HC Deb 26 January 1988 vol 126 cc159-60
7. Dr. Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received concerning low flying over Wales.

Mr. Freeman

Between 1 December 1987 and 18 January 1988 the Ministry of Defence received 37 inquiries or complaints from Wales about low-flying military aircraft.

Dr. Thomas

Does the Minister accept that low-flying training in Wales gives rise to the greatest number of complaints that land on my desk or are telephoned into my office from people not only in the constituency but outside it? Will he undertake a review of low-flying training throughout Britain? It is now 10 years since the last review took place.

Mr. Freeman

No, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman such an undertaking, and I would quarrel with the assumption behind his question. The issue may preoccupy him, and perhaps some of his constituents, but that is not borne out by the majority of hon. Members.

Sir Antony Buck

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is important that our services maintain their capability and capcity to fly at low levels? Their expertise in this sphere has stood our country well in many regards, including the Falklands campaign, when they proved to be expert at this sort of manoeuvre?

Mr. Freeman

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. The low-flying regulations permit aircraft to fly down to 250 ft at up to 450 knots. Most of that flying is done during the daytime. During wartime—I am sure that the House will want to pay tribute to wartime pilots—pilots had to fly very much faster, at perhaps 50 ft, and at night.

Mr. Livsey

What representations has the Minister received about low-flying aircraft at night over Wales? Recently, one flew over Brecon at 9 pm and woke most of the population under the age of five years, causing great disturbance.

Mr. Freeman

Unfortunately, in wartime our pilots would have to fly at night. Most low flying ends at 11 pm; only 5 per cent. of low flying takes place after sunset. I regret the disturbance that was caused to the children of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but I can assure him that it was necessary.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is my hon. Friend aware that most people in Wales are reassured to see RAF markings on planes as they fly over so low, but will he ensure that instructions are given to pilots not to use prominent buildings, such as district general hospitals, as landmarks on which to draw beam?

Mr. Freeman

I can assure my hon. Friend that hospitals and all residential locations are not used as targets. That may appear to be the case, but all the targets that pilots use for low-level missions are non-residential.