HL Deb 27 October 1955 vol 194 cc75-108

3.14 p.m.

LORD POLWARTH rose to call attention to the proposal to establish a guided missile range in the Hebrides; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, almost a year ago, when I had the honour to move the Address in Reply to the gracious Speech, I quoted these words from the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the crofting industry: These communities maintain a precarious existence on the Atlantic fringe of our industrial society. Just how precarious an existence for some we did not realise until the announcement in another place on July 27 of the Government's proposal to establish a guided weapons training range in the Hebrides. Many of your Lordships will be familiar with the proposals as outlined so far, but perhaps I should refresh your memories upon some of the salient points of the statement because they are most relevant here to-day. Existing ranges for guided weapon firing are fully used for development work and therefore a special range must be provided to give operational training to troops in their use. The range must be in this country because of problems of maintenance and to avoid absence of front line troops for unduly long. The only suitable area in the United Kingdom is the Hebrides with the range-head on the Island of South Uist and with facilities on neighbouring islands for flying piloted and target aircraft. Assurances were given about safety of life and shipping, about limiting the area of land to be acquired, about compensation, and, indeed, about the benefits which the scheme would bring to the Islands.

Such was the essence of the statement, and Parliament rose without having had an opportunity to discuss it, so it is hardly surprising that there developed a crop of doubts and rumours which were hardly allayed by subsequent Ministerial statements (for they added little to the original one) but which indeed were encouraged by the news of the annexation of that strangest of all outposts of Empire, the pinnacle of Rockall. Meetings of protest have been called, as your Lordships may have learnt from the Press. There has been much correspondence in the Press, some of it well informed, but much more of it less so. Much of the uncertainty, however, I believe, could have been avoided had the Government at an earlier stage taken into their confidence both the local authorities concerned and also the owners of the land. I understand that the owner of much of the land in South Uist received notification of this project only a few hours before the announcement was made in another place. Not only that, but I believe that the Government could have received much valuable assistance from the authorities and the landowners. My object in putting down this Motion is to give the Government the opportunity now to make as full a statement as possible of their intentions—of course within the limits of security—and to point out one or two of the effects, as I see it, which this scheme will have.

As for the opposition to this scheme, I believe that, with the exception of those islanders who see their own land or livelihood directly affected, it comes almost entirely from those who know the Islands only as visitors or not at all. I feel bound to say, as a result of a visit which I recently made to the Islands, that the majority of the local inhabitants seem at least to acquiesce in what is being done. I think many feel that it is a foregone conclusion that the scheme will go ahead, whatever is done. The fact is that they have not the necessary information on which to make a balanced judgment.

I know that it is easy to become sentimental and romantic about the Islands. I felt the spell myself when I flew up there last week on a fine bright autumn morning and looked down from the air on the countless little lochs—almost more water than land—and landed to smell the peat smoke and hear the Gaelic tongue. The fact is that there is not much romance about being a crofter; there can be few harder ways of earning a living. Indeed, some folk. would go to the opposite extreme and say that such a hard and primitive way of life cannot be worth preserving, so why worry about a rocket range at all? But 1 cannot accept that view either: nor indeed does Parliament, for it is only a few months since there was placed on the Statute hook the Crofters' Act, the purpose of which is to instil new life into the crofting communities. If it is proved to the hilt—and I will deal with this matter later—that the range must be in the Hebrides and on these particular islands, then I am sure that the inhabitants, whatever their personal sacrifices, will accept them as their contribution to the needs of national defence. But I think it would be wrong for the Government to be unaware of some of the problems involved.

Your Lordships may wonder why there is concern that this particular place has been chosen rather than any other in the Islands. The answer is that South Uist and Benbecula are comparatively one of the most prosperous crofting areas. They have a generous proportion of that land which is known in the islands as machair—the flat land near the sea composed of myriads of crushed sea shells, which alone will provide for growing crops and good grazing. From the activities to date of the surveyors who have been investigating, it appears that this is the very land which will be required for the range installations—though the extent is still completely unknown. I only ask the Government to limit the area demanded to the very minimum and not to allow the Service Departments to follow that common Service principle of always asking for twice as much as they expect to receive. I ask the Government to give the maximum notice to the crofters on the land to be taken, so that they can make the necessary arrangements to dispose of any livestock which they will need to get rid of, in a reasonable market and not by forced sale.

Then there are two flourishing local industries which give that extra employment so badly needed to raise the standard of living of the crofters above the bare level of subsistence. The first is the weaving of tweed in the area where the rangehead is projected. There is quite a little weaving industry. There are over seventy looms, about half of them in a small tweed mill and the other half out in the crofters' houses, which turned out last year some £30,000 worth of fine tweed, much of it for export. The other industry is the processing of seaweed. At Loch Bois-dale, in South Uist, there is a factory which employs forty men permanently and over 200 men in the islands collecting seaweed in their spare time, for which they are paid £1 a ton. Last year the turnover of this industry was in the neighbourhood of £50,000.

Both these industries fear the coming of the range, and I think with some reason, because they foresee, during the period of construction, the contractors coming in and paying exorbitantly high wages, as is common with these projects, and here all the higher because of the remoteness of the site. There is no pool of available labour in the islands. In South Uist and Benbecula at the end of August there were only seventy-six men on the books of the labour exchange, which in that district is purely a nominal figure. They see their own labour being tempted away from these industries by the high wages offered during the period of construction. In a year or two that work will be over, and we know from Government statements that afterwards it is expected that only a small number of the local inhabitants will be employed in connection with the project. Then these men will be left without an industry to return to, because it is very doubtful, if they are lost to these local industries for a period of a year or two, whether the industries will be able to carry on.

One point stressed in the official statements is the material benefits which the scheme will bring to the island. Certainly it will bring money—there is no doubt about that—and on that account many of the local inhabitants view the scheme with favour but I do not think too much stress should be laid on the other improvements. The main roads on the islands are already of a reasonable standard, and when the scheme is started they will suffer very heavy wear from the extra traffic. Sonic of the side roads may be improved, but probably only those leading to the range installations. Work on the North Ford Causeway, that vital link between the islands of Benbecula and North Uist, is already scheduled to be started next year. Here again is another claim on any available labour.

This is no dying district, like some in the North-west of Scotland. When I was up there last week I saw new houses being built, electricity mains going up and water pipes being laid. There are many other places in the Highlands and Islands which could do with these services. These are all points which I ask the Government to bear in mind if, as I said before, it is proved to the hilt that the range must be sited here. I feel most strongly that the onus is on the Government to prove their case beyond the bare statements which they have made so far.

My noble friend Lord Elibank has already put a Question on the other sites which have been surveyed in connection with this scheme, and as I have no doubt that he will receive an answer in the course of the debate I will not pursue that aspect. I should like to go a step further and ask the Government to think again whether they are justified in establishing a range within the small confines of this island at all. Some of your Lordships may have seen an admirable letter in The Times newspaper of September 20 from a distinguished Marshal of the Royal Air Force, in which he advocated that the range should be established overseas, possibly in North Africa, as a joint project of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries, who would contribute to the cost and use it in rotation. At a time like this, when economy is being urged in every field, not excluding the field of defence, this would seem only common sense. Such a scheme would have other advantages. I wonder, for instance, for how many months in the year the experts think the Hebridean climate will make the use of the range possible. I doubt whether it will be more than five or six. I also wonder whether the surveyors who have been so hard at work, staking out the ground with pegs and flags, realise that this is the end of the dryest summer for many years and that the state of the ground might have been very different in a normal year and will be very different in winter.

Then again, at the present rate of progress in the development of guided missiles how long will these islands remain an adequate proving ground? There is already genuine anxiety lest this scheme be only the prelude to a plan to turn the whole of the Outer Isles into a preserve for scientific experiment and military training. It may be objected that to establish the range overseas is impracticable because of difficulties of maintenance and supply, and because it would entail the absence of units of the Home Forces for unacceptably long periods. In this age, when air trooping is the order of the day, when a battalion can be flown to Cyprus in a single day, and when a Comet aircraft is being specially built to run a shuttle service to and from Woomera, in Australia, I think the difficulties of this nature are being exaggerated.

I have tried to approach this problem without prejudice. At the same time, it is difficult for a layman to appreciate the technical and Service requirements. Of course, the needs of defence must take first place, but I think we must beware lest, in our reverence for the wonders of science we are lulled into accepting that technical needs must have absolute priority on every occasion. After all, there are other values in the world, for the preservation of which science and defence are but our servants. Let us be sure that, in their enthusiasm, the experts do not insist that they alone shall be spared inconvenience at the expense of those values. Nor should the grounds of security be abused for the purpose of concealing details of such plans until they are irrevocably made. I only ask the Government to bear these points in mind and to give as much information about their intentions as soon as possible, so as to dispel the doubts and suspicions with which this proposal has become surrounded. I beg to move for Papers.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, to whose eloquence I feel sure the House listened with the greatest pleasure, I am a Scottish Borderer. It may seem strange that this debate should be opened by two noble Peers from the Scottish Borderland. I have another interest in this matter, in that for some twenty years I have lived on an island off the West Coast of Scotland with the waves of the Atlantic washing the shores at the foot of my garden, as my noble friend Lord Haddington knows well. Therefore, I appreciate, as one who has learned something of the Western Highlands and Islands, and of their history and lore, the songs and customs of the Gael, what my noble friend has said.

I join with my noble friend Lord Polwarth in expressing to the Government my regret that, when this subject was first mooted in another place, before the House rose for the Summer Recess, more information about the object in view, about the land that was to be taken, and generally about the nature of the scheme for a guided missile range in South Uist, was not given to another place and to the public. That being so, we approach this subject this afternoon in the dark and do not know exactly what the intentions of Her Majesty's Government are. We have not been informed publicly of the nature of the scheme and, as a result we are bound to put to the Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has done so adequately and eloquently, many of the objections raised to the scheme from a cultural and economic point of view.

From a cultural point of view, South Uist is one of the few parts of the Highlands still retaining its Gaelic culture and way of life, and the community of South Uist is one of the few whose survival justified the social and economic experiment underlying the 1955 Crofters Act. I happen to have been associated in another place with some of the developments of the Crofters Act. In the year 1911 the late Sir Donald Maclean, one of the most respected and well-beloved Members of the House of Commons, and I introduced a Scottish Small Landowners' Bill which was taken over by the Government and passed into law, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will know. That Act took over a great many of the powers and responsibilities of the Crofters Act of that day, and under it was set up the Scottish Board of Agriculture. This year an Act has been passed to take over certain of those powers and generally to improve upon them, and one of its objects, as we know, is to bring to the Gaelic community in the West Highlands and the Outer Islands some of the cultural benefits to which they are entitled.

From the economic angle, the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has explained that, so far as we are aware al the moment, the Government propose to establish their range on some of the most valuable land on the island. The machair—that is, the arable land—runs down the West Coast of the island, and it is upon that land, upon which there are some fifty to, seventy crofts and where the grazing is extremely lush, that the Government propose to establish the range. The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has asked that, if it is proposed to establish the range in that particular area, as small an area as possible should be taken, and that the site should be clearly indicated today by the Government. I would go further than that, and I will come to the point later when I deal with the alternative sites which, in my Question earlier this afternoon, I asked the Government to indicate.

Further from the economic point of view, as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has already pointed out, there was established on the island, by a scion of the. well-known Scottish family, Cameron of Lochiel, a prosperous seaweed industry which is now giving employment to a considerable number of the inhabitants of the island, and is bringing in in the way of wages something like £50,000 a year. That being so, the people of South Uist are fully employed at the present moment, and Mr. Cameron has said that he cannot obtain sufficient workers to collect his seaweed even for £2 a day; and at the moment he is shipping seaweed from Ireland to be processed at Loch Boisdale. The importation of outside workers to South Uist is bound to be followed, as in the case of the building of the aerodrome at Benbecula, by much higher rates of pay, and the local workers will certainly be attracted by wages with which the local industries cannot compete. Those are some of the economic problems which will face the Government if they decide to establish the range on this valuable machair land.

However, I hope that the Government have not got that in mind, and that they may and other appropriate sites. The Question which I put down on the Order Paper, has not yet been answered by the noble Lord. Lord Carrington—he regarded it as putting the pudding before the soup—but he said that he proposed to inform your Lordships what particular sites have been explored. I hope he will also be able to inform the House what, in the opinion of the Air Ministry, determines the suitability of a site. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether his Ministry, or the Air Ministry, whichever is involved, have had in mind to establish a site at Sollas in North Uist, where there is an aerodrome which was in operation during the recent war. In the opinion of many people the island of Vallay (here I speak subject to the assent of the proprietor of that island) would also make a good site for the range. Then, as an alternative, there is good ground a little further to the south-west of Sollas, at Balranald. Has that site been explored, with a view to using it for this range. Then again what about the countryside round Cape Wrath? Perhaps the noble Lord, in his reply, will be able to indicate whether all that country south and west of Cape Wrath, between the Kyle of Durness and Strath Shinary, has been properly explored in connection with this proposed rocket range.

On the general question of sites, the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, referred to an admirable letter in The Times from Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor. As that letter may have been lost or not seen by noble Lords, I should like, with the permission of the House, to read what the writer said on this subject, because it seems to me to get down to the kernel of the whole matter. He referred, as has been mentioned, to the possibility that the range should be established as a N.A.T.O. project and not purely what we might call a "one-man show," having regard to the fact that in days to come, no doubt, exercises will be conducted with various N.A.T.O. countries and will take a different form if conducted by N.A.T.O. rather than by countries who have had no experience of a rocket range. Sir John Slessor said this: Is it absolutely beyond doubt that this range could not be established elsewhere than in the British Isles? The capital cost is enormous, and for climatic reasons the range could only be used for a maximum of about five months in the year. I love the islands, but they are one of the last places in the world where one wants to keep a lot of troops all the year round—as I know full well, having had an R.A.F. station on Benbecula in my Command in 1943. If the range could be established as a N.A.T.O. project somewhere like the deserts of North Africa, not only could the capital cost be shared but also the overheads and running costs spread, by the various Allied forces using the range in rotation all the year round. No doubt this has already been examined. Has it been examined, my Lords? He goes on: The Air Staff are the last people who want to ruin a lovely bit of Scotland if it can possibly be avoided. Of course we all agree with that sentiment. Sir John continues: But it should be looked at again, and I hope that considerations of 'security' will not be allowed to exert an influence beyond their proper importance. If it is demonstrated beyond all doubt that the range can only be established in the Outer Hebrides, how can the damage be minimised? Is it quite certain that the authorities are not demanding more land than they really need? In particular, would it be quite impossible to confine the launching sites, barracks, and so on to the island of Benbecula (where the Government already own a lot of land, including the airfield), with perhaps the addition of the single runway on North Uist. I think that is an important point, and whatever decision the Government come to in regard to South Uist, I hope that they will look into the particular point that Benbecula may take these main establishments of launching sites, barracks, and so on. Sir John ends his letter by saying: In general, the opponents of the scheme should not weaken their case by behaving as though the Air Ministry were a lot of soulless vandals … I do not think anybody wants to suggest that for one moment, and so far as the folk of South Uist are concerned, of course if it is proved beyond all measure of doubt that the establishment of this range is absolutely essential for reasons of security, then any thought of opposition will go with the wind, and they will give the Government their support. But what they do hope is that before Her Majesty's Government enter upon this scheme they will consider every aspect of the problem, both from a cultural and from an economic point of view, and will act only after they have given all those aspects earnest consideration.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to take part to-day to urge, as has already been done much better than I can by my noble friend Lord Polwarth, and by the noble Viscount who has just spoken, that we should have more information. The decision to provide the Services with a guided missile range has raised great interest, not only in the islands but all over Scotland. All over Scotland we are in the dark as to what the intentions are and what the effects will be. We trust that to-day we shall have a picture of what the result of establishing this range would be. Is life going to be bearable on these islands for the people who live there? 1 feel that we should have the facts given to us in Scotland so that we can form our own opinion. I speak of the effects the establishment of the range will have on the Islands, because it is not only the island of South Uist but obviously all the Hebrides that will be affected. The general impression of the statements we have had are disturbing in the extreme. On a small island with 2,000 inhabitants we are told that millions of pounds are to be spent and large numbers of men brought in. It is very disturbing, and so far we have been given very few details.

In his statement of August l3, the Secretary of State made this remark, which made me think. The general life of the island need not be affected. I wonder why he used that word "need." He did not say, "will not" be affected—he said, "need not." I should be glad if my noble friend Lord Carrington could clear up this point for me—I do not know whether I am the only one in doubt. I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot control the Minister. The Minister is not speaking to-day in the House; the reply is to be made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. If the people of South Uist have some protest to make, who is responsible for saying, "Yes" or "No"?

Let us take an instance. Many of the people are strong Sabbatarians. They may wish to protest against the noise on the Sabbath day, just as the people of Skye at the present time are protesting against the Sabbath running of a ferry that is being introduced to the island. I gather it is not to the Secretary of State that we shall go, but to the Air Minister. This has been handed over largely, I understand, to the Royal Air Force and I can hear the Minister saying: "I am very sorry; I ant not responsible for the training. This is a matter for the Air Force." But we have not only the Air Force, we have the Army and the Navy, all on this training. I should like an assurance or statement from my noble friend as to who definitely will say, "Yes" or "No" to a protest. I hope that the Secretary State for Scotland will still be responsible. We have had three official statements, one by Mr. Selwyn Lloyd on July 27, one on August 13 by the Secretary of State and another on August 18 from the Ministry of Defence. The information given affects all the local inhabitants, not only those. who live in the towns but also those who are interested in farming or in the crofts and the industrial population—my noble friend Lord Polwarth has mentioned most of them, including the county councils.

May I, for a few moments, draw your Lordships' attention both to the information that is given in the statements and also to the information that is not given. The statement of the: Secretary of State on August 13 refers to an area of land for the firing site relatively small, and some encroachment on the crofting land. But we are not told where the site is to be. I gather from the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, that it is still undecided; he does not know where. We in Scotland do not know in which part of the island it will be. Then there is required some additional land for camps to accommodate the maintenance staff and those in training. Where will that be? Is it to be in the towns? Where is it to be? How many men will there be? Then the Ministry of Defence statement of July 27 [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 544 (No. 37), col. 159] says that substantial numbers will be employed on the construction. and adds the hope that this will mean employment for the local inhabitants. That is a very important point. Are these men to be brought in or not? Where are they to be housed? It is interesting that the men to be employed in the construction work were not mentioned in the statement from the Ministry of Defence on August 18. The uncertainty in the island must be great.

I should like to add a word about the labour. I apologise if I repeat a great deal of what has been said already by the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth. The labour required in connection with the range is obviously of immense importance and divides itself under two headings: men who are required for the construction of the range—that is, temporary employment —and men who are required for maintenance, that is permanent employment. We need to know, as has already been urged, what effect that will have on the available labour in the islands, in Stornaway and the neighbouring islands, as well as in South Uist. The Ministry of Defence's statement of July 27—I emphasise it again—says that men will be employed on the construction of the range, many of whom it is hoped will be recruited locally. From what the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has said, there are not the available men, and I think that statement will cause great anxiety. Are they to be recruited locally? From inquiries I have made, I am not at all sure that they are to be recruited locally, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will be able to throw some light on that point to-day.

Your Lordships will have noticed that there is no mention in the statement of August 18 about the labour for construction. I would urge again that this will affect not only the tweed but also the fishing industry and the seaweed industry of North Uist. To what extent will it affect these valuable industries that have been built up round Stornoway? As your Lordships know, these industries have been established and have built up markets in America and all over Europe. They are valuable dollar-earning units. fear, as the noble Lord who last spoke said, that their labour may be attracted away and that considerable damage may be done to the tweed and fishing industries and to the county councils, with all their road building in the North.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for the number of questions I have asked, but the impression is given in the three official statements to which I have referred that we shall not be told anything definite until the surveys are completed. That is not a reasonable position in which to put us in Scotland. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will be able to-day to throw considerable light on the position.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, what strikes me as being significant about the debate this afternoon is, first of all, that the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, who put forward so able a case, happens also to be the new Chairman of the Scottish Council. I should like to offer him my congratulations on that appointment. Therefore in speaking to-day on this subject he is by no means ignoring the general economic effects on Scotland as a whole. The second point that strikes me as being of great significance is that one could almost imagine that there had been some kind of prior consultation amongst those who have already spoken because of the similarity in outlook in what they have said. I confess that I feel wholly as do the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, and the others who have spoken on this particular subject. As recently as last Tuesday there appeared, not in a Scottish paper but in the English Manchester Guardian, a leader which is I think of great interest. This leader put forward these four questions: first, how much good farm land is to be affected?; secondly, can any assurance be given that the range will not be abandoned in a few years' time?; thirdly, why have alternative sites been rejected?—for instance, the leader mentions the stonier lands of Barra—and fourthly, why has work been so late, and why is it proceeding so slowly? According to the leader of the Manchester Guardian the most serious aspect is that of delay.

I think these are serious questions which should be considered by the noble Lord who is to answer, but I do not think they are all the questions. I felt that our minds had been working along similar lines when I thought of other questions that might equally be asked. For example, is it certain that we, as a nation, need to concentrate on the development of guided missiles? Is it not more appropriate that this should be the joint responsibility of N.A.T.O.? It seems to me extraordinary that so many of us have thought of N.A.T.O. as being the appropriate body. Assuming that for security or other reasons it is necessary that we do concentrate on these weapons, could it not be done in co-operation with our Commonwealth friends in Canada or in Australia, where they have the wide open spaces that we do not possess? And if there are objections of any kind to that suggestion, may we know what numbers of personnel are envisaged by the Ministry in this particular project? What arrangements have they in mind for housing not only those who will have to erect the different buildings that are to be built, but the buildings that will be occupied by those who are part and parcel of the establishment? What area is to be taken for workshops, for store rooms, for the actual sites of these projects? What destruction of amenities will there be? Can we be given any idea at all of what all this is going to cost?

Assuming that all the answers point to the inevitability of the taking of this particular part of the country, what assurances or guarantees can we have that there will be a definite limitation in the area which is to be affected, and that there will be no further expansion on one excuse or another that the need is greater for more and more land? The Crafting Commission has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth. Have they expressed any views on this particular project; and, if so, what are those views? Have the Ministry of Agriculture made any sort of representation; and, if so, what is the nature of such representation? These are anxieties that we all feel and upon which I think we are entitled to ask for some kind of definite assurance that this project is not going to lead to the destruction of one of the more desirable areas in the country.

I had not intended to take part in this debate to-day but for the curious coincidence that at breakfast this morning I met a man who is interested in this part of the country and who expressed strong views. I was also in touch with a person who has just come from this particular part of the country. The man I spoke to this morning gave me the clear impression that the people were disturbed and suspicious; they thought there was a good deal of secrecy about this matter and they did not know where they stood. Obviously, the promise that more money would come to them was what they were interested in; but they know perfectly well that the effect of an admixture of people from other areas into their own integrated communities has not been wholely welcome. They know, even though they may not be able to express it as clearly as we might, that they are a community which might be able to absorb a few but which would be destroyed as a community if there were a great influx of strangers, whose ways, by the way, they have had reason to criticise in other areas. It is, therefore, of considerable interest to the people in those areas to know exactly what is envisaged by the Government in trying to make use of this area for a guided missile project.

It is true, as has also been stated, that there are industries there which are now showing great promise. I understand that there is a co-operative egg-marketing company, a non-profit-making organisation, which is doing extremely well. The weaving industry is doing very well; the seaweed gathering industry is also doing very well. Although no one would pretend that incomes there are similar to those of the industrial workers in our great cities, nevertheless, on the whole, one has the impression that they are content with the monies that they have; they prefer the kind of life that they live, and they want the minimum of disturbance of their lives. For these reasons, if the answer of the Government is, "This is our final decision and nothing more can be done," can we be assured that what is going to happen will not be a repetition of what I think we heard yesterday, about former aerodromes which are now huge wildernesses, destroyed for ever as good agricultural land; that these islands will not become surrounded by a jungle of barbed wire and all kinds of dumped material; that there will be the minimum of disturbance of the present existerce in these islands and that the area affected will be limited? For these reasons I have much pleasure in supporting the representations made by the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we should all agree with the sentiments expressed by noble Lords that the needs of defence are paramount and that they must override all other considerations; and that if those who are charged with the responsibility of defending our realm have decided that there must be a guided missile range in Britain, it is quite understandable that the site selected for such a range should be in the Outer Hebrides, because that is the area pointing to the West over the sea where there is a wide are free from the shipping routes and, I think, from the aircraft routes. On the other hand, if the noble Lord, Lord Pclwarth, who introduced this Motion, had been convinced that the Government had explored every avenue and had come to the conclusion that the South Uist site was the only possible and suitable one for the purpose, then there would have been no debate today on the subject. But many of us are not convinced on that point and would like to be convinced; so if this debate has served no other purpose, perhaps it will serve one in enabling the noble Lord who is to reply to give us, so far as security permits, a full explanation of what this project will entail; because you cannot set up an establishment such as this without causing considerable disturbance to the area and to the way of life of the people there.

I have only two missiles to fire this afternoon. Whether or not they are guided missiles I cannot say, but they are certainly directed at the ear of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, not in any spirit of anger but in a spirit of mild inquiry; and, if they carry little weight in comparison with the question of defence, I can assure the noble Lord that they give many people in Scotland—and even outside the boundaries of Scotland—considerable apprehension. My first missile is loaded with ornithology. I believe it is common knowledge that all this area of South Uist is a breeding ground for some of the rarest birds in the British Isles, such as the red necked phalarope and the hen harrier, in particular, extremely rare birds of which only a few pairs are registered as nesting in the British Isles. It is also the breeding ground of more than half of our greylag geese. They breed very largely south of Loch Bee in the area round about Loch Druidibeg, where I understand the range is to be established. These birds are there for one reason only: because the area is quiet and undisturbed. If they are driven away by the firing of missiles, the screaming of aircraft and the concentration of troops they leave our shores altogether and it is pretty certain that they will never come back again.

I need not remind noble Lords that Parliament has just passed an Act for the better protection of wild birds, an Act which has been widely acclaimed all over the country. Surely it is hardly consistent to offer wild birds protection with one hand and to drive them away with the other. What about St. Kilda, that famous island where extremely rare birds also nest—the Manx shearwater, Leach's petrel and puffins? All these rare birds nest on St. Kilda. Is St. Kilda to be in- corporated in the scheme? For all I know it may be a target for these weapons. I hope that this matter is not something terribly secret, but we are very much concerned with what is to be the position of St. Kilda and whether or not it is to be incorporated in the scheme. Noble Lords may well say, "We must protect ourselves first and birds afterwards." I quite agree; but cannot we protect both at the same time, merely by pushing the range a little further north, as suggested, I believe, by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, when reading out Sir John Slessor's letter? Then I understand that there is to be an airfield and a large concentration of troops at Benbecula. I am no expert in these matters, but cannot a range be near to there and away from all this wonderful wild life which is bound to be disturbed? Perhaps the noble Lord could at least give me the assurance that, if the South Uist site must stand, the nesting and feeding area of these extremely rare wild birds will become an absolute sanctuary so far as that is possible.

I am now going to fire my second missile. This is loaded not with ornithology but with archæology. This may not be considered a very effective missile, but in an age when housing, roads, industry and such things are taking such a toll of our great heritage of ancient monuments, many of us view with great apprehension the havoc which will be caused in this area by the laying of tarmac, by bulldozers, by hutted camps and by the opening up of beds for sand and gravel. A recent survey of this ground in South Uist indicates a large number of second century and third century circular wheelhouses, very similar I believe to a group recently excavated at Jarlshof, Shetland. They have much to tell us of Iron Age cultures, of prehistoric achievements in architecture and the way of life of the early peoples who lived in the far north and west. They are of great importance in South Uist. Eight are within the area of this proposed rangehead and three more are very close to the boundary of it. As a member of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland I feel bound to protest against their almost certain destruction. They are not yet even in guardianship, nor have they been scheduled. To sum up these remarks: human lives are, of course, of more value than birds' nests and old stones, but if an alternative site does exist these add up to a total which makes a very formidable opposition to the South Uist scheme.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, every noble Lord who has so far spoken has asked a large number of questions. Very boldly, I am going to venture to give some information to some of your Lordships—I say "some," for of course I know that there are many in your Lordships' House who know a great deal more about the subject on which 1 shall speak than I do myself. My noble friend Lord Haddington has referred to the wheelhouses. At the beginning of our era, some 1,900 years ago, these machair lands of which we have heard this afternoon had a much wider extent in the Hebrides. The climate was much better and these lands were inhabited by a thriving and prosperous community who were, in fact, the ancestors of the people in Scotland to-clay. Those people lived in these wheelhouses, and so far only one wheelhouse has been found in a state of nearly complete preservation, and that was at Kilpheder in South Uist. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will find this point about 8 mins, north of the 57th parallel on the map at which he was looking a few minutes ago. Excavation and examination of this wheelhouse has given us more information and a more detailed history of these people than we have ever had. We have more than doubled our information about these people. But there is an enormous amount more to be learned. Detailed information which we have obtained has shown us that these people or their very immediate descendants—though this we knew already—made voyages as far as Iceland. It has also practically been established that they voyaged as far as Greenland, and most of us believe, with great confidence, that they voyaged as far as America and that the Norsemen when they landed in America had not exactly made a voyage of discovery but were going on information which they got from their Celtic thralls.

With regard to the area which we are discussing 1 will, if I may, read from the work of Mr. T. C. Lethbridge, who, I suppose, is the greatest authority on the subject—if there are any greater the Government will no doubt be able to inquire from them. 'The Government will no doubt be in a position to call on the help of Sir Thomas Kendrick, who is himself a great archæologist and who is the Director of the British Museum. Mr. Lethbridge writes: Beyond the work of two archæologists, both of whom are dead (Erskine Beveridge and Sir Lindsay Scott) very little work has been done in the Hebrides. In 1952 alone, my wife and I found eight new wheelhouses, a new fort of broch type and many houses of unknown date. The Western Islands are crammed with magnificent. unexcavated Megalithic cairns; innumerable wheelhouses, as well preserved as those dug at Jarlshof in Shetland and much richer in their contents; dozens of broths and similar forts; unexcavated mediæval castles and inhabited caves. Viking houses are there, but hard to find. I have only found three or four. Nobody does anything about it. The point I am trying to make is that we are oil the verge of extremely valuable and fascinatingly interesting archæological discoveries in very great detail, and of part also of the early history of our own people. And that depends upon the proper excavation and examination of precisely these machair lands, these wheelhouses covered in dune sand. I have not the slightest doubt that there are many still quite intact—not ruined at all. We are on the verge of very interesting historical discoveries if this research is pursued in a proper and controlled manner. If by some misfortune Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall were destroyed—completely obliterated by a bomb, let us say—it would be a national disaster of the utmost importance. But all the history we can learn from them is already committed to paper. This area of which I am speaking is just as rich in history which has not yet been discovered. The detail of the history has not been discovered, but the fact is there and is known. For that reason I think we have to deal with this particular area with the greatest caution. I ask the Government —and this is my only request—that this side of the matter should be keenly considered before any final decision is reached.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to follow the line of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, as I am no ornithologist, and even less of an archæologist. I think that the noble Earl. Lord Haddington, is about the only noble Lord to speak in this debate so far who has mentioned defenee—though it was very much in parenthesis. I feel that we ought not to let this debate go much further without bringing the subject of defence a little more to the fore. The defence of this country is of paramount importance—in fact, I suppose one could say that we are more or less on the end of a shoestring. If our defence is not up to date we shall be in a position to be obliterated in a space of time which I think most people would not even realise. We must have ranges to develop the modern weapons which, in the future, will be our first line of defence. Any encroachment upon our established way of life is naturally resented, but the majority of our people are prepared to make sacrifices in the national interest, and the people of the Islands are no less patriotic than the rest of us.

It is agreed that we must have adequate defences and well-trained forces, but we cannot always have these at the price of the disturbance of others while escaping the effects ourselves. I refer, of course, to the suggestion made by some noble Lords that this project should be handed over to N.A.T.O. I will not go further into this matter now, however, because I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who is to reply on behalf of the Government, will tell us more about it. The effects, as we know, of any such project as this, particularly when not properly understood (and I feel that this is the reason for much mental disturbance which exists at the moment) are likely to be exaggerated. I hope that Lord Carrington will give us a clear exposition of this project, subject always, of course, to the dictates of security. I am sure he will be anxious to show that many of the effects of the establishment of this range which have been forecast have, as I have said, been very much exaggerated.

I should like to bring to the attention of the House a letter which I am sure many of your Lordships saw in this morning's issue of The Times. It is from Sir Harold Gillies. With your Lordships' permission I will read from it: Haying just had a fortnight in that peaceful but windy haven"— I apologise to your Lordships; the word is not "haven" it is "heaven"— — that peaceful but windy heaven, doing a little fishing and painting, and talking a little here and there with the locals, one is left with the impression that whatever noise the hissing monster makes on his way to Rockall. the range will bring undoubted advantages to the islanders. As Archie, the ghillie, puts it, crofting would not exist without Government subsidies, and to ensure the survival of the tweed and seaweed industries is not beyond the wit of the Ministry concerned. Could not the ornithologists, also, confabulate with the rocket folk and fix sanctuaries into which neither man nor missile intruded? Anyway, Archie seemed to think the project would be the best thing that could come to the island since that day in the war when the 'Politician' ran ashore with 100.000 casts of whisky galore. My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will be able to prove to those who live and work in the Hebrides that their lives, customs, culture and natural amenities are unlikely to be seriously disturbed, but that if, unfortunately, something of this kind must happen, every precaution will be taken to ensure that it is reduced to the absolute minimum. I am sure that the noble Lord will be among the first to recognise the necessity of reducing this disturbance, and from what I know of the trouble which the Air Ministry have taken in reconnoitring this and other sites I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, will be satisfied with the reply that "Defence must come first." And much as I deplore, and other noble Lords deplore, the disturbance involved, it may well be necessary in that area. It may be unfortunate, but the life of the country must come first.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am thoroughly in agreement with the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, as to the paramount importance of defence, but in common with all the other noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships I ask my noble friend, Lord Carrington, for an absolute assurance that the area selected in South Uist is not merely the only possible area but the best possible area for a guided missile range. In addition to the questions which already have been put to the noble Lord, I should like to reinforce the question put by my noble friend Lord Polwarth about the weather conditions, of which I have knowledge over a number of years in these islands. The weather conditions are governed largely by the tremendous gales, starting in September with the equinoxial gales and going on for about six months of intermittent gales, which must cut down the useful period for training, because during this time the weather is not only unpleasant or difficult; it is quite impossible. As early as October I myself have found great difficulty in walking without being blown over—literally blown over; and in the real gales a man can easily be blown clean off his feet. Another difficulty is that over a large period of the year the weather changes so quickly that all arrangements for training may be made and everything started, when the weather comes down, everything has to be scrapped and a new plan made to continue the training, of whatever type it is for guided missiles, at some later time.

The second question I was going to ask has already been put by several noble Lords—namely, about the possibilities of alternative sites. Before going further I may say that 1 cannot agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, about the two sites he suggested in North Uist—Sollas and Balranald—both of which are in the agricultural part of the island and have exactly the same disadvantages as any site in South Uist.


My Lords, I put those sites forward only as an alternative, and a bad alternative, to the machair land farther south. If they have to get on to the machair land, these sites are less valuable than the arable land in South Uist. I really only put it forward as a bad alternative.


I accept that. I was going on to suggest, as many other noble Lords have suggested, the possibility of combining with other N.A.T.O. countries and not necessarily having our own private range. This would limit us to some accessible area and I realise that there may be difficulties in that direction. To sum up: in common with other noble Lords, I should like some absolute assurance that would convince me, and others, that there is no alternative to this site, in which case one would just have to sink one's objections and accept it.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I will not keep your Lordships long because I think all the points that can be made have been made by other noble Lords. It seems to me that the question can be divided into three phases—that of the past, that of the present and that of the future. Perhaps it is the past which shocks me more than anything else. My noble friend Lord Polwarth said that if only those who are intimately concerned with the island had heard about this project a little earlier, many of the difficulties might have been overcome. My noble friend said he understood that the owner of the greater part of South Uist heard of the project only a few hours before it was announced. My information is that it was even worse than that. While his factor was informed a few hours before, the first he knew of it was when he read it in the papers. That seems to me both inexcusable and ill-mannered on the part of the Government Departments. The lesson of Crichel Down does not seem to have been learned. I feel most strongly that the rights of individuals should be respected and that they should be informed and taken into confidence on matters like this, which so vitally affect them.

Again touching on the past, we have heard much about such problems as the weather and flooding I can only say that I agree that all these things demand careful examination, and that, certainly until a short while ago, they had not had that examination, in the sense of consultation with those on the spot. Again looking at the past, one must wonder why the Woomera range is ruled out. Of course, it is a long way away, and I know that there is a great need for the training of troops from here. But would it not be an excellent exercise if these troops had to go by air to Australia? It would be expensive, but this in itself is an expensive undertaking.

So far as the present is concerned, as many other noble Lords have said, the important thing is that as little damage as possible should be done to the life of the island. I am afraid that this poses a difficult task, because inevitably, with the spending of these enormous amounts of money, existing agriculture and industry must be affected, however hard the Government may try to avoid it. I do not wish noble Lords to think that I am against spending large sums in the Highlands—indeed, it is a most valuable and important thing to have happened. But it is bad luck that the place chosen should be one where the population, far from leaving the island, is possibly on the increase and where several industries have already been well established.

As to the future, I think the important thing is that the Government should give us the best possible assurance that in the event of the ranges no longer being needed, or their use becoming very much less, the industries and the crofters who have been driven away from their ordinary way of life will be given every possible assistance and necessary inducement to go back and to live along the lines on which they have so long lived. To sum up, it seems to me that one of the most important things is the way in which the whole of this matter was tackled. While I know that one can argue security, it seems to me that when shortly afterwards the whole thing is made public to the whole world, security is a pretty poor ground.

4.39 P.M.


My Lords, all your Lordships will have great sympathy with the speeches of my noble friend Lord Polwarth and those who supported him, and will agree that a proposal of this importance should be thoroughly debated in Parliament before it goes forward. Certainly nobody would complain of the way in which my noble friend has introduced his Motion. I am sorry that it falls to an Englishman to answer this debate. I feel (though I am not a rose) like an English rose surrounded by rather prickly thistles.

My noble friend Lord Kinnaird has drawn attention to certain apparent inconsistencies in the previous statements issued on this subject. When projects of this kind are being considered, it is always difficult to be precise, but I hope that what I have to say this afternoon will clear up any misapprenhensions that may exist. Since the war, we have seen such an intense development of rural areas —whether for housing, industrial or other purposes—that no project of this kind should be undertaken unless it is absolutely essential. We have not so much countryside left in the British Isles that we can afford to be wasteful in our use of land. The Government, in particular, have a responsibility, if it is the proposed developer, first of all, to make a sound case for the development, and afterwards to minimise as much as possible the disturbance to the countryside and to the people who live there. So this afternoon I have a two-fold task: to prove to your Lordships first, that it is necessary to have a guided weapons training range, and secondly, that South Uist is the proper place to put it.

The future defence of this country from attack by air will come to depend more and more on guided weapons. In addition the Army and Navy will each have guided weapons for particular rôles, instead of the more conventional armament which they now possess. A great deal of training on these weapons can be carried out with synthetic devices, but clearly, if our defences are to be efficient there can be no substitute for actual experience in firing the operational weapons under typical conditions. Guided weapons are still untried in operation and we do not yet know a great deal about their capabilities. Moreover, we are only just on the threshold in the development of these missiles, and as time goes on their performance, their range and their destructive power will greatly increase. As this process goes on their value to our defence will obviously rise. The Government are sometimes criticised in defence matters for the inadequate facilities which they provide for the training of our Forces, and in this case we should be gravely neglecting our duty if we did not provide adequate facilities for testing and practising this entirely new technique. Much experience will be needed, and a range where operational training is possible, and which is capable of handling the more highly developed weapons of the future, is undoubtedly needed.

The Government having come to that conclusion, it was then necessary to decide where the range should be situated, and one can see that, whatever site is chosen, great emotions are aroused, as was demonstrated only five minutes ago by the interchange between the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, and my noble friend Lord Stratheden and Campbell. It has been suggested that it should be overseas, rather than in this country, and that we should join forces with N.A.T.O. in providing it. But the European members of N.A.T.O. have not yet reached a stage in guided weapon development which demands facilities of the kind we are contemplating. There has been some tentative thinking about such a need, but it has not yet reached the planning stage, and could not possibly be available overseas in time to meet our requirements.

There is another reason why a range overseas would not do. As guided weapons become available to our Forces we must carry out the systematic training of the various elements of the Air Defence of Great Britain which are in the forefront of our defences. Conditions, and especially weather conditions, for training with guided weapons must be representative of those likely to be met in operations. We shall want to carry out the training of units of the Home Forces which form part of our front-line defences; and leaving aside the difficulties of maintenance and supply, we could not afford to have an important proportion of our front-line units a long way from this country, such as in Woomera, and unable to play their part in meeting any emergency which might suddenly arise. The, field, therefore, was narrowed down to a place somewhere in the British Isles.


If the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt. I should like to ask him whether N.A.T.O. have been consulted on this point.


We are in close touch with N.A.T.O., and all these plans are discussed with them; they know all about it.

There are five main physical requirements for a site which is to be used for a guided weapons range: first, a sea operations area some 50 miles wide, with scope for firing in due course over distances which can be extended to some hundreds of miles; secondly, a low density of shipping and aircraft in and above the sea operations area; thirdly, for the range-head a suitable area on the coast remote from centres of population; fourthly, facilities for radar instrumentation and surveillance overlooking the sea operations area; and fifthly, airfield facilities in the vicinity of the rangehead suitable for operating modern aircraft and pilotless target aircraft.

Her Majesty's Government consider that the Services must take all reasonable precautions to ensure that the firing of missiles does not endanger shipping or aircraft, and firing will therefore take place under "clear range procedures". Before the range is brought into operational use, appropriate notices will be issued. I am told that in the Moray Firth—and Tarbet Ness was one of the areas considered—during the summer, when most of the firing will be done, there may, on occasion, be as many as 400–500 craft of one kind or another, but mostly fishing vessels, which are not in transit but are fishing. It has been worked out by somebody more capable than myself that the possibility of a direct hit in such circumstances would be one in 700,000, and that of a near miss within a quarter of a mile, which might well cause considerable alarm, would be one in 30— a quite unacceptably high figure. Similar considerations, and the necessity to satisfy the criteria I have mentioned, ruled out other possible sites in East Anglia, the Bristol Channel, the Orkneys, the Shetlands and near Cape Wrath, mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank. We were finally driven to the conclusion, that the Critter Hebrides was the only possible area in the British Isles, and eventually that it was only in the islands of North and South Uist and Benbecula that all the essential features were present.

The Air Ministry, in conjunction with the other two Service Departments, have carried out a survey of the site, and detailed plans are now being worked out. Because of the complexity of the installations required, this planning cannot be completed overnight and must be undertaken with the greatest possible care. As soon as specific proposals are formulated they will be made known to all concerned, and there will be full consultation with those interested and an opportunity of lodging and considering objections. If there are objections of substance a public local inquiry will be held. The Government fully appreciate the necessity to give a precise indication as soon as possible of the facilities they will require. It would, however, be wrong to be too final or too specific before the detailed survey is complete and an opportunity has been given to those concerned to make any representations. I hope, however, to be able to remove some of the misgivings which have been expressed in your Lordships' House and in the Press by giving a broad outline of what we have in mind.

On the North-West coast of South Uist, near West Geirinish, flue will be the rangehead, consisting of the firing sites, instrumentation facilities, workshops, stores and some domestic: accommodation. So far as we can tell, the maximum amount of land needed there will be about 1,200 acres. This area has been carefully selected to avoid the best agricultural land in the district. We believe that, in consultation with the crofting community, the precise boundaries can be so drawn that virtually no arable land will be put out of use. Some installations will have to be built on grazing land, but we intend to arrange fences and gates so that large parts of the rangehead area can be used for grazing with little inconvenience to local farming. These are, of course, practical matters which can best be arranged in detail at the time between the Range Commander and local crofters.

I hope this will make it clear to everyone that it is proposed only to use an area of South Uist as a rangehead and that the missiles themselves will not fall on the land. There seems to have been some misunderstanding about this, and I notice that one correspondent to The Times suggested that the range should be sited on Chobham Ridges. I think he must have misunderstood the purpose of the range and the nature of the weapons which are going to be fired.

At Benbecula it is expected that all new buildings required by the Services can be put up on land already owned by the Air Ministry. Every effort will be made to avoid land now used for farming, but it is possible that about 70 acres already in the possession of the Air Ministry will be needed for new construction. A small number of existing buildings including some houses may have to be reprovided elsewhere because they would make flying dangerous. The existing airfield will need modernising, and this will be the airfield base which will be used also for maritime reconnaissance and for transport aircraft. The bulk of those working as permanent staff and training will be accommodated at Benbecula, where, when the range comes into operation, there may be as many as 1,500 during the peak training period.


Will the rangehead people be accommodated at Benbecula?


Most of the people will be at Benbecula, but there will be a few people outside the range. On North Uist at Sollas, there may have to be an air strip of about 2,000 yards from which will be operated the pilotless aircraft used during training. About 500 acres would be needed for this, but very little of this land is used for farming and it should be possible to allow access under local arrangements. Most of the servicing of target aircraft would be undertaken from Benbecula, and very few men would be permanently stationed at Sollas. There would also be radar stations for surveillance and instrumentation set up overlooking the rangehead on South Uist and also on the islands of North Uist, Barra and St. Kilda. There is no suggestion that missiles are going to be exploded on St. Kilda as the noble Earl, Lord Harrington, thought. We expect to have about twenty men there during the summer months, taking care of a radar station.

To put the rangehead on Benbecula instead of South Uist would interfere with the safety of the main airfield, and the facilities for instrumentation would be unsatisfactory. The places on Benbecula which might be suitable for a rangehead are too near centres of population and too close to the runway funnel. Siting the rangehead on North Uist would give rise to similar difficulties, and in Barra, another site mentioned by the noble Earl, the area available was too small. Harris was also considered but the facilities for radar surveillance were unsatisfactory and the engineering problem very formidable indeed.

I have been asked about the effects of the establishment of this range upon the Gaelic culture and the traditional way of life of the people on South Uist. I assure noble Lords that this has been much in the minds of the Government, and we shall minimise in every possible way the impact of this project upon the islanders. The question of labour was mentioned by several noble Lords. We are not yet in a position to say how many men will be employed on the various stages of construction, still less how many of them will be recruited in the Outer Hebrides, although I should have thought that the contractors would import most of their men from elsewhere. If I were asked to make a guess—and it is only a guess—of the number of men who would be employed permanently as a result of this project, I should say that it would be somewhere about fifty in the winter and 150 in the summer on the three sites. At any rate, I can assure your Lordships that we shall keep in the closest touch with the Scottish Department and also with the Ministry of Labour, and disturb the economy as little as we can.


The noble Lord will realise that what is bothering Mr. Campbell and the seaweed people is the rate of wages.


I thought I heard the noble Viscount say that men who were collecting seaweed were getting £2 a day, and I should think that times must have changed if the Air Ministry are going to pay people more than E14 a week; but I may be wrong.

I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, that in siting the buildings and other sites on the rangehead we shall work Very closely with the Ministry of Works and ensure either that the archæological sites are preserved or that before they are developed they have been excavated. We shall do everything we can to minimise any interference. My noble friend also asked whether the range would interfere with the wild life, and rare birds in particular. I think it would be rash of me to suggest that the birds of South Uist will behave the same as or differently from the manner in which other species have been proved to do in similar circumstances. There, again, the only safe thing I can do is to promise the noble Earl that when we make out detailed plans we shall certainly not overlook what he has said, and we shall acknowledge the need to preserve undisturbed as far as possible the wild life of the islands.

The noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, and several other noble Lords mentioned the weather. I do not know South Uist, but I am told that the weather is very bad, and my noble friend has confirmed that. But I understand that it is sufficiently good to do the training which we have in mind. Of course, before deciding on this site we studied carefully the meteorological reports for a number of years hack, and it was decided that the weather was sufficiently good to go ahead with our plans.

I think I have answered most of the points which have been raised in this debate. I only hope that I have shown in my remarks that if it is agreed that a guided weapons range is necessary in the interests of the efficiency of our defence forces, then the Government were right in choosing a small area in South Uist for its site. As I said at the beginning, nobody can like a development of this sort in the beautiful islands of the Hebrides, but I assure your Lordships that we shall do our utmost to keep the effects of these proposals down to the minimum and to inconvenience the inhabitants and spoil the countryside as little as possible.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to intervene for a moment. The noble Lord the mover of the Motion has signified to me his assent to postpone for a moment or two the reply which he has a right to make. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord who has just replied for the Government. The matter which has been discussed here this afternoon is one of considerable importance, as I see it, from the defence point of view; and although several noble Lords prefaced their remarks by saying that the demands of defence were paramount, they then went on to say that there were various objections to the range and reasons why it should perhaps be put elsewhere than the location agreed upon, no doubt after investigation in very great detail by the Ministry of Defence. The demands of those who are interested in archæology or wild birds are interesting, of course, for those who are interested in those two particular things. But with the state of the world and of Europe as it is to-day, they must pale into insignificance compared to the demands of defence. The events of the last week or two in Europe have been pushed a little off the front page in the last few days by other matters, such as Mr. Butler's interim Budget, and so on. But the state of the world to-day does not allow for any time being wasted on considerations which can handicap or impair in any way the work of the Ministry of Defence. I therefore congratulate the Government spokeman on his forthright, considered and detailed reply.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Carrington was fully aware that I and some of my noble friends were perhaps trailing our coats a little this afternoon. I have been amazed at the amount of interest which has been taken in this Motion. I never imagined that it would take up so much of your Lordships' time this afternoon, and I think the reply we have had from the noble Lord shows the value of bringing up all the "big guns," in concentrating fire on the target, because I think that the statement he has just made will go a long way to allaying the anxiety which my noble friends and I have expressed this afternoon. I can say that it will be received extremely warmly in Scotland. May I also thank other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, for his kind remarks about my recent appointment. May I, however, make one thing clear. This Motion in my name was on the Order Paper before I succeeded to that post, and the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) have not so far expressed any opinion on this project. I think it only right to make that clear.

I am particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was able to give an assurance about the use of the islands of St. Kilda. A few years ago I visited those islands in a small sailing craft, and on the return journey I had sufficient experience of the local weather conditions for me to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, has said about the force of the wind. In fact, one of my few remaining anxieties, after what he has said, is whether or not some of these guided missiles may not go backwards. The information which we have been given has gone a long way to clear up the position. We have been given an exhaustive list of the other sites which were surveyed in connection with the question of locating the range in some other part of the world. Here, of course, we must be in the hands of the experts and must accept what we have been told this afternoon.

In conclusion, may I say that we owe a considerable debt, for the amount of information we have been given, to the noble Lord's colleague, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, who was good enough, I am sure at great personal inconvenience, to go up to the Outer Islands after the first announcements were made. He met on the spot a number of the local inhabitants and people affected. I feel sure that that visit contributed greatly to the extremely co-operative attitude which the Government have adopted to-day. With that, I would only beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.