HC Deb 15 July 1971 vol 821 cc702-4
15. Mr. Hannan

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the experimental gun firing undertaken recently in the West Freugh area of Scotland and what were the local reactions thereto.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Demonstration firings took place on 24th and 25th June at the request of the Wigtownshire County Council. There was some unfavourable local comment.

Mr. Hannan

To use a colloquialism, the Minister can say that again. In view of the acute differences in the county council and the overwhelming opposition in the local community in respect of the noise nuisance, and also bearing in mind the negligible value of this project—a project which apparently is unwanted elsewhere in the United Kingdom—for employment purposes in Scotland, will the Minister give an assurence that he will not take a decision until a public inquiry is held?

Mr. Gilmour

In reply to the last part of the question, it will be for my right hon. Friend, in the light of the representations which have been made, to decide whether there should be a public inquiry. On the earlier part of the question, it is not true to say that local opposition is overwhelming. Wigtownshire trade unionists are in favour of the move because there will be more than 600 permanent jobs for civilians available at the range ; other bodies have indicated support for the proposal, including the South-West Scotland Tourist Association, the Stranraer and District Chamber of Trade and the Stranraer Town Council ; and the Wigtownshire County Council has also accepted the proposal.

Mr. Brewis

Is my hon. Friend aware that the organisations which he has mentioned are mostly out of the sound of the guns and that I have a large file of letters which I shall be sending him shortly? I only wish that I could send him all the telephone calls I have received on this matter.

Mr. Gilmour

I shall be interested to receive all the information my hon. Friend has at his disposal.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the hon. Gentleman accept from me that, if this is the best the Government can do to solve the unemployment situation in Scotland, the people of Scotland will want no part in it? Will he now hold a public inquiry to prove conclusively what we are saying?

Mr. Gilmour

As was made clear in an earlier debate, this is not the principal measure we have for dealing with unemployment in Scotland. I do not think the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) is immediately concerned in this area, and therefore I do not feel that he speaks for the workers in it.

Mr. John Morris

Was not the answer given by the Minister to the question about the need for a public inquiry absolutely pathetic? If there are local anxieties and fears, is it not incumbent on the Government at the earliest possible moment to announce a public inquiry? Will the hon. Gentleman recall that when there were similar difficulties in South Wales the Labour Government announced a public inquiry at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Gilmour

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman listened to my earlier reply, when I said that it would be for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to decide on this point.

Mr. William Hamilton

That is what worries us.

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