HC Deb 10 June 1964 vol 696 cc428-30
32. Mr. Hayman

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is aware of public anxiety at the discovery by a walker on Dartmoor of a half-buried war-time dump of poison gas canisters and explosives; what record was kept of the dumping of such dangerous material at the time of its disposal; and if he will give an assurance that similar dumps do not exist in other parts of the Dartmoor National Park.

The Minister of Defence for the Army (Mr. James Ramsden)

Yes, Sir. It has always been the practice of the Defence Department to dispose of unwanted material of this nature by dumping it out at sea. This dump was an unauthorised one of which no record exists. The material was probably buried by a unit during the war, but there is no means so long after the event of establishing who was responsible. I have no reason to believe that any other unauthorised dumps exist on Dartmoor.

Mr. Hayman

Does not the Minister agree that this is a shocking example of the carelessness which the military authorities sometimes exhibit when taking advantage of their privilege to use Dartmoor? Will he take into account that the local people and others who use Dartmoor are very alarmed about this occurrence, and will he see that no such thing ever happens again?

Mr. Ramsden

Of course, this is a matter for concern, but we do not even know who it was who buried the stuff in this dump in the first place. It may not even have been a British unit. In any event, it was buried outside that part of Dartmoor which is in use for military training. I appreciate the point which the hon. Gentleman has made. I hope that not only hon. Members of this House but everyone else who sees suspicious objects will promptly report their suspicions to the military authorities.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Is not it a possibility that the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) may have been responsible for this dumping immediately after the war?

Mr. Paget

Is it not unlikely that this was buried by a Secretary of State? Surely the Minister is taking this very casually? Is not it the case that it would be only a question of time before poison gas contained in a canister would escape? Is not that a terrifying situation and is not it inadequate just to be satisfied by saying, "We have not been able to find out who may have buried this"? It is a major scandal which really wants looking into.

Mr. Ramsden

I am not taking this lightly at all. Obviously this is a serious matter. We check all military sites and training areas for material which may be dangerous to the public before we vacate them, and we erect notices warning about the dangers in training areas still in use. This dump was found on common land outside the area of Dartmoor which we use for training.

Mr. Lipton

Why did the right hon. Gentleman suggest in one of his replies to a supplementary question that it might have been a non-British unit which dumped this stuff? Was there anything about the markings on this dumped stuff which indicated that it might have come from some non-British unit?

Mr. Ramsden

The stuff was British, but there were many units in this country during the war and we just do not know who was responsible for burying these gas containers where they were found.

33. Mr. Huyman

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is aware that, in spite of recent undertakings by Service Departments that stricter measures would be taken to clear live ammunition and other litter and to mitigate damage by Service activities in the Dartmoor National Park, there have been a number of cases in the last few months of unexploded missiles, litter dumps and damage; and if, in the national interest, he will now seek an alternative training area of less recreational use and value than the Dartmoor National Park.

Mr. Ramsden

I have nothing to add to my Answer of 25th March.

Mr. Hayman

Then may I ask the Minister to take account of the fact that I have in my hand a photograph of a large explosive bomb which was found at Beardown on 18th May, and that I have also another photograph? Is he aware that on 19th April a sack of missiles was found at Lydford Tor by boys on an adventure training expedition? Is he further aware that I have other examples which I will send to him? Will he take this matter seriously and ask the Army Council to consider the possibility of other places than Dartmoor being used for training troops?

Mr. Ramsden

Apart from the containers, which were the subject of the hon. Gentleman's first Question, all the misiles recently reported were expended—burnt-out shells or parts of shells—and completely harmless. We keep a constant check on the possible presence of dangerous missiles on Dartmoor. I am afraid that it is essential for us to continue to retain Dartmoor as a training area. It is close to where the Strategic Reserve and the Royal Marines are concentrated. If the Army is to be properly trained it is necessary for it to exercise on Dartmoor.

Sir H. Studholme

May I ask whether my right hon. Friend does not think that it would be a good thing if before making such sensational statements the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) took a little more trouble to ascertain what are the true facts?

Mr. Speaker

A question asking the Minister to express a view on what is a matter of opinion is, on that account, out of order.

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