HC Deb 27 June 1978 vol 952 cc1205-7
11. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what new plans he has to enable the Royal Air Force to utilise areas in certain Commonwealth countries for training in low-flying techniques.

Mr. Wellbeloved

We are currently considering the possibilities for low-flying training in other countries.

Mr. Farr

Will the Minister say what representations he has had from the Canadian Government, who have, I understand, offered parts of Labrador for training in low-flying techniques? Labrador is relatively unpopulated, and low flying in that area would not cause the same disturbance as it causes over parts of the United Kingdom at night.

Mr. Wellbeloved

We already enjoy very good relationships with the Canadian Government and very good facilities in Labrador. I hope that this relationship will continue for a long time. We would certainly be prepared to respond to any initiatives from the Canadian Government to expand these facilities if that is their wish.

Mr. Tebbit

Has the Under-Secretary received any representations from any Labour Members about the environmental damage done in their constituencies by low-flying aircraft? If so, has he condemned them in the same unreasonable and vitriolic way as he did my hon. Friends who resent the reactivation of Greenham Common, which has not been used for military purposes for some years? Also, is he aware that a housing estate has been built on the approach to that common?

Mr. Wellbeloved

I have received representations from both sides of the House about low-flying aircraft. I have also received from hon. Members on all sides very great understanding about the essential role that low flying plays in training the RAF to perform its functions of preserving the security of this country. However, at a time when we are trying to increase the defence capacity of NATO and the United Kingdom, I am entitled to take it rather hard when I am criticised by Conservatives who claim that the Government are not doing enough. When we attempt to do more, we are condemned for doing so.

Mr. Watkinson

My hon. Friend has replied in a most courteous manner to the representations from my constituents about the problem of low flying. Will he take account of the need to vary the flight patterns of the aircraft on their way to low-flying areas so that they do not overfly exactly the same areas on every occasion?

Mr. Wellbeloved

We are reviewing the whole pattern of low flying in the United Kingdom. When that review is complete, I hope that it will be possible not only to vary the route but to spread the burden that exists. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides for the care they take in representing the views of their constituents on this difficult problem and their understanding of this essential requirement of our defence capabilities.

Mr. MacCormick

While I appreciate the great skills of the officers involved to avoid the possibility of another massacre of Glencoe, could I remind the Minister of the problem of low flying there? Is he aware that a lot of my constituents in that area are night-shift workers who find it very difficult?

Mr. Wellbeloved

We take enormous care to vary the routes and to take account of particularly sensitive areas and activities in undertaking low flying. The disturbance that occurs from this training is nothing compared with the massacre that would occur if this country were left defenceless and the RAF were not capable of performing its proper function.

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