HC Deb 23 May 1978 vol 950 cc1309-10
3. Mr. Woodall

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has plans to introduce a new low flying system for the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement.

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

As I told the House on 3rd April, the air force department of the Ministry of Defence is carrying out a review of the present low flying system in the United Kingdom. Some changes have been agreed in principle by the Air Force Board, but a great deal of detailed work has still to be done to verify the feasibility of these changes and to ensure that the low flying is dispersed as evenly as possibly and causes as little inconvenience to the public as possible. I will consider making a statement to the House in due course.

Mr. Woodall

I am grateful for that somewhat limited reply, but can my hon. Friend tell us whether there is likely to be any increase in areas that will be affected by the low flying systems, and whether he will give maximum publicity to any new areas so affected and sympathetic consideration to any objections from some people who have particular interests against low flying?

Mr. Wellbeloved

The intention of the review is to seek to ensure that the RAF has adequate facilities in the United Kingdom to carry out its essential low flying training. The changes will increase the total area of the United Kingdom which falls within the low flying system.

As to the possibilities of publicity, one of the studies which are now in hand is to consider the best way in which this matter can be brought to the attention of the general public. My own view is that the time is fast approaching when we should publish in its entirety the low-flying system in this country.

Mr. Beith

Is the Minister aware that my constituents in Northumberland will welcome anything that he can do to spread the disruption caused by this necessary training as widely as possible among the whole of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, all of whom benefit from the defence capability which it enhances?

Mr. Wellbeloved

I agree entirely that all of the people who reside in the United Kingdom and, indeed, in Western Europe, benefit from the ability of the Royal Air Force and other NATO air forces to be able to fly low and penetrate into a potential enemy's air space.

The Royal Air Force takes very seriously the complaints which are registered by the general public. As the hon. Gentleman is personally aware, we do everything within our power to try to mitigate the consequences upon the general public.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will the Minister say whether, in his review, he will look at the question of compensation for loss of amenity caused by the noise of low flying aircraft, particularly over an area which may still be subject to having an operational air base in its midst? Will he also give some thought to the possibility of noise insulation being provided by his Department for houses which may be extremely badly affected?

Mr. Wellbeloved

Those matters are deserving of full consideration. As for compensation, people who suffer damage or loss resulting from proven activities of the RAF in low flying are entitled to make, and are asked by us to make, a claim to the Claims Commission. Such a claim will be properly evaluated and, if justifiable, compensation will be paid.

The greatest compensation that people who suffer from the disturbance caused by low flying can have is that the Royal Air Force is training itself to protect their freedom, their security and the peace of the world.