HL Deb 04 July 1946 vol 142 cc151-91

3.30 p.m.

THE EARL OF CRANBROOKhad given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government when those evicted from the battle training areas in Norfolk and Suffolk will be allowed to return to their homes; and move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Motion which I have put down on the Paper refers to certain areas in Norfolk and Suffolk, but they are only typical of a great many similar areas throughout the country, and with your Lordships' permission I would like to give you some short explanation of the present position. Early in the recent war, the military authorities decided that they would have to start a new form of training, and that the troops would have to be trained in areas where live ammunition of every sort could be used in conditions approximating as closely as possible to war conditions. It was accordingly necessary to find, or to create, large uninhabited tracts of country where these exercises could take place with safety to the civilian population. I believe that in the mountainous districts of the north and west it was found relatively easy to discover such areas, but in East Anglia it was necessary to turn out of their homes very considerable numbers of people over quite a considerable area.

In the battle training areas of Norfolk and Suffolk some four or five villages were completely evacuated, and about 1,600 people were evicted from their homes. At that time I was Deputy Regional Commission of the Eastern Region, and I was given the duty of making the necessary arrangements to move this large number of people, to find them accommodation and, if necessary, farms and work elsewhere. It seemed to me that the first thing to do was to hold public meetings in each of the villages concerned. At these meetings the senior military officer, usually the Army Commander, explained to the people the necessity for these battle areas, and I explained the arrangements the civil authorities would make to mitigate the undoubted hardships involved. I would remind your Lordships that these areas were of necessity very sparsely populated and were rural in character. The population concerned were much more shaken by the shock of eviction than would have been a more sophisticated and urban population, less tied by tradition to their homes and to the countryside around them on which they worked.

When the position was explained to them, when they were told that these training areas were necessary, I will not say that they gladly, but they willingly left their homes, fortified by the promises then given them that they would be allowed to return when the war was over. I can well remember one village shopkeeper telling me that he had been forty years in his shop, and that his father and grandfather had been there before him, but that he would willingly lend it to the Government for the duration of the war, now that he knew that by doing so he would be helping to save the lives of some of our soldiers. I could tell your Lordships many stories like that. The promises given were quite unequivocal. People were told that they could return to their homes. They were told that while they were away every precaution would be taken to see that their homes, their farms, and farm buildings were not damaged. They were told that no houses or buildings would be indicated as targets, and that no street fighting would be allowed to take place. If an accident occurred, if, for example, a burst of machine gun fire or a shell splinter went through a roof, it would be immediately repaired in order to prevent damage from wind and weather.

Incidentally, I should like to pay a tribute to the way in which the military authorities, in my part of the world at any rate, carried out their obligations. During the time I had the opportunity of seeing them—and that was up to the end of the war—there is no doubt that these obligations were carried out in the letter and in the spirit, and when the war ended the population could have returned to their homes after very small repairs and renovations. That was the position. The population were turned out on the very distinct understanding that they would return when the war was over, and the war has now been over for some little time. But the military authorities are still in occupation, and nobody has yet been able to extract from the Government a statement as to when these people are to be allowed to return. The local authorities concerned, the county and district councils, have made representations through the Ministry of Health, and questions have been asked in another place. I and others have been in correspondence with the noble Lord opposite and with the War Department.

The Secretary of State was kind enough some months back to receive a deputation representing the inhabitants of one of the areas. Only two days ago the question was again raised in another place on the adjournment. In every case the reply given has been sympathetic but procrastinating. We are given a long list of properties which have been released, we are told that all battle training areas must be considered together, that innumerable consultations must take place with every Government Department concerned before a decision can be reached. Apart from the fact that the most definite pledge was given, it does seem to me that if consultations must take place they are being unnecessarily prolonged. I was concerned with these battle training areas before they were requisitioned. In my recollection the consultations which took place then, and they were very minute, did not take anything like so long a time, although at that period all the necessary facts had to be ascertained. Investigations had to be made into the agricultural value of the land, into the number of people involved. The Post Office had to be consulted about the telecommunications; the Ministry of Transport about roads, electricity pylons, and the like. It does seem to me that all those facts must have been available to the present Government when they started their deliberations, and they should have been able to reach a decision very much more quickly.

At this moment the country is faced with a shortage of houses and a shortage of foodstuffs. In the three battle training areas in Norfolk and Suffolk there are 14,000 acres of agricultural land, and over 400 houses waiting to be used. It seems wrong—I had thought of using a stronger word but I do not wish to say anything particularly rude—that these valuable national assets should be wasted for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. I combine my question with a Motion for Papers because I have a strong suspicion that I am going to receive the same sympathetic and procrastinating answer that many people have received before. I feel that I have a personal responsibility, so far as these areas in East Anglia are concerned, because I was one of the people who gave the most definite promises that the people should have their land and houses returned after the war. I want to be certain, and I want them to be quite certain, that no unnecessary delay has taken place. I want those people to know that besides speaking sympathetically the Government have acted sympathetically.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, the Under-Secretary of State for War, if he cannot give me a definite reply to-day as to when these areas are to be given back, if he would be prepared to lay on the table Papers showing how the various discussions have progressed. I should like to know how long it was before the War Department decided upon their needs; how long it was after the end of the war before the War Office decided what were their needs. I should like to know which other Departments were consulted, how long each of those Departments sat on the Papers, because I feel that on the facts which must have been available at the beginning, the Government have taken an unduly long time in reaching a decision. We cannot escape from the fact, and the Government cannot escape from the fact, that the inhabitants of those areas are getting suspicious. The local authorities responsible for those areas are getting suspicious, and I must confess that I myself am getting suspicious that the Government intend not only breaking the promises which they induced me to give these people, but that they are unwilling to face up to the fact that they have to break those promises and are stalling off the evil day. I beg to move for Papers.

3.42 p.m.

VISCOUNT LONG had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government, when land and premises requisitioned by them since 1st September, 1939, and land owned by them, will be returned to the previous owners or tenants; and move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I understand that it would be for your Lordships' convenience if I speak now on the Notice which stands in my name, and in support of the noble Earl who has just sat down. May I say at the outset that I am indeed grateful to the noble Lord, the Under-Secretary of State for War, for the trouble he has taken up to date to obtain some of the information for me, even at this late hour. I appreciate the difficulties, but that does not alter certain principles. I, too, as your Lordships know, come from an area covering a good many miles. I want first to talk about that land which has been requisitioned. I believe that at one time the aerodrome which has been built right up to my garden gate was the third largest in the country. At any rate I have been told that. In addition to this vast aerodrome, there is a Spitfire assembly factory close by. All this land has been requisitioned. It is the most valuable dairy land in the whole of Wiltshire. I should know, because it was in my family's estates up to a few years ago. When it was owned by us the land gave dairy produce in excess of any other part of Wiltshire.

What is the situation to-day? We hear nothing except rumours. One month we are told that this aerodrome is to be given up. Another month we are told that it is to become a permanency. Nobody can give us any real information. And meanwhile, this valuable dairy land, so far as the Spitfire factory area is concerned, is getting more derelict, because very few Spitfires are being assembled there at the moment. A very small portion of the aerodrome has been ploughed up. The rest of the aerodrome is left for a few planes—a few fighters take off occasionally—and a few officers who are trained there. My first question is, when will the Government make up their minds what they are going to do with those training areas and when will they make up their minds about this aerodrome? In any case, I would point out that this aerodrome is under water for five months in the year. That does not matter when you have cattle there, but it is a very serious matter when His Majesty's Government are prepared to spend a vast fortune in requisitioning valuable land which for five months in the winter is out of action.

That covers the question of the aerodrome. I now turn to the question of the Spitfire assembly factory, which is also within one hundred yards of my garden gate. We had to put up with that for the war, and in fact the camouflage of this aerodrome has come to be regarded as part of the village. All senior air officers, in fact, say that the village and the aerodrome are one and the same thing. The presence of the aerodrome was not very pleasant during the war, and it is not very pleasant during the peace. Surely we could have some plan from His Majesty's Government so far as the Spitfire factory is concerned. They have turned off the hands, and only occasionally does the factory have one Spitfire to assemble. I sincerely trust that when the Government consider this question of the very valuable dairy land that has been requisitioned they will come to the decision that it is not a fit and proper place to have an aerodrome.

There is something still more extraordinary—and I shall be able later to quote definite information to show the point which I am making. There is nobody in charge there who is able to form a policy or to get rid at once of this requisitioned land. There is a field within three quarters of a mile of this aerodrome which was requisitioned two and a half years ago. It was presumably requisitioned by the War Office or the War Department, because it was used entirely by an airborne unit which went over on D-day to Normandy and later to Arnhem. There is the farmhouse, there are the farm buildings, and this enormous field, containing nothing but a few bricks; yet it is still requisitioned. I am bound to confess that I cannot explain the circumstances of the case which I have just mentioned. But go a little further to a field three and a half miles away. There is a house there which has been the headquarters, for most of the war, of part of our Army. Huts were built in the park. For five months this house has not had a soul in it. The owner says: "I don't know if the War Office want it or not. I can get no reply. I can make no plan for the future. It is still requisitioned." But I think I have said enough on that side of the question.

May I now come to the other side of the question, the land owned by the War Department? I trust your Lordships will forgive me for wearying you again, but this is from a different angle. It may be remembered that nearly a year ago I raised the question of giving back a prisoner-of-war cage for agricultural purposes. I say, quite definitely, that judged from letters I am going to read which two Ministers have been good enough to send me, there can be no co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of War. I am not in any way blaming the noble Lord opposite, nor am I blaming the Minister of Agriculture. May I read one letter, written to me on April 4, by the Minister of Agriculture with regard to this prisoner of war camp: The prisoner-of-war cage at Gores Cross, although no longer required for prisoners, could not be put to agricultural use. On April 29 the noble Lord opposite wrote to me as follows: The fact is that the camp is ear-marked as accommodation for prisoners of war. I do want to know where we are. That letter was written within two weeks of the other. I now come to the third letter, written to me on May 15, by the Minister of Agriculture. It states: As regards the prisoner-of-war cage at Gores Cross, some 375 acres of the land surrounding the cage, with the exception of a small area adjoining the south-east corner, have been turned over to agriculture. And then it says: This small area, together with the cage, is, I understand, being used as a site for a tented camp. We have now a tented camp! In actual fact, last Sunday I saw no sign of any such camp, except a derelict hut. It is really getting beyond a joke.

Is it to be wondered at that agriculturists are disturbed? There are some here to-day, listening to your Lordships' debate, who have suffered and who have been given the same promises that were given in these areas. Promises were given on three separate occasions in 1943 in my hearing by no less a person than the General Officer Commanding the Southern Command at Devizes that on the evacuation of that great area the tenants would be allowed to go back. Nothing has happened. The promises were made, undertakings were given. It used to be our proud boast that the word of an Englishman was his bond; that we do not have to write. I know that the noble Lord opposite will agree with me that we poor junior officers had more forms to fill during this last war than on any other occasion in our lives. Is it really necessary to charge the Government? Cannot we accept their word? And cannot we therefore get a definite undertaking from His Majesty's Government as to what is going to happen with regard to these lands where they are owners and the others are tenants?

I want to make one other remark. Your Lordships may remember that on May 9 I raised this case in your Lordships House. The land that I described to the noble Lord opposite as being fit and proper land to be given back for grazing or for ploughing up, has had nothing on it—not a bomb or a shell. Despite the assurance from the noble Lord opposite that it is still unsafe, I have ventured to traverse it often in the last three weeks, and I can take him anywhere there and he will not see a sign of a bomb or a shell, nor, incidentally, the track of a truck. Since I mentioned these facts in your Lordships' House, the Army authorities, with 23,000 acres on which they can go anywhere they like, have gone deliberately into this corner of the land and had three or four mines deliberately exploded, although the centre of this area has been already desecrated out of all knowledge by shell holes. There is one of the biggest craters there you have ever seen. It may be only a coincidence that they have chosen that very spot.

In my part of the country we have come to the conclusion, as has the noble Earl who has just sat down, that the policy of His Majesty's Government, through their various Departments, is "What we have, we hold, and the rest of you can go to the devil." That is the view to which we have come in Wiltshire. We believe you have no other policy. We believe you have not got anybody there doing anything. I say what I have said with the full knowledge that I have the backing of every dingle agriculturist in that part of my county, and not only their backing but that even of men serving in the War Department who see the way things are going. I beg to support the Motion that stands in the name of my noble friend.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, the scope of this debate has now been widened to cover the whole question of the rehabilitation of the land and the shores of England, in so far as it is the duty of the War Office and the Army to put it right. Some very strong things have been said by my noble friends on this side in denouncing the War Office. I have had many reports of that kind in my part of the world. I was wondering how best to appeal to the War Office and, in this House, to the noble Lord the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, to try to put these things right. I had a letter from a schoolmistress, which may sound unimportant but which I do not think is. How dangerous it is when Government Departments disagree! Don't I know it! I have been in many myself. I occupied the seat which the noble Lord, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, now occupies. It is a terribly sad thing that one Department of the Government orders one thing and another seems to know nothing about it. We have had some very strong cases here. In this particular instance, the lady points out that she is ordered now, under the Education Act, to teach children to swim. She lives on the sea coast, in a lonely place much frequented in August but not much at other times, and she cannot take the children to swim in the sea because the War Office will not clear the beach.

I sent word to the noble Lord that I was going to raise this point. This is what the lady says: "I wonder if I can enlist your help? The children in this school are to have swimming instruction as part of the school curriculum, but owing to the anti-invasion bars,"—as she calls them—" on the shore here they are unable to use the beach. The bars are very much in the way, and in addition to that they are a great danger, as they are broken down, and pieces left sticking up in the sand." It is perfectly true that these things all round the coast are a real danger. These anti-invasion bars—as this schoolmistress calls them—have caused some very bad accidents. In many cases the Army has admitted its responsibility in the matter, and has taken them away. I do plead with the noble Lord, in response to this plea of mine and of my noble friends Viscount Long and the Earl of Cranbrook to get some men to go round and see where the Commands, so busy with other things, have really failed to take into account the needs of the population. It may be the farming population in one case, or it may be the local children in another.

It is a fact that a most unfortunate state of affairs is now arising under which the Army bids fair, through no fault of its own—and this is the point which I know would appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan—to lose much of the popularity that it has so rightly gained by its wonderful service in the late war. I remember the time when I was a lad when the Army was most unpopular in the countryside. Now has come the happy occasion when towns have vied with one another to give the freedom of the city or borough to the local regiment. That is vastly different from days gone by. One thought all was going well, but if the noble Lord will believe me, it is the fact that now a great deal of the hostility is coming back again, because they say: "These soldiers will not clear out of our farms. They will not clear the fields for the children. They only care for their training, and all they are doing is just training with obsolete weapons." There is some force in that last remark, because who can tell what form of training the Army should take now? A great deal of the training which I have seen still consists in telling people to dig slit trenches and to get into them. Nobody can tell what form atom warfare may take if it happens.

I have seen a good deal of war, and so has the noble Lord, and in all warfare as we have seen it a slit trench is rather a good refuge; but in the newer kinds of warfare that are certainly pending, it would be the most ghastly folly to go and sit there. It is the worst possible place to choose. I give that as an instance which I know will not be disputed, and as an instance of a general thesis which I also think will not be disputed, that now is a time when you cannot say what form training should take. All you can say is: "Let us set the Army to do things that are healthy and useful, and in this case popular." It would be a great comfort, would it not, to know that all the inhabitants of these islands were saying that the soldiers were very decent chaps, and were doing their utmost to clear things up? They are not saying that now.

There are many other aspects of this problem, with which I will not trouble your Lordships today, but I would say—speaking I know on behalf of my noble friend, and of all others here—that we do want the War Office to speed up this process of rehabilitation. One is apt to blame a Government Department without proper evidence, but I am satisfied from all that has come before me, that there has been and still is real delay. In the interests of the farming community, and not least in the interests of all the children, and the visitors who have been encouraged to take holidays and now find themselves debarred from the beaches, I beg the Government to get a move on.

As Vice-President of the National Savings Association, I have to spend my life preaching austerity. I never thought that would be my fate, but I have endeavoured to practise it as best I can. This is my final argument. The Government implores all those concerned in supporting our movement, including everybody in this House, to tell people that they must not spend. No doubt that is perfectly true, and I do not dispute it for a moment. There are, however, some things which they can enjoy, and should enjoy, and those things are the countryside, the beauty spots and the beaches. Many of them are now prevented by the Service Departments, and especially the War Office. In the interests of all concerned, and not least, I hope, the popularity of the Army, for which we care so much, I beg to ask the noble Lord to give us a favourable reply.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Motion of my noble friend. More especially do I do so with regard to one battle area, that at Orford, in my own county of Suffolk. The noble Earl has said that he attended a meeting at the village of Orford where these promises were made; in fact, he has told your Lordships that he made them himself. I, too, attended that meeting, but I attended it in a somewhat different capacity, because I was not the Deputy Regional Commissioner. I was asked to go there—in fact, I was pressed to go— for one reason only, and that was in order that I should give confidence in the promises that were made to those poor people who were being asked to turn out. I went to that meeting and I heard the promises being given by my noble friend. They were also given in most emphatic terms by the high military officers who were sent down. The promises were—apart from those that have been mentioned before—that as soon as the war was over those people should go back. I there saw the reception that these poor people gave to the appeal that was made to them, and it was a wonderful reception; there was not a dissentient voice that I heard there.

These poor men and their wives—and after all, it is the women who have to suffer the worst—packed up their belongings, left their gardens untended, and moved out into other quarters, happy in the thought that they were making sacrifices for their country, and confident that when the war was over those promises would be fulfilled. If I had for one moment thought that a year after the war those promises would still be unfulfilled, nothing would have induced me to go to that meeting. I feel that these people have been let down, and I feel that I personally have been somewhat responsible for their being let down because of the confidence I gave them. Those promises were made, of course, in good faith; no one who heard them made could doubt that.

I have been wondering during the last year what new factors have occurred that have caused those promises to be abandoned. Is it a military factor? Is it that the War Office have come to the conclusion that warfare in the future is going to be static; that there is going to be nothing like an obsolete weapon, and therefore the same warfare that took place before is going to take place again, and we must have all the things we wanted for the recent war? I would have thought that with atomic bombs and the new developments implied it was somewhat unlikely that large quantities of tanks and motor vehicles of all sorts would be concentrated in this small area. There again I may be wrong. Is it because during the last three years the food situation has improved so much that to-day we can afford to spare this big area which produced milk, meat and corn, and which could produce a good deal more? Can we spare that and hand it over to the ravages of the innumerable hordes of rabbits who require no propaganda to increase their birthrate and who, I may say, have become a veritable menace to all who live on the borders of that devastated area?

I know there must come times when a promise made in all good faith cannot be implemented, but it is a serious matter when a Government has to go back upon its word, when that word has been given to its own people. This is a local matter to which I am referring. The people in my part of the world have suffered and are going to be called upon to make a really intensive effort to produce more food. They are going to get orders and they are going to be constrained to grow crops, sometimes, I have no doubt, at a loss, and sometimes with less remuneration than they would have got for other crops which they will not be allowed to grow. To do that, they will be urged with threats and, what is more to the point, with promises, because promises are always better than threats when you want anything done. Is this the best way to get those promises believed in my county of Suffolk? I should have thought it was not.

Two days ago I heard a plea on behalf of these unfortunate men and women which I thought was rather effective. It came from a man who lives on the borders of the Orford area (indeed, he owns a considerable portion of it) and who was a prisoner for four years in Germany, having been captured in France. He said: "When we were prisoners in Germany, the one thing our thoughts turned to was our homes. Whether they were big homes or little homes, our one thought and hope was to get back to them. We all thought we should get hack, but the cry that went up was: 'How long, how long?' It was the uncertainty that got us down, and it is exactly the same in the case of these poor men and women; they want to know when they are going back." They all thought they were going back, and it is only in the last month or two that they have had even a suspicion that they are not going back. These men and these women who went so gladly and so patriotically without a murmur deserve well of their country—few better. I sincerely trust that the answer we are going to hear from the noble Lord who will reply will show that as they did to us, so shall we do to them.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, this is the first occasion on which I have ever sat or spoken in your Lordships' House. If, therefore, anything I say does not fall in with the customs and usages of this assembly, I hope you will forgive me in advance and realize that it is the result of ignorance of procedure and not of any intended discourtesy. I would like to support with all the force I can everything that has been said in favour of the handing back of these battle training areas, and I appeal to your Lordships to support with all your might those of us who are trying to get them hack. I only know one of them intimately, and I confess a great part of it is my property. I know one of the others by old association, but I have not visited it for years and I do not know much about the circumstances there.

I would like to tell your Lordships a little about the one known as the Stan-ford battle training area. When it was taken over in 1942, a very definite promise was made to us that on the conclusion of the war it would be returned and that the people would have their homes back. That promise was made on two occasions in my own presence and like the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, I did my best to get that promise across to the people. I did my best to persuade the people (who I like to regard as my people, because they have been there for so long with my family) that they must consent to go without making a fuss, and I used as my argument two things: first of all the promise that it would be for as short a period as possible, and secondly, that it would save a great many casualties among their relations and friends; and indeed the training that was carried out there did save a great many casualties and was of very great value.

Now all those thousands of people who were turned out are clamouring to get back. They belong there; we can trace some of the families back to Saxon times. They have simply hated to be uprooted. It is true that most of them have been found accommodation of a sort in their own county, but it is not in every case satisfactory accommodation. The great thing is that they are not in their own homes. Then the retention of this area is gravely prejudicial to the local housing situation. There are in it, I believe I am right in saying, 200 houses, and if we could get those 200 houses back into occupation, the housing difficulties in two rural districts would be practically solved. I know that is so, because I sit on the Council of both those districts. Those houses, in spite of the shaking up they have had over all these years (and it has been pretty severe) are not bad structurally. A good many ceilings will have to be replaced, nearly all the windows will have to be replaced, and the gardens have gone to jungle, but otherwise the houses are sound. If we could but have them back it would be an enormous relief to our housing problem.

The farms could very soon be producing food again. The area is about half heath, timber and woods, and half farmland. Those heaths could be planted up, and indeed a great many of mine would have been planted up by now if we could have had that area back. In 1942, when the area was taken over, using unskilled labour and harvesting the crops much too early, the war agricultural executive committee salvaged and sold £40,000 worth of grain and seed. Hundreds of acres of sugar beet were lost, and of course all the other crops. Three of those farms were producing literally hundreds of thousands of ducks every year—I am not exaggerating. They weighed about 4 lb. each and provided a very great deal of food. In addition to that, we are missing the other things that would be produced there—hay, milk, meat, and great numbers of turkeys and other poultry.

We are suffering from two plagues, one of which the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, has mentioned, namely, rabbits. Those things are swarming all over the district and doing an incalculable amount of harm. The war agricultural executive committee have but very seldom been able to make attempts to exterminate them. They had about a month at it last Christmas, but now you cannot see where they have been; the rabbits are worse than ever. The other thing is a weed called ragwort, or canker weed as we call it locally. It has seeds like thistledown and spreads all over the district. The only thing with which I can compare it is prickly pear, and many of your Lordships have seen what that can do in South Africa. It poisons the pastures, and I speak with some feeling about the poisoning of pastures, because I have already lost three horses from ragwort poisoning since this area was taken over. From those three points of view, the deep, desire of those thousands of people to get home again as they were promised, the local advantage to the housing situation, and the national advantage to the production of food and timber that is possible in that area, I think that the return of the area to its former occupants is really urgently called for. I beg your Lordships to do everything you can to help us get it back.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walsingham, told us that this was the first occasion on which he had addressed your Lordships, and I should like to congratulate him, most respectfully, on the admirable way in which he has acquitted himself. I think noble Lords in all parts of the House were deeply impressed by the eloquent and moving plea he put forward for the people in the countryside. I felt he made out an unanswerable case, and I hope it will not be long before your Lordships hear him again.

This House owes a very deep debt of gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Viscount, Lord Long, for raising the question which is the subject of debate this afternoon, and which has led to a singularly moving discussion. This is, after all, a matter eminently suitable to be discussed in the atmosphere of this House, for it is not in any sense a Party issue. It concerns the rights and liberties of the peoples of this country, which are always a matter of vital importance to noble Lords, in whatever part of the House they sit.

For the purpose of fighting the war, I think it was entirely appreciated by everybody in the districts affected and outside that it was necessary to take over various areas in all parts of England and temporarily to evacuate the inhabitants. So far as I know, in none of these districts did anyone complain. The people packed up their goods and chattels; they left their dwellings, retired into temporary lodgings and looked forward to the time when the enemy was beaten and they could return to their homes. They have been living and waiting ever since. In some cases four years, or perhaps more, has passed. The Germans have been defeated but these people still remain in exile, not because of the Germans but because the Government Departments, in whose word they trusted, still delay in giving up their land. Now a dark suspicion is growing in all these country-sides that they will have to stay in their lodgings permanently. They have appealed again and again through their own local authorities, through the Press and in any way which was open to them, and finally their champions, whom your Lordships have heard this afternoon, have been driven to raise their plight in Parliament, which, after all, is the great guardian of their rights and liberties. This is their final court of appeal, and, if we fail them, these unhappy people have no further hope.

I thought all the noble Lords who spoke this afternoon stated their case with studious moderation, but I feel—and I think there will be general agreement on this—that they have exposed a really dreadful record of delay, of procrastination and of lack of co-ordination of Government Departments, amounting almost to muddle, in various parts of England. We have heard very sad stories about East Anglia and Wiltshire, and I would, if I may, supplement what has been said with an equally tragic story from my own part of the world. I refer to the west end of the Isle of Purbeck. I do not know whether any of your Lordships know that most lovely part of our country. It is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt stretches of countryside in the whole of the south of England. While a very large part of the coast of Sussex, Hampshire and Kent has been marred by unsightly development, by endless eruptions of hideous bungalows which stretch right away along the coast, Purbeck alone has kept its pristine beauty unimpaired. In the folds of its Downs there are some of the most charming villages and exquisite farms and manor houses which can be seen anywhere. It was inhabited by an agricultural and fishing population, most of whose families have lived there for centuries. It is also rich in prehistoric remains. That is the area of which I speak. It is small but perfect, and lying, as it does, between two great seaside towns, Bournemouth and Weymouth, it is singularly accessible to the public, and thousands of people, lovers of beauty, went there before the war. If there is any area which should be preserved for the delectation of the people of England, it is that area. Yet to-day it is falling rapidly into complete rack and ruin. The villages are deserted, the agriculture is decaying and the land has be-come a mere range for tank guns and nothing else.

I feel a little shy about repeating what is the same story, in effect, as has been told by other noble Lords, but I would like to get the fact across to the Government that it is not just one or two individual cases which are being raised but is a thing which is happening in all parts of the country. When the people of the island left in 1942, they received absolute assurances that they would be allowed to return when the emergency was over. They were told by the War Office land agent that their tenancies would be maintained, and notices were served upon them containing these words which I think are very significant: This means that when the War Department has no further use for the property and it is handed back, you have every right to return to the property. It should not be assumed by you that because the War Department has turned you out you lose your right of occupying the premises again. That was the assurance, or one of the assurances, given them. But since then their hope of getting back is rapidly turning to despair. They have made application after application through their local authorities. A good many months ago I myself led a deputation to the Secretary of State for War. I assure noble Lords it was in no sense a deputation of a single interest. It included not only members of local authorities but also the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Co-operative Holidays Association, the National Trust and the National Farmers' Union. It was a very representative deputation. In fact so representative was it that when we entered the room the Secretary of State for War said: "Is this a deputation or a mass meeting?" I should say that one of the members of that deputation was the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who now sits on the other side of the House. We met with a most courteous reception. We were assured that our representations would receive the most earnest consideration; but months have passed since then and nothing has been done.

Is it surprising that the noble Lords who are here this afternoon who feel that we represent the interests of these unhappy people, should have returned to the attack and pressed for some more definite answer? I have no doubt we shall be told again that the matter is under earnest consideration, and no doubt that is quite true. But it is not good enough. We feel that the honour of the British Government is involved, and we must press for something more definite. Of course we recognize, as everybody recognizes, that this question raises real difficulties. I know it is not so simple as it looks. First of all we shall probably be told that no alternative suitable sites are available, and that to move these great military installations would cost a great deal of money. Personally, I refuse to accept either of those arguments. Take first this question of alternative sites. I am quite certain there has been a most careful examination of suitable grounds. But the Service Departments are people who look as far as possible for perfection from the military point of view. I do not say this with any desire to offend, but with them wider considerations do not bulk very large.

If I am not detaining your Lordships too long, I would tell you that I remember very well a comparable case in my part of the world in the earlier part of the war. It was not the War Office in that case, but the Air Ministry that was concerned. The Air Ministry was very anxious to secure an area on the Hampshire and Dorset border for use as a bombing range. This area contains some of the most productive farms to be found in the whole countryside, and also the oldest inhabited settlement in the country—an extremely interesting place from the archaeological point of view. The local people protested violently. They pointed out that there were suitable alternative sites, but they were told that there were none. But they mobilized support for their objections. They got eminent people to write letters to The Times and so on, and finally it turned out that there was a perfectly suitable alternative site only five miles away at Godshill in the New Forest that could be used as a bombing range without involving arty disturbance of agriculture. Moreover, this alternative site was infinitely cheaper to acquire than the land originally chosen. Ultimately, it was taken and bombing practice was carried on there until after the war. I realize, of course, that that is not a complete analogy to these other cases, each of which is probably sui generis, and has special qualities which require consideration. But I give that example because it shows that it is not safe to depend on purely military advice. If military advisers are given the final word you may be sure that they will never budge. This must be a matter for Ministerial decision. It is eminently a case where that is true.

Moreover, if there are no areas in England which, at the present time, are entirely suitable, has consideration been given to the possibility of transferring these training establishments to Germany? After all, we have there, temporarily at any rate, large areas entirely suitable for the purpose, and one would have thought that tank training might well be carried on there, at any rate for the next few years, with very good effect upon our troops and admirable effect upon the German population. I would like to ask the noble Lord who is going to reply whether that alternative has been considered.

I would also like to say one word about the argument that it would cost too much. That, if I may say so without impertinence, is an argument that is always used when all others fail. I do not believe that it is valid in the present case. After all, we found a very considerable sum of money to restore the homes of the gallant people of Malta, and what we can do for the people of Malta, we can surely do for our own people here at home. It would be a very melancholy comment on the national conscience if our own people were the only ones who were deprived of any redress in this matter. I confess that I feel very strongly upon this question. It is a question of elementary justice which must, I think, appeal to all noble Lords in whatever part of the House they sit. I cannot say how strongly I feel. I know these people of whom I am speaking, as other noble Lords who have spoken know their own people.

At one time I had the privilege of representing these people in Parliament. They are the very salt of the earth; they are patient and patriotic. Now that they appeal to us in their extremity, we must not fail them.

This is the first occasion on which we have had a full-dress debate in your Lordships' House upon this important subject. Personally, if I may be allowed to give a word of advice to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, I would say that although I consider he has made an unanswerable case, I think he would be unwise to press the matter to a Division this afternoon, because I feel it is only fair to give the Government a chance to put things right. But I would like to give the Minister fair warning. We do not merely want a sympathetic reply; we want a helpful reply, and if we do not get satisfaction we shall table another Motion, to be considered after the Recess, and then we will not hold our hands. Justice is on the side of the unhappy people in these areas. We mean to see, and I hope the whole House means to see, that, so far as lies in our power, justice shall be done.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I had no intention of taking part in this debate, but after hearing what has just been said I feel that I must supplement it by giving an experience from another part of the country. I have just been sitting for nine days upstairs on a Select Committee dealing with the beaches between Shoreham and Worthing. At a point on these beaches there had been a little town before the war. This town was taken over by the War Department in the year 1939. I have, myself, been twice to see it—that was part of my duty as Chairman of the Select Committee. I have never seen anything, even a battlefield, so deplorable. It is covered with every sort of military debris, great rolls of wire, caissons filled with cement, broken military machines.

Houses have been razed to the ground, not by Germans, but by our own people, and the Law Officers of the Crown have advised that that is not war damage. If the Germans had done it, it would have been war damage. As our own people have done it, it is not. Many of the people who live there are not yet reinstated. They are left in a position in which they are unable to attempt to rebuild or recondition their houses. All they are told, when they apply for some clearance for reinstatement, is that it is the business of the War Department, and possibly it may be the business later on of the Ministry of Works. I really do commend to the notice of the Minister this particular area, which was formerly full of people who cannot now go there to live, and who at present have no apparent prospect of ever having their places put into decent order again.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, let me say at once that I have listened with the fullest regard to everything which has been said by noble Lords this afternoon, and I have found it a sobering experience. I must make it clear that whilst I appreciate to the full the grave pre-occupation of noble Lords who have spoken, and of others who have not, with regard to this subject, that pre-occupation has been a main factor in the minds of the Government also. Since they came into office, they have been oppressed throughout by the gravity of a situation in which so much of the land of these islands has been set aside for the purpose of military training and martial requirements, and at not being able to return it as promptly as would be wished. So marked was the anxiety of the Secretary of State upon this matter that, within a relatively few weeks of the coming into office of the present Government, I was, myself, charged by him with the responsibility of surveying the whole situation with a view to establishing some principles as to future requirements and forming some judgment as to what those future requirements might be, on the footing, of course, that everything that was surplus to those requirements would be returned to the public as soon as might be.

With your Lordships' permission, I propose not to limit myself to the narrow subject matter of the Motion before your Lordships as it appears on the Order Paper, but to tell you the lines upon which we have proceeded and the stage which we have reached. I set before myself, in the examinations which were entrusted to me, two principles. The first, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the War Office, was that the Army must have the necessary land, both in acreage and in kind and quality, that it requires for the essential purpose of making it an efficient Army. And the second principle that I, as a member of the Government, enumerated, was that the Army must not have a single acre more than it requires for the purpose of enabling it to become an efficient Army. Those two propositions, I think, will have the general assent of your Lordships at large.

Now as to procedure. Every area for which the military authorities have a responsibility has been examined over a period of time and on certain assumptions—for we were bound to make assumptions—as to the size, form, shape, and general characteristics of the Army of tomorrow. Making certain assumptions, we have formed conclusions as to what are the minimum requirements of the Army in the post-war world. I think it will interest your Lordships to know that in round figures the "peak" holding of land in this country during the war was about 11,500,000 acres, a very large area relatively to the all too small area of these islands in which so much had to be done. At the latest date for which I have figures available, March 31, upwards of 9,000,000 acres, or over 80 per cent. of that land, had been returned to its owners. I have not yet the figures for the three months ending June 30, but the figure I have quoted shows that appreciably less than 20 per cent. of the holding to which I have referred remains in the charge of the War Department. But of that 20 per cent., which amounts to rather less than 3,000,000 acres, approximately 2,200,000 acres are held under Defence Regulation 52. Under this Regulation the owner is not displaced either from his home or from the use of his land, but the Army has certain rights of user concurrently with the owner.

I think that your Lordships may care to know the area of land which is actually requisitioned for all purposes, that is, requisitioned under D.R.51. It is to this area that the land referred to by each noble Lord, except the noble Viscount, Lord Long, relates. Under Defence Regulation 51 there was held under requisitioning on March 31 just over 400,000 acres. And, broadly speaking, it is within that figure of 400,000 acres of requisitioned land, quite a small proportion of the land held under Defence Regulation 52, that this very important and grave question arises.


Am I to understand that the whole of the area to which we have been referring is only 400,000 acres? Because it seems to me a remarkably small acreage.


I should not like the noble Viscount to be misled. What I said was that at the moment, under Defence Regulation 52, we hold just over 2,000,000 acres; we hold full rights under Defence Regulation 51 over only 426,000 acres.


Might I ask, does that include Scotland?


Those figures include Scotland. It is only under Defence Regulation 51 that these battle training areas can be held.


Defence Regulation 52 merely covers training areas?


Defence Regulation 52 is the one which gives us the right of user; we do not displace the occupants. Take, for example, Stanford. A large part of that is held under Defence Regulation 52, but part of it is also held under Defence Regulation 51. The point I was presenting to your Lordships in particular was that upwards of 80 per cent. of the Army holding under all headings has already been given up. I want to ask your Lordships to follow me in considering the problem with which we are confronted. I will deal in the course of my observations with each of the specified areas that have been mentioned to-day, and perhaps I may be allowed to say at this point that I have visited each of the areas mentioned in order to see the exact position for myself. Obviously—and I think no noble Lord will question it—there must be some areas reserved for the training of the Army. The areas required to-day differ considerably, both in kind and in dimensions, from those of the past.

In the past we relied very largely on the use of the Manœuvre Acts. Your Lordships will be glad to know that it is unlikely that any considerable use will need to be made of the Manœuvre Acts in future for the purposes of encroachment upon lands where on occasion a not unappreciable amount of damage, harm and inconvenience was occasioned. The requirements of a modern mobile army include the necessity for training in tank warfare, with all the manœuvrability that is involved in tank warfare, and training with combined arms. The areas of land required for training of that kind are very extensive indeed. There is a separate question as to the number of such areas.


In order that the House may understand the position—of course, there will be all these other considerations—the real question is whether that area should be in this country or in Germany.


I think that question was put to me by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition. I shall certainly answer that question, and if I should omit to do so, no doubt the noble Lord will remind me. Certainly I will deal with it. Any particular area has to be an extensive area. Where it shall be and how many areas there shall be is a separate question. There is similarly the question of ranges. The range of modern weapons is such that careful consideration has to be given beforehand to those areas which are required for training men in the use of the guns. Even in Purbeck, to which I will come later, which is used for tank and anti-tank gunfire, with the range of those guns, the area that has to be provided is some 17,000 yards, whereas for even medium artillery the length of the range, to say nothing of its lateral boundaries, must be upwards of 30,000 yards. Those are dimensions which are extremely formidable, and it is quite obvious within this island it will be impossible to find more than a limited number.

The question of training overseas therefore arises, and I certainly have considered this most carefully. When I emphasize that I have considered it most carefully I do so because I must make it clear that no decision has yet been taken upon that subject, and I must not commit the Government until they have had an opportunity of giving that material, which has been collected for their consideration, the most ample consideration. There are certainly cogent arguments in favour of such training overseas in certain areas. There are also most cogent arguments, as always, against it. It will be for the Government at the earliest opportunity to reach a decision upon that matter, always bearing in mind that the primary consideration which they must keep before themselves is the safety of the realm, and the primary consideration in this connexion is whether the safety of the realm can be ensured if this course were adopted. That is a matter which must be considered in all its aspects.

I imagine that if it should be decided to carry out such training in Germany, it will not be for an indefinite period, and a most relevant consideration to bear in mind is that, when the moment comes to train in this country, it is essential that land of the correct dimensions and in the right locations shall be available for training and shall not have been applied to other purposes which make training impossible. So far as ranges are concerned, the areas required are so formidable that the advice of our scientific advisers has been sought. They have considered, and are considering, what means can be adopted to restrict or reduce the necessity for ranges of such length. For instance, there is the possibility which from this point of view would have enormous advantages in saving land, of having your gunsite in one position, and firing over an intervening area not owned by the Government and not requisitioned into an impact area which would be all that would be required for the purposes of the Army.


So long as you got a bull's eye.


The problem to be considered is that there are "shorts" and there is also the human factor, of faulty laying of the sights. There is bound to be a certain risk. One matter on which we are at present engaged is measuring that risk. When we are fully advised as to the measure of that risk it will then be for the Government to take a decision as to whether or not that is justified.


Could not some of that intervening space be over seas—over, say, the Solway Firth or the Bristol Channel or something like that?


That is certainly one of the considerations to be taken into account. It may very well be that within a limited area that would afford some contribution to the solution of this problem. I merely put to noble Lords some of the considerations that have to be borne in mind in deciding what are the future necessary requirements of the Armed Forces. Another consideration is that if we hand over or derequisition a particular area of land, not only is there considerable liability attached in the payment of compensation which, from the point of view of the public pocket, might be more economically dealt with by way of purchase of the land, but it may be that some other area would have to be taken in exchange, involving the displacement of inhabitants who have hitherto not been displaced. This would merely mean on balance the displacement of one set of inhabitants instead of another.

I hope the noble Viscount will be interested to know the course which has been adopted. So far as the Army is concerned, we have plotted on a map the whole of the areas which, on certain assumptions as to the future of the Army, we consider we might require as a maximum—not as a minimum. There are included in that maximum certain alternatives. That map was completed some two months ago, and has been submitted to the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who is charged with the duty of settling inter-departmentally the use to which the land of these islands is to be put, not only for martial purposes but for all the purposes of town and country planning, of agriculture and the like. There should emerge from consideration of this map, produced with great care by the War Office, the other Service Departments and also the Civil. Departments, an adjustment showing how the land of this country should best be used for the purpose of meeting the various requirements which have to be met.

It is very difficult to put these matters into words sufficiently descriptive, but I have arranged for the map to be available to your Lordships in Committee Room A. I shall be delighted to show that map to any of your Lordships who are sufficiently interested and, together with my advisers, to give any explanations I am competent to give. I am entirely at your Lordships' disposal, and the whole of the information available to the War Office will be available to you. I hope your Lordships will feel that that is a contribution towards an understanding of the position which has been adopted by the War Office, a position which is dominated by the idea that the Army, whilst having as much as it ought to have, should have no more than it needs.

There are one or two questions which have been raised dealing with general matters to which I might be allowed to refer before I come to what I know your Lordships, like myself, are anxious that I should come, namely, the particular areas. The noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, mentioned the question of land near Shoreham. He will, I know forgive me if I say that I had no notification that he was going to raise that question. He was under no obligation to give me notification, but I am not myself sufficiently familiar without inquiry to make any useful comment upon that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone—whom I am proud to acknowledge as a predecessor in the office which I now hold—touched me deeply when he spoke of the feeling of the people towards the Army. It would be a thousand pities at this time, when there is so much need for reinforcing the Army with new blood and when a recruiting campaign is on foot, if any feeling were to gain currency that the Army was doing otherwise than it wishes to do, namely, in every respect to deserve well of the people. He raised the question of the beaches of the South Coast, as I understand.


All round the coast.


The position is that the ordinary shore obstructions in the seaside towns from the Humber to Lands End are being cleared. They are being cleared by the local authorities, acting as agents for the War Office. In most cases schemes have been approved, but the speed with which they can be carried into effect depends upon the particular local authority. The clearance of mines and other dangerous objects (I think it was a dangerous object, to some extent, to which the noble Lord referred) is carried out by the War Office as quickly as possible, bearing in mind what we always have to bear in mind, the shortage of skilled man-power for work of that kind. A large proportion of the beaches has already been cleared of mines. The remainder is the most difficult to clear, and I cannot give a reliable forecast for the completion of the work. The whole of the west coast, and practically the whole of the northern coasts are cleared. The difficult parts are certain sections in East Anglia and on the south coast. German prisoners of war are at present being trained to help in this work, and some have actually started work. I hope it may be possible to increase their numbers and thereby speed up the completion of this work.


Before the noble Lord leaves that question, I would like to point out that local authorities can do this work in the towns, and they have been able to carry it out. The trouble is in regard to the lonely beaches, which are not at all lonely in August, where they simply cannot do it. They have begged me to intervene, and it is at their request that I speak to-day. If nothing is done in the next few weeks (it would take only a few days if the whole Army went at it) very bad accidents will occur. There are no doctors in these lonely places, and there will be an outcry against the Army.


I have taken note of what the noble Lord has said, and the suggestion he makes shall have attention, as I recognize the summer season is upon us. I now come to the actual areas to which reference has been made, each of which, as I have said, I have taken an opportunity of visiting myself. The Imber area, which has been the subject of discussion on previous occasions in your Lordships' House at the instance of the noble Viscount, stands on a rather different footing for the purposes of today's debate from the other areas. The Imber area is War Office property. The noble Viscount did refer to various matters to which he attached considerable importance, and to which I should have liked to reply. The noble Viscount knows I am always very anxious and ready to answer as fully and freely as I can the questions that are put to me. I feel sure, however, that he will appreciate I have not had sufficient notice of the question to enable me to reply. I do not think I need pursue that except to say that since I received a note of his questions early this morning the telephones have been busy but I am still not in a position to give what he or I would consider to be a suitable reply. That does not mean that his questions are left in abeyance. It is open to him either to raise the matter in your Lordships' House again or, if he would prefer it, to allow me to write to him with the answers.


Surely there is one question that can be answered on the floor of your Lordships' House. Are the promises to be redeemed or are they not? I should have thought the answer to that question was quite clear, and if it is not answered the people are bound to say, and rightly so, that the Government are not going to keep their promises. I do beg of the noble Lord not to treat this question of promises as lightly as that.


The noble Viscount does me less than justice. I said I was unable to answer the questions of detail which he had put to me, and I should never regard a promise as a question of detail. With regard to this particular question of Imber (and in this I am limiting myself to Imber), whilst I know that the noble Viscount would not make that assertion with regard to promises unless he had what he felt to be the most complete evidence of those promises having been made, in my recollection, in none of the discussions that have hitherto taken place with regard to Imber has any suggestion been made that such promises have been given; nor indeed would it be consistent with the fact that Imber is a War Office property and that the terms of the leases of the tenants are such as to preclude any such promises being made to them. If the noble Viscount has in mind some who were not on the Imber property, then I shall be very interested to know who they may have been.


These very people were at Imber. It is useless for the noble Lord to say that no promises could have been made. The promise was made to a mass meeting of the tenants at Imber in 1943 by the G.S.O.I of Southern Command, repeated by him again at Warminster and finally at Devizes by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command. The promise was made to the very people interested in that very area.


I am sure the noble Viscount would not make that statement unless he felt he had good grounds for it, but I am bound to say that until this debate no suggestion has, to my knowledge, been made about any promise having been given in regard to Imber; and it would indeed, as I have said, be wholly inconsistent with the terms upon which the tenants of Imber hold their property. Like the noble Viscount opposite, I warmly welcome the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walsingham. I hope that we may often have the advantage of his contributions to our discussions. The noble Lord referred to a promise or undertaking having been given. I concede, I agree, and I endorse the statement that some undertaking or promise was given. Of course, neither the rights nor the obligations of the citizen can either be extended or attenuated by a promise if the promise goes beyond the Statute which may be involved, but a promise made is a factor to which the most serious consideration must be given with a view to implementing it, even though it should purport to extend rights beyond those given by Statute or to restrict rights more than is permitted by Statute.


May I interrupt the noble Lord to say that the Defence Regulations under which these properties were taken were only to last until the end of the Emergency? There had not then been passed the recent Act of Parliament—


I do not think any of your Lordships will find yourselves in disagreement with what I am going to say.


I think we want to get this clear. I do not even yet quite understand what the noble Lord means. To me a promise is a promise. If a G.O.C.-in-C. comes down to a district and says, "I give you an undertaking that you shall come back," the fact that it does not conform with Order in Council No. 325, or whatever it may be, does not carry any weight with me at all. The fellow has given a promise, and that is all there is to it. I think the people of the district have a perfect right to assume that he is speaking as a representative of the authority of the Government and to regard it as a promise on the part of the Government. No Order in Council annuls that promise.


Far from dissenting from what the noble Viscount has said, that is what I was wishing to say to the noble Lord, Lord Walsingham. The fact that a promise has been made is of course a factor that must be taken into consideration by the Government.


It is not a factor; it is a fact.


Certainly, it is a fact Which must be taken into consideration by the Government, even though the promise was made by a preceding Government. I am not for one moment questioning either the fact that the promise was made or its validity when made.


May I ask the noble Lord if that somewhat extraordinary definition of a promise also applies to the Orford battle area?


It will certainly be to my convenience, and I think greatly to the convenience of your Lordships, if I may be allowed to take these areas separately. I promise the noble Lord that I will fulfil my undertaking to deal with each of the areas separately. I have rather different things to say with regard to them. I hope I have made it clear, as I wish to do, that a promise which has been made is, irrespective of the statutory position, a fact, and that this Government recognize this fact even though they were not responsible for the promise that was made. Can I he more explicit than that?


I think it is only fair to the noble Lord to say that the leaders of this Government were members of the Government which made the promise.


Certainly. I am not in the least trying to run away from the promise. I am trying (it would appear a little unskilfully) to show that there is a promise which the Government recognize as having been made as a promise. With regard to the Stanford area, I am not in a position at this moment to make a definite statement as to the manner in which or the time when that promise can be implemented. Indeed, in the light of that promise to which reference has been made the Government will be bound necessarily to take into consideration all the circumstances of the time and to have regard to the requirements of the public interest and safety. I am unable to say anything definite to the noble Lord this afternoon on the subject of Stanford, except that of course the representations which he has made and the facts as to undertakings given by the Government to which I have referred, are matters of the first moment to be taken into consideration. I should like to take this opportunity of saying to and of the noble Lord that the War Office has every reason to be grateful to the noble Lord who has exercised his great prestige and authority in the part of Norfolk where he lives in support of the public interest at a time when it was of the utmost importance that that should be done. It is a tribute to the noble Lord that those amongst whom he lives and those who live as his neighbours have followed so patriotically the lead which he gave them.

The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, asked me whether I was to speak of Orford which is the subject of the Motion initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, was Deputy Regional Commissioner at the relevant time and, as in the case of Lord Walsingham, so I should wish to be allowed in the case of the noble Earl to express the deepest appreciation of the services which he rendered in the part of Suffolk where he lives. A promise was made with regard to Orford. There is no question about it and there is no qualification that I wish to make. I myself the other day saw the village of Sudbourne which I think is the village from which so many of the villagers came. I am glad to be able to tell the noble Earl to-day that we are in a position to release the area of Orford which comprises the village of Sudbourne. I believe I am correct in saying that the whole of the area, the forthcoming release of which I am now announcing, comprises the whole of those to whom promises were made. I am making no restrictions so far as the village is concerned.

There are certain outside areas however in Orford which at present—although I am hopeful for the future—we are unable to release. The reason for that I think will be of interest and will indicate some of the difficulties with which the Government are confronted in this matter. As far as the military authorities are concerned they are prepared to release also the other part of the Orford area, having already as I say expressed their willingness to release the village. But the only other area which we have so far been able to find to which we could move our installations from Orford is land which we should in any case have to purchase, and it is land now being put to good agricultural use. The question therefore which at this moment we have to take into account, is whether we should move—even if we can get it—to land where agriculture is being pursued to the great national advantage. That does not affect those to whom promises were made. They will go back to their homes and I hope that they will find them as comfortable as may be and that when they return to them they will live happy lives there, remembering the patriotism and the patience with which they have sustained these past arduous years.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but it is a little bit complicated. Is he suggesting he should move certain installations from what I may call the D.R.51 area to the D.R. 52 area outside?


I do not think I can answer the question in that form, because I am not familiar with it in that form.


It is of little use letting the people go back to their homes if you still retain their means of livelihood. It is not an exaggeration.


I am not suggesting it is an exaggeration. I am not trying to be clever with the noble Earl.


I am not suggesting the noble Lord is.


My intention is to tell the noble Earl that promises which were made will be fulfilled.


And I am profoundly grateful. There are three battle areas to which I referred. There is the Stanford one with which the noble Lord has dealt, there is the Orford area with which the noble Lord has dealt, and the third is Dunwich, a very much smaller one which I mentioned to him when he was kind enough to see me the other day. Perhaps the noble Lord would rather look into that point.


I think the noble Earl will have to be good enough to let me look into the question. The noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, spoke with great fervour and feeling with regard to Purbeck. I fully understand his feelings. As a stranger not living in that part of the world but having been a visitor both in my private capacity as well as my public capacity, I can well understand the feelings which he has for that most beautiful part of our countryside. Although it was no doubt inevitable at the time, as one looks back it is perhaps regrettable that that beautiful area was set aside for the more brutal purpose of preparing men for use of weapons on the battlefield. The Army would be only too glad to release Purbeck, and I hope that the time may not be too distant when that release can be made. I am speaking now of the whole area to which the noble Viscount was referring. If there were an alternative area we should be very willing to go there. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said you must not take the advice of the military authorities alone in these matters as regards alternatives and I will bear that prominently in mind. We have to regard this matter not only from the military point of view but from the second standpoint which I enunciated earlier, the standpoint of the interests of the country as a whole.

But the noble Viscount will, of course, appreciate—because he has held high responsibilities—that the training must meanwhile go on. One of the difficulties arises from the fact that there are very large and important installations at Purbeck, the demolition of which and replacement elsewhere, I am advised, would involve the expenditure of some £4,000,000. I agree with what the noble Viscount said in the course of his observations, to the effect that money ought not to be the deciding factor in a matter of this kind. I merely mention the fact that these very large sums have to be taken into consideration. What is important, as standing in the way of release, is that if we were to find the alternative site—a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has referred—there would be no possibility, in view of the present shortage of building materials and labour and the like, of our replacing the installations. But I can certainly say to the noble Viscount that we should regard the finding of an alternative site to Purbeck and the return of that beautiful area to the purposes for which nature ordained it, as amongst the first of our priorities.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said, but I wish to get the position absolutely clear. Am I now receiving an absolute assurance that Purbeck will be evacuated but that the date is uncertain? Or is the noble Lord saying: "If we can find another site, we may evacuate Purbeck"? What I want him to say is: "We will evacuate," even if he cannot give me the date. He has referred to the extensive installations. I believe I am right in saying—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that some of those installations were put up after the protests of the inhabitants began and representations had been made to the War Office.


They certainly have not been put up since the time I took office. They have not been put up since the present Government came into power. I do not know exactly when representations were first made. In reply to what the noble Viscount has just said, I am certain that with good will, and seeking an alternative site with affirmative minds, an alternative site can be found. Whilst I cannot give the noble Viscount a firm assurance of a positive character without referring to my right honourable friend, I can certainly tell him this: that we shall, with affirmative minds, look for an alternative site which would answer our purpose; that I feel confident that, looking in that spirit, it will be possible to find an alternative site, and that we shall pursue that course with a view to Purbeck being released. We share the anxiety of the noble Viscount that Purbeck should be released, and perhaps the best assurance I can give him, and the one which should be most satisfactory to him, is that we want to release Purbeck.

I am hopeful that I have been able to deal with the various questions that have been raised; with some of them, I trust, to the satisfaction of all of your Lordships, and with some perhaps to the satisfaction of some of your Lordships. I realize that in a matter of this kind, very naturally, profound feeling is aroused. I want to make it abundantly clear that the Government is not only conscious of the feelings of your Lordships, but that they share those feelings. Their anxiety and their desire is to make it clear that they intend to pursue a course which will result in overcoming the hostility which Lord Mottistone, somewhat to my surprise, told me was growing. It is a course which we hope will ensure that the country as a whole recognizes that the Army regards itself as a part of the larger whole, and that the Government are working in all things for the benefit of the larger whole.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, although I am very greatly interested in this subject. Only a few weeks ago I had the privilege of presiding at a meeting in London organized by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the National Parks Committee, at which protests were made by representatives from many parts of the country at the refusal of the War Office and the Air Ministry to release some of the most beautiful areas in the land. I was not proposing to speak on that to-day, because so many of your Lordships had specific cases to bring forward and the general case was completely made out by them. But I have felt compelled to rise to my feet owing to the reply which has been given by the noble Lord, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, a reply which leaves the matter, as far as I can see, precisely where it was before, except that we are to be shown a map which indicates the maximum areas which the War Office may require in the future. If the noble Lord would exhibit to us a map showing the minimum areas even which the War Office would release at once, we should be much more interested. But there is not even the factor of a promise of that kind.

The noble Lord omitted, I think, one or two important considerations. For example, with regard to the areas required in this country for training, he said, very properly, that of course we must have the areas necessary to train an efficient Army. All your Lordships would agree to that. No one would think for a moment that the House of Lords would in any way wish to hinder the military or other authorities in the use of such facilities as the case absolutely demands. But when the noble Lord takes credit for the fact that 80 per cent. of the peak area has already been released, that leaves me completely unimpressed. At the time when the peak area was reached, we had an enormous army of our own forces here, and an even larger part of the American Army, all of which has gone away now. The war is over, and the work of training is reduced to much smaller proportions. In these circumstances 80 per cent. of the peak area does not mean much.

The question is not how much has been released, but how much has been retained? Lord Nathan also said that modern warfare demands the use of very large areas for training men in the use of the weapons of to-day. But does that not involve re-consideration of the whole matter, so far as the possibility of finding within these islands adequate areas for the purpose is concerned? The noble Lord never even mentioned the project put forward in the Press and elsewhere, that a great part of training, at all events in these particular weapons, should be carried out in the Dominions. During the war, our Air Force and the Air Forces of the whole Commonwealth were very largely trained in Canada. If that had not been done, think of the extreme difficulties that might have been encountered in training those Air Forces within these islands. Ought we not to consider the possibility of a very large part of the future training of our Armed Forces being carried out either in Canada or in other parts of the Empire? This would have certain disadvantages, it may be, in the matter of communication, but, on the other hand, it would have very great advantages in helping to cement the Empire together by enabling many of our young men to have experience of conditions in various parts of the Commonwealth.

That was not even mentioned by the noble Lord. If he had said: "We are now going into the whole of this question as a matter of extreme urgency, and we hope to decide within a month which of the areas now retained shall be released" I think the House would have been more pleased than it feels at this moment. I felt that there was no sense of urgency whatsoever when the noble Lord was speaking. He said that this matter had been a preoccupation of the Government ever since they came into power a year ago. Apparently it is likely to remain a preoccupation of the Government for several years to come. That is not what is desired.

I understand the reason of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, for suggesting that there should not be a Division to-day. I do not know what conversations may have taken place on that matter, but I do suggest that a Motion should be made in the very near future asking for Papers, not as a mere form but to secure that they shall be presented to show quite definitely what areas are retained all over the country by all three of the Service Ministries, and also by other Government Departments, if any areas have been taken by them for war purposes. I would suggest that that schedule should be completed within a very short time, and that in a column attached to each item there should be a clear statement as to whether these areas are to be released or not; and if not, for what reasons. Furthermore, I suggest that an entry might be made in each case to show how far pledges were given to the people of the locality that the land would be released. And if those pledges are not to be fulfilled, I should like to know what are the overwhelming reasons that prevent their fulfilment.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am not entitled to speak again, but arising from what the noble Viscount has said, I would recall that I gave some advice to the House at the end of my speech. I do not depart from that advice. I said that this was the first time this subject had been raised in a full debate, and I thought it only fair to the Government that they should have a chance of putting the matter right. Without departing from that I must say that I am profoundly discouraged by the answer which we have had, and I should have no hesitation in encouraging the noble Earl to put down another Motion as soon as may he. Next time, perhaps, we shall not be so moderate.


My Lords, I do not think either that I am entitled to speak a second time but perhaps I might say, following the noble Viscount's remarks, that so far as the allocation of land is concerned it is not being considered purely as a War Office matter. It is being considered under the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, as an inter-Departmental matter, so that a complete statement may be available. If the noble Viscount or any other noble Lords will come to Committee Room A at their convenience I shall be glad to show them what has been clone. I venture to think that they may be somewhat surprised at the amount that has been done, and the speed with which it has so far been achieved. I am obliged to the noble Viscount for referring to the question of training in the Dominions. I allowed myself to be a little restricted by what the noble Viscount opposite said, because he asked me specifically about Germany. I should have added that the whole question of training in the Dominions, as well as in Germany and overseas, is under consideration. May I add, finally, that I will take full account of what has been said to-day. And I hope that on the next occasion your Lordships will treat me with the same consideration as you have done to-day.


My Lords, I must confess that I listened to the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, with mixed feelings. I am a humane man, and my first feeling was one of sympathy for the noble Lord at having to bat on such a sticky wicket. Naturally I am glad to hear that one of these areas is to be released, but I am exceedingly sorry to hear that he cannot give us such an assurance about them all. And I am more than disturbed that he gave us no really good reason for saying that the other areas could not be returned. To my mind he rather glozed over the fact that some of us gave pledges on behalf of the Government, and that those pledges are not receiving the consideration which they should. Nor do I feel that the noble Lord can claim that his Department have proceeded with the expedition which they should. He told us that the completed plans were sent to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning two months ago. That was nearly a year after the end of the war with Germany, and it does seem to me that with all the facts which should have been at his disposal the Government might have reached that decision a little more quickly.

I hope that the noble Lord, the Under-Secretary of State for War, will impress upon the Ministry of Town and Country Planning that this is not merely a question of the right of access by holiday makers to some beautiful parts of the country. The real point at issue is that the Department is dealing with flesh and blood, with live communities, villages and hamlets, and with the people in them who are wanting to return to their homes. The matter cannot be looked upon with what I may call the cold, artistic, town and country planning outlook. It is the people themselves who are at stake, and I would ask the noble Lord to remember that. In all the circumstances, I beg have to withdraw the Motion, although I hope that I shall have an opportunity of putting it down later.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, after what has been said by my noble friend the Earl of Cranbrook and by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, I shall say little more. But perhaps I might be allowed to explain that the reason I have never mentioned these promises in this House before was that they were originally referred to in the Press nearly a year ago, and I thought they were well known. Since then, on Sunday last, I had that confirmed. I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, the Under-Secretary of State for War, for the personal way he has dealt with my matter, but I am very disappointed. I feel that if two Ministries cannot agree it is unlikely that three will. Under the circumstances, I do not propose to move the Motion standing in my name.