HL Deb 04 December 1957 vol 206 cc751-3

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House and that of the most reverend Primate, I should like to intervene very briefly to make a statement on the proposed change in the Hebrides Rocket Range in terms similar to that now being used by my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence in another place.

In the light of the changes in defence policy announced in the White Paper last April, and as part of the general drive for economy in public expenditure, the Government have re-examined the plan to provide facilities in the Hebrides for service trials and training with guided weapons. This review has confirmed the need for a range in the Hebrides for surface-to-surface rockets. On the other hand, it has shown that it would now be feasible to carry out most of the necessary service firings with air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles at the Ministry of Supply Rocket Establishment at Aberporth, and the balance at the Army Gunnery Range at Ty Croes in Anglesey. The Government have therefore decided to adopt this course and to provide in the Hebrides facilities for firing surface-to-surface rockets only.

This revised plan will require rather less land in the Hebrides than was originally proposed, and will enable the construction programme there to be greatly curtailed. This should appreciably reduce the disturbance caused to the islanders; and arrangements are being made to explain the position to them as soon as possible. Some additional instrumentation and certain other facilities will have to be provided on the Welsh ranges. After allowing for this, the overall effect will be to bring down the capital cost of the whole scheme from about £20 million to about £5 million. There will also be substantial savings in running costs and in demands upon manpower.


My Lords, by the great courtesy of my noble friend, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, the Leader of the Opposition, I propose first to ask the noble Lord one or two questions about this statement. May I say that, without studying it, it is very difficult indeed to appreciate all the implications of the statement he has made? On the other hand. I should like to ask the noble Lord this question. Whilst the Government have undertaken these operations on these islands in the name and for reasons of national security, I hope the noble Lord will agree that no loss should be suffered, financially or otherwise, by the islanders in connection with any of the operations which have taken place in the past or any contemplated changes in the future. I hope the noble Lord will agree that the islanders who have been subjected to these changes for reasons of national security should not suffer loss in any case, and that he will make close inquiry into that aspect of the situation. The only other question I have to ask the noble Lord is this—I drew attention to it about ten days ago. It is whether Her Majesty's Government, seeing that losses have already been incurred, will make a payment on account for those losses after thorough inquiry into the changes which have been brought about. Those are the questions I should like to ask the noble Lord.


I can assure the House that all the claims by the crofters for compensation will be decided by the Scottish Land Court, and Her Majesty's Government will be guided by the decision of that Court.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether any of the work already carried out on the Island of North Uist will be wasted?


All the work on South Uist will be necessary, but a very little of the work carried out on North Uist will be unnecessary.


My Lords, I think the House will appreciate that the long devotion given to this matter by the noble Viscount on the Liberal Benches has perhaps helped in achieving this result. I hope it will be made quite clear that those who, according to the newspapers, have been involved in very heavy losses will be fully compensated, in fact generously compensated; because we are going to save £15 million on this change, and we ought not to leave anybody in any way short because of the disturbance he has suffered.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Viscount, as I have done on previous occasions, that the Government are determined that justice should be done to all the crofters in the island.