HC Deb 19 July 1954 vol 530 cc979-82
48. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Secretary of State for War the cost of the road which the Army is building on the Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)

I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a report which appeared recently in the "Daily Express." The 117 Field Engineer Regiment, Territorial Army, is in camp near Ballater for its fortnight's training. It is common practice for Royal Engineer units doing field training to seek local permission to carry out work such as bridge building and road making.

In this particular case, the unit is carrying out some demolitions and building about two miles of new track and a bridge on an estate near Balmoral; building four small bridges at yet another estate: and repairing about three miles of existing track and erecting two small bridges on the Balmoral estate.

All these exercises provide good training value and local resources are used. The extra cost to the public is nil.

Mr. Thomson

Does not the Under-Secretary think it quite wrong that men's time and public money should be spent on building private roads and private bridges which will be used only for a few weeks in the year in the deer forests, when, as a further Question on the Order Paper shows, there is a desperate need in the Highlands of Scotland for public bridge, road and pier construction?

Mr. Hutchison

These small tasks are all part of a general military training programme which includes demolitions, water supply, track repairing, bridge building, and so on. I think that the hon. Member is engaged on the military engineering task of trying to make a mountain of a molehill, and if he joins the Territorial Army we will help him.

Mr. Shinwell

While the training may be very valuable in the military sphere, is there any special reason why this road development and construction should take place on this particular estate: and. at the end of the day, who will benefit from this? Apart from the training experience for the men concerned, will it be the owner of the estate, the county council, a local authority or the public generally? Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to furnish an answer to those questions?

Mr. Hutchison

Before any of these activities are undertaken, for the prime purpose of military training, applications are made to those in the neighbourhood of the camp who would like to have work done. If their request conforms with military requirements it is undertaken. As the right hon. Gentleman will have heard, there were three separate estates on which minor tracks were converted into slightly better tracks, and not only the one.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to furnish an answer to this question: who benefits from this in the long run? If a benefit is conferred on a member or some members of the public in the area, will they compensate the Army for the expenditure incurred?

Mr. Hutchison

As I said earlier, the benefit is primarily for the Army, for the unit gets training in road making. There are no suitable local authority roads in the neighbourhood. This is in hilly country close to the Army camp. I suppose that to a minor degree it might be said that at the end of the day the track is slightly better than it was at the beginning.

Mr. Shinwell

That is a slur on the Army.

Mr. Hutchison

I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that many other tasks are undertaken for local authorities all over the country.

Commander Donaldson

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a similar Army camp in the South-East of Scotland, and if I submit a scheme to him for building a road to the isolated Clapperton Railway Junction, will he consider that as a military exercise?

Mr. Hutchison

Certainly, Sir; if there is a suitable unit in the area we shall be only too glad to consider the suggestion.

Mr. J. Harrison

Will the Under-Secretary use his influence with the military authorities to try to get them to repair some of the roads at Nottingham which have been torn up by military tanks?

Mr. Hutchison

The answer is the same as before. If there is a suitable unit in an area where there is a suitable task, we shall certainly consider it.

Sir I. Fraser

Is it not much better for the men to undertake useful work in their training rather than to dig holes and fill them up again?

49. Mr. Grimond

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will allow the Army to undertake, as an exercise, public works in the Highlands and Islands, such as bridge, road and pier construction, which otherwise would not be undertaken at all.

Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison

Royal Engineer units are encouraged, subject to certain conditions, to undertake civilian tasks which provide good military training not otherwise available, but it is rare for units to undertake their training in these areas.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Minister aware that my constituency is full of camps of all sizes and shapes and, also, that there is in the area a great need for the carrying out of public works which are unlikely to be undertaken in the near future at any rate? Is he aware that we should be very grateful to see the Royal Engineers, to entertain them in camp and to give them some work to do? I hope that the Under-Secretary will feel encouraged to go forward with these schemes and so do a great public service.

Mr. Hutchison

I am sure that the Royal Engineers will be indebted to the hon. Member for his offer. My answer is the same as before. If there is a suitable task and a suitable unit is stationed in the neighbourhood, we shall be only too glad to look into such suggestions.

Mr. Shinwell

On what special basis does the War Office decide to go to one district or another? If there is a case for minor development and road construction as apparently the hon. Gentleman asserts there was on the Ballater Estate, why cannot such work be done in the area to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) belongs? Why should the War Office proceed in one case and not in another?

Mr. Hutchison

The first factor to be considered is where a unit is to camp. It goes to a place not because there is work to be done there, but because it is suitable from the general training standpoint, with amenities, and so on. Once the location of the training camp has been fixed, if the unit is a Royal Engineers' unit, and if there is a suitable task to be carried out in the locality, we proceed to carry it out.

Mr. John MacLeod

As it is very often the case that Army units are not welcomed at all, is it not a very good thing to see them being welcomed for a change?