HC Deb 27 November 1959 vol 614 cc822-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bryan.]

3.18 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I am glad to have the opportunity of raising on the Adjournment a matter of great importance to residents around London Airport, the question of aircraft noise. The last time the House debated the question of aircraft noise was in an Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), so it is not since February that we have had an opportunity of hearing any fresh proposals from the Ministry in an attempt to solve this problem.

Nearly all my constituency is affected and there are other constituencies which come under the shadow of London Airport. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington), who is hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, receives a number of complaints from his constituents about aircraft noise which is ruining the peace and quiet enjoyment of Harlington. All the constituencies round London Airport are affected by this grievance, which is now becoming almost a national problem.

In my constituency there are people who live near Nos. 1 and 5 runways. During the General Election I held a meeting not far from one of the runways, and I know from experience how difficult it is to hold a conversation, let alone a meeting, because of the noise. Aircraft noise is becoming a major issue. A number of people who came to live in my constituency before London Airport was constructed have lost a good deal of the peace and quietness which they sought when they moved in, in the late 'twenties and early 'thirties.

There is a 24-hour service at London Airport which means that the noise continues day and night. It is not, therefore, surprising that both my hon. Friend and I continually receive letters of complaint. I have received letters of complaint ever since my election to this House, in 1955, and today I received at least half a dozen more.

The residents' association in my area has continually brought the nuisance of aircraft noise to the attention of the Minister and complained about loss of sleep and other amenities. With the increase in air transport the problem of aircraft noise will continue to grow. The noise has increased with the coming of the jet airliner and in the months ahead more and more jet airliners will be using London Airport. That is why the matter is now very urgent.

The chief offender—and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington will agree with me—is the Boeing 707. When this aircraft was tested for noise at London Airport we received many letters of complaint. I understand that the then Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation set a noise level limit linked with the weight and the number of passengers which the airliner could carry. Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether Pan-American Airways conform to the regulation? Has the Minister, in recent months, made any representations to that company about the noise made by its aircraft?

Another problem is flying height. The operational procedure is that the pilot is obliged to get up to 1,000 ft. over residential and built-up areas. I continually receive complaints that Boeing 707s fly much lower, even at 200 to 300 ft. I received the following letter from Hounslow this morning: Dear Sir, At 2.46 p.m. today a departing Boeing aircraft passed over this house at between 200 and 300 ft. I have an ear affliction and the pain caused by the terrible noise from its engines all but caused me to collapse. This is not the only letter that I have had along these lines, and I am sure that other hon. Members have received letters complaining about this aircraft flying much lower than the 1,000 ft limit. Will the Parliamentary Secretary investigate these complaints and insist upon the regulations being adhered to by Pan American Airways?

A provision in the Air Navigation Act, 1947, makes it impossible to bring an action for nuisance against an operator of an aeroplane, so the residents' only protection is the Minister. Some international airports impose a very strict noise limit. The Port of New York is an example. I have been informed on very good authority by a person who has studied the question and whose articles have appeared in the well-known magazine Flight that the noise of the Boeing 707 passing over areas near to London Airport is four times louder than the limit imposed in New York. I should be very grateful if the hon. Member would investigate that point.

I know that this is a difficult problem. Again and again we have been told by the Minister that we must have the airport near London. The area of Hounslow, Feltham is convenient for passengers wishing to go to London. Therefore, research into the noise problem must be increased by the new Ministry taking over this important work from the Ministry of Supply. There must be more co-operation with the aircraft manufacturers, because I believe that the solution is to be found there. The noise must be stopped at its source. Research work must be doubled or trebled in order to solve the problem.

Sir Miles Thomas, a former Chairman of B.O.A.C., once said: My personal feeling is that we aircraft operators could well consider injecting a new factor into our forward aircraft specifications, and refuse to buy machines that do not conform to strict noise limitations. I trust that the Ministry will direct its research work along those lines and get tough with the aircraft manufacturers. If the Ministry were to insist that airline corporations should not buy aircraft from British or American manufacturers unless they conformed to strict noise limitations it would inspire and encourage aircraft manufacturers to carry out more research work.

But we should go further than that. We need international co-operation in this matter. We have international conferences to discuss fares and other regulations, and the question of noise limitation should occupy a very important place in the agenda of any conference discussing international air problems. I feel certain that with the jet age and the growth of air transport, complaints about noise will increase unless something is done. I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) is present. I have had a letter from a constituent of his enclosing a resolution passed by a trade union branch complaining of the low flying of the Boeing aircraft and the way it frightens children.

The new Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have been to London Airport to examine this problem and to listen to the noise. Complaints come now from an area covering about nine miles round London Airport, including Hayes and Harlington, Southall, Cranford, Richmond and Feltham, which lie under the shadow of this great airport.

We want to go ahead with civil air transport as we move forward in this modern age, and make Britain the leading civil air Power. Air transport will grow. It is becoming more and more popular for holiday and general travelling. Therefore, as air transport increases the problem of noise will become very serious. I wish the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary success in attempting to solve the problem. I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary will be making today his first speech from the Dispatch Box. I hope that he can give residents round London Airport good news and that he and his right hon. Friend will do all they can to solve the problem so that noise may be abated. I hope that they will deal strictly with operating companies which break the regulations and see that flying below a height of 1,000 feet is stopped. I hope that the Ministry of Aviation will increase its research work with the aircraft manufacturers so that noise is stopped at its source and that in time aircraft will become almost free from noise.

3.31 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) and myself, and now, perhaps, the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle), will be regarded by aviation enthusiasts in the House as dismal jimmies who are always trying to throw a spanner into the works. It would be unfortunate if we were to be depicted in that way, because all of us are as anxious as any other hon. Member that Britain should continue to lead the world in the development of civil aviation, and we are all proud of what we have achieved and, indeed, of many of the accomplishments at London Airport itself.

But, of course, we have a primary duty to our unfortunate constituents who live round London Airport. Considerable numbers of persons are affected. This is not just a parish pump problem of a few hundred. Those who are seriously disturbed by noise and also, to some extent, made apprehensive from the point of view of danger from the continual passing of aircraft overhead are not fewer and possibly may be more than half a million souls. Therefore, in the intolerable conditions in which many of these people live, we should be failing in our duty if we did not constantly raise the matter with the Government and kept it before the House and before public opinion.

I repeat, however, that we all want to do everything we can to promote the British aviation industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and myself have a special interest in this, because Fairey Aviation Limited, which produces the Rotodyne, has factories both in Southall and Hayes. At another date, we shall be pressing the Government to do something urgently about the Rotodyne, because its future is causing our constituents great concern in relation to the development of Fairey Aviation Limited and the jobs of people employed by it.

I hope, therefore, that our position will be understood. But those who are suffering, and "suffering" is not too strong a word, have only the local authorities and Members of Parliament to look to. I appreciate the concern of local authorities and the work that they try to do and the way in which they try to raise the problem at the Joint Standing Committee at London Airport. Therefore, we are not alone in facing this problem. It is actively engaging the attention of the local authorities and of Members of Parliament who represent constituencies in the area. One of the chief hardships in this matter is the one to which my hon. Friend has referred. If one voluntarily goes to live next door to a gasworks, one can only blame oneself if one suffers from the smell. But hundreds of thousands of people in the Middlesex area bought their houses or came to live in the area long before there was any thought of building an airport. People have invested their savings in the purchase of houses in that area. Some people have come to live there on retirement, and none of them expected, or had reason to expect, that their peace and security or, in the language of the law—which in this case is quite an accurate term—the quiet enjoyment of their homes was to be fractured in this way.

There are two specific problems, that of noise, especially from jets, and the subsidiary problem—although it is not necessarily a subsidiary problem after the Southall disaster—of the danger from increasing air traffic passing overhead at all hours of the day and night, and what steps the Government and civil aviation authorities propose to take to deal with that aspect of the problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and myself, as well as others, have pressed the Ministry on this point in the past. We appreciate the difficulties of the airport authorities, but one of the things which occurs to us regarding the development of London Airport is that on most of the official maps the surrounding district is depicted as being blank. I consider that in the early days, in the siting of the runways, insufficient attention was given to the existing housing estates round the periphery of the airfield.

It is an unfortunate fact that one housing estate is only 2,400 ft. from the threshold of a runway, and the maintenance area of one concern which operates at London Airport is, in effect, only 2,000 ft. from a built-up area. In those circumstances, there is bound to be considerable noise, but although we realise that, we cannot abandon our constituents merely because of the faulty siting of workshops and runways. I have myself made suggestions about slewing one runway.

Our constituents find two things difficult to understand. On 5th November last year—perhaps that was an appropriate date for asking them—there were no fewer than six Questions to the Minister of Transport about conditions under which he had allowed the Boeing 707 to operate from London Airport. In his reply, the Minister said: I have given permission to Pan-American World Airways to operate the Boeing 707 and to British Overseas Airways Corporation to operate the Comet IV on scheduled services into London Airport under conditions which are designed to cause no more noise disturbance than the heavy piston-engined aircraft currently in use when passing over the main built-up areas in the neighbourhood. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: The agreed procedures for these aircraft require that the aircraft should on take-off achieve a height of not less than 1,000 ft. over the nearest built-up area along the flight path, and use reduced power … ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1958; Vol. 594, c. 934.] There was also a condition laid down in connection with the landing of these aircraft.

This was the substance of a Press hand-out by the then Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation on 13th October, 1958, which again mentioned comparable noise and that aircraft going over built-up areas should not fly at less than 1,000 ft. When these announcements were made, there was considerable rejoicing in the area, because it was thought that this was, at any rate, putting some limit on the amount of noise and imposing a minimum height at which the aircraft could fly. Although I have had a great deal of correspondence with the Minister about the conditions since then, the residents and I are quite satisfied that in fact they are not being observed, certainly by the Boeing and, from time to time, by the Comet. Incidentally, I am glad to be able to report that I have had less complaint about the Comet in recent months than had before. I believe that certain steps have been taken to deal with the technical problem of getting the Comet off with a reduction of noise.

It seems fairly clear that the statement that jet aircraft would not operate from London Airport unless they were not noisier than comparable piston-engined aircraft, either is not true or the Minister is using some basis of comparison unknown to us. The details about the noisiness of aircraft are difficult to compare, because there is not yet a generally agreed system of measuring noise, although a great deal of data has been gathered by the noise consultants to the New York Airport authority. A lot of this has been published in Flight on 14th August this year and in the edition of 7th November last year. It is clear that somewhere there is a big discrepancy in comparisons made by the Ministry, and the New York data, or aircraft are flatly not carrying out the conditions. The only other alternative is that we and the residents have failed to understand the basis of comparison which the Minister is using.

On 7th November, the magazine Flight carried an article based upon a summary of noise levels for the Boeing and Comet and comparable piston-engined aircraft which was obtained from the tables of the noise consultants to the New York Airport authority. These comparisons were at 1,000 feet. The perceived noise levels for the Boeing, Comet and composite propeller-driven aircraft were 121, 120 and 107. If the perceived noise levels are translated into noys—which is a difficult thing to do unless one is a good mathematician, and I am not—the figures for noisiness are, for the Boeing 274, for the Comet 256, and for the noisiest piston-engined aircraft 104. So that at 1,000 feet, taking the positions along the line of the flight of aircraft, jet planes were at least two and a half times as noisy. If one looks at the figure which appeared in the 14th August issue of Flight, this seems to be the case, except that at some distances the jets are even more noisy; but at best they are two and a half times noisier. Does the Minister still say that these are the conditions under which jet aircraft operate? Are the conditions being observed, or is there some basis for Ministry comparison which makes nonsense of the advice and data provided by the New York Airport authority?

The next question is that of flight at 1,000 feet over a built-up area. There seems to be some argument here about what a built-up area is. The Minister and I happen to be members of the legal profession, but I hope that neither of us will engage in legal quibbles about what is a built-up area. Certainly over part of Harlington, which I should have thought would normally correspond to the definition of a built-up area, these heavy aircraft often fly at less than 1,000 feet. I draw particular attention to two examples. One was the flight of a Comet IV over Harlington on 19th April. The Ministry knows all about this because it has been raised by both the local residents' association and myself. The other occasion was the flight of the Boeing 707 on 4th June. In both these cases the weight of the aircraft was known and has been given. The profile of the machine was known. It is clear that these machines were well under a thousand feet when flying over Harlington.

These are not isolated examples. There are also the examples mentioned by my hon. Friend. We understand that from time to time there may be exceptional reasons for lower flying, but both these occasions were normal and there seemed to be no abnormal weather conditions. Either there has been a flagrant disregard of the conditions or there may have been some other factor about which the public have not been informed.

What is to be done in the future? It is clear that if the airport develops, as we all want it to develop, this problem is likely to get much worse, unless various steps are taken. I believe that there has been a campaign for planting trees on certain parts of the periphery. That does not make much difference, but it makes some difference, and every little improvement helps. Earth banks will help in dealing with maintenance noises. Some earthworks have been completed, but I was disappointed a few months ago to find that the major earthworks which we were promised two years ago were still the subject of a working party. I hope that some expedition will be introduced into this matter for the relief of those who suffer.

In the last Parliament, we heard from the Ministry of Supply, before it was abolished, that £75,000 was being devoted to research. This seems to me to be a very small sum, bearing in mind the major nuisance which occurs and affects so many people. The Parliamentary Secretary told us at that time that money was not the limiting factor. I did not know whether to deduce from his reply that in any event very little work was being done, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some information about it.

One of the most important things is the research which is done, and I think that he will have to take a lead in insisting on this research, because most aircraft firms will not put it at the top of their priorities. They are concerned to make larger aircraft which can travel as quickly as possible to the greatest convenience of the passengers, and there must be persuasion from the Minister for them to give research work, both by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and by the aircraft firms, a very much higher priority than seems to have been the case so far.

I understand that the Minister has been to London Airport and heard the noise. I imagine that he went there during the day. May I assure him that the noise not only seems but it is in fact much worse at night, in the comparative quiet of a place such as Harlington, which in many respects is still rural, and other places around the airport. A few months ago, in April, I was standing in a garden on a peaceful night. It might have been many hundreds of years ago, bearing in mind the quaint buildings around. There was the pleasant smell of the spring flowers. It was at 11 p.m., summertime. Suddenly there was this hellish din of a jet starting off. It was far louder than any thunder clap I have ever heard, and it lasted for quite a time. Children awakened, dogs barked.

Although this kind of thing happens frequently it is still a source of some alarm and great annoyance. One can become accustomed to some noises, but not this noise. I once lived near a railway marshalling yard, but after a while I was able to ignore the noise from it and even to feel a friendliness for the men working out in the cold, shunting the wagons. I assure the Minister that there is no friendliness on the part of the inhabitant when we have this hellish din arising in the quiet of the night.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that this is not a parish pump problem which affects only a few people. It affects many people. The noise can be heard throughout the constituency, although it is not so bad on the other side of the Uxbridge Road as it is on the Bath Road. It is a fact that the intensity is far louder than that of any of the other normal noises we have in peace-time. As it is likely to be a problem of greater intensity in the future, I hone that while he is at the Ministry the Minister will give it very serious consideration and that he will be able to give us some hopeful news today.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

My hon. Friends the Members for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) and Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) are to be commended for their pertinacity in the way in which they are endeavouring to protect their constituents from the noise caused by the traffic in and our of London Airport. My sole excuse for taking part in this discussion is that I live probably nearer London Airport than either of my hon. Friends, and probably nearer than any other hon. Member at present in the House.

I live in Berkshire, about 10 to 12 miles west of London Airport, and I assure the Minister that as far out as that the noise of incoming and outgoing aircraft is a real problem and a grave inconvenience. I had occasion, not long ago, to travel in a Comet, which landed at London Airport. I was alarmed to discover from the R.A.F. pilot that the Comet has to start descending about 150 miles away from the point at which it eventually lands. That explained to me why, in the very rural surroundings in which I live, the night hours, which are the only hours I am competent to speak about, because I am not there very often during the daytime, are made hideous by the deafening din caused by aircraft beginning to descend upon London Airport. This is a very real problem.

I do not know to what extent the 1,000 ft. limit which is supposed to apply to built-up areas applies to non-built-up areas, or areas like those in which I reside. I can assure the hon. Member that some of the aircraft which fly over my home, fly at very much less than 1,000 ft., or so it seems, in the small hours of the morning.

I should like to impress upon the Minister that while this is a very great problem for the people who live near to the airport, it is also a problem which causes anxiety and distress to a very wide area. This area will extend even further with the growing development of aircraft, higher speeds, and the longer period taken in losing height when descending. A wider area than ever before will be inconvenienced. I can assure the Minister that it is very upsetting, at 3 o'clock in the morning, suddenly to hear the roar of aircraft passing over one's house in the country—and so far as I am concerned there is no distinction between a built-up and a non-built-up area. The house in which I live is, to me, a "built-up area" and I do not want aircraft flying over it any lower than can possibly be avoided.

I hope that the hon Gentleman will be able to offer some assurance not only to the two constituencies represented by my hon. Friends but to the very substantial number of people within a radius of 10 or 12 miles of the airport.

3.55 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

I should like, first, to thank the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) for the kind references which he made to myself. I appreciate them on this, my first, appearance at the Dispatch Box. I am particularly grateful to him for having raised this important subject this afternoon, because I can assure the House that both my right hon. Friend and myself take the problem of noise very seriously.

I assure the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) that we Jo not regard this as just "a spanner in the works." We know that it closely affects the constituents of a number of hon. Members. One has the greatest sympathy for the old residents, but I emphasise, at the same time, that we are concerned also for all the residents who are affected, whether technically or otherwise they live in a built-up area. Within that number we should include the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton).

As the hon. Member for Feltham said, this raises issues of general public concern and is almost a national problem. We accept that. My right hon. Friend and I have tried from the outset to study it. That is one of the reasons why we both took an early opportunity to visit London Airport to see and hear for ourselves the scope and extent of the problem. We appreciate fully that the enjoyment of property, and indeed life generally, may be seriously affected by excessive noise. As my right hon. Friend said on 16th November, 1959, in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle), who I am glad to see here this afternoon and who has also taken an interest in this on behalf of his constituents: I have for a long time taken a great interest in this question of noise, when I was at the Ministry of Supply some years ago. But there is no good pretending that we can altogether eliminate the noise of aircraft any more than we can eliminate the noise of road traffic. What we have got to do is to do everything possible to keep the intensity of the noise within tolerable limits and also reduce as much as possible the size of the area which is affected."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1959; Vol. 613, c. 786.] That is what we are doing, and we shall continue to endeavour to do it by every means in our power.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred specifically to research and its cost. For a long time, as hon. Members must well know, much work has been going on under various auspices. I can reiterate the assurance that the limiting factor is not money. It is the intrinsic difficulty of the basic problem. I can certainly assure the House that the Government are always ready to support, within our resources, any new proposal which seems to show promise.

The three main lines of attack are to reduce noise at source; to work out procedures for the operation of aircraft; and to mitigate noise from the ground engineering activities which must inevitably be carried on at London Airport.

The hon. Member for Feltham stressed, quite rightly, that noise must be stopped at source. Over the years we believe that a very great deal of fundamental research work into the problem has been carried out under the auspices of the Government. As long ago as 28th June, 1954, my right hon. Friend, then Minister of Supply, circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT a detailed statement covering the progress of research. Much of that work has now borne fruit. Anyone comparing the civil Comet or the Boeing 707 with the unsilenced military version will at least concede that a measure of progress has already been achieved. We are also all agreed that much remains to be done and research work continues not only in our own establishments, but also in the universities, which have made a great contribution to this task.

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Brooman-White.]

Mr. Rippon

It may interest the House to know that the basic research work carried out by the present Director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Professor Lighthill, was the starting point for whatever success has been achieved anywhere in the world.

Of course, it has been not only a contribution by Government establishments and universities. The aircraft industry has also made its own practical contribution, and we should recognise that. Rolls-Royce, in particular, under contract to the Government, have made important advances in developing silencers for jet aircraft. I think that the hon. Members will find that this work will bear fruit in later versions of the Boeing 707 and the Caravelle.

Important advances have already been made in bypass engines, notably the Conway. These engines will, I understand, have an appreciably lower ratio of noise to power than do the present straight jet engines. In addition, work on the development of new types of engines has been carried out in our research establishments, particularly at the National Gas Turbine Establishment, as well as by the aircraft companies. I understand that, for the future, our best hopes for improvement lie in the turbofan engine now being developed both here and in the United States. This shows signs of being quieter than the present jet engines. I hope that that may give some comfort to the hon. Members, but, of course, it may be some time before this engine can be brought into use.

I hope that I have said enough to make it clear that we are taking this fundamental issue of noise suppression at source very seriously, and are trying as far as we can to anticipate future developments. I noted that the hon. Member for Feltham quoted Sir Miles Thomas in this regard, so perhaps I should emphasise that we are not just saying, "We are doing our best, and if we fail it's just too bad." We fully recognise that there is a limit to the amount of noise that the public will tolerate merely to suit the convenience of a comparatively small number of people.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to helicopters. We look forward, and should look forward, to an inter-city helicopter service becoming a permanent feature of our national transport, but we must make it clear that, if that aim is to be realised, helicopter manufacturers—and other aircraft manufacturers, too—must be prepared to do a lot more work on noise reduction

Perhaps I may now turn to what might be described as the second line of attack—which is necessarily only a palliative—the working out of operational procedures with the airline companies. The hon. Member for Feltham referred to the Boeing 707 as being the greatest problem here, but it is a general problem and affects most of these large jet airliners—the Boeing, our own Comet, and the T.U.104. As has become evident in this debate, these procedures are fairly well known to hon. Members who take an interest in the matter.

Basically, what we are trying to do is to keep aircraft as high as is consistent with safety. There has been some reference to procedures so it might be helpful to restate the position. From the outset, we agreed that on landing there should be an angle of approach of not less than 3°, which we feel is as steep an angle as can safely be imposed. As has already been said, it represents a gradient of about one in 20. On takeoff, we have also agreed with the airlines concerned that, to keep the noise down to that of a piston-engined aircraft—and I shall say a word or two on that in a moment—the pilot should reach a height of at least 1,000 ft. over the nearest built-up area in the line of flight, that he should use his engine settings to achieve it, and then cut back power to reduce the noise when he has passed the necessary height.

Of course, as aircraft vary in performance in every case, is it a matter of careful study and judgment as to the best combination of climb and power settings. For practical purposes, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington reminded us, the test has been whether the noise could be brought within the limits set by the largest and most powerful piston-engined aircraft which have been operating at London Airport for some time.

I understand that it is difficult to make exact comparisons—whether one should take the basis of the perceived noise level or whatever it may be, or whether one should take a subjective test or an objective test. I cannot comment in any detail upon the figures which the hon. Gentleman quoted, but I can assure him that I will study them very carefully. So far as one is capable of getting a fair test of noise, we feel that our policy has been brought fully into operation.

That brings me to the important point raised by the hon. Member for Feltham, which is this. We have laid down these procedures: are they, in fact, being complied with? The position is this. We continue to monitor jet aircraft flights in and out of the airport and results show that substantial departure from the agreed procedure is rare and inadvertent. Of course, pilots are human and in the early stages there is no doubt whatever that they found some difficulty in complying with these special procedures, but as experience and techniques have improved, so has the degree of compliance, and I think that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington recognises that.

The hon. Member for Feltham referred to low flying. I would point out that visual observations are sometimes very misleading. The size as well as the speed of these new aircraft often make them look lower than they really are. Of course, we will be glad to investigate any detailed complaint which comes not only from hon. Members, but also from any resident living in the area. Certainly, It has been alleged that aircraft are flying excessively low in built-up areas, and even in the more remote approaches to London Airport over such districts as North-West London, Richmond and Barnes.

Mr. Lipton

And Berkshire.

Mr. Rippon

I will accept Berkshire as well.

Surveys and monitoring show that, generally, pilots do not fly lower than necessary and, indeed, there is no advantage to them to do so. We have examined with particular airlines cases where low flying resulted from their incorrect operation techniques in the early stages, and we feel that, in agreement and co-operation with them, the position has greatly improved. I think it is fair to say that such rare cases of low flying as do occur are due either to operational causes beyond the pilots' control or to momentary inadvertence, and every case reported to us is taken up with the airlines if the circumstances appear to warrant it.

Mr. Lipton

Has the hon. Gentleman anything to say on what is the correct procedure where a Comet or any other jet aircraft has tried to land at London Airport but, owing to some congestion, is obliged to circle the airport for some time before being given permission to land? That also is a cause of annoyance.

Mr. Rippon

They do not circle below 1,000 ft. So far as I know, we have not had any suggestion of that kind. What I can say is that, in general we are satisfied that as a result of silencing at source and the handling procedures agreed with the airlines, the Boeing 707 is making no more noise in flight over substantially built-up areas than the large piston-engined aircraft.

I can reply at once to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Feltham that noise over London Airport was four times as loud as that over New York.

Mr. Hunter

In one area near the airport.

Mr. Rippon

I will, of course, look into the matter, but I believe that that is just not true. The Boeing produces the same volume of noise in New York as it does in London.

I assure the House that, whenever an aircraft seems not to have complied with the procedures or makes too much noise—I emphasise that this applies to all aircraft, not merely jet aircraft—we call for an explanation from the airline concerned. Also, we have periodic conferences with staff to work out details on the finer points of technique and so on.

I will give an illustration of the way in which the various companies are giving close attention to this problem. Pan-American Airways has established a count-down technique for its aircraft to comply with the special requirements. Each captain is informed by radio telephone of the sound pressure level measured at the monitoring point and, in turn, he passes his altitude to the ground station. Any operation at all giving rise to an excessive sound pressure level is immediately reported by this operator to his headquarters in New York. That is a very good example of the length to which a company is prepared to go in an endeavour to comply with our requirements.

This is not entirely a problem of noise. As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington suggested, the matter of safety also is involved. This does not bear directly on the problem, but I can say that we are at the beginning of a big development programme embracing the provision of new control centres, full radar cover and the modernisation of our airways system. I believe that these new air traffic control centres will play a very big part in handling the extra traffic to which the hon. Gentleman referred with reasonably high standards of safety.

The third line of attack lies in measures taken to minimise ground noise. We are doing a good deal to improve the situation in this respect by restricting the ground running of engines at night, through the use of noise barriers and the use of mufflers, and I think that we are pressing on with this work as fast as is reasonably possible.

I have endeavoured to explain to the House the nature of the problem as it now exists and the steps we are taking and shall continue to take to control poise more effectively. It would, of course, as I have said, be completely unrealistic for any one of us not to recognise that a certain amount of noise is, unfortunately, inevitable in the neighbourhood of important airports. The only silent aerodrome is an inactive one, and it is part of our policy to try to keep London Airport as active as possible. In the belief that the progress of aviation can be combined with a limit to the noise experienced at airports, we shall do all we possibly can to hurry forward the fundamental research and to secure the enforcement of the operating procedures.

I should like to leave the House with the impression that, although we are not so rash as to promise success, we shall do our utmost to achieve it.

Mr. Skeffington

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, if he will permit me, on his first very successful essay at the Dispatch Box. I have two questions to put to him. All the figures which I gave about the comparison of noise levels are with the Ministry. I should be grateful if we could have, after those figures have been studied, a detailed reply, because there is a very genuine feeling that the statement that jet aircraft are not making more noise than the most noisy pistonengined aircraft is not correct. In view of the figures given by the New York airport noise consultants, for jet planes under 1,000 feet, I cannot see how that statement could be true, because if the power of the jet is not above a certain level, the plane will not reach a height of 1,000 feet. Therefore, I think that, for a period, at any rate, the noise must be greater.

Secondly, if aircraft do not fulfil the conditions laid down, what sanctions do the Ministry impose? I do not use "sanctions" in an unpleasant sense, but if nothing happens there is no reason why aircraft should observe the conditions.

Mr. Rippon

As regards figures, all I was saying was that I had not studied that set in detail. There are many figures on these matters. I will certainly do so, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman on that point. I was saying that, whatever set of figures we take, whatever test we take, whether it is the perceived noise level or a subjective test, we still cannot get an exact basis of comparison which will apply to each individual affected.

As for compliance with the procedures, I hope I have said enough to indicate that there is a very full measure of co-operation on this matter and that we are achieving a great degree of success. The operational requirements are procedures, not regulations, so the question does not arise of imposing a fine or other penalty. In the last resort, the sanction is not to allow the aircraft to fly. In that regard, I can only say that we accept that there is a limit noise which the public cannot be expected to tolerate. That must be understood.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes past Four o'clock.