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Low-Flying Aircraft (Wales)

Volume 972: debated on Tuesday 30 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what complaints he has received during the past six months concerning low-flying aircraft in Wales.

The hon. Member will be aware that low-flying training is essential to the operational effectiveness of the Royal Air Force and that it is distributed as evenly as possible throughout the whole of Great Britain. Complaints are received from members of the public and local authorities in all parts of the country, including Wales, about the associated disturbance, but these represent a minute proportion of the total number of people affected and, indeed, the indications are that the enlargement of the low-flying system introduced at the beginning of the year has alleviated the disturbance in the areas that were previously most heavily used.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable anxiety and there has been a large number of complaints from several areas in Wales—particularly in Dwyfor in my constituency—because of what appears to be an escalating number of incidents of this type? Will the Minister explain why it is necessary to give the American air force permission to fly F-111s and F-4s at low-level in such areas as Dwyfor? In what circumstances would the Minister give the American air force permission to fly below 500 ft?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the American air force is not only stationed in this country but, with the aircraft that he has described, has to train and has the same operational requirement as the Royal Air Force. We have told the USAF that it must at all times observe the same operational limitations on low-flying as the Royal Air Force, and we are satisfied that it is currently doing that.

Does the Minister agree that in the Principality a considerable amount of low-flying is due to the RAF and NATO bombing base at Pembrey in South Wales? Does not the Minister consider that after 20 years the local people deserve a respite from this auditory affront to their environment?

I sympathise with the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but there are no suitable alternative locations to which we can move the bombing range.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, although aircraft noise causes a great deal of suffering to my constituents, when it comes to training people for the defence of our country they would put their comfort and convenience second? One would hope that the people of Carmarthen would do the same.

Has the Minister seen the reports stating that the Royal Air Force might, in future, carry out low-flying training in Canada? Would he like to comment on those reports? Will he bear in mind that, if true, those reports would mean that the British taxpayer would pay a heavy price to protect the eardrums of the constituents of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel)?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I recently visited Canada for the purpose of discussing with the Canadian Government the possibility of the Royal Air Force making greater use of Canadian training facilities. It would be wrong to mislead the House into believing that we shall be able to export, so to speak, a greater proportion of our low-flying training. We shall certainly be able to export a certain amount, with some cost penalty. However, the hon. Gentleman needs to be reminded that we already have a similar facility at Goose Bay.