HC Deb 20 December 1946 vol 431 cc2392-413

1.38 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I desire to invite the attention, of the House to a subject quite dissimilar from that which it has just been discussing, save only in the respect that it affects the allocation and acquisition of land; that is to say, the subject is the allocation of land for the purposes of military training areas. I notice with regret that while the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War is present on the Front Bench, his colleague, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, whom I have notified of my intention to raise this subject and who was in the House this morning, is not on that Bench this afternoon. I hope it is merely due to the fact that the timetable of today's proceedings have been somewhat upset, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman whose Department is very directly concerned, is not indicating that he is not interested in the subject.

The subject is one of grave importance to the whole of this country and it is also, for reasons which I hope to bring out, one of some considerable urgency at this moment. In raising it, may I make two things clear? Firstly, it is not my intention, nor, I am certain, is it the intention of any of my hon. Friends, to do or say anything which would hamper or harass the Service Departments in obtaining their necessary and reasonable requirements. Given the immense developments in the technique of military training which have taken place during the last few years, it must be accepted that substantial areas are required for the proper training of our Armed Forces, and in the present condition of the world, no one but a lunatic, or an avowed enemy of this country, would attempt to impede proper facilities being given for training. Secondly may I express the hope that this discussion will not proceed on the basis that hon. Members should urge that at all costs their constituencies should be left alone, and training areas be placed in other Members' constituencies. I suggest that that approach is one somewhat inappropriate to the House of Commons in discussing a matter of very considerable importance.

The first point I desire to call to the attention of the House is the method and administrative technique by which the demands of the Service Departments are sifted and coordinated, or not sifted and not coordinated. As the House is aware, during the war very large areas of this country were taken over in great haste and at great inconvenience, but quite justifiably, for the purpose of providing proper training facilities for British and Allied troops. When the war ended, the delay in the return of these areas to normal use gave rise to considerable apprehension, and on 2nd July my hon. Friend the Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) raised the matter in a Debate on the Adjournment. The Secretary of State for War, whom I am glad to see on the Bench opposite, in his then capacity of Financial Secretary to the same Department, replied to the Debate. I hope he will not think me discourteous if I say that his reply did nothing to diminish the apprehensions which are felt. There is a particular passage in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 2nd July in which the right hon. Gentleman said:. Since the end of the war it has been the policy of the War Office only to hold that land which we consider will be required, either now or in relation to our long term training policy for military purposes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1946; Vol. 424, c. 2141.] The House will appreciate that that remark appears to indicate that the right hon. Gentleman treats this matter as one concerning the War Office alone.

In the Debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) raised the matter on 15th November and the Prime Minister, in his reply, gave my hon. Friend the assurance that whatever procedure, whether the Act of 1842, or the Act of last year, was invoked in the case of acquisition of new training areas, a public inquiry will be held. The matter goes one stage further in as much as I understand that, in addition to these promised public inquiries, there is at present in session an inter-departmental committee which either has reported, or is shortly to report to the Government on the central policy. The point I want to urge on the Government today is that that administrative machinery is quite inadequate for the purpose. Local inquiries, however admirable they may be for the ventilation of local grievances and the expression of local opinion, cannot in the nature of things deal with anything more than the local issues involved. They cannot settle satisfactorily any such questions as the amount of land in the country as a whole which can properly be used for training purposes. Nor can they be a proper forum for the discussion of the question of whether one area is to be protected rather than another. Those are decisions which are vital, not from the local, but from the national, point of view, and apparently they are to be taken on the advice of this inter-Departmental Committee. Nothing I may say of course, detracts from the fact that the final decision is the responsibility of the Government, but the machinery of this Inter-Departmental Committee seems quite inadequate for the very important service of deciding the great questions involved. One of the questions is as to-the precise priority to be given as between claims of the Service Departments, food production, the health and recreation of the people in areas which serve as recreational centres, and what priority is to be given to questions of amenities and of historical and architectural importance. In a small island such as this, in which, as I understand, at this moment 2½ million acres are held by the War Department alone, these questions, which necessarily involve the very careful consideration of one priority as against another, cannot properly be dealt with by an inter-Departmental Committee. They are not questions which it is proper to leave to the responsibility of civil servants of the various Departments, however competent and efficient those gentlemen may be. The matter is one which raises political questions of the very greatest importance.

In a moment I shall make a suggestion as to how these questions can best be tackled. Before doing so, I would mention another matter both on its own merits and because it seems to me to illustrate the impossibility of a question of that nature being settled at the level of an inter-Departmental Committee. In the Debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodbridge on 2nd July, to which I have already referred, the point was raised with the Secretary of State for War whether proper consideration was being given to the utilisation of land in Germany for the purposes of large scale operations involving the use of armoured fighting vehicles and considerable quantities of live ammunition. I do not propose to say more on the merits of that proposal, except that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, Luneberg Heath in the British zone was the prewar training ground of the German Army and served for training purposes for very large numbers of troops and it is available to the right hon. Gentleman if he cares to use it. In the Debate in question the right hon. Gentleman referred to the matter only in passing. He said this: In that connection, I have been asked what utilisation has been made of land outside these areas for training purposes. A good deal. We are in process of making surveys outside these islands, but it must be remembered that it is not easy to go into other countries—even occupied countries— and take their land for purposes of military training."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1946; Vol. 424, c, 2142.] I want to make two points on that. In the first place that statement was made on 2nd July. I think the House is entitled to know today whether the question of using land in Germany has been fully investigated by now, and if so, with what result? Secondly, it is obvious that that question, which the Secretary of State himself regards as one of difficulty, is one that cannot be settled by an inter-Departmental Committee. There is a further, and to my mind an insuperable objection to the use of the inter-Departmental Committee as the main piece of machinery in these questions. It is this. The Service Departments will put forward certain demands. I hope I am not being unfair to the War Office if I suggest that those demands can profitably be examined with a certain closeness of scrutiny. The matter was well put in a leading article in "The Times" as recently as 9th December: Secondly, there is always the danger that men who are left largely free to determine their own needs will quite honestly define as necessary for defence what is in fact merely convenient to military administrators. I am not satisfied, and I believe a number of hon. Members are not satisfied, that the claims of the War Department have been properly examined by independent people, with power to examine closely the evidence in support of the claims that are made and, if necessary, call for witnesses.

There is not time to go into what might be very fruitful avenues of inquiry, but there are, obviously, such questions as to whether the present almost watertight division of training areas into separate training areas for each. Home Command cannot be gone into—for example, the large amount of land already held by Southern Command. It seems to me that a fair, by no means hostile but quite determined analysis of the demands of the War Office, on a military basis, as well as on the basis of the relative priority of military as against civilian use, should be undertaken by someone with time, ability and authority at their disposal. That argument also applies to the question of Germany. I am well aware that a good deal of the reason why Germany has not been used resides inside the right hon. Gentleman's Department. I do not think he will seriously disagree with me if I suggest that the main basis of that opposition comes from inside the Directorate of Military training. There are obvious objections of convenience to the use of Germany, and also the question of transport, but the question arises as to whether these objections have really been examined by independent people who are prepared to differentiate, as "The Times" puts it, between convenience of administration and real necessity.

As I know that many other hon. Members want to speak on this subject, I do not want to raise any other point on the merits, except the further point that must, be taken into consideration—because, granted the use of Germany, many areas in this country will still be required —which is, what general principles are to be laid down whether land is to be taken or not? That, again, is not a matter which can properly be left to an inter-Departmental Committee. There is the obvious question whether, in general, open land close to big cities should really be taken— proposals such as that to take 2,000 acres more from the Surrey commons, regardless of the fact that they adjoin and provide recreation for the largest centre of population in the world, or the similar proposal to take a good deal of the coast near Formby, on the outskirts of Liverpool. These sorts of proposals come within this general principle, which should surely be laid down, that areas which provide recreation for great numbers of people in our large cities should be as sacrosanct as possible.

Equally, there is the question of what is to be the protection given to areas of historical or archeological value. All these questions cannot be solved in the House of Commons this afternoon, though I think hon. Members can do some service to the country, and to their constituents, by raising these questions, and urging their importance. But the concrete suggestion I desire to make is that the whole of the central co-ordination of these questions— the question of the amount of land to be allotted for Service purposes at all, and the major questions of principle which arise on the allocation of particular areas to these purposes, including, for example, the question of Germany, should not be left to an inter-Departmental Committee. They should be submitted for consideration by a Select Committee of this House, or, if those concerned think fit, a Joint Committee of this House and another place. That would be a body which would, without in any way interfering with the ultimate responsibility of the Government, which I would not dispute for a moment, not only be competent in the individual sense—that is in the sense that the individuals of whom it was composed would be accustomed to examine these great matters from a broad public point of view—it would also have that independence of any particular Department which is equally essential if the task is to be properly carried out.

Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State—to whom I intend no discourtesy, but for reasons I have mentioned I am sorry to see that he is the only Government spokesman—when he replies will be able to indicate the reaction of the Government to this proposal. It would be of some reassurance to the House and to hon. Members who, from certain constituencies I know, are expecting somewhat anxious interviews with their constituents during the Recess on this very subject. It will be some reassurance if the Secretary of State can tell the House that this big responsibility is not to be left to an inter-Departmental Committee, but is to be placed in the hands of a body in which I think the country generally would have great confidence, a Select Committee of this House, or of this House and another place, leaving the final decision whether or not to accept that advice to His Majesty's Government.

1.58 p.m.

Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd- Carpenter) has raised this matter today, because we should expect the Government to be able to give an early statement as to the exact amount of land required in this country for the training of the Armed Forces. That decision is of course a matter for the Government. I certainly agree with the hon. Member that we cannot hope to decide that here this afternoon. But we want to face, at an early date, the whole problem of the amount of land needed for the future training of the Army in this country. I am afraid I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman in his argument so far as training our Army in Germany is concerned. I was under the impression that one of our principal purposes in Germany at the present time, and for the future, was to demilitarise her. I cannot see how that purpose can be achieved if we make part of Germany one of the principal places for training our Army in the future.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The area to which I particularly invited attention was Luneberg Heath, which has, for many years, been a military training area, and therefore, no change from its prewar use is contemplated.

Mr. Dye

It is not merely a question of taking a piece of land from its prewar use. It is a question of changing the German mind and outlook on these matters, and I am principally concerned with that aspect. I should not like the Germany of the future to have for a long period a continued pouring in of recruits from this country to Luneberg Heath or anywhere else. I do not want the Germans to gain the impression that we are disarming them in order to arm and train for military purposes ourselves. Whatever the decision of the Government, the House today should give attention to the problem as it affects this country. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it ought not to be the attitude of hon. Members on this occasion to ask that their own Division should be excluded from demands in connection with future training schemes and that land elsewhere should be taken. In my Division there is a battle training area but I do not want to look at the problem merely from the point of view of South-West Norfolk. I want to consider it from the point of view of the county of Norfolk as a whole. As a result of our geographical position, we have had to shoulder the main burden of providing land for airfields. We have a great number, some large and some small, some of which are still extending, and, in addition, we have a large battle training area. On one part of the coastline we have an artillery range, which is in the Division represented by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise). Other parts of the county of Norfolk are used for those purposes, in, addition to aerodromes. There is not far away from the Stanford battle training area, a bomb practice ground which was used during the war by the R.A.F. It is retained by that Service though it has not been used for over 18 months. It has not reverted to agriculture.

Considering the matter from the point of view of the Eastern Counties, we say that if, by reason of our geographical position, we must accommodate a large number of aerodromes for defensive and offensive purposes, we do not desire also to have in our midst great areas used for other military purposes. The chief means of livelihood in Norfolk is productive agriculture. We have not a large number of unproductive beauty spots. The land is mainly used for agriculture and forestry and the War Office and Air Ministry deny us a large part of it.

People in Norfolk have been annoyed by the way in which the War Office has held on to the land which it took during the war. The Eastern Command gave a specific promise to the people of the neighbourhood that the land would be needed only for the duration of the war but the War Office still holds the land. If I may say so without giving offence, they hold it somewhat in the manner of an army of occupation in a foreign country. The use of the land is denied to the local inhabitants. Roads pass through the areas; they were made by the local inhabitants and paid for out of the local rates. They were built in order to make it convenient for the people to get from one town or village to another. Yet the War Office denies the use of those roads to the local people.

The hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn and my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) accompanied me to the War Office on 19th November last, when we made a special effort to persuade the War Office to make one of these roads available to the public. So far as I can see, the road is not yet open. The only notice I have seen in our local Press is to the effect that the road, which we asked should be opened on 19th November, might be opened between 20th December and 31st December. In my view, to take a month to open a road, which is not damaged in any way though it has been in the battle training area, shows that those who are in charge of the War Office do not appreciate that this country must be able to produce, in order to carry, the arms which we are called upon to bear. We must impress upon them, that we cannot build up our exports, unless every part of our country is put to the fullest possible use.

The result of the closing of these roads has been that many farmers have had to transport their sugar beet by an alternative route, adding between five and 10 miles to the journey, in order to get their produce to the factories at Bury St. Edmunds and King's Lynn. That means that the farmers had to pay more money for the transport of every load of beet which they have produced. In addition, more tyres, which are in short supply, have been worn out, and more petrol has been used. Therefore, the fact that the roads have been closed, has added to the costs of agriculture. The roads could have been opened earlier, because this battle training school has not been in full operation for some months. I ask the War Office to consider these things from the point of view of the wellbeing of the country. They are not apart from the country: they are a part of it. If we must have battle training areas for the Army of the future, let us be good neighbours. If we must have the Army in Norfolk, let them be honoured guests not imposed upon us and not withholding from the local inhabitants the things which are justly theirs—the use of the roads and, in some cases, of the homes which they have built.

Since I have been a Member of this House I have endeavoured, in my communications with the War Office, to get them to see the point of view of the civilian. Unfortunately, it seems to me that I have failed almost completely in that respect. When we came to consider negotiations with the War Office and the county authority so far as the use of this road was concerned, the officials of the Norfolk county council could not find the appropriate people to contact, in order to get on with the job. We must have closer contact and a willingness to get on with one another. Freedom to use the roads is an important aspect of this matter. In many cases where the Air Ministry have taken over land for airfields, they have built alternative roads round them, but in the case to which I refer, no alternative accommodation has been provided. The roads which are used are worn out and cannot take the traffic which is diverted to them.

There is also the problem of housing. Some 200 to 300 families were evacuated from this area, but not a single new house or hut, temporary or otherwise, was erected for their accommodation. The result is that these people have crowded in upon others, and, although I have made every effort since I have been a Member of this House to get temporary houses or some of the new houses built for their accommodation, so far, I have completely failed. Consequently, we have overcrowding in this particular neighbourhood. The forestry which has developed in this area is of great importance to the Eastern Counties, and to the country as a whole. It is also hoped to develop a national park in the neighbourhood. But these things are all being held up pending a decision by the Government. We cannot make the necessary plans for rebuilding our villages, or for replanning our roads, unless the Government make up their mind as to whether they will retain this area as a permanent battle training school or whether it can be handed back for civilian purposes.

There are those in the neighbourhood who think that the decision is being delayed too long. They doubt whether the Government, or those of their officials who have to collect the necessary information, are considering the matter on the right lines. Local people are saying that some officials are more interested in the game in this particular area, because, although we are told that it is very dangerous to go into the battle area, pheasants, partridges and rabbits are regularly shot. We have recently drawn the attention of the Minister of Agriculture to the large number of foxes which have accumulated there, and which prey upon the poultry farms. This is one of the greatest poultry breeding areas in the country. As there is likely to be a greater quantity of feedingstuff for poultry next year, it would be possible for this area to produce, for the next Christmas trade and throughout the year, not hundreds of thousands of ducks, turkeys and chickens, but millions. Therefore, it is a valuable part of England, and not a wasteful part. I want to impress upon my right hon. Friend that there is a feeling that delay has gone on too long, and we would ask him to come to a decision at an early date.

2.13 p.m.

Mr. Hollis (Devizes)

I have already had two opportunities of addressing the House on this topic and, as a number of other hon. Members wish to speak both on this and other topics, and in view of the fact that we are running behind time, I shall not attempt to cover the whole ground. I should like however to associate myself very strongly with all that my hon. Friend has said and, particularly, with his plea that it is quite insufficient to leave this matter to an interdepartmental committee.

As we know, there has been considerable correspondence about this matter in the Press, and some of the letters in "The Times" have accused those who have interested themselves in this topic, of an indifference to the defence schemes of the country. I wish most strongly to repudiate that. The Motion which was put down during last Session, and signed by some 130 hon. Members in all parts of the House, began by specifically calling attention to the defence needs of the country. I have never heard any speech on this topic, down to the speech made by my hon. Friend today, which has not given full weight to the defence needs of the country. I go much further than repudiating the suggestion of indifference; I would say that it is absolutely essential to the defence needs of the country that this problem should be satisfactorily settled. In a democratic community, we cannot possibly hope to carry through our defence programme, unless the Service Departments have the good will of the population at large and, in particular, of the population among whom they are living.

The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) has just told us how, to a large extent, the Service Departments have forfeited that good will in his part of the country. I am sorry to say that, to a great extent, that is also true in Wiltshire, where the War Department is one of the biggest landlords. Up to 18 months ago, it was a popular landlord, but it is now an unpopular landlord. Therefore, I feel that, in insisting on a solution of this problem, so far from being indifferent to the defence needs of the country, we are making an essential contribution to the solution of that problem.

2.16 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Heywood and Radcliffe)

I think that we on these benches should impress upon the Secretary of State the extent to which the anxiety expressed by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), and other hon. Members, is felt on all sides of the House. It is not only in this House that anxiety is felt. Many large sections of the public who may not be politically vocal are, nevertheless, united in their desire to preserve what is left of the natural beauty of this country. I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies he will be able to say something which will show that that anxiety is unfounded. When the Prime Minister spoke in the Debate on the Address, he did a great deal towards removing anxiety concerning the procedural side of this matter. But I am bound to confess that other official spokesmen have not been equally successful in removing anxiety about the principle, or lack of principle, on which this matter of the requisitioning of land is handled by His Majesty's Government. That anxiety persists. It is shown in the resolutions passed by local authorities, and the letters which all hon. Members must now be receiving from ramblers, hikers, and the Youth Hostel Association. It is shown, too, by the constant reports which we find in national newspapers like "The Times" and the "Manchester Guardian."

I appreciate, as does the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, the difficulties that the Service Departments are experiencing at the present time, and the need for training areas. But there is a feeling abroad in the country that, at a time when we might expect the situation to be improving, it is, in fact, deteriorating in this respect. When my hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Sharp) addressed a Question to the Minister without Portfolio on 17th December, he was told that there are at present 157 areas of more than 1,000 acres, totalling altogether 1,860,000 acres, in the posses- sion of the Service Departments. What we really want the Secretary of State to tell us this afternoon is what is the target of land at which the Service Departments are aiming. We must know what their target is, and we should like to be reassured as to the principles upon which the Government decide whether land shall be allocated to the Service Departments, to the production of food or to providing open spaces for the population I know that the Secretary of State is sympathetic on these matters, and that many of his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench are sympathetic also. I hope that, when he rises to reply, he will be able to go a long way towards allaying the anxiety which most of us in this House are at present feeling.

2.19 p.m.

Mr. Maude (Exeter)

There seems to be a slight atmosphere of conciliation in the House this afternoon, and I am anxious to tell the Secretary of State that I hope nothing that I say will, in any sense, prejudice certain negotiations which I believe to be now going on in respect of Dartmoor. I must also say—he will expect me to say it—that that does not mean that I could not hit hard. But, at the moment, I think it is advisable, if possible, to reduce arguments and criticisms as to how this matter has been handled during the earlier stages. At the same time, I would also like to refer to the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I am satisfied that, at the moment, he is playing a most important part in getting some sense into this matter. He is trying hard to see that these demands are reduced to the minimum. I should like to quote one instance to show that the public are justified in thinking that Government departments should be closely watched, as one hon. Member has suggested this afternoon. The quotation comes from the "Western Morning News" of 18th December, concerning a letter from the First Lord of the Admiralty in respect of a threat against certain commons in Devon: Here is the First Lord of the Admiralty writing in respect of these very large plains, saying to the local authority 'I would like you to know that the proposals have recently been re-examined and the area which will be required for them has been very much reduced.' Hon. Members will agree with me that it is quite probable that that can be done in many of these cases, which, I am informed, amount to some hundreds of training areas, for which the Secretary of State is going to ask. I hope it will be appreciated that, as regards the fight in Devon to preserve Dartmoor, we are most anxious that all the land which is necessary for the defence of the country and the training of the Army should be surrendered. But we are not prepared to see it go simply at the whim of some person in private; there should be a public inquiry if and when it is necessary.

My final observation is this. As I wrote to "The Times," I do not believe a public inquiry will be necessary in that respect, because I have every hope that, as a result of getting sensible persons who are inspired with a desire to see all interests satisfied, such as the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Town and Country Planning, we shall find that in the majority of cases there is no real dispute. At the same time, we shall watch the matter very carefully. I think we should go away and have a good holiday, so as to make quite certain that we are fit for a major battle if things do not turn out as we hope.

2.22 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)

I have promised not to detain the House for more than a minute or two. I wish to refer to the position in Wales. I promise to you, Mr. Speaker, that although you asked me whether I would speak in Welsh or English I will make my remarks in the English language.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)

Give it to them in the "language of Paradise."

Mr. Roberts

The trouble is that most hon. Members have not learned the "language of Paradise." The other day the Secretary of State for War told the hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) that the War Office held about 500,000 acres of land in Wales; at least, I believe that is the figure. We are very much concerned with the large amount of land in Wales held by the Services. There is no demand that the War Office should hold no land at all in Wales, but the holding of some of this land constitutes not merely a threat to agricultural production or to some of our scenes of incomparable beauty but, in some locations, to our national way of life. Therefore, I would like to associate myself and my Welsh colleagues with all that has been said today on this subject.

I am glad to know that a public inquiry will be held in respect of each particular establishment, but it is also important that we should have soon an overall plan for the country as a whole and for Wales as a whole. Although I do not wish to develop this theme, it is a matter for serious consideration whether the Army which is proposed, with its large size, does not make such demands in personnel, equipment and land, as a result of military conscription, to an extent to which this country cannot afford in men, money, equipment or land, if the country is to survive and be reconstructed in the postwar world. With those remarks, I wish to endorse and associate myself generally with what has been said this afternoon.

2.24 p.m.

Mr. Grimston (Westbury)

There is a slightly different aspect of the matter which I wish to raise briefly, and that is the question of the necessity for inquiry into whether the War Office demands for land are not being inflated because they are not making proper use of the land which they already have. I make no apology for referring to what is happening in the part of the country which I represent, in order to bring home that point. The War Office hold 100,000 acres of land in a ring fence, entirely sterilised to agriculture. It is known as the Imber training area. There is no aerodrome there and, of course, there is no beach. Before the war, barracks were built in the vicinity for tank training units. Today, and since the war, this has become an infantry training centre. I am advised that the land is not suitable for infantry training—they cannot get the cover they want—with the result that the War Office, in spite of the fact that they hold 100,000 acres sterilised to agriculture in that area, are spilling out over the perimeter and, under Schedule 52, have requisitioned further good agricultural land.

I think at a time like this, particularly in our straitened circumstances, it is most intolerable that this sort of thing should still be happening. I urge that any inquiry should consider not only the necessity, but the use which the War Office are making of the land which they already hold. We are not opposed to the Service Departments having what they want, but I think it intolerable that they should have more than is necessary, through improper use being made of the areas they already have.

2.27 p.m.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Bellenger)

First, I should like to say that this Debate has been conducted on very reasonable and lucidly argued theses, and, on the whole, it has been helpful in what to me is an unpleasant task, namely, holding on to areas of the country, and thus causing a certain amount of irritation, putting it no higher than that. That is something which, I can assure the House, we at the War Office do not want to do. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) said, we realise that we have to live together with the civilian population, and we should live together as good neighbours. That is our whole purpose, particularly in peace time, when it is not possible for the Services to override civilian interests as they had to do in the war emergency.

Perhaps in the short time which is available, I ought to set this whole matter in its correct perspective. Why are these large areas wanted at all? One can understand that during the war, when we were training so many millions of men— not only our own men but Allies—it was necessary for us to have large areas of land in order to train those men, so that on D-Day they could go overseas and finish the war. The House knows that although we finished the war, we cannot quite yet say that we have got peace. No government could afford to ignore the national safety and proper defence as we did between the last two wars. We must, as far as we can, guarantee peace by being ready for any possible aggressor.

The House also knows that we have to keep a larger Army than we had before the war. I am speaking for the War Office this afternoon, because we are the main users of land in this country. We are reconstituting the Territorial Army on a bigger basis than we did before the war, and that inevitably means that we must not only have the weapon facilities for training, but, with modern mechanisation in modern warfare, we must have the land on which to train those Forces. The land that we have at the moment, the land that was acquired during the war, was acquired for the Regular Forces, the battle forces who had to go and do the fighting. The Regular Forces in the future will use this land, but so also will the Territorial Army. As the Territorial Army is only a part-time Army we have to economise in manpower and time, and therefore it is very necessary that those training areas should be within easy reach of those areas, mainly industrial areas, from which we have to draw our Territorial Forces. The House can be quite sure of this, that we shall economise in the use of land not only as between the Regular and the Auxiliary Forces, but we shall cooperate with the other two Service Departments, as far as we possibly can, for the joint use of such land as we require.

There is another factor which I think the House has overlooked, but which I ought to mention. A large portion of our Forces at the present time are serving overseas. Therefore, it is possible to train a large portion of our Forces overseas. That brings me to a point which was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), as to why we have not surveyed Germany, and why we are not thoroughly utilising Germany for the training of our Forces. Believe me, we are using not only Luneberg Heath, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but a large portion of Germany which the German Wermacht set aside before the last war for training their own forces. I am bound to say that that training area— the area in the neighbourhood, I think, of Göttingen, and that part of Germany—is 60 miles square, and from a military point of view is most ideal for training purposes. If we, the Army and this country, could have an area like that—I would not say in England, because that would of course be impossible—but somewhere within easy reach, where we could train our Regular and Territorial Forces, there would be no need to debate this matter in the House. We should then have from a military point of view—I will not say from any other point of view—an ideal training area such as I myself have seen, complete with every possible facility for training infantry, and indeed all arms of the Service.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

On that very important point, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether those areas in Germany to whose admirable facilities he has just paid tribute, are being used or will be used for training troops who are sent there for the purpose of training and exercise, and not for the purpose of garrisoning Germany.

Mr. Bellenger

Yes, Sir, as long as the occupation lasts. But surely there has to come a time when peace treaties will have to be made? As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk said, it is not our purpose to destroy one military organisation in Germany and then to set up another military organisation, an alien one, on their soil. As long as the army of occupation remains there, of course it will use, and will continue to use, these training areas.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

For troops sent from this country for the purpose of training?

Mr. Bellenger

Yes, certainly. Part of the service of the conscript soldier and the regular soldier will be spent in Germany, at any rate for some time, the end of which I cannot see at the moment. It will be used for carrying out corps training, and unit training, such as it might not be possible in the short time of conscription which we envisage in the future in this country. Arguments have been advanced that we should train our troops either in Scotland or overseas—in Canada, for example. I do not think I need dwell too long on the Canadian situation. I need only mention that the time, the shipping necessary, and the cost of sending large numbers of troops to Canada in peacetime—even if Canada would accept them, and I am not in a position to say whether they would or not—would prohibit any possibility of training our Forces, at any rate our conscript Forces, over in Canada. Scotland has been mentioned. I have no doubt the inhabitants of Scotland will also have something to say about sending large numbers of troops there, just as Wales does. Wherever we turn for training, we are told to go somewhere else. It is quite easy to say that, but not always so easy to accomplish.

We have, I admit, a large portion of our training areas in the Southern part of England. Hon. Members, especially those with military experience, can readily understand why these establishments have grown up in the Southern part of England, which is nearest to the Continent. They have grown up over a large period of years, especially in regions where the armoured corps trained, behind Lulworth Cove, at Bovington, and those sort of places. They have grown up since 1916, but now, of course, they have reached a pitch when the public begins to take notice.

To continue my very hurried survey of the situation, I would now like to turn to the present machinery for examining Service demands. I agree entirely with those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have said that there ought to be some machinery set up for watching the Service requirements and demands, to see that they do not become exorbitant or out of all proportion to the national economy. We have that machinery at the present time. We have the Inter-Departmental Committee, to which several hon. Members have referred. I can say—and I have confirmation of it in a speech made only a moment or two ago by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude)—that the Inter-Departmental Committee under the supervision of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning, is already achieving some agreement between the Services and the civilian population. The hon and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter referred to one particular case, namely, Dartmoor, about which there has been a great deal of agitation, not all of it well-informed, in the public Press. He mentioned it, and therefore I can refer to it. The Inter-Departmental Committee have been examining that area, amongst others, and we have got a good deal of agreement between our side, the Services side, and the local people represented by the local authorities, by hikers' associations, and indeed by all those who could object to the Services being on Dartmoor at all.

In addition to the inter-departmental committee, which is doing excellent work, and which has been examining certain areas, particularly the more controversial areas, if I may so call them, we have a ministerial committee. The purpose of that ministerial committee is to weigh the demands of the Service Departments against the other interests. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture, are represented on that, and I can assure my hon. Friends, and hon. Members opposite, too, that the Ministry of Agriculture are by no means silent on these matters. Indeed, there are some right royal battles fought in this Committee between the Service Departments and the civilian Departments—particularly the Scottish Department—over these matters. The ministerial committee will, I presume, in due course report to the Cabinet itself. There is one other Committee which obviously must have a considerable say in these matters, and that is the Defence Committee. The Defence Committee are, if I may so call them, the consumers' committee; they present to the Government what they consider to be, after weighing all the factors, the minimum requirements of the Services for land. So, between the inter-departmental committee, the ministerial committee and the Defence Committee, the Cabinet will be the final arbiter and they, of course, will have to present their plans to the House and the country in due course. May I just for a moment give the House some figures? Too often in making our speeches we find they are sometimes out of relation to the actual facts.

Mr. Hollis

Before the right hon. Gentleman passes from the committees may I put this point? The trouble with these committees is that they are all representative of Government Departments really. Will he consider the possibility of associating representatives of the agricultural and amenities societies on the Inter-Departmental Committee?

Mr. Bellenger

Those societies and organisations have the opportunity of coming to the Inter-Departmental Committee. I think certain hon. Members may know that representatives of those organisations have already expressed their points of view to the Inter-Departmental Committee, and thereby helped us to reach some satisfactory conclusion to both sides.

Mr. Hollis

They can give evidence before the Committee, but they do not sit on it.

Mr. Bellenger

No, Sir. That is a Government Committee and I see no reason—at any rate judging by the results of the Committee's deliberations—to impose on this whole matter another committee, or even to incorporate on that official Committee outside representatives.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter rose

Mr. Bellenger

I really must go on.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

This is very important.

Mr. Bellenger

No, I cannot give way. Several hon. Members have put their points of view, and I am now trying, in a short space of time—because other matters have to come before the House—to give a condensed view of the facts.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter rose

Mr. Bellenger

I am sorry, I must go on. I was about to give the House some figures. Our peak hold—that is, the War Department only—during the war amounted to 11,400,000 acres. We have already given up 9,505,000 acres, leaving a balance of 1,895,000. Of this 1,895,000 there are now in the process of release, going through the machinery, 360,000 acres. We hold a further 494,700 acres, out of the global figure I have given, which we are clearing of "blinds" and dud shells. When those areas are cleared they will be handed back. That brings me to a balance in use of 1,040,300 acres, and even that is not the final figure because that is being reduced. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) asked me if the Government could give their tax-get. Obviously, the Government will have to give a target figure in due course. But we have not reached that target because our demands are being whittled away, or at any rate reduced as far as possible, in accordance with the evidence which is now being sifted. I can assure the House that when those figures are produced they will be considerably less than the fantastic figures which have been mentioned in certain organs of the Press.

In conclusion, I would like to say this. I may not have answered, certainly in detail, the points which have been presented so reasonably and moderately by hon. Members on all sides of the House. But I would say that I, myself, the War Department and the Service Departments are deeply conscious, as well as hon. Members, of the necessity for the Army to cause as little inconvenience as possible to the public. This will be our endeavour. We have already given evidence of this in the investigations which have gone on before the Inter-Departmental Committee. This will be our endeavour, because in peacetime we realise we cannot ride roughshod over the public requirements, and we do not intend to do so. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk, we want to live as good neighbours, because we realise we are only a part of the community. But this House should not forget that twice in one generation our land was in danger of invasion.

It was only freed under great exertion, under great inconvenience to the general public, from an enemy that came very close to taking more than 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 acres of our native soil. We do not intend to revert to the position of that disturbed period before the last war, when Britain neither had men nor, apparently, money, nor weapons, nor training areas, with the consequence that we were ill-prepared to meet that enemy when he thrust at the heart of the Commonwealth, in 1939. Although it is right for Members to criticise any attempts of the Service Departments to be exorbitant in their demands, or to be unmindful of the public interest, I ask them to do their best to help us allay that public anxiety, as we shall do our best to meet local requirements in a considerate manner.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As the right hon. Gentleman would not give way just now to a perfectly friendly interruption, may I now ask him this? He will remember the suggestion was made that a Select Committee might deal with the central coordination of these problems. I do not expect him to give a definite answer now, but can he give the assurance that a suggestion will be considered by himself and his colleagues, and a statement made in due course?

Mr. Bellenger

I do not think that it is for me to consider that suggestion. I think it is for the Prime Minister to consider these matters. I am very doubtful whether my right hon. Friend could agree to that suggestion. There are matters of security, and for them the Government must accept the entire responsibility.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there is sufficient cooperation between his Ministry and the Air Ministry to ensure that there is no duplication either of bombing grounds or firing areas?

Mr. Bellenger

Yes, Sir, I am completely satisfied that the Air Ministry and the Army are acting in close liaison in these matters.