asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied that the RAF's low-flying training programme treats the various rural districts of England and Wales with equal fairness.
The United Kingdom low-flying system was enlarged in January 1979 with the express purpose of dispersing the training more evenly throughout Great Britain. I am satisfied that the distribution of low-flying between the rural districts is as fair as possible.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, though this low-flying programme is essential as part of our defence capability, there is a feeling among many people, including some of my constituents, that the RAF tends to concentrate on certain rural areas? Despite what he has just said, will he look at this matter again to make sure that the burden is shared fairly?
I assure my hon. Friend that the burden is shared as equitably as possible. If he would like it, I shall write to him giving figures of such flights over different parts of the country.
Will the Minister ensure that in these low-flying rural exercises particular villages are not repeatedly treated as over-flying targets, to the concern and anxiety of the people living in them?
Villages are never treated as targets, no matter what people may claim. It is part of the low-flying procedure to avoid, wherever possible, residential and built-up areas, although, sadly, it is not possibe to avoid all dwellings. However, it is not the intention of the RAF to make villages into target areas.
Will my hon. Friend ensure that in regard to the recently adopted practice of exercises involving a much greater amount of low-flying—this affects particularly the West Country and my constituency of Honiton—notice of them is given some time beforehand, because that is greatly appreciated by the local residents, who then understand what is going on?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. As he knows, the normal form of advance communication is to write to the local Members of Parliament for the constituencies concerned as well as to notify the local councils and, where appropriate, the local media.
Does the Minister accept that I have written to him about low-flying over urban areas, such as Oakworth and Haworth in my constituency? Does he further accept that such low-flying has caused a great deal of concern and surprised objection by residents, who find low-flying a frightening experience? Will the Minister confine low-flying to rural areas and exclude low-flying from urban areas?
I have, indeed, received a letter from the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) on this subject. The difficulty lies in defining the difference between a rural area and an urban one. There is obviously a line to be drawn between the two, and the areas referred to by the hon. Gentleman are right on the margin. Occasionally, aircraft do fly over his constituency.