HL Deb 07 April 1954 vol 186 cc1060-84

2.47 p.m.

LORD TEVIOT rose to draw attention to the loss in value of properties contiguous to aerodromes; to ask Her Majesty's Government to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the whole subject; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, as it is customary in your Lordships' House for any Member of the House who has a personal interest in any matter to which he refers to state it, I must immediately say that I live in an area which brings me directly within the ambit of my Motion. I want to make it clear that anything I say relates to what is, in fact, taking place, and has no reference to the Americans. They have come over here to help us to prepare a military organisation to resist aggression, and nothing that I say has got anything to do with them. I wish to refer only to the actions of our own people in regard to this important matter. I want to make it quite clear that I feel most friendly, as we all do, towards the Americans for coming over here to assist the United Nations to fight against aggression. This is not a political question, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will realise that it is something that can be dealt with, irrespective of Party politics.

Many of your Lordships will realise the terrible situation that exists in parts of the country in regard to the health, happiness, comfort, education, and the general life of thousands of our people, in all walks of life, who, through no fault of their own, live near these aerodromes. Only within the last few days have read a report by one of our most eminent physicians who says that what is going on is thoroughly bad for young children and school children. I have seen instances where the lives and happiness of the homes of the people have been completely wrecked. Apart from all this, there is tie financial loss, due to their property being worth nothing. Why should some of cur people suffer in this way while others, by pure chance, have escaped any sort untoward unpleasantness or (how shall I put it?) suffering, due to these aerodromes. I think it is only fair that all should share in what is necessary. I propose to deal more fully later on with the question of compensation. Undoubtedly, it is a complicated question. We hear in Answers to Questions that there is no claim. But that is not my information. Like many of your Lordships, I have friends who are distinguished judges, and they have told me, quite distinctly, that anyone who damages the property of anybody else, whether it be an individual, an organization, or the State, has by law to pay compensation for the evil that he may have done. We all know that military aerodromes are necessary. The training of personnel for the Air Force is equally necessary and important. Nevertheless, I think that those who chose the sites of some of these aerodromes have a heavy responsibility. I know of one particular aerodrome where every step was taken to prevent it from being built there—it is in a place in which it should never have been built. There were other places within reasonable distance—under ten miles away—where an aerodrome could have been built which would not have interfered with anybody at all. One of the objects of my Motion is to prevent that sort of thing going on.

I hope that the noble Earl who will reply will bear in mind all that I say, and will take a sympathetic view of what is going on. It is said that low-flying jet planes do not damage houses. There are, however, many opinions about that. I have seen opinions of what I consider to be quite good scientific men, who tell us that there is no question that the vibration of these big jet aeroplanes has a detrimental effect on the fabric of these buildings. I cannot believe that the Government are really aware of this situation, and its effect on thousands of our people. I feel confident that the Government, after studying conditions under which many people live to-day, will endeavour to relieve those afflicted. I make the strongest appeal to the Government to give the most serious consideration to this subject, and to do it now.

This question was raised by me in this House a year or more ago, and it has been raised in another place. Some of these people have suffered long enough. Of course, the jet plane is the chief offender in all this. If you live near an aerodrome the noise, vibration and the fumes from jet planes when they are revving up are quite dreadful. I attended a meeting last Saturday in my local town where representatives of the municipality and the local authorities were present. I was requested to ask Her Majesty's Government whether it was not possible, until the Government had visited the area and seen for themselves local conditions, for the jet planes to be grounded. I was asked to put that to the Government to-day, and I have done so. Whether that is possible, I do not know; but that was the request which was made to me. I had an interview with the schoolmistress of a school which is within 100 yards of the end of the runway. She told me that she had had to shut the windows on many occasions, owing to the fumes coming into the school; that the children, when these planes fly over—which are, of course, flying very low, having just taken off—were cringing and frightened; and that for many hours during the week it was impossible to do any teaching at all. It was said, "Why not move the school?" But where could that school be moved to? It is impossible to take the children to another town, and in the town near this school the schools are now all overcrowded. So it is not a question of moving. I do not know what can be done in a case like this. It seems an almost insoluble problem.

I have received many letters from responsible people from all parts of the country on this subject, and I will read your Lordships a remark of the Minister of Transport himself. It is dated November 5, 1953. He went down to an aerodrome which was in process of being equipped, and this is what he sad: It would be perfectly fair to say that there is no scientific evidence that damage has been caused; but, as an ordinary citizen, I believe that some damage is caused in this case—that there is accelerated deterioration of houses that are already deteriorating. Undoubtedly there is accelerated deterioration. I imagine that the Minister of Transport has now instructed his scientists to study the matter, and I hope that they are getting on with the job. I have had other letters from such people as the Provost of one of the Oxford colleges, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells, who wrote to me and said how sorry he was that he could not be here to-day. He sent me some useful information. I have received many other letters from all over the country. I will not weary the House with the many complaints I have had, but I should like to quote one from a lady, a Mrs. Dunne, who owns property of 500-odd acres.

The Air Ministry wished to buy about 125 acres of this land. With her legal advisers, Mrs. Dunne got into touch with a valuer from an eminent firm, who came to the conclusion that the proper price for this land, including buildings and what is termed "injurious affection," was £18,273. They have prepared a memorandum, to which is attached an original letter from the Air Ministry. This is what the memorandum says: … it will be seen that they"— that is, the Air Ministry— have offered £4,000 for the 121.43 acres which, apart from the injurious affection, the surveyors estimate is about £5,000 less than the agricultural value of the land, which is set out in their valuation. This figure is given on the basis that good agricultural land such as this is … must be worth about £100 an acre, purely as agricultural land. That is playing the fool with the whole situation when there is a really sound valuation by a reputable firm. To offer a price such as I have quoted is really fantastic.

Immediately the Air Ministry's offer was received, it was decided to go to arbitration. Counsel has been instructed and the case is being prepared. The memorandum—this is the important part of this case, because I think it intimates definitely that it is admitted that compensation is justified—goes on: Particular attention is drawn to the letter from the Air Ministry dated September I, 1953, which, of course is written without prejudice— I have been at pains to find out from the Librarian exactly what "without prejudice" means. Not being a legal man, I am not quite sure what it does mean, but it seems to me to mean just this: that, if one offers anything "without prejudice," it means that, if it is accepted, one can alter one's mind in the meantime and "run out of it." I do not like a Government taking on business on those lines—


I should not like the noble Lord to make a false point. "Without prejudice" means that this is an offer which ought not to be quoted in any subsequent proceedings.




It is made for the sake of peace and merely in a friendly way but it ought not to be quoted.


I am sorry I did not realise that. I had no idea that there was any question of its being confidential. I have often seen the expression before. Is the noble Lord intimating that I ought not to have quoted the letter?


Frankly, I would not presume to give the noble Lord legal advice, but I am doubtful whether a "without prejudice" letter on a matter which is still in a state of negotiation ought to be quoted.


I see. If I have done anything wrong, I apologise to the House. Naturally, I hope it will not go any further. Anyhow, there it is. The price which was offered was, the memorandum states, in satisfaction of various claims including ' injurious affection'. It seems to me that that contains an admission of the right to compensation. That is just one case that seems to me to show the rather lighthearted way in which the Government Department concerned treat this matter. Then I should like to refer also to what has been happening at the Kent Assize Court where the judge had to stop the proceedings in his court. He sent for the commanding officer, who, needless to say, did snot turn up. In another case low-flying planes, making a terrific noise, also held up the court's business. I cite those examples to illustrate what is happening throughout the country. I have here another newspaper report, dated April 2, about conditions at a place called Wallingford, where the whole of the local industry, the courts, the schools and the general life of the people are detrimentally affected.

I turn for a moment to the question of compensation. One aerodrome of which I know has upwards of forty big, heavy bombers. I understand that they cost £750,000 each, which represents about £40 million, I imagine it would be difficult to estimate what fair compensation over the whole country would amount to, but it seems to me, from my knowledge of the aerodrome near where I live, that not a great many people should receive a great deal. It appears to me that at certain aerodromes there would he no question at all of compensation, but there are a number of aerodromes in the country where people living contiguous to them are badly affected and should be compensated. When one thinks of the enormous cost of building up and maintaining our protective military organisation against aggression, it seems to me that whatever is estimated as compensation will be a mere flea-bite in comparison.

It is impossible to sell property in the conditions to which I have referred. I know of a man who found that his wife and children were becoming mentally affected owing to the continuous strain imposed on them. He could not sell his house but, luckily, he found a house some distance away that was all right; and he just packed up, went off and cut his loss. That is all wrong. We do not want that sort of thing to happen in this country. I hope the Government will appreciate these conditions and the difficulty, even if a person is able to clear out of his home, of finding other habitation. In conclusion, I make a most urgent appeal to the Government to set tip a Royal Commission, or an organisation analogous thereto immediately, to study present conditions and the dire necessity that compensation should be paid to those affected. I am full of hope that my noble friend who is to reply will bring this hope into the minds and the lives of the wretched people who are now suffering in this really tragic way. I beg to move for Papers.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has raised a matter which is of great importance and concern to a considerable number of people, and we are all indebted to him for doing so He began by declaring an interest, and I, too, want to declare an interest. I am more fortunate than the noble Lord—I am not suffering from this noise, but I am acting professionally for people who are most concerned about it. I was in some doubt as to whether I ought to speak at all and I had almost decided not to, but I consulted some of my noble friends and they advised me that I ought to speak; in particular I was authorised by my noble Leader to say that he had advised me to speak to-day. I hope that nothing I say will be designed to further any particular interest, but will be because of my general knowledge and experience of this problem.

This is a grave problem. Most of us at some time in our lives have gone to the countryside for peace, quiet and recreation, and now all that seems to be disappearing. If you want peace and quiet you have to go to the centre of a large town—to Bloomsbury Square or Smith Square. There you will be able to sleep peacefully and enjoy a quiet time; but the countryside seems to he the last place these days where you will net it. All this has arisen in the last few years as the result of flying, but more acutely, as the noble Lord says, as the result of jet engine flying, which has created a new situation. We have to consider what we must regard to-day as a normal aspect of life and what is abnormal; what tie citizen must expect as part of his everyday life, and what he is entitled to regard as something for which he ought to have a remedy.

To-day normal flying is part of the conditions of life that we have to accept. Unfortunately, machines get noisier as they become more powerful. Steps will have to be taken—I am sure that the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply are concerned to see that steps are being taken and will be taken—to minimise the noise of flying; but nobody to-day can seriously object to normal flying. It goes on all over the country and we have to accept it, to acclimatise ourselves to it and become immure to it, just as people become immune to all sorts of things, including penicillin. But it is the abnormal aspect of flying which is the real problem. I want to mention one or two aspects of that, and then to consider what are the possible remedies.

First of all, there is the testing of engines, a good deal of which takes place all over the country. The plane is stationary on the airfield, the engines are tested for hours at a time, and the noise, particularly where jet engines are involved, is intolerable. The noble Lord has in no sense exaggerated the effect upon those who live on the borders of an airfield. That is a burden which individual citizens ought not to be expected to bear. There is no reason why people who in good faith have gone to live adjacent to an airfield, being prepared to put up with the normal noise of an airfield and expecting it, knowing what they are in for, possibly even having paid a reduced price for their land as a result of those conditions being taken into consideration, should suddenly, even in the interests of rearmament, have imposed upon them the extra burden of this special type of noise. I imagine that one of the problems that the noble Lord has in mind in raising this issue is this special, intolerable noise of the testing of engines. As we proceed with our rearmament programme and we get bigger and better and more numerous jet engines. I imagine the noise will become more and more intolerable. From this angle every new plane has to be tested over a prolonged period, and, of course, the more planes that are produced the worse the noise will be.

There is another type of nuisance, and that is that once the engine has passed the test on the ground it is then taken into the air, and I understand that it has to be flown in all sorts of conditions which will test the engine to the utmost. The machine is flown at terrific speed down to within a few yards of the ground and then flown up again. Noble Lords can imagine the terror that this strikes into anybody who finds an engine flying at him at a speed of 500, 600, or 700 miles an hour—I am not certain of the exact speed but it runs into many hundreds of miles an hour—stopping at within fifty yards of the ground and then going up again. That is something which people have to tolerate day after day, and the noble Lord is quite right in saying that people who live in those conditions are finding that their property has, through no fault of their own, become quite unsaleable and unfit to live in.

I should like to remind noble Lords of the kind of person of whom we are speaking. We are not talking about wealthy, large landowners, but about small men who have perhaps invested their savings or their war gratuities in a small farm of about 100 or 150 acres. They have put all they have got into it, and then they find that, quite fortuitously, all their savings have gone. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, did not refer to the effect on agriculture and farming, but I can assure noble Lords that the effect on farming is most grave. I am not an expert, but I am told that in certain cases the effect on milk production, on calving, and on pig production in conditions like these is very serious indeed, and that in regard to livestock and milk the output has been substantially reduced. Then there is the effect on the nerves of individuals. I have no personal experience of people having gone mad, but I can quite understand that a few months of this kind of thing will necessitate a long holiday, and if people cannot afford to take a holiday I can well understand that their nerves may break down.

That is the problem, and I hope I am not exaggerating it. I do not suggest that the trouble is widespread. I do not know just what is its extent in the country as a whole. But we each know of particular cases. It may be that there are twenty, thirty or perhaps fifty airfields where this kind of thing is going on. I do not know. The problem, however, is a serious one for the particular individuals concerned. No one in the House, I am sure, would wish them to be penalised in respect of something which is of national importance. The noble Lord was right when he said that we are spending vast sums of money. I am afraid, however, I do not agree with his arithmetic. Forty aeroplanes at £750,000 each, according to a quick sum which I have just worked out, comes to £30 million and not £40 million. But even if it is £30 million or £20 million, the cost in compensation would not be very high in relation to the amount involved.

What is the remedy? In the first place we have to do a great deal more research to ensure that the operation of these aeroplanes does not produce the noise or the smoke to which the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has referred. I believe that a time will come when we shall have virtually silent aeroplane engines, though we are probably a long way from that as yet. But the time may come, and I hope that the noble Earl who is going to reply on behalf of the Government will not regard it as impossible, and the point as one which is not worth thinking about. Effective silencing I am sure will be achieved in the future, and I think the matter is one which is worth exploring in the meantime. But the poor people who are suffering cannot wait. I feel that we have been very rash in granting planning consent for the use of airfields which are quite unsuitable, having regard to the purpose for which they are being used to-day. I know that in a number of cases consent has been imposed upon the local authority. They have given it grudgingly and unwillingly because of pressure by Government Departments. I think it is very wrong for a Government Department to put pressure on a local authority to force it to give planning consent for the use of an airfield which it is known is unsuitable for the purpose, having regard to the people who are living in the vicinity.

In one particular case, the airfield is in the middle of a high-class residential area. Considerable numbers of people have gone to live in this area, hoping to enjoy quiet and recreation. Many of them have retired from business life. The area is a favourite one from the residential point of view. The airfield is one which was used during the war, but it is quite unsuitable for its present purpose. Government Departments, however, have imposed their views upon the local authority. Furthermore, when conditions were sought to be made, those conditions have been broken, and there is no effective remedy. Once aircraft are being used at a flying ground there is no effective remedy available to the local authority to prevent improper use of fiat airfield. So I would say that much more care should be taken in the future to ensure that only suitable airfields are used.

Having said that, I ask: What is the remedy of the citizen who is suffering to-day? He can bring an action. But regulations are being passed which, in my view, effectively prevent an action from being brought in respect of ordinary flying. I am not certain about the position with regard to testing, but I take the view that testing is not excluded. But you cannot bring an action, however much your property may be affected, however serious may be the noise which is created, merely because of ordinary flying; so there is no legal remedy there. And, in any case, the type of person I am thinking of—for example, the small farmer with 100 acres or so—is not in a position to start a High Court action for an injunction against one of the big concerns which use these airfields, or against the Government, with their vast, almost unlimited, resources. They know well that if they make one false step in a legal action they are ruined. Really that is not an effective remedy.

What then? I am not sure about the merits of the proposal for compensation to be provided by the Government. That would mean opening a door very wide, and there would be considerable repercussions if the Government were to award compensation to people whose property was depreciated as a result of planning, as a result of giving planning consent to the use of the airfield. Moreover, in logic the Government ought to be receiving betterment in cases where, as the result of planning, property has increased in value. But Her Majesty's Government, for reasons of which I do not for one single moment approve—and about which I shall, no doubt, have more to say on a later occasion—appear to have abandoned the policy of betterment. I cannot see how, in those circumstances, they could agree to provide compensation for "worsement." Moreover, it would open a door to all kinds of other claims where property has depreciated as the result of planning. I doubt whether any Government would be prepared to face up to that.

Nevertheless, there must be a remedy. The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will, I am sure, agree with me that in English law, theoretically at any rate, there is no wrong without a remedy. But here is a wrong from which people are suffering, and there ought to be a remedy; and the remedy ought to be a much simpler one than having to undergo all the uncertainties of legal action. So I would suggest that there should be an automatic right for people who are suffering from either loss of quiet enjoyment of their property or depreciation in its value to go to some tribunal—it might be the Lands Tribunal —and secure compensation for their loss. Or, in extreme cases, those who are committing the nuisance might even be required to acquire at market prices (ignoring, of course, the effect of the nuisance itself) the property affected. I think that if those who were committing the nuisance were required either to buy up at a fair market value—and that is not an unduly expensive matter—the property of these people, or to compensate them adequately through a simple form of machinery, then justice would be done. I am doubtful about the noble Lord's proposal for a Royal Commission. We consider that a Royal Commission is apt to delay the provision of any remedy—indeed, it is a very effective machine for delay. I have never known a Royal Commission report in less than two years, and normally the period is much longer. And this is a thing which does not brook of that delay. One would like to see something done immediately.

That is all I have to say. I join with the noble Lord in saying to the House that this is a very grave evil, and a growing one which must be remedied; or, at any rate, the people who are suffering from it must be compensated or their sufferings made good. I hope the Government will realise that this is really part of the rearmament programme. In the interests of making this country safe from aggression, we cannot penalise a considerable number of people and make them suffer almost as if the aggression had taken place. For these reasons, I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and hope that the noble Lord who is to reply will have something encouraging to say to those people who are suffering at the present time.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I speak to your Lordships on this subject this afternoon only because my noble friend in front of me has asked me to do so. We have been associated together so long in this matter that I am guided by him in his conduct of it. There are two things I want to say. I am told that at Lossiemouth living is quite impossible. The parents, the children and the teachers are getting jittery with the noise. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made some difficulty over compensation, and I know that the law likes precedents. With your Lordships' permission, I will draw a precedent from another country. Not long ago, in the South of France, a reservoir had to be made for water supplies, the construction of which involved the drowning of a village. The Government took steps to remove that village bodily to another equally good site. Your Lordships will remember that in The Times every day the conduct of the villagers was noted—how reluctant they were to leave their homes and so on. But finally they did leave their homes, and the community as a whole was saved, and received some form of compensation. For places such as Lossiemouth, where living becomes intolerable, that case points a possible remedy.

The other point I want to make is that I gather that immunity from civil action is due to Sections 40 and 41 of the Civil Aviation Act. 1949. Some time when he has the leisure—I do not suppose that it is often—I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack what the last line and a quarter of Section 41 (1) adds to the section, because I have been puzzling over it for a long time and I cannot understand it. I know that the 1949 Act is a Consolidation Act, but it was passed just before the invention of the jet, and I feel that when it was passed people had only ordinary aeroplanes in mind. Now that the jet has arrived, surely it is proper to think again. In my opinion, this is a subject for the Government to reconsider. I do not take the view that the powers that be saw what was coming more quickly than the people and hastily dug themselves in, because that is not the way in which a civilised country can be governed; and I am perfectly certain that is not the way we are governed. But I feel that there is a good case for re-examining those sections of the Act and amending them in accordance with the present situation.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank noble Lords for the moderate way they have raised the question, which is, I know, one on which many people feel with great force—and, I think, not without reason. The Motion deals with the reduction in the value of property due to the establishment of aerodromes. I will deal with that as a special aspect of the matter, for a great deal of the debate has been concentrated on the incontestable fact that in certain spheres aeroplanes make an abominable noise. There, is no doubt about this, or that jets make a different noise from reciprocating engines. To some people the noise of jets is more objectionable than the noise of reciprocating engines. The noble Lord said that he did not think we should be interested in silencing aeroplanes. From a tactical point of view we should be delighted to find a silent aeroplane, if that were practicable. Regarding the noise in the vicinity of Newbury, the noble Lord has already seen my noble and gallant friend the Secretary of State for Air with Members of Parliament whose constituencies are affected. My, honourable friend appreciated the moderation with which the noble Lord and his friends made their representations; he has taken careful note of them, and will examine, in consultation with the United States Air Force, what measures might be taken to mitigate the position. This airfield has an essential place in joint defence arrangements with the United States in peace time. Naturally, my honourable friend cannot give any further definite assurance at this stage.

This problem could be approached from the scientific angle, and one could explain what had to be done by measuring noise in terms of what are called decibels or phons—which I am informed are units of loudness. I do not think tie House would want me to do that and I do not propose to do it. But I think it right that the House should realise that a great deal of scientific examination of the problem is being done on these lines, and efforts are being made to test, so far as possible, how the nuisance of sound can he reduced. To take the other extreme, I do not think the House can take seriously what the noble Lord, Lord Teviot said about all jets being grounded. A moment's reflection will show that no Government could conceivably entertain for one moment a proposal of that character. I ask your Lordships to be realistic about the nature of the problem we are facing here. We have in this country something of the order of 400 aerodromes in use in one way or another. In examining a solution to the problem which arises, it appears to me that we must take into consideration a much wider field, because of the extensive and far-reaching way science has entered into our normal lives. It is reasonable and proper that Parliament should discuss the various aspects of the mariner in which science affects our lives, and your Lordships have done so in recent months. I shall mention one or two of those debates to show that this is not an isolated question, and that there are others which are, possibly, even worse.

The first is the effects of fog and smoke, called "smog," which we discussed some six months ago. Over a year ago, smog caused a considerable number of deaths in London alone. Another example is the pollution of rivers by industrial effluents. Less than a century ago, cholera arising from the Thames killed a large number of people in London. There is also the example of road accidents, which we constantly examine and which is another example of how scientific development has come, shall I say, to cause interference with people pursuing their normal and lawful occasions. And I could mention a dozen others, such as opencast mining. All I want to say is that over a wide field of life in an industrial world, in which science is playing its important part, we have to recognise that our lives are profoundly influenced by the way that part is played. Over the whole of this field measures are being taken to ensure that the impact of science upon our lives does as little damage as possible and causes the least possible inconvenience.

But, of course, we must recognise that the application of science to industry is part of our lives, and has come to stay. And this inevitably raises a conflict between individual interests, and the interests of the community. In many of these things I have mentioned development is thoroughly desirable, but though we all say that it is desirable, we wish that it did not happen near us—and that is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves. It is to a great extent the duty of Parliament to regulate the interests of the nation as a whole with the privacy and liberty of the individual. History has shown that that has been done in the past. We have had much the same difficulty in the development of the railways, of roads, and of motorcars and other things of that character; and aviation is no exception to that rule. Nobody, however, who has ever been Secretary of State for Air, has ever been unaware of this problem. It is one that is constantly before any Department, and it has been before the Secretary of State for Air—who at one time had all Air Departments under him—from the very start of aviation some forty years ago. It is for that reason that the Secretary of State for Air has had continually to conduct affairs so as to cause the minimum of inconvenience to members of the public. We must, of course, remember that our present defence requirements are really the dominating factor of our lives—but the whole economic structure of the country is also affected. It is for the reason of defence that more flying is being carried out to-day, more flying by more powerful aeroplanes; and experience shows that complaints follow in almost exactly the same ratio as the volume of flying itself.

With these introductory words, I will now turn to what is being done, because that, I think, is what the House wants to know—the steps which are being taken actively at the present time to meet these particular problems. The first is the question which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked, about planning. Airfields are planned with very great care, but we are in the position that, first of all, with the exception of one aerodrome, virtually no new aerodromes are being built. We are taking existing airfields and adapting them to modern requirements. In that sense we are somewhat severely restricted in our choice of what we do. But it is important to remember, too, that each one has to be considered in the light of technical requirements; and that requires that all factors should be taken into consideration. It is impracticable, for instance, to suggest that these airfields could be built, say, on the side of a hill in some remote part of the Highlands of Scotland. The requirements of aerodromes are very severe. The demands of modern flying are of a high standard; aerodromes cannot be put just anywhere. The utmost care is being exercised. It is important, also, for safety reasons, that the funnel through which the aircraft take off is as clear as possible; and this is not easy in this densely-populated country—and the area south of the Forth and the Clyde is, I think, the most densely populated in the world. We recognise that very careful consideration must be given to the area, which is not a very big one, over which they take off. In any case, these areas have to be safeguarded with limitations as to building.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that certain developments had taken place which were known to be unsuitable. I think that that is going rather further than I can allow him to go without contradiction, because I do not think that is the case. Developments take place after the most careful examination of all possibilities to meet operational and training requirements. I am able to say that my noble and gallant friend gives this matter his very close personal consideration so far as the Air Ministry is concerned; and he has to be satisfied that these requirements are answered before the project is allowed to proceed. That applies also to other Ministries who are concerned—the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. And when these considerations are met, then full consultation takes place not only with other Government Departments but also with local authorities.


Would the noble Earl not agree that in certain cases great pressure has been put upon local authorities to grant permission where airfields are being used against the express wishes of the local authority?


The local authorities have power to express their opinions and do not hesitate to do so. There are rival considerations there, which are being fairly presented at the present time. I am not going to anticipate what the results may be. Everyone is quite free to express his opinion; the views on both sides have certain weight. This, however, is quite an exceptional procedure; it is not a normal one in developing airfields.

That is the first side—planning. Another aspect is that of reducing the noise. Lord Silkin dealt particularly with the noise on airfields, but he did not mention what I might call test-bed running. I think it is fair to say that, so far as running in test beds is concerned, there are virtually no complaints. Our aircraft manufacturers as a whole have their engines very well muffled: I understand that they have a muffling apparatus both on the air intake and on the exhaust, and to a great extent these tests are carried out behind double-plated glass. I think there is no complaint on that particular score. The complaint comes to some extent from testing in aircraft. That is bound to happen. Engines being tested in aircraft do not require to run the same length of time as they would on a test bed, but these tests are required in different kinds of circumstances. Great care is being taken to cut down raise to the minimum, and a great deal of experimental work is being done.

For instance, at London Airport a fixed wall has been built to baffle the noise of aircraft in the neighbourhood. Hangars are being sited so that testing can take place on the far side of them from the nearest area of population. Operators at London Airport are being pressed to avoid testing at night and to confine these operations to the hours of day, when noise of testing in some cases is not so noticeable. Special arrangements are also being made for the de-tuning of jet engines under test. This involves putting a sort of apparatus both at the tail and at the head—in other words, at the intake and the exhaust end of the aircraft. This is still in an experimental stage. It has been tried, and I believe the results are encouraging, but I cannot say that it is in general practice at present. It is of particular value in the case of pure jets, which some people find the most aggravating.


Could the noble Earl say to what extent the de-tuner is being used?


I do not think I can add to what I have said. I have said that it is being experimented with, and is being used, but it is not being used extensively at present. There are other methods, such as directing the noise of the aircraft to the centre of the field so as to dull the noise at the perimeter. Efforts are being made to use portable screens possessing sound-damping qualities which are placed at the front and side of the engines. These steps have not yet gone very far, but they will be expanded as their successful operation is established. What if am emphasising is the considerable amount of attention that is being devoted to this problem, giving full recognition to the fact that the particular point made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is one that has to be met.

There is the third point in regard to low flying. Both in the Royal Air Force and in civil flying there are strict rules about low flying. Low flying is, to some extent, part of the routine training of the Royal Air Force, and for this purpose special areas and routes are laid down which are believed to give the minimum of inconvenience to the general public. Certain areas are specifically avoided where special reasons exist, and amongst these is the existence of valuable livestock. These rules are rigidly enforced, and disciplinary action is taken when necessary. I should add that the Ministry of Supply now have dealing with the subject a Noise Suppression Committee, which has been sitting for some years. Therefore, the matter is being closely examined from all points of view. But I want to be quite frank: I feel that the most important thing is the readiness of Ministers to meet anyone who has a genuine complaint and discuss their problems. In my view that is an important remedy and one on which the noble Lord placed emphasis. This is a particularly grave subject, and when I come to the next point, which is nearer to the Motion, I think it will be seen that the point the noble Lord makes is very wide in its implication.

The question of damage has been raised. When damage is established, I do not think Government Departments ever fail to recognise their liability. There have been cases of comparatively dilapidated buildings having portions sucked off by the passage of jet aircraft. I do not think there is any question as to the responsibility, where the damage is established. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that actions at law are probably not the most effective remedy, and there are other methods which are better. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, described a procedure in which he said there might be some liability for injurious affection. That is a law which has been the normal practice in this country for a century, and it is still the law under which, to a great extent, land is acquired for purposes of this sort. That law having stood for a century, it is probably a sound one.

The Motion deals with the loss of value in property contiguous to aerodromes. As I have said, this is a wide picture. I must say that I was rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, went so far as he did in this direction, knowing as he does some of the problems that exist in this respect. It is because the subject is so wide that I am speaking as coordinating a number of Departments, instead of my noble and gallant friend. Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, who would more directly represent only one Department—many people are interested. There are many developments which are desirable in the interests of the community, but which bear very hardly on some private individuals. I would ask the noble Lord to think of such things as industrial developments, or even a housing estate, and, in some cases a road. All these can bear very hardly on individuals in certain cases. There may be cases where it would be inconvenient to those in the immediate area, but it does not necessarily mean a loss in value of property. Indeed, the reverse is often the case, and there is not infrequently a conflict over a development which is unpopular in the area but which, none the less, increases the value of property.

May I illustrate the complexity of this problem? When an aerodrome is developed there is an appreciation in the value of some property and possibly a depreciation of value of other property. I would mention that the Middlesex County Council have received a number of applications for permission to erect new business premises—hotels, garages, cafés and so on—in the immediate vicinity of London Airport. On the other hand, residential property is in a somewhat different category. Some of this would tend to depreciate in value, but here, too, there is no evidence to show any general depreciation in value attributable to the proximity of an aerodrome. As the noble Lord said, the risk should be shared by all. There is always a risk in ownership which may exist with any property. Indeed, it is probably true today that some housing property is declining in value—in fact, there may be a general decline in this respect. The decline may be temporary, or it may be simply a shift of emphasis from one type of property to another. This type of change may take place by development of any sort.

Just how difficult it would be to estimate what it might or might not amount to is well shown in a passage from the Uthwatt Report, paragraph 27, which with your Lordships' permission, I should like to read. Here we are dealing with a problem of the utmost complexity. The Report says: In theory … it should be possible to compensate all owners whose land is decreased in value by restrictions on development out of a 'betterment' fund levied for owners the value of whose land is thereby increased. No scheme has, however, yet been devised under which in actual practice compensation and betterment can be equated in this way. In ascertaining the betterment there immediately arises the difficulty of establishing the amount by which a particular parcel of land has increased in value as a direct consequence of the restriction imposed on the other land and not from other causes. … In any event, the increase is only an expectation value which may not materialise for years and in some cases will not materialise at all. Other influences may operate later and effect further shifts of value; and by the time a given site is finally developed and the owner reaps the increased value, innumerable factors may have intervened. I have quoted that to emphasise the difficulty of the proposal which the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, makes. I am going to ask him not to press this Motion, because I do not think any Government could accept a general proposition the effect of which would be that for any development that might take place, whether public or private, the developers might find themselves liable to pay compensation to somebody who could show some loss in value in the immediate vicinity. The proposition is very wide in its implications, and I do not think it is one which, in equity, we could possibly accept.

What I can say is this. We are to-day admittedly living in difficult times. We have a rapidly expanding defence programme. We are a congested island. The Departments concerned are very much alive to their responsibilities in this matter to the general public, and within the utmost of their power, consistent with the tasks they have to perform, they will ensure that every practicable step is taken to prevent, or at least, to modify, the inconvenience to the public. This is only one instance in which science and industry have entered deeply into our lives, and our task, whether departmental or in this House, is to try to see that individual rights and public rights are as far as possible co-related. I have tried to show that extensive measures are being, taken to see that the inconvenience is reduced to a minimum, both in indi- vidual cases and in general cases. A Committee is sitting in the Ministry of Supply examining the technical problems of noise arising from aircraft. An Inter-Departmental Committee has met to examine the whole extent of this problem. The Rolls Royce Company and a number of other manufacturers are also examining the possibility of reducing the noise of their engines. I submit that every action is being taken and every serious representation is being met to a wide extent. I must make this point clear, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, also made it clear. In the world to-day flying has become part and parcel of our lives, and it is quite impossible to expect that that should not be the case. I hope, in those circumstances, that the noble Lord will see his way to withdraw his Motion.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, could he deal with one point made by my noble friend? I am not talking about compensation, but my noble friend stated that in testing power dives are made which are terrifying. I can well understand that, having been to Farnborough and other places and heard it myself. Surely it can be controlled so that that sort of testing is not done in the neighbourhood of schools where children will be terrified. I know the aircraft have to be taken off the ground, but surely they can do their power dives at very high speeds away from congested areas.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord—I had forgotten that point. I find it exceedingly difficult to accept what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said. If he would care to write to me, I will see that this matter is investigated. I am informed that these power dives are necessary only with prototype aircraft and that it should not be necessary for the ordinary production aircraft as they come off the line. This sort of diving at high speed should, therefore, be extremely rare, and if the noble Lord can quote instances or state where it is happening, with any regularity, I shall be very glad indeed to take it up.


Would not the noble Earl agree that where it is necessary it should be done in areas other than in the middle of fairly densely populated areas?


I not only agree with the noble Lord, but I am astonished that such arrangements have not already been made.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to say a few words in reply to my noble friend. I want him to realise something which he does not seem to appreciate—that local feeling in the particular area where I live is very strong indeed. That was the reason why I was requested at the meeting to ask the Government to do something about this matter. I was sitting next to an eminent General and he took the view: Why on earth could not the Air Force train at other places? If this aerodrome to which I am referring is to be an operational one, let them do their training and these tremendous speed tests somewhere else. As the General said, troops are trained miles away from the battlefield: it is not necessary to have them in the operational part of the country or the likely operational part of the country. They are trained in other places.


I think it would be very unwise if it went out from this House to-day that the sort of possibility the noble Lord is canvassing was a practical proposition—to make a distinction between those airmen who are under training and those who are trained. Those who are trained have to practice; and it is not only airmen, but ground crews and those who have to guide them in. I hope the noble Lord will not say anything which might mislead his friends or the country into believing that what he advocates may be a practical proposition, because if their hopes were disappointed their last state of mind might be worse than the first. I beg him not to make what I believe to be a false point.


I will certainly bear in mind what the noble Lord says, and I will convey to those concerned what he has said. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, referred to the effect of science on our lives. I should like the noble Earl to come down to this place—I will take him myself—and be there for half an hour or an hour. I think he would take a different view about science and what is being done there, as compared with some of the instances he gave us in other walks of life. With regard to the question of helping these people, there are not a tremendous number of them. It is not as if it were necessary to compensate or help an enormous number of people. The majority of people who live in the country areas, and a great many in the big towns, are not suffering from this sort of thing at all—it is restricted to certain areas. With regard to consultation with local authorities, I have had contact with them for some years. It is an extraordinary thing that, so far as I can make out, a Government Department will never believe what the local people tell them. We had the Enborne Valley scheme for supplying water to London.


May I ask the noble Lord if this is a fresh speech?


I am answering what the noble Earl said to me. He referred to consultation, and I am perfectly entitled to answer him.


Hear, hear!


I am entitled to do that, and the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, knows it quite well. We had the Enborne Valley scheme, and everybody there said: "Go to the Thames Conservancy, and you will get all the information you want that this particular ridge on which this aerodrome is built is quite unsuitable. It has shifting sand; it is full of springs and gravel, and there is nothing solid about it." They spent £75,000 in boring and abandoned the scheme because what the local people had told them was right. These planes have been on this aerodrome inside a month, and already the runway has broken down and a whole lot of them have gone. I believe they are to come back after it has been repaired. It is just what everybody thought would happen. The same applies to the new road which is being built. The springs and the shifting sand underneath are making the whole thing difficult. I hope that the noble Lord or somebody will come down there and be on the spot when this is going on. Then, I think, he will realise that it is unfair to ask a very few people throughout the whole country to bear this burden.

My noble friend has referred to Lossiemouth. Here is the aerodrome that I am referring to. Then I had from the Bishop of Bath and Wells a reference to a place called Yeovilton. There are these conditions all over the country, but they affect only a few people, compared with the population generally. I hope that that fact will be taken into consideration, and that we shall have something done soon. Look at the faces of these people. They are beginning to get "mental." They cannot stick it any more. It is no use comparing these things with any other works of science. This is something that must immediately be dealt with. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has not given me much hope. But this problem has been in existence for some time. Investigations are taking place, but, so far, they do not seem to have produced anything to relieve this appalling affliction which has come upon so many people—though, as I not a great many in comparison with the total population of the country. However, one is always full of hope about something being done. I have every confidence that my noble and gallant friend the Secretary of State for Air is doing everything he can to help the situation.

It may be that it is quite impossible to do anything at all. However, I tell the House at once that my name will be "mud" locally because they will say, "Look at the House of Lords. You go up there, you raise this question; you buoy up our hopes and then you withdraw. What is the good of you?" They would have liked me to go to a Division on this, but I see no object in going to a Division at this moment. Particularly in view of what the Secretary of State has said to the two Members of Parliament concerned and myself yesterday. I feel that I should not go to a Division. I do not want to be antagonistic over this. I want to do everything I can to put and strengthen the case for these people.


If it is any consolation to the noble Lord, I will say that quite a number of people have had to do a good deal of thinking since he put down his Motion.


If I have kept somebody awake at night, then I have done something. With the permission of the House, I propose now to withdraw my Motion, in the hope that there will soon be some good news with which to cheer up the people concerned.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.