Sonic Bang Tests

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th July 1967.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North 12:00 am, 18th July 1967

Mr. Arthur Lewis (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Technology whether he is aware of the concern felt by the public at large and the hospital authorities in particular at the disturbance being caused by supersonic bangs and whether he will now stop these bangs or arrange for public notification of the time of such experiments.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I am aware that there is some concern, but I do not think it justifies stopping the exercise. Hon. Members who were in London yesterday will have had an opportunity to make their own judgment. The exercise is planned to end this week. The place and time of the final flight will be announced in advance. All the remaining flights in the series will be designed to hold the bangs to within the same limits of intensity as those that have already been made.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Is my right hon. Friend aware not only how disconcerting but how dangerous these bangs are to surgeons who are about to perform operations? Is it not possible for surgeons working in hospitals in areas where the bangs will be heard at least to be told, if not publicly then privately, that these bangs are about to take place? If hospital authorities could be told that, at least it would be some help.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has in mind. What has happened in these tests is that we have authorised some supersonic flying at an intensity well below that which would be experienced from supersonic airliners, and it was a part of the tests, and remains part of the tests, that no notice should be given. I think that on balance this was the right judgment.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many complaints have been received both by telephone and letters as a result of the bangs caused over London yesterday? Is he aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House are already receiving avalanches of letters on the subject? What steps is he going to take to deal with the question?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

It is not yet possible for me to give figures as to the number of telephone calls and letters that have come in, but it stands to reason that most people who write on hearing a supersonic bang will be critical of the noise which they hear.

Photo of Mr Ivor Richard Mr Ivor Richard , Barons Court

Is it not true that the country was assured that the Concord would not fly at supersonic speed over large areas of population such as London? If that is so, may I ask why these tests are being carried out? What are they to establish? Also, can my right hon. Friend say whether, if yesterday's test was well below the level of intensity we are to expect, how much worse it will be than it was yesterday?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I do not recall an assurance being given that there never would be any overflying by supersonic airliners. I ask the House to consider the fact that substantial sums of public money are being expended by this country on an advanced aircraft, the financial success of which will in part depend on whether it flies over other people's territory. It is no good our saying that we want other people to buy it and to have it fly over their countries when we are not even prepared to see whether some mild supersonic flights over the United Kingdom are tolerable.

Photo of Mr Robert Carr Mr Robert Carr , Mitcham

Can the right hon. Gentleman say more definitely whether, if there were supersonic scheduled flights, they would be overflying London? Secondly, would it not be more purposeful to have these tests in areas below the traffic lines of such services?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

It is possible that flights between the United States and the Continent of Europe might go over the United Kingdom, although it stands to reason that a supersonic airliner taking off from London Airport would not have reached supersonic speed until it was some way from London. These are the considerations that led us to have the tests, because whether or not we were to build a supersonic airliner, this country would have to decide at some stage whether it was prepared to have supersonic overflying. It would have been helpful if these preliminary tests had been undertaken some years ago, when the Lightnings were available, and we would have had an opportunity of considering this question at an early stage.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Why all this secrecy about when and where the bangs will take place? Why not advise us in advance so that we are all prepared for them and can he done with it?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

One of the reasons for the tests is to see whether—as has happened—people complain about tests that do not take place and people who have not actually heard the bang have an opportunity not to know that the test was taking place. I understand that in the House itself yesterday when the flight took place a number of Members sitting in this Chamber did not hear it.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in Bristol last week, when he was not present in the city, a sonic bang had a shattering effect on the annual meeting of the British Medical Association? If that was a mild bang, when can we expect a genuine Concord bang over that city?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I appreciate the hon. Member's filial interest in the British Medical Association. Any comments from doctors and others about the effects of these tests will be very helpful. I thought it not inappropriate that Bristol, a great number of whose citizens are earning their living by building the Concord, should have some supersonic flying over them.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Will my right hon. Friend publish the details of what examination of the dangers and inconveniences of these hideous afflictions was made by the previous Government before they entered into any open-ended commitment about Concord? In view of the growing number of protests which are arising throughout the country, will my right hon. Friend undertake to have a proper independent investigation such as should have been carried out a long time ago, on his own admission?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I agree that it would have been advisable to have held at any rate these preliminary supersonic fights before a decision was reached, but in fairness to the party opposite, until Concord flies we shall not have an opportunity of knowing what sort of sound it makes itself. It will be an additional consideration to these tests and to any subsequent tests that it is necessary to hold before a decision is reached by the Government whether or not there should be supersonic flying over this country. As to my hon. Friend's general comment about the noise of aircraft, every new invention has led to a substantial number of protests, and in many cases fears have in part been based upon ignorance, which I was anxious to dispel.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

As Concord is a joint effort with the French, are the French carrying out similar exercises, and are we co-ordinating our tests with the French tests? Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman warn the public when these tests are to take place? If he goes on like this he will find himself out of a job.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

Some of the protests that we have had about sonic flying were attributable to the salvo greeting Sir Francis Chichester on his return to London. One reason why we did not announce the test was that we wanted to have an opportunity of assessing how accurately the public could determine one sound from another. The French have about 400 or 500 flights a year over France. One of the objectives of this series of flights is to bring us a little more experience, with a view to co-ordinating more closely our tests with those of the French and the Americans.

Photo of Mr Maurice Edelman Mr Maurice Edelman , Coventry North

Would my right hon. Frind set the public's mind at rest by saying whether it has been established that these supersonic bangs can cause abortions in animals? [Laughter.] This is no laughing matter. Have there been any investigations into the possibility of the bangs causing miscarriages in human beings?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I will answer a further question on the specific point if my hon. Friend will put it down, but I think that he is confusing two current Parliamentary controversies.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the previous Government did carry out tests of this kind in North Wales, at Aberporth, and over Boscombe Down, but that we gave notice of them and made inquiries into the effect on abortion, and that only Welsh farmers suggested that their cows aborted as a result of the noise?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I know, of course, that there was some supersonic flying, but it was not designed to give an indication of whether supersonic flying over populated areas would be tolerable. We have made available to a wider range of people an opportunity to decide whether this is an intolerable interference with privacy.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

Is there any real comparison between the sonic bang emitted from a Lightning aircraft and that which will be emitted from Concord? If not, what is the purpose of the tests? Are they not at best, a waste of public money and, at worst, highly misrepresentative of the real position?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

As I explained, until Concord flies we shall not know the exact character of its noise when flying supersonically, but there is a strong case for starting with a moderate bang and seeing whether this is tolerable before proceeding further. I think that the House would have strongly objected if we had waited until the Concord was flying before trying it out over a populated area.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind my right hon. Friend's suggestion that these tests might be conducted in the air corridors where these supersonic aircraft are most likely to fly, and also that the great majority of the population feel that the roar of subsonic aircraft day and night in areas near airports is much more objectionable than occasional sonic bangs?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's second point, that the very high and prolonged intensity of an aircraft taking off and landing is much more irritating and more likely to affect hospitals and others than a single impact of a supersonic plane. His other point seems to be that we should test them, but not here. I am not sure that there is not a case for testing them over large centres of population, as we have a strong national interest in persuading other countries that they ought to buy Concords and use them over their own territories, because it is from this that the larger market for Concord will come.

Photo of Mr Ivor Richard Mr Ivor Richard , Barons Court

In view of the Minister's answers, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.