HC Deb 15 June 1976 vol 913 cc284-6
2. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what was the outcome of the inquiry into recent crashes of low flying training aircraft near Caernarvon and elsewhere on the West Wales coastline; and if he will take steps to reduce the frequency of low-flying training over Gwynedd and Dyfed.

The Under Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. James Wellbeloved)

The boards of inquiry have not yet completed their work, but there is no basis, as revealed by their interim findings, on which to justify any reduction in low-flying training.

Mr. Wigley

While expressing sympathy for the families of those who were involved in these accidents, may I ask the Minister to accept that for every flight that ends in disaster there are thousands that cause distress and fear to the inhabitants in the area over which the flights take place? Is he aware that the week before last there was nearly a serious accident in Gwynedd, when a low-flying aircraft came face to face with a car on the brow of a hill? Will he examine the possibility of changing the routes of such flights so that the same communities do not always bear the brunt of them?

Mr. Wellbeloved

I join with the hon. Gentleman in sympathising with the families of those gallant young men. No one enjoys low flying. The RAF tries to avoid the more densely populated areas and distributes low flying activities throughout the United Kingdom. On the question of the rate of accidents. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not like to cause undue worry in that respect. The Gnat trainers have suffered only two accidents from low flying in the last 10 years and the Hunter has experienced only 10 accidents in 22 years.

Mr. Goodhew

Does the Minister agree that it is a good thing for the Welsh Nationalists that it is the RAF which has been flying low over their area and not the Soviet air force?

Mr. Wellbeloved

It is a good thing for the United Kingdom that it is the RAF that flies over our territory. I emphasise that low-flying must remain an essential part of the training requirement if the RAF is to retain its operational capacity.

Mr. MacFarquar

Does my hon. Friend not agree that although the RAF may make attempts to distribute low-flying operations, the proportion of low flying over populated areas is still too great? Does he agree that more use could be made of virtually unpopulated areas for that type of training? Will he seriously investigate that, and do something about it?

Mr. Wellbeloved

Since taking office I have given particular attention to low flying, because I am aware of the great distress that it can cause to local communities. So far as it is operationally possible, I am satisfied that the RAF takes great care to avoid densely populated areas. The difficulty is that there are insufficient areas of low population density to meet our requirements.

Mr. Thompson

Will the Minister inform the local people precisely when the flights will take place, so that they can brace themselves to put up with them?

Mr. Wellbeloved

Whenever possible the RAF attempts to maintain prior communication with local communities and to keep hon. Members and the public fully informed. I am holding a public relations conference in and around Wales fairly shortly, which I hope will result in my being able to give further reassurance on this matter to the people of Wales.