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Aircraft Noise

Volume 530: debated on Monday 19 July 1954

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10.8 p.m.

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Air Navigation (Seventh Amendment) Order, 1954 (S.I. 1954, No. 751), dated 3rd June, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd June, be annulled.
This Order deals with physical phenomena which are rapidly assuming outstanding importance in the modern world. I am referring to noise and vibration. This Order will legalise the causation of noise and vibration in areas where, previously, it was illegal. It will remove the right of citizens to go to the courts for protection against intolerable nuisance and damage where, previously, they had that right.

The magnitude of this problem of noise has grown with the development of the aeroplane. I have said elsewhere that in my view, and in the view of many other people, there should now be more urgent and intensive research into the problem, not only of the cause of noise but of its effects on human beings and property. I should have thought that there was scope here for work on an international basis because the problem affects other countries than our own.

The Minister of Supply told us the other day that we are currently spending on research into the problem of the reduction of noise at source £100,000. From time to time I have pressed the right hon. Gentleman for increases in expenditure in other directions, but I take this opportunity to say that, in the view of many people, £100,000 spent on this problem is not enough. The Americans have what they term a "crash programme." It was only after they started a crash programme that they produced the atomic bomb in the first place and the hydrogen bomb in the second place. We want something of the same kind of crash programme of research into this problem of noise.

Moreover, I am arguing that the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation should press the appropriate Departments in the Government that there should now be research into the other aspect of the problem—the effect of noise and vibration on human beings and property. Indeed, I shall try to show that it is impossible to administer this Order unless the Minister is in possession of more facts. The only serious work which has been done on this problem so far has been in connection with aircrew and air passengers.

Dr. Kenneth Bergin, in a most comprehensive work of reference, stresses that in his view the elimination of noise and vibration in the case of aircrew and passengers should be placed high in the list of all priorities. He says that as a result of investigations on aircrew it has been found that it plays a part in the production of headaches, visual and auditory fatigue and general discomfort. On the question of ultrasonic vibration the effects are even more serious. Such work as has been done shows that under certain conditions pilots have reported peculiar sensations, including dizziness, fatigue and disorientation; and an understandably high accident rate as a result of suffering this vibration.

It may be said that the problem in relation to aircrew and passengers is different from those on the ground. The fact is that with modern aircraft, pressurised aircraft with jet turbine engines and jet propelled engines, the noise and vibration problem in the air is diminishing and, at the same time, in inverse proportion it is increasing on the ground.

It is my belief that if there was this serious research into the problem of noise and vibration it would establish a relationship between noise and nervous diseases which would be as disturbing as the recent investigation into the relation between smoking and lung cancer. That is my view, and I have gone into this matter as carefully as is possible for a lay person. I will say, however, that my constituents around Northolt and London Airports do not require any further investigation to convince them that there is a problem here. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington), and other hon. Members I see opposite who are vigilant in the interest of their constituents' welfare, may add their views in this connection.

Noise has become one of the most urgent problems of modern times. This is no party matter. The first limitation of civil rights was, I know, effected under the Civil Aviation Act, 1947, which was brought in by the Labour Government, although incidentally, I protested against some of the aspects of that Measure at the time, even though the nuisance was then not so clearly established as it later became.

I am not, therefore, going to make any party criticism in this matter, although, in passing, I will mention that the present Minister of Civil Aviation did take occasion then to point out that here was another case of the State machine infringing on the rights of the individual. He then said he was not anxious to legalise any sweeping changes in the public's rights under the law of nuisance.

It is interesting to see what has happened since the right hon. Gentleman made that statement. The 1949 Act, which was a consolidating Act, limited the application of this order to Government aerodromes and certain licensed aerodromes. Under the new Order it is laid down that:
"The Minister may prescribe the conditions under which noise and vibration may be caused by aircraft"
not only on licensed aerodromes, but also on
"aerodromes at which the manufacture, repair or maintenance of aircraft is carried out by persons carrying on business as manufacturers or repairers of aircraft …"
This extension arose directly out of an action started by a citizen living near Dunsfold Aerodrome, where the Hawker Company were carrying out operations in connection with their manufacturing business. I understand that an injunction was sought restricting the nuisance and the damage being caused. As a matter of interest, I believe it was found that on five or six occasions cows in the district had been aborted of calves; young piglets were being killed by shock in the surrounding area; farm walls had been cracked, and all this in addition to the intolerable nuisance being caused to people living in the area.

One person started proceedings against the Hawker Company, and the matter was settled out of court. I do not know the details, but I understand that there was a satisfactory settlement to the citizen concerned. Damages were paid and, more important, the company undertook, in the terms of the settlement, to do everything possible to restrict the causa tion of noise and vibration. They undertook to erect sound baffle walls and to use every scientific device known in an effort to diminish the nuisance being caused there.

This case was settled out of court, but within a matter of hours of the settlement the Minister brought in this Order. I wish to ask him precisely what was his purpose? Did he think it was wrong that a citizen who had suffered damage should be compensated? Did he regret the fact that a particular aircraft company would undertake to do everything possible, by baffle walls or other devices, to reduce the volume of noise? Why, especially in view of his previous protestations, should he wish to restrict the rights of citizens under the law?

It may be said, it will be said—I say it myself—that it would be wrong and against the national interest to have aviation generally, and defence work in particular, inhibited by the perpetual threat of civil action. But even without this Order, as I understand, a person or a company carrying out essential work under statutory authority is protected against action for nuisance if all reasonable precautions are taken. I will not weary the House with the precedents for that, but they are available. It does have to be shown that
"all reasonable care and skill, according to the state of scientific knowledge at the time, has been taken."
There is nothing in this Order which requires an aircraft manufacturer to exercise reasonable care in the discharge of the work of manufacture or repair of aircraft.

Why should they not be under the obligation to apply all scientific knowledge for the avoidance of noise and vibration? Why should there not be the stimulus of possible legal action? It may be said—I see hon. Gentlemen opposite who may be able to argue this in some detail—that the cost of applying the scientific knowledge, the cost of building baffle walls and providing mobile sound shelters or screens, would be excessive. The amount might run into considerable sums of money, but the damage done to human beings is much larger in proportion to their resources than would be the cost of the provision of these various items of equipment by the aircraft manufacturer.

The question I wish to ask the Minister—I hope he will give us an answer—is: will he tell us what conditions he has prescribed for the causation of noise and nuisance at these aerodromes? I go further and ask him to state what are the conditions under which noise and vibration may be caused at London Airport. If the Minister wishes, though I hope that he will not, he can ride off by saying that I ought to know because I have been in the Department myself. As it happens, no action arose while I was there, and the original Act was passed before I took office.

This is an important point and I ask the Minister to tell us what is the meaning of the Order. What are the conditions to which he refers? Ought not the House to know them? It may well be that the conditions which he laid down require that all reasonable care, skill and precaution should be taken. If so, we ought to know. If conditions come up to that standard then the right of the citizen may well not be changed as a result of the Order.

In the original case, according to the Solicitor-General at the time, if the noise at the airport went beyond the conditions so prescribed then an action would be open to anyone who was suffering. I confess that I did not know what were the conditions in relation to Government aerodromes and licensed aerodromes. I think that we are entitled to know. I certainly believe that we are entitled to know the conditions which the Minister has in mind and which, indeed, he says that he has prescribed in relation to aerodromes on which the manufacture, testing and maintenance of aircraft is carried on.

I do not say that we will divide on the matter, but unless we get a satisfactory explanation we must consider taking that course. In another place, a most powerful case was made from both sides. It was clearly not a party issue. We were given to understand that the Government would have a further look at the Order. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that he has had another look and that he intends to meet the legitimate complaints which may be made against it.

10.23 p.m.

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) has made all the points of substance and, as I know that there are other hon. Members with constituencies bordering on airfields and airports who are interested in the subject, I will be brief. In any case, the Minister will want to give a fairly full reply to the points raised and to justify the course which he has taken in publishing this Order.

As my hon. Friend said, the Order extends the scope of the regulations relating to noise and vibration to airfields not previously covered where aircraft are manufactured, repaired and maintained. This extension by itself is, no doubt, quite reasonable. I am sure that the Minister will give reasons to justify it. However, we must remember that just as the scope of regulations is extended to additional areas, the common law rights of the individual is abandoned. Section 41 (2) of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, the authority whereby the regulations are issued, says that where the Minister makes such Orders
"No action shall lie in respect of nuisance by reason only of the noise and vibration caused by aircraft on an aerodrome to which this subsection applies by virtue of an Order in Council under section eight of this Act."
This is a point of considerable constitutional importance. The House of Commons is always jealous of the extension of Ministerial interference with the private rights of individuals. Whatever may be said at Election time, that sentiment is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The fact that if the Regulations are approved a considerable number of people will lose their ordinary civil law rights is a matter of very great importance to which the House will agree only if the Minister can prove that the Order is necessary for the development of aviation and for aeronautical progress in general. We look forward to the Minister's full justification of the Order in face of the consequential loss of ordinary rights of citizens.

I want to draw attention to another matter in connection with the phrase, in the Order No. 751:
"The Minister may prescribe the conditions under which noise and vibration may be caused …"
My hon. Friend said that he was unaware that the Minister prescribed those conditions. I was certainly unaware of it. I am sure that all the unfortunate people who live near airfields—I am thinking particularly of those who live in the neighbourhood of London Airport—will be very interested to know what the conditions are, how the degree of noise is controlled, how it is specified, what is permitted and what is regarded as excessive.

If we are honest in the matter, we must agree that the Ministry and the airport officials are doing all they can to lessen noise and vibration nuisance, but no one can pretend that they have yet been very successful. I was recently in Hayes and Harlington one evening when, presumably, jet aircraft were being prepared for flight, and the noise went on intermittently for nearly two hours. It was excruciating. When I hear people complaining about the noise of helicopters, a noise which passes very quickly, I feel that they ought to undergo the experience which some of our constituents have when jet aircraft are being tuned up for hour after hour.

I have no doubt that it is absolutely essential for the safety of the aircraft that this should be done, but we must think of the people who live on the perimeter of airfields. In the case of London Airport and in many other cases, the people were living there before the airfield grew to its present size. It is not their fault that they live there. They did not know what was going to happen. In this case and in others the airfield has come to them.

We shall all welcome information from the Minister as to what the conditions are, how they are exercised, how they are controlled, and why, despite the conditions which the Minister prescribes, there is this continual nuisance day after day at many of our great civil and Service aerodromes. I hope that the Minister will be able to justify the extension of the Order to new airfields and the taking away of the common law rights of ordinary citizens. I shall be glad if he will tell us something about the conditions and how they are enforced, and what he thinks is reasonable noise for aircraft to make.

10.30 p.m.

I do not complain that we are having the debate on this Order tonight, because I think the question of aircraft noise has been a worry to everybody. It is exercising the minds not only of civilians, but also of those interested in the aircraft industry, of whom I am one—and I now declare my interest.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) will be interested to learn that firms are giving a great deal of attention to this matter. My own company recently sent an engineer to the United States—in fact, he toured the whole of North America—with the sole purpose of trying to find out as much as he could about the suppression of noise. I am sorry to say that he did not come back with a great deal of information which was helpful, but that does not mean that research will stop either in America or in this country.

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge on his recent trip to the North Pole, where he spent 40 hours out of 80 in the air in a piston-engined aircraft. No doubt he wished he had been in a jet aircraft, so that he could have escaped some of the tiresome noise. We are glad to see him back after what must have been a very interesting trip.

Much has been done on the easier problem facing the engine manufacturer. Considerable progress has been made with engine testing. The problem here is not so difficult, but it is pleasing to record that we can now test a jet or even piston-engine without effect on those who live near the airfield.

The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the aircrew and passengers have not suffered very much. I understand from those interested in the medical aspect of aviation that so far they are not worried about the effect on aircrew of high-speed military aircraft. These may be early days, but that is the information which I have at present.

In the case of Dunsfold, I had an experience last Saturday week which may be of interest. I wanted to fly to my constituency in a three-seater aeroplane and I rang up the Hawker Company the day before to request permission. I had a great deal of difficulty in getting permission to land on the Saturday evening. I assured the chairman of the company that I would glide in for the last 2,000 feet and make as little noise as possible—and that is what I did—and he very reluctantly gave me permission. That is an illustration of the fact that companies are doing everything they can to prevent noise, certainly at week-ends.

May I thank the hon. Gentleman for his complimentary remarks about me, and ask him whether he thinks that the Hawker Company would have been as careful had it not been for the recent experience in a legal action?

My company has been careful for several years. It is not a new problem. We have hospitals near the airfield at Radlett, and it is a humane attitude to take care in any case.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) said that helicopters were fast. I wish they were. They are slow. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) is not in his place, because he of all people ought to be here to tackle this problem of noise from helicopters. That is a far greater problem.

Order. The debate is tending to broaden out into one on the general subject of noise. The existing law covers noise on Government aerodromes and licensed aerodromes. All this Order does is to extend the immunity from actions at law for nuisance to manufacturers' aerodromes. That is the only thing with which we are concerned in the Order.

I quite understand that, Mr. Speaker, and I bow to your Ruling, but even helicopters have to be manufactured on the airfields which we are discussing.

I referred to the fact that the period of nuisance in the case of the helicopter was very much shorter than in the case where people live near an aerodrome and aircraft are tuning up for one or two hours.

I do not think I should be allowed to follow the hon. Gentleman in that comment. I could give a lengthy answer if I were allowed to do so.

In connection with your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, does the wording of the Order, dealing with aerodromes and "including military aircraft," preclude a discussion of any base on which American aircraft are serviced, manufactured or repaired?

I do not know that I would go as far as that. The position is that under the existing law aerodromes which are Government aerodromes or licensed aerodromes are already protected from actions for nuisance because of noise or vibration and this Order extends that protection to the aerodromes occupied by manufacturers or repairers of aircraft. That is the test of whether it is in order or not.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, the Order covers not only aerodromes used for

"the manufacture, repair or maintenance of aircraft"
but also Government and licensed aerodromes; it is a new Order including all three types. What we are seeking to get the Government to do is to state the limitations which apply to all these types of aerodromes.

May I suggest that what we are now doing is to extend to those manufacturers' aerodromes not already covered by this immunity the protection already given to Government or licensed aerodromes, and given by the former Administration, of which the hon. Member was a member, for reasons that we on this side regarded as entirely proper?

That may be so; but is it not the fact that the method by which the Government propose to do this may be inefficient? We are discussing a single Order, in which reference is made not only to manufacturers' aerodromes but to the other two types of aerodrome also. I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will answer the case that there should be a limitation, a stated condition, applying to each of the three types of aerodrome mentioned in the Order.

The plain fact remains that all that the Order does is to extend the scope of the existing law to manufacturers' aerodromes.

After all the noise here I will confine myself, in the main, to the question of manufacturers' airfields. I have not heard any complaints from the other side about the noise of motor cycles, which go up and down the country day in and year out. Why pray against the question of licensed airfields?

This is not a matter concerning motor cycles. The hon. and gallant Member, on his interpretation of the rules of order, could drag in every type of unpleasant noise in the world.

I respect what you are saying, Mr. Speaker, but surely, when we are discussing the question of noise on a manufacturer's airfield, I am entitled to make some comparison of noise; but I shall not follow that further.

Only a week ago there was a very unfortunate accident in which a Victor bomber crashed. Normally, the test would have taken place a few miles north of London, but with a view to minimising noise the tests were carried out in Bedfordshire, near to the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Minister. I mention that to show that every care is taken to avoid causing a nuisance to the public.

Tests have been carried out with screens, and that is all to the good, but it should not be imagined that because a screen is put up that is the end of the trouble; one merely gets the noise elsewhere. I support the hon. Member in saying that research is needed if we are to make real progress, and I think that more than the sum which has been allotted will have to be voted for that specific purpose.

A great deal has been done. Manufacturers are told that aircraft should not break the sound barrier over land—if it is to be done, it must be done over the sea—and so on. But progress has to take place, and if we place too many restrictions on manufacturers in carrying out not only work for civil aircraft, but urgent work for the Government and the nation as a whole, that progress will be retarded.

I am quite happy to leave this to the good sense of my right hon. Friend. I am sure he will do everything within his power to ask the manufacturers to minimise the noise. It is far better to get results that way than to enforce regulations. It will be tiresome for a number of years and progress will be slow, as it was in the case of the railways, but I should rather live on an airfield than next door to a railway station.

10.39 p.m.

I am concerned about the position of my constituents, who, like myself, live within a mile or two of the Burtonwood air base. Recently, there have been vast extensions to the runways at Burtonwood to accommodate the bigger types of airliner. We are now suffering considerably from noise, and if the interpretation of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) who moved the Prayer, is correct, I am alarmed that my constituents are to be prohibited from taking action when they feel that unjustifiable noise is taking place during testing, or something of that nature, on the aerodrome.

A considerable number of houses are situated in the immediate vicinity of the aerodrome. In many instances, these aerodromes are made long after the towns have been built, and it would be difficult if we were to be confined to cases where a particular aerodrome was not owned or controlled either by Her Majesty's Government or by private people in the aircraft industry, because my constituents would be prohibited from taking cases to the courts to demand justice.

We face the complication that at Burtonwood we have not only an American base as such, but we have our own aircraft landing there. There is a service from Scotland to London, which touches down at Burtonwood, and I should like to know what is the position. Are we entitled to take action against a British company whose planes are causing a nuisance at Burtonwood, but not to take similar action against the American authorities? The people in my constituency appreciate that where there is development noise must be expected but it is becoming a nuisance to us to have jets screaming across the sky, and I hope that the Minister can assure us—

I do not think this Order brings in military aerodromes at all. It refers to Government aerodromes, licensed aerodromes and similar aerodromes. Aerodromes controlled by the Royal Air Force and by the American authorities are not affected by this Order.

The Order says, Sir, that

"The Minister may prescribe the conditions under which noise and vibration may be caused by aircraft (including military aircraft) on Government aerodromes, licensed aerodromes or on aerodromes at which the manufacture, of aircraft is carried on …"
I make the point that here there are the words, "including military aircraft."

I think if the aircraft were the test that would be right, but it is the aerodrome which is the test. I understand that Government aerodromes and licensed aerodromes apply only to civil aerodromes. However, the hon. Member has made his point.

In conclusion, there is a contrast I should like to make. Within a short distance of Burtonwood we have an R.A.F. base, at Padgate.

The hon. Gentleman has drawn a vivid analogy of jet aircraft screaming across the sky. The regulations apply only to aircraft taking off or running or moving in or near an aerodrome or on water, and under different conditions laid down in the regulations. They in no sense deal with aircraft which are in the air. They are dealt with in a different way.

The Minister is not up to his usual form tonight. Can the right hon. Gentleman imagine a jet aircraft taking off without first "revving up"? I know that no matter how aerodromes are used, it is not possible to avoid a lot of noise.

I was contrasting the fact that if there is unnecessary noise at Padgate we can go to court and demand justice, whereas if the same thing happens at Burton-wood we cannot. My constituents will have to do some Sherlock Holmes detection work to find out where the aircraft came from. I would ask the Minister to give us an assurance on these points if he can.

10.45 p.m.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), in moving this Prayer, said that the original immunity conferred by the 1947 Act was a novelty, and I think it was a striking novelty. If remember rightly it was a Government new Clause introduced during the progress of the Bill, and some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen expressed considerable reservations in supporting or opposing it. What we are considering tonight is a further extension of the immunity which was then, as a novelty, introduced into the laws of our country.

Without supporting the Motion, I want to associate myself with some of the expressions of anxiety which have been made by various hon. Gentlemen. It is obvious that a new developing industry like the aircraft industry should have some kind of legal protection in its early stages of development. The anxiety which I, and, I think, other hon. Gentlemen have in mind is that unless a certain amount of pressure from the ordinary citizens through the ordinary processes is exercised on this new developing industry it might not develop in quite the way we hope. In a great many European countries there are no restrictions on the noise of motor bicycles, and extremely noisy they are, but in Great Britain we have had for 20 years restrictions on the noise of these vehicles, and it has had a considerable effect on their design and use.

That is the analogy I would apply to the aircraft industry. I understand that in the early stages restrictions may be necessary, but it imposes on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation—and I am glad to see no fewer than seven Ministers on the Front Bench; I am sure that with such a show of talent a striking result cannot but fail to come from this debate—vast responsibility to exercise from his Department, through the power to make regulations for each particular aerodrome, discipline and compulsion which in ordinary circumstances the public would exercise through the power to issue writs.

I hope that the Minister will tell us a few particular things. How does one get to know what are the special conditions he prescribes for any aerodrome? Is there some method of publication? Possibly people who are directly or immediately concerned may have access to them, but how can a Member of Parliament or anyone who wishes to exercise scrutiny in the public interest get to know? I see that on the same day that this Order was introduced the Air Navigation General Regulations were also amended by the substitution of a new paragraph 230 for the original one.

The Minister, when he intervened, quoted some of the terms in that new general regulation. Immunity will only be conferred under this new Order
"when aircraft are taking off or landing, moving on the ground or on water, or the engines are being operated in the aircraft"
for certain specific purposes. Then there is this important one:
"and also in respect of such special conditions, if any, as may be prescribed in respect of any such aerodrome."
That will be the vital condition.

The ordinary operations of taking off and landing are already imposing a tremendous burden upon the community. Let me make that clear. It is no coincidence that hon. Members who are present this evening are from constituencies surrounding London, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend has been left in no doubt, from his correspondence since he took office of the difficulties—

I hope the hon. Gentleman realises that London is merely about 200 miles from Ilkley Moor?

With respect, I intended to say those hon. Members who had been speaking about the Order before us and, though I found the speech of the hon. Gentleman interesting, it was really related to American military aerodromes.

As far as civil aerodromes are concerned, it is hon. Members who represent constituencies around London who know better than anyone else the burden which aircraft noise imposes upon the ordinary subject. It is not just the single incident, it is the accumulation of noise. My own constituency has London Airport, Northolt and another aerodrome either in or adjacent to it. The accumulation of noise from aircraft from many different sources has become a major consideration in the south-east of England.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) said that a representative from his company had been to the United States to gather information on aircraft noise and had come back without gather ing very much wisdom. I am not surprised, because there is no country in the world which has this problem in the same degree as we have. The population of the United States is about 43 to the square mile. Compared with this country, it is an uninhabited desert. Here, the population is 560 or 600 to the square mile, and noise has not represented the same practical problem in other countries as it has in southern England. Here we have a density of population which means that throughout the time the aircraft is taking off and flying at a low altitude it is passing over densely populated countryside.

What disquiets us about this Order is that it is one further extension of the immunity which the aircraft industry and operators have obtained from the general law of the land. All hon. Members who represent constituencies affected receive many letters from time to time, some of them couched in almost hysterical language from people whose nerves are being torn to bits by the amount of noise they have to endure. I do not want to take an extreme view about aircraft noise, such as those people not unnaturally do—it is something to be moderate and sensible about—but I say to my right hon. Friend that it is also a thing to be urgent about.

I put a question to the Minister of Supply two weeks ago and he gave an answer which, in its way, was reassuring because it showed that his Department was now doing research. But there is a great deal more to be done and it must be done urgently. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has to play his part, not only in laying down stringent conditions but also, I hope, in stimulating the Minister of Supply to carry on his research work. I hope that tonight we shall receive some encouragement in the reply which we are now to hear from my right hon. Friend.

10.55 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) has said that it is a very good thing for anybody, whether public or private, to have public pressure exerted upon him when he is dealing with matters which affect public welfare, and I would not dispute that general thesis.

I think we are all conscious that we are living in an age when noise is becoming a question of major importance. Anybody who attempted to minimise the strain involved for people who live near aerodromes or live on busy streets would be foolish if he pretended that this was not one of those things to which the ordinary person attaches great importance, and I in my capacity of Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation know this very well.

I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South that we are all anxious to see that noise is eliminated, and I can imagine no more useful sphere of activity for scientists and others who may be concerned, than to find in the field of aircraft development, something which can be done about one of the great problems of the modern age. But, I can assure him, and other hon. Members who have spoken tonight, that no Minister, and certainly no hon. Member representing a constituency where there is a lot of noise—and that goes, so far as my postbag is concerned, for nearly every hon. Member—can remain indifferent for long to this problem.

Neither can the manufacturers; for they depend upon the good will of the districts where they recruit their labour and have their works, and they also depend upon their own technical staffs working in as much calm and comfort as is possible. What is happening to people living near to an aerodrome may be even more disturbing for those whose task is the working out of complicated matters concerning aircraft manufacture.

It is a good thing that we are having this debate. I do not quarrel with the gentleman in Surrey, Lieut.-Colonel du Boulay, whose actions have led to the presentation of this Order, for bringing this matter to the attention of Parliament. We are conscious that we must be constantly on our guard and, perhaps I might here borrow a phrase of Dr. Johnson, "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." It goes for hon. Members on both sides of the House, and for the manufacturers, when I say that we are dealing with a matter where public opinion is strongly, and quite rightly, aroused. Neither would find it impossible to accept that which is inevitable, but they would find it extremely difficult to tolerate unpleasant conditions which can be improved, or even eradicated.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) emphasised that we depend on the work of the manufacturers, who have their own knowledge of this problem, for our national survival; and we must agree that it would be possible to have a quiet Britain if we were prepared to have an enslaved Britain. "Calm and order reigns in Warsaw" was a notorious signal of the early 19th century, but it meant that Warsaw was subjugated. We must try to reconcile the defences of the free world in which we are fortunate to live, and in which the origin of this trouble plays an indispensable part, with the fact that everybody must take proper steps to control noise.

What is it that these regulations—or this Order, because it is the Order that is being prayed against—do not do? The Order has nothing whatever to do with the noise from engines which are not in an aircraft; for example, an engine which is on the test bed. On the question of engines apart from air frames, this Order gives no protection whatever. The ordinary law prevails, and any aggrieved person can take any action he likes, and he, I think, and the manufacturers, equally recognise this. This Order is solely concerned, as is pointed out in the regulations, with the various incidents of taking off, or landing or moving on the ground, or being operated for certain specific purposes, as laid down in this Statutory Instrument.

All of us will be grateful to the hon. Members who initiated this debate, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) and for the way in which they have made their case. As they rightly pointed out, there are no party politics in this matter. Indeed, the 1949 regulations, made under the previous Government, in our view, have led inevitably to this development. I will develop that point briefly in a moment. I share the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield and others—including my hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris), who is constantly approaching me about the problems affecting his own constituency—about the need to see that so far as it is practicable, noise is limited.

As I said, I have no complaint about the action taken by Lieut.-Colonel du Boulay. Hon. Members who followed the development of this story will know what was the action. But we have to try to work out a tolerable solution under which we can both protect those manufacturers who deliver aircraft to the Royal Air Force or to the N.A.T.O. Powers—which is one of our sure shields of defence—and provide a proper means of protection for the individual.

As the House will know, hitherto, Service airports, Ministry of Supply establishments and airfields, or airfields licensed by me, as Minister, have had this protection, as have also those manufacturers who work on airfields licensed by this Ministry. But there are quite a number of airfields who have not got this protection and it has appeared to us inevitable that this protection should be provided. It appears to us to be quite useless to provide for Service and civil aircraft, for example, if the manufacturers who supply the aircraft are vulnerable to actions for nuisance. It would seem that in a crowded island such as ours it is essential that we should recognise that national defence demands such protection.

Why does the Minister insist that regulations passed by the previous Government make the present action inevitable? The whole tenor of what he used to say would lead us to believe that he would give greater protection to the individual.

I would say that in so far as the Act rightly passed by the previous Government protected Service or licensed aerodromes, so, now, we are living under conditions of very considerable international difficulty, and it is very desirable that the manufacturers who supply the aircraft which can be used from State or licensed aerodromes, should have similar protection. It would be quite illogical to give protection to State or licensed aerodromes and not also to manufacturing aerodromes.

I think the House will recollect what happened a few weeks ago which necessitated this action. Lieut.-Colonel du Boulay, who lives near Dunsfold Aerodrome, issued a writ against the Hawker Aircraft Company, concerning their operations at Dunsfold Aerodrome which did not enjoy the protection given under the previous Administration. At Duns-fold they assemble and test Hunter aircraft for the Royal Air Force and for N.A.T.O. The colonel claimed damages for nuisance by noise and vibration and also an injunction to restrain Hawkers from running the aircraft at, over, or near Dunsfold in such a manner as to cause damage by noise or vibration.

I readily recognised that in the free world in which we live the colonel might well have obtained an interim injunction which would have endangered the production of Hunter aircraft, and would have had serious consequences with wide repercussions. Some action was essential. What should the Government do? As Minister, I could have acted at once and prevented the colonel taking action, either by protecting the airfield by licence, or by making it a Government airfield. As the colonel had instituted legal action it seemed to me that that would be improper use of Government powers. Therefore, I did nothing of the sort.

The action initiated by the colonel was, rightly, allowed to lead to an agreement between him and Hawkers. An agreement which is legally enforceable was reached. The agreement stands, regardless of any Order in Council. The day after the agreement was reached I issued the Regulations.

I am sorry to interrupt, but here we are at the crux of the matter. The agreement was reached, and it was suggested that a lot of awkward consequences would follow if Hawkers were prevented assembling and testing aircraft at Dunsfold; but there has been no inconvenience to the manufacturers at that airfield. As the agreement brought satisfaction to the local residents, could not the position have been left as it was?

I do not think that if the hon. Member had responsibility at this moment for the conduct of public affairs he would leave in grave jeopardy the production of aircraft in various parts of the country through its being subject to individual agreements which might be reached between local residents and the manufacturers.

In the case of Dunsfold it was possible for an agreement to be reached, and I am glad that it was; but in the interests of this country, which under Providence, depends upon the Armed Services for her survival, it is imperative that the production of aircraft should not be jeopardised by the possibility of applications for further injunctions of this kind.

Action could have been taken to prevent the course of the law in the case of Dunsfold. I could have protected the airfield by licensing it. By so doing I would have avoided the need to bring in this Order so far as Dunsfold was concerned; but as the hon. Member for Uxbridge, who was once in my Department as Parliamentary Secretary, knows, the licensing machinery is intended to ensure that civil airfields provide satisfactory standards of equipment and organisation for the safe passage of ordinary civil traffic.

To have licensed the airfield to avoid the consequences of an inconvenient action would have been an abuse of my rights. We could have installed a controller appointed by the Minister of Supply at Dunsfold, or at every aerodrome affected. That would have been a great waste of manpower to preserve a legal fiction, and would have been contrary to the good intentions of any Government, and of the House of Commons.

No one, I believe, has regretted more than I have the need for taking the action we have taken. I am most anxious that we should at every stage protect the interest of private citizens living near aerodromes, so far as that can be done in a way consistent with the wider interests of national survival and national economy. I recognise that a large number of people are deeply concerned by problems thrown up by the recent action and by the publication of the Order in Council. Not unnaturally, they are asking what the Government are doing to provide an alternative remedy to people who have undoubtedly lost certain of their common law rights.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply has asked aircraft manufacturers for information as to the steps which they are taking to reduce noise. We shall carefully examine the reports that we get back from each of the manufacturers concerned. In the light of these replies, I should not hesitate, if necessary, to prescribe regulations for individual airfields if we have reached a sufficiently advanced stage in the development of silencing machinery.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge has had a good deal of experience about the difficulties of obtaining good and efficient silencing machinery. I know that in the earlier days after the war the Labour Government were concerned, as indeed we are, with the problems of noise created by the early development of jet aircraft. The Minister of Supply spoke recently about the steps which had been taken in an effort to do the fundamental research work necessary to minimise noise. We have had to develop noise suppression in view of the very rapid increase in jet development in the last few years.

The hon. Gentleman said that this was an international problem. We have certainly been in close touch with the United States and elsewhere on the problem and have assisted, and will continue to assist, research institutions at home both to minimise the noise actually made by the engines and to reduce the disturbance that the noise causes to the public. The great firm of Rolls Royce and others have already produced results relating to the former aspect which are very encouraging.

We are carrying out experiments in the use of acoustic walls and screens. As many hon. Members will know, these are in the shape of a boomerang or a U so that the aircraft, when inside, is partly surrounded. Experiments suggest that these will produce a significant reduction of from four to six decibels in front of the wall for jet aircraft and substantially more for piston-engined types.

In addition, we have prototype "splitters" for fixing to the front of jet engines to lessen the high frequency noise, and prototype mufflers for fixing to the rear of jet engines to reduce the noise from the jet itself. These should be ready for trial in a few months' time.

I would not exaggerate the possibilities. I am afraid that one of the consequences of the world in which we live is that it is bound to be a noisier world. However, we are doing, as I am sure any other Government would do, all we can to ensure that the situation is made as little disagreeable as possible to the people who live closest and are most greatly concerned.

We had a very interesting debate in another place on this Order, and I would like to thank the many peers, on both sides, who took part for the helpful comments that were made. I have certainly profited—as my right hon. Friend has—from the advice and guidance which they gave.

This Order will apply to about 22 unlicensed aerodromes and about five other small grass unlicensed ones which might conceivably be used for manufacture and repair. There are already 35 aerodromes covered by the original Order as they were either Government or licensed aerodromes. In another place, it was suggested that there might be grave danger to the public if someone chose to start up an aerodrome in a place where there had not been one hitherto, and the scope of the Order might thereby be extended. To that I would reply—and I hope it will be some comfort to people in quieter rural districts—that the Town and Country Planning Act exists to see, as far as is consistent with national safety, that planning does not bring into purely rural districts anything which can be more properly placed elsewhere.

The planning authority would certainly take into account the noise, and the interests of the neighbourhood, and under Section 26 of the Act the local licensing and planning authority, if it considers it expedient in the interests of the proper planning of its area, can order either that any use of land be discontinued, or impose conditions on the continuance of this use, or order any building or works to be altered or removed.

It was also suggested in another place that the proper solution would be for the Minister to remit to an advisory committee his own responsibility for seeing that the manufacturers lived up to the undertakings I have made. I have looked at this suggestion with very great sympathy, but I am convinced that to transfer to a committee which would have authority without responsibility the obligation to see that the manufacturers carried out their proper duties would be the wrong way of setting about it.

Parliament has, through the machinery we understand so well, a very good and continuing chance through Members of Parliament to see that Ministers do not abuse the powers that the national interest forces them to take. This debate shows that hon. Members on both sides do not lightly discard this opportunity. I know they will continue to use it, and to all who live in districts affected by this Order I would only say that we would not have asked for this Order if we were not satisfied that the national interest demanded it, and that in the national interest their own welfare and that of the country is completely involved.

Would the Minister deal with the question of publication? How can hon. Members know when regulations apply to particular airfields, so that they can discharge their obligations to constituents?

I can make a regulation or regulations to deal with all manufacturers' aerodromes together, or with any one separately, and hon. Members concerned will have their attention drawn to the fact in the normal way of publication. I shall do my best as long as I am Minister, and I am sure this will go for my successors, to see that hon. Members whose constituents will be affected will have their particular attention drawn to the regulations. We have no desire to ride roughshod over anyone, and we are only doing this because it is in the national interest.

What is the position with regard to the aerodrome used by the Americans that I mentioned?

The Americans have no manufacturing units. If American aircraft are being tested at a licensed or State aerodrome they are covered by the regulations made by the previous Government. If the American aircraft is being tested at one of the 22 or so aerodromes to which I referred today, it will be covered by this Order.

Question put, and negatived.