HC Deb 19 June 1990 vol 174 cc793-4
12. Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received about low flying below 250 ft.

Mr. Neubert

It is not possible to identify such representations separately, but during May 1990 the Ministry of Defence received 41 inquiries and complaints about military low flying training from the three United Kingdom tactical training areas during periods when these were active.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that there has been a twofold increase in such flights since 1979, causing unnecessary accidents and distress? Will he now give an undertaking to accept the Select Committee recommendation to phase out such flights over two years and in the interim give special protection to schools and hospitals?

Mr. Neubert

The hon. Gentleman will know that it is the Government's practice to respond to Select Committee reports within two months, and we intend to do that in this respect. That means that our detailed response to the Committee's recommendations on low flying training will be made by the middle of July.

There was an increase in the amount of low flying before the introduction of modern aircraft, but the amount has stabilised and there is no reason for the hon. Gentleman's apprehension that such flying might be unsafe. The RAF's record in this respect is very creditable.

Sir Dudley Smith

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Western European Union assembly recently considered this matter in detail and concluded that the legitimate need for low flying training must always be balanced against safeguards for the good of the public down below? Does he agree that standards must be rigorously imposed so that pilots stick rigidly to their routes and never go below the permitted heights?

Mr. Neubert

We have no evidence to suggest that pilots breach the stringent regulations imposed for low flying training. However, we accept that it is necessary to minimise the impact of low flying on people on the ground. I certainly accept that there is a dilemma which constantly has to be resolved. We shall take into account all that has been said in this connection and respond next month to the report of the Select Committee, which itself recognised the need for low flying training to continue.

Mr. Hood

While welcoming the decision to try to save £600 million on defence and the cancellation of the new Tornados which were on order, may I suggest that the Minister saves a further few million pounds by stopping the foolish war games with low flying over the borders of Scotland? Such games are nonsense—children are wetting the bed because aircraft are flying over my constituency at 100 ft. That is a war game at its extreme.

Mr. Neubert

We are not engaged in war games but in essential military training which is necessary to qualify our pilots for the exacting task that they would have in war. I am sure that on behalf of his constituents the hon. Gentleman might take some account of the contribution made by those young pilots and navigators in this exacting role.