HC Deb 02 June 1992 vol 208 cc694-6
8. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are his proposals for the return to public use of surplus Ministry of Defence land; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

The rationalisation of our land holdings and the early disposal of surplus property remains a high priority.

Mr. Hughes

Given that in 1985 Ministry of Defence policy was confirmed as being to acquire an extra 50,000 acres of land for training purposes, and given that on II February the National Audit Office said that the proposals were unjustified in terms of supporting evidence and that they would use more land than was needed, will the Government now agree to an independent external review of Ministry of Defence land holdings so that we can ensure that it has the right land in the right place, and that it uses it properly and fully, and no more?

Mr. Hamilton

I do not think that an external audit is necessary. We are trying to make sure that the training areas that we have are suitable for the weapons systems and the type of training that we are trying to do. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the range of many of our weapons systems gets longer all the time, so we need bigger training areas. As the hon. Gentleman will also know, we are bringing back some troops and weapons systems from Germany, which will also change our demand and need for training areas. We constantly review the number of training areas that we have and we dispose of unwanted land whenever we possibly can. The hon. Gentleman will know that we disposed of £102 million of surplus property last year and £86 million the year before. We are hoping to repeat a £100 million disposal this year.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Should my right hon. and learned Friend be considering proposals to buy yet more land north of Bristol to build yet another MOD facility when we have excellent and underused facilities at Portland which could accommodate all the necessary staff? Will my right hon. and learned Friend instruct the MOD to stop looking at new sites and use the sites that we already have?

Mr. Hamilton

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the undertaking that he needs. We seriously consider our own land holdings. Only with the greatest reluctance would we purchase new land to put up new office blocks and so forth. Obviously, we prefer to use the land that we already have.

Mr. Cryer

Does the Minister recall that a few years ago the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) went to Molesworth common in a flak jacket and with more troops than stormed Goose green in the Falklands war to turn off a dozen peace people who were growing crops? Would it not be a good idea for the Ministry of Defence to put Molesworth and Greenham common to use for growing food? It should get rid of the land entirely. It is no longer necessary. It should give the food to the starving people of the world. That would also be a good principle to apply to the expenditure on Trident. We should cancel Trident and use the money for the national health service and the starving people of the world.

Mr. Hamilton

If the hon. Gentleman is such a good friend of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, perhaps he would like to go down to Greenham common and remind the women down there that the missiles have left and no one can understand why they are still sitting there making a filthy mess of the area.

Mr. John Greenway

Is there not already plenty of public access to much land already owned by the Ministry of Defence? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that as the need for such land perhaps reduces in the years to come there will be proper consultation with local authorities and the countryside agencies about the continuing amenity value of the land to the public and its value for nature conservation?

Mr. Hamilton

Yes, indeed. We issued a pamphlet recently at a press conference given by Lord Cranborne. It was pointed out that we give access to most of our training areas. There are footpaths where people can walk and when ranges are not being used for live firing they are available to the public. We are considering ways of making our ranges increasingly available to the public when we are not using them.

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