HC Deb 06 April 1948 vol 449 cc6-7
13. Mr. Lipson

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware of the concern at the decision of his Department not to release the village of Imber for civilian use; and if he will reconsider the matter.

Mr. M. Stewart

My right hon. Friend is fully aware of the concern aroused by this decision, but in the absence of any new factor falling within the terms of the White Paper on Service Land Requirements, he regrets that he can see no case for further inquiry.

Mr. Lipson

In view of the fact that a certain number of the inhabitants have stated that five years ago a verbal assurance was given by a representative of the War Office that the village would be restored, will the hon. Gentleman order a judicial inquiry into that point at issue between the inhabitants and the War Office?

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir. We are fully satisfied that that undertaking was not given. The nature of the undertaking was that if ever the village were to be inhabited again, the previous inhabitants would have the right to go there. Indeed, a promise such as is described could not have been given, because the inhabitants of the village were War Department tenants and there was always a clause in their tenancy which allowed the War Office to resume possession of the houses.

Colonel Dower

Apart from the promise, about which the hon. Gentleman does not appear to be certain, has he satisfied himself that this is a suitable area for street fighting? It is not substantially built up? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the information I have received is that there are more suitable areas which could be acquired?

Mr. Stewart

I would like to repeat that I am quite certain of the facts about the promise. In choosing an area for training of this kind we cannot select what, for purely military reasons, would be perhaps the ideal area. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman can recommend to us an area, say in his own constituency, we should be pleased to look into it.

Mr. Grimston

In view of the very general feeling that some sort of undertaking was given, will the hon. Gentleman go further into this question, as he has denied that any undertaking was given?

Mr. Stewart

My right hon. Friend and I have already been into this question in very great detail. No doubt it will be necessary to go still further into it, but I do not think that any inquiry would reveal anything different from what I have already stated to the House with regard to this alleged promise.

General Sir George Jeffreys

Will the hon. Gentleman say what is considered to be the advantage which will result to the Army from retaining this village and using it for training? Is it not a fact that equally good results could be obtained in many other places which are not inhabited at all?

Mr. Stewart

It is necessary to have training of this kind. The number of places where there are the necessary facilities and where people are not in occupation must be extremely limited. I would point out that not only is this village uninhabited now, but it would not be a reasonable proposition, on merely economic grounds, to make it habitable again.

Mr. Lipson

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the public would have much more confidence in the decision of a judicial inquiry on the point at issue rather than in a one-sided statement from the War Office?

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Can we accept it that this is now a matter of "Forever Imber"?