HC Deb 08 November 1977 vol 938 cc475-6
14. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the results of the recent NATO air exercise based on Upper Hey-ford.

Mr. Wellbeloved

By testing the operational readiness of an Fill unit based in the United Kingdom, this United States Air Force exercise has made a direct contribution to the effectiveness of the NATO defences.

Mr. Roberts

Will the Minister confirm that the discomfort caused by low flying from Upper Heyford, which I think is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), to my own was borne with fortitude by the majority of people on the ground? Can he also confirm that it is very unlikely that a similar extensive exercise involving low flying will occur again in the near future over the same areas?

Mr. Wellbeloved

I cannot give an absolute undertaking in respect of the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. There will be a number of exercises from time to time which will encompass the whole of the United Kingdom low-flying areas. I appreciate very much the forbearance of the people of this country and the people of Wales in the discomfort and inconvenience that low flying causes to them. But I must emphasise to the House and the country that low flying is a vital part of the United Kingdom's defence and that without that exercise and training we would not be able to fulfil our duty to defend this country and the world.

Mr. Roderick

Is my hon. Friend aware that, while my constituents and most of the people living in Mid-Wales have suffered inconvenience from low flying exercises, a new dimension has been added to the problem with the recent tragic accident? Will my hon. Friend now call off the exercise called Avon Express until a full-scale inquiry has been conducted into the need for, and value of, such exercises?

Mr. Wellbeloved

I sympathise with my hon. Friend and his constituents, but, as I have already said, low flying and exercises of this nature are a vital part of our defence capability, and I cannot give him the undertaking that we should call off any future exercises. When we authorise exercises in low flying we take the utmost care to ensure that very strict controls are exercised by the command and the crews to avoid inconvenience to people on the ground.

Mr. Marten

Does the Minister recognise the stoical way in which my constituents living near the airfield have borne the noise of continual flying over the last week? Does he realise that they do that because they realise that support of NATO is vital to the defence of this country?

Mr. Wellbeloved

I recognise that, and I welcome the widespread support from the general public in the very difficult task that the RAF has to discharge in undertaking low flying. I assure those who do not appreciate this vital defence need that their complaints and representations are fully considered and that we take every step open to us to avoid inconvenience.

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