I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a matter which is of great concern to many of my constituents and to a large number of people beyond the boundaries of my constituency. I refer to the problem of aircraft noise—a problem which nobody with any personal experience of living under the noise shadow of a major airport would dream of belittling This is a serious problem which causes a great deal of human suffering, ruins people's quiet enjoyment of houses and gardens, interrupts the work of schools, churches, hospitals and offices, and interferes with people's private lives, their telephone conversations, their opportunities to listen to gramophone records or watch television.
It must be said that some people do not mind aircraft noise very much, but to a large proportion of people it is a major nuisance and to a substantial number it causes suffering and in some cases mental ill health. It is a major social evil in the communities affected by it.
In reply to a question which I put to the Under-Secretary of State on this matter two weeks ago, the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this debate referred to aircraft noise as a pestilence. He was absolutely right and was not exaggerating at all. The hon. Gentleman is known in the House for his great concern for social problems and the avoidance of human suffering in matters such as housing, and he is well aware from the voluminous correspondence which he has had with me on aircraft noise how much suffering exists. I hope that he will take every possible action he can to relieve the lot of my constituents and to mitigate this nuisance, despite the undoubted technical difficulties. I hope that he will be able to assure me that he and the Secretary of State for Trade will not flinch from placing the peace, quiet and health of people around airports above any commercial interests.
This problem is compounded by the great growth in traffic through Heathrow Airport. The British Airways Authority estimated in 1973 that 27 million passengers passed through the airports of South-East England during the year, and it projected the 1985 figure as 84 million, almost a three-fold increase. No one who has studied the problem is in doubt that the oil crisis will cause no more than a temporary hesitation in the graph reflecting the upward trend of air travel.
I suggest seven main areas of action. The first and most popular among people who have not studied the problem is the quietening of engines, thus dealing with noise at the source. There has been talk about this for years, and it is highly desirable in principle, but it is not enough. It is limited in scope and I am sceptical about how much can be achieved, especially in the short term. It is true that some quieter aircraft are coming along.