HL Deb 03 November 1955 vol 194 cc294-320

3.48 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to rake to mitigate the misery and hardship suffered by the civilian population through noise from aircraft; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I trust that it will be convenient to your Lordships if I preface my remarks with a word of explanation as to how this Motion which stands in my name appears on the Order Paper. During the Recess I took advantage of an invitation I received to go to the Farnborough Air Display. I must confess that the lasting impression upon my mind was the terrific, almost unholy, din that was created. When T arrived back at my home (as your Lordships may know, I live not far from the city of Oxford) the British Association for the Advancement of Science was in session there, and I followed their proceedings with wrap attention, hoping that the scientific brains of this country might be tempted to give some thought to what I consider to be one of the social scourges of this country—noise. I waited in vain. I was therefore prompted, as this was during the Recess of your Lordships' House and Parliament, so that I could not raise the subject here, to write a letter to The Times newspaper.

I did so, with malice aforethought. I did it to provoke thought and discussion —and, believe me, it did! I can only suppose that the editor of The Times received many more letters than he could possibly find space for in his columns. I can only think that the various Departments of Her Majesty's Government received some, too, for I confess that for days and weeks my post was full. Some of the letters were of a most distressing character and the words which I have used in this Motion: to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take to mitigate the misery and hardship suffered … are 100 per cent true. Misery and hardship are being suffered. I have here some of the correspondence. Some of your Lordships may have read the correspondence in The Times from these people: they are people who have had personal experience; people living in terror, living in a noise such that they can get neither sleep nor rest, day or night. These people are of all ages and conditions. Some of them have invested their life savings in houses in which to spend their declining years, and they now find that, property being the price it is, they cannot afford to sell their homes and move away.

All these things are common knowledge—they are of everyday occurrence. I do not think it right to expect human beings in a civilised country in this year 1955 to live under such conditions without strenuous efforts by the Government to see that those conditions are mitigated. It was reported in the Press the other day, I understand, that 300 families had left Crawley because they felt they would be unable to stand what they would have to put up with when Gatwick Airport was established. I understand that an exodus has started from Hemel Hempstead. I have received letters from many parts of the country—from East Anglia, from places in the north of Norfolk and from areas extending right down into the West Country—all telling of nuisance and hardship which no human being ought to be asked to tolerate. Some letters tell of helicopter engines being run day and night—that is for twenty-four hours on end. Others speak of the Sabbath Day being treated with such scant respect that the noises are continued upon it; there is no amelioration of these conditions, even on Sunday.

I am not going to try to harrow the feelings of your Lordships. You know as well as I do that my purpose is to ask Her Majesty's Government what they propose to do. It is no good telling your Lordships' House of the difficulties —they are self-apparent. But I say that the difficulties are there to be overcome. Some of your Lordships may remember that in the correspondence which I started in The Times newspaper I asked whether the time had not arrived when legislation should be passed to prohibit this nuisance. I drew a parallel, citing the example of the motor car. The motor car, on its advent in this country, was the noisiest and most pestilential object people had ever heard. The public just would not stand for its noise and it had to be silenced. The will of the people was the only real incentive which there was to silence the motor car engine. What incentive is there to-day to silence aircraft? It may be thought that there is none at the present time, but in the case of civil aircraft there is fast becoming one.

In this connection, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to an article written by Sir Miles Thomas, Chairman of B.O.A.C., which was printed in the Sunday Times on October 23. He stated, quite frankly, that commercial considerations would compel the silencing of civil aircraft. The English Electric Canberra bomber that flew from this country to America was not allowed to land in New York because it was noisy. It had to fly 150 miles further to a military airport before it was allowed to land. Let me here and now pay a tribute to Sir Miles Thomas for the courage he showed in writing this article and admitting the dire necessity for some action by the civil airline companies to see that the aircraft they purchase do not offend the public ear. He wrote—and I quote his words: There is not much point in scudding at more than 500 m.p.h. across 3,000 miles of the earth's surface in four hours or so if the trip is to be preceded and followed by a couple of two-hour journeys to get to and from airfields that are located far enough from city centres to avoid punishing the ears of the non-flying populace with excessive noises off. Sir Miles also wrote: … although … I am all for progress in speed and range of the vehicles we employ, as a fellow human being I equally realise that this noise factor cannot be allowed to become more of a public nuisance than it already is. Indeed, my view is that we simply must demand;hat our engineers and technicians reduce it. … we must call a halt to the increase in the unearthly din that will inevitably accrue unless our technicians are told to get down to avoiding it.

As Sir Miles Thomas points out, civil aircraft will get bigger and bigger, and more powerful and more noisy. He speaks with perhaps the most authoritative voice in this matter, and he says that the Cornet No. I, owing to its power, was the noisiest aircraft in the country. The new American 100-seater airliners are three times as noisy as that, and they are due to go into the air in about two years' time. I suggest to your Lordships that it may well be, as was said by an honourable Member in another place, that if this thing goes on the civil population will be provoked to taking the law into their own hands and marching in a body down the runways of London Airport. Surely, in a civilised community, that should not be necessary. When we come to civil aircraft we are up against a problem. I quite understand the necessity of having an airport like London Airport which has to be the terminus of the airlines of the world; but I am certain that our technicians and our scientists can get down to this job of silencing. It is no good saying: "Of course it increases the weight." It increases the weight of a Rolls Royce motor car to silence the engine. And do you mean to tell me that this question of increasing weight should stand in the way of the happiness and the health and welfare of thousands and thousands of British citizens?

Now as to helicopters. Three of them passed over here before I started speaking this afternoon. I do not know whether Lord Carrington, with that good nature for which he is renowned, had laid it on specially as a demonstration for your Lordships, but those were silenced helicopters, flying at quite a distance from your Lordships' House—and, be it remembered, all the windows here were closed. How would your Lordships like that unholy din to be going over a civil community day and night? When I hear that some local authorities are to have helicopter sites established in the middle of their towns all I can say is that I trust that the people of those places will rise in their wrath to see that the machines are properly silenced before they do.

While, as Sir Miles Thomas rightly says, there will be increased commercial incentive for air lines to silence their engines, when we come to the Services the difficulty is more serious. I can think of only one incentive that can ever operate in that direction, and that is a kindlier and more general sympathy towards the fundamental right of citizens to live their lives in a reasonable amount of peace and quietness. I was much impressed by a paragraph that appeared in one of two leading page articles in The Times headed "The Curse of Noise." The article quoted an eminent High Court Judge on the subject of noise, and this is the quotation: … every person is emitted as against his neighbour to the comfortable and healthful enjoyment of the premises occupied by him, and in coming to a decision whether his right has been interfered with and a nuisance thereby caused, it is necessary to determine whether the act complained of is an inconvenience materially interfering with the ordinary physical comfort of human existence, not merely according to elegant and dainty modes and habits of living but according to plain and sober and simple notions obtaining amongst English people … it no answer to say that the best-known means have been taken to reduce or prevent the noise complained of … That is the dictum of the High Court An equally comprehensive dictum was laid down by the head of the Civil Service and endorsed by Her Majesty's Government: that the ordinary citizen had the right to believe that Her Majesty's Government and all those who work for Her Majesty's Government respected the rights of the ordinary citizen. The noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, will remember when that was said: it was at the time of the Crichel Down affair.

I must say that that view does not exist in the Service Department which is responsible for the noise that is such a menace to the health end peace of the people of this country. I say that with a full sense of responsibility. I have spoken on this subject previously in your Lordships' House and I raised the matter strongly. The debate on that occasion, nearly two years ago, was answered by the noble and gallant Lord, the Secretary of State for Air. Since that time I have had a continuous correspondence with the noble Lord, because I have gone out of my way to investigate this problem up and down the country. Let me say at once that I have received nothing but courtesy and help from the noble Lord, Lord Dc L'Isle and Dudley. He has gone as far as I could humanly expect him to go in trying to mitigate this nuisance.

But I want to tell your Lordships of an experience. I protested most vigorously to the noble Lord about the terrific noise caused by aircraft flying at a height of 100 feet or less over a thickly populated area. In his reply, the noble Lord said that he had caused a strict investigation to be made and had received an assurance that no aircraft had flown lower than 300 feet. I said to the noble Lord, "This proves to me conclusively what I have suspected for years. You are not being told the truth. Will you now have the matter really established and send down to this area your noise investigation squad to find out the truth?" The noble Lord did this readily and quickly, and he has now proved that I was right. He discovered that aircraft do fly at 120 feet over that thickly populated area, and that the average height of flying is under 200 feet—after he had received an assurance that aircraft were not flying under 300 feet. I do not think I put it too highly when I say that there is a prima fade case that the veracity of those who report on these matters is at least of doubtful quality.

This nuisance goes on all over the country. I readily concede that it is difficult for the uninitiated to measure accurately the height at which an aircraft is flying, but it is easy for them to estimate accurately the noise. I have here letters complaining of Service aircraft which fly over hospitals at a height of 50 feet or maybe 100 feet. The people who write these letters—many of them senior retired Servicemen of standing—are not fabricating these stories, and perhaps their exaggeration is negligible. From my investigations, I am convinced that a great percentage of low flying by Service aircraft is not necessary from the military point of view and is to be condemned from the civilian point of view. Nobody is going to convince me that it is necessary for Service aircraft to fly as low as some of them do, and if it is necessary—and I appreciate that pilots must be trained—they should fly at that height away from civilians who have to live and go about their peaceful avocations. It is a perfect scandal that this should be allowed to go on.

I beg the noble Lord not to tell your Lordships all the difficulties. We know them. It is for these difficulties to be overcome. I asked a Question of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Air, the other day as to what was the amount of Government money that had been spent on research and development of aircraft since the war. The reply of the noble Lord was that £360 million had been so spent. The Minister of Housing and Local Government, when he was Minister of Supply, said that the Government were spending £100.000 a year on research into the elimination of noise, if my mental arithmetic is anything worth talking about, that means that if that has been kept up since the war the Government are spending about one-quarter of I per cent. of the £360 million. I want to appeal to the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, as a senior Cabinet Minister—I am sorry that the noble Marquess who leads the House is not here: does he not think that it is the duty of the Government to spend far more money than that to mitigate what is fast becoming a scourge of the people of our country? The noble Viscount is a humane man and he has made speeches in this House which have commended themselves to all of us, irrespective of Party, on the necessity of increasing production. How can people increase production when they live all their days in the noise of machine shops and are kept awake all their nights by these aircraft?

Height of flying is a factor, because the higher you go the less the noise. If we cannot, by any technical or legislative means, stop engines from making a noise, we can, by a simple administrative act, order that these aircraft shall not fly so low that their noise is a great nuisance to the civil population. That, so far as I can see, is the only incentive. I would beg the Government to recognise once again—and I do not think they will deny this for one moment—the fundamental right of the common citizen to live in a reasonable amount of peace and quiet. To put it down to "Service requirements and progress" is, if the noble Lord will forgive my saying so, just a lot of "ballyhoo" and is ceasing to have any effect upon the civil population of this country, except to make them ridicule; and that, I think, is a dangerous thing. I want to give the noble Lord an example of what I mean when I speak of lack of consideration. On many of these Service aerodromes where they fly as many hours as they can during the day and during the night, they have on a peaceful Sunday, from daylight to nightfall, these little planes going round and round and round. The reason, I am given to understand, is that a number of clubs have been formed by the personnel of Air Force stations, and they have these little planes to fly when the Service pilots are taking the week-end off. Surely, if the slightest consideration were given to a distracted population, they could at least be spared that kind of thing.

I have put my case, I hope with reason and not too forcefully, because I appreciate all the difficulties. But these difficulties must be overcome. I hope that the Government will see that far more money is spent on research into noise elimination. A noble friend of mine said to me just before the debate started: "The thing I cannot understand is why the people who manufacture the noise cannot manufacture a silencer." That was a piece of logic I could not contest. I hope the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate will see that the standards of low flying by Service personnel in this country are in future more attuned to the mitigation of this hardship and misery about which I have spoken to your Lordships this afternoon. I beg to move for Papers.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, the attack which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has delivered on the pilots of the Royal Air Force when in the air almost prompted me to alter the order of my impromptu speech, but I feel that in the interests of clarity I had better continue as I had originally intended. With much that the noble Lord has said I, in common, I am sure, with other noble Lords, agree. Noise, of course, is hideous; and aircraft noise is not the only noise which sometimes makes our lives intolerable. I should like to speak, as an ex-pilot in the Royal Air Force, on behalf of those who fly and operate aircraft. I can assure your Lordships that no one desires that the noise made by aircraft should be diminished more than do those who fly them or work in them on the ground at airfields or in the vicinity of airfields: the noise is just as hideous to them as it is to oilier inhabitants of the area. Pilots' fatigue is due largely to noise. A good example in that regard is the Vickers Viscount, which I imagine is the quietest air liner to-day. Crews I have talked to have all assured me that the fatigue which they suffer in the same amount of flying time in a piston-engined aircraft is immeasurably more than in the Viscount. From this I hope to prove to your Lordships that we airmen are not making a noise for the sake of noise. We want it mitigated and lessened every bit as much as the ordinary man in the street.

Furthermore, aircraft engine constructors would themselves prefer more silent engines. They would have a greater selling point because, if such engines could be put in transport aircraft, airline operators would always be able to attract more passengers to those aircraft which would be more comfortable to fly in. Airframe constructors likewise would prefer more silent engines, because the present soundproofing which they have to construct into aircraft is costly and causes extra weight which they would like to get rid of, While on the subject of weight, if I remember aright the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned. or seemed to give the imprecision, that the only excuse by designers for not having. silencers was one of weight. I should like to assure the noble Lord that that is not so. I will not go into the technical details, because I feel that the noble Lord who is to reply on behalf of the Government will mention these technical points; and as I am only an amateur in this matter I might "fox" the issue somewhat. I can assure the noble Lord, however that it is not mere laziness on the part of the. manufacturers; it is the fact that the technical difficulties have not yet been overcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned low flying by pilots of the Royal Air Force. I should like to refer to that remark, and also to the correspondence which, as the noble Lord mentioned, took place in The Times late in the summer. Unfortunately, I was not in this country when this correspondence started, and by the time, I. came back I found that it was too late for me to reply to a letter from and correspondent who lives in Norfolk and who wrote, if I may say so, a slashing attack on station commanders and their control over their pilots, particularly in the Norfolk and Suffolk area. It was not more than four years ago that I myself was a station commander on a fighter station on the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk, and I can assure y our Lordships that the efforts which we take to prevent pilots from carrying out unauthorised low flying are as watertight as we can possibly make them.

The regulations are that no aircraft may fly below 2,000 feet unless specifically authorised on specific flights for a specific purpose, usually—in fact I can say entirely—when carrying out practices for war-time intruder operations. These practices are extremely necessary, but they are carried out only at specific points, away from towns, and each flight has to have the signed authority of at least the flight commander concerned. The only other occasions on which a pilot may descend below 2,000 feet, once he is airborne, is when coming in to land or if weather forces him to come below that height—and only then in the interests of the safety of the aircraft and crew. If a pilot finds that he has to break these regulations he must report the matter to his flight commander or, if he himself is a flight commander, to his squadron commander: and there is then an investigation to discover whether that particular breaking of the regulations was necessary. Any pilot who is proved to have flown below regulation height is subject to court-martial and is liable to instant dismissal from Her Majesty's Air Force. If the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, cares to inquire, he will find that what I have said on this point is, unfortunately, true. There have been only a few cases, but when they are found they are treated with the utmost severity, which they deserve.

We are all frail human beings, and there will obviously be the young pilot who occasionally decides that he will have a "bang" and who may go down low, though he knows that he is taking a risk. But that is something we cannot control. If he does it, he is not only risking his own neck, but also risking his chances of remaining in the Royal Air Force. Furthermore, if a station commander were found to have concurred in, or passed over, a case of low flying, his chances of survival as a station commander would be very slim indeed. I sympathise wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, because I understand that his house is right in the centre of the extension—


I hesitate to interrupt the noble Earl, but I have not mentioned anything about that. I am not pleading my own case at all; I am pleading the case of those who are inarticulate, which I have the right to do. So I hope the noble Earl will not bring personal prejudice into it, thinking that I am bringing my own case forward.


I apologise to the noble Lord opposite if I have said anything which in any way upsets him, and I withdraw any such remarks. I was only going to sympathise with him. However, we will pass that over, and I hope the noble Lord will accept my apology.


Of course I will, absolutely.


That is all I have to say, and I hope that I have made it clear to noble Lords that we airmen are not unsympathetic about noise: it effects us as much as it affects anybody else.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, as usual I shall detain your Lordships only a very short time. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on his able exposition of what is going on in this country. It is not the first time that he has done it. I have supported him in the past, and I do to-day. There is one point which I think can be rectified if the spirit is willing, and I am going to refer to that point only. It concerns military aircraft. I am sure that some of your Lordships must have suffered as a result of planes exceeding the speed of what I believe is technically called Mach I. That means flying at a speed at sea level of 760 m.p.h., and at higher altitudes at a lesser speed. I have been to a certain place which has suffered from this on many occasions, and the wholesale destruction to market garden glass was appalling. The people living there were, as the noble Lord described, living in misery and in a nervous condition that was quite obvious; and I feel that here is something that can be stopped. I put this question either in your Lordships' House or, it might have been, at the Air Ministry, and I was told, "You are asking for something that is expensive." I said, "Why on earth not do all this flying over the sea? Why do it over a populated area?" I was told, "It would be very expensive." I happen to have one or two friends who are Air Marshals and they said they had never heard such nonsense in their lives; that aeroplanes which fly from any of these aerodromes, as do the planes which break the sound barrier—to put it perhaps in easier terms —have to go only a very short distance to get over the sea. Let them do it. They said: "It costs practically nothing at the speed that they fly."

I myself motored the best part of sixty miles to see for myself what the conditions were like and what complaints were made; and to show your Lordships the nonsense that was talked I may tell you that when a complaint was made, the complainant was asked: "At what time did it happen? What was the exact place where it happened?" The reply in one ease was that no plane had done what it was reputed to have done; there was no evidence. In one case I was asked: "What was the number of the plane? What was the type of plane?" It has happened to me over my house. I was blown out of bed one morning and everything was blown out; the curtains were all over the place. How on earth was I to know what plane it was, what its number was or at what speed it went? Even if I had been able to see, I do not suppose I should have been able to see the plane at that speed. That sort of thing is irritating beyond words. I say to your Lordships that this nuisance can be stopped. If it is accessory, as it may well be, for these planes to do that sort of thing, let them do it over the sea. I beg the noble Lord to bring these points very strongly indeed to the proper quarter, so that this nuisance may be stopped, as it is doing a terrible amount of damage and harm to the nerves and lives of quite a number of people. I can speak from personal experience. I ask the noble Lord if he will deal with that matter in his reply.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, following what the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has just said, I should like to give your Lordships an example of what happened to me on Monday last: it will show that it is quite impossible for anybody to see either the number of the plane, its markings or colour, or, often, the type. I was in my own garden on Monday and suddenly a plane swept down, making an awful noise. It made me jump, as naturally it would, coming from nowhere. I looked round to see where this plane was. I looked in one direction and then the other; and when found where the plane was, I saw that it was at least five miles away from my own particular place.

I want to speak for a few moments on the position in the Eastern Counties, and particularly in Norfolk and Suffolk. We in Norfolk are not troubled very much by commercial aircraft; we are pretty well off the passenger routes. But we have in our county many R.A.F. stations and several American stations, so noble Lords can understand that, day in and day out, we have aircraft flying around us all the time. Fortunately, we are not troubled by much night flying, although it happens sometimes. We have naturally become accustomed to aircraft noise, as anybody can become accustomed to certain noises and inconveniences—for instance, if one lives near a railway one becomes accustomed to the passing of trains and suchlike. In the same way one can become accustomed to aircraft flying around in the country districts; often one does not notice them except that, looking up into the sky on a clear day, it is possible to see the zigzag vapour trails, even though the machine itself is invisible. We have had occasion to complain of low flying, and in a moment. I want to refer to one particular case which has been put to me.

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has referred to the sound harrier. We suffer quite a lot in Norfolk in regard to this breaking of the sound harrier. I was in your Lordships' House on Tuesday. I went home that night and said to my wife: "Has anything very much happened to-day?" She said "We have had a regular system of bangs and bangs." These hangs, which come from the breaking of the sound barrier, are a little disturbing, although in some respects we have not suffered in Norfolk as the glasshouse people have in Hertfordshire and elsewhere. I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, said about the R.A.F. I am glad that he made a plea for the R.A.F. and stated, as I am certain is the case, that, so far as possible, the R.A.F. want to minimise the disturbances which are created by flying. But in every walk of life there are one or two folks who are anxious to "show off". That often happens in regard to flying. Those of us who live on the coastline of Norfolk, in the coastal villages and towns, complain of the way in which the planes, to whichever unit of the Service they may belong, whether American planes or any other planes, come in from the sea and across the villages and towns at a very low altitude. If possible, the Under-Secretary could make representations to the Minister that it might ease the situation if definite instructions were given that, in coming in over the coastline, a high altitude should be maintained.

The case to which I want to refer your Lordships concerns a Sunday afternoon. Of course, on a Sunday afternoon one cannot be quite certain whether the aeroplane in question is a unit machine or a private machine; one does not know to whom it belongs. But I want to endorse what was said by the noble Lord who moved the Motion about this Sunday afternoon flying. It is important that, so far as possible, we should do away with unnecessary flying on Sundays. I have received one letter which I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice. It says: I know you will not let this incident go unheeded. This is the first opportunity I have had of mentioning the matter. A few months ago, an elderly lady, with her daughter and her two children, was out on an ordinary Sunday afternoon walk in a Norfolk village. The children were young. Those were people who had come out of London after various air raids during the war. They were all in a state of nervous tension, and during that afternoon walk the pilot of a certain plane indulged in what we always know as "hedge-hopping." This plane came over the village very low and frightened the children so much that the baby in the pram was unable to cry or raise any state of alarm at all. The adult people present were also much shocked by the approach of the plane and its proximity to the houses and the people in the village.

That is a simple case, and no doubt it could be multiplied times without number. Therefore I hope that, as a result of this debate, steps will be taken to ease the circumstances in which low flying is indulged in. I have no doubt, as the noble Earl. Lord Gosford, said, that disciplinary steps would be taken at any R.A.F. station if the guilty party could be ascertained. but it is absolutely impossible to put the guilt on to anybody, and it is no doubt for that reason that the practice goes unnoticed. I conclude by asking the Parliamentary Secretary if he will look up the existing instructions which have been issued to the R.A.F. or other stations in regard to low flying and flying inland from the sea, find whether it is possible for any alterations to be made and see that steps are taken by the Minister to deal with the matter.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords. I wish to congratulate the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, once again for bringing this important matter to the attention of your Lordships' House, because there are unfortunate people who live in the neighbourhood of Service aerodromes and who suffer intense discomfort. I was in Kent quite recently and was standing outside a house. Five of these jet planes came over at a height of about 200 feet, and the noise was quite incredible; it was something one had to experience to believe—it was almost as though we were being hit by the intensity of the sound coming from those planes.

This is a problem which affects every one of us in this country, because nobody knows from one year to another when he may find an aerodrome plumped down alongside his home, and the intense sound which is created from that aerodrorre will ruin the whole district. I hope the Government will treat this matter with every sympathy. Up and down the country there is a growing sense of indignation and a general belief that the authorities could not care less "about the inconvenience that is being suffered to-day by thousands of people who are being subjected to this nuisance.

For many years Parliament has been particularly concerned to prevent people from being affected by nuisance created by others. I think I am right in saying that in 1911 a Royal Commission was set up to inquire into the nuisance created by the pollution of rivers by effluent of sewage. The Government were sensitive of interference with the well-being of people lower down the river, and protected them by making standards regarding the effluent which could be put into a river. In 1936 there was passed a Public Health Act which dealt with offensive trades, again protecting people in neighbourhoods interfered with by horrible smells, and so on, from trades carried on next door. In 1937 another Act was passed dealing with the putting into sewers of offensive matter. This particularly concerned the plating trade which used to put in noxious acids which destroyed the bacteria in the sewage bays. I think I have shown that Parliament has always been sensitive to nuisance created by individuals which reacts on the general public.

Here, we have a nuisance of the first order. Nobody can pretend that aerodromes, especially Service aerodromes, are not an intolerable nuisance to people in the neighbourhood. I would ask the Government to consider the setting up of a Royal Commission to inquire into the problem of sound from the air. We have heard recently of a Royal Commission to inquire into the question of smoke, and there is an important departmental committee which is considering the question of the effluence of detergents into rivers. It seems to me that a Royal Commission or a strong departmental committee is the only way to tackle a nuisance of this kind. One would like first of all to see certain sound standards established. For many years past it has not been easy to establish such standards for the intensity of sound, but a great deal of work has been done on this matter in the last ten or fifteen years. I think the noble Lord who is to answer the debate will know that in the last few clays a publication on sound measurement has been issued by the National Physical Laboratory. I am sure that that will be a most important document in dealing with matters of this kind.

Why cannot sound standards be established, just as we have sewage standards? Why cannot we have areas of high intensity sound, of medium intensity sound and low intensity sound? if a high intensity area is created, why should not a person have the right to go before a court and try to make a case that it should be a low intensity area? That is what has to be done in the case of a person who wishes to sink a well. One can appeal against the sinking of a well and can try to get the application postponed. Why should not that be done in regard to noise as it is in regard to all these other matters? I ask that Were should be set up a Commission to establish sound values of different categories. I ask that people who are compelled to live in areas of high sound intensity shall be compensated for the gross inconvenience that they are suffering for the benefit of the whole country. I ask that the Government should consider putting in, at the public expense, double windows in the houses in these areas, and felting under the roofs, and so on, to try in some way to mitigate We great hardships which these people have to suffer.

The general impression of the public— I am afraid I cannot agree in some ways with what Lord Gosford said—is that the Minister "could riot care less"; that it is not the slightest use traking any protest —-you have just got to grin and bear it. But I would beg Her Majesty's Government to consider the establishment of an influential committee which would be able to examine all these problems, to find out why it is necessary to fly every day and every night; why it is necessary to fly at week-ends and why, if the matter were more carefully examined, training could not take place it isolated districts such as Salisbury Plain and over the sea. An enormous amount might be clone, but we must have an influential committee which can ask, the right questions of the Air Ministry and get proper answers, otherwise we shall get no further in this matter. I beg the Government to be sympathetic about it and to do their level best to protect the civilian population from this appalling nuisance.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, rises, may I be allowed to refer to the remark made by the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth?



4.49 p.m.


I am sorry.

My Lords, this is by no means the first occasion upon which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has raised the question of aircraft noise; in fact I think it is the fourth time within the space of a year that he has raised the subject or allied subjects in your Lordships' House. Of course, I make no complaint about that; it merely goes to show that the subject is of great importance and indeed that the noble Lord feels strongly about it. Certainly, I think all your Lordships would agree that life in general seems to get noisier and noisier. I imagine that if someone who was living a hundred years ago came back and spent a day in London, or indeed in the country, he would be horrified at the noise in which we all live. I remember being told recently by someone who used to balloon in the early days of this century, that at 10,000 feet you could hear very clearly the barking of dogs and the crying of children. Nowadays, I imagine, as you peered nervously around your balloon for aeroplanes, the noise of dogs and children would be drowned by the combine harvester, the tractor, factory sirens, pneumatic drills, motor car horns and shunting trains. But I agree with the noble Lord, that of all the noises we have to suffer far and away the worst is the noise from aircraft, and particularly jet aircraft. But we have to face the fact that as air transport increases the noise becomes more and more widespread.

What I hope to do this afternoon is to show that Her Majesty's Government are keenly conscious of the seriousness of the disturbance, and that we are doing what we can to reduce it. The noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, chided me in advance for what I was going to say. He said it was no good Her Majesty's Government stating the difficulties. and that difficulties are there to be overcome. The noble Lord said that twice. I would say to the noble Lord that it is of no use his making statements of that kind when he himself knows how intractable is the problem, and when, if I may say so, he has so few constructive suggestions to offer. It is easy to state the problem, but it is not so easy to think of a solution; and I cannot pretend that an early solution is in sight. At the same time it would be wrong to suppose that nothing is being achieved.

For instance, when the noble Lord last raised the question of aircraft noise it was in relation to helicopters which use the terminal across the river and fly near the House. In spite of what the noble Lord said in his remarks, I think all noble Lords would agree that this particular nuisance has been considerably reduced as a result of the fitting of silencers and of the instruction that these aircraft should normally keep to a height of at least 1,000 feet, when this is possible, and should never descend below 500 feet until they are in the neighbourhood of the landing area. In that case something could be done and was done, and I hope to show that a great deal is being done in other directions. But the technical problem is formidable, and it would be idle to pretend that we can expect our research to yield quick results or that we can eliminate this nuisance by operational changes alone.

There are three sources of aircraft noise: the manufacturer's aircraft, the civilian operator's aircraft and Service aircraft. Obviously the nature and seriousness of the problem varies as between these classes, but the basic research which is being conducted into the possibilities of reducing aircraft noise is relevant to all of them. The noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth. made some play with the fact that only £100,000 a year was being spent on this research while since the end of the war £360 million had been spent on aircraft research generally. The noble Lord will know as well as I do that there is a limit to the amount of research that can usefully be undertaken in this field. I can assure him that lack of money has not limited the work done. So I will first attempt some description of what is being done in the field of research: that takes us to the heart of the matter, since, in the long run, the reduction of noise at the source is the only really satisfactory solution. I will then try to give your Lordships some idea of the different steps which are being taken by manufacturers, by civil aviation and by the Services to reduce noise, both from engines running on the ground and from aircraft in flight.

The College of Aeronautics, the National Physical Laboratory and the Universities of Southampton and Manchester are all carrying out basic research into noise reduction. The work done at Manchester by Professor Lighthill was of particular importance as giving a theoretical basis for the experiment on jet noise which followed. This basic research includes the measurement of turbulence and noise in jets, and the Ministry of Supply are co-ordinating the work very closely. Research is also going on into the possibilities of reducing jet engine and propeller noise under Ministry of Supply contracts with aircraft and engine manufacturers. The corrugated jet nozzle which is being developed by Rolls Royce, under a contract placed by the Ministry of Supply, is showing great promise; and although it is too early to say what result will be achieved, there is reason to hope that it may reduce the noise, both in the air and on the ground, by as much as one half. The Ministry of Supply are already considering the introduction of the new nozzles into engines on the production line, and if research continues to make satisfactory progress we may hope that this will not be too far ahead. In addition, the Bristol Aeroplane Company are working on the reduction of noise from the propellers of propeller-turbine aircraft.

For helicopters, development is continuing on conventional silencers for piston engines, and the problem is to reduce their size and weight and the penalty on performance which they impose. Here again, the Bristol Aeroplane Company were at work on silencers for the Leonides engine which powers the Bristol 173 as long ago as 1953, and instructions to begin work on a silencer for the Westland Sikorsky S.55 were given in August, 1954. Work has, in fact, been going on for a good deal longer than the manufacturers have always been given credit for. Even so, the start of the B.E.A. helicopter service between the South Bank and London Airport had to be delayed until July of this year because silencers were not available. This alone shows that Her Majesty's Government take this problem seriously and are prepared to take positive action when positive action is of some use.

Before I leave the subject of research into the possibilities of reducing engine and propeller noise, I would stress that there can be no simple general solution: different types of engines and designs of aircraft pose different problems, and a variety of answers must be sought. The Departments concerned, the manufacturers, and the airline operators are all very conscious of the problem and they are anxious to exploit the results of the research which is being undertaken. But: success in noise reduction has to be measured against the parallel very rapid increase in engine development. However, progress is being made, and there is no reason why we should not take corn-fort from it.

I turn now to a different field of research: the development of "mufflers" for jet engines which are being run up on the ground. I am glad to say that we have achieved a good deal of success in this direction, and aircraft companies are planning to install the equipment at their own airfields. The Hawker Aircraft Company, for instance, already have mufflers working satisfactorily at Dunsfold; I have seen and heard them at work, and they are also in use by the R.A.F. The development of mobile mufflers for use on both civil and military aircraft is well advanced.

This may be a convenient point at which to mention the work—one can hardly call it research—which is going ahead on acoustic screens. At London Airport, where the problem of noise from the ground running of engines in the maintenance areas is a serious one, new airport buildings such as hangars are being designed and located so far as possible to screen nearby houses. Wherever possible, ad vantage is taken of existing airport buildings for the same purpose. Experiments are also being made to measure the value of trees as noise screens. The Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, in conjunction with the operators, have restricted the night running of engines at London Airport to that which is essential for operations on the following day, and even this is carried out only in positions which are screened from nearby residential areas. In the case of B.O.A.C. aircraft, essential engine running between 11 o'clock at night and 7 o'clock in the morning is carried out behind hangars or an acoustic wall; B.E.A. arrange for engine running between those hours to be done where it is blanketed from residential areas by their new hangar. At all Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation aerodromes, engines tested out of their air frames may be run up only in specially silenced test houses.

That brings me to the measures taken to reduce the noise from aircraft in flight. There are, I think, two problems here: first, the noise from low-flying aircraft and, secondly, the nuisance from aircraft taking off and landing. Low flying arises almost exclusively from Service aircraft. Low-flying exercises are essential, not only for ground attack aircraft and so on, but also to exercise the Royal Observer Corps. Nevertheless, as my noble friend Lord Gosford has said, very stringent control is exercised. Low flying may be carried out only on the authority of a squadron commander, and it may be carried out only in certain defined areas which, so far as possible, are sited away from built-up areas. The United States Air Force work to the same rules in all this as does the R.A.F., and I should like to take this opportunity of acknowledging the co-operation we invariably receive from them in ensuring that the rules are observed. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was unduly severe on the R.A.F. He denounced them fiercely and blamed them for everything. I really cannot accept what he says. Over the past year, for example, there were 661 complaints of low flying, and of the se 415 were authorised cases:4 low flying. In 71 cases the offending aircraft belonged to other users; in 168 cases there was insufficient evidence and in only 7 was disciplinary action called for. I do not think that even the R.A.F.'s worst enemy—and I am sure the noble Lord is not that—would say that these figures supported the noble Lord's argument.

The noble Lord also, I thought, suggested that flying clubs were allowed to use training aircraft on Service airfields on Sundays. Nearly all the non-regular flying which takes place on Sundays at Service airfields is carried out by pilots of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces who have only the week-ends in which they can keep in flying practice. Some Sunday flying is therefore inevitable. The Services do all they can by restricting hours of practice to reduce disturbance. I know of no case in which purely private flying is undertaken and causes disturbance, but if the noble Lord will let me have details I will, of course, most willingly look into them.

The noise from aircraft taking off and landing is both more serious and more difficult to deal with. I thought that here the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was confused between low flying and aircraft taking off. I think the case he instanced of aircraft only 120 feet up was not really low flying but was probably an aircraft which had just taken off from the airfield. Although there are exceptions, it is generally true that as engines become more powerful they also become noisier. So technical advances are continually creating new problems and airfields about which there were previously no complaints, may, with the introduction of new aircraft, present us with a host of difficulties. Civil and military aircraft firms are studying the possibilities of "augmented lift" by such techniques as "sucking and blowing" although it is too early yet to forecast the results.

The heart of the problem, I think, is really that of airfield siting. Ideally—and I know that this is a point on which all your Lordships feel strongly—Service airfields at least should all be away from the important centres of population. But the fact is that we are so limited by strategic and logistic considerations, by the need for airfields to be sited on reasonably level ground, and on soil of adequate bearing quality, and by the need to avoid congesting the airspace, that it is absolutely unavoidable that some Service airfields should be near to major towns. Civil airports have, in any case. to be near the cities they serve, and so it becomes inevitable that many residential areas suffer from the noise of aircraft flying low overhead as they gain or lose height on taking off or landing.

Here again, the Service Departments and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation are doing what they can to ease the problem, but I cannot pretend that there is a complete solution. Wherever possible, approach lanes are routed to avoid the most heavily populated areas. Unfortunately, residential development in the neighbourhood of many airfields is so extensive that the problem is frequently to choose the least of several evils. Nevertheless, considerable improvements have been made; and at London Airport, for example, the routes now used are a very great improvement over their predecessors. Again, sometimes it is possible to concentrate flying on the runway least likely to cause nuisance to the surrounding communities. This has been done with some success at London Airport.

On the Service side, a similar arrangement has been made at Abingdon, and although I understand that in this case the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth does not consider that the arrangement provides a solution—as indeed it does not —he will. I know, agree that it eases the problem. The difficulty here, of course, as elsewhere, is that on occasion the prevailing wind dictates the runway to be used and the airfield authorities are un-able to make any choice. As a final example of the sort of action which is being taken to reduce the nuisance from aircraft taking off and landing, I should mention the restrictions which have been placed on night flying. Again, however, a certain amount of flying training has to be carried out at night, both by Service and by civil pilots, and night flights by the airline operators are unavoidable.

Finally, I come to the remarks of Lord Teviot and Lord Wise about supersonic aircraft. I assure your Lordships that very strict control is exercised over trans-sonic flight. No aircraft may fly supersonically over land at a height of less than 30,000 feet without the specific authority of the responsible Department. Indeed, apart from development flights by prototype aircraft, and in some other similar cases where the danger to the aircraft would be too great, supersonic flight is, in general, confined to areas over the sea. This is a comparatively new regulation, and it is too early to say how well it is going to work. I hope that my noble friend will be cheered to know that his representations and his journey to the Air Ministry were not in vain, as something has come of them. I listened with great interest to the speech of my noble friend Lord Falmouth. I shall study it with great care, because he knows a great deal about this subject. I am a little doubtful what a Royal Commission could do, but I will certainly look at the problem and let him know the answer.

My Lords. I do not for one moment imagine that I have satisfied your Lordships that we have overcome this difficulty —of course we have not. The only way to do that would be to stop all flying. What we are trying to do—and I think we are succeeding—is to mitigate as far as possible the inconvenience and hardships which inevitably arise. We have a long way to go, and as time goes on, and the results of research which we have in hand emerge, we shall no doubt be able to do better. At any rate, I hope your Lordships will recognise that this is a problem which the Government are taking very seriously, and a problem about which they are by no means complacent.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, before I come to the noble Lord's reply, may I express my thanks to all noble Lords who have very frankly and plainly given your Lordships the benefit of their views? The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, thought I was rather harsh upon the R.A.F. I did not wish to be harsh upon anyone—but I do wish to be very severe and harsh upon some of the conditions that prevail. If, in my remarks, I implied criticism of individuals, then I am sorry. That was not my intention. I will deal with the problem of low flying in a minute. My noble friend, Lord Wise, made a comment which, if he will forgive my saying so, I thought was based on rather a fallacy. He stated that you get accustomed to noise. I have consulted eminent physicians and have discovered that we do not get used to noise. What happens is that the noise dulls the senses so that they are not responsive to it. There is no doubt that the noise of aircraft, like the noise of pneumatic drills or any other noise of that kind, has a deleterious effect on health.

Now I come to the noble Lord's reply, which was exhaustive and intensely interesting. I have only one complaint, which is that he said I was severely critical of the Royal Air Force and blamed them for everything. I think that is somewhat of an exaggeration, because I did no such thing. This is the fourth time I have addressed your Lordships on this matter and I expect there will be many more times, and if this debate has served any purpose, it has served the purpose of showing that the House is unanimous in its condemnation of this curse of noise from the air. There was no Party division whatever and even the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, agreed. There was not a dissentient voice. I expected the noble Lord to chide me— after all, I do sit on the opposite side and I am fair game, even for abuse on this subject, though of course the noble Lord has not abused me he is far too courteous to do that. But abuse would not deter me from prosecuting this issue. It is no good burking it or glossing over it. There is a bitter resentment among hundreds of thousands of people who think, to use Lord Falmouth's own language, that the Government and those in authority "could not care less." If we can do anything to combat that, it is all to the good.

The noble Lord chided me for having no solution. I did have a solution; but perhaps he missed it. No sensible person minds operational flying where the plane is up and gone. What they object to is this incessant circular flying at about 300 to 400 feet—what are called "circles and bumps." The noble Lord is wrong when he said this was not going on over built-up areas. I admit frankly that the R.A.F. must have low-flying instruction, but that instruction, in which the planes circle night after night, hour after hour, over the rooftops, should be done away from the people. This is being done over Abingdon, where there are 36,000 people living within a circuit of six miles. Most of the males in the area spend all their days in the Pressed Steel mills or the Morris works, in front of gigantic presses where the din is terrific, making goods for export, and they are kept awake all night by the noise of this training. It is no good the noble Lord saying this is not carried out over built-up areas. It is. I hope that we shall be able to make some progress. It is no good saying that the Air Ministry have received only 600 letters, because most people say that it is no good writing to the Air Ministry or to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. That is why they come to people like me and the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and Members of Parliament.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Lord, because I have just looked up what I did say and these are my words: It can be carried on only in certain defined areas which, so far as possible, are sited away from built-up areas. I cannot pretend to have any knowledge of any of the particular airfields the noble Lord wishes to cite. I cannot possibly know them all. But if the noble Lord will give me details of any complaints he has, I will certainly look into them and let him have an answer.


I appreciate the noble Lord's position. He is speaking from a departmental brief—




I am not disparaging the noble Lord: I have done the same thing myself, and I know that he has to take a fact like that. But perhaps he will care to look into this point. I have cited the case of Abingdon.


I will look into it.


There are 30,000-odd people around Abingdon—is that not a built-up area? Norwich is another case—and I could mention many more. I thank the noble Lord quite sincerely, because I think that, technically, his dissertation was one of the most interesting I have heard. It was interesting to me, but whether it will bring any solace to those who are wracked in their beds every night is extremely doubtful. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past five o'clock.