HC Deb 24 March 1987 vol 113 cc150-1
4. Mr. Kennedy

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the notification and investigation procedures regarding low-flying aircraft incidents; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Freeman

The investigation of low-flying aircraft incidents is a centralised responsibility within the Ministry of Defence. All instances where there is a prima facie case of a breach of low-flying regulations are subjected to full investigation. These are very thorough and I am satisfied with the operation of this procedure.

Mr. Kennedy

I thank the Minister for that reply. I appreciate the efforts that he is making in his office to discuss with hon. Members many issues relating to low-flying aircraft activity which constituents raise with us. It has been suggested to me that last year, for example, the Ministry of Defence in response to inquiries by The Observer, stated that there had been no collisions involving American F111 jets. That subsequently proved not to be the case, according to the Minister's recent written answer to me. Will the hon. Gentleman consider this matter, because genuine confusion seems to have been created in the public's mind by some of the public utterances of Ministry of Defence officials?

Mr. Freeman

Conservative Members are very proud of the great skill of our RAF pilots in low flying, and I am sure that that sentiment is shared by all hon. Members. The RAF pilots perform a difficult job. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in complimenting the RAF. As for The Observer article, if the hon. Gentleman cares to table a question or to write to me about it, I shall certainly have the matter investigated and respond to him.

Sir Hector Monro

Although I accept absolutely the necessity for low-flying training by the RAF, will my hon. Friend study the low-flying areas and consider whether they can be extended so that the frequency of visits by low-flying aircraft can be spread rather more widely?

Mr. Freeman

It was the last Labour Government who, quite correctly, changed the basis of the low-flying areas. That change was implemented some eight or nine years ago and involved permitting low flying anywhere in the country except over large towns and air traffic control zones. I do not hold out any hope to my hon. Friend for any basic change in that system.

Mr. Home Robertson

How many complaints have been made to the Department about such flights taking place at excessively low levels or at excessive speed? How many of those complaints have led to disciplinary action against MOD staff?

Mr. Freeman

Over the past five years we have received approximately 5,000 complaints per annum from the public about alleged low-flying incidents. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the low-flying restrictions only permit pilots to fly down to 250 ft. I recently answered a question on the number of disciplinary actions taken. However, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with the details to refresh his memory of the answer that I gave.