in nearby constituency areas. He has spoken to me about them, and he has spoken powerfully again about them tonight. I appreciate that communities, wherever they live, are always going to be rightly concerned about any airspace change proposal that may affect them. I hope that he will be reassured by the fact that “Air Navigation Guidance 2017” was produced in response to many concerns that such communities have raised. That is embedded in the Civil Aviation Authority’s CAP1616 process for airspace change—a new process that is only just beginning to have effect. I assure my hon. Friend that the air navigation guidance and CAP1616 require the sponsor to actively engage and consult with key stakeholders, including communities, on their proposals.
I am mindful that my hon. Friend’s new clause would require sponsors to undertake a road traffic congestion assessment in their proposal. That is important, but the Government are not convinced that it is appropriate for a consultation on airspace change proposals to include road traffic congestion.
I am aware of a number of points that my hon. Friend has made with regard to Luton and its development consent order. I hope that he will understand that, as the final decision on that would rest with the Secretary of State for Transport, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on it at this stage. I hope that the House and my hon. Friend will agree that the long-established planning system is the right place for communities to have their say on such matters. As we consider aviation policy in the future, I will remember, of course, all the points that he has made.
I turn briefly to my hon. Friend’s amendments 3 and 4, which have the laudable intention of ensuring that air pollution and noise impacts of any airspace change proposal are identified and monetised. He will, I am sure, be relieved to hear that the Department for Transport’s transport analysis guidance assessment tool includes the need to monetise many of those aspects, as the specific location is already an important requirement under the CAP1616 process that I have referred to already.
I am grateful that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) has indicated that he does not intend to press new clause 5 to a vote, but given that he had the courtesy to table it, I shall deal with it briefly. The Airspace Change Organisation Group is a ring-fenced team that sits within NATS, so is funded by the NATS charging scheme and would not be affected by the costs of airspace change in the way that I anticipate the hon. Gentleman fears.
The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North also tabled amendments 5 and 6, which would narrow the powers in the Bill so that they could be used only for controlled airspace. I remind the House that clauses 2 and 3 will be used only when the Secretary of State considers that their use will assist in the delivery of the CAA’s airspace strategy. Airspace modernisation is not just about the masterplan or controlled airspace, as the hon. Member may feel; those are only two of the 15 initiatives in the CAA’s airspace modernisation strategy. To restrict the powers only to the masterplan or controlled airspace would put at risk the delivery of those other initiatives.
The hon. Member also asked me to confirm the circumstances in which the powers can be used; they are intended to be used as a last resort if the airspace change proposal is not progressed voluntarily. The CAA’s oversight team will work with sponsors to ensure, before it recommends to the Secretary of State that the direction powers be used, that they are not intended to be used if there are factors outside the airspace sponsor’s control. In any event, there are a number of procedural safeguards, such as consultation with the proposed recipient, the direction being in writing and the Secretary of State being of the view that the direction will assist in delivering the airspace modernisation strategy. There is also a provision to allow the recipient to appeal to the Competition Appeal Tribunal if it is claimed that the decision was based on an error of fact, wrong in law or made in the exercise of a discretion.
I have addressed all the new clauses and amendments; I hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you will allow me one or two other words. I do not wish to detain Members any longer than is necessary, but while I am on my feet I thank all Members who have participated in the passage of this Bill. I thank the Committee Chairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) and the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for having expertly guided the Bill through Committee, and I thank the Opposition, and particularly the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), for their constructive criticism both here and in the other place. I thank the Bill team and all the team at the Department for Transport, the CAA and NATS, and the ministerial teams from the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Defence, all of whom have played critical parts in bringing the Bill to the House.
The Bill is critical and, as we have already rehearsed, will bring airspace into the modern age and deal with the opportunities and challenges in respect of drones and a number of other critical aspects of aviation. It has taken us some time to get the Bill all the way through both Houses and to the position we are in today, but it is vital that we have done so. I thank all Members for their part in having brought the Bill to this position and I commend it to the House.
He has confused me as well, Mr Deputy Speaker.
There has been an acknowledgement of the issues raised in the new clauses and amendments. It is clear that we all agree on the objectives, even if we do not agree on the path to achieve them. I am a great believer in the powers or conversion, so we will campaign on, but this evening I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—(Robert Courts.)
I am proud to have Manchester airport in my constituency, as you well know, Mr Deputy Speaker; I am proud to be shadow aviation spokesman; and I am proud of this country’s world-class aviation sector, which is the third largest on the planet. We want to protect the sector, grow it and make it better. We want to protect and grow the interlinked aerospace sector, in which the UK has world-leading engine and aircraft manufacturers. Rolls met Royce in the Midland hotel in Manchester—that is where it came from. We want to facilitate the study of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects for all our young people who are looking at careers in this highly skilled, highly paid sector. We want to get past this pandemic, and we will keep our eyes on the horizon. This legislation helps us to do that.
I have already discussed, today and previously, the passion that the Minister and I share for airspace modernisation, and what it brings: increased capacity in our skies. The noise and carbon reduction that it will bring will make aviation in our country better. For the benefit of Members who missed the procedures in the other place, and have not got around to watching the Committee stage in this place, I will repeat my noble Friend Lord Rosser’s point that the provision for drone technology has not been updated since the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990. He pointed out that that is closer to Yuri Gagarin’s first trip into space than it is to today; I will not regale the Minister again with Yuri Gagarin’s trip to Manchester in 1961, as I did in Committee.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you admonished me for going off-piste a few moments ago by talking about the Government’s lack of an aviation-specific deal. I was once given sage advice by the former Member for Buckingham and the previous Speaker of the House of Commons about never allowing bureaucracy a chance to say “no” to us in this place, so on that basis, I thank my caseworker Al Franco, who retires on Wednesday after a lifetime of service to the people of Manchester and Salford. He has worked for the late, great Paul Goggins and me over the past 10 years. Al has been a remarkable support to me, my team, and the communities of Wythenshawe and Sale East. I take this opportunity to thank him, and to wish him a long, happy retirement.
It has been a pleasure to work on this Bill, and I thank all those who the Minister has mentioned who have worked on it. I also thank the Minister for his courtesies during the passage of this Bill, and I will be pleased to see it gain Royal Assent.
I will be mercifully brief as well. I echo the sentiments of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane). I am proud to represent Glasgow airport and to be the Scottish National party transport spokesperson. We have been speaking a lot about aviation over this past year. The UK has the third largest aviation sector in the world, but it is very unlikely to come out of this pandemic with the third largest aviation sector in the world unless the Government make good on their year-long pledge of proper sectoral support. I will be keeping up the pressure on the Minister on that basis.
However, in the meantime and with regard to this Bill, I thank the Minister, the Bill team and the Clerks. In particular, I thank Sarah and her colleagues in the Public Bill Office for their help and patience on issues such as last-minute amendments submitted at the 11th hour on Thursdays. With that, I will say that we support this Bill, and I am glad to see some progress on airspace modernisation: it is about time. I agree that we need to look at the issue of drones in a bit more detail, as the shadow Minister has already outlined.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Third time and passed.