HC Deb 05 December 1958 vol 596 cc1503-51

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)

I beg to move, That this House, recognising that the operation of powerful aircraft necessary for effective defence, presents special probems to people living near military airfields, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to do everything possible to reduce the inevitable disturbance and ensure that compensation claims for damage are dealt with fairly and promptly. While I wish to deal with the terms of the Motion generally, most of my information comes from the area north of my constituency round about the villages of Finchingfield and Wethersfield, where there is an R.A.F. station which is occupied by a U.S. Air Force Wing. Today, is a particularly appropriate time to raise this problem and I am very glad that I have the opportunity of doing so. This morning one has seen in the Press that the U.S. Air Force is bringing over a more powerful jet aircraft, the Voodoo, which is to be used in the airfields situated in our countryside.

I want, at the outset, to make two points quite clear. I think I can say that the people living round these airfields are second to none in their realisation of the importance of adequate defence for this country and of the contribution that these airfields make in the defence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Just because I am picking up some of their grievances does not mean that these people are any less public-spirited and patriotic than other people in this country.

The second point I would emphasise is that this is not an attack on the U.S. Air Force. We have had experience of the U.S. Air Force in this area for a number of years. I know from personal experience and the experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) whose constituency borders on this airfield and of the villagers, that the efforts of U.S. commanders to fit in with the local community and themselves to do what they can to alleviate the disruption that is caused, are first-rate. I would hate it to be thought, after the efforts that they have made, that this is an attack on our having U.S. planes as part of the defence system of our country. Even after that has been said, the problem still exists. I want to deal with two aspects: first, sound; and, secondly, vibration and air pressure. I will deal with the sound aspect first.

It has been calculated that over the next ten years the sound factor in the United Kingdom will double. That will mean that with increased noises from factories, transport and military aircraft we shall have a far worse time with noises coming from the air and coming from these airfields. This will be an increasing problem and one which must be dealt with now and at this stage. There is, of course, no such thing as "ancient sounds" like the "ancient lights" to which we are accustomed. Perhaps, in this connection, I might quote a ruling given by Mr. Justice Luxmoore in 1930. It was: … every person is entitled as against his neighbour to the comfortable and healthful enjoyment of the premises occupied by him, and in coming to a decision whether his right has been interfered with and a nuisance thereby caused, it is necessary to determine whether the act complained of is an inconvenience materially interfering with the ordinary physical comfort of human existence … He continued: it is no answer to say that the best known means have been taken to reduce or prevent the noise complained of. The Air Ministry should apply exactly the same standards as were given in that ruling and take account of the great inconvenience caused, and the fact that, according to the ruling in a civil court, it should take every possible action to alleviate the problem of noise.

In this area, and around most of the military airfields, one finds a rural community consisting of farmers and those in various industries associated with agriculture. Points concerning agriculture will be dealt with particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), who will be seconding this Motion. One also finds many retired people, children, old people and those who have spent their lives working in towns and have decided to live in retirement somewhere which is peaceful. Those people suffer most from the terrific disturbance in their lives and the effect which noise from military aerodromes can have on their method of living.

Noise comes not only from aircraft taking off and landing, but also from "revving up" and testing of engines. The noise when taking off is particularly bad because of the wonderful engineering device called an after burner, which comes into use when the plane has taken off. The noise then is not unlike an explosion. If one is working or sitting in a garden nearby such a noise makes life quite impossible. People around Finchingfield have told me that there have been days in the summer when, in good weather, the sound from the airfield has kept them out of their garden and inside their houses, with all the windows closed in an effort to try to keep out some of the disturbance.

The problem of after burners in takeoff can be eliminated, or at least reduced, by making certain that there is a strict routine as to at what height the after burner should be brought into operation and the direction in which the plane should fake off. "Revving up" can also be done in areas where it can cause the minimum damage. Flexible rules must be made for that because the noise from "revving up" varies considerably according to climatic conditions and also according to the height or lowness of the cloud ceiling. Very often if it is a damp day and the ceiling is low the noise is much greater than on a clear day when noise tends to be dispersed up into the sky.

People there have told me that they cannot even use the telephone when a plane is taking off. Those who have put in long-distance calls have had to take additional extensions because for three or four minutes they have been unable to be heard or to hear over the telephone. They find that they cannot even listen to the wireless. With the news of the Test Match coming over the wireless at present I can imagine nothing worse than not being able to hear the results of what is happening at Brisbane.

In time, this noise problem gets on people's nerves. If one goes to a rural area in an effort to get peace and quiet and then finds one's time is continually spent literally jumping when planes fly over, the whole point of living in the area one has chosen—as many of these people have done—for its peace and beauty, is taken away. I am sure that much can be done to eliminate noise during certain periods of the day and to make sure that there are at least regular breaks of reasonable duration in which people do not get continuous trouble. They must have some time when they can get a full rest from this awful noise. I particularly request my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for State for Air to look at the possibility of cutting out the practice of flying at weekends, or at least to reduce it as much as possible when people try to get some relaxation and recreation.

I have mentioned the effect of this noise on elderly people, but the effect it has on small children is equally, if not more, serious. I have seen small children absolutely terrified by planes flying low over their homes when taking off. It is possible to explain to elderly people what is happening, but if anyone can tell me how to explain to a child of two or three years of age that the noise cannot hurt them, I shall be grateful.

I wish to deal with some of the damage done by sonic booms and vibration. This is a very vexed question because, first, if a complaint is made one is asked the identification marks of the plane and, at the speed at which these things go, one does not have a chance of seeing those marks. From various reports I have read, one in the Sunday Times of 31st August, I find that people do not realise just how much damage is being done. In the article in that newspaper it was reported that a spokesman of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research had said that most claims for damage are based on people's genuine ignorance of the state of the houses they live in. They hear a bang and start looking for damage and come across all sorts of cracks they never noticed before. I admit that there is a certain amount to be said for that. If we made an inspection of our houses, particularly if they are old houses, we would find a lot of cracks that we had not suspected; I made such an inspection of my house last weekend.

I admit that in most old houses there is damage which one does not suspect.

The same thing applies to new houses. Council houses near the airfield are showing cracks in the plaster. I do not think that this can necessarily be blamed on to damage done by sonic bangs, because plaster shrinks, but I do not think that it is entirely satisfactory that because some cracks are discovered only after an occurrence such as this, and because there are natural cracks and a normal movement of plaster, the D.S.I.R. and the Air Ministry should ascribe all damage to the natural passage of the years and state that it is not caused by sonic damage.

There was a case last year, which occurred during a good will display by the Air Force. When a plane passed through the sound barrier the ceiling of the village school came down and a window of the rectory in a nearby village was blown out. I admit that in this case compensation was paid very promptly, and for good reason, because about 60,000 people saw the plane passing through the sound barrier, and the matter could not be argued. In view of the fact that there are cases in which this damage has been done and has been admitted, I think that the Ministry ought to look very carefully into the problem of the damage which can be done by high-speed aircraft and should not merely accept the report from the D.S.I.R. to which I referred.

Representatives of the Ministry have been to the constituency to take measurements of the noise factor and the variations in air pressure being caused by planes taking off and landing. I admit—and this may be purely luck—that every time that happens the cloud ceiling seems to be high, or the noise is at an absolute minimum and there seems to be less flying than usual. Moreover, on those occasions the planes seem to take off more slowly and more quietly. If an investigation is to be carried out near an airfield to see what damage is being done it must be carried out over a long period, not merely a visit of a couple of days when extraordinary conditions may give a completely wrong picture.

I referred to the fact that one claim had been dealt with extremely quickly, but there are other claims which the Ministry has been very slow to answer. In some cases it is very difficult to document these claims. For instance, a constituent told me that the china fell from a shelf as a plane was taking off. It is extremely difficult to make a hard and fast case to show that that plane was the cause of the china falling from the shelf and breaking. I think the Air Ministry must look most sympathetically at such claims and err on the side of generosity in dealing with them.

The article from the Sunday Times which referred to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and its findings about the damage was received with laughter and derision in the villages nearby. At a joint meeting of the Great Bardfield, Finchingfield, Toppesfield and Wethersfield Parish Councils the following resolution was passed: In view of the unsatisfactory reply by the Secretary for Air to a Question in the House of Commons regarding damage by sonic booms or bangs and similar statements recently published in the Press both to the effect that sonic booms can do little damage to property, and being aware of evidence to the contrary, and glaring recurrences of sonic booms those councils urge the National Association of Parish Councils to investigate the position fully and make such representations to the Minister as will correct the present misleading statements and ensure adequate consideration of and compensation for any future damage from such causes. That sums up my views as well as those of the people in the area.

May I make a suggestion? The U.S. Air Force has done a wonderful public relations job. By its open days and its films it has been trying to show what is going on and why it is there, to try to get as much sympathy as possible from the local population. Would it be too much to ask our own Air Ministry to do exactly the same? It is the Air Ministry which is responsible for settling these claims, and unless the people who go to investigate the claims and explain what has happened are very carefully chosen, the Air Ministry will become even more unpopular than at present.

The failure of the public relations side and, in some cases, the lack of tact on the part of the Ministry's representatives is driving a wedge not so much between the Air Force and Her Majesty's Government, on the one hand, and the local population, as between the American forces, who are contributing to our defence, and the local population.

Another aspect arises of one of the problems of living near these airfields. It seems that every time a new plane appears it is necessary to resurface the aerodrome because the original surface is not smooth enough to deal with the speed of the new aircraft.

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing)

It is not strong enough.

Mr. Harrison

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In some cases it is not smooth enough, either; there is too much tolerance—I think that is the word—to cope with high-speed landings.

These planes, with decreasing wing area, which gives them greater speed, need longer runways, because they have faster landing and take-off speeds. That means that periodically there has to be reconstruction.

Some reconstruction has been taking place on this airfield this year, and it was very much to the credit of the Ministry that the planes were taken away from the airfield and the construction was able to proceed during the day. I hope that this will become a regular occurrence and that we shall not have the dreadful business, which we had about twelve or eighteen months ago, of lorries being able to be driven on to the airfield only during darkness. In that case there was not only the trouble of training flights by the Air Force, but also the trouble of hundreds of lorries travelling along these narrow country lanes, causing complete dislocation of the traffic, terrifying the parents of children coming home from village schools and also causing a lot of damage to some of the bridges, which were not built to carry such heavy traffic. I hope that if this construction is necessary, what happened this summer will be repeated.

Can a definite survey be made of each airfield to make sure that the testing beds, and the area in which planes "rev up" are situated where they will not affect the local population? I know that "revving up" presents special difficulties, but testing should not, as it is now possible to make a test bed sound proof, although it may be expensive. Anyone who has been in a house situated at an angle of, I think, 45 degrees to the out-let of these engines—being tested, possibly, for hours—will know how vitally important it is for the health, for the very existence, of people living within the range of these beds that they should be protected from the noise—

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I think that my hon. Friend is wrong in saying that it is possible to make the testing beds entirely soundproof. One can certainly lessen the amount of noise, but it is incorrect to give the impression that there is any scientific solution of the problem of making them completely noiseless.

Mr. Harrison

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that correction. I have obviously misread some information from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. I accept his assurance that it is possible only to minimise the noise, and not completely to eliminate it.

I should also like my hon. Friend to see whether something can be done to compensate people in these areas from what is the equivalent of a planning blight. People living near these airfields suffer a tremendous deterioration in the value of their properties, which are not worth anything like the open market value they otherwise would have. In fact, a number of recent successful appeals for reduction in rateable value shows that the value of these properties has fallen. Would it not be possible to alter the Schedule A assessment on the same ground?

I should like the Ministry to look into the problem of the effect of the noise of these high-speed aircraft from military airfields, in detail, and with sympathy. When it comes to compensation, I hope that my hon. Friend will be prepared to settle claims quickly and generously and, if there is a dispute, to appoint an independent arbitrator. Further, when it is planned to transfer this type of plane to other aerodromes, I hope that the siting, etc., will be investigated extremely carefully before, and well before, the planes move in.

I imagine that we shall have these military airfields with us for a considerable time, and if this noise problem is not looked into most carefully now, some of our communities will, over the next few years, face a very serious situation. We are told that the noise factor will double in the next ten years. It has taken us over 100 years to deal with the smoke problem arising from the first Industrial Revolution, and I only hope that my hon. Friend's Department will now take the lead, so that we do not have to wait for another 100 years before successfully dealing with the noise problem resulting from the mechanical revolution of today.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) has, if I may say so, made a very thoughtful and well-informed speech. My constituents in Newbury have a military airfield on their doorstep, so we have intimate experience of the problems which this kind of development brings, and to which the Motion calls attention.

In 1951, Greenham Common was taken for the construction of an airfield for the use of the United States Air Force. I should like to record four lessons that we have learned in the last seven years. First, a military airfield should not be sited close to a town. Secondly, the soil must have the right character and body to carry the heavy 'planes of today, and the still heavier ones of tomorrow. Thirdly, proper provision must at once be made for living accommodation for the airmen and their families so as to avoid undue aggravation of the housing shortage locally. Fourthly, the Air Ministry must be reasonably fair in dealing with problems resulting from the construction of the airfield, particularly those concerning residents living right up against the airfield, who are bound in one way or another to be adversely affected.

Before dealing with these matters in the context of our experience in Newbury, I should like to say at once that these problems have not been aggravated by our having Americans using the airfield. It is rather the other way. The United States Air Force has gone out of its way to be helpful and understanding of the problems that its presence has created. All through we have good understanding with the Americans. Normally, there have been 1,200 airmen and others at Greenham base, and their behaviour in Newbury and in the neighbourhood has, with very few exceptions, been exemplary—and, where there have been exceptions, they have been dealt with firmly.

The Americans have proved good neighbours and have helped wherever they have seen an opportunity. I have been told of one case where they helped to dig an old lady's garden because she could not do it herself. They have also helped a local children's home and other organisations. In any activity in Newbury where they have felt they could help they have done so, and done so generously. I should like to pay that tribute to them.

I believe that our people realise that, willy-nilly, we are in the front line of N.A.T.O. We recognise that there must be these military airfields; that we have that part to play, and that the obligation—it might be called the privilege—is ours to take our part in safeguarding the freedom of the West. We do not say much about these things, but I think that most of my constituents would agree with what Mr. Nixon said during his recent visit: N.A.T.O. has been eminently successful in obtaining the purposes for which it was created. No aggression has occurred in the ten years of its life. It is, indeed, proving … a mighty shield of military strength for the nations of Western Europe and Great Britain. These military airfields are part of that mighty shield.

May I turn to the four points which I listed? First, there is the necessity to site these military airfields away from towns. The people of Newbury have been proved right in their first thoughts. They were so strongly in opposition to the proposal to use Greenham Common for a big modern airfield that they signed a petition. I presented it to this House in 1951 when the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) was Secretary of State for Air. I do not know that the petition met any better fate than most petitions do when they reach the green baize bag behind your Chair, Mr. Speaker, but I do know that the case that we made at that time was taken to the Cabinet and it went against us. The airfield was sited there.

There are 23,000 people in the towns of Newbury and Thatcham which adjoins it. When we have a military airfield on which operations are carried out on such a scale close to a community of that size very special problems are created, because there are many houses, schools and children living close to the airfield. Indeed, in common humanity the Air Ministry with the full agreement of the Americans—or it may have been the Americans in full agreement with the Air Ministry—decided that the flying use of this airfield should be restricted, first of all, to ninety days in a year. The people of Newbury knew that they would have a respite from noise during part of the year. They could perhaps plan to be away on their holidays when hell was really let loose.

Then last January it was decided to restrict still further the use of the airfield. I do not say that this was wholly in consideration of the peace of mind and quiet of my constituents, but at any rate it happened, and normally during the last year flying has been restricted to between 3 and 5 o'clock in the afternoons with no flying on Saturdays and Sundays. I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon would like to see that sort of rule applied to his local airfield.

That has been a great relief to my constituents. But it hampers the effective use of this base, and it underlines what I have said about the wrongness of choosing an airfield site so close to a town. Although there are, no doubt, social and amenity reasons why airmen like to be close to a pleasant town like Newbury and not too far from London, I do not think those considerations should weigh, because there is the noise factor and the danger factor, with the possibility of mishap occurring to one of these aircraft while taking off or coming in to land over the town. These factors outweigh any other considerations, and I hope that if there have to be any more military airfields the Air Ministry will keep in mind our experience in Newbury.

The second point is the choice of suitable land—that is, suitable soil and subsoil—for these airfields. On Greenham Common we have a mixture of gravel and clay. There are seams of clay and the whole common is riddled with springs and streams, some of them underground. This was well known to the local people when it was first proposed to use this site for an airfield. I passed that information on to the Air Ministry, but massive excavations have had to be undertaken during the last seven years.

Also there have had to be great in-fillings. Hundreds of thousands of tons of hardcore have been brought from Somerset, a long distance away, to fill up the weak patches in the soil so that there could be laid a 3 ft. apron of concrete to carry the modern heavy bomber. It has not been possible to stifle altogether the springs in the common. They have to find an outlet, and some of my constituents who live near the airfield are concerned about the way in which those springs are now bursting out and threatening to damage their properties. I do not know what the answer to that is, but it is a problem.

Partly because of the unsuitability of this site which has been discovered in actual use and partly because of the unsuitability of the soil and subsoil, this airfield at Greenham Common has cost £7,750,000, of which the Americans have met £4,500,000. It is a very costly airfield. I wonder whether it would have cost as much as that if a different site had been chosen; I do not know.

I have no hesitation in saying that the geological survey, if one was made—and I was assured by the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton that one was made—was not nearly thorough enough and the Air Ministry did not know what trouble they were going to run into in trying to make an airfield on that site. I think they had made up their minds before. The Americans said that the airfield should be there, and that was that.

If there are any more military airfields to be created, I trust that a most thorough geological survey will be made and that the Air Ministry will look first at some of the thousands of acres of disused airfields which are still in Government hands. Each year, I look through the Report of the Agricultural Land Commission. I observe that there are several thousands of acres of former airfields which are owned, and in some cases farmed by the Agricultural Land Commission. They are widespread, in such counties as Buckingham, Cambridge, Dorset, Essex, Norfolk and Lincoln. Some of this land was good agricultural land before it was converted into airfields, and now it is splashed with concrete and is not of much use for normal agricultural occupation and profitable working.

I ask the Minister to look carefully at any such sites which are held either by the Agricultural Land Commission or by the Air Ministry. I am thinking not only of military airfields but of other installations like radar posts and so on, which had to be sited in a particular path. If there is a site already in occupation of a Government Department—either the Air Ministry or the Agricultural Land Commission—it should be given priority over another one, even though it may not be technically quite so suitable. If the first one which is already in Government hands will do, the choice should fall on that one in preference to taking more agricultural land. I hope the Agricultural Land Commission and the Air Ministry will move quickly in getting rid of the airfields which they hold but do not now use for the purpose for which they were acquired.

The third point is the provision of living accommodation for airmen and their families who come when these new military airfields are constructed. In Newbury, about 1,200 men are usually stationed there, and over half are married. They naturally bring their families with them. That has created a sense of bitterness among some married couples in and around Newbury who find that they cannot afford the rents for furnished rooms which the Americans have been able to pay. This sets a problem. I would ask that proper married quarters should be provided straightaway when there is an incursion of this kind.

At long last married quarters are to be built to serve Greenham, but it is rather late in the day. It would have been better if the Air Ministry had agreed to a suggestion which I made several times, that some of the small houses, in good condition, adjoining the airfield should be taken over for use as married quarters. Some of the people living there were elderly and could not stand the racket of living close to the airfield and they had to find houses elsewhere. I should have liked the Air Ministry to offer to take over those houses at a fair price for use as married quarters.

An inspection was made by the Air Ministry, but I think that the Americans found that the standard of central heating was not quite what they required, and perhaps the plumbing was not as modern as they are accustomed to. Even so, I do not think that those considerations should be overriding and decisive factors. The people concerned could not live happily in their homes because of the creation of the airfield and they ought to have had the opportunity to dispose of them to the Air Ministry. The Americans should have been told "That is the accommodation available to you. It is not too bad. If you want super central heating, you must install it." There would not have been hardship to anyone if some of those houses had been taken over as married quarters.

My fourth point is the need for reasonableness and fairness in dealing with local residents who suffer nuisance and loss by reason of the coming into being of the airfield. The Air Ministry has not behaved well in settling some of the consequent problems. I know the problems all too well and have made myself a nuisance to successive Secretaries of State for Air. It has been a weary business, and the file of correspondence is large and wordy. In some cases satisfaction has been obtained, but there are some cases still outstanding. That is why I urge that the attitude of the Air Ministry should be fair and reasonable in dealing with these problems, reasonable even to the point of generosity. The fact that there are these problems is not the fault of the unfortunate people who happen to be living round the site chosen for a military airfield. Their difficulties should be met as fairly and as reasonably as possible. There are some bad cases outstanding.

I am glad to say that we have achieved some useful results by setting up the Greenham Common Joint Consultative Committee, and I recommend this kind of procedure to every area where there is a military airfield. In our case it amounts to the getting together of the town clerk of Newbury, the clerk and surveyor to the Newbury Rural District Council and the people living round about; they form a responsible body which can receive complaints and investigate them and then make recommendations. I hope my hon. Friend will agree that that kind of joint consultative committee has been useful.

Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing indicated assent.

Mr. Hurd

There are still some outstanding problems, which have been considered by the Joint Consultative Committee, and it has made recommendations to the Air Ministry. One of the problems concerns the residents who live on the south side of the airfield. They were accustomed to reach their houses across Greenham Common by hard tracks over the gravel. The tracks did not have to carry heavy traffic, and they were serviceable and smooth and easy to run over at any time of the year. When the airfield came into being those tracks had to be closed, and the public road across the common was also closed. There was then no access to those houses across the common. A new public road was built further south, and from 1951 onwards access roads were made by the Air Ministry for those houses. The Air Ministry did not make a good job of the substitute roads. I had an argument lasting many months with my right hon. Friend over this. I have visited the area and I invited my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend also to see it. I would have given them a good lunch but they were unable to come.

I want to put before the House not my own opinion but the opinion of the surveyor to the Newbury Rural District Council, who is a member of the Green-ham Common Joint Consultative Committee. About one of the roads he writes: In 1955 the Air Ministry formed this road and surfaced with gravel, tar spraying and dressing. Today the tar has almost completely disappeared, and one has to examine the edges of the road to discover traces of the tar. Ruts in this track are nine inches deep in places. There is no evidence of any ditch or road drainage, and I feel certain none was carried out originally except for relief channels to take the excess water off the road at two points. Failure of this road was certain from the time of its formation owing to the type of construction on the steep slope rising to the properties. Water from the Common above the road has in times of heavy rain poured into the road and followed it down, overflowing on to adjacent ground at certain points. Neglect to maintain the road has nothing to do with the failure; it is due to inferior construction. It says little for the road for the Air Ministry to blame lack of maintenance as the reason for failure in the first three years of its life. The road in fact started breaking up after the frosts of the first winter. Any independent road engineer would confirm that the type of construction used was absolutely inadequate for the conditions prevailing. That last phrase is rather damning.

I know that the Air Ministry says that Mr. Hall and the other residents affected agreed in the first instance to the alignment of be road and the proposed type of road and said that a good job had been done when the road was completed. That does not absolve the Air Ministry from further responsibility. This is not the way for a Government Department to behave. Mr. Hall and his neighbours are not road surveyors. Had they known what they know now they would have got a competent road surveyor to advise them; but they did not. I hope the Air Ministry will not try to get out of its responsibilities by saying that these local residents said that the road was all right. It may have looked all right, but it has not worn at all well and is in a very bad state today.

Then there is the road to Heads Hill, to another group of properties, and that is not standing up at all well either. I quote the surveyor's opinion: this road which is surfaced with tarmac has commenced to break up, potholes have formed and I am afraid the frosts this winter will accelerate its deterioration. There are also the tracks to other houses which are breaking up. On my urgent prompting, representatives of the Air Ministry have been down there again this summer to look at the access roads, but unfortunately, nothing was done.

The Secretary of State for Air has agreed this week to another meeting on the spot between his experts and the representatives of the Joint Consultative Committee. I hope that on this occasion the Air Ministry officials will have taken note of what I have had to say this morning and will be given a directive to deal reasonably and fairly with these problems. I know how the official mind works. It is like this, "If we give way in this instance, perhaps a boarderline case, we open the door for further claims from other people." If those further claims are justified, like this set of claims, then the door should be opened. These people, through no wish or desire of theirs, have had their lives disrupted by the airfield. If it is necessary that a few thousand pounds should be spent, we must spend it in fairness, justice and equity to the people round Greenham Common, or, indeed, round any other military airfield where people's lives are upset and hardship caused. I hope that remedial action can now be taken.

We ought to go further and try to do what my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon suggested, and that is to set up an independent authority to whom appeal can be made. I know that this is difficult when one is acting against the Crown, but is it good enough for people who feel that they have a complaint which they have taken up with their Member of Parliament, who over months and indeed years has kept badgering the Air Ministry and gets nowhere, and there is no hearing of their claims to show whether they are justified or not?

For the peace of mind and, indeed, conscience of the Air Ministry, as well as in equity to the people who have these complaints, some kind of independent authority should be set up, which can hold inquiries, as the Minister of Housing and Local Government does with regard to planning inquiries. There should be some body of that kind to whom people could address their complaints and be heard so that the matter can be sorted out and a recommendation made. I know that this is anathema to Government Departments, but an authority of that kind would be helpful and would probably restore public confidence in administration.

It has been a long struggle to get compensation in some other cases. As recently as 1955 and 1956 I was still pursuing the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Transport to get compensation for Mr. Wright of Foxhold Farm, whose farm had been cut in half by the making of a new road to the south of the airfield. Four years after the land was taken the Minister of Transport was still telling me in answer to a Question in the House:

I will do my best to ensure that payment is completed as soon as possible. Preliminary negotiations are already in hand."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 110.] Four years after the poor man had lost his land, his farm had been cut in half and his whole business disrupted, still negotiations "are already in hand". I should jolly well think so. It is intolerable that people should have to stand out for their money, not knowing what they will get.

It is a most unbusinesslike way of dealing. There ought to be a more expeditious and fairer way of dealing with these complicated compensation claims. I have taken these instances from experience in Newbury because they point the need for the Motion which we are discussing.

I have spoken about the severance of a farm which was ultimately accepted as a good reason for compensation payment. The Government's insistence that there can be no compensation for injurious affection in the ordinary case where there is not severance is what worries and annoys the local owners of property most. They find it very hard to accept that principle. I should like to quote the opinion of the town clerk of Newbury: I realise that when the activities of Government departments and local authorities cover such a wide field, and when every form of development from an airfield to a council housing estate may depreciate the value of other property to some degree, the Government must maintain this principle. It seems to me, however, that the degree of injurious affection caused by the operation of jet aircraft is so much greater than injurious affection resulting from any other kind of development that it ought to be regarded as a difference in kind rather than in degree, and treated exceptionally. I would have thought that any owner of property within a prescribed distance of a runway ought to be in a position to require the Government to buy his property, and that the experts could prescribe a distance which would not result in impossible burdens on the State, and which would at least secure that airfields were put as far away as possible from dwelling houses. I know that in the matter of injurious affection of property, which the Government will not recognise generally, there are great difficulties, but I do not think that the matter ought to be shelved entirely. I should like to see an investigation made into the effect of the present rulings based on the principle that so far has been followed to see how much injustice has been done. If it is considerable, then I think that we should have a look at the law and rulings again.

It is relevant to point out that some sectors of Government recognise injurious affection. For instance, the Inland Revenue recognises it through the valuation officer. I have details of the extent to which the gross assessment of houses adjoining Greenham Common has been reduced since the creation of the military airfield. Taking gross values, one has been reduced from £116 to £99, and others from £60 to £55, £125 to £100, £40 to £36, £32 to £28, £37 to £35, £39 to £34 and £19 to £17. The valuation office recognises that depreciation in value does result through the development of a military airfield. The principle is to some extent accepted, and I should like to see it applied in reckoning the basis of compensation for property acquired by the Air Ministry. It should be based on the market value, with no account taken of any depreciation attributable to the creation of a military airfield. I hope that this will come about under the Town and Country Planning Bill.

There are one or two general agricultural points to which I should like briefly to refer. This is nothing to do with Greenham Common. These examples have come to me from other parts of the country. Drainage on adjoining land can be seriously disrupted and flooding caused by the creation of a big airfield. That is a special problem in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. No doubt my hon. Friend will be aware of those problems. It is also a problem that has arisen where guide paths are laid down by setting up what are flare posts on agricultural land leading to the landing point on airfields.

Although I recognise the need for these posts, they seriously interfere with the normal agricultural use of the land. It is difficult to plough round them or to harvest round them. Complaint is made that sums payable in compensation are inadequate. I have no experience of this problem, but I am told that considerable anxiety and dissatisfaction is caused in some parts. I should like my hon. Friend to consider this matter again to see if his Department can come to an agreement with the N.F.U. or a reputable body of that kind to see what rates of compensation should be payable in cases where it is necessary to lay out guide paths and erect flare posts.

One case which I have received through the National Farmers' Union refers to the difficulty that arises when a main electricity supply is interfered with by runways. This case arises particularly in connection with the R.A.F. station at Coningsby. The Electricity Board was about to approve a scheme to supply main electricity to a group of farms on one side of the airfield. There is already a main electricity supply on the other side. But now the requirements of the funnel approach to the airfield debar the East Midlands Electricity Board from running its cable across in the ordinary way. The cable will have to be put underground at very great cost. The question of cost rules out the possibility of a main electricity supply being brought to these farmers on the other side of the airfield. It seems a reasonable suggestion on the part of the National Farmers' Union either that the Air Ministry should pay for the cable to be laid underground or that a local alternative supply of electricity should be provided for this group of farmers on their own. The fact that they happen to live on one side of the airfield should not debar them for ever from having a main supply of electricity. Today electricity is an important factor in the economy of agriculture.

A further point, which comes from Essex, is the effect that these big jet planes have upon livestock, and particularly dairy cows. The dairy cow is normally a placid creature, but she is also highly strung and can be deranged to the state of delivering a still-born calf if she is seriously upset at a critical period. Some dairy herds which pasture close to the airfields used by jet aircraft have shown a heavy incidence of abortion, calves being born before their time. I do not know how widespread this is, but I know of one case affecting a pedigree herd. It is a serious matter.

I do not know the answer, but I, and, I am sure, the House, would like to know the extent of the trouble. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air ask, through the Ministry of Agriculture, the Agricultural Research Council or a like body to examine this matter to ascertain whether the problem is a substantial one and whether any measures can be taken to deal with it?

There are, of course, many other problems arising from the development of big modern military airfields. One is the attraction of labour away from the farms. I do not think that Parliament can do much about that. What, I hope, may be the outcome of this morning's discussion on the Motion initiated by my hon. Friend is that the Air Ministry will be found to be more helpful to those whose interests are adversely affected by the coming of an airfield into their midst.

We recognise the necessity for this intrusion for reasons of defence and the maintenance of the freedom of the West—we must have these big planes and allow them scope to operate. At the same time, however, we say that justice should be done fairly and promptly to those whose interests are adversely affected. I hope that the Motion will be accepted by the House and by the Air Ministry as a standing instruction to those who have to deal with these problems to deal with them fairly and promptly, even to the point of generosity, rather than trying to niggle so leaving behind an unhappy legacy. We want fairness and justice to be done. We recognise the difficulties and we hope that in future the Air Ministry will be even more prompt and fair than it has been in the past.

12.13 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

I agree with nearly everything that the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) has said in seconding the Motion, and in particular with his reference to the contribution to flooding caused by the construction of airfields. The hon. Member referred particularly to the counties of Lincoln and Cambridge. It so happens that those are the two counties about which I know most and the problem there is very real. I ask the Government to consider the contribution made by airfields to this problem when any schemes are worked out for financial assistance and encouragement to river boards and local authorities.

I thank the mover of the Motion, the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison), for raising this matter. My constituency, Lincoln, is as much concerned as any other in the whole country. The city is surrounded by bomber bases. From time to time they have been American bases. The Americans have come and gone, and they are now Royal Air Force bases. I should also like to say how much I agreed with both the mover and the seconder of the Motion in paying tribute to the way in which the American authorities have understood the problems of their presence among us and the steps they have taken to foster good public relations.

The fact is, however, that on the subject of noise my constituents do not distinguish between American-made or British-made noise. It is the noise that worries them. I, too, have seen children terrified by the noise of jet aircraft over the city. I happen to live in the adjoining county of Cambridgeshire—again, surrounded by airfields. I have reached the stage that either in my constituency in the ancient cathedral city of Lincoln, or at my home in the ancient university town of Cambridge, I often long for the peace and quiet of London.

The problem of noise is complicated by the difficulty of assessing or estimating noise. Loudness is a subjective effect of pressure upon the eardrums, and it varies from person to person. The human being is wonderfully designed by our Creator for the conditions under which we live on earth, and I would not be impudent enough to suggest many modifications at this late stage. However, it is unfortunate that although we have lids with which we can shut our eyes we do not have flaps with which we can shut our ears. That is a basic problem that we have to face, and it is the one modification which I would suggest. The difficulty about embarking upon modifications is that, as both the hon. Member for Maldon and the hon. Member for Newbury have pointed out, many committees exist in the present age. If we were to go through a modifications committee we would all emerge looking like a camel, which, quite obviously, was an animal put together by a committee. We must therefore be content with what we have.

However, we have done more than rest content. With our great ingenuity, we have made instruments which create this terrible noise. Although loudness is a subjective effect of pressure on the eardrums, unfortunately the sound level meter is not subjective. It measures sound pressure from one to one million in a range—one being the threshold of hearing and one million the threshold of feeling. I shall not enter into a discussion of decibels and phons, first, because I should soon be out of my depth, and secondly, because I do not think it would contribute in any way to solving our problem.

I think it has been only within the last decade that this problem of sound has been seriously considered as a problem by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the National Physical Laboratory, and others. Last year, in November, the Secretary of State answered a Parliamentary Question of mine on the effect of sonic booms. He said that in sonic booms the effect was not fully understood, although the D.S.I.R. was working on it. Certain general conclusions had been reached from the 1,400 cases which had been investigated over the past three years. As the hon. Member for Maldon indicated, the investigations showed that sonic booms could cause damage to windows, to glasshouses and to old plaster, but could not cause cracks in new plaster. He was careful to say that the investigation was continuing. Since then over a year has passed, so I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us about some of the work done and the conclusions which the D.S.I.R. have reached.

Certainly, one conclusion which the general public has reached, and I believe that there is a good scientific reason for it, is that a high frequency in aero engine noise brings acute discomfort. We learned that dramatically with the Boeing 707, which produced what was a terrible noise to me and to most people. As I understand it, it is particularly due to its high frequency. Again, there are some people who are sensitive to jet noise and others who are not. In Lincoln, they tell the story of two men who were up by the cathedral watching V-bombers flying over it. One said, "Isn't it dreadful the way these jets drown all the music of the cathedral bells?" The other replied, "I can't hear a word of what you say because these bells are making such a racket."

Whatever the problem, and we know it is a serious one, what are we to do about it? What can we do about the noise of aero engines? The first point is that everything possible must be done when these aeroplanes are on the ground to see that there must always be "detuners"—long stove pipe fittings on the ground for running up the engines. Further, everyone on these military stations must be constantly impressed with the need to reduce noise.

The second point, I suggest, is that it should be the policy of the Government to encourage the development of less noisy aero engines. Of course, if we could design one which produced a solid jet of air without turbulence the problem would be solved, but that is a long way off.

We should begin by encouraging the development of the most silent of the smallest engine with which the public is affected—the motor-cycle engine. I am convinced that if we introduced a financial incentive for silence we should get it. I should like to see the motorcyclist's annual licence graduated accord- ing to the sound level meter. There would always be some young men who would be willing to pay a high rate of tax for the pleasure which they derive from making as much noise as they can. But most motor-cyclists would not be prepared to do so, and I believe that within a few years all but a few motorcycles would be as silent as a Rolls-Royce.

Then, I should like the Government to consider graduating landing fees according to noise. For instance, the Boeing 707 will be right out, as it is too noisy, but coming down from something below that level there could be a sliding scale of charges. It would be difficult, of course, to work, because of the sound level meter and the difficulty of measuring high frequencies. This point is realised. I am sure that in a few years we will be able to devise some method of estimating loudness. When that is done, surely a sliding scale like that could be introduced and manufacturers would soon develop more silent engines.

The third point is that the Services—the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the United States Air Force—must not merely sit back and wait for most of the noise problem to be solved by the arrival of guided missiles. One of the benefits of guided missiles which is not generally appreciated is that the stations will be silent. These Services must keep their places in the hearts of the people. It is of the greatest importance in a democracy, and will be increasingly important as they become all-Regular forces. To do so it is up to the R.A.F. to lead the way. The public must see the Service obviously and deliberately work towards a solution of this terrible problem of noise.

12.25 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Billericay)

I hope the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) will understand if I do not follow the points that he made. I was not able to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) in moving this Motion, because I was detained at the Old Bailey.

I was glad to hear my Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), remind the House once more of the problem which we who live near Newbury have to suffer. I know that all of us who live in that area are more than grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has been saying on our behalf in the last few years, and I should like to add a word of corroboration of what he has said.

I think that everyone in the area of Newbury, English and American, will agree with every word of what my hon. Friend has said. I have, perhaps, a unique way of knowing what the Americans near Greenham think, because I do not go home until the early hours of Saturday morning, first going to Essex on Friday. Travelling from there by car through Reading, usually at about one or two o'clock in the morning, I see standing on the Bath Road two or three American Service men waiting for lifts to Greenham. When I give them lifts to Greenham Common, as I do most often, on Friday night or early on Saturday morning, I hear some of the things which have been said my my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury.

As I see it, it is most important that, everywhere the Americans set up their bases, they should be welcomed. There is only one sure way by which they can be made welcome, and that is if their presence here brings no grievances and injustices to those who live in the area where these bases are situated, and there certainly have been injustices in the area of Newbury. There have been inconveniences and hardships, and, though I will not elaborate on them, because that has already been done by my hon. Friend, I should like to echo what has been said. For those reasons, I support the Motion.

12.28 p.m.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

The House will be very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) for moving his Motion so that we may hear the views of the Air Ministry on this question of noise.

There is a military airfield in my constituency, at Odiham, and I should like to pay tribute not only to a very sympathetic Air Ministry, but also to a very tactful and helpful commanding officer there. When I have said that, I fear that I must make reference to some of the difficulties that arise.

There are many problems in an area where there is the Ministry of Supply air- field, at Farnborough, where there is also Blackbushe Airfield, as well as Odiham R.A.F. Station. The inhabitants who are constantly hearing this noise, and who think that there is a great deal of low flying going on, find it hard to identify who and what it is.

I have a pile of correspondence, larger than that on any subject on which I have constituency correspondence, about times and dates, and so on from the various airfields. I believe that there are no signs that there will be less use of airfields, both civil and military, in the future, and, in these circumstances, as my constituents constantly remind me, it is likely that their problem will get worse and worse.

I am not persuaded at all that there is very much which can be done to help one's constituents in these matters. One does get the most extraordinarily disturbing accounts of what happens in nursing homes, where there are invalids and young people who are woken up at night. Every effort is made, so far as I know, to limit that, and both the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and the Air Ministry provide some sort of timetable, to show what has to be done, and it is passed on to my constituents. Whether it is a good thing or not I do not know; whether it is better for the unexpected to happen, rather than to wait for the expected, is a matter of opinion. When all has been said and done, the problem remains, and it is extremely intractable.

I want to ask my hon. Friend what really is being done about this matter. I have, slightly, a sensation of punching a pillow when I take up these matters. We have not had any detailed information of the lines which the D.S.I.R., or the Air Ministry, or the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation have in mind for getting on with this problem. I was interested, when I went to Gatwick, to see the bunkers which, I imagine, would be very useful in the throwing of the noise of grounded aircraft upwards and over the houses, but the real problem seems to be in the air, particularly in approach and taking off. I do not know at all the technicalities of these matters.

This is, as I said, an increasing problem and determined steps to deal with it are called for, particularly when it is necessary, in a fully populated country like ours, to have to fly under conditions which affect a large number of the ordinary private residents. I think that in some ways our problem in the Aldershot-Farnborough area may be exceptional, but from what we have heard, and from one's knowledge of these matters generally in the country, I think that it is a vital thing for the Air Ministry or the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, or whoever is responsible, to do something about it urgently.

I may say that it is not quite clear, to me at any rate, who has the responsibility for dealing with this question of noise. If we can get some information of that kind from my hon. Friend I am sure that it will do much to make people less anxious than they are at present.

12.34 p.m.

Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)

I am sure everyone will agree that we have had a very useful debate, and I must say that I do not exactly envy the Under-Secretary of State in having to wind up, for he has a very formidable case to answer. I am bound to admit, though, that sometimes when I hear complaints and criticisms about Army camps and Air Force stations I am surprised that some of the people against whom the criticisms are levelled do not start to quote Kipling: It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!' But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot. Having said that, and having expressed appreciation of the way in which the case has been put this morning, and when we have exercised all possible understanding, moderation and restraint, the fact still remains that there is here a very serious social problem, and, of course, it is not only the military side of aviation which is creating this problem, there is the civil side as well.

On Wednesday of this week I had the responsibility of leading a deputation from the Borough of Uxbridge, which the Under-Secretary of State very kindly and courteously received, on this very problem of hardship—for it is more than inconvenience—created by the use of the military airfield at Northolt. I made a list of the sort of things which we had to complain about. They match up completely with the list which the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) had to put forward when he opened his debate.

We had a story to tell of reduction of property values, cracked ceilings, ornaments shaken off shelves by vibration caused by aircraft passing overhead; there was the utter impossibility of leaving babies out of doors in prams in summer because of the noise awakening them and frightening them; there was the loss of amenity in that radio and television programmes were ruined by the sound of aircraft and the disturbance of aircraft passing overhead. There was one case, on the outskirts of London as it was, where two housewives had to dive for cover when an aircraft clipped a branch from the top of a tree at the bottom of the garden.

It is not my intention today to pursue a constituency problem. I know that the Under-Secretary of State is considering what we had to say, and we are looking forward to some statement from him, some hope of a solution of our problem. Rather, I should like to consider one or two things which have been said which have a very general application.

First of all, there is this question of "revving up" and the testing of engines. That is an important point. With respect to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maldon, I do not think there is any question of the testing of engines on a bed on most of these airfields. I do not think the provision of a test bed on an airfield is usual. Of course, when an engine is run up on an airfield it is usually in the aircraft itself, when it is impossible to put it in a test bed. But I agree with him, and I remember the remark made by the D.S.I.R., that in those circumstances, in a proper test cell, sound can be almost completely eliminated. However, that is a very different proposition from running up an engine in an aircraft. Nevertheless, a good deal has been done in this direction, but I must say that I have not myself heard of any work being done on the military side to equal the research and the general inquiry done on the civil side. It is possible to erect baffles and bunkers. Is that being done on the military airfields? Could we be told to what extent it is being done, and if has not been done, why not?

I wonder what co-operation there is between the civil and the military side, because I feel that the impetus of this sort of work has been on the civil rather than on the military side, and I think that the Under-Secretary of State may find he has a good deal to learn from some of the things which have been done on civil aerodromes. There was this matter of the sonic bangs. I was most surprised to hear the hon. Member for Maldon say that at local air displays aircraft were going through the sound harrier. I should have thought that that would not have been so. It has been ruled out even at Farnborough.

Mr. B. Harrison

This happened by accident during a display last year.

Mr. Beswick

That is the kind of thing that ought not to be allowed to happen, even by accident.

When new aircraft are tested there is a requirement that they should go over the sea before they go through the sound barrier. I discussed this matter with some of the test pilots, and I was most impressed by the fact that the only criticism that they have to make of this arrangement was that if one of the new aircraft gets into trouble and disintegrates or crashes the possibility is that it falls into the sea and we lose the benefit of the research that has been carried out. That is their criticism of this regulation, but if they tolerate that on the research and development side, which is most important, I should have thought that very specially stringent regulations would be laid down by the Service Department to ensure that there is no accident of the kind that the hon. Member for Maldon mentioned.

The real solution of this noise problem is the silencing of the aircraft engines. There is a possibility that in time we might get some alleviation by the use of aircraft with vertical lift. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State for Air can tell us whether that relief is envisaged within the next decade. It may be, however, that the engine power required for those machines is so great that it does not matter whether the aircraft pass overhead or not. The noise will be bad enough even when they go up vertically some miles away.

There is the question of damping down the noise at source. Here again, on the civil side a good deal of research has been done. The engines of the Boeing 707 and the Comet IV will be fitted with silencing devices. I understand that a substantial reduction of the noise level has been achieved. I should like to know from the Under-Secretary whether, on the military side, it is said that it is impossible to accept the slight reduction of power which is inevitably entailed when the noise level is reduced.

Is that the attitude? What research is being done on the military side? Is the problem being taken seriously? We do not hear so much about it. One would have thought it feasible to have some silencing device fitted for non-operational work and the ring removed when the maximum power is required for some other operations. I ask the Under-Secretary to tell us what is being done and to let us know whether the importance of this problem is appreciated on the military side.

Then there is the question of compensation. I cannot see that there is any excuse at all for the delays that have been mentioned. If only a tiny fraction of the effort which is put into research and development of aerodynamics and air engines were put into administration we should be able to assess, complete, and pay out a claim for compensation in something less than four years, which is almost as long as it takes from the drawing board to put an aircraft in the sky. Moreover, if there were adequate compensation for this damage caused by aircraft flying overhead, that in itself would be a considerable discipline upon the Services. We should have some measurement of the amount of nuisance and hardship. I can well imagine that it might in itself mean a reduction of the trouble.

The point was well made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) about compensation payable on account of the placing of approach lights and warning lights, but it does not apply only to agricultural areas. It applies to urban areas. Some of my constituents have these poles erected in their gardens and are paid is. a year. Does the Under-Secretary consider that a suitable compensation for this ugly thing stuck at the bottom of the garden, probably 30 yards from a house? This again should be taken seriously. If it were so taken, it would cause the planners to consider the problem of amenity much more carefully when siting their aerodromes.

On the question of siting, I have a good deal of sympathy with the Under-Secretary's Department. I remember the efforts which were made to find a suitable alternative site for London Airport. It is not only a matter of the soil. It is a matter of the level of the ground. When we need runways of two or three miles long there are not very many places in the country where we can find territory which is as level as is required without any built-up areas in it. Most of the apparently suitable sites examined when Gatwick was being considered showed on investigation that if a runway was started at one level it would finish either in a viaduct or a cutting. The ground either rose or fell, gradually and imperceptibly on first examination, but very considerably on proper survey.

A number of aerodromes which are sited near to towns were built at a time when the aircraft in use and the operational problems involved were very different from those of today. Northolt is a case in point. When Gladiator fighters or Hart bombers were being used the position was quite tolerable, but if on these same sites we are using modern four-engine aircraft, not landing or taking off steeply but, perforce, having to climb gradually or come in on a long low approach, the situation is so different and so bad that we have to accept that air-fields sited near to towns must be moved right out.

Air control is relevant to the debate because we are considering the question of safety as well as of nuisance and hardship caused by noise. I raise this matter again because it appears to me that there is some discrepancy in the policies laid down by the Ministers who are responsible respectively for military and civil aircraft. I understood the Minister who is responsible for civil aviation to say that the necessity was accepted in this country of a unified positive control of all aircraft, civil and military, and that the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation was working to that end.

On the other hand, the Secretary of State for Air said that the solution appeared to be the supplementation of civil control by military control. I emphasise this point, that supplementation is not good enough. It is not supplementation we want but unification. We want something along the lines of the federal system which has now been adopted by the United States of America. There they have one agency for the control of all aircraft, and that is the state of affairs we must demand in this country.

As I have said, the Under-Secretary of State for Air has a formidable case to answer, put from both sides of the House. We are looking forward to hearing what he has to say. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that there will be some improvements. I accept straight away that the problem is not an easy one to solve, but we cannot go on developing more powerful and more noisy aircraft without endeavouring to meet the social problems thereby created. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that the necessary effort, research, thought and action will he given to this matter by his Department.

12.51 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing)

I and my right hon. and hon. Friends and many people outside the House ought to be grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) and Newbury (Mr. Hurd) for giving us an opportunity of discussing this problem today, since it affects a large number of people. We have had a good debate, and a number of interesting suggestions have emerged which we will certainly examine.

I congratulate my hon. Friends not only on the reasonable wording of the Motion, but also on the statesmanlike way in which they made their contributions to the debate. It is so easy to try to shrug off this problem, or even to export it, but they did not try to do that; they faced the problems which arise as a result of big military airfields in the middle of their constituencies. I hope to deal with a number of points they have raised, not only in debate but also in letters to my Ministry, and also with a number of the other points which have occurred during our discussion.

The Motion asks the House to recognise, in the first place, that the operation of the powerful modern aircraft, essential to effective defence, presents special problems to the people who live near the airfields. Secondly, it calls upon the Government to do everything possible to reduce the disturbance, and, lastly, it requires us to ensure that claims for damage are met fairly, and as promptly as possible. I propose to deal with each of these points in turn and then with the other points that have arisen.

First, I want to make it clear that there is no tendency in the Air Ministry to underestimate the noise that people have to put up with who live near an airfield. Indeed, it is probably the officers and men in the Royal Air Force who are living on an R.A.F. station, perhaps spending many years on or near these stations, who know best the degree of disturbance which arises. Of course, the problem becomes increasingly serious as aircraft become faster, more powerful and heavier. I have every sympathy with people who are affected, and it is no part of my argument, or anything I deploy this afternoon, to belittle the problem.

At the same time, we ought to keep it in perspective. A modern civilisation cannot be developed, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) recognised, without its benefits having this deeply unfortunate concomitant of noise. Those of us who live and work in large cities to some extent become accustomed to noise, but I am not saying that one can become accustomed to the noise of military aircraft.

I was looking up some of the debates which took place at the beginning of last century, when the railways started to operate. It is interesting to recall some of the views then expressed about the noise of those railways. In the debate on the Third Reading of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Bill, in 1826, the hon. Member for Ilchester, who rejoiced in the name of Sir Isaac Coffin, asked whether the House was aware … of the smoke and the noise and the hiss and whirl which locomotive engines passing at the rate of 10 or 12 miles an hour would occasion? He went on to say that it would be … the greatest nuisance, the most complete disturbance of quiet and comfort in all parts of the kingdom that the ingenuity of man could invent. Obviously, he did not envisage the arrival of jet aircraft.

Some years later, at a public meeting protesting against the proposed London and Bristol Railway, the then hon. Member for Cheltenham, Mr. Berkeley, said that nothing was more distasteful to him than … to hear the echo of our hills reverbrating with the noise of hissing railroad engines running through the heart of our hunting country. Indeed, he went so far as to say that … he wished the concocters of every such scheme, with their solicitors and engineers, were at rest in paradise. I quote only to show that when civilisation makes a marked advance in the means of transport it is bound to arouse antagonism, difficulty and disturbance.

Mr. de Freitas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I only rise to the defence of my distinguished predecessor of over one hundred years ago, who sat for the City of Lincoln. Colonel Sibthorpe used much more offensive words about railways than did those two hon. Gentlemen.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Little did they realise that the industrial prosperity of the country would be founded on our railway system and, incidentally, the prosperity of many other countries, including South America.

Now I want to say something about vibration. There are two problems here; first, from low flying, subsonic aircraft; secondly, as my hon. Friends have recognised, from supersonic aircraft. The possibility of buildings being damaged by vibrations set up by subsonic, low flying aircraft is currently being investigated by the Building Research Station, near Watford, which is part of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

That body has made a number of tests in which it has measured vibration in buildings over which aircraft were flying very low. Preliminary study of the results obtained so far indicates that there is a possibility of minor cracking if the height of the aircraft is about 100 feet, though this will be influenced by the speed, the direction of flight, and the type of aircraft. Much more work is required before any very definite conclusions can be reached. Leaving aside those tests, where the aircraft were flying much lower over buildings than would normally happen, the only damage so far identified as caused or aggravated by subsonic aircraft has been the reappearance of existing cracks in plastered ceilings when the original filling, distemper or paint bridging the crack has been dislodged.

Mr. Beswick

That information is worthless, if I may say so with respect, unless we have an idea of the size of the aircraft the investigators had in mind as passing at a height of 100 feet. Could the hon. Gentleman tell us?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Without notice I could not say what the measurements were made on; I believe on aircraft of medium size, twin-engined aircraft, neither fourengined nor single engined, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman and tell him. We are keeping in close touch with the research that is being done by this body and I do not wish to minimise the problem, although I think that shaking is a great deal less aggravating than is noise.

Now I turn for a moment to the question of supersonic flight and to damage from it. It has been established that aircraft flying supersonically set up shock waves, whose impact is heard on the ground as a bang or boom or sometimes as a double boom or double bang. What is not so generally appreciated by the public is that this is not a phenomenon which occurs in one area. If an aircraft is flying supersonically it will leave a bang below it, and every person in that belt of country will hear the bang as long as the aircraft is flying supersonically.

A great deal of work has been done in investigating these phenomena, but much remains to be done. For the most part, measurements show that the pressures which occur are between I lb. and 2 lb. a square foot, although pressures of up to 5 lb. have been measured. There is evidence, however, that in rare circumstances a type of focusing effect takes place, and in those circumstances pressures very much higher than that occur. A great deal of work still needs to be done on these aspects. Though the possibility of damage from flying supersonically is not great, provided that aircraft maintain sufficient height, that possibility exists. Of course we recognise the disturbing nature of sonic booms even when no damage is caused.

I will now turn to the methods we aim at to minimise the disturbance, and I would briefly remind the House of the procedures followed to control and minimise this disturbance. R.A.F. aircraft are not permitted to fly supersonically over land, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) has said, except with the specific authority of the Air Ministry. When it is necessary for training or other purposes it is carried out over the sea with the aircraft pointing away from the land.

Supersonic flying is all carried out under ground control, and the height of the aircraft is located for position. Should it be necessary to carry it out over land, that can only be authorised for aircraft at or above 30,000 feet. That applies to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, as well as to the United States Air Force. They all work to similar rules in this matter.

Sir E. Errington

Does that apply also to Ministry of Supply aircraft?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Yes, it does. Most supersonic flying under the control of the Ministry of Supply is undertaken over the sea. It is sometimes essential that development aircraft be tested supersonically over land, but this is only done over 30,000 feet, in quite exceptional circumstances. All supersonic flights by manufacturers' aircraft over land require the prior authority of the Ministry of Supply.

I can speak from some personal experience, and from the experience of my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Uxbridge. We have all flown supersonically during the last year. In my own case we had to go well to the south of the Isle of Wight. I was in a twin-seat Hunter. Before we started to go through the barrier we contacted Farnborough airfield control and asked for a positive fix of our position. Then the aeroplane was brought gently down to 42,000 feet and we went through.

The great majority of supersonic flights are made over the sea in such a manner as to do no damage to property, but where it is necessary for supersonic flights to take place over land, as in the case of aircraft under development, specific authority has to be given from the Department which is concerned and such authority is given very sparingly.

These rules apply to military aircraft and aircraft under development by Ministries or manufacturers. Their object is to maintain strict control over supersonic flyings over land and to keep these to the mimum consistent with the overriding needs of our defence programme. The importance of strict adherence to these regulations is impressed on all our pilots. With the aircraft of today it is impossible to eliminate altogether the possibility of a pilot breaking the sound barrier inadvertently.

The example which was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon as occurring at Wethersfield is very typical. One should remember that our aircraft are so designed and so powerful that not only can they go through the barrier with their noses down, but when they are on the level and, indeed, when actually climbing. In all these cases, they can break the sound barrier.

It has also to be underlined that the pilot himself feels nothing. Most of us saw a film called "Sound Barrier", in which a pilot was shown taking an early-design aircraft through the sound barrier. He complained of buffetting and being shaken about when he went through. This does not occur at all now. The design of modern aircraft is such, as I know from personal experience, that the pilot merely sees the needle on the mach meter moving but there is no tremor as the aircraft goes through the sound barrier. I have tried to tell the House of the warnings that we give to our pilots, who are making every effort to keep a check on such occurrences. So much for the problem in this aspect.

I now come to what we can do and are doing to reduce the size of the problem. I should like to say a word, first, about the location of airfields, since one way of minimising disturbance would be to put airfields in very lightly populated areas. One cannot be a Member of Parliament with an airfield in one's constituency without understanding why such Members would very much like to export the airfield and its problems to some neighbouring constituency. Everyone has, however, taken a statesmanlike view in the debate today, which is highly creditable.

It is an attractive idea that we should put airfields in remote areas, but a large number of factors must be taken into account when we are deciding where an airfield should be located or at which airfield a squadron or a unit should be based. I will summarise these factors very quickly. They were recognised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. First, and foremost, come operational considerations. They are of paramount importance. The airfield must be suitably situated in relation to the task that its aircraft have to do. A fighter station must be chosen in relation to the probable direction of the threat which the fighter aircraft will have to meet.

The House will appreciate that a few minutes' flying time nowadays can make the difference between an interception well out to sea and an interception over the coast. As we approach the nuclear age it becomes ever more important that our fighter force should meet and break up a potential attack well over the sea, so we site these airfields normally close to the coast and in the direction of the threat.

The second consideration concerns air traffic, which includes proximity to other airfields both of military and civil traffic. Here, I can deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge, who asked whether there was to be positive single control. I ought not to make a pronouncement of a definite character, because a committee is investigating this matter. Certainly, coordinated control is the sort of thing that is going to come. There is a good example of coordinated control between Northolt and London Airport. It is working admirably at present, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge knows.

Next is the weather factor. This factor applies to training schools, which we want in areas where the weather is good, if we are to carry out our task. Next come the economics of the airfield, as has already been recognised in this debate. We must take the taxpayer into consideration. What we are doing in the present year is to develop airfields which already exist. We are not starting afresh, thank goodness, and claiming 500 or 1,000 acres of new land, but are developing the facilities which already exist. When we remember that the capital investment of making a modern airfield may be between £7 million and £8 million we must look at the existing facilities. In making a choice between one airfield and another, we must take into consideration the varying quality of the subsoil, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury said, the length of runway, and whether it can be extended without meeting roads, railways, culverts, streams and the like geographical features.

It is interesting to remember that a Spitfire, in 1940, needed a runway of 1,000 yards and had a wheel load of 4,000 lb. The runways that we now need are 2½ times as long or 2,500 yards, and they have to stand up to wheel loads of 20,000 lb., which is five times as great as only twenty years ago.

Now let me summarise. We have to take into consideration, first, operational considerations; secondly, air traffic; thirdly, weather; fourthly, runways; and, fifthly, a factor which I have not mentioned, buildings, such as barrack accommodation and the housing of people who are based there. This is a matter of considerable importance.

I now come to the subject of this debate, disturbance. Of course, we have to take into consideration the amount of disturbance created. We treat that very seriously. I suppose, however, there has never been an airfield which met all the requirements in full. Obviously, in making the selections we have to work out some sort of compromise. If we cannot put airfields right away from towns and villages we take steps to avoid special disturbance from low flying and night flying, which are the main causes of complaint. In low flying we have specially defined areas.

I shall not go into the question of night flying as that has not arisen particularly in the debate. On approach and taking-off it is necessarily difficult as modern jet aircraft come into operational use because their landing approach is so much flatter and, therefore, they are so much lower over a longer belt of country than their predecessors. A Lightning touches down at 150 knots compared with a Spitfire, which requires half that speed. Therefore, a longer and flatter approach is required. The area over which the aircraft has to fly at relatively low level has very substantially increased in the last two decades.

Moreover, on take-off the engines are normally near or at full power and that is the most noisy condition. Engines of aircraft coming in to land make increasing use of G.C.A. talk-down, for which the glide path inclines at only 3 degrees, which is internationally recognised and has to be kept to. The direction of takeoff and landing is obviously dictated by runways and prevailing wind. We find it possible, in certain cases, to introduce modifications to normal procedure of landing and take-off patterns to reduce disturbance to those living near the airfield. I shall not put it higher than that. At Greenham Common, aircraft, when taking off, turn to the south side to avoid getting too close to Newbury.

It is also possible, in some cases, to concentrate the majority of movements on the runway which causes least annoyance to local residents. Where we can make improvements of that sort we are glad to do so, even at some cost or interference with the flying training programme, but unfortunately, the scope for such modifications is limited if we are not to take risks with the safety of aircraft.

Weekend flying was discussed when I saw the deputation of representatives from Uxbridge concerning Northolt. Night flying, although it has not been raised in this debate, is a constant cause of irritation and causes correspondence to flow in considerable volume from Aldershot, among other places, to the Ministry. As the hon. Member for Lincoln said, actual measurements of aircraft noise are particularly difficult. The approach to them by the individual is subjective and the effect varies in each case. At night and at the weekend, when the normal level of background noise is lower, disturbance from aircraft may seem to be increased. The same is often true in the summer—if we have a hot summer—when people tend to have their windows open more often and to sleep more lightly.

It is essential that aircrew should be trained to carry out their tasks by night no less than by day and some night flying is inevitable at certain stations. We do what we can to see that flying does not go on later than is necessary and it is often possible to limit it to certain specified nights during the week. Such limits are introduced wherever possible, and that is helpful, but, if the flying programme has been held up—perhaps because of bad weather—it may be necessary for flying to go on later, or more frequently, than normally to make up.

Owing to our inclement weather in the summer, I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon that he may find an extension of this flying at Wethersfield now. He may find that by raising this matter in the House the effect has not been what we wanted, but the reverse because we have got behind with the flying programme.

My hon. Friends the Members for Billericay (Mr. Body), for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington), Maldon and Newbury dealt with the volume of noise. This question of reduction of noise and research and development on it is one for the Minister of Supply. He has a major programme dealing with the question. It is true that in the first instance that is aimed at civil aircraft, but we are in touch with the work being done. We are taking it extremely seriously and hope to benefit from it. Noise made by the pure jet seems to be the main source of complaint, and to that first attention is being given.

The problem resolves itself into two parts: first, the noise made by aircraft in flight, particularly in approach to landing and take-off secondly—and many hon. Members referred to this—noise made by aircraft engines on the ground either running up before take-off, or on test beds during overhaul. That is very troublesome to local residents.

Mr. Beswick

Before leaving that point, will the hon. Gentleman answer the point I made about silencers on the engines? Do the Service Departments accept the penalty of a slight reduction of power by having silencers, or do they leave the possibility of help from that source on one side?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

The present design puts a penalty on reduction of power which we cannot accept if we are to carry out our task of being able to intercept fast in-coming enemy aircraft. It may be that in time with scientific advance we can accept that penalty in certain specified flights, but at the moment we cannot accept it and still carry out our task.

A great deal of experimenting has been done with engine silencing devices. That has been principally in the civil field, but it has proved impossible to fit them to military aircraft. There has been a great deal of research into reducing disturbance caused by the running of aircraft engines on the ground. I have taken the opportunity of my weekly visits to stations to examine some of the forms of baffling. Experiments are being carried out with deflector barriers erected behind the stand on which jet engines are tested during overhaul. That is being done at Wethersfield Airfield, where this special feature will be incorporated. Mobile barriers for use when running up jet engines in aircraft are also being tried out.

Another practical step which is taken whenever possible is to see that new test pads are kept away from inhabited areas and sited so that the noise disperses over open country. This is the case with the test stands now being built at Wethersfield. Attention is also paid to topographical features such as trees, shrubs and bushes which absorb sound. I have asked for an examination to be made of them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury knows, a great deal of care has been taken at Greenham Common, by the United States Air Force, to reduce the effect of noise from aircraft running on the ground. I think that there has been some degree of success in that respect.

I turn to a subject which was raised by many hon. Members, that of compensation. When we buy land compulsorily for an airfield or the extension of an airfield, the owner of the land has a claim for the value of the land taken and also for severance and injurious affection of his adjoining land. Compensation may also be paid where as a result of our construction operations physical damage is caused to a third party's land or buildings. It has been suggested that owners should be compensated for any depreciation in the value of their property resulting from the presence of an airfield in the neighbourhood, even though no part of their land is acquired for the airfield. This is what my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon called a form of planning blight which descends on people living near airfields.

Even with the best will in the world, this raises tremendous difficulties, both of principle and of practical application. There are many other forms of development and of industrial use which are desirable in the interests of the community as a whole and yet can bear no less heavily on private individuals. Certain types of industrial development or the building of high-density housing estates in an area otherwise occupied by expensive property, or the construction of a new road, just as a century ago the new railways crashed their way through the countryside, cause disturbance. Although all these could have an adverse effect on private property values, there would be no entitlement to compensation on the part of any individual affected, apart from any alteration in rateable value.

I think, too, that it is by no means axiomatic that the presence of a military airfield lowers the value of all types of property. Obviously garages and shops, and perhaps restaurants and public houses, benefit very considerably from the presence in the area of an airfield. Their values would tend to appreciate rather than depreciate. A large military airfield, with its great population of Service men and their families, brings some benefit and prosperity to many people who live close by, and it also provides employment. I checked up the figures for Wethersfield, and about 200 people are employed at that base. Although I realise that my hon. Friend also has to look after the farming community, that represents valuable employment in the area. The same position applies around almost all United States Air Force bases and Royal Air Force bases.

As far as I have been able to check the figures around United States Air Force bases such as Greenham Common, or Wethersfield, about £1¼ million is spent each year by the people stationed there. That must be a considerable benefit as it spreads through the community in the surrounding country. It is not generally appreciated that the United States Air Force bases in this country spend altogether £90 million a year; that is to say, the country earns £90 million in dollars from Canadian and United States Air Force establishments in this country.

So that the House may compare that with other dollar earnings, I would point out that our motor industry, which is doing wonderful things in its export programme to the United States and Canada, earns £51 million a year, compared with this £90 million. The figures for whisky, which will, perhaps, appeal more to the Scots, who are not here this afternoon, are £32 million, or one-third of the effect of these Air Force bases. I hope that we shall not forget some of the very considerable advantages to our balance of payments from these bases, even though they are noisy and inconvenient.

Quite apart from the complexities of administration which would be involved in assessing the effects, whether good or bad, of an airfield and its military activities on property values in its vicinity, a scheme of compensation could not in equity be confined to military airfields only. It would have to apply also to civil airfields and to all other types of development and industrial activity. The implications would be almost limitless, and I am quite sure that no Government could contemplate a scheme which would mean that, for any development which took place, the developers, whether a public body or private individual, might find themselves liable to pay compensation to anyone who could show some loss in value of his property in the vicinity of the development. Moreover, if we cut down the number of our airfields and moved out of some of these bases, I do not know whether the taxpayer would not feel entitled to a return of some of the money which had been paid in compensation.

My hon. Friend suggested that we should buy out people whose land had become unsaleable because of what he called blight. I believe he was thinking, in particular, of people surrounding Wethersfield. Of course, this would merely be another means of compensation for depreciation in value, and I am afraid that it is out of the question, for the reasons which I have just given.

We have no power to buy properties solely on the ground of noise disturbance. Indeed, any scheme to do so would be fraught with similar difficulties and objections to that for compensation for depreciation in property values. We buy properties which foul the approaches to runways and are, therefore, a hazard to aircraft using the airfield, and, of course, we pay compensation where it can be clearly established that a person has suffered damage to property or stock which can be attributed to aircraft operations.

On this question of claims for damage, perhaps I could give some facts and figures, because people are apparently disturbed not only about the promptness of payment but also about justice and generosity. Claims for damage by sonic bangs—cracked windows, broken plaster or broken china, which, I understand, has been caused to fall from shelves and mantelpieces—are dealt with entirely on their merits and in the light of circumstantial evidence. We take scientific advice. We first find out whether a bang occurred. Sometimes the bang is reported. If not, we still meet the claim if there is corroboration of the bang. People are not required to identify the aircraft, as one hon. Member suggested, because if one hears a supersonic bang from an aircraft about 30,000 ft. up and many miles away, it is not possible to take the number of the aircraft, and we do not ask that it should be done.

We have to establish whether the bang caused the damage. Where there is firsthand evidence—china falling off a shelf while people are in the shop would be a very good example—we admit the claim without question, provided that the witnesses appear reasonably reliable. We similarly admit claims where, although there is no first-hand evidence, the weight of evidence shows that the damage coincided with the bang.

We certainly give the benefit of the doubt to claimants, and difficult or unusual cases are referred to the Building Research Station, where we have a form of independent advice in these matters. The Building Research Station, being a member of the D.S.I.R., is in no way under Air Ministry control, and I think it provides a valuable and independent opinion. The Station has been extremely helpful in all that it has told us.

In the last two years we have had 824 claims and we have made 221 payments. We have paid over £2,000. About one-third of these payments relate to unidentified bangs. We had 82 claims as a result of a bang which accidentally took place during the open day at Wethersfield and we made 51 payments, totalling £350.

Mr. B. Harrison

Could my hon. Friend give that total figure again? I do not think that I heard him correctly. Was it £2,000? That seems a remarkably small amount to settle all those claims.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

There were 221 payments and the average was just under £10 per claim, which is not an insignificant sum for a cracked ceiling or an ornament falling off a shelf. I have given these figures, because I thought that the House would be interested to put the matter into perspective and to hear what we were doing.

In the five years, 1953–58, 99 claims were received from people living near airfields as a result of low-flying aircraft. That has nothing to do with supersonic flight. I think that these facts perhaps help to put the whole problem in perspective. Of course, the number of complaints, other than claims, is very much higher.

I ought, perhaps, to say a word about supersonic flight. As I will explain, there are special difficulties, and to make the claimants' task easier my Department has taken on all the co-ordination. It does not matter whether the cases concern the United States Air Force, the Ministry of Supply or manufacturers' aircraft; the claims should be addressed to my Department, and the claimant does not have to find out who is responsible. All these claims are investigated by our professional surveyors, and we can call in the Building Research Station.

I apologise for dealing with this matter at some length, but these are intricate problems and they deserve to be dealt with thoroughly. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury referred to compensation where we were buying land and, particularly, to the speed with which we pay compensation. Here, again, claims have to be examined very carefully, and, if we are to be absolutely fair, it may be necessary for them to be referred to the Lands Tribunal. Any claimant who feels that he is not getting justice can go to the Lands Tribunal, and get its judgment.

I would also say that in the conveyancing of land, the plans and maps have to be most carefully prepared. It is, therefore, not only ourselves who are concerned with the transference of land property, but I will do all I can to speed up consideration of cases. I apologise for the case referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury which, for special reasons, has taken four years. I concede that that is a very bad example, but I think that the House will concede that it is in no way typical of the time taken for settlement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon mentioned property sited—I think that he had in mind a cottage—close to Wethersfield. As it is an intricate matter, and as the House has other Motions before it this afternoon, perhaps he will allow me to write to him about it. He has raised it today, and in correspondence, so I thought it only fair to refer to it now.

I think that I can deal quite shortly with a number of the other points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Uxbridge asked whether we were looking to new sorts of aircraft to ameliorate and lessen the noise problem. It may be that the introduction of blown flaps and laminar flow will give some slight amelioration, but I think that it will be many years before we can offer it. Obviously, if we have steeper take off and landing, the noise disturbance over houses will be reduced.

The hon. Member also asked whether we were serious about this problem. I can assure him that we could not be more serious. Noise disturbance is causing us to regulate our flying programme and, in some cases, it delays our training programme. It is, therefore, of very great importance to reduce the noise. In addition, apart from its effect on efficiency, there is the repercussion on public relations, and the attitude of the public to the Royal Air Force in general.

The hon. Member for Lincoln, who is not now present—

Mr. Beswick

My hon. Friend asked me to apologise on his behalf. He had to leave, because he had a train to catch.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I quite understand.

The hon. Member for Lincoln made the interesting proposal of putting a tax on noise. He suggested that, for instance, motor cycles that were noisier should pay more tax. I could not answer on that on behalf of the Air Ministry. I do not know, for example, whether church clocks would come into this category. I remember reading in The Times, only yesterday, a letter complaining of church clocks chiming the quarter hour all through the night. Noise disturbance does not come only from one source.

The hon. Member for Lincoln also suggested landing fees graduated according to the noise of the aircraft. I suggest that that is a matter not so much for me as for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation., and even for the I.A.T.A. He also asked about co-ordination between the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force, and I can say that that co-ordination is very close indeed.

Another subject to which the hon. Member referred was land drainage. We recognise that the laying down of large areas of concrete for runways, taxi-ing tracks, and so on, will alter drainage characteristics—and this is a special problem in Lincolnshire and East Anglia, where there are large, flat areas of land. We are in constant consultation on this subject with the river boards and drainage authorities. On the whole, we find that the additional run off of surplus water can be dealt with by culverts, balancing reservoirs, and so on, without difficulty. Of course, improvements are found to be necessary from time to time, and we will always look sympathetically at representations on that score.

Both the hon. Member and the hon. Member for Uxbridge asked whether we were paying sufficient attention to disturbance when we erected poles in connection with airfield lighting systems. I can only say that this system was agreed with the National Farmers' Union, and seems to have been satisfactory in the past. I will certainly examine whether there is a case for revision, but it has not caused friction in the past, and I was surprised to hear that the National Farmers' Union is now perturbed. I will also look at the Is. a year payment which, I agree, does seem rather a low rate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury spoke of flying hours, and I was glad to hear what he had to say. I agree that the United States Air Force has been extremely helpful.

The effect of noise on cows was spoken of by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, and was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, who referred to stillborn calves. It was suggested that a possible explanation was disturbance to the animals caused by aircraft taking off from an air base. While I have every sympathy with the farmer concerned, I cannot, on present evidence, accept that operations from the airfield are to blame for that trouble.

Earlier in the year we sought the advice of an independent veterinary surgeon. He inspected the animals, and while he detected some fibrio-foetus infection in the herd, he did not observe any undue disturbance among them when aircraft were flying overhead. The cattle did not stampede when they were in the field. Since then, no fresh evidence has come before us to support the suggestion that aircraft were to blame.

I should like to thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, and I am only sorry that I cannot deal individually with each and every point. We have had an interesting debate, and I can tell all who have taken part in it that the Motion is acceptable to Her Majesty's Government. I have tried to explain some of the problems facing the Royal Air Force in siting airfields for its own use, and for that of its Allies; and some of the problems arising from operating aircraft for the defence of the country.

I have listened with sympathy to the many complaints that have been raised. We appreciate their force, and are tackling them. I have referred to some of the difficulties with which we are faced in dealing with complaints, and would only add that we try to deal with complaints and claims as fairly and quickly as we are able.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, recognising that the operation of powerful aircraft necessary for effective defence, presents special problems to people living near military airfields, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to do everything possible to reduce the inevitable disturbance and ensure that compensation claims for damage are dealt with fairly and promptly.

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