HC Deb 06 July 1982 vol 27 cc265-72

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Goodlad.]

11.42 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

I am glad to have the opportunity to raise the important question of some of the planning issues associated with the Government's decision to buy the Trident II weapons system from the United States and to install it on the Clyde.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Campbell), who represents Coulport, where the development is to take place, intends to raise some of the local issues of particular concern to his constituents. It is almost two years since the former Secretary of State for Defence announced the Government's decision to acquire the Trident I C4 weapons system from the United States as the replacement for Polaris. As the House knows, earlier this year the present Secretary of State for Defence announced that the Government had decided to acquire the Trident II D5 weapons system instead from the United States.

At the outset it must be recognised that the D5 is a very different weapons system from the C4. I was in the House when the Secretary of State made the announcement and the decision is probably the most important to be taken by any Cabinet. It certainly amounts to a most massive and irresponsible escalation of the international nuclear arms race.

It is fitting that the debate should take place just after the debate on the Government's White Paper on defence. Trident, of course, is a very important element in the Government's defence strategy. Many hon. Members took the opportunity provided by the debate to complain about the enormous cost of Trident II and the resources that the decision will involve. Indeed, most people agree that Trident will cost about £10 billion at current prices. However, the most important factor is Trident's enormous power to destroy a large proportion of the human race. If we remember that one Polaris submarine can destroy about 15 million Russians in the main Soviet cities, and understand that the Trident weapon system is many times more powerful, we get some idea of the enormity of the decision.

It must be understood that Trident II has not only a much greater range than Trident I but an enormously enhanced accuracy that is designed to enable the weapon to destroy the inter-continental ballistic missiles in their silos. It is its accuracy that makes Trident a counter-force weapon—a first-strike weapon—that undermines the basis of the policy of deterrence and creates the philosophy of mutually assured destruction.

Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

Is the hon. Gentleman now saying, contrary to what he said in the defence debate, that Trident cannot knock out the SS20s, which are mobile and which will be our principal problem in the future?

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman will agree that if we know where the SS20 is, Trident II can take it out. But the basis of the SS20s and cruise missiles is that they are mobile, so it is not accurate to say that Trident is designed to take out SS20s. However, it is designed to take out the massive intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The development has provoked massive opposition in Scotland. The Minister will be aware of the thousands of people who marched through Glasgow only a few months ago in opposition to the development. The demonstration was important, not just because of its size but because it brought together people with differing political views and from all walks of life throughout Scotland. Many important questions must be answered about the development, which amounts to the compulsory conscription of the people of West Central Scotland into the front line of any nuclear exchange between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The central purpose of this debate is to urge upon the Government the case for referring the Trident development proposals to a planning inquiry commission set up under section 44 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972. The major authority on planning law in Scotland is Eric Young's "The Law of Planning in Scotland" published in 1978. He states, in relation to such developments, that two main reasons for referring the planning proposal to a planning inquiry commission are (a) that there are considerations of national and regional importance of which a proper evaluation cannot be made without a special inquiry; (b) that there are unfamiliar technical or scientific aspects of the proposed development. Either of those considerations would justify referring the proposed development to a planning inquiry commission, but the House will agree that the Trident base qualifies on both grounds.

A local planning inquiry, such as that held into the plan to extend the NATO air base at Stornoway, would not be adequate. We understand that a Government Department—and this includes the Ministry of Defence—does not require planning permission for such a development, but it is right that the issues should be brought out at a public inquiry. The enormity of the local issues is such that only a planning inquiry commission could provide the proper framework within which those points could be made.

While it is true that the report did not affect the Secretary of State's decision to agree to the extension of the Stornoway airport base, in the light of that inquiry the Secretary of State in his statement in December last year announced that some modifications would be made to that proposal. Although the inquiry at Stornoway was non-statutory, it enabled some important points to be brought out and some adjustments to be made in the plan as a result.

It would be scandalous if, despite the massive opposition to the project in Scotland, the Government were to press ahead without a proper inquiry, enabling the people of Scotland to express their views and raise the many important objections and issues that relate to the proposed development.

The Dunbartonshire district council has unanimously voted in favour of a planning inquiry commission. I received an answer from the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces on that issue on 23 June this year, which stated: The Ministry of Defence wrote to Dunbarton district council on 21 May about the planning aspects of the development. No reply has yet been received, but my hope would be that the council would soon agree to resume planning consultations. The matter therefore has not yet been referred to the Secretary of State for Scotland."—[Official Report, 23 June 1982; Vol. 26, c. 129.] If the matter is referred to the Secretary of State for Scotland, he will have to decide the issue. There should be a proper planning inquiry commission.

That reply conceals the great concern in the Dunbartonshire district council about the development. As the Minister knows, it has unanimously voted to ask the Ministry of Defence to bring forward a new notice of proposed development. The original notice of proposed development predates the D5 decision. It is hard to believe that the major difference between the D5 and the C4, not to mention many other developments since then, is not a sufficient justification for a new notice of proposed development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West may want to raise some of the unanswered questions that arose out of a meeting that he, Councillor Leitch and others attended with Viscount Trenchard. He will want to raise some important local points.

If the Minister tells us about the benefits that will derive from this project in the form of jobs, I hope that he will understand that that is a policy of despair. It is a sad day when people, in order to find work, must work on projects of mass destruction. Those people will take those jobs if they are available, but they would prefer to carry out useful work, for example in the National Health Service and the education system, which have been attacked by the Government, and in the factories where they could produce useful goods rather than take part in a development that is designed for mass destruction and in a nuclear arms race that can have only one end—the elimination of human civilisation.

I emphasise that I hope that the Government will take heed of the views of Dumbarton district council. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will submit a new notice of proposed development so that proper negotiations can take place with the local authority. Above all, I hope that the Government will accede to the demands that are now being made from many quarters, including the local planning authority, that there should be a proper planning inquiry commission into the development. Anything less would be a denial of the basic rights of the many people in Scotland who are rightly concerned about the development.

11.54 pm
Mr. Ian Campbell (Dunbartonshire, West)

As in a good Scots sermon, I should like to make three points. Unlike a minister at the pulpit, however, I do not have 15 minutes or more to develop my theme. I wish to re-emphasise the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang).

I put down a question for Scottish Question Time last week, but unfortunately it was not reached. I asked: if there has been any advance in the planning negotiations for the Trident site at the Clyde submarine base."—[Official Report, 30 June 1982; Vol. 26, c. 350.] The Minister has told me, however, that Dumbarton district council has already submitted a request for a revised notice of proposed development.

From my knowledge of talks and discussions with the district council, I believe that both sides must start from the beginning again on a solid base. As my hon. Friend has said, the planning application may have altered substantially as a result of the change from Trident I to Trident II and I believe that the district council is now ready to consider the matter again. I know that in the past there was some blockage of the proposals by the council, but I think that that attitude is changing. I hope that the Minister will put it to the Ministry of Defence that the matter should be started again from scratch. This would mean, of course, the readvertisement of the various proposals according to the normal procedure for planning applications.

Another point that is disturbing many people in the district, particularly the convenor of the Dumbarton district council planning committee, relates to the public meeting at Helensburgh, at which the matter was raised in the first instance by Lord Trenchard on behalf of the Government. Cognisance was taken of plans submitted to the audience about the safety limit shown on the map of the Rosneath peninsula. The line was drawn just beyond existing housing and other buildings. In answer to a question at the meeting, it was stated that the line had been drawn in that way to show the safety zone and that various buildings in the planning application had to be sited without the explosion zone. It was agreed by the Minister and by civil servants who were there at the time that the formula used to decide the zone would be submitted to the planning officer so that he could check the measurements taken, which would be a valuable assistance to councillors and others in making up their minds about the planning application. Again, in Dumbarton district council and elsewhere, there is a feeling of having been let down as the agreement seems to have been withdrawn on a unilateral basis—the word "unilateral" has appropriate connotations in this context—by the Ministry of Defence.

Finally, in relation to the planning inquiry and planning permission, a document entitled "Faslane-Facts and Feelings" has been written by Iain 0. Macdonald, a minister of the Church of Scotland, and published by the society, religion and technology project of the Church of Scotland. I was one of many who gave evidence to the author. Its conclusions go across the board from those who actively oppose the development and those who are worried about it to those who are worried about the defence capability of this country. The general feeling behind the document, however, is that there is a lack of knowledge among the people in whose midst the development is proposed to take place.

I hope that the Minister or his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have the chance to consider this and will take on board the points that have been made. I suggest sincerely to them that they should try to expand any inquiry into a full commission of inquiry so that all the various fears and questions can be raised and perhaps set at rest when the inquiry takes place.

12 midnight

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)

I am glad to have the opportunity to reply to this debate and to some of the planning questions put to me by the hon. Members for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) and for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Campbell). The debate also gives me the opportunity to clear up some misunderstandings among some members of the public about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's position as regards consideration of the planning aspects of the proposed Trident development.

As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East said, development proposals by Government Departments do not require planning permission, but procedures broadly similar to those prescribed in planning legislation are followed in determining whether particular developments should go ahead. These procedures are set out in circular 49/1977 dated 2 November 1977 issued to local authorities when the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) was Secretary of State. That circular is admirably clear and lucid and I shall summarise the main points in it for the benefit of the House.

In the first instance, the developing Department is called upon to inform the planning authority concerned of its proposals by submitting a notice of proposed development. The notice may be submitted in outline only—this is relevant to the debate—on the understanding that detailed proposals will be provided in due course or in a form equivalent to that of a detailed planning application. The circular makes it clear that the notice should be given just as much publicity as if it were an application for planning permission. Subsequently, the planning authority invites representations from interested parties.

If, following the consultation stage—which should normally be completed within two months—the planning authority decides that it cannot agree to the proposals and the developing Department cannot resolve the issue to the satisfaction of both sides, the developing Department is required to bring the matter to the attention of the Scottish Office—the Scottish Development Department—should it wish to proceed with the development. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must then consider by what means he will resolve the situation.

It might be of assistance to the House if I put on record the steps that have so far been taken to have the planning aspects of the proposed Trident development examined. Both hon. Gentlemen referred to this. Following presentation of their proposals at the Helensburgh meeting, to which the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West referred, in June 1981 the Ministry of Defence submitted to the district council a notice of proposed development in outline relating to the construction at Loch Long of berthing facilities for submarines, facilities for the storage and processing of Trident missiles and other support buildings and services. This notice specified the area of land required for the project. It provided some broad information about the buildings to be constructed on the site, it made clear that any necessary infrastructure provisions would be the subject of further consultations with the local authorities and it emphasised the determination of the Ministry of Defence to minimise the environmental impact of the development so far as was reasonably possible.

A start was made on consultations set out in the notice, but the district council subsequently decided that it was not prepared to consider the plans in outline. The council therefore withdrew from discussions, indicating that it would give further consideration to the proposals only if it was provided with details and plans equivalent to those accompanying a detailed planning application. As the Ministry of Defence was not in a position to provide fully worked out and final detailed design proposals for a project with an eight-year planning and construction period, it was, for a time, not possible for any progress to be made on consultations with the council.

The Ministry considered that it had provided sufficient information about the scope of the project to enable the outline planning decisions it was seeking to be taken. But as it wished to consider certain detailed changes in its proposals, which would not alter the scope of the project but which would, incidentally, have some significant environmental advantages, it decided not to refer the matter to my right hon. Friend immediately but to use the intervening period to work up these new proposals.

On 11 March, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced our decision to purchase the Trident D5, rather than the Trident C4 missile system. This anouncement led the district council to invite the Ministry of Defence to submit a new notice of proposed development, the implication being that the council would be prepared to reopen discussions with the Ministry on this basis. This is a point to which reference has been made. I emphasise, therefore, that the Ministry replied to the effect that it saw no need to submit a revised notice because its original notice had taken account of the possibility that a larger missile might at some stage supersede Trident C4. It again indicated that it had in mind certain changes that it felt would have significant environmental advantages and gave an undertaking that it would submit revised proposals as soon as these had been fully worked up.

The council has asked the Ministry to reconsider this decision and correspondence on the matter is continuing. I hope that it will be possible for a basis for reopening the discussions to be agreed because it is obviously of very considerable importance. It is in the best interests of local people that the process of local consultation on the Ministry's proposals should be completed.

It has been suggested—although not in this debate— by some organisations that my right hon. Friend has decided that he will not make arrangements for a public inquiry to be held. This is absolutely untrue. I wish to put that clearly and firmly on the record. As I have explained, the established procedures for the consideration of proposals for developments by Government departments provide for such a proposal to be referred to my Department by the developing Department if objections put forward by the planning authority cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of the two parties.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stewart

I make no complaint about the fact that I received less than half the time available for the debate, but I should like to finish my speech. In this case, consultations between the Ministry of Defence and Dumbarton district council have not been completed. The circumstances in which reference of the matter to my Department might be appropriate have not therefore arisen and, until such a reference is made, my right hon. Friend has no locus in the consideration of the planning aspects of the Trident proposals. He has not, therefore, been involved in the discussions which have so far taken place.

I hope that it will be possible for Dumbarton district council and the Ministry to reach agreement. If not, my right hon. Friend could seek to deal with the matter on the basis of written representations, an informal meeting with the parties, or a non-statutory public local inquiry. No disagreement has, however, as yet been referred to him for resolution and it would not be right for me to speculate at this stage on the steps which he might take should such an approach be made.

That brings me to the points made by the hon. Members for Edinburgh, East and for Dunbartonshire, West about a planning inquiry commission for which provision is made under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, although there has never been such a commission. The right hon. Member for Craigton agrees with me about that.

I cannot speculate about the measures that might be adopted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to resolve a disagreement between the planning authority and the Ministry of Defence if the matter were eventually to be referred to him. I appreciate the importance of the Trident proposals, but it is not immediately apparent that they give rise to any local planning problems that could not be dealt with comprehensively and satisfactorily under the usual planning procedures that I have set out.

Reference has been made to Strathclyde regional council which aims to interest all the local authorities in the region in making arrangements for an environmental impact assessment of the Trident proposals to be followed by an unofficial local inquiry. There has been no final decision to put those plans into operation. In the light of what the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West said, as the planning authority appears to be prepared to resume consideration of the Ministry's proposals in accordance with established procedures I hope that the regional council will not take precipitate action to promote an independent inquiry. That inquiry would have no status. It would be better for the regional council and us to wait and see what the Ministry's new proposals are, how Dumbarton council reacts to them, whether the matter has to be referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and, if so, what action he proposes to take, before the regional council considers any such steps.

We have no means of knowing how the planning aspects of the Trident proposals will be resolved. As hon. Members made clear—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twelve minutes past Twelve o'clock.