HC Deb 04 November 1986 vol 103 cc794-5
9. Mr. D. E. Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many complaints his Department has received concerning low-flying F111 aircraft during the past year.

Mr. Freeman

Records are not maintained in the precise form requested, but 88 complaints and inquiries were received in the Ministry of Defence between November 1985 and October 1986 relating to aircraft from stations in Great Britain where United States Air Force F111 is are based.

Mr. Thomas

Bearing in mind the number of such complaints, will the Minister tell us what contribution the United Kingdom Government are making to the NATO working party on aircraft noise in modern society? Will he assure the House that the Government will not prevent the development within NATO of the kinds of standards the West Germans insist on, which apply to West German aircraft and aircraft operating over West Germany?

Mr. Freeman

The regulations governing low-flying in Germany are different from those that apply in this country. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the German Government restrict low flying to specific areas. Since 1979, following an initiative by the then Labour Government, which we have followed ever since, we do not restrict low-flying aircraft to any specific areas. We allow them to fly anywhere in the country, with the exception of built-up areas, civil air traffic control zones and over most hospitals.

Mr. Baldry

Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of this country would rather have the occasional low-flying plane, knowing that every such plane is a friend and is intent upon the proper defence of this country, than no effective allied deterrent in the sky?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. There is a great need for low-flying training in the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force, because the perceived threat involves the training of our pilots and American pilots in the techniques of low flying.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Is the Minister aware that every time a fighter aircraft crashes killing the crew, such as the German fighter that crashed in Northumberland only last week, it instils great fear in the countryside community of this country? Could we do more of the low-flying training of our pilots, which is obviously necessary, in much more sparsely populated areas of countries overseas?

Mr. Freeman

Our aircraft are required in Britain and western Europe. Therefore, we are severely constrained as to where the aircraft can train regularly. There has been only one civilian fatality—one too many—in the past 10 years involving low-flying aircraft.