HC Deb 30 April 1958 vol 587 cc364-6
24. Miss Vickers

asked the Secretary of State for War if his attention has been drawn to a fatal accident to a civilian on Dartmoor during Army exercises; and what precautions are being taken to render that type of accident impossible in the future.

25. Mr. Hayman

asked the Secretary of State for War when the warning flags in use on the day when a schoolboy was recently killed by shrapnel in Dartmoor National Park were last renewed; whether he will arrange for larger flags to be supplied in future; and whether early consideration will be given to the possibility of improving the present system of warnings.

31. Sir H. Studholme

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the present system of warning to civilians to keep clear of the Army firing area on Dartmoor; and whether he is satisfied that every possible precaution is taken to avoid risk of accident.

Mr. Soames

The safety precautions begin with the publication of notices in the local press and elsewhere, giving details of firing programmes. On the range itself, notice boards are placed on every track leading to the danger area. When the range is in use large red flags, measuring 12 feet by 6 feet are flown on nine of the highest tors where they are visible from every part of the range boundary. They are renewed individually when necessary. Finally, the range is patrolled before use by five range wardens mounted on ponies.

These precautions have been carefully planned. They are operated under strict standing orders and supervised by a retired colonel, the permanent range commandant. I believe they are as comprehensive as we can make them.

Miss Vickers

I am sure that everyone in the House will wish to commiserate with the family who lost a boy on that sad occasion. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, as this is now a public park and as a great many visitors go there who do not necessarily see the local papers, he could suggest to the Army authorities that they might add further notices to the notices already warning people about cattle and ponies? These notices attract far more attention and can be seen more easily than some of the Army notices. May I further ask him whether he knows that the family involved met several military walking through the area, but they gave them no warning of danger?

Mr. Soames

As to the notices to which my hon. Friend refers, they are about ponies and cattle, and they are on the main highway. They warn motorists of the danger of running into animals wandering on the road. This is not where the range is situated. There is no danger on the road, because the range is a long way off it, but on every track leading up to the range there are warning notices. If my hon. Friend has in mind any particular spot at which she thinks an extra notice would be beneficial and will acquaint me of it, I will certainly look into it.

Mr. Hayman

Is the Minister aware that the Western Morning News, in a news item with the heading "Danger Lurks in Dartmoor Park", said that from a distance one flag resembles a nondescript bit of washing? Will he take into account that, although large flags may be flying, mist on the high tors may quite obscure them, and will he see whether any improvements in the warning system are possible?

Mr. Soames

The flags are 12 feet by 6 feet. I am afraid I can do nothing about the mist. We renew the flags when they are worn out, but they are very large and very red.

Sir H. Studholme

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is the fact that the red flags are flying at all times whether or not firing is taking place, because that is what has been said, and, if it is a fact, does he not think that there is a very great danger of the warning being disregarded?

Mr. Soames

I can tell my hon. Friend that the flags are taken down every time the firing ceases. I think this impression has been caused because firing practice sometimes lasts a long time, perhaps a whole day, and people are apt to reach the conclusion that the flags are always there, though I assure my hon. Friend that that is not so.

26. Mr. Hayman

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement on the recent death of a 15-year-old schoolboy, who was killed by shrapnel from a bursting mortar bomb near Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor National Park.

Mr. Soames

The accident took place on the Okehampton Range on 15th April. Firing had been in progress all the morning. Visibility was good and the normal safety precautions were in operation. Early in the afternoon a family of three people entered the danger area and one of them, a schoolboy, was killed by a mortar shell. I understand that an inquest is to be held on 22nd May. I should like to express my deep sympathy with the family bereaved by this tragic accident.

Mr. Hayman

While I am sure that the whole House will concur in the Minister's expression of sympathy with the family, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will take into account the fact that a national park and an artillery range are mutually incompatible? Will he institute a new inquiry into the use of Dartmoor by the Services in order to ascertain whether some other arrangement, outside the Dartmoor National Park, is possible?

Mr. Soames

This area of land has been used by the Army for exercises since 1872, and the area was designated as a national park in 1951, but this designation was understood at the time not to restrict the use of the land for military purposes.