HL Deb 27 October 1982 vol 435 cc487-9

3.1 p.m.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will confirm that the Ministry of Defence has leased 12 acres of National Trust land at Bradenham in the Chilterns for 99 years for use by the RAF High Wycombe.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I can confirm that the Minstry of Defence has leased about 12 acres of land from the National Trust for a period of 99 years and has licensed a further area for 10 years for the dumping of spoil. The leased area is required for a RAF operations centre. Careful landscaping will ensure that when the project is completed there will be virtually no visual impact on the surrounding area.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask whether he would agree that the uproar that this decision has created in the National Trust, largely engineered by Professor Hutchinson, a leading light of the CND, is not a great example of the CND's promotion of unilateral nuclear disarmament through pseudo-objectivity? Would he further agree that the same technique is used by the working party report of the Church of England, of which Canon Paul Oestreicher, last year's vice-chairman of the CND, is a member?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, my noble friend goes too far in asking me to agree all the details of his supplementary. What I can say is that there is no question but that, in my opinion, the fuss created within the National Trust seems to be about national policy matters related to armament and disarmament, which is not within either the objectives or terms of reference of the National Trust. The National Trust did indeed negotiate this lease and licence extremely meticulously in relation to its objects and terms of reference. It was not until the Ministry of Defence was able to satisfy them fully that there would really be no lasting effects on the environment—indeed, when completed and when the trees are grown, some might say it was an improvement—that they were prepared to grant the licence and lease. I hope very much that the matter can be kept on that basis and not turned into an argument on disarmament, which has nothing to do with the case.

Lord Hale

My Lords, apart from the question of armament or disarmament, may I ask the noble Viscount to agree that this land is of very great historical, and particularly politically historical, interest? Is it not some of the most fertile and productive in that historic area? After listening to talk about the national heritage, preservation and the green belt and so on, is it the position that the Ministry of Defence can negotiate with all the Government power behind them to take off large chunks of the heritage month after month?

Viscount Trenchard

That is not so, My Lords, I have mentioned the acreage—12 acres are at stake—and while the National Trust must speak for itself, I believe it is totally satisfied that the area, after it has been carefully landscaped, will be both decorative and fertile—that is, on this 12 acres of land, and the noble Lord seems to be worried about its fertility—so I could not agree with the line of his supplementary'.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is not the National Trust one of the largest landowners in this country? Is it not unthinkable that they should be exempt from providing land on lease for the protection of the nation, which is indeed a protection of the heritage?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I believe it is unthinkable that the National Trust should not be allowed to lease land for any legal purpose which does not cause an eyesore to the environment or upset in any other way the objects of that excellent body.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Is the Minister aware that the fact that the Ministry of Defence has taken the land for 99 years gives us all great hope?

Viscount Trenchard

I thank the noble Lord for that comment, my, Lords.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, if the National Trust had not agreed, would it have been possible to have requisitioned the land?

Viscount Trenchard

I understand that that could possibly have been the case, my Lords, but I assure the noble Lord that it never entered our contemplation at all. We carried out the negotiations with professional and expert people and we were able to satisfy them that they could grant a lease within their terms of reference.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is the Minister aware—I speak with some local knowledge—that the protest was not initiated by the CND but by local feeling? Have operations on this project begun? If so, was that justifiable in view of the fact that 3,000 members of the National Trust have asked that the matter should be reconsidered and when legal action is being proposed in the matter?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, work began in May of this year after a properly negotiated lease had been obtained and all the necessary legal permissions granted. The noble Lord asks me to agree that this was a spontaneous local protest. I leave the House to judge against a background of the acreage and what I have said in terms of the effect on the surroundings in the long term.

Baroness David

My Lords, has the effect on the flora and fauna of the area been carefully considered? I genuinely do not know the answer, and it is a slightly different question from the effect on the general environment.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I will let the noble Baroness have a detailed answer to that supplementary because it is not a question I have asked per se. I repeat, we are talking about 12 acres. There will be trees and shrubs growing on it, so I think the fauna and all the rest will probably be quite useful to nature and natural life, but I shall confirm in detail whether they envisage any particular changes.

Lord Gibson

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the National Trust has always fought to protect land in its care when it is of high landscape value, and will always do so; that it is only when it is of low landscape value that it will consider granting a lease if a compulsory purchase order is threatened; and that when it makes that decision it does so on environmental and not on political grounds?

Viscount Trenchard

I accept what the noble Lord says, my Lords.

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