§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Gibson-Watt.]
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I am glad to have this opportunity to raise on the Adjournment a question which is of very great concern to my constituents, namely, noise caused by aircraft flying into London Airport. Before I mention any details, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on his new appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation. I understand that this afternoon this is to be his maiden speech in replying to a debate, and I should like to wish him luck in his new job at the Ministry. I hope that my hon. Friend will take sympathetic interest in the problems of noise caused by aircraft, as, indeed, his predecessor did, and also, perhaps, find time to pay a visit to London Airport in the near future to see on the spot same of the problems involved.
This is, I understand, the first opportunity since the hon. Gentleman the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) raised this matter on the Adjournment in June, 1960, for us to have a further and, I hope, a fairly lengthy discussion on the subject. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) here, because he, too, takes a great interest in the subject, as, indeed, does the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton).
Those hon. Members who are deeply concerned about aircraft noise are perhaps considered by many people in aviation and even among the general public as reactionaries and people who are endeavouring to put the clock back. That is not so. There are around London Airport nearly 500,000 people who are disturbed by aircraft noise, and I think that it is my duty, and, of course, the duty of other hon. Members representing the people involved, to put forward the views of our constituents. It is my personal duty to put forward the views of my constituents living in Richmond and Barnes.
1337 Before I do so, I must underline that I am most anxious that Britain continues to play a leading part in international aviation. I realise the importance of London Airport as an international air terminal. I realise that some disturbance to my constituents is inevitable and that we must balance against this the need for first-class communications which have an important role to play in the nation's economy.
I much appreciate the Ministry's cooperation on the matter with me personally on the many times that I have approached it over the past two years since I was first privileged to represent Richmond in the House. The Government's interest in the matter is underlined by the fact that the Ministry of Science has recently instituted a Gallup poll inquiry into the views and feelings of people living in Richmond and Barnes about aircraft noise. I am glad to hear of this, and I shall be interested in due course to hear the results of the survey.
The Noise Abatement Act expressly excluded noise caused by aircraft. There is, indeed, no redress for a member of the general public through the courts and, therefore, the only means the public have of complaining about this appalling nuisance is through their Members of Parliament and to the Ministry direct. I must emphasise that I felt somewhat disturbed to read of a letter which was sent to one of my constituents, Miss Poulton, though I realise that she telephoned the Ministry on many occasions.
I understand that over a long period well over 160 complaints were made by Miss Poulton to the Ministry, but I think it is unfortunate that a letter was sent to her which points out that if she carries on a nuisance campaign over the telephone she may make herself liable to proceedings under Section 56 of the Post Office Act, 1953. This is unfortunate, bearing in mind the great worry and, indeed, despair of many people who see no easing of this problem caused by aircraft flying into London Airport.
Perhaps I can best underline the nuisance by reading an extract from a letter from the Education Department of 1338 Surrey County Council in connection with Richmond County School for Girls. The governors of the school requested the Department to write to me concerning thefrequent and serious disturbance to the work of the School caused by the excessive noise of some aircraft using London Airport.The letter states thatThe governors themselves had an instance of the difficulty at their last meeting, when the noise of an aircraft passing overhead made it impossible for them to hear the report of the Headmistress which was being given at that time.The governors added thatIt is quite impossible for teachers to continue aural lessons, and the necessity frequently to interrupt such a lesson must inevitably seriously disturb the concentration of the pupils. A further and equally serious problem arises especially in this and other grammar schools, in that the concentration of the pupils sitting for the General Certificate of Education and other examinations is disturbed.This is just one of the scores of letters which I have received on this subject in recent months. I wish today to mention only the landing problems, because this is of particular interest to us in Richmond and Barnes.
The first point I should like to stress is that my constituency lies in a direct line with two of the main runways of London Airport, No. 1 and No. 5. The centre of my constituency is roughly 7½ miles from the threshold of No. 1 runway. I want to put forward five points which I hope are constructive, though I appreciate that, before any of them can be taken up or agreed to by my hon. Friend, safety considerations in respect of the aircraft, the crew and the passengers must be paramount in any decision taken on this matter.
I realise that it is impossible to eliminate this nuisance. All I hope to do is to suggest ideas that might be considered to reduce the noise and the nuisance caused to hundreds of thousands of people living under the glide path into London Airport. This path is at an angle of 3 degrees to the ground. The first point I want to make is the importance of aircraft keeping to the correct height of approach. It means that aircraft passing over the crossroads at East Sheen should keep to a height of 1,500 ft. and, as I have said, these crossroads are 7½ miles from the threshold of the runway. They should 1339 keep to this regulation, but I am not canvinced, nor are many of my constituents, that all the aircraft do so.
The previous Minister of Aviation, my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, at my request set up in January and February, 1960, a height check which lasted for 16 days. It checked the aircraft flying over these crossroads and it showed that 95 per cent. of the aircraft crossing my constituency were at a height of above 1,500 feet. But if one looks into the figures a little closer and breaks them down one discovers that the aircraft which come down below 1,500 feet were the very aircraft that caused the maximum noise, the Comets and Boeing 707's.
The results show that 11.1 per cent. of the Comets were below 1,500 feet and 13.6 per cent. of the Boeing 707's were below that height. If these are the two aircraft which are causing the maximum amount of nuisance to residents living under the glide path, it is surely important that they should be checked particularly carefully and that we should not worry so much about the pistonengined aircraft or the Viscount, which is a turbo-prop aircraft.
The Minister of Aviation set up in October, 1960, another regular height-check system. It was regular in that it operated for two-hour periods each week. I do not know what the results have been, and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could publish the results of this check which has been going on for some time now, and also, perhaps, extend it in future over a longer period than two hours. I do not know whether this is possible, but I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith) would also like to see it extended.
My second point relates to the enforcement of operating procedures. I understand that there are certain penalties for breaches of procedure. Will my hon. Friend give the House details of pilots and airlines involved in breaches of the height regulations during the past 12 months and state what penalties have been exacted? We have never been able to discover this from the Ministry, although on many occasions it has told us that it keeps a very strict watch on 1340 airlines and pilots in connection with operating procedures.
My third point concerns night flying. I understand that aircraft which have permission from the Minister—certain airlines have such permission—are allowed to use London Airport between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. What is the up-to-date position of airlines using the airport? What airlines at present have the Minister's permission, and what is the average number of movements per night in and out of London Airport for scheduled and unscheduled flights?
My fourth point is one of the most important of all. It is the need for fundamental research for quieter aircraft engines. This is something constructive which is, I know, under way at present, and it gives hope to many of an improvement in the future. I know that the Department is investigating the reduction of noise at source, and that not only the Ministry but the aircraft industry is making great efforts on this account. Can my hon. Friend tell us how much is being spent on research at present and what success is being achieved? In ten or fifteen years' time we may have vertical take-off lift aircraft. This would solve our problem in Richmond and Barnes, but it would no doubt make life unbearable for hon. Members who represent constituencies around the airport itself, such as Hayes and Harlington and Feltham. Nevertheless, that prospect would be of interest to me and my constituents in Richmond and Barnes.
I am convinced that a great deal more can be done by the Department to improve public relations. I would ask my hon. Friend to consider the appointment of a special commissioner with responsibilities within the Ministry for co-ordinating aircraft noise research and information. He should be a senior civil servant. He should have several duties to perform. The first would be to publicise efforts by the Government on this issue. I appreciate that the Department has spent a great deal of time and done a lot of work in trying to reduce aircraft noise, but it is not being publicised enough.
Secondly, the commissioner would act as a two-way channel between the public and the Ministry. In other words, he 1341 would receive the complaints of the public and issue details of what the Ministry was doing. Thirdly, the commissioner's task would be to explain to the public the importance of the noise factor to the industry and other Government Departments, and to inspire and encourage more research work for quieter aircraft engines.
I should like the commissioner to play an important part in running the height checking system. Many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite would like those systems to be extended, and perhaps the commissioner could be responsible for that, as well as advising the Minister on breaches of the regulations and whether prosecutions should be brought.
This final suggestion is to underline a need. I am certain that if the Ministry could put over to the public what it is doing it would create a feeling of greater confidence among the mass of people living around London Airport, many of whom feel that nothing whatsoever is being done about this by the Ministry.
To sum up, my suggestions are an extension of height checking, stricter enforcements of operating procedures and a special commissioner to improve public relations.
I apologise for delaying the House so long, but I would ask my hon. Friend to give most serious consideration to these suggestions to ease a nuisance that causes great concern to hundreds of thousands of people living in the London area around the Airport.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) upon raising this important matter. Ever since he has been a Member of Parliament he has taken a keen interest in the efforts of hon. Members to help their constituents living around London Airport over the noise problem.
I join the hon. Member in wishing the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) well in his new post as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation. I trust that he will do well in tackling the problem of aircraft noise. He comes from the troubled waters of international affairs—from Chatham House—to the equally troubled waters 1342 of aircraft noise at London Airport. Many of my constituents feel keenly on both issues and hope for a solution to both problems.
In an effort to help our constituents we have debated this matter many times. It is a problem not easy of solution. The peak period for noise is the summer months. I get letters on this subject from my constituents mainly in July, August and September, which is the peak period for travel to Europe for continental holidays and also for air traffic from the U.S.A. That is also the period, especially during heat waves, when people want their bedroom windows open so that they may breathe fresh air. That also helps to make that period most annoying and irritating to people living close to London Airport.
The hon. Member for Richmond has a different problem from mine. Richmond is about 10 miles from the airport, but is under the glide path. I have spoken to people in Barnes and Richmond and know that they have an acute problem. But many of my constituents are living within 300 yards of some of the runways, and for them the problem is one of the limitation of the noise at its source.
I want to refer specially to night flying. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) and I have questioned strongly whether airline operators could not arrange their holiday tours so that their aircraft took off after 7 a.m. instead of between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. An enormous number of people undergo inconvenience at night because a small number of people travel these routes. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will go into that matter again.
I know that steps have been taken to try to combat or muffle the noise. B.O.A.C. has spent a considerable sum of money in building a large earth bank around part of the airport—I do not know whether it is yet completely finished—which should give some protection against the noise of the warming up of engines or of engine running during night maintenance. I know that the Minister has cut maintenance at night as much as possible, but emergencies do arise. The mufflers being used on the ground have helped slightly, but we still have a long way to go.
1343 When the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations was Minister of Civil Aviation, he took a big interest in the problem. He did not like noise himself, and made some efforts to try to get at the root causes. He called a conference of all the leading aircraft manufacturers, the airline corporations, the independents and all those connected with the aircraft industry, and made a strong plea to the manufacturers to try to find a way to eliminate noise at its source. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary now whether any results have come from that conference.
I do not believe that the problem will be solved unless the manufacturers themselves solve it. Earth banks can be erected and regulations made about height—and I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey that these should be strictly carried out and no low flying allowed—but the solution lies in research by the manufacturers.
I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) here because he spoke to me today about an aircraft in the United States which may go into flight in a few years' time at six times faster than the speed of sound. I understand that the noise it makes is terrific. A firm stand must be taken with the manufacturers. We must insist that they eliminate this noise or reduce it to a low degree which people can bear. We shall have to be very firm. I remember remarks by Sir Miles Thomas, when he was Chairman of B.O.A.C., about manufacturers and the limitation of noise. We should not merely be content with the co-operation of British manufacturers. This is an international problem, and we should seek co-operation with the Americans, the French, the Germans, the Russians and all the other leading air powers.
I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey, in wanting Britain to be a leading air Power. I am proud of the progress that Britain has made. Many thousands of people in my constituency work at London Airport. A great change has taken place in my constituency in a short time. When I was a boy, the district consisted mainly of farms, with fruit and vegetables sent to 1344 Covent Garden by horse and cart. Now it helps to send jet airliners all over the world, and we are proud of the progress which Britain has made in this respect. We want to be the leading air Power.
At the same time, we must press forward towards a solution of the problem of aircraft noise. As airport traffic grows, so does the problem. Hundreds of thousands of people live round the airport. There may be more international airports in the future, and I join with the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey, in asking the Parliamentary Secretary to devote time to finding a solution to this major problem of noise, which is so important to those living round international airports. I feel that the solution must be with limitation of noise by aircraft manufacturers when designing their aircraft.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
I join with the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) on raising this very important matter and also on his good fortune in choosing a day when Government business has ended early enough to give those of us equally concerned with this problem a chance of getting into the debate.
When I saw the subject for this Adjournment debate, I thought that there would probably be only the normal half hour available, and that there would be no opportunity for others to join in the debate. My hon. Friend knows that we support him very much in his activities on this question of noise. We who represent constituencies which are affected have collectively tried over the years to get some improvement.
My constituency gets it both ways—on the ground and in the air. We have traffic going through the constituency along the Great West Road to the airport and back, and then there is the unpleasantness of the noise of airliners taking off or landing. This is a considerable problem. It is important that we should, from time to time, debate the subject, if only to keep the authorities on their toes and let them see that we are watching them closely. It is a 1345 non-political matter, which affects any politician who has a constituency within the vicinity of any airport, not only London's.
London Airport is the one with which I am concerned. It is one of the hazards of living in the London area that one not only has to put up with traffic conditions on the ground, but also with the perils of continuous aircraft noise. I am impressed with the consistency of the complaints which have reached me in the time I have been in the House. Like my hon. Friend, I get regular letters, and I tend to get more in summer, when noise seems to travel further. The letters arrive with regularity, and they are not from hare-brained, silly people with an axe to grind, but are sensible and intelligent.
The Minister of Aviation treats them fairly on the whole. He is always courteous and helpful in his replies, but I sometimes fail to be reassured that everything is being done that could be done to improve the situation. It is distressing to people to hear sudden aircraft noise, particularly at night. It affects people who are in general ill-health, or who suffer from a bad heart condition. It must obviously be serious for hospitals, of which I have a number in and around my constituency, including a well-known maternity hospital. Noise is extremely bad for patients, and hospitals go to a great deal of trouble to put up notices asking traffic to be as silent as possible.
Aircraft noise is bad also for schools, because it not only disturbs lessons but tends to frighten children. On the whole, people do not like being disturbed late at night, when they are just off to bed, by sudden bursts of sound from some of the big jets coming over.
I wonder whether the height checks—which, I agree, should be more regular and intensified—are as accurate as they are made out to be. I have no technical knowledge on the subject, and it would be wrong of me to imply that some of the test results were inaccurate, but I have in my constituency a very experienced pilot who recently wrote to me complaining on this question. He gave me an estimate of the height of an aircraft which came over his house one Sunday afternoon. He went to the trouble of telephoning 1346 London Airport and getting the matter looked into. He also wrote to me. My right hon. Friend the Minister gave a careful reply, but the information supplied to him gave a height of 600 ft. or 700 ft. different from the estimate of this experienced pilot. The incident occurred on a clear afternoon when it was easy for an experienced person to estimate.
I wonder whether there does not tend to be a certain amount of "whitewashing" from time to time. Complaints are made, although not always with the same intensity as by the constituent of my hon. Friend who telephoned the Ministry over a hundred times. There are, however, constituents of ours who telephone to London Airport to register their protest. The authorities at London Airport are assiduous in their replies and try to follow them up, but I am inclined to think that there is a certain amount of "whitewashing" and that it is difficult to check back to find the exact height of an aircraft coming over, say, Brent-ford and Chiswick at 3.30 on a certain Sunday afternoon.
I support the plea that we should have more regular checks at different points throughout the whole of the London area and that these should be followed up. I agree with my hon. Friend that pilots who disobey these orders should be penalised effectively. Although it is not an offence against the law as such, like a motoring offence, in some ways it is just as serious as a bus driver or any other motorist who woefully disregards the law of the road. We should know exactly what sanctions are imposed on these people who infringe the height regulations and we should ensure that anybody who continues to do it persistently will be in danger of losing his pilot's licence.
I took part in the Adjournment debate which we were fortunate enough to have in June, 1960, which was initiated by the hon. Member for Feltham. Since then, there has been considerable activity, prompted not only by our letters and our Parliamentary Questions, but there seems to have been little improvement. There is a great deal of talk of research. I am fascinated that the Ministry of Science is conducting a Gallup poll into this question. I hope that its results will 1347 be more accurate than those of some of the electoral Gallup polls. I can fairly forecast that if it is conducted effectively throughout the London area, the result will be a 99 per cent. objection to aircraft noise. Nobody who is affected is prepared simply to shrug his shoulders and let it pass.
The suggestions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond are admirable and I lend my full support to them. It would be a good idea to have some form of special commissioner to look into these complaints. I was thinking of a local consultative committee made up of representatives of the local authorities who are affected. We already have a consultative committee on general airport matters which sometimes tends to deal with aircraft noise, but a committee dealing with one subject alone would have greater chance of success. In some ways, however, my hon. Friend's idea might be a better one. Another possibility is to institute an official committee of inquiry into aircraft noise and to have a report similar to other reports which are submitted to Government Departments.
This is a growing problem. As the hon. Member for Feltham said, it will be with us for a long time and it will not ease as time passes. None of us would advocate the closing or moving of London Airport—that is unthinkable. We live in a modern age and subscribe to the progress that we achieve by modern methods of transportation. We must, however, make life tolerable for those who, either by chance or because of their work, are forced to live in the vicinity of a large airport.
Something could be done to put an official inquiry in hand to go into the whole question and realign our thinking on the subject of research into aircraft engine noise. I have no technical knowledge, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man to devise an engine which is not as noisy as those of the Boeing 707 and of the Comet. A little intensified applied research could do a great deal of good.
My hon. Friend mentioned an important point about public relations. Like other hon. Members, I receive a similar type of official letter. People say, "It is all very well for you to get a nice 1348 letter back from the Minister and to pass it on to us, but there the matter ends and the trouble continues." Better public relations from the Ministry of Aviation would help. If the Ministry announced that it was making regular height checks and would publish the results, at least the man in the street would feel that the Department was conscious of the matter and was pursuing it and doing what it could to alleviate the nuisance.
In this modern scientific age, we grow in some ways complacent about these things. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, this noise from aircraft engines simply would not have been tolerated. Today, however, because of modern conditions, it tends to be accepted. For everybody who writes to protest, there must be many others who feel similarly but who never get round to putting pen to paper.
It is another hazard of living in Londom that one has to weigh carefully the area in which to buy a house. There are other considerations too, such as the green belt and traffic. It is a very real consideration nowadays to buy a house which is not on one of the main landing routes, as is the case in Richmond and parts of Brentford and Chiswick. This factor detracts from the value of property in parts of the London area which are right in line with London Airport.
I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his appointment to the Ministry of Aviation. I do not know whether in his constituency of Oxford he has had any problems of aircraft noise. I assure him, however, in common with other hon. Members who have spoken and who seek to speak today, that he will be getting plenty of letters from us in the months ahead. We welcome a new mind with a fresh approach to the problem. We hope that my hon. Friend will study it and will pay visits to London Airport to see whether anything can be done to improve the situation. If he can do something to make the lot of those who live in the area more tolerable, he will be achieving considerable success in first office of his as a member of Her Majesty's Government.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
I should like, first, to say how grateful we are to the hon. Member 1349 for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle), who has secured this opportunity of raising once again a problem which for countless thousands of people is, unfortunately, getting worse and not better.
Before I develop the points which I intend to make, I join also other hon. Members in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on his office. The first Adjournment debate that his immediate predecessor had was on noise. I assure the hon. Gentleman that as long as this severe disturbance and dislocation exists in the lives of many of our constituents, we shall be bound to be raising this matter continually with him. I am sure that he will understand.
I do not suppose that the constituents of the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey consider themselves at all fortunate, but they are fortunate compared with those who live right on the immediate perimeter of the airport. Bad as the disturbance is in Richmond, Twickenham and Brentford—I fully admit it, because one has had experience of it in those districts—the worst cases of all are the 50,000 families within the Ministry's check points, who get the full blast of any noise which is created, because it is said to be impossible to diminish noise and disturbance until certain heights have been reached.
This is a serious matter. It is not a minor matter affecting a few hundred people. At least the half million families to whom the hon. Member for Richmond referred within the greater distance are involved, in addition to the 50,000 families within the Minister's perimeter. With the increase in air traffic, many of these people are suffering disturbance, annoyance and acute nuisance on a scale which the community has no right to inflict upon them. Because we raise from time to time, and are bound to do so, the plight of our people, I hope that it will not be thought that we are in any way the enemies of aviation or, indeed, of the London Airport. We are certainly not hostile. We welcome its many achievements in all kinds of ways. We know that London Airport gives employment to many thousands, some of whom are our constituents, and we share the pride in the reputation of the airport for its courtesy and efficiency, which is recognised throughour the world.
1350 We know, too—one has to be fair to all concerned—that there are many at the airport who do their utmost to try to meet the problems which have been created by the growth of traffic and of noise disturbance. There are many powerful interests which can speak for the airline operators and for the employers, but the residents must look to their Members of Parliament. They have no one else except their own organisation. We are the only people who can make representations to the Minister; therefore, we must and are glad to do so.
I do not think that there is any doubt that disturbance has got worse. I suppose that some people have become reconciled to it and given up writing or bothering either the airport or anyone else, but there is not much doubt from my post-bag or the reports that I get, in my case from the South Harlington Residents' Association, and the reports which other hon. Members get from their residents' associations, that aircraft noise has become even more acute.
At the last meeting of the London Airport (Heathrow) Standing Consultative Committee, a letter was received from a Mrs. Platt. The airport Commandant, commenting on this letter, said that Mrs. Platt lived about 4 miles south-east of Heathrow, so she cannot be one of the worst sufferers. She wrote to the London Airport Consultative Committee in these terms:I am writing to ask you if your Council has registered a protest with the Air Minister regarding the terrible noise one has to endure from aircraft leaving and entering London Airport. It is had enough for adults but now I have the unpleasant experience of seeing my small grandson, quite petrified, rush screaming in from the garden. He is only two years old. I have compared my experience with another mother in this road whose child is exactly the same. Surely this is a very sorry state of affairs when young children's nerves are being shattered at this early age.We have all had letters of this kind, particularly about children. This not only happens in daytime when children are playing in the garden, but it is worse at night when they are wakened up and it is very often difficult to get them to sleep again. This is a dreadful experience for children.
Recently I was talking to a doctor in Harlington who was interviewing a patient just back from hospital after a 1351 leg amputation. Three times during the space of 20 minutes the doctor had to stop his consultation because of the noise from aircraft passing overhead. It is quite intolerable that citizens should be exposed to this constant, serious annoyance, particularly as many of the sufferers were living in the district before the airport was there. Bad enough as it may be by day, it is, of course, inevitably worse at night.
I greatly regret that the Minister ever gave his permission for scheduled services to start between midnight and 7 a.m. We know that two scheduled services, the Swissair and the Scandinavian Airlines, have been given permission, but, frankly, the way in which that permission appears to have been given created a good deal of uneasiness here and outside. It will be remembered that the times of the services appeared in the timetable before the Minister had finally given his permission and, indeed, before the tests had ever been undertaken. I do not say that anyone had a reliable tip-off that permission was to be given but, at any rate, it created a suspicious and uncertain feeling among constituents.
So we have already two services which are allowed night jet flights, and we know, from the details given, that if we take into account delayed starts and delayed arrivals, there may be six, seven or sometimes eight jet disturbances at night, quite apart from the normal aircraft coming in. To interfere with the night's peace and slumber of families living near the airport in that way appears to me to be very unfair. I do not understand why the convenience of a few hundred people should be considered before the normal peace and health and sleep of many thousands. I cannot think that there is any real commercial justification, and perhaps the Minister may feel that he can take a stronger line in future.
I have been dismayed and indignant by some of the suggestions that have been contained in the Fifth Report of the Estimates Committee concerning London Airport. In paragraphs 29, 30, 31 and 32 it is suggested that there should be a more flexible system of charges at the London Airport in order to secure greater use during the whole of the 24 hours of facilities there. If 1352 this means further jet flying at night, I am totally opposed to it, and I hope that the Minister and the House will take a very strong stand.
It is clear, of course, that the Estimates Committee knew what it was recommending, because paragraph 87, under the heading "Noise", states this:It is possible that as the proportion of jet aircraft increases rapidly within the next decade, a situation may be reached where the financial development of Heathrow would be hindered by the necessity to restrict operations of these aircraft by one means or another. From this standpoint,"—the commercial standpoint—any limitation of the use of the airport by airlines is to be regretted,…I think it borders on impertinence for this suggestion to be made unless hon. Members who are members of the Estimates Committee had spent several nights around the airport and knew just what they were reporting. I was surprised to see—whether they supported the recommendations, I do not know—that at any rate two hon. Members, whose constituencies border on the airport, were parties to this recommendation. I think this is an unfortunate suggestion, and I hope that hon. Members will be vigilant in seeing that there will be no further jet flights from or into the London Airport at night, until something has been done about noise disturbance. I think that it is extremely unfortunate indeed. If the hon. Members who signed this Report had done what the reporter of the Daily Express did and actually spent a night or two there, then we would be inclined to give their recommendations greater weight.
It will be remembered that this reporter, who visited the London Airport and stayed a night in the district, on 25th May, 1960, wrote:At 1.15 in the morning a monster takes hold of my pyjama lapels, jerks me upright out of sweet dreams into nightmare, and throws me back in horror on my pillow. A night jet is taking off from London Airport.He goes on to say:By 7 a.m. there are seven cigarette stubs in the ashtray beside my bed and I have read 243 pages of 'The Thousand and One Nights '…I agree that there may be some journalistic exuberance about that report, but it describes very well what those who have spent some time near the airport at 1353 night—and I have done so—suffer when night jets take off. I hope, therefore, that the suggestion of the Estimates Committee, which was based only upon commercial considerations, will not be taken up. The lives and health of 50,000 families, apart from those living further off, are worthy of some consideration, and I hope that the Minister will keep this in mind.
The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey and the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith) raised the question of the degree to which aircraft observe the Minister's limitations and conditions on take-off. Anybody who has made any kind of independent check must have grave suspicion that, from time to time, infringements take place, and that they do so with a greater frequency than the House has been led to suppose. We were able to get some figures, relating to 31st May, from which it was clear that on that night there were at least two infringements.
I want to know what happens when an operator has clearly infringed either the noise or the height conditions. Does he just get a mere polite talking to, or is there some really serious consequence? I do not suggest that on every occasion the culprit should be immediately penalised, but if a polite note is the only consequence of a failure to observe the conditions, for whatever reason, it is not good enough, because infringements will then become more frequent and not less, with a consequent increase in noise and also in danger.
I want to refer to the point made by the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey, about public relations. I have no doubt that the people at the Airport and at the Ministry get annoyed with the protestations of residents' associations and others who are desperately worried by this matter, and who no doubt frequently communicate with them. But this is inevitable. Officials must learn that this sort of thing is bound to happen. When people are deeply disturbed and see their families' rest being affected night after night they must take whatever action is open to them. Consequently, they write to us and to the Ministry.
1354 The secretary of the South Harlington Residents' Association frequently communicates with the Ministry, as he does with me. On one occasion, when he took up the case of infringement on 31st May, to which I have referred, he received a reply from the airport commandant which, amongst other things, said:…infringements of the noise limits are taken up with the operators concerned but it would place an impossible burden on my staff if they were allowed to enter into correspondence with third parties concerning the details of each case.Why? This was an inquiry from a responsible person—the secretary of a residents' association, on behalf of people who are being continually disturbed, and having their nights' rest constantly affected. In the case of New York Airport daily contact is maintained with the six residents' associations round the airport, and all the information collected about individual flights is freely circulated to the associations each day. It often happens that there is a good day with no infringements, and then everybody knows it.
Round London Airport, no one knows it. All we know is that infringements do occur, and we have difficulty in obtaining information. If I write to obtain the information I get it, but there must be trust, understanding and confidence between those living round the airport and those operating it, and I hope that the point that I have made will be seriously considered, with a view to providing as much information as possible, in order that relations may be improved.
The airport commandant does a spendid job. I do not criticise the general work that he does there. I know it is very difficult, and that he bears a very heavy responsibility, which he discharges well, but when information is reasonably requested—and I regard this as being a reasonable request, because the question not only of noise but of danger is involved—I hope that that information will be forthcoming.
One other matter that I want to raise concerns the flight angle, especially in relation to No. 2 runway. I am interested in this because some of my constituents' homes are close to those of constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), who has raised the matter previously. When there is a 1355 low flight over Cranford Cross it affects my constituents as well. The nearest houses at Cranford Cross are only about 2,300 ft. from the north-east end of No. 2 runway, and if we assume that an aircraft takes off at about 1,000 ft. from the end of the runway the nearest houses are 3,300 ft. away from that point. If the flight angle is 3 degrees, or 1 in 19, it means that Boeings, Comets and other jet aircraft fly over the nearest houses at a height of about 170 ft. When they fly over the more distant houses at Cranford Cross they are still only 270 ft.
According to the noise consultants at New York Airport a Boeing 707 at 270 ft. has a noise disturbance of about 280 noys, and as the Minister's limit is 130 noys—which many of us considered to be too high—when the aircraft is only 170 ft. above the nearest houses to the runway the noise is about 2.6 times greater than that limit, or about 340 noys. Even when it is as high as 270 ft. the noise is about twice the maximum permitted by him. This is a very serious infringement, not only for the residents of Cranford Cross but for those who live adjacent to the runway, in my constituency, and I ask the Minister to consider whether or not there can be some safe variation in the angle of approach and take-off.
Within the last few months the Ministry has received a protest from the Education Executive of the Hayes and Harlington Urban District Council about the William Byrd School, on the Bath Road. Teaching is interrupted constantly from day to day, with the result that a considerable strain is placed upon the staff and children. It is wrong that the children and the staff should suffer in this way, and I should be glad to know whether anything has been done to help in this case.
From time to time we have suggested to the Minister that when the wind is blowing away from the Harlington side, and away from No. 2 runway, all other factors being equal it would be better for that runway to be used, because both the noise and the smell would be taken away from the houses. I know that the question of smell is not the subject today, but it is a very important matter to the residents. On the other hand, when the wind is blowing towards 1356 Harlington the use of No. 5 runway would mean that the noise and smell were being taken away from the residents on that side. This seems a quite simple matter, but we have never been able to get anywhere with this idea so far. I hope that at some time, if not today, the Parliamentary Secretary can provide information on the matter.
In conclusion, I wish the Minister well in tackling the many things that must be done in this connection. Some progress has been made. We are glad to see that the earthworks have at least been constructed, although they have taken a long lime. We want more trees planted, and a greater use of mufflers. Above all we want more research into noise problems. Only in that way shall we be able to make life tolerable for a number of ctizens who are deserving of the sympathy of the House.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) on raising the topic of noise at airports. I agree with practically all that he said. This reminds me of another occasion about fourteen years ago, when I was sitting on the other side of the House and I raised this matter. I had no support from either side then, when I advanced the view that we had arrived at the time when a limit ought to be placed on landing and take-off speeds of aircraft in Britain and on ceiling speed.
At that time, I was travelling to the House on Monday mornings at the shattering speed of 95 miles an hour. Very few people in the neighbourhood of the airport heard the machine take off, and I am certain that fewer heard it land. On Monday of this week I travelled from Renfrew to London at 400 m.p.h. When the Vanguard leaves Renfrew everyone knows about it, and when she returns over the houses around the airport, again, everyone knows about it.
In that comparatively short period of time this problem of the increase in speed on our internal routes has developed. The question which faces us now is how to meet this demand for speed without the increasing noise that will came from the power necessary to achieve that speed. Everyone who travels by air does so because the aircraft will 1357 get him from, say, London to Tokyo quicker than any other means of transport.
I read in the Press this morning that an airman in America has flown at 4,074 m.p.h. Since the day when I first propounded the idea that we should decide on a ceiling speed with low landing and low take-off—and I was then supported by many people active in the aircraft industry—we have entered upon a road from which, in my view, there is no return.
Civil aviation is inevitably bound up with military aviation. The military machine must get from point A to point B far quicker than any other military aircraft possessed by any other country in the world. But the purpose of the civil machine is different. In my view, its aim is to get to its destination safely, and yet, because civil aviation is bound up with military aviation, it has gone on developing greater and greater speeds. I do not think that we shall depart from that policy.
Puck said that he could put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes. It seems to me that man will never rest until he achieves what Puck said he would do. Of course, the girdle has been put around the earth because speed has gone on increasing. This is raising problems for those who live near airports. The large number of Questions that we have on Mondays on aviation topics indicate that another problem is facing us. There is talk of the supersonic aircraft. I do not see how we are to avoid the problems presented by that type of machine. It will bring us speed beyond our belief, but it will also bring with it power, and noise which is shattering in every sense of the word.
When in June I raised with the present Minister of Aviation the matter of the locus of the airport catering for this potential development, he naturally avoided answering the Question. If we are to have a supersonic aircraft where will the airport be situated? The Minister suggested—and it is in HANSARD—that the airport would need a 20,000 foot runway for take-off. Lord Brabazon, speaking round about the same time said that at 20,000 feet up and moving at speed the supersonic aircraft would shatter eve-y window in every dwelling beneath it.
1358 What can we do to make life reasonable in the circumstances which now exist and which will become even more intense in the years that lie ahead if the developments which we now visualise mature? Of course, the matter is receiving a great deal of attention at the very highest level. The International Air Transport Association has been inquiring into it from the scientific point of view. Its experts are considering the problem because it is really an international problem. We must carry every nation with us on this matter.
The Association has made some recommendations which cover some of the points raised on both sides of the House today. My hon. Friend the Memfor Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) referred to the question of air flight paths, a matter on which the Association has made a recommendation. I think that from Answers that we have received the Ministry has taken note of this matter, but perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about it today.
The Association suggests that all pilots of aircraft should have the most adequate all-weather ground facilities so that, as my hon. Friend has just said, they may make their landing along a path which will create the minimum amount of noise. That is something which those versed in these matters believe can be done. As the people who speak for those of our countrymen who suffer from this noise, it is our business to find out from the Minister what he is doing to put into practice the recommendations of the Association.
The Association has made another recommendation. It is that in noise-critical areas there should be no housing development. That is an important recommendation. Knowing what we do about the potential development of aircraft in the future, it is absurd that we should build houses or develop sites that are known to be in noise-critical areas I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about that.
Again, the Association has laid it down that an airport should be a good neighbour and a community asset. The second part of that proposal is being promoted at London Airport. Those of us who use that airport are impressed by the number of people who frequent 1359 it just to watch planes coming in and going out, even though they realise that when a Viscount comes in they cannot hear themselves speak. It is obvious, therefore, that this problem of noise is known to those who do not suffer from it as do the constituents of the hon. Members who have spoken.
We want an airport to be a community asset; a place to which people will go, and thousands of people use London Airport in just that way. We want an airport to be a good neighbour. If it is to be that, it is the business of the hon. Gentleman and his Department to ensure that, as far as humanly possible, noise is abated.
I know that the abatement of noise presents a difficult problem if we demand more speed, but I do not think that it is insoluble. If, however, it is, we must get back, at least on the internal routes, to the kind of plan I suggested many years ago, and have a limitation on ceiling speed. I do not think that it is very important whether I travel from Glasgow to London, as I do now, in an hour and five minutes, or in an hour and forty-five minutes. The difference in the amount of noise on taking off and landing created by that increase in speed is quite alarming. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us the stage which has been reached in the research into the building of an aircraft engine which will combine speed with a minimum of noise.
A good deal has been said about pilots not obeying regulations, and things of that kind. I am sure most hon. Members will agree that that applies to only a very small number of pilots. I would not wish to say anything about the captains of our aircraft without first having close consultation with them about their difficulties.
When one sits in the pilot's seat in a modern aircraft, one sees an amazing number of dials, and wonders how, during take-off and landing, the pilot can have a fully comprehensive view of all these necessary instruments which control take-off and landing and, at the same time, do the other things which must be done, and done at speed—sometimes even in a split second.
A pilot must have great worries. It must be a strain coming to land at 1360 London, Prestwick, or Renfrew in weather that is not too good, knowing that there are other aircraft stacked round him waiting to come in. It must be even worse when, as on two occasions with some of my hon. Friends, one aircraft losing its stacked height suddenly appeared too near to ours. Only last November, while I was in the air, a plane out of its proper position, suddenly appeared below our wing. Such events are alarming both for the captain and for the passengers.
I would not be too critical of pilots. If there are deviations from regulations, I am sure that the Minister will deal with them with the co-operation of the pilots, and not give them the feeling that in carrying out a most onerous and difficult job they are subjected to unfair criticism in the House.
I have been interested in flying for a long time, not merely from the point of view of the passenger, but from many others. My major interest is, naturally, in safety. Whatever we do about noise, about speed, and all the other things, the prime consideration which must govern all flying is safety first, safety second, and safety last.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I can almost foresee what the Parliamentary Secretary will say when he replies to the most interesting and valuable speeches which have been made in the course of this debate. He will start by expressing profound gratitude to the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle), for having raised this important matter. He will go on to say that the problem of noise is receiving the most active consideration in his Department; no stone is being left unturned; every avenue is being explored; the Department fully realises the inconvenience to which many people are being put; and let us hope for the best; and by the time the subject is raised again in the House there may be another Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Aviation, when the present holder of the office has moved on to even greater heights consistent with his known abilities.
I suppose I am the only hon. Member present in the Chamber who actually lives and tries to sleep in the line of flight of certain services from London 1361 Airport, and that probably entitles me to take some part in this discussion. I did not realise the menace to the ordinary citizen created by the noise until the beginning of the last Parliamentary Recess when I returned home and was able to spend a little more time there than I had been able to do for some months. I was struck by the tremendous increase in the noise of air traffic.
I immediately took up the matter with the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. My complaint arose from the fact that I live near Binfield, in Berkshire. That has no particular significance except that it is in the line of flight of the Boeings and Comets leaving London Airport to cross the Atlantic. When I first took up the matter I was told that there had been an almost continuous westerly wind over southern England for the last few weeks which resulted in aircraft leaving at a lower altitude over Binfield than if they took off towards the east and turned in an angle of 180 degrees for their clearance to Woodley.
Woodley Beacon has to be observed by jet aircraft crossing the Atlantic. It is only two or three miles from where I live. If the trans-Atlantic aircraft pilot does not see Woodley Beacon on his way to cross the Atlantic then, for technical reasons which I am not competent to discuss, he may finish up in Tierra del Fuego instead of Idlewild.
Any ordinary person would expect to understand traffic lanes and that sort of thing. But the Ministry went on to assure me that aircraft cleared Woodley at 3,000 to 4,000 feet. That may be so, but it brings me to the point raised by the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey. I cannot believe that the height regulations are being properly observed. I live near Binfield on the line of route at a point where, according to the advice from the Ministry, the Boeings and D.C.8s are supposed to be travelling at an average higher of 3,000 to 4,000 ft. I ask myself this question. How is it that my sight has improved to such an extent that I can see details of an aeroplane in the sky at 4,000 ft. that I thought I was capable of seeing only at 1,500 ft.? It may be that my eye- 1362 sight is improving with old age, though I hardly like to think so. I suspect that the height of 3,000 or 4,000 ft. referred to in the communications from the Ministry is sometimes nearer 1.500 or 2,000 ft.
I will give an actual instance of how I assess the situation. If it is impossible to conduct a conversation in my house between two people in the same room because a jet aircraft is flying overhead I find it difficult to believe that the aircraft is flying at 3,000 to 4,000 feet. At that height even a Boeing, which is the noisiest aircraft of them all, should not make sufficient noise to prevent such a conversation from taking place, if the height regulations are being observed.
We know that air traffic is increasing. We get more aeroplanes during the summer, during August and September, when people have the windows of their houses open and there is more traffic from London Airport. The present Parliamentary Secretary toad me that in March, 1961, there were about 1,200 jet planes departing from London Airport and in August there were 2,300. That represents a considerable increase in traffic, and we have got to accept that, too. It cannot be avoided. But I believe that if the height regulations were more accurately observed a good deal of inconvenience to people living in the line of flight could be reduced.
There was some rerouting as recently as 21st August last, because, I suppose, the volume of complaints from people living on the western side of London Airport was such that it was felt necessary to take some action. But heavily built-up areas like Slough and Windsor were still affected by the noise. People in the hospital in Windsor were seriously inconvenienced, almost as much as the people living in areas represented by hon. Members who have already spoken.
The effect of this rerouting has not been very beneficial in the area where I live. The Parliamentary Secretary said to me in his reply on 30th October that these arrangements would have slightly lessened the noise at Binfield.as aircraft now pass a little further north.I suppose the hon. Gentleman meant north of Binfield. However that may be, I do not see how, if an aircraft is 1363 travelling north of Binfield, it reduces the noise over Windsor and Slough both of which tend to be north of Binfield too. I do not understand the geography, but perhaps on another occasion with the aid of a map the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to enlighten me.
I know that the Ministry is doing all it can to reduce the noise from aircraft, and I am prepared to admit also that by and large the height regulations are observed. That makes it all the more noticeable when they are not observed. It leads people to complain and to kick up their own counter-noise, so to speak, to make the authorities take notice. I remember that at the beginning of the summer Recess when I was in my garden a jet aircraft—it was a Boeing—flew so low and the noise was so great that I instinctively ducked. That is something which I had forgotten how to do since 1945. It really shook me and I instinctively dropped down on to the ground to get out of the way. That happened in August of this year.
I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of all that has been said. I know that nobody connected with the Ministry of Aviation or with London Airport, or the people who fly these Boeings and Comets across the Atlantic, want to create any more noise than is absolutely inevitable, but there are certain steps which could be taken even now to reduce the inconvenience to the general public. In particular, if the height regulations were enforced I am sure it would go a long way towards reducing the inconvenience that so many people suffer.
I am convinced that if the height regulations were enforced—this is the only respect in Which I can speak from experience—when jet aircraft take off from London Airport for America, a considerable amount of relief would accrue to the general public.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)
I begin by expressing my appreciation of the remarks which have been addressed to me in my new capacity. When I made my maiden speech in the House, I was told that it was the longest within living memory. There is a possibility that my first speech 1364 as a Minister may be the longest within living memory, in view of the very wide range of subjects brought up in the debate. I shall try to provide answers, so far as I can, to all the points which have been put, and I undertake to look into the questions which have been raised to which I cannot give immediate answers.
So far as my personal interest in this problem is concerned, I shall do my utmost in the Ministry of Aviation to ensure that whatever is humanly possible in these matters will be done. In that sense, despite the earlier remarks of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) for bringing the matter up and giving us the chance to air it.
My right hon. Friend has himself paid great attention and given a considerable amount of thought and study to the problem in the Ministry. I cannot yet speak with the same authority as he, but that is not to say that I am entirely a novice in the matter. None of us is. I have been a consumer or absorber of decibels in the neighbourhood of London (Heathrow) Airport myself. For a great part of last year, I worked in the immediate neighbourhood of London (Heathrow) Airport. I have, since I became Parliamentary Secretary, paid four visits to London (Heathrow) Airport. I should have paid a fifth but for the fact that my aircraft landed at London (Gatwick) Airport instead.
Earlier this week, I spent a night at London (Heathrow) Airport to sample the nuisance for myself. I hope that I shall not unduly disappoint hon. Members when I tell them that I had a perfectly good night's sleep. That is not to say that I do not attach the greatest importance to the problem. I think that the only thing my researches have established so far is that, wherever one goes, on whatever occasion, to sample the problem, somebody will always say that one ought to have been somewhere else to experience the full agony of it.
I take, first, the principal points raised by my hon. Friend. He was concerned, in the first place, with the noise of aircraft coming into land at London (Heathrow) Airport and passing over his constituency. At this point, I am talking about landings, not take-offs.
1365 I think that everyone appreciates that, so long as the prevailing winds in the vicinity are westerly, which they are, aircraft must pass over Richmond to land. Moreover, aircraft coming into land at London Airport must get into line to come straight down at about 8 miles away from the airport, so that it is unavoidable that it passes over a fairly long strip of territory.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey knows, partly on his own initiative, for over a year we have been checking the height of aircraft as they come in to land by radar. The checks have taken place at irregular, intermittent intervals for two-hour stretches twice a week so that no pilot has any means of knowing that his descent is being monitored.
Figures have previously been given to my hon. Friend, but I should like to give him the most up-to-date ones. Out of 860 approaches which have been checked, only 13 were below the correct glide path. I shall come in a moment to the question whether these measurements are accurate, but this is what the statistics show at the moment. That is already an improvement on the percentage figures quoted at an earlier stage of the checking, and it is, to that extent, encouraging.
However, we are not content with this coverage, and I am glad to be able to assure my hon. Friend that in the near future we shall bring more radar sets into this operation so that it will be possible to obtain a larger sample. Of course, it will not be a complete coverage of every landing, but it will be a larger sample. The figures, so far as they go, show that there has been a little over 98 per cent. compliance with the height regulations. So far as I know, the lowest approach that has been detected was not more than 200 ft. below the proper height, and that was 4 miles out from the airport where the height should have been 1.100 ft. In other words, the aircraft was down to about 900 ft.
When infractions of this kind occur the Ministry immediately takes up the question with the airline concerned. Hon. Members will want to know what that means. In the first place, it means drawing the airline's attention to the infraction, remonstrating with it and seeking its co-operation in ensuring that the 1366 regulations are maintained. In every case so far, the airline concerned has undertaken to give its co-operation in future and to tell the pilot that he must conform to the regulations, or insist that he must have further training in this aspect of flying technique before he comes into land again.
There are one or two points that I wish to stress about coming in to land. The first is that a pilot gets no advantage by coming in below the three-degree angle which is prescribed. He gains nothing by it, and does not want to do it. It does not make the landing any safer for him nor does it make it any more convenient. If he comes in to land below the angle prescribed, it is a pure miscalculation. There is no reason to think that he does it out of any desire to make things easier for himself at the price of other people's convenience.
The second point that I want to make about the angle of descent is that I am informed that it is quite easy for a person standing on the ground, merely watching an aircraft's descent, to miscalculate the height at which it is flying. It is possible for such a miscalculation to be made even by an experienced airline pilot standing on the ground and watching. It is perhaps even possible for a miscalculation to be made by an experienced Member of Parliament such as the hon. Member for Brixton.
One case has been quoted where an experienced bomber pilot alleged that an approach was too low. I know nothing about this case myself, but it occurs to me that if that pilot was one experienced in flying, say, wartime bombers or something like that, the miscalculation would be quite easy, even for him, because of the extraordinary transformation—it is more than a development—in aircraft since he gained his experience.
The third point on the angle and height of descent concerns the sanctions or penalties that can be imposed—and they can be imposed. A pilot who offends against these regulations is liable to a fine of £200 or six months' imprisonment, or both. In no case so far have we brought a prosecution, and there is a very good reason for it. Of the cases we have checked and monitored over the last year there has never yet been a case of the same pilot offending 1367 twice. I think that everyone would agree that to impose very severe penalties like this for a first offence would be most unreasonable—
§ Mr. Woodhouse
My hon. Friend anticipates my next remark.
So far there has been no visible pattern of any one airline being more liable to offend than any other, nor has there been any trace of an airline wilfully disregarding the regulations, or adopting an unco-operative attitude to the Ministry. In those circumstances, it does not seem to us unreasonable that, so far, there has not been any cause to prosecute, nor have these penalties been imposed, although those penalties are there and certainly would be used in any case that seemed to us to justify such action.
The last point on the line of descent and the three-degree angle of descent is that, according to the experts in this subject, it is the steepest angle consistent with safety. It is the same angle for all types of aircraft—for jet aircraft, and for the piston-engined aircraft that they are gradually replacing—so we cannot reasonably blame the jet for this requirement of angle of descent.
We shall, of course, take every opportunity of increasing the angle of descent whenever it becomes technically possible with advances in aeroplane development, but it is only fair to point out that there would have to be a very considerable increase in the angle of descent before there was any material lessening of the noise from jet aircraft merely by reason of their greater height. I must frankly say that, according to my present advice, it does not appear probable that any great increase in the steepness of the angle can be brought about. The most we can ask for is that the pilot should meticulously observe the present regulations on the angle of descent. This we are doing, and shall continue to do, and we believe—and I am sure that those hon. Members who have spoken also believe, because they have shown it by the way in which they have approached this problem—that, generally speaking, it is the pilots' wish to conform. There is no question of a deliberate desire to be unco-operative.
1368 I know that errors are possible so I will not absolutely rule out the possibility of errors in our own monitoring of these angles of descent. I shall look into that since a number of hon. Members regard with suspicion the figures presented. I have no reason whatever to think that the figures are not accurate, but I will certainly look into the possibility of error in our mechanical means of checking.
The next point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey related to night flying. I should like to give the House the up to date position on night flights by jet aircraft. During this summer seven airlines were authorised to operate jet flights. They were our own two Corporations, Alitalia, Middle East Airlines, Olympic Airways, S.A.S., and Swissair. At the height of the summer there were 50 take-offs and 40 landings by night scheduled in any one week.
I was asked to give figures separating scheduled and non-scheduled flights. I believe that I am right in saying that non-scheduled flights by night are extremely rare. They occur only in very exceptional, non-recurring circumstances; for instance, when President Kennedy flew back after his visit to London. The figures I have given can be taken to refer virtually exclusively to scheduled flights.
During the winter, of course, traffic drops, and there are at present only four airlines which are authorised to operate night services with jets. Those are British European Airways, Middle East Airlines, Olympic Airways and Swissair, and the highest rate of movement involved in winter operations involves 16 take-offs and 20 landings in a week.
My right hon. Friend is at present considering applications from a number of the airlines for jet services at night next summer. I can assure the House that before reaching a decision he will certainly take into account everything that has been said in this debate today, but I cannot give any undertaking to meet the suggestion that all jet flights should be stopped between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. These night flights are a way of bringing cheap air travel within the reach of many thousands who otherwise would not be able to afford to travel 1369 by air. And I am talking in thousands. It has been suggested that the convenience of 50,000 or more people is being sacrificed to that of a few hundred. The disproportion is nothing like of that order.
§ Mr. Rankin
When the hon. Gentleman is talking about the controlling of flights between 11 at night and 7 in the morning he is, of course, referring only to outgoing flights, is he not?
§ Mr. Rankin
My point is that it is almost impossible to control incoming flights to London Airport or Prestwick, particularly on the North Atlantic route, because they may be held up, by weather for instance, on the other side.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
That, of course, is perfectly true. It is only take-offs which can be absolutely banned, but I must reaffirm that there is no intention on the part of my right hon. Friend to take that action.
The important point is that these night flights are one of the means of enabling the airlines to do what is most vital for their economy, namely, to keep aero-planes in the air where they earn money, instead of on the ground where they merely cost money. Night flights, therefore, help to keep down the costs of all flights, including daytime services, and they help to make London the focal point for air services which it is today, and which, if I have taken rightly the sense of this debate, no one wishes to abolish.
Some people have tried to measure the value of aircraft flights purely in terms of the number of passengers, but I do not think that that is a fair approach. I think that we ought to look at it in a wider context. Night air services are a means of helping our tourist industry, which is an important source of revenue, giving employment to many of our own people, including, I believe, many of the people who reside in the immediate vicinity of London (Heathrow) Airport and feel the grievance which has been aired today. Perhaps most important of all, if I may descend to something merely commercial for the moment—and 1370 merely commercial things are very important in this context—is that night flights enable our businessmen to get abroad quickly to do their business, to get their orders, and to build up our export trade, on which the prosperity of the country, of all of us, depends.
Included in that business of selling exports is, of course, selling aeroplanes, a very large factor in our export trade and one which gives the Ministry a double reason for interest in this problem. Measured by this yardstick, I must reassert that night services are essential and that it would be wrong to condemn London (Heathrow) Airport to become a backwater in international traffic, as some parts of the country became backwaters when railway services were developed in the last century.
The question of take-offs was also raised in the debate. We monitor takeoffs on a considerable scale. Almost all jet take-offs are monitored. It is not possible to monitor them all at the moment, because that would involve shifting people and apparatus quickly from one part of the airport to another when wind conditions changed and different runways came into use, but it is our intention to instal automatic monitoring equipment in the course of the next year or two at quite heavy expense. This will make it possible to monitor practically every take-off.
The objective which is laid upon pilots as they take off is to get up to the maximum height as quickly as possible and then reduce their power to minimise the noise as they pass over the nearest built-up area. Perhaps it is not necessary to worry the House with too many statistics, but I have figures of the results of monitoring during the past year. To put it succinctly, it is quite clear that the infringements of the standards of noise laid down—standards which are measured in the peculiar term "perceived noise decibels"—have been going down quite encouragingly in the last year. There are still some infringements, but the percentage is now down to a very small figure on a greatly increased number of take-offs.
§ Mr. Lipton
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that there was 98 per cent. compliance in coming in. Has he any comparable figure for take-off?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
Yes, I have. I had not intended to inflict figures on the House, but since I am asked I can give them.
In August this year, which is the latest date I have, of a total of 1,943 confirmed readings the percentage above the limit of 110 perceived noise decibels was 6 per cent., which was substantially lower than it had been in any previous month for which measurements had been taken, and the figure has been going down steadily throughout the last year.
The other major source of noise, apart from landings and take-off, is ground-running. Not much has been said about that in the debate, but I think that it would be worth while to touch on it briefly. London (Heathrow) Airport is, of course, a major maintenance base and it is impossible for the ground running of aeroplanes to be eliminated entirely. There are a number of measures which we impose to mitigate the nuisance of the ground running of engines. There are techniques to keep the duration of ground-running to an absolute minimum and, in particular, to keep to the absolute minimum ground-running at maximum power.
There are noise screens round the airport. Some of them are buildings or walls; some are earth banks. One hon. Member asked me about the B.O.A.C. earth bank. I can confirm that it has been completed. It is in service, and I understand that a reduction of one-third in the annoyance has been achieved by the building of the bank. Other earth banks are being erected. For jet engines there are mufflers which can be installed, and these are used by B.O.A.C. and are available from B.O.A.C. to other airlines.
There are, of course, stringent provisions for very considerable reduction of ground running at night. Earlier this week I spent a night at London (Heathrow) Airport. I was told that, although the take-off and landing figures were about average, the ground running was well above the average that night. Nevertheless, I did not feel that that unduly disturbed my sleep. I hope that all these measures will considerably mitigate the nuisance of that kind of annoyance.
I have touched on improvements in techniques of operation and mechanical 1372 measures with aircraft. Silencers are now fitted to almost all jet aircraft which use London (Heathrow) Airport. They are extremely expensive devices and substantially reduce the efficiency and economical working of jet aircraft. I say this not by way of complaint, but so that hon. Members and their constituents may realise that our airlines are putting up with considerable inconvenience for the convenience of people living in the neighbourhood of the airport.
I am even able to measure that inconvenience in figures. B.O.A.C. tells me that the cost in operations to it of reducing power and efficiency by installing silencers was about £400,000 in the last complete financial year. For B.E.A. it was about £100,000. It is fair to the Corporations that we should bear in mind, when we later debate their activities, as we shall, that a loss of £500,000 has been imposed on them in the interests of public amenity.
I have said nothing so far about supersonic aircraft, which were briefly touched upon by one hon. Member. They are, of course, still a very long way away. We are in touch with other countries about their development. If the kind of developments that we now contemplate are successful, there is a good chance that supersonic aircraft in flight may be no worse than present-day jet aircraft and possibly even a little better, though in respect of their take-off and landing I am not in a position to give any undertaking now.
Helicopters have not been mentioned, perhaps because the hon. Members who have attended the debate are unable to talk authoritively on that subject. But I can tell the House that my right hon. Friend is giving careful attention to the report of the committee on the planning of helicopter stations in London with a view to ensuring that the noise inevitably associated with them is reduced to the minimum.
I now come to more fundamental and far-reaching measures for tackling this problem, which one might briefly sum up as fundamental research. This is something that all the manufacturers are doing and that we ourselves are doing in the Ministry's own establishments, and We are consulting every interested 1373 foreign country and international organisation about it. We shall of course, continue to do that until we achieve a break-through in combating the problem of noise. I cannot say at the moment that any break-through is in sight and I doubt whether concentrated research, regardless of funds, upon one particular problem will produce the right solution, because, in science, it is so often by tackling problems on a broad front that one can get an unexpected break-through at a point quite different from where one was looking for it.
I emphasise that finance is not the problem. It is not a matter of shortage of money in solving the problem of making air engines less noisy. The long and short of the matter is that at the moment nobody has the idea of how to do it. Nobody who could solve this problem theoretically would be short of money to carry it through. Any aircraft manufacturer who devised a way of creating a powerful and silent engine would not need any stimulus from his Government or anybody else to carry it through. He would find ready sales in every country. I hope that when that break-through does come about it will be in this country.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
Does my hon. Friend know whether similar research is being done in other parts of the world?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
Yes. This is a problem which confronts every country which produces aircraft, and which every country wants to solve. It is not a question of manufacturers wanting to make noise, with people like us having to restrain them. If they knew how to cut it themselves, they would do it. Nothing would hold them back, whether in this country or anywhere else.
It is not possible to pick out the exact items of research that bear upon the specific task of reducing noise, so I cannot give an exact figure in pounds, shillings and pence of the current cost of such research. In this country it is going on in the Ministry's establishments, at Southampton and Manchester Universities, and at the College of Aeronautics.
I wish to be very careful about not appearing to be too hopeful or too optimistic. I always believe in erring, when I do err, on the side of promising 1374 less than I hope to see performed, rather than be caught out in promising more. I only want to say that it looks on present information as though the so-called by-pass and ducted fan engine, now beginning to come into service, will be eventually developed to a point where the jet velocities are low enough to reduce the jet noise.
A great deal of time and money is being spent on this by the Ministry and the industry, and also on the related problem of reducing internal engine noise. Here again, there are prospects of improved designs which will prevent the noise leaving the intake, at any rate to the extent which it does to-day.
§ Mr. Rankin
Can we take it that scientists believe that power can be dissociated to some extent from noise?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I am hardly qualified to speak on behalf of scientists, but I believe that honest scientists—and, of course, all scientists are honest—would say that there is a basic conflict between power and silence—that it is impossible to eliminate the noise and retain the same amount of power. The task before them is to strike a proper balance and to go on improving that balance as fast as they can.
To return, however, to the warning note, it is also right to remind the House that although there is this prospect of eventually producing quieter engines, the airlines have only recently made a heavy investment in their present equipment. It will be some years before it is obsolete and, therefore, before the full effect of new types of engines which are being developed and which already exist makes itself felt.
I know that I have not succeeded in touching upon everything. I still have a number of things to say—
§ Mr. Woodhouse
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey, who opened the debate, made an important point on the subject of public relations. This is one which I should like to give a serious undertaking to examine carefully. It was made also by other hon. Members who have spoken. My hon. Friend's suggestion was that we should appoint 1375 a senior officer—I believe he called him a commissioner—to be responsible for dealing with complaints and the publicising of what the Ministry is doing to improve matters.
I shall not give any final answer on the point today, but I must mention one or two reservations which occurred to me in thinking about it. In the whole field of public relations, there is danger that, when one appoints a specialist public relations officer to deal with a subject, that subject automatically ceases to have any interest for anybody else.
In the present situation, the responsibility for dealing with complaints and publicising what is done in response to them rests with the officers who are actually concerned day by day and all their time with operations. These are the best qualified people to deal with complaints, because they know what they are doing, they know why it is being done and they do not have to refer to anybody else to get the facts explained, as I do, for example.
I have discussed this matter with the General Manager, London Airports, and I find that dealing with complaints is virtually a full-time occupation of one operations officer who is, at the same time, an operations officer who is dealing with the subject that is complained about. His immediate superior spends, perhaps, as much as a quarter of his time also in dealing with complaints. The General Manager himself, naturally, in his public rôle, has a great deal to do with the same subject, as also does the Airport Commandant.
They do this by telephone in answer to calls of complaint. They do it by letter, by visiting people who make complaints and by holding meetings with residents' associations, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the London Airport Standing Consultative Committee, and any group of people who wish to make representations. I am told that the Airport Commandant has recently instituted a practice of taking conducted tours round London (Heathrow) Airport, to give people an understanding of what goes on there and why sometimes it is a nuisance.
1376 I am inclined to think that that is, in principle, the best way to deal with the problem, although I certainly give two undertakings. I will look into the suggestion which my hon. Friend has made and I will see what we can do to improve on the present system within its own limits and generally make sure that our image, as it is called nowadays, is projected more satisfactorily to the public.
While on the subject of complaints, I wish to make it clear that we do not resent the making of complaints. What we hope is that when complaints are made, they will be as specific as possible. It is no good complaining about a general noise without saying, as near as one can, when and where it happened.
If I might, in passing, allude briefly to the case of my hon. Friend's constituent, the lady who made so many calls and received a letter warning her of possible consequences, the point I would like to make is that nobody was attempting to deny her the right to complain. What this lady had done was to inform the Ministry in writing that it was her intention to cause untold trouble and nuisance to the Ministry. That is a rather different matter from simply exercising her right to complain. It was that threat, if she had carried it out—and I am glad to say, on present information, that it is not being carried out—that made it necessary to give a warning that to do so might be an infringement of the law.
One subject which I should like to touch on briefly, because it was raised in relation to the question of fundamental research, is the appointment of a committee by the Minister for Science, under Sir Alan Wilson, to study the problem of noise. This committee has appointed a sub-committee on aircraft noise, which is a very fair recognition that aircraft noise is in a category by itself, because, as my hon. Friend pointed out, it is excluded from the Noise Abatement Act. It is because it is in a class by itself and excluded from that Act that my right hon. Friend feels a strong moral obligation to go as far as he possibly can to meet the public's convenience in the matter.
The sub-committee appointed by Sir Alan Wilson's committee has now been 1377 at work for a year. It has been in close touch with the Ministry during that time and we have furnished it with all the material that we can. Many other interested bodies have given evidence to the sub-committee, including the local authorities, both the British Airways Corporations and the International Air Transport Association, and we are in very close touch with them. Among other bodies that have given evidence are the Noise Abatement Society and several local residents' associations.
In connection with the inquiries of the sub-committee, the Minister for Science has recently commissioned, on behalf of the committee, a social survey of the effect of noise in the neighbourhood of Heathrow. The field work of that survey has now been completed, but it will be quite a long time before the results can be analysed and the committee can draw any conclusions from them.
§ Mr. Rankin
I mentioned Prestwick. I am sure that the Minister will know that this problem is not peculiar to London and that big jets are now using Prestwick more frequently. Therefore, this is a growing problem in Prestwick, too, and will become worse when the new aircraft are flying into it. It also applies to Abbotsinch, the new airport to which I hope to take him at an early date.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I quite agree that the hon. Gentleman is very right to remind me that this is by no means a problem confined to London (Heathrow) Airport. It happens, however, that most hon. Members who have spoken in the debate are directly concerned with London (Heathrow) Airport. I know that it is a general problem throughout the country and that, of course, it is a growing problem as international traffic increases. But there are some parts of the country where, I am told, people want more airports. An hon. Member who represents a Welsh constituency told me that he would be one of the first people to write to me asking that there should be more aircraft noise in his constituency. I mention this in parenthesis only to show that I am well aware that this is a world-wide problem.
To return to the Minister for Science's committee: it is still hard at work, but 1378 I understand that we may expect its report towards the end of next year. My right hon. Friend awaits the issue of this report with the greatest interest, in the hope that it will give him solid grounds for action in dealing with the problem.
I cannot pretend to have covered everything that has been raised in this extremely interesting debate. It is open to hon. Members to remind me of any omissions when I sit down, but I can assure them that without even waiting to be reminded I will take up any specific points and keep in touch with them, and inform them of any matters about which I have failed to inform them.
§ Mr. Skeffington
The Minister has given us the courtesy of a very full reply, and we are very grateful to him for the consideration that he has given to the matter. It has meant a great deal to us. In connection with night flying he properly referred to the commercial considerations and the need to keep aircraft in the air, but he did not say—although it must have been in his mind—that the Minister must give some consideration to the sleep of people round the airport. I should like some confirmation of the fact that they will not be neglected.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I am grateful to the hon. Member for reminding me of that. Of course, my right hon. Friend will give consideration to this very important matter. I think that I said in my speech that before my right hon. Friend gave any more permissions for night jet flights next summer he would certainly pay close attention to everything said in this debate, and I gladly reaffirm that.
I conclude my speech on this very far-reaching and absorbing subject by saying that we have had in our minds all the time, in dealing with the operation of airports, the fact that not only the safety of flights and the prosperity of the country but also the convenience of our citizens is of the highest importance, but in trying to reconcile the sometimes conflicting needs of these various interests our work cannot be, so far as we can see at the moment, a process of finding one simple, quick, ready-made solution for the whole problem.
What we can do is to combine many small measures, any of which, taken in 1379 isolation, would not sound very impressive. I remind the House that some of these small measures have already produced a very significant amelioration. We have only to consider what the situation would be today if we had not insisted upon the installation of suppressors on jet aircraft, despite the considerable economic loss involved. We are certainly not going to leave the matter there, until the next Adjournment debate on this subject. I shall make it my business to see that, during the time between now and then, whatever we can do will be done.
But there are two generalisations which it is only right for me to mention. First, as far as I can see, noise and 1380 aircraft are to some extent inseparable. Aircraft and the wealth and prosperity of this country are also inseparable. There could be only one complete solution to the problem of noise, and that would be the grounding of aircraft completely and permanently, which is something none of us would contemplate.
Secondly, within the limits that I have described the Ministry, the aircraft industry, the Corporations and the officials at the London Airports are doing all that is humanly and technically possible to mitigate and contain this undeniable nuisance.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Four o'clock.